Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hearts full

As we sit and wait for Otis to wake from his nap so we can head to the airport, I'm full of gratitude. I recognise how entirely fortunate we are to have spent a month on the road, surrounded by loving family and friends, and by beautiful country.
Flamont-love at the Regina Folk Fest
Otis is a traveling superstar. He's not crawling or walking yet, so he basically just hangs out where we leave him, so long's we provide him with something to get his hands on. He is happy to be held from his many adoring family members. We figure he hasn't learned to scoot around yet because there's always someone to pick him up or entertain him when he gets bored with his near geography. Firstborn issue, I gather.

I'm going to miss being part of the pack. And I know that Otis is going to miss all these loving faces. He lights up when his cousins enter the room, and there's always someone on hand to help when we need it.

We're back in Regina and we've covered quite a distance. We've explored rural Saskatchewan with the zeal that must belong to city folk who know they get to return home to conveniences all too soon. I had a brief flash of seeing the threads that connect my son to his family, though he's oblivious to these introductions "this is where your grandpa was born". I do, however, understand Brian's underpinnings a little better. Piecing his family puzzle together town by town, person by person. A few nights ago Kate (sis-in-law) hosted a cousins party where I was happy to sit and witness the reunions. Otis is the youngest offspring by over a decade - where we're beginning, many cousins are planning their empty-nesting pre-grandparent time.

Not so on my family's side, but that's another story.

What I feel is full of family. Spending time with my Grandma Dorothy (Councilwoman of Churchbridge) & Arni, and time on farms with multiple generations helping out. I suspect it will feel strange to be back home in Victoria where it's just us 3 again. That being said, I am so excited to be home. So looking forward to routine (and maybe better Otis sleep?). So looking forward to hanging out in the garden and to seeing friends that we've missed over the last few months. It's always one of the gifts of traveling: returning home.

With gratitude and a heart full of prairie, I sign off for this trip. Until next time!

Friday, August 09, 2013

A farmer's life for me!

Farming is really hard work. 
The kind of work that greets you as you wake, and multiplies as you sleep. If you live on the farm there's no escaping it. What I couldn't wrap my head around was that the grass was mowed around the home and the kitchen garden is in high production as well as all the everyday farmwork that gets done. Heck, we hardly mow our lawn in the best of times. A couple of Brian's cousins still farm their family land. We checked out the farm that Kevin manages (the farm that Harry, B's Dad worked as a kid), a conventional grain farming outfit. The machines were incredible.

Kevin explaining how the machines work

But what thrilled me was the organic farm that Brian's cousin runs. We drove in past a giant garden, rows of kale, carrots, corn, squash, and greens greens greens. We were met by Keith who led us straight to his leaf cutter bees who pollinate his alfalfa - integral to an organic farming outfit. He laughed when I enthused over the gorgeous huge garden he keeps. He later showed us the many many more rows of tasty delights he keeps out in the fields. The grass fed cattle roam in the back pasture and chickens turn up the soil in the moveable henhouses.
Etomami Organic Farm - LOVED it! 
We ate like royalty there - everything on our plate came from the farm. Steak, potatoes and a salad that counted more vegetables than most grocery stores. I was in heaven. Keith runs a year-round CSA program for folks in Saskatoon, Regina and a couple other communities. He's still looking for a few more members - know anyone who wants in? If he was running this in Victoria he'd have to turn people away. I gather than the organic food security approach isn't as widespread here as it is on the coast. Hippies that we are.

I told Brian that if he decided he needed to farm that I'd support him. (There's very little likelihood of this happening, which makes this a safe offer. I'm pretty sure this whole picture in the winter time would elicit a very different response from this west coast girl). I'll be happy to stick with our own humble front yard garden.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

In search of a homestead & a story

I've walked around my great-great-grandparent's homestead. I wasn't even hoping for such an outcome, thinking instead that finding a gravestone or some evidence in the town hall would be most likely. Craik is halfway between Regina and Saskatoon, and the administrator of the Rural Municipality Office was happy to oblige when I called ahead and asked him about the Kemsley family. They weren't in the computer, but they were in the town history book, complete with a photograph of my great grandmother as a young girl. We found the section where they homesteaded, and it was occupied. The administrator said that we'd be very welcome at the Schollar's who have been living on that land for the last 60 years. So we did.

Evelyn, the youngest, is my Great Grandmother
 I knocked on the door hopefully, and was met by an elderly farmer who invited me in before I had even introduced myself. I sat at the kitchen table and told him who I was and that my husband and kid were in the car (city people that we are, I figured they'd just say "yep, this was their farm" and send us on our merry way). He told me to bring 'em in and he called out the front door to his wife, Mrs. Schollar. He offered us refreshments and started to tell us about the Kemsley's: my great great grandparents and their offspring. He told us about where the barns and original house were and about the state of the well when they first took possession of the farm from the Kemsley descendents in 1954. He told us about how they paid for the road to be built to town even though the town didn't support the idea. $400 it cost. Better than the road that ran through the field, sunken with potholes and seasonal sloughs. Mrs. Schollar came in and took over from there, offering us cookies and Otis toys to play with.

The Schollar's just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. One week after the marriage of one of their great-grandchildren.

She brought out photo albums to show us glimpses of the original house, behind photos of her children. My great great grandmother, Susannah, was the midwife of the area. They settled 8.5 miles from Craik (farmers here still talk in miles) in 1907. By 1910 the Kemsley's lived with their 5 children in a two room house. We saw the original house, with a top floor added and by this time listing eastward. Full of the flotsam of farming - old tires, clamps, wood stove and ample evidence of small wildlife.

This was the original home, with the addition of another homestead tacked on after the first couple years. Still not sure how they did that. 
Retelling this I feel like the experience was surreal. But while at the farm itself, it just felt natural. Of course this couple knows the story of their farm. Naturally they'd be happy to tour us around the farm, even taking us down the grid roads past great great uncle's farm, and past the home where my Nana visited her grandparents when they moved from the original homestead (leaving it to their daughter) in the 1920's. We felt so welcomed, and I am so grateful to Ellen & Sterling (whose middle name is Otis!) for their lesson in warm hospitality. I can't wait until I can pay it forward.

We went looking for roots, and we found them. I don't know yet, how this makes me feel. Do I feel more connected to my Nana's side of the family? Do I feel more connected to my story as a Canadian - how at least part of my family became Canadian? What about Saskatchewan? It's curious, but I just don't know. Maybe I need to leave this province and go back home to feel it. I'm definitely eager to sit with my Nana and talk to her about this. And would you believe, after all this homesteading my great-great-grandparents moved to Victoria in the late 1950's and spent the rest of their lives there! It looks like I'll have some more exploring to do back home.   

We have been travelling merrily since - visiting Brian's family and exploring his haunts. I will write about this leg of our journey when I next have a moment (Saskatoon, Hill family farm & all-organic-all-the-time). We're currently in Churchbridge with my Grandma Dorothy & Arni - and every moment counts: the goal of this visit? "Have fun every day", says Grandma.

Until then :) 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The geography of my heart: Welcome southwestern Saskatchewan

Yours truly, atop 'Bob"
The Grasslands National Park was spectacular. I wasn't sure what to expect, overall, about finding magic in Saskatchewan. Let me revise - I anticipated connecting with family and finding beauty in relationships. I didn't expect to be repeatedly breath-taken by Saskatchewan's natural and pastoral scenes.

We left Regina and took the highway past Moose Jaw (Al Capone, tunnels, prohibition) and Chaplin (2nd largest inland salt water lake in SK). We stopped in Mortlach (sistered with a village in Scotland, says the cafe owner proudly). We ate a pretty mediocre meal at the rose garden cafe (nary a rose in sight) and went for a walk to the end of the gravel road where we found a cafe recently opened by a woman who left Vancouver to start something new: Little Red Market Cafe. It's got Commercial Drive/Main Street written all over it. Wood benches, chalkboards, long wood front counter and a mouth watering menu. It's been open all of 4 weeks and it's already made the top 10 list on the CBC Sask places to eat on the road. I ate a bacon maple ice-cream sandwich.

This is an example of the hidden gems that we just kept stumbling into. The park, as we drove into it, was all crests and coulees. Val Marie, its welcoming town, was dirt road and scraping by. We later learned that of the 40 or so students in the school there, 21 of their parents are Park's employees. The region was buffalo ground, and traditional first nations territory. The Buffalo were annihilated through over hunting, and though there is ample evidence of first nations (Cree & Sioux) presence, there was little talk of what happened when the land became ranchland. The cowboy that took me on a horseback ride said that most folks down there have some Cree blood in them.
Brian and Otis on our hike up to the 70 Mile Butte

So the Park has reintroduced Buffalo (or Bison), and has set up a new campground within the boundaries. It is so liberating to be told by Park's staff that you are free to walk anywhere - there aren't enough visitors to make free-reign harmful to the ecology. We hiked up 70 Mile Butte, the second highest peak (!) in Saskatchewan, and we tromped through the grasses along the Frenchman River Valley. We camped two nights, borrowing the Flamont's tent & gear. We nearly got blown over the first night, and the second night brought thunderstorm & showers. The mosquitoes were abominable. By the third day I was sent around the bend by the mosquitoes so we decided to spend the next two nights in B&Bs. We stayed in a restored convent in Val Marie, and our hopes of a warm meal and bath were dashed as the power went out in the region that evening. It was a really cool place to stop in, though.

What I had especially been looking forward to was a horseback riding adventure, and I got it! Riding with Dennis Lamotte, a born and bred rancher. He rode with a lasso and a cowboy hat. It was just me and him for 4 hours on our horses. I was initially a little worried about how I would survive a tete-a-tete with a taciturn cowboy. When I called that morning to confirm timing, he said '9 o'clock's fine. I don't care'. That lack of enthusiasm was a little worrisome to me. But when it came to it, we had a great time. My horse, Bob, was 20 years old and farted and grunted just like an old guy. Dennis is a grandfather, and when I asked him how many grandkids he has he said 'shit, I don't know...a dozen?'. We talked about the relationship between the ranchers and the Park, and about the history and lifestyle. Dennis' spotting skills were unparalleled. We saw Antelope, Coyote, and Mule Deer, and we crested hills with heart soaring vistas.
Dennis Lamotte and "Shorty", or as his wife calls her, "Snowflake"

The long straight roads give me lots of opportunity for digesting this experience. This land has nestled into my heart. The meta and the micro: you look down and see the ground teeming with biodiversity, you look towards the horizon and see vast open space. Being here in person has reminded me that building a relationship with our natural world is imperative. I feel way more connected to this ecosystem than I ever knew I could, and am just that much more committed to its well-being. And to the well-being of the people living there. I am so interested to know what the rest of our trip will bring. Today is Saskatoon and Craik.
Otis in the grass

Until next time!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Open skies

We've been warmly received here in Regina, Saskatchewan. Brian's sister Kate & fam (Mervin, Darien & Chase) have been amazing hosts and Otis lovers. Chase (our youngest nephew, at 14) let us take over his room and is living downstairs while we're here. Darien (newly driving, at 16) has been happy to chauffeur and let us drive his car while O is a passenger. They all take turns hanging out with Otis - and today we even got to go grocery shopping without him. Just me and Brian. It was like a date! It's been so great.

We left the Van Folk Fest early on Sunday afternoon because Thelonious, our most gorgeous cat, was not doing well. Before we left for Hornby we had taken Thelo to the vet to figure out what was ailing him and found out that he'd experienced kidney damage. Maybe from a toxin, antifreeze or lilies, maybe not. After spending 3 nights in the cat hospital on 24 hour IV, our friends Lornna & Adam, who own The Cattery, picked Thelo up. They cared for Thelo with love and exceptional attention - from the subcutaneous drip to daily checkin phone calls. I wish this story went differently, but Thelo just didn't get better. We came home on Sunday night to pick him up and spend a last night together. He purred and slept at our heads. Thelonious was 4 years old - we hoped that he'd be teaching Otis what serving a cat is really all about - he was part of making Victoria 'home' for me - he was Brian's silent partner. We really love that guy. It was so hard to say goodbye.
Brian & Thelonious loving it up in 2012
In some ways, it's been a gift to leave home and continue our summer travels. We have a lot to look forward to, and we can process our loss without constant reminders.

So. Despite this, we are enjoying ourselves and have been basking in the glow of being surrounded by community and family - through the Folk Fest to the Queen's City: Regina. Saskatchewan's tagline is 'The Land of the Living Skies' and our first night here proved it. Sitting around the patio table outside, we watched a long grey cloudline creep into our perfectly evening-blue sky. Kate supposed that the rain that was sure to fall would miss us, in what sounds like a typical isolated rainshower/thunderstorm kind of way. The wind stilled and the lowest clouds scudded by diagonally, just touching the center of my sightline. And then the wind picked up and the first drops fell. 30 seconds later we were running inside, dodging big, fat drops. 15 minutes later it was over and we were watching the anvil shaped cloud pass us by.
The view from the Flamont's front step

Today we head for the Grasslands National Park. It's colder than usual around here, so I'm so grateful we spent the extra $20 to check our duffel bag of cold/wet weather clothes. Kate has lent us their camping gear and her car, and we're stoked to explore the south west corner of Sask. It really is flat here. I can't wait to hit the open road, baby!

Friday, July 19, 2013


I'm sitting in the cozy chair with my feet up at the Hill's (the in-law parents in Nanaimo). It's beautiful, sunny, and quiet for the moment. Otis has been napping for the last 3 hours - a crazy all time nap, maybe just lulled by the silence. We might even have to wake him up. Gasp!

We just spent three nights in paradise. Hornby Island is so special. We planned this trip in late winter, booked our sites and invited a couple families, not knowing what would shake out. We ended up with a beautiful collection of adventurous, beautiful people. Children abounded! Youngest at 7 months, eldest at 14. Each family was composed of at least one francophone Quebecois so we spent the time in a fluid blend of language. One little person, Juliette, toured round the campfire at night wishing her 'bonne nuit' and 'goodnights' in equal measure. I just loved it!
Heliwell Provincial Park
This has been our second time camping with Otis, and second time camping with other families. I realised that though Otis and I spend time with my mama-friends and babes in Victoria, little O is usually sleeping, or we're walking. So these opportunities for him to just sit and interact with babies and children of all ages are so rich! And for this to happen while camping and delighting in the outdoors is just magic!
Suzie, Juliette, Mateo, Melanie & Lauralie

This evening kicks off the Vancouver Folk Festival, and is our way of marking our wedding anniversary. Though we celebrated the actual day (the 17th) on Wednesday on Hornby, this festival brings back the spirit of our wedding weekend. We are very much looking forward to bringing Otis into the tradition. We've got his ear protection, his sun protection, his nap bed. We've got our backpacks, blankets, chairs and shade tent. I remember there was a time when I showed up to the festival with just a bag. With maybe a pair of jeans in it. And counted on joining someone else's blanket. Ah, simplicity. Now we can host other people on our blanket, and so it goes.

Loving this journey.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

To Saskatchewan via Nanaimo, Hornby Island and Vancouver.

The house is in chaos, the weeds in the garden have mostly been pulled. We have piles of gear in three different rooms: camping pile, clothes pile, Otis pile. We're going away again.

Otis' garlic, planted the week after he was born. Harvested 9 months later!
It's been a month since we came home from Mexico and the time has slipped through my fingers like cold, soft water. I think we thought we'd have nothing to do in this month-long home layover but sit around, finish renos, play in the garden and maybe toodle in the canoe. Not so! It has been a whirlwind. In fact, once we're all packed up and on the road again, I think we'll catch back up with our relax.

So, what's the plan, you ask? We're moseying our way up to Hornby Island via Nanaimo where we'll spend a couple days getting back into the swing of 'away' with Brian's parents and my fam. Hornby brings us a campsite full of friends and the kind of beaches that I don't even want to tell you about cause they're so totally perfect. (shhhh.)

From Hornby we'll head down to Vancouver for the Vancouver Folk Festival where Brian and I will celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary. Woop! And Tuesday we fly to Regina, Saskatchewan!

I laugh when I tell people we're going to spend 3 weeks road-tripping in Sask. I'm not sure why it seems funny to me. I guess I probably underestimate it as a beautiful place to holiday. People often assume family is the call to the prairies, and it is. But beyond that, it's the opportunity to understand the horizon through Brian's eyes - all low earth and sky. My horizons feel cozy with mountains tapering into oceans. It's the opportunity to experience the seasonal & climatic opposite from my only other experiences in Saskatchewan. I'm looking for heat here, people. Between family time with B's sister & fam in Regina and my Grandma Dorothy in Churchbridge, well spend 5 days camping in  Grasslands National Park. Now close your eyes. Imagine prairie grasses and low rolling hills. And there, in the distance, just coming in from the left - that us! We're on horseback, being led by a real-live cowboy. Cowman? Cowperson?  A real tourism Saskatchewan moment.

It's the opportunity to learn about our families' roots. Brian knows his Saskatchewan family story. His Dad's family farm, now run by B's cousin is on our roadmap. We'll be paying our respects to his grandparents who have passed on. We'll stop on the bridge in Saskatoon where his mom's parents met. I'm just learning my family's prairie story. We'll be sleuthing our way around Craik, SK, looking for where my Nana's grandparents homesteaded. I've grown up with stories from my Nana about the beautiful garden that her Grandmother kept. Her inspiration, I suppose, for her full, fragrant, fruitful colourful gardens. And my inspiration, in turn. We have coordinates for where my Granddad's family homesteaded, somewhere west of Prince Albert. I have virtually no stories from that side of the family. Just longitude & latitude, text messaged to me from my Dad in preparation for this journey.

This feels important as we raise a new generation. Otis won't remember this, but we'll remind him. We'll have pictures and stories that follow him forward.

So here we go! On the road again...

Monday, June 10, 2013

And to sum it up...

The Zocalo in Mexico City.
We're in a hotel room about the size of a large closet in Mexico City (though it is cozy, and we do have a washroom). Brian is working his magic on Otis, who has had his roughest day yet. It's probably the two bottom teeth that are working their way in. And the shortage of naps taken. Or given. Naps are a mutual project - we make sure to lay the groundwork, and he takes advantage. We've passed so many families with children just sprawled on laps/benches/over shoulders. Man, they make it look so easy. Otis needs to either be in his bed, or be covered with the muslin cloth in order to nod off, otherwise he just gets swept up in watching the world as it passes. So far there hasn't been a 'so knackered that he just fell asleep like that' moment. I think it was Becca who noted that he probably comes by this FOMO honestly. (Fear of Missing Out). Yep, I'm a sufferer.

Anyways, we leave for home (or Vancouver at least) tomorrow morning early early early. It feels great to be going home - it's one of the highlights of going away for more than 2 weeks, I think. We get to miss 'the usual'. And once we get home, and get our fill of the usual, we'll have the gift of missing 'away'. There's no doubt about it, we are blessed many times over.

So on our bus ride into Mexico City from Cuernavaca, we came up with our top ten. And since I can never pick favourites, these are in no particular order. Except for number 1 :)

10. Food! The trio of moles that we tried; the fresh churros; the gorgeous, fragrant, fresh tropical fruit!; enchiladas verdes; guac-guac-guac-amole!; margaritas and mezcalinis; chocolate con leche; and that steak.

9. Becca coming to travel with us.

8. La familia. It was so wonderful spending time with the Verjovksy's, not only are they family, but they're our kind of people. We'll miss them and hope to see them again soon!

7. Ocean, beach, and sunshine! (and shade too - turns out that's important with the fair fellas in my life).

6. Oaxaca. I love that city. Already planning how to make it back.

5. Walk-by beauty. By this I mean stumbling upon marvelous places, and marvelous experiences. The courtyard outside of the renovated convent in Oaxaca, which was right beside the Calder circus art expo. We had fun. The matria garden. The open mic night that Becca and I stumbled on. The street art that's justaroundthecorner.

4. New red shoes! Heeee. I saw a shoe store in Mexico City from our cab, and Brian walked us past (I know! What a gem!). They're so fun, my new familymoon shoes.

3. How much everyone loves Otis. He now just stares and smiles at people until they smile back and give him his due.

2. Speaking Spanish. We both speak enough to be understood, and understand enough to nod as though we get it. And then we walk away and say 'did you just get that?'. But really, I have loved being surrounded by this language, and I just want to keep practicing and learning.

1. Familymoon! We did it! We traveled together, we adventured together and we truly enjoyed ourselves. Looking back, I find that I experienced plenty as an individual - through my own Leanna self (I don't think I expected that). And I found this new perspective, that of witnessing and enjoying how Otis and the world get along. And finally, Brian and I definitely rose to the occasion of parenting together 24/7 while abroad. We're a kickass team!

It has all been absolutely perfect. By perfect, I mean in its entirety. Nothing would have any meaning if everything was 'great' all the time. Real life has stomach aches, and surprises, and nastiness too. I've certainly felt challenged in the last month, my sense of safety went through a revolution, and my stamina took a hit by those free-loading amoebas. And you've also just read about how much I've loved this time away. I've gotten to witness Brian be a loving, hilarious, inventive and adventurous father (and husband, while he's at it), and I've watched Otis light up the world as it lights him. I told people before we left that I imagined that we'd just be doing life elsewhere, and I think I was right. It's been just beautiful.

So until next time, good people. Que les vayan bien.

Friday, June 07, 2013


Ahhh, back in Cuernavaca, long bus rides are history, and a long flight is imminent. It has been so nice to come back here to stay with the family before heading back home. An excellent transition station, we arrived with a sigh of relief and a cool garden yesterday afternoon after an uneventful bus ride from Puebla. I had been battling some ferocious stomach aches that were just coming and going without rhyme or reason, so an uneventful bus ride was precisely what we were hoping for.

Brian had sent word to aunt Janet that I hadn't been feeling well and I arrived to a doctor's appointment already scheduled - and the doc spoke English! How thoughtful - I probably wouldn't have booked myself in, hoping instead that the symptoms would just disappear once we got home. That was wishful thinking, since it turns out I've picked up some passengers! I don't know - is it gross to include this in the blog? Brian says that it's part and parcel of traveling to interesting places. So, folks, I've got amoebas. Well, I did have amoebas. Or I am in process of not having amoebas (how does one conjugate amoebas in transition?).

The view of Oaxaca from waaaay up a bunch of stairs
Anyways, amoebas aside, we had a lovely time wrapping up our Oaxacan experience. One fantastic piece of news was shared with us over skype on our last day there: Martin proposed to Becca when she got home, and she said yes! We feel like it must have been a good thing that we had Becca to ourselves for the week, cause Martin clearly had some planning to do :) We are just so happy for them.

The bus to Puebla was also uneventful, the scenery was worth the mode of travel (it also helps that the fancy buses here have legroom that even allows comfort for Brian's long legs). I think Puebla deserves another visit at some point, because we were only there two days and it's a big city. Kind of like going to Vancouver and hanging out in gastown/waterfront the whole time. So I didn't love it as much as Oaxaca, but I'll reserve judgment for another time.
One of the many remarkable churches in Puebla
Okay, I've just been told that we may be able to make margaritas from limes plucked from the tree outside. Apparently the fruit hanging on our side of the wall is fair game. Hah! Buenas tardes, folks!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Last days in Oaxaca

We have only 2 more days left here in Oaxaca, and Becca has already made her way back home. We have been so lucky to have such a great traveling partner! Becca and I even had a night out while B & the little one stayed in :)

We have had a STELLAR week here. Oaxaca city is so full of art, vibrancy, great food and really warm people - pretty much my ideal in a city. Do you ever feel a city as sympatico? Like, when you meet a new person and you just know that you could be friends? I've felt that way about a few cities here and there - definitely parts of Barcelona and Granada in Spain, Hornby Island, and equally so here. Something about the blend of culture, language and the intangible spirit of these places. From day one, I've been telling people we'll be back when they ask if we like it here.
View from a rooftop terrace
We have a few places where we're regulars. A coffee shop down the way, it's just a small room-sized place, opened only 2 months ago. We take cortados and sip in the handmade blue-brown pottery espresso cups with our freshly squeezed orange juice (bought from the guy on the corner). The next stop is a churreria 7 mins walk that-a-way for fresh churros and chocolate con leche. MMMMmmm. Fueled on caffeine, sugar and dough we just wander where we like and stop when we want. This way we've chanced on some beautiful scenes and experiences. Becca and I were walking down the street aimlessly and popped our head into a space that looked under construction, it was full of garden! We asked if we could enter and they said "claro". Turns out it's an art installation called Matria - jardin arterapeutico each room in the derelict roofless building offers a whimsical, earth bound garden scape. One quite literal 'garden bed' - a metal bedframe mounted on the wall with squash growing through it.
Matria - the garden you see from the entrance
Moments like these are the ones I hope for and can never really plan for. It was signless and isn't on the tourist map. This is why wandering is so beautiful.

And Otis? He's still a star. He just smiles his way through sidewalks and markets. He's getting bored at restaurants more and more quickly now, so we have to take turns eating and walking him around. We buy some time feeding him from our plates though - Otis LOVES black beans. We'll have to learn to make them like this at home.

On Tuesday we're taking the bus to Puebla for a two night stop. We figured it would be a good way to break up the trip back to Cuernavaca while checking out a new place. Seems we've still got some steam!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

City mouse returns

We've made it over the mountains, and have landed nicely in Oaxaca City. We were a little sad to leave our warm & wonderful hosts at Quinta Lili, but are really happy to be in the city. We flew in on a 14 passenger cessna (auntie Gwen - I told Otis all about your flying skills!) and O handled it like a pro. We're now happily ensconced in an apartment found through air bnb right on the fringe of the tourist zone and Becca will be joining us this evening. Very shi-shi, plenty of art galleries and restaurants to be found here. 
Otis checking to make sure that the pre-flight trip is done according to regulation

One of my favourite things about traveling with Otis is how pleased everyone seems to meet him. We just had lunch (a fabulous menu del dia from the resto across the street) and each person had their turn exclaiming over him. His gordito little feet, his large size (he's comparatively huge for an 8 month old here), his munequito self. A white haired grandmother with few teeth stopped in the zocalo to give O a kiss on the forehead.

Beautiful scenes abound!

Now, just a few short weeks ago, a woman in Seattle gave Otis a kiss on the cheek and I really was shocked while trying not to show it. Played it cool like the polite, well-behaved, rather waspish Canadian I am (well, I don't actually think of myself in those terms, but compared to this warmth I may as well be!). It's so liberating here for Otis to be so warmly welcomed - in the streets, in restaurants. Otis has seen more kitchens and hung out with more restaurant patrons and servers than I have! Once I got over the stranger danger thing, it's been lovely. I mean, I know it's still wise for us to be alert, but I sure do rejoice in the love of children here. Otis simply laps it up. I'm learning to be more overtly complimentary and inquisitive towards others' children as well.

What a streetheart

The boys are down for a nap after our initial neighbourhood scouting (and first coffee tasting!) and I'm going to start prepping for this online course that Beth (a colleague friend) and I are co-teaching. What a stinkin' beautiful life, eh?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Back in the saddle!

First of all, thanks all for your notes and thoughts of safety and a peaceful remainder of our trip. We've picked ourselves up and are thoroughly enjoying our time again. It really didn't take much to feel free and easy again - it certainly has helped that we're still staying in the most excellent b&b...and Becca and her friend Molly have joined us! The beach in this neighbourhood, Carizalillo, is as gorgeous as we left it a year and a half ago when we came here with Brian's family for his parent's 50th wedding anniversary. It's something about the flight of stairs that takes you down (and back up again), the palapas & lounge chairs right at the high-wave line, the warm water and the surfer-watching. Pair that with excellent company and fresh guacamole and we've got a recipe for paradise.

Yesterday we went to the market (I found some great flan and tried 'atole', a corn & chocolate drink...kind of like bubble tea, but more corny), cruised the streets and bought a pair of shoes (surprise!), and then went on a tour of the nearby laguna. We saw a ZILLION birds - storks, ibis, spoonbill pink-guys, lily-pad hopper-dippers AND a crocodile! Just layin' around. It was so cool. We also got to help some just-hatched turtles to the sea. I thought that the whole thing sounded a little cheesy, but actually it was super-awesome. Just this one dude who volunteers 7 months of the year to collect turtle eggs when they are laid and protect them until they hatch. He sleeps in a tent in the daytime and works all night. I think he really likes turtles. (In truth, it's a pretty important thing to do, protecting these endangered species. Thanks, volunteer guy).

The fellas on the laguna
Otis has hit his stride, I think (or we have learned to match his stride is maybe more like it). I feel like we're getting to 'do' plenty, as well as kick back plenty. I'm really looking forward to the next week and some we have for hanging out with Becca - we'll be going to Oaxaca city on Tuesday, and in the meantime, more sweet-nothings in Puerto Escondido.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What's a holiday without some serious thinking?

We've lived an experience that has had my mind moving a hundred miles a minute. I've been contemplating how we impact the world around us, as tourists. We are in Puerto Escondido a few days early, having left Mazunte unexpectedly. Mazunte gave me lots to think about. We stayed in a very cool cabana hotel that sat on a bluff overlooking playa Mermejita. It felt wild. We were quite isolated, up a flight of stairs that climbed the hillside, and a dirt road away from the main strip of the small town. I wrestled with this location over the first evening - it was no quick jaunt into town and  the blend of 35 degree heat and mosquitos were getting me worked up. These things in themselves quickly became a part of the experience - what we did have for a time was absolute peace and a wild ocean to watch. Unfortunately the peace was also short-lived. at about 1am on our third night I woke to see a man in our cabana at our bedside table. I screamed like I'd never screamed before, which woke Brian, naturally. I held B back from rushing after the thief, who ran out the front door. Thank goodness we were all unharmed - Otis was sleeping in the bed with us and didn't wake through the yelling. Needless to say, we didn't sleep another wink.

The shadow side of being in a beautiful, wild and isolated place is exactly that. We were the only guests, and while it turned out that the neighbouring family did hear our screams, they didn't think it was anything to be worried about "Those tourists. Probably just a spider" is what I imagine them thinking at the time. The next morning Brian tried to open the locked door from the outside and was able to with just enough jiggling.

The thief ended up ditching my purse, the 6 pack of beer, bottle of wine, and one half of the baby monitor
by the pool - since there was nothing of re-sale value in my purse, and probably running down a hillside with a 6-pack didn't seem like such a bright idea anymore? He did take our camera and my headlamp (which he stole from beside my head, on the bed, within the mosquito netting...uggggh).

The owners of the hotel were very sorry and supportive and took Brian to the police station to make a statement (which we needed for our insurance). This was the first break-in of this nature that they'd experienced. It was such a shame, because this cost them 4 nights stay, and it cost us our peace of mind. I've been jumpy at noises in the night, though we're feeling so much better and safer now. I'm so glad that Otis has been totally oblivious of it all. Even that night when he did wake up to find all the lights on and both of us awake in bed, he just smiled in his sweet sleepy way.

So the theme that has emerged for me is that there is no 'perfectly good, or perfectly bad'. Everything has aspects of each - a beautiful, isolated, peaceful environment clearly has its cost. Tourism has its costs. We are so fortunate to be traveling and I know that we are part of a complex relationship between the local and international. I know this relationship can generate great things; it can also encourage injustice and the shadow-side. I want for us to be a family that participates in, creates and celebrates the great. And I also want us to remember that everything is more complex than 'good' and 'bad'. The theft, which was a terrible experience for us, happened in the context of injustice in wealth, in the perception of tourists as targets and as the 'other'. Just as we are a part of supporting a tourist economy that brings income to people, we are tourists fueling its shadow side. I know I will be mulling this over in the coming weeks. Is there a way to be a tourist that doesn't feed that dark side?

But don't worry, I won't be thinking about this all the time. I'll also continue to enjoy our time here :) Otis will continue to charm the folks here, men and women alike, who squeeze his pudgy feet and call him sweet names. He loves it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Yeah, Mama!

We've set the bar high. Here in Mexico, Mother's Day is celebrated on May 10th every year, while at home it's the second Sunday in May. Which meant double the joy for me, on this, my first year as a mama.
Just a sampling of the crops at the Morelos State University farm

Aunt Janet took us out on el dia de las madres to buy fruits & vegetables from the university farm market - what an unexpected marvel! Fresh, beautiful, fragrant fruits - mini pears, tiny tart plums, peaches alongside soft, young buttery lettuce that the Sooke Harbour House would envy. We were welcome to walk the fields and check out the crops. GORGEOUS. Long hilled rows of greens, strawberries, squash, beans, nopales (edible cactus) and more. It was a perfect outing for this girl.

On the streets families walked together in fancy-dress, we saw small girls with party dresses and pigtails, beautiful mamas in very high high-heels, men and women rushing from here to there with bouquets of flowers in their hands. It's not an official holiday, but most children have the day off school to celebrate. Street corners boasted signs of what precious gifts could be found inside to honour mother, and flower stalls abounded. It felt like this was a big deal. We sat with the family to enjoy a sumptuous meal of steak cooked to perfection over a coal bbq and the salad of my dreams - young greens, that buttery lettuce and orange & grapefruit citrus as dressing. Otis positively loved the steak, the little carnivore. Thank you, Alberto, Janet, Beto, Sonia, Fabian & Tristan for the feast!
L-R: Janet, Beto, Alberto, Fabian, Sonia, Tristan in the hammock and the fellas

Saturday brought us another treat (I mean, really - what won't be a treat on this adventure? Truly, every day that we have here is a blessing). We went to see the cuenta cuentos at Catarina Marina children's bookstore - Sonia's labour of love, shared by Beto. Otis watched the storyteller with rapt attention as she punctuated the highs and lows of the tale with grand gestures and expressive eyes.

Storytime at Catarina Marina
The store itself is a treasure trove - beautiful books for all ages of children, even the adult kind of kid. That night we went to Alberto's sister's for his brother-in-law's birthday - Otis charmed everyone and we had a great time! I was so surprised that the little dude didn't melt down, though we were out way past his bedtime and he'd been short on naps. I welcome any surprise of that nature!

It's been really interesting, figuring out our rhythms as a traveling family. Brian and I take it easy on our travels compared to some - we don't really worry about covering everything; we like to wander, witness, participate and eat. We end up on all sorts of adventures this way. But I'm learning that we need to modify this approach now that we have an Otis to think about. Basically things are just slower as we are mindful of naps, and transitions take longer. Though I think we're at a pretty ideal time to be traveling with O - he's not mobile yet, so is content to hang out with us wherever we go. The really beautiful thing is that wherever we go, people welcome Otis with big smiles and kind words 'que hermoso' 'que bonito'. Agreed!

We went downtown yesterday for our first adventure as a threesome and had a great time. We walked through artist's alleys and had a drink on a terrace, just like our life before babe, only better. We braved the Sunday shopping street and came back home for - you guessed it - a lovely meal en famille. Happiest of Mother's days. I am so blessed.
My Mother's Day treat on the terrace

Tomorrow we leave for Mazunte. Ocean, here we come!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

"A very good place to do mathematics"

I'm sitting on the terrace, sharing the table with two mathematicians as they discuss numbers and letters that I can't even hope to grasp. They're also discussing these things in Spanish, which has a tendency to flit in and out of my understanding in the first place.
Our first outdoor swim in Seattle!

We've arrived safely, soundly, and happily at Brian's aunt & uncle's home in Cuernavaca. We spent two nights in Seattle, catching our breath and being thoroughly spoiled by Brian's other aunt, uncle and cousins. Frankly, I've been quite worried about how we were going to travel with Otis - not so much the 'getting somewhere' of it all, but rather the details. Checking in, shlepping bags, carseat, hats that are too big for the baggage. And not least of all, how to make sure Otis sleeps on the airplane, on our laps. Typically, he sleeps in his bed/travel bassinet and occasionally the stroller. He hasn't slept ON one of us since he was an infant.

Our flight was 2 hours delayed, so everything was rearranged to make connections work. I have to say, the folks at United were awesome. I asked if we would be given a prize for being at the checkin booth a million hours early (since we arrived for our original checkin time)...I suggested maybe a free drink for mom & dad? And the agent upgraded us to the economy plus seats. Woot! This is the first time we've ever been upgraded for anything. On our honeymoon I tried and tried to no avail. 'Course, the seats didn't come with the kind of free drink I was thinking of, but I'm pretty sure we got an extra 3 inches of legroom each. Amazing what air travel has become, that we celebrate seating that is simply adequate for someone 6 feet tall (...not me. Brian). Not complaining! It was great!

But here it is, the big reveal: we traveled for 15 hours and Otis didn't cry once. He slept on our laps, he handled the change-over in Houston, he even slept again on the bus ride from Mexico City to Cuernavaca at 9pm Victoria time - as far as he knows, 9pm doesn't exist except in his bed. What a love! This is clearly the right time to be traveling with him.

Airplane ride #1
So back to the terrace. It's perfect. The air is breezy and warm, Alberto, Brian's uncle, introduced me to the mango tree overhead, the lime, guava, orange, kumquat, pepper plants, banana trees and his pride and joy, the 500 yr old Indian Laurel tree. And as he says, it's a very good place to do mathematics.

The hammock awaits. Until next time...

Monday, May 06, 2013

Gearing up (and do I mean 'gear' - who knew a babe would need so much luggage?)

Otis will be 7 months old tomorrow and we're setting off for 5 weeks in Mexico. Seattle awaits us as we pack our bags here in Vancouver. Our home & garden is being taken care of by great people and nothing holds us back!

In the ferry lineup - we were one of the last cars to board - phew!
So here's the story. Brian and I have spent time dreaming up what might be possible in this first year of our wee babe's life. What do we want our life to look like? What's really important? How can we make the most of this time, this gift of a year's leave as we learn to be a family of three. Given that we both have the right to take time off of work (though only one person collects EI) we decided that Brian would take 4 months off so we could familymoon. And it was a short leap to making all sorts of adventuring plans - Mexico felt like a great first international adventure, as Brian has family in Cuernavaca and we really liked where we stayed last year in Puerto Escondido. We've heard great things about Oaxaca City as well, so why not?

But don't worry, we've been in training over the last half-year. Otis is well-versed with the BC Ferries, and travels the Malahat like a pro (that's our mountain pass from Victoria to up-island). We've even spent 3 nights in Tofino - land of grand waves and fine sands.

Although, the airplane is a whole other kettle of fish. Trying to pack efficiently has been an exercise in spatial logic and serious prioritizing. Basically, Otis gets all the bells and whistles; carseat, stroller, hiking backpack, and sun-protecting clothes. Me? Well, I've never packed so light. See ya later 'just in case we go out for a nice dinner' heels. So long 'chacos AND running shoes'. One or the other, baby. It's been a major breakthrough.

Enjoying the sun on Granville Island with Stefanie, Jo & the Kung Fu team (Master Zhang & Ally)
3 days in on the mainland, and it looks like our systems are a go. We are so fortunate to be on this journey together, and look forward to chronicling our adventures along the way. Please feel free to send in warm-weather-baby travel tips and encouragement along the way.