A Winter Tradition

A friend on this trip mentioned how her son was asked to talk at school about a family tradition, and they came up with their annual winter hut trip. I love that this is her family's tradition, and one that we share as well. My kids look forward to this so much throughout the year. We are so very fortunate to have this in our backyard.

This year started with -29 C temps, and over 40 cm of new snow with no tracksetting at all. Conditions were tough for the adults, pulling pulks and Chariots (loaded with food and wine) 12 km into the hut, but the kids blasted up and over the pass. We spent the weekend completely unplugged and playing. I love communal hut life, despite the snoring. We made snow ice cream, played chess, and made countless snow forts and jumps.

This is one tradition I never want to change.

Kayaking in Baja, Mexico

Here is what one perfect week of kayaking in Mexico looks like. Two families, five kids, two amazing guides on a self-supported camping trip from beach to beach.  Thank you to Sea Kayak Baja Mexico for making our trip a reality! We paddled hard, played hard, ate well, and slept well under the stars.  I'd go back in a heartbeat. As you can see, I had trouble narrowing it down for this post. It's really just a smattering of favorite moments.

Family Day Weekend 2017

Mostly, I crave wilderness and my family. Alone, with friends, it doesn't matter. But knowing that this is what makes me tick has made me so much happier. It makes Aric indescribably happy too. I don't know if it makes the kids happier. I like to think it does, but I don't know for sure. They did their fair share of bickering in close quarters this weekend, but as usual, they also loved on each other and played hard in the snow, and in board games. So that counts for something, right?

We spent the Family Day long weekend unplugged, just the five of us. It was incredibly warm (especially compared to our last winter adventure), and it snowed 10 cm one day and was perfectly clear another. We played a lot of Quirkle and Charades and practiced multiplication tables.  We built snow tunnels and luge tracks and skiied along the lake. We melted snow for drinking water and made late night outhouse trips. It was noisy and quiet all at once.

China Part Two: Village life

We were having trouble making a decision.

To hike a few kilometers to the next village with all of our backpacks, or stay the night where we were? We sat down for a leisurely lunch and eventually when the rain let up, we decided to go for it. A few hundred metres in, we met a Yao woman who offered to carry the second backpack Aric was wearing on his front. Aric tried iTranslate to communicate with her where we were going, and a price for her services, but she didn't speak any Mandarin, which we learned was not uncommon in these Yao minority villages. I had great concern about her carrying our heavy pack, as she looked to be in her sixties (or seventies?). But she plopped it into her basket, threw a yellow plastic bag over it for the rain and marched off. We had trouble keeping up with her as she climbed through the rice terraces. 

After a cold night in a hostel, and waking to pouring rain, we weren't keen on our original plan of hiking 12 more kilometres to the next village. No roads, no bailing points. Just pouring rain, very heavy packs, and three kids, two of whom I knew could make it, but the 4 year old was questionable. In the end, we figured we'd be wet all day no matter what we chose. We'd have to hike back down the way we came, or we could just keep going as planned. If we were going to get wet, we might as well do something memorable, right? So, we hired a local young man to carry a bag and show us the way, and off we went. 

The rain returned in full force. We plied the children with Chinese oreo knockoffs and peanuts. By the time we reached a tiny hamlet of several farming homes at the halfway point, we were soaked to the bone. We were squelching in our shoes and our rain jackets were no longer keeping us dry. Progress was slow with a 4, 6 and 8 year old in the rain. We needed to warm up and eat. 

The problem was that this little hamlet was just that. A tiny collection of a few farmhouses. No store, no restaurant, nothing. I was feeling a little desperate, when a woman popped her head out of her window and waved. I just looked at her, she looked at us, and took pity on us. Next thing we knew, we were inside, with our socks and shoes warming by the fire, wearing an assortment of borrowed sandals. Because of the location of this hamlet, off the trail with no road access, visits from foreigners hiking through weren't common at all.  

I'm not sure where the men were (I presume working), but the house was full of women who welcomed us with open arms. They were Yao, a minority group that lives across southwest China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. They have hand-carved thousands of rice terraces in the area and still harvest rice by hand. The women cut their hair once as babies, and then let it grow for the rest of their lives. None of the women who took us in spoke any Mandarin, and our communication was all gestures. Somehow, though, children always manage to break the ice. I'm always uncertain about photographing in situations like this, but after a while I felt I could ask if I could take my camera out and it was warmly received. A few great photos also came from the iPhone which Aric had. 

They brought in food from their garden and proceeded to cook us an amazing meal. T can be particular about food, so I just told him that these women had taken us as guests into their home, they were cooking us lunch, I had no idea what it was, and I had no way to ask them. He would just have to put on a brave face, try a bite or two, and smile and say thank you.  And you know what? He did. Turns out the fried potatoes were fantastic and he ate two bowls!

When one woman offered to let her hair down to show us, I barely grabbed the camera in time. Maya had been reading about the Yao prior to our trip, and really was hoping to see such long hair. This woman was in her 30s, but the same height as my 8 year old, which brought a lot of laughter from all of us. 

After several hours, our socks and shoes had dried, we were warm, our bellies were full, and our hearts overjoyed at being shown such kindness. Sunset loomed, and we didn't want to overstay our welcome, so we set out again into the pouring rain. This time, we cheerfully marched in the rain to the next village much lower down and settled happily into a warm hostel for the night. It's amazing how 12 kilometres can hold so much. I know I will treasure that day for the rest of my life. 

China Part One : Beijing and the Great Wall

One night last summer we were discussing destinations for our next family trip. The kids had a week off school in November. We were thinking of Costa Rica again, or maybe Mexico. Definitely somewhere warm. Then Aric happened upon The Seat Sale. My husband is well known for his 'economical' trip planning and surveillance of airfares, but when he discovered that flights to China from Canada cost less than flying within our own country, he was ecstatic. He even calculated out the cost per kilometre. "Look how far we can fly for so little!". 

It didn't take much to convince me, honestly. Neither of us had been to China before, we knew little about travel there, but it seemed like it would be interesting and safe. We were willing to trade a warm vacation for the unknown. And so, on a bit of a whim, with some nervous laughter, we bought tickets that night. The week off school expanded to three. A plan was formed. 

Fast forward a couple of months, we were knee deep in research and we realized what a huge and diverse country China is. We tried to plan a rough itinerary, applied for visas, ordered Mandarin language books, researched train routes, sought advice from friends who had gone before us. There was a fair bit of concern from friends and family. I spoke to one friend several days after returning home, and she admitted that she really wasn't sure how it would go for us...

As these stories usually go, we had the best damn time of our lives. The kids weathered the long flights and 10 hour time change exceptionally well. Nobody got sick. We muddled through Mandarin with a little iTranslate and a lot of sign language. We learned a little about a very complex and beautiful country. We ate amazing food and had no idea what it was. We met wonderfully kind people. We learned to make dumplings. We ate in villages. We flew a kite on the Great Wall of China. We saw Tiananmen Square. We rode rickshaws, subways, boats, bullet trains, and roller coasters. We hiked through ancient rice terraces. We spent all day, every day, together as a family.  And I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

I'm working on a photobook, and thought I'd share some favourites here. I can hear you all saying, "tsk, tsk, why aren't you in any of the photos, Jen?". I can assure you I am in plenty of iphone photos that will be in the album. Never fear. I am part of these incredible memories, too. 

100 Summer Days - First week of July

Bits and pieces. Not high art, just moments to commit to memory. Canada Day, cousins, backyard campfires, hikes, Quarry Lake, camp pick-up, racing. Week one of July has been good to us. And this isn't even all of it (more to come when I download my Fuji).

100 Summer Days - Shaking out the camping cobwebs

First trip out this year, getting our camping legs back under us. Rain, sunshine, forgotten gear, only a few photos taken for no particular reason. A broken-down truck that nearly made us miss Aric's leg of the K-100 relay. There was some anxiety around that. But it all worked out. Camping seems a little easier this year, less running around preventing injury or death with C. We're already planning the next trip in a couple of weeks.

Butterfly Garden - Central America

A year ago. I shot this as a 5 Minute Project, but never got around to posting it. I could use a little greenery to brighten up February. It's always a low point in the year for me and it still seems so far until spring.

Summer living

I took far fewer photos this year at the lake than I normally do. I let go of a lot and focused more on feeling. Some of them are just a feeling of a moment, ephemeral and emotional. A few are just to be able to share with family out of town. More than anything, I just want to be able to hold each fleeting laugh, smile, sigh, breath in my mind.

Backcountry escapades

For my husband's 40th birthday this year, all he wanted was a monowalker.  We've been hiking and camping with the kids since they were born, but we couldn't figure out a way to carry five people's gear for a backpacking trip.  Even with ultra-light gear, it's still a lot. We didn't want to wait 5 years until they could all carry their own packs either. Hence, the monowalker.  If this is his midlife crisis gift, I'll take it. It's better than buying a sports car.

Our dream has been to take the kids on a multi-day trip in the alpine. We've done so many of these together over the years, and we really want to share that as a family. We researched, we plotted, we booked. We attempted to do a dry-run but aborted the mission due to mosquitoes. We packed, we unpacked. The preparation effort was equivalent to planning a 6 month polar expedition, I swear. By the time we hit the trail, I was exhausted. And a bit worried.

Somehow, we managed to hike to our alpine campground. A mere 6 kilometers that felt like 20. I shouldered a heavy pack, Aric pulled the mammoth rickshaw behind him. Moments (ok, several kilometers) were ugly, and I seriously questioned our sanity. I'm not going to lie, I was a bit grumpy. Why did we think this would be a good idea?  The minimum requirement for a backpacking trip should be an ability to actually walk the whole thing, right? Our kids are 7, 5, and almost 3. They whined, sat down on the trail, the 36 pound 2 year old required a shoulder ride from me (on top of my full pack). There were mosquitoes and horseflies. It was an awful lot of work to set up camp, cook, clean, hang food, wipe bums, etc for 5 people. Including one suicidal toddler.

But, the thing is, other moments were brilliant. Like playing 20 questions on the trail, realizing my daughter knows most of our local wildflowers, picking our "trail names", giving the kids camp jobs, reading Harry Potter in the tent at night, napping in an alpine meadow together, listening to pure silence, playing at sunrise and sunset along the lake shore, listening to the kids build booby traps in the trees... They loved it. And, knowing we got there with our own power was icing on the cake. I just hope those are the parts they remember.

Tofino

A magical week in the spring in Tofino. Sunny, hot, and only occasional fog in June. Not a drop of rain. I've never been disappointed here. Beaches, orcas, fish tacos, kayaking, more fish tacos. Tell me, what on earth is better than that?

I printed a book of our trip, and I thought I would share here.


The Streets of Granada, Nicaragua

From early morning to sunset, one day of shooting alone in the city of Granada. It's been so long since I've had to wander and observe alone without an agenda or children. Walking slowly through the 38 degree heat, feeling self-conscious and nervous with my camera, seeking refuge in the cool silence of churches along the way. Granada is different than the rest of Nicaragua with a touch of relative wealth and of tourism. In some ways and for some people, this city represents the history and the future of Nicaragua all wrapped in one. You'll see the disparity in my coming posts. Just wanted to share a bit from the streets.

The right to choose

I was walking around a job fair that a community had put on for us to see. Youth were showing us their skills and small businesses in electronics repair, baking, sewing, and hairdressing. This young mother sat to the side with a bundle in her arms. I asked to take a peek and found this gorgeous wee man. His mother is 17 years old. Adolescent pregnancy is extremely common in Nicaragua, and I met many others who became mothers at age 15 or 16. There are so many risks (to the mother, to the child, to the community) that are associated with adolescent pregnancy. And so many barriers to reducing the rate. It starts with giving a woman knowledge and therefore power over her body, her choices and her rights. It also starts with support and love, for this wee boy is the future.


Nicaragua

It's been an eventful month, spent in Nicaragua with Christian Children's Fund of Canada, and then Costa Rica with my family.

I have been privileged to sit on the Board of Directors for this charity for the last 7 years. They partner with local NGOs in 6 countries and work to eradicate poverty. CCFC and its partners spend 10-15 years in a community working to improve health, sanitation, education, employment and human rights protection. I had the distinct pleasure of visiting 9 communities that work with CCFC in Nicaragua.

I met so many Nicaraguans who are interested in changing their communities. They work hard to reduce violence, improve their access to health care, education, food, and they are involved every step of the way in determining their needs.  I believe the world is changed one person at a time, and my experiences in Nicaragua convinced me that change is happening for the better.

I have some stories and portraits to share of some incredible people I met.

This is Bello Amanecer School in Cuidad Sandino, near Managua. It is a relatively new school for primary and secondary students. These students told us their vision for their education, their rights as youth, and their hopes for their futures. And then, they danced.


5 minutes of getting into (and out of) a wood-fired hot tub

We spent a magical weekend in the mountains as a family. No internet, no TV. Just the mountains, cross country skiing, skating, and board games. And a wood fired hot tub. It took several hours to heat up, so we'd skate while we waited and stoke the fire from time to time. Then we'd strip down to our bathing suits and jump in. Once we got too hot, we (as in, the kids) would jump out and roll around in the snow until the cold was intolerable. The evening was absolute perfection, and I cherish these photos more than anyone could know.

A winter weekend away

A winter weekend away

We spent the weekend at a remote cabin in the Rockies. Just the five of us. It was exactly what we needed. I can't stop looking at these - they fill me with such joy. If I could stop time for these few days, I would. It was that magical.

Stay tuned for the second installment. The wood-fired hot tub needs a post of its own.

the first time

Everyone starts somewhere. So here I am with my very first post. Simple, straightforward, unfettered. This year, I am part of the 5 Minute Project, a photography collaboration documenting 5 minutes of.... anything. Our lives, our children, ourselves. To tell our stories, to see beauty everyday.  I am so excited to share what I see, I have so many ideas for this year, so many changes coming my way. Please come follow along and see what is being created by some really talented artists.

But for right now, this moment, here are 5 minutes stolen with my littlest. Five minutes of books and window-gazing at the view. The last is my first in-camera double exposure.