Keeping up with the Carthusians

I had my first taste of Green Chartreuse last summer in San Francisco, in a Chartreuse Swizzle cocktail served at the Clock Bar in The Westin by Union Square. Since then, I keep seeing Chartreuse on menus all over Calgary.

My husband was equally smitten with the herbaceous spirit, which is infused with 130 botanicals and made by Carthusian monks in France. He surprised me with a bottle but we had a problem — how to incorporate the distinct and savoury spirit into a cocktail. Enter The Google, which led me to a fantastic drink called Keeping up with the Carthusians.

This savoury drink with tequila and Green Chartreuse doesn't mess around.

This savoury drink with tequila and Green Chartreuse doesn’t mess around.

It combines Green Chartreuse with blanco tequila, lime and agave syrup. You end up with something kind of like a margarita, only one that’s more interesting thanks to the spicy and savoury flavours coming through from the Chartreuse. The green spirit also adds more booze (it’s 55 percent ABV)  so slow down and sip — this is not a drink for guzzling. If you do, you won’t keep up.

Finally, a cocktail for my new bottle of Green Chartreuse!

Finally, a cocktail for my new bottle of Green Chartreuse!

Keeping up with the Carthusians

  • 1-1/2 oz blanco tequila
  • Just under 1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
  • 3 drops white spice fennel bitters (I skipped this ingredient)
  • 1 oz cocktail-ready agave syrup (I used 1/2 oz)
  • 1/2 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • Garnish: lime wheel and orange peel

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, then strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and an orange peel (I used a mint sprig).

— Recipe by Adam Stemmler, Blind Tiger Cocktail Company

Hiking Fernie’s Old Growth Trail

Avery stretched her arms wide to measure the girth of a massive cedar tree along Fernie’s Old Growth Trail. By her estimate the behemoth was “eight arm spans,” which measures roughly 10 metres around. Wow!

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Avery and Blake hiking the Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C.

We certainly felt Lilliputian earlier this month while hiking through this forest of ancient Western Red Cedar trees, some that are estimated to be 800 years old. It’s a great hike for a hot day — the forest floor stays cool thanks to the shade provided by these giants.

Tiny humans in a giant forest.

Tiny humans in a forest of giant cedars.

Bennett hikes up the shady Old Growth Trail to Island Lake Lodge.

Bennett hikes up the shady Old Growth Trail to Island Lake Lodge.

The trailhead is located at the 4-kilometre mark on the road that leads up to Island Lake Lodge. The path is well-marked and a gentle ascent, gaining just 250 metres as it climbs four kilometres to Island Lake.

Balancing on a fallen tree… with a little help from Daddy.

Balancing on a fallen tree… with a little help from Daddy.

I was worried the kids would get bored or start complaining after the three-km mark, but there were enough bridges to cross, fallen logs to balance on, and old growth trees to hug that it never lost their interest. It took us about 90 minutes one way, including a snack break. (Blake jogged back down the trail to get the car and come pick us up at the lodge after the hike.) It’s a definite do-again — perfect for kids!

Peeking out from behind a very old Western Red Cedar.

Peeking out from behind a very old Western Red Cedar.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary reopens!

More than two years ago, before the Calgary flood, one of our favourite things to do as a family was to walk the trails in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. In summer we’d look for ripe Saskatoon berries, in fall we’d admire the colourful foliage, and in winter we’d appreciate the stillness save for the chatter of chickadees. In all seasons there was wildlife, notably deer, and occasionally we’d see muskrats or a bald eagle.

Blake and Bennett spot ducks from a new bridge at the recently reopened Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Blake and Bennett spot ducks from a new bridge at the recently reopened Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

For the past two years Bennett would ask, “The bird sanctuary will be closed forever?” It began to feel like it. So we were thrilled to return from vacation on August long weekend and find out our old stomping grounds had been (partially) reopened. Not all of the pathways are ready for foot traffic — the flood did a number on the trails and infrastructure like bridges and viewing platforms — but our favourite loop that meanders past the Colonel Walker house, across the lagoon over two new bridges, and around to the main rehabilitated bridge, is once again open. We walked there on a recent evening to check it out.

Peaceful evening inside the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, which has finally (partially) reopened after the Calgary flood.

Peaceful evening inside the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, which has finally (partially) reopened after the Calgary flood.

We immediately spotted several fawns walking in the brush on the other side of the lagoon, their mother grazing not far away. Then, we saw an enormous great blue heron perched atop a fallen log. We got a good look and then he took flight, his enormous wings beating the still air.

This is why they call it a bird sanctuary -- a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

This is why it’s a bird sanctuary — a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

On the other side of the lagoon, where the forest is thicker, we saw what looked like numerous trails leading from the water into the trees. On closer inspection we realized they are beaver runs and lead to trees that have been felled by the industrious critters, which have pretty much taken over during two years of free-range chewing.

Have trees, will chew. The beavers have taken over the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Have trees, will chew. The beavers have taken over the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

As we walked along the path we kept our eyes peeled for the fawns, and we were lucky to spot all four of them (!), plus mama having a rest among tall grass near the water’s edge.

One of four fawns spotted on a recent evening.

One of four fawns spotted on a recent evening.

Her babies were skittish, but mama deer is entirely non-plussed about sharing the bird sanctuary with humans again.

Her babies were skittish, but mama deer is entirely non-plussed about sharing the bird sanctuary with humans again.

In all, it was a special evening that reinforced why we love — and truly missed — the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Bennett = Dog Singer? Things I learned at the Chromosome 18 conference

A couple months after Bennett’s Chromosome 18q- diagnosis three years ago, Blake, Bennett and  I travelled to San Antonio, Texas for the annual Chromosome 18 Registry & Research Society conference. We wanted to learn more about his condition and meet other families going through the same thing. But at the time — partly because his diagnosis was so new, and partly because his symptoms were somewhat different from other 18q- kids (he has mostly developmental delays that express more like autism, than health problems or visible disabilities) — we left that conference feeling unmoored. Like we didn’t quite fit in with the chromosome crowd or the autism people (Bennett’s autism diagnosis preceded his genetic diagnosis by six months).

Bennett's love affair with horses continues during a Chromosome 18 field trip to the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

Bennett’s love affair with horses continues during a Chromosome 18 field trip to the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

But we decided to try again. So we drove to Salt Lake City in July to attend this year’s Chromosome 18 conference. We brought both Bennett and Avery with us this time, thinking Avery, now 10, would get a lot out of it and expand her knowledge and understanding of Bennett, and empathy toward him and other children and adults with extraordinary needs and challenges. This time, it felt right.

Bennett and other children with Chromosome 18 conditions try out a range of adapted bicycles on a field trip to the National Ability Centre.

Bennett and other children with Chromosome 18 conditions try out a range of adapted bicycles on a field trip to the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

I sought out families with 18q- kids similar in age to Bennett. I asked questions about behavioural issues, challenges, schooling and medications. I attended workshops on autism in children (it’s quite common in 18q- kids), and anxiety and depression (also common). And I listened and really opened my eyes when photographer Rick Guidotti gave his presentation, Positive Exposure, on capturing the beauty in people with genetic differences. I saw this same presentation three years ago, but I didn’t really see.

Bennett gets a hug from Elsa during the dance after the Chromosome 18 Registry & Research Society conference gala dinner in Salt Lake City.

Bennett gets a hug from Elsa at the Chromosome 18 Registry & Research Society conference gala dinner in Salt Lake City.

But Avery saw it immediately — that’s the beauty in children. She embraced the conference with her whole heart, making friends with other siblings and helping affected children, whether riding bikes with them on a field trip to the National Ability Centre in Park City, pushing a new friend on a swing, or giving hugs. There was a “sibling track” at the conference that explained Genetics 101 to brothers and sisters of affected kids, and let them talk about how having a special needs sibling impacted them. I realized Avery doesn’t see Bennett as having special needs; she sees him as her brother and loves him unconditionally.

Avery is Bennett's sister, mentor, protector and friend. It's wonderful to see the kind, loving, empathetic and beautiful person she is becoming.

Avery is Bennett’s sister, mentor, protector and friend. It’s wonderful to see the kind, loving, empathetic and beautiful person she is becoming.

During one session the siblings were asked to imagine their affected sister or brother as having a superpower — what would that superpower be? They drew pictures of the superpower and all the drawings together were made into a collage that was auctioned off to raise money for the Chromosome 18 society. Bennett’s superpower, according to Avery? Dog Singer. (I think she’s referring to his amazing power of bugging all kinds of dogs, from trapping Piper in her kennel then serenading her with Tammy — pictured below — to laying on Percy James in Colorado, to squeezing Beatrice’s head and constantly removing her collar in Dallas, to riding Anouk in Calgary. Sigh.)

In which siblings draw their Chromosome 18 sister's or brother's imagined superpower

In which siblings draw their Chromosome 18 sister’s or brother’s imagined superpower, from their helping hands to their ability to adhere to strict schedules.

It was another way for the siblings to think about their brother’s and sister’s strengths. Just as many of the Chromosome 18 kids aren’t superficially “beautiful” when viewed through a conventional lens, neither do they necessarily possess conventional abilities like “good at math” or “good at sports.” Bennett really excels at bugging dogs — in part because he loves dogs and that’s how he expresses it. He has perfected the genuine belly laugh too, and he’s tops at jumping on the trampoline. He’s also good at swimming and watching Super Why. Part of what makes those things his “powers” is that he truly enjoys them. And that’s what really matters — Bennett is happy. So many of these Chromosome 18 kids are happy, and they are so, so loved. And that is beautiful.

Looking back now I realize it was my issue that I felt out of place at our first conference in San Antonio. Three years ago, I hadn’t come to terms with Bennett’s diagnosis. I hadn’t accepted it or owned it. I think I felt that he could somehow still be cured and returned to “normal” rather than simply treated. I wanted a magic pill that he could swallow, that would fix his broken DNA. I realize now that I was one of those people who saw physical differences and disabilities and became uncomfortable. No matter how I framed it, I had a hard time seeing beauty in difference. Instead of seeing possibilities I saw only challenges. Of course I loved Bennett. But I didn’t love his genes.

I’m not sure when my perspective shifted; it happened some time between writing an essay for Swerve and writing a personal piece on living with autism for Today’s Parent two years later. In the Swerve piece I am still filled with despair, while the Today’s Parent story radiates hope. That’s not to say every day is a love affair with his genes now — they are still challenging, but like a pair of Levis that gets broken in over time, they are a much better fit for our family.

At this conference I saw families living with a range of genetic configurations, but each child fit into his or her family, and each family was doing its best, loving its hardest and celebrating the beauty in difference. And that — combined with more research through this amazing society — will help these kids reach their potential, whatever it might be. Forget dog singer. Maybe one day Bennett will be a horse whisperer.

Bennett has a moment with a horse at the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

Bennett has a moment with a horse at the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

Fossil hunting at Dinosaur National Monument

Alberta has Drumheller and the badlands, Colorado and Utah have Dinosaur National Monument. There’s no world-class museum filled with dinosaur skeletons; instead, gorgeous coyote-and-roadrunner scenery, interpretive trails and an intact quarry with 1,500 exposed fossils, educate visitors about the prehistoric beasts that called this place home.

Gorgeous scenery is part of the Dinosaur National Monument experience.

Gorgeous scenery is part of the Dinosaur National Monument experience.

But almost more impressive than its former reptile inhabitants was the noticeable lack of primates (specifically, humans) visiting the monument. We had both the Quarry Exhibit Hall and the Fossil Discovery Trail to ourselves — a welcome departure from the crush of humanity at Yellowstone.

Bennett stands alone in the Quarry Exhibit Hall looking up at the giant wall cock-a-block with dinosaur fossils.

Bennett stands alone in the Quarry Exhibit Hall looking up at the giant wall chock-a-block with dinosaur fossils.

Bennett has been to the Royal Tyrrell Museum a couple times and loved it, but he is absolutely terrified of the new animatronic dinosaurs that make up the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit at the Calgary Zoo. He refuses to set foot inside the prehistoric park, even though he is fascinated by the roaring T-Rex when he spies it across Memorial Drive from Tom Campbell Hill park. So, I wasn’t sure how the monument would go over.

Turns out he, ahem, digs bones and fossils and seeing the beasts recreated in a lifeless fashion. What freaks him out is when skin is added and the creatures come to life. Since Dinosaur’s Quarry Exhibit Hall only showcases fossils and reassembled skeletons, we were safe. What’s cool about the hall is it’s been built over and around the original Carnegie Quarry, first excavated in the early 1900s, so you see original fossils that have been exposed but are still in the ground. And there are tons! Though many specimens were removed years ago, over 1,500 fossils from 10 species including allosaurs, stegosaurs, diplodocus, camptosaurs and brontosaurs, still remain in-situ.

Dinosaur vertebrae an other fossils are easy to spot inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall.

Dinosaur vertebrae and other fossils are easy to spot in the Quarry Exhibit Hall.

Outside, more wonders awaited on the Fossil Discovery Trail, a 1.9-kilometre hike that winds downhill from the Quarry Exhibit Hall back to the visitor centre, passing more areas with exposed fossils and even some pictographs drawn onto rock walls. It’s a good thing we were trekking downhill as the temps outside were in the high 30s (37C)!

Spotting fossils along the Fossil Discovery Trail at Dinosaur National Monument.

Spotting fossils along the Fossil Discovery Trail at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah.

Avery spots a pictograph in Dinosaur National Monument.

Avery spots a pictograph in Dinosaur National Monument.

We had a great afternoon and it would have been neat to explore more of the park, but Park City and Salt Lake City awaited.

 

 

Drink of the Week: Jamaican Honey Soother

Here’s a rummy cocktail to get your weekend started. It comes courtesy of Jamaican rum Appleton Estate, which has just debuted new packaging and new naming for its core rums.

New packaging and naming on the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old rum.

New packaging and naming on the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old.

What remains the same is the good stuff inside the bottle, still as smooth and robust as a golden rum should be. I sampled the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old, a sweet, fruity, woody number with hints of molasses and even coffee. I mixed it into two cocktails, the Estate Old Fashioned for Blake and a Jamaican Honey Soother for me.

Initially Blake felt his Old Fashioned tasted too “rummy” (he likes them with whisky), but as the ice diluted the drink it grew on him. On the other hand, I immediately liked my Jamaican Honey Soother — which reminds me of my favourite African cocktail, the Dawa (whose name means “medicine” in Swahili) — but is made with rum instead of vodka. Sweet, tart and most of all, strong, this “Jamaican Dawa” will indeed cure what ails you.

I've taken to calling this drink a rum dawa after my favourite African cocktail.

I’ve taken to calling this drink a “Jamaican Dawa” after my favourite African cocktail.

Jamaican Honey Soother

  • 2 oz Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old
  • 1/4 oz honey
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into a coupette glass and serve.

— Recipe courtesy Appleton Estate

Road trip trivia

Forty-five hundred kilometres, 11 Continental Divide crossings, seven hotel free breakfasts, seven restaurant meals, six fast food meals, five interstates, two national parks, one national monument and the World’s Largest Jackalope. Those stats pretty much sum up our two-week, five-state road trip from Calgary to Denver and Salt Lake City, and back again through Montana and Fernie.

Family selfie at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah.

Family selfie at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah.

It was an ambitious trip and a lot of time in the car for the kids. On “driving days,” of which there were seven, we averaged six hours on the road. The longest day, from Helena, Mont. through Yellowstone National Park to Dubois, Wyo. put us on pavement from 7:40 a.m. until 6 p.m. with numerous stops in between. En route we listened to playlists, let the kids watch movies and looked out the window at the ever-changing landscape, from mountains to geysers to badlands to scrub to prairie to mountains again.

This was snapped through the windshield (note: Blake had just cleaned off all the bug guts from the window at a gas station)

This was snapped through the windshield by Blake in Wyoming (note: he had just cleaned off all the bug guts from the window at a gas station, hence the clear view).

To make the driving part more engaging we played the license plate game, where you try and spot plates from all 50 states and 10 provinces (we didn’t see any territories). Avery took to drawing a symbol to represent each state; for example, a dollar sign ($) for Nevada, a polar bear being bitten by a mosquito for Manitoba, a cowboy hat for Texas. Since there are some states we know next to nothing about (I’m talking about you, Maryland), we just kind of guessed (Maryland got a hospital). Also, she kept pronouncing Missouri misery, so she drew a frowny face :( for that one. In all we saw five provincial plates and every state plate except Hawaii, Delaware and Rhode Island.

Avery drew symbols for each state we saw playing the license plate game.

Avery drew symbols for each state we saw playing the license plate game. Nebraska and Iowa both got corn and Oklahoma warranted a tumbleweed (sorry). I think she learned a lot about the U.S., but not how to convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

Another thing we noticed on the road was A LOT of road kill. This is kind of dark, but we started keeping a tally of the various dead animals along the way including deer, antelopes, porcupines, foxes, racoons and rabbits. Fortunately this macabre count was balanced by live animal sightings such as elk, deer and tons of antelopes.

Finally, Avery kept track of weird sightings; unusual things you don’t see every day. Seeking shade in an underpass in Idaho we spotted two llamas being led by two men dressed in Peruvian garb. We saw a brick silo, a truck carrying Humvees, a train without any graffiti and a horse herd comprised of faux metal horses posed on a hillside in Montana. But it’s hard to beat the jackalope, that mythical Wyoming creature that’s a giant hare with antlers. As far as roadside attractions went, this gas station in Dubois, Wyo. was the best, symbolizing all that’s weird and wonderful about an American road trip.

Yes, you can ride the jackalope!

Yes, you can ride the jackalope!