Bring ’em out

When my wife and I hit the road out of Saskatoon to Regina in late July, we were embarking on our first “annual tradition” since moving to Saskatchewan. A Riders game. Last year’s game was our first and we had a great time – football, food and for me, the first feelings of belonging in Saskatchewan. With a year on the prairies under our belt, we headed south to cheer on our team in what is now an expected part of every summer here.

And similar to last year, there were preparations before heading to the game. Like applying a Gainer tattoo before making our way out to the stadium…

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The beer from back east

I’ve written here a few times how much I miss the craft beer scene back in Nova Scotia. I don’t drink a huge quantity of beer, but when I do have a pint or two, I like to try “new to me” beers and while I was living in Nova Scotia I never ran out of something new to sample. Fast forward about a year and a half, and when I got back to Halifax, I had a lot of catching up to do.

Not only was I excited in trying some new beers, but I was also thrilled to get a beautiful spring day to visit a place that had materialized since my move. The Stillwell Beergarden on Spring Garden Road is something that I wish someone here in Saskatoon would replicate just off Broadway. A very simple menu of grilled food, ten taps of Atlantic Canadian beer, and what I can imagine would be a lovely evening spot with the overhead patio lanterns – this is my kind of place. I sampled two beers on my lunchtime visit – the “Malternate Reality” from North Brewing (probably my favourite Halifax brewery) and “Dunder” an Australian pale ale from Trailway Brewing in Fredericton.

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The meaning of “home”

Home. A simple concept. Or it least it was until I moved to Saskatoon.

I’ve purposely resisted saying “back home”, choosing to say “back east” when referring to Halifax, or Nova Scotia, or really anywhere in the Maritimes since moving to Saskatchewan. I try to live a principle-based existence and one of the principles at the core of how I want to live is “home is where my feet are.” While that started out as mind over matter in the early days in Saskatoon, as the days turned to months, it became much less of a mindset and became a matter of the heart. And like all matters of the heart, it’s complicated.

My heart’s position on home got tested in June. Heading back to Nova Scotia for my sister’s wedding, it was the first time my wife and I had been back there together since we moved away in the spring of 2016. My heart at times ached. Like when I played the role of a magician and made my niece and nephew “disappear” to everyone at my wife’s brother’s house (the kids still don’t know how I pulled that one off). Or just hanging out with my mom and dad and catching up. An afternoon visit to play with the kids, a cup of tea with my mom or a pint and a hockey game with my dad were things I took for granted a couple of years ago. Now, they’re treasured, and at times like tonight in Saskatoon as I write this, missed.

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Favourites and firsts

A lot can change in fifteen months. And a lot can stay the same.

Back in Halifax for a couple of days after my sister’s wedding in the Annapolis Valley this past summer, my wife and I hit a few favourite haunts in our former neighbourhood. We also took some time to experience a few new things in a city that means a lot to both of us. Not surprisingly, one of the first places we revisited was the central library downtown. We had lived two blocks from here and we both used it as a second living room. The view of the city and the harbour from the library is something we both miss.

Halifax Central Library

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Atlanta’s downtown art

With a downtown hotel, limited time and a number of the sights I wanted to see all nearby, I didn’t get the chance to see a great deal of Atlanta. With what free time I had, I dedicated that to getting to a Braves game and to checking out three museums and tours that peaked my interest. Traveling to and from those things and a couple of restaurants and craft beer bars, I stumbled across some interesting public art over my four days in the city. One of my favourites ended up being a design by fellow Canadian, Jeff Santos of Coquitlam BC. This children’s playground was built in the shape of “ATL”, the airport code and general shorthand reference for the city. I found it visually striking and a nice touch to a public park in the centre of the city.

ATL Playground, Jeff Santos

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Where was Anderson Cooper?

CNN. Coca-Cola. The College Football Hall of Fame. Intellectually, those don’t really have anything in common. But in downtown Atlanta, within about eight city blocks, you can tour each of these institutions. With my free time in Atlanta in short supply, I wasn’t sure I’d get to all three, so I started with the one I most wanted to see first.

This is CNN.

CNN World Headquarters

As someone whose hair started going grey a decade or two earlier that normal, I was mostly hoping this tour would give me the chance to bump into Anderson Cooper for some hair care tips. Alas, he and I did not have the opportunity to regale each other with stories of our distinguished, yet boyishly good looks. I did get to meet Headline News host Mike Galanos and chat with him from the sidelines while his co-host Robin Meade was live on air. It was really interesting to see the polish and performance of the hosts as they were broadcasting live. I’m not sure my demo tape would allow me to make the cut, even though I think I’d be a welcome addition to CNN’s weather reporting.

At CNN in Atlanta

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Southern food and beer

Southern hospitality is a real thing. When I was in Atlanta, you could feel it in a few distinct ways. First, I was consistently referred to as “hon” or “love” in a way that reminded me of Atlantic Canadian grandmothers. Secondly, everyone I talked to was genuinely interested in having a conversation, and when they learned I was visiting, they were generous with tips on how to best enjoy Atlanta. And lastly, and luckily for someone who is a food and beer lover, the hospitality came shining through every time I sat down for a meal or for a beverage.

My introduction to southern hospitality and food started shortly after arriving in Atlanta from Saskatoon. I was starving, and through a bit of good fortune, I found Max Lager’s, a great gastropub, around the corner from my hotel. My server’s recommendation of the fried chicken was a winner – set on top of mashed potatoes, drizzled with honey and served with some tangy greens, it was a great first taste of Atlanta and was enough food for two. Or one hungry travel-weary Canadian.

Fried chicken at Max Lager's

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New and familiar

For a long time, a bit subconsciously, I’ve focused my travels on places far away. I don’t think I ascribed a particular value to distance, but when planning trips I have had a tendency to think foreign, and with that, usually came a long flight or two. There’s still a lot of the world I want to see, but over the last year plus living in western Canada, I’m realizing that a lot of the world I haven’t yet laid eyes on and want to experience is actually within the borders of my own country.

My wife and I planned and just returned from a relatively short journey to the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, two provinces over. We’ve been married four years, and to celebrate our anniversary, we take an annual honeymoon. This one, honeymoon #5, smacked me in the face and reminded me how enormous, varied and downright beautiful and fun Canada is. Lush valleys, mountains, lakes and rivers were the backdrop. Wine tastings, outstanding food, craft beer (for me at least), two animal parks and a couple of days of road trips were the activities. Throughout it all, this trip satisfied the need within me to explore while also comforting me. During an internationally turbulent week politically (aren’t they all these days), it was good to be away, yet still be at home.

I’ll write a lot more about our Okanagan experiences but know I loved every minute of it.  The sights, tastes and experiences were new, and in an inexplicable way, familiar too.

Baseball, Bartolo and the Braves

A summer afternoon at a ballpark, beer in hand, nerding out watching a ballgame is pretty much perfection for me. I was heading to Atlanta for a conference, and by adding a couple of days onto the front of the trip, I got myself to a game in the brand new stadium in Atlanta. SunTrust park had only seen 11 previous games to start the season so many fans were seeing their first game here. It created a great pre-game and in-stadium buzz. Even a couple of hours before first pitch, there were lots of folks hanging out around the stadium.

Outside SunTrust Park

Although there was plenty to do, see, eat and drink outside the park, shortly after the gates opened, I took up a spot in the centre field seats to watch the end of batting practice on what was a perfect afternoon for baseball.

Batting practice

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