Last of the Summer Flowers

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Happy Tuesday, friends! And happy September! Yikes, that came up quickly. For some of you, this signals the melancholy end of Summer; for others, this is the long awaited beginning of Spring. Here in Brazil it is neither, sadly, because we have no distinct seasons. In Rio, September just means…less mosquitos? Some cooler days, but some really hot days, too? Halfway to Carnival??

Whatever September means for you, I hope it is a month that rises to the occasion and gives you many moments that feel oh so good. Here are a few photos to start you off on the right foot:

Double peony

Lavender

Bee

Wild roses

White peony

Garden path

Pink peony

 

“The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.”

- John Updike, September

Taking the bronze

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Have you seen this? It’s The Economist’s list of the top 10 cities in which to live.

City chart

Whether your city is on there or not, I think we should all just take a moment to notice that Canada is represented 3 times. Yessiree. (Also, high five to Australia, but apparently The Economist forgot about all the creatures that can kill you in Australia. Just sayin’.)

The beautiful city of Vancouver is right up there in 3rd place, and I can confirm, after a trip there this July, that it wholly deserves that spot. We were there for 3 days, but our first remark about how we could live there happened in the first 4 hours. Do you do that? Walk around after a particularly satisfying lunch and say things like, “We could live here, right? I mean, couldn’t you? Right? That was amazing tabbouleh. And plus, look at this place. Yeah, we could live here.”

Granville

The glory of our trip to Vancouver was not only in visiting a great city, but in visiting a great city WITHOUT our kids. All the parents out there can pause now and savour that.

Van street

Our kidlets are superb travelers and they go everywhere with us, which is exactly why a few days without them is so very sweet. And we really reveled in that. We stayed at a boutique hotel downtown where I didn’t have to think about where to put the roll-away cot, we went out for dinner at 10pm (!) where I cut no one’s food but my own, and we even went to a performance of the incredible Vancouver Symphony Orchestra where I didn’t have to sneak out of the row to take anyone to the toilet. It was freeing, people.

Orpheum theatre

We borrowed bikes from our hotel and cycled a portion of the Sea Wall which is a 22 km path along the Vancouver waterfront. We joined up with the path and followed it around the stunning Stanley Park. With the fresh sea air, the views of the city skyline, and the sound of the water lapping at the shore, it is quite possibly the loveliest place to cycle. Plus, I did the whole thing using only 2 gears which is my kind of “active”.

Sea wall

Stanley Park is truly a treasure – a huge forest with ancient trees and peaceful trails right next to the bustling city centre. It felt like a refuge…a refuge with its own brewery. Actually, that sums up Vancouver in a nutshell: a healthy  balance of an active lifestyle and gourmet indulgence. Oh, Vancouver, thank you.

Stanley Park

Totems

Vancouver is an extremely walkable city. This is a blessing because you will want to balance out all of the food you are compelled to eat while you are there. One place to fill your belly is at Granville Island Market. Wowzer, this place is a sensory overload of fresh fruit, tubs of bright pesto, savoury breads, sweet pastries, wheels of cheese, hot mugs of french onion soup, and hissing espresso machines. We went there after a big breakfast – a mistake that I still regret  – so all we could do was walk around admiring the incredible food and the beautiful artwork until eventually we walked enough space into our appetites for a singular golden pecan pastry. Sigh.

Granville fruit

But I will be back for you, fresh fish and chips! And maple fudge!

Van boats

We also ate at Salt Tasting Room – a unique restaurant which pairs cheeses and cold meats with top notch wines; perfect for late night nibbles. However, with its exposed brick and naked light bulbs AND the fact that it is down a dark lane called Blood Alley (I was sure it was the end of me), Salt felt a bit too cool for me. Luckily the food and wine were outstanding. Triple cream brie with local honeycomb has a mysterious way of making me feel at ease.

Salt menu

Cordova street

Rooftops

Van vines

Vancouver, for us, was the ideal combination of nature, culture, beauty, great food, and friendly people. Way to overachieve, Vancouver! I loved it all. I might not ever get to live there (I have a little problem with a place where people use umbrellas when it snows – I am sure you understand), but I will most definitely visit again to soak up more of this city’s wonders.

Maybe I will even take the kids….nah, they’ll end up eating all the maple fudge.

Van buildings

Van downtown

 

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.” 
― Hans Christian Andersen

Long Time Gone

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Well, I am not sure how this happened, but I haven’t published a post around these parts since October 2013. I am not certain, but I believe that leaving nearly 11 months between posts is breaking some kind of blogging rule…the rule of actually writing stuff, for example.

You know how it gets, though – you have good intentions and plans, and yet somehow the days pass by and nothing has eventuated. Like you and that plan to eat more chia seeds or to get rid of that pair of jeans that you bought one size too small. Y’know, it just doesn’t happen.

Mind you, I wasn’t being completely lazy during those 10 months. I was taking a lot of photos and doing some incredible traveling (and, let’s be honest, watching Jimmy Fallon clips on YouTube). The trips I took were so eye-opening and wonderful that I think you will want to get your own glimpse of these places, too.

I will try to share the very best of it with you because we all love to know that special places exist, not so we can put them on some bucket list, but just to know that beautiful parts of our world abound even if they are not right outside our window.

Places like these…

NZ Beach

 

Argentinian lunch

 

Colombian hills

 

Brazil beach

 

Alberta rocks

Now, if these places ARE outside your window, then congratulations..and also, whaaaat?! Open those curtains for criminy’s sake!

I hope you are all still out there and willing to stop by for a blog visit from time to time. I do hope that these last 10 months have been good to you, or at least civil to you, or maybe just that you have survived them? I am not sure where our standards should be.

Okay, let’s do this! You go give away those jeans already and I will get writing! xx

This little piggie went to Munich…and that was that.

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A gazillion years ago we went to Munich, Germany. Or maybe it was 2003. Same thing.

Munich Square

I have German heritage, so German food satisfies some deep, wonderful, hearty need in me. Or it could just be that I really enjoy pork and beer. Either way, when I travel to Germany I savour my meals.

Munich excelled on the food front. We would start our day in the market where we would eat weisswurst: chubby, white sausages that you slice open lengthwise and eat without the skin.

Locals say that weisswurst should never hear the church bells at noon. It’s a lovely way to say that these sausages are prepared daily without preservatives, so eat them in the morning and don’t dilly dally.

Add in a soft pretzel and a beer that you need to lift with two hands, and you’ve got yourself a breakfast of champions!

Munich street

One day for lunch we found an old, dark tavern across the river where there were wolfhounds lying under the tables (you can’t even make this stuff up).

I spotted “Pork Knuckle” on the menu and my mind was made up. Who knew pigs had knuckles? Who cares? I ended up with a huge platter of sauerkraut in front of me, and placed on top was a succulent, slow-roasted ham hock.

Those wolfhounds might have thought that I was in over my head, but they were mistaken.

Residenz

Right in the centre of the city is Munich Residenz – a royal palace that shames all other palaces with its opulence and extravagance. It is an incredible peek into bygone European royalty. We toured the rooms there and gaped at the floor-to-ceiling riches.

Remember when you thought having that spotted throw cushion next to the plaid blanket on your couch was too much? Take comfort in the Residenz design manual which states (roughly translated), “A room can never have enough patterns, or gold, or cherubs painted on the ceilings.”

Palace

I loved it in all its unapologetic glory. It was saying, “You go ahead and search for DIY decor tips on Pinterest, darling. This is how it is really done.”

City View

“Of one thing there is no doubt: if Paris makes demands of the heart, then Munich makes demands of the stomach.”

Rachel Johnson

Friday Photos: Stampede Edition

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Every July, Calgary, Alberta transforms into a boot-stompin’, hay-balin’, two-steppin’ kind of town. The Calgary Stampede takes over this big, booming, oil metropolis for 10 days which means that everyone from police officers to corporate executives wear cowboy hats, there is no shame in having free pancakes for breakfast every day, and everybody becomes an expert on chuckwagon racing.

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The Stampede is a rodeo, Ag show, fun fair, art exhibition, circus, concert, and party all rolled into one wonderful package.

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Plus there’s lots of deep-fried food…on sticks. What’s not to love?

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This year the whole city, including the Stampede grounds, was devastated by floods a mere 2 weeks before the Stampede was to begin. The tragedy seemed insurmountable. Maybe in its 101st year the Stampede would have to be cancelled.

But it wasn’t.

That good old cowboy spirit prevailed and the Stampede was as great as ever. Thank goodness, really, because those police officers in black Stetsons? The best part of my year.

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Knock, knock. Who’s there?

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* Remember my grand plan? The one that was to bring structure to this blog? Well, turns out that I have to come to dread that structure, particularly the last bit: Story That Needs to be Told. NEEDS to be told? Talk about setting yourself up for failure.

What if I have a story that can’t live up to that? What if all I have is a few memories that are neither here nor there? It has started to feel like I always need to deliver a convocation speech when all I want is a bit of small talk sometimes.

My solution up to now has been to stop writing, to abandon posts half way through writing them, and to allow weeks to go by without posting because I can’t get every post perfectly written.

I’d like to change that. I’d like to slip into the blog equivalent of elasticized pants. I want to relax and share more even if it doesn’t conveniently fit into the structure I laid out at the beginning. We’ll all enjoy this a whole lot more, just like we enjoy Thanksgiving dinner more when we allow ourselves to pop that top button on our jeans.

Wait…you do that, right?

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Let’s talk about…Barcelona, Spain (I personally don’t pronounce it as “Barthelona” which in my opinion should be left to the guy in black socks and sandals who is lisping his way through his holiday photo slideshow.)

Barcelona street

It is not difficult to find good food in Barcelona. You need only to wander the narrow, meandering streets with laundry strung above them, following the smell of garlic and the warm glow of candlelight.

What IS difficult is being pregnant in Barcelona and unable to eat that good food.

The rules about what a pregnant woman can and cannot eat are as confounding as, say, the reasons why the Kardashians are famous.

Meat, but only if fully cooked. Cheese, but only if pasteurized. Eggs, but not undercooked. Fish, but no sushi. Vegetables, but only if washed.

I found it difficult to navigate Barcelona’s menus with these limitations swirling in my mind. Really tasty tapas include things like cured meats, marinated raw fish, pâté, farm-fresh cheese, and shellfish. As much as the logical part of my brain told me that Spanish mothers eat all of those things, all the time, it was nerve-wracking.

Yes, I probably played it safer than necessary (and may have even eaten at a bagel place once), but I knew that Barcelona would welcome me back another time to feast on ALL of the food with only my appetite as a limitation.

As if I need an excuse to go back.

Barcelona alley

There are numerous spots around Barcelona where you can see the fantastical creations of architect, Anton Gaudi, but the most famous is Sagrada Familia. This enormous church is still under construction, but it is already incredible to behold.

Church towers

I loved the soaring pillars and the colourful stained glass. I also loved that his designs were slightly wonky, dreamy, and playful. It seemed as though Gaudi was equally inspired by nature as by Dr. Seuss.

Sagrada Familia

This trip to Barcelona had many purposes: to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, to escape the Norwegian winter, and to stay in a swanky hotel in a big city before we had a baby and swapped swanky for swaddling.

To this end, we booked into a very posh hotel right downtown – a place that had fluffy robes and a shower head the size of a dinner plate.

Hotel

One night as we slept, cocooned in sheets with a high thread count (for the price of the room, I would hope they were), we were startled awake by someone knocking on our door. Before we could make sense of what was happening, the knocking turned to banging. Then the banging turned to shouting.

Matt checked the peephole and asked the guy what he wanted. (What could we offer, really? A shower cap?)

The guy started yelling at us to let him in, but not in a menacing way, just in a drunken-can’t-remember-his-room-number way. He clearly was convinced that his friend was inside our room, refusing to open the door for him. He kept on shouting until finally Matt was shouting back at him, “YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG ROOM”.

With all of this middle of the night hoopla my luxury hotel experience started to feel distinctly youth hostel-ish. We should’ve just sealed the deal and invited him in to share a beer, wash his clothes in the sink, and hand-stitch a Canadian flag on his backpack.

We didn’t, though.

Facade

“Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind…”

- Ernest Hemingway

Hook, line, and sinker

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Where: Børøy, Norway

Coast

Plate of food: Since Børøy is an island off the southwestern coast of Norway, we had to travel by ferry. If you have ever been on a ferry in Norway you will know that any self-respecting ferry will serve hot dogs on board. And any self-respecting Norwegian will eat one on board.

I secretly love this hot dog phenomenon in Norway, and had no qualms about eating one at every opportunity when I lived there.

Acorns

As I sat nursing our baby girl on the ferry, I sent Matt to buy me a hot dog (only the very best for breastfeeding mums). Inadvertently he was given a cheese hot dog which has a molten core of orange processed cheese.

I bit into my hot dog and a geyser of bright orange cheese sauce erupted out the end of the dog, arching over my feeding baby, and splattering onto the floor.

I was shocked, to say the least, but I was relieved to see that the cheese incident had no witnesses: Matt was off paying for the ferry ticket, my baby was sleeping, and no one was sitting near us.

Then I looked up.

And locked eyes with a pre-teen boy who gazed at me with a fair amount of disgust.

I did the only thing I could – I stared straight at him as I took another bite of that hot dog.

The Best: The highlight for me was simply staying in a Norwegian hytte (cabin). Norway is dotted with thousands of hytter from the rugged coasts to the snowiest mountains. Most are remote, a lot of them are painted bright red, some you can rent for your holiday, and all of them are as cozy as can be.

Hytte

We were lucky enough to stay in a number of these picturesque cabins during our time in Norway. This one on Børøy was one of the best with its location right on the water, its tranquility, and its private boat that we could use to explore the surrounding islands.

We had two holidays there – full of fishing, card games, walks to the apple orchard, boat trips, views of glass-like water, and complete silence.

Toadstool

Norway – I love you, your hytter, AND your hot dogs.

Story that needs to be told: I am not a fisherman. In fact, at the age of 27, I had never caught a fish before. Matt, on the other hand, enjoys fishing and was keen to fish while on Børøy; he often took the boat out for an hour or two.

I patiently waited while he fished, spending my time with an infant who had no desire to fish nor, more depressingly, to sleep.

After a particularly sleepless night and a bleary-eyed day, Matt suggested that I fish off the pier as evening approached. He insisted that it would be relaxing, distracting, and peaceful.

I begrudgingly dragged the fishing rod out to the pier, muttering about not knowing what I was doing. As I settled into the rhythm of casting, listening for the satisfying “plop” of the lure, and reeling in, I had to admit that this was exactly the simple task I needed to unwind.

Fishing

And then I caught a fish.

And another.

And the next day in my new-found obsession with finding time to fish, I caught a pollack big enough for us to actually cook and eat.

BOOM. Hunter-gatherer extraordinaire.

Here I am looking distinctly terrified at having actually caught a FISH.

Here I am looking distinctly terrified at having actually caught a FISH.

Except I didn’t want to actually touch the fish. Or gut it. Or clean it. But still, BOOM.

“Too often. . .I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.”  Louis L’Amour