No Spicy, No Good!

Jungle Trekking in Laos

We arrived in Luang Nam Tha, Laos after a two day journey from Chiang Mai. After reading about what Luang Nam Tha has to offer here, we thought that it would be a great place to do some trekking. Originally we’d planned on doing a trek in Northern Thailand also, but with about a billion (rough estimate) trekking outfits trying to sell to us, we’d become overwhelmed and opted for the farm instead.

After some research on the different companies in Nam Tha, we picked Forest Retreat and headed over to chat about their options. We had planned on doing three days of trekking, but after some convincing settled on one day of kayaking and two days of trekking. The next day we took ourselves on a tour of the village and a few surrounding villages on cruiser bikes waiting and hoping that some other people would sign up on our trek to cut down costs.

Mountain biking on a cruiser! One of the most fun ways to explore.

Mountain biking on a cruiser! One of the most fun ways to explore.

Lucky for us two other couples signed up so the next morning we were off! The first day was kayaking and after arriving at our starting point (a small village) we were put in our double blow up kayaks and told to go! It took a few minutes to figure out steering etc, but luckily since we both have paddling experience we were fine.

Helmets are always in style. Kayaking on the river.

Helmets are always in style. Kayaking on the river.

Over the course of the day we shot a number of small rapids that were fun although a little nerve wracking. It was good that the boats were blow up because it’s on the tail end of dry season and there are still many rocks showing in the river (that we hit, many times).

Henk and Kirsten.

Henk and Kirsten from Holland.

Nicolle and Calin.

Nicolle (from South Africa) and Calin (from Romania).

About half way through the day we stopped for a break and our guides built a bamboo rope swing into the river. It was awesome! They had collected the bamboo earlier in the day and spent about 20 minutes rigging it up. Tanoi, our English speaking guide, spent a good chunk of time up the big tree getting it set up which was hilariously precarious. We had great fun tarzaning into the water cooling off before finishing our day of kayaking.

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We spent the night in a village in a bamboo hut that Forest Retreat had built. The Laoation government has an eco tour program whereby villages apply to host trekkers and in exchange receive some infrastructure for the village (like an extra toilet and water pump) as well as some income as the trekkers buy weaving and other handcrafts. The village was very welcoming and we explored, watching the women weave and the children play. In the evening Tanoi talked about what it was like growing up in villages and what life in Lao is like.

Fun with the village children.

Fun with the village children.

High fives are always a good way to bond!

High fives are always a good way to bond!

A village woman who would turn out to become my hero. I love this photo because it proves that somewhere in the world, I am a giant!

A village woman who would turn out to become my hero. I love this photo because it proves that somewhere in the world, I am a giant!

First thing in the morning we set out to cross the river and start our trek! Two more guides from the village joined us, hilariously wearing flip flops (not so funny when they totally kicked our asses at hiking wearing said flip flops). From the get go we had a huge climb to get up the river bank – a taste of what was to come.

The jungle was incredible. The diversity of life reminded me a bit of our snorkeling trip on Koh Tao. I think that it knocks my socks off even more having grown up in the north in such a challenging environment where we have only a fraction of the life that there is here. I saw more bugs, spiders, ants, wasps and butterflies than I’d ever seen before in my life! And unfortunately got bit by a few more than I’d have liked!

Bamboo grove.

Bamboo grove.

A jungle unicorn.

A jungle unicorn.

Fun with ginormous bamboo shoots.

Fun with ginormous bamboo shoots.

After about 4-5 hours of hiking we arrived at our jungle camp. It was a bamboo hut for sleeping with a small cook shed and a small toilet beside a small creek in a gully. Pretty rustic and very dark thanks to the canopy of trees over head. We were all relieved to arrive as the final descent into the gully was long and very slippery. In fact everything was slippery all day even though it wasn’t raining!

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Look at the size of that tree!

Look at the size of that tree!

We went to bed really early because of the lack of light and in the morning opted for the ‘easy’ way out following (or mostly going THROUGH) the creek back to the river. When we got back to the river we crossed on our own instead of waiting for the boat. I was up to my belly button in water!

Our home on the second night.

Our home on the second night.

Our guides cooked tons of good food for us (according to Tanoi – “No Spicy, no good!” even though the guides were the only ones loading the chillies on!). On the second morning they cooked up creek crabs and frogs that they had caught the night before.  We were all pretty sick of sticky rice by the end though as it was a staple at every meal.

Pure Gold. This woman epitomizes super woman.

Pure Gold. This woman epitomizes super woman.

We couldn’t have had a better group to trek with and although I’m not hankering to get back into the jungle any time soon, we had a great time. I think I’ll take the Rockies any time over the jungle (my skin is crawling just thinking about it and my bug bites were still itchy almost a week later). If you are in Laos I definitely recommend checking out Forest Retreat and doing one of their treks!

Banana leaves make the best plates! Biodegradable and all.

Banana leaves make the best plates! Biodegradable and all.

Super Guide Tanoi

Super Guide Tanoi

Jungle trees: putting northern trees to shame since the dawn of time.

Jungle trees: putting northern trees to shame since the dawn of time.

Why go around when you can go through?

Why go around when you can go through?

Why would we wait for the boat when we can just walk through the river?

Why would we wait for the boat when we can just walk through the river?

My hero.

My hero.

Tanoi gifted two baby mice to Nicolle and I. We didn't really know what to do with them so we just ended up holding them for about an hour before putting them at the base of a tree. They were gone in the morning (and not because they scurried off...).

Tanoi gifted two baby mice to Nicolle and I. We didn’t really know what to do with them so we just ended up holding them for about an hour before putting them at the base of a tree. They were gone in the morning (and not because they scurried off…).

Trip bracelets!

Trip bracelets! (And sticky rice).

The best group we could have asked for.

The best group we could have asked for.

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Four Lakes Trail Recon Hike

Tuesday morning we enjoyed locally made buns slathered with peanut butter and both strawberry and pineapple jam (both of which had been made home grown ingredients in Baguio) before heading out for a hike.

Our guide took us on what he thinks (and from the map as far as I can tell) is the trail for the race. It is basically a thin dirt road with the occasional motor bike passing by. At the beginning of the hike, so much was passing through my mind. Driving from Baguio the day before had prompted some serious doubts. The climbs seemed much steeper and higher than I’d imagined, it was hotter that I had predicted, and i’d just spent three weeks traveling through the Philippines, not running much at all. To top it all off, I was getting over a cold that I’d picked up the week before. Altogether not quite an equation that adds up to doubling the distance I’d ever completed.

Over and over I was hearing advice from friends leading up to leaving North America. I was also thinking about my experiences that lead me to this point (the four peaks attempt, training runs, the Grizz and three years ago where it all began, Running Tunisia).

It was cloudy for most of the hike but we got home before the first of many thunder showers throughout the week.

It was cloudy for most of the hike but we got home before the first of many thunder showers throughout the week.

As we climbed and I stirred all my thoughts around I just got more excited. First of all, if this road was the race trail, it was more runable than I’d imagined. Unlike the hiking trails in Kananaskis which go straight up the mountain, these wound around gradually building altitude (for the most part). It made sense really, since these roads are what supplies many small communities or extensions of Kayapa. Don’t get me wrong, there were steep parts, which after yesterdays roller coaster road was no surprise. But generally they started giving me back a little confidence.

Taking a short cut to the top (which don't worry, I didn't use on race day!)

Taking a short cut to the top (which don’t worry, I didn’t use on race day!)

The winding around, up and down was building into what I think is one of the race check point, Indupit. Indupit is a tiny community where our guide lives, essentially on top of a mountain. I was sorry that I didn’t have my gps with me when we reached the top (one of the items sacrificed as unessential when packing for our three month trip). I wanted to know how much we’d climbed and how far wed come. Luckily we had an old race map that gave us an idea. It was about 700 vertical meters from Kayapa and approximately 7 km.

Lucky for me Keith gets snap happy with the camera so we have lots of shots of the view!

Lucky for me Keith gets snap happy with the camera so we have lots of shots of the view!

Although we’d decided this would be the end for the day, we wondered a little further to turn a corner to get a better view of the trail. Ahead along the ridge we could see another future check point and the peak of Mount Ugo in the distance. From Indupit it would be around a 5km (very rough estimate) ridge run before a long descent and ascent to the top of Ugo which would be the highest point of the race and the second out of four mountain peaks. Ugo was mostly covered in fog but peaked out just enough to wink at me with a promise of it’s challenges to come.

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We took a short cut down, led by our guide. My legs complained a little bit as we spent about an hour going down the steep type of trail that we normally hike at home. I’m crossing my fingers that the road is indeed the race trail or there will be a lot of hiking not running in my future.

Steep hike down. While I didn't do this trail, there were plenty of steep parts in the race that killed my legs on the way down.

Steep hike down. While I didn’t do this trail, there were plenty of steep parts in the race that killed my legs on the way down.

All in all it was so great to test out what I will be doing in a few days. It was just a fraction of what I’ll have to do, but gave me a preview of the stunning scenery I will have as my running buddy for the duration of the race. It also allowed us to learn a little more about the area from our guide and even helped my scout out some potentially excellent pee break places (what could be better than that! Haha).

There were many fences like this in the race. They looked totally thrown together but by the time I'd climbed over enough of them, I realized that they all had similar design.

There were many fences like this in the race. They looked totally thrown together but by the time I’d climbed over enough of them, I realized that they all had similar design.

That's the ridge that would take me to mount Ugo (peeking out behind), the highest point in the race. Too bad we had to descend before climbing it!

That’s the ridge that would take me to Mount Ugo (peeking out behind), the highest point in the race. Too bad we had to descend before climbing it!

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I have a feeling that after another good sleep tonight I will start getting impatient for the start horn to sound!

February Recap

Happy March! What a busy month February was!

At the beginning of the month I was frustratingly having some low back issues and decided to change up my training routine in an attempt to fix them. I don’t do a lot of strength because I like running better (terrible reason, I know) so this month I decreased my mileage in order to have time for strength 3 x week. By decreasing my mileage, I leave more time for strength type workouts.

And it’s helping! I think anyways. Another change I made this month is running for time rather than running for km’s. I had been finding with the weather (often snowy and cold) and the fact that this month I did my long runs almost exclusively on trails, that I just wasn’t covering the distance that I had planned out. On snowy, hilly trails my pace was suddenly 7:00 min/km which was a drastic change from the 5:30 min/km that I normally run on long runs in the city. So basically I switched it up to assigning myself 30 minutes per 5 km that I had had on my plan. So if I had 25km, I would do 2.5 hours (and usually end at about 20 km) etc. Oh, and I only count the moving time, so if I have 20 minutes (water break x 4, bathroom break x 2, scenery break x 2) then that time doesn’t actually count towards my run.

The result of both of these changes meant significantly less mileage. And I was disappointed to not have reached 100 miles for the first time since joining the facebook group 100 Miles for [Insert Month Here]. I have to remind myself though that my time spent training was approximately the same, and if you add in the hikes and cross country skis that I did this month, that I was well over the elusive 100 miles.

Onwards and upwards though! With only 2 months left until I leave for South East Asia, school is exploding (boo) and we are slowly but surely starting to pack up our house. The first step is getting rid of all the stuff that I’ve accumulated in the last six years that is junk and not worth taking to Victoria. We took a huge trip to Goodwill on the weekend and I see many more in our future. It’s a great feeling to purge some of the junk though and provides a welcome break from homework, homework and more homework!

Happy trails!

Cross country skiing at Nakiska

Cross country skiing at Nakiska

Sun going down after a long ski

Sun going down after a long ski

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Nothing to Bragg About

My last post was about an amazing run that I had in the West Bragg Creek day use area. Unfortunately my awesome run was dampened by some pretty sad stuff.

About a year ago there was a petition circling because the Spray Lake Sawmills announced that they were planning on clear cutting over 700 hectares of land in Kananaskis country, including much of West Bragg. CLEAR CUTTING. Unfortunately the petition wasn’t successful in stopping the logging and as a result it has already begun. (Visit Sustain Kananaskis to learn more).

It’s not really a secret that I care deeply about the environment, the wilderness and preserving our undeveloped wilderness for future generations, and this just made me sad. While I was there I was running through areas that had already been clear cut, across logging roads blazed right through the bush and over the piles of rubble that the loggers have created. It really got me thinking about the importance of preserving wilderness.

Remember this beauty of a photo?

Beauty of a panorama. It's views like this that remind me how much I love the mountains.

Beauty of a panorama. It’s views like this that remind me how much I love the mountains.

Well sadly directly behind me it looked like this:

Sadly THIS was right behind me when I took the panorama. How do we let such a beautiful area succumb to industry?

Sadly THIS was right behind me when I took the panorama. How do we let such a beautiful area succumb to industry?

You can’t see it all that well (I was just using my iPhone), but there are just a few trees and then a huge area that has already been clear cut.

As I continued along I found even more sad areas.

On the trail right before getting to this type of thing there is a big stop sign saying that the giant machine that eats trees is working here. Luckily it's not out on Sundays but I couldn't help but think that the squirrels, birds and chipmunks can't read the stop sign!

On the trail right before getting to this type of thing there is a big stop sign saying that the giant machine that eats trees is working here. Luckily it’s not out on Sundays but I couldn’t help but think that the squirrels, birds and chipmunks can’t read the stop sign!

A logging road blazing right through a beautiful poplar grove.

A logging road blazing right through a beautiful poplar grove.

All of the wood stacked up

A bunch of trees stacked up.

But it was only when I got back to the parking lot to find that there were over 100 cars in the parking lot that it hit home one of the many reasons WHY it is important to preserve areas like this.

Let’s do a little math: Since I got there at 9 am and the parking lot was full by 11 am, let’s assume that it was pretty much full between 10 am and 4 pm when it begins to get dark. If we say that there was likely an average of 3 people per car, and the cars were probably there for about an hour and a half, there were likely over 1,200 people that used the West Bragg day use area in ONE day alone. And I would even hazard that that number is conservative.

There were skiers, snowshoes, hikers, dog walkers, mountain bikers and even a horse. Families, friends, kids, dogs, you name it. There is no question that that area was well used on Sunday, February 3rd and likely every other weekend day for about 90% of the weekends of the year. And this is just one of hundreds of areas that people can get out adventuring in Kananaskis Country, let alone the Canmore area, Banff, Lake Louise, Yoho and every other national and provincial park across the country.

But somehow projects like clear cutting West Bragg are happening all the time. The reason that I alluded to a few paragraphs earlier (which I will admit is just one of the many many reasons that these areas are important) is that today, this very moment in Canada, we have an incredibly serious obesity issue on our hands. Over 60% of Canadian adults are considered overweight or obese putting them at higher risk for chronic disease and making them a huge extra cost on our already overburdened health care system. And for the first time in history, the current generation of children WILL NOT OUTLIVE THEIR PARENTS. Even with all of our advancements in healthcare, the serious damage and risk that kids experience through obesity at a young age has the life expectancy of the current generation lower than the one before.

Think of the thousands of people out enjoying the mountains on the weekends. This is one way that we can fight this disease. This is one way that we can help protect our children from their terrible fate. By families getting out and being active together while enjoying the fresh air, children are learning positive habits about being physically active, they are decreasing their screen time and fostering a healthy appreciation of nature.

Making sure that these areas continue to be available across Canada is incredibly important and can play a big role in decreasing obesity across all generations.

If that isn’t worth saving the West Bragg Creak day use area and every other area that is currently at risk, then I’m not sure what is.

Happy 2013!!!

Whew! What a holiday! Somehow I’m finding myself exhausted these days…perhaps a result of all of the fun stuff that I did this holiday!

My last exam was on December 17th and after plowing through a bunch of spanish homework, the holidays began with pizza and beer with friends at a super cool little restaurant call HopNBrew. It was a great way to unwind and catch up with some friends before we all blasted off for our respective holidays.

My parents arrived on the 20th, followed by my brother late on the 22nd. After a bit of a hairy drive out to Canmore in a snowstorm after Michael’s flight was delayed, we arrived just after midnight and hit the hay in order to be ready for a big hike the next day.

The view from the top of the mountain from Michael's perspective

The view from the top of the mountain from Michael’s perspective

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Ha Ling

The weather was quite cold, but we piled on the layers and headed out to tackle Ha Ling, a hike that is right on the outskirts of Canmore and the Spray Valley. We didn’t take snow shoes because this hike is predominantly tree covered and quite steep. It’s generally not long (in summer it’s probably under 3 hours round trip if you’re quick) but with the snow it slowed us down considerably. Of course we had our trusty trail breakers Michael and Keith who set out ahead while Mum, Dad and I followed up the rear in their tracks. Of course within about ten minutes all those layers that we piled on came piling off…except for Dad who left his parka on and managed to sweat right through it! Mum and dad called it quits just after the treeline where there was only a short scree left to the top, and the boys and I carried on. Instead of peaking Ha Ling, which we’ve done before, we decided to go right instead of left to the peak and check out a different part of the mountain. It was spectacular!!! Looking down on snowy Canmore with more mountains in the background is certainly breathtaking! Before we could get cold we started flying back down with the goal of catching mum and dad before the bottom.

Summit!

Summit!

Of course we couldn’t resist boot skiing on the way down and we made short work of the path…because we kept ditching the switchbacks in favour of sliding down the steep parts in between! It was so much fun, I could barely breath for laughing so hard! Before we knew it we caught my parents when they were on a particularly long switch back. As we were whooping our way down the middle we managed to pass them. Of course they couldn’t resist joining in so on the next good sliding spot we all had a turn!

Post family hike

Post family hike

The group!

The group!

The next day, after supper with old friends from Yellowknife we headed down the Spray Lake Road again, this time with two other Yellowknife families to Grummel Lake for some snowshoeing! It was great to get all of our families together again, we hadn’t had everyone together since about 1995! There was a lot of bushwacking through deep snow just for the heck of it and we reached the lake and then proceeded to jump off some snow
‘cliffs’ into more snow before heading back out. It was a lot of fun and an absolutely beautiful day.

Snowshoeing on a beautiful Christmas Eve

Snowshoeing on a beautiful Christmas Eve

For Christmas Eve we had a family night and had tourtiere (family tradition!) and played Wizard. Last year to Keith’s chagrin he lost in EVERY Wizard game that we played (and I think we played about five times!) but he turned things around this year and I think got second! What a champ! And lucky for us he wasn’t as grumpy as last year about the game (hehe 🙂 ).

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Christmas morning disaster!

Christmas morning followed more traditions…first we opened our stockings and then made a feast of a breakfast. Every year for as long as I can remember we have a Stolen made by family friends. The last two years my parents have brought it all the way from Yellowknife. Christmas morning just wouldn’t be the same without it! Along with that we had fruit salad, sausages, bacon and eggs. After a few more seconds then we all needed we hit the tree and once again Santa spoiled us rotten! I am so grateful that not only do I get to spend Christmas with my family in peace and safety, but Santa also spoils us every year.

Christmas Even ladies

Christmas Even ladies

Christmas dinner was spent with the Snowshoeing families which was both scrumptious and hilarious. It was great to reconnect with the kids that we grew up with way back when (and get to know them all grown up!) and see our parents (who ‘grew up’ together in the north a million years ago) all back together. Needless to say our kids against parents games got a little crazy (and maybe a little inappropriate – ahem parents!). Hilarious to say the least.

On Boxing Day Keith’s family came through for coffee and snacks before taking him off to Kimberley for some downhill skiing. Dad took Michael to the airport so he could get back to training before coming back for one last relaxing evening before I followed to Kimberley on the 27th!

Right outside our door on the hill!

Right outside our door on the hill!

After an uneventful but BEAUTIFUL drive through Banff and Kootenay National Parks, I made it in time for supper and a walk to scope out the cross country trails and ski hill, both of which were RIGHT outside our door. The next morning Keith hit the hills right at nine o’clock while I hit the cross country for a quick ski before joining him on the hill. I have to admit, while I don’t love downhill skiing (I’m a scaredy cat, I get cold easily, and I have trouble wrapping my head around sitting on a chair lift for MORE time than you actually get to ski), I had a fun first day and relished a little fearlessness (which for me is totally relative!).

The next day Keith and I pulled a pretty epic day of activities. We hit the hill right at nine so that we beat the rush for a few runs with no chairlift waits. At about 10:30 we headed back to the condo to switch to cross country for about two and a half hours with Keith’s family before heading back to the hill for another

Family skiing photo:)

Family skiing photo:)

two hours or so. After a quick break at four when the hill closed (which involved a nap in a pond of drool for me) we headed back out with Keith’s dad for another hour and half of night skiing! We were both SO beat that night that we could barely stay awake at dinner! My legs were totally exhausted I can’t even believe looking back that I didn’t crash on those night runs.

The next day was a bit of a drag for me, I woke up still quite tired and not really feeling like down hilling. Turns out I should have listened to my gut and not gone, but instead I headed out and didn’t have much fun, crashing a few times. I felt like I’d lost my ability to turn as my left leg just kept ignoring what my brain was telling it! I took a couple hours off (nothing like brooding on the couch with a book and tea!) before going out for

Keith's worst crash of the week was in cross country...not downhill!

Keith’s worst crash of the week was in cross country…not downhill!

the last two runs of the day in order to “get back on the horse” aka get over my fear a bit so that I didn’t end the trip with a bad taste in my mouth. It worked as I had fun on those runs.

We capped the trip off with a delicious meal at a German restaurant in Kimberley where we all ate until we were stuffed! It was an awesome holiday, although definitely one that I needed a few days to recover from!

Raclette on New Years Eve

Raclette on New Years Eve

We drove back to Calgary on New Years just in time to host some friends that we had over last year. Unfortunately last year was a bit of a bust as two of the friends (ironically the two that brought cheese and chocolate fondue to share) went home with food poisoning about an hour after they got there (disclaimer…it was DEFINITELY from food they ate before coming over!) So we did New Years take two and thankfully no one went home sick!!!

Champagne for our friends Kirsti and Math who got engaged this Christmas!!!

Champagne for our friends Kirsti and Math who got engaged this Christmas!!!

Since then I have been laying low, unpacking, snowshoeing and visiting. Trying to rest up before heading back to school! I guess I realized (what perhaps all adults already know!) that holidays aren’t all that relaxing when you’re organizing, hosting, travelling and cooking! They are certainly fun and filled with friends and laughter, but when all is said and done they take a little bit of time to recover from them!!!

Mum in her new coat and oven mitts!

Mum in her new coat and oven mitts!

Super creative birthday/Christmas card from my friend Mitchie!!!

Super creative birthday/Christmas card from my friend Mitchie!!!

Sonja chilling in the snow. There were a lot of crashes as everyone sprinted through the deep snow!

Sonja chilling in the snow. There were a lot of crashes as everyone sprinted through the deep snow!

Family photo snowshoeing! It was incredible...we woke up to a cloudy day but the sun came out right when we got to our starting point!

Family photo snowshoeing! It was incredible…we woke up to a cloudy day but the sun came out right when we got to our starting point!

Everyone in their brand new Expedition Botswana t-shirts!

Famjam in their brand new Expedition Botswana t-shirts!

Keith and I snowshoeing:)

Keith and I snowshoeing:)

Happy New Year everyone! Cheers to 2013 – your best year ever!

One Semester Down, One to Go

About a month ago, with 6 weeks left of my fall semester, I started thinking about the things that I’m proud of that I did this semester. The list started growing so I decided to start writing them down. With only a few months left until I’m done my undergrad I am doing a lot of reflecting on the past six years, what I’ve learned (both in school, out of school and about myself). Here is the list, in no particular order: Note, not all of these apply to me, there are many that are things I’m proud of people in my life for.

– Starting this blog!
– Surviving the condescension of my personal finance prof
– Having the courage to take personal finance and then actually learning something from it
– Deciding in the first week of school that there were no courses that interested me for a fifth course and refusing to waste $600 on a course I was going to hate
– Picking up Spanish by correspondence instead
– Keith’s decision to and subsequent application to law school
– Keith studying his pants off to write the last possible LSAT that will allow him to start school in the fall (providing he gets in, which I have total confidence of!)
– Sarah’s decision to leave one job for another that would make her happier (and pay her more!)
– My brother Michael making the fall world cup team and winning 2 individual and 3 team medals and setting a new world record in the relay
– My friend Jess for not only successfully returning to competition after an injury that sidelined her for a year, but returning to competition, making fall world cups and then winning a gold and a silver medal and a relay medal!
– Starting a project with Michael that I’ve been planning for a while
– Completing a 30 day yoga challenge
– Continuing to do yoga 2-3 times a week since the challenge
– Learning how to headstand on my own!
– Completing my first trail ultra marathon
– Shea and his band Reuben and the Dark rocking a Cross Canada Tour (their first!) and getting noticed by some serious industry people
– Organizing my best school schedule ever (I only had school on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s). I could really get used to ‘four’ day weekends!
– Abby for completing the first of her two degrees!
impossible2Possible’s Expedition Botswana youth ambassadors for completing an incredible expedition and the whole i2P team for making it happen
– Completing 51 tests, assignments, papers and labs over the course of the semester
– The number of weekends I spent in the mountains
– Completing 5.5 courses (and getting straight A’s) – HA ya right, definitely not straight A’s
– Getting my first 100% on a paper; and then doing it again a couple weeks later
– Having the guts to reach out to David Wood (The Kickass Life) and interview him for a project
– My entrepreneurship group winning our class prize on a presentation that I thought was going to be the worst of my life
– Just saying NO to procrastination!

I think it’s so important to take stock every once and a while on what is special, what you’re proud of and what stands out to you. Beyond these moments of pride, there were tons of moments that I’m not proud of, and while I learned from each of them, I choose to focus on these instead.

Although not everyone is finishing a semester, everyone is approaching the end of the year. What are you proud of? What did you do that really stands out? Please share, I’d love to hear them!!!

Here are some of my favourite moments from the last few months!

I made it! It's too bad there isn't a video of me tearing down the hill full 'grin' ahead. I couldn't stop smiling!!!

Finishing my first trail ultra in Canmore

It's funny, they don't look particularly appetizing in this photo but I am drooling just thinking about them!

Finding the best ever sweet potato recipe for thanksgiving. It will be making an appearance at Christmas!

Hiking in beautiful Yoho National Park

Hiking in beautiful Yoho National Park

When Laura came to visit!

When Laura came to visit!

An awesome birthday hike and weekend!

An awesome birthday hike and weekend!

Recipe for a Great Weekend

What’s your recipe for a perfect weekend?!

We took this exact photo minus the sunglass, plus puffy vests in April, the last time Laura visited.

This past weekend one of my best friends from home came to visit with her boyfriend. Each year for the past three years, Laura and her family come to Calgary for Dance Montage, a production put on by the University of Calgary in which Laura’s younger sister Hailey performs. It’s awesome because it means that I get to visit with Laura! And this time, I also got to meet Reg.

My recipe for a GREAT weekend = FOOD + FRIENDS + MOUNTAINS 

On Friday, Laura, Reg and Sarah came over for supper. When I was looking up recipes, for some reason the only ones that jumped out at me had one common theme…fat. Which was ok with me (oh darn haha).

For supper we had Potato and Celery Root Gratin with Leeks and Kale, brocolini and bacon wrapped asparagus (which was supposed to be an appetizer but took too long) and for dessert we had Chocolate Brownie Torte with White Chocolate Mousse and Chocolate Icing. It was all great! However it was definitely all high fat. While I won’t be changing the dessert, I did try the gratin again (tonight!) to see if I could make it healthier and just as yummy. I didn’t think it would be hard, and I didn’t think that it would change the taste, so I did it all over again and made some modifications.

Snow, sun, mountains. LOVE.

On Saturday, Laura, Reg, Keith and I headed out to the mountains for a hike. We did Nihahi Ridge, which was awesome because as soon as we were out of the trees there were AMAZING views. Reg has never been to the mountains so it was fitting that he got the full meal deal. The weather cleared up for us too, after a cold week, and it was sunny and beautiful.

Keith tried to get to the top of that bluff and ended up instead hiking half a kilometre around looking for a way up without getting anywhere. I ended up chasing him down because he hadn’t made contact in a while and it was getting cold in the wind!

This was the first place that we got to that we thought, “Good View”. On the way back down we decided it actually sucked compared to the ones higher up:).

The bonus about boys with long legs is that the girls with short legs end up falling behind; perfect girl talk time! Nihahi was only about four hours, so we had time for Christmas latte’s in Bragg Creek before showering, heading for supper with the McLeod’s and going to see Dance Montage. At Montage, Hailey is ALWAYS the star of the show (in my eyes) because when she is dancing I don’t watch anyone else (haha)! So it just seems like she is the main event!

Finally on Sunday, we took Reg for his first ever yoga class! Overall it was a great weekend! I wish that all weekends could be like it!

Potato and Celery Root Gratin (with a healthy spin!)
– Original recipe from Epicurious

3 cups milk
3 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp water
2 garlic gloves, peeled and chopped
5 tbsp thyme, divided
2 tbsp butter, divided
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, chopped
1 bunch kale, washed and shredded
Salt
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 celery root, peeled and sliced very thinly
2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Melt butter in a large frying pan or wok at medium heat and add chopped leeks. Season with salt, stirring often until tender, 10-12 minutes. When the leeks are ready, reduce heat and add kale. Toss until wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat milk, 2 tsp thyme and garlic over medium heat. Once the milk is warm, mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl before adding to the milk. This will help thicken the mixture. Make sure that you whisk this often and keep an eye on it. You don’t want it to boil and don’t want it to burn. You should be able to see it thickening.

While the milk is heating, peel the celery root, slice and set aside. Slice the potatoes and set aside (if you don’t like potato peel you can peel them, but you really don’t need to, just wash them well).

I forgot to take a pre-peeling photo. If you haven’t cooked with celery root before, don’t be surprised when you are at the grocery store and it is the ugliest vegetable you’ve ever seen. Don’t worry, it tastes great!

Put remaining tbsp of butter in a casserole dish, preferably with a lid (I used a cast iron pot) and put in oven to melt. Once it is melted, pull the dish out of the oven and get all the ingredients together.

Layer 1/3 of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Then add 1/3 of the celery root followed by 1/3 of the leek and kale mixture. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over top and then 1 tsp thyme and a bit of pepper and salt. Repeat the layering, finishing with cheese.

This is after one layer. Try to make it as flat and even as possible. I sort of ended up with a mountain shape with troughs around the outside.

This is the uncooked version. I LOVE my beautiful dish, it was a birthday/Christmas gift last year from my friend Mitchie:)

Strain the milk mixture into a measuring cup and pour over top of layers. Cover the dish and place in preheated oven. Bake for 60 minutes covered, then take the lid off and bake for another 25-30 minutes until cheese is browned and liquid is bubbling.

Gooey and fresh out of the oven!

Remove from oven and serve! Accompany it with a colourful vegetable since it’s a relatively colour-less dish. Asparagus and brocolini was perfect!

Note: The way I made this healthier was by adding the kale and replacing heavy cream with milk. If you want to make the full fat version just replace the milk with heavy cream and omit the cornstarch and water.

Laura has always been able to do this creepy eyebrow thing. We called it “The Eyebrows” when we were growing up, and her cutie niece has also inherited it. Must be a McLeod thing. But then Reg admitted that he too can do the eyebrows, and I knew they were a match made in heaven. I just fear for their hypothetical children…they will probably be stuck like this permanently!

I wish every weekend could be like this one! Check the next post for a recipe for the dessert…there is a teaser photo in the collage!