Saturday, September 1, 2012

Picture postcard days

The last few days have been picture postcard days.  Many of the pictures I cut out of travel brochures for our Canada dream board featured Lake Louise & Moraine Lake.  A couple of those pictures featured people canoeing in perfect conditions on a mirror lake.  Well, we can now tick that box on our dream holiday.

We arrived in Lake Louise after a lovely few days in Banff.  We wandered down to the edge of the lake to where the very large Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise stands.  It sure is one large, impressive building!  We did venture inside to have a sneaky peak, and check out how much it would be for high tea, but we decided that CAD39pp was just a bit too much for our budget.  We did the next best thing and ate a picnic tea outside on the lake's foreshore (same view, just more rustic seating!).

The next day we headed off to Moraine Lake, and took up the chance to go for a canoe out on the lake.  It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip so far.  Sitting out in the middle of the lake, when the light breeze dropped right away, the lake turned to the picture perfect millpond that is so often photographed - it really was just breathtaking.

Emerald Lake was next on the list - another beautiful, glacier blue lake.  There were lots of tourists here too, but it wasn't hard to find a quiet spot to grab a bite to eat with an awe-inspiring view.  Although, as you can see from the photo - some things don't change no matter where you are in the world.  (Rhys would like to report that Half Brother, by Kenneth Oppel, is a really good book.  It certainly appeared to be almost unputdownable.)

Takakkaw Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in Canada - and while impressive when we saw it, it must really be something during the spring melt.  The falls are 384m high, and water tumbling out from the ledge near the top is quite spectacular.

We finished the day with a soak in the hot tub on the roof of our hotel - a perfect end to a perfect day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The first few days - shopping, food, short skirts and dinosaurs

It's hard to believe we are actually here.  Friday was a very long day, but we finally arrived in Calgary about 6.15pm local time.  I was very proud of Rhys and Amy at the airports and on the flights - and I think they were quite surprised at the behaviour of some of the other kids on some of the flights!

Our first day in Calgary we spent having a good wander around, and visiting The Core - a big shopping precinct right in the middle of town.  We were really hungry (Amy's first words of the day were "I starving!") so we hit the food court straight away.  A huge choice - but the yummy crepes hit the spot.  Right next to one of the food courts is the Devonian Gardens - a beautifully lush garden setting, complete with waterfalls and ponds with gigantic gold fish in them.  We followed our yummy breakfast with a session of light shopping.  Nice ;-)

 The view from Calgary Tower was just amazing - it was such a clear day - we could see for miles.  Standing out over the glass floor area was OK - until you looked down!
The kids were braver than me - lying on the glass floor (I couldn't do it - but only because of all those germs on the floor you know).
We ended our day with a meal at the hotel bar & grill - which was great.  The food was good and it came with its own entertainment... we'd noticed throughout the day that really short skirts seemed to be the fashion choice for most Calgary females under the age of 25 (and some not so young!).... the only difference at night is that the skirts get really really short and the heels get really really high.

On Sunday we picked up the car and drove out of Calgary to Drumheller to visit the dinosaur museum.  Normally I love a good road trip but I was pretty nervous about this one - you know - other side of the road, other side of the car, big city and all.  All the things that you do instinctively when you drive (checking mirrors, being aware of how big/small your car is, not having to think about what side of the road to stay on) all go out the window when you have to adjust to driving on the other side of the road and on the other side of the car!  Simple things like checking your rear vision mirror - I'd keep doing it and then have to remember that it was up on my right hand side and not my left.  And I have to admit - that first day was pretty tense at times.  Rhys was just amazing as my navigator (aka Map Boy). 

T Rex
As an aside - Amy said today that it was much more relaxed - she could tell as I didn't swear anywhere near as much as yesterday.  I'm taking that as a positive comment.

The Royal Tyrell Museum was just amazing.  I wish that we could have had a bit more time to explore it - there were just so many amazing exhibits and displays - too many to take in in one visit.  We went out on a tour into the Badlands behind the museum to learn a bit about fossil hunting and what to look for.  Definitely one of the highlights so far.

And now we are in Banff, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.  It's quite an amazing town - very touristy - like Queenstown - but very picturesque.  It must look just fantastic in winter with snow all around.  Tomorrow we are off up Sulphur Mountain in the gondola - looking forward to it!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The excitement is building....

I'm not going to make any excuses for the rather lengthy delay between posts on this blog - I have them - they're just not very good.

I'm also not going to make excuses for the fact the over the next few weeks I'm going to hijack this blog from its original purpose, and put it to work as a family travel diary.  You see, in just a few short days, our Canadian adventure begins.  And goodness me - there is palpable excitement in the household!

In January 2011, I read an article about Vancouver and British Columbia - and right there and then - one of my lifetime dreams crystallised.  I've long dreamt of travelling to Canada and seeing grizzly bears.  Until that moment, it was just that, a dream.  But a little voice in my head started asking "why not now?"  The more I thought about it - the more it seemed like a great idea - and a great place to take the kids.

And so the planning began.  For the last 20 months we've been surrounded by pictures cut from magazines of bears, Orca, snapshots of Vancouver, float planes and maple leaves.  There is a calendar of bears in the loo.  We've had a map of British Columbia and Alberta under glass on the coffee table - a daily reminder of where we're going.  Rhys & Amy have saved almost all their pocket money for the last year (I'm very proud of both of them, and I admire their self control!).

I have to say that this trip would not have been possible without Mum & Dad's help, and their inspiration.  When I was 13, I was lucky enough to travel to England with Mum & Dad.  I loved it - I loved the travel, I loved the amazing things we saw, and the experiences we had.  I have such vivid memories of that time with them (although I have tried to dim the memory of the "expired passport incident" at Auckland airport).

For a number of reasons, I haven't followed up that first overseas experience with the usual Kiwi OE, but the dream has always been there.  One day, one day.  Now that day is very nearly here.  And I am going to share this experience with the two most important people in my world - my kids.

I do hope that if Mum & Dad are watching from "the other side", they are smiling with approval.  And yes Mum, I've just done all the cleaning today, so the house will be left in a clean and tidy state.  Oh, and I've double checked the passports too!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fantastic non fiction for kids

Really Really Big Questions (by Stephen Law) and My First Classical Music Book ( by Genevieve Helsby and Jason Chapman) are two non fiction books for children that have really struck a chord with me.  They both provide information on relatively complex subjects, and they both do it in such a fun accessible way.

Really Really Big Questions is a fun introduction to some of those big philosophical questions - did someone design the universe? Is my mind my brain? Is it OK to eat animals? Do fairies exist?  These are the sort of questions that aren't normally covered in children's non fiction - maybe because they are so hard to answer.  But as any parent will know, they are the sort of questions that get asked quite regularly, and we are often left floundering for an answer.  "Just because" doesn't really cut it!

Really Really Big Questions is a delightfully accessible, full of quirky illustrations, and is perfect for dipping into.  It is written in a conversational manner, encouraging the reader to think on the question themselves, and formulate their own opinion.

My First Classical Music Book is aimed at a younger age group (I'd suggest 5 years and upwards).  It is accompanied by a CD with snippets of great classical pieces, such as Mozart's The Magic Flute, Saint-Saens The Carnival of the Animals and Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.

The book encourages readers to think of what the composer was saying with a piece of music and how it makes them feel.  It goes on to introduce the different instruments that make up the orchestra, and how these instruments are used by a composer to tell their story.  All of this is achieved in an easy going, fun, storytelling manner.  The illustrations are bright and playful with lots of action for young readers.  A real joy to share.

Both books are available through your local independent bookshop, as well as through Fishpond and Book Depository.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Aftershocks and afterwards

Forgive me - it has been many months since my last post.

Over these last few months I have experienced the whole range of emotions - from fear starting at 12.51pm on 22 February, when the 6.3 aftershock struck, to absolute overwhelming relief one and a half hours later when I finally saw my two children...and they were OK. Through to grief and pain as we saw the damage that mother nature had wreaked on our city and our friends.

I was relaxing and chatting to the wonderful Michelle at Kudos Hair Salon when the quake hit.  In the first few seconds we all thought it was just another largish aftershock.  It soon became apparent it was so much more than that.  The back wall of the building partially collapsed, and in the strong aftershock that hit 10 minutes later the front of the building across the road collapsed in terrifying style.  We all knew that Christchurch wasn't going to get away from this unscathed.

Kudos Hair Salon on the left,
Quinns (minus its front wall) across the road.
People rushed to help each other - to check that everyone was able to get out of the buildings they were in, helping those who needed help.

 Everyone had the same look on their face - shock, disbelief, and fear.  Nearly everyone held a cell phone - desperately trying to reach loved ones.  None of the calls or texts were going through.  I couldn't contact my children, their school, or their father.  I was desperate to find my children.

I eventually made my way home, a journey which earlier that day had taken 10 minutes, but that afternoon took an hour.  I was amazed that Christchurch drivers - usually renowned for their singular lack of road manners - were polite, outwardly calm, and considerate.

I arrived home to find that my ex had collected the children from school.  I am not ashamed to say I sobbed with relief.

Ten weeks have now passed.  Along with the rest of Christchurch we are slowly adjusting to the new normal.  We are still experiencing aftershocks, and will continue to do so for some time.  The chairs are back in their place around the dining table (I always knew there was a reason I'd insisted on a good solid table), but we are yet to put up a lot of the stuff that fell down (I'm using the very effective Floor Storage System).  We are yet to go into a multi storey carpark; and when we go into a large shop we make a quick plan and agree where we will meet should we be separated. We all have torches by our beds, and there is always a clear path to the nearest doorframe when we go to bed at night.  (This is a real achievement for Miss 9, who has perfected the art of the Floor Storage System.)

However, there are still nights when I wake up in the early hours.  Listening.  Waiting.  I am sure that given time, this too will pass.  I hope so.

Everyone has their stories to tell.  "Where were you?" is a common greeting when seeing people you haven't seen in a while - and we listen while they share their tale.

Twitter has been a real boon - it is great to feel in touch with your fellow Christchurchians late at night when there is an aftershock.  Then play a quick game of guess the magnitude, and for bonus points, pick which faultline was the culprit.   Many companies are using Twitter as a tool for getting vital information out there fast, with a personal touch.

Throughout this whole experience, I have seen the amazing spirit of Canterbury people - helping each other, and doing what it takes to fix our city and help its people. And when I took the kids south for a few days, to get away from the aftershocks for a bit - we were welcomed everywhere we went. I have always been proud to be from Christchurch and to be a Cantabrian.  But I am even prouder to be a Kiwi - we really do have a beautiful country, and wonderful caring people.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Juli, Stargirl & Alaska - three girls who will move you

Flipped, Stargirl and Looking For Alaska - three books that each feature a remarkable, larger-than-life girl, who stands out from the crowd, and has a life-long impact on those around her.

Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen is about two teens, Bryce & Juli, who have lived next to each other since they were 7.  Juli fell in love with Bryce the moment she saw him.  Bryce on the other hand wishes Juli would just leave him alone.  The story is told in both Juli's and Bryce's voices, in alternating chapters.  This in itself is entertaining - the different take the two of them have on the same situation is quite enlightening.  Over the years, Bryce and Juli both come to realise that sometimes first impressions aren't so reliable.  This is a lovely story, filled with humour, well developed characters and a certain truth about it.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli tells the story of Stargirl Caraway, an unconventional girl who finds a deep and rewarding joy in making those around her happy.  When she starts attending Mica High (having previously been home schooled) she quickly becomes popular, mostly as a result of her uniqueness.  However, it doesn't take long before she gets offside with the in-crowd, and she is shunned.  The story is narrated by Leo, who is fascinated by Stargirl, and wants to understand what makes her tick.  Leo finds it increasingly difficult to be associated with Stargirl, especially once he too feels the effects of being shunned by the crowd.  
Stargirl provides an interesting commentary on how humans (and no, not just those of the teenage variety) tend to feel happier if they are part of a groups.  And how unpleasant we can often be to those who we don't consider part of 'our group'.

Looking For Alaska by John Green has found a place in my all-time-fave-books list.  This was a debut novel but what a remarkable piece of writing.  The story is narrated by Miles as he transfers to a new boarding school, where he falls in with a group of teens  lead by the enigmatic Alaska.  The story is told in two parts - Before, and After.  Before focuses on the group and their various pranks and antics; After focuses on how the group deals with a tragedy that befalls them.

The characters are skilfully drawn, and achingly real.  It has humour, and pathos, and love, and lust, and tragedy.  It had me laughing as I read one page, then crying just a few short pages later. I loved it.  I felt quite lost when I finished reading it - I didn't want to leave these characters.

These three books are probably often considered to be "coming of age" books, and to be fair, they are aimed at different age groups (Flipped more for the tweens and younger teens; Looking For Alaska young adult and adult; with Stargirl falling somewhere in between) - and yet, as an adult, I found each of them left a little piece with me that I will keep and continue to reflect on.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Books that change your life

Not long ago I blogged that Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief was what I would consider a life-changing book for me.  That got me thinking - is it the book?  Is it the stage in our lives?  Or is it a combination of the two?

If I had read The Book Thief ten years ago (a difficult feat in itself since it hadn't actually been published, but that obvious flaw in my argument aside) - would it have had the same effect on me as it had when I read it last month?

I remember clearly the first time I read The Hobbit - my brother gave it to me for Christmas when I was about 11.  I spent the rest of Christmas Day curled up in Dad's chair, only coming out briefly for pavlova and Mum's Christmas pud.

We all have songs that we associate with different events in our life (I know that Phil Collins' Groovy Kind of Love, which once made me go all dewy eyed, now has the same effect as sticking my finger down my throat), but do we have books that we remember the same way?

I'd love some feedback on this.  What are some of your life-changing books?  And do you ever get nervous about re-reading a life changing book?