Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture

Thanksgiving: not about the where, all about the who!

In a travel writing course I took, the main ideal was a travel story did not have to revolve around the actual act of traveling. The story can be about an event or a gathering or an experience.

This week’s blog is dedicated to Thanksgiving – one of the biggest travel weekends of the year. But this post is not about the journey to get to where the turkey is being served. It is about the opportunity to spend this special day with loved ones – related or not. A tradition that started in our family 21 years ago, when my son was born the day before Thanksgiving. I was in no condition to cook a large dinner, so my husband did most of the cooking (which has now turned into a tradition of it’s own), and invited his college roommates to join us under the condition they each brought one side dish.

In recent years, we have taken this tradition of spending Thanksgiving with whoever is front and center in our lives that year and celebrate those relationships. These gatherings have culminated in many gatherings inclusive of non-family members either because of circumstance and location. We have celebrated from Regina, Saskatchewan (Yay Roughriders – 2013 Grey Cup Champions!) to New York, New York to Calgary, Alberta to Phoenix, Arizona.

Friends sharing turkey carving duties, Regina, SK

Friends sharing turkey carving duties, Regina, Saskatchewan

Thanksgiving spread, Regina, SK

Thanksgiving spread, Regina, Saskatchewan

Family and friends sharing a Thanksgiving meal in Arizona.

Family and friends sharing a Thanksgiving meal in Arizona.

Yes. U.S. Thanksgiving in Canada. No, it is not also Canadian Thanksgiving – Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October, and not nearly the massive celebration it is in the U.S. So why you ask would we leave our beloved U.S. to travel to a place where we can’t even buy a turkey without special ordering it a week in advance?

Family! As my 22-year-old daughter, who lives in New York, said, “I don’t care where we celebrate Thanksgiving, as long as we are together and celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day!” Touche’! For years this has been an ongoing challenge for a family that is spread far and wide across many states and two countries. Whether it was because of our son studying at a Canadian university or my husband working in Canada, we have learned to work around these differing schedules.

Stuffing the bird, Calgary, Alberta

Stuffing the bird, Calgary, Alberta

Thanksgiving spread, Calgary, Alberta

Thanksgiving spread, Calgary, Alberta

Often we found ourselves in locations that our immediate family was our only family. As it is a near impossibility to make a Thanksgiving meal for only four people, the quick and easy solution was to open our doors to expand our ‘circle of love’ to friends when we celebrate in these ‘out of the norm’ locations.

When in Canada we have had Canadian friends join us to experience a real, full-out Thanksgiving dinner (request for return engagements have been made.) Or, we have had Thanksgiving dinner for many of our displaced American friends living along side us in Canada.

Our Thanksgiving in New York was the first time we did not fix the actual Thanksgiving dinner. We found other ways to make this experience equally special. Taking in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; eating a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner at a riverside restaurant in Brooklyn looking across the East River at the New York skyline; flying in my son’s girlfriend to surprise him for his pre-Thanksgiving birthday; having my daughter’s boyfriend join us because he could not get home to his family in California.

Catching the end of the Macy's Day Parade, NY, NY

Catching the end of the Macy’s Day Parade, NY, NY

Snoopy floating down Central Park West, NY, NY

Snoopy floating down Central Park West in the Macy’s Day Parade, NY, NY

Family and friends enjoying a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn, NY

Family and friends enjoying a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn, NY

Thanksgiving is about making memories, sharing time with loved ones – related or not, and overloading on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the other fixins’!

From one of our many extended family and friends gatherings to yours: Happy Thanksgiving!

From one of our many extended family and friends gatherings to yours: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! No matter where your Thanksgiving Day plans take you or who is sitting at your table!

Calgary – Timing’s everything!

Will & Kate - all duded up for the Stampede

Will & Kate – all duded up for the Stampede

People gather to catch a glimpse of Will & Kate 2011

People gather to catch a glimpse of Will & Kate 2011

Arriva 2011 - home sweet home - sits kitty-corner from Will & Kate's arrival spot

Arriva 2011 – home sweet home – sits kitty-corner from Will & Kate’s arrival spot

Will & Kate arrive 2011 at Calgary Stampede

Will & Kate arrive 2011 at Calgary Stampede

Will & Kates downtown route - Calgary 2011

Will & Kates downtown route – Calgary 2011

Not to get stuck on Canada, and specifically Alberta. But the story lines connecting this city and the two individuals in the first picture make for some compelling story lines – because of the timelines involved.

Rewind back to 2011. Prince William and Kate Middleton helped kick off the 2011 Calgary Stampede. In the days prior to their arrival, I watched the streets below where I saw local police and security forces make a dry run to prepare for the royal arrival. At the time I didn’t know what was going on – I hadn’t heard they were coming to town. It was unnerving to see so many security vehicles en-masse – I thought we were under siege.

On the day Will & Kate arrived, the security forces resurfaced to handle the masses of people lining up to catch a glimpse. My husband, mother and I made a reservation at a restaurant in the red brick building shown in the above picture. When word spread through the crowded restaurant that Will and Kate were around the corner, I ran outside, climbed up the drain pipe, and while holding on with one hand, I held up my camera in my other hand and took pictures of Will and Kate as they made their way to the stagecoach and climbed up to their western throne. It was a magical moment for all. Being witness to the newlyweds, in one of the Queen’s commonwealth countries, as they embark on a tour of the world’s largest and most well-known stampedes. Calgary as a whole turns into a western themed town for the weeks leading up to the Stampede. Windows are awash with cowboy murals; restaurants are decorated with saddles, bales of hay, and corral fencing; and bank CEO’s get duded up in jeans, western shirts and cowboy hats and boots.

Fast forward to 2013.

640 × 360 – bbc.co.uk
620 × 349 – cbc.ca
640 × 427 – wunderground.com
606 × 604 – theroadtriphound.com

Calgary is hit with massive flooding.

The above pictures show the stampede grounds and the same streets depicted in the pictures of Will and Kate’s visit to the Calgary Stampede in 2011. Emotions went from celebratory in 2011 to devastation 2013. But in true Calgarian style – the show did go on. The concerts booked for the uniquely shaped Saddledome had to be moved to another location as there was water up to the 10th row. The consistently sold out rodeo and chuck-wagon races slogged their way through the muck and mire. And people dressed up in their western garb and proved the show needed to go on to help get this amazing town up and running.

In 2011, I lived on the 25th floor of the green-glass 36th-floor Arriva high-rise, which sits kitty-corner from the Stampede grounds and had allowed me the bird’s eye view of Will and Kate’s parade route. I moved out in January 2013. A week after the flood, people were still having to walk the stairs to and from their condo. When we lived there, we had two dogs. I can’t even fathom having had to take them up and down the stairs to do their business, especially when the streets below were flooded – where would I have taken them? Our cars would’ve been underwater in the four stories of underground parking.

Now a month after the 100-year plus flood, Calgary and outlying areas, reaching as far west as Banff (depicted in my previous blog) are getting back to business as usual. Part of the Trans-Canada Highway 1 was washed out by the floods on either side of Banff – making it a virtual island as there are basically no other routes. Within a day the road was reopened. It is a miracle and a marvel when human suffering can be transformed into engineering feats to put a city, a region, a province back on its feet.

A new royal is born.

As of the timing of this writing, we celebrate the birth of Will & Kate’s first baby. It’s a boy! The name is yet to be announced.

Hopefully this happy news, can give Calgarians something to smile about, when thinking about the great visit they had with Will and Kate back in 2011.

Cherish the bright moments, as life is sure to bring change in many forms!

Where we ate:  La Vita e Bella, 401 12 Ave SE, Calgary, AB T2G 1A5, Canada, 1-403-264-6046. http://www.lavitabella.ca  $$$  Great Italian restaurant (in the building I was hanging from for the picture of Will & Kate).  More traditional fresh pasta meals that have been paired with a well thought out, albeit minimalist wine menu.

Lake Louise – Just as beautiful in summer

Moraine Lake July-2011

Moraine Lake July-2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chateau Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta, Canada: Just as beautiful in the summer

Chateau Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta, Canada: Just as beautiful in the summer

The path along Lake Louise

The path along Lake Louise

Lunch at Chateau Lake Louise

Lunch at Chateau Lake Louise

Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta, Canada, in th...

Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta, Canada, in the Banff National Park, between Banff and Lake Louise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Banff and the Banff Springs Hotel may get more traffic and notoriety, but I think the extra hour it takes to drive up to Chateau Lake Louise is worth the extra effort. Both hotels were once owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and built-in the late 19th century to attract wealthy Canadians to visit the natural beauty of what is now a World Heritage Site, Banff National Park. Now the hotels and trails are packed with people culturally diverse as the multitude of amazing views you see en route to the hotels, at the hotels and on the paths leading from the hotels.

On the 45-minute drive from Banff to Lake Louise you delve deeper and deeper into the Canadian wilderness. The slate blue Bow River sits on one side of road with the Canadian Rockies flanking the other side. For years the only way for wildlife to get from one to the other was to hoof or pad their way across the one and only road – the Trans-Canada Highway 1. Named “Highway 1” because it is the one and only National highway in all of Canada – and it flows only east and west.

Over the years, as road traffic to Lake Louise became steadily heavier, so did the amount of vehicle-animal accidents. And when these animals are elk, moose, caribou, deer, bear, big horn sheep – nobody wins, car or animal. To ease the rash of these incidents, high fences were erected along the sides of the highway. These fences lead into specially designed bridges that cross the highway. The bridges are animal crossings and are covered with natural fauna so the animals feel it is part of their natural surroundings and comfortably make the trek back and forth, up and over the highway, saving the lives of wildlife and people.

Eventually you arrive at the little hamlet of Lake Louise which sits at the base of the world-renowned Lake Louise ski hill. Since the advent of World Cup Ski Races in 1980, and the Winter Olympics in 1988, Lake Louise has become a destination skiing hot spot. Prior to this, however, the area was mainly a summer destination. The Chateau, which sits higher up in the mountains on the opposite side of the Lake Louise river valley from the ski hill, was not even winterized until 1982.

The drive from the heart of Calgary to Lake Louise is only two hours, but allowing plenty of time to take in the surrounding beauty is a must. With the long summer hours you can cover a lot of territory in a day. Make the short drive from Lake Louise up to Chateau Lake Louise to experience views unlike any other: the bright white hotel sits at one end of the vivid blue-green colored Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier, that feeds into Lake Louise, sits at the other end. Spend the hour to hike the well maintained path along the lake, to allow you to take in both views – about a 3 mile round trip hike. Come back and enjoy lunch in the hotel with views of the lake and Victoria Glacier in the background and then walk off lunch by taking a tour of this magnificent hotel.

Or, after taking in the views from the Chateau, head back towards Lake Louise, but take the turn into Moraine Lake. A picnic basket and a blanket is all you need to take in views equally as breathtaking, but more rustic, than at Chateau Lake Louise.

If you can find time in your busy schedule to spend a couple of days in the area, a stay at Chateau Lake Louise would allow you the time to hike back to Victoria Glacier. The glacier can be reached on foot or horseback along a well-worn and well maintained dirt path leading from the hotel. Round trip is about 8.6 miles (14 km). Be sure to look up as you pass the first major bend at the far end of the lake – you are likely to see rock climbers working their way up the sheer face of Mount Victoria.

Or make your way back to the Lake Louise village and stay a night at the world-renowned Post Hotel that sits along the wild rushing waters of the Bow River. Eat at the world-renowned restaurant which focuses on using local ingredients, specialty meats from the area, and fresh fish caught nearby. And enjoy a bottle of wine from their world-renowned 25,000 bottle wine cellar.

My husband and I lived in Calgary for 2 1/2 years and made the trip to Banff National Park several times. There are few greater stress relievers like the majestic views of the Canadian Rockies. I am in awe of the engineering marvel of winding a well maintained four-lane highway throughout the valleys allowing us to get up close and personal to all this area has to offer.