Monthly Archives: September 2012

Drink of the Week: Aperol Spritz

Let’s celebrate! Blake and I have a had a wonderful trip to Africa, complete with an incredible safari. Time to toast 15 years of marriage and a great fundraising effort ($6,895 raised for Renfrew Educational Services so far) with an Aperol Spritz.

It’s a beautiful colour and tastes great.

Aperol is an “it” aperitif, a sweet-bitter orange Italian liqueur popular as the “poor man’s” version of Campari (it tastes similar but contains half the alcohol content, at 11 percent). A great way to drink it is in a spritz, using Prosecco (the poor man’s Champagne) as the base. (Notice a trend here? Yup, Africa is expensive.)

Don’t you just want to dive right in?

This drink certainly feels, well, extravagant, and it tastes good too. It’s a perfect end to an amazing holiday. As they say in Swahili, maisha marefu (cheers)!

Aperol Spritz

  • 1.5 oz Aperol
  • 2 oz Prosecco
  • Ice cubes
  • Splash soda water
  • Orange wheel garnish

Build in a wine glass over ice and garnish with an orange wheel.

We made it! (Kilimanjaro? Hakuna Matata!)

I write this from Arusha, Tanzania with the exciting news that Blake and I made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania!

We made it! Woot!

No words can describe the craziness of hiking five hours uphill in the dark, with a small circle of headlamp illuminating the steep, rocky path, nor the excitement of reaching Stella Point and knowing that the summit awaited just a 45 minute walk farther. When we reached the top (6:15 a.m., Sept. 21st) I was  so happy and elated I almost cried (but I think my tears would have frozen from the wind chill!). It was beautiful! And such a hard slog, for a worthy cause (latest tally: $7,070 raised for Renfrew Educational Services!)

I credit our amazing guides from Climb Kili with helping us get acclimatized and make it to the top. Truly an amazing journey. Asante sana!

Jambo, jambo bwana

Habari gani

Nzuri sana

Wageni, mwakari bishwa

Kilimanjaro, hakuna matata!

Drink of the Week: Pegu Club

I was recently researching bitters for an upcoming Calgary Herald column. Keen to try a new drink with bitters that used gin (not vodka; I feel like I’ve been giving vodka too much play recently) I stumbled across the Pegu Club on the Internet.

Never heard of it? Neither had I. The drink is appropriately exotic — it was popular among British soldiers in Rangoon (then Burma) in the 1920s — and it combines ingredients that should go well together: gin, orange liqueur, lime juice and bitters. It’s also strong, so be careful!

A boozy drink with bitters — what’s not to love?

Pegu Club

  • 2 oz London dry gin (I used Bombay Sapphire)
  • 3/4 oz Grand Marnier (I used Cointreau)
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • Orange wheel garnish

Shake everything with cracked ice, then strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange wheel.

Sometimes, Mommy and Daddy like to go on trips (no kids allowed!)

During the month leading up to our departure I’d been reading Bennett a social story about our trip. A “social story” is a tool used for kids on the autism spectrum, to help prepare them for an upcoming event, or get them used to a new idea.

A social story helped prepare Bennett for our departure.

Bennett’s story was all about how some families like to travel, but then sometimes just the parents go on a trip and leave the children behind with their grandparents for some special Grammie and Grandma time. Bennett loves the story even though the images look nothing like anyone in our family. I truly think it helped him prepare mentally for our departure.

Here Blake and I are, as Bennett would say, “Climbing up a mountain in Africa!”

When I told people we were travelling to Africa for two weeks there were usually two reactions.

  1. “OMG I’m so jealous! I would love to escape my children for two weeks! That sounds like absolute heaven!” Or,
  2. “Wow, that’s a long time.” (Subtext: “You’re going to Africa and leaving your precious children for that long? What if something happens to them? Or to you?”)

Of course, there are always risks involved with travel, but there are also risks involved when I merge onto Deerfoot Trail during rush hour. As for how my kids will “cope” with our absence, I actually think they will thrive. I’ve noticed that Bennett is much more co-operative with his grandparents and his aides when I am not around (this also explains why his school thinks he’s an obedient child who never cries). Avery adjusts well to change and is so busy with school, activities and friends, two weeks will fly by.

I wrote a column for the Calgary Herald on this very topic when Avery was a baby and Blake and I were leaving her with an aunt and uncle so we could ski at Whistler for the weekend. A local family psychologist that I interviewed for the story called travelling without kids “healthy selfishness,” adding that couple time away from the kids is “absolutely crucial, but it’s something that does not get included in pre-natal classes. It sure makes sense to me that everyone would want to take a break from parenting — it’s a huge job.”

Well, amen to that. So, Blake and I will enjoy this trip (mostly) guilt-free and return home energized and ready to embrace the relentless job that is parenting, eager to swap stories about our adventures with our kids.

What about you? Have you left your children behind to go on a big trip?

Enjoying a weekend in Montreal last June, sans kiddos.

Drink of the Week: Dawa Cocktail

An African holiday calls for a cocktail from the continent. A classic cocktail most people have heard of is the Dawa. The word dawa is Swahili for medicine and after sampling the drink — a strong mixture of vodka, lime juice and honey — I can see it’s been appropriately named.

Dawa means “medicine” in Swahili.

The Dawa first made a name for itself in Kenya, where it’s as popular in Nairobi  as it is on safari as a sundowner cocktail. Since Tanzania borders Kenya, the drink is equally popular there.

Perfect to sip on safari: cold, refreshing and strong.

I love the libation’s simplicity: muddled lime, honey and brown sugar meets crushed ice and cold vodka. It’s simultaneously sweet, tart and strong. And did I mention refreshing? Dawa, indeed.

Dawa Cocktail

  • 2 oz vodka (I used Zubrowka)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 lime, quartered then cut into chunks, plus lime wheel garnish
  • Crushed ice

Into a rocks glass place lime chunks, honey and sugar. Muddle just enough to release the lime juice and mix with the honey and sugar, but not so much as to mash the pith (that will release a bitter flavour). Add some crushed ice, then the vodka and stir to combine ingredients and bring up the lime from the bottom of the glass. Add more ice until the glass is full, then garnish with a lime wheel.

Honey and brown sugar add just the right balance of sweet.


Mt. Kilimanjaro? Bring it on!

If I’m not ready to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro by now, I’d say it’s too late. Blake and I leave tomorrow to fly 14,000 kilometres around the world to Tanzania. The morning after we arrive we begin an eight-day trek that will take us to the top of Africa’s tallest mountain.

Striking a pose at Lake Agnes, above Lake Louise. Kili? Bring it on!

We’re climbing Kili to celebrate 15 years of marriage and also to raise money for our son Bennett’s special needs school. So far we’ve raised $6,895 (thanks everyone!), surpassing our goal of $5,895 (5,895 is the height of the Mt. Kilimanjaro in metres).

In the past three months during “training” I’ve taken nearly 1-million steps, walked 700 kilometres and trekked up the equivalent of 3,545 flights of stairs. On my best day I ascended 3,900 feet (1,188 metres), basically the elevation between our final camp on Kili and the summit. I’ve also had sore muscles, an on-again/off-again achy knee (currently ache-free, woot!) and exactly one blister (from a pair of fashion shoes, not my Raichle hikers).

Training for this trip has been highly motivating. I’ve been keen to walk more, climb more and hike more. Blake and I have done some amazing day hikes on our own and with the kids and it’s helped me rediscover the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Here’s the highlight reel…

Best View: Lake Louise from the top of the Big Beehive. Sept. 8, 2012. It was actually hot at Lake Louise.

From this height (2,270 metres), Lake Louise is, in a word, stunning. Or as my friend commented, “Bombay Sapphire blue.”

Most Rewarding: the Polar Peak loop, which included a ridge walk and navigating a rocky outcrop with a cable. We even saw a boy moose! Aug., 5, 2012.

The view from up where they blast avalanches all winter = sublime. And it was a beautiful 30C day too — with no wind!

Best for Kids: Tamarack Trail at Island Lake. It has enough elevation gain for adults, with cool distractions for kiddos (a stream, a rockslide and a view). Aug. 6, 2012.


Most Rewarding: Mt. Fernie. Its 1,188 metres of elevation (322 flights of stairs!) kicked my soft behind. I was sore for four days after, but it jump-started my muscle memory. June 30, 2012.

Our first summit of the summer. Yes, I really like that hiking outfit!

The climb up Kili and views from the top will be completely different than those above. I can hardly wait!

Let them chase frogs (and get muddy!)

With temperatures returning to seasonal highs this week, it seems this past weekend may have been summer’s last hurrah. Time to reflect on an amazing three months that included hiking, kayaking, canoeing, trampoline bouncing, sandcastle building, Saskatoon berry picking and lots of swimming.

Getting muddy feet at the lake = fun!

What my summer didn’t include? Crafts of any sort (kill me now), mall visits or time in the basement watching movies when it was beautiful outside. After spending 10 days in Fernie, B.C. (during which time I missed Calgary not at all), I came to realize I am a nature-mama. I want my kids outside exploring the great outdoors and catching butterflies, discovering beaver trails and finding pretty-coloured rocks.

My kids are drawn to water and Avery has no problem tracking down (and capturing) lake denizens. It’s awesome! Note: dirty fingernails means she’s having fun.

A recent Motherlode blog in the New York Times talked about how spending time outdoors climbing trees not only teaches kids their own physical boundaries, it builds their confidence. It reminded me of all the hoopla several years ago surrounding “nature deficit disorder.” Remember that? The media was full of stories about how this generation of children is spending too much time inside playing video games instead of playing street hockey or jumping in puddles after a rainstorm. They hypothesized the phenomenon was creating a bunch of fat, socially mal-adjusted kids who couldn’t tell the difference between a robin and a rooster. The upshot? Nature is a great, free source of active fun that helps kids grow.

Playing “Leaf Monster” = fun!

Taken together, these two ideas — encouraging my kids to get a daily dose of nature while at the same time letting them (or, ahem, gently pushing them) to take risks and step outside of their comfort zone — have somewhat shaped my parenting philosophy. But still, I have to remind myself to stop saying, “Be careful!” every time Avery goes out on a limb. And I have to willfully ignore Bennett’s repeated requests for “Help!” when he’s navigating a hiking trail — nine times out of 10 he can manage on his own and is super proud of himself afterwards: “I did it all by myself, Mommy!” I also turn a blind eye to the dirty feet, grass-stained clothes and mud-wedged fingernails (difficult, but not impossible), and try to remind myself that dirt is good for my kids, even if it’s bad for my floors. Really.

I’m sad the days are getting shorter and the temperatures cooler, making it less inviting to go outside and play. But I welcome winter and a new season of challenges and adventures: ice skating on a frozen pond, skiing down a snow-covered mountain and lots of sledding. Bring it on!