Tomorrow, Glenn and I celebrate 25 years together.  A quarter-century ago, we officially decided we were a couple and invited each other to our respective Thanksgiving dinners.  It was both exciting and nerve-wracking to think that about meeting his family and him getting to meet my family of five (well really just my older brother and my nana because he had already met my parents).  On the Saturday morning, Glenn showed up to get me.  Okay, off we went in his father’s Blazer and me thinking that at least I knew his brother.  I was about to get a total shock because this was not a family

I was about to get a total shock because this was not a family thanksgiving but a FAMILY thanksgiving.  Instead of being just for immediate family, this was an extended family dinner.  I got to meet his parents and everyone else in one fail swoop.  I am not sure what kind of impression I made at that meal.  Little did I know that day how much I would come to love everyone who was at that meal.  That day I met a huge clan of wonderful people who have been a blessing to us and the girls ever since that day.

How did Glenn fair?  Well, he did get a smaller gathering but there was one hiccup.  I forgot to mention to my mom that he was vegetarian until he was pulling into the driveway.  She spent a great deal of that meal worried that she would have enough sides to fill up this really tall boyfriend.  Well, Glenn is no longer a vegetarian and my mom still takes pleasure in making him her sweet potatoes so it turned out okay.  Glenn enjoys spending time with my family as well so there are blessings on both sides really.

Thank you to everyone who helped get us together when we were too shy to take the leap at first.  And, all of our friends who have journeyed with us from high school onwards as well as those who have joined us along the road.  Thank you to our families who taught us both the importance of commitment, acceptance and treasuring the small things.  Finally, thank you to our girls who add spice to our lives.

Wonder what the next 25 years hold!

That Toop Thanksgiving
Our first Halloween (matching Phantom of the Opera costumes)

Penguin Party

Elspeth’s love of penguins is as strong as ever.  This year she decided that it was time to have a penguin themed birthday party.  It turned out really well and I think that all of the girls had fun.  Hope you enjoy the photos. (Oh, and it is not letting me rotate them again)

8th birthday party

Fall fun

finally coming out of the back to school craziness to give you an update on our comings and goings.  What have we been up to?

Apple picking and let me tell you, that first batch were some seriously good eats!  They lasted just over a week and I had to stop for more.  This is one tradition that I love because it sees us outside in the fresh air spending time together and smiling.










We participated in Markham Fair again this year and were rewarded with a absolutely perfect fall day….I mean, it felt like summer.  It was nice enough to sit outside and enjoy the kites being flown in the field across the way and the action of the rodeo.  How did we do?  Well, both girls ended up winning their age division for baking.  In fact, Elspeth has already spent all of her winnings on a Hatchimal while Katrine is saving hers up until she finds just the right purchase.  Elspeth also entered a apron that she made with my mom and it took first prize for under 18 as well as a special award for youth sewing.





























We also marked the Moon Festival with wayyy to many Moon Cakes.  The girls would eat them for breakfast if I would let them.  Of course, Elspeth is back to Brownies and already on her way to reaching her goal of Cookie All Star (thanks to all those who helped by buying a box of cookies).  One of the activities that the girls do is bring home a Brownie doll to spend the week with them and journal about.  Well, this week Brooke got to celebrate the Moon Festival with Elspeth.



Elspeth’s August

Crafting, Baking, Skate boarding, lots of swimming, playdates – basically, ordinary summer break stuff.  Enjoy the photos.

Solar powered smores cooker (not the best but does the job).
Gotta have a treat every now and then.
During a day at the beach, some ducks gathered at her feet.

Baking for Markham Fair
Trying out the local skate park.

Pre Novice Begins

Skating is what Katrine has been up to since we got home.  There have been get togethers with friends, a movie, some shopping and relaxation; but mostly skating.  You see, her parents pulled her out of training for the better part of a month and right before her first two competitions of the year.  Can you believe it??!! Neither we nor she have any regrets about that decision, but it has put her a bit behind the original training schedule.  That said, she looks beautiful in her new dress.  Loves her two (yup, two) programs and is looking forward to her next two competitions this fall.

Final Day in Beijing

Okay, it is finally here – the post about our final day in Beijing.  We didn’t fly home until around dinner time so we obviously couldn’t spend the day in our hotel.  No matter how peaceful, we would have gone stir crazy in about two hours.  So, we headed back out for one final adventure – at Beihai Park which was a short subway ride from our hotel.






When we adopted Katrine I had hoped to visit this park to see the dragon wall but it didn’t happen and on Elspeth’s trip the focus was on keeping two girls happy not on what mommy wanted to see.  This trip, I finally made it and I was not disappointed.  Of course there was a big, beautiful lake in the middle of the park that we were able to calmly stroll along.  This time however, there were some unusual boats that you could rent.  We decided against it in favour of exploring.





Our explorations took us to the temple inside of the park which was absolutely full of water lilies and lotus in bloom.  Gorgeous and peaceful.  I think that this was the girls’ favourite part of the day.  Here are some of the photos that they took.






Did I get to see the Nine Dragon Wall?  You bet and it was stunning.  I had seen pictures of it in books while at university but it was much more impressive in person.  The colours were more vibrant than I had anticipated.  For me, this was the high point of the visit.  Thank goodness the girls also enjoyed looking at the dragons and choosing their favourites.










After the park, there was just enough time for lunch and a bit of a rest in our hutong.  Our final lunch in China – noodles of course!


Summer Palace

On our last trip to China our group went to the Summer Palace and we went with them. There was one problem, Katrine was under the weather so none of us properly experience the park. Today was different in that aside from sore feet, we are all healthy.

We have been taking the subway in Beijing as it is easy to navigate and pretty darn cheap. It took us from down the street from our hutong, right to one of the park gates. The park is physically overwhelming due to its size and to really experience it to the fullest in terms of its history and culture we should have had a guide. That said, we throughly enjoyed what we saw and I recalled enough of my late Ching history facts to give it some context when needed. The girls favourite parts were the weeping willow trees and the vibrant pink lotus blossoms that gathered at the sides of the lake and canals. Looking at them, you couldn’t help but smile. They are just a happy colour. We also enjoyed looking at the stone boat and Peking Opera facility and imagining the Dowager Empress sitting on them in all of her splendour. The lake in the middle of the park is so peaceful with all of the boats gliding across it, that it is easy to forget that it is a man made lake dug completely by hand AND it is huge. Oh, and I also learned that the chinese used forced air under the floor heating to warm the theater building for the imperial family. I mean, who would have thought that you could use burning wood to heat a floor. There was also a small gallery of imperial artifacts. There was paper thin porcelin that you could see the light through that was gorgeous. Plus, examples of highly detailed carved jade. Both white and various shades of green. It was a small gallery but if I am honest, just big enough for the girls.

We grabbed the subway to Wangfujian for some dinner. On our last trip, Glenn and Katrine lived on dumplings from this one shop. Our trip would not have been complete without a stop there tonight. Unfortunately they have not stood the test of time and were not as good as in memory. As we were walking to get the girls a final fruit stick, we passed dancing fountains so paused to watch the show. Both girls enjoyed watching the way that the various jets were co-ordinated to the music and us adults quite enjoyed it too.

We finished up our last full day in Beijing with a cup of tea in the courtyard. Tomorrow morning we are hoping to stroll around Beihai Park and taking in both the natural beauty as well as normal city life. After a quick lunch we will be starting our journey homeward.

Mutianyu Great Wall

Today was set aside for the Great Wall. We chose to do a section of the wall that we have not seen before. As with the other sections, this one was well worth the drive as well as the early start to our day. We were on the road as of 7:00 and upon arriving at the wall we were glad of the early start because there were no lines which translated into less people and a better time.

Now, we knew that we did not want to climb up to the wall as well as the wall itself. Before starting our trip we had planned to ride the cable car up. I was not thrilled about this but thought that even with my fear of falling, with Glenn and four walls plus a floor I should be able to get to the top and hold myself together. Well….there was a cable car but it went to the wrong end of the wall. The section that we planned to tackle had a chair lift not a cable car – no walls, no floor, just a lap belt and open air. I was terrified but also stuck because here I am having promised the girls and what kind of example would I be setting if I said that I have an irrational fear and I am letting it stop me from grabbing hold of life. It was only Glenn who got me on that thing if I am honest. Without him I wouldn’t have got on and then my day would have been ruined because I would have felt like a bad example. Anyways, Elspeth and him were beside me and had a great time chatting about the chestnut trees we were passing over and the slide chute below us while I sat clenching the bar with my eyes shut trying to hold it together…not sure that I succeeded in presenting the image that I wanted to. 🙂 Katrine? She got to sit with our guide for the day; swung her legs back and forth having a grand time.

Then we climbed and climbed. Both of the girls did much better than us older folks but we two hung in there. It is even more amazing when you consider the fact that some of the stone steps came up to Elspeth’s waist! We made it to 8 different lookouts and the views were well worth all of the work. Stunning! It was a bit overcast today which actually made it even more interesting as the clouds reached down to touch the mountain tops in places. The views from Lookout 1 were the most impressive with a clear view in many different directions.

Now please don’t worry that I had to travel back down on the chairlift. I never had any plans of traveling both directions in hanging contraptions. This section of the wall has a slide that you can ride down the mountainside. A hand break, and the speed of the person in front of you, determine how fast you go and if you lean into the corners you will be fine. This we were all excited about and it too held up. We all enjoyed speeding down straightaways and around corners…although the people in front of us appeared to want to go rather slow at times. Fun for the whole family!

Sleeping on a Train and in a Hutong

That is how we got from Guilin to Beijing – a train. It was a very relaxing change to have to sit or sleep for 19 hours. We played cards, read, snacked, watched scenery go by and sleep. I got a really good night’s sleep as the train rocked me. Katrine would disagree with me as she found the movement kept her awake. That said, she managed to see a really nicely lit up body of water when we passed it at 2:00 in the morning. We traveled like chinese and brought our noodle cups, fruit, etc with us. Boy was I ever glad that I had brought gluten free snacks with me from home because eating helped to pass the time. If you are ever thinking of traveling overnight by train, I recommend booking a whole soft sleeper car. The beds are no worse than a hotels and the space was roomy enough for our family of four to pass the time quite comfortably.

Each room had its own little table between the bottom two bunks.

Sorry it is sideways but this is the hot water tap. Great for noodle cups.
Not sure how I got this effect but Katrine hanging off of the top bunk.

We have checked into our hotel today and it is fabulous. When planning the trip, I found a hotel that is located in a 200 year old hutong in Beijing. It is decorated in a late Ching dynasty style complete with silk coverlets for the beds. Glenn and I are actually getting to sleep in the coolest bed that looks like a kang (think canopy bed). It actually has curtains that close!! Outside our room there is a courtyard with tables and chairs as well as a turtle pond with real live turtles which Elspeth discovered as we explored. Red lanterns line one side of the courtyard and they were lit at dusk giving the courtyard a cozy welcoming feel. It showered all afternoon but I still managed to get a bit of time to sit outside and relax to the sound of quiet only broken by the happy splashing of the small fountain.

Computer acting up. Sorry for the sideways photos.

What did we do? Took the subway to Tiannamen Square and did some shopping on WangFuJian. It is amazing how even that shopping street is changing. They appear to be in the process of building more closed malls as opposed to open store fronts. I am super happy that I was able to find some short steel chopsticks to send with Elspeth in her lunches this fall (she struggles with full sized chopsticks). We also stopped by their food street (of course) and got less exciting foods – sugar coated fruit on a stick and spiral cut potatoes on a stick. Nothing too unusual today I am afraid. I think that the girls are missing home as they asked for McDonalds for lunch and pizza for dinner. Oh well, only a few days left and then we will be heading home. Tomorrow though, we are off to the Muttianyu section of the Great Wall. Keeping our fingers crossed that the weather will be good.

An elephant, a cave and some rice

The title pretty much sums up our time here in Guilin. We have had some late nights and have chosen sleep over blog updates. We leave on the overnight train to Beijing tomorrow afternoon, so we thought that an update was due. Before I get into details about what we have been up to these last two days, let me just say that the scenery in Guilin has not disappointed. Almost everywhere you look, you can see green peaks poking upwards.

On our first morning, we grabbed a taxi and headed out to Elephant Trunk Hill Scenic Area. This park is located on the famous Li River. It was a lovely day and there were many amateur fishermen trying their luck in the river…never did see anyone catch anything though. We started off our exploration of the park on Love Island; named this because of the many statues depicting scenes of love. The girls particularly liked the ones with the mother and child elephants. As we reached the far end of the island, we were greeted by a group of elephants (statues) frolicking in the water. Behind them, across the water was the hill itself. It is not hard to see why it earned it’s name. The elephant’s back is the round hillside while there is a gap (Moon Cave) which creates the trunk dipping down into the river for a drink. We had originally planned on taking a bamboo raft ride but instead decided to climb to the top of the elephant’s back. It was well worth the exertion as the views were beautiful.

Now our original plan was simply to leave the park and walk along the water until we found a noodle seller. Instead, we walked along until we discovered the pedestrian street. No worries though, we got the much desired Guilin Noodles and ended up having hot noodle soup on what was heating up to be a rather warm day. We still had some time before we were going to head to our next destination and decided to poke around this section of Guilin a bit. In the process, we came upon the original city wall and a refurbished “old Guilin” shopping section complete with large pagoda. It was actually quite fun to wander through the laneways wondering what might be around the next corner.

At this point, we decided to go to the next item in the title – the Reed Flute Caves which were named for the reeds outside that were used to make instruments out of. Now, Elspeth did buy an instrument there but it was a penny whistle not a flute. We were feeling a bit lazy by this point so bought tickets (with the help of our taxi driver) for the little train that drove up through the tree tops to the cave entrance. The girls were very excited to see the stalagmites and stalactites as they had only ever seen them in books while Glenn and I had heard good things about how they were lit. The caves were crowded as they held people at the entrance and then let a large group in at once; and the tour was in Chinese. That said, it ended up not mattering in the least. There were signs in both English and Chinese at various points in the cave giving you a hint about what you might see in the rock – a lion’s face, a vegetable garden. The most interesting thing for me though was not the light show (which was pretty darn cool) or the signs, but the reflections of the lit rock formations in the still pools of water which had gathered at various points in the cave. Additionally, it was nice and cool underground which was nice given that it had begun to get rather hot.

That takes care of the elephant and cave in the title so I will skip forward until today and explain about the rice. Today was spent at the Longji Rice Terraces in Pingan Village. It was well worth the drive from Guilin as it was breathtaking. It boggles the mind to conceive how these terraces were constructed prior to 1910 without modern technology yet exhibit such engineering. The upper terraces feeding into the lower ones. Bamboo halves being used to help control the over flow in order to minimize erosion and protect the integrity of the fields. Additionally, every space was used. Corn and melons were grown beside paths that wound upward amongst the paddies. What did the girls think? Katrine enjoyed the science of the place as well as the many small waterfalls (some just a trickle) while Elspeth particularly enjoyed the free range poultry more specifically the roosters. This was also the first time that I have seen houses made fully of wood in China…okay, cement foundations and columns but wooden exteriors.

What do you do when you are tired and your feet hurt plus you are a bit wet from the Scotch mist? Why stop for a meal of course! Elspeth was super excited by a Zheung woman who was selling eggs cooked on a bed of charcoal. She saw them on the way up the mountain and just had to have one. Well, it turns out that this cooking process left the eggs hard boiled. She said that it was one of the best eggs she has ever had and that girl likes her eggs. The rest of us passed on the pig brain soup, and opted to try crystal dumplings that supposedly tasted like chicken corn soup and farm grown red rice. The rice was new to me. It was stickier than plain white rice but pretty tasty. I liked it better when I added some clear bone broth to it.