Someone told me it’s all happening at the Zoo…

At the Zoo, lyrics by Paul Simon:
Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo
I do believe it, I do believe its true
Mmm-mmm-mm-mm, Mmm-mmm-mm,
Ohh ohh ohh, Mmm-Mmm-mmm
Its a light and tumbled journey from the east side to the park
Just to find a fancy ramble to the zoo
But you can take a crosstown bus if it’s raining or it’s cold
And the animals will love it if you do – If you do nowSomething tells me it’s all happening at the Zoo
I do believe it, I do believe it’s true

Our last full day in Portland was spent at the Oregon Zoo. Susan had been up and at work by 5:30 am. D’Arcy had woken in the night, thinking he’d slept until 7:30, but it turned out his watch had somehow been reset back to Atlantic Standard Time, and it was actually only 3:30am Portland time. He did go back to bed, but was up for the day shortly after 6:00. The rest of us “slept in” until close to 7am! A record! Phil was in charge of breakfast and looked after us well. We poked around home until Susan arrived from work around 10:30.
We went out into the neighbourhood and caught the bus to transfer to the the train to get to the Oregon Zoo. It was the coldest day we experienced in Oregon, around 3-4*C. We spent six hours exploring exhibits and looking at animals, who were very active. For the girls, the zoo was the highlight of their time in Portland! I noticed a geocache on the ground beside one exhibit and made the “mistake” of pointing it out to D’Arcy. By the end of our time there, he had found and logged in to three of them!
Waiting for the bus to the zoo. Disclaimer: this photo was staged by their father. They do not have access to that many electronics!

Waiting for the bus to the zoo.

Black Bear

Black Bear

Sea Lions

Sea Lions

Polar Bears

Polar Bears

"Petting" the leopard

“Petting” the leopard

Hippo

Hippo

Rhino

Rhino

Lion

Lion

We stopped close to suppertime to have a little coffee/hot cocoa warm-up break in the cafe. By this time, despite the extra warm clothes Susan had provided us with, we were very cold – especially our feet. We were staying in the park to see the “Zoo Lights” a display of over one million LED lights set up around the park. By the time we got back outside, some cloud cover had settled in and it actually felt warmer. The lights were amazing and our photos don’t do them justice.

Susan, Phil, D'Arcy and myself with the girls at the cafe.

Susan, Phil, D’Arcy and myself with the girls at the cafe. Olivia is at that stage where every pose for a photo is a little crazy.

Playing on the sculptures outside the lion exhibit.

Playing on the sculptures outside the lion exhibit.

Some of the lights as dusk fell. Susan has asked Phil for one of the lit-up crocodiles for their front lawn next year...

Some of the lights as dusk fell. Susan has asked Phil for one of the lit-up crocodiles for their front lawn next year…

Christmas lights everywhere!

Christmas lights everywhere!

Our children in front of an LED display that reminded us of home.

Our children in front of an LED display that reminded us of home.

A dragon for Emily W.

A dragon for Emily W.

A Christmas wreath arch

A Christmas wreath arch

By the time we left the zoo everyone was tired and hungry. We took the train back into downtown Portland and the girls decided they were still awake enough to go out to dinner one last time. We tried to get back in to Pastini’s, but the wait was 45 minutes and we didn’t think the girls would make it that long. Instead, we went to a pub/sports bar called Buffalo Wild Wings. There, we had my favourite beer of the trip so far – a Butte porter that I’ll have to ask Phil the exact name of. They had an allergy menu and we were able to order “safe” boneless wings & sauce for Olivia with veggies on the side. She tried a couple bites of her chicken and decided she didn’t want it – which I should have taken as a sign. She did, however, eat her veggies. She also asked for a glass of water.

We took the bus home and immediately got into our pyjamas. We were just about to settle in to chat before bed, when Olivia came to me and told me her back was itchy. I looked and her upper back was covered with hives. We sprang into high alert and I gave her a Reactine (which she has been taking preventatively on this trip and it was time for anyway). About twenty minutes later, Susan gave me some Benadryl to top her up and we had the epi-pens on standby. We marked the hives on her back with pen to track if they were spreading, and I monitored to see if she developed any other symptoms of anaphylaxis. She fell asleep in my lap and I took her to bed, putting her to sleep between us so that I would know if anything changed.

One of my favourite photos - Phil & Sarah, deep in conversation at the restaurant.

One of my favourite photos – Phil & Sarah, deep in conversation at the restaurant.

Hives all over Olivia's upper back after supper.

Hard to tell, but a photo of the hives all over Olivia’s upper back after supper.

Luckily she had a good night; we think the hives were from cross-contamination. We suspect that due to the sheer volume of food going out, that her chicken was fried in the fryer rather than baked; her egg allergy recognizes the protein in any form. We consider ourselves very lucky that her reaction did not go any further than it did, and also that we were with two nurses who helped to keep us calm!

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A “Gorge”ous Day

Boxing Day in Portland has a different feel than at home as well – the weather and the scenery were “gorge-ous”! A normal Boxing Day sees us getting up in the morning and having leftover Christmas Dinner for breakfast while finishing the cleanup from the night before. Some years we have B&B guests which means we’re up serving breakfast and have to be dressed and on our best behaviour.

At home, all stores are closed on Boxing Day, so most people rarely go anywhere.  In Portland, however, everything was open on Boxing Day, but without the sales we find on the 27th, so stores were not crazy. (I guess the Americans get that all out of the way on “Black Friday”.)

Regardless of the fact we’ve been getting up before six, it seems like it takes until at least ten before the eight of us have all eaten, showered, and are ready to go! However, we’re on vacation, so what’s the rush? Phil and Susan, luckily, are very laid back and don’t seem to be too concerned by our slow mornings. Breakfast was a  less labour intensive than the two days before, as we were still full from Christmas dinner: we had toast and leftover berry pie. Someone may have had a bowl of whipped cream, but whatever happens in Portland stays in Portland…

Our first stop was the Columbia Outlet. Both Columbia and Nike are based in Portland. D’Arcy & Sarah each got new winter jackets at great prices. D’Arcy hasn’t had a warm winter jacket in years, so I insisted he buy it, despite his insistence that he didn’t need it. I argued that he’s the one who does all of our shovelling, and it is a nice jacket, far less expensive than we could buy at home; Sarah’s was $25.

From the Columbia outlet, we drove to the Oregon countryside to visit the gorges. How stunning! As we drove (Phil & the boys; Susan & the girls) we could see Mt. Hood, and it’s beautiful, snowy peak. We stopped along a number of scenic vistas and visited different waterfalls in Oregon before crossing the Bridge of the Gods into Washington State. The beauty that surrounded us was everything that I had in my imagination before we’d arrived.

In Washington, Phil had wanted us to eat at Walking Man Brewing Company, which brews beer he likes. Unfortuately, it didn’t open until 4pm and we were there an hour too early. Instead, we went to a little pizza place around the block where they served the brewpub’s beer. It was delicious! We ordered three large pizzas: cheese for the girls, a vegetarian, and volcano (sausage, pepperoni, jalapeños, and pineapple), devouring every morsel! On the way to the washroom, the kids discovered a mini arcade, so played “Ms. PacMan” and a driving game.

We drove home as dusk fell, stopping at a look-off so we could see where we’d been. The girls drove Susan crazy, singing a song about “My Little Pony”, but again, what happens in Portland needs to stay in Portland… (Or never be sung again, eh Susan?!) 😉

When we arrived home, I played some Uno with the girls and got them ready for bed while D’Arcy, Phil, Susan, and the boys went out to the neighbourhood to do some shopping. We all went to bed fairly early, knowing that our last full day together would be a busy one.

Portland Women's Forum lookoff. The Columbia River; Oregon on the right, Washington State on the left.

Portland Women’s Forum lookoff. The Columbia River; Oregon on the right, Washington State on the left.

Family shot in the sun and wind, Columbia River in the background.

Family shot in the sun and wind, Columbia River in the background.

The view from Vista House.

The view from Vista House.

At Latourell Falls, Oregon

At Latourell Falls, Oregon

The beauty around us was breathtaking.

The beauty around us was breathtaking.

Alex got a little thirsty...

Alex got a little thirsty…

Mulnomah Falls, Oregon

Mulnomah Falls, Oregon

Me with my cousin, Phil

Me with my cousin, Phil

Crossing the Bridge of the Gods, across the Columbia river from Oregon to Washington State.

Crossing the Bridge of the Gods, across the Columbia river from Oregon to Washington State.

Looking back at where we'd  been, at dusk from Washington State.

Looking back at where we’d been, at dusk from Washington State.

Home is where the heart is…

Christmas morning dawned bright and early in Portland. Olivia came over to our bed at around 5am, wondering if they were allowed to go downstairs yet. I told her that they needed to wait until 6am. She came back ten minutes later, and then ten minutes later again. Finally we all got up and ready to head downstairs. It turned out Santa had found them in Portland! Because this is a no-gifts Christmas their Santa gifts were the only ones they would be opening. We tried to Skype my parents, but Skype was overloaded at the time. Instead, we videotaped it and sent them the link. Oh, technology…

Santa ate the cookies, took the plate with the carrots, drank the milk, and left a note. It also appeared that he helped himself to a local beer. We figure one of the elves was helping to drive the sleigh...

Santa ate the cookies, took the plate with the carrots, drank the milk, and left a note. It also appeared that he helped himself to a local beer. We figure one of the elves was helping to drive the sleigh…

Santa found them in Portland! Opening their stockings Christmas morning.

Santa found them in Portland! Opening their stockings Christmas morning.

Santa brought the usual stocking fillers: toothbrushes and toothpaste, hair clips, shampoo, candy, magazines, etc. The boys received new orange curling shirts with a note from Santa that new brooms would be waiting for them when they get home. The girls each received a Disney princess dress; Olivia’s is Ariel, and Sarah’s is Rapunzel. Phil & Susan gave each of the kids an Oregon t-shirt, an apron for me, and a ball cap for D’Arcy.

After the stockings were opened, we Skyped with Ginna & Beanah then Face-timed with Martha & Chloe. My Auntie Laurel and Uncle Russ called from San Antonio, and Phil & Susan also had calls from their daughter Lori and her family, and some of Susan’s family from North Carolina. We had some breakfast and then Susan & I started prepping Christmas Dinner while everyone else made Christmas crackers. We made dressing, mashed potatoes, and started the 20LB! turkey to cook in the over. Sarah & Olivia delivered a Christmas cracker to Griffin, the 2-year-old next door whom they had met on our first night here before helping me set the table for dinner.

While Susan & I got Christmas dinner prepped, everyone else made Christmas crackers.

While Susan & I got Christmas dinner prepped, everyone else made Christmas crackers.

We spent the early afternoon hiking up Mount Tabor, a once-active volcano, that has been dormant for 300,000 years. It’s a fairly easy hike, which begins about a mile-and-a-half from Phil & Susan’s house, and then has a vertical rise of about 700 feet. I was amazed to see bushes of rosemary in people’s yards that looked more like small trees! Some of the paths in the park reminded me of being in Victoria Park in Truro, but the views of the mountains were stunning. Unfortunately, Olivia had a tumble from her “balance-beam” curb, and didn’t want to go any further. A shoulder ride from her cousin made things better.

Nearing the top, Olivia was done, so we left the group while they hiked to the summit. We met them at a rest area which had a playground and bathrooms. It was amazing how quickly she turned around with a visit from those two places. When the rest of the group met up with us, the clouds parted and we could see Mount Saint Helen’s in the distance. The last time I was on the west coast of the US, was in 1980 shortly after it had erupted, and I remember the ash and police cars with oxygen tanks on the side. Susan went ahead of us to check on the turkey while the kids burnt off some energy playing on the playground before we walked and cartwheeled back home.

Curb "balance beam" accident. No blood; good to go.

Curb “balance beam” accident. No blood; good to go.

Up we go to the top of Mount Tabor.

Up we go to the top of Mount Tabor.

The views were breathtaking.

The views were breathtaking.

A wonderful way to spend Christmas afternoon.

A wonderful way to spend Christmas afternoon.

We walked past a resevoir.

We walked past a reservoir.

Sunbeams bursting through the trees.

Sunbeams bursting through the trees.

Monkey bars!

Monkey bars!

Checking to see where we had been.

Checking to see where we had been.

Standing in front of a sequoia tree.

Standing in front of a sequoia tree.

D'Arcy & Phil

D’Arcy & Phil

The turkey took longer to cook than we had anticipated, so we sat around chatting and the kids amused themselves. Olivia’s Ariel dress was a little bit too big, so D’Arcy sewed a tuck into it so it would fit her better and not be as revealing. US Netflix is different from Canadian, so the kids started watching movies and playing games. D’Arcy had a short nap. Finally, the feast was ready and we all sat down at the table together for a wonderful meal of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and salad. For dessert, we had a chocolate and a three-berry pie with lots of whipped cream.

After dinner, we helped cleanup and played Scategories before heading to bed shortly after 8pm! Olivia didn’t make it that long, falling asleep on the floor of the front hall… The time change is brutal!

Getting ready for dinner.

Getting ready for dinner.

Christmas Dinner in Portland, Oregon

Christmas Dinner in Portland, Oregon

Sarah, queen of the crowns.

Sarah, queen of the crowns.

A tuckered out Olivia.

A tuckered out Olivia.

Although we missed our family at home, and Alex insisted it didn’t really feel like Christmas most of the day, I found it one of the most relaxing we’ve ever had. I was happy to be away from the trappings of gifts and expectations, and although there were some yearly traditions we missed, we found that what really and truly matters at Christmas is that we were together. From East Coast to West Coast, home is where the heart is…

Hats off (or on) to Christmas Eve!

Our home away from home; Phil & Susan's house in Portland, Oregon.

Our home away from home; Phil & Susan’s house in Portland, Oregon.

We all managed to stay asleep until D’Arcy woke up at 4am local time; 8am at home. Unfortunately, he managed to wake the rest of us, but we tried to stay quiet upstairs so we wouldn’t wake Phil & Susan. Luckily Phil & Susan, both nurses, are naturally early risers, so we were all downstairs by 6am. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve morning breakfast of homemade cherry-almond scones, fruit, bacon, juice, toast, hot cocoa, and coffee. We were so happy to have had a great night’s sleep in a cozy, warm bed and to be clean after long, hot showers! We had to plan our day out somewhat carefully, as we hoped to join the McDonahs for the annual Christmas Eve get together and cousin gift-exchange through technology.

The girls were getting antsy to get out and explore and were out of their element until Santa sent Phil the following text:

New technology - who knew Santa now texts to check on children's behaviour?!

New technology – who knew Santa now texts to check on children’s behaviour?!

We decided to go out to explore the immediate neighbourhood. They live within walking distance to many neat shops and restaurants. Our first stop was the favourite; a hat shop. We spent a good amount of time there, and the kids had a ball.  Alex ended up buying a fez and Olivia bought herself a black fascinator.

Alex and his fez. He fits right in, wearing it in Portland.

Alex and his fez. He fits right in, wearing it in Portland.

Sarah and her cowgirl hat.

Sarah and her cowgirl hat.

Olivia in fascinator #1

Olivia in fascinator #1

Sarah in a poinsettia fascinator.

Sarah in a poinsettia fascinator.

Olivia wearing a New Year's headband.

Olivia wearing a New Year’s headband.

Funny how Evan did not allow his photo to be taken in one of the outrageous hats…

From the hat store, we went to Powell’s Book Store, where Sarah bought herself a journal, and I found a craft kit to make Christmas crackers for Christmas dinner; Susan had never heard of them. We loved window shopping, looking at the vintage clothing, exotic shops, new plant life, and people completing their last minute shopping. I was relaxed and happy that I wasn’t doing all the normal last-minute craziness that I would usually be trying to complete on Christmas Eve.

We've been fascinated by some of the plant life here on the west coast.

We’ve been fascinated by some of the plant life here on the west coast.

After our neighbourhood tour, we went back to Phil & Susan’s in time to take part in the annual McDonah family gathering and cousin gift-exchange via “Facetime”. It was fun. We got to be part of the festivities and talk to everyone there, (except for our great nephew Phinn who was camera shy) and still felt like we were part of it, despite being so many miles away.

Face timing with the McDonahs during the annual Christmas Eve gift exchange.

Face timing with the McDonahs during the annual Christmas Eve gift exchange.

When we finished with our call, we got ready to go into downtown Portland to do some more exploring. We hopped on the bus, located just a few steps from the house.

Waiting for the bus to go into downtown Portland.

Waiting for the bus to go into downtown Portland.

Portland is beautiful, despite the fact it was quite foggy. It is known as the City of Bridges, with nine bridges spanning the Willamette River. We crossed over at the Hawthorne Bridge, a steel design with a drawbridge. It just happened that the drawbridge was up, so we got off the bus and walked over the bridge.

The drawbridge we walked over.

Another of the Portland bridges, looking from the drawbridge we walked over.

Walking across the drawbridge. Someone gets a lift from her big brother.

Walking across the drawbridge. Someone gets a lift from her big brother.

We walked along the riverfront to the downtown, outdoor Christmas craft market. It felt really good to be outside in the crisp fresh air, and to be getting some exercise. Spirits were high. Alex spotted a telescope and couldn’t help himself. He loves those things!

Alex can't walk by a telescope, despite the fact the view was pretty foggy.

Alex can’t walk by a telescope, despite the fact the view was pretty foggy.

Evan & Olivia taking in the view.

Evan & Olivia taking in the view.

Sarah

Sarah

It felt good to be outside and walking around after being cooped up for a few days.

It felt good to be outside and walking around after being cooped up for a few days.

We enjoyed the Christmas market and even made a couple of small purchases. Each of the kids has their own money to use for souvenirs so for the most part choices are being made wisely. We did have a stalemate for a few minutes when Olivia spotted duck tape wallets being sold for $15 and wasn’t going to leave until she bought one. Santa had to send another text before she’d move.

We encountered many interesting people along the way, including a woman who “charged” Alex with having an attempted moustache, and Phil for being too good-looking. She gave out stickers, and Alex & Phil each gave her $1. Another man persuaded us to enter into his tent and he equipped us all with slings on our lower back. I have to admit that one felt really good – I just wasn’t willing to spend $65 (a deal for today only, as it was Christmas Eve)!

We found the perfect gift for someone special - a stained glass garden dragonfly.

We found the perfect gift for someone special – a stained glass garden dragonfly.

A women spreading joy at the Christmas craft market. She "charged" Alex with having an attempted moustache and Phil with being too good looking.

A women spreading joy at the Christmas craft market.

S

This guy was determined to sell us this sling that would cure all of our back problems. I have to admit - it did feel really great!

This guy was determined to sell us this sling that would cure all of our back problems.

After the craft market, we passed Chinatown and the original Voodoo Doughnuts location. Unfortunately for Alex, the line was out the door and down the block, so we did not go in. We had a laugh when Sarah declared she knew exactly what their tagline means, and also when walking by the “Pussycat Show” she thought it would be fun to go see. Wrong kind of pussycats!

The famous Voodoo Doughnuts store. Sarah said she knew exactly what their tagline means! Yikes!

The famous Voodoo Doughnuts store. Sarah said she knew exactly what their tagline means…

The line for doughnuts went around the block, so we did not stop in, much to Alex's disappointment.

The line for doughnuts went out the door and down the street, so we did not stop in, much to Alex’s disappointment.

We did, however, stop in at Powells City of Books, the largest new and used bookstore in the world. It has over 1,000,000 titles and takes up an entire city block! We could have spent an entire day there, but I bought some postcards (I’m sending those instead of Christmas cards this year).

After the bookstore, we went to a restaurant/pub called “Henry’s Tavern” for a Christmas Eve drink. The kids had hot chocolate (Olivia had a “Dr. Pepper”), and the grown-ups continued our craft beer tour of Portland. The kids were getting tired and cranky by this point, so we ended up changing seating arrangements a couple of times to separate them. We decided that we should probably go somewhere to feed the animals before the behaviour got worse.

Our beer tour of Portland continued when we stopped for a mid-afternoon drink at "Henry's". I had a rhubarb-pear hard cider.

Our beer tour of Portland continued when we stopped for a mid-afternoon drink at “Henry’s”. I had a rhubarb-pear hard cider.

Phil and Susan suggested a restaurant called “Pastini Pastaria” which is a local chain featuring Italian food. The best part? The menu was full of “safe” items for Olivia’s allergies! It’s not often that she goes to a restaurant and actually has choices of what she can order! I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone from or in the Portland area with food allergies. We had a bit of an adventure on the way to the restaurant when we ran to catch the trolly and only six of us made it. Phil & D’Arcy texted that they would meet us there. Meanwhile on the trolly, there was an incident with a man who wanted to bring his grocery cart on the trolly, and the driver who would not allow it. It was an interesting learning experience for the kids!

The allergy menu from Pastini's Pastaria, a local chain.

The allergy menu from Pastini’s Pastaria, a local chain.

The Portland Christmas tree.

The Portland Christmas tree – someone was getting tired!

We headed home by way of the Portland Christmas tree and stopped for a photo. When we got home to Phil & Susan’s the kids quickly got into their pyjamas and got ready for Santa, leaving out a glass of milk, cookies, and some carrots for the reindeer by the fireplace. We had some excitement when “Rocky Raccoon” stopped by the back step to eat cat food Phil & Susan leave out for a neighbourhood stray. The kids had been tracking Santa on Norad throughout the day, and when they went to bed, he was delivering gifts in the Amazon; he had already delivered gifts to Nova Scotia. The kids were asleep by 8pm. One of the easiest Christmas Eve bedtimes ever!

Rocky Racoon paid a visit to Phil & Susan's back porch before bedtime.

Rocky Racoon paid a visit to Phil & Susan’s back porch before bedtime.

Phil, Susan, D’Arcy & I stayed up until about 10:30 hanging out, doing the things that parents do on Christmas Eve while visiting and having a beer. When we went to bed, Santa was in Arkansas.

Annual McDonah Family Christmas Card, version 2013

Merry Christmas 2013 from the Belgravia McDonahs!

If you follow our blog at all, you know that these greetings are coming to you from beautiful Portland, Oregon, where we are spending some quality family time together, accumulating memories instead of things. I didn’t get to send Christmas cards before I left, so we’ll send some postcards and post our yearly Christmas letter here. And what a busy year it has been!

D’Arcy and I are now both teaching with permanent contracts in Pictou. He teaches Grade 7, and I am faculty in the School of Business at the Nova Scotia Community College. I teach communication, Entrepreneurship, Contemporary Business Issues,  Psychology, Sociology, and Tourism electives. I also run the “Payday Pub” for faculty every other week. We commute together and enjoy the two hours we get to spend alone with one another each day.

Evan is 15 and in Grade 9. He had a huge growth spurt this year, and is getting close to six feet tall. He recently got his braces off and the girls are wondering who he’ll be taking to prom this spring. This is the first year he had a report card with percentages and his lowest mark was a 90 in Child Studies. He & Alex curl together six days a week. Their team qualified with five others to be in the 2015 Canada Games qualifier this Spring. They’ll have two weekends of competition between the qualifying teams this winter, and Team Nova Scotia will be decided in March. Go Team Spinney!

Alex is 13 and in Grade 7. In addition to curling with Evan, he plays clarinet, saxophone, and piano, and still takes voice lessons. I was very proud in June when he sang “O Canada” in English, French, Mi’kmaq, and ASL at my campus’ convocation. He did very well at the Truro Music Festival in the spring, earning two major awards at the final concert.  He also had parts in two musicals this year. He is excited to be participating in a student exchange to Sao Luiz, Brazil, in March with D’Arcy’s school and has raised most of the money for his ticket himself. We’ll have a boy from Brazil with us in January. D’Arcy was asked to be a chaperone, so they will be traveling together. I am so jealous!

Sarah is nine and in Grade 3. She is constantly dancing, taking ballet, jazz, and highland. This month she had a role as a Sugarplum Fairy attendant in “The Nutcracker”. She also curls and plays piano and trumpet. In June, she and her cousin Neil had their First Communion together and were fortunate to have all their grandparents in attendance.

Olivia is seven and in Grade 1. She also dances ballet and jazz and was one of the youngest performers in The Nutcracker. (The cutest field mouse you ever saw!) She started curling last year and had a beautiful slide her first time on the ice. A lifetime of hanging out in curling clubs watching her brothers, perhaps? She has been outgrowing a number of her allergies and is now “only” allergic to peanuts, some treenuts, eggs, and soy. Her doctor feels she will outgrow her treenut allergy, but will probably live with her peanut, egg, and soy allergy for life. Olivia has a pet guinea pig, Caroline, whom she adores.

Some of the highlights of our year included:

  • D’Arcy & I each getting permanent positions at our schools in Pictou
  • Evan & Alex qualifying for continue on in the 2015 Canada Games Process
  • Anne finished another course at Cornell Universtiy in Ithaca, NY. (Strategic Financial Management for Restaurants and Hotels). Just one more course to go to finish up!
  • We hosted Theresa’s 40th surprise birthday party – and managed to actually surprise her! The planning & deceit leading up to it was Oscar worthy!
  • D’Arcy turned 50 in November!
  • Alex became a teenager in PEI this summer. He & Evan attended curling camp at UPEI in August.
  • D’Arcy spent three weeks in Moncton in July marking the National Science Exams – 32,000 of them!
  • Evan was chosen to take part in a “Podium Project” where he spent the summer getting extra athletic training, nutrition training, and sports psychology training. There were 48 kids involved and he came 11th out of 28 males.
  • We have an above-ground pool, a gift from our friend Ruth.
  • Sarah & Olivia ran the 4.2km kids run at the Bluenose Marathon for the first time this year. Their brothers ran it too, and the four of them held hands the whole way.
  • D’Arcy ran his first half-marathon in May, with the encouragement and support of his sister Erin who ran it with him. (They did not hold hands that I’m aware of.)
  • Belgravia Bed & Breakfast won “Best B&B” at the Truro & Colchester Chamber of Commerce’s Best of Colchester awards for the fourth year in a row.
  • My father built a bunkhouse at our property in Tatamagouche, and we had the opportunity to spend a cozy night camping inside in a rainstorm.
  • Olivia is progressing with her allergies, having outgrown pineapple, almonds, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans, and walnuts this summer. Our hope is that she will outgrow all treenuts, and just remain with peanut, egg, and soy allergies for life.
  • The girls donated their ponytails this summer for “Locks of Love”
  • Our niece Meghan was married to Rob in Halifax, and our nephew Pat was married to Jackie in Santorini, Greece. Our nephew Chris & his wife Lisa welcomed baby Hannah into the family. The love continues to grow.
  • Our annual McDonah family Thanksgiving dinner found 37 family and friends around our table.

We had some sadness in our lives this year as well, losing our dear friend, Gerry, to pancreatic/liver cancer, and our beloved Uncle Dick (my mother’s brother) to a heart attack. We are reminded to live each day to the fullest and to laugh and love as hard as each of these special men in our lives did.

We wish all of our friends, family, and guests a very Merry Christmas and that each of you experience faith, hope, love, and joy in 2014.

D’Arcy, Anne, Evan, Alexander, Sarah & Olivia

In no particular order, some of our favourite photos from the year:

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Dinner with our B&B friends. Gerry, to the left of me, passed away in July. We miss him terribly.

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All four kids brought medals, trophies, and certificates home from the curling banquet this year.

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I was served breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day, complete with guest feedback form.

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Olivia had two bouts of pneumonia that landed her in hospital – one after running the Bluenose Marathon kids’ race, and the second after her spring dance recital.

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Alex as the police officer in his school’s production of “Annie” with his friend Myles.

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Sarah’s First Communion.

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Sarah with her best friend and cousin, Neil.

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Family photo, June 2013

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Dancers after their spring recital. Olivia has pneumonia here.

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Best B&B in Colchester, 2013

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Alex and me at NSCC Pictou Campus convocation before Alex sang “Oh Canada”.

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Summertime fun in the sprinkler. We had a beautiful summer.

Alex, Sarah, and Olivia perform "So Long; farewell" at the Truro Music Festival

Alex, Sarah, and Olivia perform “So Long; farewell” at the Truro Music Festival

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The “Before” Locks of Love photo

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The “after” Locks of Love haircuts. Olivia had hers straightened and Sarah had hers curled.

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A mini-reunion with my university roommates this summer.

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Boating in New Brunswick while visiting the Roses.

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Evan had quite an experience tubing with his mother and Theresa. This photo makes me laugh. Every time!

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Sibling fun in the Tatamagouche bunkhouse during a thunderstorm.

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Our property in Tatamagouche is finally getting more use.

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Dad and the kids on an early morning canoe ride.

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The wedding of our niece Meghan to her husband, Rob.

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Family canoe trip along the French River.

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A beautiful Nova Scotian summer day in the canoe.

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PEI vacation 2013; Alex’s 13th birthday

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Setting up our pool on Labour Day weekend.

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The first dip was a little chilly!

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Picking carrots. All of the vegetables for our 37 person Thanksgiving came from our own backyard.

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The table set for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. So much to be thankful for!

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Our Thanksgiving Dinner guests before we went to the table.

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Team Spinney: Coach Chuck, skip Drew, mate Evan, second Adam, and lead Alex.

Alex selling his homemade Christmas cards at the craft fair to raise money for his trip.

Alex selling his homemade Christmas cards at the craft fair to raise money for his trip.

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The girls’ fan club came to see them at The Nutcracker: Aunt Erin, Aunt Shannon, and Grandma McDonah

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A pre-Christmas visit with their McDonah grandparents before going away on their trip.

Our family with my parents; June 2013.

Our family with my parents; June 2013.

Time Warp

(December 23) This four hour time change is making us feel like we’re in a time warp! Our body clocks are all messed up…

After 15 hours of travel through the night, we made it to Portland, Oregon just before 11am local time (3pm at home)! My cousin Phil, and his wife Susan, were waiting to greet a tired but excited crew at the airport! We hugged and went to see if our bags had arrived. We really had low expectations, not thinking that there would have been any chance to get the bags transferred in the four minute layover we had in Chicago. We were stunned that when the conveyor belt started to move, our lobsters, booster seats, and luggage were out first! We started for the vehicles and realized that we had left our camera bag (with our passports in it!!) on the plane. D’Arcy and Phil ran back into the airport to see if they could retrieve it while Susan, the girls and I loaded up the car. Luck was definitely on our side, because the cleaning crew had found it and D’Arcy was able to pick it up very quickly. Phew! We consider ourselves lucky that we realized we left it while still at the airport! What a hassle that could have turned out to be…

We drove to Phil & Susan’s which is in the Southeast side of Portland (Hawthorne District), in walking distance to many different shops and restaurants. The girls were excited to see a palm tree and I couldn’t believe the size of the rhododendrons! Many trees are covered in moss because of the amount of moisture in the air.  The kids thought they wanted to get out and explore, so we walked to a neat place called “Jam” to have some all-day-breakfast for lunch. It had a fun atmosphere, tasty beer, and great menu. It was humorous to watch the kids fade quickly though. Sarah had ordered french toast and the slices of bread must have been two inches thick! She was having trouble cutting it, and when Alex, sitting across from her, made a comment to her about her strawberries ending up on the table, she got into a snit and then fell asleep – immediately – sitting up at the table! The boys had ordered “Breakfast Roulette” where the server makes the choice. Evan ended up with a breakfast sandwich, hash browns, and lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry sauce; Alex had pumpkin pancakes with a marscapone filling. When we woke Sarah at the end of the meal, she tried to curl up on the couch they had by their front door. We walked back to Phil & Susan’s in the West Coast mist, with the boys piggy backing their sisters.

Lunch at "Jam" on Hawthorne

Lunch at “Jam” on Hawthorne

We made the decision to chill out for awhile, put on pyjamas and watch a Christmas movie. Soon, everyone except for Sarah and Susan were dozing. When the movie was over, Evan, Alex, and Olivia were each in deep sleeps. Sarah occupied herself we started cooking the lobsters. I hadn’t realized that Susan had never actually held a live lobster, when she’s in Nova Scotia, they’re usually already cooked for her. These ones were particularly feisty! While we were cooking the lobsters, a couple of friends came over and we tasted a selection of local beer that Phil on-hand had for us to try. Sarah and Susan hung our stockings on their fireplace, and I marvelled at the fact Sarah was still awake!

Susan isn't sure about meeeting her first live lobster; she prefers them on her plate! :-)

Susan isn’t sure about meeeting her first live lobster; she prefers them on her plate! 🙂

Alex, Olivia and Evan slept from 3pm on Monday until 5:30am on Tuesday after our long travel days.

Alex, Olivia and Evan slept from 3pm on Monday until 5:30am on Tuesday after our long travel days.

The four adults ate our lobsters with butter, bread, cheeses, antipasta, and local beer. It was the perfect end to a long, what-seemed-to-take-forever,  journey! D’Arcy & I went to bed at 8:00pm local time (midnight at home) and wondered how long the kids would remain asleep, and if they’d make go through the night. (They did – waking at 5:30 local time the next day.) I know that I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, ready to recharge for the exciting days to come!

From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the traffic is terrific… (The day that didn’t end)

We had a slow start to our morning at Don & Cathy’s, but what a treat for D’Arcy and me to have someone preparing breakfast for us for a change! Cathy (with Olivia’s help) made the most decadent raised cinnamon rolls with a carmel sauce. Definitely a future menu offering at our B&B! We got showered and changed and re-arranged our suitcases to be ready for our flights.  The kids played Uno and chatted with Cathy while we got ready. Their house is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it made me realize that I do miss having our own decorations up this year.

Olivia & Cathy preparing the cinnamon rolls to be ready to bake the following morning.

Olivia & Cathy preparing the cinnamon rolls to be ready to bake the following morning.

We had to leave late morning because I had ordered some lobsters to take to Phil & Susan’s with us and they had to be picked up in Boston at lunchtime. Funny story – when I had called to order the lobsters locally from Nova Scotia and have them shipped, they informed me that when they ship lobsters to the US, they use a company from Boston. I guess they’re coming from the same cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and I’m sure the lobsters don’t know where the border is! 😉

After we picked up the lobsters, packed for airplane travel, we visited some of downtown Boston. We stopped in at the Hard Rock Café and split some appetizers. We told the kids the story of our honeymoon in San Antonio at Christmastime, when we ate our Christmas Dinner of nachos at the Hard Rock Café along the Riverwalk. It was fun and a nice change of pace to do something spontaniously. D’Arcy & Olivia were having a dance-off by the time we left.

Daddy & Sarah having fun at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.

Daddy & Sarah having fun at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.

We swung by to see the Boston Christmas tree, an annual gift from Nova Scotians to remember and thank the people of Boston for all the help they provided after the Halifax Explosion in 1916. We were surprised by how huge it was; just beautiful!

Boston's Christmas tree, a gift from Nova Scotians.

Boston’s Christmas tree, a gift from Nova Scotians.

We stopped at the grocery store to get food for the cooler to take on the plane and use at the airports with Olivia. We bought some clementines, ham, grapes, apples, pineapple, crackers, and cereal to pack. She has a note from her allergist, which states that she is not able to eat airline food due to her allergies.  From there, we went to our friends’, Willem & Kate, house in Salem to spend the evening.

Good friends, good food, and laughter; what the holidays are all about

Good friends, good food, and laughter; what the holidays are all about

D'Arcy & Willem enjoy an Uncle Leo's Brewery Smoked Porter, brought from Nova Scotia.

D’Arcy & Willem enjoy an Uncle Leo’s Brewery Smoked Porter, brought from Nova Scotia.

Holiday cheer - friends playing cards.

Holiday cheer – friends playing cards.

We’ve been friends for ten years now and our two families get along very well.  We got caught up  over a huge spread of appetizers while the kids all hung out together, then we had a delicious pasta supper with salad and bread. After supper, the grownups played a new card game while the kids played games, built with lego, played wii, and hung out. We had chocolate fondue for dessert and enjoyed ourselves until midnight when it was time for us to leave for the airport, a 20 minute drive from their home.

We rearranged the things in our bags one last time, in order to pare our luggage down to as little as possible. United Charges $25 per bag, so we hoped to just check the lobsters, the booster seats for the girls, and one large suitcase. We took a shuttle to the terminal, to discover that there was nobody around. (At 1am – go figure!) We got ourselves set up on chairs by the baggage claim and had catnaps until 3am when we could check in for our flight. By that time, the lineup was huge. We had some stress trying to get checked in when our boarding passes didn’t print at the self-serve kiosk. How frustrating! We were able to get them sorted out and rushed to security where they put us to the front of the line since our flight was scheduled to depart at 5:00am. You can just imagine the chaos and stress I was feeling as we got carry-ons, medications, electronics, food, and personal items sorted out while struggling to get shoes and belts off.  We got called aside and they informed me they were going to go through the cooler, and did it have any sharp items? I replied that no, it didn’t, and she pulled out a jar of pickles I didn’t realize was packed – liquid! Needless to say, I gave the pickles up and we rushed to our gate, only to learn that they were waiting for a flight attendant so our flight was delayed. We only had one hour to make our connection in Boston, so we were a little bit worried, wondering what we would end up having to do.

It was the first time the girls had ever been on an airplane and they were a combination of worried and excited. It was fun to watch them as we prepared for take-off and got up into the air! Our two hour and 37 minute flight was uneventful and we all dozed. We were sure we were going to have missed our connection, but the pilot came on the speaker and said that of the 162 people on board, 150 had to catch a connecting flight. He suggested that those who weren’t trying to immediately catch a flight, that they let those of us who did have to catch one off first. As soon as I turned airplane mode off on my phone, I received an email saying that the connecting flight had been delayed by 13 minutes and we learned we had hope to make it. If we didn’t, United had booked us on a flight in the afternoon of Christmas Eve and we wouldn’t be getting to Portland until 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve – we would have been flying with Santa and the reindeer! Luckily, they held the flight for us in Chicago and we sprinted from one plane to the other. We took off just after we got to our seats.

The kids are really good travelers and haven’t complained, despite being exhausted.

Not getting much out of her first flight...

Not getting much out of her first flight…

At this point, we’re excited to see Phil & Susan, but ready for a hot shower and a good nap! When we arrive at close to 11am Portland time we’ll have been traveling for 15 hours in this leg of our journey. We’re hoping that our lobsters and car seats made their connection as well and that we’ll be able to relax a bit and enjoy Christmas when we arrive in Portland. Is that word even in our vocabulary?