Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Seriously Singapore

You’d look like a stunned middle-aged rabbit, too, if you’d just flown from Vancouver to Seoul to Singapore with nary a wink of sleep. It’s a roundabout way to get to New Zealand, I know, but true to my tightwad reputation, any possibility of savings must be investigated – and by going thousands of miles out of our way, we’re saving 4000 bucks.

So it’s 40C and all our clothes are in transit; hence the long-sleeves and jeans, and we’ve got to hang out for the day before catching a night flight to Auckland. It’s OK though because the people are polite to a fault and Singapore Airlines treats kids like royalty, although my husband is a shameless flirt with those little China dolls in their fancy airline attendant outfits (I must watch him more carefully)

Friday, 22 December 2006

Eat your heart out, Leo

In a not-quite-but-almost di Caprio king-of-the-world moment, Annie and Molly make like queens of the B.C. ferry while their B.C.-obsessed travellin mama decides she is either (a) a B.C. person trapped in an Ontario body or (b) was a B.C. crunchy-granola type in a previous life.

P.S. Travellin mama may never want to leave B.C.

Thursday, 21 December 2006


Proving they’re much cooler and tougher than their mama – who was TOTALLY freaked out by jellyfish as a child - Annie and Molly line their toes up for a comparison shot at this Pacific paradise near Powell River, B.C.

(Ma Harper, if you're reading this right now, I am STILL TOTALLY PISSED about that time you made me go into the jellyfish-infested waters in Nova Scotia when I was eight.)

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Gems of the rainforest

Skookumchuck Narrows on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast is an awe-inspiring place to explore the rainforest, where the slugs are as long as my hand, and the ferns, moss and giant trees offer endless possibilities for exploration. The girls are fascinated, asking questions, picking up leaves, touching slugs, tasting moss. Their curiosity is natural, and it’s a beautiful thing.
I love that by immersing them in a new environment every few days, their sponge-like little minds lap it up. I also love that I can always find something to use for a school lesson. (Granted, those lessons are getting more and more slack with every passing day but what the hell - how much learning would they do in a real classroom, where even if they started at nine and finished at three, there’d still be 27 kids other kids clamouring for attention or goofing off?)
It must be a tall order for a real teacher to keep order let alone actually teach.
I wonder if, like me, real teachers ever use gummy worms as incentive.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Molly reaches for a toothy milestone

So here we are, after the heat of the prairies and the snow and cold of the Rockies, with umbrellas and raincoats and duck boots on B.C.’s magnificent Sunshine Coast. The giant crabs, the steady rain, the smell of fish and hard work – it’s all perfectly British Columbia. Fans of The Beachcombers may well want to make a pilgrimage to this place – it looks exactly as it did on TV all those years ago - and the Molly’s Reach cafe itself is still in full swing. We have a special reason never to forget it: our own Molly lost her first tooth here, and her Kinder Surprise container proves as handy as ever, even once the chocolate is gone.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Frosty the snowgirls

What the f*#@ were we thinking? We’re parked up just shy of Jasper in full-on grizzly country – as well as horny mating elk territory – and if I could sit right on top of this fire to get warm, I surely would. (To say it’s a bit chilly is kinda like saying Mike Tyson has a slightly girlie voice to go along with that little bitty attitude problem.) Fortunately, my kindly uncle in Calgary bought the girls snazzy new sleeping bags so they will be snug little bugs in rugs. Doog and I, on the other hand, can see our breath in the kind of billowy gusts you’d only expect if you were a bivouac or two short of the Everest summit.
As my mom would say: Saints preserve us ...

Friday, 15 December 2006

Munchkins on the mountain

Although we are getting awfully used to the life of luxury – indeed, roughing it again after a week of comfy beds, home-cooked meals and hot thermal pools in a wintry Banff wonderland could be construed as madness, really - we say farewell to our family and point Fugly in the direction of Jasper. So here we are on the Columbia Icefields road, on a mid-September Alberta afternoon, and we’re wondering: What the hell does it look like out here in winter?!

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Snowed-in in September

The dude can really shovel

Despite all good intentions to get back to the tent, Mother Nature has conspired against us, dropping almost a foot of snow overnight and putting the road to Jasper pretty much beyond the reach of a small, bald-tired Fugly. Doog takes to the shovel with great relish and I realize with some amusement that he never actually wants to leave. Hmmm, let’s see now… Who can blame him? The sauna, the roaring fire, the endless supply of wood, the comfy beds, the stocked fridge … What’s not to love?
So we sit tight, and play our zillionth game of UNO with my best girls.
Man, I dig being a travellin mama.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Just another summer day in the Rockies

So that’s it then: scorcher one day, snowflakes the next. Molly, left, and Annie have morphed from sweaty little girls on the prairie into frozen-limbed snowflake catchers here at my beloved auntie’s cabin in Canmore, Alberta. It’s so cold we’ve had to raid the local SAAN for hats and mitts and scarves and tights. (Never mind that it’s still technically summer - these are the Rockies and they will do what they damn well please.)

Between snowball fights and snowman building and trips back in to change, the girls keep running out of dry clothes. But we’ve drawn the line at buying winter boots because after all, it is only September … and how long can this last?

Q: How much western hospitality, Trivial Pursuit by the fire, yummy food, booze and conversation can a travelling family stand?
A: As much as possible. Bring it on! More anything? More everything!

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Wives are from Venus, husbands are from ... elsewhere

Here's my favourite new phrase, and one best repeated in my inside voice only: My husband is so annoying. My husband is so annoying. My husband is so annoying.

Out here on the prairies where it’s hot and dusty and there’s not much to do but drive and think, I find myself prone to introspection. Tend to romanticize things. Ponder our great good fortune. Wonder about the big picture, think about politics. My head is swimming in Tragically Hip lyrics – I’ve swapped Ontario’s Bobcageon-style anthems for the David Milgaard story and sundown in the Paris of the prairies – and I can’t help but wonder: would I go insane out here in the middle of February? I start musing aloud, hoping for a little husband-and-wife conversational to-ing and fro-ing while the kids saw logs in the back. Instead, Doog nips that in the bud with a running commentary on … roadworks and earth-moving machines.

“Honey, did you see that? Over there? I used to drive one of those in Perth. My God, they’re AGGRESSIVE machines! Look at that – there must be 100 guys working out here. Holy shit! Bloody amazing. Hey, pull over here and we’ll cook up some beans.’’

Not for the first time do I ponder how two such very different people can co-exist, for the most part, so very happily....

Monday, 11 December 2006

Little Fugly on the prairie

Our hideous ’93 Ford Aerostar - dubbed Fugly, for obvious reasons - is clearly not living up to its rep as the worthless, pathetic little car-that-couldn’t. Because despite dire predictions from all corners that Fugly was almost certainly going to break down, it has now officially left Ontario behind and is chuggling along - sans air conditioning, naturally - through the 30-degree Saskatchewan heat with nary a mishap.

Rocky Mountains, here we come!

Friday, 8 December 2006

With classrooms like this, it can't be all bad

If it’s true we do only live once – and that any day we really could get hit by a bus – one of the things I hope to have done is inspire the wanderlust of other parents who dream, and who might then dare, to roam with kids in tow. Because outhouses and my annoying Smug Spouse notwithstanding, I feel incredibly lucky just to be doing this trip, let alone writing about it. Here at Sioux Narrows Provincial Park - yes we are still in Ontario but I'm over it now - we end our day with a bit of school at sunset, a swim and a Lucky Lager. And really, who could ask for more?

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Not happy: Travellin' mama has a sulk

“It’s not always going to be great but it’s always going to be worth it.’’ This is my new mantra, which I will repeat often and with great abandon when things get un-fun on this 5,000-km odyssey across Canada.

Lovely as it is here at Sioux Narrows Provincial Park, I’ve had a change of heart. Hit the wall, shall we say. Descended into unexplained foul-mood territory that I could blame on too much family togetherness, but I think the real problem is that we’ve slept in a tent for eight nights in a row now – so how the f*#! can we still be in Ontario? Have I gone mad? Surely pining for a bit of prairie to break up the trees-and-rocks-and-lakes thing is not normal.

And is it me or is it just plain dumb to put reading material in f&*@ing outhouses? With all that fear of falling in, the stink, the hovering, the covering (of mouth and nose) – all while trying to prop the door shut because for some reason there’s never a bloody lock – who’s got time for a quick read? Stumbling to the outhouse for a night-time poop is even worse: I’m like an extra in the Blair Witch Project, waving my flashlight around like a crazy person in hopes of distracting the wildlife. Add to that my fear that a bear will knock the whole rickety thing over with one swipe of his paw – leaving me horizontal, covered in everyone else’s poop and about to be his bedtime snack – and, well, you get the picture.

Holy shit. Where’s a Hilton when you need one?

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Can we stay forever?

A better campsite you couldn’t ask for ... this one is at the divine Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, where my hubby takes the girls out for their first fishing lesson , then hightails it back to shore once mom realizes not everyone is wearing a life jacket.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Not quite a rat in the kitchen … but close

Clearly starved for playmates, Molly (left) and Annie have unearthed something stinky and dead, slapped it between a couple of leaves and voila – hours of girlie fascination followed by a solemn funeral for a furry friend. Trying to be the cool mom who doesn’t balk at such things, I tell myself that although there is a decaying rodent in the tent, the kids are having a whole buncha fun and who am I to tell them who and who not to play with? Especially out here in the middle of nowhere when all the other kids are back at school. (Molly keeps patting it, though, which is really grossing me out.) My husband tells me it’s only a vole, which although technically is not a mouse is clearly still a rodent, and therefore something to be avoided. But that’s just me.

The funeral involves some deadly serious chanting, a shroud of Kleenex and a shallow grave, even a few tears. I’m so glad we didn’t hit the deer we came so close to hitting yesterday because I can only imagine the funeral they would’ve cooked up for that.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Ordinary guy, extraordinary hero

If it's true there really are five people you
meet in heaven, can one of mine be Terry Fox?

This is the Canadian story that brings me to tears every time I get near it, which I did on a couple of occasions this past summer.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Terry Fox's awe-inspiring Marathon of Hope, the self-proclaimed "ordinary guy" ran the equivalent of a marathon a day, every day, from Newfoundland to Thunder Bay, Ontario - on one leg - to raise money for cancer research.

His incredible journey, which began in April 1980, was to take him all the way to the Pacific Ocean. By the time he got here to Thunder Bay, the cancer had spread to his lungs and he was forced to quit - after running for 143 days and 5,373 kilometres. They say Lance Armstrong has the heart of a lion, but I'm willing to bet Terry Fox's was twice the size.

Having learned about this Canadian hero at school, my girls are well aware of his story, and the proceeds from their annual lemonade stand in August went to cancer research ... all $130 of it. A few weeks later, as we stood at the actual Thunder Bay memorial (above), I told them Terry Fox himself would've been proud of their efforts ... and then promptly burst into tears myself.

Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981, nine months after cancer forced him to abandon his mission. Since that time, hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised for cancer research in his name. So he may have insisted he was an ordinary guy ... but we all know better.

Friday, 1 December 2006

Edmund Fitzgerald on my mind

"Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put 15 more miles behind her.
They might have split up or they might have capsized
May have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters"
- Gordon Lightfoot, 1976

Gordon Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which tells the tragedy of the 29 men who died in November '75 on this “big lake they call Gitche Gumee’’, has haunted me for many years. How ironic, then, that we're here on the calmest of summer days, watching the girls play D-O-N-K-E-Y in a lake that can turn from dead calm to deadly in the blink of an eye. Later, as the sun goes down and the temperature starts to plummet, I think of the ghosts Superior will never give up and I'm grateful my girls will never know what it’s like to wait, and hope, for a daddy missing at sea.