Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hiking in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

Life is funny sometimes. Opportunities come up and you respond to them as you feel appropriate, and I wonder: if we realized the vast consequences tiny decisions can influence, would we be more deliberate in our actions, or would we be paralyzed by indecision, or would we become even more careless when choosing actions? As a fan of scifi, particularly of the Stargate and Star Trek variety, where time travel, temporal paradoxes, and muddled time lines as the result of a moment's hesitation are all in a day's work, I thought I was rather aware of the ripples tiny decisions make, but one of those ripples snuck up and took me by surprise last week. :)

I'm sorry if you're one of the people who's ear I've already talked off about how great Sanctuary was/is, but that's where this ripple started. Last September I discovered my favourite TV show ever (which is really saying something...) and then started following the actors from it as they worked on various other projects, which is how I started watching Hell on Wheels. As the title may suggest, this show is not for the squeamish...it's on AMC, which will probably tell you quite a lot...anyway, the Sanctuary actor I started watching the show for keeps a low internet profile, so I started following the lead actor, Anson Mount, on Twitter. He's an interesting person, and while I don't always agree with him, he's more polite than a lot of Twitter celebrities with whom I don't agree, and he's really great about interacting with his fans.

In April Anson tweeted a blog that someone he knows had written about a visit to the set of Hell on Wheels. Of course I checked it out, and as I was very entertained by Shelli's 'voice', I started at the beginning and caught up on all of her old blog posts, and subscribed to new ones. I have a pretty wide range of blogs I follow, and I'm a fairly regular commenter, because I know how nice it is to know that someone's actually reading what you write. (Insert crickets chirping on my blog here. :) Shelli started chatting back, and eventually she was back in Calgary and emailed me to hang out, which really got me excited, because I really like making new friends, but in person I'm pretty much an introvert when it comes to starting up a conversation, so becoming internet friends first was a good way to get past my initial shyness (which, can you believe, has in the past been taken for snobbery?! :P).

And I figured what better way to introduce someone from LA to my favourite things about Alberta than to take a hike in a place I'd never been! :) Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is about half an hour from my house, just west of Calgary on the way to Cochrane. It's so close and so beautiful, I can't believe I've never been there before.

CP Rail train and prairie skies!

The paths are mostly paved, and very well maintained. The views were absolutely stunning - we were close enough to Calgary to still glimpse Canada Olympic Park in the east, as well as see the mountains to the west.

Cute little critter!

One of the interpretive signs said that badgers live in the park, and I got really excited, because I didn't know we even had any in Alberta, but the park guide said that they're nocturnal so we wouldn't likely see one anyway. :( Still, we saw enough other things to make the hike worthwhile!

Old general store/post office. The original brick facing is piled up behind and to the left.

I ADORE rural decay. The old store is fenced off so we couldn't get too close, but it was close enough to spark my interest. The park was originally the site of a ranch, and a CP rail town with a brick-making industry. Eventually the town folded and all that's left is this building and a pile of bricks. My minor is in Canadian History, so this is all right up my alley!

It looked like rain!

We walked and talked for hours and hardly even noticed! I tend to get bored fairly easily when doing nothing but walking, because I'm usually multitasking like a crazy person, but when you add in talking about everything under the sun, the time just flew. :) The skies were clouding over and there was a bit of a drizzle by the time we were heading back, but despite faint thunder in the distance, we managed to avoid bad weather. My car needs a bath though...the road into the park is gravel, and very very very dusty!

After leaving the park we headed into Cochrane for some world-famous MacKay's Ice Cream, which you can read about on Shelli's blog...she posts more pictures and isn't as rambley as me... :)

So, thanks to Anson Mount, who I followed because of Hell on Wheels, which I checked out because of Christopher Heyerdahl and Sanctuary, which I first noticed because of Amanda Tapping and Stargate - in short, my fangirling of scifi - I met a friend, hiked, and ate ice cream. And it was a glorious break from a week of helping with Vacation Bible School...which is definitely a story all on its own. :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Southern Alberta Camping

Last time I tried to go camping in southern Alberta, it was in Waterton, and we came home after one night because of the extreme wind, which literally flattened our tent in the middle of the night. So when I booked two nights at Little Bow Provincial Park, just south of Vulcan, I was really hoping it wasn't too far south for comfort. I really needed a holiday after the stress of running the District Youth Gathering, although I'd forgotten how much work it is to prep for a camping trip, and since Trevor wasn't coming with me packing the car was a bit more difficult than usual, but once I was on the road, I was stoked. Timmies in hand, I headed south accompanied by the tunes of one of my favourite Lutheran bands, Lost And Found - I just got their new live double-CD release in the mail, and it took me almost all the way to Little Bow. I made a quick stop at the Vulcan Tourism and Trek Station for a map and directions, since I'd forgotten mine in my rush to get on the road...and made it to the campground about 40 minutes earlier than I'd planned, which made me very happy. :)

It had been cold and rainy in Calgary, and I was wearing jeans and a thick t-shirt, so my first stop was changing into something cooler, which also made me very happy. However, the weather forecast was calling for the possibility of thundershowers, so we decided to rig a tarp up in the trees over the tent, just to be on the safe side. The guy in the campsite across the lane came over to talk to us about parking his boat on our side of the road, and asked if we needed any help - I felt like he didn't think two girls could put up a tarp - but of course we politely turned him down!

The good and the bad about Little Bow is that there's no internet, and as I discovered, no cell coverage. I was glad to have a few days of rest of the net, but I'd promised Trevor a phone call. As the evening wore on and it got a bit darker, it looked more and more like it would rain, so I set out to hunt down a pay phone. After walking not five minutes to the parking lot, it was dark as night, and the wind was blowing in off the lake. There was also some lightning on the horizon, so I turned around and headed back. When I was still a few blocks away from the campsite, it started to rain, and by the time I got to the tent it was pouring and I was soaking. We scrambled into the tent and battened down the hatches. Then I realized that I couldn't read because my flashlight was in the car, I was hungry, and I had to go to the bathroom. It felt like eons before the storm let up - the lightning was blindingly bright, the thunder was shaking the ground, and the rain was POURING down - but it was only a couple of hours. Once it let up we regrouped and went to bed, but I had uneasy dreams all night about the tent flooding. Really though, the only water that got in the tent was what we brought in on our wet clothes, so when boat guy from across the road stopped by to ask how we fared, I was quite pleased to report that not a drop of rain leaked in. :)

Saturday was bright and sunny, and after a lazy morning reading, eating, and people-watching, we hiked up one of the hills surrounding the campground.

The scenery of the hills and the lake reminded me so much of my trip to Israel and the Galilee region - Little Bow is more green - but the heat and the dust and the rolling hills and the blue water gave me a bit of a flashback.

So pretty! I'll definitely go there again. We also checked out the lake shore briefly, but I didn't have my camera on that walk. It was a really restful weekend of reading, Scrabble, eating and recharging, which I really needed after the insane few months I've had.

Although speaking of insane...I came back and jumped right into helping with Vacation Bible School, which I haven't done in about nine years. I'm a classroom helper for the Grade 1/2 class, and there's about 23 kids, one teacher and four helpers. It's actually lots of fun, and it's really nice to not actually being in charge of keeping things running on time or anything like that, but I do feel a bit old when I see how much energy a grade 1 boy has! Each group has an animal associated with it, so I'm 'Mrs. H' of the Sandcats. We'll see how the week goes...maybe next week you'll get a blog of "Mrs. H's VBS Version of 'Kids Say the Darnedest Things'". :)

Aaaand...I've recently figured out how to use HTML to make links work properly, and I went a bit nuts in this post, and linked to a bunch of old posts. So if you're a relatively new reader, check them out, ok! Especially the Israel ones...that was such an epic trip - one of these days I'll go back!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Youth Gatherings - I love them.

There are lots of things I've come to love about the Lutheran church. My top favourite is youth gatherings. The first time I heard the term I was decidedly not interested - that was waaay back in like, 2000-ish and I hadn't been Lutheran very long, so I didn't know what I was missing!

Then in 2004, our church worker, Susan, who was in charge of youth, went on maternity leave, and so the youth needed chaperones to take them to this National Youth Gathering in Brandon, Manitoba, of all places. Of course I was in - I'll do pretty much anything for my youth - and I was pretty overwhelmed when we got there. I've never functioned well on little sleep, and after spending two days on a bus with minimal sleep on a church floor en route, I was not at the top of my game. I remember at one point during the weekend actually falling asleep on a floor in a hallway while waiting for the group to get organized...

Scott and Trevor jamming with some youth at a late night spot at the Brandon NYG.

But sleep deprivation aside, I was hooked. Here were Lutheran youth and leaders from all over Canada coming together for four days, and the sense of community and fellowship was incredible. There were so many thing to see and do and learn and experience - it was amazing. National Youth Gatherings are once every three years, and also once every three years there's a district level gathering (Alberta/British Columbia, Central, and East). Then one year is a sabbath year with no gathering. 

Next up was a District Youth Gathering in Three Hills, Alberta, in 2007,  and I was asked to help by putting together the gathering book, which was a handbook of all of the important information, like schedules, maps, etc. I was really flattered to be asked to be a part of the gathering team, and it sort of snowballed from there...

The adults accompanying our youth group from my church to the DYG.

Three Hills a sleepy little town, and there isn't much there other than the college we stayed in. We went to Drumheller and saw the Passion Play, which is an incredible experience that I highly recommend. One of my most distinct memories is of a session that was just for the leaders, where a school counsellor came in and talked about the trend of 'cutting' in such graphic terms that I had to leave the room. :P Running on lack of sleep is a common theme at gatherings, because there's so much to squeeze in during just a few days, that the best way to do that is to spend a minimum amount of time sleeping. :)

One of my favourite gatherings so far was the NYG in Ottawa in 2007. We had a really big group - our youth group was at its peak size - and we had so much fun together. Ottawa is a beautiful city, and we were able to do some sightseeing. The Parliament, the war museum, the Museum of Man (I know it's called something else now...), the Byward Market...it was all very lush and unlike brown Calgary!

Our Calgary group, all dressed up in Ottawa.

I was a little bit more involved in this one - they asked me to coordinate the 'cabana', which was basically the exhibit hall, but more fun than your average exhibit hall. It was in a gym, and half of it was reserved for the leaders, with a spa and snacks (my friend Chris met the woman he married there...gatherings are good for that, too!) and the other half was full of exhibitors with interactive displays and games for the kids. It was a stinking lot of work to coordinate, and it wasn't helped by the fact that it was very, very far away from the dorms. I did more walking that weekend then I did in my entire life, until I went to Jerusalem. And I really don't think I'm exaggerating!

Update: I just remembered another reason why I loved Ottawa so much...I helped plan the sessions! I didn't have any responsibilites during the weekend - I was on the brainstorming team that met months and months beforehand to map out what the sessions would contain, and then during the gathering I got to sit back and see the results of my ideas come to fruition. It was very satisfying!

Then in 2009 we were back to a district gathering, and I was asked to be on the committee. I jumped at the chance, and we ended up having it in Kelowna, at UBCO. I love being on the gathering planning committee. The only drawback is that because I'm 'on duty' so much I don't get to spend much time with my kids.

My group in Kelowna in 2009.

The major drama leading into that gathering was the massive forest fires burning near Kelowna. UBCO was on the opposite side of the lake from the fires, but the smoke was filling the whole valley. But it wasn't bad enough to call off the gathering, and it got under control the day the committee arrived to prep things. The weather was beautiful - I love the Okanagan - and I even got to spend some time at the beach once things were all done.

Then in 2010 we were off to Edmonton for an NYG. In a bit of a change, I had no responsibilities other than being in charge of a very large youth group with only one other leader - Trevor - to help. That actually turned out to be more stressful than being part of a planning team! We had 13 youth, and I drove myself crazy head-counting all the time. The dorms were quite far from the theatre were the sessions were, and trying to round everyone up to leave on time and together was like herding cats...

Safely arriving in Calgary after the NYG. See how relieved I look? Also, I'm wearing my shirt from the 2007 DYG!

The biggest saving grace to my sanity at that gathering was the fact that there was a Tim Hortons on the ground floor of the dorms. Hooray for steeped tea!

And this year, in Calgary, I co-chaired the DYG. I'm still trying to recover and process everything that happened - and I'm beyond exhausted - but it's a good, job-well-done kind of exhausted. Tracy, my co-chair, and I pulled it off in nine months, when these things are usually two years in the works. Also, she had a baby part way through planning, and I was dealing with my first full-time year of post-secondary school. Fun, hey? :) Actually, it was - it was also stressful, but the rewards of planning an event like this are so worth it. We had 105 people, some of whom I'd never met before, but all of whom I love dearly and would give my life for. And for whom I gave up my perfectionist GPA goal. :)

The whole group at the Calgary NYG.

I love gatherings because they bring together all sorts of different people of all different walks of life and ages, but we all have Jesus in common. For me, the joy in that 'teachable moment' when something a youth has heard maybe from the cradle clicks and you see that light of true understanding - those moments are solid gold, and I would give up more than just a perfect GPA any day to see that happen. Even if that happens for only one kid who comes, it's worth it, because who knows what other nuggets of truth get buried deep to pop up later in life when needed most?

And the afternoon it ended we were already talking plans for 2015. Not to mention that I'm on (and have been since about 2001) the local Calgary-area gathering committee, where we have a retreat every fall, except for a couple of years when we took a hiatus. We're well into planning for that one and I'm so excited for it. We're going to be tackling the Nicene Creed and why it's important and I just can't wait for all of the teachable moments we'll encounter.

I'm very thankful for the grace of God and the gift of mad administrative skills, and as long as I have any say in the matter whatsoever, I will be involved in a youth gathering of one kind or another. I firmly believe that they are one of the most valuable tools available to youth ministry, because they are so unique from anything else the kids encounter in their day-to-day lives.

This song kind of became the unoffical theme song for the weekend, and it's one of my favourites, so I'll leave you with that and haul my aching carcass off to bed. :)

What mercy was revealed
What selflessness and peace
My fate was surely sealed
Until He rescued me
His pardon for my sin
His bounty for my need
From slavery and shame
I am redeemed

And Heaven can't contain
The glory of the Son
Jesus is the Christ, the saving One
His love has made a way
The grave is overcome
Jesus is the Christ, the saving One

No fear can hold me down
Nor darkness steal my joy
For blood has been poured out
The enemy destroyed
Death could not hold Him down
The cross was not enough
To steal away His throne
For He is God

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Too busy! Youth Gatherings FTW!

Too busy to post this week - I'm co-chairing a conference that starts TOMORROW! Eeep! I can't even count the number of conferences I've helped plan over the years, but this is one of the biggest, and also my highest level of responsibility, so I might be freaking out JUST A LITTLE BIT. It's been quite a while since I had butterflies in my stomach over anything (ok, maybe Comic Expo in the spring, but those were a difference kind of butterfly...) so I'm pretty nervous.

I'll just leave you with a picture of me enjoying a past youth conference....laying a smackdown on a youth who was throwing a football indoors. :)

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Where have all my adjectives gone?

lolcatz give Grammatically Correct Cat a bad name

In the days of yore, my vocabulary was rich with adjectives, nouns, and verbiage unusual for a small child. I recall an occasion with my paternal parental unit, which occurred when I was approximately eight years of age, wherein said paternal unit perchanced to encounter an acquaintance in a local shopping establishment, and they agreed to partake in a congenial hot beverage. The acquaintance remarked of me "Speaks the Queen's own English, don't she?".

As I progressed in years, a robust vocabulary became less charming to adults, and increasingly a topic of incredulity from my peers. The result was the depletion of my store of 'big words', out of fear of ridicule for 'being different'. This atrophy of my vocabulary has increasingly become a detriment to my university paper-writing. As I laboured to produce the two final tomes of the school year, I found my scattered synapses struggling to produce the appropriate descriptors. Words I once bandied with ease slipped through my brain cells like star systems through General Tarkin's fingers.

My lexicography is diminished, depleted, devastated, and decimated. My label of 'voracious reader' which once enabled my thesaurus-like storehouse of words appears to have failed me. The storehouse is dusty, musty, and my terminology rusty. Even Scrabble has failed to keep my synapses sharp, my brain burgeoning, or my vocabulary vivid. This from the girl who read the Encyclopedia Britannica and the thesaurus for fun, and who catalogued list of intriguing words for future use...

On the Herculean-task list for this summer: learn new words!