How to enjoy Calgary when any other normal person might just stay inside

Midlife Sentence - Calgary

When I Googled “One Day in Calgary,” I found a website or two with helpful tips for the person whose aim is to cram a whole lot of stuff into a teensy time frame.

It’s become our modus operandi to do what we can to experience an entire city in one day. We’re busy people. Sometimes a day is all we’ve got.

We had exactly that to ourselves this week before our conference started, and were prepared to make the most of it. My early research was promising. With a great transit system, a citywide cycling path, and a cute downtown area, Calgary looks like the perfect place for one of our everything-in-one-day visits.

…. And then we got up that morning to this:

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Think YOU can mess with Texas? A mini Houston tour recap.

The George R. Brown Convention Center. Which I nearly destroyed
The George R. Brown Convention Center. Which I very nearly destroyed.

Houston folks may have thought their little ol’ convention center was in the middle of a billion dollar (yes, I did say billion … with a b) renovation.

That was before I got there.

Subsequent to an inopportune brush with fate and my big fat elbow, they’re going to have to add another couple hundred thou to that figure. That’s just a rough estimate, though. I’m no architect.

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Houstonians may be able to deal pretty well with flooding, but they clearly need to be warned to batten down the hatches and stock up on Krazy Glue when I come to town. Thankfully, the damage done was contained, and apparently won’t impede preparations for the 2017 Super Bowl, which is when the Marriott Marquis Houston, with it’s Texas-shaped rooftop pool (yes, I did say Texas-shaped rooftop pool) is scheduled to open.

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If we’re lucky, there’ll also be bears

Yellowstone -2311We’re going to be schlepping the family to Yellowstone this summer, and as you can probably guess, I’m just beside myself with ambivalence.

It’s time, though. On average, about three out of four exchange students will ask to see Yellowstone, and we haven’t even taken our own kids to see this American family vacation icon. I’ve always insisted it’s too far, too expensive. And who wants to sit in a hot car stuffed with crabby kids, driving through a big expanse of nothing on the off chance you’ll see a buffalo in the distance?

I mean, we got all kinds of scenery – trees and everything – right here. And a city zoo. I don’t know if they have buffalo, but I’m sure they have goats and stuff. And guess what? There’s concessions. And no drive. Bam.

This year, though, I’m relenting. I need to stop being such a stick in the mud.

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Of Machetes and Medications

campYMCA copySunday afternoon I packed the kids’ stuff for camp as I’ve done at the same time every summer for the past five years.

I’m happy they have this opportunity to go every summer, to break up the routine, make a few friends and maybe escape the Sahara Desert heat wave that usually socks us in this time of year.

We’re blessed we don’t need to send them with special accommodations or instructions in order to spend a week away, that they interact well with their peers, that they’re respectful of their counselors, that peanuts won’t make their throats close up.

I mean, Jack’s not supposed to eat wheat, but it’s not life threatening. It’s not even really an allergy. Colin’s allergic to wasps, but that’s not a life threatening issue either.

Not really.

If a wasp stings Colin right on the mouth, or on his throat, he could be in real trouble with the reaction he gets, but what kind of freakish scenario would that be?

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When Yogi just isn’t worth the hassle

Yogi Bear

I have an embarrassing parental oversight to cop to. We’ve never taken our kids to Yellowstone. All the traveling we’ve done and one of our most cherished national icons has never even been a consideration.

Technically it’s not my fault we’ve never considered this possibility. Although I was born in Boise, we lived in north Idaho for my formative years. Our family trips were mostly by boat, through the locks of the dams on the Lower Snake River to the Columbia, all four of us crammed in a 28 foot Bayliner for hours of quality time.

I swam a lot.

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El ultimo dia en Guatemala

Tonight we’re going to brave the torrential rain in order for one last dinner out in Pana. Last night we weren’t so brave, and stayed inside with deli sandwiches from a market pointed out to a few of our party by their Tuk Tuk driver. With expectations of about 10 feet of rain per year, Guatemalan storms don’t waste time with little drizzles, but get down to business. Gutters and streets fill within minutes, and the little gardens outside our room looks like it will fill up like a swimming pool.  The rainy season is supposed to be over by now, so this weather is a little odd.

The view from lake Atitlan
The view from lake Atitlan

The weather for the most part has been great up until about 3 or 4 pm every day. Today, we ventured out first thing and found our new friend Mario down near the ferries to the western half of the lake. We had negotiated a price with him yesterday to take us to see several of the pueblos of interest: San Marco, San Juan and San Pedro de Atitlan, and a cruise near the shoreline to see several other smaller communities.

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A day for St. Max

In Guatemala, families celebrate birthdays be setting off a barrage of firecrackers and firing something that sounds like a cannon. Either they try to do this as early in the morning as possible, to get a jump on everyone else, or they set them off to correspond with the exact time of birth of the celebrant. In either case, at least 5 people had started celebrating birthdays in Panajachel by 5am this morning. My initial reaction was to wonder if some sort of revolution was starting, and ponder where one could find the American consulate.

All was well, as it turned out, and when the rest of the family was up, we set out to meet up again with Semilla Nueva staff members Anne Barkett and Lauren Brown who planned on joining us on a trip to the village of Santiago Atitlan across the lake from Pana.

Jack and the Volcano on the trip to Santiago
Jack and the Volcano on the trip to Santiago

Atitlan is about 16 km wide surrounded and surrounded by volcanoes and little towns named after saints or apostles. Panajachel is the largest, apparently named for neither any saint nor apostle that I can think of. Today happened to be October 28, the day of Maximon (Mah-she-mon), who is celebrated mostly in Santiago Atitlan, which is why we decided to go there.

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Mucking around in Las Pilas

DSC03277Bright and early Saturday morning, Colin and Jack met Curt in the lobby of our hotel to go machete shopping. You heard me: machetes. I’m told there will be no special requirements to get them through customs in our checked bags, but I have to do a little research to be sure.

From Reu, we set out for the campos again, this time to visit the fields of Gerardo and Carolina in Las Pilas. Last spring they planted two acres of test crops of two different varieties of corn, and today we were going to divide into two teams, harvest specific plots of corn, and compare the samples to see which produced the bigger yield. The results were interesting: a test hybrid that Semilla Nueva introduced last year produced less than the variety this community had been cultivating.

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Visiting Semilla Nueva farmers in La Montana

DSC03205Friday morning we woke up bright and early in Xela to a street scene reminiscent of early mornings in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Xelanians partied quite robustly until about 5 am this morning after their soccer team won in a match against Guadalajara. Our hotel room overlooked the Central Park area, so we made good use of our earplugs – except Colin, who passed out around 8:30 pm and didn’t move all night.

Our hotel breakfast was slow in coming, so we set out on our own to find breakfast and coffee. We found a cafe that advertised a traditional Mayan breakfast for 20 quetzals (about 3 bucks). Mike and I had juevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) with black beans, roasted plantains and sausage. The breakfast was preceded by a milky drink that tasted faintly of tapioca and cinnamon. We found out later it was a corn-based drink called pinol. The boys didn’t care for it, but I thought it was yummy.

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Xela: The new Athens of the West

DSC03118Today we drove about 3 and a half hours through the countryside to Quetzaltenango, or Xela (Shay-la) as the locals know it. At a population of about 250,000, Xela is the second-most populous city in Guatemala. We’re at about 7,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains.

Curt tells us that Xela is the only city of any size in Guatemala that retained its native name after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors.

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