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Last year I started creating monthly meal plans so that we weren’t eating spaghetti every night as I rushed in the door and had to throw together something quick and nutritious. When I began, I thought I would abandon it quickly (as I do most other “organize your life!!! tools). Instead, it made such a huge difference in my stress levels that I am now slightly evangelical about the joys of meal planning, to my family’s amusement. I don’t mind their teasing though, because it really does make a huge difference in how our household functions, and in my daily stress levels. Not having to decide what to make each night, and having the ingredients on hand for healthy meals (or even better, having a nice crock pot meal waiting when we arrive home), has made the difference between me resenting food and me feeling good about feeding my family well. It’s almost impossible for me to explain the difference it has made to my soul – even a year later I often find myself thinking about HOW MUCH BETTER LIFE IS WITH MEAL PLANS!!!

I’ve thought many times about blogging about how great meal planning has been for me, but it seemed kind of strange to post something like that as a one-off, when I haven’t posted anything else since just before Anwen was born. However, I recently stumbled across something else that has had an almost equally profound effect on my daily stress, and every time I think about it I feel like shouting from the rooftops. So I thought I would start a list, and add things to it when I have those experiences. Maybe someone who reads this (so basically, just you, Auri) will find that one or two of them works a little magic in their lives too.

So simple thing that makes my life better #2? A parking pass. I finally took the plunge and am paying $92/month for a parking pass for an on-campus parking spot. For $92 I have the privilege of parking half a kilometre away from my building and no plug in. In all my previous years of attending U of C, I’ve paid the daily rates at the cheap lots and taken my chances on actually finding a spot. This year I decided it was financially more sensible to pay monthly. What I didn’t realize, in making that purely financial decision, was that I was also going to reduce my (previously unacknowledged)Β  daily travel anxiety tremendously. Two things are at play: 1) Not having to search the nooks and crannies of my purse for $6 or get out and use the machine to use my credit card each time I park is a huge time saver as well as a huge stress reducer. Lump sum payments all the way! and 2) I can now plan my travel time much more precisely. Knowing where I’ll park each time and that it won’t take any time to search for a spot (not to mention that my new lot is almost half the distance closer than the old one was), means I can plan my time much more efficiently. When it feels like every 15 minutes is a prize, my new parking pass is the winning ticket. /cheesy metaphor

I hope I do stumble upon things to add to this list in time. Two a year is a pretty good discovery rate at least πŸ˜€

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I am sitting with a candle lit, listening to the sounds of a closing day.

This is the last summer solstice on which I am or will be pregnant (I have been twice before as well), and although I had a slight hope that my babe might choose to arrive today, I am settling in to wait a good long while for him or her instead.

The first day of summer was beautiful, a true gift after a long cold winter and spring. Thank you for that!

Before I go to sleep, I will find my Huw-bunny and invite him in for the night. I don’t think any creature enjoyed the sun today more than he. How lovely to have a sweet beautiful creature like Huwie to remind me of the joy of summer.

All is well as the sun sets.

Yes, that’s right. We saw Fin whales. 5, to be exact. Mostly we saw one large female, to whom we were so close we could have almost touched, had we been at water level. She played for us for a long while before the rest of her pod showed up. She rolled, dove, flapped her flukes at us, and we even saw her tail briefly. The most incredible part was her colouring. I’d always thought whales were…grey. You know. But this lady was warm brown shades on her head (almost greenish in places), blending to dark brown/black along her back and tail. Her flukes and her belly were whitish. She was so big. IΒ  was awed and thrilled.

But.

We were all on the large boat because it was so windy the kayaks and zodiacs were cancelled. Greaaaaat. I was dressed appropriately warmly (after borrowing a waterproof shell from the wonderful AndrΓ© Roy), so I was able to stay out on the deck for 2 of the 3 hours. And I only threw up once. I managed to lean far enough over the side of the boat that it didn’t get on anyone. But yuck. Guglielmo was very sweet and took good care of me. Once we left the whales I went inside and sat on a chair and slept until we were back at shore. Hooray! Unfortunately for me, the tide was unusually high today, too high to dock when we arrived. So up the Saguenay fjord we went.

Blissfully, the Saguenay is calm and still. We saw belugas (at a distance). Apparently after the last ice age this population chose not to remigrate north, but spend all their time in the park (the area around Tadoussac is a National Park, but it is a marine park. The whales are fully protected and even the tour boats are tightly regulated). So after a good half hour of sailing I’d managed to get to the point where I wasn’t going to puke on my friends again. I was still a little off when we arrived back at the dock, as the water was choppy right in the bay, but not like during the first part of the trip. So, I survived a boat trip in rough waters, and it was worth it (once).

When we got back I had a 30 minute shower. I imagine the hotel’s hot water usage went up exponentially during that half hour as everyone else was doing the same! Then I got ready for the formal dinner.

I should say, the morning sessions were wonderful, very interesting and directly applicable to my work. I even got some ideas I can use in my thesis. Yay for learning!

I wore a pretty silk dress I’d bought in Quebec and my awesome red heels. On my way down the stairs I was approached by Miguel, a Spanish fellow who just finished his PhD in Scotland. He was very flattering, in the suave way Mediterranean men have πŸ™‚ In fact, I am glad I came to this conference, even if for no other reason than the fact that no fewer than 5 men told me flat out tonight that I am lovely, and many others indicated so in various ways. I am not generally hungering for that, but when you’ve been with the same fellow for 10 years and had 2 children, a little outside affirmation is very welcome πŸ™‚

The rest of the people at our table were my wonderful Italian friends and Janet, and we had a very enjoyable time. After a good long time we went and played pool in the hotel games room – very silly but also very fun. I wouldn’t be single again for anything, but pretending so (with my husband’s blessing) for one evening was delightful πŸ˜‰

And now it is 2:30 am and I am exhausted. One more morning of talks and then back to Quebec!

Today’s entry won’t be so long because…well, the title explains it. The morning was 3 hours of discussion about how to calculate the error appropriately in remote sensing instruments. Oh dear. This was not relieved in any way by the break, because it is freezing cold and raining. (It’s still pretty though). After lunch we had a session about Ecosystems Services, which is a fancy way of saying “Figuring out how to put monetary value on the things nature provides us with”. Now this is a topic I’m very interested in, and it should have been fantastic. Unfortunately it was delivered in a…well, terrible is a bit unkind, but it was at least a very…uninspired way. The very last hour (from 5:30-6:30) was spent in groups figuring out some specific parameters, and that was great. I wish they’d managed the whole thing differently though. By the end of the day we were all so bored we could barely keep our eyes open – not a great use of time for such a group. They could have given us a 20 minute set of instructions and had us get on with things and we would have come up with a lot more than we did in the one exhausted hour we had at the end.

Oh well – not every day can be brilliant!

However, I did have a funny thought this morning. How is it that people who are so very brilliant (and the keynote speakers at this conference are amongst the brightest people in the world) can’t figure out how to give a presentation that fits within the time limit they were given? We’ve had 30 presentations since Monday morning, and a total of 4 have finished all of their material in the allotted time. Seriously people. You’re solving unbeleivable problems, surely you can make the # of slides/minute calculation πŸ˜€

I chose not to go to dinner tonight. I’m vegging in my room, trying to gather my brain cells. Tomorrow’s talks hold promise to be better, and in the afternoon we’re going whale watching. I’m both so excited and so scared (and pretty worried I’ll be sea sick. But surely a zodiac raft is better than a boat!).

This morning I dressed in a form fitting shirt, a short(ish) skirt (don’t worry, it was a very acceptable length, I’m not 18 anymore!), and knee high leather boots, with a pretty, bright scarf. I looked pretty awesome. That’s a good trick to use when you have to present – looking awesome makes you feel more awesome!

The first session of the day was about stream restoration. It was accessible (rather unlike the modelling talks yesterday) and fascinating and exciting, and made me want to do stream restoration for my PhD. Then it occurred to me that there aren’t many streams in Alberta in much need of being restored (except by having more water returned to them), so perhaps it wouldn’t be the smartest career move πŸ˜‰ If I lived in the UK or Europe though, I would write up my Masters thesis tomorrow so I could get on with a PhD in restoration!

The next session, on dams, was also interesting, and I even felt like I had a little bit of background knowledge on the topic, for the first time so far this conference. A pleasant experience πŸ˜‰ The salmon habitat research session was fascinating, if a bit beyond my scope of primary interest. I am enjoying the information washing over me so very much – I feel like I’ve been waiting to know so much of this stuff ever since I began my Masters, but with no rivers researchers near me, I’ve just been floundering along, making up theories and ideas, trying to cobble together knowledge from the literature. And now here, all these ideas I’ve had are being validated, questions being answered, things I didn’t even know how to phrase as questions are being answered simply in the course of listening to people talk about what they are doing. It is wonderful. It makes me a little wistful – in some ways I wish I had the freedom to choose where I would do my PhD, choose a topic and advisor based on research I’d really like to be involved in. However I’ve already decided I will try to rope people into a collaborative project so that at least I have someone river-y directly involved in the project. Afterall, Jerry is an excellent supervisor and I will be happy to work with him again, and location wise, Calgary is my only choice!

One of the interesting things that has occured to me while I’m here is that I am so very very thankful that I was in french immersion in school. It has not been of any major practical use so far in my adult life – aside from one funny situation in Spain and being able to talk to the waiters in St Martin, it’s mainly been useful in my linguistic/etymological interest. Β  However, here I am at this international conference, where English is the mother tongue of perhaps 1/2 of the delegates, and yet it is the only language being used for presentation and the main language being used for communication, as the other 1/2 hail from many places around the world. And being here, and seeing how well these very intelligent people communicate in a language that is their second or even third, I am grateful that I too am relatively fluent in another language. Not that I’m telling anyone about that, unless they ask of course, but knowing I could give a presentation in French if required makes me feel like I am on par with them. Isn’t that funny? The parameters we use to judge ourselves πŸ™‚ There was a time though, when fluency in a second language was required before any university would award you with a PhD in any language. Obviously that should not be a firm requirement, but I can kind of see the spirit behind it – experts in your field are going to be from all over the world, once you get to such a high level, so you should be worldly.

So that is one random thing πŸ™‚

After dams it was our (the students’) turn to present. I was 3rd in line as we were arranged alphabetically. My talk went very smoothly and I was happy with it – easy enough for a 5 minute presentation! Apparently others agreed with me, however, because in the poster session after the student talks many many people came to chat with me and tell me how interesting my topic was, which made me feel pretty good. It’s always nice to hear that something you’ve spent 2 years of your life on hold some interest to someone, even if it’s a rarefied group of specialists from all over the world!

My only previous experience with poster sessions (both at the one I presented in the spring and at ones I’ve been to but not presented at), was that the poster presenters stand by their boards (or don’t, and the posters hang there morosely) and the only people who talk to you about them are the poster judges. This poster session was totally different – we students stood by our posters, but the researchers all came and milled about, chatting to all of us, asking about our research, generally making us feel validated. It was wonderful – although by 8pm we were all exhausted!

The most exciting part of the day for me was right between the presentations and posters, when one of the day’s keynote speakers on river restoration came up to me and told me he’s the managing editor for the journal Progress in Physical Geography and invited me to submit a paper on my research, as “it’s exactly the kind of thing we’re looking to publish”! I tried to act professional and pleased, when inside I was bursting with excitement. Now obviously an invitation to submit is not the same as being accepted for publication, but I’m just thrilled that he was interested enough to approach me of his own accord πŸ˜€

I went for dinner again with Matilde and her supervisor Guido, and another of Guido’s students, Corrado. (You will note that this conference is also satisfying my name nerdery in a huge way – after dinner I chatted with Yael and Ronal from Israel πŸ˜‰ ).Β  They are such lovely people, very friendly and talkative. As we talked strange thing transpired – it turns out that everyone here at the conference thinks I’m much younger than I am.Β  Now I am very flattered – it’s nice to think that I look 25! – but I’m also surprised, as I don’t think I conduct myself as a young person, nor do I actually think I look 25. I told the Italians that it’s because I keep my hair long, which is usually associated with younger women. They thought that was hillarious for some reason, but agreed it’s probably true.

So today was a particularly wonderful day, and I am once again so very grateful for the multitude of blessings in my life.

I woke up this morning and headed downstairs to the conference, not really knowing what to expect. Perhaps mercifully for me, they had chosen to put the math-heavy modelling and flow-regime-calculation stuff on the first day (presumably so we’d all be able to make it through without falling asleep from sheer brain overload at the end of the week). Merciful or not, it took every watt of brain power I posess to follow most of the talks. I was veeeeery thankful for the one that was “an overview of the state of our science, and the issues facing us”. That one I could follow no problem πŸ˜‰

I’m not saying I was bored – I could make out enough information to realize that if I could just get a firmer grip on the equations it would be enormously helpful information. And in the end I think I understood the major concept each one was trying to get across – even if I would never in a million years be able to tell someone else how to derive that information!

We had two long breaks and lunch was provided (I spent most of the lunch timeΒ  in my room vegetating, trying to clear my brain enough to carry on for the afternoon). During one of the breaks I met Janet from the University of Ottawa and had a lovely chat while gazing out over the vista of the St Lawrence. Back inside, I was sitting in the front row (of course πŸ˜‰ ), and on either side of me were people who occasionally spoke Italian to each other. After a while one of them introduced himself – Gugliermo from Trento University in Italy. Then Matilda, from the same, shook my hand. By the late afternoon they were including me in their quiet comments – in English at that point.

At 6 pm (!) when we finished, I practically ran out the door to find a grocery store – I’d had rice and meat at lunch, but no snacks all day because the ones provided were danishes and croissants. I found the tiny one in town which didn’t have anything gluten free but thankfully had rice crackers, hummus and raisins, so I stocked up enough to make it through til Friday. Gugliermo (which is pronounced just like Guillermo, and whom told me I could call him William if it was easier) was at the grocery store and when I asked what he was doing for dinner, he invited me to come eat with “the Italians”.

Like many Europeans (and academics in particular), the Italians (and the two Swiss people sitting with us) all speak excellent English, and we were joined by Gordon Grant from Oregon State University, who carried the conversation and was charming. It was a very enjoyable evening and I would have loved to stay…but I’d realized at about 4 in the afternoon that my presentation the next day would not be speaking to my poster, but was supposed to consist of slides I’d prepared! Thus I left dinner at 9 and headed back to my room to make a powerpoint. After, of course, running back to the restaurant to pay my bill (having left my wallet in my room). Ah well – there’s always tomorrow to make friends again! And my brain may hurt less tomorrow. At least I hope so πŸ™‚

Before I wax eloquent about the beautiful river, I have to vent a bit. This hostel experience has jaded me somewhat. After always having wonderful experiences in the UK and Ireland, my first Canadian hostel has been less than pleasant. Both mornings the toilets were clogged and disgusting people had left hair all over the sinks. The first night people were yelling and partying late into the night and slamming in and out of my room all night (hello, would it be that hard to close the door gently?!). Last night there were no yellers, thankfully, but at about 2 in the morning the girl in the bunk above me snuck in with a young man and proceeded to have cordial relations with him in her bunk. Since I was mostly asleep and was more exasperated than threatened or angry, I rolled my eyes and ignored them. However I was r ather upset on behalf of the other women in our dorm – surely they have the right to assume there won’t be men in the room while they sleep! In retrospect I should have done something, I suppose, but I was sleep addled. Also, it didn’t really affect me but in the group kitchen many people had done their dishes but left them beside the sink instead of putting them away. What’s with the entitlement people?!Β  So I’ve had very bad sleeps both nights and I was very unimpressed with the clientel and I’m considering cancelling my reservation for next Friday and finding a bed and breakfast!

More pleasantly, after packing up this morning I walked up to the Discovery Center and watched the presentations about the Plains of Abraham that I had not had time for the previous day. The weather has turned distinctly fall-like and I was chilly, so afterwards I looked for a place to have lunch. You may or may not remember that I am on a doctor-prescribed strictly limited diet at the moment which precludes dairy, wheat (and wheat related grains), nightshades (like tomatoes and peppers), potatoes, too much fruit (some is ok) and mushrooms. When I’m at home and can cook for myself it’s no problem, but when there are no grocery stores nearby and restaurants are the only option it can get challenging. I brought a loaf of bread from home so breakfasts and afternoon snacks have been ok, but by lunchtime today I was starving. (Did I mention I walked ALL DAY yesterday?) I hadn’t realized how starving until I ordered minestrone soup that was tomato based and had potatoes in it and didn’t even realize until 2 bites in. I decided to eat it anyway, since I had to pay for it. I even ate the hardboiled egg that came with my tuna. And you know that meant I was hungry!

After lunch I lugged my bags down the hill – they have wheels but one of them must be the oldest wheeled luggage ever, as the wheels are set close into the middle so that every minute or so it develops a fatal wiggle that causes it to tumble over. Plus I was carrying a map tube and a camera and a purse! Luckily the bus station was only at the bottom of the very steep hill. I made it, sat quietly in the corner while middle aged academic looking men chatted, and then got on the bus.

Keener that I always am ;), I sat in the front row of seats so I would have a good view. A tall pleasant fellow asked if he could sit beside me. He turned out to be Dr. Andrew Marcus from the University of Oregon, and he was an awesome seatmate. We chatted about many things, and he gave me a lot of insight into what to expect from the conference. He also gave me some ideas about what might be going on with my rivers, and had some useful thoughts about where to look next with my research. Smart guys = awesome. We were both enthralled with the landscape we were travelling through. It is at once so similar to places we’ve both been and love and yet so different!

The highway travelled at first along a narrow corridor of homes built along the river, not much different from the lands directly around Quebec. At St Anne de Beaupre we saw first the gorgeous cathedral of St Anne and then weirdly juxtaposed a strange “Jewish roundhouse, always current” (we had no idea what the sign meant”, and beside them both, McDonalds. Truly strange. We carried on up the river and the landscape started to look like ScotlandΒ  – rolling hills with quaint farmhouses. That soon gave way to rolling hills covered with mixed forest (no forests in Scotland except the pine plantations!). As we got further north some of the trees had juuuust begun to change, so we may get to see some beautiful fall display before we leave.

The main thing to look at though, was the River.

The St Lawrence river is truly a river until the city of Quebec. A huge, tremendously deep and capacious river, but a freshwater current nonetheless. Quebec is a native word which means “where the river narrows”, and it is easy to understand why it was such a strategic stronghold. Every ship that wants to enter the waterways of Canada and the northern US must do so through that one spot. Beyond Quebec, the St Lawrence widens and widens, until here at Tadoussac it is no longer a river but a true seaway – massively wide, very tidal, and so, so beautiful. The Saguenay enters the St Lawrence here, through a fjord 300m deep (that’s really amazingly deep for a river). We were blessed with the extraordinary sight of the town of Tadoussac appearing as we came over the hill and a rainbow stretching down to almost touch the wide blue expanse of the St Lawrence. It was postcard perfect.

In the morning I’ll begin the process of realizing just how little I actually know about rivers, and just how much these people do. πŸ™‚