Jami’s special day

If you read my last post, you already know that we gave each of our two grandchildren who had birthdays in the spring a special day on their own with Gram and Grandpa instead of adding to the abundance of toys, games, and books that fill their home. Today was 9-year-old Jami-Lee’s day.

Jami is an animal lover, so our day started at Butterfield Acres petting farm on the outskirts of northwest Calgary. She was most excited about going for a pony ride and even though we thought that the single lap around a small track was a bit lame, she was delighted. So much so that Grandpa surprised her with a second ride before we left the farm!


There were a wide variety of typical farm animals, but also a few more exotic ones like emus, llamas, peacocks, and even a yak.





The baby goats were adorable and I think this is my favourite photo of the day.


We also went for a tractor-pulled wagon ride and ate our picnic lunch in a tipi on the grounds. After finishing at Butterfield Acres early in the afternoon we drove about 15 minutes to Bowness Park, a beautiful 30-hectare urban park on the Bow River. There we rented a pedal boat and explored the lagoon where we’ve skated in the winter. Jami loved the duck families that shared the water with us.



After treating her to a giant ice cream cone, we found cover and waited out a sudden rain shower before taking a ride on the miniature train.



As the afternoon wound down, we went for a walk along the river. Rocky breakwaters at regular intervals slow the river’s flow and keep its banks from eroding. Jami decided that climbing the rocks would be fun, so we spent some time doing that and then found a playground.



She still had enough energy left to swing like a monkey!

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Our day ended with a delicious dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. I think both Jami-Lee and her brother would agree that spending time together and making memories were great birthday gifts! I hope we can do as well next year!


Drew’s special day

Our grandchildren have been blessed with an abundance of toys, games, and books so when two of them had birthdays this spring, we decided to be creative. Our gift to each of them was a special day on their own with Gram and Grandpa once school was out for the summer. Yesterday was 11-year-old Drew’s day.


We left his Calgary home early in the morning and headed for Banff National Park where our day started with a hike in beautiful Johnson Canyon. Drew was beyond excited when we spotted a black bear crossing a hillside shortly before we arrived at the trailhead. The bear was too far away to get a good photo, but the entertaining little ground squirrels (like the one shown above) and red squirrels along the trail certainly weren’t!

Catwalks affixed to the limestone cliffs make the canyon easily accessible to everyone and the 1.1 km trail to the lower falls involves very little change in elevation.


At the lower falls, a bridge crosses the creek allowing both an excellent spot from which to view the falls and access to a water-formed tunnel through the rock to a closer viewing platform.



The crowd thinned out a little as we moved on toward the upper falls, another 1.5 km up the trail. Spectacular views continued to surround us as we climbed.


We knew that the water level was much higher than when Richard and I did the same hike almost three years ago, but I didn’t realize how much until I compared photographs. Considering how much rain Alberta has been getting this season, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising.

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August 2016


July 2019

After reaching the spectacular upper falls, we stopped to enjoy our picnic lunch before continuing our adventure.




As we started back down the trail Drew announced, “This is the best birthday present ever!” It was then that I realized that the day was as much a gift to ourselves as it was to him! It definitely filled my heart to overflowing.

In addition to the hike, Drew had been eagerly looking forward to relaxing in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. I love this photo of his “floating head”!



After soaking our tired feet and muscles in the hot pool, we made a quick stop at the Bow Falls Viewpoint then ended our day with a delicious restaurant dinner and a browse through a few gift shops before bringing a very tired boy home!


Tomorrow we have a completely different agenda planned for his 9-year-old sister’s special day.

Eulogy virtues

Don’t worry, I’m not planning my funeral just yet!

Earlier this week I read a short devotional that really resonated with me. It quoted New York Times columnist, David Brooks, who said that there are two kinds of virtues: those that look good on a résumé and those you want mentioned at your funeral.

A résumé outlines educational qualifications, work experience, and pertinent skills. It points out a person’s strengths and outlines what they can do, but a eulogy describes what kind of person they were.

So what are those eulogy virtues? What do I want to be remembered for? More importantly, what character traits do I want to exhibit now in in my responses to what life throws my way and in my day to day interactions with people?

Colossians 3:12-14 immediately comes to mind. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love. I would add wisdom to that list. None of these would likely appear on my résumé, but if I’m successful at being the person I strive to be, perhaps they’ll be mentioned in my eulogy.

What virtues would you want to be remembered for?


1000 posts!

When I launched Following Augustine in early December 2007, I didn’t expect the blog to still be going more than 11 years later and I certainly didn’t expect that I would ever write 1000 posts! According to WordPress, however, which keeps track of all sorts of interesting stats for me, this is it; my 1000th post!


As many of you are aware, I started the blog to share the year that we spent teaching English in Japan with friends and family back home. Writing has always been a passion of mine and when that year was over I couldn’t simply let the blog die. In the ensuing years, Following Augustine has chronicled our travels to other parts of Asia including a full semester in China,  as well as trips across  Canada, to the USA, Israel, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Saipan. Soon it will be off to Europe!

When I started Following Augustine, I never dreamt that it would someday include a weekly fashion feature. In fact, I probably would have laughed out loud if someone had predicted that. I certainly didn’t visualize it recording a cancer journey either, but life takes unexpected twists and turns and the blog has faithfully followed mine through many ups and downs.

The blog is older than all five of my grandchildren. It has become so much a part of me that I can’t imagine life without it, but a blog is nothing without its readers and so today, hats off to those of you who have been with me since the beginning and also to those who have joined me along the way! I couldn’t have done it without you.

Photo of a woman silhouette taking off a hat. Taken in Riga, Latvia.

Onstage again!

Over my many years of involvement in community theatre one of the greatest joys for me has been sharing the stage with former students. Some of them even got their first taste of acting in my junior high drama classes. Never did I imagine, however, that I would someday act in a play written by one of them!

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❤  This photo absolutely warms my heart. On my right, is my former student Kelly Berg, author of Silent Jim, in his lead role of Marshall Henry Jackson. Standing on my left, in the role of Jesse Longstrand, the blacksmith, is a young man I’ve known since he was a preschooler. I taught him Sunday School back in those days!

Silent Jim is a western murder mystery with a mix of intensely serious moments and hilariously funny ones. Thursday evening was opening night. We performed again on Friday and have two more shows next weekend. Our cast of 23 ranges from preteen actors trying out the stage for the very first time to seasoned veterans like myself.

Cast photo

Cast photo: Brenda Grove

I have a very small onstage role this year. In fact, I only have nine lines to deliver! Silent Jim is set in the small fictional town of Buffalo Skull in the American west in the late 1870s. In the original version, my character was a judge but, like any western, the play has a lot of roles for male actors and far fewer for females. We had to do a bit of adjusting. There were no female judges in the US in the 1870s, but the first female lawyer, Arabella Mansfield, was called to the Iowa bar in 1869. We could change our judge’s role to that of a lawyer and remain authentic to the time we were portraying. Our lady lawyer needed a name, however, and that’s an interesting side story.

One of the aspects of theatre that I absolutely love is the costuming, especially when we’re doing a period play. What would a lady lawyer have worn in the 1870s, I wondered. I turned to the internet in search of photos and as so often happens when I’m online, I ended up going down a variety of interesting and unrelated rabbit trails. One of them led me to an amazing find; my grandmother’s 1909 graduation photo from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia! 

Gran - Eliza Clara Walker - BA Dalhousie University 1909

Though the photo is apparently signed “Lizzie Walker. Dal. 09.” I know that Gran’s full maiden name was Eliza Clara Walker and that later in life she chose to use her middle name. Though hers wasn’t a law degree, there weren’t a lot of university educated women in her day and I thought it would be a wonderful idea to honour her memory by naming my character after her. My fellow thespians agreed and so I became Clara Walker, Esquire!

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In addition to my small onstage role, I also act as prompter for the first three quarters of the play. I was surprised to discover that I really enjoy that position as I’m fully involved in every moment of the show.

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Curtain call photo: Caity Moore, Clouded Creations


Spring jacket

LogoOne spring, many years ago, while shopping for something completely unrelated, I fell in love with a classic anorak in a light beige colour. At the time, I didn’t really need a new spring coat and I did my best to talk myself out of buying it. “I don’t need it,” I told myself. “It will show every speck of dirt,” I continued. My arguments were futile. The jacket insisted on coming home with me and I’m ever so glad it did. I’ve literally worn it until the collar and the cuffs are threadbare. It’s been through the washer innumerable times and always came out looking good.

As much as I still love that old jacket, by the end of last season I had to admit that it was time to begin thinking about a replacement. Then, about a month ago, I was sitting on a bench at the entrance to the fitting rooms in a Reitmans store in Red Deer waiting for my sister-in-law to try on a blouse when I glanced across the store and there it was!


A classic anorak is a lightweight jacket, long enough to cover the hips and typically with a hood, that protects the wearer against wind and rain; perfect for spring and fall in our part of the world. With a drawstring at the waist, it’s roomy enough to wear over a sweater on chillier days, but can be snugged in for a more fitted look if desired.


My jacket came in navy and this lovely olive green, both colours that are very much on trend this spring. I don’t know if it will last as long as its predecessor did, but I’m certainly enjoying wearing it now that our weather is finally warming up and the last bits of snow are quickly disappearing!



Tea, the universal drink

After water, do you know what the world’s most widely consumed beverage is? Would you say coffee? Beer? Wine? Coke? Wrong every time! It’s actually tea!

There was always tea available in our house when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, but only plain black tea. We drank green tea on the rare occasions when we went to a Chinese restaurant. Now I drink two mugs of green tea every morning and the basket of other teas in my kitchen cabinet is overflowing.

In Canada, our increasingly multicultural society plays a large part in the growing popularity and availability of so many different teas. Over the years, the world has come to us and it has brought its teas with it.

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 9.03.21 PMDrinking tea is a tradition that is said to date back to 2737 BCE. According to legend, Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. When some dried leaves from the tree blew into the water, Shen Nung decided to try the infusion that was created and found it to his liking. Since then, tea drinking has spread around the world.

While black tea is more popular in Western countries, green tea is preferred in China and Japan where it is a common part of daily life. Green tea is unoxidized, giving it a lighter taste and aroma than black tea. The tea that is used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony is matcha which is powdered and not infused. This means that the leaves themselves are consumed resulting in a much higher concentration of the antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that make green tea healthy. For this reason, matcha has become quite trendy.

Taiwanese bubble tea is a modern innovation. This high calorie tea has as its base an iced tea (typically black, green, jasmine or oolong) with milk and a sugary syrup. The “bubbles” are actually tapioca pearls. As much as I like tea, this one has never appealed to me!

From Thailand comes the very popular Thai tea. Made from strong black tea, often spiced with ingredients such as star anise, crushed tamarind, and cardamom, it’s usually sweetened with sugar and condensed milk and served over ice.

India produces and consumes more tea that any other country in the world. It is best known for it’s chai blends that mix black tea leaves with spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper. Assam is another popular variety of black tea which is grown in the Assam region of India. It is used in many breakfast blends including English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast, but is also consumed on its own. It has a strong, malty flavour, a reddish colour, and is high in caffeine. Darjeeling is yet another tea that is grown in India, specifically the mountainous Darjeeling region in the northern part of the country.

In Morocco, drinking tea is more than simply a social custom, it’s also part of doing business. If you find yourself in a Moroccan market, you’ll likely be sat down and offered a glass of mint tea by a vendor wanting to sell you a beautiful carpet. This is touareg tea, a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar.

It was Portuguese and Dutch traders who first brought tea to Europe in the early 1600s. By the mid 18th century it had become Britain’s most popular beverage with the East India Company using fast ships called tea clippers to bring the leaves from India and China.

Then there are the herbal teas which aren’t considered “real” tea at all because, unlike black, white, and green teas, they aren’t made from the leaves of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). Popular among the herbal teas is rooibos or bush tea from South Africa which is made from the leaves of the red bush, a broom-like member of the Fabaceae family.

One of my favourite teas is Earl Grey, a black tea flavoured with oil from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fruit grown mostly in Italy. It is thought to have been named for Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who was British Prime Minister from November 1830 to July 1834. In addition to regular Earl Grey, I have Vanilla Earl Grey, Lavender Earl Grey, and even Double Bergamot Earl Grey in my collection!

There are apparently all kinds of health benefits to drinking tea, especially green tea. The comparative lack of processing means that it has a higher level of antioxidants and polyphenols. Studies have shown that it may:

  1. lower cholesterol
  2. lower blood pressure
  3. reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke
  4. reduce the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
  5. lower blood sugar
  6. encourage weight loss
  7. aid digestion
  8. inhibit intestinal inflammation
  9. strengthen the immune system
  10. help fight infection
  11. help fight various cancers
  12. prevent bone loss
  13. reduce plaque buildup and tooth decay
  14. help cells regenerate and repair
  15. help slow down aging
  16. increase mental alertness
  17. lower stress hormone levels
  18. prevent arthritis

If nothing else, it’s a flavourful way to stay hydrated, it contains no calories, and it has less caffeine than coffee.

Tea, the healing beverage that knows no borders! 


That’s 3 of my grandchildren on the cup!