New Zealand, being relatively small in size (comparative to Alberta), was pretty easy to get to know over the course of our time there.  Canada on the other hand, is a much different story.


Upon our return, we realized we hardly knew our home country and continent in comparison to the way we had come to know and appreciate New Zealand.  To remedy this, summer of 2014 would hold a cross-continental road trip for us, with a final destination of West Quaco, New Brunswick.


After spending a few days in Edmonton celebrating Canada Day and catching up with friends, we packed up our 2000 Toyota Corolla (crossing our fingers and hoping she lives up to her longevous Toyota reputation) and hit the road.



First stop: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the place of Mel’s birth.


We had a nice visit with Nana and Auntie Judy, and shared a coffee with a high school friend of Brendon’s, Jordan, and his wife, Lauren.


From here, we began our venture south to the destination of Rapid City, South Dakota.


We met up with our friend Josh and the Corys (B’s friend Cory and his wife, also named Cory) who are due with their baby any day now.  Cory and I even fit an impromptu maternity shoot.


The Corys were gracious hosts and awesome tour guides around their quaint city, which features statues of all the former US presidents on the street corners.


We posed for a photo with John Adams.


The scenery through South Dakota was actually quite striking at times.  They had a neat badlands region just outside of Rapid City, and some stunning rock formations which jetted starkly out of the flat surrounds.


From there, we were on to Kansas City.  More on this in the next post.



Tofino: Raglan of Canada.


Rumours of Tofino’s loveliness had made their way to our ears before our feet touched down upon Canadian soil, so we couldn’t set foot upon Vancouver Island without checking out this destination for ourselves.


As we ventured North on the Island, the vegetation became increasingly lush, to the point of being quite reminiscent of the tropical jungle of our adoptive nation (NZ).


This cute beach town exudes a strong sense of community and an outdoor lifestyle which revolves primarily around the sea.


In many ways, this ocean-centric town reminds us of the NZ surf town of Raglan.


Much like Raglan, Tofino boasts a hippy vibe, and has a quaint collection of cute boutiques, surf shops, cafes, restaurants, and health food shops.  A large percentage of its inhabitants surf year-round.


Just a 10 minute walk from our accommodation was this lovely beach.



The lapping ocean waves were soothing to our land-locked souls and brought a familiarity that made us miss the days where visiting a beach was a matter of asking, “East Coast or West Coast?  White sand or black?”  Wow, were we ever spoiled in New Zealand.  Not sure how we’re ever going to get over it.


Other gems we uncovered in Tofino were…


Tacofino (food truck).  The fish tacos come highly recommended in our books.


Tofino Brewing Company.  Brendon found the kelp stout highly intriguing.


Tofino Coffee Roasters, as mentioned in a previous post.



Misty, log-cluttered beaches.


And lush vegetation that felt oh so exotic to our Alberta eyes.


We were told we were very lucky to experience a sunny morning, as Tofino receives mainly rain this time of year.


It was a pretty quick trip, so we probably didn’t get to experience for ourselves the fullness of what Tofino has to offer, but what we did glimpse, we certainly liked.

Christmas in Rouge Deer: A Neilson family Christmas.


The entirety of the Neilson clan (all 13 of us) congregated in Red Deer this December to celebrate our first Christmas together in… years.  (We calculated that it must have been 8 years ago that ‘everyone’ was last together, although many members have been added since.)  Being spread out over the country (and previously across oceans), it was a special occasion to have everyone come together in one place.


Through the highs…


and the lows…

A mixture of things...

and those times we weren’t quite sure what to think…

Christmas dinner

we made some great memories together.


Marshmallow sweet potatoe mash

Nicole and Craig hosted everyone at their place on Christmas Day.  With the wood fire ablaze, we hung out and shared stories of days long ago, and sat down together for a lovely Christmas feast complete with all the trimmings, including a turkey, homemade cranberry sauce, and of course, the (Neilson favourite) marshmallow-topped sweet potato mash.


Instead of exchanging gifts this year, we decided to opt for a “shared experience” of sorts.  What activity says “memorable Canadian family experience” more than an ugly Christmas sweater bonspiel?  (For those of you who are wondering what a ‘bonspiel’ is-  it’s a curling tournament.)


Neilson fam bonspiel

The local curling club may not have known what hit them, but the Neilsons put on a strong display of spirit and skill, with no injuries and minimal tears.


The shot of the game went to Fay with her ‘hit and stick’ to put the ladies on the board.


Brendon’s eldest sister Karly took home the prize for best “ugly” sweater with her crocheted poncho, while Kendra (the youngest sister)’s vintage indigo sweatshirt was deemed the “hidden gem.”


I was personally quite a fan of our new bro-in-law Steven’s grandfatherly find.

m&b curling

Brendon and I won the “creativity” award for our DIY Christmas sweaters.  On a side note, we are considering joining a curling league.  Anyone else out there keen?


In the Christmas photobooth contest, the Neilson girls took home the win with this merry shot.


Runners up included Kendra & Steve with their nativity portrayal,


and Ken, Fay & Karly with this public display of affection.


All in all, we are very thankful that the Neilsons of the East could make the journey out West to make this one Christmas we will all surely remember for years to come.