Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Lamest Vacation We'll Ever Love

The iconic red adirondack chairs dotted throughout Canadian Nat'l Parks

I know that Tolkien has been quoted as saying that "not all who wander are lost..." and I believe that to be true, yet he lived before the days of internet booking. Our family has been hearing for years how lovely and interesting the Cypress Hills area of Saskatchewan is. We've wanted to go and yet, for the past ten years, we've never made it just a few hours south to go and see it for ourselves. So, this week, Easton and I were rambling around the house while Jason and Aidan lived the life of the gainfully employed. One evening, Jason gave Easton and I a push to go camping.

So, I gave Easton a couple of choices. Choice #1 was booked for the days we had in mind. Choice #2 was experiencing a fire ban and an infestation of black flies...that's not restful for anyone. Choice #3, well, it was Cypress Hills. So, I went online, looked at several of the park's camping options and decided we would splurge a little and stay for a couple nights in one of the park's Otentiks. These are sort of glamping options (and I use the term loosely...) but it is nice to have the tent up when you get there, a cot and mattress off of the ground, and a grade of canvas that will keep you dry through any summer storm. So, after looking at a couple of spots, I found a place that had availability for the nights we wanted and a few clicks and a credit card number and we were booked! 

So, I went around the garage and basement to dust off our camping equipment and then realized that we had left our huge rubbermaid bin of camping supplies in the rv that we had sold a few years back. So much for a cheap mid-week camping trip. I razed our cupboards hard and scrounged what I could and then hit the dollar store (which, ironically, didn't sell a single item for a dollar....) for the rest. I packed up our little Ford Escape (pronounced Es-cah-pay)  and then came in to pack my backpack when it dawned on me...Grasslands. National. Park. Grasslands. National. Park.  

I couldn't possibly be that ... mistaken? Inattentive? Stupid? Oh, friends. Yes. Yes I could. And I was. I was that stupid. I had somehow in my confident, internet savant way booked Easton and I into the wrong park. I wasn't panicking yet. Yet. Only because I thought, well, they must be fairly close many parks can there be in southern Saskatchewan?

Oh, lesson #1 in Canadian geography. Canada is big. It's just so big. And that means, even our little province...of just a measly million gigantic. And so, the neighbouring parks...while yes, on the map, seem very close in proximity...are in reality hundreds of kilometres apart.  And hours...of....driving. 

Cue the tears and the self berating...but I above all, am a make-the-best-of-a-bad-situation kinda girl (also fondly known as admit-no-mistake-this-is-what-I-was-planning-all-along kinda girl.)

So, I met my husband on the front step and blurted my "change of plans" to him with some remorse and though he did his best to assure me that it would be fine or perhaps I could change the reservation (I couldn't...I tried)...I had a sinking feeling that this mother/son camping trip would be memorable in a way I hadn't been planning on.   I sat on the news of my mistaken reservation while Easton packed up his stuff. And went to bed. And pretty much until we got into the vehicle the next day. By then, I had him somewhat convinced that after all that we had been through on trips together, he could survive two days of camping with his mom wherever it ended up being.

Then we pulled into the middle of nowhere. Easton quietly said, "Well, this is underwhelming." I couldn't really disagree. It was beautiful for sure. The Canadian prairies have a really amazing beauty about them. It's just that there's I mean, it's like being in southern California and seeing a pretty, tanned, blonde. It just gets so tiresome. ; ) But really, the truth is...the prairies are beautiful. The flowers, the grasslands, the hills and the skies...oh, the skies....but without some diversity to the landscape, it's just kind of numbs you into indifference. When you can drive for hours and see very little change in topography?'s just bikinied blondes after a while.

Thankfully, Easton and I had a great time. We laughed a lot. We hiked a fair amount. We read. We ate. We played games. We ate. I chased photos of wildflowers, he chased reception for face timing his friends. He's good company, this kid. Two nights under the stars and two days of non-stop Mom time and he was still in good humour and cracking jokes...but ready to come home.

I'm going to tuck this little trip away as a winner that came out of a mistake. There've been many of those in my lifetime. This one's going on the top of that pile and will be remembered with affection as the "lamest vacation ever." Maybe next year, Cypress Hills.

Boots capped every fence post for about 5 km

It's amazing how far a teenaged boy will trek for 4 bars of reception

You can watch your kid walk away for miles....

Black eyed Susan and a bumblebee

Wild roses....a favourite

A lonely male bison wandered by us on our last evening sunset walk

The view from the hike at 70 Mile Butte

A black tailed prairie dog. One of 60,000 we saw. And named.


Junipers and rosehips



The amazing light on the prairies

The beauty of the grasslands

The sun dipping below the horizon

This moment reminded me of our time in Nevada

A mom, a kid and a self timer....all you need.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Seemingly Small Miracles

Tonight the boys are all out seeing a new superhero movie and it's just us girls at home. So, Charlie has had a bath and is stretched out smelling lovely at the foot of my bed. Maisy is racing circles around the room in her last energy spurt (hopefully a short one...) before she curls up in my sock drawer for the night. It's quiet. The rain has passed. The air is cooler than it's been in a month and the wind is coming in through the screen.

I've been thinking a lot about our friends in Zimbabwe and Zambia this week. On Monday, our dear Zambian friends, James and Sukai, came to visit us at our house! This was such an unexpected dream come true. I've been hosted by this couple for the past 9 years when I visit Zambia. They walk through Mulenga with me and they invite me into their home and their lives. They feed me and make sure I'm well hydrated. Sukai makes sure I'm not rubbing my hands all over the railing in the community hospital and picking up who knows what!  They are Zambia to me. Friendly. Kind. Generous. Caring. Infinitely selfless.

So, again, to have them in our home - even for a short visit, was an honour I didn't know I'd ever get to enjoy. James and Sukai were in Edmonton last week and we attended the marriage of their handsome first born son, Arthur, to his beautiful Canadian bride, Alisha. It was great to be in the same room with so many of our Hands at Work family although it was a short stay as we had to get back home for Aidan and Jason to get back to work.  Still, it was lovely to be able to have just incredibly normal conversations around being the mother of the groom, missing your kids, and travelling so long to get across the ocean. We chatted about all the details that go into a wedding, particularly one where there are international guests and cultural differences! No small undertaking.

Something about having James and Sukai in our home, sitting on my couch, laughing with my boys and measuring height...just seemed so inevitable and yet so miraculous. I think I am learning to expect miracles, in some small way. I mean, I don't think I'm going to win the lottery (particularly because I don't buy tickets...) but the miraculous coming-to-reality of things I secretly have hoped for and longed for. Like having James and Sukai over for coffee. For our families to share each others' homes easily and comfortably.  For our kids to know them well enough to know that they are trusted friends. For their kids to invite us to their wedding. So good.

I have other silent and secret dreams that maybe seem a little run of the mill to many, but I'm telling you, when the miraculous occurs and those smallest of hopes come to fruition? It's a hope filling moment that can carry you through another week of uncertainty. And it reminds me that the Jesus I feel like I'm getting to know is mindful of the things that really matter to me. Hopefully, that will carry me through these next uncertain times.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Добро пожаловат (Welcome!)

I know I have often joked that there are days when it is warmer in Siberia than it is in Saskatchewan but I never imagined that perhaps one day, there would be readers on my blog from that comparatively balmy locale. So, to those, I say welcome.

The other day, I caught sight of the map on my blog that tells me where my biggest group of readers come from. Russia? What? I clicked on the map and it told me that nearly twice as many people in Russia read my blog than Canadians or Americans! Seriously? That had to be a glitch but I dug in a little more and it seems I'm kind of a big deal in the far reaches of Russia.

So, I am feeling a little like I need to connect to that readership. So, I googled Russian faux-pas's (fauxs pas....faux pases?...more googling needed) to avoid. I probably would never do many of these things but always good to know, you case I get an invite...which I'd be totally open to! Unless hinting not so subtly is also offensive...which, in that case, I apologize. I have a lot to learn. But I'm more than willing. So, to my new Russian friends.... Добро пожаловат ! Feel free to leave a comment and let me know where you are reading from...Russian, Zambian, Indian, American or's lovely knowing you're out there.

Sometimes, knowing what NOT to do is even more important if you want to fit in or at least produce a good impression. Read on to find out about ten Russian social taboos.



If you’re invited over for dinner, or just for a visit, don’t come to a Russian house with nothing. What you bring doesn’t really matter — a box of chocolates, flowers, or a small toy for a child. Russian hosts prepare for company by cooking their best dishes and buying delicacies that they normally wouldn’t for themselves. If, after all this effort, a guest shows up without even a flower, Russians believe he doesn’t care.

I'm pretty sure I've got this one down...I would never. 


Russian apartments are covered in rugs. Often, they’re expensive Persian rugs with intricate designs, which aren’t cleaned as easily as traditional American carpeting. Besides, Russians walk a lot through dusty streets, instead of just stepping from the car directly into the home. For these reasons, and also because this tradition has gone on for centuries, Russians take off their street shoes when they enter private residencies. The host usually offers a pair of tapochki (tah-puhch-kee; slippers); if you go to a party, women usually bring a pair of nice shoes to wear inside. And again, if you fail to take your shoes off, nobody will say anything. But sneak a peek: Are you the only person wearing your snow-covered boots at the dinner table?

I would never...this is for our American friends...who I never understood leaving the shoes/boots on...


Russians aren’t politically correct. Go ahead and tell an anyekdot (uh-neek-doht; joke) based on ethnicity, appearance, or gender stereotypes; just steer clear of jokes about somebody’s mother or father. You won’t be understood.

But what if....okay...fair enough. I'll try and hold back. What about my own parents? Or myself as a parent? Okay, just avoiding the subject altogether.


People who don’t speak Russian usually think that they know one Russian phrase: a toast, Na Zdorov’ye! Little do they know that Na Zdorov’ye! (nuh zdah-rohv’-ee; for health) is what Russians say when somebody thanks them for a meal. In Polish, indeed, Na Zdorov’ye! or something close to it, is a traditional toast. Russians, on the other hand, like to make up something long and complex, such as, Za druzhbu myezhdu narodami! (zah droozh-boo myezh-doo nuh-roh-duh-mee; To friendship between nations!) If you want a more generic Russian toast, go with Za Vas! (zuh vahs; To you!)

Pretty sure I couldn't even if I wanted to....but I have been known to botch languages on many an occasion...told a lovely but inebriated drunk man to go and sleep well...instead of to just travel well. In the end, it seemed somewhat appropriate if not a little bossy. 


A Russian saying, otdat’ poslyednyuyu rubashku (aht-daht’ pahs-lyed-nyu-yu roo-bahsh-koo; to give away one’s last shirt), makes the point that you have to be giving, no matter what the expense for yourself. In Russia, offering guests whatever they want is considered polite. Those wants don’t just include food or accommodations; old-school Russians offer you whatever possessions you comment on, like a picture on the wall, a vase, or a sweater.
Now, being offered something doesn’t necessarily mean you should take it. Russians aren’t offering something because they want to get rid of it; they’re offering because they want to do something nice for you. So, unless you feel that plundering their home is a good idea, don’t just take things offered to you and leave. Refuse first, and do so a couple of times, because your hosts will insist. And only accept the gift if you really want this special something, but then return the favor and give your hosts something nice, as well.

This seems like something I would do but I have learned that even lingering your eyes on something too long or mentioning it in passing is grounds for leaving the household with it....I've acquired a coffee grinder and more than a few chitenge (Zambian skirts) over my wandering eyes in the past few years. 


Russians dress up on more occasions than Americans do. Even to go for a casual walk, a Russian woman may wear high heels and a nice dress. A hardcore feminist may say women do this because they’re victimized and oppressed. But Russian women themselves explain it this way, “We only live once; I want to look and feel my best.”
On some occasions, all foreigners, regardless of gender, run the risk of being the most underdressed person in the room. These occasions include dinner parties and trips to the theater. Going to a restaurant is also considered a festive occasion, and you don’t want to show up in your jeans and T-shirt, no matter how informal you think the restaurant may be. In any case, checking on the dress code before going out somewhere is a good idea.

As usual, fashion will always be my downfall. I often underdress even unknowingly. I mean, who knew that in the teeniest community in Share, South Africa the dress code for Sunday church was prom queen formal. My simple cotton skirt and top were looked upon with great disappointment by the children we were staying with in the community. I'll try and step it up. 


Here’s where Russians differ strikingly from Western Europeans. They don’t go Dutch. So, if you ask a lady out, don’t expect her to pay for herself, not at a restaurant or anywhere else. You can, of course, suggest that she pay, but that usually rules out the possibility of seeing her again. She may not even have money on her. Unless they expect to run into a maniac and have to escape through the back exit, Russian women wouldn’t think of bringing money when going out with a man.

Not planning on any dates but if I do, I'll leave my wallet (and I guess, my husband...) at home. 


This rule may make politically correct people cringe, but Russians believe that a man is physically stronger than a woman. Therefore, they believe a man who watches a woman carry something heavy without helping her is impolite. 

This is not the hill this feminist would die on...


When Russians come to America and ride public transportation, they’re very confused to see young people sitting when an elderly person is standing nearby. They don’t understand that in America, an elderly person may be offended when offered a seat. In Russia, if you don’t offer the elderly and pregnant women a seat on a bus, the entire bus looks at you as if you’re a criminal. Women, even (or especially) young ones, are also offered seats on public transportation. But that’s optional. Getting up and offering a seat to an elderly person, on the other hand, is a must.

Happy to comply....


Bodily functions are considered extremely impolite in public, even if the sound is especially long and expressive, and the author is proud of it.
Moreover, if the incident happens (we’re all human), don’t apologize. By apologizing, you acknowledge your authorship, and attract more attention to the fact. Meanwhile, Russians, terrified by what just happened, pretend they didn’t notice, or silently blame it on the dog. Obviously, these people are in denial. But if you don’t want to be remembered predominantly for this incident, steer clear of natural bodily functions in public.

Deny, deny, deny....I can do that. 

Guess we've all learned a little something today...who said this wasn't an educational blog?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Speaking of Fine

I read an interesting blog entry this morning by Al Andrews on Donald Miller's Storyline blog. It was called "What To Say When Everything is Not Fine." You can read it here (but promise to come back...Donald's blog is a vortex of good things...)

It basically was addressing why we feel the need to say we're fine when we're really not, particularly in the context of meeting up with a friend or an acquaintance. I've been thinking about it all day and it really has me wondering what it is we fear in being vulnerable. Now, if you know me at all, you know that I am not going to persuade anyone that we should be blurting out our medical history or the details of our tempestuous on-again-off-again relationships woes, but I will say that I often err on the side of answering, "I'm fine" when really I'm not. And, to be honest, I often walk away feeling somewhat disenchanted with myself in that type of interaction. If I meet someone who I consider a friend or a kindred spirit type, I actually demean the relationship when I cover up the truth of my reality. Not only am I being false in lying (however socially acceptable that is in this instance) but I'm also putting out a sense of well being that may cause my friend to think that I have everything under control even though they know circumstances say different.

I would go so far as to say that I might even be putting them in a position to lie back to me, to cover their feelings,  or to feel badly that if I, in the gong show that is my life, am handling it so well, perhaps he/she isn't handling their own circumstances with such amazing poise and dignity. (Feel free to choke on your morning coffee here...)

So, even though you haven't asked, here's the raw truth right now. I'm doing okay at best. Having my position cut and being unemployed wasn't in my summer plans. I was hoping to ramp up the work I was doing building on the momentum I had, not being cut loose and figuring out how to move forward.  I am still disentangling from the position while looking for new work, simply because everyone else in the office is on holidays - that bites a little, if I'm being honest.  I told a friend who is in the same position having just lost her job unexpectedly that I have had to stop following the social media of people I worked alongside who are living at the lake this summer while I'm dropping resumes and reading rejection letters. It's just the reality of this stage of life.

And yet, though our holiday plans became a stay-cation, there's a lot of lovely things about this period if I can stop and remember. I get out on the river at least once a week to paddle. I spent an unexpected few days with my sister in laws and friends out in Manitoba...that was a bonus. And even our inability to travel as we would have liked meant that we explored some unique and interesting adventures and places we would likely have missed in our hometown. It's not all doom and gloom...except when it is.

I've been comparing it in my mind to a summer storm. It blows in, wrecks plans, makes lots of noise and rattles everyone....but when it leaves, the summer days seem fresher and more lovely because it passed through.  So, I took a few minutes to look through some photos of the last week and I would say that probably they portray that life is pretty sweet. And in fact, it is. I am just reminded of what my wise friend, Rich Shannon, told me once...that anything online is just a snapshot of that particular moment in time...not the full story. So, what you won't see is the fingers-crossed-hoping-the-debit-card-goes-through....the racing in my brain even while floating in my friends' beautiful pool... or the watching of the clock as I take the dog to our favourite place for a run in the river, not wanting to miss a potential call back on a job application. But, you know what? I'm glad you don't see those things. They're not what I want to take away from the beauty of all we are able to enjoy in these days.

The boys at Blue Mountain Adventure Ziplines

Our family had the place to ourselves and we had an amazing time!

The beauty of the prairies in the summer is unbelievable.

Road trip to Alberta for a wedding

Catching up with old friends before they move overseas...

A little reminder at my seat at the wedding

Beauty in this season

Berries and blue skies in our favourite park

Charlie and I having fun at the river...just us on a weekday!

Easton and Simon taking relaxation to the next level

Finding rest in Margie's pool

Venturing out on Rock Lake with Kim

So, yes, life isn't a bowl of cherries. It's not. And it won't be for a while, I guess. But I'm just fine. I really am.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Daily Accomplishments

Picked Saskatoon berries and raspberries
Put a nest with two baby birds in it back in the tree
Paddled up the lake into the river channel
Played catch up with a whooping crane
Laid on my board and watched the pelicans fishing
Snuck up on turtles sunning themselves on logs only for them to slide into the water
Watched fish jump
Watched a crop duster sweeping in and over the hill
Paddled with my sisters in law
Took the dog out on the board
Had dinner on the deck

It's summer rolled into one day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dream Jobs and Work in Progress

Every once in a while, I get a call to come work security at our local arena for a concert. It's a pretty fun gig most of the time, when people behave themselves for the most part or if I get to hang out watching the road show from backstage. Sometimes it's even when there's a comedian in town or some young pop star falls through the stage because he's only paying attention to the his wardrobe for the first three songs of the concert.

This week, I did a mind numbing 15 hours shift back stage in "the tunnel" - the area where the dressing rooms and production offices for the visiting acts are. I arrived just as the crew buses and trucks were pulling in, armed with a cooler of snacks and a large double double (coffee...2 cream, 2 sugar for my south of the border friends...) that I was putting a lot of faith in. 

I walked in and got myself situated in a small hallway that leads to a set of double doors that leads to another set of double doors that leads to a stairwell where someone else was sitting at the top, ensuring no one came down that wasn't authorized. So, essentially, I was second string security for a little known and lesser used entry point to the dressing room tunnel. It didn't bode well for excitement but in this gig, a quiet day is a good day. 

The trucks unloaded, the crew began to set up stages, catering began to cook and prepare meals for the multitude of stage hands and production crew throughout the day. The catering team hustles hard and they have a long and often very detailed list of items that are requested in advance for the performers to have available just in case they should want it pre- or post-show. I've seen everything from a crate of beets and a juicer to a certain, very difficult to find scent of candle, to an expensive array of organic goods to a cooler full of top shelf tequila roll by me when I work backstage.  This particular band and crew were pretty easy going and had most of their own stuff handled. 

I was quizzed by the head of their security firm if I knew who the band was and could identify them in the hallway as they would not be wearing passes and had free run of the place. Thankfully, I had googled their bio just moments before in the car, waiting to start my shift. Also, thankfully, the band only had 3 members and they were pretty distinct looking guys. I won over the security boss and that always makes the day go smoother when they feel like they can rely on you to be responsible. Often, if they are unnerved (or just power mongerers...) they can make your day feel like you are at boot camp and you have to just smile and acknowledge their barked orders all day even when it's something as minute as having your chair 1.5" over the crack in the linoleum that they had asked you to be behind.  The worst was a the security boss for a comedian who toured a while back. He sat us all down and told us it was our job to make sure that our friend "Mr. Comedian" didn't lose any of the such and such million dollars he stood to make on this recorded event by allowing anyone to tape or take photos. Super inspiring when you're talking to an audience of casual workers making less than minimum wage.  We had to wear glow sticks around our neck and be in constant motion scanning for recorders of any sort (including phones) and there was immediate ejection for anyone caught even taking a selfie in the building.  It's common these days for people to record on their phones, despite the fact that they are watching their favourite live....they do it through the 4 inch screen on their phone for reasons I still don't understand. Why would we want to hang on to a memory so tightly that we miss the experience? That's a post for another day in itself.

As the afternoon wore on, the opening band showed up and began to practice and sort themselves out in their shared dressing room. Once the "talent" is in the building, it's go time and essentially from the moment they get in the building until they leave the property, it's on us to ensure that they are happy, happy, happy.  A couple of the main band guys showed up and began to meander around the tunnel. They were friendly and chatty, just sort of getting the lay of the land before the building was open to the public. They eat, they work out, they play music, they nap...basically all in the cement bunker that is the tunnel. It's a long day for everyone and no one really sees the sun or any weather for that matter, for the rest of the day. Around dinner time, we hear the word that the final band member is arriving with his kids in tow. Personally, I like seeing kids on the road with their parents. I'm sure it's an unusual upbringing but the truth is, kids need their parents and if they can spend time with them on the road, then that's time well spent.  This family came in and while maybe a bit unconventional, it was certainly Dad and the kids...well, and a bodyguard named after a large animal who was charged with the task of keeping the kids in sight. No easy feat when the kids came equipped with scooters and helmets and a lot of energy to whip around the large empty arena. This bodyguard was tracking his steps on his fitness app and clocked 5 miles in the evening before the show even started.  Maybe that's the gig I need...none of this sitting around keeping everyone "safe" business.

Stationary as I was, I had a front row seat of the backstage life and I will say that this is what I realized.  Here was a guy who had started chasing his dream of being a musician as a young guy. He practiced for years until he was as amazing as he is now...but that came with a lot of time in the garage, banging on the drums or strumming the guitar or whatever talent he had that needed time under its belt to develop.  And yes, while he walks on stage to the glamour of a stage set up and his gear in place and his dressing room ready, he possibly spent years carting his own gear, eating fast food and rushing to tear down his gear before the "real" talent came on stage after he warmed up the crowd. There was also probably a long period where when asked what he wanted to do with his life, his response of being a musician was met with skepticism or even worse, practicality. The years where people thought it was a phase or patronized him with a few questions before shaking their heads wondering when reality was going to bite him. 

And I realized that even now, while he had 90 minutes on stage doing the thing he loves most in life, that there are nights where he would rather be home, tucking his kids into their own beds or watching Netflix and eating cereal at 11 pm. The dream job is out there...but it's always tinged by reality. His 90 minutes of limelight is only afforded by his years of practice, pushing, patience and persistence. Even then, there are those who put in the effort and it never pays off...or lasts. 

I'm still dreaming about the next big thing in my life...but I am beginning to believe it's not a job or a position. A bit counter cultural in our world right now, but I'm going to say my next big thing is getting these boys through school and launched into life with the skills and support that only a family can establish in them. My next big thing is to figure out how our love for our friends in Zambia and Zimbabwe can continue to be a priority as we search for the means to travel and support and learn from them as often as we can. My next big things might be to focus on the smallest things yet, the quiet corners that have been neglected and the details that get glossed over in the pursuit of a big life. I don't crave fame or fortune, in fact, quite the opposite. I've always felt an affinity for the verse that says, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.  I haven't figured out the balance at this point. I tend not to want to be dependent to a fault, where I don't ask for help, even when it's offered with genuine care. I also am never good at the "minding my own business" aspect...mostly because I'm the mother of teenaged boys (good looking ones at that, if I do say so myself...) and I feel compelled to ask and ask and ask and even then, if unsatisfied, resort to a teeny tiny bit of spy work. I'm not proud of it...I'm just putting it out there as the cold hard truth of my flaws. 

So, I'm not employed but I'm working. On myself. My family. My outlook. My flaws. (well, maybe not the spying but I'm sure it will work itself out once my boys are out of high school...) My character. My friendships. 

It's a work in progress for sure -the paycheque is dismal but I'm feeling it's going to pay off. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Paddling in Circles

I used to have a weekly escape when we lived near the mountains. Skiing. I will not even write "downhill skiing" because it is just skiing. Alone. Fast. Slow. Through the trees. Down icy faces. It didn't matter. For several years, in different cities, when ski season opened on the local hills, I was a Friday skiier. In fog. In sunshine. Sometimes even in the rain. Skiing was the one activity that consistently challenged me to do something physical and get outside, and it was the one thing that could erase a week's worth of crabby toddlers or frustrations at work or even grief in the family.

For the past ten years, I've tried to fill that hole in my life with many things and I admit, I even tried cross country skiing. That's what happens when you move to a place where the only ski hill is closed and you are sad because you didn't get to even say that you skied on the garbage dump turned ski slope while it was operating. I drive by it on my way south and I feel gypped every time. That's how desperately I missed skiing. I took the boys hiking there several times for the first few autumns we lived there. We'd hike up the chairlift line and run down the hills and to me, it was sort of a lame attempt to recapture the freedom I found on other hills. Alas, when you build a resort on a garbage dump, perhaps it's fitting that the freedom it offers is a bit junky in comparison to the real deal. 

I admit, I was very spoiled in our earlier years. I lived in close proximity to some of the most amazing ski hills and had season passes to some of the best. Big White in Kelowna remains a refuge in my mind, I could go up midweek on my day off and have hours of skiing barely seeing anyone else on the hill. In Reno, I skied at several former Olympic venues and small family hills alike and was never bored or restless with the terrain.  I took Aidan for his first ski trips when he was just 4 and he took to it like a bird to water. I loved those days. We would ski all day at Northstar, me following my little guy through the trees and over trails, on long wide runs where he'd hardly turn and I would hold my breath praying he wouldn't crash. We'd finish the day with hot chocolate by the outdoor fire and then Aidan would trade in his skis for his skates and take a few laps on the outdoor hockey rink in the plaza, while I gathered the energy for the ride home. Those were pretty sweet days indeed. 

It's taken me a long time to find something that feels remotely as satisfying but a couple of summers ago, my neighbour introduced me to stand up paddleboarding. I'm sure she wondered if she should pursue it with me after we arrived at the river for the first time and I quizzed her on how many ways I could die in the weir (about 2 kms away) and what the current body count was in the river at any given time. She gave me a stern lecture on safety and told me that there was nothing to be afraid of, there were no sucking vortex that was going to pull me under, no quicksand pits or riptides to sweep me where I didn't want to go. The worst that was going to happen was I might have to swim to shore and walk back to where I needed to be. Given that I had just spent several nights on the Kafue river in Zambia with crocs and hippos and several other meat eaters willing to devour me along the river banks if I wasn't careful, the South Saskatchewan seemed relatively tame. We paddled a few times together on short paddles and then began to take longer treks from up river. I loved it. It was one of the closest things I found to recreate the freedom of skiing since we'd arrived back in Canada. 

This summer, I bought a paddleboard and just last week, I venture out on my first solo paddle on the river. I went to a familiar launch spot and paddled up river to the south bridge and then floated back. It. Was. Spectacular.  I realized that now I had the means to go and paddle the river from a farther launch spot. One of my goals was to get Charlie, our lab, out on the board. Jason drove us and the board up to a local canoe launch a few km up river. We put the board in and gave Charlie a couple starts and it seemed like she was going to do away we went. Jason waved us out of sight and promised to pick us up in the city when I called to let him know we were close. It should have been about a 4 hour paddle but given that Charlie and I were new at it, there were more than a couple good dunks and a few goose chases, but we made pretty good time at first.  It was midweek and there were only a few other kayaks on the river that I encountered so we were having a good time, just figuring out how to paddle as two on the board. Sometimes I would let Charlie off on a long sandbar where she would run and play as I floated past. I would wait for her at the far end of the sandbar, she'd get back on the board and we'd paddle on to the next. The river is low this time of year and the stops were frequent and fun. Over the trees, I was keeping my eye on a bank of dark clouds that were seeming to loom up out of nowhere, despite my having checked the weather on several sources. I watched with some alarm as it came in quickly and looked like we were going to intercept a few kms up the river, about halfway to where we needed to be to get picked up. I had a couple choices at this point. Charlie and I could wait it out on a sandbar and hope it blew right by us or I could paddle us back, upstream to where we had launched. Neither seemed like great options but I could not make a decision. Talk about paddling around in circles. I must have pulled into the sandbar at least four times, dismounted, settled in and then thought better of it, reloaded the board, the dog and began to fight the current and now the incoming wind, to try and paddle back. It only took me two attempts to realize that I was not going to out run the storm, so we paddled again, back to the sandbar and dismounted. I was just pulling my board up on the beach and beckoning Charlie out of the water when another kayak appeared around the bend, heading for our same spot. The two kayakers and their beagle, joined us up against a large bluff and we watched as the dogs played oblivously on the beach while the storm dropped in on us from overhead. The kayakers were less afraid than I was but sufficiently worried to affirm that I had made the right decision. We stayed there for about 40 mins while the lightning flashed and the thunder cracked almost simultaneously, sending the dogs back to us for comfort.  The tail end of the storm started to move over us and the lightning and thunder were moving away from us in what seemed like a single wall of activity. Once it passed, we gathered our things and got back on the river. I was glad that there were others out on the river to pass the storm with but I was even more thankful they hadn't witnessed my inability to make a decision when the storm threatened.  

I'm sure there's some parallel to why storms seem to unnerve us when we're caught out, without a solid plan. I feel like there's a lesson in there somewhere about having to choose whether to have to paddle hard and backtrack to what you know vs. sitting out the storm with no real option to move forward. Maybe it's about doing a little less scurrying and a lot more sitting in security. I'm not sure. If I was supposed to learn something that day, I hope it sinks in before I head out on the river again. I have no desire to revisit that one.