The glorious, awe-inspiring Canadian Rockies! This is the view from the top of the gondola at Lake Louise Ski Resort, which is still open — until May 8th. To my right, you can see the lake which this part of Banff (Canada’s first national park) was named for. The lake, and Deer Lodge, our digs for the weekend, are both only five minutes from the bottom of the hill.The famous turquoise glacier-fed water is already starting to appear through the rink that I played hockey on in February. The paths around the lake are in good conditions for a hike…… but after a day of snowboarding, apres-ski at Deer Lodge, just down the road, is more tempting.First up, into the rooftop hot tub, for a gorgeous view of the sunset over the Rockies. You can just make out the Beehive, a roundish mountain next to Lake Agnes teahouse, a beautiful hike to do in the summer. Meanwhile, this truly is a hot tub time machine, because afterward you’ll find yourself inside Deer Lodge, which is like going back to 1925, the year it opened.Tilt back your glass at the bar and you’ll see this guy, which makes perfect sense, because you’re in the Caribou Lounge. Just because you’re in a UNESCO World Heritage Site doesn’t mean you can’t get a decent drink.After a day of snowboarding it only made sense to apres with a charcuterie platter. It’s something of a specialty at Deer Lodge, because parent company Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts raises its own elk, bison and beef.Now that your tummy is primed for food, mosey by the bighorn to the Mount Fairview Dining Room.The Grilled Alberta Beef with parmesan frites is delectable.If you have room for desert, I highly recommend moving to the Great Room and having it in front of the fire. There is no room service at the hotel, but you’re welcome to bring your own drinks or nibbles up to your room. Ours had an incredible view — check it out.What a wonderful weekend! See you next year, Deer Lodge!
As unbelievable as it may seem with summer-strength sunshine blazing in Calgary, there’s plenty of snow in Lake Louise. The mountains are still open for top-to-bottom runs. Deer Lodge, just a five-minute drive from the ski hill, is the perfect location for a last hurrah spring skiing weekend getaway.Staying at Deer Lodge is like traveling back in time, to the era when this fabulous woman went boating on Lake Louise (just a few minutes up the road from the hotel). You’ll find photos like these all over the rustic hotel, which opened in 1925, after welcoming guests for two years as a teahouse.If you stay here, know going in that the operating word here is rustic, and that the main aspect of the lodge’s charm. This is not a five-star hotel. There’s no room service, and no elevators. After climbing three flights to the top floor of the Tower, we found the Crosby Room, full of delightful nooks, nary a television in sight. It’s named for Gertrude Crosby, the original founder of the lodge who opened it to bust the exclusive the Chateau had on the area.The bed, with its super-thick down duvet, was tucked into its own alcove…… with this glorious view of the Victoria Glacier. Which definitely made up for the Scald Warning sign in the bathroom. With the charm of original hand hewn logs comes original plumbing. Although, fyi, I didn’t find it dangerous. I kept the temperature warm instead of hot, and experienced a few cold shots instead of scalding.The charm carries through to the bar, the restaurant, the games room and the library, where ivories are available for guests to tickle. I found one television, downstairs with the pool and foosball tables….. but who wants to watch TV in the Canadian Rockies, when there are a stack of books and games for fireside entertainment?Up next, did I pay attention to this sign on Lake Louise? How did I possibly entertain myself without easy access to television? How was the snowboarding this late in the year? And what about apres ski at Deer Lodge? Hint on that last one: so good that I will probably break my food porn rule. Again.
Everyone who owns horses has that special pony, even if they won’t admit to a favorite.
Simon was mine, but he got saddled with a storyteller. The star of my string (I liked to call him that even when he was often the only one in my string), he was all over my blog, my Instagram feed, my life. Featured in Polo Players’ Edition last November, he even has an upcoming cameo in a charity calendar – he’ll be Mr. September.
So I just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t write his obituary.
When I bought Simon in 2013, I’d just come off six weeks of crutches, after foot surgery. A month before that it was cancer surgery. I’d had a small part of my nose removed, but it felt like the biggest thing in the world. That summer, all I wanted to do was play polo and have fun, so I was thrilled to find him just a few weeks before the season started. He had a scar on his nose, too.
Then the floods hit Calgary and I was evacuated. I was lucky, since my top-floor condo on Elbow River wasn’t damaged, but the bottom floor of the building was devastated. As I bounced from one guest room to another for seven weeks, Simon became my constant.
People in polo tend to worry about heart attacks in older horses, especially during a game. At 23, my first-ever pony was playing in what should be his retirement years.
But Simon’s heart was too big to break. He carried me through three years of polo, playing two chukkers a game, barely raising a sweat.
You know that first sunny, spring-like day, when the birds are singing and the sky is brilliant blue? There always seems to be one dramatic day where it hits me — how beautiful the world is, making me almost giddy with happiness.
This year that day was Saturday, March 5th, 2016. It was shaping up to be unusually warm. I had a tight schedule – a business meeting in the early afternoon, with plans to zip home to get gussied up for the Black and White gala ball. Many of my favorite people were going to be there, and I was really looking forward to it.
But weather like this in March, in Calgary? I couldn’t resist taking my ponies out for a set. Simon and Gabby were on winter vacation at the polo club, but they’d be up for some exercise. Squeezing it in to my hectic day would be worth it. I listened to a comedy show on the drive to the club and laughed the whole way.
In the valley behind the club, as usual, it was a little tricky to find them. The pasture is currently home to thirty horses. They all look a little wild, fuzzy and fat for the winter that is normally cold.
Soon, however, I noticed a pair of ponies looking at me expectantly. With the long hair on his muzzle, Simon’s trademark scar was even more noticeable than usual. He was doing that cute quivering thing with his lip, anticipating the treats that would be his, once we climbed the steep hill to the pasture gate. After calmly leaving behind the rest of their winter herd, the two buddies were well rewarded with carrots. Sweetly and quietly, they stood patiently as I tacked up.
I decided I’d ride Gabby and pony Simon. I’d ridden Simon a few weeks before, on another warm day, and something about his knees made me anxious. Near the end of our set, his front legs seemed to lock up for a second or two. At first I thought he was tripping, but it was something else. I had hopped off, walking him the rest of the way, knowing, but not wanting to know, that Simon could finally be showing his age: 27 years.
He hadn’t seemed to be in any pain, though, and today it was obvious he was delighted with the weather as we headed for the track.
After ten minutes of walking, Gabby and Simon naturally moved into a trot, and it felt mean to hold them back. Wearing just a t-shirt in the fifteen-degree temperature, I couldn’t believe we were the only ones at the polo club. The fields looked ready to be played.
On the final section, I directed my horses off the track, alongside the boards of the main fields. They wanted to canter, and I just couldn’t deny them. It was spring and they were feeling good! Beside me, Simon gave his traditional early season buck. He looked so strong, keeping pace with Gabby. I hoped whatever I had noticed last time was just temporary.
After a couple of minutes, I brought them back to a walk, and we took it slow back to the barn. With their shaggy coats, they’d probably be a little sweaty, but the day was so warm I wasn’t worried. They’d have plenty of time to dry.
I dragged a brush across their unruly coats and checked my watch — I was right on schedule. After I brought them back to the pasture, I’d have just enough time for a quick change of clothes and the short drive to my meeting. But first, more carrots were in order.
We moseyed back to the paddock that led to the valley. Before I opened the second gate, Simon dropped for an exuberant roll in the dirt. Yeah! Springtime!
As soon as the gate swung open, Gabby zipped out first, trotting down the hill to the rest of the herd. Since he’d paused to let me pet him one last time, Simon was a few paces behind.
Going down the hill, he sped up to catch Gabby, giving another buck for good measure. Then the next part happened in one awful second. He landed badly on his front right. He flipped, spiraling through a massive, horse-sized somersault. Then he was standing again, but his front right leg dangled unnaturally from the knee.
Even from a hundred feet away, I knew exactly what that meant.
I fought the urge to run to him, afraid my cell phone wouldn’t get a signal down that hill. Although my fingers barely worked, somehow I called Candice, my vet. She wasn’t close enough to help, but she assured me she knew another vet nearby. I managed another quick, strangled call to cancel my meeting. Then I sprinted down the hill.
Simon was standing on three legs, listing on the steep angle. The rest of the herd seemed to know that something was very, very wrong. Some stood quietly nearby, as if offering a calming presence, but a chestnut reared up, slicing his front hooves dangerously through the air. With his nostrils flaring, and his ears pinned back, he looked ready to destroy anyone who came near Simon, including me.
So there I was, alone in the pasture with Simon and 29 other horses, crying my eyes out. Sometimes I’d manage to stand beside Simon and pet him, but other times that chestnut chased me off. I tried to stop crying, so I too could be a calming presence, but I failed miserably.
The other horses became increasingly rattled. A dozen ran in tight circles, just twenty feet away. The chestnut pawed the ground, like a bull seeing red.
It seemed like it went on forever, but it was probably only ten or fifteen minutes.
The vet arrived. So did the woman with whom I had just cancelled my meeting. I’d never met her, but she was a horsewoman, and insisted I shouldn’t be alone. She immediately stepped in to help, becoming a human wall between the upset horses and Simon.
The vet kindly explained what she’d have to do and how it would take place. Simon was in shock, so hopefully he wasn’t in much pain. He kept bobbing his head, like he couldn’t figure out why one of his legs wouldn’t work. I had to say goodbye. The vet carefully positioned her syringe. Simon buckled almost instantly, falling over, and breathed out one final time.
On the ground, with my arms thrown around my favorite horse, I was a mess. I didn’t know I had that many tears in me. Hot and fast, they streamed onto Simon’s winter coat.
My boyfriend arrived. The vet, and the stranger who was now a friend, left.
The other horses edged closer. It was time to let them have their own goodbyes. Some of them have probably known Simon for much longer than I have.
Look, my boyfriend said. They’re crying too.
I didn’t think he meant it literally, but I lifted my head from Simon’s furry neck, blinking to focus. Several of the horses were crying. Big, fat tears, rolling down their muzzles.
And that chestnut? He was staring straight at me, two watery trails flowing down either side of his nose. Inconsolable. Like me.
It’s been a month now. I didn’t go to that gala ball. I could barely leave the house for a week. Social gatherings were out of the question. Soon, maybe, I’ll be able to say his name without my voice getting tight and tears welling up.
I want to thank everyone who sent the kindest, sweetest notes. The calls, even flowers. Everyone who has horses knows what it’s like. Most have been through something similar.
I keep seeing his uncontrollable orbit through the air in my mind’s eye, over and over, the maneuver that was finished in a flash on a permanent slow-mo loop. I’ll never forget the way his leg looked, dangling uselessly, streaming with blood. But the indelible brand on my brain is worth it, because it means what needed to be done happened quickly. I was right there.
Simon is gone, and my heart aches. But he went out in a happy buck blaze of glory, after a beautiful ride around the track, after a long life of playing amazing polo. Double chukker or nothing!
A new restaurant has quietly opened up on the hippest section of First Avenue SW, with no sign except a small speech bubble on the door: Ten Foot Henry.Which is weird, because Henry himself is not known for being discreet. Seen here, directing those in need to the loo, Henry is in all his usual ten-foot glory. But perhaps he’s been relegated to the hallway because he — ahem — would be an overbearing contrast with the subtle decor.
The room is a relief from over-themed design that can sometimes overwhelm the ‘latest new place.’ Light and airy despite the lack of windows, a plethora of hanging plants allude to the freshness of what you’re about to eat.
Aja Lapointe will happily take credit for the food (along with co-founder and executive chef Stephen Smee) but not for the plants. Those are firmly rooted under the green thumbs of Plant Terrariums, my succulent go-to in Inglewood, and Esme.The bar is a great spot for dining solo, but if you’re with friends, get ready to share.Even though the menu was full of intriguing food choices, I had gossip to get to. So I leapt at the lunch suggestion to let the restaurant make all the decisions. The low-priced option has a low-key name, “five plates for $19,” and today it started with the Henry Salad. The Henry kitchen has the rare talent of knowing how not to over-dress. The greens, served to share, were quickly followed with a mushroom omelette made with montasio cheese.
The share plates kept on showing up. Charred broccoli with celery root soubise was next, then a bucatini that was the ultimate in al dente. Dessert is not pictured, because it was raw truffles, concocted from pure cocoa. We ate them too damn fast for photo evidence.
Lunch was paired with a “friendly Valpolicella” (to quote our server, and I totally agree) and the lovely Lana Rogers. A toast to your new PR + Consulting company, Lana, and cheers to Ten Foot Henry, now part of my Calgary top ten restaurant list.
Which new book is gracing my old coffee table now? The Photographing Tourist – a Storyteller’s Guide to Travel and Photography.Besides being chock full of gorgeous travel photos from around the globe, author David Noyes’ book is peppered with tips on how to capture that priceless Kodak moment during your own travels.As a shutterbug-slash-travel addict myself, I found it interesting to see some of the things I do while taking photos are actual techniques. But Noyes, an award-winning pro photog, has plenty of other suggestions to help me up my game. But, in case you’re wondering, not a single selfie instruction. Thank goodness.
As someone who self-publishes regularly right here on Blue Besos, I was also intrigued to discover that The Photographing Tourist was self-published. Buy it directly from the author here and a donation will be made to the Innocent Eyes Project. Shipping it to the True North? Use CANADA to get a $10 discount.
When Johnnie Walker asks if you’d like to host a Scotch Tasting, the only answer is YES.Especially when the event is led by tall taste-tester extraordinaire, Tanner Murray, seen here on the right. Life Where We Are blogger Misty Hamel is pinky-out ready for her first sip, while incoming CEO of Statoil Canada always appreciates peat from across the pond.
Tanner helped us drink our way through any previous misconceptions we may have had about his scotch — the main one being that there’s only one level of Johnnie. Title titan with the whiskeyest wisdom, Tony Kay, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and British Consul General Calgary, seen above with the dashing red belt, definitely had concerns.
As Tanner tempted our taste buds with Red Label ($27), pairing it with orange chocolate, to twelve-year-old Black Label ($38) pairing with pepper and strawberries, our smiles grew from tall to grande.
My favorite just happens to be named after my theme color: blue. Almost a unicorn of scotch, many haven’t tried Johnnie Walker Blue. Which could have something to do with the minimum 21 years of aging. Or the retail value of $250. Doesn’t it look fab in front of my Most Improved Player award picture from Calgary Polo Club? The bottle provides a lovely accent for my Team Blue Besos jersey. Too bad it’s empty.
The sly pictorial is a commentary on the world’s obsession with a certain plaid. British artist Toby Leigh spent a decade obsessively trawling the streets, documenting everything from birthday cakes to tattoos, wheelchairs, even toilet seats.
Toby’s obsession with this tartan symbol of pseudo-luxury began with (what else?) a blog… which could explain why he became enamored with Blue Besos.While Toby took most of the photos himself, he was taken with this pic I snapped in Calgary. I was delighted when Toby asked if he could use publish it. Does that make me a professional art photographer?
It’s been a weird winter in Calgary. With temperatures above freezing for weeks now, there’s no snow left on the ground. Our ice rinks are melting. But one thing that we can rely on around here, no matter what scary signs of global warming abound? Dryness. And no one wants to pucker up to someone with peeling, chapped lips.ChopSaver Lip Care to the rescue! It keeps your kisser soft without being greasy. I like it, although the no-nonsense, non-sensual scent would not be my normal go-to. Kind of makes me think of camping. Which is why I think this chapstick is great for the guys. And also musicians on the job — the Arnica oil-based ChopSaver was created by professional trumpet player, Dan Gosling. Available with or without SPF.
It’s coming! The second event of the Secret Sound Society — the sleek, secret club that parties in honor of the Calgary Folk Festival. They’ll fete again this Thursday, February 11th at 7:30 pm.
Need some incentive? Try cocktails by Jameson, crafted by Sugar Water Bar. Nibbles light enough not to mess with your buzz. And a command performance by an amazing Canadian band. Hint: they rocked the Twilight Stage at the Folk Fest back in 2013.
Last time, guests who stalked the SSS Insta and Twitter came appropriately dressed for the Día de Muertos-themed event, held in an Inglewood location revealed at the absolute last minute. Well… ok, two days before. Enough time to get your sequins and sombreros organized.
Where will Thursday’s party be? The photo above is a major clue. But if “what should I wear” is still an elephant in the room for you, don’t take your style tips from the sidewalk pachyderm. With Block Heater weekend almost upon us, go mad with plaid and toss on a toque. The dress code is as pure as maple syrup and the driven snow: Canadiana all the way. SSSee you there! Wait, not a member yet? Here’s the secret knock.