Alpine escapades.

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We were graced with a visit from Kyle & Bea, two of the Kiwis we journeyed closest with while in New Zealand.  It was wonderful having these two kind, familiar souls in our presence again, and we relished this chance to introduce them to the province of Alberta.

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We concluded that the heartbeat of Alberta is truly not felt without a trip to the majestic Rockies.  Thus, we packed our weekenders and hopped into our trusty Corolla for an alpine escapade (or two).

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Bound for Banff, we made a brief stop in Canmore for a nourishing bite at Communitea, and took a quick stroll around the town to take in the alpine charm and enjoy the balmy temperatures.

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Never having seen the mountains before, our friend Bea was ecstatic.  It was beautiful to hear Bea’s ecstatic exclamations in her adorable Kiwi accent.

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Banff showed us her best side, lighting up with ideal conditions for our alpine escapades.

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Temperatures were just below zero, with moments of sunshine and moments of hazy skies where clouds hovered lazily over the towering peaks.  As icing on the cake, some timely light snow fell while we were basking in the warmth of the Banff Upper Hot Springs, making it appear to our friends that Canada could just not get any better.

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Our Banff recommendations include:

White Bark Cafe for coffee & breakfast

The Block Kitchen & Bar for dinner & drinks

Scenic lookout on the road up to Mt. Norquay

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We wouldn’t let these dear Kiwis depart Alberta without some alpine skiing across the Red Deer plains… which they were naturals at.

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Well done, Alberta!  Way to show off for our guests.

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As our friends make their journey back to the Land of the Long White Cloud, we feel grateful for the many moments shared and memories made together on Alberta soil.  Kyle & Bea, we commend you on a Canadian chapter of your lives beautifully and fully lived.  We are proud of you for following your dreams, and bless you as you return to NZ and explore ideas and possibilities of what this next chapter of life will hold.  xx

(A big thanks to Kyle for capturing several of the shots featured in this post!)

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Going ‘home’ to “The Stillness.”

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After driving 6000 km, we were thankful to keep our feet in one spot and chill out for a bit in New Brunswick with Brendon’s family out on the East Coast.

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‘Going home to see the folks’ has quite a different connotation when it comes to visiting Brendon’s parents.

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Ken & Fay, Brendon’s parents, live out on the Bay of Fundy in West Quaco, New Brunswick.  It was a long-time dream of theirs to own a retreat centre out on the coast, so when the opportunity came to purchase some land 10 years ago, they went for it, and “In the Stillness” retreat centre was born.

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Ken just recently retired from his hourly practice as a marriage and family counsellor (congrats on this step, Ken), focusing instead on his retreat counselling. He still teaches counselling in a post-secondary setting and is also working on his Doctorate, but mostly he likes to spent his time in the woods.  Together, Fay & Ken run the retreat centre, and have guests staying pretty much every weekend.  They also grow and harvest their own chaga mushrooms and chocolate mint tea, and hopefully soon, haskap berries.

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Because of their geographical location, the whole experience of going to visit Brendon’s parents is not your typical visit to the parents/in-laws; it is more like staying in isolation in the woods.

The retreat centre is comprised of a few separate dwellings: Ken & Fay’s house (which includes their living quarters as well as an office and blossoming cafe), a beautiful guest cottage which sleeps four, as well as a guest cabin which sleeps two.

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This visit, we stayed part of the time in the cottage, and part of the time in this adorable little cabin.

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I quite enjoy the short walk through the trees to reach the little cabin in the woods.

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Brendon’s oldest sister Karly is a chicken farmer and looks after the free-range chickens of The Stillness.

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She lovingly cares for her little flock, collecting their eggs and singing to them at night.  Karly has her own little house tucked up in the woods.

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Brendon’s younger sister Kendra also lives in New Brunswick with her husband Steve.  They live in the town of Sussex, which is about a 45 minute drive away.  We enjoyed connecting with these two over some ice cream and bocce ball one evening.

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The nearest village, St. Martin’s, is a 5 minute drive away.  St. Martins is famous for its sea caves as well as being the only place in the world where you can photograph two covered bridges in a single shot.

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The harbour, with its colourful fishing boats, is pretty cute.  St. Martin’s is quaint, but it does have a grocery store where you can buy basic food items.  The nearest city, Saint John, is about a 45 minute drive away.

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From the Neilson’s home, you can look down to the Bay of Fundy below and see a large red rock formation known as Sugar Loaf.

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During low tide, you are able to walk on the beach below and climb up to the top of the rock, should you wish.  But you wouldn’t want to get caught up on the rock after the tide has started to rush in, as did one of the visitors to The Stillness.  (The visitor phoned for help from the top of Sugar Loaf and was rescued by a search and rescue helicopter.  It was an exciting day in West Quaco.)  Highest tides in the world out there in the Bay of Fundy!

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One of my favourite spots out East is the lighthouse.  I love starting my day with a run to this little gem, and if I’m up early enough, a nice view of the sunrise.  It’s hard to deny the beauty of the East Coast from here.

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A big focus of our time out East this trip was planting some walnut trees.

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Brendon worked hard for several days beforehand clearing out the area where we would be planting and prepping the land.

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Together, with the help of Brendon’s parents and sisters, we planted about 40 black walnut trees and 10 butternuts.  To deter the deer from nibbling on the tender seedlings, we sprayed the trees with a mixture of egg and water… it seems to have done the job thus far.  A spray of some strongly brewed chocolate mint tea also seems like a great natural solution for the deer issue- thanks to Ken for discovering this.

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Attending the wedding of Brendon’s cousin Alex and his now-wife Emma was another New Brunswick highlight for us.  We also enjoyed spending time with Brendon’s grandmother, known to us as Nanny.  She is one incredible lady who continues to inspire us in her zest for life and learning.

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We’ll leave you with a few final thoughts on what we love about New Brunswick:

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For one, the flag.  Whoever decided to put a pirate ship on the province’s flag was definitely an adventurous soul.

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The red rocks.  Brown’s Bay, the beach right below The Stillness, is comprised of stunning red rocks and sand.  The rugged red coastline is unique and stunning.

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The trees.  Seas and seas of trees.  Because New Brunswick is so hilly, you get these epic views whenever you come to the top of a hill.  It makes for some spectacular drives.

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The mistyness.  New Brunswick gets some crazy fog that adds to the allure of this place.

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The East Coast has its on unique flavour to it.  There is a rich history here worth taking the time to get to know.

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Every time I return to New Brunswick, I develop an increasing affection for the magic found within this often-overlooked province.

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Spending time with our family in the East was very special.  Thanks, Ken & Fay for your wonderful hospitality “In the Stillness,” and for your continued support of us and our dreams.  It is inspiring to see you living yours.

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Well, as they say in New Brunswick, “Watch out for Moose!” (We thought it was funny how the people of New Brunswick tend to use this phrase like it was a blessing on one’s goings/travels.)  “Well, it was great to see you guys… Watch out for moose!”

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Christmas unicorns & other yuletide oddities: A Sufjan-inspired Christmas production.

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This year, I set out to do something I’ve never done before: to write a Sufjan Stevens- inspired Christmas production.

I didn’t so much write a whole production, as I wrote a play, or more specifically, a series of sketches to be performed at our school’s Christmas concert.

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The idea of a Sufjan Stevens Christmas musical came to me at some point last year, and with the help of our brilliant music director, Graham, and several other talented staff members, the vision became a reality.  During the second week of December, “Christmas Unicorns and Other Yuletide Oddities: A Thought-Provoking Christmas Experience” came to life.

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The process.

Inspiration for the musical came from Sufjan Stevens’ two Christmas box sets.  The idea had been in my mind for a little while, but plans were put into action during the summer, on our return journey from the East Coast.  Brendon and I did some script writing in the car, and pinned down a few sketches that stemmed from a handful of Sufjan’s songs.  The script was finished with the input and creative insight of a few others, and we had ourselves a collection of six sketches, each named after and based on Sufjan’s songs.

This was mid-October.  I thought I was done, ahead of my own personal deadline even, and was prepared to hand over the script to another teacher to carry out and bring to life with her students.  It soon became apparent that the teacher I thought would direct the play wanted to step back a bit in her involvement, and that I would need to be involved in the directing role.  Thankfully, another teacher, Yvonne, who has an extensive background in drama, expressed interest in co-directing, and we began a crazy season of lunch hours abandoned to rehearsals in order to get enough practice time in with the grade six actors and actresses.

The day before the first concert, we saw the music and dramatic sketches come together for the first time in rehearsal.  The result was magical.

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The production.

The production was held in our school gym over two separate evenings, involving the entirety of grades K-6 (split up between the two evenings) along with the Gr. 8/9 band, which is comprised of over 50 kids.  It was a lot of people (and parents) to fit into our gym.

Overall, I was really quite amazed with how things came together.  Kids stepped up to the plate when it was time to perform, and fused with the music, I think we put together something really beautiful and thought-provoking.  We had our share of minor technical difficulties that arose on both nights, which was slightly stressful, but for the most part, people weren’t phased by them and the production went over well.  The chorus of crying babies erupting just as the soft-spoken Unicorn Kid delivers the most pivotal lines of the play was rather unideal, but we had better luck the second night.

The music… was amazing.  Graham did a ton of work rearranging the songs so that they would work for the band and the kids, and the variations sounded incredible.  A staff band, consisting of Graham, Codi, & Eric, accompanied the class choirs on their songs… it sounded unreal.  We have an insane amount of talent on our staff.

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My favourite part of the show was the opening song, Barcarola.  With Grade 6 actors & actresses singing from the risers, I got to take in the spectacle of the band & lighting effects (thanks Chris Kooman) from backstage and take a deep breath as the show began.

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My aim in writing the production was for it to be a venue for thought.  I think it’s important to think about why we do the things we do… specifically around Christmas.  Though they had their humorous lines, the six sketches raised quite serious questions around topics such as traditions, wealth, appearance vs. reality, family, Christmas spirit, happiness, and hope, just to name a few.  In many ways, it was not a play necessarily written for kids, but for the adult audience watching the play.

We got some very encouraging feedback on the production from parents and community members, praising the seamless transitions and teamwork within the production.  It was also neat to hear that the production was indeed quite thought-provoking for people.

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The post-play lull.

I didn’t anticipate the post-play lull that hit the day after it was all over.  In fact, I honestly hadn’t thought about life past the play.

I probably wasn’t completely aware of the amount that I became invested in carrying the play out… Things like blogging, baking, crafting all took a back seat during the month leading up the play, but I didn’t seem to care.  Although it involved a whole lot more than I thought it would, most of it was fun, exhilarating even. Upon the abrupt finish, I found myself with a lost sense of purpose for a few days.

Having a big of space to breathe now, it was quite an experience to reflect on.  With this being the first time I had ever written or directed a play, I was surprised at how smoothly things came together, and how fun & rewarding the process was.  It was neat to apply my creativity to a new realm I had never worked in before.

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Even though Sufjan wasn’t there (well, I like to think he was there, dressed in a disguise of sorts), I think he would be proud.

It was an incredible experience to work with this skillful team to bring a vision to life, and have it be successful in its mission to generate meaningful thought and discussion.

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Way to go, team.  It’s been a pleasure working with you brilliant folks.

A new abode: An acrostic poem.

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Oh hello there!  Welcome to our new little abode in downtown Red Deer.

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What better way to introduce to you our new place than with an acrostic poem?

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A- Above ground, three stories up.  Red Deer has never looked as good as it does from up here.

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N- Never will we take for granted the large, south-facing windows, especially after living in our share of basements and dark apartments.

E- Exercise- you get lots of it going up and the 4 flights of stairs a couple times a day.

W- What do you know, we have a dishwasher??

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A- Antlers of white tailed deer and a moose, bestowed to us by a kind nature lover named Don.

B- Built by Brendon- the table, that is.

O- Overlooking the (towering?) buildings of downtown Red Deer, with lovely sunset views in the evening.

D- Down the street from Dose Coffee, and just a 20 minute walk from Mel’s school.

E- Even better than we thought it would be.  Most days, it’s hard to believe we live here, but we are so glad that we do.

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We have been feeling a lot more settled since moving into our new 2-bedroom apartment, and are so thankful to be able to call this space home for the year.

In case are wanting our new mailing address, contact us at neilson.mel@gmail.com and we’ll be happy to send it to you.

Toronto: Speechlessly good.

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The big city of Toronto reunited Brendon with his beloved Jays (go the Jays!), but most importantly with our dear Kiwi friends, Kyle & Bea. 

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Kyle and Bea road tripped through the States last summer, landing in Toronto in October.  We always knew a Canadian reunion was immanent, and were looking forward to this time for months. 

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While in NZ, we journeyed very closely with these two, sharing a meal together nearly weekly.  We’ve missed these times.  We hold these times and these people very dear to our hearts, and so sharing this time together in Toronto was very special.

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We were blown away by Kyle & Bea’s hospitality, and felt so thankful for the times and memories we could share together on Canadian soil.

Toronto was one of our favourite cities for the following reasons:

The Jays.

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At the age of 7 in 1992, young Breno went to watch the Jays play at the Skydome.  (Can you believe the child above is NOT mini Brendon??)

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He recalls having an epic moment of walking out into the staduim and seeing the grand expanse of the Skydome in front of him, and being overcome with a sense of awe. 

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Watching a Jays game was a must, so we went to 2.  Brendon watched the Jays game with the joy of his 7-year old self, shouting “Chicken hot dog” out at Colby Rasmus, who scored a home run while we were there. 

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It was cute seeing how happy he was when the Jays beat the Red Sox 6-1.  Brendon was so proud of his Jays.

The boutiques. 

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Oh my goodness.  The boutiques.  I kind of have a thing for cute design shops.  You know, the ones that carry a mix of cool stationary and prints, locally-made jewellery, home decor items, and potentially even some unique but practical household items?  I find them very inspiring.  Anyways, Toronto is FULL of amazing shops like this.  In all of our travels this summer, I didn’t come across a city that even compares to the volume of inspiring boutiques and design shops we encountered.  Bea was kind enough to do some scouting ahead of time and map out their whereabouts on an adorable set of cue cards, which detailed some extremely well-thought out routes for day trips around Toronto.

The beaches. 

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Toronto has beaches, people.  And being a bit beach-deprived this year, I was all over them.  We took the ferry over to Toronto Island (which is worth the excursion just for the views of the city), found ourselves a nice beach and enjoyed a glorious afternoon in the sun.  They’ve got a great, little organic cafe over there on the island too.

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Sugar Beach is another place beach lovers should be aware of.  This adorable slice of paradise is located directly beside the Redpath Sugar Factory.  The wofts of caramelized sugar that float by are heavenly, and the pink umbrellas are super cute, aren’t they?  And so what that it’s man-made?  It’s super cute and super accessible.  If you work downtown, you can totally beach here on your lunch break.  I mean, I would! 

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We walked to the beach nearby Kyle & Bea’s place, and took in the peaceful glow of the evening light on the Lake.  Amazing to have a gorgeous body of water so accessible from multiple places.

The coffee. 

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Toronto’s got a solid coffee scene.  Favourite spots included:

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Te Aro- a Kiwi-founded coffee company.

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Crafted Coffee (Te Aro), where a brief Transcend reunion occurred.

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Sam James- discrete espresso bar set up with a few locations around the city.

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White Rabbit (they serve a generous affagato)

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The parks. 

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The way that Toronto does parks was something that really struck and appealed to us.  And the parks are SO accessible.  Green space is very well & purposefully used.  It was neat to see the local parks well-utilized by people of all ages, and for various purposes. 

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Bicycle polo.  Wood fired pizzas.  Mud pits.  Community fire pits.  Skateboard park.  One evening while strolling through Dufferin Park, we happened upon a hipster “storytelling” gathering around a fire pit. 

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Toronto’s slogan “A City Within a Park” is such a neat concept.  Though perhaps their green space is not as plentiful as other Canadian cities, it is extremely well utilized.  Located within the heart of Toronto, one can pop in to grab a coffee at a reputable cafe, then walk a couple blocks and enjoy their coffee.  We think Toronto is on to something with their parks.

The street art. 

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I have yet to visit a city that displays and celebrates street art as much as Toronto does.  There is inspiring street art everywhere, and often in places unexpected. 

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Kyle & Bea’s friend Jeff was commissioned to paint this bear, among many other pieces featured downtown. 

The car-lessness. 

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Toronto is a city where one can definitely live without a car.  We didn’t use our car once during the week we were in Toronto, and loved it.  Our feet, and the occasional use of the subway or streetcar got us any place we wanted to go.  It was a wonderful way to be able to get to know and feel the heartbeat of this vibrant city.  

Other Toronto gems:

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Soma Chocolate- A local chocolate-maker who produces produces bean to bar chocolate.  Go there.  And pick up a Stratus Bar.  Do it.  It could change your life.

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Kensington Market- an eclectic, multicultural gathering place of artisans, vintage shops, cafes, & cultural food vendors.  There’s a definite vibe and energy to Kensington Market, and it’s a good one.  

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Electric Mud BBQ.  Not quite the same as Kansas City BBQ, but with a southern feeling and all the meat and mess of any of the best BBQ joints of the deep south.

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Blackbird Bakery- a relatively new bakery located in Kensington Market, which specializes in delicious, artisan breads.  Brendon recommends the Toronto Sourdough.

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Fat Pasha- we enjoyed a mind-blowing Jewish feast of colour and flavour on their enchanting backyard patio.  

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Bluegrass Brunch- what could be more enchanting & cozy on a Sunday morning than enjoying a family-style brunch while listening to bluegrass tunes?

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Smock- an inspiring cafe/children’s art space.  

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Kid Icarus- an inspiring stationary/design shop located in Kensington Market.  I visited numerous times.  I couldn’t get enough.

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The Distillery district- I totally could have spent more time wandering the red brick streets and perusing all the cool shops tucked away in the Distillery district.

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Toronto, why do you have to be so cool?  Keep this up and we could easily be persuaded to move there… it’s currently Brendon’s retirement dream to live in a condo in downtown Toronto and attend every single Jays game.

We absolutely loved our time in Toronto, especially because of who we got to share it with.  Thanks, Kyle & Bea for showing us an AMAZING time in your super cool adoptive city.

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Cross-continentals.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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We posed for a photo with John Adams.

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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.

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

 

Welcoming warmth in The Deer.

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We apologize for the lack of updates over the last little while.  Life has held many transitions, commitments, and deadlines which have unfortunately meant limited time for blogging.  But I’d love to catch you up on what the past 2 months have held.

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First off, we would just like to say that Red Deer definitely looks much better in green than it does in brown or white.  Well, this is probably true of just about anywhere.   The arrival of warmer seasons brought a welcomed lightness and hope to our days.  It’s wonderful to walk outside and have the air not hurt your face.

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The spring held a visit from Brendon’s mom, Fay, and sister, Karly.

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We enjoyed some fun Neilson family times at Luke’s ball games and cheering on Naomi in her first Triathalon.

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Speaking of Triathalons, a shout out to our bro-in-law, Craig, for an incredible performance in the Coeur D’Alene Ironman race and qualifying to go to Worlds in Kona again.  Congrats, Craig & Team Schmitt!!  So proud of you.

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Brendon is now in the final revision stage of his thesis work.  It has felt like a long haul, and he feels quite ready to be done, but there is still a bit more refining and revising to do before the final product can be submitted.  I keep reassuring him that he’ll get there soon enough!

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We were delighted to celebrate Morgan’s graduation from Grade 9 and be there to see Morgan rack up a series of awards at her end of year prizegiving, including the prestigious “Elmer S. Gish Family Award,” given to a student who is well-respected by peers and teachers and who has made a significant contribution to the school community.  Way to go, Morgo!!  So proud of this girl.  In general, it’s nice to be back for these sorts of things, you know?

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My first school year back in Alberta is now complete- hooray!   I had a great year with my Gr. 3’s and 4’s, and my current school has been an awesome place for me to grow as a teacher.  I really feel fortunate to be able to work in such a positive, supportive environment, and with some excellent teaching colleagues, some of whom have become friends.

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As for what next year will hold?  Well, it looks like our feet will be sticking around The Deer a bit longer.  I have kindly been offered a position teaching Grade 2  next year with the same school, and am pleased to continue my journey as a teacher working for and with people I have a lot of respect for.   As much fun as teaching a split class is, teaching a single grade again will be a nice change, and it’s been a while since I’ve taught Grade 2… it’s good to keep things fresh, right?

Staying on with the same school meant preparing to move to a new school campus over the summer.  Along with packing up the entire contents of my classroom, we also packed up the contents of our apartment and put all our belongings in storage while we do some travel over the summer months.

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The spring held its share of uncertainties, decisions, moves, and transitions.  But it did open up its share of hopes about returning to Red Deer for another year.

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On leaving NZ: One year later.

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One year ago, we said goodbye to beautiful Aotearoa.

To commemorate this occasion, I made a pie.

When people find out we spend three and a half years living in New Zealand, the most common question that follows this discovery is “Why did you leave?”

While this question does ring in our ears from time to time, (especially during the depths of the winter months), we suppose the main answer to that question has to do with the people whose love sustained us despite the physical distance that separated us.

While that “settled” feeling still has yet to come, and while we miss the beaches, the lushness, and the beauty of New Zealand’s land and people, we do have a peace about being back in Canada, in this land that is our home.

We continue to look back on our time in New Zealand with awe and thankfulness, knowing that we will be forever shaped by those years spent in the land of the long white cloud.

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Mel & Breno’s Red Deer.

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For the past 9 months, Red Deer (or Rouge Deer, as we like to call it), has been our place of residence.

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We have done our best to try to embrace what Rouge Deer offers, and although we may not have discovered all of its gems yet, here are our favorite places & aspects of this rural city of Central Alberta.

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We will begin with what we consider the gem of The Deer: Dose Coffee Company.  Dose has been Brendon’s haven and saving grace amidst his year of thesis writing.  They alternate between serving Transcend and Phil & Sebastian coffees, and sell beans from a few reputable roasters.  The owners, Roland and Alison, are great people whom we have really enjoyed getting to know.

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What we would have done without Dose this year, I have no idea.  I personally enjoy the Dulce’s, and they also have a nice selection of teas.  Recently, Brendon began working Fridays at Dose and was featured in an article in the Red Deer Advocate earlier in May.

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Auckland has its iconic Sky Tower, but towering above Red Deer’s skyline is this distinguished water tower.  Painted an attractive seafoam green, isn’t it a beauty?  Seeing this majestic structure peeking out from over the treeline brings me just a little bit of joy, every time.

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Red Deer’s historic downtown quarters have quite a charm to them.  The city has done a nice job preserving the historic aspects of buildings, and numerous statues and murals give glimpses of days passed.

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The Dented Can is one shop that you must check out when wandering the downtown, especially if you are into antique/vintage wares.

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We initially over-looked what enjoyment we would get from this mounted radio/cassette player upon first moving into our little apartment.  Listening to the “Strombo Show” on CBC Radio 2 has become a favorite Sunday evening past-time.  “The Signal” with Lori Brown at 10pm is another favourite.

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The river valley trails in Red Deer are excellent.  I feel fortunate to live very close to them, and utilize them frequently.

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For fitness, I tend to do more interval-based training these days, rather than long distance running.  This painted concrete pad looking over the river is a great little spot to get a bit of a workout in.  I especially enjoy that it gets great late-afternoon sun.

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So far, I have located one set of stairs next to the river valley which I have also enjoyed utilizing as part of my fitness regime.  It recently became “closed for construction,” though, so if anyone else knows of another (perhaps longer) set of stairs within the city, I would love to hear about its whereabouts.

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Galbraith Park.  Just a block from our place, this is a nice spot to take an afternoon nap on a blanket, play some catch, do some wildlife watching, or just close your eyes and imagine you are on a beach (while ignoring the sound of the obnoxious motorcycles and trucks roaring by).  Just last week, we spotted this young deer meandering through the park.

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From May to October, Red Deer runs a pretty substantial farmer’s market- probably the most eclectic one we’ve seen.

Red Deer Farmers Market

A wide mix of produce, craft, packaged product, and antiques… you never quite know what kind of gems you will find.

Red Deer Farmers Market

To quote our friend Matthew Cairns, “The Red Deer Farmers Market is a great to place to go if you need: a new bag for your vacuum, hemp jewellery, Titanic on VHS, and sausage.”  Truth you speak, Matthew.

Red Deer Farmers Market

The RD Farmers Market has grown to be quite immense in size, and is very well attended by central Alberta folk.  Strolling this vibrant, diverse market is a truly lovely way to spend a Saturday morning.

Red Deer Food trucks Chedda'Heads and the Stache

Food Truck Fridays start up again in the summer, with a gathering of the local food vendors in the city’s central quarters.  You can also find the food trucks at the Farmers Market on Saturday.  Chedda’ Heads and The Stache are two of Red Deer’s most popular food trucks.

Bower Ponds

Bower Ponds is a lovely place for an afternoon promenade (or a skate in the wintertime).

Red Deer

We haven’t dined out a ton in Red Deer, but some local restaurants we have tried out and would like to recommend Addy’s (run by a sweet family from Syria, serving Middle Eastern cuisine), Reuon Thai, and Blue Dragon Thai & Cambodian.

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Sylvan Star Cheese, a local cheese-making company from the heart of Alberta.  We highly recommend the Old Grizzly.  Available at many grocery stores around the city, or a trip out to the Sylvan Star Cheese Shop out in Sylvan Lake can be a nice excursion.

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Did we mention that Red Deer has a couple of pretty great thrift (op) shops?  Red Deer is well known for having one the best Value Villages around, but my personal favourite is the Bible For Missions Thrift Shop.  BFM’s prices are quite a bit more reasonable than VV’s, and it is run entirely by volunteer.  We have to admit, we have found some real steals there.

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Our Red Deer Family.  It’s been wonderful having Brendon’s sister, Nicole, and her family here in Red Deer.  We have so loved being able to be there for our niece and nephews’  birthday parties, hockey games, and holidays… something that feels a bit novel after having been away for so long.

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We have also shared some great times with the lovely Schultz’s, who have been good friends of ours for a long time.

Yep, so that’s pretty much The Deer… as experienced through our eyes.

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We recognize that there are probably many other fantastic things in Red Deer aside from what we mentioned, but we wanted to moreso give you a glimpse of the Red Deer we have experienced over the past year.

Red Deer sunset

Red Deer friends (who probably know the city MUCH better than we do), feel free to contribute your favourite spots and recommendations that we may have missed in our post.

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Hanoi: A place to sit and watch the world go by.

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I hit a low point in our travels once we reached Hanoi, which we travelled to by rail.

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After being dropped at the wrong location by our taxi driver, finding our hotel was obstacle number one in Vietnam’s capital.

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Traffic was insane. Imagine, literally, a river of scooters flowing through the streets.

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Crossing the street was at your own risk, and definitely a risk at that!  You just kind of had to go for it… slowly.  The general principle is that the traffic will go around you.  We are proud to say that we managed to avoid being hit by a scooter through the entire duration of our stay in Vietnam.

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Appealing restaurants were a little harder to come by in Hanoi, as were people who spoke good English.

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Northern Vietnam appeared less tourist-friendly than their neighbours in the South.

Sidewalks

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The smells, the chaos, the noise, the dirt, the cluttered sidewalks, the persistent nagging of street vendors… they were starting to get to me… one could say I was nearly “Asia’d out.”

THANKFULLY, I stumbled upon this article by Steve Jackson, who offered some wise & timely words:

“THERE IS NOT ONE SPECIFIC THING WORTH SEEING IN HANOI.

NOT ONE.

And yet Hanoi itself is unmissable.

Spend your time rushing around to see any of the sites on the above list and you may miss its charms.”

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We thought Steve’s words to be very knowing, so we took his advice and did a little research on the Hanoi cafe scene.

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After strolling around Hoi Kim Lake, we caught a cyclo who pedalled us to the doorstep of Cong Caphe.

Cong Caphe

On the walls inside this reputable Hanoi Cafe hang Vietnam war paraphernalia.

Cong Caphe

On the menu, a variety of coffee beverages, and a limited number of snack items, including pop corn.

Cong Caphe coconut coffee shake

Highly recommend the coffee and coconut coffee shake. An interesting flavor combination, but it works! Brendon says his best Vietnamese coffee experience was here as well.

Cong Caphe

Although the view was somewhat limited, the cafe itself was a great place to sit and think about Hanoi.

Beware that within the small cafe, smoking is permitted, so air quality has the potential to be quite poor. You’ll have to forgive Cong Caphe for the lung damage.

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Thanks to Steve Jackson, we adapted a much more relaxed perspective about our time in Hanoi, which challenged me to focus less on ticking things off a list, and instead, look around and appreciate who and what was around me at that moment.

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Mochi

Hanoi sewing machine

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Hanoi