Monday, 25 July 2016

Saving the Best for Last - Adventures in New South Wales.

NSW Route
An entirely new meaning to
There is no denying I fell in love with Australia, from the moment we landed in Mount Barker until our last evening in Sydney.  Everywhere we went, from South Australia, down the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne, from one end of Tasmania to the other, we continued to find ourselves surrounded by breathtaking scenery and wonderfully warm people who had no trouble at all bandying about a love for all things creative, swaddled in off-the-wall humour.  It was like coming home! Every day, we would wake up convinced we weren't going to see anything more spectacular . . . and yet we did. So it was only fitting that NSW was the crowning glory.  We were unprepared for the combination of jewel-tone seas edged in asubtropical rainforest which hosts a multi-layered canopy of up to 60 species of trees and shrubs.

If this description appeals to you, Tamborine Mountain National Park (just north of NSW, in Queensland) will easily entice you out of your car and into a world of eucalyptus and cycad trees stretched along an abundance of easy walks and magnificent views.  Don't miss the Mount Tamborine Skywalk where, if you are lucky, you might even find yourself face to face with the elusive platypus.

Cape Byron Lighthouse
The acclaimed Byron Bay, a beachside town located in the north eastern corner of the state, is often referred to as a paradise with the power to cast a spell over everyone who goes there.  Architects, designers, craftworkers and software engineers have set up shop in this elite coastal village, earning  Byron a reputation as the 'style capital' of the North Coast.  I confess, we didn't spend enough time in Byron to know whether this was true but we did stop long enough to take a stroll around Cape Byron Lighthouse.  Definitely worth the time, be forewarned, it is a tourism mecca; go early in the morning to beat the crowds, or be prepared to walk quite a distance from parking and share the view with thousands.  

It wasn't remotely possible for me to visit NSW without checking out some of my ancestral homes which explains how we got to Maclean.  Dubbed 'the Scottish Town in Australia', here you will discover a nod to its history in the Gaelic found on many of the Town's street signs and tartan-clad streetlamp posts.  While this is  delightful, we were charmed the most by the small town warmth of its residents.  As we had made a rule about driving at night, and our accommodations was outside of the town proper, we were unsure how we would find our evening meal.  Have no fear:  one call to the local Returned and Enlisted Services League (RSL) and a van arrived, not only to deliver us to the club but also to take us home whenever it pleased us.  When we offered to pay for our fare, we were first met with surprise, after which we were solemnly advised that this town not only takes care of its own, but of its visitors as well.   Yet again, we found our offer of monetary compensation rejected. 

Clarence River
In the morning, we chose to cross the mighty Clarence by ferry so that we could enjoy a scenic drive through the countryside.  The largest river in NSW, aside from the Murray, it is the largest river in mainland Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn.  Extreme rainfalls in this area often result in major floods, temporarily raising the flow of the Clarence to levels equivalent to some of the largest rivers in the world.  The Clarence supports a large prawn trawling and fishing industry and the area is well known for its cattle and sugar cane production.  It was here that my great grandmother, Catherine Davis Marles was raised; indeed not only were we able to find her parents and grandparents in the Methodist section of the Maclean Cemetery, it is the location of a large extended family reunion which I'm told draws upwards of 1,000 people.  

Fruit Bats
And Davis' aren't the only ones congregating in the area.  A colony of unwanted fruit bats, also referred to as flying foxes, have set up house in the vicinity of the school, next to the cemetery.  as stated in the Daily Examiner "they party all night, leave a huge mess and destroy where they live--anyone who lives near Maclean's flying fox population knows they are the neighbours from hell".  

Our next stop was Coff's Harbour. While one might consider us to be a wee bit biased (my great grandparents were community founders; you can learn more about it here I have to say, we were duly impressed.  In fact, we are still wondering whatever possessed my great grandparents to pull up stakes and move to the Canadian prairies.  As, that's a question we will never have an answer to, let's get back on track.  Coff's is unique in the fact that nowhere else in Australia doe the sub-alpine, sub-tropical and sub-marine ecosystems co-exist in one place.    Nearby Dorrigo National Park is World Heritage listed and Coff's stunning beaches introduce one to myriad marine opportunities.  Originally inhabited by the Gumbaynggirr Aboriginals, the area's fertile soils, temperate climate, many rivers and rich marine life provides a wealth of resources including timber, gold and tin mining, ship building, banana plantations and dairy farms.  

Postcard of Wonderful Beaches in the Vicinity of Coff's Harbour

We stayed at the Observatory Apartment Hotel and, while once again, one might consider us influenced by the fact that this establishment is owned, in part, by distance relatives some four generations removed, I would ask  that you check out the website, look at the photos and be assured that what you see is exactly what you get.  What makes this Observatory so wonderful is not only the spectacular views of the jetty, marina and foreshore; it is ideally located within easy walking distance of a number of restaurants and shops.  If we still haven't won you over, just wait until you meet managers Daniel and Emily; not only are they warm and inviting, they are only too willing to pass along a few tips of what one should see, not only in Coff's but in the general region. There is a reason why the Observatory is rated #1 hotel in Coff's by Trivago and Admittedly, I had a little difficulty finding it on TripAdvisor so I've included the link to their website below but, if you're looking, check under 'Coffs Harbour Specialty Lodging'.  And don't take our word for it; check it out for yourself, the sooner the better!
Bacon & Poached Eggs
Did I happen to mention that we like to dawdle? Sad as it sounds, we spent our next night a paltry 40 minutes inland from Coff's.  If it gives you any consolation, we took the scenic route north to Woolgoolga, then headed west, through Coramba and Nana Glen.  Ideally, we should have swung through Glen Innis and Armadale and Waterfall Way but, alas, we opted to spend time in Bellingen, a quaint little community of about 3,000 residents at the midway point between Brisbane and Sydney. Here, there are lots of interesting shops to poke through, with our favourite being the Old Butter Factory.

Funny story. . . by this time we are on the last leg of our one month tour of Australia and still we had not discovered how to order breakfast. By now we were well versed in ordering Long Black and Flat White coffees, undoubtedly some of the best coffee we have had in our travels.  We are still trying to comprehend just how big a pig grows in Australia; from the size of the bacon strips, they have to be whoppers but you know what they say: everything is bigger in Australia.  It was the eggs that were throwing us off.  Our requests for 'over easy' or 'sunny side up' were not exactly ignored but, when our breakfast arrived, it would not be what one might have expected.  It was here, in Bellingen, a mere few days before leaving the continent for home, that we discovered that eggs come in 'soft', 'medium' or 'hard'. . . and they are ALL poached!  I admit, we had quite a chuckle over the perfectly poached eggs we received that morning for breakfast as they were faintly reminiscent of a part of the male anatomy that men are extremely protective of. . . if get my drift.

Itsy Bitsy Spider Went Up the Water Spout

See how high that door knob is!
Our next stop was at the entrance to Lake Macquarie. The area is known for its coal mining, fishing, boating and tourism, not to mention its fine sandy beaches. I'm not exactly sure what was going on there but we were happy to find accommodation of any sort that night, and found ourselves in a small roadside motel where, once again, the management was very friendly and helpful.  It was here that we saw our biggest spider and, for all the hype about the many critters that can kill you and the size of the bugs, it was more than a bit anticlimactic.   In fact, he was so docile, I was sure he was dead but the manager assured me he was simply lying in wait for his next victim.  What I think impressed us more was the height of the door knobs.  This was not the first time we found door knobs (interior and exterior) extraordinarily high, particularly in older buildings.  We have not yet fathomed exactly why this is. High exterior doorknobs might prevent young children from inadvertently leaving the room and, since it was only steps from the water, perhaps it's a safety feature.  But why would there be the same desire to keep them out of the bathroom?  Such a quandary we never figured it out.  In the event you have the answer, please share!
Swansea War Memorial

A word about Australia's various clubs. It would seem that most clubs are open to the general public for a meal. In Lorne, it was suggested that there was an excellent chef at the local lawn bowling club. We weren't disappointed. In Maclean, it was a van from the local RSL  that delivered us to the door of its restaurant.  I would suggest they are similar to Canadian Legions but significantly more popular.  The two we were in were very large and appeared to cover everything including fine dining, family dining, pub style and gambling. Both had a considerable area for display of its local war history and respect for its veterans; in fact, at the 2nd one, at 6pm sharp, we were asked to stand for a minute of silence.  The daughter of a veteran myself, it warmed my heart.

Blue Mountains
The next stop was the Great Western Road, on our way to Katoomba, in the midst (or should i say mist) of the Blue Mountains.  Sadly, it wasn't a particularly nice day. The Blue Mountains are a spur off the Great Dividing Range, so named due to the blue haze that hovers above them.  It is commonly believed that the haze is created by the atmosphere dispersing droplets of Eucalypt oil from the four species of Eucalyptus represented.  The oil combines with dust particles and water vapour. Mount Boyce, a few kilometers north of Blackheath, and standing 1,093m (3,586') high, is one of the highest peaks.  The entire area is a labyrinth of hiking trails but not all of the area's hikers are fully prepared.  Not only do they get lost by walking off the beaten track; the importance of good boots and a jacket cannot be over stressed as the weather can change extremely fast.  

City viewshed from under the bridge
Back down we went, to our final stop, in Sydney. Here we met with a distance cousin who proved extremely helpful in providing suggestions for our trip.  A New South Wales native, no one will find a better champion of her community, particularly when it comes to Sydney.  Anne is passionate about her love of all things Sydney including her favourite 'footy' team, the Sydney Swans. Admittedly, we are not 'City' people; rather, we are happy to plod along the country trails enjoying the scenery and wildlife and relish the small communities. Anne couldn't quite believe we were going to be in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and not stop and see any of it. She was having none of it; instead, she popped us in the car and we set out on her 15 minute tour.  Honestly, I can't imagine a better guide.  We visited the Sydney Harbour, where we not only saw spectacular views including the bridge and opera house, we received a run-down on every kind of boat to be seen from private luxury yachts to the various ferries and charters.  Of one thing we have no doubt:  not only is Anne fiercely loyal to her City, she is very well versed in it and we loved it!

And just in case we weren't completely bedazzled by her City (we were), as the final piece de resistance, she invited us to tag along on a family birthday dinner. While we gorged on wine and pizza (one of the best meals we had on our month-long vacation) we stoically accepted the jibes given all in fun and hopefully gave a few back of our own.  Sadly, we were at a disadvantage, not being fully conversant in Australian slang. . . but one thing we do know. . . if you are ever called a bogan, it's likely not a compliment!

Opera House 
And there ended our journey,  the next morning, bright and early, we squeezed into the economy class of Air New Zealand (which is really not as bad as people make it out to be.  Admittedly, the trip to Australia seemed easier than coming home.  It could have been due to the excitement of seeing my niece or an entirely new continent even though it was 27 hours door-to-door.  My personal philosophy is that the flight to Australia from North America works with our circadian rhythms while the return works in opposition.  It's a little easier to convince the body to sleep when you get on a plane late afternoon, you are fed dinner, watch a couple of movies and then the lights turn down low.  It's a completely different matter when you pop onto the return flight at 8 am, are fed dinner, watch a couple of movies and then the windows are shuttered and the lights turned low.  All I can tell you is to dress in comfortable clothes (preferably layers); take your shoes off, keep hydrated and do the best you can. For me, it's the air conditioning that gets to me; I have long pants which can be rolled up, sweaters that can be removed and socks.  When you can't settle down don't sit there; get up, walk around, stretch a few times. . . everybody does it.  While the jet lag isn't excruciating by any means, we estimated a full week before our bodies were 'back to normal' and we had our poop back in a group. . . literally. And maybe age affects us:  my nephew and his wife clearly told me it took them a week of sleeping to adjust.  When I heard they were expecting their 2nd child, I did the math and I'm pretty sure they weren't sleeping that week. . . just saying. . . .

So, now we know why everybody rants and raves about Australia.  I would certainly go back but next time, I would do it quite differently.  Rather than hopping all over the place, I think I would plant myself in a nice room somewhere that could be used as a base, and make trips from there. Airfare is inexpensive and the continent is very well connected.   And I think I would rather go for two months. . . at least.  Until next time. . . 


Thursday, 14 July 2016

In the Footsteps of My Ancestors

If you've ever had an opportunity to visit the homes of your people, many of whom are long gone, you will understand that there is really no accurate way to describe that feeling.

Here is a little of my story.    In the Footsteps of My Ancestors

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Tasmania: Australia's Newfoundland

If you decide to stay at Launceston's Comfort Inn Coach House,
be sure to say a big Alberta hello to the management
We landed in Launceston about mid-day and, as is our custom, without accommodation.  Usually, this works for us but we had not anticipated 2,500 members of the Ulysses Motorcycle Club arriving for its AGM.  A City of about 74,000, we felt fortunate to find ourselves in a very large family room at the Comfort Inn Coach House, their last room that was offered up at a bargain price (perhaps because they could see the whites of our eyes).  While it was well situated in terms of being able to walk down town to restaurants and stores the parking area was not for the feint of heart.  I have spoken in earlier posts of the twisting, turning roads of Australia; did I mention how steep they could be? If they were steeper than what we may be accustomed to in North America, they don't hold a candle to some of the parking lots. Ever the optimist, I naturally assumed, if it was an area meant for vehicles to park, then surely, vehicles could park in it without any serious trouble.  When Eric warned me that our little Honda Civic rental was going to bottom out, I actually scoffed.  My superior attitude didn't last long, as it was no time before bumper met asphalt, I began mentally calculating the fees to be charged by the rental company, and I found myself hyperventilating as I attempted to come to terms with the need to traverse this mountain of a driveway in reverse.  I admit, I felt some consolation when one of the bikers admitted to being as intimidated as I was. 

By the way, if you're wondering how we felt about sharing this small City with 2,500 bikers, let me assure you, there was no rumble in the park(ing  lot); after all, one must be over 40 years old to be part of this club and, with the motto, grow old disgracefully, you know they are going to be an entertaining crew.  We were not disappointed; the few we had the privilege of meeting were welcoming, informative and, indeed, full of stories. . . a good start to our first night in Tassie.

Franco's Italian Restaurant - YUM!
Once parked, everything immediately began looking up. Although new, the management was friendly and shared what tips they could about what to see and do in the community. After we were settled into our room, we strolled down the hill to Franco's Italian Restaurant where we found great food and exceptional service.  The icing on the cake was when, on the way back, we decided to stop in at the Royal Oak Hotel pub to fortify ourselves for the haul up the 'mountain' to our room.  With a logo that reads, 'Leap In, Limp Out' and bills itself as 'an Hotel of Uncommon Character' how could we possibly go wrong?  We owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to our two exceptional bartenders, Tim and Tom, who were invaluable in helping us construct a 5-day itinerary with which to explore Tasmania. You can read more about them in

Before leaving Launceston, we visited the beautiful Cataract Gorge. About 10 minutes from City centre, one would think they are miles away, it is so insulated from the sights and sounds of urban living. Originally discovered in 1804, the Launceston City and Suburbs Improvement Association (formed in 1899) undertook the 8-year construction of an access into the Gorge. Today you'll find a chairlift, walking and hiking trails, gardens, a swimming pool, a restaurant and cafe as well as some pretty spectacular views. because, while part of the area is very manicured, there is almost as much that remains very natural in appearance and theme.  It was a great way to spend our morning.

Bay of Fires
Armed with the information imparted by our two trusty bartenders, the determined route was to skirt along the east side of Tasmania, along the coast and ever so slowly making our way toward Hobart.  If you've been keeping up with our travels, you will know that we don't seem to make too many miles in a day.  It seems we are extraordinarily curious or perhaps a wee bit senile, as it appears to take longer for us to absorb the sights and sounds of a new environment.  At any rate, we had five glorious days to explore a route of something just over 600km and, suffice to say, we needed every bit of it! 

The Route
From Launceston, we tracked northeast, to the beautiful Binalong Bay and the southern end of the Bay of Fires. While its name refers to Aboriginal fires spotted by Captain Furneaux when he sailed past in 1773, it seems to apply equally to the brilliant orange lichen that grows on the granite boulders lining the coast.  We're told that to see it during  a sunrise is stunning indeed but, of course, we were nowhere to be found at sunrise.

Spikey Bridge
Near Swansea, we discovered Spikey Bridge.  Built by convicts in 1843, it literally pops out of nowhere alongside the road. Made solely of fieldstones (no mortar), the top layer has been placed vertically, giving the bridge its spikey appearance. Some say they were placed this way to keep cattle from falling off the bridge and into the gully.  While the bridge is now located along the highway, you can reach it and, indeed traverse it, by way of a narrow dirt road.  I'm guessing most folks turn around and head back to the highway but being adventuresome, we decided to follow the road and soon discovered ourselves back enroute.  

Bay of Fires
Also not far from Swansea is Wineglass Bay, considered to be one of the top 10 beaches in the world.  The walk involves a two hour uphill climb through pink granite peaks known as The Hazards, followed by a jolting downhill walk to the beach. Good knees are a must.  We decided to forego the walk but my niece considered it one of the highlights of her visit.

On to Port Arthur we went and once again the joke was on us. You see, we actually thought Port Arthur was a town. . . and it is. . . of sorts. One of Australia's most significant heritage sites, it began it's history as the destination for the hardest of convicted criminals from Britain.  After its closure, much of the property was put up for auction and remained in private hands and occupied until the late 1970s, when funding was received to preserve what remained as a tourist destination.  Visiting the Port Arthur during the day gives you the best idea of its expanse and what it might have been in its heyday. As one might imagine, visiting at night provides a completely different experience. Do one or both; the choice is yours. Haunting stories of its many prisoners and their ghosts are compounded by the mass graves on the Isle of the Dead.  
Port Arthur
Port Arthur's more recent history is equally as gruesome; on April 28, 1996, the site was the location of a killing spree resulting in the murder of 35 people and the wounding of an additional 25 more before capture.  The perpetrator is currently serving 35 life sentenced plus 1,035 years without parole.  The only mass murder in Australia's history ultimately led to the country's national restriction on high capacity semi-automatic shotguns and rifles.    

A word of advise: book accommodations well in advance as there is no real 'town' at Port Arthur. Instead, you will find a smattering of different accommodations available in the area but only a very few located within easy walking distance of the site for those who have no real desire to drive Tassmania's roads at night.  Judging by the amount of road kill we witnessed in Tassmania, no night driving was an easy decision for us.  Though a fair bit off the beaten track, Port Arthur is well worth the time and effort.

Back north we headed and eventually found ourselves in Richmond.  Only a few nights prior we were told, if we only had one time to visit a single penal colony, then the Richmond Gaol was the one.  While there has been great expense put into Port Arthur, Richmond is not only Australia's oldest existing gaol but also the best preserved, receiving TripAdvisor's Certificate of Excellence for two years running.

Richmond Bridge
The entire area is steeped in history, a great deal of which ties into the Convict Trail.  The oldest bridge still in use in Australia, as well as being the oldest stone bridge in the country, Richmond Bridge  must surely be one of the most photographed as well.  If its beauty doesn't capture your attention, surely the ghost of its overseer, George 'Simeon' Groover will. Originally convicted for steeling, after serving his sentence, George became a rather brutal overseer of other convicts working on the bridge.  Clearly, in a popularity contest, George wasn't going to be a winner in their circle. Also a notorious drinker, one day his charges took advantage of his inebriated state and threw him over the bridge, into the river below, where he died.  Over the years, there have been numerous sightings of George pacing back and forth across the bridge.  A second ghost, known as Groover's Dog, has also been seen from time to time.   

Athuna (previously Lavender) Cottage
We ultimately found ourselves spending two nights in Richmond, the first in Red Brier Cottage and the second  in Anthuna Cottage, previously known as Lavender Cottage. Both carry their own special brand of charm, are very comfortable and the management accommodating, with the former being simpler but larger  2- bedroom accommodations and the latter providing a touch of romance, perfect for a couple and offers some handicap accessibility. 

One of the best finds was a little shop call The Sensory Tasmania. Being the girl who literally sniffed her way from one end of Australia to the other, The Sensory literally left me giddy! Not only is the entire front yard a garden of lavender, this little gem offers up paradise to the olfactory senses  in its sensory pods.  Somewhat akin to the Cone of Silence from the old Get Smart TV series, these pods recreate scents from Tassmania's southwest wilderness, leatherwood flower and devil aroma.    If that isn't enough, it is filled to the rafters with Tasmanian-made products including chocolates, merino woolens, honey, wood crafts and jewelry.  It's truly a 'come see, come hear, come touch, come taste, come smell' experience.  And, if that's not enough, it actually gets better! It is situated right next door to a wonderful little cafe with a charming barrista; the perfect place to park the husband!

Hobart Marina
Our last destination, before heading back to the mainland was Hobart. The state capital, with a greater area population of more than 200,000, Hobart seems a contrast to the rest of the state.  The financial and administrative heart of Tassmania, this busy seaport also has a very metropolitan vibe and is a hub for cruise ships during the summer months and home port for the Australian and French Antarctic programs.  Architecturally, it abounds with fine examples from very well preserved Georgian and Victorian eras.  It also offers a diverse cultural experience and is home to MONA  (

I expect you might be wondering why I refer to Tasmania as being similar to Canada's Newfoundland.  First, if Australian's are generally considered to be quirky, Taswegians (not Tasmanians) have them all beat hands down, and I mean that in a good way. Though polite, there is no beating around the bush; if it needs to be said, it is said.  The consider themselves to be a little outside the rest of the country and, being an island, that makes perfect sense.  Perhaps this is why they appear to be somewhat less judgemental, more open minded and perhaps more connected to the earth. Tasmania was home to the first Green Party and had the first openly gay leader of a national political party. And yet, at the same time, they seemed to be conservative.  To me, it likens back to living in smaller communities where everyone knows everyone and accepts their differences at face value, even if they don't prescribe to them.  And if all of these nuances pass you by, what you surley won't miss is their lingo.  While we in the rest of Canada often struggle to understand Newfouneez, we found ourselves in the same position in Tasmania, particularly in isolated areas.  We are quite convinced we met many a Taswegian that had rarely left home.  

And how could one possibly not fall in love with their dedication and loyalty to their state?  They are passionate when it comes to protecting and preserving their wilderness areas; consider David Walsh, founder and owner of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) a folkhero and are proud to their very core of all that Tasmania is.

All in all, it's a glorious place to visit.  If not already on it, add it to your bucket list.


Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Farmers Day: We Need to Bring It Back

While we rant and rave about all the negativity on Facebook, if you pay attention, it also affords us each an opportunity to learn something new and perhaps reminds us of something from our pasts which we see as being relevant today. That's exactly what happened to me this morning when someone made a post about Farmers Day, preceded by a caustic 'When we actually meant something to someone' comment.  While this fellow may be edging toward the upper end of the age scale, sadly, he has a point.  In many ways, it would seem our Province has forgotten what agriculture contributes but, ever the optimist, it doesn't have to be this way.  Perhaps, with the growing interest in our food supply chain, now is the time to bring Farmers Day back.

There was a time that agriculture was the 'sacred cow' of Alberta. In the late 1970's, it was replaced by the booming oil and gas industry, a non-renewable resource. Traditionally a provincial holiday, Farmers Day was initiated by United Farmers of Alberta, and celebrated the second Friday in June for more than 50 years. Schools closed and farm families came together to celebrate their industry. It was last observed by many in 1972. In 2010, UFA CoOps across Alberta began to resurrect the Farmers Day tradition but, since then, agriculture has seen massive change.   We have lost many of our small cow/calf farmers and operators are getting older virtually as the clock ticks. Considering the state of Alberta's economy, perhaps it time to turn our collective focus once again to a renewable industry that, given a fair chance, through new technology and innovation, can continue to reinvent itself.

Why is agriculture a big deal?  It injects more than $100 billion annually into Canada's gross domestic product. . . more than the national GDP of 2/3s of the world's countries!  Why is Alberta's agriculture and agri-food sector important?  If for no other reason than it continues to feed us as well as our ailing economy:
  • with about 32% of Canada's arable land, agriculture accounts for more than 50 million acres in Alberta
  • Alberta is Canada's second largest agricultural producer, after Ontario
  • Alberta employs 16% of Canada's agricultural workers, accounting for almost 60,000 Albertans last year 
  • In March, 2016, it was estimated that there were approximately 17,000 available jobs in Alberta's agriculture sector, for passionate and qualified individuals, from laborer to the highly technical
  • despite BSE and other challenges, Alberta continues to lead in cattle production, accounting for about 40% of Canada's total numbers of livestock
  • Who would guess that Alberta harvests the largest areas of saskatoon berries in the county, about 1,600 acres, and we also have the highest number of honeybee colonies in Canada. 

It's hard to deny that agriculture is essential to Alberta's (and Canada's) well-being. And all is not forgotten. Farmers Day continues to thrive in some of our smaller rural communities, at least.  Every year, on the second weekend in June, the Busby community hosts an annual Farmers Day. Kicking off with a pancake breakfast, followed by a parade, farmers market, children's games, adult slow pitch tournament and winding up with a wonderful dinner, this event is the perfect opportunity for friends, neighbors and visitors to celebrate.  The Village of Holden does something similar.  Stony Plain's annual rodeo and exhibition and rolls out as its biggest event of the year!

And, clearly, all is not lost.  For the third consecutive year, a province-wide event, Open Farm Days will see farmers and ranchers across the province open their gates to the public this August 20 and 21, 2016.   A partnership of number of Provincial government departments, in 2014, Alberta Open Farm Days saw 61 host farms and 17 culinary events, culminating in close to 7,000 visits.

Not from the farm community but looking for opportunities to get involved?  Here's a few ideas:

  1. Perhaps WWOOFing is for you. . . World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  I became aware of this organization several years ago but was reminded of it during our recent trip to Tasmania when I was befriended by a young woman who WWOOFed on a farm just outside of Olds, Alberta.   Check it out:
  2. There are some awesome farmer's markets around the province.  Here's where to find one in your area:
  3. Alberta Open Farm Days:
  4. If you like food, you should love farmers!

So let's get ourselves out there and support our agricultural community by joining in the celebrations, remembering how wonderful and rewarding agriculture is, not only as a vocation but as a lifestyle.  

Check out this link:  you'll enjoy it, I promise:


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

There's a New Man in My Life. . .

May 25, 2016

I need to share something with you that so far, only family and a very few friends have been privy to.  

Eric and Me, 1981
For those of you who know me, you will know that Eric and I have been together for almost twice as long as we've been apart.  We met at the tender ages of 19 and 22 respectively, and have been together ever since. For those of you who know me, you will also know that Eric and I made a conscious choice to lead our lives as DINKS (Double Income, No Kids).   We have always been content to be cat people; we loved their warm furry comfort but we also appreciated their independence.  Because we both understand that we are nothing without family, we have tried to position ourselves as a fabulous aunt and uncle and poured what latent parenting skills we have into our four-legged furbabies.  I think it's fair to say, we felt complete. . . until very recently.

Hoskin nieces and nephews
If one would have asked either one of us, six months ago, or even two, if we knew what was coming down the pike, I'm confident the response would have been a resounding "NO".  True, nothing in life is perfect; every relationship is a continuous work in progress, just as we ourselves are.  But it has been many years since either one of us have had the thought that perhaps something in our lives was missing. Yes, we have had our ups and downs but, still, we have been happy. 

To be completely blindsided by a whirlwind romance at this stage of my life not only leaves me dazed and confused, but gloriously giddy.   If I feel that way, I can only imagine that others in our lives will feel much the same way.   I feel the need to explain, in the best way I can, what exactly happened, and to ask you not to judge me until you know my story.   I believe this love to be genuine; I believe it's not going to go away any time soon.  I believe it's fair to ask my friends for understanding and perhaps a bit of leeway while I explore this new relationship to its very depths.  I want to share this new-found love with the world, but particularly with those of my world, who also love me.   I want you to see my new love through my eyes and love Him as I do.

A little about Him.  Just as in any fairy tale romance, he's tall, dark and handsome.  My heart flutters, simply by gazing into his beautiful brown eyes.  Admittedly, he's a bit of a flirt; a ladies man, some would call him but, at the end of the day, it's my voice that turns his head, my side that he prefers to stay by as we sit quietly together in the evenings before bed.  And when an unkindness slips between us, as it can, He cares enough for me to let it go, and love me despite my human flaws.

Being a strong, independent woman, I have never wanted protection, and yet, I love that He would defend me if he judged I needed defending.  Ever the gentleman, He has not lost his inner child, his playfulness.  I love how He stretches and challenges me to learn new skills and be the best person I can be.  I love that He keeps me active and busy, both in mind and body.  

I know this love is the real thing; I know it with every fiber of my being because, not only do I love all that makes Him wonderful, I am learning to even love the not so grand habits and idiosyncrasies that set us apart, one from the other.   Like the fact that His breath is less than pleasant more often than not.  Or His unbecoming habit of chewing with his mouth open with bits of food falling from open jaws. Or the fact that, while fastidious in His bathroom habits, I've not smelled anything quite so foul!

Over time, I hope ever single one of you have the opportunity to meet Him.  Starting with my family, I pray that each of you find it in your hearts to embrace Him in the same manner that I do.   He truly is a special one. And, so you can get accustomed to the idea that He is now a significant fixture in my life, I'm sharing a photo to give you a chance to consider what I've said, get to know his features, and perhaps see some of the same beauty of his soul that I do.    
Bruce, age 3.5
Let this be our formal announcement that Eric and I have delved into the world of dogdom, something neither one of us ever thought we would do.  Through a series of incidents, starting with the loss of three smaller 4-legged family members over the past year, and compounded by the number of thefts and break-ins in the community, we chose to expand our family and invite a member that we hope discourages predators of both the two and four-legged variety and brings us the joy that only a dog can provide. 

A rescue dog, He is also a victim of Alberta's oil patch woes. His man could no longer afford to keep him.  While we are still learning how to work together, he has some pretty good basic manners (perhaps even better than ours).  We shall see how it goes but right now, I think it's safe to say that we are quietly building a relationship on a solid foundation of love and mutual respect.  Wish us well. 

June 7, 2016
I agonized what to do with this story; sadly, it doesn't have the ending we aspired to.  Sadly, not everything in life turns out as we hope.  Our first venture into dogdom did not end happily for us or for Bruce.

As I mentioned, Bruce was also a victim of the oil patch and, as such, came with his own baggage.  In a short week, I came to understand that he lived a rather unstructured, rambunctious bachelor life with his previous person.  It's the only way that I can justify his extreme excitement at the sound of a diesel truck; his immediate response of jumping up on you (I'm told it's called 'hugging') or trying to sit in your lap.  He was unaware that standing on a coffee table to look out a window may not be considered fitting behaviour of any dog, let alone a large dog.  When tied, he displayed a keen awareness of how to remain untangled and yet he never sat down, but simply paced. He was also inappropriately protective.  When asked why we might return a dog to the rescue, we told them death (ours, not his) or any type of undesirable aggression. While we were prepared to put in the time for all his other dog traits, biting was not one we were prepared to contend with.  

As much as we loved this boy, after much soul searching, we finally came to the conclusion to return him to the rescue.  While we were willing to expend the resources in behavior modification training, as first-time dog owners, we were concerned that we would not have the skills necessary.  Because we have visitors, including small children, we weren't confident we would be able to fully trust Bruce around anyone other than ourselves.  And, because of his high energy and need to work, we couldn't stand the thought that he would find himself living in a dog run unless out on a leash. It's simply not who he is meant to be.

I share our story in hopes that others do not follow in our footsteps. I have analyzed this to death and I believe I know where we went wrong.  Before we arrived at the rescue, Eric made me promise that I would make decisions with my head, rather than my heart.  We did not arrive at the rescue intent on bringing a dog home.  In fact, we arrived to view a completely different dog, to try to get a feel for what having a dog might mean and what we might need to do to prepare.  We had no run; we had no kennel; we had nothing.  We would have time to address these things because we weren't coming home with a dog.

Not only did I break that promise; Eric, who is very much a 'head over heart' kind of guy, fell into the same trap. We were both instantly in love with Bruce. When we raised concerns about not being adequately equipped to handle a dog, the rescue was quick to offer suggestions:  We didn't have the money on hand; there were bank machines in town.  We didn't have a kennel; the local pet store is open.  We had no food; they could send us home with a bag.  We had no equipment, we could buy a leash from them, as well as a dog blanket.  A few laps around the parking lot with Bruce and we were good to go. . . and so we did.

In hindsight, considering the chaotic viewing area, a small front office with a staffed desk, other dogs in the area, clients coming and going to drop their dog off for boarding and daycare or as a prospective adoption. . . in hindsight, the situation is less than ideal. . . but we were in love.  The fact that Bruce nipped someone as they entered the office, should have been enough to send us running. Because the trainers blew it off, insisting it was a first time event and not his fault because he was startled; because we were in love; we accepted what we wanted to believe in our hearts.  In hindsight, we have no reason to believe Bruce thought he did anything wrong.  It was over as fast as it had begun.

Another clue was when I contacted a second trainer who had worked with Bruce, indicating that he was a 'nipper'.  While we may not have had a dog for many years, we were both well aware of any number of nippers and, to our knowledge, once a nipper, always a nipper.  This was not good news at all.

The second bite only a few short days later, was also unprovoked and we just couldn't rationalize the potential to put our family and friends at risk by keeping him.  And now we sit with broken hearts, wondering what fate Bruce has met with because in so many ways, he is an awesome dog and we know we inadvertently did him a huge disservice.   Whether the rescue agrees or not, we believe Bruce belongs in the hands of an experienced handler.  It has also give us pause for thought regarding for profit rescue agencies. While I believe the original intent is pure, I can see how financial obligations can get in the way of doing what's best for the dog and the client.  I'm not saying this is what happened, but I'm now very much aware of that potential.

I am not without blame either.  Generally speaking, Bruce had impeccable manners.  He knew all his basic commands and had darn good recall.  While it was suggested he should remain on a lead for at least the first month, I had Bruce running free.  Because he was such a bundle of energy, and we had yet to purchase a run, we were playing fetch.  When the vehicle pulled into the yard, Bruce completely ignored me, bouncing all around it.  And while we had warned the occupant not to get out, she did and, when she turned her back, he went for her butt. . . and not in a good way.  

While somewhat worse the wear, we have decided, rather than give up on having a dog, we would learn from our mistakes.  While we had Bruce for one week only, we absolutely LOVED having him! He's smart and funny and so full of life and love!  Even still, we know him to be special and aren't fully even sure that we can find another that we will so openly and willingly fall in love with.

We have contacted a local trainer who not only comes highly recommended but specializes in our breed of choice. We have asked her to help us choose a dog that is right for us, after which we will immediately be going into a training program.  We are in no particular hurry. We will wait as long as we need to because our first priority is to ensure that we do no harm to another dog, ourselves or someone else.  We'll keep you posted.

Wish us luck.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

From Murray to Melbourne And Everything In Between

Some folks were travelling in style but it wasn't us
Without doubt, our initial day,  leaving Adelaide, exploring Victor Harbor and crossing the Murray River was the longest driving day during our month long vacation in Australia.  And, byWestern Canadian standards and certainly by Australia standards, we didn't drive that far, somewhat over 5 hours in length, accounting for some 370 km.  You see, we kept finding things to stop and look at; sometimes it was touristy stuff and sometimes it was simply some 'thing' or some 'place' that caught our fancy.  And so we stopped.  We hadn't intended for it to be this long.  Before we knew it, we also knew we needed to boogie on down the road or we were going to be sleeping in the car.  That might be okay if we were riding around in one of the many  hippy vans we saw but, alas, we were in a Toyota Corolla.  Yes, the seats tilted back a bit, yes, there was ample leg room and, yes, we would be warm enough; but who wants to sleep in a Toyota Corolla?

We took the Princess Highway which skirts along the length of the Coorong National Park.  We anticipated some pretty spectacular scenery along our route but, sadly, there wasn't any to be had. According to National Parks, SA website, the Park stretches about 130 kms, protecting a string of saltwater lagoons which are protected by sweeping sand dunes.  Perhaps because we were there during a drought, we saw little in the way of anything but a poker straight road (I suspect the only one on the continent #joking), salt flats and scrub brush.  I tell you this, not to discourage you from taking this route, but to encourage you to make a plan. . . and we didn't have one.  My best guess is, one needed to get off the beaten track a bit further in order to experience those spectacular views and we simply didn't have the time.  So on we went. . . .  To Kingston! 

In our mind's eye, this is what we expected to see. . .
Coorong National Park, looking pretty darn spectacular
Photo courtesy of Shane Reid, National Parks, SA
Instead, we found this

Larry the Lobster, Kingston SE, SA
I stand corrected. . . it would seem there are two Kingstons in SA and, since the one we were headed toward is located in the southeast portion of SA, it is aptly named, Kingston South East.   A cozy little community of around 2,200 people, and situated at the entrance to the South East coast, the area boasts plenty of beaches and fishing.  The Kingston SE website suggests that it is warm and welcoming, a place where the locals love to chat with visitors and, from our experience, this is definitely a truism.  We settled ourselves into the Kingston Lobster Motel -- you can't possibly miss it as its situated immediately adjacent the giant Larry the Lobster -- and headed out to explore the community, including the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse, before turning in for the night.  In the morning, we followed our host's advice and skipped across the road for breakfast at the Robe Bakery where, once again, we were showered in hospitality.
Umpherston Sinkhole
We journeyed on to the Blue Lake, in the City of Mount Gambier, VIC. Not only is it the water supply for the City, the waters of this extinct volcano, is renowned for it's sapphire color during warm weather.  There's also a liesurely 45 minute walk around the lake that we quite enjoyed but what we really found fascinating is the Umpherston Sinkhole, also known as the Sunken Gardens.  Converted into a garden by James Umpherston in 1886, this little gem offers an array of scenic spots in a gorgeous setting.  There is no charge to enter the gardens, unless, of course, it's the snacks demanded by the resident colony of possums.  Be careful though; while one particular guy was overly friendly, there was a second that tended to be a little on the nippy side and was downright mean to his kinfolk.

Hotel Bentinck (formerly Mac's Hotel)
Further along,  and located on Portland Bay, the City of Portland is the oldest European settlement in the state, the main urban centre of the Shire of Glenelg, and the only deep sea port between Adelaide and Melbourne. It's early history revolved around whaling and sealing and, although the port remains the home of a varied professional fishing fleet, the aluminum smelter is now the state's biggest exporter.  Portland is the start of the 250 km Great South West Walk, and home to the Portland Cable Tram which traverses a local scenic route.  Portland was also where we had a really good look at a koala in the wild.  Despite being listed as vulnerable in other parts of Australia, a large population of koalas live in and around Portland and can often be found in the city's parks, gardens and back yards.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention our hosts at the Melaleuca Motel as well as the friendly staff and patrons of the Hotel Bentinck.  Established  as the Mac's Hotel in 1848, the latter was lovingly restored to its former grandeaur and reopened in 1996 as the Hotel Bentinck.

The Grotto
On we went to the Great Ocean Road, through charming Port Fairy and scenic Tower Hill; honestly, it was just getting better and better!  There is good reason why this area is designated an Australian National Heritage.  Built by soldiers returned from WWI, the road is the world's largest war memorial.    If its history isn't enough to keep you enthralled, surely the spectacular beaches and incredible vistas will.  What there is to see and do, while barely stretching your legs is mind-boggling, what there is to do if you are looking for a full body workout and are fit, is truly a wonder. There's no doubt, Australia is truly a trekker's paradise!

There are a few 'must see' areas along this glorious stretch of water, including the Grotto, London Arch and the Twelve Apostles.  No one seems to know why the Twelve Apostles are named as such but early charts refer to it as the Sow and Piglets, with the Sow being Mutton Bird Island, viewable from Loch Ard Gorge, and the piglets being the surrounding rock formations to the east.

The Breathtaking Twelve Apostles
There's a reason why it's called the 'Great' Ocean Road; the scenic coastal drives and the scenery you will encounter will leave you breathless! Be forewarned, will be stopping your vehicle very often to admire a stunning coastline, explore one of the many quaint communities or simply stop for a moment to let the power of  Mother Nature seep into your soul.  Oh what a joy it must be to live  along this route and experience such magnificence on a daily basis!

Although the beauty of the Great Ocean Road is undeniable, this rugged coast is also steeped in a history of terrible shipwrecks and colonial struggles, with the most infamous being the story of survival from the wreck of Loch Ard, where only two people survived:  a ship's apprentice and a female passenger.  The apprentice dragged the barely conscious woman into a cave and then climbed the cliff to find help.  Having lost her entire family in the wreck (the grave site is located near Port Campbell), suffice to say the woman was haunted by her memories of this tragedy for the rest of her days.

Port Queencliff
An area of Victoria that I suspect is often missed by tourists is the Bellarine Peninsula, in particular, Queenscliff, in southern Victoria. With a population of less than 1,500, and originally a fishing village,  Queenscliff is a former seaside resort dating back to the 1800s. Two hours from Melbourne by steam paddler, and with increased tourism as a result of the extension of a railway from Geelong, Queenscliff once boasted numerous luxury hotels (known as coffee palaces), all the while maintaining its status as an important cargo port.  It also played an important military role with the construction of Fort Queenscliff, now an historical museum.

Perhaps now you understand how we successfully managed to turn a 13-hour drive into a 5 day road trip and, honestly, it wasn't near enough time.  While I had visions of kicking back and spending a a day here or there in any one of a number of lovely communities (Lorne was a favourite, by the way), we spent so much time stopping and looking, we gave up that opportunity.  Next time.

Meanwhile, get ready for the next installment of our  Australia travels, as we get ready to explore Tasmania.