Walking on sunshine (whoa …..)

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For those that know me, they’ll probably spit out their mouthful of tea into their Cheerios when I mention the words ‘exercise’ and ‘me’ in the same sentence.  Yes, not naturally known for seeking out most forms of physical activity, it has come as somewhat of a surprise that over the last 2 weeks, I’ve subscribed to ‘Strava’ and have achieved more than 17 miles in recorded exercise this week alone.  Bet you weren’t expecting that.  And in all honesty, it’s come as a slight surprise to me too.

I did mention in last week’s blog, that since the kids are now in school for 7 whole hours every day, I’ve the opportunity to create my own routine and daily activities.  Well, sometimes it’s the things around you that inspire you the most, and we’ve got the most amazing Autumn colours and weather going on at the moment – to such an extent, that I’m beginning to take up residence in the River Valley, and delighting in how many different scenic walks and views I can manage each day.  On average, I’m managing around 4  miles each day and it’s taking me just over 1 hour to achieve.  See what havoc I create when left to my own devices …

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Now, before we get too carried away – it’s only the end of week 2, and I wouldn’t say it’s formed part of a habit just yet.  I’m also conscious that snow may only be just around the corner and when it does arrive, it’s here for a whopping 4 or 5 months at least.  So, I’m taking the initiative, and spending time getting some brisk walking under my feet and revelling in the stunning scenery that I’m not used to being so blessed with just on the doorstep.  Literally, there’s no excuse, and it would be a travesty if I didn’t.

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So, back to Strava.  It’s quite clever all this modern technology malarkey.  I go into the ‘app’ on my phone when I start walking, and press ‘stop’ when I’ve finished – couldn’t be simpler!  It maps my route, tells me how far I’ve walked, where I’ve been, and I can upload pics along the route too.  The only thing it’s lacking is the ability to provide a cup of tea at the end of my efforts …..  For some of my routes, it even compares me to others who have walked the same segment and gives me a ranking.  I’d like to say I’m not competitive in the slightest and that this doesn’t interest me at all.  But I’d be lying.  It’s extremely addictive, and has me to the point of seeing if I can beat my average pace per mile each walk I do.  I’m up to a ‘brisk’ walk – not just any old saunter or stroll, but a good walking pace – just short of those who do ‘race walking’ and waddle like constipated chickens.  That’s a bit too advanced and certainly not for me.  Chickens can rest easy in the knowledge that I’ll be stopping short of adopting that pose.  I’d rather run – and that’s an insight into how mad things have become in such a short space of time.  I know!  I’m unrecognisable …….

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So how’s my body reacting to the onslaught of muscles being plied into action, I hear you ask?  Well, last week I was walking like an 85 year old granny, but I’ve picked up since then and my body has readily acclimatised to the flexing of muscles.  It’s been a shock to the system in the literal sense as well as the metaphoric.  I’m finding the glass or two of red wine in an evening tends to balance things out quite well.  Purely for medicinal reasons, you understand …..

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Not only that, I’m now travelling in my truck ;-), with a pair of headphones, walking shoes and water bottle at the ready – so I’ve absolutely no excuse why I can’t take a stroll whenever the urge strikes.  This is a serious turn of events.  I’ve also discovered that it’s a brilliant way of finally getting round to listening to all the albums and tracks I’ve downloaded in the last 11 years but never had time to really listen to (my oldest kid is nearly 12 …..).  And I don’t mean just background noise and stuff – or having it on in the car with the kids interrupting proceedings and any form of concentration I can muster every 10 seconds.  I mean – really listen to.  When it’s playing directly into your ears, and you’ve got a fast pace going on, beautiful scenery with absolute peace, it certainly brings new meaning to living and loving life.  🙂

And there are loads of people doing the same.  The variety of people I pass on each and every route is astounding, and the numbers of people capturing some form of exercise is positively motivational.  Everyone says ‘hello’ – it’s just like being back home in the North-West in terms of friendliness.  IMG_4111I love that.

It’s much better than strangers just passing like ships in the night, with no acknowledgement or recognition of another human being.  I can’t ignore people, and I’d need to be in a coma before I do.

So, I’m feeling all replenished, active and inspired.  All the pics in this week’s blog I’ve taken along my walking routes so hope you get the bug and some form of inspiration from them too …..  🙂

Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to school we go …

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When I was young, I always loved the school holidays (is there anyone who doesn’t?), and come the prospect of the new school year, I always felt they’d gone way too quick, I hadn’t done half the things I had hoped, and needed much longer off.  That said, off I’d trot on the first day and by the end of the first week, it felt like there had never been a holiday at all.  Teachers and pupils alike, I’m sure the feeling was unanimous.

Well, we can’t delay the inevitable and our first Canadian summer holiday is finally over and all 3 kids have returned to school.  After 2.5 months off, things are slightly different on this side of the pond.  All 3 were keen to go back and return to the normal routine and rhythm that school brings, which, quite frankly, was a blessed relief.  Mind you, it could say more about the delights of spending time at home with me than it does about returning to school …..

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It’s been a great summer.  We’ve had grandparents visiting, been on holiday, visited new places in and around Edmonton, all of which has been accompanied by truly superb ‘proper summer’ weather.  But that’s starting to change, the leaves are changing colour and Autumn is calling.  School has started.

There are some differences to school in the UK.  For starters, you have to provide school supplies.  At the end of last term, each kid came home with a list of supplies that needed to be procured and sent in with them on their first day back.  Things like rulers, paper, pens, crayons, binders, folders – virtually everything that Staples stocks.  It must be a stationers dream having this requirement and costs parents an absolute fortune.  It just goes to show how much stationery budgets must amount to back in the UK to keep school’s fully stocked and maintained – something I never gave much of a thought to until now.  On the plus side, the kids love choosing their items and then getting home and putting their names on everything.  I remember when I was little, even the simple chore of choosing a sparkly new schoolbag and pencil-case for the new school year being a highlight.  It doesn’t take long before the zips are broken, graffiti is on the front, and the bits from the pencil sharpener have made their way into the dark recesses of the lining – but the novelty of choosing new equipment never seems to wear off.

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Back home in ‘Blighty’, kids move up to the next year, change teacher, and often stay with their classmates. Here, kids will move up to the next year (or ‘grade’ as it’s called over on this side of the pond), but that’s about all is known until the first day of school.  There’s more than one class to a year, and come the new school year, all the classes are mixed up, and there will be a new selection of school friends in each of the classes – some kids they will know already and have met previously, but others who they’ve never met or taken a class with before.

All my kids were looking forward to finding out who would be in their class, who they would know already, who they would make new friends with, and who their teachers would be.  The advent of modern technology has kicked in for my oldest kid who instantly took to social media and messaged her friends from her class last year, to find out who would be in the same class as her this year.  All three haven’t batted an eyelid at the change and difference to being back in the UK, and I guess like everything in life, variety is the spice of life …..

AlphabetTeachers change, and there are also at least 2 teachers for each class, specialising in specific subjects and alternating their time between two classes during the day and across each week.  My youngest kid has finally started school full-time and on her first morning, found that a number of her previous friends from Kindergarten were in the same class.  She’s thoroughly enjoyed walking to school each morning and being stimulated with a full day of lessons and new things to learn.  Her biggest excitement on her first day was attending the music class and providing the accompaniment on the big bass drum.  Hitting things hard seemed to appeal to her immensely, and she couldn’t wait to go back and try it again!

I received a present on my first day dropping my youngest kid off in Grade 1.  A lovely note from the teachers in my youngest’s class, with a sachet of tea for me to sample on my return back home, and a suggestion that I could finally put my feet up and relax until home time.  I certainly sampled the contents, although not sure I managed to get as far as putting my feet up  (note to self: must try harder tomorrow).

All the teachers go out of their way to encourage communication with parents, wanting to know how they can achieve the best out of each child over the next school year, each child’s specific areas of strength, and whether there are areas they need to be mindful of.  It’s clearly seen as a partnership between parents and teachers to help each child’s learning and growing.  Some children manage the transition back to school better than others – and that’s only natural I guess.  My three kids seem to transition with ease – and I wonder if it’s partly to do with the way I wholeheartedly embrace change and new things.  Talking of which, I’ve now the opportunity to create my own routine and daily activities whilst my three monkeys are otherwise occupied.  I’m not going to struggle with this challenge, I can tell …. 🙂

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(Credit to Google Images for the majority of pictures above)

Keep calm and open wide …

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I may be on the case for getting most things sorted following our move to Canada, but 10 months in, there’s been one item which has constantly been re-prioritised and moved down the list …. never to appear at the top.  I’ve done doctors, schools, swimming classes, art classes, realtors, solicitors, window cleaners, car dealers, tax returns … the list has been endless.  I’ll just say one word …. dentist.  Say no more.

I wasn’t ignoring it as such.  In fact, I had this rather bizarre and extreme thought that maybe I could continue to visit my UK dentist on the rare ‘once a year’ return trips back home.  I accept it’s a rather expensive reason for a ‘trip’ just to have an annual checkup – in every way possible – costs, time and distance.  All, just to have our gnashers checked.  My experience of dentists has not been positive, and it’s been a dull ache in the back of my mind, knowing it had to get sorted in some shape or form.  Rather than being in denial, I’ve moved it into a new category entitled, ‘things to procrastinate over’.  As another form of delay, it’s been sat there for the last few months as an item on the ‘to-do’ list as soon as the kids go back to school.

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Anyhow, circumstance have taken their own course, and 2 weeks ago my youngest kid went on a ‘playdate’ with a friend she’d met at her swimming class.  Turns out, her mother is a dental nurse and provided a strong recommendation of a place to visit – literally, just round the corner.  So, contact them I did and this week, the kids all went for their first visit to a Canadian dentist.

I’ll say it now.  The whole experience, from start to finish (apart from the fact we turned up at the dentist and left again), bore no relation at all, to any previous experience of going to a dentist in all my 43 years on this earth. Suffice to say, I think the Canadians have developed the ideal solution for maintaining kids teeth and providing strong incentives for them to look after them properly …..

My research-bed for making such a rash statement isn’t large – I’ll grant you that.  In fact, based solely on 1 dentist visit alone.  But if it’s positive, fun, engaging and interesting – gets both kids and adults conscious about their teeth and preventative ways of looking after them, that can be only a good thing.  That’s not to say my UK dentist isn’t good.  I’ve never had any complaints – apart from having to go every 9 months.  He is always polite, informative, and friendly – and welcomes me through the doors.  The hygienist can talk the hind legs off a donkey, but given I’m often prevented from contributing to the discussion due to the various cleaning implements and tools she lodges in my mouth during the process, it is usually more a one-sided tirade on the issues of the day, which often sees me just nodding with acknowledgement and resignation.

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So, back to Canada.  Each of the kids were in the ‘chair’ and having their teeth and mouth cleaned and checked for 1 hour apiece.  How do you keep 3 kids occupied during this process I hear you ask?  TV’s of course – set into the ceiling above each chair along with a set of personal headphones which they can put on (plus a remote control to change the channels – obviously), whilst the dental nurse does all the necessaries on their gnashers.  X-rays taken from every angle, shown on laptops and used to assess the health of their teeth.  All were shown how to brush and floss – and a dye put on their teeth to visually demonstrate that despite my middle kid’s frantic attempts to suddenly brush properly that morning, plaque was still in evidence.  Whilst all 3 have usually been pretty good where teeth are concerned, it acted as a super real-life demonstration of how they needed to ‘up their game’ with their teeth.  Once clean, the dentist also reviewed all the x-rays, teeth and feedback from the nurses to make her own assessment.  The ‘winning’ formula also included a ‘goody bag’ upon departure – not just a sticker which they’ve always previously received from the dentist at home (I even remember getting one each time I visited when I was little, and don’t get me wrong, was something to look forward to on each visit in the UK) – but this bag had a range of flossing tools, toothbrush, toothpaste and several kids mini-toys.  The toys were tokens rather than valuable expenses, and to say it was a bonus feature, would be an understatement.  The kids were delighted and distraught to be leaving – I was beginning to wonder if we would have to be forcibly removed from the premises, such was their reluctance to depart so soon.

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Has it lasted I hear you ask?  Well, so far since their visit, the kids have been much more attentive and focused on spending time in the bathroom getting their teeth clean and flossed, rather than creating potions with the soap and shampoo, and leaving them to congeal on the facecloths, sink and floor.  Time will no doubt tell.

That said, I’m glad I finally got round to sorting it out.  Now for my turn.  I’m due for my checkup next week and it’s set me wondering about what will be in my goody bag?  Now where’s that floss …… 🙂

You’ve gotta visit here …

Q:  What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?

A:  You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo …..

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No, I haven’t lost the plot.  It may be the last weekend of August and after nearly 2.5 months off school an element of hysteria has set in.  I can safely say that everyone’s had a lovely break, but are now ready to return to their studies.  Whilst we’ve still got over a week to go before this happens, I’ve been on the search for somewhere to visit as a day excursion – and get some of the kids’ surplus energy burnt off.  I was instructed that this had to involve a picnic, an element of walking (albeit the kids plea was that this ‘wasn’t too much’), and lots of animals to spot and seek out…

So, my chosen destination was Elk Island National Park.  We’ve never ventured anywhere to the east of Edmonton, and this is just 35km outside the city, taking just under an hour door to door, to get there.  It’s one of 43 national parks and park reserves in Canada and also Canada’s only fully fenced in national park, home to North America’s largest land mammal; the wood bison.  In fact, the wood bison is on the threatened species list with numbers having diminished to extremely low levels, and the park has been one of the most influential organisations in re-establishing bison not only in Western Canada and the US, but has contributed to growing bison herds all over the world.
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The park was originally founded in 1906 as a wildlife refuge for the preservation of elk herds in the area, and since then, has grown to be a wildlife sanctuary for bison, moose, elk, white tail and mule deer, beaver, porcupine, Canadian lynx and other small animals.  It is home and a migratory stopover to 250 species of birds, including pelicans, great blue herons, a large assortment of ducks, and birds of prey … bald eagles, great horned owls and osprey.  After the African Serengeti, Elk Island has the 2nd highest population density of grazing animals in the world.  Bet you didn’t know that!

Most of them however, were elusive in their absence today.  We toured the park, took the instructions from the park wardens on where to go to spot the herds, but alas, all we saw was one huge male bison having a relax in the sun (see above!).

That said, we did spot lots of beaver dams – minus the beavers themselves …..

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… and we also saw 5 pelicans – which we weren’t expecting so this was a bonus!

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The views across the lakes were fantastic, and at 75 square miles, the park has ample enough space to accommodate those that venture this way.  It wasn’t busy in the slightest – but I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything in Canada which can be classed as ‘busy’ the way it is back home in the UK.

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Lots of different trails to explore, all of varying distances and across assorted terrains.  We took a 3.5km walk on the Beaver Trail which was through woodland and along tracks which saw us back at the truck in just under an hour.  We need to venture back, as there are longer treks – some 16.5km in length which will take you further into the park and present a much higher chance viewing animals and wildlife living there – but obviously, take a longer duration in time to complete.  The best time to visit being early in the morning or at dusk – not at mid-day when all my brood had eventually got themselves dressed, organised and finally ready to get out of the door!

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Most interesting, is that the park is also home to Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve – one of only 7 dark sky preserves in Canada, and dedicated to maintaining dark skies.  In fact, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada use the site to observe the night sky, and the public is also welcome to attend – as long as ‘night sky etiquette’ is strictly observed.  I can just imagine trying to get my husband to abide by this – I’ll have more chance getting the kids to do as they’re told!  That said, I’m frequently receiving nightly alerts informing me of the chances of seeing the ‘Northern Lights’ in the Edmonton area, so given the Dark Sky Preserve is so close to us (in relative terms), we’ll go for a night viewing of the sky at some point and hopefully, spot in full colour, the Northern Lights.  Let’s hope.  I’ll let you know how we get on!

So, one week left before school resumes.  The challenge is on for the final week.  Start the stop-watch  ……

🙂

Martini anyone? Anytime, anyplace, anywhere …

If I had to recount any adverts from the early 1980’s that I can still remember vividly today, one would be for Martini, and the famous strapline, ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’.  The other would be for the chocolates, Black Magic, and the video clip of a mystery man dressed all in black, skiing downhill in the early evening dusk to deliver the chocolates of choice – very much akin to the opening scenes of a James Bond movie.  Why both have remained in my mind to this day, I’ll never quite understand, but I’m sure some psychologist somewhere would have a field day offering suggestions and rationale.  My husband on the other hand, reading this, will probably analyse this on a much simpler level – and the less said about that the better.

Anyhow, there is a point to this preamble, as the Martini advert came back to me this week for quite different reasons.  We’ve just spent a week on holiday taking a well-deserved family break, and to keep costs down, we opted for ‘budget’ airlines to fly us the 7 hours to our destination of choice.  Nothing wrong with this whatsoever, but what was notable about both, was that they promoted the latest in connectivity at 35,000 feet with their own wi-fi and films you could download (for a fee) direct to your mobile, tablet or laptop.

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I’m a strong advocate for the concept of connectivity, and can definitely attribute the fact that we’ve settled in Canada from the UK much easier as a direct result of being able to feel ‘connected’ to family and friends back home.  Social media has played a huge role in making us feel less isolated, and ironically, I probably see work colleagues more often now via video-conferencing and FaceTime than I did when back home!  Distance certainly doesn’t seem to be a factor these days with the wonders of modern technology.

I also ‘get’ the fact that for those who spend a large chunk of their lives on planes, the ability to continue to email and connect with others is time well-spent whilst sat immobile above the clouds.  Our outgoing flight was during daylight hours, and ‘to connect, or not to connect – that was the question’, left us with the view that we didn’t want to pay a premium for connectivity or films we weren’t really bothered about seeing.  The kids were slightly perplexed that the films they were expecting to see in the back of the seat in front were not on offer, but quickly amused themselves with other past-times and activities.  In fact, card games emerged, word searches came out, and general conversation was made.  It was simply refreshing.

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Our return flight was enlightening for much different reasons.  This was a night flight commencing at 10pm, and for the entire duration of the flight, the plane had ‘lights-off’.  Ideal for those wanting to grab what sleep they could for a flight that would see us lose a night’s sleep due to the time difference when we landed back in Canada.   We all tried to get as much sleep as we could – my youngest kid, falling fast asleep the moment the plane hit the clouds and didn’t wake until the tyres touched the tarmac 7 hours later.

However, it’s the night flights that highlight those with connection addictions – and are usually blissfully unaware of the impact this has on those around them.  I had a woman sat on the row in front, who clearly needed to be connected via email and social media to those everywhere else other than with those on the plane.  Such was the extent of her addiction, that the glare from her iPhone screen which she checked every 20 minutes, was so bright, you thought someone had lit a flare throughout the front section of the plane.  Not only that, she was clearly antagonised from whatever email exchanges she was having as she related the dissatisfaction to her husband across the aisle – and everyone else within earshot – who in fairness along with the rest of us, clearly couldn’t care less and was attempting to grab a few winks sleep.  Surely there’s some connectivity etiquette which needs to be observed and maybe there are some instances where being able to disconnect from the world, isn’t such a bad thing?

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Today’s holidays certainly drive the Martini experience of having everything, ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’.  I just wonder where this will end?  Will at some point, holidays of the future start to market a ‘retro-offer’ with the ability to turn off from work and connecting externally with others, so you have quality time to re-connect with those you’ve gone on holiday with?  It would be ironic wouldn’t it.  Maybe they could throw in a box of Black Magic chocolates as the finishing touch…

🙂

Just because it’s raining, doesn’t mean you can’t dance …

An obscure title for a blog, I know.  You’ll have to read on to appreciate the significance ….

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I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions the abundance of walking trails available to explore throughout the River Valley.  These are prolific and having so many on the doorstep means you’re always stuck for choice on where to explore next.  The River Valley cuts through Edmonton and can be accessed on either side of the North Saskatchewan River through 22 parks and over 150km of trails.  You may think that on a day (well, it’s been a full week in fact), where the weather has seen blue skies, sun, and temperatures in the late 20’s and early 30’s, setting out on a walk in the River Valley will have you exhausted and flagging before you exit the car park.  Not so.  In fact, it’s absolutely ideal as down on the valley floor and alongside the river, nature has created the perfect canopy of coverage and protection from the strong rays of the sun, leaving you cool and collected as you trample through the trails.

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We opted for a walk from Emily Murphy Park (named after a Canadian women’s rights activist who lived in Edmonton, and became the first female magistrate in Canada and the British Empire).  Whilst there are lots of routes to take, we opted to take one down through the trails and alongside the river towards the High Level Bridge.  It’s a case of ‘make it up as you go along’, but it’s not overly complicated if you’ve the nose of a bloodhound and remember to always keep the river to your left 🙂  As the trails are used by both walkers and cyclists (cross-skiers in the Winter too, but luckily, we’ve a few months to go just yet), keep to the right hand side otherwise you’ll get mown down in the rush – they are certainly well-populated with people taking their daily exercise.  Not surprising too, as down in the shade it must be a good 10 degrees lower ….

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As you get closer to the High Level Bridge, it’s an impressive iron structure standing at 152 feet above the river and half a mile long.  Opened in 1913, it was the first bridge in Canada to carry four different modes of traffic – rail, streetcar, car and pedestrian.  The latter three are all still utilised, although the rail has a newer bridge now which runs alongside the High Level one.

IMG_3345I guess out of necessity, there’s also signs and an emergency telephone as you walk onto the bridge which quickly sober you up.  The kids hadn’t seen anything like this before and it needed somewhat of an explanation that lasted for the full duration of the walk across.  Still, creating distractions are my thing and getting the kids to look at the view, to notice the streetcar above us on the highest rails, and the noise of the cars driving past were all proffered up for their consideration.  The view on a day like today was truly stunning.

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In recent years, a ‘Light the Bridge’ initiative has seen 60,000 LED bulbs inserted into the bridge and every night it lights up in an array of different colours.  The colour schemes vary, and a schedule of each evening’s colours is circulated by the City of Edmonton at the start of each week.  This is based on requests made to symbolise different events which are going on in the city during that week.  The kids love driving over the bridge and seeing the different colours, which can also been seen from afar.  It’s beautiful.

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As you walk onto the pedestrian path across the bridge, there are some quotes which have been set into the concrete pavement and unless you passed on foot, you would miss them.  See what you make of this one which is just as you enter the bridge …..

‘I leave my past on one side, and start my future on the other’

I loved the whole idea of this and it made me smile.  Here’s another which also resonated …

‘Just because it’s raining, doesn’t mean you can’t dance’

Super, aren’t they?  Completely thought-provoking and inspirational.

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It’s been a great day.  We set out to enjoy the scenery, get some exercise, and spend time together as a family – that’s what weekends are for and we certainly achieved that.   What it also made me do was to reflect on the quotes above and our aspiration to make the most out of each day we spend, trying something new, and doing something fun.

I think we’re doing it.  There could be worse things in life than adopting such a philosophy I think.

🙂

Three cheers to the grandparents

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We’re nearing the end of the Canadian visits from the grandparents, and both sets have had a truly wonderful first-time experience of this vast country.  Not only has it been lovely having familiar faces around – it’s amazing how much you miss not just being able to ‘pop round’ or arrange an impromptu weekend visit every now and then – but the seniors in the family and the youngest 3 members, have thoroughly enjoyed spending time together.  Common factors are clear winners with both sets – demands for ice-cream, desserts, cakes and biscuits – I’ve had to be the umpire and affect some degree of sensibility otherwise the oldest and youngest generations would be eating them continuously!  Grandparents have clearly been leading the kids astray … 😉

My in-laws are in their mid-80’s and had never envisaged a trip to Canada, believing that physical limitations and sheer old-age, preventative factors.  However, following a series of prompts by us and eventually, just buying tickets with the dates for their travel, meant there was nothing for it, but for them to board the plane – and they arrived without incident and importantly, all completely intact.

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That was nearly 3 weeks ago and during this time we’ve seen an abundance of superb weather and also some excellent trips out – both near and far.  It’s made us explore and find things to do that all parties enjoy, and for the last 3 weeks it’s been particularly challenging as accessibility with wheelchairs has had to be incorporated into the mix.  I’ve had to balance limited physical abilities alongside the abundance of energy my 3 kids display and need to burn off on a daily basis.

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So, we’ve had some delightful trips.  One was to the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton.  It’s set in the River Valley just outside downtown Edmonton, and has 4 glass pyramids.  For those familiar with ‘Eden’ in the UK, it’s very similar but on a much smaller scale.  That said, the Muttart Conservatory is an accredited museum and is home to one of Canada’s largest botanical collections.

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There are 3 biomes, each displaying a specific climate year-long.  Temperate (very similar to the climate in Edmonton), Arid (desert and drought-like), and Tropical (humid and hot) each host an array of botanical delights that have their own appeal.  The kids loved wandering around and looking at the different varieties.  The fourth pyramid is entitled ‘Feature’ and provides a themed display which changes approximately 7 times a year.  At the moment, it’s theme is ‘Journey to Middle Earth’, and along with a ‘hobbit’ home, wizard, dragon breathing out plumes of smoke through its nostrils, along with cascading waterfalls – it was truly amazing.  There was a photo with both dragon and my mother-in-law that both myself and my father-in-law had a chuckle about as we both had the same caption in mind.  Suffice to say, I’ve not included it here, I’ll leave it to your imagination – you’ve only got the painted dragon to feast your eyes on below.  The latter pyramid was definitely the most striking of the four, but with wheelchair access available throughout the displays, it meant all members of our party could see everything and experience it together.  Brilliant.

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Fort Edmonton was another day-trip affair.  Edmonton’s heritage park takes you back to 4 eras.  The original Fort built in Edmonton from 1846 signifying the fur-trade era is an impressive structure, and shows how tough it must have been to live and survive in such a harsh climate without the joys of central heating or warm clothing.

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A street depicting 1885, and the hardships the first settlers had to go through is full of original buildings from this time which have been re-sited and located in the park alongside each other.  This is followed by a street from 1905 and Edmonton’s growing municipality, and then finally 1920 with ice-cream parlours, motor vehicles and movie-theatres.  It’s brilliantly done, staff are dressed in clothing from their specific eras and take the form of residents in each of the communities.

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There’s a steam engine and street tram providing rides and assisting in the transportation across the park, plus a fair and midway – attraction park with carousel rides and other amusement delights from the early 1900’s.  Well worth a visit – but leave yourselves a day for the privilege and don’t forget to pack a picnic 🙂

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Further afield, and a trip to Western Canada isn’t complete without a visit to the mountains and the awe-inspiring Rockies.  Jasper was as beautiful as ever – we’ve been there 3 times now in the last 12 months, and has become our favourite destination of choice.  Lovely to see the mountains without snow for a change, whilst the most impressive view was when my oldest kid and I took a walk around Lac Beauvert at 6am in the morning.  The sun casting red glows on the peaks of the mountains above and only the sound of the animals for company – staggeringly beautific and iconic.

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This was followed by a brief jaunt to Lake Louise, a mega tourist attraction, but when you arrive at the lake you completely understand exactly why.  Nestled in between the mountains, the lake is the most gorgeous turquoise colour you can imagine, and it’s a view you can never tire off.  The older generation were staggered by the breathtaking scenery and along with a car journey that takes you through the Icefields Parkway – one of the most scenic drives in Canada – were stuck for words.  It even took their minds away from the lure of ice creams for a brief period!

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Back in Edmonton, we’re now taking things easy for the last few days of the grandparents stay with us and I’m sure it’s a trip they’ll never forget – for numerous reasons.  More importantly, it’s given everyone a replenished sense of connection with one another, shared experiences, and unforgettable memories.  It just goes to show, that no matter how old you are, you can experience things you never thought possible – and truly benefit from the process.

It’s going to be quiet next week …… !!  🙂

It’s a farmer’s life …

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I’ve always loved Farmer’s Markets.  Originally from Bury, the renowned ‘Bury Market’ is firmly in my veins, having visited there every week when I was little whilst my Mum and Gran would buy their foodstuffs for the week ahead and had an innate ability to locate the specific stall for whatever item they required.  If you couldn’t find it there, you wouldn’t find it anywhere.

Holidays to France were often punctuated by trips to local markets and seeing the varieties of produce (often ‘live’ animals) which could be bought and taken home for tea.  I love hearing the stall-vendor shouts and humorous banter between customers and traders as money and produce exchange hands.

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So now the summer’s here, one of the best forms of entertainment and areas to source homemade and original items, are at the huge number of Farmer’s Markets which are dotted across Edmonton.  There are some which occur on specific days of the week, all year round – whilst others ‘pop up’ in the summer months across different areas of the City on set days.  Similarly, there are stalls which you’ll find there every single time you visit, and others who clearly hire them when they’ve got produce or goods to sell.  They are hugely popular, and often you’re vying for space at the front just to get near the goods on offer.  There’s usually a pretty eclectic mix of stalls – ranging from homemade food and homegrown produce, through to handmade jewellery, clothes, and even a stall offering different flavours of homemade dog biscuits to the discerning canine!  To supplement this, there’s often musical ‘busking’ – of an extremely proficient nature, and brilliant to listen and shop to.

My 2 favourite places are the Downtown Farmer’s Market on a Saturday, and the Strathcona Farmer’s Market also on the same day – and I tend to alternate our visits each week.  There are a couple of British producers that have stalls at each one – a Cumbrian lady that sells her homemade honey which is truly scrumptious, and another who is a pork butcher and has the most fantastically tasting smoked bacon that I’ve found this side of the pond.  You won’t find a better black pudding without being back in my hometown of Bury 🙂

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Little things obviously mark you out as English.   I went to the ‘honey lady’ and offered my usual greeting of ‘Hiya’.  To which she responded, ‘oh my goodness, I’ve not heard that for a while – you must be the English lady I spoke to a few weeks ago.  It’s so nice to hear an English greeting, and I’ve been here 15 years so it’s been beaten out of me.  We just say ‘hi’ over here‘.  We then went on to pass the time of day for a further 15 minutes whilst the rest of my family entourage had to resort to eating some of the fresh cherries and slices of cake just been procured from an earlier stall.  Clearly, a notice saying ‘I’m English’ slapped on my forehead is never required where I’m concerned – I just open my mouth and the first words uttered give it away.  Mind you, then there’s my northern accent ……

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Today we found a stall with 2 ladies who made stained glass mini-flowers for the garden.  I did ask her whether I needed to bring them inside when the temperatures drops to -30, but she said only to be careful when the temperatures started to thaw again next Spring ….

The things I find so amusing and brilliant to watch, are the hoards of people who visit there, from different cultures and backgrounds.  Some bring along their four-legged friends too.  Dogs.  And lots of them.  But beautiful pedigrees and gorgeously cute.  There’s one chap who we’ve seen there each week for the last few weeks.  Not a dainty chap, he dresses in biker-gear and can be seen carrying what can only be described as a long-haired Pomeranian.  This small dog is nestled in a leather front-facing ‘dog’ carrier (imagine a baby carrier on his biker Dad’s front), sporting his own pair of ‘oakley’ sunglasses (and I don’t mean the biker owner).   Makes me chuckle each week, but the dog clearly loves the attention and seems extremely content taking in the view and numerous voices of admiration from passing onlookers.  Only in Canada …

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My other favourite stall is a fishmonger, who has a fabulous variety of fish which is flown in from both the Atlantic and Pacific each week.  One of the drawbacks to being in Alberta and away from any ocean by a very long distance, means that fish has to be frozen.  But I’ve found a stall who not only has a wonderful selection, but smokes their own fish when it arrives too – so their smoked haddock is truly fantastic and tastes superb.  It’s well worth the long queues just to obtain a couple of frozen pieces …

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It seems that the majority of fresh fruit is brought in from British Columbia and there’s an absolute abundance of different types of cherries, apricots, pears and apples.  I love the selection and the quality of the fruit is amazing.  My father-in-law has always talked about eating the most delicious blush coloured cherries called ‘Kentish Naps’ which he assumes were from Kent, England back in the 1930’s and nothing ever since has come remotely close.  Well, we’ve exceeded that today.  Here visiting, we took the grandparents who are now in their mid 80’s to the market and he bought some British Columbia cherries that were the same blush colour he always remembered.  And guess what?  They were just as good today as the last time he had them 80 years ago.  What a brilliant experience and pleasure!  I’m now anticipating that for the remainder of their stay with us, we’ll be consuming such quantities of the fruit that I’ll be glad not to taste them for the next 80 years 🙂

Just goes to show, you can travel half-way across the world to a country you’ve never visited before in your life, and experience something that takes you back to your childhood long ago.  Brilliant.  That’s what travelling is all about and making the best memories.  🙂

Living the Canadian dream …

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We’ve been talking about getting a second car for a while, but have always talked ourselves out of it based on a) the cost, and b) whether we really need it.  We’ve been muddling through with just one vehicle for the past 9 months, and given the number of extra-curricular activities my kids now attend, I’ve had the delight of retaining the vehicle for the majority of that time.  My husband on the other hand, has had the joys of navigating public transport – something he’s not done since being at college and if truth be told, has forced him to socialise with various characters who stand at the bus stops or travel on the trains each day – rather than be nestled into a cocoon in a car listening to the tunes of choice and not having to converse other than offering the odd profanity at the inept driving ability of certain drivers on the road.  Don’t get me wrong, public transport in Edmonton is very good and it’s been ideal for what we need and where we need to get to.

But the sun’s out, the temperatures are high, and the lure of the open road with roof down and doors off, is proving too much.  We’ve adopted the ‘when in Rome’ approach and have done what every other Canadian seems to possess as their vehicle of choice.

Is it a 4×4 I hear you ask?  Why yes.

Does it have an absurdly huge engine?  Of course.

Is it bigger than the Jeep?  By a long way …

Does it consume gas like my husband consumes beer?  The new recruit clearly has the edge.

Can I reach the door on the front passenger side from seating in the driver’s seat?  Not a chance.

Will I need step-ladders to get in?  Certainly.

Is it quick to drive?  Amazingly so.

And the most fundamental question of all, and key decision-maker:  can I buy this in the UK?  Even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to afford to run the thing.

So, critical questions answered – we’ve bought a pick-up truck.

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It’s got a 5.7 litre V8 engine, and does 18mpg in the City, reaching a dizzy 26mpg on the highway.  It doesn’t have side-rails so I have to hoist myself in, and driving it is absolutely wonderful.  Prior to our recent search, I had never sat in a truck before we found our pre-loved one, and the space and quality inside is amazing.  The kids have named it ‘the tardis’ and it’s very true.  Driving it, you feel like you’re in a large performance vehicle, with indicative dials and buttons which tell you everything you need to know – if I knew what half of them meant it would be a bonus!  There’s a trailer brake – obviously useful for towing, but to the uninitiated, I haven’t a clue what that actually means.  I have a sat nav and back-view camera, can only just fit it in our garage (with the side mirrors tucked in), and there are ‘under the floor’ storage bins for filling with ice and beer for those long trips.  They’ve thought of everything!  Best of all – and for those that read my blog you’ll like this – it’s a RAM and has a ‘goat’ logo on the front and steering wheel.  Clearly a sign, and an ideal fit for my ‘goatandkids’ blogsite!  Not that I needed an excuse 🙂

2014-ram-1500-ecodiesel-outdoorsman-crew-cab-4x4-interior-viewCompletely different to the UK, all used vehicles have to be registered and number plates assigned – they don’t stay with the vehicle for it’s entire life like they do back home.  So, it’s now registered and back home, the critical question is clearly – who gets to drive it on a daily basis?   My husband has obtained a parking ‘spot’ in the parkade at the bottom of the building in which he works in downtown Edmonton, but my starting gambit has been to register a concern that I think ‘the tardis’ will be too big to fit in.  This was instantly rebuffed by the comment,’it can’t be too big as everyone else drives one of these in Canada‘.  Fair point.

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I’ve moved onto a swift counter-attack and focused on the opportunities now afforded to my husband for him to concentrate all efforts on ‘pimping up’ the Jeep.  Whilst we’ve already removed the hard top, and replaced it with the ‘soft-top’ which folds down; you can also take off all the doors, windscreen, and procure all manner of accessories like ‘bikini tops’, cloth doors, raised suspension, and super-large wheels.  My practical nature has always kicked in and prevented all the above, based on having visions of all 3 kids disappearing out of the vehicle (not to mention cuddly toys and goodness knows how many other kid-related items which seem to reside in the back seat), every time we turn a corner.

So, it looks like ‘the tardis’ will be coming in my direction on a daily basis.  Having the obligatory cowboy hat, boots and coffee cup at the ready, I satisfy the majority of Canadian requirements for getting behind the wheel of a pickup.

Yeehaa… 🙂

Football frolics

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Now I do admit, I’m not the biggest supporter or follower of the UK’s most popular national game – namely, football – but I have been known on occasion to make an exception and turn on the box to watch one of the more significant games involving England.  It’s usually ended in defeat but the addictive process of having raised national expectations and the optimistic hope that this time ‘could be the chance they need’, only to be dashed when the whistle blows after 90 mins is an inevitable tortuous cycle of emotions.

So it wasn’t until I kept driving past adverts in Edmonton for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015, that I suddenly realised our current city of residence is one of the Canadian hosts.  Not only that, my Dad – who is an avid follower of the sport – would be staying with us during this time and as such, a trip to see a World Cup game would be right up his street.  Tickets were hastily procured and excellent seats reserved for the semi-final match.  Seeing a football match (albeit the intent had been a Canadian version of the sport), was also an item on our bucket list (click here to see the full listing!) so there’s the opportunity to tick yet another item off our list in the process 🙂

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Image courtesy of FIFA

It wasn’t until the Sunday prior to the match, that whilst sat in a pizza place watching the quarter-final match between England playing Canada (we had to keep the cheering fairly low profile based on the clientele), that the dawn of realisation hit us.  Our semi-final match would be between our national team and Japan.  I couldn’t have planned it better.  In fact, I didn’t – it was sheer luck.

Edmonton have a brilliant approach to encouraging the right behaviours with the appropriate incentives.  All public transport to and from any of the World Cup matches is free to those with match tickets for the 2 hrs before, during and after a game.  So, onto the LTS we went and over to the Commonwealth Stadium, just north of the city centre.  I took my parents and middle kid, and all made an effort to dress in England colours – I even painted the flag on our cheeks and hands as a sign of encouragement!

Excited wouldn’t come close to describing the atmosphere.  The English supporters (of which there were many) were in full voice and just watching the reaction to the vocal support from other nations was amusing.  For those used to watching and being at English matches, it’s the norm, but it clearly had other nations slightly baffled as to whether the correct protocol was being observed by the English.  It was addictive, and as the match commenced, my middle kid looked at me and my parents in amazement as we shouted encouraging comments to the players and obvious instructive insight as to what they needed to do to win the game.   Offering advice and instruction to others whilst having no skill or qualification in the activity whatsoever, has often been a common characteristic of mine ….. 😉

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By the end of the match (and yes, we lost), I could well understand why friends of mine invest princely sums of money for season tickets to support their football teams of choice.  I loved it, and just watching the action from the edge of the pitch gave a different feel about it to seeing it cold on a TV box.  My Dad has reached a new iconic status as he has been able to inform his friends and grandsons that he’s not only been to a World Cup match, but has seen England play in the semi’s – the highest level any football team from the UK has reached since 1966 ….

Our return journey on the LTS was an interesting game of ‘how many people can we fit into a train carriage in one go’.  Very civil and good-natured, everyone took turns and as it was ‘Canada Day’, some well-liquored travellers started a verbal rendition of the Canadian National Anthem as hordes of people waited and shuffled patiently towards the trains.  The refrain was picked up, and by the end, everyone waiting was either singing or humming to the words with huge cheers going up as it finished.  It was one of those ‘hairs on the back of your neck’ moments in life.  Fantastic.

Canada flagAs with all games, it’s not always the winning but the taking part that’s the important part.  We certainly did and had a glorious day.  Winners all round.  🙂

Jurassic World – hunting for dinosaurs

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If you ever want to know anything about Dinosaurs and be astounded at artefacts which are millions of years old, you’ve got to take a trip to Drumheller in Alberta, Canada.  It’s a small town, about 90 minutes to the north-east of Calgary and set in the most impressive scenery imaginable – the ‘Badlands’.  To describe them as a mini-grand canyon wouldn’t be far from the truth and whilst it may take time and effort to get there, it’s a location that will reward you in astonishment and wonder.

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Once founded on coal, Drumheller’s main attraction these days is being home to one of the most pre-eminent dinosaur museums in the world – the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  The museum continues to discover amazing dinosaur fossils across the province and attracts both tourists and palaeontologists from across the globe as a research centre and tourist site.  The range of fossils and dino-skeletons which are on display throughout the huge presentation areas are simply astounding.  Even if dinosaurs aren’t your thing, you can’t help but marvel at what has been discovered and is right there in front of your eyes.

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We’d been advised to book on one of the museum’s dinosaur digs which takes you into the fossil fields and just like any palaeontologist, you’re there on your hands and knees brushing the sand and stone in search of actual artefacts.  It’s a great experience and not just a mimic of the real thing – this IS the real thing and you’re actually there, knelt on the fossil fields and potentially discovering the next big find …. talking of which, this pic below is the latest on display which was discovered only in 2005 …

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You won’t be surprised to learn that back in the main town of Drumheller, they welcome visitors with the ‘World’s Largest Dinosaur’ – I kid you not.  Featuring in the Guinness Book of Records and standing 26m high, you can climb up the inside of a model T-Rex, and look out through its teeth at the surrounding view.  It’s fun and wacky, and brings a smile to everyone’s faces.  In the town, there are model dinosaurs everywhere so you certainly know you’re arrived in the right place!

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There’s a Dinosaur Trail Drive which takes you alongside and past the impressive canyons and Red Deer River.  The canyons are spectacular and completely at odds with the almost totally flat landscape which surrounds then.  You see the various stratas of rock layers which have been naturally formed over millions of years so any geologist will think they’ve gone to heaven and back just witnessing the view.  For us mere mortals, all you can do is gaze in awe at such beauty that’s been created.

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Then, there’s the Hoodoos.  Hoodoos take millions of years to form from the effects of erosion caused by water, wind, and frost.  They stand 5 to 7 metres tall and each one is a sandstone pillar resting on a thick base of shale that is capped by a large stone.  The solid, strong capstones protect the softer, underlying base creating their unique mushroom-like shape.  However, the hoodoos are eroding at a rate as rapid as one centimetre per year – quicker than virtually any other geological structure. The varied colour and texture of the rock, visible as horizontal banding on the hoodoos, is based on the ancient environments of the inland sea and coastal swamps once present during the Cretaceous period – between 70 to 75 million years ago.  It’s almost incomprehensible something that old!  There again, they are in absolutely good company set alongside the dinosaurs and our visiting grandparents 🙂

2015-06-27 14.32.45Another trip worth making whilst you’re there, is along Highway 10X from Rosedale – just outside of Drumheller – to a small hamlet of Wayne.  Another one for the Guinness Book of Records, you can drive over the most bridges (11 in total) across the shortest distance – 6km in total.  Wayne itself, originally was home to over 2,400 people, but now has a mere 33 remaining living there.  It’s fast approaching almost ghost-town status and has the ‘Last Chance Saloon’, built in 1913 and one of Alberta’s only operating cowboy relics.

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In terms of old ages past, it’s a trip full of history and relics – and another item ticked off our bucket list – and a ‘must-do’ for anyone visiting Alberta.  Get it on your list!

Now, onto our next bucket item ….  🙂

Bear spray at the ready …

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A trip to the Canadian Rockies is always a superb experience and a wonderfully scenic visit, but one of our favourite places to stop off at, is Canmore – just south of Banff.  It’s an old mining town, nestled in between the mountains so you get 360 vistas all around – but without the touristy lure and trappings of Banff or Lake Louise.  As a result, it’s much more authentic.  The main street with shops are individualistic and it is riddled in character and a great atmosphere.

There are some lovely walks along the banks of the Bow River, but for our visit this weekend, we took a walk up to Grassi Lakes.  Bears are still very active and the advice from the Information Centre is to ensure you have some ‘bear spray’, as the berries are starting to come out and are a major attraction for our furry friends.

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Following a 90 second demonstration on what to do should we fall upon a grizzly and how to operate the canister ‘in-haste’ – plus signing a declaration that we wouldn’t use it for any other purpose – we were good to go.  The resulting conversation from the 3 kids for the first 30 minutes into our walk, was a preoccupation into the detailed arrangements should we encounter a furry beast – not helped by suggestions of feeding the youngest as a sacrifice to it first, whilst the rest of us made off as fast as we could.  The youngest was understandably perturbed by this proposal and it was concluded that it isn’t the ability to outrun the grizzly we need to be concerned about – just to be able to outrun the slowest member of our party … let me introduce you to the grandparents who are currently visiting ….!!  The youngest was decidedly comforted upon this news that she wouldn’t be bringing up the rear.

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Anyhow, this certainly took care of topics of debate during the amble, and created a distraction for the kids whilst they traipsed up the paths to an elevation of 1500 metres.   There are 2 small lakes when you arrive – both a vibrant green and turquoise which makes the journey thoroughly worthwhile.  You also get the view of the Bow River down in the valley overlooking the town of Canmore too.  There’s a large waterfall to see and an opportunity to take lots of pics.  It’s not a hard walk and reaps rewards for the small amount of effort required – it’s also extremely popular so get there early to benefit the most.

It was with slight disappointment we arrived back at the cars without an encounter or even glimpse of a grizzly – although if the bears had any sense, they’d wait till it was quieter in the evening to eat the produce in relative peace.  Given my 3 kids, I wouldn’t have blamed them at all.

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For the humans, there are some culinary delights worth testing out whilst in Canmore.  The Rocky Mountain Bagel Company, on the Main Street makes 12 different varieties of bagel each night and the sandwiches they produce are mouth-wateringly tasty.  We tried the ‘Mountaineer’ – pastrami, cheese, salad, mustard and gherkins – which we had on a jalapeno-cheddar bagel.  Truly delicious.

Further down the street is the pub, restaurant and shop of the ‘Grizzly Paw Brewing Company’.  A local producer, they have a modern, purpose-built brewery just 2 miles down the road which offers tours and ‘tastings’ too of all their ales.  Those who don’t necessarily want alcohol (?), can sample their sodas which the kids loved.  Needless to say, beers (not bears) and sodas were procured and consumed that evening …

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There’s also one of the oldest buildings in Canmore to visit, built in 1893.  Not old by European or UK standards, but significantly old in this area, and the original home of the Royal Mounted Canadian Police who were stationed in Canmore earlier last Century.  Prior to this, were there any disturbances of any description, troops from Banff were called in and suffice to say, by the time they often arrived, the event had either culminated in disaster or has dissipated completely.  Those were the days.

So, a good weekend was had by all and should you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, give Canmore a visit and let me know what you think.  I suspect you won’t be disappointed.  In the meantime, we’re into our final week of the school term and the prospect of hunting for dinosaurs looms ever closer (and this isn’t a sarcastic reference to my parents – honest!).  More to follow ….

🙂

Hidden gems …

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No matter how hard we try, life doesn’t always follow a plan, and sometimes, the best things are either just stumbled across, or taken as ‘spur of the moment’ opportunities, that go on to create lasting memories.  One such ‘hidden gem’ happened to us this weekend …

In terms of horse sports, I’ve watched the occasional ‘show jumping’ event on the TV when it’s been the Olympics, and absolutely and without any doubt, will always put some money on the famous Grand National horse race held annually at Aintree (Liverpool) – making sure we watch the race on the box to cheer both horses and riders on.  Limited knowledge of such sports, I’m sure you’ll agree.

So out of the blue last week, my husband was asked if he would accept the honour of ‘tipping the hat’ on behalf of the company he works for, who were sponsoring a show-jumping event at the internationally renowned ‘Spruce Meadows’ in Calgary this weekend.

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Spruce Meadows is one of the top showjumping venues in the world, built in 1975 by the Southern Family (Ron and Marg), and opened in 1976.  Their daughter, Linda, is a former Olympian who competed in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games for the Canadian Olympic Team, and now the CEO.  They are extremely hospitable, and Marg (now in her 80’s), takes an intensively active, hands-on role, demonstrating an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and all the athletes.   It was both Marg and Linda who we had the absolute delight of spending the vast majority of Sunday with, introducing us to the rules, intricacies and etiquette of show jumping.

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‘Spruced’ up in our best Sunday togs, my husband sporting ‘cowboy boots’ and wearing the obligatory white ‘Stetson’, we were accompanied to seats in the middle of the ‘All Canada Ring’ with both Marg and Linda.  As each rider enters the ring, they would ride up to the ‘Playpen’ (where we were seated) and the men would tip their helmet, and the ladies will touch their crop to their helmet in a salute.  My husband was then to return the salute by ‘tipping his hat’ (taking it off and putting it back on again), to enable the rider to commence his round.  It’s a tradition that was initiated with cavalry regiments when the sport was focused on the military.  Soldiers would salute their commanding officer / reviewing officer prior to competing and the officer would return the salute.  The Spruce Meadows tradition is for the athletes to recognise the sponsor of the competition and in turn, sponsors return the salute with a white Stetson.  Serious stuff.  Thank goodness they weren’t asking me to abide by the same rules as I struggled to stifle the giggles watching my better half in cowboy boots and hat.  Not something you see everyday in Warrington, that’s for sure.2015-06-14 15.37.52

During each round, Marg would provide insights on the riders and their horses – a significant number of whom were Olympians having competed for their respective countries in past Games so the standard was especially high, and many were using the event as opportunities to be considered for selection in the PanAm Games.  What never failed to make me smile was the banter between Marg and some of the riders prior to commencing their rounds – clearly her passion, and regarded as extended family, she’s known many riders for the length of their careers, and takes a very keen interest in promoting newer and younger riders too.  Sat in the warmth of the gas heaters, and plied with h’ors d’oeuvres, we clearly had the best seats in the house and the enthusiasm for the sport was palpably addictive.

After the event, Marg directed us to the presentation tables and with pics taken of the winning rider and the ‘cup’ with my husband, whilst I was introduced to, and asked to present the ribbons to the riders and horses in second to tenth place.  Pictures were taken, and I couldn’t help but equate it to an edition of ‘Cheshire Life’ and kept wondering how on earth we had both been invited into such illustrious company.

2015-06-14 15.47.00On the drive back to Edmonton (a good 3.5hrs North), we reflected on how professional and personable both Linda and Marg had been, and having a passion for something, can build memories and create experiences for others around them that are ever-lasting.

I’m sure an experience like that is once-in-a-lifetime event and has become one of our ‘hidden gem’ memories of being in Canada.  It just goes to show, that you never quite know what’s around the corner tomorrow or next week, but it could be – and quite often will be – something quite remarkable 🙂

School’s almost out

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One of the benefits of schools not having any breaks during the school year apart from Christmas and Easter, means we’re down to the last 3 weeks before the end of this school year and a monster 2.5 months off!  It seems to have flown, and not having any breaks during the year also means the rhythm of getting 2 of my 3 kids up for school every morning, doesn’t get broken and they carry on and just accept it without a bleat.

Maybe it’s also the novelty of our first year being in a Canadian school, but I can certainly say we’re not as drained and frazzled as we have been in past years during the last few weeks.  For my oldest, she’s doing her PAT exams in Grade 6 (equivalent to SAT’s in the UK), and they’re into the school revision period and different techniques for reminding them all of the content and refreshing their knowledge banks ready for the final exams.  The exams themselves are scheduled in the final 1.5 weeks of the term with the added incentive of 2 whole days on a ‘school trip’ at the local Recreation Centre full of swimming, playing and picnics after they’re completed.  Whilst I’ve no doubt the kids feel an element of pressure and the need to perform their best in their PAT’s, I wouldn’t say it was fraught or full of additional homework or stress at all.  In fact, whilst I know the school is maintaining the momentum and pace, the kids seem to be enjoying the process.  Or at least with 3 weeks to go – they are at the moment!

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My youngest kid started school in the UK back in September – which is full-time from 4 yrs old.  Things are slightly different in Canada and she’s been to reduced to half days at ‘Kindergarten’ since we arrived and doesn’t go full-time until she joins Grade 1 in September.  Whilst she’s more than ready for that event, the 2 of us have had a ‘bonus’ 8 months spending time each morning doing ‘stuff’ which we hadn’t thought we would – and we’ve had a great time in the process.  She’s been doing ‘KinderArt’ sessions at the local Recreation Centre for 2 mornings a week (see earlier blog) and thoroughly enjoying getting paint everywhere, throwing the odd ‘pot’ working with clay, chalking drawings on the sidewalks and trying out pastels, crayons and oils.  The outputs and drawings have been prolific and I’ve certainly appreciated the fact it’s been created in another location and not in my kitchen or on my floor!

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The different celebration activities put on by the school have been a super experience too.  I was invited to a Mother’s Day Tea Party by the Kindergarten class a few weeks ago, and a ‘Volunteer Appreciation’ Tea (I assist with the Kindergarten book programme) last week.  Both events are meticulously planned by the school and clearly a lot of time and effort goes into the arranging, coordinating and presenting.  Both were held during the normal school day, had different classes performing various functions, e.g.. cake serving (and very tasty cakes they were too), iced tea pouring, guiding to seats, etc.  Several classes then provided entertainment in the form of songs that had been learnt, dances performed, readings made, and pictures presented of artwork created.  The Assistant Principal was on hand to voice a huge ‘thank you’ for either the work Mum’s do, or the time offered by volunteers for the benefit of the school – a message vocalised by all the various members of staff presenting their classes during the event too.  The staff don’t get forgotten either.  There is a ‘staff appreciation day’ and kids are encouraged to complete small ‘superhero’ logo’s and put a few words about why they think their teacher of choice, has been a ‘superhero’ during the year.  It’s entirely voluntary, with the outputs presented to the teachers at a specially held luncheon over the dinner period – staffed by volunteer parents.  Everyone is encouraged to send some buffet-type food into the school for this lunch with 2 stems of cut flowers – which are then carefully crafted into handmade bouquets and presented to each of the teachers.  It’s a brilliant concept and together, all these events certainly create a community culture with everyone working together to make their school better and a great place to educate the kids that go there.

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My middle kid is already talking about the different lunch-time and ‘recess’ groups she wants to join when she returns in September.  The youngest can’t wait to ‘walk’ to school ‘by herself’ with her 2 older sisters and keeps asking when will September arrive.  A reassuring sign that as they near completion of their first year in a Canadian school, they’ve settled in extremely well, and are looking forward to more in a few months time.

Phew …. it could have been so different, and much like everything else over the past 8 months, the transition has been pretty smooth and without major incident.

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We’re now in the final 24 hours prior to the arrival of the first set of grandparents who fly into Canada tomorrow for their very first trip over here.  It’s going to be great seeing family and familiar faces – plus hearing additional English accents!  I can’t wait to see what they make of it all ……

🙂

Driving me crazy …

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One of the things that takes some getting used to is driving in Canada.  Maybe it’s just Edmonton, but there are some nuances that have me completely baffled each and every day as to the logic behind their safety for pedestrians, road users – or anything else in between.

The first thing you probably think of when driving in Canada (or the US for that matter), is getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road – and by this, I mean driving on the right rather than the left ;-).  I’m British so therefore, the left hand side is the correct side – regardless of the fact that about 75% of the world’s countries drive on the right.  Despite the modern invention of the car, the side of the road on which we drive has developed through centuries-old custom and tradition.  The fact that most people are right-handed is the biggest factor contributing to which side of the road people initially chose.  A further reason I stumbled across made me chuckle – ‘Ancient Romans drove chariots with the reins in their dominant right hands to allow them to whip a horse with their left.  That way there was little risk of accidentally whipping a passing chariot.  But if a warrior needed to do battle from a horse, he could attack a passing opponent on the right with his stronger hand‘.  Not much has changed.  Another key influence in driving direction was Henry Ford, who designed his Model T with the driver on the left.  That decision meant cars would have to drive on the road’s right, so that passengers in both the front and back seat could exit the car on the curb.  Apparently, countries like the UK remain on the left-hand side down to sheer stubbornness and practicalities.  I like to think of it as something we’ll be proven right to stick to ……

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Anyhow, it only takes a short while to get your brain functioning in the opposite direction – plus, it’s made a lot easier with wide roads and absolutely gigantic trucks and cars and for the most part, everything is largely automatic transmission so having to cope with manual adjustments just means operating the windows and doors …. what couldn’t be easier?  Master this, and that’s the least of your problems …..

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Roundabouts.  Those reading this in Canada who are of UK descent will be physically groaning.  The concept of a roundabout and right of way seems to be lost on most Edmontonians – to the point that the ‘Driver Safety Handbook’ devotes a specific section to this very topic.  They don’t appear as road furniture often, but when they do, seem to cause complete and utter confusion.  Adopting the correct lane, yielding to cars coming from the left, and providing enough indication of your intentions to other road users – all seem to be a total anathema to the majority of drivers.  For the serious offenders, I’d send them to Warrington, England for 2 days and get them to navigate from one side of the town to the other.  It’s riddled with the things to the point of excess, but will certainly rectify any deficiencies in driving talent with regards to roundabouts.

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Pedestrian crossings.  Simple you may think.  For the pedestrian, a green man (well, technically – white), means ‘walk’, and an orange hand indicating ‘stop’, means just that.  And people abide by these totally and utterly.  Not so in the UK, where we adopt the approach of using the pedestrian signs as pure indicators of the severity of risk in crossing a road – and often proceed with or without them being taken into account.  Now the Canadian system is great, until as a vehicle user you wish to make a turn left or right at a junction.  At this point, the pedestrian light is most likely on ‘white’ too, and you have to not just navigate the turn amidst other vehicles on the road, but also minimise the impact of running a pedestrian over in the process.  And pedestrian’s don’t rush either – there’s no polite recognition that a car may also be wishing to turn across the crossing and a degree of speed adopted to aide your plight – oh no.  As a driver, you have to sit there and wait whilst coffee is balanced, iPhones checked and headphones repositioned by those walking.  How on earth there’s not more accidents with pedestrians I’ll never know – and statistics to try and either prove my point or completely distill it are not readily available.  Maybe that’s a sign ….

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Finally, the most fab thing is being able to make a right turn on a red light (providing it is safe to do so, obviously).  Sheer brilliance – and the novelty of turning right on a red light never wears off.  In fact, I’ve now worked out that as the roads are largely constructed on a grid system, if I ensure all my journeys are undertaken in a clockwise direction, I get there a lot quicker and easier than trying to fight the opposite way – unlike my sat nav who usually insists I’m attempting to get to my destination in the most inefficient direction.  I’m female, and this is one of those instances which I usually take great delight in proving my skill to the electric unit (who clearly couldn’t care less), for completely ignoring.

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Canadians are almost there with never having to vacate your vehicle whilst going about your weekly chores as most of the outlets operate as drive-thu’s.  Whilst these are convenient for some things, what always makes me chuckle is the length of the drive-thru vehicle queue at the coffee shops – when quite often the shop itself is empty and it would be much quicker to park up, get out and walk into the store!  You’ll notice something prevalent in the front seat of every vehicle – a drinking cup which is normally holding a recently purchased coffee.  God only knows what will happen to people in Canada if the world’s supplies of coffee beans ever dry up…..

All in all, driving over here is fun and keeps you on your toes.  The traffic is non-existent compared to UK standards so a tail-back quite often is a couple of cars deep – rather than a couple of hours long.  I’m just not sure I’ll fit back into UK driving as easily when we return.  But that’s a problem for another day ….. I’m just waiting for my coffee at the drive-thru …….

🙂

Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)

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At what point is it polite to say ‘it’s too hot’?  I’m currently basking in 28 degrees, blue skies and sun with no let up now for the past 2 weeks.  It’s beautifully hot and everything is decidedly parched – but we’ve gone from one extreme to another.  We’ve spent 5 months under snow and ice with sub-zero temperatures, and now have a blistering heat that makes us warmer than Phoenix in Arizona and Las Vegas in Nevada.  Who’d have thought!  The climate is ultra dry so there’s now a province-wide fire ban as the continuing hot, dry weather has raised the wildfire hazard to high, very high or extreme over most of Alberta.

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I mentioned in my blog last week, that I’ve finally procured plants and outdoor furniture – along with a rather large BBQ – to revel in the delight of the sunny outdoors.  In fact, not only the plants, but the lawn is requiring daily watering just to keep it alive and not parched in the dry heat outside.  Watering the grass wasn’t something that immediately came to mind as I’d assumed being subsumed under snow for months at a time, it would relish the prospect of dryer weather at last.  Not so.  When you’re used to an abundance of rain (cue: NW England) and often several times a day – if not constantly – it’s amazing to live in a climate which is extremely dry and any moisture disappears within seconds.  It’s lovely too, and when you get the chinook wind coming across the plains, it’s very pleasant and makes you think you’re on a permanent holiday.  Staying hydrated is a challenge, so the obligatory glass of wine for rehydrating purposes only, you understand, goes down extremely nicely too …

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The Jeep (you’ll remember me mentioning this in previous blogs) which was super-brilliant in the snow and ice, has now shed it’s ‘hard top’ and the ‘soft-top’ has been deployed.  Not only that, the roof has been down, roll-cage visible and it’s all I can do to persuade my husband not to remove the doors (which I’m informed is a ‘quick’ job and ‘won’t take but a minute’).  Trouble is, with 3 kids sat in the back, I have visions of at least 2 of the 3 departing the vehicle as we round a corner and if not them, the mounds of absolute rubbish that fester under the seats and on the floor which I’ve given up constantly removing, will make a rapid departure from the vehicle and we’ll be ticketed for brazen littering.  It’s a great vehicle though, and perfect for any weather we experience – I quite like the roof down and roll-cage look although I’m not sure the grandparents will appreciate the ‘bare look’ when they visit in a few weeks time.  It puts a whole new meaning to ‘air conditioning’, that’s for sure.

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Everything is starting to come to life and spray parks, outdoor pools and visitor attractions are gradually opening their doors.  Given the current climate, the spray parks are superb and perfect for keeping the kids cool and screaming in delight – and are dotted throughout the City.  The River Valley – which I mentioned in a previous blog – is simply stunning and one thing’s for certain, the Canadians certainly know how to embrace outdoor activities and sports.   In fact, the National Geographic magazine has just released it’s list of ’11 of the best summer destinations’, and along with ‘stargazing in a canyon in Arizona’ and ‘attending a concert in the shadow of ancient Greek ruins’; ‘hiking through Edmonton’s river valley’ has also made it onto the list. And deservedly so.  How fab is that?

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Farmer’s Markets are also opening up for the Summer season.  There’s a few which are year-round (my market of choice, being in Strathcona every Saturday morning which is exceptionally good), and there’s now one every Wednesday evening just around the corner from our house.  It’s on a smaller scale, but the quality of the produce, the home-made chutneys, ice creams, sauces and meats are well worth trying – plus there’s several food trucks which make an appearance for those wanting hot bites to eat or an early tea.  My kids sampled ‘popcorn ice cream’ which was delicious and I’ve got my eyes on the ‘black liquorice’ ice cream which my Mum will no doubt make a bee-line for when she visits.  Let’s hope there’s some left!

So, here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo),  here comes the sun – and I say, it’s alright.  🙂

Raising a glass to Queen and Country …

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Well, today is ‘Victoria Day’ in Canada – a national holiday to honour Queen Victoria’s birthday, and as such, the skies are blue, the sun is shining and the weather is a toasty 17C.  First declared a national holiday in 1845, it wasn’t until 1901, the year of Victoria’s death, that the holiday officially became known as Victoria Day.  Since that date, it not only remembers Queen Victoria’s birthday, but also commemorates the birthday of the current monarch (Queen Elizabeth II).  Of course, there’s also another unofficial version of the ‘day off’ commonly referred to as the ‘May 2-4 weekend’ (Queen Victoria was born on 24 May 1819), as hard working Canadians celebrate an end to Winter and welcome in warmer temperatures through the consumption of cases of beer (or any other liquor one assumes).  It’s also seen as the time after which we can safely start to plant outside and spend time in gardens now the colder weather has lapsed and the prospect of killing off all living things due to the harsh climate dissipates slightly.  Unfortunately, the plants newly procured and planted in my garden have no protection from my natural ability to fell anything within 250 yards.  I wouldn’t be surprised if everything is left floundering and on it’s last legs within the month ….

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I’ve been waiting weeks for the notional ‘cut off’ date before starting to buy plants and flowers for the garden.  Back in the UK, it can be as early as March – but we didn’t see snow disappear properly in Edmonton until the start of April and even then, we had a sudden snow ‘dump’ just under 2 weeks ago.  We were also not able to bring across anything remotely connected to the outside and garden from the UK in our container as it was regarded a ‘bio-hazard’ – (how on earth they allowed my husband entry I’ll never know) – so I’ve had to buy a lawnmower and outside furniture along with plants and pots (that don’t crack and break in the deep cold of Winter – or at the first signs of frost).

The ‘piece de resistance‘ is a monolithic BBQ.  We’ve had to enter new territory and venture into the unknown where BBQ’s are concerned.  It’s huge business in Canada with every type you can think of and sizes ranging from large through to gigantic.  Our background in BBQ’s isn’t the best.  Only being used to a portable unit no bigger than the circumference of a dinner plate, and the obligatory wait for 3.5hrs before coals start to achieve a temperature useful for melting butter, we’ve always had good intentions but in reality, probably have only made proper use of it on a handful of evenings in the UK.  It’s a completely different animal over here and the monstrosity we procured can easily reach high temperatures within 10 minutes – a feat my oven only dreams of.  So, we’ve had evening meals on it for the last few nights – albeit we all sat inside to consume them – and have even cooked a typical English breakfast on it yesterday morning.  I’m sure the novelty will start to wane and we’ll normalise around 4 or 5 times a week – rather than 3 times a day currently!!

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Given Victoria Day also has a tongue-in-cheek celebration in the consumption of liquor – it has been truly required upon the construction of the outdoor furniture.  For those familiar with the challenges of flat-packed items, you’ll identify with this quite readily.  I wouldn’t mind but I did attempt to manage expectations as upon purchase, most of the comments in the review section focused on the endeavours faced with constructing all 5 items.  Putting the criteria of price above ‘constructability’, I relayed these to my ‘not so D-I-Y’ husband prior to commencing the build just so he knew what he was in for …… (I’ve always found that setting expectations very low for jobs in the house along these lines has proved most fruitful – especially when he’s then able to complete the required job with somewhat ease).

On this occasion, I obviously hadn’t set them low enough as the obscenities and curses uttered as each item was unpacked and attempts to construct disintegrated with each item.  Keeping a low profile during such times is always the best policy except with the frequent interjections of ‘here’s another bottle of your favourite ale’.  Anyhow, I’m now typing this blog to you all sat on one of the newly built items (and comfy it is too), but have decided not to point out the several ‘spare’ screws and items that don’t seem to have been fully utilised in their construction.  So, with no further ado and looking out my now colourful garden with a mouth-watering smell wafting from the BBQ, I’ll raise a glass (or two) to Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.

Happy Victoria Day everyone 🙂

Stunning, stupendous and serene …. (and a bear!)

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Well, as weekends go, it’s up there as one of the most memorable and absolute best.  It was Mother’s Day in Canada last weekend and feeling rather like the Queen, I decided to celebrate it twice (the UK had the pleasure of this event back in March).  We also took the rare opportunity to venture away for Mother’s Day weekend – where usually we have either or both of the grandparents round for a meal and celebrations.  Obviously, a little more difficult given the distances between us, so this year we ventured further afield and thought about ticking off some more items from our bucket list.

I still can’t get over being able to travel to The Rockies from Edmonton.  4 hours in the car, it’s practically on our doorstep – so a trip to Jasper it was.  There’s not much that can go wrong for even those challenged with navigational abilities.  It’s basically head West from Edmonton for 400km and you’re there.  I’d like to say there are several road turns and a little bit of a dogs leg to manoeuvre – but I’d be wrong.  It’s literally a straight road, head West and keep going for 4 hours.  Simples ……

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In fairness, it’s not the most scenic either till you come through a small town called Hinton, about 3 hours into the trip.  Just after the town, you get the first view of the mountains and they are remarkable.  Being Spring, they are still snow-laden at the top whilst all the trees and valley floors have melted and are turning a vibrant green.  The weather had clear blue skies and sun shining.  Beautiful.

I was slightly concerned about the timing of the weekend away as last Wednesday saw continuous snow in Edmonton to a depth of 20cm.  It was a bit of a surprise to be awoken to, but hey, guess that’s part of the joys of living in a Winter City!  All gone – thank goodness – by the Friday, and even then, nothing stops here for the sake of a bit of snow.  We’d never get anything done otherwise.  Anyhow – back to the trip.

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A brilliant place to stop off at is Miette Hot Springs – about 40 mins before you get to Jasper.  Miette Hot Springs, located in Alberta’s Jasper National Park, features the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies.  Water flows from the mountain at 54°C (129°F) and is cooled (cooled!!! I tell you), to a comfortable 40°C (104°F).  There are 4 pools – each of varying temperatures from hot, to very nice, slightly cool, and then absolutely freezing – containing the minerals sulphate, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, and sodium.  It’s hilarious watching the kids jump into the coldest pool (none of the adults seem to be willing to attempt it), and seeing their faces and the speed with which they made a fast exit.  It’s also all outside, so you get to wallow in the waters whilst admiring the views across the mountains.  Bliss …….

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Jasper itself is a lovely town – and less riddled with tourists than the popular Banff and Lake Louise destinations which are another 3 hours due South away in the car.  You get to spot lots of wildlife – who were out in force last weekend – as you travel along the National Park roads.  Elk were in abundance, as were Mountain Big-Horn Sheep, and Black Bears!  Just watch for the tail-lights of cars stopping up ahead and pull over – there’s usually something to see – and we managed a tally of 2 Black Bears during the weekend.  Just don’t venture out of the car … fleeting observations of a wolf on 2 occasions, plus the obligatory Canadian geese, squirrels and birds.  Only the Moose was more elusive and has yet to be spotted.

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Then there’s the scenery.  It’s awe inspiring, majestic and breath taking.  The lakes nestled into the valleys which are turquoise and crystal clear, reflect the snow-topped mountains and the silence is deafening.  It’s one of the best places in the world to spend time.  Instantly from reaching the edge of the National Park, you start to relax and savour the views.  I tell you, I couldn’t help but reflect that being able to experience and see these wonders just within a weekend trip away – it’s not something most people have the chance to do, even for a holiday.  Amazing.  Warrington, England certainly can’t compete with this and even the Lake District (one of my favourite places to visit in the UK), is not remotely on the same scale.

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Sitting outside our room, watching the wildlife, looking at the beautiful lake set in the snow-topped mountains – and sipping a glass of Grand Cru Champagne (Mother’s Day gift from the kids).  We sampled delicious food, (there’s also a superb bakery in Jasper itself which is worth a visit), and walked around Lac Beauvert which was stunning.  Now, that’ll take some beating.  If it’s not on your list of places to visit, put it on there now.  🙂

Take your marks …

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My oldest kid is a serious about swimming and my usual week is full of the frantic juggling to get her to her swimming training sessions at a variety of locations across Edmonton – usually lasting between 2 to 3 hrs long and luckily, all after school.  To add some complexity, my other 2 kids also swim but in different places, on different days, and at different times.  Whoever said life was simple!

Back in the UK, I started training as a swimming judge – mainly so I could understand the rules and be able to articulate them to the kids.  It also provides an opportunity for me to do something meaningful during the numerous swimming competitions we attend, rather than watch from the spectator stands.  My oldest kid loves the fact that I’m there and on poolside, so it works well.

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When we relocated to Canada, I was keen to try and transfer the skill set across – albeit, my broken wrist at Christmas didn’t help (click here to get up to speed) and somewhat delayed the process.  The volunteering system is huge over here and requests to transfer in as a swimming judge, welcomed with open arms.  Everything is slick, well-managed and catered for.  So, I have just spent the last weekend carrying out 5 shifts as a swimming judge (‘Stroke and Turn’ if you must ask), and am now officially registered as a judge with Swim Canada.  For those that know me and my uncanny ability to avoid any significant forms of exercise, the irony is not lost on me I admit.  However, this appeals to me completely – I can justifiably encourage and enforce the Canadian Swimming rules, without having to venture demonstrating them myself.  I know exactly what a good butterfly and breaststroke look like, how turns need to be executed, and relay change-overs applied – and can readily articulate this.  Just don’t ask me to demonstrate otherwise you’ll be bitterly disappointed – or alternatively, will keel over laughing at my inane attempts!  It’s not a dry past-time either.  Prepare to be doused in water and lots of it.  I got that wet at times over the weekend, I was beginning to wonder whether I would’ve been better as a competitor in the water rather than a judge on poolside!

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Compared to my experiences of judging in the UK, the attendance and sheer number of volunteers around the poolside in Canada is extraordinary.  Everyone is assigned a specific role for the duration of a session and with a formal briefing prior to the start which is conducted bang on time, every time, by the referee; it gets everyone well versed on what needs to happen, how the referee wants to run the ‘meet’, and what to do should an ‘infraction’ be observed.  The interesting and most significant difference I notice from judging in both countries, is the Canadian emphasis on doing it purely for the kids and providing them with the environment during a ‘meet’ which best demonstrates their abilities as a result of the enormous efforts they put into training every day of the week.  It’s a subtle difference and I’m not inferring that this isn’t the case in the UK, but it’s articulated that many times that you find the behaviours align to the ethos.  It’s a positive experience for everyone concerned, and I’m sure it delivers better results in the longer term.

It was an ‘International’ meet with teams travelling all across Canada to compete.  A different use of the word ‘international’ than what I’m used to in the UK, but given the size and scale of Canada alone, well justified.  The organisers are rightly proud of its longevity as a stalwart in the ‘Meet Calendar’, citing that the ‘Meet’ started back in 1978 and was also where changes to the rules for false starts were made and then applied across Canada – and are now applied across the World.  Good heritage indeed.

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One of the by-products is that you get to meet such a variety of other volunteers, and we all have a laugh and a joke alongside the seriousness of the ‘meet’ and ensuring adherence to the rules and regulations.   Perfect for us a ‘new arrivals’ to the country.  My oldest delivered some PB’s (personal best) times in her swims and left smiling each day.  That’s what it’s all about.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, felt as though I’d assisted and made a difference, plus got to use a completely different skill set than the one I do on a daily basis.

So here’s to the next one.  Take your marks ….

🙂

Take me to the River

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It’s Spring in Edmonton – the sun is out, Canadian geese are arriving and the grass is returning to green –  and we’ve been out exploring.  In fairness, we’ve been exploring since we arrived but the snow does impose some limitations on our ability to go for long walks and take in the scenery.  So we’ve been out investigating the delights of the Edmonton River Valley ….

Here’s a few facts for you.  At 7,400 hectares, Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley is the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America.  There are 22 major parks and over 150 kilometres of trails on which you can enjoy walks, bike rides, picnics, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and lots more.  Built into the River Valley are major attractions like the Edmonton Valley Zoo, Fort Edmonton Park, the Muttart Conservatory and the John Janzen Nature Centre.  On top of that there are both public and private golf courses set into the River Valley, plus four downhill ski slopes – two of which are within the city and two immediately outside.

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It’s not called the River Valley for nothing.  The North Saskatchewan River is a glacier-fed river that flows east from the Canadian Rockies to central Saskatchewan.  It is 800 miles in length and winds in a northeastern direction through Edmonton.  It originates 1,800 metres above sea level in the massive 325 sq. km Columbia Icefield in Banff National Park, before flowing across Alberta and Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg, into the Nelson River and eventually into the Hudson Bay.  It also is accountable for supplying Edmonton and surrounding communities with drinking water.  The banks of the river are wide, and the colour of the river a bluey-green which looks magnificent amongst the many coniferous trees, blue skies and bright sunshine.

Whilst it’s been picturesque in the snow, it’s only since the snow has finally departed and the temperatures have started to warm up that we’ve started to explore this vast area.

The sheer scale of the paths and walkways is amazing, and there are access points where you can park up, hop out and start exploring throughout the whole River Valley system.  It’s cleverly designed too – encouraging access through numerous paths that connect across the valley to other parks, walkways and bridges enabling you to criss-cross the river.  There’s also a tonne of thought that’s gone into making it absolutely accessible to anyone, on any mode of designed transport, whether that’s 2 legs, 4 legs (usually the canine variety but not necessarily limited to…), horse trekking, mountain biking, segways (yes, I’ve seen a few of those around too), skateboards, and scooters.  With 22 parks, there’s ample large green spaces which are dotted with picnic benches and barbecues – some of which were in active use with families and friends this weekend.  The smell as you walk past was extremely appealing.  One family group had also brought a bouncy castle with them, plugged it into a portable generator and the party for kids was well underway.  Games of ’rounders’, baseball and football were in abundance, and yet, only a couple of paces away you’re back onto the single tracks and paths along the banks of the river and it goes quiet again.

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Dogs seem to be one of the most popular pets and owners are out en masse in all the parks – some of which are ‘off leash’ areas and the volumes of dogs running around and generally having a great time was superb to see.  Although, at one point I did wonder whether we’d stumbled into a ‘Dog Owner’s Meet’ given the large numbers of canines in existence – but my kids thought it was superb and spent most of the time debating between themselves which types of dog they would prefer and what they would be called.  It served a great purpose as a point of distraction from the usual grumblings of, ‘are we there yet’?  I did remind them that the prospect of a dog in the household would probably be the final straw for my 20 year old cat (yep – she’s still here), which then triggered a whole barrage of sarcastic comments from my husband who has never been particularly keen on the feline variety and saw it as a potential opportunity.  Suffice to say, we won’t be looking at a canine for the foreseeable future …….

Edmonton has designed numerous ‘Community Walking Maps’ which are available online and cover most of the Edmonton area and River Valley separated into individual communities.  Designed to encourage activity (something the Canadians absolutely excel at), each map has lots of different walking routes, things to see and what to do.  Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking Edmonton a smaller city, the scale of the area and distances is deceptively large – and with it the opportunities to do more things and experience additional stuff, much greater.

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A bit like being in Northern England, everyone says hello and is extremely friendly.  If you visit the most popular parks then you’ll see many more people – but this is still only a portion of the volume you would get compared to going for a walk in the UK.  It’s not surprising to only meet one or two people when you’re out for a walk, such is the scale the River Valley area covers across Edmonton.

It’s a beautiful part of the world and we’re lucky to have the chance to experience it.  Having something like this on your doorstep is a gift and we’re planning to make the most of it.  Now, where’s my canoe …

🙂

Where does all the time go?

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I admit it.  In amidst all the preparations for relocating to Canada from the UK, and as we arrived and were getting ourselves ensconced; I was quietly of the view that it would be an opportunity to select a lower gear in life and be able to take the foot slightly off the gas.  Have a bit of a rest.  You know what I mean?

I wasn’t completely misguided.  I did recognise the gaping gap of having no immediate family or long term friends to call on in emergencies, or even, helping me out with life in general and the management of 3 excitable kids.  That said, I couldn’t help but suspect that life may be slightly less busy.  Slightly less manic.  Slightly less ‘full on’.

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Well, my analysis complete, I can safely tell you that after 6 months of being here, life is just the same as it ever was before.  How on earth diaries and schedules fill up I’ll never know, but they do.  The kids are in school, but with the variety and numerous ‘before and after’ school activities to ferry them to, plus getting homework sorted and basics like ‘feeding them’ – which they seem to insist on in ever increasing frequencies and quantities; time literally disappears.

Then there’s my work which needs to get done in amongst all the shenanigans, and if I’m honest, it’s the time when I can concentrate on really interesting stuff and get my innovative and creative juices flowing.  The delights of modern technology and ‘virtual working’ mean that I’m as productive over here as I ever was at home – if not more so, and I relish and look forward to the highlights of the week which are often conference calls with the UK team on a project, the jovial banter and the fact that I’m having conversations with other human beings – other than my kids and the cat (yes, she’s still here …….!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m making lots of friends and new acquaintances over on this side of the pond too – the challenge is fitting everything into a normal day!

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Volunteering here is much bigger than it is in the UK – and more rewarding too.  I’m now assisting with the Kindergarten Reading Programme at the school once a week, sorting and organising the books for the 5/6 year olds to read the following day.  My youngest kid loves the fact that I’m in the school longer than just the usual dropping off and reading a story before her afternoon classes commence.  Then there’s volunteering as a swimming judge during the competitive ‘meets’ for the Edmonton club my oldest kid swims for.  I took it up in the UK as a means to understand and be able to articulate the rules around each of the swimming strokes to my kids.  Also, during a ‘Meet’, it’s a better way to keep occupied and involved by being on poolside, being active, and ensuring the rules are adhered and complied to by all competing swimmers.  My oldest kid loves the fact that I’m there and involved.  I’ve now completed a variety of modules ‘on-line’ for Swim Alberta, have become registered and will be commencing my judging duties in a few weekends time during one of the major competitions.  It’s good fun and thoroughly enjoyable.   I’m looking forward to it.  The sight nuances and variations between requirements in both countries is interesting and I’m ever keen to take on a challenge!

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In the meantime, additional things arrive completely ‘out of the blue’ and time has to be found to sort them out.  Over the last week or so, we’ve suddenly realised that all Canadians have to complete a self-assessment form and submit it to the Canadian Revenue Agency (like the Inland Revenue or HMRC in the UK), by 31 March.  It’s for the previous calendar year and all income – whether earnt in Canada or elsewhere in the World – has to be declared otherwise penalties are applied.  The good news is that we discovered this prior to 31 March so have approximately 13 days left to get it sorted.  The bad news is, I’ve had to instigate emergency protocols and source a Canadian tax specialist who is familiar with ex-patriate income, first submissions by newcomers to Canada, and quite frankly, can navigate their way around what we can and can’t declare – plus what we can claim for and what we can’t.  Life is never simple and our circumstances are not the easiest to decipher and make transparent.  On the plus side, there’s less than 2 weeks of pain to pull all the documentation together and sit down with the tax specialist for her to submit on our behalf, and we’ll be on an even keel again.  No doubt something else will emerge that we have or haven’t done in the meantime!  How on earth they reconcile completely different tax years between countries I’ll never know, and quite frankly, just tell me what the answer is after everything has been thrown in the mix and let’s be done with it.  God help us when we’re doing it the other way and upon our return to the UK.  Another delight to look forward to!!

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It’s all fun.  It’s all learning and it’s part of life’s great experience.  And that’s what we wanted, that’s what we’re getting and that’s what we’re loving.

🙂

(Big thanks for Google images this week for the selection of pics……!)

Bears, Beers and Broomsticks …

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My blog has been absent for over a week – and with good reason.  We’ve been busy ticking off some of our items from our bucket list.  Unlike the UK, the schools in Alberta don’t get many breaks during the school year longer than one or two days at any time, with the exception of Christmas and Easter where we get just over a week.  It’s worth it in the longer run, as schools finish the third week of June and don’t go back until the second week of September, so it’s the equivalent of stacking all your presents up and having them in one long hit during the warmest and sunniest time of the year.  So, Easter is the prime time to take a short holiday – and we’ve been to Vancouver, one of the places on our bucket list to visit and explore.

I’m still amazed that being only in the next Province, it still takes just under 2 hours on a plane to reach – and with a complete change of landscape and climate too.  Rather like the UK, Vancouver sees a lot of rain, and with a temperate climate, it’s very green.  Having experienced snow, ice and a general ‘whiteness’ around everything for the last 5 months, the colours and wetter climate hit you as soon as you arrive.  The landscape too is wonderfully scenic – with mountains, sea and what feels like a greater history in the architecture and buildings.  It’s a lovely reminder of home.

Many would balk at the rain that was coming down like stair-rods on our arrival – but having not experienced rain for the last 6 months, it was a novelty and being from the north of England, a somewhat familiar experience.  Grab your raincoat and brolly, and just get on and ignore it – we had a great time.

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We spent the week gradually ticking off all the iconic stuff to do whilst in Vancouver.  There’s a superb seawall – a walk and cycleway (we did both during the week) that’s approximately 9km and takes you around Stanley Park.  It’s a public park just over 1000 acres, that is almost entirely surrounded by the waters of English Bay and Vancouver Harbour.  We saw a sea otter, watched the huge tankers anchored up waiting for their cargoes to arrive, sampled the fresh fish in one of the eateries around the park, and explored the park.  It’s also home to the Vancouver Aquarium which houses white beluga whales – which we’d never seen before.  Another first.  Very impressive and the range of sea-life and even a sloth (!) kept the kids entertained for a couple of hours.

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Downtown Vancouver looks out at the mountains to the North, and a trip across the harbour on the SeaBus and a local bus up towards Grouse Mountain is a must.  On our way, we stopped off at Capilano Suspension Bridge.  Built in 1889, it stretches 450 feet (137m) across and 230 feet (70m) above Capilano River – and takes you into the West Coast rainforest, a natural temperate rainforest where some of the oldest Douglas Fir trees are more than 1300 years old.  A treetop walk takes you 100ft up into the trees and allows you to see and experience the rainforest from a height – and with seven suspension bridges attached to the trees, it’s accessible to anyone and everyone.  Well worth a trip.

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Further up the road, Grouse Mountain is over 4000 ft high and ascended by either cablecar or by doing the famous ‘Grouse Grind’ – a 2.9km gruelling trail up the face of Grouse Mountain and commonly referred to as ‘mother nature’s stair-master’.  With 2,830 steps and taking the average person approximately 90 minutes to complete, experienced climbers can do it in 45 – it’s not for the faint-hearted.  Needless to say, we took the cablecar….

It’s well worth the view – overlooking Vancouver Harbour and beyond.  We were also in luck as 2 grizzly bears had just come out of hibernation a few weeks earlier and we managed to tick these off our bucket list too!

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What was most enjoyable, was the vast range of artisan shops and crafts you can visit and wander around.  Granville Island was our favourite, and also home to the Granville Island brewery (another item on our list), and Liberty Distillery.  ‘Taster menus’ offer selections of their nectars along with tasting notes which make for a truly pleasant experience.  Authentic coffee bars were also sought out – and well worth the effort of the find, compared to the commonplace commercial coffee establishments familiar to all across the world.  The coffees were equally a delight to sample and the range and complexity of different tastes just goes to show how much we get used to middle of the road multinational, mass-produced fare.  Tasting original and unique food and drink was certainly a highlight.

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One of the most distinctive shops visited was a ‘Broom Shop’.  I’ve never seen one.  Ever.  It’s run by 2 sisters who aim to make 25 brooms a day in their workshop which also serves as a retail outlet.  The skill and beauty of what they do and make is amazing and the kids found it fascinating to watch them hone their skills.  I couldn’t resist a purchase and despite ‘where’s your hat?’, ‘you forgot your cloak‘, ‘have you joined Harry Potter‘, ‘which one should we get for the mother-in-law?‘, comments being hurled in my direction – I admit it was fair game – it’s a lovely reminder of such a great city.

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A wonderful week away.  Next job on the list is planning our adventure and travels over the Summer … with or without broom ….

🙂

Half a year is gone already!

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Would you believe it.  This week, we’ve been in Canada for 6 months.  6 whole months.  Most of them spent in sub-zero temperatures and covered in snow and ice.  I’d like to say that based on my blog last week proclaiming ‘the big thaw‘ had begun – oh, how wrong I was – which will serve me right for tempting fate.  I’m now back to -7 with 30cm of snow falling over the last 48 hours, and very sore muscles spent shovelling it from the drive.  Anyhow, I digress……

6 whole months.  When I mentioned this to the kids, they all agreed that it felt more like 6 weeks, and I’ve got to say, I absolutely agree.  Whatever ‘half a year’ feels like, it certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve been over in Canada that long already.  And such a lot has happened in such a short space of time.  A quick reflection on the half-year events and we mount up a heck of a list …..

  • We spent the first 4 weeks in apartments and during that time not only viewed properties to buy, but offered, arranged finance, secured and moved into a property.  Not bad going.
  • Within the first week, the kids were enrolled in school and had recommenced their education.  (If truth be told, they were all disappointed it happened so quickly …….. unlike me!!)

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  • Bought a Jeep which has been brilliant combatting the ice and snow.  Oh, and have learnt rapidly how to drive and manoeuvre on such road surfaces too.  I wouldn’t say I adopt a reckless approach, but I’ve certainly built up loads of confidence navigating the terrain.  Plus my major KPI of ‘not having a road-accident’ seems to be a minor miracle but reassuringly unblemished!
  • All our worldly possessions safely arrived after 8 weeks in a container from the UK.  Even my 19-year cat made it across on a flight and settled in like the move was just next door (by the way, she’s still with us for those slightly nervous to enquire……)

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  • Learnt how to ice-skate – and equally, how to break a wrist.  I’ve experienced the health-care system in Edmonton and whilst excellent, am hoping there’s no repeat visits.
  • My oldest kid is competing in all manner of swimming competitions, and has even been away with her team for 4 days by herself.  Is loving it, and has benefitted hugely already from the training and coaching support – plus new friends that she’s made along the way.
  • Spent New Year’s tobogganing on a slope whilst watching fireworks go off – a fantastically memorable event.
  • Had several glimpses of the ‘Northern Lights’ from our house so am holding out that a really vibrant display at some point will arise.

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  • Investigated Edmonton – been to the Zoo, Galaxyland, West Edmonton Mall (on many occasions), Farmers’ Markets, Strathcona shopping, visited ice sculpturing competitions, witnessed cross-country skiing, walked in the river valley (it truly is beautiful).
  • Been educated in the art of living in a winter city – it’s all about the layers, getting out and doing stuff.  Kids are enrolled into extra-curricular activities and we’ve got as busy a schedule here as we had at home.
  • Sampled lots of cuisine from around the world, from the vast number of eateries, diners and restaurants dotted all across the city.  With superb variety and an immense choice.  Even discovered a couple of ‘Brit Fish ‘n’ Chip’ outlets too – so my craving for mushy peas has been met.

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  • Husband procured a ‘fat bike’ to add to a growing Canadian collection of bikes to supplement his UK ones.  The grapevine informs me that there’s a potential Canadian biking trip on the horizon that’s in the planning stage with his ‘mates’.  The annual brokering of the arrangements for his ‘holiday jaunt’ has commenced …..
  • We’ve met – and made  – some superb new friends who’ve helped enormously with getting us sorted and providing different experiences for us to enjoy and participate in.

And I’m sure there’s lots more I haven’t covered.  The next 6 months should be equally exciting and enthralling.  We’ve already got serious stuff planned – most notably,

  • First on our list of places to visit will be Vancouver and hopefully, tick off some items on our bucket list (I haven’t forgotten!).  Just a stones-throw away in the next province, it’s 2 hours on a plane and right on the coast.  I still can’t get over the size and scale of this country.
  • Both sets of grandparents are visiting over the summer months, both looking forward to seeing all the grandkids again and all experiencing Canada for the first time.
  • All the kids completing their first school year in Canada and then getting 2 whole months off.  They can’t wait.
  • Finally seeing the warmth of the sun and experiencing beautiful summer weather!  I’ve got plans to invest in a serious Bar-B-Q and sample some of this outdoor living that’s been promised!

I’ll keep you posted.  🙂

The big thaw

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When you enquire about the winter we’ve been experiencing this year, most Edmontonians will describe it as ‘mild’ and positively warm.  Being new to the whole ‘snow in your back garden for 5 months’ scenario, and sub-zero temperatures for months on end, I’d hesitate to agree at this stage – but we are certainly acclimatising to it.  For the last 10 days now, we’ve been on the positive side of zero – even double digits for the last few days which has been blisteringly warm.  Well okay, maybe not blistering, but it’s been t-shirt weather for sure, and there’s also been the odd glimpses of people sporting shorts and sandals on the pavements (sorry, sidewalks).  We must be used to lower temperatures as walking back from school this week, all the kids were in t-shirts as it was ‘too hot’ wearing coats in 8 degrees.  8 degrees!  At home in England, I’d have had my thick coat on, scarf, gloves and hat just to keep warm!

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And people have been coming out of their houses … spring must be here!  It’s quite bizarre.  When we first arrived, a few people observed to us that we wouldn’t see anyone as nobody comes out of their houses – but come the Spring, everyone will reappear and friendly neighbourhood banter will resume.  They weren’t kidding.   The only reason for going out when it’s so bitterly cold is to remove the mounds of snow from the drive so you can get in and out in the car – which you conveniently drive straight in and out of the garage, keeping your exposure to the cold to an absolute minimum.  You never see anyone save the other poor soul who’s trying to clear their drive as quickly as possible before frostbite sets in.  It’s certainly not a conducive environment for taking 5 minutes and passing the time of day.  The most ventured is a hasty, ‘hello, it’s cold today, isn’t it’, and quickly do the job required, before retreating to the warmth of indoors.  So, with the welcome warmth of the sun and unseasonably high temperatures, the snow is finally melting and people are appearing out of their hibernations and venturing outside.  I’ve even met a few of the neighbours ….

And when I say the snow is melting, it’s still not quite disappeared.  Amazing really.  We’ve had positive temperatures for the last 10 days and there’s still snow in my back garden – but it’s starting to melt and the grass is finally appearing.  It just goes to show how deep it is that it’s taking so long to dissipate.  At this rate, it may have just melted before we get to next Winter!!

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And these things get quite technical.

The foot attire has also changed.  We’ve been wearing snow boots for the last 4 months, and with the big thaw, everything has now become wet, soggy and waterlogged.  Snow boots are no good.  Wellies are the order of the day and the local Walmart is doing a brisk trade in meeting retail demand.  The volume of water that is sat on the land and draining into the water system is immense – the sound of the water going down the drains like waterfalls, makes you wonder how the local water utility copes with such volumes and run-off.

And people are out walking dogs!  Yes, even the ‘dog attire’ has changed.  I kid you not.  Before we arrived in Canada I’d seen the occasional novelty dog coat and chuckled at dog boots in the shops, but hadn’t taken any of them seriously.  If you’re a dog out here, those items are absolute essentials and only the most hardy of canines ventures outside without them.  And that’s those that venture out at all.  Given the volume of dogs spotted outdoors being taken for a walk in the last week, it just goes to show how many must have stayed indoors in the warmth for the last 4 months.  It’s become the norm to see a dog in boots that now, they look decidedly under-dressed without them!

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So.  We’ve got the big thaw.  I’ve even had my windows open – that’s after I’d worked out how to open them after 5 months owning the house!  People are remarking that based on experience, we may still get another big snow dump, but for all intents and purposes, the worst is over for this winter.  Part of me is quite sad to see it finally go – it’s extremely beautiful when everything is white, the frost glistens in the air and there are blue skies all around.  Our first winter in Edmonton has clearly been an easy ride so I’m seeing it as ‘breaking us in’ gently.  When there is a ‘typical’ Winter, at least we’ll now know what to expect.

So today.  The sun’s out, there are blue skies, birds have appeared, temperatures are lovely and there’s a positive vibe around the place.

What’s not to like?

🙂

Life is a roller coaster …

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At the end of my last blog, I mentioned a trip to Galaxyland …. the largest indoor amusement park (cue Jeremy Clarkson) … in the world (click here for the pre-amble).  Situated within West Edmonton Mall (largest shopping mall in the world until 2004, and now only the largest in North America and 10th in the world), it has 24 rides and covers an area of 400,000 sq ft – all packed together under one roof.  The one roof is pretty key, as when the temperature outside is a blistering -25, you seek the warmth indoors and being able to enjoy the rides without the fear of frostbite or ice freezing up the equipment.  It is home to the world’s tallest (14 stories), and longest indoor roller coaster, the ‘Mindbender’.  It is also home to the ‘Space Shot’, the world’s tallest indoor tower ride (12 stories high).

Now, just to put this whole mall into context, it also hosts the ‘World Waterpark’, the second largest indoor waterpark in the world and the world’s largest indoor wave pool.  It has a full size ice skating rink, multiplex cinema, sea-life centre, Fantasyland Hotel, and by the way, over 800 stores.  Receiving in excess of 32.2m visitors every year, you can safely say it’s huge.

You would also think it busy – and according to Edmontonians, it is.  The Mall itself receives 32.2m visitors every year which isn’t a small number.  But to someone who comes from the UK and upon any visit to an amusement park, whether in the UK or Florida, the meaning of ‘busy’ entails most of the day spent queuing for rides for the delight of a few moments experience – our trip to Galaxyland was positively quiet.

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This was brilliant, as we could get straight onto each ride without even a single queue – the most we spent was when it got truly busy in the mid-afternoon and delayed us by having to wait a whole 5 minutes.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if anyone else takes up the mantle and upon their visit is  met by all 32m visitors arriving on the same day – please don’t blame me.

The kids loved it – and I’ve got to say, not being one for thrill rides as a rule, I quickly got into the swing and partook in all except the truly hair-raising and petrifying experiences.  These, I left to my 11 year old kid who sprinted onto both the ‘Mindbender’ and ‘Space Shot’ time and time again, by herself.

For those with toddlers – this is equally catered for.  I did think these would appeal to my youngest kid, who at 5 years old, hasn’t had that many experiences of large rides and I suspected would find the prospect of these pretty daunting.  I was proved wrong, and she refused to entertain anything simplistic – opting for the ‘Intermediate’ level rides and anything she was just about tall enough to gain entry on.  It was hilarious, as her squeals of terror/laughter as they careered through the park, made me and my other kids break out into fits of giggles too.  Never quite knowing whether she truly enjoyed it or not, the test seemed to be at the end when the ride eventually stopped.  If her immediate response was met by the shriek, ‘again’, back we went on the same ride.

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The one downside with it being indoors, is that you don’t necessarily get the scenic views like you would at the top of the Pepsi ‘Big One’ in Blackpool.  That said, the number of rides which have been packed cleverly inside this cavernous space was brilliant.  I was left marvelling at the science which must have gone into positioning each and every ride so they don’t hit one another!

Only the ‘Haunted House’ had the youngest screaming in terror – as mostly it was blood and gore, with motion sensors making the dummies move quickly upon entry to each room which made me jump at one point.  For those wondering how I fared with my broken wrist – well, it’s now out of plaster and having physio treatment.  I had to make sure it didn’t receive too much of a jolt on some of the rides, but my daily exercise picking up a glass (or two) of red wine each night seems to be doing the trick 😉

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Galaxyland is a great proposition.  Where else do you get something that caters for everyone and all their tastes.  Whether or not each family member takes to the rides, those that prefer the ‘retail’ experience can opt to hit the shops which are next door.  The food eateries are too numerous to mention, and the range of food on offer equally so.  Best of all, it’s only 15 minutes drive from our house so I’m guessing we may be visiting it on a regular basis.

‘Mindbender’ anyone …… ????

🙂

Being 5 …

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My youngest kid is only 5 years old, and already almost as tall as her 8 year old sister, she has acclimatised to the move across the Atlantic as though it was just another trip to the shops and back.  Not a fleeting quiver of hesitation, she’s used to being one step ahead and taking opportunities where she can – based on the aged experience of having to fight her own corner (both literally and metaphorically) with her older 2 sisters.  This week has been no exception.

Unlike in the UK, children don’t start school full-time in Canada until they are 6 – which means she’s in Kindergarten (at the school) for half a day, each day.  Despite only being half the time, she absolutely loves it and has a superb teacher – who acknowledges it’s only a matter of time before the younger kid will be taking over and running her class.  They seem to get through as much in 3 hours as they did in a full day of school back in the UK – they’re reading, sounding words, writing, playing out, learning about space, planets, culture, dancing and making lots of new friends with everyone in her class in the process.

Volunteering plays a heavy part in Kindergarten, and the kids’ home reading programme is managed by parents who volunteer to exchange the class reading books according to the levels and instructions that the teacher has left each day.  It’s a great way to get involved, and the kids are loving the books they get – to the extent that the whole approach is around fun and building an enjoyment of reading, rather than ‘how many words can they sound out’ or academically recognise.  Likewise, I’ve fully anticipated not just an emphasis on English, but given we are in Canada and with French also an official language, all the kids learning this too.  What I didn’t expect was Chinese ……

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There’s a large community from Asia and with Chinese New Year celebrations over the past week, Kindergarten has been appreciating and recognising this culture as much as any other.  They’ve clearly been learning new Chinese words and as such, my youngest has started to reiterate these at home.  It was quite a surprise to even know she knew any words, and not knowing many myself (none to be exact), encouraged her to say a few more.  My middle kid was more skeptical about her younger sister’s capabilities and started testing her on some key words – to which her younger sister responded without hesitation.  This culminated in my middle kid ‘upping the stakes’ somewhat and posing the following key phrase, ‘could you tell me the way to the nearest bus depot’.  The youngest didn’t break sweat, just looked at her older sister with disdain and responded with absolute aplomb and utter seriousness with a phrase in what sounded like Chinese.  I spat out my spring roll, burst out laughing and gave her a round of applause – with the rest of us not having a clue whether she was correct or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if she absolutely right …..

For the remaining half of the day, she gets to spend it with me – and for two mornings each week attends a ‘KinderArt Class’ at the local recreation centre.  They get to play with paint, pastels, pencils, pottery and all manner of mediums – plus I only have to wash her clothes following her exploits afterwards, rather than the whole kitchen too!  She’s been producing some art work and has kindly given permission for all the images in this week’s blog to be used.  Not bad for a 5 year old …..

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We also had a day off yesterday from school so went to investigate ‘Galaxyland’ – the largest indoor amusement park in the world – at the West Edmonton Mall.  Absolutely huge, the size and scale is staggering and having the positive feature of being indoors and undercover (useful, when the climate is sub-zero for the majority of the time), we had a brilliant time.  I half expected the youngest to be dubious about the rides, but pouring scorn on the ‘baby and toddler’ rides as ‘being too young and not exciting enough’ (direct quote), she wanted to experience all the rides her older sisters did.  Having the advantage of size on her side, she was accepted onto all except the truly hair-raising and adult-only rides – which my oldest kid at only 11yrs, but being taller than me, went on by herself – several times (I had to watch you understand).  Only the haunted house had my youngest in sheer terror, but the majority saw cries of glee and complete hysteria, revelling in being thrown up and down the roller coasters at speed.

It’s been a good week.  No, a great week.  As usual 🙂

It’s not what’s said, it’s how it’s said

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Accents are funny things aren’t they?  They define a person – both to themselves, but also to others.  Meet anyone and how they talk often tells you more about them than what they actually say.

Canada has surprised me in more ways than one – but a large one has been in its accents and languages.  In Canada alone, there were more than 200 languages reported in the 2011 Census of Population as a home language or mother tongue.  English and French are the official languages and in more ways than one, the most common form of currency to communicate between different cultures and people.  I’ll be stood at school waiting for the kids to come out of their classes, and the abundance of different languages you can hear is simply staggering.  At the Recreation and Leisure Centres it’s a similar story and it’s lovely to have such diversity – and something I hadn’t thought I would encounter to this extent.  Names of people often reflect their cultural background too and there’s a plethora of choice over here – I’ve smiled when my youngest kid has formed new friends and upon asking their name, has nodded in understanding and carried on playing whilst not being able to recollect what was said or re-interpret it.

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You can safely say for those that have met me and spoken to me, that there is a fairly strong northern English accent.  My father-in-law (coming from what I would call ‘the south’ of England although he would fiercely contest it is more ‘Midlands’ in orientation), has taken great delight and pleasure over the years in requesting translations for various turns of phrases I’ll utter, through a third party – namely, my husband.  It’s said with much mirth and I’ll also try to come up with something to baffle and confound him just to see his reaction.

So, take the girl out of England what do you find?  Quite often, 2 countries divided by a common language!  My husband is often in hysterics leaving me to front conversations in cafes, restaurants and shops just to savour the exchange of words between the parties.  There’s been a few disasters ……

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I love my cups of tea (British tradition and built into my DNA), and I like it strong, white, and without sugar.  Upon staying in a hotel when we first arrived, there was no milk in the room so off I trotted to Reception to ask for some from the kitchen.  It was a testy conversation, I’ll be honest – I wasn’t overly sure the Receptionist understood what ‘milk’ was, so I settled on compromising on the word ‘cream’ as this term seemed to be acknowledged and understood (in the coffee sense of the word).  ‘Cream’ would be sent to the room, so imagine my bafflement and surprise when after 10 minutes, there was a knock at the bedroom door, and a lovely lady from the ‘Housekeeping’ department wanted to provide me with a ‘crib’.

Equally, I’ve asked for ‘hot chocolate’ and been provided with ‘hot coffee’.  This week, we went for a meal on my birthday and I asked for ‘tap water’ only to receive ‘hot water’ in glasses at the table.  Slightly unusual I admit, but we decided suffering in silence was probably less problematic than attempting to explain the error.

Usually though, I’m met with the response, ‘I really love your accent’ followed by the question, ‘where are you from?’, with the option of choice offered as ‘is it English or Australian’?  This astounds me each and every time, but it’s happened so often that all I can assume is it’s obviously something that to people in Canada sounds alike.  Now to me, an English accent is quite distinctive and one I wouldn’t mix up with another country – Australia being the last option I’d have selected.  But maybe it’s the equivalent of me trying to discern the difference between American and Canadian?  To me they sound similar – without the Texan drawl and Deep South accents taken into account – but clearly are offensive options when suggested to a Canadian.

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I’m muddling along though and if all else fails I often adopt the approach of a true English-person abroad – speak slowly, louder, and adopt hand signals …

Could you imagine what on earth life would’ve been like if I’d gone to a completely different foreign country where the language of the nation wasn’t rooted in English?  That said, all these things are fun, memorable and life defining – and that’s what it should be about.

🙂

St Valentine’s Day – sharing the love

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It would be remiss of me not to mark the greatest of all days that is chocolate, flowers and cake … whoops, I mean St Valentine (patron saint of love, young people and happy marriages)!

In the UK, Valentine’s Day is an occasion for people to express feelings of romantic love, usually in the form of cards or gifts to their partner or somebody for whom they have romantic feelings.  Often sent anonymously and consisting of a variety of delights in the form of chocolates, red roses (anything else is considered frugal), champagne, lingerie and a surprise meal.  Prices spike for all the aforementioned items and premiums are charged – waiting till the ‘sale’ is considered bad form.  Just a point of note for any men reading this, please don’t consider these to be either/or options – all, are especially appreciated and received with great affection 🙂

Given the above, it’s always been a day filled with slight awe and yet anguish. At school, you would send a Valentine’s card (or a few, should you prefer to keep you options open), in the vain hope that you would receive at least one from an unknown admirer (which only lasted until their friends let you in on the secret to great mirth) to know that someone somewhere thought you were special.  Not to receive one was a distraught experience.  Less said about that the better …

As the years progress and boyfriends appear on the scene, it is obligatory to shower love and devotion on the man of the minute, and fast forward again, to married life when it’s a divorceable offence to forget or not put much thought into it.  So interesting to note the difference this year now we’re residing over the Atlantic and how the same day is marked.  And there are notable differences I can tell you.
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Whilst I can’t talk for the whole of Canada, certainly in our immediate location, St Valentine’s Day is regarded as a day of appreciation and an opportunity to make it visible how much you appreciate others and those around you.  Those more cynical, may class this as a mere commercial opportunity to widen the target market for cards and chocolate to the greater community, but there is something positive about encouraging each other to show gratitude and genuine human love and warmth to friends, colleagues and neighbours.  Cards, chocolates, flowers, candy … and more chocolate … are  the commodities of choice with no one batting an eyelid or thinking twice about issuing such items to work colleagues.  ‘Happy Valentines Day’ is the common phrase of turn at the checkouts and our local school embraced the concept whole-heartedly.  My youngest kid has been encouraged to take cards for every child in her Kindergarten class (that’s 23 in total!) to tell them she loves them and yesterday was marked with a Valentine’s party and heart gifts aplenty.  My middle kid – not used to this concept – felt slightly out of her depth when the exchanging of gifts, cards and sweets between friends was taking place – not having gone prepared with any provisions in exchange. That said, she gratefully accepted all the gifts laid upon her and declared upon leaving school in the afternoon ‘this was the greatest day at school, ever’, and clearly her earlier reservations were laid to rest in lieu of copious amounts of chocolate waded on her.
It’s a lovely thing to do and in this day and age of aggression, violence and terror, it’s nice to celebrate others around you and show them how much you appreciate them. It brings out the best part of human nature.
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There is a downside though.  With this being such commonplace and gifts galore to all and sundry, how then do you let someone know that there’s more to the gift than mere platonic gratitude?  I’ll just leave that statement hanging and thank the Lord that I’m not back in my early teens amidst the minefield that is St Valentines Day.
So, how did we celebrate?  Well, a trip to the local British import store and the stocking up on cordial, Bisto gravy granules and Cussons Imperial Leather soap.  Some things just can’t be replicated although I didn’t turn down the chocolates, wine, jewellery and red roses that were also proffered!
Happy Valentines Day 🙂

The times, they are a-changing …

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I’ve always thought I was fairly ‘up there’ and tapped into new technology, kept abreast of new developments, and could converse on an equal footing with ‘techno-bods’.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in the ‘geek’ category – never have been, but I’ve been there since the first ZX81, and the BBC micro-computer days.  I’ve seen the first computers used in schools – and that was a high school at the time – and if we were lucky, out of the 40 in my class who had ‘IT’ for one thirty minute ‘lesson’ each week, you may have got so far as typing one or two words on the screen as everyone huddled around the sole machine like it was an idol to be worshipped.

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Then there was the tape-player, and loading ‘games’ via tape.  That took ages.  I always remember being in a school lesson with a ‘stand-in’ teacher who to say IT was an anathema, was an understatement.  I remember the feeling of knowing that every child in the class was on a higher plane and level of IT knowledge to the one individual who was meant to be in that position (i.e.. the teacher), and complaining bitterly to my Dad when I got home about their inability to even load a tape into the machine to install the ‘educational package’ we were meant to be learning.  Of course, by the time it had loaded, there was only 5 minutes left of the lesson …….

At this point, it’s probably worth pointing out that my Dad was the only IT teacher in my high school at the time – and even then, was splitting half his time teaching maths, and the other half on computers – so new was the topic area.  This gradually changed as the years rolled by, and both IT and computers has changed out of all recognition, becoming the life-blood of educational establishments, the home, as well as the workplace.

So, I’ve always liked to think I was slightly ahead of the curve and have fully embraced changes in technology.  I could do some basic coding, could manipulate spreadsheets, databases and word documents, develop a slick presentation with slides and graphics – plus, made full use of the integrated calendars when these started to come in.  I’ve even moved away from ‘written calendars’ at home, and everything is electronic.  Whilst my husband works for a global IT firm, I’m the one who knows how to watch all my favourite UK TV programmes whilst in Canada.  That’s how far I’ve come over the years …

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Music has changed as the technology has.  I remember the vinyl 33″, 45″ and 78″ records – and having endless hours of amusement playing them at different speeds on the turntable record players.  I subscribe to this day, that ‘Pinky and Perky’ were constructed on this basis ….

I moved with the flow and into tapes as ‘walkmans’ became the ‘in thing’, but have to admit, the sound was never as great as listening on vinyl.  That said, I can’t begin to ‘tot up’ the number of hours I’d spend constructing the latest ‘charts’ as they were played on the radio on a Sunday afternoon, or my latest playlist that I’d put together piece by piece and would play through earphones on my  walkman.  It has to be said, that there’s a direct linkage between the amount of time taken to construct a ‘tape’ in this manner, and to listen to it back, over and over, with the enjoyment this creates.  I don’t think I get the same feeling of accomplishment these days by doing it on my iPhone – probably because there’s so many playlists and it can be done so quickly, you’re not as emotionally attached to the whole construction process.

There’s some things I’ve clung desperately to.  I still have my vinyls (picture disks were my favourites and I’m still of the view these will come back in as trends revert to retro technology once again – mark my words) – my tapes unfortunately withered as the material gradually disintegrated over the years.  Our CD collection (which we’ve transported and brought with us across the Atlantic), features albums I used to have on vinyl and those I had on tape.  Always preferring the ‘tangible article’, our number of CD’s far exceeds the number of tracks and albums we’ve downloaded.

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I don’t consider myself a ‘technophobe’ and always enjoy a browse around the ‘fruit-logo’d technology’ stores and perusing the latest technology and ways of working quicker.  I admit, my laptop hasn’t been updated for a few years (4 to be exact), so with my birthday looming and the prospect of taking full advantage of an attractive exchange rate in the procuring of a new and shiny model, we visited the local Canadian IT fruit store for some advice.  Talk about a dose of cold water.  Upon selecting the preferred model, this was the conversation ….

Me:  ‘I notice they don’t come with CD drives built in.  How do you play your CD’s?’

‘Guru girl’ (probably only 18): said rather hesitantly and not wishing to offend, ‘well, we find our customers don’t do that anymore.  You can always buy an external CD drive and connect it via a USB though if you really want to still do that ……’

Me: ‘Oh.  And what about the memory size?  I have loads of documents which I store on my laptop, plus photos and stuff which takes up memory space’

‘Guru girl’ (who had clearly positioned me in the ‘I’ll need to speak to her more slowly, less techi, and introduce her to some basic concepts of how things are done these days‘ category): ‘well, we find our customers don’t do that anymore.  They use the cloud although there are other external ‘cloud’ providers you could also use …….’

My recollection of the IT class with the supply teacher came hurtling to mind, only to realise the roles have now reversed.  I left the Canadian store battered, bruised, and slightly dazed.  When did all that happen?  I thought I was ahead of the curve, only to find that the entire track has shifted and everyone else is playing a completely different game.

So, I’ve reframed my terms of reference and am going back in to the slaughter later this week to finally procure said item, and visit a genius.  Let’s hope I’m back in the game again.

Now where’s my transistor radio and betamax recorder …

🙂

Heed the words of an 11 year old …

My 11 year old ‘kid’ has been doing ‘persuasive writing’ at school this week and has been quite vocal about how much she enjoys crafting an argument (must take after her father 😉 ) and putting it into text.  With this in mind, I set her a challenge to draft me a response to the question …’if you got the chance to move to Canada for a few years, would you?’

This was her reply …

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If you got the chance to move to Canada, would you?  

Imagine all the amazing things you could see.  When I got the chance to move to Canada I did and I’ll tell you exactly why this great experience is worth doing.  You would learn new things, have loads of fun and try loads of different sports.  Don’t you think that would be fabulous?

First, you would learn lots of new things.  For example, you would learn how to stay warm in -30 temperatures.  Although, there is no possible way to stand outside and not get cold, you can still learn what types of clothing to wear when it’s freezing.  I would know because wearing leggings is definitely NOT the right thing to wear.  You have make sure to wear snowpants when going outside (even if you’re only walking across the road!)  Also, wear a big fluffy, waterproof coat that has a label saying ‘goes up to -30‘ on it and make sure to wear some gloves, a hat and a scarf.  Whatever you do, do not go outside without these things on.

Another example, you could learn about all the animals and the nature surrounding you.  In the summer, it’s great to go on adventures and see all the wildlife that climbs up trees and hides in the ground.  In temperatures of 20-30 degrees it’s great to go in all the outdoor pools and learn how to swim.  Also, you could go fishing and see all the little fishes swimming around in the ponds with bubbles floating out of their mouths.  There is so much you can learn in every season Canada brings, so wouldn’t you have a great time here?

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Next, you would have loads of fun.  For example, playing in the snow is so much fun (as long as you wear the right clothing).  Me and my sisters love to build snowmen in the back garden, we build big ones and little ones, thin ones and fat ones and even snowmen bigger than us!  You never run out of snow because the sky seems to have an endless supply of it!  At my new school, the snow freezes and creates mini ice rinks.  Everybody slides around on them until they fall over.  It’s so much fun, I bet you would love to try it.

Another example, the parks here are way better than in England.  They have moving monkey bars that you hold onto and they slide along, from one side to the other.  Most of the parks have sand on the ground, so if you fell off anything then you wouldn’t hurt yourself.  In the parks there are baskets that spin around when you sit on them and there are loads of slides so you can race your friends down them.  The parks are one of my favourite bits of Canada but the swimming pools definitely come number 1 on my list.

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Finally, you would be able to try lots of different sports.  For example, in Edmonton, there are at least 20 different sports centres that you can go and visit.  Me and my sisters always look forward to the days when we can go and play on the millions of slides that they have in the swimming pools.  We go in the wave machines, dive tanks and if we’re lucky then we get to go in the hot tubs.  One of my favourite things about the sport centres are the running tracks.  I love running around on them and I usually beat everybody else to the finish line.

Another example, you can go sledding on all the hills.  In the playground, at my school, they have these massive ice hills and I spend all break going sledding on them.  Also, on New Year’s Eve, me and my family went to the park to see fireworks whilst we sledged down the hills.  It was a really fun night and we went to bed after midnight!!!  Where else in the world could you sledge and watch fireworks at the same time?  What I’m really looking forward to now is learning how to ski.

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Taking all this into account, would you like to move to Canada?  I think it would be a fabulous experience for everyone.  Learning new things, having fun and trying different sports is a great way to spend time with your family and friends.  I know that if you tried it then you wouldn’t regret it.  If it were my choice then I know what I would do…MOVE TO CANADA!!!!!

🙂

Slippery when wet

large_article_im375_heatwave_2Well would you believe it.  We’re having a heatwave.  I kid you not.  It’s true.  It started earlier this week and is expected to continue to the middle of next week.

I know what you’re thinking, and it’s best to put this ‘heatwave’ into some context.  The definition of a heatwave seems to be if the temperature is more than 5 degrees higher than the average for this time of year.  Given that the average for January in Edmonton is -6 and we’ve been basking in the delights of a heady 6 – 11 degrees (that’s on the positive side!), we’re by definition, having a heatwave.  I also never thought we’d find ourselves warmer than back home, but there we are.  I’m leaving the house with a ‘light’ jacket rather than the usual duvet.  I’m not sure I’d class it as my idea of a heatwave, but it’s certainly very pleasant.

Mind you, this has generated some downside in the orthopaedic departments across Edmonton and wider afield over the last few days.  They’ve experienced a spike in the number of emergency admissions to the point that doctors and staff have been drafted in from home and those on leave.  Why?  Well, we’ve still got snow – lots of it – but this has been compacted and compacted over the past few months and the top layers are melting in the warmer air.  Great, you may think?  Alas no.  The melting ice on the top layers turns to water which then freezes as the temperatures drop to zero overnight.  The effect?  All pavements and walkways are like ice skating rinks and absolutely lethal.  Already in one plastercast with a broken wrist (it’s a long story, and to catch up just click this link), I’ve been rather dubious about taking my chances on the ‘sidewalks’!

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It has had some hilarious moments.  My middle kid goes out to check the community postbox every day which is at the end of the Close and she does this with mounting excitement at finding whatever may have been sent us in the mail and bringing it back.  She made it to the end of the drive and couldn’t get to the front door.  Every time she tried to take a step forward, she slid right back to the bottom.  Those of us watching from the safety of our front room, were in stitches laughing at her fruitless attempts.

Then it was my husband’s turn.  He leaves early to catch the bus into Downtown Edmonton and had been rather dismissive at my advice to watch the pavements as it would be slippery underfoot.  He struggled and slid to the end of the road where we have a ‘ginnel’ (if you’re not from the North of England you may need to look this term up!), to the main road where the bus stop is.  He described his attempts to ascend the moderate incline as starting to generate mild panic as the chances of getting to the top and catch his bus were minimal without significant intervention.  Opting for submerging his boots and work trousers in the 2ft of snow at the side of the path just to provide some traction on the ice, this was his only way of making it to the top.  Once there, and with the pavement the equivalent of a skating rink, he placed one arm behind his back, adopted the stance of a speed skater and ‘skated’ his way to the bus stop in his walking boots.

The mild temperature encourages the desire to go outdoors and take advantage of the warmer weather, and yet, being treacherous underfoot, it’s a risky venture.  Some have taken to putting lead-tipped shoe spikes or strap-on grip enhancers on their feet, but the advice from the Canadian Safety Council suggests ‘walking like a penguin’.  Arms out, feet turned slightly outward and small cautious steps.  They forgot to add, and the ‘flapping of arms and short yelps’ which seems to come unconsciously when I’m out on the ice!!

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As luck would have it, there’s an ice festival which starts this weekend in Edmonton where ice carvers across the world come and create amazing ice sculptures.  It’s still going ahead despite the melting temperatures and we’ll go and take a look later today – life goes on and nothing stops here despite whatever the weather throws at us.

We’ll continue to make the most of the temperate weather, but I’m not looking forward to when the temperatures return to normality and plummet below zero.  We’ll have to suffer the challenge of all the water freezing during the day unless some serious snow showers intervene and provide a blanket covering.

I’ll let you know.  Now, where’s that bikini …….

🙂

Holiday? Oh no it’s not … (oh yes it is)

Talking to my middle kid earlier this week, we were discussing when the next full week off school will be – and it’s not till the end of March.  I reminded her that the plan is to select something from our ‘Bucket List‘ and this is what we’ll do during the holiday, to which she responded, ‘well, living here is like being on holiday all the time’.

Very true.  Or at least, a winter holiday at that.

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It’s been a cold January already – we’ve experienced -26 and below, and the kids still have to walk to school and everything functions as it would do normally.  They go in snow pants, boots and thick winter coats with hoods up and gloves – any skin left exposed quickly feels painful, but they’ve taken it completely in their stride and enjoy tramping in the snow which is a constant companion.  It’s warmed up this week and we’ve had a balmy +2 degrees which has seen the snow start to melt on the tarmac on the main roads – but never on the side streets or gardens.  It’s amazing how quickly your body acclimatises to different temperatures as I’ve generally been regarded as part-reptile and will always have cold extremities at the best of times in the UK.  But the last few days has seen me switch coats from my -30 winter duvet to my much thinner and somewhat frivolous jacket with a verbal comment or two along the lines of ‘it’s positively mild out today’.

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The kids take their toboggans to school and make the most of the snow and ice during their breaks or ‘recess’ during the day.  They have an hilarious time and the antics they get up to have me chuckling as they recall the day’s events.  I can see why they regard it as a type of holiday.

On top of that are their classes.  They always describe their school days as fun and yet when I see what they’ve been learning, the curriculum isn’t massively different to what they’ve had back in the UK – but ‘fun’ wasn’t a descriptive term that was prevalent.  Maybe it’s the delivery.  There’s a huge use of technology – everything is based on this as a platform, and an enormous amount of creative learning too.  My middle kid is currently doing a project at school over the next 2 weeks to create and build a series of musical instruments from recycled materials they bring in from home.  They’ve had a develop a plan and they’re now in the execution stage.  It’s Blue Peter on acid – but it’s getting them to think about construction and feasibility.  She’s loving it.  Goodness knows how she’ll get it back home!

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The amount of activities which are available and offered during the winter season is vast.  There are a large number of outdoor venues across Edmonton and despite the temperatures, people are out jogging, running, power-walking and cycling.  Ice skating is encouraged (although off the menu for me for the next 2 months since my last debacle ended in disaster), and is free – just turn up, get your skates on, and try not to fall over!  As is skiing – another one on our list for when my bones have mended.

And getting to all these events and activities is easy.  You may think that the snow impedes how much travelling can be done, but not in the slightest.  The City of Edmonton does an exceptional job of clearing roads and thoroughfares – obviously concentrating on the main artery roads when we have a heavy snowfall, and each area of the city has a specific day of the week for ‘snow blading’ – clearing and maintaining the side roads in that area down to 5cm above the tarmac level.  Refuse gets collected as normal, and the recycling which is encouraged is superb – compared to what we’ve been used to back home.  Nothing stops and if anything, cranks up a gear.

There’s a wider selection of food ingredients available than I expected – and some wonderful independent shops which bake their own breads, delicatessens for meats and a range of authentic spices which has seen me emulating some pretty decent curries.  The kids are enjoying the variety and different ‘treats’ which make it into their lunch boxes each day.

We’ve got all the benefits of living in a new place, different views and way life, but with our own stuff (or at least most of it) around us.  Social media means we’re in touch with friends and family much the same as we would be if we were back home – and in some cases, we now see more of – courtesy of Facetime and Skype!  The kids are starting to get party invites so the diary is filling up, and we’re even off to watch a British Pantomime this Saturday evening at a local theatre put on by a British ex-pat amateur dramatic society.

Oh no you’re not ……. oh, yes we are ….

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Holiday?  Life is what you make it and if it can feel like one for most of the time, then why not.

🙂

It’s all about the list

As a sequel to my blog last week (click here to catch up!), ‘the list’ on our chalkboard is now complete and is quite an eclectic mix of activities ranging from the ‘expected’ and typical Canadian activities through to the slightly bizarre and unforeseen.

As you’ll remember, the criteria was based on things that we can only do whilst in Canada over the new few years.  Some are rather ambitious, given the size and scale of the country, and others are already planned and underway.  Either way, they’ll be a regular focus for us over the next few years to assess and report on progress!

 

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We’ll also have to carefully schedule some of them around specific times of the year – no good trying to snow-shoe in Summer and equally, skating on Lake Louise will be difficult once the ice has melted!  There are some that I’m especially looking forward to – visiting a vineyard to see how Icewine is made (if you haven’t tried it, seek it out and have a taste), and taking the opportunity to view the Northern Lights which has always been on my ‘must do’ list.

The ‘blue’ items are the ‘jokers’ and have been put on there specifically by one or two members of the family.  The one that had me chuckling was ‘to see a Labrador in Labrador, and a Newfoundland in Newfoundland’.  My only slight worry is that we don’t come home with one ….

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For those of you who have been keenly following the biking tribulations of my husband, will spot a ‘buy a fat bike’ item which has made a guest appearance on the list.  Obviously the separation anxiety was too great and he’s starting to amass a collection now on this side of the Atlantic.  I’m informed an order was placed on Christmas Eve and it arrives later today, just in time to enjoy the 5ft of snow and temperatures of a chilly -16.  To say ‘excitement is in the air’ would be a mild understatement.  As for me, on the other hand, I’m looking forward to a few hours of peace and quiet whilst he goes out to play ….

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Due to my current sporting exploits (click here to catch up!), any ice skating or ice-related activities involving snow, me and the potential to break any more limbs, are off the agenda for a few months.  That doesn’t stop other members of the family trying them out in the meantime.  I’ll just need to make sure I don’t add to the collection of plastercasts during the process!!

So, there’s a degree of organising now required.  The next main school holiday is towards the end of March so we’ll be aiming for that as a trip somewhere.  We’ve also got 2 whole months off school in the Summer so there will be plenty of opportunities to tick off a few more items.  In the meantime, the snow is still falling as I write this and there’s lots to be going at …..

🙂

Here’s to 2015 …

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Well, if you had said to me on New Years Eve 2013 that this time in 12 months we’ll have bought another house and be living in Canada, I would conclude you had drank too much babycham.  In fact, up until early March, moving to Canada wasn’t even a thought on the distant horizon.  Funny how things can take a significant turn over such a short space of time isn’t it?

It’s been a transformational few months – moving house, leaving England, buying cars, starting new schools, breaking bones – and we’re all loving the change that only true change brings.  It’s easy to become comfortable with our new surroundings and my conclusion is that given time passes by in the blink of an eye, before we know it, our 3 years over here will be over and all the things we want to do, mean we’ve only achieved a small minority.  With this in mind – we made a new years resolution to make the most of the opportunity we’ve been presented with and make sure the next 3 years in Canada is as memorable as possible.

So, we had an idea …..

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We have a wall – a full length wall at that – in our kitchen which is a blackboard from floor to ceiling.  We’ve bought some chalk and the plan over the next few days is to create a ‘Canadian Bucket List’ which we ‘chalk up’ and then ‘cross’ items off when we’ve achieved them.  This has to be done collectively, and we’ve developed a set of rules to this ….

1.  All list items must be things that can ‘only’ be done in Canada

2. Everyone (goat, 3 kids, 1 husband) collectively agree what goes on the list

3.  Each person has a maximum of 2 additional things they can submit on to the list – almost like a joker card – for those items which may not get collective agreement

4.  Items can be big and they can be small, but need to be ‘realistic’ and achievable

5.  We focus on achieving all items on the list over the next 3 years and review progress each 12 months

So, before school and work starts again on Monday, we’ll be creating our list – and the excitement is brewing.  This doesn’t mean though that the only things we concentrate on are our bucket items.  Not at all.  It shouldn’t prevent us from making the most of each day, our weekends, school holidays, and time spent with friends and family enthusiastic enough to visit us whilst we’re over here.

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It started on New Years Eve.  Our traditional celebrations with our best friends in England meant a change to our normal frivolities, and as new arrivals, we had been invited to spend the early part of our first New Years Eve in Canada with a family who live locally to us in Edmonton and had taken pity on us British expats.  It was a mild night (luckily!) and at only -1, our walk from their house to the local park to witness fireworks was an enjoyable 20 min trek through the snow.

The fireworks were amazing (I haven’t been in Canada long enough yet for the word ‘awesome’ to be part of my everyday terminology), and truly superb.  Not only that, but there was a tobogganing hill and the kids had gone complete with snow pants and toboggans at the ready.  So, on a clear starry night, with snow on the ground, temperatures at a bearable sub-zero, and fireworks with every colour of the rainbow going off over the period of 25 mins above them, the kids tobogganed down the hill amidst whoops of joy and screams of enjoyment.  How many times can you say that New Years Eve was this memorable and beautifically perfect?  We were the last to leave the park having to the prise the kids away off the hill, and spent the entire remaining ‘Eve’ with our new-found friends.

It just goes to show that seizing opportunities as and when they present themselves – and creating them too, can take us in avenues we haven’t even dreamed of – and we’re better off for it too.

Here’s to 2015, and the creation of many more memories.  We’ll have our bucket list in the next few days and I’ll let you know what makes it on there!  If it’s anything like the last 12 months, I’m expecting and anticipating great things……

Happy New Year  🙂

Making memories

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True to our word, we’re endeavouring to make our time in Canada as memorable as possible – and Christmas week has been no exception.

Our middle ‘kid’ celebrated her 8th birthday last weekend and wanted to do things she’d never done before.  Top of the list was ice skating in an outdoor park (of which there are numerous to choose from nearby), and we opted for a beautiful park down in the River Valley, that is actually home to the Edmonton Speed Skating club.  It is, what it says on the tin, a large rink in a park – and the views are wonderfully inspiring as well as the physical experience of literally donning a pair of skates and taking to the ice. No pay kiosk, beverage stand or commercial opportunity to relieve you of cash in sight and through which to navigate prior to arriving on the rink.  The ice is regularly maintained so its flat and smooth. Bliss.

With newly procured skates for all of us (early Christmas presents courtesy of the grandparents), we took to the ice with excitement and slight trepidation.  I’ve got to say, it was much slippier than anything I’ve ever experienced before.

‘But you’re on ice!’, I hear you shout.  ‘What did you expect?’

Good point.  Well made.

In my defence, this was the real deal – no artificially maintained or manufactured skating rink here (do you think there’s such a thing as ‘grippy’ ice?), anyhow, it was certainly slippier than I’ve ever known in the past.

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The ‘birthday kid’ was soon careering around the rink despite numerous slips and falls – and I was slowly getting more confident and getting a rhythm going.  I’d go so far as to class myself as rather ‘nippy’ on the skates.  Of course, pride comes before a fall, and I didn’t disappoint.  In fact, in keeping with our theme of ‘making things memorable’, I went down with a bump (that ice is certainly an unforgiving surface!) and a trip to A&E was immediately required.  Of course, for those of you who have taken a keen interest in my blogs, will know we’re familiar with A&E departments both in the UK and Canada (click here for previous escapades, 1 & 2!).  I’m now sporting a very fetching vibrant pink fibreglass cast on my right arm having broken my wrist, which I’ve got to keep company for the next 8 weeks.  Memorable indeed.

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Consuming enough morphine to dull the pain for the entire christmas period (it’s strong stuff!), I managed to escape the confines of the emergency cubicle in time for the evening sleigh ride which we’d booked weeks previously for the birthday ‘surprise’.  Surprise it was – in more ways than one – but memorable none the less.  Whilst there was no sleigh, but a horse and cart with ‘Blitzen’ written on the side, and a few bales of hay thrown in the back for good measure, there was plenty of snow and the sub-zero temperatures which provided that ‘wintry feel’.

Christmas itself has seen my duty-bound husband stuffing his hand up a turkey, demonstrating the art of pastry-making and consigned to responding to instructions (helpfully) offered from the sidelines – all of which are outside his normal environment and comfort zone.   He’s done an outstanding job and has been duly rewarded with a visit to a local bike shop which, as strongly suspected, didn’t leave without purchase.  He’s looking forward to the imminent arrival of a ‘fat bike’ as the start of his Canadian collection of mountain bikes – and as recompense for the many he’s had to leave back home in the UK (there’s an ongoing saga here, click here to get yourself up to date!).

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The obvious memory itself has been living in Canada for our first Christmas.  We sat down to Christmas dinner with the snow falling outside and the ‘Carols from Kings’ playing on BBC iPlayer.  We’ve watched a lot of the Christmas specials on catch-up TV (Miranda, Strictly, Call the Midwife, Doctor Who), not to mention the obligatory walks in the snow, a bit of tobogganing (the ‘kids’, not me, you’ll be relieved to note), and snowballs hurled.  It’s been lovely to talk and see family on FaceTime and Skype, and between all the shenanigans, we’re halfway through a ‘goat and kids’ 1000 piece jigsaw.

Memories indeed.

Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

Life is full of extremes

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It’s getting close to Christmas, one of the most significant and eagerly anticipated events of the year, and I’m certainly nowhere near ready as yet.  Having had mild palpitations at the sheer amount of organising and sorting required in order to make the event on time, I was slightly pacified yesterday when, having convinced myself that ‘The Big Day’ was next Wednesday, I discovered to a huge sigh of relief, it’s actually Thursday and I’ve got a full 24 hours more than expected!  As if that’ll make any real significant difference, but in the scale of things, an extra 24 hours is most welcome.

Thinking back to last year, did I anticipate I’d be celebrating Christmas within 12 months in another country?  Not at all.  It’s certainly taken things to an extreme.  For every December I can ever remember, we have wished for a ‘white’ Christmas to make it absolutely perfect, with Christmas cards depicting this time of year with snow, wintry scenes, snowmen, and children in hats and scarves.  Well, this year, my dream has come true – to the extreme.  Not only have we got wintry scenes, we’ve had snow on the ground for the past month, and temperatures that are well below zero – and this is only the start of the winter season.  Blue skies and sun are visible on most days, and it certainly makes the few days or week if we were lucky, back in the UK with snow, look like a poor substitute.

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There are picture perfect Christmas trees, complete with the frostings of ice covering them from head to foot, and the frost which glistens in the air and makes everything look absolutely beautiful and idyllic.  We pay for this though with the temperature.  It’s cold.  And this gets taken to an extreme that I’m constantly reminded I’ve not even begun to experience yet – it frequently gets down to -40.  Being in the meer sub-teens as yet, makes it seem like childs-play and there’s a way to go yet before Winter really sets in.  But to describe what the cold feels like even at these current temperatures, makes me think of that ‘Peter Kay’ sketch when he recalls the different types of rain and the ‘fine rain’ – ‘that soaks you right through’.  If I had to describe the cold in Edmonton, it’s a ‘dry cold’ – don’t get me wrong, it’s very cold and boy, can you feel it on any part of your body left exposed to the elements, but it doesn’t go right through to your bones and make you shiver.  It’s more like a deep freeze where any moisture or skin immediately starts to frost and freeze – but keep those layers on, and you’ll be all snug and warm.

Oh, by the way and as a complete aside to rub things in for my UK friends, I don’t think we’ve had any rain in Canada since we arrived in October – am I helping ……??

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So, we’ve got the wintry scenes and picture postcard Christmas, but what about the procuring of presents and getting them off to Father Christmas?  In England, I’d managed to perfect the art of placing all my orders ‘online’ and even securing my annual supermarket delivery slot via the computer so a wonderful ‘jolly’ delivery chap brought all my groceries direct to my door on Christmas Eve (a booking reservation that took months of planning and securing, usually back in October).  Whilst still an element of stress, it removed most of the worry with one click of the mouse.

Not so in Edmonton.  Supermarket shopping online is unheard of.  After years of not even having to go through the door of a supermarket, I now find myself having to push trolleys around aisles, select goods and produce, and wait at a till whilst the goods are packed into 120,000 separate plastic bags by the ever so helpful shopping cashiers.  It’s taken me back 25 years, to a time when we never spared a thought about the use of plastic bags and the cashiers knew the codes and could till in the price from memory for every single item in their store.  It makes you realise how much the ‘green’ agenda has taken hold in the UK and I’m having to ‘suggest’ (ever so subtly) to Canadian shop assistants, that they can put more than 2 of my items in 1 plastic bag – ‘no, it won’t split, and I’m sure I can get it to the car and into the house without incident’.

Then there’s the petrol.  Oh my goodness, it’s quite frankly reckless that the price of a litre of petrol in Edmonton is currently the equivalent of around 40p/litre in the UK.   We can fill up a whole tank on less than £35 – I can’t remember the last time I filled my UK car up to the top.  I was telling the local garage attendant about how cheap the petrol was compared to the UK and he remarked in astonishment ‘but how on earth can you afford to drive’?  I answered back ‘we can’t – why do you think we moved to Canada’?

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I jest slightly, but the prices are extreme.  It drives (sorry about the pun) totally different behaviours too.  We have a completely inefficient but brilliantly fun to drive ‘Jeep’, which is fantastic on ice and snow and only achieves 19 mpg.  I had to change my last UK car to something that managed to get more than 45mpg just to make it affordable – it just goes to show….

Anyhow, Christmas is nearly upon us and we’re very excited.  We’ve certainly adopted an extreme approach to life over these last few months, but are loving the experience and wishing everyone could experience it too.  It comes at a price, and for this year, and the very first year I can ever remember, we won’t be with family or friends on Christmas Day – but our thoughts are with everyone and we wish you all a very merry christmas and ‘happy holiday’ in return.

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🙂

How many items does it take to fill a Canadian house?

 

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Despite the snow, sub-zero temperatures and the trans-atlantic distance between England and Canada; our goods which were last seen being packed into a container back in mid October, have finally found their way to our new home in Edmonton, Canada.

The removal agents were keen to keep me updated on the progress of our items throughout the entire journey.  For the ‘small’ trip across the Atlantic, I was readily informed that the container had been loaded onto the ship and was about to set sail (on a ship called ‘Sandra’ no less).  Once arrived in Canada, and being transported from East to West by rail, I was provided with regular updates on where our items were during the long trip  – the updates being the equivalent of the ‘container diaries’ as they slowly progressed and undertook a rail trip across a huge country that many would pay a fortune to experience.

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That said – and slightly later than originally expected, I finally heard the news of their imminent arrival in Edmonton.  Even when they’ve arrived, you have to seek clearance by Customs so off I trundled to the Customs Cargo depot to seek the required stamp of approval – rather like the one in Calgary for collecting my cat (see previous blog – who’s settled in very nicely, thank you for asking).  They don’t make these buildings easy to find or in any shape and form, welcoming, so I took my youngest kid along as a source of sympathy should things start to go pear-shaped.

There was a slight altercation in the fact that the shipping contact details on our goods were in the name of my husband, and despite having a marriage certificate and no end of documentation to prove my identity and linkage to our worldly possessions (see previous blog topic),  they wouldn’t accept me as the one to sign for ‘our’ goods.  So, a hastily requested email from said husband arrived at the customs front desk, and this appeased the process.  Once I read, agreed and signed against all the requirements that I can/can not do with any of our possessions, they gave me the sought after ‘stamp’ on the documents and our goods were cleared.

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You may be thinking, they’d get delivered at this point?  Alas, no.  Getting clearance means the rail company can release our container to the removal company, who can then schedule us in for delivery.  A few nice words and a sob story about having no furniture or clothes for the last 8 weeks plus the fact that Christmas is coming and at this rate, we’ll be depicting a modern day enactment of ‘Tiny Tim’s’ family, from the famous novel, ‘A Christmas Carol’ – the removal firm agreed to deliver the following day.

To say I was excited to see our ‘stuff’ again, would be an understatement.   The removal firm arrived as promised, complete with actual container on the back of a lorry.  I’m not sure what I expected to see, but I could’ve sworn it looked smaller than the one we originally sent.  My eyes deceiving me, probably down to the sheer size and scale of everything Canadian, I was asked to stand outside and witness the ‘seal’ being cut from the container.  I guess this is to show there’s been no tampering with the items in transit, but I’ve got to say it was a slightly surreal experience, watching them slowly open the doors of the container and seeing the familiar UK removal firm boxes in the back.  A small sigh of relief too, as I’m not sure what I’d have done if none of the items looked familiar to me at all!

It’s surprising the things you are pleased to see the most, are not always the items you expect.

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My piano (an upright, not a grand), which was an inherited gift from my Grandpa, had the removal firm chaps staggering in under the sheer weight of it.  Not massively large, but extremely heavy, they did a wonderful job amidst the snow and ice.  I was expecting it to sound off-key and in desperate need of a re-tune, but it’s fantastically still holding a tune and satisfactorily complete!  In fact, all our items – bar a wooden picture frame – made it in entirety.

One factor I hadn’t even anticipated but how on earth we didn’t have any more breakages I’ll never know, was the degree of cold everything had clearly gone through.  In taking out insurance for our possessions, I was of the mind that it would cover any fateful sinking of said ship, or the container being ‘dropped’ from the huge cranes used to load and unload shipments.  It never occurred to me, that cold may be such a key factor, and I’ve got to admit, we’ve been extremely lucky to get away so lightly.

Everything took a few hours to defrost and come up to temperature.  Our bathroom items had all frozen in their tubes, old (and well-used) casserole dishes were showing cracks in the pottery, so we unpacked and left things to acclimatise in their own time.  Only a glass ornament suffered from the glue not being able to withstand the frozen temperatures and had a clean break – which is now fully restored.

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Everything is unpacked out of boxes, but with limited furniture as yet, it looks more akin to a jumble sale in many of the rooms than a welcoming invitation to sit down and relax.  That said, everything is here.  And judging from the Canadian scale of things,  we’re going to need a lot more items to fill this house!!!

On that note, I’m just off to the shops – back later  …. 🙂

Have cat … will travel

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Whilst some will consider moving to another country in itself a highly stressful experience, I’ve got to say, moving a 19 year old cat (who’s never been much further than the back door) across a continent has proved to be the most ‘cat’-astrophically stress inducing process by far.

For those up to speed on developments, she’s made it.  She arrived into Calgary airport on a direct flight, in a purpose-made wooden crate, and was unimpressed by the surroundings and the fact that her usual warm bed had been substituted for mere strips of newspaper.

It’s been a long process.  Right from the start, I was reluctant to leave her in the UK and indeed, the local vet saw no reason why she shouldn’t fly.  That decision made, it was left to finding an animal transporter who would successfully get her from ‘A’ to ‘B’.  And, I found an absolutely excellent shipper who solely transports small live animals across the world – usually, New Zealand and Australia; so the prospect of sending a cat to Canada for them was not a big deal in the slightest.  They also kindly let her ‘board’ with them for the last 6 weeks whilst we found somewhere to live and get ourselves sorted, regularly keeping me updated with how she was and the latest news.

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My biggest concern was the weather.  And by weather, I mean snow and sub-zero temperatures.  It didn’t help to discover that there are no direct flights to Edmonton from the UK after the end of October.  This means a round trip of 588km to collect her from the ‘local’ airport in Calgary, 3hrs driving each way.  Manageable if the weather is good, but with snow now on the ground and me being slightly new to the ‘driving on ice’ experience, I was nervous about the journey to say the least.  I also had to take the 3 ‘kids’ who viewed the whole saga as an adventure.  Unlike me, their only concern was having enough sugary snacks to last the journey and whether their iPads would hold out for the full trip there and back in keeping them entertained.  I did suggest we could adopt a more traditional style and perhaps talk and spot things on the roads (which was met with rather withering looks from all 3), and I finally conceded that virtually driving in a straight line between Edmonton and Calgary on one road, in a prairie region probably didn’t offer the full range of stimulation that would last them for 6 hours.

Anyhow, I had a stroke of luck.  The weather held for me and the journey was long but straightforward.

Having never transported a cat – or any animal for that matter before, I wasn’t sure how this was done.  Travelling as ‘cargo’, they are managed by a ‘cargo’ team for that specific airline.  Finding my way to Calgary from Edmonton was a piece of cake compared to navigating the whereabouts of the Cargo office at the airport – which was completely away from any passenger terminal or the usual entry points I’m familiar with.  Reams of documentation are required and upon arrival at the cargo office, you wait for the animal to be unloaded, received by the cargo team and all required documentation completed.  This takes about 1 hour after the plane has landed.

Once you’re provided with the landing documentation, you physically go to Customs to get clearance.  This is held with a border official who requires considered responses to all questions posed and checks all the papers to assess the validity of bringing an animal into the country.  If they are satisfied, you’ll get clearance stamped on the papers – plus relieved of $31 dollars.  Goodness knows the protocol for what happens if they refuse to sign …

Back to the Cargo office, the Customs papers with the ‘clearance’ stamp enable the team to charge me a further $55 dollars and I’m finally issued with the last piece of paper which allows me to obtain (and see) the cat.  Moving to another room, and what can only be described as a warehouse complete with JCB’s and mechanical equipment hoisting goods around, you present this final piece of paper and they offer over the cat.

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For the price of the shipment across the waters, you’d be under the impression that the cat is treated to first class luxurious seating and the full use of a personal butler.  I suspect the reality is more along the lines of being placed alongside the passenger luggage in the hold with not so much as a touch screen TV in sight.

So, after a further 3 hours in the car to our new home, she’s now in situ, favouring a bed in the back of a cupboard where it’s warm and she’s left to herself.  She’s eaten lots and been out for a quick look around and walk around the house – before taking herself back to her domain and catching up on some serious catnaps.

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It was worth it and lovely to see her back with us.  However, for anyone considering doing something similar, I’ll warn you now that it’s easier giving birth …

Happy New Home

Thompson Place HouseIn terms of speed and efficiency, it’s 4 weeks since our arrival in Canada and we have moved into our new house.  Not bad going considering the vast paperwork required (see previous blog), the weather (snow and sub-zero temperatures), and the fact we’ve had to start from scratch in viewing properties, applying for a mortgage and securing bank lending.  It’s been worth it and yes, it’s lovely to be in a house once again with plenty of space to roam and for the kids to make as much noise and mess as only kids do.

And we’ve not had it tough at all.  In terms of accommodation, ‘husband’ secured us a serviced apartment in downtown Edmonton which proved to be absolutely ideal and perfect for what we needed in the initial weeks of our arrival.  In fact, I would advocate its use for holidays and short vacations, especially for those with kids who want the facilities of separate bedrooms and a kitchen thrown in – all the benefits of being in a hotel, but with additional facilities and the freedom to eat and drink what you like without any of the inflated prices.  Bonus features included access to a gym and swimming pool which the kids thought fantastic.  The new house comes without such lavish items …

It’s still nice to finally be in our own home.  For those of you who have diligently kept pace and read my previous blogs, will know that our goods in the UK were shipped on a container in the middle of October (to get up to date click here).  I’ve received word (with some relief), that they’ve now made it across the Atlantic and are currently being transported by train from Montreal and due to arrive in Edmonton early next week.  Perfect timing considering we hadn’t even viewed any properties in Canada when our stuff was sent.  Let’s just say our new home is rather sparsely furnished at the present time – with only 4 beds (thanks to Ikea) constructed and in place.  There are 2 new additions – a television in the basement and a new sofa which was delivered today – which all three kids are currently road-testing.

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So what are the features of our Canadian house compared to the UK, I hear you cry….?

Space.

Space.

And even more space.

Those who have astutely been reading this blog will have spotted the reference to a ‘basement’ which now has a sofa and TV residing in it.  This is in addition to the utility room, bathroom and bedroom which is also down there.  A massive difference to being in the UK and probably bigger than most people’s flats alone.  It’s a wonderful space and something which is a complete novelty.

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Then there’s the bathrooms.  How many sinks and toilets does one family need?  Answer: clearly, like handbags and shoes, there can never be too many.  I can just imagine a few of you thinking, ‘she’ll regret it when there’s all the cleaning to do’ …. very true.  But I’ve also got 3 female kids who are going to be trained in the art of maintaining a clean space.  Unfortunately, I suspect the training programme will fall on deaf ears with ‘husband’ who will remain a lost cause ……

My kitchen (notice the change of personal tense with regards to this particular room in the house), has a monster fridge – the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on American sitcoms, a waste disposal, 2 ovens and a walk-in pantry which I’m just having to concentrate on filling entirely (has to be done).  I’m also a reformed recycling nerd who, having spent the last 8 years living in a property with antiquated disincentives with regard to conserving waste – I’m embracing this with a vengeance.  The kids think it highly entertaining my aspiration to minimise all general rubbish whatsoever and are wondering how long this will last for.  As for me, as with most things in life – I’m in it for the long term …

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What about my 19-year old cat I hear you cry?  Has she made it across the Atlantic?  Well – not yet.  She’s been luxuriating in a boarding cattery at a specialist animal transporters for the last 5 weeks and is due to fly into Calgary Airport next Monday on an Air Canada flight.  I’m not sure what she’ll make of it at all having never been further than the back door for the majority of her life, let alone the sub-zero temperatures, but she’s got a thick coat and I’m sure she’ll adjust.  If nothing else, I can’t wait to see her and be reunited.  Unfortunately, my husband isn’t of the same mindset ….

And there’s the bikes.  Yes, these were culled from the original 9 in our garage back home, and said ‘husband’ has been pining for their return on a daily basis.  He’s stopped eating, can’t sleep, is thinking about them constantly …. do you think now’s the best time to mention there were only 2 that made it onto the container?

🙂

It’s cold Jim, but not as we know it

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Whenever I mentioned to anyone that we were relocating to Edmonton, Canada, the first comment invariably made was along the lines of, ‘you do realise they have snow there for 6 months of the year?’  This was then often followed by ‘and it’s extremely cold – minus 40 in the Winter’.

Both points are absolutely true, and yes, the snow has indeed arrived along with the sub-zero temperatures.  In the last 2 weeks, we’ve gone from being in the positive mid to late teens, through to minus mid to late teens – and a windchill that has seen it -24 on a few occasions.  That said, it’s hard to describe what this is like unless you experience it – it’s like nothing I’ve known before.  It’s wonderful, yet cold – although I’m conscious that it’s still a novelty at this point!

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The skies are often blue – pure blue, with not a single cloud in them, and the sun shining.  On the occasional day, there’s cloud cover – usually when it’s due to snow, but more often than not (so far at least), it’s been clear blue skies.  The temperatures are so low that there isn’t any rain anymore, just snow.  And now the temperatures have dropped and the first snow has fallen, it stays where it is and gradually compacts down on the surfaces as ice on the pavements and roads.  I’m used to seeing snow turn quickly into a mucky brown slush in the UK, but this never happens either here.  It stays crystal white – even after footprints and boots have trodden in it.

The air is so dry and cold, that you get ice particles in the air which shimmer and glisten in the light – it’s truly beautiful.  The trees stay covered in snow and ice crystals – and are mesmerising to look at and reminiscent of all the picture postcard scenes seen on Christmas cards in the Winter.

And talking of Winter – this hasn’t arrived yet.  It’s Autumn here – and Winter is still to come.  Everyone talks about February being the coldest month – and with the temperatures already plummeting, we’ve procured all manner of clothing and apparel that keeps us snug whilst outside.  Lots of layers is key, and anything left exposed feels the cold pretty quickly.

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Driving has also taken some getting used to.  Luckily, our new Jeep arrived the day before the snow so it’s been both fortuitous, but also a steep learning curve for someone (me!) who’s not been used to driving much in the snow and ice.  I’ve progressed though.  On Day 1 – I accept – I was as slow as a snail.  Driving with trepidation in the snow and on the ice, much to the disgruntlement of the locals who were extremely polite and patient – no honking of horns or gesticulating gestures which I would expect to find back in England.  It’s been a baptism of fire as I’ve had to drive and navigate myself around in order to deposit kids off to various locations and obtain food and necessaries for the house.  My confidence has grown and now – 2 weeks on – I’m driving on the sheet ice (which has become the new tarmac) with greater confidence and assurance.  There have been no minor mishaps, traffic accidents or vehicle breakdowns – key KPI’s from my perspective and a success story, I’m sure you’ll agree!

It’s also interesting to see that life continues and nothing stops for the sake of sub-zero temperatures or a foot of snow.  Nothing can afford to – not when it lasts for 6 months of the year.  Traffic flows easily, there maybe the occasional bump on the roads (usually as the extra stopping distances required haven’t been factored in), but no great inconvenience.  Gritters grit the roads and life continues as before.

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Even the school has a policy that above -20, the kids will continue to play out at ‘recess’.  Below this (including windchill), the kids stay indoors.  But they need to be hardy, and make sure they always wear hats, gloves, thick coats, and waterproof boots.  It’s one of those learning points in life that you’ll only ever forget one of these items once – and you never do it again, as it’s so cold.

Walking to school in a morning, the school has a traffic light system displayed on the doors depending on the weather and temperature.  Below -20, it’s a ‘red’ system and the kids can access the school and wait in the gym until school officially opens.  Above -20, it’s a ‘green’ system, and they have to wait outside until the school doors are open.

You quickly acclimatise to the temperature though.  It’s warm today.  At only -8, I’ve put a thinner coat on and haven’t needed a hat.  Like life – everything’s relative.

Winter when it hits will be interesting …

Paperwork, paperwork and ….. yes, even more paperwork

Paperwork

My goodness.  If anyone had told me the extent to which moving to another country would incur the volume of paperwork and means of identification that we’ve had to show over the last few weeks, I wouldn’t have believed them.  There’s also no consistency, so it’s akin to a big game of ‘Guess Who’ and you have to try and predict which forms of identification and paperwork will suffice for which organisation.

For some, it’s obvious.  On entry into Canada, we had to provide a ream of paperwork on official forms, with every type of UK identification you can think of, along with employer letters and bank statements, payroll slips and birth certificates.  But this you expect, and equally, you’re reassured that the authorities are taking all measures to ensure who they accept into the country are both eligible and authentic.  How did we slip through the net then I hear you shout …..

So, upon entry into a new country we were awarded a work permit and visitor permits for a set duration of time.  Another piece of documentation to add to our set – yes, but an absolute essential item, as without it you can’t get any further.  Imagine snakes and ladders – this would be the first snake you’d go down without being able to present the official permits and you’d remain there until one was obtained.

Maze

Moving on, we then had to obtain a Social Identification Number (or SIN) as it’s commonly referred to – rather like a National Insurance number in the UK.  It’s unique to you, and it validates your entitlement to then register for a range of social services and healthcare, but also importantly, for those working in Canada, any Canadian employer isn’t able to pay you without having this.  (By the way, no one tells you the critical path of obtaining all these various forms of identification – it’s very much a sense of luck that you manage to get them in the right order).  This is another piece of critical paper that you mustn’t lose and is required for further services down the line …. (not that I realised it at the original time).

Next up, was opening a bank account.  I’m informed all banks take a different approach to the identification required – luckily, ours accepted all of the previously obtained documents above – plus a UK passport, driving licence, birth and marriage certificates to prove who we were.  It’s a good job we were extremely well prepared and purposely travelled with every known document we possessed.  We had also tracked down all documents we thought we may need, which covered every possible eventuality before departing the UK  – just goes to show, without doing this, we would definitely have come unstuck.  Think of Monopoly – you cannot pass go …

MonopolyWe’ve also had to buy both a house and a car.  Let me just say, that whilst both have required paperwork, the volumes of which even ‘The Hobbit’ would be classed as a ‘light read’ in comparison – on reflection, it’s been harder to secure a car in Canada with financing over a 3 year period than it has been to get a mortgage for the next 25 years.  I kid you not.

You get caught in a catch 22 situation.  You need to build up a credit history to be able to apply for credit cards and smaller loans – even ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes for sofas – but they won’t accept you as you’ve got no previous credit in the country. It’s no good showing UK letters from banks and previous insurers about your credibility as they don’t count for anything in a different country.  We’ve often had to adopt an approach of hauling all manner of documents out of our bags and asking them to peruse which they’d like to accept from the vast ream available in the hope that there’s the critical 1 or 2 hidden amongst them which offers the assurances required.

Sign here

And just when you think you’ve navigated your way through what can only be described as a minefield, there’s always something which presents an additional hurdle which wasn’t foreseen.  For example, we managed to buy a car at the end of last week, and once all the documents have been signed and finance agreed, you can’t take the vehicle without going to a ‘Registry Office’ and obtaining a registration plate for the vehicle.  Simple you may think.  To do this, you have to show proof of identity with a driving licence … an Albertan driving licence which also forms the basis for your car insurance as well as a registration plate for the car.  This we didn’t have.  Yes,  we could offer UK driving licenses and in the end, these have been surrendered and temporary Albertan driving licenses provided in lieu of the official ones being dispatched to us over the next few weeks.  It’s an offence in Alberta to carry 2 driving licences – you can only have one, and can only hold a UK licence in the country for upto 12 months anyhow.  It was with a bit of trepidation that we handed these over – but the good news is, we secured our car in the process.  Some things you just have to sacrifice in battle in order to win the war.

Luckily, there are some surprises and things which you expect to prove difficult which have been amazingly easy and quick to secure.  Take enrolling the kids into schools – this was a 5 minute telephone conversation followed by a visit to the school and demonstrating we were moving into the designated area along with birth certificates and school reports.  Fantastic!  This also meant the kids were only out of any education for a week – not bad considering.

Tomorrow, we finally move into our Canadian house and become officially Canadian residents.  Bit of a milestone.  Not bad for Week 4 since our arrival … the saga continues 🙂

Education, education, education …

SchoolThe kids have now completed their first full week at school and started their second week earlier this morning by bounding through the doors with excitement.  They’ve had a culture shock of a week – but in a really nice way, and a way which has seen them all unanimous in their views that they ‘really like it over here’.  Bit of a relief if I’m honest – I had no back up plan should they have pronounced they wanted to return to the UK and resume their education in their local primary school at home!

All 3 kids are at the same school.  It was built in 2010 and caters for Kindergarten (Reception class in the UK) through to Grade 9 (Year 9 equivalent).  It’s a larger school as a result – nearly 800 students, and there are lots of classes for the same year groups.  The nice thing is that they stay with their same class for most of the time so getting to know other kids is easier than being dumped in a class that changes constantly with the curriculum.  For the UK, this is a school which is like having Primary plus half a Secondary School included (or Middle School for those who live in areas where these exist).  I’ve got to say, I wondered about the larger school being too overwhelming, but it’s proved not to be the case and also, has the added benefit that my oldest kid gets to stay with her sisters for the next 3 years without having to change school again which was an important feature.

Pedestrian zone

It’s all non-uniform with very little rules about what you can and cannot wear.  Grades 1 – 3 have a milk option (I remember these from my days at Primary school although they were taken away quite a long time ago) – and not just an option of ‘plain’ milk, oh no – ‘chocolate’ milk no less is also offered.  I’m putting money that my middle kid just goes for the latter option every day ….

The timings are extremely exact – and a longer day than in the UK too.  This comes to fruition in Summer where they finish for the summer holidays a month ahead of their friends in the UK.  As someone said to me last week, ‘there’s not much point having holidays when the snow is thick on the ground for 6 months of the year – we may as well spend the time indoors educating the kids’.  Fair point.

They start at 8.20am (in the UK it was 8.55am), and finish at 3.01pm (in the UK it was 3.05pm).  Lunch/recess is between 11.17am – 12.09pm and they have the option of staying at school under supervised care (which you pay extra for), or taking the opportunity to walk home and have lunch there.  All mine are staying for the time being – mostly so they can make friends and play on the extremely good playground which has slides, swings, climbing frames, and numerous other items which the kids absolutely love.  These fabulous playgrounds feature in all the schools over here – and all look new and are well maintained, painted in bright colours.  There are no security fences – the community gets to also use the facilities when the school kids aren’t on them, and parents are welcomed with open arms into the school and the classrooms.

St Albert Playground

It caught me by surprise at how open the school is.  Don’t get me wrong, there are security policies in place so it is ‘safe’ for the kids, but it’s a completely different level of trust and openness that takes me back to when I was at school.  It’s much more conducive to education and supporting the kids too and you forget how wrapped in regulation and security the UK has become that only by moving and experiencing somewhere completely different, do you realise how constraining it is.

All the teachers welcome direct email communication, visits to classrooms, and spend time putting daily updates on the school intranet site – to which all students and parents have direct access to.  Homework and all school news is also put on there – there’s very little physical paper.  Monthly progress updates on every student are posted by their year teachers and sent to their parents to assess progress.  It’s heavily technology driven – all the Grade 6 students and above are expected to have laptops which they bring to school and work on.  Mobile phones and iPads are allowed with the teachers permission and there is certainly a degree of freedom for the students which is refreshing and you can see they thrive on it.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a loud voice or shout in any of the corridors – everyone just gets on with doing what they do and the way they’re expected to do it.  It’s lovely.

School bus

My oldest kid had a band concert on day 3 of her arrival – she learnt 6 of the pieces that were being played by her year group and joined in on the trumpet.  She has been learning the cornet in the UK, but it’s not a common instrument in Canada so the trumpet is going to take over.  She also did a written test on her first day and passed with flying colours – one advantage of moving from the UK with a curriculum that sees kids start school at 4 so puts them slightly ahead of their Canadian counterparts.

My youngest has just turned 5 and as such, has started Kindergarten – but they only do half days, not the full days which she’s been used to.  It’s not a hardship – she’s already enjoying the half day she gets to spend just by herself with me and we’ve been exploring the various activities and things to do during that time together.

Everyone is extremely friendly – all say ‘hello’ and have welcomed us into the school with open arms.  It’s a true joy walking in there every day.  One thing I’ve noticed, is that the assistant principal is always outside on the school crossing patrol every morning and every afternoon – says ‘hello’ to every student and parent and knows all by name.  It certainly makes for a wonderful atmosphere and if this is symbolic of their next 3 years at school in Canada – the kids are loving it and can’t wait.

And that’s all that matters 🙂

 

The difference a week can make!

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Welcome to Canada!  Well, this time last week we were already on a plane headed to Edmonton, Canada from Heathrow, London.  It was a rather traumatic week and was akin to the last 400 metres of a marathon when the pace picks up and there’s a sprint for the finishing line.  We made it and the flight was boarded and landed 9 hours later in sunny Edmonton.

Our first stop was immigration and for anyone else thinking about applying for a work permit upon point of entry – absolutely.  There’s a bit of a wait, but providing you’ve got the required documentation and lashings of patience, you’ll get through eventually with the signed permits and approval to stay in the country.  Bit of a relief as there was no ‘Plan B’ if we weren’t successful …..

We hired a car and headed towards a service apartment which we’ve booked for a month – so all’s good.

So, the checklist upon arrival looked like this:

1.  Place to stay – tick

2.  Transport obtained – tick

3.  Husband in a job – tick

Thompson Place House

Day 1 was already planned and 10 properties to view with a ‘Realtor’ were scheduled in diaries.  It was just me and the 3 kids – with the agreed remit from husband that we ‘could select whichever property we liked’ (direct quote).

It was fascinating going around all the houses and my oldest kid became a godsend, as she was busily scribbling down notes about the good points and negative aspects of each property which after 10 – all became rather a blur!!!  The biggest observation was the sheer amount of space compared to UK houses.  There’s loads of it – and rooms upon rooms that you have to find a use for.  Bathrooms are aplenty, and the number of washbasins has a ratio of 1:1 with the sizes of the bathtubs and showers positively mind-blowing!  I saw some basements with their own gyms, pool rooms, hot tubs, bathrooms, artist rooms, playrooms, cinemas!  Tempting – yes, but the practical reality of housing a lot of this was at the top of my mind.

On the negative side, Canadians seem to enjoy living side by side and directly overlooking one another in the city suburbs.  I’m used to a house which overlooks Cheshire hills and only has 2 neighbours within half a mile.  It was a drawback and several extremely nice properties had to be rejected literally because I didn’t want to be looking into the next door neighbours lounge.  That said, we found a lovely house which will do us proud – and better still, it is vacant and looking for a quick sale.

Day 2 then found us putting an offer in on the preferred house and securing a mortgage broker who would ensure appropriate finance is put in place.

Plan construction

Day 3 had the offer accepted and we have agreed a completion date in 3 weeks time.  I then spent 2 hours queuing for a SIN (Social Insurance Number) which then led me onto yet another building where I had to duly sign up for healthcare.  There’s no getting away from it, these things just have to be done and luckily for me, the 3 kids are extremely patient (probably something to do with the treats I’d taken with me to keep them amenable!).  Day 3 also saw us visiting the Edmonton Keyano Swimming Team who had asked for me to bring our oldest kid as a trial to join one of their squads.  Not only are the facilities absolutely fantastic, but the number of coaches and amount of technical training offered is superb – and she enjoyed every minute.  She’s now enrolled in their Provincial squad and trains with them 6 days a week.

By this point, I now had all the required documents, to enrol the kids in the local school for the house we’re buying.  This was Day 4 – and all the kids were amazed at the newness of the school (it was built in 2010), the size of the playground (lots of climbing frames and swings), and the fact that it takes kids from Kindergarten to Grade 9.  In England, this is like saying from Reception class through to Year 9 at Secondary School  – and for my kids, also means that my oldest doesn’t have to swop to another school in June when she completes Year 6, but gets to stay with her sisters for the next few years.  A great bonus when they’ve just arrived in a new country and they only have each other.

School bus

Day 5 had us purchasing supplies for the kids to use in school – each class has it’s own supply list which you are asked to provide.  This also includes a laptop for the oldest kid, which we’re just hanging fire on until we get a feel for the type of laptops the others are using in her class.  That said, even without this the list is long and the local ‘Staples’ and ‘Walmart’ certainly benefitted from our business!

So, with the house and school secured, Day 6 moved us onto buying a car – a Jeep Wrangler which you can’t get in the UK and well, why not!  The doors, windscreen and roof all come off – and it can traverse any type of terrain known the man – why ever not!  Should just about cope with the snow here then …

Talking of which, upto this point we’ve been lucky with the weather and basking in 21 degrees with blue skies and sun.  Hard to believe then that Day 7 had snow and blizzard like conditions appear!  It was also my oldest kid’s birthday so we took the day off and celebrated with a trip to the cinema and a nice meal.

So, checklist at the end of Week 1?

– House sale agreed – tick

– SIN Number & Healthcare enrolled – tick

– Bank account opened – tick

– Kids enrolled into school – tick

– Car bought – tick

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How funny the difference a week can make?  We’re only 1 week into our Canadian adventure and yet have achieved things that would traditionally take a few months in the UK.  Week 2 sees the kids start school so I’ll let you know how they fare …

🙂

Leaving, on a jet plane …

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The last week has been a whirlwind to say the least – the house is now a shell, with all our worldly possessions either on a boat sailing the Atlantic, or have gone into storage in the UK.  For those of you concerned about the welfare of both the cat and the kids (see earlier blog!), you’ll be relieved to hear I still have the 3 kids with me complete with e-tickets for the plane, and the cat hasn’t been put into the wrong container but is calmly awaiting her journey tomorrow to an animal air transporter specialist who will whisk her across to us in a few weeks time.

It’s very odd when you look at the house – nothing on the walls, no pictures, no toys, no lights and no furniture.  In a bizarre way, it’s easier to leave when there’s nothing left to leave.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful house, but something happened this week whilst all our contents were being removed, that it’s personality disappeared and it’s lost its soul.  It’ll no doubt return when we manage to secure some tenants to offer some love and attention to it, and it’ll take on a different character and feel whilst we’re away.

Whilst there’s been a degree of minor stress during the week, there have been some hilarious moments too….

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All our kitchen goods were packed on Monday, with the exception of food items and any electricals – as both can’t go to Canada.  So, looking at the options for bread on Monday evening, I still had the bread machine and whilst there were no measuring items (all packed up in a container!), how hard could it be to estimate the quantities required and deliver a wonderful smelling loaf of bread for breakfast the next morning?  Now, I know what you’re thinking – the bread was a disaster and all that resulted was a congealed mess?  You’re wrong.  In fact, quite the contrary – a lovely looking (and smelling) loaf was the result.  The only thing I’d failed to consider was how we would cut it – the bread knives were already packed up in the back of the container, so tearing it off caveman style was the inevitable option.

Next up was the evening meal.  I’d thought everything through in terms of food, and what we could eat with the bare essentials including sourcing plates from a friend to provide an air of decorum to proceedings.  There have been 3 glasses in the house since Monday – not bad as long as all 5 of us don’t want a drink at the same time.  I’d even ‘saved’ one of the final bottles of wine, and with the girls dispatched off to bed, and only 2 of us – plenty of glasses available!  What I hadn’t realised is that the wine had a cork.  And a cork requires a cork-screw to open it.  And guess where the cork-screw was?  So, I announced emergency measures had to be hastily put in place and my wonderful next door neighbour kindly came to my rescue.  It was a close call …..

The true winners this week have been the 3 kids, who have participated in an endless round of social events, parties and school activities to mark their departure.  The gifts they’ve received have been lovely, and my oldest kid remarked that it was worth all the turmoil and disruption for the celebrations alone.  In fact, she concluded that upon our return in 2 years time, if we could earmark our next foreign destination, she could then take 2 years in the UK to have an endless round of welcome home, and ‘sorry to see you go’ parties to look forward to.

The next time I write this, I’ll be in Canada – so this is ‘goodbye’ from the UK, and ‘hello’ Canada.  We’re set to arrive.

It’s the final countdown …

Maple leaf

Well, we’re now in the final week before we physically relocate to Edmonton, Canada.  Everything has moved up a gear and instead of being in the planning and organising mode, has now turned into physical action.  As I write this, all our worldly possessions are in the process of being packed up into a container which will be shipped to Canadian shores in the next few days.  There are boxes, packing materials, chaps who clearly know what they’re doing – and me, hovering around and assigned the critical role entitled ‘provider of hot beverages’.  Mind you, I can offer quite a selection – particularly in the alcoholic spirit department which I haven’t been able to diminish in any significant quantity.  The wine on the other hand has been surprisingly easy to consume ….

It’s turned into a logistical challenge – of the like you used to see on ‘The Crystal Maze’ (for those who are not familiar, it was a UK TV challenge programme aired mostly during the 1980’s with Richard O’Brien).  We’ve had to pack suitcases with the clothes and stuff we’re going to wear and use in the next month – or for however long it takes us to secure a Canadian house, as our container of goods won’t be appearing until this has happened.  The thought – ‘how long is a piece of string’ – is regularly springing to mind.  Having never experienced winter in Canada (and yes, there is snow for extremely long periods of time plus temperatures which can drop to -40), we’re also having to take clothes warm enough to see us through – or last until we can get ourselves to the nearest shop where the appropriate attire can be purchased.

For those who have been enquiring about the current status of the 9 mountain bikes mentioned in a previous blog, these has required negotiations only familiar to the UN.  I’m pleased to say an agreement has been reached and only 6 are entitled to reside in the container and have been approved to be shipped.  I’m sure there will be subsequent pleas for the purchase of additional items when we arrive in Canada – but I’m already ready with my response!!

Suitcase

Then there’s all the documentation that we need to carry with us – just to enable us to open bank accounts, enrol kids into schools, secure a mortgage, get through customs and obtain the ever essential family permit entitling us to live over there.  I’m now adopting the ostrich approach – with my head in the sand, I’m not even giving any thought to what happens if any of the above doesn’t happen …. it’ll be fine (fingers crossed and with a fair wind behind us).  As a contingency, at least I haven’t got a tenant for our house as yet so we’ve still got somewhere to return to should it all go ‘pear-shaped’ over the next few days.

When all our stuff disappears to Canada, we’re then left with sorting out the remaining items which are either a) staying in the house for a future tenant to utilise, or b), going into UK storage at the end of this week for a significant period of time.  Either way, we need to make sure there’s nothing of any essential note that we’re going to need in the next few years which finds its way into the wrong box …

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The kids are very excited and I’m just glad they’re still in school this week.  Every box that is being packed unearths toys or books they haven’t seen in a while and in typical fashion, becomes the essential toy they just need to take back out and put in a different place.  I’ve felt as though I’ve been transported into one of those magic tricks where you could swear you put something in one box, and before I’ve turned around, it’s disappeared somewhere else.  Suffice to say, it’s going to be nothing short of a miracle that we manage to get 75% of our stuff in the right place, at the right time, and with the right person!

Let’s just hope the cat doesn’t get put into UK storage, and one of the kids misplaced and left in the Canadian container of goods …

🙂

You can count on me like 1, 2, 3 – I’ll be there

Heart

I’ve got some absolutely amazing friends.  The most really, truly, wonderful and thoughtful people you could ever wish to have the pleasure of knowing.  And for massive life changing experiences, it makes it all the more apparent that it’s those people who are around you that make the world of difference.  In our move overseas, I’ve always thought that the hard bit is not what you take with you that matters , it’s those we leave behind which we’ll miss the most – and I’m banking on them coming to visit us too.  I’ve got some gems of friends that have been behind me, supporting me , and just ‘there’ as we’ve been going through this major upheaval and life change.

Over the past few weeks, it’s a tough process trying to get everything in place for such a move.  Staying optimistic and positive when the reality is ‘you’re not quite sure how it’s all going to work’ has been a challenge – but I’m sure it will and pieces will slot into place in their own due time.  What’s astounded me is the kindness and thoughtfulness of friends around me – willing to give their time, effort and skill to assisting in whatever way possible.  This has ranged from crawling into attics, all the hidden places ‘stuff’ just resides and helping me get it all out and sorted; doing the jobs that I’ve just put up with like fixing electrical sockets which I’ve previously had to ‘tap’ to make the light come on, getting new brackets on the wardrobes so the doors don’t fall back open – all the things I’ve just got into a habit of accepting over the years.  My laptop which has been whirring and struggling for breath with the volumes of data and files that I hold, now has a new lease of life and with a complete system reboot, I’m hoping keeps it going (and me going!) over the pond.  My house is now up ‘for let’ and our cars which I absolutely loved, have been sold with friends offering their vehicles in a bid to keep me mobile until we go.  Beautiful jackets and fantastic boots have been given to the girls (and are now in their suitcases ready), plus lovely cards and supportive messages from others who have been through similar experiences in life.

It’s certainly made life easier, and supported by a detailed gantt chart and constantly updated spreadsheet (those who know me well will be smiling ruefully at this point …), there’s now a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.  I must say at the moment, I’ll be glad to be actually on the plane and able to concentrate on the life ahead rather than sorting out the one we’re leaving temporarily behind for a while.

The Story

It goes to show, that when the chips are down, you can count on your friends to see you through and never has a truer word been spoken than over the last few weeks.
The reassuring and great thing is that whilst there’s a huge physical distance and clear 7 hours time difference , the sheer brilliance of social media these days means we can still stay in touch, be accessible & ‘there’.
I can’t wait to share all our escapades and adventures – the trials and tribulations of life overseas and the day to day realities that this will bring. I’m hoping by doing so, it keeps the strong connection with those back home , plus creates new friends and contacts in our new home and life over there.

I’m looking forward to hearing about complaints with the English weather and the traffic chaos, sighs of relief on a Friday night that the working week is over, and what’s cooking for tea and the ingredients being used.  Keep them coming – and they’ll make me smile and remember home.

There’s a brilliant song by Bruno Mars that sums my friends up completely and if you’ve not come across it, just check it out on ‘You Tube’ …

You can count on me like 1 2 3
I’ll be there
And I know when I need it I can count on you like 4 3 2
And you’ll be there
Cause that’s what friends are supposed to do … oh yeah 🙂