Sunday, September 27, 2009

Calgary Zoo and Happy Birthday Claire

We went to the zoo today. The feeling of driving to the zoo and needing to remember to call my sister felt familiar, and sure enough, I just looked back and went went to the zoo last year on her birthday. So a Happy 25th Birthday to Claire. Wow - she's getting old! :o)

A quick trivia question to get things rolling. This is how I started the day; where was I and what was I ordering? "Yes, I'd like two large double doubles" (You may need to live or have lived in Canada to answer this.)

So here we are at the zoo for an opening stand-next-to-this-tree-and-hug-your-brother shot.

The Bow River in the morning sun.

The flamingos. Appropriately standing among the large conifers. Because when you wake up and look out of your tent in the morning around here, it's likely you'll see a flock of flamingos. :o)

A chameleon. I think these are very cool creatures. If ever I hear, "Mommy, can we get a snake? Pleeeeeeeeeease???" I may try to steer them in this direction, though I have no idea whether it's even legal or practical to have one. Maybe we should stick with fish.

And, WOW, were these some eye-poppingly huge bats. They were like nine-month-old human babies hanging upside down with wings.

The little monkey in the bottom right and Andy entertained each other for a moment.

We stopped at the playground, and Sam came tearing around the corner, stopped abruptly, and said, "Hey, let me take you guys' picture like that!" Snapped the shot, handed the camera back, and went running off again.

Kangaroos! See the joey poking it's little head out?

And here's my little joey.
Just sittin' around.
Emu from above.

Red Panda.
These are the chunkiest prairie dogs I've ever seen. Otto thought maybe they were storing up for winter??

Sam rubbing the Elephant Buddha's tummy for good luck.

We rounded off the day with an early supper at a Persian restaurant on Edmonton Trail. Haven't had basmati rice made like that since Anush's mom's at his graduation party umpteen years ago, with those tangy little red berries on top - YUMMMMM!!! I should have taken a picture of that rice, but I dove right in and didn't think about it until it was all in my stomach.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hiking and a tent

We went on our first official tent camping trip this weekend to Two O' Clock Creek campsite. Otto had been tent camping with a group of people when we still lived in Victoria, TX (and before kids). I don't remember ever camping in a tent. In Brownies and Girl Scouts we had cabins, although setting up the tent and sleeping in it seemed vaguely familiar.

We headed out Saturday morning with our friends Judy, Bob, Rebecca, Rachel, Joe, Lori, Julianna, and Carl. We arrived at the campsite, ate lunch, set up the tents, and headed out for a hike to Siffleur Falls. Otto takes in the Saskatchewan River.

"Hi-ho, Hi-ho, It's off to work we go..."

Here was a really neat, really wobbly suspension bridge that we crossed. You can see Sam jumping on the left, trying to get it rockin'! He had some help with that as the rest of us hopped on.

After a bit we came across Siffleur River. Very pretty.

This was at the top of the steepest part of the hike, which wasn't bad at all.

A couple shots looking dooooooooowwwwwwnnnn at the river.

And Siffleur Falls, which means whistling marmot. I saw no marmots, whistling or otherwise.

All hands on deck looking for the geocache. We didn't find it as a group, but Carl and Joe stayed behind to look some more and located it!

Judy and Rachel.

A vista heading back.

The boys getting a lift.

And back over the bridge.

Back at camp, Rachel, Rebecca, and Julianna built a fire to warm up,

while Bob worked his magic with the Dutch ovens. Those Dutch ovens are pretty neat. Otto now wants to purchase one, or two.

The boys started to eat by the fire,
But then joined us in the shelter area where we had the rest of the feast. Spare ribs and cornbread (both made in a Dutch oven), and hot dogs, with pasta salad, baked beans, and potato salad as sides.

After dinner, our dessert appetizers were s'mores by the campfire.

Rebecca toasting a marshmallow, while Julianna and Lori enjoy the finished product.

Carl tossing a football around with the boys. Before dinner Lori, Carl, Andy, and Sam went in search of another geocache closer to the campground, and found that one as well. That geocaching is a pretty cool!

Soon the dessert main course was ready. Bob and Judy's Saskatoon cobbler, again made in the Dutch oven! Mmmmmmmm - don't Otto and Joe look happy? It was very tasty.

Ahhhh, dining by LED lantern.

After dinner we had two campfires going. Andy and Sam were mesmerized by the fire, and wanted to stick anything and everything they could find INTO the fire.

And settling in for the night in the 'kids tent'. Or at least part of the night, until Sam was walked over to our tent around 2:30am, and Andy not long after that. We were VERY snug and cozy with all four of us on our air mattress-built-for-TWO.

A very nice end to the summer. Actually, we're going out with a bang. The forecast for tomorrow is a high of 32 C (90 F)!! Crazy, but I'll take it!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

First Days of School

Andy started Grade 2 a couple weeks ago. Here he and Sam are before we headed to school that day.

And Sam started Pre-K (at the same school Andy attends) a few days later. He's showing off his purple rock.

It was a little cooler this morning.

So far, so good. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Sam has Pre-K in the afternoon three days a week, and on those days he starts asking if it's lunch time yet around 9:30am, because he knows that as soon as we eat lunch, it's time to go to school. And I've gotten a report of whoever misbehaved and what they did at the end of each day. I wonder if he'll be as forth coming with the information if/when HE'S the culprit.

As I was tucking Andy into bed tonight, he described to me a contraption that he wants to invent where you lift up your desk and feed your work into a computer underneath that completes all the work for you. I countered that if there was a computer doing all the work, he wouldn't learn anything. He countered with, "Yeah, but we'd have WAY more recess time!"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cuba - Tres

After all that fun in the sun, we took a day and headed inland, to the towns where Marta and Pupy grew up. They didn't know each other in Cuba; they didn't meet until both had immigrated to New Jersey!

Cifuentes, a suburb or Santa Clara, was the first stop. Marta's maternal grandparents lived in this house.

A random street, with a cart and horse.

Many of Marta's relatives from her mom's side still live in the town. We had a wonderful gathering at her cousin Odalie's house. This is Odalie and her husband Juanito en la cocina. I'm not sure what he was explaining here, but he was a character. He told me to call him Johnny.

They are the parents of Beatriz, here on the left, and Juan Miguel, who immigrated to the U.S. with his family last year. Beatriz speaks English (and she's also studying French), so she was doing a lot of translating for me! Also pictured below are Marta's cousin Orestes, his children Orestes Jr. and Lisbet, and his wife Mayra.

They family made us, among other things, some AWESOME tamales and corn fritters, made from FRESH corn that had been run across this apparatus called a
guayo. There was also fried pork, punch with fresh fruit which was so good, and cake. But those corn fritters and tamales were tops!!

A hummingbird AT REST in the lime tree, next to the banana tree. I had never seen one sitting still before.
Visiting on the side patio.

This was in the central patio. Here Beatriz is standing next to Emerita, who was married to Marta's mother's brother. Gretel is in the striped shirt, and is cousin to Beatriz, Lizbet, and Orestes, Jr.

And Gretel's son is Pedro Antonio. Here he is munching on an anon, a type of fruit; they were tasty!

Here was a group photo. (Deep breath) There was Emerita (wife of deceased Uncle Orestes, who mas Marta's mother's brother, and mother of Odalie, Violetta, and Orestes), the gentleman in the white shirt holding the little girl is Betzy's husband, with daughter (we couldn't remember their names), Beatriz standing with Andy and Sam, Orestes Sr., Lisbet, Orestes Jr., Betzy (red shirt) and Gretel (sisters), Otto, Marta, Pupy, Odalia, Violeta in the pink shirt (mother of Betzy and Gretel), Juanito (bottom center), and little Pedro Antonio.

Pedro Antonio giving his cousin un abrazo. She is so cute!

Everyone gathered on the street when it was time for us to leave. I think Sam was giving Juanito a high five.

We then made our way into Santa Clara to Felicia's house, also a cousin of Marta's. Knock-knock!

Here Andy stood in the doorway of the patio. You can see the triangular windows at the top of the door where we entered, on the other side.

Felicia read us few poems that someone had sent to her.

And she made a mean cup of Cuban coffee.

Another group shot before departing. Left to right: Yin (Felicia's father), Leticia (Felicia's daughter), Felicia, Otto, Sam, me, and Andy, Julian (Felicia's husband), and Maria (Felicia's mother), who is the last of Marta mother's siblings that is still alive. I'm not sure what the doggy's name was; if I woke up Andy and Sam right now to ask them I'm sure they would know.

The last house we visited was Pepito's house. Pepito's father and Pupy's father were brothers. Apparently they ran around together quite a bit back in the day. Here Pepito was picking a ripe guava for us.
Visiting in the kitchen.

And one more group shot. (Darn, turned out a little fuzzy!) We have, from left to right: Claudia (Orlando's wife), Orlando, Isis (Pepito's daughter, and Orlando and Lester's mother), Otto, Marta, Pupy, Marbelis (Lester's wife), Lester, and Pepito. Then the kiddos: Sam, Lisabel (Claudia and Orlando's daughter), Angel (Marbelis and Lester's son), and Andy.

After taking this picture, as we were starting to leave, I heard Pepito ask Pupy something in a hushed voice. Pepito then came up to me with a caring smile, looked me straight in the eye, and said slowly and deliberately, "My house is your house." I can't remember if we hugged or not, but I gave him a big smile for sure, and my best, "Muchas gracias!"

Cousins, Angel and Lisabel. She calls him Primo (cousin); so cute.

Distant cousins.

After we visited for a while, it was time to quickly go see some of the city before heading back to Cayo Santa Maria. Santa Clara was more of a city than I realized. Whenever I heard Marta tell stories about her childhood, I always imagined a house on a plot of land, where she would run down a ways to get to the next house. The houses in Santa Clara were right next to each other, kinda like the French Quarter, without the wrought iron balconies. I told Marta about my misconceptions, and she replied, "No! We were city girls!", referring to her and her sister, Teresita. :o)

The central plaza of Santa Clara. The large building on the right is a hotel, and still has bullet holes in its side from the revolution 50 years ago.

From the angle above, behind me was this theater.

This building was next to the theater.

And this was across the square from the theater. Marta attended high school here. Now she thinks it's used as a middle school.

Here was another building as we drove out of town. This could be on Magazine Street in New Orleans. Even though people haven't had the money to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls, inside or out, for 50 years, I found the houses beautiful in Santa Clara. Rustic, at this point, but Marta said most houses were like the ones we visited. Where there's an interior patio (courtyard, if you will), and sometimes one in the back. You'd enter through a living room area, then have one or two bedrooms going towards the back of the house, a bathroom, and another bedroom, and a kitchen at the rear, with tall, impressive ceilings throughout. They were very charming, even in their somewhat run-down state.

Here were some pictures that I took from the back of the car as we zoomed down the road to get back to the resort. Royal palms grow wild all over the place in the countryside.

There are lots of OLD cars on the road. Many times these cars are used as taxis to give people rides from one town to another, as the public transportation isn't very good. So they take very good care of these cars, as they provide income.

Here comes another one - quick!

A river.

The driver's view. See the hilly terrain? Cuba even has mountains!

It was REALLY nice getting to meet all the family and see the towns that we had heard so much about. Everyone was SO welcoming.

Back to the resort we went, to a very different world.