Winter at its best

Winter is not my favourite season, but sometimes it’s spectacularly beautiful here on the Canadian prairie.

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With a houseful of grandchildren for the past week, we were very thankful for sunshine, mild daytime temperatures, and fresh powdery snow that made outdoor activities not only possible, but a great deal of fun.

With shovels and brooms, a skating rink was cleared on a pond just outside town.

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Even the littlest one helped out.

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Many hours were spent tobogganing on a hill just three blocks from the house.

By late this morning, most of the family had packed up and left for home. Only our two Vancouver grandsons and their parents remained. If you’ve been following my blog for very long, you may remember how much I enjoy exploring the old abandoned buildings that are scattered across the prairie. Until today, that was a summertime activity, but when I discovered that 8-year-old Nate shares my passion for old abandoned houses, a plan was hatched and off we went to find a few.

Our first stop was an old farmstead a few kilometres from town.

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The last time we were there, the old shed was still standing, but not anymore.

When the sun is shining, there’s beauty even in decay.

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Next, we walked down the field to check out the old threshing machine in the edge of the trees.

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Sharp-eyed Nate spotted this tiny one room house beside the road not far from the old farmstead. I’m sure we’ve driven by it many times without ever noticing it. In the summer it would be completely hidden by leaves on the trees.

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A little further down the road we spotted another old house that we’d never noticed before. We had to walk across a snowy field of canola stubble to check it out.

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Two stories tall with a cellar below, it would have been quite a place in its day. It’s a very solid structure built of logs overlaid with wooden slats. With doors and windows still intact and shredded curtains hanging in some of the windows, it’s in better shape than many of the old buildings we’ve found. Peeking through the kitchen window we spotted a calendar on the wall dated September 1963. Presumably that’s when it’s last residents moved out. I couldn’t help wondering why they left a sink full of dishes behind! If only these old walls could talk. What stories they would tell!

If winter was always this beautiful and this much fun, I might not mind it so much! The last of the family leaves tomorrow morning though and the forecast is calling for much colder temperatures a week or so from now. We haven’t made any plans for a winter getaway to warmer climes, but it might soon be time to look for a last minute deal!

A cardigan by any other name

parmesan sweater“Is this my parmesan sweater?” our 5-year-old grandson asked his mom one day this week when he was getting ready to head off to kindergarten. He meant cardigan, of course!

Photo: Melaina Graham

A cardigan is a great third piece in a Canadian winter wardrobe; a button-up sweater that’s easy to put on when it’s chilly and take off when it isn’t. Most of mine, like Simon’s, are neutral colours that can be worn with almost everything else in my closet, but I’ve been striving to add more colour to my wardrobe, so I bought this one earlier this winter.

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The rich teal of the Deco Cardigan from cabi’s Fall 2019 Collection has always been a favourite colour of mine. In fact, it’s one of those universal colours that look good on everyone. The sweater’s shape and the design of the cable pattern make it very flattering and the cotton/acrylic blend is comfortable and easy care.

Deco Cardigan

Richard usually takes the photos for my Fashion Friday posts, but since this will be the last one of 2019, let’s bring him out from behind the camera today.

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Next Friday our house will be full to overflowing with all our kids and grandkids here with us! So, from our home to yours, a very Merry Christmas! Fashion Friday will pick up in the new year with a 2019 fashion review and some goals for the year ahead.

I want to age like sea glass

LogoOne of the things that I love doing whenever I’m at the coast is beachcombing; walking the shoreline listening to the surf and searching for shells, driftwood, and bits of sea glass. Sharing that time with my two coastal grandsons is even better!

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Spending time with my very elderly father as well as these two boys doesn’t leave much time for writing about fashion, so this week I’m simply going to share this beautiful poem that was found on a fitting room door in a shop on Sanibel Island off the west coast of Florida.

Age like sea glass

Growing up with gnomes

Our two BC grandsons are growing up in a world of magic. There are gnomes living in the forest near their North Vancouver home. When the boys were younger, we’d often explore the forest looking for gnome homes.

The closest we ever came to finding one was this little gnome gate.

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Now that the boys are in school and busy with other organized activities and play dates with friends, it’s been quite awhile since we’ve gone into the forest together, but the gnomes are still very much a part of their lives. Many years ago, our son and daughter-in-law installed a tiny gnome door on the outer wall of the family room so that the little men can come and go whenever they want. Though they never show up in the daytime, it’s obvious that they sometimes visit at night. They always decorate around their door for special occasions like Halloween and Christmas and they often leave tiny gifts for the boys.

In a world that is increasingly filled with stress and fear, I’m glad that there is also magic and wonder, imagination and creativity, and I’m thankful for parents who make the effort to nurture it!

Hike to Mystery Lake

Much of our time since we arrived in Vancouver a little over a week ago has been taken up dealing with issues pertaining to my elderly father’s declining health, but this weekend we’ve changed gears and we’re on grandparent duty while our son and daughter-in-law enjoy a short getaway without kids. Alhough the temperature was only 5ºC (41ºF) when we got up this morning, the sun was shining and we decided to take the boys on a mountain hike.

It’s been almost two years since our snowshoe adventures on Mount Seymour, but we took the same road that zigzags up the mountainside to the ski resort. Locating the trailhead near the bottom of the ski lift, we set off for Mystery Lake.

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Though the Vancouver Trails website calls this an easy hike, I tend to agree with those who left comments saying that it’s significantly more challenging than that. It’s fairly short, but steep, ascending approximately 150 metres over slippery tree roots and loose rocks. It was also quite wet and icy this morning which made it a bit more arduous than it might be during the summer months when, on hot days, people hike up to the lake to picnic and swim.

Although the hike was a bit more challenging than we expected, it was well worth it for the beauty that greeted us when Mystery Lake came into view.

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We sat on a rocky bluff along the shoreline and ate our picnic lunch. Though the lake wasn’t frozen yet, we had no desire to plunge in for a swim! In fact, the boys had lots of fun playing with the ice on the puddles.

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Rather than returning by the same trail we climbed up, we headed toward the Mystery Chairlift and went down the rocky path directly below it. Though not as scenic, it was an easy descent.

I didn’t think about the fact that we might fit in a hike while we’re here, so I didn’t bring my hiking shoes. I was impressed, however, to find that my golden sneakers managed the trail without any problem! They provided plenty of grip even on the most difficult parts.

Ribstones in the rain

On the top of a hill about half an hour northeast of here, is a collection of rocks with a long history and a story to tell. The Viking Ribstones are quartzite boulders carved by the nomadic First Nations people who inhabited the prairie in years gone by. The stones stand as a monument to Old Man Buffalo, the spirit protector of the herds that provided them with food, hides, utensils, tools, and so much more. Grooves carved in the two largest rocks in ancient times are thought to represent the ribcage of the buffalo and circular holes may represent arrow or bullet holes.

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We weren’t too keen on spending a cool rainy afternoon cooped up in the house with three restless grandchildren who are visiting for the Labour Day weekend and Drew, the oldest, has been wanting to see the Ribstones since he first heard about them, so off we went. Thankfully, the rain was nothing more than a light drizzle as we approached the hill, the highest point for miles around.

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Historically, natives in the area left offerings to Old Man Buffalo at the Ribstones before hunting and after a successful hunt. Today, this is still a sacred and revered site to the First Nations people who continue to visit and leave offerings that include braided sweetgrass, tobacco or cigarettes, and other small trinkets. Five-year-old Simon was naturally curious and wanted to play with some of these objects, but in an attempt to teach him respect for the sacred nature of the place, we explained that it was something like a church and that the objects were similar to what we put in the offering plate at church.

Ribstone sites are very rare and this one has been designated a provincial historic resource. Only nine have been found in Alberta and this one is particularly significant because the stones remain in their original setting.

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Colourful ribbons and prayer cloths hang from the fence enclosing the site and trees in a nearby grove. Some have clearly been there for a long time, while others are newer.

The hilltop is a peaceful spot overlooking fields of grain in every direction. Hopefully the rain will let up and harvest can begin soon.

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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!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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July 2019

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

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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”!

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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!

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

Milestones

I’m not sure how it happened so quickly, but our youngest grandson will be 5 tomorrow!

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We spent this past weekend in Calgary for an early birthday celebration. On Friday, while Mommy and Daddy were working and big brother and sister were at school, we took him on a lunch date to his favourite restaurant, a McDonald’s with a great Playplace where he burned off a ton of energy after eating his meal.

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It was a weekend full of fun… sledding, skating, colouring, playing multiple board games and hide and seek, and in the early hours of the morning, a tiny boy crawling into bed with me! I’ve long referred to Simon as my velcro boy because whenever I’m around he attaches himself to me like glue. I thought that that might begin to change as he grew older, but so far it hasn’t and I’m definitely not in any hurry for it to!

Turning 5 is a milestone of sorts. Over the coming year, Simon will leave the preschool stage behind and take another step toward becoming a “big kid”. He’ll go to Kindergarten in the fall.

Simon’s birthday is also a milestone for me. In late August of 2013, when I was first told that I had cancer, Melaina was 10 or 11 weeks pregnant. Before we knew what kind of cancer I had, what sort of treatments I might be facing, or what the outcome might be, I prayed very specifically that I would live to see and hold that baby. It was pure joy to be in the delivery room on March 13, 2014 when he arrived and to have the honour of cutting the umbilical cord (his Daddy was there too, but he’s squeamish about such things and was more than happy to have me do it)! I am extremely grateful to still be here to see Simon turn 5 and to enjoy all the fun of being his Gram!

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Thankfully, recent CT scans have shown that my condition continues to be stable. I’ll be having another, and most likely my final, PRRT treatment in June. We have no idea what will come next, but there’s every reason to believe that I’ll be around to see Simon and my other grandchildren celebrate many more birthdays!

Back to school week

I loved seeing all the back to school photos on Facebook earlier this week. Here are three of our littles.

photos: Melaina Graham

The campground attendant at Camp Lake Park near Kinsella, Alberta was happy to take our “what retired teachers do on the first day of school” photo shortly after we arrived there on Tuesday morning!

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We had the campground almost entirely to ourselves and we thoroughly enjoyed the solitude. We spent Tuesday to Friday relaxing, reading, going for walks, and exploring the lake by kayak.

Although the colours of fall aren’t as spectacular here as they are in eastern Canada, I still find them beautiful, especially when they’re reflected on the water.

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While we were out on one of our walks, we came across this critter sunning itself on the grass.

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It barely flinched even when I got up close and personal with my macro lens.

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Thankfully, it was a harmless garter snake, the only kind common to this area!

This little chipmunk was curious enough to stick around while I snapped a quick picture too.

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We saw plenty of wildlife while we were out on the water. The ducks ignored us unless we got too close, but the Canada Geese set up quite a squawk if they spotted our UFO (unidentified floating object) anywhere in their vicinity! The lake was calm on Tuesday and Wednesday, but there was a strong breeze blowing on Thursday so we stayed close to the sheltered edge of the lake and that’s when we saw the most wildlife. The muskrats and beavers didn’t stay still long enough for me to get any pictures, but these three white-tailed deer watched us approach and only started moving toward the bushes when we got quite close.

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Now we’re home and unpacking the trailer as this was the last time we’ll have it out this year. On Monday it goes to Camrose for repairs as a result of the golf ball sized hail that hit while we were camping at Bottrel on August 1st. The insurance adjuster found a bit more damage than we had noticed initially, but thankfully it wasn’t enough to keep us from being able to use it for the rest of the season!