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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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.

Kansas City.

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Kansas City held a heartwarming reunion with our dear friends, the Keels.

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We arrived in New Zealand the very same week as this amazing family, and shared in the joys, wonders, and bewilderment of moving to a new country and continent together.  It felt so good to be in their presence again, share stories of adjustment, and validate that the experience of going to New Zealand was indeed real.

It was very special to share some wonderful times with our friends Tim, Mimi, Mabry, Annie & Blaise in their very cool hometown of Kansas City.  Some of the highlights included:

Kansas City Barbecue.

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I didn’t know it was a thing.  But it is.  It is QUITE a thing.  Kansas City BBQ is a culture unto itself that must be experienced to be understood.  Tim & Mimi took us to some of their favourite BBQ joints.  Our first Kansas City BBQ experience was takeout from Oklahoma Joe’s, a BBQ place run out of what looks like a gas station.

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Make no mistake- Oklahoma Joe’s is serious BBQ business.

Brendon savoured his Z-man sandwich, while I thoroughly enjoyed my beef brisket (sans the bun.)  I appreciated the thin slices, minimal fat, and thorough application of bbq sauce.

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Then we encountered L.C.’s.  L.C.’s has been known to have the “slickest floors in Kansas City.”  We’re talking smoky, messy, rustic style Kansas City BBQ here.  The kind of bbq where the air is a thick, translucent haze, rolls of paper towel sit on the tables and slices of white bread are used to sop up the glorious mess on your place.  It was epic.

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Mel’s first major league baseball game.  

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Mimi’s dad generously got us tickets to see the Kansas City Royals play the Detroit Tigers from the 4th row … pretty amazing viewing the game from there!

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Visiting Jacob’s Well.

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Tim started Jacob’s Well Church years before moving to NZ, then returned as Senior Pastor.  Mimi is also the Director of Children’s Ministry.  An inspiring place to visit.  One afternoon, Brendon had the chance to share his thesis work with some of the pastoral team there, which was an encouraging and affirming experience for him.

Kansas City Coffee.

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The coffee scene in Kansas City was awesome.  None of our cafe experiences disappointed in the least; mind you, Tim had hand-selected them all for us, so we knew they would be good.  Coffee highlights of the city included:

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Quay Coffee- A really nice geisha full of florals and gentleness.

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Second Best- Some nice espresso, a Kenyan pour over, and a crunch peanut butter affagato.

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Oddly Correct- An enjoyable cappuccino and an exceptional old fashioned sour cream glazed donut.

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PT’s Coffee- A Colombian (single origin) espresso, Kenyan pour over, and iced almond chai.

Meeting Jeremy Collins.

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We were on our way to the cafe Oddly Correct when Tim mentioned we should stop in and visit his friend Jeremy who works in an artists space next door.

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Jeremy kindly took the time to share some of his work with us, including some sketchbooks from a recent trip to Venezuela, and the trailer to his upcoming film, Drawn.  It’s hard to explain what our brief visit with Jeremy did… invigorated/stirred our souls a bit maybe, or gave us a hope that people really can find ways to incorporate their passions and live out their convictions in ways that are possible and meaningful.  Jeremy’s film, Drawn, is being featured as part of the Banff Film Festival, and premiers in Banff this fall.  We are going to try to be there for it.  You can watch the trailer here.

Miscelaneous gems.

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Kansas City far to cool to be thoroughly explored in 3 days.   We probably just touched the tip of the ice berg really, but here are a few other places that stood out as being exceptionally awesome:

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Little Freshie has amazing gourmet snow cones.  Blackberry lavender, anyone?  Or green tea pear?

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Utilitarian Workshop is a super cool design store full of local handmade jewellery and other beautiful objects.

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Our time in Kansas City was overall rejuvenating and inspiring.  The Keels spoiled our socks off and we are so thankful for the time that we could spend with them.  Thanks so much, Tim, Mimi, Mabry, Annie, & Blaise for making our time in Kansas City so epic!  Until next time, friends! x

Next stop: Muscatine, Iowa.

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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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Tofino: Raglan of Canada.

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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.

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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).

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Other gems we uncovered in Tofino were…

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

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

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Tofino Coffee Roasters, as mentioned in a previous post.

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Misty, log-cluttered beaches.

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

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

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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.

Looking back, looking ahead.

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One year ago (give or take a few days), we celebrated Brendon’s birthday with friends at Brother’s Beer in Auckland.  As Brendon’s 29th birthday came, we spent a few minutes reminiscing about this day last March, and then got caught up in other pictures from that time in life that was so incredibly rich and memorable.

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In the midst of the winter freeze, it’s very hard to not wish we were back in NZ!  It is heartwarming to look back with fondness on a chapter in our lives that we will never forget, yet we must continue to embrace our current stage and location, regardless of the lack of beaches, breweries, and meat pies.

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Brendon is in the final stages of his thesis.  These days, he writes mainly from home, although the odd time he packs up his books and heads to Dose Coffee Company, the gem of Red Deer.

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Brendon has just a month or so left… to finish his final chapter, edit, revise, and submit his thesis.  This sounds like a hefty task, and it is.  Without the companionship and support of the community of fellow scholars and students that once surrounded at Laidlaw, the task of thesis-writing has been a lonely one.  But I am really proud of the way Brendon has persevered through the challenges of solo scholarship in this foreign township.

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What is next after his thesis is finished?  Brendon gets asked this question often.  First, a trip back to NZ sometime in the next couple of months to defend his thesis.  After that, Brendon will try to get a job of some sort.  Ideally, he would like to teach at a post-secondary institution or seminary somewhere, but jobs in this realm are not exactly plentiful.  There are other projects and fields to which he could also apply his skill-set, but nothing is lined up as of yet.  It’s a little bit unnerving, but also exciting, waiting to see what kind of opportunities will present themselves.