Fishing, Ontario and family- 15 of 100

In Ontario, we woke up at the crack of dawn (nothing new, James was getting up before 6 the entire trip), to go fishing. Dan’s brother, Kevin, his mom, Belle, Dan, James and I.

We grabbed extra coffees at Tim Horton’s. We boarded a big boat and motored out onto Georgian Bay. Dan and his brothers love to fish, and though I haven’t fully caught the bug myself, I love being included and sharing this pastime with the boys – I think Belle felt the same way.

James slept in the Ergo Baby while Belle reeled in a sizeable lake trout. She was giddy. “Oh my gosh!” she kept exclaiming. “This really is fun!”

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James and I were next. He was still sleeping when the line buzzed and I started reeling. Belle was right: it was fun. Dan climbed up to the top deck and started snapping pictures of me, bent rod in hand, baby strapped to my chest.

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“I’m so proud of you right now!” he called down.

James woke up halfway through, in time to see our beautiful rainbow trout hit the deck. I felt awesome – like a total badass.

I’ll be the first to admit that the first few months of motherhood were hard and scary for me. I was more nervous than I thought I would be – given everything I knew about myself before James was born. But the last few months – I’m sure given a combination of more sleep, settling into the role, James growing just enough – have been fun, and I feel a new kind of confidence that I’ve never felt in my life. I don’t shy away from meeting and connecting with new people – something I’ve always struggled with. Getting on a boat to fish for four hours at 7 a.m. with my little seems like as good idea as any. I’m willing to try anything within reason with the babe (and maybe things just outside of reason – after all, my Euchre nickname is Risky Pants Sky). Sometimes, I feel really beautiful and sexy in this new Momma kind of way. (And sometimes, when I can’t remember if I brushed my teeth or put on deodorant, I feel the exact opposite of beautiful and sexy, but I’m pretty cool with it.) I feel this robust love – like loving James has made my love for everyone in my life grow even bigger and more unconditional.

In any case, landing that trout with James – the biggest fish of the day- I felt all of those good things.

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It started to rain and we all huddled under cover. It was so good to be there with Dan’s family – James scratching his Uncle Kevin’s beard, Belle chatting with the captain about their little town and common people they knew.

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When you don’t live near your family, little moments are big. Things like James’ big cousin Nathan giving him a bath and a bottle;

IMG_2610toasting his sister Rena and brother-in-law Paul on their 15th wedding anniversary,

DSCF3638idle time in the backyard making silly faces with James, making big dinners, playing euchre, drinking wine, sitting on the beach and on.

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Family is complex. We all know this. We love them, they drive us crazy – sometimes, we want them to be one thing but they are who they are – and so are we. Now that I have a kid, I can only hope he forgives and accepts me for who I am some day. Sometimes I stilll can’t believe I am someone’s mom – I’m going to drive him totally nuts someday! For now, while I can, I will kiss him 10,000 times day or more, tickle his soft baby feet, take him on as many adventures as possible and hold him as close and long as he’ll let me.

A few thoughts on traveling with an infant – 7 of 100

By 10 weeks of age, our little guy had been on two major trips, eight plane rides and set foot in four states. Not too bad for two and a half months of life, hey?! The first trip was to Florida, where my parents have a place. James was six weeks old. DSCF3252 The second was to South Carolina for a dear college friend’s wedding when James was 10 weeks old.

For what it’s worth, a few thoughts on traveling with a little bean:

#1: Little babies are pretty good travelers. As Dan and I were packing up for Florida, we were both nervous. I mean, god, we could barely keep our shit together in our own house. James cried and cried as we gathered all the last minute things and loaded him into our friend Sara’s giant red truck. What have we gotten ourselves into? I thought. But then he slept. He slept as it took us ONE HOUR to check in at the desk (that’s right, we stood there for one entire hour. Parents take note: leave yourself oodles of time. This infant in arms thing is not as simple as it seems!). He slept through security and then had a breakdown during which we hid in the family bathroom (never loved a public restroom so very much then I did at this moment in time). Then, he slept all the way down to Florida. He slept so much that I fiddled with the idea of somehow living on a plane with all those nice vibrations and incredibly loud white noise so that I could enjoy the type of peace I enjoyed during those six to eight hours. IMG_1887 #2: If they cry, they cry. For some reason, James fussed on the last leg of both trips after being a dream for the entire rest of the time. I bounced him and shh’d him, but sometimes babies cry. It totally sucks, of course, but as with all things in life, this too shall pass. Plus, my next point:

#3: Babies are the great the connector. If you’re nervous about your baby making you the most hated person on a flight, don’t be. It’s the exact opposite. I cannot tell you how many people looked at me and smiled, came over to ask: “How old?” and then said: “Enjoy it. They grow up so fast.” Many (maybe most) have children of their own. They’ve been there. If you pay attention, you’ll see all of their love for their children flash across their face as they look at yours. It’s one of the loveliest thing you’ll ever encounter – this brief but utterly profound sharing of parental love.

I sat next to a guy about my age who runs a micro-brewery on the flight from Florida to Minneapolis who had a toddler and we talked about parenthood- the ups and downs and everything in between. The guy behind me on that flight kept offering to hold James. I could tell he longed for the weight of a baby in his arms.

When I landed in Calgary, a volunteer in a white hat and red vest rushed up to me as I walked towards customs ran to me cooing: “Oh, you lucky person! What a beautiful baby! Please, let me show you the elevator! Oh you lucky lucky person.”

#4: Every week of baby’s life contains vital developments in those early months. Plan accordingly. We took James to Florida to stay with my parents and my brother and sister in law at six weeks. They say six weeks is the peak of a baby’s fussiness and that proved true for us. One day, James cried every minute he was awake. There wasn’t much sleeping to be had. To have the support of other family members, and have Dan around 24/7 that week was a life saver for me. My dad would lift James over his shoulder, pat his back and take him to another room to soothe him (We called it the Jimbo touch). My mom would take him in the morning after I fed him so that I could sleep for a little while. Kevin and Fiona (brother and sister in law) helped me get out when I might have just stayed home – so there was a boat ride and pina coladas and even an entire dinner out without babe! DSCF3261 Everyone helped me laugh and stay sane. And believe me, laughter and sanity were precious commodities at that time.

By 10 weeks, James was SO MUCH better. He was full of smiles and starting to coo. Not to say he didn’t cry, but by then, his crying didn’t make me want to crawl into a hole.

My mom came with me on the wedding trip- and it should be said that I NEVER could have done that trip without her. We had bought a breast pump and introduced a bottle so that being away from babe for more than two hours had entered the realm of reality.

The night before the wedding I went out for dinner with my friends and then a cocktail reception. By 10:30 p.m. I was tapping my toes, thinking obsessively about James. In the bathroom with my best friend, I confessed: “I want to be the cool mom who can just forget about it all for a while and stay out late! But I just want to be home with him.” She assured me that that was ok. So I went home.

The night of the wedding, though, I vowed to just have fun. And have fun I did. The champagne and wine were flowing. The dance floor was bumping. All of my college girlfriends were there. It was the best to be there with them. To have my mom spending time with her grandson. Win, win and win. IMG_1939 I had a lot of anxiety about the wedding trip before I went. There are so many unknowns when you are a first time mom. But, at the end of the day, you can make anything happen if you are prepared and flexible. Plus my next point:

#5: Know thyself. Travel is incredibly important to me and I think it was important to know that we could handle it early on. I personally could not have done the wedding trip earlier than I did, but I have a (way more amazing) friend who went to a wedding in France when her first was four weeks old. If there’s a trip you want to take: #6: It’s worth it. What other opportunity would I have to meet my girlfriends in the lobby on a hungover Sunday morning, clutching coffees just like the good old days and have them gather around my little son for a picture? Or see my friend Callie get married?! IMG_1932 When else would I get to plop little J in a bouncy chair while my brother and sister in law boiled lobsters and my dad passed the chardonnay and we all clinked glasses? IMG_3253 I would not trade any of it. Nope, not ever.

Iceland part III – the Eastfjords

Seyðisfjörður is a perfect town tucked between the towering east fjords with colourful houses, seaside views, artists and wool sweaters.

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There are trails everywhere. We just followed a road until it ended and found this one.

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I had been looking forward to the Eastfjords–our halfway mark and also the only place I booked a room for us to stay in– a restored farmhouse, 19 km outside of town. We were as far as we would ever be from home–in space and time. By now, every moment felt so close, so belonging to us.

The last four km was impassible for our campervan because of a rough road and river crossings. We walked in. DSCF2245

The place is called Skalanes Lodge and in addition to being a guest house, it is a nature reserve.

DSCF2246The owner bought it 11 years ago-when he was 25 years old- and has created so many lovely details.

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You must unwind whether you want to or not in this place. You must read on the couch, watch the sun set –

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And then amble to the cliffs in the morning-

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Eat the delicious homemade dinners of cod and lamb.

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…and set the alarm to see the northern lights. Which we did – and, wrapped in our sleeping bags, watched a ribbon of light dance across the sky.

 

Iceland Part II- Tröllaskagi (& Lake Mývatn and Dettifoss)

The Tröllaskagi peninsula was a bunch of unplanned wonders. For those of you going to Iceland heed my words: make space for the spontaneous and follow your whims- for therein lies the very best of Iceland.

Hofsós was our first stop- and after trying to eat the worst hamburger of all time we parked our van with an ocean view and waited for the pool to open. But this wasn’t just any old pool, my friends! It was infinity-like, heated to a perfect 30 degrees Celsius (86 F) (there was also a real hot tub for non-pregnant people to enjoy) overlooking this…

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The pools are central to Icelandic culture. There’s a little pool sign in nearly every populated place, no matter how small the town (Hofsós has a population of 200). We did not hit any of the big tourist hot pots, like the Blue Lagoon, but boy did we love the local ones.

Our morning coffee walk.

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Dan has become an avid fisherman and brought along his fly rod. Fishing, we had been warned, was not exactly easy or affordable in Iceland. People like Eric Clapton paid tens of thousands to fish the rivers! But just after we wrapped up this walk, we saw a sign with a little fish on it pointing down a gravel road. Why not? It lead us to a farm belonging to a man named Marcus with the cutest dog I have ever seen. For about $18 we secured the rights to fish his lake. What’s more, he gave us a bag of frozen trout – home smoked- ‘in case we didn’t catch anything’.

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So Dan cast a line and I walked up to take pictures, write in my journal, etc. We passed hours at this little lake. Him fishing. Me reading. It was pure peace. My view of Dan fishing below.

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I met these cows (they followed me all over the place- true story).

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And Dan caught our dinner.

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Then we drove and I remember why I miss living by the ocean so much.

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We landed in the small town of Dalvík where camped just outside of town. And the next day we went for those mindblowing hikes that you’ll never forget. For anyone going: it’s hike #3 on the hiking map you can pick up anywhere.

The hike begins at a farm (really, you park in their driveway) and follow a river up to…

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…you guessed it – a waterfall!

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Iceland hiking is steep. Switchbacks as far as we could tell do not exist, they just send you straight up.

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You follow the trail across the green hills, up these meadow terraces. Some horses followed us for a while.

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And finally, you come up to this little lake. Which is filled with fish. Filled.

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This one too.  DSCF2086

The clouds broke for us to get a view of the ocean on our way down.

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The way down.

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This hike was not in any guidebook; we saw only two other people just as we decided to go down. Northern Iceland was full of open space, unplanned adventures and beauty beyond belief.

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A note on fishing while we’re here: Dan had read numerous blogs about how highly regulated the fishing in Iceland is. You have to have your rod professionally sanitized, different permits required everywhere, uber-expensive guides and on. Every body of water is technically owned by the person who owns the land around it. On our way into the country, no one stopped Dan to check if his (highly visible) rod had been sanitized. These were Dan’s two great fishing days. We encountered a few people at the airport who stopped Dan when they saw his fishing rod. One had had absolutely no luck finding any fishing opportunities, the other had paid for one of the very expensive guides and had a horrible experience (not at all what they had been promised or paid for). We’re no experts and we tried to do everything right, but maybe the best tack really is to knock on farmers’ doors. That’s just what we did. Marcus was so warm and friendly and it was one of our best experiences. Anyway- good luck out there!

Below I offer a small gallery of the Lake Mývatn area and Dettifoss. This area is so well documented in every travel guide that I don’t feel the need to elaborate too much here. Mývatn is full of tourists as well as nasty little midges (black flies that come at you in swarms). After the quiet of Trollaskagi it was a bit much for us, but it’s for sure worth a stop to explore the surreal landscape. We walked up the Hverfell crater, down the other side through Dimmuborgir lava fields. Highly recommended, as you get off the beaten path away from the main parking areas. The only drawback is that you have to re-trace your steps to your car.

Dettifoss is well worth the detour off the ring road. There are a lot of waterfalls in Iceland but not so many that command fear and respect in the way this one does.

 

Iceland Part I – driving north and the West Fjords

Upon returning from a big trip- we we just did from Iceland- one is faced with many questions: how to share pictures? And how many is too many? Does anyone really care?

Here will live some tales and photographs of our Iceland jaunt. The basics: we rented a camper van from Lava Campers (more on the van later) and had no real plan for our two weeks. So we arrived on no sleep where the sweet Lava Camper man awaited us with our Helka and briefed us on the vehicle, Iceland and his upcoming Rally Car race. We picked up our first Skyr yogurt, a map of the island and headed north (“Big storm coming to the south” he warned).

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So we arrived weary to the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

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A storm shook our van all night and we decided to head further north to the West Fjords- we picked up a German hitchiker at some point and we made our way to Ísafjörður.

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I had grand designs to hike the famous five-day Hornstrandir route. A boat, it turned out would have been spendy for us to charter (the main season ends in August) and the very nice man at the Braedraborg cafe assured us that hiking around the mainland was just as remote and beautiful. So we packed up everything and headed up the high fjord, the tops of which were shrouded in fog.

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It was really beautiful for a while and then we were fully socked in. Then it started misting. Then raining. It was also very cold.

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A giant pass loomed up like a wall in front of me. I had a breakdown. Did I mention I’m four months pregnant? “There’s no shame in heading back to the camper van,” my very-patient husband assured me. So two hours later:

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It was right about here that I fully fell in love with the Lava Camper, which came to be known as Mama Bear. It was also here that I began to accept that the trip would be what it would be – there may or may not be long hiking days. There may or may not be sun. I couldn’t know yet. It all had to unfold as it would. So the next day we drove on.

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The drive from the West Fjords was one of our favorites- long and deserted and heartbreakingly beautiful. We listened to Sigur Ros as one must when they drive in Iceland. We counted an hour before we saw another car. We saw a lot of really adorable sheep.

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And once, when we pulled onto a back road for no real good reason, a double rainbow stretched across the sky while a horse galloped right past our car.DSCF1907DSCF1911

And as we drove we hmmed and hawed about where to spend the night and we finally pulled off the Ring Road onto the Tröllaskagi peninusula. Of which wonders I shall save for Part II.

Boca Grande

There are places we only get to see once in our lives. We say hello; we pass by. And then there are the places to which we return again and again until they are written in our bones.

We only get a few of these in life.

They are the place equivalent of our very best friends. The ones you were lucky enough to stumble into, and would never be fool enough to let go of. The ones that soak in over many many years, if we’re lucky, a lifetime.

Boca Grande, Florida is one of mine.

This crane was a real dandy.

I’m here with my mom on a very undeserved vacation. My only excuse is that I can’t legally work in Canada, so…

Anyway, the ocean and I had some catching up to do.

Oh, how I’ve missed her.

Boca Grande is the smell of Coppertone sunscreen and hair full of saltwater dried in the sun. It is freckles you forgot you had gathering on your nose. Loose tank tops blowing in the breeze, white sand, excited dolphin sightings, my mom’s salads–with hearts of palm, artichoke hearts and avocados topped with olive oil and lemon juice–and an endless supply of La Croix mineral water in cans.

It is playing tennis with Dad, even though I’m terrible after another whole year of not playing and reading books, with Mom, and a thousand other traditions and memories….

..and comparing last night’s sunset to tonight’s.

And an ice cold beer to toast the moment the sun melts into the horizon, knowing how good you have it, and drinking it all up–every last drop.

Goodnight, Sun.

Boca Grande is an ocean as still as glass.

The same old pier languishing–picture perfect–in the water.

And endless blue.

The ocean and I, we have an ancient conversation. How can this water know me so well while remaining an eternal mystery to me?  What a funny feeling to return to this shore year after year–and feel the same to the core, and yet entirely different.