Category Archives: Potpourri

Consider this our family Christmas card 5

The Kadane-Ford family Christmas card: 2016

After five years, we had professional family photos taken by the talented Jess Harcombe Fleming at the Sandy Cross Conservation Area in September.

Happy holidays from the Fordanes! We finally had professional family photos taken again by the talented Jess Harcombe Fleming at the Sandy Cross Conservation Area.

December marks the end of another year of adventures that included lots of skiing, hiking, scootering (Avery), swimming (Bennett), mountain biking (Blake) and writing (Lisa), and also subjecting other countries to our travelling circus. Our children wowed the Belizeans with their imperviousness to bug bites and jellyfish stings, Blake and I astonished the Argentinians and Uruguayans with our ability to drink excessive amounts of Malbec and eat nearly the whole cow, and the whole family impressed the Americans with our dedication to still shopping at Target during day trips across the border. In between outdoor adventures and trips there was life. Here’s what it looked like for each family member.

Blake continues to learn Spanish from his Duolingo app and is on a 251-day streak. I don’t want to brag, but he’s now 15 percent fluent. This came in handy in Argentina because he could not only order an empanada, he could ask where the baño was after eating too much carne asada.

Blake moves it like Jagger on a mountain bike in Sedona, Ariz.

Blake out-bikes the road runner in Sedona, Ariz.

He upped his mountain biking game with rides in Mendoza and Palm Springs, and with an entire weekend dedicated to riding, farting and beer drinking on a guys trip to Sedona. Blake took up fat biking, which is basically mountain biking on snow with really fat tires. And at the risk of making him sound obsessive overly enthusiastic about mountain biking, he also helped build some bike trails in Bragg Creek in the spring, which earned him a cool bumper sticker and also a frozen shoulder (at least he crossed off an item on his bucket list at the same time). On Blake’s radar for 2017: crossing off another bucket list item by hopefully getting called in as an extra for Fargo, a TV show filming its third season in Calgary this winter. So if you’re watching it and see a hottie driving a Honda Ridgeline, it just might be my famous husband!

Avery earned her yellow belt in karate this fall, so don’t mess with her in a dark alley unless you want a brown stripe in your underpants! She was elected premier of her grade six class after running on the platform, “Strong economy. Safe environment.” On her first day in office she voted herself a pay raise and raised everyone’s taxes lobbied the teacher (who really holds all the power) for more body breaks during class. Avery has also started babysitting, and though I wouldn’t have trusted an 11-year-old to look after my kids, her cheap hourly rate and willingness to clean dishes has helped to grow her client list.

Avery continues to embrace life.

Avery rides a giraffe on the carousel at Butchart Gardens this summer..

Avery skied in the Fernie Extreme Club again last winter and impressed Blake and me by skiing her first double black on Snake Ridge and only crashing four times! Speaking of snakes, she caught a few in Fernie this past summer and her love of all animals continues, be they scurrying crabs, sluggish sea stars or sea monkeys. She even picked up a Portuguese man-o-war in Belize, against her better judgement. On Avery’s radar for 2017: more skiing and earning enough money from babysitting to fund a return trip to Costa Rica.

Bennett climbed his first mountain, Castle Rocks, this past summer in Fernie, although he did go on strike in the middle of the trail and refused to budge until I bribed him with a Larabar. He swam with sharks and stingrays in Belize, went horseback riding, and we also dragged him on a boot-camp trek to a waterfall that provided the inspiration for a parenting-fail travel story.

Bennett continues to wow us with his willingness to go along with our crazy travel adventures.

Bennett continues to wow us with his willingness to go along with our crazy travel adventures. I wrote about travelling with a child with autism.

Other milestones Bennett achieved include ditching the car booster seat and buckling his own seatbelt, consistently sleeping through the night and even sleeping in on occasion (!), and nighttime potty training (although I jumped the gun reporting on this as he is now back in night diapers and we’ve doubled down with our Proctor & Gamble stock as we fear we will be diaper clients FOREVER). Finally, in an effort to help his speech and listening skills, we’ve made Bennett endure 52 hours of classical movements and singing monks as part of a music therapy program this fall. The downside? He now demands that all future playlists be compilations of Mozart and Gregorian chant. On Bennett’s radar for 2017: skiing with the Fernie Adaptive Ski Program and a return to his favourite place on Earth, the San Diego Zoo.

Piper continues to win over new human fans and we’re grateful to the friends and neighbours who have looked after her when we’ve been travelling. The only thing that might hurt her reputation is if people lean in too close and realize she suffers from simple chronic halitosis. Though she’s mostly given up snacking on her own turds, she occasionally eats rabbit poop, and her fishy-smelling salmon and sweet potato dog food isn’t doing her breath any favours.

Piper's head shot for Gun Dog Magazine.

Piper’s body shot for Gun Dog Magazine, shot on location in Fernie.

Blake still mountain bikes with Pipes wherever possible and he even started trail running with her this fall. Piper also enjoys a modicum of peace in her day-to-day life ever since we recorded Grandma Marianne saying, “Bennett, do not touch Piper! I repeat, do not touch Piper!” in a stern voice on Blake’s iPhone. Now, whenever Bennett bugs the dog, we put the recording on speaker and it’s like the voice of God helping to enforce good behaviour. On Piper’s radar for 2017: more opportunities to curl up on the couch with her human pack.

Lisa (that’s me) won’t shut up about Mars ever since she read a really long blog post about Elon Musk’s SpaceX initiative that aims to colonize the Red Planet. Forget travelling to 50 countries by the time I’m 50; I’ll settle for making it to another planet in my lifetime, even if it is freezing and has no atmosphere (not unlike Calgary) … surely there will be a market for travel stories from Mars?

Channeling my inner Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman on horseback in the Andes.

Channeling my inner Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman on horseback in the Andes near Mendoza, Argentina.

Speaking of travel and writing, I did a bit of each this past year. Highlights include a trip to Ottawa where my dream of taking a shirtless selfie with Justin was left unrealized, and a wine trip to Argentina, where I dressed up like a gaucho (see above photo), drank lots of juicy Malbec, was tricked into eating cow brain by Blake (he called it “a crispy ball of yummy”), and even witnessed professional sommeliers call every wine “youthful” as they competed for the title of World’s Biggest Wine Snob Best Sommelier. In addition to Argentina and a side trip to Uruguay, Blake and I managed to sneak in some couple time with a getaway to Palm Springs and a week-long Rockies road trip this summer. We finally hiked to Crypt Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park and reconnected over aches, pains and beautiful mountain scenery. On my radar for 2017: celebrating 20 years of marriage to Blake, and hopefully a trip somewhere awesome to mark the occasion.

We’ve truly had a great year, feel blessed by all the love and good times, and look forward to more adventures in 2017. Merry Christmas!

Our trip to Vancouver Island was a highlight. We love Butchart Gardens!

Our trip to Vancouver Island was another highlight.

 

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Disney On Ice review

Remember the Ice Capades? It was a part-theatrical, part-dance, ice skating show that often featured former Olympic skaters like Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton doing fancy routines without the pressure of winning a medal. It toured around the U.S. when I was a kid and I’m pretty sure my parents took me to see a show or two. I always loved watching the tricks, listening to the music and admiring the pretty costumes.

Ice Capades has pretty much gone kaput (although someone tries to resurrect it every couple of years), but now there’s something even better for kids: Disney On Ice. Imagine your favourite Disney franchises coming to life in front of you, on ice skates, and skating to the movie’s best songs. That pretty much sums it up.

The gang from Toy Story 3. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

The gang from Toy Story 3. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

I was invited to attend the Calgary opening of the Worlds of Enchantment tour last night. I brought my daughter Avery, 11, and one of her besties, age 10. I was worried they’d be too old for the show (most of the audience was comprised of little girls six and under wearing Elsa dresses and accompanied by their moms), but she surprised me by donning her Pluto hat from Disneyland, and even singing along to Love is an Open Door, the song where Anna meets Prince Hans in Frozen.

The Pulto hat makes an appearance!

The Pluto hat makes an appearance!

Worlds of Enchantment features four “ice skits.” First there’s a long show that recreates the most memorable scenes from Toy Story 3. Next comes a short skit from The Little Mermaid, when Ariel trades her voice to Ursula in exchange for human legs. After a brief intermission there’s a short performance where the cars from Cars drive around slowly (hey, it’s slippery) in circles to Tom Cochrane’s song Life Is A Highway and simultaneously wreck the ice that was just Zambonied (this was the weakest park of the show, in our opinion; a feeble attempt to appeal to the three boys in the audience). Last comes the Disney On Ice climax, when Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf take to the ice in an abbreviated version of Frozen that includes Elsa singing Let It Go as she skates in dizzying circles and channels her inner ice queen while the little girls in the audience lose their minds.

While we loved the costumes from Toy Story 3, and the choreographed scene featuring Andy’s army men, we agreed this skit was too long. Ursula and Ariel from The Little Mermaid were fantastic, and we benefitted from having an intimate knowledge of this particular Disney story (I read the book to Avery exactly 291 times when she was three). In fact, having a genuine enthusiasm for all-things-Disney-and-Pixar (or having a little girl) is kind of a prerequisite for attending.

Best costume of the show, worn extremely well by Ursula.

Best costume of the show, worn extremely well by Ursula. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

The Frozen performance was not only the most current, but definitely the best. It was the perfect length and included all the great songs from the movie, and solid skating and acting from the performers.

The Frozen Gang stole the show, in our opinion. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

The Frozen gang stole the show, in our opinion. We especially loved Olaf. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

In all, it was a fun night out and Avery enjoyed it more than I thought she would. I’m surprised the Stampede Corral wasn’t more full, but it was a school night, after all.

Disney On Ice is in town through November 20, with morning and matinee performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

 

Our fave 5 family attractions in Calgary

There are only two weeks of summer left (and a measly 10 days if your kids are in the Catholic system). It’s a time of mixed emotions — we’re sad because the season is coming to an end, yet ebullient at the thought of child-free September days. But we’re also plum out of ideas for how to occupy the children during summer break’s homestretch.

These are a few of our favourite outdoor places to go for fun, in no particular order. Some are popular attractions that charge admission; others are free. Hopefully one of our fave 5  stops will become your go-to.

Calgary Zoo

When the kids were little we had zoo passes and visited the Calgary Zoo almost weekly during the summer. Now that they’re older (11 and eight) we go about twice a year. It’s great fun to visit the animals that we think of as our old friends, including the gorilla troop, tigers and curious penguins. During our last visit we also bade Sabari, the rhinoceros, goodbye. He’s leaving in mid-September to make room for the giant panda exhibit, which is slated to open in 2018.

The Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo is a family favourite.

The Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo is a family favourite.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

We are a bit biased toward this protected natural area as we live a block away, but the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a neat place to bring kids. You have a great chance of seeing not only birds (from great blue herons to bald eagles), but other wildlife including deer and muskrats. Also, a lot of people don’t realize that all of the trails that were damaged during the 2013 flood have now reopened.

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

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

Heritage Park

Did you know the rides at Heritage Park are now included in the cost of admission? During our last visit we were super excited to just hop on the swings and carousel on the midway of this historical village. For those new to town, Heritage Park is an “olden days” attraction that brings to life various eras of a settler’s life in the west, from the fur trade at a replica fort to the dusty streets of a frontier town complete with ice cream shop and candy store. All the workers even dress the part (and are knowledgeable about their particular role), which makes it fun.

Bennett loved the swings and Avery was brave enough to try them, even though the spinning almost caused lunch to come up.

Bennett loved the swings and Avery was brave enough to try them, even though the spinning almost caused lunch to come up.

St. Patrick’s Island

This new-ish urban park has a natural-materials playground, a wading area, walking paths and a giant grassy hill to walk up and roll down (where they show free movies on select summer evenings). What’s more, St. Patrick’s Island is right on the bike path by the Bow River near Fort Calgary, so you can easily get there under your own power, bring a picnic and make a day of it. Be sure and check out the other new natural play space in neighbouring East Village, or pop into the Simmons Building for a coffee, cocktail or baked goodie.

St. Patrick's Island is a lovely redeveloped urban park between the Calgary Zoo and East Village.

St. Patrick’s Island is a lovely redeveloped urban park between the Calgary Zoo and East Village. Here, Bennett wades in a Bow River off-shoot.

Calaway Park

The beauty of Calgary’s amusement park is its small size. You can easily “do Calaway” in a day and I’ve hardly ever encountered a wait time longer than 10 or 15 minutes, so you can go on your favourite rides more than once. And don’t miss the Bumper Boats on a hot day — the best!

On the airplane ride at the Calaway Park kiddie zone.

Bennett on the airplane ride in the Calaway Park kiddie zone.

Finally, don’t forget to go for ice cream one more time this summer! The Calgary Zoo, Calaway Park and Heritage Park all have ice cream vendors, and you can ride over to Village Ice Cream from St. Patrick’s Island, or pop in to the Inglewood Drive In for a chocolate dip cone or milkshake if you’re at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Now that's a proper kid-sized ice cream cone.

I scream for ice cream!

It’s Saskatoon berry season!

The Saskatoon berries are ripe and ready for picking in Fernie, B.C. We spent about an hour harvesting the juicy berries, which look like blueberries but are actually more closely related to apples! (They taste rather like blueberries, too, but are not quite as sweet.)

Avery holds out a handful of Saskatoon berries. She was a great help picking them. Bennett, on the other hand, spent the entire walk eating his harvest.

Avery holds out a handful of Saskatoon berries. She was a great help picking them. Bennett, on the other hand, spent the entire walk eating his harvest.

There are so many Saskatoons on bushes right now, we walked away with about 12 cups of them. The kids love berry picking as it involves immediate gratification — they had Saskatoon stains all over their hands and faces! Our favourite spots to berry pick are along the pathway near the Fernie Stanford Resort, and over on the river trail behind the Fernie Golf Club.

We filled up this pitcher with Saskatoon berries in no time!

We filled up this pitcher with Saskatoon berries in no time!

The fruit pickers hard at work along the river trail behind the Fernie Golf Club.

The fruit pickers hard at work along the river trail behind the Fernie Golf Club.

What to do with so many Saskatoons? We’ve been adding them to breakfast smoothies and yogurt. Avery and Grammie also baked a Saskatoon berry pie. It turned out beautifully and was so delicious we ate it in one day! We are going to bake another one later this week with the rest of our harvest.

Saskatoon berry pie is a summertime treat, and a great taste of Canada!

Saskatoon berry pie is a summertime treat, and a great taste of Canada!

Saskatoon berry pie

  • 1 pie pastry
  • 5 cups Saskatoon berries
  • 1/2 cup white sugar, plus 1 tsp. set aside to sprinkle on the top crust
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tbsp. flour (we used pancake mix)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. butter

Method: Preheat oven to 425F. In a sauce pan, combine the berries, 1/2 cup sugar, water, flour and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. The berries should turn into a jam-like filling and thicken up. Pour the filling into a pie pastry and dot with the butter. You can either make your own pastry, or use a prepared frozen pastry (that’s what we did!). Place a second pie pastry on top, making sure to cut a few holes in it to let hot air escape, and then press the bottom and top crust together using a fork. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1 tsp. sugar. Finally, put the pie in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F and bake for another 35-45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

My kids aren’t physically literate. Are yours?

“I’m not very good at throwing,” my daughter recently confessed. “Or kicking.”

Her self-assessment came after I explained the concept of “physical literacy,” which is the movement equivalent of reading or adding. Basically, a child who is physically literate has mastered basic movement skills and is comfortable running, jumping, balancing, spinning, throwing and catching, etc., across a range of activities.

Avery is all confidence on her surf board, mugging for the camera.

Avery has great balance and can surf, but needs to improve her manipulation skills (throwing, catching and kicking).

In my daughter’s case, we’ve never enrolled her in softball, basketball or soccer, and we’re not a toss-the-pigskin-around-on-the-weekend kind of family, so the only regular contact she’s had with a ball is in gym class. The problem? “In gym, they don’t teach you how to throw, they expect you to already know how.”

So her throwing doesn’t improve, and as a result, she prefers non-ball activities, like capture the flag, or obstacle courses.

This failure to acquire basic physical skills is a growing problem — and not just with kicking and throwing, there are plenty of children who are great at soccer but can’t ice skate or do a cartwheel — and one I address in a story on physical literacy, for Today’s Parent, online today. The story coincides with the annual ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, also released today.

Blake helps Bennett with some rock hopping on part of the the Coal Creek Heritage Trail in Fernie, B.C.

Blake helps Bennett with some rock hopping in Fernie, B.C.

This year’s Report Card shows that kids are not physically active enough (Overall Physical Activity earned a D-). What’s more, they’re also struggling with physical literacy, which was graded for the first time and earned a D+.

The fact that kids aren’t active enough isn’t a big surprise — we’ve long been wringing our hands over increasingly sedentary kids and growing rates of obesity and childhood diabetes. But what my story and the report revealed to me is that while schools and parents spend a lot of time making sure their kids can read and do math, when it comes to focusing on the physical skills that will ensure they stay active for life, we fall short. Could there be a connection between this lack of basic movement skills and the fact activity levels drop off as kids get older? If you never learned how to hit a ball well, you’re not going to suddenly take up tennis, after all.

Avery and a friend stop at the top of Curry Bowl's 123's.

Avery can ski a black diamond, but might miss a ball if you throw it at her.

I always thought we did a pretty good job of being active with — and active role models for — Avery and Bennett. We hike, ski and swim as a family. We also have a trampoline that the children love. Avery has tried gymnastics, dance and karate, and through Girl Guides she’s been ice skating and inline skating. She’s also comfortable on a bike and a scooter. So, her locomotor and stability skills are great — it’s the manipulative skills, common in ball sports, that could use some work.

Bennett, who has autism and a chromosome condition, has always struggled with gross and fine motor skills. Since he finds many physical activities challenging to begin with, we’ve gravitated toward what he likes — horseback riding, swimming and hiking. He isn’t even close to physically literate, even though he’s been exposed to a wide range of activities. As a result, there’s a lot he can’t do, and will probably never be able to do.

Bennett loves horseback riding. Here he is on a pony ride in Grand Lake, Colo. this summer.

Bennett loves horseback riding. Give him a saddle over a soccer ball any day.

The question is, should we be doing more as parents? Honestly, the thought of making the kids work on their kicking, throwing and catching is exhausting, partly because I’m just not that into balls. As it is, I have to bribe Bennett with chocolate to get him to ride his adapted bike! Perhaps schools could do a better job teaching those skills — and that will likely happen in junior high and high school, at least for Avery, when she’s forced to join a team (that’s when I played basketball and volleyball).

But here’s the thing: I was never great at soccer or softball, either. Like Avery, I gravitated toward gymnastics, trampolining and skiing, and as an adult, hiking and bike riding. I don’t play on any adult leagues, but I’m still physically active. Am I physically literate? I probably was back in 1989, but like my ability to write essays in French and solve calculus equations, those movement skills have faded with time.

The best I can hope for is that the groundwork we’re laying for our kids — the hiking, daily walks, skiing and swimming, regardless of whether they become physically literate — will rub off on them and inspire them to be active for life.

 

 

 

Toilet phone

My iPhone took a dive into the toilet at our B&B in Colonia, Uruguay last week. Sadly, ours is a world in which this type of thing happens with alarming frequency, as it seems we can no longer enjoy even the throne in disconnected solitude. Just tell the techie at the Apple store that your phone “got wet” and he’ll say, “Please tell me the toilet was clean.”

With a little advance planning, you too can avoid dropping your iPhone in the toilet.

With advance planning, you can avoid dropping your iPhone in the toilet.

In true Game of Phones style, the toilet was not clean. It was a pee toilet. I immediately rescued my pee phone, removed it from its pee case and patted the pee dry. I returned to bed (why, oh why had I taken my phone to the toilet at dawn? To check the time and to see whether I had any new likes for my Facebook post, of course) and obsessed about how I was going to find the rice that’s necessary to properly dry out a wet phone. I rehearsed the conversation in Spanish:

Me: “Buenos dias, senor. Tengo una pregunta. Tiene arroz?”

Senor: “Arroz?”

Me: “Si, arroz. Mi telefono estaba en el bano? En la agua? Necessito arroz para secar el telefono.”

Senor: Blank stare at the crazy lady.

He found some rice, bless him, and dumped it onto my phone inside a ziploc baggie. And this was all before 7:30 a.m. The prognosis was looking good, so long as the urine didn’t fry the circuitry or something.

When I got back to the room it was my husband who was looking at me like I was a crazy lady. Not only had I dropped the phone in the toilet, the device contained all the images from the trip — beautiful pictures of Mendoza wineries and colonial buildings in Uruguay — and I wasn’t on the iCloud! The pictures weren’t backed up, my contacts weren’t backed up, so my very existence was pretty much in the toilet, too.

There was naught to do but begin the long journey back to Canada, via ferry to Buenos Aires, bus to the EZE airport, and planes to Santiago, Toronto and Calgary, where I hoped by then the rice would have saved my phone. Yes, my phone is mostly functional again (the rice works, people!), but I’m using it a lot less. Three days without a phone was actually awesome and liberating, and I wanted to share what I learned.

Don’t bring your phone to the toilet

This is obvious, right? And yet, everyone does it. It’s like, we’re all scanning our news on a mobile app so when nature calls, we bring the phone to continue reading. I know a lot of people whose phones ended up in the toilet or on the floor next to the toilet because of this bad habit. Plus, it’s unsanitary — think of the germs! So don’t bring any device near the bathroom. Instead, use that time to think deep thoughts.

Back up your devices

My first thought as the touch screen began to slow down during the patting dry process was, “My photos! F*#K!” All those great images of the kids on spring break and me dressed up like a gaucho in the Andes: fading fast. I made a vow to activate iCloud for my phone and computer back in Canada, and to regularly download images from my phone to the computer (the idea of everything floating somewhere in the ether is a bit too airy for my liking).

Make a habit of turning off your phone at home

There’s a lot of talk about “being present” in your life, with your spouse and children. Let me tell you, nothing yanks you back to reality quite like not having a phone. With no portable connection to social media, you actually become more social with the people you live with. Imagine! This is a great thing. I found I listened to my kids without any mental distraction. In the mornings, I enjoyed my coffee with my thoughts, or read a chapter in my book. It was like an experiment for the slow technology movement: “Let’s not check our email or know what’s happening in the world until we get to work. Let’s see if that brings more balance to life!”

Maybe we don’t all really need smart phones

This thought ran through my head at the Apple store, after the techie refused to look at my “biohazard” (his word) toilet phone, and then tried to up-sell me on a newer, bigger, higher-memory iPhone. I thought about what I use it for: mainly, taking pictures, texting, reading news and occasionally social media. Apart from texting, I can do the other three using a camera and my laptop, which I would never bring to the toilet with me. I rarely ever use my phone as a phone since we still have a land line (quaint, I know). So why would I spend $800 on the fancy iPhone 6S plus model when I could just go ghetto with my old iPhone 4 and use it to text until my contract is up?

We all seem to think we can’t live without our phones. But we can, and in a lot of ways, the living is better.

Consider this our family Christmas card 4

The Kadane-Ford family Christmas card: 2015

Family photo on Playa Grande beach on our last evening in Costa Rica.

Family photo on Playa Grande beach on our last evening in Costa Rica.

It’s been another exciting year for our family that included spring break in Costa Rica and a road trip to Denver and Salt Lake City, as well as lots of hiking, trips to Fernie and Game of Thrones book bingeing for me (yes, I read all five and have become one of those nerds people who knows what R + L = J means. See you next year at Comic Con! I’ll be dressed as Brienne of Tarth.). In between the fun we made 220 school lunches, read over 600 bedtime stories, cooked salmon (Avery’s favourite!) at least 50 times and spent 57 hours planning future holidays. Here are some 2015 highlights for each family member.

Blake continues to enjoy his time away from an office job and has begun to cultivate some hobbies including wood-working and tending bonsais. He began to take an interest in the tiny trees on a trip to Japan and we now have two. On the same trip, Blake crossed off a bucket list item after he ate blowfish, a.k.a. fugu. The empty Tokyo restaurant seemed like a bit of a red flag, but Blake dug in with enthusiasm to the sushi, deep fried and weird congee-style blowfish and told me not to worry when his tongue went numb.

Poison, poison, tasty fish! In which Bennett makes like Homer and lives.

Poison, poison, tasty fish! In which Blake makes like Homer and lives.

Upon returning to Canada, Blake had a closer brush with danger when he hit a tree while mountain biking on his last ride of the regular season and suffered a subdural hematoma dark bruise in his kidney area. Fortunately, he stopped peeing blood after a week  healed in time for winter fat biking!

Avery continues to enjoy Girl Guides and piano and she tried jazz dance this fall. She is also keen to try archery after secretly reading The Hunger Games books at school. “What’s the big deal?” you might be thinking. “I read Flowers in the Attic in grade six.” Yeah, well, I guess Katniss offing fellow teens isn’t as bad as Catherine’s sibling love with her brother. Still, it pains me to see her growing up so fast and it makes me want to hide the Game of Thrones books (killing AND inappropriate sibling relationships!).

Avery was in her element in Costa Rica and loved all the wildlife including this red-eyed tree frog.

Avery, age 10 (grade 5) was in her element in Costa Rica and loved all the wildlife including this red-eyed tree frog.

There are still plenty of little girl cuddles, though, even if Avery has started giving us the hairy eyeball when we sing dorky witty made-up songs about Piper in public. She is signed up for the Fernie Extreme Club again this winter and I will die a little be a proud mama if this is the year she surpasses me on the slopes. Avery has also mastered her back flip on the trampoline, taught Piper how to “play dead” and “sit pretty” and is on her way to being a math whiz (even if we will never ever understand regrouping). We are thrilled by how much she loves to travel, and humbled by her desire to help others, including four-legged friends — she’s volunteering at the SPCA this year.

Bennett has had another busy year that included learning how to doggie paddle and chew gum, and trying new tricks on the trampoline including diving head first into the net. He has also branched out with his vocabulary and after-school activities. We had him in therapeutic horseback riding this fall, which he loved, as well as swimming every week through the Special Olympics.

Bennett loves horseback riding. Here he is on a pony ride in Grand Lake, Colo. this summer.

Bennett, age 8 (grade 3) loves horseback riding. Here he is in Grand Lake, Colo.

And, I don’t want to brag, but I am happy to report that Bennett has reached the life-changing (for me) milestone of being able to vomit into a toilet when he has the stomach flu — rather than all over his sheets or the carpet; that is such a dose to clean up at 2 a.m. We are so very proud. There are still many challenges with Bennett’s autism, which I wrote about in a Today’s Parent story, but for the most part he keeps making progress and finding new ways to torment the dog.

Speaking of Piper, she has calmed down considerably now that she’s closing in on three (that’s 21 in dog years — time to move out and get a job, Pipes!). The only time she still really loses it is when there’s a squirrel in the backyard. Then she trembles and whines and barks like a ninny as she bolts down the stairs after her ever-elusive quarry.

She has also started grazing like a cow on long blades of grass. This poses a problem during elimination as she swallows them whole and then they don’t necessarily come out all the way, if you get my meaning.

Piper stops for a rest at Nose Hill Park.

Piper stops for a rest at Nose Hill Park. Wouldn’t she make a great cover model for Gun Dog magazine?

We have also begun to question her intelligence as every morning when she exits her kennel, instead of running straight for the food bowl, she takes the time to stretch and thus gets herself caught in a steer wrestling headlock by Bennett as he seizes the opportunity to manhandle his favourite playmate. But for all her idiosyncrasies, she teaches us every day about unconditional love and she never takes us for granted. I can leave the house for just five minutes but when I return, there’s Piper, tail wagging, holding her lovey in her mouth as an offering.

Lisa (that’s me) has finally succumbed to ageing and has invested in a bookish/sexy pair of reading glasses. It got to the point last summer where I was hardly reading A Feast for Crows because the light had to be just so and I needed a selfie stick to hold the book three feet from my eyes. Alas, the “librarians” are LIKE A MIRACLE and I no longer need large print books.

Hangin' with the hairy coos on Islay, Scotland.

Hangin’ with the hairy coos on Islay, Scotland.

I stay young at heart through travel and this was a banner year. I enjoyed a press trip to Scotland where I drank my face off gained a deep appreciation for peated whisky. I also visited Churchill to test the limits of my cold tolerance see the polar bears. And Blake and I jetted off to Japan on a couple’s trip to tour the temples of Kyoto, stay in some ryokans and feed the aggressive deer in Nara. I continue to write about travel, parenting and cocktails, and I even appeared on TV mixing holiday drinks.

We’re looking forward to a busy winter break that includes skiing, snowmobiling, time with family and, hopefully, a visit from Santa. Happy holidays!

Yellowstone