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Verkley Thanksgiving at Uncle Paul’s

VerkleyThanksgivingWhat great timing! I was able to make it to a family get together yesterday for Thanksgiving at my Uncle Paul’s.

I miss so many of these, since I live a couple days drive away. It is pretty awesome to love spending time with all of your extended family :) Everyone missed Jeff and asked how he was doing and what he was up to. I have about 920 stories to tell Jeff when we reunite tomorrow. Good thing we have a two hour drive home from the airport! Hope he hasn’t become too accustomed to the silence ;)

After the Thanksgiving party yesterday, I hitched a ride with my brother and sister-in-law, back to their new house. This morning I got up at 6:30 to help with grade 2 homework, and then watched the sun rise from the back deck of their new house:

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Today I co-worked with my brother. He works from home most of the time too, so we both sat in his basement office and worked, stopping from time to time to have  tech chats with each other, and compare our jobs and employers.

Tonight I get to tag along with my niece and nephew to their skating lessons!

 

 

I seized an opportunity and ended up in Ontario!

When Dad was plotting out his route home to Ontario, after visiting with us, I seized the opportunity and decided to go with him! I had about 30 minutes to shower and pack and debate if I was doing the right thing, and call Jeff at work to ask him if he could live alone for a week or so.

Then we were off!

Since neither of us had to be anywhere at any particular time, we decided in New Brunswick to head down to the states and cruise home across the backroads of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

We spent the night in Bangor, Maine, and then in St. Albans, Vermont. We saw so many pretty fall leaf scenes, and covered bridges.

We also visited the Green Mountain coffee place in Vermont, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream plant, and the Cabot Cheese place.

I didn’t have my good camera, but here are some from my iPhone:

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Oh America…
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Beer is pretty cheap in an American Walmart. If you like Bud. We went with Sam Adam’s Octoberfest.
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Chase’s restaurant for breakfast.
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Pumpkin beer, with pumpkin spice on the rim!

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After Vermont, we headed up to Montreal. Neither of us had ever been up on Mont Royal, so we drove up for a view of the city on a lovely day. There were hundreds of buses and visitors up there too!IMG_3204After Montreal we headed towards home. It was my nephew’s birthday party in Ajax, so we stopped in and really surprised my brother and sister-in-law when they saw that I was with my Dad!

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Me and my sister.
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My nephew is 4 !

Since I can work from anywhere with a wifi connection, this week was a bit of an experiment. It worked really well! I put all my work hours in, mostly from my Mom’s kitchen table.

I still had time for some visits, and dinner at my favourite pizza place when I was a kid – Mother’s Pizza! The chain closed years ago, but they recently brought it back, with a restaurant in Hamilton, and one in Kitchener.

I couldn’t resist their famous coke float!

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I was pleased they still do their mushrooms in a similar way. Unlike anywhere else. I don’t know the secret, but they are tasty!IMG_3246 IMG_3247I was a little disappointed in the decor, but I guess you can never go back in history and reclaim everything.

Poor Jeff is home with the pets. We haven’t seen much in the last week. He was in PEI, then I was in Utah, then I was in Cape Breton, and now I’m in Ontario  :( I will have a lot of making up to do when I get home.

First, I have a couple Thanksgiving dinners to consume this weekend, more people to visit, and a party to attend.

 

 

Cape Breton Coal Miners museum

I’d have to say our visit to the Cape Breton Coal Miner’s museum in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia was life changing.

I’ve heard about coal mining, and Cape Breton, and even went down in a coal mine in Springhill when I was a kid on our family vacation.

But this experience was all together different. The museum was planned, built, and is run by the former coal miners. There is no white washing of the history here.

Basically, what may be hard to except, is that the coal miners and their families were slaves. Slaves to the company, and its owners, who were remote owners and didn’t live in town.

The miners were brought to Canada from overseas, with the promise of a job and a company house! It sounded like a great opportunity!

But in reality, they worked brutally awful jobs, that were completely unsafe, and hundreds died.

They were paid by how much coal they took out, not for their travel time to get down in the mine, or prep time to get the wall of coal ready for mining. Some days they’d make 68 cents. Some days nothing. Other days, a few dollars. Boys started working in the mines well before they were teens. Wives and mothers never knew if their men would return from the mine each day. All their goods had to be purchased from the  company store, and were subtracted from their earnings. Their home was a simple, uninsulated home, and its rent was also subtracted from their earnings. How were they ever to escape from this system? They were in Glace Bay, on the north end of Cape Breton Island, far away from their home lands, and close to nothing. There was simply no where to go, and no way to get there.

All of the coal was “owned” by the government, so royalties were paid to the government on all the coal that was removed. By 1914, all the mines in Cape Breton, the steel mill, the transportation, and all the lumber yards were owned by British Empire Steel and Coal Company (BESCO). They owned everything, from the food, the water, the coal the miners heated their company homes with, the electricity.. Everything.

The workers had historic strikes, fighting for more wages and a safer work environment. As they finally improved their working conditions, by 2001 it was decided the coal mining just wasn’t profitable and all the mines were closed.

Luckily the miners had foreseen the possibility of the mines closing one day, and they preserved a seam of coal in a perfect location for the museum, so visitors could go underground.

All the coal in the area is in seams under the ocean. Some of the seams go all the way to Newfoundland, and most of them had 5-7 seams of coal on top of each other.

Dad and I timed our visit perfectly, just by chance, for a trip down in the coal mine. Our tour guide was former coal miner Abbie Michalik. He is a third generation coal miner. His father and grandfather and uncles came from Poland to work in the Cape Breton coal mines.

Abbie had us put on capes, and a hard hat, and then he told us emotional stories about his life as a coal miner.

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Then we headed into the mine!DSCN0178

Unlike the mines that Abbie worked in, this one had cement walls going down, for the safety of the visitors. You can see they built this mine shaft for visitors in 1967, decades before the mines closed in 2001.

However, a coal mine is only as deep as the vein of coal. Meaning we started walking, then we had to duck, then the roof got as low as 4.5 feet. It was simply awful. At first I wondered why they wouldn’t make it taller for visitors. But what a way for us to have 30 minutes of misery, so we could relate to what the miners went through! They worked down there for years, lifetimes! Abbie told us he knew a guy who spent years on his stomach, working in a dark vein of coal, only 36 inches high.

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Photo by Dad. I took my smaller camera and the photos are horrible. Here we are about to go through the safety doors into the depths of the mine.

It was so hard to stand up when the roof is so short. The air isn’t good, your body is hurting in places it shouldn’t. I was stretching my legs wide apart and was shifting the weight of my bag and camera front to back. Poor Dad had his really heavy camera bag. Another fellow was well over 6 feet and he was in agony at times, and even kneeled for awhile.

This was the shortest area. It was impossible to stand and listen to Abbie so we sat on little benches around a little garden. Years ago a miner asked permission to plant a flower garden down in an active coal mine for the workers and the mine owners arranged it!DSCN0184

Think about spending your life in the dark, down in a mine. Can you imagine? And it wasn’t just people. They also had little horses from Cape Sable Island under ground as work horses. When the workers earned better working conditions, so did the horses. Abbie said they had to blindfold them at first when they brought them to the surface for their Sunday rest day.IMG_3173I’ll never forget my trip to Glace Bay. The museum and mine tour are excellent and really shouldn’t be missed.

I hope the museum can find a way to keep the stories alive, even after the miners are gone.

 

The Skyline Trail

I’ve wanted to hike the Skyline Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park for years. Last week Dad and I finally hiked it!

We had watched the weather for a few days for an opening in the clouds so we could take advantage of the views. We timed it perfectly!

When we got close to the trail we saw a big rolly polly black bear down on the side of the cliff below the Skyline’s ridge. The hikers likely had no idea it was there!

The trail walks across the highlands and ends at a scenic overview. Then you can choose to hike back the same way, or take the rougher back country trail. We were near the end of the day, so we chose the same path in and out route for a total of 7.5 kilometres.

The trail was really quite easy. It was wide and even enough for a stroller (we passed one!).  There is a sign at the beginning of the trail warning you to hike with hiking poles, and to fight any coyotes with everything you have. A hiker was killed on this trail a few years back by coyotes :(  The sign also warned to leave the moose alone, and let them have the trail if they wanted it.

The park staff at the visitor’s centre has also warned us that it was mating season for the moose, and they were agitated and aggressive!

Here are some pictures from along the trail:

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Parks Canada is building a massive fence to plant some trees and keep the moose from eating them.

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Isn’t it interesting what our government has money for and what it doesn’t? Parks Canada is cutting staff and closing properties everywhere but can build a fence to keep moose away from tree seedlings?

When we got to the forested part of the trail, we caught up with some workers who were clearing trees from along the trail. They had put their chainsaw down and were all staring into the woods. They said a big male moose was just there and wasn’t bothered by the sound of the chainsaw at all. We couldn’t find him, so we continued on.

Here is the boardwalk as we approached the end. The boardwalk it to keep people off the delicate highland vegetation. I believe the sign said there would be a $2000 fine for anyone who left the boardwalk!

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At the end of the trail, you can go down a lot of stairs to get views from other platforms. I’m in much better shape, but I’m still a work-in-progress, so Dad went down on his own. I stayed and took out my binoculars to look for whales, but there were none to be seen.DSCN0166

IMG_3160After we got our share of the view, we turned around to head back. Most of the trail was slightly down hill all the way to the viewing platform, so the walk back a bit uphill, but not too bad. I stopped a few times for some water. I also hiked with my hiking poles in case we saw any coyotes, but we didn’t.DSCN0169When we got close to where the workers had been standing earlier, I heard a rustling in the woods.

“Dad. Dad! Slow up! Hear that? I think there is something in the woods!”

DSCN0170Then we heard a crashing through the woods. Must be a moose! We would hear his big rack smashing through the trees!

We walked along with him, but didn’t get much of a glimpse at first. I was super nervous to be on an open part of the trail – I was sure he was going to want to run across!

Soon we were joined by a few other hikers, and then we saw two moose! The butt end of a smaller one, and then the big bull moose appeared!

I hid in a clump of trees! I was so sure he was going to come across the trail. He was clearly agitated, but I guess not at us, because he eventually just laid down right near us. He was breathing really heavy.

Dad was clearly braver than I. Here is a comparison of my photo of the moose, from my hiding place in the trees, and Dad’s:

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My photo of the moose
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Dad’s is a bit better!
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Here’s the butt end of the other moose. Didn’t ever see its head.

After a while, we carried on and back to the parking lot. It was getting closer to sunset, but there were still some hikers heading in. I’m not sure I’d want to be on that trail full of hungry animals in the dark, but to each their own.

We were so pleased we got to do the hike in perfect weather. But now it was approaching sunset, at the end of September, and we were up in the highlands and had no where to stay.

We started driving, stopping at all the look outs for some more pictures. Another moose came out to visit:

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I had Nova Scotia’s book of motel/hotels but there wasn’t too many great choices. We found a couple little motels, but they were in towns with no where to eat!

We finally found a little motel strip in Ingonish, and luckily we also found a open restaurant, the Coastal Waters. Even better, it had been featured on You gotta eat here!

Dad and I scooted back to grab a room at the motel, and then headed back to the Coastal Waters and each started off with one of these beauties:

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Alexander Keith’s Red Amber Ale

For dinner, we both picked the scallop and shrimp bacon carbonara.

IMG_3165Wow was it ever delicious! So delicious, we had to wash it down with another Keiths ;)

The cottage room we got was perfect.

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The next morning we went down the road to the only breakfast place we heard was open.

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The waffles were delish! Light and fluffy, with strawberries and whipped cream.IMG_3170

Next stop, the Cape Breton Miner’s Museum in Glace Bay!

 

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Grand Meetup 2014 – Park City, Utah

I’ve been in Park City, Utah for the last week for Automattic’s annual Grand Meetup (last year we met in California).

What a week! I came home totally supercharged about Automattic, and the future of WordPress, and totally in love with all my coworkers. I’ve never met such a big group of super awesome, super smart, and super kind people in my life.

We stayed at the Canyon’s resort in Park City, Utah. The high altitude and dry air kicked my butt all week. Walking up a couple flights of stairs to the lunch tent made my heart feel like it was going to beat its way right out of my chest!

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Where we stayed – Canyons in Park City, Utah
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View behind the hotel, from base of the gondola.
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View from the 6th floor

Automattic has really grown since I joined in July 2013. There are over 270 Automatticians now!

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Automattic – 2014 company photo

I switched teams a couple of months ago, so this was the first time I was able to meet all the people I work with all day, in person. Our team enforces WordPress.com’s Terms of Service, and handle DMCA copyright claims, trademark infringement reports, account recovery, and other legal requests. Here we are:

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Team Justitia

Our company’s annual Grand Meetup is a really special time for us. Automattic is a distributed company, so we all work anywhere we like, our homes, coffee shops, or co-working facilities. A few times a year we have smaller meetups with our team or for a joint project or at a WordCamp, but there is just once a year we get to all be together.

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Working by the pool.
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Map of the ski runs.

The week is a very full week – stuffed full with workshops, project teams, learn-ups, flash talks, but there is still time left for some team building activities. I went on a tour of the High West distillery in Park City.

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Finger foods and whiskey.
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The Campfire whiskey was my favourite. Had a real nice smokey after taste.
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Tour of the distillery. They were making a test run of a pear brandy in this little still.

This year, for my flash talk, I talked about Dawson City, and ended with the sour toe cocktail. I may just have branded myself as the quirky lady who drank the toe drink, but people were still talking about it a couple days later, and it was fun sharing Dawson City with everyone :D

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We had a ping pong tournament going all week that ended in a spectacular final match.

We had a few penthouse suites for evening socialization. Who needs sleep? That is what the rest of the year is for :D

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Party!
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Who said you can’t drink in Utah?

The weather was quite hot for most of the week, at least for this Canadian, until the last day when the clouds and rain moved in.

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Automatticians eating dinner.
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Clicky Steve – I entertained him with tales of my former life as an affiliate marketer.
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Mikey! My favourite Bolivian in all the world ;) And soon to be a Canadian!
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Confession: I picked this beer because of the fish on the label. It was much better than the one with the tractor on the label that had lavender and honey in it. Lavender shouldn’t be in beer.

Pam learned she shouldn’t trust me with her phone. Here’s my fun coworker Joel and I taking a selfie on her phone.

I took so few pictures during the week, so here’s another great pic from my really awesome coworker Pam:

By the end of the week, everyone who was hired in the last year hopefully feels like one of the family, like we’ve all known each other for years. As we all head home, back to our families and pets and routines, we usually skip the sad goodbyes and all head off to our various gates in airports, exhausted, but full of memories, smiles, and passion for our work. Plus we know we’ll all “see” each other at work again tomorrow in our various chat rooms and internal blogs :)

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Leaving Utah – pretty scenery.

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Hello Chicago!
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I love this pretty hallway between O’Hare’s Terminal 1 and 2 in Chicago.
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Had a long delay in Chicago before we finally took off for Halifax. Here’s Chicago after take-off.

My flight didn’t make it back to Halifax until 12:30am this morning, and then we had to wait for a gate and customs. By then it was just way too late to make it home, so I slept at the airport hotel and drove the 200 kilometres home, much more alert, today.

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Halifax airport from my room in the ALT hotel this morning.

Oh! And the fun upside of returning to sea level is feeling like a champion on our 4km walk tonight :)

Still walking

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We’re still walking every day (or most days), up on a sideroad near our house. I’ve ditched the walking poles for awhile (they were bothering my wrists). We’ve been walking so much we’ve had to increase Monty’s food intake – he’s getting too skinny!

The road we walk on is a really quiet back road through the woods. I’m always afraid a bear or coyote is going to surprise me up there, so whenever Jeff is away for work, I walk in more populated areas so I don’t go missing ;)

Here is a photo I took today at lunch when Monty and I were walking. A little float plane landed a couple times on the lake during our walk. It lives a couple lakes down now, but must be practicing their landing on our big lake when the wind is calm.

My new record for steps in a single day is 12,502 (8.8km). I’m still so out of shape and my shins and calves are still fighting me, but we’re still going! Here’s hoping I can tackle some longer hikes this fall.

Updates – My head, Jeff, Zeus, and Montreal

My Head

Good news! I’m doing better. I guess it was due to the mild concussion, but last week work was rough! It was like working after pulling an all nighter. So exhausted, going back over and over my work, double – guessing if I had done the step previous, so unproductive. I could have taken the time off, but I had no idea how long it was going to last, so I pushed through it.

This week the brain fog has lifted! All is well, just a bit of tenderness left in my forehead and knee, and a few twinges in my neck. I’d say I’m about 95% now.

Jeff

Jeff can’t claim he is less accident prone than myself. His brother was visiting for a week. One day while I was working, they were out hiking. They came home really early. Jeff had fallen while scaling down a steep cliff in the woods to see a waterfall. He made a real mess of his knuckle:

Jeff's finger

 

Ouch!

Later in the week, up on Cape Breton Island, Jeff bent over to pick up a bottle cap on a beach, only it turned out to be a 25 cent piece from 1888! WOW! Time to head to that beach with our metal detector!

Zeus

Zeus is finally home, in his new ashen state. I was getting really worried that the vet clinic had simply disposed of him, because I hadn’t heard a thing about coming to pick up his ashes. I was getting pretty upset about it, thinking of how many times he had been discarded in his early life, just to have it happen once again moments after death. Jeff finally called the vet clinic for me and they said his ashes had only been there a couple days and were ready to go.

It’s pretty surreal holding a ziploc bag of ashes of a loved one. When it was Winger and Surf, I couldn’t bear having their ashes in the house and spread them at the retriever club’s property that they loved so much. I didn’t opt for a urn, just a little cardboard box with the bag inside.

I’m not sure what to do with Zeus yet. Maybe somewhere outside, our front lawn, or flower garden. Or maybe he’ll stick around a bit. I’ll wait until the answer is clear.

I sure do miss him.

Montreal

I haven’t done a proper Montreal post because falling took up so much of my week. I took hardly any photos – I was too afraid of pulling out my phone while walking! :)

Here’s a few:

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I travelled on the metro a few times, and took Montreal’s 747 shuttle bus to and from the airport. These tasks seem easy, but for a country bumpkin, a subway and bus system is a totally foreign world. Well that, and the signs were all in French! Luckily my coworkers taught me well and I even navigated it myself once!

I realized I know far more French than I give myself credit for. I wouldn’t dare try to speak it, but I did okay with signs and understanding short questions.

My hotel room at the Le Nouvel Hotel was quite nice. It was up in their attached condo building. Big room, kitchenette that I didn’t use at all (other than the fridge), and a king sized bed. Great location too for food and transit.

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I always eat new and interesting things when I travel for work. Like a big waffle for breakfast, covered in strawberries and bananas, and a lot of Nutella. I only managed to consume half of it, but I’d be willing to try again :)IMG_2907

Here’s the group of coworkers I spent the week with while we worked on a project:

Montreal breakfast

A few of us ventured to the Biodome one rainy afternoon. It is in the velodrome facility from the 1976 summer Olympics. It was SO packed. We waited in line for 30 minutes just to get tickets to get in! Way too many people. I felt sorry for some of the animals, like the seagulls and shore birds flying around this set:IMG_2916

I did watch a beaver poop though, and considered that the highlight of my time at the Biodome :)

We paid extra to go up into the nearby tower, formerly the Olympic Park Tower. The view wasn’t too great in the rain, but still pretty neat.IMG_2928

That night I learned you should not get too creative with your poutine. We were at a BBQ place so I tried one of their speciality poutines. I thought the gravy would be skipped, but no, it was guacamole, diced tomatoes, and sour cream on top of poutine. Don’t do this. It isn’t good. Not at all.IMG_2931

Some restaurants had their own speciality iced teas or lemonades. This one was really good:IMG_2935

Our special night out was to an Ethiopian restaurant. At this place, you eat with your hands. You take the roll of bread, and rip of a little piece, just enough to use it with your pincher fingers to grab some of the food. It was quite good. Here’s the first group plate: IMG_2938

On the Friday, we hit a vegetarian burrito place for lunch.IMG_2939

On the weekend, it was WordCamp Montreal. There were many of our coworkers in town so it was a great time seeing everyone again, and meeting some of our newer coworkers.IMG_2940

Here’s some of us at WordCamp Montreal:

Here’s the stiff-necked, sleep deprived version of me staffing the Happiness Bar:

Here’s the view on Monday morning from near the Bell Centre, and a couple blocks down the street from the hotel as I wait at the bus stop for the shuttle to the airport, sometime after 5:30am.IMG_2955Next trip… Utah!