Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summery Antics

I seem to have been very busy since April with one thing another...mostly enjoyable!

One of my annual favourite festivals in Toronto, HotDocs kicked off in the spring celebrating its 25th anniversary.  I always find the documentaries screened to be interesting and engaging.  This year was no exception and I appeared to chose well with many of selections making it into the Top 10 audience picks.  One of my favourites was called "Good Ol' Freda" and told the hitherto unpublished story of Freda Kelly, who was plucked from the many screaming Beatles fans that used to hang out in The Cavern nightclub in Liverpool to become their fan club secretary.  I was lucky enough to be sitting next to Freda herself at the screening and her story was really delightful as she stayed with The Beatles throughout the band's lifespan and has remained loyal ever since.

The start of summer in Canada is traditionally what's known as the May Two-Four weekend.  Named because its a long weekend close to May 24th and also becuase a two-four is a crate of beer, often taken on a trip and drunk to celebrate the start of summer!

This year the sun came out to play on time and along with two friends, Darlene and Giulia, we embarked on something of a watery adventure along the Trent-Severn waterways here in Ontario.  We rented a houseboat for the weekend and had great fun sailing through the lakes, rivers, canals and locks of the water system.  I was appointed captain as I had some sailing background.  To be honest, being in charge of a boat full of fuel plus crew and knowing the hazards yet not feeling the most confident about my navigational techniques was quite stressful!  Still, we managed to avoid any major incidents and it was a lovely weekend full of sun, sailing and barbecues.

Not long after I headed south across the border to attend the NAFSA Conference in St.Louis.  This is the third time I've been to this conference and although St.Louis didn't grab me that much I was very impressed by the key-note speaker they chose this year, Kofi Annan.  He spoke about the importance of education globally and reflected on his time as Head of the UN.  I found him to be as inspirational in the flesh as I have always considered him to be and it was a real privilege to be in the same room as one of The Elders, an organization that I admire greatly for the work they do.

I had quite an interesting journey home from St.Louis, in the US mid-west.  This region, particularly Oklahoma, was hit quite badly by tornadoes this year and I narrowly escaped one as well.  I flew out of St.Louis Airport just twenty minutes before the airport was hit.  As we took off, we skirted around the incoming storm and you could see it was going to be bad.  Business associates I know who were still at the airport awaiting departure had to go into the tornado shelters and were stuck for a few days until the airport re-opened.

Not long after, Mother Nature decided to again show her full force and, just two days before my friend and I were due to depart for Alberta, inflicted the ravaging floods that caused such havoc on the region.  Darlene and I debated whether we should still attempt to go on our vacation amid the state of emergency but, in the end, having weighed up the risks we decided to go as a) we wanted our holiday but b) we didn't want the businesses we had made bookings with to suffer and they all seemed to be in areas that were not affected.  Luckily, as we landed in Calgary the roads we needed to travel on re-opened.  We drove around the centre of Calgary itself but still saw the raging river that had burst its banks and was flooding the zoo and numerous homes.  What was even scarier was, as we drove down the earily empty Highway 2, seeing the town of High River that had been completely inundated and where lives were lost.  Access to the town was blocked by military tanks  and as we drove past we saw TV crews llined up along the hard-shoulder.  You could see the devastation with water up to the second floor of homes and trucks submerged completely apart from their roofs.

Eventually, however, we arrived at our destination near the US border close to a place called Cardston, one of the original Mormon settlements outside the US.  We spent two wonderful days pretending to be cowgirls at Rangeview Ranch.  The ranch is a real working red angus cattle ranch and also manages land for the Nature Conservancy Council here in Canada.  I loved getting back in the saddle and we rode out twice with Roger, the ranch owner, to check up on the cattle and the many newly-born calves.  We got involved rounding the cattle up and driving them to new pasture, and watched as Roger lassoed and treated a sickly calf and mother.  A truly wonderful experience and a great introduction to Alberta.

Next, we headed to Waterton Lakes National Park, also part of the joint US-Canada International Peace Park.  We thoroughly enjoyed hiking in the mountains here, seeing the views from the lakes and observing the wildlife, including catching a glimpse of a mother bear and her cubs.

We followed the Mormon Trail and ended up in an area called the Badlands, where we got to see some great geological features called Hoodoos and checked out the Royal Tyrrell Museum and its amazing collection of dinosaur fossils in Drumheller.  Perhaps my favourite stop in this area, however, was in a tiny place called Torrington, which has set up a wonderful little museum called the Gopher Hole Museum featuring dioramas of taxidermied gophers.  This made a very quirky and entertaining pit-stop on our journey north-west towards the Rockies.

In a moment of madness, I had declared that I wanted to camp out in a teepee.  Unfortunately, the floods had washed the teepee we'd booked away pretty much so instead we opted to spend the night sleeping on a rather manky buffalo-skin mat in a trapper's tent at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site.   Given the amount of stagnant water lying around, this was perhaps not one of my better ideas.  Put it this way, not much sleep was had as we spent most of the night fighting off mosquitoes before eventually retreating to the nearest Tim Horton's coffee shop at 6am!  Our campfire was fun though and we impressed ourselves with our ability to cook hot dogs, corn and s'mores in true Canadian-style.

We headed on to Jasper, which I loved, and stayed in the same cabins that Marilynn Monroe and Joe Di'maggio had frequented during her filming of River of No Return.  We had a super time driving through the mountains and past lakes as well as climbing to the top of one only to be beaten back by a hailstorm but then getting to see a spectacular rainbow in the Athabasca Valley below.


I thoroughly enjoyed the drive along the spectacular Icefields Parkway past the glaciers to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.  We ended up in Banff and had a wonderful few days staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel over the Canada Day national holiday period.

Our journey ended back in Calgary and we'd timed our visit to coincide with the Calgary Stampede.  After an enormous clean-up effort, the organizers had decided to go ahead with the Stampede despite the damage caused by the floods, which had totally inundated the Stampede grounds.  We had a fantastic few days in the city watching the parade, attending free Stampede Breakfasts, flirting with the cowboys and checking out the rodeo action.  I threw myself into the whole 'western' thing with my cowboy hat, checked shirt, jeans and cowboy boots - I even became a fan of country music!

Not long after returning back to Toronto, it seemed as if the Alberta floods followed us as on my first day back in the office, the heavens opened and Toronto was also submerged in floodwater with the biggest downpour in 50 years taking place in just a few short hours.  The valley close to my house flooded with commuters trapped on a train and needing the marine rescue service to help them get to safety, and all the classrooms in my department were flooded as pipes burst due to the sheer volume of water.  Being forced to shutdown due to flooding was not quite what we expected on the second  day of our busiest term!

Nevertheless, the sun eventually came out again and I've had a few very enjoyable weekends away since.  I headed up to Lake Simcoe in July for a very relaxing and fun yoga retreat and last weekend I spent a super few days in Montreal watching the Rogers Cup Men's Tennis Championship and exploring the city.

I came back to Toronto this week to attend and present a paper on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) at the International Hybrid Learning Conference.  My colleague Min and I were delighted to have our first paper published in the conference proceedings book this week - it's a great feeling to have something you've written published in a real book!

On that note, I shall finish as I look forward to a busy autumn with many more travels and adventures to be had.