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Harvest Time at the Ponderosa

COVID Roadtrip

September 2020 – time for one last cross-Canada road trip to visit my parents in Manitoba before the winter weather hits, COVID cases climb, and my mom’s health degrades.

Driver Switch

Astrid was a great road trip trooper again. We condensed the trip into 3 days this time and stayed in hotels along the way. As long as they had pools with waterslides she was happy.

Waterslide

There was a lot of work to do at the Ponderosa – emptying the septic tank and refilling the cisterns; hooking up a new backup generator to the solar system; and all those vegetables.

Squash Picking

We harvested squash, beans, tomatoes, corn, and grapes from the garden.

Harvest

It was hard, physical labour and most of it had to be done before the frost hit. But it was also rewarding work. And it turns out that shelling beans is a perfect activity to keep my hands occupied while I listen to board meetings.

Canning

The ripe tomatoes were canned into tomato sauce.

Grapes

The grapes were turned into juice (they were amazingly sweet and tasty but with a lot of seeds).

Hauling Wood

Kerry and Mark came out one weekend and they hauled dead trees out of the bush and chopped them up for winter firewood.

Laying in Bed

Getting everything ready for the winter was hard work but it was the easy part of the trip. The difficult part was having all the heavy conversations. I definitely avoided them for the first week we were there. It was easier to work all day and then watch Lucifer at night.

But we did talk. I talked to my dad about his efforts to do everything possible to give mom a fighting chance. About being prepared for what comes next. About selling the Ponderosa. About how unfair all of this is. About how lucky we were for all the great times we had together. And about spending as much quality time together as possible. So many hard conversations crammed into a short visit.

Flowery Goodbye

I tried to talk with my mom too. It was hard. Not just emotionally but because she wasn’t present or interested in talking most of the time. She had good days and bad days while we were visiting. On good days, she ate breakfast and dinner with us downstairs and maybe went for a walk. On bad days she didn’t leave her room and barely ate. Even on the good days she spent at least 20 hours in bed and her short-term memory was foggy (she rarely remembered what day it was). We had a few good lucid conversations about everything from travelling, karma, health choices, going vegan, and being an environmentalist in the 80s.

Cuddles

Astrid knows that Baba is sick and has cancer. She has a vague understanding that she might die, although I’m not she fully grasps what that means. She did ask at one point if she would get a new Baba if that happens, which made me chuckle and cry. I think having Astrid around was good for Baba. The rest of us were focused on her health and kept nagging her to eat or take her medicine. Astrid just wanted to cuddle and spend time with her.

Goodbye Ponderosa, Goodbye Mom

It was hard to say goodbye but I’m really glad we visited. I love spending time with my parents and it was a beautiful time of year to be at the Ponderosa. We got a lot done and had some really great conversations. No matter what happens next, we’ll always have two more weeks of lovely memories together.

Ponderosa

More pictures from our trip.

Social Isolation at the Ponderosa Part 2

Ponderosa Crew

Our COVID-19 isolation bubble got smaller at the end of April when Kelsey, Jacob, and Nora left the Ponderosa (you can read more about the month we spent with them here). It was sad to see them go, but it also gave us the opportunity to settle into a simpler routine.

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With only one child running around, things were quieter and easier to manage. Astrid usually slept in and I was able to start running in the mornings. My parents have a bunch of beautiful trails around their property and I ran them all. I saw deer and rabbits and almost stepped on a beaver one morning.

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The weather was all over the place. We had a windstorm that ripped siding off the house. We had one last snowstorm – in May! We had one of the most amazing prairie thunderstorms I’ve ever seen with hours of sheet lighting. But it did get steadily warmer and we got to enjoy a lot more of the outdoors (while trying to avoid the ticks and mosquitoes).

Outdoor Pizza Oven

The highlight of the warming weather was getting to use the outdoor pizza oven. It baked the best focaccia and pizzas. My mouth waters looking back at the pictures.

Baba's Little Helper

Astrid spent most of the day following Baba and Gigi around. She was Baba’s little helper, watering plants in the greenhouse and planting in the garden. And Gigi took her into town almost everyday once the Sandy Lake playground opened up.

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It was great seeing how outdoorsy Astrid became. She learned to identify birds, the call of the loon, and the tracks left by deer and the droppings of the coyote. She loved to go for walks and pick up flowers and rocks.

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Without having to leave our property, we saw deer, coyotes, foxes, snakes, frogs, woodpeckers, and prairie chickens. When the national parks reopened, we visited Riding Mountain National Park and saw a black bear and the large bison herd that lives there.

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We went horseback riding and Astrid fell asleep in the saddle 10 minutes into our trail ride. I had onto her so she didn’t fall off the horse.

Canoe Ride at the Ponderosa

We had a few beautiful canoe rides on the lake.

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We did a NYT crossword puzzle almost every day (a tradition Dad and I are trying to keep going on Sunday mornings). And in the evenings we always watched an episode of Lucifer and Community on Netflix (if we missed watching Lucifer Gigi got very cranky).

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It was great seeing my mom get steadily better while we were there. She had good days and bad, but I really enjoyed spending time with her and seeing Astrid and her have so much fun together. With her energy levels rebounding, she was out gardening, hiking, and kayaking with us. Her first round of chemo was punishing and we’re not sure what the future holds, but we’re hopeful she continues to fight and we’ll take any miracles we can get.

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COVID-19 has been really hard on a lot of families, dealing with a scary new disease, hospitalizations, deaths, and social isolation. I’m grateful that for our family, it gave us the perfect excuse to spend a long stretch of time together. We were at the Ponderosa for 2.5 months. It was hard to leave and we kept extending our stay, but with daycare opening back up and Mom going through chemo, it was time we moved back to Vancouver.

More pictures from Part 2 of our time at the Ponderosa (May and June).

COVID-19: Apocalypse Road Trip and Self-Isolation

Ponderosa Sunset

Welcome to our new reality. COVID-19 has upended our family just like everyone else. But unlike most, we’ve decided to take refuge 2000 km away from where we normally live.

Working From Home

Emily and I are grateful to have jobs where we can work from home but it’s been hard juggling work with childcare. Astrid’s daycare is still officially open, but is now an emergency facility for parents who really need it. We pulled Astrid out on March 18 and spent a week looking after her at home, and quickly realized it wasn’t sustainable.

No More Play

Normally, we would ask Grandma for help or spend time outside playing with neighbours, but neither were possible with the coronavirus rampaging around. When they started shutting down playgrounds, our options became even more limited and our townhouse felt smaller everyday. Astrid’s closest companion became her stuffed unicorn.

Only Child Breakfast

This also corresponded with very busy periods at work for both of us. At ArtStarts, the executive director resigned after 9 years and Emily was taking on more of those responsibilities while trying to figure out how their organization would deal with school closures and new physical distancing rules.

Working From Home

At Thrive Health, we’ve had the busiest and most intense month in the company’s history. We were given 2 weeks to build the official COVID-19 app for the province of British Columbia (check it out at bc.thrive.health). We cranked out an early self-assessment website that had 1 million hits within the first 24 hours and built a decent app within 2 weeks. A minor miracle for our small team. But there wasn’t any time to rest, because we agreed to create a fully-translated version for everyone in Canada in partnership with Health Canada (check it out at ca.thrive.health).

The pace of development has slowed a bit in the past 2 weeks, but our team is still working 6 days a week and we’re trying to manage burnout among our employees. But it’s been extremely rewarding being part of this and building something with hundreds of thousands of users. The big challenge has been convincing our government partners to let us push more content out.

Amidst all the craziness, my mom got sick and we made the decision to travel halfway across the country to isolate with them in their rural Manitoba property called the Ponderosa.

Apocalypse Road Trip

Apocalypse Road Trip

It was a weird road trip. The highways were nearly deserted, most restaurants were serving take-out only, and the only washrooms we could reliably find were at gas stations. We drove to Kamloops first and met up with my sister and her kids. We were lucky my aunts in Calgary and Saskatoon were happy to host our convoy. Considering all the uncertainty around COVID-19, it wasn’t a small ask. They gave us dinner and beds, and we gave them rolls of toilet paper as payment. 4 days later we arrived at the Ponderosa.

Treats at Auntie Sheila's

Self-Isolating at the Ponderosa

My parents have a huge off-the-grid home in rural Manitoba that feels like it was designed as a shelter from the zombie apocalypse or a global pandemic. It’s the perfect place to be right now. We’re physically isolated from the rest of the world, Manitoba has very few cases of COVID-19, there are enough beds for the whole extended family, we have a huge cellar full of food, solar panels provide our electricity, and rain barrels collect water.

Cellar Supplies

The only downsides are the satellite internet is slow and laggy, and the weather has been unusually cold with sub-zero temperatures most days since we arrived. Luckily I think winter is finally over here and most of the snow has melted.

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We’re 4 weeks in now and this is the longest I’ve spent with my family since I was 18. We haven’t killed each other yet, even if there have been some heated discussions about lifestyles, conspiracies, which tv shows to watch, and taking games too seriously. The kids have had a blast playing with each other and are basically siblings now. It will be a big change when they are split up again.

COVID-19 Social Isolation

It’s been easier working here than it was in Vancouver. I usually start my day at 9 am, get 3 hours of work in before most of my co-workers start their day, and then have meetings all afternoon. Kelsey has been great about looking after the kids during the day and doing a lot of the cooking. Emily has gone down to half-time at her work so she can help out more with the housework. My mom got out of the hospital 2 weeks ago and has been getting stronger every day. It’s been great having her around again. I try to help out when I can, but I’ve been working a lot. I’ve made a few pizza dinners and an Indian feast one night. I miss being able to go to restaurants, but Emily’s sushi dinner was a big hit.

Roasting Hot Dogs

The kids have been having a blast and what little they will remember of COVID-19 when they are older will probably be positive. They have a ton of room to run around inside and their own playroom full of toys and costumes. Gigi (my dad) likes to wrestle with them and watch cartoons. And now that the weather is warmer they have had even more space to explore.

Walking on Thin Ice Hay Bales Playing on the Stairs Horsey Rides Climbing a Tree Corona Cut Doing Dishes Feeding Horses Sandbox

More photos of our COVID-19 adventures at the Ponderosa.

12 Days at the Ponderosa 2018

Cousins 2018
We spent the first 12 days of August in Manitoba visiting my family. Astrid had a blast playing with her cousins, running around pantless, eating peas and raspberries from the garden, and riding the tractor with Gigi.

Day 1
In-flight entertainment
The flight went pretty smoothly into Winnipeg. Astrid was excited when Gigi picked us up at the airport. We were the first ones to arrive at my parents place (affectionately called the Ponderosa) so Astrid had first choice of beds and picked the room with a bunk bed hidden behind a bookshelf.
Bunk Bed

Day 2
Holding Hands

Kelsey managed to get Jacob and Nora to Winnipeg from Kamloops all by herself. Jacob and Astrid were quickly running around together and Nora was crawling around a few feet behind them.

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Potty Training Partners

Astrid and Jacob both saw huge leaps in their potty training as they spent the 2 weeks running around without pants and copying each other.

Day 3
Sunflower Family
Kerry, Megan, Katie, and Tyler arrived from Winnipeg completing the family gathering.


Katie and Tyler were quick to setup a workout bootcamp for everyone to follow (except Emily who somehow managed to nap through it with Astrid)

Day 4
Beach Family Time
We spent the morning at Sandy Lake enjoying the beach. Unfortunately the lake was dark green from algae bloom that has plagued the lake all summer and sadly has become normal due to fertilizer runoff from the nearby farms.Green Lake Paddle
Manitoba Rash
We went swimming anyway and the next day my arms broke out in rashes that lasted until I got back to Vancouver. I also started suffering from hay fever symptoms (itchy eyes, runny nose) which I’ve never had before. Although that could have been from an accumulation of allergens like dust and pet dander.

Swimming was also not good for Baba. She hurt her foot after falling off the paddleboard onto a rock and spent the rest of our visit hobbling around with a walker or cane.

Rolled Ankle

Day 5
Forming a Band

Tractor Ride
The kids spent the day running around the Ponderosa – playing music, having a tea party, riding on the tractor, helping in the garden, building a blanket fort.

Toy Room

There is lots to keep them amused, including the most amazing kids room full of the best toys from my childhood and some new ones. It also has a little slide, cupboards to climb in, clothes to dress up, and chalkboard panels to draw on.

Day 6
Christmas in August Dinner
It’s Christmas in August. The whole point of getting everyone together in August was to replace our normal Christmas gathering. My parents live off-the-grid in Manitoba and winters are not only harsh but a time of scarcity. In the summer they have abundant solar energy, hot water, and a garden full of produce.

Perogy Making

So we made perogies and cabbage rolls, and ate a Ukrainian Christmas Eve Dinner (the borscht was served at lunch).

Day 7
Ponderosa Picnic
We had a nice picnic until the mosquitoes found us. They weren’t bad near the house, but you got eaten alive in the garden and trees.

Tent Scramble
We set up a tent, so Emily, Astrid, and I could camp one night. It wasn’t as comfortable as sleeping in the house, but Astrid had fun. It also served as another play area for the kids.

Day 8
Kinosao Lake
Emily and I left Astrid with the grandparents and went into Riding Mountain National Park to do a little hike. We saw the bison herd, a momma bear with 3 cubs, and a crystal clear Manitoba lake (so they do exist).

Popsicles
Gigi Singalong
Meanwhile the grandkids enjoyed more quality time with Baba and Gigi.

Day 9
Trans Canada Trail
Another day trip for Emily and I. This time we did a long bike trip along the Trans Canada Trail from Elphinstone to Sandy Lake.

Day 10
Mixing the Dough Rising Bread Mom Baking Bread Fresh Bread
We got to watch Baba make bread in the traditional clay oven at the Sandy Lake Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Museum.

Day 11
Ponderosa Paddle

Astrid paddling
We went for our second canoe ride on the lake, this time with Astrid. It took a few tries to get her into the boat but once she was in she loved helping dada row row. The Ponderosa has a surprisingly large lake with lots of little bays and inlets to explore. We thought we could circumnavigate the whole thing, but after 2 hours of paddling we explored less than half of it.

Coulson Family Gathering
My extended family had converged in Sandy Lake for Western Days and had a reunion and bonfire at the farm.

Day 12
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We caught the beginning of the Western Days parade before we had to hurry to Brandon to catch our flight back to Vancouver.

We had a great time in Manitoba. We love spending time with our nieces and nephews, and seeing Astrid bond with them. The food, weather, and company were excellent. Astrid misses the peas, being Baba’s little helper, jumping on Gigi, chasing after Jacob, and running around naked.

More photos
Logging Protest
Astrid staging her first naked logging protest.

Watering the Garden with a Firehose
Watering the garden with water pumped from the lake.


Gigi want a carrot?

3 generations doing dishes
Astrid helping with dishes while standing on the helper stool that Gigi made.

Full photo album

Astrid: Month 12

Astrid in a Field Astrid continues to impress us with her strength, determination, and joy.  She’s mastering standing on her own without support, napping at daycare (on most days), and her molars are coming in. Otherwise she’s the same exuberant munchkin she’s been for the past few months. She hasn’t checked off any new milestones, but she’s noticeably more opinionated and vocal, she’s more dextrous and enjoys climbing everything, and she’s understanding basic instructions.

Slider

As soon as Emily went back to work Astrid started napping better at daycare. She still has her bad days, but she’s generally happy to be at daycare with her friend Lara and provider Mary. They’ve been going out to the library, play gym, and on neighbourhood walks. Astrid is happy to be dropped off in the morning and happy to be picked up in the evening. Grandma picks her up early once a week so they can spend some quality time together in the park (with Grammy too).

Hat

With the nice weather and new modes of transportation, we’ve been going on a lot more outings. Astrid is pretty good at restaurants and happy when we find playgrounds or other climbing structures around the city. We visited the New Westminster Quay with Shannon and Simon this month. We were impressed by the boardwalk and the vegan food crawl at River Market.

Waterfront Park

Baba and Gido visited for a weekend. Astrid enjoyed their visit so much that she insisted on visiting them at the Ponderosa two weeks later. It was our first solo trip without Emily.

Upside Down

We flew to Manitoba for my Aunt Weiner‘s memorial service. Astrid was a great traveller. She slept on the flights (with only minor screaming on landing in Vancouver when her ears wouldn’t pop). I was nervous before our trip about feeding her, putting her to sleep, and separating her from Mom for 4 days, but she bottle fed in the morning and night, ate well during the day, and slept through the nights. She really enjoyed playing with her cousins and grandparents and exploring the Ponderosa.

Wild Ride

Cousins Baba and Astrid Enjoy the Ponderosa

Tractor Ride

Astrid went to her first theatre show on Granville Island. She sat engrossed with the adventures of Sun and Moon in Good Day and Good Night.

Astrid in New York

For Father’s Day, Emily made me vegan french toast for breakfast, we won a free lunch at Chau Veggie, and we spent the afternoon at Car Free Main Street. It was a perfect day. First Carfree

More pictures

A Week at the Ponderosa

Family Photo

It was great spending a week with my parents at their off-the-grid home in Manitoba (read their homesteading blog). It was the first visit for Astrid and Emily’s first time being there in the summer (I think she prefers the mosquitoes to the -40 C and snow). The house is still under construction, but is looking great. Since Christmas, they’ve added gorgeous wood railings that my dad made (you can imagine how much work it is to sand and install all those spindles) and cork flooring on the main floor.

Railings
Handmade wood railings

Blocks
Now there is lots of room for kids to play.

Sardines
And still plenty of hiding spots for a game of sardines.

Continue reading A Week at the Ponderosa