Go Wild, Go West!

This blog post comes at you two days late, and with more than 7000km of travel under my belt; 6000km of it by plane, and over 1000km by car.  Such is the Alberta way: road trips.

Late last week, my kids and I took advantage of some soon-to-expire Westjet vouchers and hopped on a plane to Calgary for six days of soaking up family and friends and exploring Southern and Central Alberta.  (Unfortunately my husband couldn’t join us, since he’s a teacher and the school-year has not yet wrapped up in Burlington.)  I grew up in Sundre, Alberta, an hour’s drive Northwest of Calgary, but until I was ten years old, I lived in the tiny village of Hughenden, about 100km west of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.  I still have lots of relatives in and around Hughenden, so this trip was a chance to see many of them and to give my kids a taste of their heritage.  My children are older now, and at nine and six, they’ve got improved stamina for car travel and a bigger interest and awareness of their surroundings.  So while they’ve been to Alberta many times, it’s usually a Christmas visit, and it’s usually centred around Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  This trip was the opposite of that, and we put in more than ten hours of car travel, slept in three different beds, and threw in lots of coffee and cookie visits with their Great Aunts and Uncles for good measure.

Our first adventure was the Sundre Pro Rodeo.  Sundre hosts a three-day professional rodeo annually, on the third weekend in June, so if you want a true Western experience, this is it.  And….. since I’m not one to do things halfway, I registered my daughter as a mutton bustin’ contestant.  For those non-Albertans reading this post, mutton bustin’ is a children’s rodeo event, whereby five and six-year-olds who weigh less than 50 pounds can don a hockey helmet and ride a sheep across the rodeo arena.  Hang on the longest, win a prize.  I’d prepped her for months; YouTube videos, storied descriptions, and promises of fun and accomplishment.  My city girl was about to get a country girl experience.  After taking in the local pancake breakfast and the main street parade, we headed to the rodeo grounds, and in true Sundre Rodeo fashion, the infield was a mud pit from the rain the night before.

Undeterred, my brave girl stood above the chutes thirty minutes before her event, and we scoped out the sheep, who were corralled and waiting.  The grandstand began to fill, the rain-jackets and hoodies came off, and after a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, it was time.  Into the chute I climbed, onto the sheep she went; the whistle blew, the gate opened, the sheep ran.  Fast.  If you’re picturing this scene in your mind, you can now picture a sheep darting across the mud, then slipping and falling onto its side, with a little girl still attached; orange rubber boot in the air, she only let go when the sheep got up. rodeo discussionShe came up crying, upset not about falling off, but about being covered in mud.  As I’d hoped, dry clothes and a trophy quickly changed her tears to laughter.  Oh, what a show-and-tell she will have at school today.  

Our next adventure took us to Provost, Alberta, my birthplace, to visit my Aunt and Uncle’s farm.  We spent two nights there, under the big prairie skies, and had more fun than I can describe within my word count here.  Ironically, my kids missed their end-of-the-year field trip to a farm earlier this week, but got an up-close-and-personal look at a working farm instead.  We checked on the cows, played with the cats, and rode the ATVs for miles across wide open spaces.  We breathed in the fresh Alberta air and watched a storm roll in across the prairie, we shot slingshots and pop cans, rode in tractors and played cards and boardgames and shuffleboard.  I saw my childhood flash back through them, saw life come full circle, saw the next generation see and feel and taste my memories, my nostalgia, my experiences.

I should also mention the several Aunts and Uncles and small towns that we stopped in throughout our 1000km of travel; we drove by the house I grew up in, we visited two cemeteries to see my grandparent’s headstones, and we climbed the big dinosaur lookout in Drumheller.  I saw dozens of high school friends, ran on my favourite trails, and threw rocks along the riverbanks where I learned to skate.  Our final night in Alberta was spent in Calgary with my brother and his family, who had also joined us in Sundre earlier in our trip.  We filled up on pizza and ice cream, playgrounds and cousin hugs, neighbourhood walks and familiar streets.   

All in all, this week was about roots.  These people, these places, these experiences; these are the components of me.  And while my life has changed dramatically over the years, their importance and value remains, so sharing these people and places with my children is something I’ll cherish forever.  You know, roots and wings and all that…..

I hate camping.

This past weekend, I went camping with my family.  Just a short trip, for two nights and three days, we ventured to Pinery Provincial Park, on the beautiful shores of Lake Huron.  But I have a shameful secret to share:

I hate camping.

It’s true.  And now I feel exposed and raw and vulnerable.  You now know the real me, one that includes a hatred of camping.

I grew up in the foothills of the Alberta Rockies, and regularly went camping with my parents and brother.  I don’t remember loving or hating it, it was just something we did every Summer, and I would bring my books and fishing rod and head out into nature for a few fresh air sleeps.  Back then, I lived in a small town, and “nature” was a big part of my everyday, so camping wasn’t much of a stretch beyond my normal.  But now, living in a very urban centre, it’s more of an adventure for my city kids to camp.  And they love it.  We go annually, and my husband and I suck up our camping aversions, load up the SUV until we can’t see out the windows, and take our children to a campsite for a few days of marshmallows, lake swims, and free-range parenting.

Logically, I can’t quite figure out my negative feelings towards camping.  I love the campfire part, the fresh air part, the hikes, the swims, the fishing, and the tent sleeps.  But the higher-maintenance part of me wants clean feet and easy access to coffee, and I still haven’t figured out how to cook a gourmet meal on a campfire, like I see our camping neighbors doing.  In fact, just last night I overhead a mother tell her son they were having Tex-Mex fajitas as I choked down my burnt hot dog and lukewarm beans.  Sigh.  And I can’t quite understand the appeal of spending hours making lists, grocery shopping, and packing the car, only to head to a campground to try to emulate the comforts of home.  To each their own, and a true camper I am not.

I am writing this post from my iPad in the car, on our way back to Burlington.  My grimy, exhausted children are colouring in the backseat, and my hairy, sweaty husband (he just wrestled the tent back into its bag.  Another question: WHY OH WHY are tent bags always so small???) is looking for the nearest Tim Horton’s.  In a couple of hours we’ll be home, and I’ll be scraping the filth off of me and washing campfire smoke out of my hair so that I can head into work and look forward to a blissful sleep in my own bed.  But first, we’ve got a few hours of unpacking, de-sanding, and laundry to tackle.

Happy children.  Check, check, double-check.  So I can pretend to love camping for a few days a year.


I am a Transplant. And it’s Christmastime.

I am a transplant.  A geographical transplant, that is.  I was born and raised in Alberta, and moved my life across the country 10 years ago (10 years already?  Really?!) for post-graduate studies to become a Doctor of Chiropractic- and I ended up staying.

I have always identified myself as an Albertan, and likely always will; but it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really started to feel at home in Burlington.  I mean really ‘at home‘.  The this-is-where-my-life-is-and-I-feel-content kind of home.  Having my children here did that.  Buying a house here did that.  Growing roots here did that.  And while Ontario is home, there are still times when my homesickness gets triggered by a rough day, a family celebration in Alberta, or my birthday. Christmas gets me too.  When I close my eyes…

…I can see the familiar white lights on my parent’s Christmas tree.

…I can taste the love in the caramel popcorn that my mom makes.

…I can smell the warmth of the fire crackling in their wood-burning fireplace.

…I can hear the nostalgic sounds of my cousins laughing.

…I can feel the comforting crunch of Alberta snow beneath my boots.

Now with two young children of my own, I’m trying to nurture their sense of home and cozy familiarity with our own family traditions.  And in the process, I’m creating a a new sense of home and cozy familiarity for myself.  My homesickness eases when I see the excitement in their eyes and the magic in their smiles.  My nostalgia lessens when I see the lights on our tree and the fire in our fireplace.  And the love of my husband and my in-laws goes a long way too. I hug them more during the holidays.

So this Christmas, if you have a transplant in your life, be sure to remember that the holidays may bring feelings of loneliness mixed in with feelings of happiness.  Be sure to ask them how they’re doing.  Be sure to ask them what their Christmases ‘back home’ were like.  And be sure to listen to their answers. It makes them feel more ‘at home’.

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