Valencia: Where even the animals are chillin’ 

After a couple days in Barcelona we decided to travel to the city of Valencia. The City of Arts and Sciences caught our interest. Plus, there have been protests in Barcelona and we thought it best to stay clear.

It was difficult not to run into protesters in Barcelona’s city centre, who were protesting for Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
Valencia is beautiful. Less tourist-y than Barcelona, less traffic, and a bit slower-paced. (Not that Barcelona was a swarming beehive.)

The view from outside our hotel.
I love the vibrant blue sky up against the colourful buildings!

We took a walking tour of the city…

Artists painting decorative fans (when not talking on cell phones).

…and then went to the BioParc, essentially Valencia’s zoo. Even the animals were laid back! But that was more likely because of the hot weather.

This giraffe was like six feet away. Amazing. The zookeepers must have smeared something on the trees because the giraffes were licking them like crazy.
These ring-tailed lemurs were one of my favourites. They were just up in the trees directly above us!
This gorilla wins the Chillaxin’ Award by a landslide.

At dinner we had beers with unicorns on them, and I had calamari, which was delicious but did not look at all like I had expected!

Unicorns make great beer.
I ate it all!

The next day we went to the local aquarium.

Oh Sharky, how you terrify me…

Last but not least, every city has its oddities. Here are three Valencian oddities we spotted:

1. The first hotel we stayed in was movie-themed. We got the Pinocchio room. (I had a compulsive urge to colour him in.)

2. An elaborate street performer.

3. A man playing a trombone under a bridge.

In the science museum is an ultra-cool sculpture of DNA:

And here are some extra shots of the city:

I tried paella!! But the kind without snails.


Darth Vader’s Guide to Bumblebees

Greetings, to whoever is reading this record of my discovery of this planet called…Earth

I am the almighty Darth Vader, and I have been seeking to destroy the Jedi across the universe. I have been in search of Jedi on this planet Earth and I believe I have finally found them.

They are very small, these Jedi. And covered in fur, like Ewoks or Wookies. (I hate Ewoks and Wookies…) 

They fly, these small Jedi. And make a BZZZzzzZZZzzz sound. Quite annoying, actually. (But then again, all Jedi are annoying…)

The Force is strong with them. Their navigational skills are impressive. And they wield a weapon that strikes like a compact Lightsaber, searing and burning the skin upon impact. 

Like any cowardly Jedi they only strike on the defensive, never on the offensive. Although they are quite stealthy: one of these small Jedi flew up inside one of my Stormtrooper’s uniforms. He died a painful, arm-flailing death.

My scientists tell me these small Jedi have a weakness for colours and fragrances. Rather odd. But then again I have a weakness for JiffyPop, so who am I to judge?

In the meantime, while on Earth, I guess I will stay out of my Hawaiian shirts and lay off the Chanel No. 5.

Looking back on 40

Happy Birthday to me! I’ve been 40 for a year now. I didn’t mind turning 40, and I don’t mind turning 41. But I’ve made a few observations over the past year…

  1. People refer to me as “Ma’am” more often.
  2. Each time I look in the mirror I find more white hairs.
  3. Wine makes cleaning more tolerable.
  4. I miss watching the howler monkeys in Costa Rica.
  5. Sometimes you have to make your own luck.
  6. Having patience is hard. Really hard. But it always seems to pay off.
  7. You can get a lot done in 10 minutes when you know you only have 10 minutes.
  8. I just can’t eat a bag of Doritos anymore.
  9. It hurts too much to overeat, period.
  10. Sleep is a glorious thing.
  11. So is a good cup of coffee.
  12. And fresh air.
  13. Aches and pains where I never had aches and pains before. For instance, I hurt my calf muscle running a little while ago. I’ve been running for years! What’s up with that??
  14. I need more motivation to exercise these days. But like patience, exercise always seems to pay off.
  15. Opportunities will sometimes come racing up to stare you in the face. Seize them, even though your fears might try to convince you otherwise. 
  16. I have come to appreciate shoes and a good tube of lipstick.
  17. Hearing my kids laugh is a precious thing and also one of my favourite things.
  18. If you stop caring about what other people think it’s amazing how much lighter you feel.
  19. Did I mention wine?
  20. I know I must be getting old when the hairstyles youngsters have these days seem stranger and stranger…
  21. If I don’t have time to squeeze in meditation, I can make other things a meditation. It’s not quite the same, but close.
  22. Kayaking on a lake is a real treat.
  23. I can’t fit into my favourite old pair of jeans from a few years ago. And that’s okay.
  24. Family is truly a precious, precious thing.
  25. Kids won’t be kids forever. It’s easy to forget that when you’re racing to get to work on time. Or when you’re woken up at 6:34 am on a Saturday…
    Me walking our dog, Spirit.

    The best necklace

    This morning I came downstairs in a rush, dressed for work, and ready to go. My four-year-old daughter suddenly appeared in front of me, held up a chunky kids’ necklace, and asked, “Momma, can you wear this today?”

    Screech! went the tires of my whizzing mind.

    I looked at the huge purple flowers. The sparkles. I did a quick comparison with my white blouse and cranberry skirt. Not my first choice of accessories.

    Then I looked at my daughter’s big doe-eyes. “I made dis myself,” she added.

    How could I refuse?

    So I slipped it on. Looked in the mirror. You know what? I thought, It works.

    My daughter’s eyes grew even bigger as she smiled.

    I resolved to wear the necklace all day.

    Two compliments and counting!

    Bunnies, best friends, and birthday parties

    So I’ve been woken up at around 5 a.m. the past couple mornings to a little voice beside my bed: “Momma, I want to go count the bunnies!” 

    Two mornings ago when the four-year-old’s belly was sore, she was up at the crack of dawn and I suggested that we take the dog for a little walk. “It’s your job to count the bunnies we see,” I told her. 

    Every morning now the four-year-old has been accompanying me on my dog walk and counting bunnies. I guess she believes in long-term employment.

    She’s also been noticing little things along the way.
    Like the two little pinecones that she picked up and carried home with her, “because they are best friends.”

    (By now we are up to four bunnies. Seven is our record.)

    Lexi said she picked these pine cones “because they are best friends.”
    Or a bunch of ants swarming on the sidewalk. “Maybe they’re having a party,” suggested the four-year-old. “A big birthday party!”

    (Eight bunnies! We passed our record!)

    “Momma, the moon is following us.”

    After about twenty minutes or so of walking, the four-year-old starts to lag behind. She has a trace of dark circles under her eyes thanks to her early morning risings. Oh, if only she would sleep in and get her rest! 

    But then we’d miss the bunnies.

    (Our new record is nine.)

    Little bouquets 

    “Momma, my belly is sore.”

    And so the four-year-old lay down on the couch at 5:24 p.m. When I checked on her at 5:27 p.m., she was completely zonked out.

    6:03 p.m.: A spaghetti dinner (one of the four-year-old’s favourites) is steaming away on plates at each place setting. I try to rouse the child. No success. I let her sleep.

    6:43 p.m.: “Lexi, do you want something to eat?” Nothing. She rolls over.

    At 7:23 p.m. I lift her off the couch and carry her up the stairs. I change her into her jammies and tuck her in. Maybe she’ll sleep in tomorrow morning, I muse.

    Yeah, right.

    12:17 a.m.: “Momma, my belly still hurts.” I open an eye to see the four-year-old standing beside my bed, three inches from my face. I ask, “Do you want something to eat?” I see her shadowy figure nod. “Want some toast?” Another nod. I drag myself out of bed.

    Somewhat bleary-eyed with a slight I-should-be-sleeping headache, I pop a piece of bread into the toaster oven. While it toasts and the timer ticks away, the four-year-old and I sit at the table. She is resting her chin on crossed arms. Her eyes are bright and alarmingly awake. Oh-oh, I think. Here it comes…

    “Momma, what’s six plus nine?”

    “Why does the moon look like a watermelon?”

    “Do you have a baby in your tummy?”

    “What’s two plus nine?”

    “Why do dogs have four legs but people have two legs?”

    My brain hurts trying to keep up. DING! Oh good, the toast is ready.

    The four-year-old starts sucking the butter off the toast, takes a few bites, and then is struck with an amazing dose of loquaciousness.

    “Did you know, Momma, that Olivia wore flip-flops to daycare but you’re not allowed to wear flip-flops at daycare but Olivia did and I have flip-flops too but I don’t wear them at daycare and do you remember when by nose bleeded when I jumped off the couch?…”

    Yes, sweetie. Just eat your toast, please.

    12:34 a.m.: Child is tucked back into bed.

    5:04 a.m.: “Momma, my belly doesn’t hurt anymore!”

    Child is alarmingly awake. Again. Rather than negotiate that she go back to bed, I get up and suggest we take the dog for a walk. Both the child and the dog are thrilled at the idea.

    The sun is just rising as we step out into the pre-heat morning coolness of mid-June. The calm and quiet is almost magical. I find myself thinking, The child has me all to herself–of course this is magical! “Let’s count how many bunnies we see on our walk,” I suggest. Child thinks this is a fantastic idea.

    As we pass by a neighbour’s lawn filled with daisies, the four-year old crouches down and before I could yelp a protest, she plucks a big fat daisy from the bunch. “Look, Momma! I picked this for you because I know you love beautiful flowers!” She holds it up with a smile that could light up the sky.

    I point out a plump rabbit hunched down by some bushes. The four-year-old gasps and holds up one finger. Soon we see another. She holds up two fingers. Then three, then four… “It’s your job to keep track,” I remind her. She falls a bit behind me and the dog as she peers at ants on the sidewalk, a leaf on a tree, and walks along a jaggedy crack. Rather than run she skips to catch up.

    5:23 a.m.: We are up to six bunnies and two more flowers for Momma’s bouquet.

    We see our last bunny as we make our way up our driveway. The child exclaims, “Seven!” The bunny high-tails it to the backyard.

    Once inside I put the little bouquet in some water and place it in front of my place setting at the dining room table. It is there to remind me of midnight loquaciousness over buttered toast, and magical walks while most were still asleep.

    5:42 a.m.: “Momma, let’s make PANCAKES!”

    I need a cup of coffee…

    Sometimes I wish you could step inside my mind

    Yesterday the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and a whole beautiful Saturday was stretched out in front of us.

    I sat with my morning coffee and felt dread seeping in. Why? Because my mind felt heavy and thick, I couldn’t concentrate, and my body felt immobilized.

    I was getting an emotional migraine. That’s the term my husband and I give to my Blue Days. 

    I hate them. And I especially hate them on beautiful sunny days. It makes me feel all the more guilty for having them.

    All of my insecurities, regrets, and I-can’ts come raging to the surface. All I want to do is shut myself in a room and cry. 

    And I usually do. Yesterday morning I cried for a while in the bathroom. Then I gathered myself together the best I could to get dressed and prepare for a day out with the kids. I told my husband it was a Blue Day (even just telling him helps). He offered to take the kids but I knew that today the kids would help: their smiles, their excitement at going to a big park, even their random, incessant questions (“What’s 5 with a hundred zeroes after it?” “Why do some people only have one kid?”).

    On my Blue Days I wish you could step inside my mind. See the nasty black fog. Hear the swirling voices blaming, accusing, and chastizing. And understand why I cry, and why I just…can’t. Why I just want to disappear, if only for that day.

    Then I would like you to give my mind a hug. Then please whip out your vacuum and suck up the voices, the fog, and all the tears-inducing I-can’ts. A temporary solution, I know, but at least you would be helping me enjoy the rest of the day migraine-free.

    I’ve experienced emotional migraines long enough to know that I can usually sleep them off and the next day will be migraine-free. I woke up this morning after a 12-hour sleep (!!!) as if nothing had happened. I would like you to step inside my mind again, dig around, and see if you can find this secret emotional-reset button. Maybe you could press it for me earlier in the process.

    Eight (or twelve?) reasons why I love June

    Today is June 1, the beginning of my favourite month of the year. 

    Why do I love June? Here are six reasons:

    1. It’s spring! The sun is warm! The grass is green! Flowers are blooming! (Wait, have I used up four reasons already?! I must be excited.)
    2. Bumblebees are out and about after their winter-long stasis. (Although I haven’t seen many thus far this year, making me somewhat worried…)
    3. There is the anticipation of summer.
    4. I can drink iced tea and not feel like it’s out of season.
    5. Daylight stretches until 9:30 or 10 pm, meaning I can sit on the porch and read for a bit after the kiddies are in bed.
    6. Three awesome ladies were born in June: my mom, my aunt, and my grandma (I miss you!).
    7. The month reminds me how lucky I am to have found my husband, since our anniversary is in June.
    8. The name “June” with its “oo” sound is gentle-sounding and pleasing to say. And I find that’s what June usually is: it’s gentle and pleasing.

    Prague: Antidepressant beer and bees

    My husband and I took a trip to Prague, Czech Republic: I had to attend a conference and he tagged along. I had a full conference-free day so we squeezed in two 3-hour walking tours: one of the Old Town and one of Prague Castle.

    Somewhere in Old Town, Prague

    I love the architecture! The cobblestone streets!

    The Astronomical Clock and our tour guide, Rob, in yellow.

    At one point a bee landed on our tour guide’s shoulder and stayed there for quite a while. I was surprised because it was cool and windy that day–not a good combo for bees.

    Spooky spires. Does Dracula live there?
    No, this is not a Dementor from Harry Potter…

    A view of the city.
    The exit to Prague Castle (the entrance was way less interesting, trust me).
    Changing of the guards.

    One of my favourite parts of the tour was when this truck pulled up near us…


    Apparently a group of monks nearby brew a beer they call “Antidepressant Beer,” and there are zombies on the van. A pretty hip bunch of monks if you ask me.

    My first traditional Czech meal. I have no idea what it’s called or how you pronounce it.

    Finally, when we returned, outside our hotel there was a big, blossoming, bee-friendly tree (apple tree?). Despite the chilly breeze I stopped to look for a minute or two. And there was a bee! I had to zoom in quite a bit, since she was rather up high, but here she is. She’s probably a honeybee or a solitary bee.


    Now to go enjoy a few (antidepressant?) Czech beers before we head back to Canada…

    Puppies and Homemade Muffins

    Yesterday my husband and I visited a litter of 14 puppies! They are six weeks old.

    The mom is a Rhodesian Ridgeback and the dad is a Boxer. And the puppies, as you can see, are out-of-this-world CUTE!

    Fourteen puppies = adorable chaos. I reached my hand into their pen and there was frantic clamboring to sniff/nip/lick my fingers (and sleeve, and rings…). They were so friendly and excited! I managed to pluck one out and hold him for a while. My heart grew ten sizes. Then I saw the runt, sitting alone off to the side, trying not to get run over by her bumbling siblings. We managed to coax her over and we held her, too. 

    Then we heard the wonderful/evil news: “Only two of the puppies are spoken for.”


    We have been dog-less since our old poochie passed away a year and a half ago. We know we’ll get another dog one day.

    We eventually left the puppies, miraculously without making any commitments. (Is there anything more persuasive than the pull of a puppy??)

    We talked and talked on the way home: Should we? Shouldn’t we?

    This morning I decided to bake some muffins: let my thoughts stir and mix around like the batter in the bowl. 

    Puppies are a lot of work.

    We have two young human puppies already.

    But a puppy would bring so much JOY!

    The kids would LOVE one.

    But puppies are a lot of work…

    The muffins are now done baking, but our decision has not.