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.

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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Snowshoeing – with a twist!

With the Rockies covered with a thick snowy blanket, trail running gets a bit tough. A couple years ago my parents got my brother and I snowshoes for Christmas and I have put them to decent use since!

Keith and Dan stopped for a break on the way up

Keith and Dan stopped for a break on the way up

In the week following New Years before school started, Keith’s friend Dan was visiting from Toronto for a few days. We took advantage of a day off mid week for Keith to get out and explore Blacksmith Ridge (or at least try). I was inspired to pick this one from an awe inspiring photo found on www.bobspirko.com, but unfortunately a reincarnation of that photo was not to be. There were no trails already made so we set out to make our own trail which was both exhausting and slow. We zigged and zagged through suuuper deep snow going up steep ridges (that we basically just had to pull ourselves up using trees) and down again really having no idea if we were going the right way. Finally we found some tracks made by back country skiers and followed those up. They didn’t end up where we had wanted to go, and eventually we peeled off their trail following a frozen creek back up a little while before deciding to turn around.

It was up that gully that we had the best sledding!!! And it's way up that way that we were supposed to be headed. Another time I guess!

It was up that gully that we had the best sledding!!! And it’s way up that way that we were supposed to be headed. Another time I guess!

This was where the fun kicked in! You see, back when we hiked Ha Ling and snowshoed Rummel Lake, there was much talk about how awesome it would be to have flying saucers to go down the hill on! So the night before Dan and Keith had purchased two saucers and a crazy carpet and we had carried them up strapped to our backpacks. Look out back country skiers and boarders, there are back country toboganners in town! (Yes we got a few weird looks and comments from actual skiers and boarders but I’d like to think they were just a little jealous – haha).

While the boys hiked a little further up the gully, I started making a trail down. I strapped my snowshoes to my back and let’er fly! Each time I would hike back up to my original starting point and make it a little further down. And it was SO awesome! Soon the boys were flying down too and we managed to get about halfway back to where we started without hiking at all! There was so much laughing and many crashes into the deep snowbank but it was totally worth it! We definitely won’t be heading out again without them in the winter! There is simply too much fun to be had!

Unfortunately we didn’t get any photos of the actual sledding so you will have to use your imagination, but here are a bunch of photos from the trail. To say that the sun was shining is an understatement!

What a gorgeous day in the Spray Valley!!!

What a gorgeous day in the Spray Valley!!!

The most aerobic activity Dan has done in years!

The most aerobic activity Dan has done in years!

We were in the shade of the sides of the creek here. This is where we had the best sliding!

We were in the shade of the sides of the creek here. This is where we had the best sliding!

Sorry Dan, but this picture is just too priceless!

Sorry Dan, but this picture is just too priceless!

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!

On Mountain Running

I live really close to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Which means that I live really close to one of the best training grounds in the country, one of the biggest, most beautiful, most exciting playgrounds our country has to offer.

While I’ve always said I’d rather live IN the mountains than near the mountains, school ties me to Calgary for four more months. While frustrating, I take solace in getting on ‘mountain time’ every chance I get. But lately I’ve been struggling with safety in the mountains; specifically safety while running, snowshoeing or hiking.

Hiking Yamnuska (with friends) in September

Hiking Yamnuska (with friends) in September

Unluckily for me, I do most of my running on my own. My ‘running friends’ are strewn all around the world, and I only have a few friends that are just getting into trail running in Calgary who aren’t ready to do the mileage that I do. I don’t really mind being on my own, per say, because running for me is me time; time that I get all to myself to daydream, to plan, to relax, to meditate. Like so many others, when I’m running my soul is about as exposed as it gets.

But since I run on my own, it means that I don’t run in the mountains. I have four months left of living a stone’s throw from one of the best training grounds in the world (did I really just make that claim?!) and I don’t currently use it!

Here’s why: I have a very healthy fear of bears and cougars (and grouse!) and have been taught not to go to the mountains alone (and no my imagination doesn’t count as a buddy). But the force drawing me to the mountains is so strong that I’m feeling huge frustration. While I have ample hiking buddies, skiing buddies, and snowshoeing buddies to escape with, I really need a running buddy. Or some courage. Or both.

Hiking in Yoho (with friends) in October

Hiking in Yoho (with friends) in October

What do you think about the safety of running alone in the mountains? Bears aren’t TOO much of a worry right now as most, if not all, are currently hibernating. But cougars are the ninjas of the wilderness and some of the most mysterious, and deadly animals out there. And while both the cougars and bears would rather avoid humans altogether, we have barged in on their habitat making human-animal interactions unavoidable, however rare.

So here I am in Canmore, sitting in front of the fire, trying to figure out what to do about my desire to run in the mountains. Today I did my hill repeats at the very base of Lady MacDonald mountain, barely half a km out of town. I made tons of noise and was on full alert (NO headphones allowed!!!). But I was on edge the whole time thinking about who might have been watching.

I really need a running buddy. Or some courage. Or both.

If you are a runner in Calgary or Canmore or Banff who is also missing a running buddy and some courage, GET AT ME. We need each other. I’m not fast, but I like to go far. I’m a pretty good listener, but don’t mind not talking. I have been known to get way to excited about just being outside, and sometimes it’s overwhelming for others. Oh and I’m pun-ny, really roll your eyes pun-ny. There are just so many adventures to be had and I don’t want to miss out for another day!

One of my best ever cakes, which I have been known to make for friends (this may or may not be a bribe)

One of my best ever cakes, which I have been known to make for friends (this may or may not be a bribe)

*Disclaimer: My lack of courage reflects both my fear of being attacked by an animal as well as my fear of making new friends; both of which aren’t immediately obvious upon meeting me.*

Birthday Weekend Continued!

Friday night kicked off my birthday celebrations with cupcakes and Reuben and the Dark. It was such a fun night.

Bright and early I was up on Saturday morning (apparently I don’t sleep in past 7…I must be getting old) and got to open Keith’s present in bed. He gave me a gift card to buy a bathing suit (I last bought a new bathing suit when I was 17 haha), and I will need one when we head travelling in the spring. He also got me some books from the library, which I thought was a super cute way to make the gift nice and heavy. And finally he got our friend Bridget to make me a bear hat! Bridget makes the cutest crochet hats and we are always looking for kids to give them to. Since we have yet to find one, Keith figured he’d just get one for me. And it was perfect for scaring away the bears on our hike! (haha, I’m totally joking…obviously that is not an effective technique for warding off bears!). Check out Bridget’s stuff on her facebook page No’s Knots!

You can see my ears!

You can see my ears!

Although we were up early, we got a bit of a slow start out to the mountains. It may or may not have been due the the wine the night before, but I’m not convinced. We met Shea, Sarah and Adele at Leela’s place at about 10:30 and headed out to the start of the Castle Lookout hike. Of course we decided that if there were any killer grouse, it would be Shea’s job to fend them off.

This was surprisingly challenging to capture. Apparently five people in their mid twenties have trouble doing the 'coo coo' from the Sound of Music

This was surprisingly challenging to capture. Apparently five people in their mid twenties have trouble doing the ‘coo coo’ from the Sound of Music

The temperature was a bit chilly but as soon as we got moving we all warmed right up. There were lots of places that had nice views and we were treated at the top to one of the most expansive views of Banff National Park that I have ever seen. The sky was mostly clear and we had almost a full panorama. Unfortunately my camera died in the middle of taking a panorama so you’ll just have to picture it! There were many laughs and all around it was a great way to spend the day. I made a snow angel at the top and hope that someone finds it before it snows again!

We headed back to the house and got supper going right away…that is, I lay on the couch and the others got to work, just as I’d asked for! We started with some brie and maple syrup (if you haven’t had this before, just pour a bunch of maple syrup on a wheel of brie and bake it until the cheese is melted…delish!), loaded nachos (or semi-loaded according to Shea since we refused his offer of putting shrimp on them) and

Brie!

Brie!

salad. We basically just ate and ate and then lay around listening to Shea play his guitar and having more than a few hilariously interesting conversations.

We topped the night off with another cake by yours truly (I got to make two! Hooray!). This time I made a triple chocolate no-bake cheese cake. It was one serious cake! I think it probably weighed about five pounds! When I was looking for ideas last week I came across it on Bangfresh and knew it was the one. Keith doesn’t love cheese cake so I don’t make it very often. But since it was MY birthday I decided to go for it! I started it at about 7:30 in the morning on Friday, before I’d even had my coffee which meant that I was buzzin’ from sugar before eight…awesome.

Triple Chocolate Cheese Cake

3 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (I used oreo crumbs)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp butter, melted
200 g of white chocolate, melted
200 g of milk chocolate, melted*
200 g of dark chocolate, melted
1/4 cup boiling water
3 tsp gelatine powder
1/2 cup castor sugar (I just ground white sugar in my magic bullet for 15 seconds)
3 cups of cream cheese
300 mL cream

*I used white, semi-sweet and dark, but would recommend using milk if you want significant difference in the colours and tastes of the chocolate. You could hardly tell the difference between the dark and semi-sweet*

Take the cream cheese out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature while you prepare the crust. Be patient with it (as I was not) because the less cool the cream cheese is, the smoother your cake will be.

It actually turned out pretty well considering the amount that went on the floor

It actually turned out pretty well considering the amount that went on the floor

Prepare the crust by mixing the crumbs and melted butter in a bowl until well combined. Prepare a 9 inch springform pan by lining it with wax or parchment paper (I needed some help and used tape…since it’s not baked this is fine). Press the crumbs on the the bottom of the pan and around the edges. This is certainly not easy and is a little bit frustrating. If it’s not perfect, it’s ok, just do your best! (I gave up when there seemed to be more crumbs on my hands and on the counter/floor then in the pan and it still turned out fine!). Put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

In a double boiler over barely simmering water, melt the white chocolate. Be patient and use low heat as white chocolate seizes really easily. Place the boiling water and gelatine in a small boil to dissolve.

While it’s melting, beat the cream cheese in an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until combined. Add the cream and beat until smooth and then add the dissolved gelatine mixture. Put one third of the cream cheese mixture into the melted white chocolate and combine until smooth. Poor mixture into the prepared pan and spread it until it evenly covers the whole bottom. Put in the freezer for 15 minutes to set while you prepare the second chocolate.

Melt the second chocolate in the same way you did the first. Once melted, combine with a third of the cream cheese mixture and spread over the set white chocolate. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes to set.

Repeat with the remaining chocolate and cream cheese. Spread over top and smooth the top to your desired look. Cover and refrigerate until serving. When serving you can get creative and put something (like chocolate covered strawberries) on top, or you can just leave it be.

While it’s different from baked cheese cakes, it is still very yummy and very rich. We will be eating it all week as we barely even made a dent in it on Saturday!

In colours the top two layers were the same, but in texture they were quite different. For some reason the one with dark chocolate was much thicker

In colours the top two layers were the same, but in texture they were quite different. For some reason the one with dark chocolate was much thicker

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I had to add this one in...five of us and all of our junk had to fit into my car on the way home. Apparently an overnight requires enough stuff for a month! It was quite hilarious. I'm proud of my little car for fitting so much!!!

I had to add this one in…five of us and all of our junk had to fit into my car on the way home. Apparently an overnight requires enough stuff for a month! It was quite hilarious. I’m proud of my little car for fitting so much!!!