Friday, June 29, 2012

Bears, Cars, & Pet Shops

The last few days have been very relaxing- it's nice not to have plans and have the liberty to do nothing! 

One thing that my sister, Sarah, tries to do every year is to spend some one-on-one time with each of our kids.  Today, she (Di Dao) and Jeremy had their "date."  We told the kids about a month ago to start thinking of what they'd like to do with Di Dao.  Jeremy has been looking forward to this day for a long, long time.  He knew a month ago that he wanted to go to Build-A-Bear Workshop.  Whereas Grace has never really cared about stuffed animals, Jeremy LOVES them.  In fact, his bed is usually full of them and more are piled around his room.  The only location in Edmonton happens to be at West Edmonton Mall.  Di Dao and Jeremy went to Build-A-Bear while Jason, Grace, and I roamed around the mall.  Here are some pictures that Di Dao took of their time together. 

Thank you, Di Dao, for Bear Jere (that's the name Jeremy chose for his bear).  He absolutely loves it and I'm sure his memory of getting to do something so special with you is priceless!

The kids also got to spend some time with my parents, Ong and Ba, today.  I grew up going to thrift stores and today, my parents took the kids with them today to check out two stores.  They were able to get Grace some Littlest Pet Shops and Jeremy got a Hot Wheels set.  All of Grace and Jeremy's toys for less than $15!
 Grace doubled her Pet Shop collection and got a ton of accessories for them, and Jeremy got a very cool track set for his cars.
My parents then took the kids out for a Vietnamese dinner before bringing them home.  The kids spent over an hour playing with their new "old" toys.  This is the first year that it hasn't taken the kids very long to warm up to Ong and Ba.  My parents are very excited about that and it'll make this visit much more special for them.      

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

We're Here!

While we were in Calgary, I was really hoping we'd get to meet up with 2 special friends of mine, Brian and Grace.  I am thrilled they were able to meet me!  Brian was my BFF during my university years.  He was the most important guy in my life before Jason came into the picture.   Grace is his sister, someone I totally admired and looked up to.  She MCed our Edmonton wedding reception almost 13 years ago, and believe it or not, that was the last time I saw her.  Both people have played huge roles in my life and they now live in Calgary.  I am so grateful that our friends, Huy and Jenny, offered to watch our kids last night so that Jason and I could go meet up with Grace and Brian.  I was so excited to see them and we spent a few hours chatting away.  I've seen Brian a few times over the past few years, but Grace and I had so much to update each other on.  I've been reflecting a lot about my life back then and about how important these people were to me...  Obviously, time and distance have played a factor in our friendship, but I will always treasure them and consider them significant in my life.
 Meanwhile, Huy and Jenny and their daughter, Madison, hung out with and "spoiled" our kids...

Grace and Jeremy LOVED hanging out with Madison.  In Grace's goodbye note, she told Madison that she was a "crystal friend."  When we asked her what that meant, she said it meant they were friends forever.  Very sweet! 

Before leaving Calgary today, we got a chance to go visit my brother at his work.  He's the Director of Network & Scheduling for WestJet.  It was great to be able to spend some time with him. He showed us around and it was very cool to get a glimpse of his world.  Such a good uncle, he gave the kids some WestJet planes before we left.

And with that, we left Calgary.  We sure took our time from Fresno (a week to be exact), but it was a memorable road trip- we rolled in to my hometown, Edmonton today at around 4pm.  We immediately drove to my mom's work to greet her since we knew she wouldn't be home until late.  Then, we went to their townhouse and unpacked.  My sister came home a little while later and we sat down to my mom's Pho Ga (chicken soup). 

We're going to be able to take it easy over the next 2.5 weeks that we're here.  I might not be able to blog everyday since we might not be doing anything blog-worthy, but you can bet that if we do, I'll make sure to share!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Calgary's Telus Spark

We had been looking forward to visiting Drumheller for quite some time.  Drumheller is about 1.5 hours outside of Calgary and is well-known for its Royal Tyrell Museum and Dinosaur Park.  Dinosaur fossils have been amazingly preserved and archaeologists continue to work on-site.  From what I've heard, it's one of the world's best exhibits about dinosaurs.  Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate.  It has been pouring here, and we didn't want to drive all that way and not get the full experience.  My brother and our friends suggested that we visit Calgary's newly opened Science Centre, Telus Spark. 
It's a beautiful building, and we were excited to try it out.  We went up to pay admission and couldn't believe how much this experience was going to cost us: $20 for adults, $13 for kids, plus $5 parking (no choice).  In addition, they had planetarium shows that would cost an additional $8 per person.  We hadn't even entered yet, and I already felt like it was such a rip off...

As soon as we entered, we were immediately met by hundreds of school kids.  Alberta's schools are still in session, and tons of schools were there on field trips.  We couldn't believe how packed it was.  We went through all the interactive exhibits- each one was hands-on and invited the kids to explore and create.  I felt a little mean today, making comments and glaring at rude kids who would push and shove, pushing Jeremy and Grace out of the way.

I still can't believe how much we paid for our visit today!  For the cost, I definitely didn't think it was worth it, but in the end, the kids had a fun time and I guess that's all that matters.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Welcome to Canada

Today was the day that we would be crossing the border!  We left Great Falls at about 10am. The closer we got to the US-Canada border, the more anxious I got.  Well, it turns out that we had nothing to be nervous about!  First of all, there was absolutely no wait time.  We gave the customs agent our 2 passports, mine and Jason's, and the kids' 2 birth certificates.  We didn't even bother showing him the kids' passports, so we didn't have to explain why Grace's was expired.  He looked them through and then asked us some of the usual, basic questions- where are you headed, for how long, who are you going to see, do you have any firearms/tobacco/alchohol, etc... That's it- he finished off with, "Welcome to Canada!"  The whole interaction took place in less than 5 minutes.  It was quicker and easier than every time that we've had to go through customs while flying!  The joke we've heard is that Canada is nice to its visitors and so of course we didn't encounter any problems. The Americans though, not so much.  I guess the real test will be what happens when we cross back over to the US later in our trip. For now, I'm just glad to be back in my beloved Canada!

We headed towards Okotoks, a suburb of Calgary.  We are staying with some friends of mine that I met when I was in Grade 12 (a senior, as Americans would say). Jenny and Huy are originally from Vancouver and they moved here several years ago.  Their daughter, Madison, is in Grade 4 and Jeremy and Grace immediately took to her.  She has been so patient with them, playing with them and showing them all kinds of things around her home.  Jenny made an authentic and delicious Vietnamese meal for dinner- pho- yum... We stayed up late and talked- it has been wonderful catching up with them.

During our quick stay here, I hope to also be able to meet with my brother and sister-in-law, as well as some other good friends.  We're here until Wednesday morning and then we'll head to my hometown, Edmonton. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Good Bye, Yellowstone!

With about 5 hours to drive today to get to Great Falls, Montana, we decided there'd still be enough time to squeeze in a few more stops in Yellowstone.  We didn't get to Gibbon Falls and Artist Paint Pots in the two previous days, so those were our first two stops.
Our priority for today though, was making sure we headed to a ranger station so Grace could receive her Junior Ranger badge.  The park ranger carefully reviewed her work and asked her questions. 
Here's Junior Ranger Grace!

The park ranger also gave Jeremy a "badge-looking" sticker and he was just as proud of that sticker as Grace was of her Junior Ranger badge.

Next stop was on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  We continued along the rim to try and get as many glimpses as we could.  It's pretty amazing!
On our way out of the park, we went on the same route as yesterday that allowed us to see all of the bears.  Lucky for us, we got one last glimpse of a black bear cub from across the road.
With that, we were on our way!  Here are a few other pictures of our time in Yellowstone:

Such a deceiving picture! They haven't been lovey-dovey like this for most of our trip so far, that's for sure!
We took some backroads to travel from the North Entrance of Yellowstone through Montana to Great Falls.  It was a nice drive, a lot of more mountainous and hilly than what I pictured Montana to be like.  We didn't pass by many homes, but we saw a lot of cows (which goes to show that perhaps it's true- there are more cows in Montana than people).

Tomorrow, we head towards the US-Canada border.  I am very anxious about this crossing, particularly since we found out the night before leaving Fresno that Grace's passport actually expired in May.  In the past few months, I have checked numerous times for the expirations of my own passport and green card (they're both expiring later this year), and I didn't think to check Jason's or our kids' passports.  I'm kicking myself!  We were in an absolute panic the night I finally flipped through them as I was packing for our trip.  We immediately jumped online to see what we could find out.  Both websites of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Canadian Border Services state that children under 15 are allowed to cross the border BY LAND using a birth certificate.  This is an exception because if we were to fly, there are no exceptions and everyone must have a valid passport.  If it crosses your mind, please pray for us- I can't imagine driving all this way to be denied!  Yikes...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Yellowstone- Part 2

Yesterday, we basically did a loop of the southern part of Yellowstone, and today, we did the northern part.  Between the two, I definitely loved the northern part more- it was very picturesque- mountainous, full of creeks, rivers, and lakes.  For part of Grace’s Junior Ranger requirements, we decided to visit some key sites.

First up, we headed to Norris Geyser Basin, an area that Jason and I kept thinking would be a perfect movie set for a sci-fi movie.  The basin contains many thermal features because not only is it on the edge of Yellowstone’s caldera, two fault lines pass under the area.  The result is a basin full of hot springs, geysers, mudpots, and fumeroles.  We went on a long hike through the area and discovered many amazing sights.  The odor as you walk by some of these features is quite pungent- the kids were quick to move us along when we came across one that smelled like rotten eggs (sulfur).   

(Steamboat Geyser, the world's tallest geyser- unfortunately, it doesn't erupt often.  Last time was in May 2005 when its eruption was over 300 ft.  The rest of the time, all you see is steam and bubbling water)

From Norris Geyser Basin, we headed north towards Mammoth Hot Springs.  The layers of rocks, the color from the microscopic bacteria, and the flowing waters of the springs made for quite a sight. Jason and Grace took a longer hike through the area, while Jeremy and I took our time on a shorter hike.  Afterwards, we went to the town located there, got the kids some souvenirs, and treated ourselves to some cold treats. 

We continued on our way and soon stopped to do a less-known hike to Wraith Falls.  It was a fairly short hike, yet not only did we see beautiful falls (that Grace said she wished she could slide down), we also saw a pronghorn and a marmot. 
Back on the road, it wasn’t long before we were met with tons of cars pulled over on the side of the road.  It turns out that everyone had stopped to try and get a glimpse of a black bear cub.  We joined the crowds and sure enough, caught a quick glimpse before it went off.  It was very exciting!

Our last scheduled stop was at Tower Falls.  Once again, Jeremy and I took the quick route to see the falls, while Jason and Grace took the longer route and hiked down to the river.  They were both pretty tired by the time they got back! 

We decided that it’d be best to start heading back to the hotel since we were now pretty far into Yellowstone and it’d take at least an hour to get back.  On our way, we unexpectedly stopped 4 more times, all to catch glimpses of animals.  The first time was once again, due to the dozens of cars pulled off on the side of the road- there was supposedly a mother black bear with her cub.  There was no room for us to stop or pull over, so we continued on. Not long after that, we had to slow down because the car in front of us suddenly stopped.  Seconds later, we watched a mother black bear and a cub cross the road right in front of us.  It was soooooo thrilling! 
As we continued on, we saw crowds of people gathered up on the side of the road.  There was no shoulder to pull off on, so Jason opened up our sunroof and I stood up to see if I could snap a quick picture.  I wasn’t able to, but I did get to see a grizzly cub.  Wow!  Finally, our last stop was when we spotted a huge elk grazing in a meadow.  We immediately pulled over and got out of the car for a closer look.  The antlers on this animal are simply amazing! 

We didn’t intend on arriving back at the hotel around the same time we did last night.  We didn’t sit down to eat until 7:30pm! Tomorrow will be our last visit to Yellowstone.  We are going to go visit a park ranger so Grace can earn her Junior Ranger badge, and visit a few more sites before heading through Montana.   

Favorites of today-
Jason:  Norris Geyser Basin (there were so many unique things to see all in one area)
Jane: seeing the wild animals
Grace: seeing the mother black bear and her cub cross the road
Jeremy: seeing all the black bears

Friday, June 22, 2012

Yellowstone- Part 1

Whew, what a day! It was a busy, but pretty wonderful day! There is so much to do at Yellowstone! When Jason first told me that he wanted to spend 3 days at Yellowstone on our road trip, I thought he was crazy. What could there be to keep us interested for 3 days? Well, I take it back- I am confident that we'd have plenty to do if we stayed here longer.
As soon as we entered the park, we were greeted by TONS of bison... Every few miles, people (including us) would pull over to the side to get pictures of these interesting animals. Grace tried to keep track today and we saw over 250 bison. Even so, we didn't get tired of trying to spot them along our journey.

Our first stop was called Madison Junction where Grace received information on how to earn her Yellowstone Junior Ranger badge. Luckily, she'll have 3 days to complete all of the requirements. We got to the station in time to listen to one of the park ranger's presentations about the birds that live in Yellowstone.

From there, we continued on our way to Fountain Paint Pot. This area contains several geysers (hot springs that are constricted and forced through openings in the ground), hot springs (unlike geysers, have no constrictions so often pool), fumaroles (steam vents in the ground), and mudpots (breakdown of rock to clay/mud through heat, acid, micro-ogranisms). Such a unique area!

We continued on our way and stopped along the road at various geyser sites. Yellowstone's most well-known geyser, Old Faithful, was next on the map. We got to the site about 10 minutes before it was predicted to erupt. Sure enough, it was quite the sight! Even more so was the number of people who were there to witness it. Wow! Apparently, we saw an unusually long eruption of over 4 minutes! We came to find out through visiting the Visitor Center that the predictions of Old Faithful's eruptions are dependent on this: if an eruption is shorter than 2 mins., 30 secs., the next one will occur about 60 mins. later, and if an eruption is longer than 2 mins., 30 secs., the next one will likely be 75 mins. later. We ate a picnic lunch, spent time in the Exhibit Hall, and even watched an educational movie before heading back out to watch the geyser erupt again.

We got back in the car, crossed the Continental Divide, visited West Thumb Geyser Basin, drove along the banks of Yellowstone Lake, took a short hike around Mud Volcano and several caldrons (where we saw a coyote run across the path only hundreds of yards away), and stopped to admire the beauty of the Upper Falls before heading back to the hotel.

We didn’t arrive back at the hotel for dinner until 7:30pm, and then took a quick swim in the pool before sending the kids to bed. After the long day we had, I think they’ll sleep well tonight!

Favorites of today:
Jason- Fountain Paint Pot
Jane- the 4 of us spending time together
Grace- seeing all of the animals (particularly the coyote we saw on our hike)
Jeremy- seeing the geysers erupt

I’m glad there were so many positives to today because a definite negative was Jeremy's mood today- he was not fun to be with. I’m blaming it on lack of sleep.  I hope that he fell asleep right away tonight, unlike last night when he was still playing around at 10pm.  We have lots planned for our day tomorrow, so hopefully, he will be back to his usual goofy, easy-going self.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On the Road

Not a whole lot to share tonight! We were in the car again for around 9 hours as we left Nevada, traveled through Idaho and Montana. We made a few stops along the way, the most notable one was made as we were leaving Twin Falls, Idaho.

We crossed a bridge and were struck by the canyon on either side. I made Jason turn around and we returned to the overlook. Interestingly, the overlook shared a parking lot with a shopping area very similar to River Park in Fresno. It seems rather odd to me that what I consider to be a natural gem has Old Navy overlooking it. Down below was Snake River, and we watched some people kayaking before continuing on.

The drive was much more interesting as we drove along today. Like yesterday, the kids were great travelers. We arrived at West Yellowstone, Montana at about 6:30pm and headed to the town's main strip for dinner. The kids are now (supposed to be) sleeping, and Jason and I have the hard task of trying to decide what we want to do in Yellowstone these next few days. I am looking forward to being in the midst of the beauty that God has created.   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Here We Go!

We decided to do a road trip this year rather than flying to Canada like we usually do.  Who knows, maybe we'll love it so much that it'll become our annual trip, or maybe we'll decide it was a good adventure while it lasted...  We set off today at 9am.
We stopped for lunch at an In N Out in Auburn, a little outside Sacramento before continuing on our way. We wanted to have the freedom to make stops if we wanted to, and I'm glad for that-here's a quick photo op with Donner Lake in the background at a Vista Point right past Donner Summit.  Being the teachers we are and wanting to optimize teachable moments, Jason shared a quick rundown with Grace about the Donner Party and how people used to travel through this area.

We made it to Elko, Nevada around 7pm and headed right to dinner.  Jason checked Yelp for some suggestions on where to go and we ended up choosing a restaurant called Sergio's. It was somewhat of a hole-in-the-wall type Mexican restaurant, but the portions were huge and the food was pretty good. 
Since the kids did so wonderfully in the car and it is my birthday after all, we decided to end our day with a trip to a nearby Dairy Queen for some ice cream.  Today was a great start to our road trip... 10 hours on the road- can you believe it?!  Fingers are crossed that this will continue...