Chronicles of the O'Brien Family Adventures...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dark Sky Festival: Jasper!

Four hours of travel, without a single stop, brought us into Jasper Friday afternoon after a noon departure. The wildlife was out and about in abundance - we enjoyed sharing the road with a group of young big horned sheep and slowed for a picture of an exquisite large male elk. 

I loved watching Summer's expression as the Rocky Mountains began to appear: the awe and joy and amazement. I feel the same way each time I return to the mountains, no matter how many times I've seen them. The mountains feel like home to me and I love to return to them.

We stayed at the Marmot Lodge for two nights, along with grandma and grandpa, for Jasper's annual Dark Sky Festival this weekend. After settling into our hotel room, we enjoyed dinner with grandma and grandpa at L&W, followed by a swim in the hotel pool and then a trip up the mountain to Lake Annette for the evening festivities. 

It was a spectacular evening. The event was well organized with lots of helpers between areas and long strings of glowing lights to follow to the different areas: an aboriginal area with a teepee, stories and drumming around a fire and local made tea to enjoy, lights leading to a dark sky photography info session, lights heading to exhibits and more lights heading to a plethora of telescopes pointed into the clear night sky. 

Just looking up is breathtaking! So many stars! And then of course the Milky Way stretched across the sky in pure opulence adds such splendor to the scene. The highlight of the night for me was seeing the Dumbbell nebulae. 

The next day we woke and after fitting in four showers, we enjoyed the hotel breakfast buffet and headed to Centennial Field for a day filled with activities. 

We enjoyed creating pop bottle rockets and launching them with water and air, speaker presentations, hide drawings, a planetarium night sky dome show, and viewing of sun spots in a telescope set up as the heavy cloud cover began to clear. 

We headed back to the hotel by 3 PM and the kids enjoyed a long swim in the pool while Cai had his afternoon nap in the room. 

For dinner we went with mom and Doug to Evil Dave's for an unforgettable dining experience. We shared the family sampler which included several main dishes with a couple of appetizers, along with baked Brie to start. Each dish was exquisite. I can honestly say it was among the top best meals of my life.

That night the snow came. It looked like a mild blizzard. All the kids wanted to do was swim some more (and Cai wanted to make up for missing the afternoon swim), so knowing conditions weren't ideal for dark sky viewing, we returned home to spend the evening in the pool. Summer was particularly ecstatic because she learned how to swim! My daughter who always refused to put her head under water, was now diving under and floating and performing various strokes. Her transformation was amazing and exciting! Aidan, who had more swimming skills already, also improved and further developed his skills. It was a fun night. 

We slept in until 9 AM in the morning and spent our time packing up to go. Leaving Jasper, I marveled at the beauty of the new winter landscape around us. I was glad to be leaving it behind (as well as enjoy it from a warm vehicle with heated seats. We aren't acclimatized for winter yet). 

We were glad we had a beautiful day and night to enjoy ourselves and the festivities. It was a great trip and a fabulous festival. 

On our way home we dropped by my dad's acreage to jump on snow cleared trampolines. 

Approaching Edmonton, snow turned to rain. Although it caught up with us later in the evening anyway! 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

World of Science Homeschool Classes

It was a fun start to the World of Science homeschool science classes. Aidan attended "Cauldron Brew"; a chemistry lab where they explored a thirty degree melting metal, made bouncy balls and discussed substances that changed upon combination or under the duress of other environmental factors such as heat. It was very cool and Aidan really enjoyed himself. 

Summer watched the Dr Agar Halloween Science Show that included cool pyrotechnics and other magical experiments to awe the senses. 

Meanwhile, Cai and I played and enjoyed the various exhibits and play areas. It had been a few months since we visited the World of Science - which is a long time when you are only two - so it was newly exciting for him. 

Our ride home was the best, kids all picked up and played out, as they eagerly shared everything they learned and did for the day. Their excitement was contagious. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Three Generations of Ladies Learning Code

Hearing about the Ladies Learning Code mother-daughter workshop this month, I knew we had to do it! I cancelled our other plans and immediately signed Summer and I up. She was overjoyed, as she had been long wanting to build business websites. This introductory course was a great starting place. And it's always so exhilarating learning something new! 

My mom, who already has coded a pretty stellar website, decided to join us. She's self-taught and figured this was a great chance to get some questions answered and develop her knowledge further. So it turned into a three generations of ladies learning code workshop. At least for us. 

We brought our own laptops. The day was six hours during which we learned what html and css was and how to use them. The final couple of hours we built our own webpages using the free program Thimble, getting help as needed. 

Summer built a fabulous website showcasing the horror books she's planning on writing. For the past couple of weeks she's been pouring over her titles (I think she has a list of forty or so books so far). The first book she began writing at first on paper but soon switched to her computer. 

Summer was incredibly quick to pick up on coding. At one time or another she helped both mom and I. And despite looking bored at one point in the day, she wanted to stay the longest and we were the last to leave. The first thing she did after coming home was set back up the laptop to keep working on her webpage and she kept on it all night until we had a family movie night. 

And it was so empowering to learn the basics of programming, a whole other language, not to mention fun. I definitely plan on taking some follow up classes! Aidan of course is interested too and I learned that I could have brought him along, despite the iniative being primarily geared to women (with the goal of increasing the presence of women in this otherwise male dominated field). 

Monday, October 13, 2014


In what began as a simple toilet purchase became an exploration of growth and learning and reaching a little deeper into the pocketbook; as the toilet was deemed unplaceable because of a surprise underneath the floor. Rot. And plenty of it. 

After discussion with a couple knowledgeable men around us, Sean decided to tackle the new construction himself. He was reluctant and unsure, but the guidance through texts and facetime gave him what he needed to plow forward. He began with the purchase of a reciprocating saw and started to chop up the floor. 

There were many layers to our floor. Several layers of tile and Lino, amounting in an entire inch of levels above the bottom floor boards. If it weren't for our bathtub also sitting on top of it all, we would have torn up the whole room. But removing a bathtub was beyond the scope of where we wanted to take this project. 

The initial square wasn't large enough, so Sean took it further, all the way to the back wall. There was a layer of completely rotted plywood that Sean gutted; it looked like a layer of dirt sandwiched between Lino. 

The tough part done, Sean rebuilt sturdy subflooring to fit perfectly into his excised square. To finish it off, we purchased more of the same vinyl tiles Sean placed in our front entry hall last year. We had some left over, saving on how much we needed to purchase. 

After the floor was in place, we called back our plumber to recut the hole he needed in the floor and replace the top part of the stack. He installed the toilet too, as the service was free with the purchase of the toilet in the first place. 

Our new bathroom! Slowly lavender is fading from our bathroom. Redoing our sink and vanity will be a third step in our bathroom upgrades. For now, I'm thrilled to have a toilet that's not older than I am and can flush toilet paper with reliable success. Wahoo! It's the simple joys of life... 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Haunted Pumpkin Festival

The Haunted Pumpkin Festival and corn maze are annual family events for us. This year, we attended on thanksgiving sunday. The day was warm but a crisp and strong wind kept us bundled for the first half of the day. By the afternoon we were striped back to our shirts. 

It was fun to watch Cai explore and have fun at the various treasures at Prairie Gardens. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Musical Theatre

This week has been a doozy of busyness in our household as the kids have been attending a Musical Theatre workshop for four hours a day. The experience was thrilling for them and lots of fun. They memorized lines and songs to the musical Newsies, all in preparation for a final performance for family and friends at the end of the week. 

They made new friends, developed skills and even learned new things about themselves. The final show was remarkably polished for one week's worth of work. Sean and I were much impressed. 

Sean took the day off work to see the performance (as it was in the afternoon) and we celebrated with Marble Slab ice cream (note to self: toddlers do not, I repeat do not, need to try bright blue cotton candy ice cream) and watching the Newsies movie before the kids headed off to grandma's house for a sleepover. 

On top of the theatrical experience and learning and growth, the subject matter touched nicely on industrial history: we discussed the evolution of unions, what scabs were and how children were - and in some places still are - used for cheap labor. Then of course the door was open for a discussion on homelessness as well! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Autumn Treasures

This has been such a spectacularly beautiful fall! The weather has been reminiscent of the most perfect days of summer while the trees have been basking in all their autumnal glory. No strong winds have driven the colorful leaves prematurely from the trees and most days we don't even need so much as a sweater. 

Last weekend my mom suggested we meet at Hawrelak park. Having not celebrated her birthday yet, my mind thought quick and with a "sure!" I began to organize an impromptu party. Gathering snacks and drinks, plates and utensils, napkins and a table cloth, we headed out to pick up a cake and additional trays of food. Arriving at Hawrelak I was pleased by how much space was open. It wasn't busy, despite the beautiful fall sunday. We quickly found a lovely picnic spot amongst the trees and set up the party. 

After we enjoyed our time altogether picnicking, we fed the geese by hand and mom and Doug took pictures of us around the lake. 


Last cello class I brought Summer with me to adventure down in the river valley. The previous class I had journeyed along paths between the trees down to the riverbank by myself and I knew Summer would enjoy it with me. 

We had such a lovely time together, and were surprised to find a fun treasure on the river bank. 

The swing was big enough for me to swing too, high and sturdy. It was bliss to swing on, looking out at the flowing river and gently setting sun. Moments like these feel like the very definition of happiness. 

We are so blessed with our beautiful lives. We know what is important in life: family and love and time spent together, with laughter and joy and nature all around us. Life is good!