Friday, March 22, 2024

The Purim Story

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(This article has been updated for 2024, and I'm sharing it the day before Purim. Purim 2024 begins at sundown on Saturday, March 23rd, and continues through Sunday night, March 24th. The original article was posted on February 25, 2021, and I have left my references to 2021 dates alone rather than rewrite too much.)

I'm pretty late to today's party, but did want to acknowledge the celebration of Purim today! 

If you're not Jewish (I'm not), you may be wondering what this holiday is all about, and you might also be wondering why it might matter to anyone who isn't Jewish. Like me. Well, for me, I'm interested in all kinds of cultural celebrations just because I'm interested in history and other cultures. But I find Jewish holidays especially intriguing because the most important ones are commanded by God, and tell us a lot about God and his relationship to his people. Purim is a celebration that isn't commanded by God, but the story of its origin is in the Bible, and it's also a story of God saving his people. 

 Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar. In 2021 that's February 25th. The celebration begins at sundown on Thursday (today), and ends on Friday evening. It's a holiday that dates back to the ancient Persian empire and commemorates the Jewish people being saved from the evil plan of a Persian prime minister to wipe them out. The name comes from the Persian word for "lots" as in casting lots or throwing dice. So what happened? You can read the whole story in the Old Testament book of Esther, but here's my short summary:

The Jewish people were subjects of the Persian Empire during the 4th century BC. During the reign of King Ahasuerus, he deposed his queen and searched for a new queen among his subjects. A Jewish girl named Esther was chosen. She was cousin to Mordecai, a Jewish leader and an advisor to the king, but her Jewish heritage was kept a secret. The Persian prime minister Haman devises a plot to get revenge on his rival Mordecai by killing all the Jews and tricks the king into signing this into law. (This is the part where they cast lots - the purim - to determine the date for this genocide.) Mordecai alerts Esther and challenges her to go to the king. After a period of fasting, Esther risks her life to go to the king and is able to expose Haman's plot and thus save her people.

So on the day that the tables were turned and Haman and his family were executed instead, Jewish people celebrate to remember this event and how they were saved.

On the day before Purim, it's customary to fast because Esther and the Jews fasted before she went to the king. Once the celebration begins, though, it's fun and joyous! Purim celebrations include reading the story from the Megillah (the Hebrew scroll), giving gifts to the poor, feasting and sending gifts of food. Often children dress up in costumes - and sometimes adults do too! During the reading of the story, listeners will boo, stomp their feet, or use noisemakers when the name of Haman is mentioned. He's the bad guy, and his name is to be wiped out. 

Sometimes people wonder why the book of Esther is included in the Bible, since it doesn't mention God by name. I think that the "coincidences" surrounding Mordecai's favor with the king, Haman's plan and the timing of it, and Esther's position in the royal household all point to God's hand at work. Mordecai and Esther are observant Jews - they fast and pray and call upon all the Jews to do the same, and God works on their behalf. I believe the bold and unusual plan Esther used to appeal to the king was put on her heart by God as she fasted and prayed. 

You see, even though she was a royal wife and the queen, she was not supposed to go to the king. She had to wait for him to summon her, which he hadn't done for quite some time. If she went to him, and he wasn't interested, she could be put to death. She actually reminded Mordecai of this fact, and his response to her is one of my favorite lines: "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4.14)

She responds: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16)

What courage! After this persistent calling on God through fasting, she is ready to go to the king. Here's where her plan is crazy brilliant and unexpected. She could be killed just for walking in uninvited, but when the king receives her warmly and says he'll give her anything at all she asks for, she says she just wants to invite him and Haman to dinner. What?! Then at the banquet, the king repeats his generous offer - he is persistent in wanting to honor her! - and she says that they are invited to dinner again the next day. Before that second dinner, Haman winds up having to honor Mordecai at the king's command, and he loathes it. In his fury, he has a gallows made ready thinking he'll get his revenge on Mordecai very soon. But then at the second banquet, Esther makes her request - she asks for her life and the lives of her people, and she reveals that Haman is the villain plotting against the Jews.

The persistence of Esther and Mordecai pays off when God intervenes and turns the tables so that the Jews are allowed to defend themselves and get revenge on their enemies. Despite Haman's persistent hatred, his plans are foiled and he gets what he deserves.

God has always kept his promises. He will always save his people, and he will always be in control. That's one of the lessons to learn from Esther - be persistent in faith and obedience to God.

For more about Purim and the book of Esther, see these valuable resources:


There are a lot of foods associated with Purim celebrations, but the best known is the cookie called Hamentaschen. These are three-cornered pastries or cookies with a sweet filling. They are often given as gifts. Here's one of the recipes I've used before:

Hamentaschen (adapted from America the Beautiful)
2 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg white
cherry, strawberry or apricot preserves

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut butter into small pieces and blend into flour mixture using a pastry blender.  Mix egg, egg white and sugar together, then blend into flour mixture.  Mix to a stiff dough.  Divide into two discs, wrap each in plastic and chill for about 30 minutes.  Roll out to 1/8-inch thickness.  (The original recipe suggested doing this between two sheets of waxed paper.  I used a floured pastry board, but did find that a sheet of waxed paper on top kept the dough from sticking to the rolling pin without incorporating more flour into the dough.)  Using a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter, cut dough out into circles about 2-1/2 to 3 inches in diameter.  Spoon about a quarter-sized drop of preserves onto each circle.  Fold the edges in to form a triangle, overlapping the corners and pinching them a little.  Bake about 1 inch apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet in a 350* oven, for about 15 minutes.  The preserves will start to bubble and the cookies will be a light golden brown when done.  Cool on a wire rack before serving.  Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
This is from my article: Hamentaschen


The original post was part of the Write 28 Days Blogging Challenge hosted by Anita Ojeda. All my posts for the challenge are listed here: Write 28 Days Blogging Challenge - Disappointed

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Friday, March 15, 2024

The Ides of March

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I'm participating in the Wednesday Quotes link-up hosted by Marsha at Always Write. And although the Ides of March is almost over by now, that's what I'll be writing about.

Beware the Ides of March. ~William Shakespeare

What is the Ides of March, and why should anyone be wary of it? We all quote the line, and I think a lot of us know it's from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but I suspect that might be all we know about it. I sure don't know much more than that, so I thought I'd find out.

Although some of the months in our calendar come from Roman names, the Romans didn't use quite the same calendar, and they didn't number the days like we do. They had three set points in each month, and it was based more on the moon. The Ides was the first full moon of each month. The Nones is the 5th or 7th or 8th days before the Ides, and the Kalends is the first day of the following month. The Ides falls on the 13th of most months, but on the 15th in four months, including . . . you guessed it! . . . in March. The Ides of March would be first full moon of a new year, and was the beginning of spring, which naturally meant feasting and celebrating. 

On the Ides is held the jovial feast of Anna Perenna . . . The common folk come, and scattered here and there over the green grass they drink, every lad reclining beside his lass, Some camp under the open sky; a few pitch tents; some make a leafy hut of boughs, Others set up reeds in place of rigid pillars, and stretching out their robes place them upon the reeds,But they grow warm with sun and wine, and they pray for as many years as they take cups, and they count the cups they drink. ~Ovid

by night only crazy things
like the full moon and the whippoorwill
and us, are busy. ~Charles Olson

Does the full moon affect people's behavior, you ask? Yup. It makes people think the full moon affects people's behavior. ~Neil deGrasse Tyson

He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
~Psalm 104:19~

The Ides of March was also the day that consuls (state officials) took office. At least until 153BC when, for some reason, the consuls started their terms on the first day of January. And then, along came Julius Caesar and in 46BC he changed the Roman calendar to establish January 1st as the start of the New Year. 

Vincenzo Camuccini - La morte di Cesare

Julius Caesar didn't get to celebrate very many New Years before he was assassinated. He was stabbed to death in the Senate house by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus on the Ides of March in the year 44BC, and of course that's how the date came to be such a well-known one. And it was obviously a huge event that changed the course of Roman history. Following his death there were a series of Roman civil wars that finally ended with the rise to power of Octavian, Caesar's adopted heir. In 27BC Octavian became the emperor Augustus, and that was the end of the Roman Republic. 

But back to Caesar and the Ides of March . . . Ovid wrote about Caesar's murder as an act of sacrilege. On the fourth anniversary of his death, Octavian executed 300 senators and others as a way to avenge Caesar. Beware the Ides of March, indeed!

I hope your Ides of March has been a good one, with nothing to beware of, and no bad moon rising other than the enjoyment of this classic song!

The LORD watches over you―
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm―
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
~Psalm 121:5-8~

This post appears first on A Fresh Cup of Coffee.

Wednesday Quotes 2024 is hosted by Marsha at Always Write. The original version of this post is linked at #WQ #164: Actions/Ides of March/Settling Debts

Sources for this article include: and Imperium Romanum

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

WQ - Valentine's Day

This post contains affiliate links - using affiliate links from HS Coffee Break helps fuel this blog. 

I'm participating in the Wednesday Quotes link-up hosted by Marsha at Always Write

Happy Valentine's Day! I don't usually take Valentine's Day celebrations very seriously, but I like chocolate (preferably dark chocolate) and flowers as much as the next girl. Plus it's so sweet to see the younger couples being all romantic. 

Romance is thinking about your significant other, when you are supposed to be thinking about something else. ~Nicholas Sparks

I think of love, and you, and my heart grows full and warm, and my breath stands still... I can feel a sunshine stealing into my soul and making it all summer, and every thorn, a rose. ~Emily Dickinson

A few years ago I got curious enough about the history of Valentine's Day to do a quick research project for my homeschool blog, and I'm reusing some of that info here. How did we arrive at Valentine's as a day for giving flowers and chocolates and cute heart-shaped cards from it's beginnings as a day to remember a Christian martyr? Turns out the history may even go further back than the Christian saints named Valentine or Valentinus (there were at least three of them, and all were martyred for their faith). A pagan Roman holiday called Lupercalia was celebrated in the middle of February, and it was a fertility festival. As you can imagine, it was deemed "un-Christian" and was outlawed; and it's entirely possible that the Church made the choice to celebrate a Christian patron saint of marriage at this time of year in an effort to "Christianize" and replace Lupercalia.

Valentine's Day is all about LOVE nowadays, but it did start out as the feast day of a Christian martyr. Saint Valentine's history is intertwined with legend, but it's known that he took a stand for Christian marriage during a time when the Roman emperor forbade his soldiers to marry. One popular story says that while he was in prison, Valentine became close to his jailer's daughter (they might even have been in love!) and when he was taken away to be executed, he left her note. It was signed, "From your Valentine". 

Sweets and Hearts for Valentine's Day on Homeschool Coffee Break @  #Valentines

During the Middle Ages, young men and women would draw names to see who would be their Valentine, and the names would be pinned to their sleeve, giving rise to the expression, "wearing your heart on your sleeve".

Oh! if it be to choose and call thee mine,
Love, thou art every day my Valentine.
~Thomas Hood, "For the 14th of February"

Valentine greetings were popular during the Middle Ages, with the first written greetings appearing during the 1400s. The oldest known valentine is a poem that Charles, Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. The practice of sending cards and flowers to loved ones on Valentine's Day became popular in England during the 1700s. By the middle of the 18th century, friends and lovers of all social classes exchanged these tokens of affection. Hallmark produced the first commercially printed card in 1913, and ready-made cards made it easier for people to express emotions during a time in history when that was not often encouraged. Today, more than a billion Valentine's cards are sold each year. And many people like to create their own cards - especially kids.

That heart shape, like the box your chocolates came in, wasn't representative of love until sometime in the 13th or 14th century. At that time the heart was thought of as a book of memory, where God's commands could be written, and where thoughts of one's beloved could be written as well. During the 14th century, an Italian poem accompanied by an illustration featuring hearts and a cupid throwing arrows and roses was what started our association of those lacy hearts and cupid's arrows with romantic love. You have Richard Cadbury (yes, Cadbury's chocolate) to thank for the traditional heart-shaped box of candy. He gave chocolates in a heart-shaped box to his sweetheart in 1868, and the company began producing the boxes with hand-decorated lids.

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt. ~Charles M. Schulz

The best place to learn about true love is the Bible, where we find out just how much God loves us and how he wants us to love others.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 
~I John 4:7-11~

Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
~Matthew 22:37-39~

Since you have purified yourselves by your obedience to the truth, so that you show sincere brotherly love for each other, from a pure heart love one another constantly.
~I Peter 1:22~

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
~I Peter 4:8~

Happy Valentine's Day!


Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate the joy of being in love. Unless you're single & lonely then it's called Laundry Day. ~Dane Cook


This post appears first on A Fresh Cup of Coffee, with material inspired by these posts from Homeschool Coffee Break in years past.

 Sweets and Hearts for Valentine's Day on Homeschool Coffee Break @  #Valentines

Wednesday Quotes 2024 is hosted by Marsha at Always Write. The original version of this post will be linked at #WQ #160: Beliefs/Holidays/Valentine's Day Love

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Thursday, January 18, 2024

High School Writing Tip Sheets - Citing Your Sources (Update)

This post contains affiliate links - using affiliate links from HS Coffee Break helps fuel this blog. 

For the past few years I have been teaching high school writing in our homeschool tutorial co-op. Having seen several groups of students through the courses, I've noticed some issues and questions coming up regularly. I hope these Tip Sheets will be helpful to my students, their parents, and perhaps to other students and parent/teachers as well.


In essays and research papers at the high school level, students should be able to provided a correctly formatted Works Cited page and should be able to use in-text citations, parenthetical citations, and signal phrases in their writing. Most students have learned at least some of these skills by the time they reach high school, but it can still be confusing. Here's a quick refresher and some good sources for more detailed information.

Source Information

As you're researching and taking notes, make sure to keep a record of all the sources you use, and which info came from which source. Note taking is probably an entire tip sheet of its own, but the basic gist is that you need to know specifically where each fact, quote, or reference comes from in the source. A good practice is to keep a Source Page or Working Bibliography as you research. Write down (or type) all the bibliographic information you'll need - author, title, publisher info, and date. For web sources, keep the specific URL and record the date you accessed the information. You may want to consider printing the information as well, if practical.

Works Cited Page

The most commonly used style is Modern Language Association (MLA), and if you use Google Documents or a Word program, you will find templates that format reports and Works Cited pages in MLA style automatically. Foolproof, right?! Well, yes, but you still have to know what information to plug in, what order it appears in, and how to correctly alphabetize the list. Alphabetize by the first item that appears for each source, which is usually the author's last name. Format is hanging indent, which means the first line of each entry starts at the left margin, and the second line is indented. Do not center. Works cited should appear at the end of your essay or paper, and on a separate page. Here's what it looks like using a couple of sources I recommend:

*Note that these examples are done following the 8th edition of MLA style.

In-Text Citations

When you use MLA documentation, you will use in-text citations, meaning you incorporate the source information in the text of your paper. When you use a fact, idea, or quote from one your sources, you use a signal phrase to let the reader know you're about to share something borrowed from the source. At the end of the quote or statement, you include a parenthetical citation that will refer the reader to the complete source information on the works cited page. Examples of signal phrases include:

According to author and teacher Sharon Watson,  . . .

" . . . ," writes Shona McCombes, a contributor at Scribbr.

At the end of the quotation or cited fact, you include a parenthetical citation. This is where you put the page number where the information is found in the source. If you did not include the author's name in the signal phrase, the author's last name should appear in the parentheses as well. Take a look at these examples:

In the textbook The Power in Your Hands, teacher Sharon Watson reminds students to include the credentials of anyone quoted so that readers will know the information is trustworthy (237). 

Correct punctuation can be a challenge, and questions often arise about the placement of quotation marks and end marks. A parenthetical citation is part of the sentence but not the quotation. "In other words, it appears after end quotation marks but before the period" (Watson 241). Another important detail to note is that there is no comma between the author's name and the page number.


Those are the basics! Using in-text citations is not difficult, but it takes a bit of practice to remember some of the rules. Check out the following online sources with lots of detailed information about citing specific types of sources. 

On the Writing with Sharon Watson website, there are a number of free writing prompts and tutorials, including this one for In-text Citations for High School. You should also refer to the updated versions of a couple of lessons from the textbook I mentioned above, as the 8th edition of MLA style came out after publication of the textbook and there are a couple of changes to the format of citations. There is now a 9th edition of MLA style, and in my very quick check for changes to citations and Works Cited pages I didn't see anything different, but don't take my word for it! Go to the 2020 article: New Tutorials to Document Sources for an explanation of updates to MLA style and a link to download the 2020 lessons. These updated lessons from the textbook are available at no charge. 

The textbook The Power In Your Hands from Writing with Sharon Watson is the one I've taught from in the co-op for several years, and I highly recommend it. You can find out more in one of my full reviews. The most recent is: 

That review article was adapted and updated from our previous full review here: The Power in Your Hands (A Schoolhouse Crew Review) and an update in the Blogging Through the Alphabet series here: The Power in Your Hands (Blogging Through the Alphabet).

The Power in Your Hands (Writing Non-Fiction in High School) from Writing with Sharon Watson - A Homeschool Coffee Break review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew on  The Power in Your Hands (Blogging Through the Alphabet) on Homeschool Coffee Break @

A previous version of this article was published on Homeschool Coffee Break in October 2021.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Waiting For Saint Nicholas in 2023

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Waiting for Saint Nicholas on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Yes, my kids have been "too old" for Santa Claus for many years, and we never even focused on Santa when they were little, but I wonder if they will remember Saint Nicholas Day this year. After all, he used to leave candy and gifts for them at the beginning of December. True, they never wrote a letter to Santa or cared much to visit him at the mall, but they did like the little tradition of leaving their shoes by the fireplace for Saint Nicholas the evening before his feast day.

When the kids were very little, I started letting them leave their shoes by the fireplace on the night before St Nicholas Day - along with paper carrots for his horse! - and in the morning they were delighted with the candy and small gifts that had been left for them. Once they were a little older, threre were some years that we incorporated some seasonal learning into our homeschool by spending the day looking at the history and customs associated with St Nicholas. Somehow this little tradition stuck, and even as teens and young adults, they kept hoping for a little gift and some chocolate or candy on December 6th!

One nice thing about doing those little gifts on St Nicholas Day is that we didn't feel quite the pressure to fill the stockings to overflowing on Christmas morning. There would be a few small practical gifts and some treats in the stockings, but it was low-key. And let's face it - even little gifts to fill a stocking can really add up and make it a challenge to stick to a budget for Christmas! For younger kids, doing a Santa type thing early in the month can also make it just a little easier to focus on the Nativity and on family come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Many years ago, I wrote a guest post for the Homeschool Review Crew blog about St Nicholas (which you can still find on the Crew blog here: St. Nicholas Day). This is an update of a previous post that summed up some of the historical information about St Nicholas shared in that guest article:

Nicholas was a real historical figure who lived during the third century. He grew up in a Greek village in what is now the country of Turkey. His parents were wealthy, but died during an epidemic while Nicholas was still quite young; and he used his entire inheritance to help the needy, the sick, and the suffering. When Nicholas was a young man, he became the Bishop of Myra; and he was well-known for his generosity, his love for children, and his concern for sailors. Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for his faith, and the anniversary of his death on December 6, 343, became a widely celebrated feast day. The generosity of Bishop Nicholas was well-known, and there are many stories of his care and protection of children. One popular story about Nicholas leaving dowry money in stockings of poor young ladies is the origin of the custom of leaving shoes or stockings by the fireplace in hopes of gifts. St Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children and of sailors; and he is an example to all Christians of generous giving and compassion.

The Feast Day of St Nicholas is celebrated all around the world on December 6th. Children leave their shoes and their wishlists for St Nicholas, and carrots and hay for his horse. In the morning, they find small treats and gifts. In some countries where St Nicholas is prominent, his feast day is actually the primary gift-giving day during the Advent and Christmas season. Children find their stockings filled with small gifts,  nuts or fruit, and special Nicholas candies or cookies. Since the saint is known for his generosity, gifts given on his day are meant to be shared, not hoarded!

Waiting for Saint Nicholas on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Waiting for Saint Nicholas on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Okay, so how did St Nicholas become Santa Claus? It's a long and sometimes confusing story, but it starts in 1809 with Washington Irving's satirical stories that reference a jolly Dutch character named St Nicholas. Then in 1821 a children's book showed 'Sante Claus' arriving on Christmas Eve in a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Those were the images that influenced the 1823 poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (better known as "The Night Before Christmas and generally attributed to Clement Moore). They also influenced the drawings of artist Thomas Nast in his series of drawings for Harper's Weekly starting in 1863. And with that, the Americanization of St Nicholas was almost complete! By the end of the 1920s, many artists were portraying Santa in a red suit trimmed with fur, and this version became an advertising icon during the 1930s with the immensely popular Coca-Cola ads by artist Haddon Sundblom.

Waiting for Saint Nicholas on Homeschool Coffee Break @

I wonder how many children around the world will wake up to treats and gifts in the shoes they've left out by a fireplace! I wish I could have introduced my grandchildren to this little custom already. Although I was thinking about baking Peppernuts sometime during the month, I know it won't happen this week. If you're not familiar with them, Peppernuts are spicy cookies that associated with St Nicholas in many countries. You can find my family's recipe and more about this favorite cookie in my Twelfth Day of Christmas post from quite a few years ago.

Are You Ready for Saint Nicholas Day? on Homeschool Coffee Break @ #StNicholasDay #Christmas

Whether you celebrate the Feast of St Nicholas or not, it's a great opportunity to talk about the historical St Nicholas and his example of being a generous and cheerful giver.  I hope you'll take a moment to leave a comment letting me know your thoughts!


To find out more about St Nicholas, try some of the following resources:



A previous version of this article, Waiting For Saint Nicholas
 was published on Homeschool Coffee Break in December 2017


 This post will be linked at the Sweet Tea & Friends Monthly Link-up Party hosted by Grace-Filled Moments

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Monday, October 16, 2023

An Alberta PhotoJournal

This post contains affiliate links - using affiliate links from HS Coffee Break helps fuel this blog.

We've been home for a week now, but I'd realized that I had so many pictures to share from our recent trip to Alberta that it would require its own blog post, so here it is! It had been ten years since our last visit to Alberta, so this was a long-anticipated chance to see family, to reconnect with friends from way back, and to be reminded again of some of the highlights of the area I grew up in and where we spent the first few years of our marriage.

The beginning and the end of our week we enjoyed beautiful fall weather―bright blue skies and not too cold or windy. Classic "crisp" fall days. We took advantage of those days by going for walks in a couple of parks close to where my parents now live . . .

This Airdrie city park had a walkway around a small lake where there were plenty of water birds. Not all that unusual, but they weren't all Mallards and Canada Geese. We were pretty sure we spotted wood ducks, confidently identified American Wigeons, and we thought we saw (and heard) Common Loons. I finally got a decent enough photo of a pair that we originally thought we loons, but once I zoomed in on my photo, I decided they were actually Hooded Mergansers. A couple of nice additions to my "Life List" of birds using my Merlin app! (My husband pointed out awhile ago that the Merlin and Audubon bird identification apps are really like Pokemon Go for older adults - gotta spot 'em all! - and he's not wrong!) 

Another day we took advantage of the lovely weather to visit Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and do a bit of easy hiking. My sister and niece were free to join us that day as well.

We went into Cochrane for a coffee break afterwards, and the view towards the west was a wonderful preview for our next day, when we got yet another practically perfect day as far as weather, and we spent the day at Banff National Park

Our first stop was the Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake loop.

Next we drove up Mount Norquay. No skiing for us! But the view of the town of Banff from Norquay is so pretty.

We drove through town, and then out to the Cave and Basin. This is where three railway workers discovered thermal hot springs in 1883, and where the tourism draw of the area began. I don't know if I'd be interested in climbing down into a dark cave that smelled of sulphur, but they did it! And recognized the potential.

Eventually Canada's first National Park was established and people came to take in the hot springs. The first pool and hotel was built here. The pool closed sometime in the 1960s, and later on the building was restored, no longer as a pool, but now as a historical site.

You can walk up boardwalks above the building to see (and smell!) the springs, and there's also a nature boardwalk downhill from the building, where you can see birds and wildlife along with a beautiful view of the lake and mountains. And yes, I did a little birdwatching here too, getting some pretty decent photos of a belted kingfisher, and spotting a couple more waterbirds to add to my "Life List".

Another very popular place to visit and take photos in Banff is Bow Falls. It's just a short walk from downtown, and not very far from the iconic Banff Springs Hotel. Way back in the day, when we lived in Calgary, we used to go canoeing and put in here. (During the summer when it was hot, of course!)

Back into town for lunch! Most of Main Street is now closed to vehicle traffic, which makes sense from a tourism and town management viewpoint, but it makes it harder to decide where you want to eat since you can't do a driveby! We chose Canadian Brewhouse and I thought the view from the restaurant window was pretty nice!

And finally, it was time to head to the Upper Hot Springs to relax in the pool. 

We drove on the Tunnel Mountain Road out of town, which took us past the campgrounds where my family used to spend so many weekends when I was growing up, and past the resort where my husband and I stayed on our honeymoon! After a quick look at this view of the river and the hoodoos, we were ready to head back to my parents' place for the evening.

My parents now live in Airdrie, but we used to live in Calgary. We didn't spend much time in the city at all, but on the day we went to meet my brother for coffee, we drove around a bit to see how things have changed and what's stayed the same. We drove by the house where I grew up, my high school, and the church where we attended. The house is quite changed, and the church building now belongs to a Korean congregation. We also drove past the house where my husband and I lived, and past the greenhouse where he worked. Calgary Tower used to be the tallest building in the downtown, but now is surrounded by much taller skyscrapers. Those stone lions on the Centre Street Bridge are still there, and looking good!

And prairie views may not be as iconic as the mountain views, but I think they are beautiful.

I also made sure I got some photos of a bird I like―the magpie. I'm pretty sure magpies are a western bird, and although I like them (and I like crows too, which is weird, I know) I was reminded that most people are quite annoyed by them and their aggressive scavenger ways! They are very smart birds, apparently, and I think they are pretty. So there. This particular magpie might not have been among the best and brightest of the species, because right after I took this photo, he attempted to fly up onto the eaves of the building and made an epic misjudgement, hitting his head with an audible thunk! Doh! We laughed. Mr Magpie was okay, but probably embarrassed.


The main reason for our visit―or at least for the timing of our visit―was to join my siblings in celebrating our parents' 60th wedding anniversary! So here are a few family fun photos from the occasion.

The eating/drinking something action shot is a long-standing family tradition!

Thanks for joining me on this tour! Hope you enjoyed it, and maybe even learned something. Have you been to Calgary or to Banff? Leave a comment and let me know when and where, or which of these places you'd like to visit!

A version of this post will also appear on A Fresh Cup of Coffee.

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