The Countdown to a Long Journey

In exactly four months to this day, my family and I will take off on our next big adventure; six months of travelling, climbing, skiing and enjoying uninterrupted time with each other as well as with our French family and friends.


We have itchy feet. We need to move out of our routine and comfort zone as often as we can. It’s now been three years since the last time we took off for several months. It was back when I was on maternity leave; we had gone to Europe for four months with our then 7-month-old baby.

The biggest little traveller


The time before that was when we packed all our belongings into my small Toyota Matrix and moved across Canada to be ski bums. That was seven years ago.


This need to break with our everyday life for an extended period of time is cyclical and tends to germinate in my head shortly after I have accomplished a project or lived a dream I had had for a while.


I am not one to be fooled with the promise of freedom retirement will bring. I don’t want to put my life on hold and suck up my urges to live freely and explore the world at my family’s own pace until I am 65 for many obvious reasons.


This time around, we are leaving lighthearted as we both negotiated a leave of absence with our respective employers, which takes a huge financial stress off of our shoulders. What also makes a huge difference is that now that we’re homeowners, we don’t have to worry about giving up our rental and fearing to be homeless upon our return. We get to decide the terms of the rental.


At D-4 months, the things we need get sorted out in order to be all ready to leave when  November rolls around are mostly administrative. We need to get my daughter’s French passport and a spouse visa for myself, which will allow us to stay for an extended period of time in the Schengen Space. We also need to sort out what we are going to do with our vehicles and try to find reliable tenants for our condo through word of mouth.


And of course, we need to save money. Without the option of a deferred leave, it’s up to us to put money away each month so we can live without an income for months. $20K is the amount we have set as our savings goal to live 6 months in Europe. With the exchange rate not quite in our favor, this will convert to a mere 13K Euros, which is a little over 2K per month. We are also securing a personal line of credit, just in case. We will have to be frugal but we know it’s possible.


$20,000 can seem like a lot of money to put aside…and at the same time not a lot of money for 3 indivudials to live of of for half a year. We already had some savings for rainy days that we decided to roll into our trip fund. We are saving the rest at a pace of approximately $1,200 a month.


We plan on spending as much time as possible visiting friends and relative and therefore saving on accommodation. We are so fortunate that our friends live in some of the most desirable places in Europe. The rest of the time we will rent vacation homes and apartments and will stay in the odd hostels, campgrounds and AirBnB’s.


We can also rely on my in-laws’ vehicle to come and go, which will also save us a huge amount of money. The bulk of our expenses will be on airfare, medical insurance, ferries, food, coffee, gas, ski lift tickets and vino and beer (which will be our exchange commodity for staying at our generous friends). oh, and we will also need new climbing shoes.

Leaving on an airplane is always a source of great excitment…no matter how often we do it.


Our project is bringing a lot of excitement in our household and we love planning together and talking about what we are going to do. While we don’t have a clear plan and are hoping to go with the flow, there are some must-do things that we like to prioritize, like spending the holidays with my in-laws, which I can’t recall ever doing before. We also want to go back to Spain, visit Sicily, climb in Greece, ski in Chamonix, hang out in our beloved La Grave, ski in Queyras…


We obviously have some compromises to do this summer and need to keep our adventures a little more low key than usual. My husband’s desire for a new mountain bike will have to be put on hold as will our wish to replace the camper we miss so much.


We are also mindful about every purchase we are doing as anything that comes into our condo will have to be stored somewhere. But we know how much it’s worth it. So very worth it. Bring on the countdown!


What tips do you have to prepare for a long trip?

The Funny Thing About Cities…

…is that they are full of crazy funny characters.


As tourism professionals working in rural areas, we often brag about how our communities count such unique local characters and storytellers.


Interestingly, the most surprising encounters I have ever had have always been in large cities. These moments, often happening out of the blue, stay imprinted in my mind with and leave a strange feeling of incredulity each time.


This week I was in Victoria, BC for a conference. One morning I was on walking to a downtown Café for breakfast, stopped at a traffic light.


A man walked straight towards me, looked at me in the eyes and said: “It’s a fine day. A fine day to rob a bank!”


I looked at him, with question marks all over my face.


He carried on: ” Robbing a bank is actually a fairly simple thing to do. But the reason why people get caught is that they can’t help but brag about it, and then they get caught!”


I responded: “Is that what you’re intending to do today then?”


Him: ” Well, yes!”


Me: “Then, perhaps you shouldn’t be telling me about it!”


Him: ” That’s okay because you don’t know me.”


Me; ” You are right, and most importantly, I don’t bank here.”


Him: “Oh good! Because today, I am going to rob my own bank.” and then he walked away.


Me: …


Of course, I know cities are full of quirky characters like this man and that I should probably forget this encounter has quickly as it happened.


But somehow, every day following it, I haven’t been able to help it; I have been checking the news to see if there had been any bank robbery attempts in Victoria that day.


Through this impromptu one minute conversation, this man, likely suffering from mythomania, has somehow stricken the most memorable story of my whole 4 days in the City….


Cities really do have something funny about them. Yep. They do…


Did you ever experience quirky encounters in cities?


On Spending Money On Experiences Rather Than Stuff

Lately, I have seen on Facebook all sorts of articles, quotes and scientific evidence to prove that people who spend money on travel live happier than the ones who spend money on material things. It seems to be all over Social Media these days.  Perhaps it always shows on my feed because of the obscure Facebook algorithm which tends to only feed you the very targeted content you want to see…

Anyhow, I can say that I obviously agree with that concept. However, I also think that, over and above “how” we spend the disposable money we make, there is an important nuance to be made on how we “earn” the money to spend on travel and experiences and how we decide to spend it in the everyday life as well.

To me, it seems like living a happy, balanced life is the result of a series of choices and decisions, as well as a certain level random events and factors out of our control of course. The choices and decisions on how we make a living and how we shape our lifestyle day in and day out matter a lot and shouldn’t be made lightly.

It goes without saying that if you work a highly stressful job that you dislike and put in crazy overtime, then have to commute an hour each way every day, chances are you’re not living a very happy life even if, when you do get some time off, you spend your money traveling. You get where I am getting at, right?

Traveling brings happiness. Experiences bring happiness, whether they are in the form of sports, arts, craft, music, volunteering for a noble cause, cooking, learning about topics of interest, or simply spending time with friends and family. Work can also even be a source of happiness, for the fulfillment, challenge and human connections it brings.

Each lifestyle decision impacts our ability to spend more time (and disposable income) doing things that bring us joy.

For our family, in order to be able to spend a large amount of time and money doing what we love such as climbing, skiing, traveling, etc., the lifestyle decisions we make translate in all the different spheres of our lives.


  • We purposefully decide to work less.

My husband works seasonal jobs in order to get a few months off each year. I work four days a week.

We calculated that we work an annual average of 23 hours per week, which is less than one day per week. 1/7 of our time in total. This allows plenty of time to take care of chores and plenty of time to spend together as a family, as a couple and on our own as I described in this previous post. We don’t make huge incomes; we are pretty aligned with the median income for two parents Canadian families. Having plenty of disposable time on our side is our priority #1.

I must also say that we also enjoy the work we do, for the most part. We certainly don’t dread going to work each day and both are lucky enough to work in very friendly environments. I think this is quite significant because although only 1/7 of our overall time is spent working, it’s a relatively large part of our “awake” time.


  • We don’t drive fancy new vehicles.

Our car is 9 years old and our truck: 21! They are long paid off and the truck is really only used on occasions, to go sled-skiing or on camping trips, and on the occasional drive to town. The rural character of the Kootenays makes it challenging to only have one vehicle, but we could only have one if we really wanted to.

The vehicles we drive surely are not sexy, but they are simple, reliable and sturdy.


Tailgate picnics taste just as good in an rusted old truck
  • We live close to where we work and recreate.

My husband walks to work at least 6 months a year and my work and daycare are 5 km from home.

From where we live, we can access hundreds of kilometres of trail for hiking, biking and xc skiing right in our backyard, ski right from our door step. We also have access to six climbing crags and a sweet climbing gym, Spirit Rock, within less than 45 minutes of driving. The Purcells and South Rockies are only a short drive and snowmobile ride away and offer countless options for backcountry skiing.

We even have an airport 25 minutes from home!

This is what my bike commute route looks like
  • We live small.

We live in a 2-bedroom condo of a mere 1,000 square feet. This is 1,100 square feet smaller than the average Canadian home*. Our condo doesn’t have a garage nor any large storage.

Everything we own fits into our living space (and on our deck). Our mortgage is small. The maintenance costs are reduced because we live in a strata and therefore we share them with other owners. Our maintenance duties are also reduced to the bare minimum, which leaves us free to lock our door and head out for as long as we want.

I wouldn’t say that there aren’t times where we miss having a yard, a carport or a heated garage to store our toys because we do. But overall, this living situation works for us and allows us to spend money and time on things that matter more.


  • We don’t wear fancy clothes.

We don’t wear rags either. We are not overly trendy or fashionable, we are not complete hippies either. We wear functional, quality clothes that last a few years and we own them in small quantity. Condo living forces us to keep things pretty slim and tidy as we only have 2 closets and 2 dressers.

The same rule applies to outdoor clothing. We have some key quality pieces that serve different purposes. We don’t own different colour ski pants for each day of the week. My daughter, just like us, only wears a few of her favourite pieces each season. We buy clothes on sale, online or locally and occasionally from outlets. For my kid, we rely on hand-me-downs and consignment store and presents from the grandparents.


  • We only own the gear we use and we use all the gear we own.

Here again, although we like to have the proper gear and mostly like it new and shiny, space is limiting us in what we can possess. We have a small but well-organized gear closet that sometimes is the tidiest space in our home (!).

We buy most of our gear from my husband’s pro-deals as he works in the ski and outdoor industry, or from outlets and sometimes second hand. The MEC Online Gear Swap is a gold mine for brand new gear that’s never been used. Some people buy the top of the line and never use it as they don’t have the time nor the energy…

We sell our gear online too before it looses all the value and renew it periodically. We trade and borrow some items that we don’t use enough to justify buying such as a canoe for a single annual trip, or xc ski gear for my husband who nordic skis twice a year. We don’t accumulate gear and discard anything that’s beyond use as we just don’t have space to store it “just in case”.

I must say however that sometimes we indulge and we feel okay about it because spending money on gear brings us joy and we know we make good use of it. It doesn’t just sits on a shelve and collects dust.


The experience is free. How much you spend on gear is up to you.
  • We cook, bake, garden, and freeze.

We mostly eat in, unless we are traveling because we love to discover other cultures through food and culinary customs. We cook most of the meals we eat and prepare freezers meals ahead of time to avoid the “take out” temptation. We bring our lunches every day at work and daycare and when we travel too as there is nothing more enjoyable than picnics.

We are also very lucky that friends have offered to grow vegetables in their garden. We can then enjoy the fresh goodness of summer through crunchy organic greens and delectable berries and veggies. It’s also a nice way to socialize, teach our daughter where her food comes from and let her get her hands dirty. It’s also a really nice way to get the benefits of a backyard without owning one.

Lastly, we ski, climb, run, bike, paddle, camp, travel abroad, go on weekend getaways, fly to visit family, go on road trips and rarely think twice when it comes to planning a trip because we feel we have been diligently saving our money and organizing our time to do so.

We feel very good about spending money on these experiences that are meaningful to our family. That doesn’t mean that all our good principles go out the window when we are traveling. We don’t stay in 5-star hotels, rent fancier cars then we own or go on luxurious excursions…

We travel the way we live, make mindful decisions, just like in our everyday life and that feels alright!

What are your tips to afford the time and money to travel or do what you really love?


The Best Cheese Fondue Recipe

…and it’s Backcountry-Friendly!


At least five different people have asked me for my cheese fondue recipe this past month. Last winter alone, we must have hosted at least 5 or 6 fondue dinners at the request of our friends who have all wanted to reproduce the feast at home…Each time I have happily explained the recipe how-to verbally, or in a text message, or scribbled the instructions on a post-it…until I reminded myself: “eh, don’t you have a blog about skiing, climbing, adventure travel AND food?!”


So, I have decided to share my recipe for this traditional alpine dish we all love so much, but also, to tell you a bit about how and why it became so special to us, in addition to being so darn rich, smooth and delicious.


Those of you who have read my first food-related blog will recall that I have a pretty special relationship with cheese.


Maybe my deep interest for everything cheese has something to do with why I became so close with my dear friend Rachel Martin from La Grave, Hautes-Alpes, France.


Rachel owns the most incredible cheese shop right in the Village. She is one of the first individuals I met when we moved to La Grave in 2004, but also the one who has been so kind and caring to me that she became like my second mom.


Not only does she hold this very special place in my heart, she also taught me how to make real cheese fondue.


In Rachel’s shop, you find the finest looking display of cheeses and charcuteries one can find in the whole Alps. From Gruyère to Abondance, Comté, and Beaufort, from Tomme de Savoie, truffle cheese to Jura’s very own Mont-d’Or and the best goat cheese around, from boar saucisson and speck ham that melts in your mouth, there is more than one’s eyes and belly can take in.


If you happen to spend some time in La Grave one day, which should obviously be on every skier’s or mountaineer’s wish-list, La Fromagerie de Montagne must not be missed.

Rachel’s Fromagerie de Montagne under one of the most majestic mountains on Earth, La Meije (3983m). Photo courtesy of Ben de La Grave, our dear friend and Rachel’s son


At Rachel’s I would pop by for tea every second day if not every day during the six years we lived there. She would send me home with a bag full of most amazing cheeses each time, which is worth a little fortune by-the-way. At the time, being a dirtbag student with not much to put on our table, Rachel’s cheeses and cured meats made us feel like millionaires.


She also throws the best dinner parties out there. I recall squeezing in her great big living room with 20 or 25 other fine folks for voluptuous meals, usually a cheese specialty of some kind, and eating and drinking and listening to the latest indie music hits (Rachel also has amazing musical tastes) until late at night…


You will now have guessed that I hold my cheese fondue recipe from her. I obviously had to find an adaptation somehow, to Kimberley’s ingredients supply (between Crème Cheese Shop and Overwaitea you can actually find all you need at a fairly decent price).


I am pretty satisfied with the result and I hope you will too. Once you try, I promise you will never go back to packaged fondue ever again. Here we go…


For The Best Cheese Fondue, you will need:

200 grams of cheese per adult. 3 types of cheese minimum. Grated.
Gruyère, Emmenthal or Comté, and the local touch, some Kootenay Meadow Alpindon
1/2 bottle of dry white wine (the best is Vin de Savoie but it’s hard to find around here so Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio will do. For the record, I have tried it with Champagne once when we were out of wine and it tastes great too!)
4 cloves of garlic
fresh ground pepper, to taste
a pinch of ground nutmeg
a pinch of baking soda


For the bread:
1 large loaf of white or whole wheat sourdough (a day old is best)



Cut the bread into 2″ cubes ahead of time and set aside for an hour or two so it’s a bit dry. Alternatively, you can also place it in the over on a baking sheet at low temp for a few minutes.

Cut one of a garlic clove in half and rub the pot with it.
Add 250ml of white wine and turn the stove on a medium-low temperature.
Add half of the grated cheese and stir gently while it melts.
Alternate between wine and cheese so the texture is liquidy enough.
Add the rest of the garlic (chopped), the freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, and baking soda.
Keep stirring until the texture is a smooth as possible.


Transfer to the burner. Dip a chunk of bread and savour!


I like to serve my fondue with some small Mailles pickles (cornichons extra-fins) and a bit salad with slices of apple, walnuts, and a Dijon-based vinaigrette.


For the backcountry lovers, cheese fondue is a fun dish to serve on a hut trip. You can just grate the cheese ahead and store it in Ziploc bags, the pepper, the nutmeg and baking soda already mixed in another bag and garlic on the side. Bring wine in a tetra pack box and heat it over a camping stove. It is such a comforting and high-calorie dish, it will fuel you up for the next day for sure. It is, of course, great for sharing too.

A backcountry fondue shared with family on a snowy autumn hike to the Jumbo Pass Hut for my daughter’s second birthday


I hope you will enjoy this fondue as much as my family and friends do. Every time we have it we create more great memories and still recall with so much joy the amazing time we’ve had and we will still have over fondue, here in the Kootenays or at Rachel’s house.


Cheese it up!

Cheese fondue is the ideal party dish on a cold winter night

In 2017, I wish

( in no particular order)

to write more and more often;

to never ask for a plastic grocery bag or a disposable to-go coffee cup again;

to only drink local beer, wherever I am;

to spend more time in the backcountry with my dear husband;

to visit my family and friends in Québec and write a blog post about the wonderful things there are to do as a visitor;

to get rid of more stuff (donate, sell, swap, repurpose);

to spend less money and put more into savings;

to start meditating and doing yoga more consistently;

to make healthy freezer meals so I have more time to do all the things above;

to become a rock warrior (mentally stronger in my climbing);

to plan a big trip with my family;

to come up with a successful strategy to put my daughter to bed without a fight each night;

to breathe more mindfully;

to not take things so personally;

to improve my public speaking skills;

and last but not least…

In 2017 I wish to love more, love better and more unconditionally because I now am convinced that it’s the only thing that can improve my own life, my family’s and have a positive impact on the world around me.

2017 is a blank canvas. 2017 is the year of true love. Happy New Year.

Vamos a Chulilla! Climbing in Spain with Kids

Hola, Espanol!” says my daughter, giggling, as she runs out of the Panaderia. In her hand,  she holds a small pastry generously offered by the owner. Then, she runs across the narrow street to the village Plaza and sits on a bench to savour her sweet chocolate-filled mini croissant with a delicious honey-nuts topping.

It’s 11 am on beautiful Thursday in November and the Plaza is bathed in the sun and bustling with life. Today is market day. The locals are shopping for fresh produce, leather purses or pajamas and socks. Nearby, at the Caffè, a few climbers are sipping café con leche and catching up on emails, eyes glued to their laptops.

The temperature is cooler at this time of year and therefore no one rushes to the crags before noon, especially the shady ones; the mythical ones.


A village nestled between the cliffs. Photo by Shenoa Runge

No one rushes to the crags but us. On a ten-day vacation with young children, we want to maximize every hour of daylight to explore and enjoy this huge climbing playground. Time is limited and family vacation also means we are here to spend quality family time.


We’re wondering how we possibly are going to fit everything into ten days…
Although a tiny little village, Chulilla is an enorme climbing destination. After timid developments in the 90’s, local route setters have been very prolific in the last few years, with increased community support towards this major tourism draw. The spot now counts over 800 routes dispersed across a dozen different areas, some located at walking distance from the village and some a little further away in the valley.

The quaint, white-washed village is perched on a bluff and surrounded by countless kilometres of bright limestone walls, perfectly vertical or slightly overhanging.

The climbs are known to be long and tenuous. It isn’t uncommon to link beautiful technical moves for 40 metres and even 50 metres in one single climb. Climbers must come prepared: strong forearms, eighty-metre ropes and lots of quickdraws are required to make the most out of a stay in Chulilla.
While the area offers climbs that range from 6a to 8b, Chulilla is an absolute paradise for 7b climbers, grade in which many of the most iconic climbs can be found. This is a little unfortunate for us, who happen to be modest climbers in comparison to many visitors to this destination.
The information we hold prior to our arrival is that routes in the 6th and low 7th grades can be found but can prove a little runout or polished. Nonetheless, the place still looks appealing to my dear husband, our loyal climbing partners Marc and Shenoa and myself, and we feel confident about finding nice climbs to play on.

Marc and Hervé eager to get on the rock

In such a large destination with all the many different sites, the local climbing guidebook Chulilla: Guia de Escalada is absolutely essential, but requires some studying.
Fortunately, after day 2, we realize that there is some excellent climbing in our grade with plenty of newer climbs on excellent rock and very well equipped. Sectors like Fantasia, Cherales and la Peneta is were we end up spending a lot of time, in the warm autumn sunshine. These areas never seem crowded although very easily accessed. Most of those sites however, are not very toddler-friendly.

climbing moms
Moms get on the rock while children play nearby, sheltered by the overhang. Photo by Marc Trudeau

The sites that we find fit and welcoming to families are La Nevera that is of easy access and has fun caves for the little cavemen. Competicion is the best area we found to set up a small top rope for the kids and is also an easy end-of-day crag on our way to the bar. Finally, we also enjoyed another small crag in the canyon between the bridges for the great hike it provides, the river and the fine sand.

Finn, never taking the easy road
Because the little ones like cragging too
Eva and Finn exploring the narrow streets

We find however that the best way to maximize our time on climbing days is to split up our group into two teams; one team to look after the children for the half-day while the other team climbs.

The Turia valley, a real oasis in the desert

There are plenty of fun things to do with the kids around the village between exploring the narrow cobbled streets, playing princess & knight in the Castillo, paying a visit the white fluffy goats, hiking the river valley or simply enjoying the local delicacies and running around on the Plaza. Chulilla also has two decent playgrounds, of which one is located by the local watering hole, wifi hotspot and tapas and climbing beta provider; Goscanos.

Eva, Finn and Shenoa hiking Los Calderones trail
Meet the Knight and the Princess of the Castillo



Fortunately , we also have opted for a comfortable and spacious four-bedrooms vacation rental, la Casa Nispero, which is located on a large gated property and the end of a quiet street where the little ones are free to roam. The location and amenities of the house really contribute to making our stay enjoyable, from the ability to cook healthy meals at home to the cozy evenings by the wood fireplace, pool-side lunches and naps in the sun…as well as the two bathrooms.

Our Casa for ten days

There are also many other vacation rentals right in the village to suit every budget and group size as well as cozy inns and hostels, the main one being El Altico, owned by one of the prolific local route setters. Many climbers also stay in camper vans around town or on the main public parking lots, with access to water and wifi at the nearby climber’s bar.

The village hosts several small mercados or carnecerias where one can find most of the staples to survive: cheese, bread, wine, meat and charcuterie, oranges and mandarines in season, local and absolutely divine. For more diversified foods, the nearby city of Lliria or Valencia are the best options we found to please our little and big eaters.

Breakfast in the warm morning sunshine

In Chulilla, the spirit between locals and climbers from all around the world is truly positive, especially when the climbers happen to have ninos,  who are the best conversation starter and get a very special attention from every store or restaurant staff.  Even with a limited proficiency in Spanish, it is very easy to communicate with residents who are so friendly and welcoming and never seem on a rush.

Eva chatting with a local abuela at the market

In the small climbing shop, visitors can buy all the staples including the guidebook. The store also carries t-shirts and hoodies with Chulilla’s tagline: Climb. Eat. Sleep. F**k. The sight of it makes me think that it’s probably what defines a stay in Chulilla for most climbers, single, young and beautiful, although we definitely noticed an imbalanced male vs female ratio.

Obviously, going on a rock climbing trip with toddlers changes your experience … a lot. I think it’d be more accurate to summarize our experience in Chulilla this way: Sleep. Climb. Eat. Play. Nap. Snack…and wipe bums.

our crew – Photo by Shenoa Runge

A Weekend of Rock Climbing in Revelstoke, Toddlers in Tow

Everybody loves Revelstoke.

Nestled between the Selkirk and Monashee mountains, this railway and forestry town really is gifted with an amazing geography. Glaciers and dramatic snow-capped mountains, the mighty Columbia river as a backbone, lush rain forest with oversized cedar trees and ferns. Everywhere, the influence from the West Coast can be felt; in the culture, the lifestyle, the vibe…as well as the amount of annual precipitation.

Abundant precipitation in the winter (in the form of cold, dry powder snow) is part of what has made Revelstoke, or Revy as the locals refer to it, a skiing Mecca. With its incredible ski resort that boasts the highest lift-accessed vertical in North America and hundreds of acres of pristine and rowdy terrain for cat, heli and backcountry skiing, Revelstoke is up and coming on the global best ski destination scene.

Revelstoke also has an impressive network of high quality single track trails, like hundreds of veins on which fresh-air deprived mountain bikers from all over Western Canada and beyond come to ride, up & down.

However, what Revelstoke is less known for is the diversity and the quality of its rock. About ten different climbing areas are scattered around town, all within 10 to 30-minute drive; trad or sport, from the short single pitch to the 450m multi-pitch bolted routes on the Columbia Buttress, from low grades to 5.13 +, there is no shortage of fun routes to climb.

Both ourselves and our loyal climbing partners and friends Marc and Shenoa had been to Revelstoke for climbing before kids and had all had an amazing time.

The highlight of our previous visit had been climbing at Waterworld, a cliff on the side of aquamarine Lake Revelstoke, a few kilometre north of the dam. After a 2-minute hike, climbers rappel down all the way to a small wooden platform only a foot or so above the water. Although the couple of 3-4 pitches routes at Waterworld are all bolted, they offer a nice alpine-like challenge as once you’ve rappelled into the unknown, you’re committed to at least climb the easiest route up: Gilligan’s Island ( 5.8). On hot summer days, make sure you take a skinny dip from the platform before you start the climb, at least you will feel nice and cool for the first few moves! The photo featured at the top of this post was actually taken 6-7 years ago, during our first visit to Revelstoke.

With great memories from our previous experiences, when the time came to decide on a climbing destination for a long weekend in the spring, we quickly reached a consensus. Over and above the good climbing options, we were all pretty confident that this place would also be very kid friendly with easy and convenient camping options and other fun family activities to keep our busy toddlers entertained.

On the May  long weekend, then, after the usual full day of packing, we set off to enjoy a couple of days of climbing in Revelstoke, kids in tow.

Our family set up camp at the Williamson Lake Campground just a kilometre out-of-town on the Thursday night. We had booked well in advance knowing that this would be a very busy time in Revelstoke and we didn’t regret it as the place was full. Our daughter was ecstatic when she realized that there was a fabulous playground at arm’s reach from  our campsite, which in fact made us feel like we were camping at the playground. Wiliamson Lake was also pretty cool with tons of fish to feed Cheerios to from the dock.

Eva and Finn “setting up” THEIR playground for the weekend

Although this type of campsite wouldn’t normally be our fav, this time around we were thankful to find hot showers, plenty of other kids for our children to play with AND a washer and dryer that we were stoked to find when the camper’s roof leaked gallons of rain water onto our bed.

Our friends Marc, Shenoa and their little boy, Finn,  only met us the following day and brought along a canopy tent that also proved to be quite useful in the rainy weather.

Shenoa and I had the privilege to tackle the climbing first as the papas took care of the children. Under a beautiful sunny sky we aimed for the Begbie Bluffs and spent our afternoon connecting with the local rock at the Raptor wall. We were glad we hadn’t taken the kids as there was little to no flat and safe space at the bottom of the crags. At Raptor wall we found some nice vertical routes from 5.8 to low 5.11 . We came back to the campground late afternoon to relief the dads and let them enjoy a few hours at Begbie Bluffs. The little ones on their end also had their share of fun while they dipped their naked bums in the lake and made sandcastles.

Herve on the steep and classic “Flashdance” (5.11a) on Raptor Wall

The following day, after a short stroll  downtown, we stopped for delicious coffee and treats at La Baguette, a local favorite held by a fellow couple of Quebecois. As the name indicates, La Baguette is a fine bakery where you can buy your daily loaf of fresh bread, order a full breakfast or lunch and treat yourself with their in-house baked goods and tasty gelato. This place is tiny and can be very busy so come prepared to wait to be served, but the wait is always worth it.

Later that day, we all packed up to go spend the day at Blanket Creek Provincial Park.

Herve and I then left our precious, who was snoozing in the camper, to the attention of our friends and went for a romantic outing on to the Blanket Arête (2 pitches, 5.10d). The Arête is highly visible from the bridge over Blanket Creek when driving south towards Galena Bay. Although the walk to the start of the climb made it feel like the rock would be mossy and moist, in the end it was a really nice climb, with the bouldery crux being at the start of second pitch.The Blanket Creek Crag also boast some single-pitch routes, mostly in the low 5.10’s. While the provincial park is ideal for families, the crag is unfortunately not.

My date scoping “Blanket Arête” from the bridge
A little moss on the first pitch of Blanket Arête
Marc taking his baby-sitting role very seriously

After this quick outing, we went back to the day use area to relief our friends and put our parents hat back on. We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking to Shannaghan Falls, chasing gofers and playing in the sand by the lagoon with the two tots. Upon Marc and Shenoa’s return from their climb, we had a nice picnic dinner in the park before heading back to our own campground for the night.

Shannaghan Falls are only 5 minutes walk from the campground on a stroller-friendly trail


When we woke up on the Sunday, it was pouring rain. This meant we had some time to explore what Revelstoke has to offer in terms of indoor activities and we were quite pleased with all the options! Of course, we all indulged once again in one of our favorite activity, which is going for coffee and treats. We also checked out some of the towns’ boutique stores, before heading to the aquatic centre for a swim. Revelstoke’s public pool is quite impressive with its 3-storey high water slide, its kiddy pool and deep water solo like climbing wall. Everyone had a good time there and we ended up staying for a few hours! In the end, we didn’t even get a chance to check out the other “indoor” options such as the Railway Museum, the Dam, or the Begbie brewery.

Our little gourmet is always up to checking out the local dining scene…especially when it comes to sampling “pains au chocolat”
Our two dwarfs enjoying a hike in the rain (aka so glad we packed warm clothes and rain suits)

On our way back to the campsite that day, we decided to go check out another climbing area, “the Drive-In” which is only a few kilometres from Williamson Lake on the east shore of the lake. This area is nothing major but it was steep and sheltered enough than even after a day-long rain shower, some of the climbs were still dry. We decided to give it a go and were quite pleased with the end-of-day muscle stretching opportunity at this low-key crag.

Herve and Marc checking out the Drive-In, which boasts a few .10’s, .11’s & .12’s

After one last nice camping dinner all together and a restful night, we all set off the following morning. Our friends hit the road back to Kimberley and we set off West towards our next destination, Squamish, where we were intending to spend the rest of the week.

On our way out-of-town, we stopped to the ultimate kid’s attraction on the Trans-Canada Highway, the Enchanted Forest. For a mere $11 per adults (free for tots) our mini spent a full 2 1/2 hours visiting every single hobbit’s house and shaking hand with every one of the statue animals, elves and other fairy tale creatures.

The closest thing to heaven for a 2 1/2 year old: the Enchanted Forest at Three Valley Gaps

In spite of the rain, we had a great time climbing and enjoying family time in Revelstoke. If you head there, make sure to purchase the excellent local guidebook “Revelstoke Rocks” from 2010, self published by local route-setter and mountain guide Ruedi Beglinger.

Provincial Parks near Revelstoke, such as Martha Creek and Blanket Creek offer great camping options. There is also numerous forest service roads and backcountry camping options out-of-town.

The town has good boutique shopping, a good Saturday morning Famers Market, as well as plenty of excellent dining options. For quick and easy meal with the fam, check out Nico’s Pizzeria and the Village Idiot, or for a more refined dining experience, Woolsey’s Bistro or the 112 Restaurant and Lounge won’t disappoint.

There is no shortage of good swimming holes on hot summer days as well as plenty of stroller-friendly multi-use trails around town, including the Greenbelt. Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks are also located very close from Revelstoke and boast multiple family friendly hikes and scenic views. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to experience it all this time…

We will back there for climbing and all the other fun stuff, that’s for sure…because for kids and adults alike, AND for non climbers, Revelstoke does rock!



From 2 to 82: 3 Generations on a Trip to Cassis, France

Last November, like every year, we went to France to visit my in-laws. Since they are well into their 80’s and no longer really keen to go on vacations on their own, we thought it would be great to go with them on a trip. We were committed to do all the travel arrangements and the driving, so what would be left for them to do would be to enjoy the ride and spend quality time with their grand-kid, away from their daily routine and chores.

There were a few reasons why we set our choice of destination on Cassis and the Calanques:

  • It was a fairly short drive from where they live (a mere 3 hours), which would suit elderly parents just as fine as our two-year old daughter.
  • Having been there as a young couple before kid, we had found Cassis very quaint and charming, which is contrasting with other major resort towns on the Riviera.
  • Cassis is located by the sea in the Provence region; it benefits from a pleasant Mediterranean climate which was important to consider given the time of year we would be traveling.
  • The Calanques offer plenty of scenic sightseeing and walking options that are well suited to children and seniors alike.
  • Most importantly (and a little selfishly too), it’s a fantastic climbing destination. Although I must admit that being a multi-generational trip my husband and I didn’t have much expectations as far as rock climbing goes)

With the rental car all packed up, the five of us set off on a beautiful Sunday morning for Cassis.

I had arranged accommodation in advance and had opted for a 2-bedroom condo located on the heights of Cassis, that I booked for the full extent of our stay. The condo happened to be the best option for us as it provided a quieter option to hotels downtown. We also wanted the convenience of a full kitchen, a large dining room, a nice patio and yard and a swimming pool (that we contemplated lots but really never used!).

Cassis is a VERY busy town 4-6 months of the year and can also be VERY pricey, but fortunately, traveling in November opened up more affordable lodging options. The full week rental plus cleaning fees was about 500 euros, which can quickly turn into 1100 euros during peak season. The owner was personable as “jail’s door” as my dear husband would say, and therefore our interactions with him were limited, but he had a cute bunny in a cage that my daughter made friend with…until he bit her hard.

The kitchen being separated from the dining/living area by 3 steps was, in a way, sort of ideal, and it set a different tone to our family time from the get go…My mother-in-law having reduced mobility, the kitchen by default became my kingdom, which allowed my in-laws to relax and let themselves be pampered and served. I know by day 2 they were both bored stiff to not be able to do anything in the kitchen, but overall, I think they quite enjoyed spending more time with their grand-daughter and being fed different food.

We also discovered that multi-generational travel (love the term!) brings a different pace then what we were used to; but you know what, we also realized that 80-year-olds and two-year olds are in fact on a similar schedule! Our daughter’s most active times of day are early morning and late afternoon, and this seemed to suit my in-laws quite well.

A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees
A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees

Between breakfast and lunch taken at the condo, and between the afternoon nap and dinner is when we did our exploration of Cassis and the Calanques, and it was awesome! Here’s what we have enjoyed the most:

  1. Walking around the port and chillin’ at the Café:

Cassis is such a picturesque town, everyone has to at least spend a few hours wandering around, peeking into the over-priced stores, and sitting at a patio to enjoy a cup of espresso or un demi (glass of beer). Multiple celebrities own properties in Cassis, so who knows, perhaps you will recognize one of them…

The only downside to the downtown is that there is very little parking nearby which is less than convenient when traveling with a young child and seniors, but being November, we still had some luck finding spots not too far…just be ready to leave a whole whack of change…

Multigenerational travel or when the little ones get all the attention

2. Shopping at the Marché

Le marché is an institution no matter where you are in France, and even more so in the South. This is where people socialize, get some fresh gossips, buy their produce, a fresh loaf of bread, and of course a little piece of Provence such as lavender-scented olive oil soap, some Santons or a traditional tablecloth.

Note: there is even less parking spots available downtown on market day…

Embracing the French life on this rainy market day


3. Taking a drive to explore La Calanque de Sormiou

If the drive through Marseille and its dodgy neighborhoods is a bit daunting to many people, a visit to the Calanque de Sormiou makes it well worth the adventure. Just outside the city limits, a drive on a narrow windy road up a small pass in the mountains and down on the other side takes you to this beautiful fjord. Once there, you feel you are on an isolated island in the middle of the sea.

Busy with the tenants from the many little “cabanons” in the summer, mostly recreationists and fishermen, and groups of youth part-taking in sailing camps at the UCPA,  it is a ghost village in November. The breeze from the sea, full of iodine is very invigorating and the view truly breathtaking. The walk to the end of the “cabanons” is only a kilometre, which was perfect for the young and the young at heart.

La Calanque de Sormiou in rest mode after the busy summer season


4.Walking to la Calanque de Port-Miou

This Mediterranean Fjord is the closest to Cassis and can be access by a short easy walk. The biggest challenge once again is to find a parking spot nearby. Port-Miou in Provencal dialect means “Better Port” as it offers a nice anchoring locations for boats, sheltered from the wind.

La Calanque de Port-Miou is the closest to town and offer an easy walking access


5. Taking a drive to the top of Cap Canaille via la Route des Crêtes

La  Route de Crêtes is closed several months of the year and mostly during the summer months, the main reason being forest fire hazards as we found out when we were there. Fortunately, it had reopened a few days into our weekly stay after an episode of strong wind and we were able to take the impressive drive and stop at the top to take photos. Note: children would be best kept on a leash is what we learned in a very scary way as our daughter ran for the edge and was caught just on time. Be cautious up there, parents; toddlers are unpredictable.

We also welcomed the opportunity to check out the anchor stations of famous climbs that top up right where tourists take their photos.

The view from there is stunning and on bluebird days you can really appreciate the uniqueness of the Calanques and the vastness ( and blueness (?)of the Med.

Photo spot at the top of the Cap Canaille. Watch your kids as there’s a 200m drop right there!


6.Checking out the waterfront play area at La Ciotat

One fine day we went on a mission to shop for food (we actually did that everyday, several times a day) we ended up in La Ciotat looking for a larger grocery store than what Cassis offers, which is very limited and quite expensive. We decided to check out the port area, which from our memories was industrial and ugly. To our biggest surprise the whole waterfront “promenade” had been recently revamped and beautified and hosted the most amazing playground ever. This really made everyone’s afternoon as our daughter played and made friends, we socialized with some parents and my in-laws quietly sat on a bench, enjoyed the sea view and the sight of their grand-daughter playing and having a blast. That night we also brought some amazing seafood from the grocery store and had a feast back at the condo.


Having a good time with her new friend at La Ciotat’s seafront playground

7. Climbing a multi-pitch route (yes, we finally did that!)

Towards the end of our trip, my husband’s best friend came to visit us, which opened up some climbing possibilities. We were also joined by our dear friend from Marseille, Elie, who at 76 years old still rocks his 5.10 on lead. One morning I took off with my two partners in crime, left husband, toddler and in-laws behind and went back to the Cap Canaille to climb the route “2 Vauriens 3 Canailles” (6 pitches, TD-, 6a+, 150m). After a spooky pendulum rappel down from the photo spot at the top, we let Elie lead the way on this pumpy, juggy, beautiful climb with a bouldery start that has left us a bit shaken. If the climbs in the Calanques can be polished and crowded, the Cap Canaille was a good surprise…but to this regards, locals say that Cap Canaille is NOT in the Calanques…

Elie as keen and happy as ever, rocking this multi-pitch like a champ in his own backyard
Un vaurien ou une canaille?
Raph focused on the steep, pumpy 4th pitch

It was a great adventure with the 2 boys, just like in the old days, that we finished with a beer at a Café in the port and another seafood feast at night back at the condo. Don’t feel sorry for my husband who stayed behind since he went back with his buddy to climb the same route the next day and was also pretty stoked about it. We also checked out one sport climbing crag that wasn’t anything worth bragging about but still offered a fun afternoon outside with our toddler girl and some deserved rest at the condo for my in-laws for whom sometimes, being around a 2-year old 24/7 can be a little overwhelming…fact duely accepted and understood 🙂

Checking out a local crag on la Route des Crêtes


All things considered, this first multigenerational trip was awesome. We had lots of quality family time and hubby and I were even able to escape for a romantic trail-run together. We had a little beach time and ate lots of excellent food. We dined-in most of the week as it was more convenient for our family and kept the costs reasonable. We were able to purchase good seafood locally or at larger grocery store of communities nearby. We also indulged in some good fine pastries and enjoyed our daily croissants and pains au chocolat and coffee at the port. The fair weather has also contributed to make our stay in Cassis the most pleasant, as we were able to spend most of our time outside…Had it rained all week, we certainly would have found the condo a little small…espceially with an energetic 2-year old.

Most importantly, I think our trip was a success because were able to manage everyone’s expectations, individual pace and interests so everyone from 2 to 82 could have a fantastic time.



Your Wheel of Canadian Brie, My Family Story

For my first food-related post, the topic that naturally came to mind was to tell how and why my passion for food came to life and grew over the years.

…Don’t run away just yet. I am not going to tell you too much about myself growing up and learning to cook with my mom and that kinda stuff…

I thought instead I would dig a little deeper in my family’s history and tell you all about how it relates to this wheel of Canadian made Brie, this creamy blue or tangy and fresh-tasting goat cheese you love so much and regularly buy at your local grocery store or order in a fancy dish at the restaurant.

Alexis. Perhaps this name sounds familiar. The “Alexis de Portneuf” brand takes up quite some space at many grocery stores across Canada in the fine cheese section, alongside many other brands of Canadian made and imported fine cheeses.

However, way before the cheese brand, there was the character, Alexis Cayer, who has existed…for real. He was my ancestor; my great-great grand-father on my mother’s side.

The story of my family is directly tied to the story of the land. The land surrounding the current location of Quebec City was traditionally occupied by the Huron-Wendat First Nation. Almost 200 years ago, the first settler of European origin to pay interest at the land located 50 km north of the City,  on the plain of the St.Anne river about 75 km upstream from its junction with the St.Lawrence, at the foothills of the Laurentian mountains, was Alexis Cayer. He became one of the founding fathers of Saint-Raymond de Portneuf, a former forestry and agriculture town currently leading major diversification efforts and on its way to become an outdoor recreation mecca. On a mission to log, farm and establish a settlement on the land given by the Crown to brave and hard-working young men, Alexis made Saint-Raymond his home.

Alexis’ legacy was his knowledge and passion for the land and his strong family values, which were passed down to his children and grand-children who became landscapers, builders and farmers, and finally, cheese makers.

The Cayer Farm and Mill and a healthy cattle of Holsteins

Henri was my grand-father. He was smart and hardworking. However, he didn’t really enjoy vegetable farming and the hard labour in the fields that he had to do as a child to support his parents on their farm. He certainly had a different vision for himself. At 19 years old, he got his first contract as a forestry foreman and he was managing 40 guys. What was the most interesting part to him was to arrange transport of the lumber from far and remote logging sites.

Henri was also a real entrepreneur. A few years later, he took over the distribution of the dairy products from his parents’ farms. He thought the milk and dairy distribution around town offered better opportunities than vegetable farming and weekly market sales. On his parent’s land, he put up little building with large fridges to stock the milk as well as bottling equipment. “La Laiterie Chez Nous” was founded.

The first morning he went on his milk run, he took 18 bottles with him but sadly brought 12 back home at the end of his shift. The following fall, he was selling 300 bottles a day and had extended his milk run significantly. Soon enough, his own cows were not producing enough milk to supply his clients so Henri started acquiring more cattle and expanding the stables. Buying cows, growing the cattle and reselling them was also a lucrative activity for him. In addition, he invested lots of time, research and effort into breeding milk cows. Over the years, Henri was awarded multiple times for the excellence of his cattle-raising.

La Laiterie Chez Nous in 1954. Some of the delivery was still made with horse-drawn wagon. Cayer Family archives

In 1951, Henri expanded his dairy production even more and started purchasing pasteurization equipment, a bottling plant and a fleet of delivery vehicles to expand the milk distribution route to the neighboring communities and even all the way to the outskirt of Quebec City. His production consisted of bottled milk, cream, butter…and ice cream!

Vintage bottle caps. Source:

In 1969, Henri had some more grand ideas and took off for France to explore the opportunity of making fine cheeses right at his Saint-Raymond dairy farm and to learn all about the ancient French tradition in cheesemaking. He knew the milk producers in Quebec had significant surpluses but strangely enough, we were importing tons of fine cheeses from France. From then, Henri was convinced that fine cheesemaking in Quebec had a promising future and he started investing seriously into it.

In Montpellier, Henri met Mr. Roger Capdepon, who soon after immigrated to Canada and started making cheese with grand-pa…Henri was kind and caring and family meant a lot to him. Therefore, Mr. Capdepon soon was considered as a family member. Brie, camembert, blue cheese were produced at the little factory of the rang St.Jacques. Their team also specialized in goat cheese making and soon took over the largest chunk of the provincial market.

In 1976, the dairy production counted 70 employees. Denis, my uncle was the general manager, René, my uncle and godfather, the accountant and my great-aunt Eva was the head of the research lab. Research partnerships were also established with Université Laval. Together, they all worked hard to create new products and promote fine cheeses to an ever-growing market throughout the entire province of Quebec. When he took over the business in the late 70’s upon Henri’s retirement, my uncle Denis and his team expanded the distribution of more products to further away markets, with more investments in marketing and better production efficiencies.

Almost every member of our family has been involved with the Fromagerie at a certain point in time.  I myself have manned exhibit booths as a teenager at some fairs, shows, festivals and farmers markets and I remember it being a lot of fun to promote and sell the products I knew so well, to learn more about the making processes and spend time with my elderly cousins.

Partners and employees were also considered family by my grand-father and, growing up, I remember my grand-parents hosting huge reunions and gatherings. There were always people randomly dropping by at their house, who would be greeted with good home cooking, fine cheeses and wine. My grand-father also use to like his gin…

Employees and family members all mingled at social gatherings hosted by my grand-parents in 1958 .Cayer Family archives


In the early 2000’s, the Fromagerie was sold to Saputo. Although Saputo is a big corporation, they have always honoured the family tradition and artisanal character of the cheeses, which are still produced in Saint-Raymond in the same factory. My aunt Reine stayed on for a few years in her role of Director of Operations to ensure a smooth transition. If you happen to be passing by, there still is a cute little cheese store in my grand-parents’ house, with lots of family photos on the walls and many family artifacts displayed.

Pasteurization equipment displayed at a local exhibition in the 1950’s


Back in the days, it was pretty unusual to have brie, goat and blue cheese on the table anywhere in Quebec, and even more so in Western Canada…Back then it was mostly the reign of good old cheddar. My grand-father certainly has transmitted us the taste for good quality food, his love for the land and nature and his family values. He also contributed in building our most recent Canadian pride for artisanal food and local savoir-faire and contributed to a certain extent to the refinement of the Canadians’ taste for fine foods.

I can’t quite say that I am related to a wheel of Brie…nor that cheese runs through my veins…well, not quite…but almost!


The Little Climber’s Gear Check-List

We are so excited!

In 3 dodos (three sleeps) we’re leaving for an eleven-day climbing trip in BC. This year we’ve decided to do our spring trip a little later than usual and to stick to destinations within our dear Canada for a few different reasons: low Canadian dollar, lack of friends with the same schedule and a desire to spend some time with Tata (French slang for Auntie) on the coast. Our trip will be in two phases; we will spend the first half in Revelstoke, and the second half in Squamish. These choices will allow us to split the drive in 2 (Squamish is a mere 12 hour + drive from Kimberley, where we live), and will provide great variety in the climbing and in the scenery.

Our Mini actively helps with prepping our camper and packing her stuff, which really contributes to building the excitement!

A few weeks ago, I came across this excellent blog post from mother, climber and writer Beth Rodden on great outdoor kid gear. (I must say that I pretty much agree with all her list, with the exception perhaps of the Poco Plus child carrier by Osprey. I would certainly have used and loved this pack had it been generously donated by a sponsor! Unfortunately, we stuck to a much more minimalist version by Deuter, generously donated by dear friends with two older kids. My husband decided this Deuter pack was more aligned with his own vision of what mountain gear should be: light, light and light. The fact that there was no padding and storage space for useful things such as diapers, water, food, spare cloths was to him, a detail he could cope with.)

Anyhow, our daughter is now almost three years old, very active, and somewhat interested in climbing and hiking…all by herself (I DO IT! …sounds familiar?). With quite a few camping and climbing trips under her belts, we now have our list of favs when it comes to packing her gear. Here’s our check-list:

1- Deuter Little Star Sleeping Bag: Can be extended to fit children from age 1-6. Combined with the Z-Thermarest= hours of entertainment

2- Petzl Ouistiti Full Body Harness: for the 5-minute climbing session which last less time than it took to put that thing on 🙂

3- Patagonia Capilene Thermal Underwear: our MUST since birth. Need to transition to a t-shirt rather than onesie now as missy doesn’t wear diapers anymore

4- Helly Hansen Rain Set: The suit was great up to 2 and potty training. Now we find the 2-piece set more versatile. Can be layered with warm pieces to replace a snowsuit…Yeah, we’re going to coastal BC…did I say the weather can be unpredictable in BC in May, or in fact, every month of the year?


5- Grivel Kid’s climbing helmet: cute and functional, can also be used as a bike helmet for space saving purpose

6- Mammut Kids 10L Backpack– (because she wants to hike ALL BY HERSELF!): a serious review website would say: storage= 0, functionality=0, waist belt=0, hydration system compatible=0, cuteness=10, stuffed mammoth=10.

7- Shoes: hikers, beach/water shoes, Keen sandals, Bogs rain boots… weather can be unpredictable in BC in May…tak’em all.

8- Books: Mountain-related for total immersion into our element

9- Sun/bathing suit: in case we get the odd warm day

10- Sun hat+sun glasses: for the style, and the odd sun ray

11- Ukulele: for showing off with Tata by the campfire

12- Smartwool Merino Socks: a couple of pairs, they are simply awesome

13- Flash light: for reading the cool mountain books on line 8.

14- Water bottle: You know the great $30 Klean Kanteen kiddy water bottle …NOT! A $10 no BPA version will do just FINE!

15- SMALL toys+ favorite SMALL stuffy: ’cause that’s all that fits into the 10L backpack on line 6.

packing list

16- Patagonia Puff Ball jacket: warm, versatile and so reversibly stylish

17- Bubbles, bucket and shovel: to keep busy at the crag, beach or campsite

packing list2

Allright, I got to go finish packing!