Mobility madness …

I’ve always admired those with the innate ability to stand on one leg, perfectly postured, calmly maintaining their position whilst contemplating life and chanting meditative techniques.  My current mobility challenge of having to only utilise one lower limb, has forced me to adopt a whole new range of similar poses but with all the grace of a lame duck, and the employment of more colourful approaches to language than the traditional meditative yoga-ite might adopt.

That’s not to say I haven’t had assistance.  My trusty crutches have enabled me to ascend the stairs, albeit at the pace of a sloth.  Every now and then the kids will ‘test’ my ninja-moves, by forcing me to navigate my way around a multitude of items they’ve dropped or left lying around.  It’s a wonder I manage to remain upright at all.

Then there’s the husky.  She’s somewhat baffled by this turn of events and is quite fascinated by the ice grips on the sides of my crutches which seem to be magnetically attracting her to take a nibble every time they move.  In desperation, she keeps looking at her lead as if to say, ‘well, are we off then or what?’.In a sudden flash of inspiration, it occurred to me that there must be a whole range of mobility aids available which may assist in my maneuverings around the house.  A brand new building recently constructed on the road into Edmonton advertising ‘healthcare solutions’, was my destination of choice.  Equivalent to a top-end car showroom for the ‘healthcare mobility’ market, this place has glass windows stretching two floors in height, showcasing every type of mobility device known to man – or woman for that matter.  Hobbling in on crutches through the snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures, my husband remarked, ‘I think I’ve just had a premonition of our future‘.  From mobility scooters, to Pilates balls, to incontinence pads – this place has the lot.

Let’s just say the lure of electronic gadgets and scooters had my husband salivating at the mouth and treating the place as a ‘playground for the older gentleman’.  ‘I’ll just go and investigate’, was his refrain as he disappeared out of sight for the next hour or so.  I fleetingly caught a glimpse of him every now and then out of the corner of my eye, as he careened around the showroom testing out all manner of devices.  My only comforting thought was being thankful I hadn’t brought the other 3 kids along too …..

It occurred to me that whilst this place offers an invaluable service to the local community and those who find mobility a challenge; based on the reaction from my husband, I couldn’t help but think there is a wider market they haven’t yet tapped into …. as an additional positive, at least they also provide all surgical dressings and applications readily to hand …..Functionality and practicality goes a long way when you’ve only got one leg and despite all the latest technology, I’ve hired a wheelchair for the next few weeks until I get myself back on both feet.  My middle kid was ever so disappointed it wasn’t electronic, but this doesn’t seem to have hindered her whisking herself around the ground floor trying to determine its ‘top speed’.  Life father, like daughter …..

For me, it’s been life changing.  I now have two free arms to hold and carry stuff, clean things, make food and load the dishwasher.  It may take me a little longer than usual, but I can now do more things in the house than just sitting on the sofa.  Making a cup of tea is now in my gift, as is re-polishing the kitchen tops.  I’ve even started to master the finer intricacies of manoeuvring the chair in and out of tight spaces which I reckon should be included as a new olympic sport.

Only the husky remains bemused.  Every time I start to move, she insists on trying to race me in the chair, crawling directly underneath it, or trying to fit through the same small narrow space as the one I’m attempting to get through.  She’s a sled-dog and there’s nothing she would like more than to be harnessed up to the front of my wheelchair and pull me along.  Much like the kids, the only downside she has is her inability to react to the commands, ‘stop’ or ‘wait’!   So, whilst I’m incapacitated, I’ve come up with a new way of exercising the husky and keeping the mountain biking husband occupied ….. bikejoring.   What can possibly go wrong??  As my husband recently commented, ‘I think I’ve just had a premonition of our future‘ and maybe I’d better reserve an additional wheelchair just in case?

🙂

Thanks as ever to google images for the pics in today’s blog

Life on the sofa …

Ask me at any time prior to New Years Day, and the prospect of being able to loll on the sofa without having to move for hours on end, would’ve been a figment of my imagination and only something I could ever aspire to in the after-life.  Any futile attempts at trying to recreate this on this mortal planet usually go something along the lines of …..

  1. House goes quiet, no one in sight, opportunity sensed ….
  2. Sit down on sofa,
  3. Start watching or reading something of interest that’s been on the ‘to-do’ list for ages,
  4. After 5 minutes, kids/dog/husband (select as appropriate) then can’t find something, someone pinches someone else’s things, or an argument breaks out between one or all,
  5. Noise and tempers escalate to the point where the United Nations are needed to mediate a peace treaty,
  6. Temporary truce negotiated,
  7. Resort to the G&T.

The sofa sits there, taunting me with the prospect of relaxation and yet, never materialises.

So, following the broken leg saga and my surgeon’s instruction to keep all weight off it, I was issued with a pair of crutches (and the optional upgrade of ice grips – essential when the whole place is covered in snow and ice for another 4 months as yet) and sent home to recline on the sofa for the foreseeable future.  Bliss, you’d think.  Finally, my prayers had been answered through divine intervention …..The first week passed in somewhat of a blur …. mainly, I assume, as a result of the morphine to dampen the pain and swelling.  I vaguely recollect an abundance of assistance from my numerous tribe who diligently provided me with regular cups of tea and sandwiches for lunch just to keep me going whilst they were at school.

A fleeting visit to the hospital last week to check progress gave me a welcome change of sofa scenery.  I was greeted warmly by an orthopaedic nurse and an announcement that she would remove my dressing and take my staples out.  I didn’t look – fearing that my mind would hurl me into mental oblivion and make the whole procedure a lot worse than it actually was.

When presented with the abyss, sometimes it’s better not to look.

With gritted teeth, husband holding my hand, the nurse started the unwrapping.

I’m excited to watch this‘, declared the husband as the nurse offered me a sympathetic smile and the reassuring comment, ‘It’ll be fine.  You’ve got age and the fact you’re female on your side.  Men aged 21 – 40 are usually the worst‘.  Not sure whether this made me feel better or not?As my husband unconsciously clenched his hand around mine, bracing himself every time a staple was removed, I just tried to imagine the pain of childbirth being significantly worse.  As the nurse was halfway through the procedure, he proclaimed – ‘you’re doing really well, only another 45 to go ……..‘.  The nurse offered me a withered smile and enquired whether he was always this sarcastic.  I’m afraid so.

I admit I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I eventually deigned to glance at my left leg which now resembled the look of plucked chicken with malnutrition due to the loss of muscle mass.  After numerous years’ experience watching the hospital drama, ‘Casualty’ on the BBC, I had sat through a multitude of ‘operations’ and naively assumed technology had progressed to the point that keyhole surgery employed a simple – and small – 1 inch ‘cut’ as the solution of choice.  Alas, no.  Neat, it may be – but at 5 inches long and with a fair depth of an incision, it came as somewhat of a shock.   On the plus side, clearly their knives had been sharp and next time I visit, I may enquire who they use to have them sharpened as our kitchen knives could do with some enhancement and I’d be interested in employing their services …… Roll forward another week and whilst my cast has been removed, the instruction remains the same and I’m starting to climb the walls.  I’ve still got another three weeks – and on my birthday at that – until I revisit the surgeon where I’m hoping I can start to place some weight on the leg finally.

My band of merry helpers in the household have clearly tired of the novelty of meeting my every whim and desire.  I’m sure they attempt to by-pass the lounge as quickly as possible by employing every known trick to adopt the characteristics of the ‘invisible man’ such that I don’t notice them so avoid being allocated a household chore.

Me?  Well, I’d give anything to be off this sofa and able to hoover the house.  Oh the irony …..

🙂

Thanks as ever to google images for some of the pics in today’s blog

It’s been a while ….

It’s been a while, I know ….. funny how life gets in the way and time disappears in a flash – and before you know it, it’s nearly 18 months since I last published a post.  Guess that’s just life in general really.  I often reflect and think, what on earth happened to the last 20 years?  Where’s the time gone?  How on earth have the kids grown up so fast?  Last time I looked, they were in nappies …

Life, eh?So, hello again.  I’m back.Life has a way of grinding you to a halt sometimes, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.  Skiing at New Year in Jasper (put it on your bucket list as the snow is amazing, views stunning, and place wonderfully atmospheric), I was a bit keen on a turn and took a fall.  Suffice to say, it concluded with being medically tobogganed off the mountain, an ambulance to hospital, surgery to hammer my fractured tibia back into place, and instructions to remain on the sofa for the foreseeable future.  Dancing is off for a while, then …It can only happen to me.  For those familiar with my escapades, you’ll recollect my futile abilities to ice skate when we first arrived in Canada 4 years ago (click here for a quick recap); and I’m at it again.

I’m sure there are a few more emergency services and hospitals we haven’t yet visited in Western Canada, but let’s not make it your life’s mission to discover them all’, was the wearied respite from my long-suffering husband who is now having to wait on me hand and foot.  As you can imagine, the extension of his chores has not been well-received and seems to be creating havoc with his desire to go out in the snow on his phat-bike.

Roll forward 2 weeks since surgery, and there’s only so much that can be done from a sofa.  For someone who finds it difficult to stand – or sit – still for longer than 2 minutes, this is purgatory.  But on the plus side, it’s made me re-discover things – like my blog, books that have been gathering dust and sat on a pile for months unread, and a couple of films and TV series’ that I’ve never quite got around to watching.The kids have been attempting culinary creations – with the odd prompt from the sofa; and instead of arriving in the kitchen for a quick bite of breakfast each morning before disappearing back off to their bedrooms – they’ve had to help sort out the dishwasher (which I genuinely believe has a life of it’s own in manufacturing crockery and cutlery such that it’s in continuous usage), making their own school lunches and getting their swim bags washed and organised.  Talking of which ….

My incapacitation, has certainly forced a voyage of discovery for the rest of the family.  My husband observed that he’d even discovered a whole new floor to the house where there seems to be a room with both a washer and tumble dryer located.  Mmmmmm ….. you don’t say.

On that very matter, it only took a few days before there was discontent in the ranks.  The washing kept appearing from the tumble dryer full of static – which resulted in some interesting hair effects modelled by my middle kid much to everyone’s amusement.

‘Have you put a sheet of “Bounce” in with the clothes?’, I helpfully offered?

Rather like the discovery of paracetamol, this potentially life changing solution was seized earnestly and another ‘wash’ was commissioned.  Disappointment cascaded in droves when the washing appeared yet again, still incurring electric shocks and static like a plasma globe.I often find that just saying things once, doesn’t tend to lead to the required action.  So I repeated my earlier question, ‘Did you put the “Bounce” into the clothes?’

‘Yes’, was the confused and accusatory repost.

A sudden moment of insight hit me.  ‘Where did you put the sheet of “Bounce”?’ I enquired.

Looking at me as though I’d asked the most obvious question that even a 3 year old would know, and with sheer exasperation in the response, my kid replied with disdain, ‘In the washing machine, of course, duh’.  And there it was.  Washing the sheet before it had time to be utilised in the tumble dryer was defeating the object.  Still, these life lessons have to be learnt at some point.  And they never stop either, no matter what age you are.I was delighted to witness my husband in the kitchen giving it a thorough clean and scrub.  No surface was left untouched.  It was only when I realised he was using bathroom cleaner that has now managed to remove the top surface of polish from all the tops that I resignedly returned to the sofa.  Let this delay not be for too long ….. I’ll have no house left …..

🙂

Thanks as ever to google images for the majority of pics in today’s blog

Applications invited …

I’m on the lookout for a new companion.  Must be able to keep up with a high pace of activity, respond well to instruction and be uncomplaining about the food offered and the accommodation provided.  Rather like Dr Who, the ability to traverse several time zones and juggle no end of activities all at the same time would be advantageous.  Clearly they will need to be tolerant to all manner of distractions, show interest in my constant chatter, and share a love of playing 80’s hits on iPlayer …..  In return I offer to devote my attention, tend to their needs, and provide the odd ‘treat’ or two on occasion.  It would be a rewarding position for those keen to show commitment and loyalty ….

I know.  My husband fails the criteria on many levels – but he’s handy to have around.  What about the kids, I hear you ask?  Well, they have a tendency to answer back and complain about doing the slightest bit of exercise over and above their normal activities.  Plus, try getting a teenager to part with their mobile phone for longer than 30 seconds let alone attempt to hold a meaningful conversation which commands more than a mono-syllabic response.  It’s no surprise then that I’m on the lookout for a new 4-legged addition to the family….My cat of 22 years recently departed, and it’s quietly amazing to note that she has known me longer than my husband and my 3 kids.  That’s half my lifetime.

Half a lifetime.  That’s a long time.

She truly lived a double lifetime.  Either I was very lucky, or she managed to maximise all her 9 lives … and then some.  She surprised everyone when she managed to travel without incident from the UK to Western Canada at the age of 18.  She had 2 brothers and outlived both by a long stretch.  Tolerance was certainly one of her virtues – something I can truly relate to also …. Let’s just hope some of her longevity has rubbed off on me too …But the house is quiet without her.  I miss her not being around.  I miss looking after her and sorting her food out.  I miss her sat in the front window, carefully placed to ensure she took full advantage of the sun’s rays whilst still surveying her empire.  She was quite vocal in later life albeit deaf and mostly blind.  She had an innate knack of yowling the minute I would be on a conference call or FaceTime with work colleagues.  In fact, my husband who regularly holds conference calls with colleagues in India has reflected that her presence has been notably missed as she often made more meaningful contributions to discussions than most of the attendees on the call itself …..So, now with permanent residency secured, I’m on the lookout for a canine.  I’ve had a tentative foray into looking at Bernese Mountain Dogs … I know, they’re huge.  They’re my favourite dog, but I’ve had to rule them out on the grounds that whilst they would be adoring, they’re quite reluctant to do much exercise.  They’d be happy to watch me disappear off for a few hours and welcome me back home jubilantly – but both their speed and inclination to do more than 1 mile would see me somewhat frustrated.  It certainly comes to something if I’m more active than a dog …. never thought I’d ever see the day.  Now that’s a change in the last 22 years for you ….So, applications are invited.  I’m keeping a watching brief on new puppies in the Edmonton area, but may just take time over the summer to get used to a much quieter household, plus really decide who the lucky addition to the family is going to be.  I’ll keep you posted …

🙂

Saving the world …

Waste disposal … recycling …. never the most eye-catching and engrossing of topics for a blog, I know, but I bet you didn’t know that  by the age of 6 months, the average Canadian has consumed the same amount of resources as the average person in the developing world consumes in a lifetime.  That’s frightening.  The UK fares much better – mind you, when you look at the world rankings for being environmentally conscious, it’s harder to get much worse than poor Canada ….. unless you’re in the USA of course, who sits at the bottom of the league table.  Based on recent events and the USA’s denial of any climate change, it’s easy to understand why  …..My experience of waste disposal in the UK was never great.  Whilst each householder has a rainbow variety of bins to select from in which to put their rubbish, there are strict rules on what to put in each, how often they get collected, and woe betide you if you fill the bin up above the required level.  We’ve often reflected that our regular Sunday activity was a trip to the local tip, waiting in line whilst we slowly made our way to the required bins in which to dispose of anything else that we had in excess of the weekly entitlements.  I’m sure my husband still hankers after these days ….. 😉

Cut to life in Canada.  As a householder, we put our ‘garbage’ out in plastic bags on the front lawn and every week without fail (yes, even in -30 and below), the garbage truck arrives and takes everything away.  There are guidelines on what you should leave out – and most things outside this (like batteries, electrical items, paint, etc), are encouraged to be taken to a local ‘eco station’.  Huge recycling centres where you may be charged depending on the items you wish to dispose.

One of the things I’ve always found quirky over in Canada is that we pay a recycling levy and tax at the point of sale for any bottle of liquid.  Being fairly new to the Canadian way of life, I’ve always thought that this is a great way to incentivise people to recycle – charge them a fee at source, and reward them with some monetary incentive if they then do return the bottles and help the environment.   Never quite understanding how the whole process worked, it was only after a woman started arriving at our garbage pile every week with a car to collect our bottles, just before they would be taken away by the garbage truck – that we started to think there may be something in this.  There were some telltale signs … in 2 years of collecting our bottles she’s managed to upgrade her vehicle and now appears in diamanté jewellery ……

Anyhow.  Collecting our bottles is only half the tale.  There are ‘bottle depots’ (pronounced ‘dee-poes’) around the city, so as a bit of an experiment, we started to save all our liquid containers with the intent of taking them to one of these localities and seeing how much our ‘waste’ was worth.  After a month and a half – and in our defence, we did have a visitation from a fab friend over from the UK during this time which saw an upsurge in the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed – we decided to take our 8 huge bags brimming with all manner of glass, plastic and cardboard containers to one of these places.

Upon arrival, the smell of stale alcohol and the way your shoes stuck to the floor took me straight back to my Saturday nights out as a student in  Sheffield.  Unaccustomed to such odours, my youngest kid scrunched her face with disgust and turned up her nose declaring, ‘what’s that awful smell’, whilst my husband and I exchanged a knowing glance and reminiscent smile.

The rules are simple.  If it hold less than 1 litre, you get 10 cents, more than 1 litre you get 25 cents per item – irrelevant of whether it’s made of veneered glass or the cheapest piece of cardboard going. You tip all your bottles in a huge bin next to a friendly ‘operative’ with ear plugs, who then sorts and counts out each item.  The noise is deafening as you’ve got another 8 banks of operatives all performing the same task alongside each other.  Frankly, it was embarrassing the sheer volume of cans, bottles and containers we’d amassed and finally after only 10 minutes, we were awarded with the grand total of $18.Not enough to fund our retirement I know.  But upon departure, we concluded as part of our commitment to helping the environment, it was only in the global interest that we should continue to consume such liquidities and make this a regular family venture.

It does fly in the face of both our vehicles – mine is a truck – which manages to deliver an average fuel economy of between 16 – 18 mpg.  Still, we’ve got to start somewhere.  Baby steps as they say ….. 🙂

So … you want to stay?

Time flies

This year will be an interesting year.  Back in 2014, when we were initially told we were moving to Canada, it was for a 12 month period.  Which extended to 2 years ……. and by the time our temporary work permits arrived, they were for 3 years.  It’s a bit like my husband subtly muting the prospect of his annual bike trip which starts off as being a few days, then moves to a week duration, and by the time everything is committed, he’s absent for a full fortnight – insisting full disclosure was made right at the beginning.  Still, I console myself with the bonus of peace and quiet, and a significant reduction in washing volumes whilst he’s away …….Mountain biking goatBack to the topic in hand.  Would you believe that we’re now 6 months away from our temporary work permits expiring and as you would expect, this triggers some degree of anticipation and consternation as to what will happen next.  The simple answer, and Plan B, is to extend our temporary work permits which we’re reliably informed we can do for the next 2 – 3 years.  Plan A however, is to apply for permanent residency ……ImmigrationIt’s a long path to ‘PR’.  You may remember last year, my blogs on the surreal experience of sitting an English test (click here for a reminder – and probably one of my better blogs for comedic quantity even if I do say so myself).  We also had to apply to have our educational credentials assessed against the Canadian equivalent and duly received confirmation as to the level they equate to over on this side of the pond.  Why bother doing both I hear you ask?  Well, as the ‘pre-enrol’ stage for ‘PR’ in Canada, these two steps are essential pre-requisites before you can apply to be in the ‘pool’ of people who wish to be considered for PR.  To put it very simply, what you achieve in both equates to a set number of points.  These points, along with other factors on your application all comprise to form a total score.  Every 2 weeks or so, there is a ‘draw’ by Canada Immigration Services and those achieving a score at or above wherever the line is drawn, are ‘invited’ to apply for PR.CanadaNote the term ‘invited’.  It is by no means an open invitation.  We received our ‘invitation’ to apply for PR at the end of December and have 90 days to compile all the evidence requested before ‘submitting’ our application.  We have to substantiate all our work experience, the employment offer here in Canada, undertake medical assessments – physical, chest x-rays, blood tests …. kids are included and nothing is left to chance; although by the time we’ve finished the entire rigmarole itself is enough to trigger a major ailment of some kind.  There are UK police checks to be obtained, the need to demonstrate financial stability, details of the specific dates and all overseas travel undertaken over the past 10 years ….. let alone the standard type of documents like passports, work permits, birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc etc ….. the list is long.  I often struggle to remember where I was last week let alone have the specific dates and places mapped out for the past 10 years …. but map them out we now have.  To some people, I would imagine this item alone is enough to make them think twice about whether to go through the process of PR in the first place.  A detailed spreadsheet has been commandeered to track everything required, and thank goodness for email and the ability to receive timely replies to requests – as if we were relying on carrier pigeon between Canada and the UK, we’d never achieve it within the deadline.UK background checkOne of the strangely unnerving things we’ve had to undergo are UK police checks.  Whilst neither of us should have cause for concern, just the very fact we need to apply to the police to be checked out evokes nervousness in the first place.  A bit like spotting a police car travelling behind you on the road – the rational part of your brain knows you’ve complied with all the rules, and yet a little part of you can’t help assume a guilty conscience.  We were relieved to receive our UK police certifications declaring us as having ‘no trace’ – which hearteningly means we’ve not been convicted or sentenced, and are under no active investigation.  Reassuring to know.   I can sleep peacefully at night in the knowledge my husband is not currently on the ‘Most Wanted’ list back in the UK …..Immigration CanadaWe’ve also had to obtain validation from previous employers about roles undertaken and lengths of service – to confirm that what we’ve declared as our work experience is legitimate.  Just imagine having to go back through your employment history over 20 years or so, and obtain past employers’ evidence that you did what you said you’ve done.  Some were easier than others.  UK legislation and the Data Protection Act doesn’t help this process as the availability of providing the level of information required is restricted and in some cases, has been removed from computer systems and is no longer accessible.  It makes me wonder how on earth people from other countries manage ….

Anyhow, like a dog with a bone, I have not been deterred and have managed the evidence collation exercise like a military operation.  We’ve finally pressed the ‘submit your PR application’ button and all the information is now in the ether.  There’s a 6 month processing time, and after due consideration by border officials, can well be refused.  So we await to hear news – which should arrive just in time for when our temporary visas expire.  Talk about cutting it fine.  Mind you, there’s always Plan B to fall back on.  I’ll keep you posted ….. 🙂

 

Google images are to thank for the pics in today’s blog …

There’s a reptile in flight ….

img_9324I think I was a reptile in a past-life.  Usually in a constant state of seeking to nudge up the house thermostat in a bid for a warmer temperature and a place to defrost my hands and feet, I can normally be found nestled under several layers of clothing, with thermal socks and gloves that only a heat-seeking missile would be attracted to.  Ironic then, that I find myself living in a Winter City where temperatures are sub-zero for at least 3 to 4 months of the year.

There’s only two ways to go in such a climate – either embrace the frozen north, or hibernate; only to reappear when the snow has subsided and we start to climb into the positive temperature range around April/May time.  You may be reading this assuming I’m the latter ….. but no.  Despite my cold-blooded tendencies, I do enjoy the winter activities and especially, a spot of skiing – either downhill or cross-country.  Both are readily available in Edmonton, and working in my favour for the cross-country is the fact that Alberta is a prairie-state and literally, as flat as a pancake.  It certainly makes for a less arduous (and by definition, much more fun) way to experience the sport with the avoidance of any hills or steep terrain which would have me hyperventilating with effort and collapsing with sheer exhaustion.  img_0046But I do miss my mountain fix.  It’s one of the scenic aspects I miss most about living in the UK.  That said, Jasper, and the Canadian Rockies are a mere 3.5 hrs drive to the West and are mountainously majestic on a monumental scale.  We’re lucky that we can take a quick trip there for a weekend, get my mountain fix, and attempt the downhill skiing of the Marmot Basin.  With 86 runs, the longest high speed quad-chair in the Canadian Rockies, and views to die for, it’s a spectacular place to ski.  And this past weekend, we did just that.marmot-basinAll the family have their own equipment, and during the past two Winters we’ve lived in Canada, everyone has gradually picked up the skills and technique to get them from the top of a slope, down to the bottom – hopefully, without any mishaps en route.  Even my youngest kid who is now 7, will happily throw herself down the more gradual terrains – which means the whole family can ski together.  My middle kid is the risk-taker, and will seek out every treacherous route in a bid to experience moments of sheer terror with shrieks of hysteria.  Living on the edge is definitely one of her life philosophies ….

Beset with a few challenges including my husband having the navigational prowess of a lemon, my middle kid demonstrating a strong magnetic draw to any dare-devil activity, and my youngest kid being solely focused on remaining upright; I adopt the role of chief navigator and assume responsibility for making sure that whatever chair lift we go up, there’s a route back down that doesn’t require the mastery level of a black diamond.  With the trail-blazing abilities of a bloodhound, I’m relied upon to traverse the various routes down the mountain, identifying a variant path each time from the one before, until we all safely arrive with aching limbs and tired muscles to the awaiting chairlifts at the bottom  – only to be whisked into the heavens such that the cycle can repeat itself yet again.img_9355After a few hours, confidence was high and I decided to inject some novelty, proposing we take a chairlift towards the top of the mountain rather than focusing on the middle and lower terrains.  As we ascended, the views were spectacular and the scenery stunning.  With my attention somewhat distracted, I had failed to notice the need for a rapid exit at the top of the lift as the chairs quickly gained height before flipping around a spindle and returning back to the bottom.  Graciously hesitating at the top to let my kids off first, was my undoing.  I missed the optimum point of departure – and only when the chair started to pick up speed and the ground quickly fell away did I realise a hastier exit was required.  The prosaic lines of the immortal song, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go Now’, reverberated through my head – and a nanosecond split decision saw me adopting an ‘Eddie the Eagle’ approach to descent as I ‘launched’ myself off the chair.goat in flightA ‘Clash’ it certainly was.  Imagining it to be more graciously executed than the reality, I felt I had it perfectly controlled until the landing.  Maybe it was the knees, or even my posture that let me down, but my husband later recounted the moment when he witnessed the ‘splat’ as I hit the ground and arrived unceremoniously in a heap at his skis.  Even the best of us, have our odd moments of misadventure and I’m still chuckling about the incident a week later – whilst nursing a rather large bruise that has managed to feature all the colours of the rainbow.  The bruise has managed to generate enough heat to keep my reptile-like tendencies at bay, retaining warmth in my hands and feet.  I can’t help but think it’s far easier just to notch up the thermostat …. 🙂

 

Google images supplied the cartoon in today’s blog, the rest have been photogenically captured by ‘goat and kids’

How does it work, again???

how does it workThere was a time when I considered myself technology savvy.  In fact, I always remember my Gran in the 80’s confusing the attributes of a portable telephone handset with the TV remote control.  I’d arrive just in time to watch Coronation Street with her, to be greeted with the familiar comment, ‘you’ll have to look at the TV as it’s not working when I press the remote control again‘.  I’d smile and suggest maybe if she didn’t use the telephone to operate the TV we may be in with a chance ….. she would chuckle.  And repeat the same manoeuvre a few days later.

Grandma phonesAnother of her favourite mistakes was attempting to answer the phone with the TV remote control and wondering why it wouldn’t work.  Even when she remembered to use the telephone handset, she’d often hold it the wrong way up and wonder why everything was so quiet.  I’d be shouting down the line, ‘turn the handset the other way round, Gran‘, after which it would go silent for a few seconds before she’d come back on the line with a much clearer voice saying, ‘oh, that’s so much better‘.  She left us long ago, but the memories still make me chuckle to this day …..

30 years agoOnly 5 years ago, I’d be able to manipulate spreadsheets, construct eye-catching presentations, and merge documents using the latest tools and techniques.  These days, with each new version of Microsoft, I’m chunnering and grumbling when I can’t find the tools as they’ve been put in a more ‘user-friendly’ format.  User-friendly indeed.  I never thought I’d see the day when I’d start insisting they kept things the way they used to be.   It’s the kids that now come to my rescue and with the click of a button, and a look from them that says, ‘that was obvious‘, I certainly feel like technology has overtaken my capabilities.  Sign of the times, I guess.

wifi cartoonEven the oven is getting in on the gig these days.  Back in the UK, I had a traditional gas oven which required your physical presence to turn it on, ensure nothing was blown up during the cooking process, guarantee food wasn’t burnt to a cinder and that it had been physically turned off and the flame extinguished when finished. When we moved to Canada nearly two and a half years ago, the house we bought has a ‘modern’ electric double oven and a variety of switches that I’ve never known how to operate.  Trial and error in the early days saw me working out which switch turned each of the ovens on – and I haven’t deviated from this since.  I also quickly discovered that the term ‘broil’ means ‘grill’ – but there have been several occasions when my husband has attempted to cook a dish and wondered why it was burning on the top as he mistook the ‘broil’ setting for ‘bake’.  Subtle reactions I’ve made like raised eyebrows, deep sighs and constructive comments of, ‘if you cooked more often maybe these mistakes wouldn’t happen‘, have been blissfully disregarded by him – probably in the psychological hope that his chores will become redundant and I’ll assume all further accountability for the use of our kitchen appliances.cartoon on microwaveSo it was only when a good Canadian friend of mine visited for lunch last week and quizzically asked what the various switches and buttons did on my oven, that I had to admit I had absolutely no idea.  There wasn’t an instruction booklet left when we bought the house from the previous owners and (rather like being with my husband), I have stuck solidly to its’ basic capabilities – never once thinking that I’m sure there’s extra functionality that would make my life so much easier staring me straight in the face.

It was only the following morning, that I suddenly thought about my oven again (as you do).  Much like Aladdin’s golden lamp, I couldn’t help but feel that today’s equivalent of technological advances and the wonders of the modern-day ‘world-wide-web’, must hold the answer to my quest.  So with some degree of haste, I scribbled down the model and make, and typed it into a well-known search engine.  Literally seconds later, up popped the instruction manual and the ability to download it online.  I can’t believe it took me 2.5 years for even the idea to occur but like all good things, I get there in the end.  To say it has changed my life would be an understatement.  Whilst I still feel like a technology dinosaur, I now have an oven with tons of additional capabilities which I’ve been busily utilising ever since.

laughing catIt made me wonder how many other things there are that with just a few seconds on the internet and a fresh look at whether I’m using them to their full potential, I could vastly enhance how they’re utilised?  Will the same approach work on my husband, I wonder …….  🙂

 

 

Thanks goes to my ability to search on google images in an effective fashion to find pics for today’s blog!

The art of confusion …

mass confusion

I’ve got to admit that one of the really appealing aspects about living in Canada, is that everyone is extremely friendly, always say ‘hello’ and are keen to engage in conversation anytime, anywhere.  In fact, my kids roll their eyes when we’re out shopping as without fail, the shop assistants will always initiate a conversation and as true as night follows day, my kids will be required to step in and translate the odd phrase or word that I’ve uttered which has created a look of complete bewilderment on the other person’s face.  It’s one of my natural abilities …. to create total confusion.  It’s even become a weekly sport that upon entering a ‘Tim Horton’s drive-through’ (other coffee shops are readily available), I’ll place an order through the speaker only to be given something completely different at the pick-up window.  In the words of Forrest Gump, ‘you never know what you’re gonna get’……. and in typical ‘british’ style, I’ll accept it and pretend it’s exactly what I wanted at the very beginning.

box of chocolates

But it’s not just in placing orders that I have an innate ability to create complete confusion and havoc.  I’m from the north of England so will always refer to midday snacks as ‘dinner’ and our evening meal as ‘tea’.  As it is.  This has baffled many Canadian friends who assume we’re having a brew rather than food and are impressed that I sit down with my kids and we all enjoy a hot beverage together in an evening.  I have tried to explain ….breakfast dinner and tea

And following a similar pattern to ‘tea’ being a meal, whilst also the national drink – attempting to explain the concept of ‘pudding’ as a meal course rather than a specific item on a sweet trolley.  Not only that, factor in british food items which are referred to as ‘puddings’ – such as steak pudding, black pudding, yorkshire pudding and syrup pudding; along with their respective traditional accompaniments being chips, bacon, gravy and custard – all of which I strongly advise not getting mixed up.  To the uninformed, it can be a minefield to navigate and upon attempting to explain the various nuances to Canadian friends, I’ve received some strange looks.  Maybe that’s why nobody has ever taken me up on our offer of coming over for evening tea?????surpriseNow, I can talk the hind legs off a donkey and as such, carry on regardless.  After 2 years in Canada, I can distinguish the look of despair and panic on someone’s face who is clearly struggling to understand both my accent let alone the words I’m uttering.  So imagine my utter delight on a recent whistle-stop tour back to the UK where upon arrival at Heathrow Airport we were whisked to the car hire place by a ‘cockney’ bus driver – both of us engaged in conversational banter for a full 15 minutes with complete comprehension of what the other was saying.  It was bliss.  My kids still rolled their eyes in despair and chunnered, ‘she’s off again’, but at least they were redundant in their need to translate on my behalf.  Charming.speaking englishNever was it more apparent than when we were placing a food order in a local English pub.  With each dish ordered, the waitress enquired if we wanted ‘chips’ with that.  And the proper sort too – ‘fries’ for those reading this in another country, not crisps.  Oh yes.  There’s nothing quite like being back home again.  It was short-lived and a welcome brief respite, before returning to the chilly snowy surroundings of western Canada.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are equally phrases and words used over this side of the pond that take some deciphering for us Brits – and even some Americans…. a ‘donair’ is a beef pita or wrap; ‘eavestroughs’ are ‘gutters’; ‘garburator’ is a garbage disposal unit; ‘loonie’ is one Canadian dollar whereas a ‘toonie’ is a two Canadian dollar coin; ‘fountain soda’ is a fizzy drink like cola or lemonade; and the phrase, ‘for sure’ is often uttered to mean ‘definitely’ or ‘absolutely’.  One thing I refuse to say upon pain of death is ‘awesome’.  Used in common parlance here to describe almost any situation that is better than moderately okay.  I’m making it my mission to seek out and use as many alternative adjectives which convey the same meaning as something which is extremely impressive, excellent or inspires awe … awesome

Life is full of idiosyncracies, and the world would certainly be a boring place if we didn’t inject a degree of confusion, variation and contrast.  I like to think I can singlehandedly contribute to all 3 …..

🙂

 

 

Thanks as ever to google images for the pics in today’s blog …

Life in a freezer

Christmas goatDid you know the best temperature to maintain your home freezer is between -18 and -23C? It certainly comes to something when we’ve been living in temperatures below that for the last few weeks and our home freezer is warmer than it is outside …. how bizarre is that?  We’ve been sat with the freezer door open just to take the chill off!  There again, this is Edmonton – the most northerly city in North America.  It’s to be expected, I guess.

For those wondering what -25 and below feels like, its best described as uncomfortably cold. When it hits below -30, the outside air is so cold that each time you take a breath and breathe in, your chest hurts as your body isn’t able to warm the air up quickly enough before the cold blast of oxygen hits your lungs. Any drops of water quickly turn to solid ice – so much so, that moisture in your nose instantly crisps up, your eyes feel grainy and any skin left exposed to the elements starts to painfully throb. Frostbite is certainly a reality and you need to treat the weather with respect in what you wear, how long you’re outside for, and how many layers you’ve got on in order to maintain your core body temperature. My kids do a lot of swimming, and within the 90 seconds it takes them to get from the entrance of the Recreation Centre and into the car, any strands of hair outside the obligatory woolly hat has instantly frozen on their heads, and their wet mesh bags turn to solid ice and can stand upright without assistance. It’s like a reality scene from the film with the same title …. ‘Frozen’.  As I say …. bizarre.

temperature snoopy

There are some saving graces.  Thank goodness for the ability to remotely start my truck which can be nicely warming up before we reach it in the car park (or the garage come to that) – complete with automatic heated seats and steering wheel (mmmm….. toasty).  Talking of the car, if it’s left outside for long periods then the advice is to plug-in the block heater if the temperature gets below -15 to protect the engine and other components from freezing solid.  I’ve never done this as yet – my mechanical knowledge isn’t that great – I’ve no idea which switch to flip to open the bonnet let alone have the ability to plug-in a ‘block heater’ (a what?)  I know, I know …. a typical female stereotype – but to my credit, at least I can reverse and park with ease …..

Cute_Funny_Animals-05

On a more practical note, there are some basic aspects which require consideration that I felt would be useful to bring to your attention and will be alien to those residing in warmer climes.

Supermarket shopping.  Or even, just a trip to the bakery.  There’s a delicate balance between how long you can leave newly purchased perishable goods in your car and take the opportunity to call in at other retail outlets on the way home, before everything has frozen solid and needs to be defrosted.  Milk, yoghurt, bread ……. On the plus side, the garbage which we store in the garage ready for the refuse collectors to call and collect on a weekly basis, becomes frozen so at least the pungent aroma of rotting food is mitigated significantly …..

hand warmersI don’t mind a bit of a chill, but my survival instincts are tested to the extreme when we dip below -20.  So much so, I’ve purchased mini sachets of hand warmers which when activated, will retain their warmth for upto 6 hrs.  I’ve even expanded my arsenal and to this year’s collection have supplemented these with some toe warmers and even body warmers. Quite frankly I don’t care where they need sticking – I’ll put them anywhere as long as they keep me warm!

It’s all relative.  This week has seen a massive swing and we’ve gone positively tropical for the last few days with a massive swing of 25 degrees – up to 0C.   Boy, does it feel warm and bearable in comparison. Even the local weather network reporting on the daily weather describes it as ‘warm for the next few days’ which made me stifle a chuckle, before we’re due to plummet back into arctic conditions just in time for Christmas Day.  Oh joy!canada nativityThank goodness Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. I can’t help but feel the Christmas story would’ve been a different affair if Mary and Joseph had found themselves in Edmonton seeking respite.  Just the thought of residing in a stable with the minimum of shelter, sub-zero temperatures, and only a cradle in a manger would have, I strongly suspect, most pregnant women thinking twice.  Not only that, any nearby animals would be scarce on the ground, sensing they’d be used for food, heat and clothing.  The shepherds with their flocks of sheep would be safely nestled in their small-holding (if they had any sense), plus the 3 kings would have been noticeable in their absence, opting to remain in their palaces where it was warm and luxurious.  Oh, how different the Christmas story would have been ….

2015-12-06 20.04.14

Christmas is a time for giving.  For family.  For being thankful, for joy and for peace.  For all its frigid nature, life in a freezer at this time of year certainly injects the feel of Christmas.  There are sparkly lights on the outside of all the houses, Christmas objects in gardens lit up and twinkling, the temperatures so cold that the frost glimmers in the air, and along with the fairly light dusting of snow we’ve had so far, it all serves to create a magic that is hard to replicate.  In the words of that well-known song ….. it’s a wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you, be of good cheer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas ❄️🎄😊

 

Thanks as ever to google images for the majority of pics in today’s festive blog …

Christmas comes but once a year …

What song do you sing at a snowman’s birthday party? …… Freeze a jolly good fellow.

What carol is sung in the desert at Christmas? …. O camel ye faithful.

santa and sleighI know, I know.  I couldn’t resist.  We’re getting close to the height of the madness associated with the  Christmas season and my kids have been busy rehearsing for their School Christmas Concert.  It’s a serious affair.  My middle kid is in Grade 5 who have the honour of performing this year’s coveted christmas play, entitled, ‘A Pirate’s Christmas’, during the concert.  Rehearsals have been underway for the last month or so and it’s at times like this that I’m always reminded of the scene from the Richard Curtis film, Love Actually, when Emma Thompson’s daughter arrives home from school to announce she’s got a part in the School Christmas play…..  love actually

Karen: So what’s this big news, then?
Daisy: [excited] We’ve been given our parts in the nativity play. And I’m the lobster.
Karen: The lobster?
Daisy: Yeah!
Karen: In the nativity play?
Daisy: [beaming] Yeah, *first* lobster.
Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?

This always makes me chuckle.  In my day, school nativity plays were pure and simple.  There was Mary, Joseph, a ‘tiny tears’ baby doll, 3 Kings, couple of Shepherds, the ‘Angel Gabriel’ (always the second most popular choice after the part of Mary & Joseph was awarded), Innkeeper (and wife), with the rest of the class making up the stable ‘animals’.  The standard ‘tunes’ were customary – ‘Away in a Manger’, ‘We Three Kings’, ‘O Little Star of Bethlehem’ ….. and by the time you were in the ‘top class’ in primary school, you never needed to learn any of the parts as you’d seen it rehearsed and performed so many times since the age of 4, that you knew it off by heart.  Oh, how times have changed …..

nativityBack to recent school events, and there has been quite an intense process of auditioning for parts and judging from the daily ‘feedback’ from my middle kid, there’s clearly a perceived hierarchy associated to the roles awarded – she was desperate to be ‘Prancer’ or “Dancer’ as these were ‘talking’ reindeers.  Auditions mustn’t have gone to plan as she was relegated to being ‘a non-talking reindeer’ – the irony of the part not being lost on us, as the challenge for my middle kid to remain silent for any longer than 30 seconds only usually occurs when she’s fast asleep.

reindeersWhilst a smidgen of disappointment was apparent, she accepted the role with good grace.  We had instructions to source brown tops and bottoms (for reindeers, obviously), and were kindly informed that antlers would be provided.  In the meantime, my youngest kid has been learning all the songs as ‘Grade 2’ are to be the accompanying ‘choral’ voices.  She’s been taking this very seriously, insisting her older sister acts out the play whilst she sings along – and rather like a mini-Simon Cowell, woe betide my middle kid if she doesn’t perform to the youngest’s exacting standards.  My role during all this is rather akin to the UN Peace Talks …..

santa sleighDramatic events transpired during rehearsals earlier this week and the role performed by the reindeers in pulling the sleigh across the stage transporting Santa to his final destination.  Apparently, only ‘Prancer’ and ‘Dancer’ (you’ll remember these as being the ‘talking’ parts), were asked to pull the sleigh whilst all ‘other’ reindeers would follow behind.  This provoked outrage in the muted reindeer community who insisted that Santa would always have all reindeers pulling his sleigh and wouldn’t invoke favouritism.  It’s clearly been a bone of contention.  I didn’t like to point out that the opening scene of a reindeer ‘dancing’ with a beach ball was slightly out of character …..

reindeer protestAll in all, it’s definitely Christmas.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Christmas tree is up, sparkly lights are switched on and there’s an accompanying Christmas moose (the size of a Great Dane) lit up on our decking.  Snow has fallen, temperatures are below -20 and I’ve got the heating on full blast.  It’s certainly a Canadian Christmas.  Ho ho ho ……

🙂

Thanks to google images for the pics in today’s blog

Slip sliding away ….

Roller skatingWhen I was a teenager, the biggest draw on a Saturday afternoon was to the roller skating rinks in either Rochdale or Bolton – a good 30 minutes drive away from where we used to live in North-West England.  They were popular hotspots, with the latest 80’s music blaring out through worn-out speakers and dimly lit rinks illuminated with flashing disco lights.  We’d attempt to look proficient and adept on wheels, always believing we were more ‘hip and trendy’ than we actually probably looked.  Roll forward 30 years, and as I’d always been ‘competent’ on roller skates, (i.e. could stand and move forward in an upright position), it was with an air of self-confidence and blind optimism that I felt my ability to adapt to moving on ice would be a seamless transition.  How wrong I was.  For those who remember our first Winter in Canada just over 2 years ago, my inaugural attempt to ice-skate ended within the first 2 minutes and resulted in broken bones and a trip to the local A&E.  Ice skating is clearly harder than it looks ……

Screen-shot-2013-12-07-at-5.00.34-PMGiven my newfound admiration for anyone who can demonstrate the ability to remain vertical on ice whilst wearing ice skates (or any type of footwear to be honest), I was in complete awe when we went to watch our very first ice hockey match between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Saskatoon Blades last week.  Edmonton has just splashed out $600m on a new world-class arena, Rogers Place, which only opened in September after 3 years in development, and is sited in the heart of downtown.  It’s an impressive building and will act as the new home to the Edmonton ‘Oilers’ as well as playing host as a major concert venue for touring acts – we get some big names appearing up here in the freezing North, you know 🙂

Rogers PlaceI’ll admit here and now, that my knowledge of ice hockey is absolutely zilch other than it’s split into 3 periods of 20 minutes, with a 15 minute break separating each one.  I don’t know about the players, but I needed a break to recover after watching each period.  You can’t fail to be impressed with the speed by which the players move around the ice along with their short reaction times chasing a ‘puck’ which seemingly moves at the speed of light.  By the time I’d spotted where the puck had gone, it was then down the other side of the rink – and I got the decided impression that I was consistently 3 or 4 seconds behind where the game was upto throughout the entire duration of the match (my husband would probably argue there’s usually a few seconds delay in me with most things in life ;-).

And it’s violent too.  You can see why they need so much protection gear as the speed and ferocity with which they bash each other against the sides of the rink prompted an audible gasp from the audience and made me wince on several occasions.  Clearly tensions were running high as at various junctures, a fight broke out between players who would then throw their headgear off and chuck a punch (or 2) at each other before the referees stepped in and sentenced them to the ‘sin bin’.  Clearly there are rules and guidelines of which I know nothing, but it makes for engrossing watching when it’s happening right in front of you.  Much better than watching it on the tv …..

2016-11-10-18-45-06I’m a convert.  Audience participation is encouraged throughout – plus the obligatory food stands selling hot dog and fries are a must.  We loved it.   It was a great night out and we’d definitely go and watch another game.  It’s a far cry from roller skating in Rochdale all those years ago.  Mind you, the outdoor ice rinks are starting to open here for the winter season and I’m sure with a bit more practice I can stay on my feet for at least 5 minutes this year!  Better get those skates on and start slip sliding away …. 🙂

Thanks as ever to the majority of pics in today’s blog taken from google images …

Making magic happen …. literally …

Magic in the makingDon’t you just love it when 5 minutes before the kids leave for school on Monday morning, the youngest produces a bedraggled piece of paper from out of her bag and attempting to ‘iron’ it flat again with her hand announces, ‘oh, I forgot about this – it’s for you, Mum’.  Monday was Halloween, and as a result, we’d been up since the crack of dawn amassing the costumes and vast array of accessories ready for each kid to wear to school.

I’m always up first, and on a ‘normal school day’, there’s usually a high degree of reluctance to move from under the bedsheets by each of the kids, and my vocal chords get a daily battering – constantly imploring all to move with a pace quicker than that of a senile snail, and get ready for school.  Even my ageing cat who witnesses this morning ritual seems to roll her eyes with the inevitability of what’s to unfold, deploying her caterwauling as a counter-measure to the heated arguments that rapidly re-ignite upstairs – each kid aggravating the other in a move to create as much distraction and blockage to the morning process as humanly possible.

I, on the other hand, just turn on the kitchen radio (BBC Radio 2 – ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’ acting as our daily breakfast show given the 7 hours time difference), and switch the kettle on for a brew.  The volume and urgency escalates until all 3 kids appear in the kitchen – and proceed to stare aimlessly at the breakfast goods on offer – as though awaiting a fairy godmother to appear and morph them into something delicious.  Each morning without fail, there’s a stunned surprise as I suggest they do it themselves ….witchesHowever, Halloween morning is unlike any other morning in the school year.  Bounding out of bed like puppies desperate for attention, they hastily put on their attire and rapidly move to constructing and demolishing their breakfasts, jovially making conversation with one another incorporating even the odd chuckle and giggle as they do so.  Slightly stunned with surprise, and wondering why there isn’t the same level of cooperation every other day of the school week, I get on with my usual chores and with plenty of time to spare, everyone is ready and waiting to leave the house – on time.

So imagine my dismay, when the youngest reached into her bag with 5 minutes to spare and showed me a letter from her teacher.  They were having a Halloween party in their class that afternoon and each child had been selected to bring specific items as contributions towards the Halloween feast.  Looking for her name on the list, I discovered she had been asked to bring ‘baked goods’ as dessert for her and 20 fellow classmates.Halloween sign‘Happy Halloween’ was not one of the few choice words which immediately sprung to mind – let alone the fact that this had been festering in her bag for the entire weekend without so much as an acknowledgement.  To say this went down like a lead balloon was an understatement, and she was left in no doubt that this news hadn’t been well-received.  I have been known to produce the odd miracle every now and again, and whilst it was Halloween – and yes, I do have a black cat and a broomstick on my wall – the ability to concoct something both appetising and fit for human consumption in the space of 30 seconds, has even me domestically challenged.  Tears welled in her eyes as she realised the true horror of not having something to take in for her classmates later that day.

Frantically looking in the larder and feeling like a contestant on the Canadian cooking programme, ‘Chopped’ – minus the major $10,000 incentive; I focused on the few key ingredients I had to hand and rapidly attempted to recollect my back catalogue of cooking treats.   My youngest went off to school dressed as a vampire witch (as you do), and the confidence that something would arrive in the next 20 minutes.Magic happens

How on earth I then pulled off ‘Rocky Road’ in the space of 20 minutes was sheer brilliance – even if I do say so.  It was like making magic happen ….. literally.   Let’s hope next Halloween is less eventful, I could do with no sudden surprises …..

🙂

Thanks as ever to Google images for the pics in today’s blog

Time flies when you’re having fun …

Time fliesWow!  I’m always staggered how time seems to fly by, and the older I get, the faster it disappears.  Well today is a pretty significant day at our end – it’s 2 years since we boarded the flight from Manchester and touched down here in Edmonton.  Doesn’t feel like 2 years, that’s for sure.  Just goes to show how quickly time flies when you’re having fun …..

As if to mark the event, some of my Canadian appliances are starting to play up.  I always remember my Gran saying that modern appliances never seem to last half as long as they used to – I think she never did replace the original oven that had been put in her house in 1954, and as for the vacuum – it was probably one of the original models of ‘Hoover’ ever manufactured and even outlived her.  It would have been of archeological significance had she still been alive today – she sadly left us in 2000.  And now I find myself sounding just like her.  Let’s hope her penchant for ‘Baileys’ (other irish liqueurs are also readily available), and the copious quantities she actually consumed, aren’t as contagious.  Mind you, I am noticing a tendency to stock up on toilet rolls (just in case we ever run out), which was another thing she was renowned for.  At this rate, I’ll be able to support the whole of south-west Edmonton for at least 72 hours should there be a national shortage ….BaileysAnyhow.  It’s the kettle.  It’s not been well for a few weeks and has suddenly given up the ghost, despite no end of coaxing and cajoling into operation.  It’s probably taken umbrage from excessive use, and now refuses to even turn on.  Now I know for a fact, that I had to buy it after we arrived on Canadian soil – so less than 2 years usage doesn’t sound that much to me.  Mind you, I’m a Brit, and I take my tea-making very seriously – and the poor appliance has probably given up from overwork.  My husband would no doubt empathise ……

So I thought I’d treat myself and upgrade to a newer model (the kettle, not my husband).  My list of requirements isn’t long.  It’s a kettle.  I just want it to reach boiling point as quickly as possible – so I can focus on the really important aspect of steeping the tea leaves for the required duration to produce the perfect brew.  It’s an art form.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.Canadian TireOff I trotted to the local Canadian Tire emporium, trying to stifle the excitement of obtaining an appliance which can rapid-boil in the least amount of time.   Life in the fast lane when you’re in your 40’s, eh!

Imagine then my horror and utter confusion upon entering the store and facing a shelf-full of kettles, to find none of them ‘advertising’ the rapid-boil facility.  In fact, I struggled to find anything remotely referencing this key attribute.  Top of the list as the feature of choice was a ‘variable temperature’ option – some of which declared you could programme up to 6 different settings into the kettle.  I must admit I was bemused.  It’s a kettle.  The last time I was in school doing science, the boiling point of water was 100C and to the best of my knowledge, this hasn’t changed since.UK TeasMy tea drinking has largely centred around black teas – moving over the years from Typhoo (you only get an ‘OO’) to Tetley, then Yorkshire Tea, and now mostly Earl Grey (for the more discerning palate). All of which the perfect brewing temperature is 100C – it’s the ‘steeping’ time which is the more variable element.  So completely flummoxed as to the need for variable temperatures in a kettle – and programmable ones at that – I grabbed the boxes from the shelves hoping for some enlightenment.  Now I know it’s probably not news to you, but it was certainly news to me, to discover that correctly brewing more delicate types of tea – especially green tea – requires lower water temperatures.  Who knew?  I didn’t.  Not only that, but brewing delicate teas in too-hot water can create a bitter taste. If you frequently brew green and white teas, investing in an electric kettle with variable temperature control saves you the bothersome process of first boiling water, then waiting for it to cool to the correct temperature.  My (flippant) answer would be, to drink black teas and then you’d never have to wait …..Variable kettleNeeds must when the devil drives – and a replacement had to be procured quickly for me to maintain my ‘black’ tea drinking frequency.  I went for the simplest version with no additional features other than the ability to boil water.  It’s marginally faster than my previous one – but who’ve guessed that procuring a kettle would provide a cultural insight into the boiling requirements of Canadian consumers.  We may be two years in, but I’m still learning new things every day.

List of attributesLet’s hope the next appliance to fail isn’t my husband.  My list of desired attributes may be unattainable …..

🙂

Thanks as ever to google images for the pics in today’s blog

A taste of things to come …. ???

Edmonton fall

Not only have the temperatures plummeted below freezing for the best part of the last 2 weeks, but we’ve also had our first few snow dumps unseasonably early.  It may only be mid October, but life in the most northerly city across North America has had us hunting out our woolies, gloves, hats, scarves and snow pants much earlier than usual.  Not only that, tools have had to be commissioned and the snow shovel has been pressed into service to remove the accumulation of snow on the drive and pavement – serious stuff indeed.  Maybe it’s a freak weather event which with any luck, may disappear later this week – but there’s no escaping the certainty that by the middle of next month it’ll be here to stay and won’t disappear till next May.  Brrrrr ……..

Canada white house

On the plus side, the snow slopes are getting excited.  Last year, everything had to be delayed by a few weeks as the snow was later than usual – this year, Mother Nature is making up for it and with this early blast there may be chance to get some early season skiing or cross-country skiing underway. Let’s hope so.

Last week, in amidst all this excitement, Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving – our second one since our arrival.  A year ago, I embraced the festivities with attempting to emulate a ‘typical’ Canadian thanksgiving meal – roast turkey and all the trimmings.  For those that remember, (and should you wish to relive the event, click here), we discovered to our detriment that a dish entitled ‘candied yams’ which we took to be dessert, should’ve actually been an accompaniment to the savoury main course.  We’ve mastered many elements to living in Canada, but this whole mixing of savoury and sweet together has us foxed each and every time.  With this in mind, I thought we’d better play safe so asked my many Canadian friends for a dessert recommendation.  ‘Pumpkin Pie’ was the resounding cry – so procure one I did.ThanksgivingNow imagine the scene ….. it’s snowing outside, we’re 4cm deep in snow and are heartily enjoying our roast dinner.   To be honest, it was only the lack of ‘Jingle Bells’ resonating from the speakers and you would’ve been mistaken for thinking it Christmas dinner.  Anyhow, back to dessert ….. husband and kids all declared their enthusiasm to try the pumpkin pie, and were looking forward to this with anticipation.  Even the cat appeared from her bed – lacking in some of her senses now she’s at the ripe old age of 21, but her sense of smell is still functioning perfectly and the lure of the roast cooking was obviously too much for even her to ignore.  Main course consumed, and the dessert was brought out with great ceremony – husband & I even poured a glass of Canadian ice wine to sample in its honour.Pumpkin Pie

There’s a silence that often prevails after a dessert is served – everyone heads-down, maximising their delight, savouring the sweetness and aroma, wishing it would never end.  Well, after the first mouthful was consumed, the stunned silence epitomised the collective feeling about the dessert choice and we wished it would end.  And end quickly. Unilaterally, (once we’d struggled to swallow our first mouthful), and very similar to the current US Presidential Elections, we were challenged to find the merest glimpse of positive endorsement that would see this dish as a preferred candidate for future events, and were grasping at the smallest elements of the pie which were least repellant.  It was a traversy.  To say there was immense disappointment, was an understatement.  We shall be leaving the delicacy to my Canadian friends to consume in entirety in future.

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Our track record with pumpkins has not been a resounding success so on a positive note, our future use of them will be exclusively as decorated outdoor exhibits during Halloween ….   mwah ha ha …..

🙂

Thanks as ever to google images for some of the pics in today’s blog …

Pass the remote …..

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There used to be a time when the 3 kids would all be safely nestled in bed by 7.30pm meaning the husband and I, had a whole evening to chill from the rigours of the day, recover from wrestling kids into baths then bed, and basically to relax and have a chat.  Oh, and to finish off that bottle of wine we just opened ……

As kids get older, bedtimes get prolonged to such an extent that many is the time, I’ve gone to bed before my oldest has turned in.  On the rare occasions I can stay awake long enough, and we’ve finally ousted them to their beds, finding a decent programme to watch on the TV that isn’t full of the usual trite material, predictable plot lines and stiff acting, has been a challenge.  You’d have thought that in amidst what must be in excess of 300 channels of viewing ‘delight’ (a term I use in the loosest sense of the word), we’d find the odd gem which has us switching on in anticipation.

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Now Autumn has arrived, the TV networks are all ‘premiering’ their newest and brightest ‘new season’ of programmes to watch.  To further ‘up the stakes’, we’ve now watched all previous and current season episodes of our favoured programmes of choice, and are on the search for some engrossing new ones …

Oh, bring me back the days when life was much simpler and all we had were 3 basic channels of TV in the UK to choose from – 4, if you count Channel 4 (although this didn’t happen till 1982).  All of which had to be watched ‘live’ – none of this ‘on demand’ or ‘record and watch later’ malarkey.  Plus, on the BBC it would ‘closedown’ for the night around midnight – usually, after the final weather forecast and a quick blast of the national anthem – and off you would trot to bed.  A ‘get what you were given’ philosophy.

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Nowadays, if we’re not careful, we can waste the entire evening ‘browsing’ the vast number of channels in the vain search that we stumble upon something that holds our attention for longer than 5 minutes.  This is somewhat of a challenge with Canadian TV, which seems to insist on interspersing each single programme with adverts and intermission breaks every 2 minutes.  I appreciate they have income to generate, but for goodness sake, no sooner have we got going, then they break for ads.  The latest trend seems to be cutting to the ad break as soon as the opening titles have played.  What’s all that about?  Bizarre.  Back in the UK, advert breaks (only on the commercial channels of course, – not the revered BBC), are few and far between in comparison, and usually, stimulate the need for a brew to be made during the intermission.  Even I can’t make (and consume) enough cups of tea to keep up with the sheer volume of ad breaks which are instigated over here. Give me strength ….

So, in this case,  thank the Lord for modern technology and the ability to ‘record and watch’ later – flicking on fast forward through the ads.  No chance to drop off to sleep on the sofa as the programme never goes for longer than 5 minutes before I’m stretching for the remote just to rush us through the ads.  The batteries I’m going through on the remote are costing a fortune – mind you, the stretching exercises each evening certainly saves me the money from going to a gym ……

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We’ve had to build up a repertoire of programmes that are suitable for the various age groups of our kids – there’s none of this 9pm ‘watershed’ over on this side of the pond.  You’ve got to be on your guard as I’ve been caught out on many occasions with letting the youngsters browse the channels, only to find strong language and particular content that I’d rather they didn’t watch being aired.  It’s a minefield.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that along with ‘certificates’ or ‘warnings’ that are placed on programmes regarding the content, they could also do with another category entitled, ‘level of comprehension’ required.  Maybe I need a specific category for me alone, but many is the time I’m watching these programmes in complete bafflement and confusion as to what’s going on – requiring a level of translation and articulation from my jaded husband who just shakes his head and sighs at my lack of cognition.  His usual withering look and wearied question of, ‘do I need to explain from the very beginning’, accompanied by a resigned inevitability, has him providing a more simplistic explanation of the events over the past episode with the occasional ‘tip off’ of what to look out for, in the next edition.  I embrace this degree of insight with the same delight as if someone has finally explained the football off-side rule in a manner which I can actually understand.

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It passes the time.  I like to think of it as my way of provoking some discussion and debate following the various goings on we’ve just viewed.  Good job the remote control can’t be used on me otherwise I strongly suspect he’d be tempted to press the the ‘off’ switch on a regular basis ….

🙂

Thanks as ever to Google images for the pics used in today’s blog

I’m not quite ready for that yet …

Not quite ready

After nearly 2 years of living in the most northerly city in North America, I’ve come to the conclusion that the year can be packaged into different windows of opportunity – some of which are longer than others, but all of which command a completely different outlook on life and the activities available.  You’ve almost got to prepare yourself for each phase as they’re so totally distinct.

We have had a great summer – at least 3 good months of generally temperatures in the high 20’s, with blue skies and sunshine.  I’m even sporting the best suntan I can ever remember – more of a peachy hue rather than the usual cauliflower white ….  All manner of events have taken place – I’ve lost count how many different sporting ‘world championships’ have been held here over the last few weeks alone, plus festivals each and every weekend in a variety of parks and locations around the City.  For kids, there are City-run play centres in some of the parks where you can just turn up, and an adult play-leader is on hand to offer different games and activities for the kids to occupy themselves with, whilst parents can bask in the sun.  There are loads of outdoor pools plus spray parks dotted across the City which are perfect for those regularly hot days.

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We went to watch the ‘Tour of Alberta’ coming through Edmonton and finishing here last week, and the kids loved it.  There’s a great vibe and enthusiasm in everyone that is infectious.  We also went to watch a movie in the park – just grab your blanket and a chair, pitch up in the park, and wait for the sun to go down.  Organised by some of the local residents, they were just keen to encourage community activities in the local park and get people together – no charge for turning up and watching the latest Jungle Book movie either.  We had a great evening – full of the ‘bare necessities’ and the kids thought it absolutely brilliant (Baloo was definitely a favourite ….).

Jungle Book

There’s a change in the air though – and rather like the first glimmers of Spring when the Canadian geese start arriving in droves, the geese currently look as though they’re packing their suitcases and stocking up on provisions ready for their departure.  Some have already left and it’s quite a sight seeing so many ‘skeins’ or ‘wedges’ of geese flying high above, along with the loud, encouraging ‘honking’ you can hear ….

Whilst it’s been great having the kids at home during the summer, September sees them return to school and normality can now resume.  I’ve been able to get back to my daily exercise routine and am regularly walking somewhere in the region of 5 – 6 miles , 4 or 5 times a week.  But it won’t last.  I’m conscious that even at best, I’ll only have 6 – 8 weeks left of being able to walk to that extent.  Temperatures are starting to cool down during the nights as we move into Autumn.  I love Autumn.  Autumn over here is exceptionally vibrant with the changing colours on the trees.  For those lucky enough to have visited New England in the Fall, then this is equally as impressive but make the most of it, as the window of opportunity doesn’t last long …. which brings me to the inevitable …

Canada seasons

Winter.  Or more to the point – snow.  And sub-zero temperatures.  The snow will arrive in November and will stop till at least April, if not early May.  When you have snow to this extent, it’s not a case of deciding whether and if you’re going to participate in a whole plethora of winter snow sports – other than locking the door and hibernating for 4 months, you’ve got to embrace the inevitable.  Get the season passes sorted, limbs limbered up and you’re ready to go.  Our favoured winter sports are turning into cross-country skiing and downhill skiing.  After ‘that’ episode on the ice skates (better click here to find out what happened for newer readers to my blog), I’ve tended to veer towards the skiing … Walking is difficult unless you’re going to do ‘snow shoeing’ or using spikes which you can attach to the bottom of your boots to give you traction on the ice and snow.

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But I’m not ready for that just yet – it’s too soon.  I’ll look forward to it when it’s time, but for now, I want to enjoy the last vestiges of summer, and certainly see all the various colours of Autumn before the great whiteness lands.  Even the construction activities are getting more frantic on the roads and buildings as people sense the window of opportunity is getting shorter to complete the final remnants before the snow arrives.

It’s fun though.  I love the massive change from one season to another.  I was just getting used to the warmth, that’s all ….. 🙂

 

Thanks as ever to google images for the majority of pics in today’s blog …

A Casino, a Caesar, and a Cetera …

30 years ago

There are songs that come on the radio that immediately take you straight back to a particular time and place – and films too, which from just one or two famous quotes, you can ‘name that film’ in an instant.

I was only 14 when the immortal lines, ‘wax on, wax off’, were muttered and a then-young Ralph Macchio took the lead role in the film, ‘Karate Kid’.  It was the sequel to the original film that had the hit song, ‘Glory of Love’, by Peter Cetera – which I remember we used to play on continuous loop using a tape player during lunch breaks at secondary school.  Someone had managed to get a recording off the radio (along with ‘I just died in your arms’ by ‘Cutting Crew’) on a Sunday evening as they listened to the Gallup Top 40 countdown.    Those were the days of high entertainment, I can tell you.  Every time I hear either song, I can picture the old school music room now, hear our warbling renditions and the cobbled together worn-out tape that was endlessly played……

Glory of love

Never did I think in the heady days of 1986 at a high school in North Manchester, that 30 years later – not only would I be watching Peter Cetera perform live in concert, but I’d be sat watching him crank up the vocals in a casino in Edmonton, and we’d be living in Canada too.  Yes – really.  It’s funny when you look back and reflect on what you thought you may be doing later in life – only to find its something so different, you’d never even imagined it in the first place.

My parents have been visiting us from the UK and suggested we took advantage of a rare ‘night out’ – just the husband and I.  One of the drawbacks of living abroad is that where we go, the 3 kids go too – so, given the prospect of a rare ‘night out’, we decided it had to be somewhere we would never be able to go with ‘kids in tow’.  Hence, after a trawl on the internet for ideas, we noticed the local casino was hosting an evening of entertainment with Peter Cetera (ex-frontman of Chicago ……. ‘If you leave me now’, ‘You’re the inspiration’, ‘Hard to say I’m sorry’ ….. need I go on?)

casino-scene

Now, I’m not a regular to casinos – in fact, the one in Edmonton we went to is owned and located on a First Nation reserve.  It’s a large complex, complete with restaurant, slot machines, poker tables, bar areas – all before you finally walk into the concert venue.  Upcoming advertisements for future concerts included the likes of Olivia Newton-John, Boyz II Men, and ….. oh yes, this musical …..

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Now, I’m not even sure how to operate any of the slot machines, but in for a penny, in for a pound (or a ‘loonie’ if you’re on this side of the pond), and we thought we’d try our luck.   Our approach isn’t considered or based on any rationale whatsoever.  It’s purely a matter of pressing a random selection of buttons on the slot machine and seeing what happens – which unsurprisingly, soon materialised as a quick way to relieve us of our initial $20 bill.

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So, for our final press, I went for the big hit – a high risk, high loss but also potentially high gain strategy.  Still slightly unsure how everything worked and what constituted a ‘win’, when lo and behold, the machine started counting in the opposite direction.  And continued counting upwards.  We looked in slight disbelief as our initial ‘investment’ of $20 was reached …. and still it climbed.  And climbed.  The machine passed $30 …… then $40 ….. then $50.  By this time, I was laughing hysterically – and in disbelief.  It finally stopped at $54 and invited us to ‘try again’, or ‘collect’.  Let’s just say, we cut and run – took the money and ‘invested’ it in several rounds of drinks.  One of which was an ‘albertan caesar’, which is an amazing tomato/clam-based drink with vodka, all manner of ground pepper and tabasco, garnished with pickled beans and, would you believe, an actual rasher of bacon stood up in the drink.  Only in Canadia …..

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And what about the concert I hear you ask?  Well, Peter Cetera was in fine vocal form.  He delivered a superb performance – his voice sounded identical to when I first heard him back in the early 80’s, the music was polished and his band were all accomplished professional musicians in their own right.  Each had played with some of the biggest and the best names in music pop history – and rather like the Jools Holland band which I’ve watched perform in an open-air gig back in London, you could just listen to them alone.

Whilst ‘Peter’ certainly looked and sounded as though he hadn’t changed much since the 80’s – it felt like a complete lifetime ago since I was in that school music room back in 1986 listening to him on the radio.  Who’d have thought 30 years later, I’d be in Canada, in a casino, with a caesar, and watching Cetera himself …. 🙂

Thanks as ever to Google Images for the pics for today’s blog …

Should I stay or should I go now?

ClashStayorGosingle

It’s a pretty momentous day for Britain as we go to the polls and cast our votes as to whether we stay in or move ourselves out of the European Union.  Now, as a point of note – and this has been commented to me on several occasions over the past few weeks – if we do choose to depart, it doesn’t mean we’ll be picking up anchor and sailing ourselves over to another continent as we’ll no longer be part of ‘Europe’.  Mind you, judging from the news coverage of the Euro 2016 football, plus our consistent track record of coming bottom in the Eurovision Song Contest (key indicators I’m sure you’ll agree), I’m pretty sure the rest of Europe wouldn’t object if we did …… maybe that’s where we’ve gone wrong?  It may possibly have been a better option to ask the rest of Europe if they wanted Britain to stay.  I think we all know the answer they would give us  …… 😉

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Talking of news coverage, I’m only glad we haven’t been in the UK for the full media run-up.  It seems that whatever decision is made will either prompt the ending of the world, trigger World War 3, spark financial ruin or promote another series of Big Brother.  On a more negative note (!!), it could just be like all the preparations that were undertaken as we moved into the new Millennium, when, – guess what? – nothing happened …….

British news does get coverage over here, and indeed, it has been taking more and more of a prime slot as we’ve moved closer to the event.  Almost everyone I’ve spoken to over the last week, has made reference to it during conversation, and it’s notable to me that British news gets such high billing on the media platform.  That said, so does Trump and all the American antics associated with the presidential elections – another key event which is scheduled to take place later this year.  It certainly seems that 2016 is a pivotal year in world history ……. let’s hope it’s remembered for promoting fundamental change and improvement, rather than complete catastrophe.

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I was reminded about Britain’s illustrious past only last week during yet another school trip to the Edmonton heritage park, ‘Fort Edmonton’.  Named after, and housing the original fort which was constructed during the height of the fur trade when Edmonton was first established back in 1846, it reconstructs a further 3 distinct time periods in Edmonton’s history – 1885, 1905 and 1921.  I was accompanying the Grade 1’s, and they were spending the day exploring the 1885 street, with all the various buildings and ways of life that existed during that time.  It’s wonderfully done – with fully functional houses from the time, and staff in costumes depicting the era.

school house

One of the first places we saw was the schoolhouse.  All the class were asked to take a seat at the desks, girls on the right (hats could be left on), whilst boys to the left (hats removed as a sign of courtesy).  And no talking.  The very first action was to all stand and sing the national anthem, to which the entire class starting reciting and singing, ‘Oh Canada’.  The school mistress brought them to a halt after 2 lines of the verse and admonished the class by stating that whilst melodic, this was not the Canadian national anthem of the time.  Could they now recite, ‘God save the Queen’.  Rather like a familiar tune coming over the airwaves on the radio, my youngest kid remarked, ‘oh, I know that one!!’, whilst her fellow classmates looked slightly bewildered around her.  I couldn’t have been prouder …..

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After this, they were instructed to draw the national flag on the chalkboards in front of them.  As expected, they all started to illustrate the Canadian flag with the red maple leaf.  Unimpressed, the schoolmistress was aghast that a piece of broccoli was on the Canadian flag, and could they all please behave and draw the Union Jack.  A knowing smile resonated from my youngest kid, and I did chuckle ……

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Britain has clearly left marks on the world and today’s vote will no doubt have repercussions no matter what the decision is for decades to come.  The well-known song, ‘Should I stay or should I go now?’ by The Clash back in 1982 had the following refrain, ‘if I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double’.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come back to haunt us ……

🙂

Thanks as ever to Google images for the pics in today’s blog …

All in a day’s education …

I love reading_Stickers

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me, is the massively varied range of school trips that my kids get invited to attend – and by definition, in this country where volunteering is both the culture and the expected norm, a selection of parents are usually summoned along to assist too.  Now, when I was at school (yes, I know, they’ve ceased using horse and carts since those days, along with the quill and parchment paper …..), I can remember there being only two class trips each year which were greatly anticipated and looked upon as ‘end of year’ treats.  One took place just before Christmas-time, where the whole school usually embarked on coaches to the local pantomime for Christmas joy and cheer (and in many ways, it epitomised a complete pantomime just getting 240 kids under the age of 11 just there and back); and then a final time towards the end of the school Summer term.  This final end of year trip was greatly exalted and awaited.  Each class had one particular destination to which they would venture, and from memory, this never altered year upon year.  Most notable, was the trip to Chester Zoo (usually, the favoured destination of choice for most schools in the north-west of England), and for another year, we took a quest to Ribchester to see the Roman remains (I think the bus driver actually got lost getting there as the time it took to reach there nearly had us up as skeletal exhibits too).  Funny, what sticks in your mind …..

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Well, over on this side of the pond, school trips are a lot more prevalent and used to embed learning from different parts of the curriculum throughout the school year.  I’ve lost count how many trips each of the kids have been on.  Some are quite novel in nature.  One of particular note, was a day spent at an Arabian Stallion Stables a few weeks ago with my middle kid’s Grade 4 class.  It’s a reading literacy project which is innovative and based on experiential learning, aimed at motivating children to want to read, enhancing their literacy skills and developing confidence in reading – all within the confines of being on a ranch, in a barn, with live horses – just outside Edmonton.  It was superbly structured – and amongst many other activities, involved each of the class reading a passage from ‘Black Stallion’ (a novel) to one of the beautiful Arabian horses.  The passionate staff insisted that the reading promoted a sense of calm and relaxation in the horses, but I hadn’t quite prepared myself for witnessing a horse actually fall asleep whilst being recited to.  I kid you not.  He actually dozed off.  Amazing it truly was – and memorable.

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Another marvellously patient horse, just stood there whilst each of the class stuck ‘stickies’ to his body, naming his various body parts.  I’m sure he knew them off by heart if only someone had asked him.  In another corner of the barn, one lucky horse had been selected to be ‘groomed’ by the class using the various brushes and tools.  The kids loved it, and also throughly enjoyed the hands-on experience of touching and interacting with animals.  By my observation, the horses loved it too – and I don’t blame them.  It reminded me that a trip to the hairdressers and local spa wouldn’t go amiss for myself either …

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The star attraction was a dog named, King, who was clearly in command of the whole experience.  As soft as they come, he adored being the centre of attention with the kids.  He was accompanied by a donkey – yes, an actual donkey, with 4 hooves and an eeyore to boot.  He was just missing his film partners – a ginger tomcat and green ogre, to complete the set.

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I know teachers are often challenged to demonstrate a linkage to the education curriculum for these type of trips.  But sometimes, taking a risk and providing innovative and creative ideas to stimulate learning will leave the biggest indent on a child’s memory.  We’ll never know whether the kids who went with me remember that trip in 20 years from now.  I know I will and I hope they do.  I’ve got it on my list to mention to my middle kid – if she doesn’t remind me before then, a long time from now.

So, next time you’re looking for a fun thing to do, go and read to a horse.  I may adopt the same philosophy and take my blog posts with me next time.  I bet they fall asleep …..

🙂

Postscript: for those of you interested in knowing whether I passed my English exam (click here for previous blog posts) – yes.  Apparently, I can speak English (I have the authentication to prove it) & I haven’t been deported as yet.  That’s a comfort for us all …… 😉

What on earth am I doing here ???

Canada Immigration

It’ll come as no surprise to my regular blog readers, that this week’s blog is the sequel to last weeks’ edition of ‘Parlez-vous Anglais‘.  For those of you wondering how on earth I fared in my English test, then please read on ….

As a prequel to applying for any additional residency visas, one is obliged to go through an exhaustive English test. In my case, I spent all of last Saturday at MacEwan University School of Aboriginal Studies (you couldn’t make it up, this stuff just writes itself) for a gruelling set of tests.  Biometric authentication(!) was the only way in, and candidates were stripped of everything except 3 HB pencils, sharpener and an eraser.

IELTS

Entering my first lecture theatre in 20 years along with 70 other ‘foreigners’ from about as many countries was quite the experience. The doors were locked and examination conditions were enforced with draconian vigour. One chap near me was the first to be shouted at, for having the temerity to turn over his answer sheet before being instructed to do so. The timid Iranian girl next to me nearly jumped out of her burqa.

The invigilator/dragon began barking instructions at us for the listening phase of the test. Thirty minutes of capturing numerous details from a CD playing different conversations. I thought I was onto a winner, when the second exercise involved answering questions on ‘driving in the UK’.  Tempted to start answering before the CD had started playing, I held my nerve and listened with interest as a lady speaking the Queen’s english and voicing a BBC-type accent reminiscent of those adopted by the corporation pre-1980’s, began a conversation on the CD with a hesitant gentleman asking inane questions to which she patiently gave a response.  It was during the conversation when the topic turned to the ‘free-flowing traffic in Manchester city centre’, that I was tempted to object and claim this was falsely misrepresentative, but I resisted and distracted myself by watching the bemused look on the face of the fella from the Ivory Coast sitting alongside.

There followed 60 minutes of a written multiple choice paper with another familiar (to me) subject. A detailed comprehension exercise on the 3 Peaks Challenge up Snowden, Scafell and Ben Nevis. Having finished early I began musing what a Korean sitting in Canada with very little English would be making of this challenge. Judging by the wailing coming from the girl behind me, not a lot.

Canada Flag Sign

Another 60 minutes (no bathroom breaks permitted), and a chance to shine by writing 2 essays on given subjects. My piece on writing a complaint letter came naturally, and I had to curtail my enthusiasm and not get too carried away with the second topic entitled, ‘Some people believe family are more important than friends.  Discuss.’  At the end of this session, “PENCILS DOWN” was screamed. Mr Ivory Coast was clearly finishing a word off, but in so doing earned the full wrath of Dragon lady. She flew at him from the lectern, grabbed his pencil and forcibly scrubbed over his last 2 paragraphs. As he’d only managed to write 3, I thought this a little harsh.

After the 3 hours duration, we were almost finished and answer papers were rigorously collected, collated, checked and counted.  We had been provided with detailed instructions at the start of each session and throughout the morning, on how to complete each answer sheet – starting with inserting our name, candidate number and today’s date at the top of each and every page.  A written example was shown to us on each occasion on what to do.  At the very end of the morning and after checking the papers, one of the invigilators approached a Middle-Eastern lady sat in front of me and began insisting that her name was not ‘John Smith’, even remonstrating by showing her her passport in front of her and imploring her to remove all such reference and put her actual name on each sheet.  At this point, I realised that I was sat in a room where English truly was a foreign language to the majority, reflecting that my worries about what the content of each module would be and my ability to answer them all correctly, was minuscule compared to most of the others in the room.

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With a thumping headache and ballooning bladder there was only the final test of the day to be faced. We had to depart the lecture theatre and navigate our way to a different part of the University.  I was mistaken as a member of staff on several occasions by my fellow foreigners, whose ability to understand what on earth was happening next, let alone where they needed to move to, was clearly beyond the realms of their English comprehension.  We made our way across campus, where we waited in an ante-room and were called one at a time for the verbal interview.  I dutifully took my British passport (the only one in the room) forward and was again finger-printed before entry to a different cell with a different menacing invigilator.

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This test was verbal, and recorded. I was asked to speak for 2 minutes on my beliefs on the importance of being able to speak a second language. Maybe it was the last straw, or the levels of exhaustion, but I put forward the view that a second language would be unnecessary if only people took the trouble to learn English properly. I was just getting into my stride when she cut me off with the 2 minutes elapsed. With a face like thunder she posed question 2. Could I talk about a time when I had been forced to use a second language, and how did it make me feel. By this point I was beyond caring, so I talked about the time I had been thrown into a foreign country with no preparation to live amongst non-English speakers. She seemed to be warming to me at that point, and with a sympathetic smile asked me which country it had been. All goodwill evaporated when I told her it was Canadia.

Interview over I was ejected from the room (not backwards and bowing like the Thai chap before me), and await my results which will be issued to me via traditional Canada post after 13 days. I fully expect to be deported soon after.

🙂

Parlez-vous, Anglais??

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It doesn’t take much for me to get distracted from the task at hand, and today is no exception.  Foreign languages have never been my forte – I’m more of a ‘wave your hands around, speak slightly louder and slower in basic English’, in the hope my ‘conversation’ translates to the other respective party.  In fact, I always remember my Gran remonstrating her conversation and discussions with full arm movements – so much so, that we used to hold her hands behind her back and ask her to continue talking – after which she was completely unable to utter a word without her arms in full flow ……

So given my lack of significant knowledge in being able to communicate in a foreign language, you’d probably assume that I’d be pretty competent in English.  I’d like to think so too, but this week will be pretty pivotal in confirming whether this assumption is accurate or not.  I have an ‘English’ test on Saturday, here in Edmonton.  In preparation, I’ve been sat for the last few hours trying to hold my concentration by completing various sample test papers on different elements of the exam.  The wonders of modern technology have seen me diverted by incoming emails, browsing websites, and now I’ve been distracted yet again, and am writing this blog instead of focusing on the task at hand ……

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Yes – an English test.  The last time I did an English exam testing my language capabilities was when I sat my GCSE’s in the late 80’s.  I did pretty well, and my logical reasoning has me thinking that a further 20 years experience in the English language will have enhanced my skills yet further …… but will it?  Or will it be like driving tests, where thank god they don’t do them more frequently in the UK and I bet if I had to undertake one today, all my bad habits may come to the fore?

So, I’ve got an English exam on Saturday.  It’s a full day ‘experience’ where I’ve even had to pay for the privilege and sees my English tested against 4 key variables – listening, reading, writing and speaking.  Proper ‘exam’ conditions will apply, there are invigilators upholding the rules and ensuring consistency amongst all candidates, and the only items I’m allowed to take into the exam room are 3 HB pencils, an eraser with no writing on it, and a basic pencil sharpener.  There’s also a warning not to wear any deodorant or perfume as this could be off-putting to others nearby ……. I’m hoping this was a general clause on the ‘welcome’ document and not one specifically targeted at me.

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Tactics may have to play a part.  I reckon I’ll be fine on the reading and writing elements – how hard can that be really?  The writing element will require me to pull together a cohesive argument on a specific topic – my husband has commented that I’m award-winning at generating an argument – it’s making it cohesive and logical where there’s room for improvement.  Charming!  Equally, I’ve been the brunt of his sarcasm when it comes to ‘listening’ too.  After 14 years together, I’ve developed a knack of trying to complete the sentence my husband often starts, as a means of avoiding the need to ‘listen’ further to what’s being said.  I may have to concentrate a little bit more when we come to this part on Saturday …..

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No, my biggest worry is in the speaking.  I’m easily understood in northern England, but will often walk out of a Tim Horton’s coffee shop here in Edmonton with completely the wrong order, or a confused expression by the server behind the counter prompts my oldest kid to ‘translate’ my request into Canadian english that is met with instant acknowledgement.  Not just the speaking, it’s the ‘stopping’ me from continuing speaking which others are often challenged by.  To say I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, would be an understatement ….. Let’s hope I have a sympathetic examiner.

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I’m not sure what will happen if they determine my English isn’t up to par.  Given I’m unable to speak any other language, I anticipate that this may be slightly problematic and a significant confidence hit.  That said, I’m up for the challenge and let’s hope sensibilities prevail.  I get the written results (in English) of my performance after 13 days.  I’m wondering whether I’ll score extra points for artistic merit in arm interpretation and hand movements??  Let’s hope so …..

🙂

 

Thanks as ever to google images for pics used in today’s blog …

Up in smoke … well, nearly…

c6cf6721ca0e23b9957025793912460cBarbeque’s have never been my forte.  In fairness, I’m a dab hand in the kitchen and can concoct all manner of creations, but when it comes to a-lighting the BBQ and doing what needs to be done, I’m in foreign territory.  Now, ‘husband’, on the other hand – has managed to eliminate any attempts at assisting in the kitchen over the last few years – unless under duress – but when it comes to taking command of the BBQ, he considers it his domain.  In my opinion, his enthusiasm for BBQ duties is probably more to do with being able to stand outside and away from all the kitchen madness, plus ‘legally’ be able to consume a few bottles of local craft ale in the process – all under the guise of ‘helping to cook dinner’.

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Now over on this side of the pond, the BBQ is considered an extension of the kitchen.  Virtually every house and ‘condo’ owns one, and they’re the normal mode of cooking for most days after the snow has gone.  That said, I’ve even had ‘husband’ stood outside in the snow with his gloves, hat, scarf and thermal coat on – plus obligatory bottle of ale – firing the device up, just to sear the tasty steaks for tea.  The size of BBQ’s here are akin to the size of Canada itself – they’re on a huge scale.  Sat permanently outside our kitchen door on the decking, ours is powered by gas and takes literally 5 mins to get to temperature before you’re off and cooking.

Over the last few weeks, the snow has gone, temperatures are climbing (it’s due to reach 24C this weekend), and the BBQ is back in frequent use.  Earlier this week, my BBQ ‘chef’ was on a leave of absence – working in America for a few days – so never being one to be confined by role profiles and lack of training, I plucked up the courage to take the covers off the BBQ and fire it up in his absence.  Besides, how hard can it be?

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One of the things they do warn about with BBQ’s is to ensure the detritus and grease fat that collects near the burners at the base of the BBQ is cleaned regularly so it doesn’t catch light and start a flare-up.  In fact, for the last few weeks I’d been thinking that with more continued use and following the winter thaw, it was looking in desperate need of a clean – but it’s always one of those things that gets added to the list of ‘things to do when I have more time’.  Which never seems to happen.

So, husband’s away and changes are afoot.  I had only a couple of rashers of bacon so to save me the job of doing it in the kitchen plus having the smell all over the house – I figured that I could surely master cooking on the BBQ.  Besides, it would probably only take 5 minutes …… easy.

Things were going well.  Bacon was cooking, fat was sizzling, and the smell was divine.  I commended myself on my abilities to master yet another skill, concluding that all this need for male-domination of the BBQ was clearly overrated.

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Flames started to appear and were growing in intensity.  However, it was only when the flames became the BBQ, did I think this was slightly excessive.  Mild panic started to set in and rather like the feeling of driving on sheet ice where you become purely a passenger in the process, it was apparently clear that the BBQ had taken the opportunity to seize control and was getting carried away.  Hastily switching off all the gas burners, the fire still raged on.  My poor bacon had passed the stage of being purely ‘chargrilled’, and even the description of ‘burnt’ was too kind.  Incinerated was closer.

It was about this time that I realised the gas canister was still connected, so having visions of creating the biggest gas explosion in south-west Edmonton, I yanked the canister off the bottom of the BBQ and beated a hasty retreat to the end of the garden.  The flames raged on……

The smell and colour of the smoke had taken on a different form and I was now weighing up whether to call the fire brigade myself or leave it to one of the neighbours who would no doubt call ‘911’ for me.

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Mild panic, heart palpitations and mentally trying to decide if this would be covered under the house insurance – I hollered for my oldest kid.  Clearly the prospect of the house burning down was of less interest than the obsession with her iPad.  She was nowhere to be seen.

On the front of the BBQ is a temperature gauge.  I’d often commented that I’d never seen it go all the way round – well today, I could safely say that it had.  Shutting the lid and offering a prayer to the Lord, I was just about to call ‘911’ when I saw the dial start to recede.  Flames were still raging but I took this as a positive step in the right direction and held my breath.

15 minutes later, flames had subsided, I felt more in control but was still reeling from the adrenaline overdose that had clearly infiltrated my system.  Still expecting fire-fighters to arrive at the front door, my oldest kid emerged onto the decking with the immortal words, ‘what did you want?’, followed by, ‘why’s the gas canister over the other side of the garden?’ …… and, ‘I think you’ve overcooked the bacon’.

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Yes.  Well, that’ll teach me.  I went to Home Depot first thing the next morning and bought the strongest BBQ de-greaser and cleaner I could find.

The BBQ is now standing in pristine condition on the decking once more but it’ll take some convincing before I’ll be doing that again.  Upon my husband’s arrival back on Canadian soil he chuckled at my exploits and proclaimed that there was more to cooking on a BBQ than I’d given him credit for – and by the way, could I bring him another beer …….

🙂

Thanks as ever to Google images for the pics in today’s blog …

Job opportunities available here …

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It’s been brewing up for a while.  Rather like the tooth fairy who ‘magically’ appears overnight to collect teeth and leaves behind her a coin or two – or Santa, who, for those who have been extremely good and well-behaved during the year, delivers a sackful of pressies to expectant kids on Christmas morning; I’ve come to the conclusion that most kids just assume there’s a whole ensemble of elves who ‘magically’ make their beds, draw their curtains, pick up entire heaps of clothes that have been unceremoniously dumped on the floor, remove dirty cups and plates that are festering underneath beds or awaiting collection from the dining room table longing for a luxurious soaking in the kitchen sink or dishwasher.  And don’t get me started as to how on earth dirty clothes are adept at getting into a washing machine, transported to the tumble dryer and unbelievably, find themselves in a tidy pile waiting to be put away back into drawers and wardrobes.  You may detect a degree of familiarity with some or all of the above.  And the list could go on ……..

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After 18 months in Canada, I finally flipped.  The volcano erupted.  I declared – in no uncertain terms to my pack of 3 kids who were casually lounging on the sofa – that contrary to popular belief, this was not an extended holiday.  We may be in an entirely different country, but we were not residing in a hotel and there was a degree of expectation that everyone in the household had to pull their weight.  Not used to witnessing an emotional outburst with such heartfelt passion and conviction, all 3 kids sat in stunned disbelief.  I was on a roll.  I continued ……. and each kid would be receiving a list of ‘mandatory requirements’ that they would be expected to fulfil on both a daily basis, and each week.  Sensing the need to instil an incentive to encourage the behaviour change (all my work skills were being put to the test …….), I offered a monetary reward which would be determined once every week based on the level of commitment visibly displayed.

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Now, trial and error has determined over the years, that the best way to instigate new changes in the household is to sow the seed and just leave it to germinate for a day or so before moving onto stage 2.  Day 2 brought with it a significant interest from each of the 3 kids as to ‘what would be on the job list’.  I would even go so far as to say that there was a newfound enthusiasm which caught me out somewhat – rejection, grumbling, general lethargy I’d anticipated – but if I’m honest, I’d never expected to witness eagerness or a bubbling excited anticipation.  My middle kid even offered the use of her ‘special’ colour pens and posh drawing paper on which I could construct the job sheet ….. now if only my husband demonstrated similar traits when faced with a job list I’d have it made ……

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So, we now have 3 job sheets – one for each of the kids.  It may be only the second week in, but the level of adoption and completion of the basic tasks (nothing too exciting – make the bed, draw the curtains, put dirty clothes in the wash basket…….) has been whole-heartedly embraced.  In fairness, I hadn’t factored in sibling rivalry which has seen a healthy competitive element emerge between all 3.  In fact, it’s become self-policing too as the other sisters ‘helpfully’ ensure each other is accurate in their assessment that the task is complete before ticking it on their list.

I even threw in some extra tasks and suggested that each kid needs only to complete 4 of these a week – but extra recognition would be given to those who performed over and above this.  Things like – ‘offer to help in the kitchen’, ‘make Mum a cup of tea’, ‘put the pots in the dishwasher’ were just some of the activities suggested.  Let’s just say, I’ve not been disappointed with the several cups of tea that have been made for me in the last week plus the dishwasher has actually been opened and filled by hands other than mine …..

images-2Now I’m not totally naive.  I know its early days – but the concept has been well received and behaviours are starting to change.  They’re not bad kids, but like their father – they’re easily distracted and are want to get sidetracked on more enticing and attractive activities at the drop of a hat – so much so, that I’m going to have to come up with various strategies just to keep things fresh, interesting and motivation levels high.  In the meantime, I’m making the most of creating new job opportunities for a willing workforce.  My next task is to expand the concept and introduce my husband to the approach.  Something tells me the resistance level may be akin to the response Margaret Thatcher experienced during the early 1980’s ……

🙂

Thanks as ever for the pics used in today’s blog, courtesy of google images …

National pride …

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Canada has just been ranked 6th in the ‘World Happiness Report’.  The survey measures the wellbeing of residents in more than 150 countries, based on six key factors: GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity. The report found that happier people earn more in their lifetime, are more productive and are better citizens.  Given that the UK was listed as being 23rd overall, it made me wonder whether I’ve felt the difference in overall ‘happiness’ since moving over to Canada 18 months ago?

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Absolutely.

That’s not to say I was ever ‘unhappy’ in the UK.  Not at all.  I love it.  It’s my birthplace and will always be ‘home’.  But do I feel happier in Canada? ……… yes.  I could cite a million reasons why I prefer living in Canada to being in the UK – and on many dimensions – practicality, affordability, opportunity, environmental, lifestyle, friendliness, community.  The list could go on.

Building national pride was always strong in the UK, and likewise in Canada, they do the same – but probably more so.  Even in the schools, every Monday morning bang on 8.30am, the kids all listen (and sing along to), the Canadian National Anthem.  Back in the day, I always remember doing the same when I was in primary school but in later years, this was less so.  Comes to something when my youngest kid can recite the words of the Canadian National Anthem but struggles with the English one.  That’s what happens I guess when you relocate …

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Diversity is much more pronounced where we live than I’ve experienced previously in the UK – and everyone is completely embraced and incorporated into local communities and made to feel welcome.   My kids have a plethora of friends at school from all nationalities.  In my middle kid’s class alone, they have kids there from Jamaica, Pakistan and Greece.  My youngest kid has been doing about ‘where we were born’ and Texas, China, Africa and Korea – plus the UK, obviously – have provided a rich source of material from which to understand different customs, traditions, language and geography.  In my days at primary school, we’d be hard pushed to find anyone who had been born outside a radius of 15 miles from the school!!

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In ‘social studies’, the teacher recently gave an assignment to my oldest kid requiring the class to each draft a speech on the topic of ‘what makes you proud to be a Canadian’.  Given the range of nationalities in the class it was with some interest that I was keen to see how she tackled this challenge.  Apart from the obvious fact that my kid isn’t Canadian, that’s not to say she doesn’t feel Canadian.  I thought you may be interested to see what she wrote …..

Even though I am not Canadian,
There are some things about them that I know make them special.
For example, how they survive all winter in the cold, cold temperatures
and the strange accent that they speak with, even if they do mispronounce a few words.
The way they mix sweet foods with savoury foods and how apparently they think bacon is finger food.
With a Tim Hortons on every corner, you will always see them sipping a cup of coffee.
Where they have the best hockey in the world and were actually the ones that created
basketball.
These Canadians love poutine but not as much as their maple syrup.
With the maple leaf on their flag and the anthem that tells the world who they are,
These are the things that make a Canadian
special.

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For a 12 year old, I thought it was an interesting insight into Canadian national pride.  She tells me that they had to memorise their own speeches and perform them in front of the class – getting a few chuckles from her classmates during her rendition.

18 months into our venture in Canada and we’re loving every second.  They say happiness is in the eye of the beholder and I can certainly say that it doesn’t get much better than this.  I’ve even been starting to support the Canadian team in the women’s world curling championships ……  🙂

 

Thanks as ever to Google images for supplying the pics for this blog ….

Spring has sprung??

Canada Geese

Do you know what the collective noun for geese is?  I always thought it was a ‘gaggle’, but listening to Canadian radio earlier this week I find out that there are several different collective terms for geese – all dependent on what the geese are doing at the time.  For example, if geese are on the ground, then quite rightly, they’re often described as a ‘gaggle’, ‘herd’ or ‘flock’.  But if they’re in flight, then it’s either a ‘wedge’ or ‘skein’.  I never knew that till this week.  It got me wondering how geese have managed to get to the high echelons of having so many descriptive terms?  I did an internet search to see how many collective terms are used to describe the joys of having kids – and found a complete dearth.  There’s many terms I’d use to describe my 3 kids – many of which wouldn’t always be complimentary …..

Anyhow.  This all came about as Canada Geese are arriving back in Edmonton (maybe it was a slow news day as it was the key topic of conversation on the radio) with ‘wedges’ being spotted in full formation flying in from goodness knows where.  Comes to something when even the Canadian Geese migrate away from here over the winter …. maybe there’s a message in there somewhere?  Being upbeat, it’s obviously a sign that the worst of the weather is over and a lot of our snow is finally melting away after months of being surrounded in a blanket of ‘whiteness’.  I love the snow and have really enjoyed getting active with the skiing this season, but it’s hard to describe the feeling of finally seeing grass in your front and back lawn slowly re-appearing.  Optimism, I think.  That said, most of the lakes are still completely frozen so we’ve a little while to go as yet.  I’ll have to temper my excitement.  And it’s March already …..

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Not surprisingly, the grass isn’t looking that great.  Mind you, if I’d been covered with over a foot of snow for the best part of 4 months, I’d be looking rather worse for wear too.  Even the Arctic Hare that visits our back garden and ‘stops over’ occasionally under the decking, is rather at a loss.  His fur is still pure white so he’s standing out like a belisha beacon until his coat changes to the summer brown colour.

One of the things I miss most about being in the UK, is the bulbs that start appearing and the daffodils bringing bright colours ready for St David’s Day in early March.  Easter is always a good time to get out in the garden and see some colour and new growth.  Not in Edmonton.  The rule of thumb seems to be to hang on in there till May as the ground is still solid and heavy frosts appear during the night, plus not to forget the occasional snowstorm that can bring a full covering back again instantly.  Talking of which, I think that’s the forecast for this evening.  Oh well ……

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We took a jaunt across to Jasper last weekend.  We haven’t been there at this time of year, and whilst the mountain valleys are free of snow, as you start to climb the mountains you suddenly hit the snow-line and the snow depth that still remains is huge.  So much so, that it makes you wonder how long it will take to fully thaw.  The views across the mountains and lakes are spectacular though.  You alternate from being in early Spring down in the valley, to a ‘Narnia-like’ winter experience where the snow even on the conifer branches is 5 inches thick – it’s quite surreal.

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And quiet.  I’ve never experienced ‘quietness’ quite like it when you’re in the mountains.  Complete nothingness.  Absolute silence.  And still.  The only sounds are from our feet tramping through the thick snow.  I was almost expecting Mr Timnus (namely, James McAvoy from the Chronicles of Narnia films), to appear from behind a snow-covered tree.  Failing that, I had hoped we may spot some wild animals in the forests and near the lakes, but these I suspect, were wisely remaining hidden due to our 3 kids who were grudgingly trudging along with us.  I was sorely tempted at several points to feed one of them to any animals brave enough to put in an appearance but in the end we had to compromise on bringing them back home with us (the kids that is – not the wild animals), after we plunged the oldest kid into 3 feet of snow when she ‘helpfully’ doused her youngest sister with a vast amount of snow down the inside of her coat.  We saw the funny side, but it took several hours before comedy and even the smallest hint of humour was felt by the kids themselves…..

The joys of having kids so helpfully brought to mind.  It got me back to thinking of collective nouns again …..  🙂

Vehicle maintenance? Just leave it to me ….

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I’m not the most educated when it comes to four-wheeled vehicles – mind you, I’m not exactly at the top of the class with my limited knowledge on most other forms of transport either, but I do enjoy driving and can appreciate an attractive-looking car with an abundance of power when you touch the throttle.  I’m clocking up the mileage in my truck which is an absolute joy to drive – so much so, that I’m fast approaching the 100k mark.  There’s also a niggling dial indicating that the oil needs changing fairly imminently and whilst I’ve been quietly hoping it will rectify itself, the sane part of me has acknowledged that I can only put off a visit to a car mechanic for a certain amount of time.  Given that we experience sub-zero temperatures for a substantial part of the year, getting the oil changed regularly is big business here – and a necessity.  In the UK, I can’t ever remember doing it other than as part of my car’s recommended service regime.

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As with most things in Canada, the concept of ‘drive-thru’ applies to the vast majority of service outlets.  Avoiding them when we first arrived 18 months ago and preferring to park up and walk into a store – how times have quickly changed and I’m a frequent visitor who uses the ‘drive-thru’ for the bank, coffee, prescriptions – you name it.  So, unable to avoid it any longer, I took my truck for an oil change at the local drive-thru ‘Jiffy Lube’ place.

It is literally a brilliant concept. No appointments, just turn up and drive up to the large doors – one of which opens for you if there’s a space in the bay, and you’re directed to the maintenance bay straight ahead.  My usual tack when I’m completely out of my depth, is to sound confident and assured.  So with that in mind, I assertively stated that I wanted an oil change and could they check there were no oil leaks.  I usually find that in visiting a new outlet, the instant I open my mouth, there’s often a comment about my accent.  True to form, the chap remarked on it and how I sounded just like ‘Adele’.  He clearly wasn’t referring to my ability to hold a tune – which would be more akin to the sound of a goat in significant distress – and neither my bank balance.  Unless of course, my husband is withholding disclosing the many millions he’s squirreled away in a secret bank account from me.  Ironically, other than her being a fellow ‘Brit’, that’s where the similarity sadly ends – but I thanked him for the thought …

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We’d got off to a good start, I was feeling confident and the chap clearly understood the task in hand.  I even requested the specific type of oil required (based on instruction from husband), but made it sound as though I knew what I was talking about.  Maybe, just maybe, it would be one of those instances where I manage to get something done on a vehicle without blatantly demonstrating my naivety and living up to the stereotypical female image.

Alas, this wasn’t to be.  I was caught out just a mere 30 seconds later when the chap simply requested me to ‘lift the bonnet’.  I hadn’t banked on that, and having no idea at all where the lever was located, had to admit my deficiency and the chap came to my rescue with a simple chuckle and ‘it’s just here, madam’.  Blast.  I’d been doing so well too.

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The job didn’t take long and he checked many other things on the truck that I have absolutely no clue what they do – but assured me all was in order.  That’s all I needed to know.  The best bit about the whole experience, was that I didn’t even need to leave my vehicle and unbuckle my seatbelt.  Canada is awesomely brilliant at minimising any effort required – what a superb country.  All done in less than 30 minutes, I was good to go and with the roller-shutter doors in front of me opening, I drove off.  It’s a concept that would go far in the UK.

Vehicle maintenance?  I have absolutely no idea …. but I know a man who can …… 🙂

 

As ever, thanks to Google Images for the pics in today’s blog

Give it a shot … ?

Photography

When I was little, my Dad used to spend many hours upstairs in the attic which he’d converted to a small office.  There were two items which used to draw my attention – one was a Hornby train track which he’d set up and the miniature trains would run around the track, stopping at the mini stations.  It was great fun and probably inspired more by Ivor the Engine rather than Thomas the Tank Engine ……

Anyhow, the second attraction was that he would convert the attic to a dark room, for processing the negatives from his camera.  I remember there being an abundance of different chemicals and a highly complex process which had to be undertaken in aspiring to produce the perfect print.  I used to help out and would be in charge of switching on and off the red ‘safelight’ – and watched in awe as the pictures slowly emerged onto the photographic paper.  I remember having to ‘hang’ the damp photos up on a small washing line so they could dry.  You’ve got to admit, technology has certainly speeded the entire process up these days, but there’s something more authentic and unique when the technique to produce them was so variable and long-winded.

I’ve always enjoyed taking pics but never really put more thought into it.  My back-catalogue of pics pre-Canada has largely been dominated by the kids in all manner of British places and undertaking an array of past-times.  Interesting for me to look back on and remember the events, but less so for others!

Since arriving in Canada, I’ve found a new sense of inspiration in the natural landscape.  I have no photographic technical knowledge whatsoever but can appreciate inspirational shots.  I also have a personality trait which lacks patience – so taking pics immediately and ‘in the moment’ is more my style along with devoting total reliance on the sheer brilliance of the automatic camera built into my iPhone.

A friend recently challenged me to post a photograph of nature – online, every day, for 7 days.  I wasn’t sure whether I was cut out for the task, but gave it and go, and thought I’d share these with you – along with details of where they were taken……… enjoy 🙂

Day 1: There’s an abundance of red berries as you walk through the River Valley in Edmonton which are striking against the predominantly white snowscape and bare-branched trees.  I love the colour contrast and this was taken in the grounds of the Muttart Conservatory – rather like a small ‘Eden’ project here in Edmonton, and definitely worth a visit.

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Day 2: There’s a walking trail called the ‘River Loop’ which takes you around Fort Edmonton park.  Probably just under 3 miles in length, it’s a popular walking route of mine – fairly flat and easy too, for kids to tramp along.  I’ve spotted the occasional coyote along it in the past plus you get to see parts of Fort Edmonton as you walk along. I thought I’d test out a black & white shot …

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Day 3: Also taken along the River Valley but looking towards the Fort Edmonton footbridge over the North Saskatchewan River.  I’m constantly fascinated that it can freeze completely over …

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Day 4: Autumn (or ‘Fall’ as it’s referred to over here), is my favourite season by far for the abundance of colours which are simply stunning.  This next shot I took back in September walking along the Whitemud Park North trail.  We visited ‘New England’ in the Fall several years ago and I think this is equally as spectacular in colour with the ranges of yellows, oranges and reds set against the crystal clear blue sky.  Life can’t get much better than this surely?

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Day 5: There are plenty of bridges cutting across the North Saskatchewan River, all of which are subtly different in style.  I’ve taken lots of pics of many of these, but this next one was a footbridge across a river estuary leading into the North Saskatchewan.  I love the angles and shadows – and whilst this was taken mid-day in Winter, it has something compelling about it.

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Day 6: One of our favourite places we’ve visited whilst being in Canada is Canmore, just south of Banff in the Canadian Rockies.  Along with being home to the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company (highly recommended for any beer-lovers out there), it also has stunning scenery.  This pic I took on a weekend trip when my parents visited last Summer, on a walk up to Spray Lakes just past the Canmore Nordic Centre.  It was particularly notable, as we were obliged to carry bear spray with us and the kids were constantly wondering whether they would out-run grandma should one appear.

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Day 7: My final submission. Taken last Spring, this is Lac Beauvert just outside the Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper.  I can’t begin to describe how peaceful and serene the place is, and the mirror-image reflections in the water, with the turquoise colours and typically blue skies, are staggeringly beautiful.

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Nature at it’s best.  It just goes to show, that as with most things in life, it’s worth taking a shot …. 🙂

Books bizarre, brilliant and baffling …

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One of the challenges of arriving in a new place is getting out and meeting people, finding different things to do, and new things to talk about. I’ve been lucky. I’ve met loads of really great people – one of which invited me to join a local book club just over 12 months ago. Probably 15 members in total, averaging between 7 – 10 attending each month due to the challenge of juggling other commitments. Some sessions you can make, others you can’t. And that’s perfectly fine. I mentioned in a recent blog my pastime for reading (click here for a re-cap), so always up for trying something new, I’ve been fostered as the newest member of the group.

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Back in January last year, collectively we agreed the books we would read each month, and who would host each month’s ‘event’. It’s been a tough challenge, as most of the books were unknown to me – whilst a lot of ladies had read them the previous year and submitted them as books they enjoyed or felt would be worthy of a monthly book club ‘discussion’ – so I’ve been on catch up, trying to read the required books in time for each month’s meeting. Some I’ve managed, others I haven’t – but nobody minds too much if you’ve not completed it. What’s been most interesting, is that I’ve read books I would generally have ignored – some I’ve enjoyed and others I haven’t, but it’s a super way to widen my reading and also, the discussion that each opens up has been positively enlightening. My husband refers to it as a ‘wine club’ under the guise of ‘books’, and that’s partly apt. November saw me as ‘host’ for the monthly ‘gathering’, and whilst we meet around 7.30pm, that particular month saw us only managing to get to the topic of the selected book just after 9. Just to ease things along, I offered a range of delicacies procured from the Italian market – meats, cheeses, dips, plus concocted a simple fruit salad, made ‘sticky date cake’, and also got hold of some homemade cookies from a new shop just at the corner of the road recently opened. Along with wine (the preferred liquid of choice), a great evening was had by all.

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Some books have been by Canadian authors – and I’m sure if I really hunted them out in the UK, I’d probably find them – but they’ve never had much precedence when I’ve been browsing the book stores back home.  They’ve been great reads, and I’ve been given different perspectives of historical time periods that  I’ve not come across before.  For example, ‘Requiem’ by Frances Itani, deals a lot with the treatment of the Japanese in Canada after Pearl Harbour in 1942 – something I knew very little about.  Most history I’ve come across has been european-based – especially during WW2, so it was refreshing but also shocking what happened elsewhere.

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On a lighter note, the last 2 months have seen British authors and with both being set in England, I’ve enjoyed the references to places, past-times and practicalities.  What’s had me chuckling the most is how British references translate across the pond to Canadian readers – or not, as the case may be.  The ladies in the book club have required the occasional translating of particular phrases, explanation of who various celebrities are (‘Katie Price’ – say no more), and verification over whether life is how it’s actually described in the books.  The funny thing is, this must be rubbing off on my oldest kid.  She’s reading a British fiction book in school and the teacher regularly asks the class about what words or phrases mean in the context of the writing.  What had me laughing the most, was when my oldest kid described what the word ‘priorities’ meant to the class and then was challenged to put it into context in a sentence for the class to understand.  She said her example was, ‘my Mum is always saying, I’m not doing that just yet as it’s not at the top of my list of priorities’.  The teacher could readily appreciate the sentiment ….

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For those interested, the list below is an eclectic mix of books read over the past 12 months that I’ve enjoyed – and you never know, you may too …..

P.D. James – ‘The Lighthouse’ 

Rachel Joyce – ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’

Donna Tartt – ‘The Goldfinch’

Andrew Davidson – ‘The Gargoyle’

Cheryl Strayed – ‘ Wild’

Paula Hawkins – ‘The Girl on the Train’

Kimberly McCreight – ‘Where They Found Her’

Linwood Barclay – ‘No Safe House’

Francis Itani – ‘Requiem’

J.B. Morrison – ‘The Extra-Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81’

Happy reading  🙂

Credit to google images for the pics used in this week’s blog – they had me smiling so thought they’d make you smile too

Just give us a push …

cross-country-skiing

I’ve been out and procured some cross-country skiing equipment over the last week – part of an early birthday present and also, if I didn’t do it soon, I’d miss the brilliant snow conditions that are in Edmonton at the moment.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking days or weeks before the snow disappears.  No – we’re in it for the long haul and it won’t be probably till April before we get to see glimpses of grass underneath the blankets of whiteness that surround us currently.  That said, there’s no time like the present, and after my brief ‘trial’ just before Christmas, I’ve been keen to try the sport and get out in the River Valley and enjoy it.

The equipment is slightly different.  For those familiar with downhill skiing and having to prise your feet into the solid, rigid ski boots, then you’re in for a treat with cross-country skiing. The boots are wonderfully comfy, rather like wearing a pair of flexible slippers on your trotters – and clip into your skis just at the tip of the toe, leaving your ankle free to move up and away from the ski itself.  This is great as it enables you to really push-off and ‘skate’ through the snow.  The skis themselves are much narrower and significantly lighter than downhill skis, with the poles much taller.  There’s a whole industry surrounding waxing underneath the skis – to provide grip and glide – and knowing the difference and what to use, and when, seems to be riddled with complexity to me as a complete novice.  I’ve copped out and gone for ‘waxless’ skis  – and so far, these are working really well and I’ve at least remained upright.  Success!

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I’ve mentioned in numerous blogs over the year that the City of Edmonton certainly embraces and encourages activity – providing an amazing number of activities and sports from young to old.  Cross country skiing is no different, and there are a number of park locations in the city which are purposely groomed and maintained for people to purely turn up and have a go.

One of the other advantages of living in Edmonton is that rather like living in Cheshire, England – it’s extremely flat, albeit much drier than it seems to be over the other side of the pond.  This means that for the majority of cross-country skiing opportunities, there may be minor inclines and small sections of downhill, but for the most part – it’s flat.  Not challenging for those wanting to adopt it as a serious sport, but for the recreational user and for me, it’s proving a hit. I can tell though, that getting up minor inclines needs more finesse on my part – I’m doing a good impression of a dilapidated duck and it’s been pure luck I haven’t ended up in a heap back at the base of the climb.  Good job there’s nobody filming my exploits – you’d have ‘cine-gold’ to blackmail me with!

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Some circuits are based on or around golf courses – you can imagine there’s not much call for golf when everything is covered in snow and it’s sub-zero.  So, these circuits are groomed and often take you round the edges of the courses, through the trees and along the river.  It’s so quiet too – you wouldn’t know you were in the centre of the city.

I had to chuckle last week as I embarked on my first attempt at cross-country skiing with my newly acquired equipment.  As I was getting my boots and skis on, a chap in the next vehicle was doing likewise and remarked on how nice my skis were.  Not wanting to let on that I’d never used them in earnest as yet, I simply shouted back, ‘yes, they’re extremely light’.  He then enquired as to which direction around the track is usually adopted – and luckily, as I’d been just once before, I could say with a confident sweep of the arm, ‘oh, we always go this way’………..and with that, off he skied.  Just goes to show, do it with confidence and nobody is any the wiser 🙂

Cross country skiing

Yesterday, I took a friend of mine around one of the skiing tracks.  It was a beautiful day – blue skies, sunshine and temperatures that were verging on freezing point, ie. mild!  The scenery was spectacular, and the skiing wonderfully crisp, it’s an utter joy to be out and experiencing it.  We even spotted a family of 3 coyotes quietly enjoying the sunshine nestled underneath a conifer as we passed only 10 feet by.  I haven’t had any disasters as yet, and despite being hard work on your muscles, it’s highly aerobic and doesn’t take long before the sweat is dripping and you begin to wonder whether all the layers of clothes may have been overkill.   I’m enjoying it, and boy, do you feel much better mentally just having got out there and given it a go.

I wonder what’ll be next!!  🙂

Thanks to google images for this week’s pics!  Hard to take pics when you’re travelling at speed …..

Seasons Greetings from the cold north!

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It’s been a bit of a chilly week here in Edmonton.  Temperatures are usually around -4 to -6 for this time of year, but this week we’ve had the delights of -19 and at one point, -24.  Now I know it’s going to get a lot colder as we move into the New Year, but still – boy, is it a bit brisk.

On the last day of school, it was pyjama day so all 3 kids trampled off to school with their PJ’s on underneath ski pants, boots, thermal coats, hats, gloves and scarves.  It was so cold that they didn’t even get ‘recess’ – which given the scant nature of their PJ’s, I was somewhat relieved.  That said, there’s no doubt about it – every year it’s a white christmas here, and it certainly feels it with the snow, the ice, the cold, and the numerous christmas decorations.  Now talking of which …..

Once we pass Halloween, it seems to be a ‘free for all’ on the Christmas decorations front.  With the dark early nights, cold temperatures, and snow all around, the colour from the displays definitely brightens things up as you drive through the City and residential streets.  We’ve even joined in, and have added to our range of Christmas cheer this year in the form of a moose.   No, not a real one, but standing on our decking about the size of a Shetland Pony, beaming out white Christmas lights.   Ho, ho, ho …..

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Ever wondered about the definition of a ‘white’ christmas?  Well, I know in England it’s determined by the UK Met Office who only require one snowflake to be observed falling in the 24 hours of Christmas Day somewhere in the UK – whether or not a single snowflake melts before it hits the ground.  I remember every year just wishing for a ‘White’ Christmas to be declared – but they’ve been few and far between and seemingly unlikely this year too.

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It’s a different story here in Edmonton.  A ‘white’ christmas is one where there is at least 2cm of snow on the ground at 7am on Christmas morning.  This year (and I assume each and every year), we’re safe on that score.  Now, this doesn’t invoke a sense of expectation or excitement when the prospect of snow is somewhat a ‘given’, so there’s an additional element built on top as to what constitutes a ‘perfect’ Christmas?  Any ideas?  Well, the formal definition is that along with the criteria being satisfied to declare a ‘white’ christmas, snow needs to be falling at the same time ….. a-ha!  Let’s see if we’re in luck this year then …..

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Now, on the topic of frozen ice….. Edmonton is home to a huge Ice Castle currently under construction in Hawrelak Park, a beautiful location down in the River Valley.  Billed as the largest ice structure in North America, once completed, it’s going to be open to the public and along with the castle itself, will also include slides, waterfalls, tunnels and caves which you can explore.  Every metre of the castle is made up of at least 400 icicles which have been grown from over 3km of water sprinklers.  We’re booked to explore it in early February so the kids are extremely excited about going inside.  Here’s a pic amidst ongoing construction as we walked past earlier today …..

2015-12-24 11.41.52Edmonton isn’t called the ‘winter city’ for nothing.  Along with opportunities for ice and snow sports during the day, there are lots of shows to go and see in the winter evenings.  We’ve been on numerous excursions this week, ranging from the ‘Singing Christmas Tree’ show (brilliantly light entertainment and it was, literally, a choir nestled amongst lights and tiers resembling a Christmas tree), the “Festival of Lights’ at the local zoo (only the snow leopard and reindeers were out and about that night), the theatre play – ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens and excellently performed by a professional cast in a  beautiful theatre, followed by the British panto, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ at Fort Edmonton which was in 1920’s style.  Quite a cultural and eclectic mix of events and activities over the past few weeks – but great fun and well worth seeking out and visiting.  The challenge will be maintaining the momentum and managing expectations for Christmas in Edmonton next year!!

So, as it starts to get dark here on Christmas Eve, I’m off to pour myself a glass and toast to everyone’s good health.  All that remains on this cold and snowy evening, is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 🙂

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Final photo courtesy of google images …

Active? Me? Well, what do you know …..

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When asked to describe me, friends invariably come up with all manner of descriptive terms – some complimentary, some jovial, some just plain rude. One thing that they all would have in common though, is that the term ‘active’ or something even indicating the essence of any effort being deployed in the pursuit of fitness – would definitely not appear. On that they would certainly agree.

But, take me away from home pastures and place me in an unknown city with snow for 5 months of the year, and mostly blue skies and high 20’s temperatures for at least 4 months – then a transformation nothing short of miraculous has occurred. I’m now hankering after any exercise possible – and you know what I put it down to? Having the scenery, blue skies and sunshine – irrespective of the degree of warmth. That’s what.  Staying inside would be sacrilege.

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I tested my theory recently on my brief return trip to the UK. Every day delivered weather that was miserable, raining and cloudy. Now, I do admit, that my social diary was rather manic and a large portion of time taken up meeting friends and family – which was absolutely fab and a wonderful tonic. But did I get the urge to be out and about exercising? No. In fact, it was decidedly the opposite.

Since the kids returned to school in September, at least 3 times a week I’ve been traipsing the trails around the River Valley in Edmonton, seeking out new routes and taking great delight in listening to various playlists whilst enjoying the views. I’ve loved it. It’s become my preferred form of ‘me’ time, and I’ve felt much better for it too. It was a shock to my muscular system initially, and I can only imagine the frenzy of activity it provoked inside my body – rather like an opening episode of the sequel to the animation, ‘Inside Out’. I like to think that instead of ‘emotions’ competing against each other, there’s ‘muscular’, ‘skeletal’, ‘digestive’, ‘common sense’ and ‘reckless’ all jockeying for position. Upsetting the norm of what has been the best part of 40 years, I certainly have.

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The snow came down nearly 2 weeks ago and whilst only a small dump by Edmonton standards, coupled with sub-zero temperatures, it’s still on the ground. Two weeks on, it’s still pure white, shimmers in the light and creates it’s own sense of beauty. It’s cold, but that’s manageable if you just make sure you’ve got your layers on 🙂

So, traipsing in the snow has become my new pursuit and not only that, true to my word, I’m now hitting the ski slopes for an hour or so whilst the kids are otherwise engaged in educational establishments. Strava is struggling to cope with all these various nuances of exercise, but I’m loving it.

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Friends recently asked me if the snow turns a yucky brown colour and goes to mush. Not in the slightest. In fact, most of the trails that are paved are cleared for snow which makes walking on it all that much easier. Only the gravel paths stay full of snow and even then with the advent of others walking the same routes, the snow slowly gets worn down and it’s easier to navigate. Whatever the case, invariably, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and the view is a wintry picture reminiscent of Christmas cards.

A fellow Mum who I see everyday in the drop-off and pick-up at school is a cross-country skiing fan – and has invited me to join her.  I’ve no idea what I’ll need to do, the amount of physical exertion it’ll require, or even the type of skis needed – but I’m game and we’ll try to get out over the next week.  It’ll be a laugh and lovely to enjoy with a new-found friend.

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I’m coming to the conclusion that maybe, all my years of experiencing the UK weather has made me appreciate such a climate and finally having the environment to enjoy such forms of exercise on my doorstep, has unlocked a new-found passion for doing so. I’m not advocating it as a recipe of success for others – but it’s certainly working for me!

Long may it continue.   🙂

Give me a good book and a glass of wine …

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I’m an old-fashioned gal when it comes to books.  Call me antiquated, but there’s nothing quite like the feel of an ‘actual’ book, the smell of the paper, and being able to flick right on through – all the way to the end.  It’s probably akin to buying ‘proper’ CDs and records – but even on this score, I’m sorry to say the advent of modern technology has finally caught up with me and I’m there downloading the latest albums along with the youth of today.

But books.  Nope.  I’ve toyed with the idea of ‘kindles’ and yes, can see the argument for it being quicker, easier, more efficient to host such books on technology and read them that way.  I have flashes of temptation every now and again, but, no.  It’s not the same.  I love books – the complete experience from selection to read, and then the delight of rediscovering them sat on a bookcase, blowing dust off the covers and thumbing back through them, long after their original completion.

I can also see the arguments (and frankly, much more cost-effective way) for ordering books online and getting them delivered.  But the experience is different.  I love a good hour or more in a bookshop, browsing the shelves, seeking out new reads that catch my eye and bringing them home.  There’s nothing quite like it – and the kids have become advocates of this leisurely pursuit too.  My middle kid in particular, is an avid reader and loves being able to go to a bookstore and select some items of choice.  Not a cheap activity I know, but I’d have to be dead and gone before I stifle anyone’s interest in the written word.

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One of the advantages of having a basement, is that we’ve got plenty of space to construct bookshelves (courtesy of Ikea, a good screwdriver and the patience of a saint) – which now play host to the vast numbers of books we’ve acquired and continue to proliferate.  It’s a great space – and the kids can often be found seeking out different books and squirreling them away back to their rooms, taking delight in finding something they’ve long forgotten about.  And now, just that little bit older too, enjoying it again by reading it themselves – rather than via the bedtime ritual reading courtesy of Mum & Dad!  I’ve even spotted on occasion, the youngest kid cuddled up in bed whilst my middle kid reads her a story from her selection.  Both chuckling away and enjoying the imaginative delights that only books can bring.

There have been some awkward moments though.  Sometimes we’ve stumbled upon a book which has provoked some interesting discussions – usually at the most un-opportune moments.  One memorable event 4 years ago was just after the departure to the heavenly gates in the sky of another of my cats (and whilst we’re on the topic and for those too nervous to ask – yes, my 20-year-old remaining cat is still with us, alive and well).  My middle kid had chosen one of the ‘Mog’ books – a selection of tales about a similarly coloured black and white cat named, you guessed it – Mog.  We’d acquired a box set and were gradually working our way through the various stories and escapades.  This one evening, I opened the next story in the saga entitled, ‘Goodbye Mog’.  I should’ve guessed from the title, but not always spotting the obvious, embarked on the story which saw the rather abrupt death of Mog.  Astounded and rather aggrieved at such a drastic turn of events, and with the emotion of a similar recent feline departure providing flashbacks, the nightly bedtime ritual saw me attempting to navigate my way through the story complete with sobs, tissues and the inevitable series of direct questions on the topic of death that only kids can manage to ask.   Memorable, certainly.

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Back to the present day, and the weather here in Edmonton has plummeted in temperature and we’re now in sub-zero, surrounded by snow.  There’s only 2 forms of response – get on out there and enjoy it, or snuggle up at home watching the latest flicks ‘on demand’ or reading a good book.  On the former (and during daylight hours), I’m embracing the slopes (see earlier blog!) with a spot of skiing and luckily without any visits as yet to the local A&E department.  When it’s dark and with a glass of wine in hand, large comfy sofa and roaring fire going, there’s little that competes with enjoying the delights of my latest novel of choice.  My only challenge is getting past the end of the first page and not falling asleep too soon from the day’s exertions!!

Happy reading everyone 🙂

‘Eye of newt, and toe of frog …’

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Halloween is nearly upon us, and in typical retail fashion, there have been items aplenty in the shops for well over 6 weeks now.  In fact, we’re not even at Halloween and everything is starting to be discounted and stock reduced as the emphasis now moves swiftly on to Christmas items.  I’m not ready for that one yet, and in fact, I’m still struggling to keep up with the demands for Halloween over this side of the pond.  It’s big business.  It’s marked in a massive way and seen as the first of the major events as we stagger towards Christmas.

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Huge retail outlets purely stocking Halloween items have sprung up, and for those fancying a costume in which to parade, the choice is endless.  This is not just targeted at kids either.  Adult costumes and any excuse to dress up is embraced – and I don’t mean just as ghouls, ghosts or witches – yes, I know I won’t need much makeup …….. 😉  I had to stifle the giggles as walking through one of these stores last week, there’s every adult costume known to man just waiting to be adorned.  There was ‘Wonder Woman’ (I’m not so hot with a lasso and sparkly shorts aren’t my thing) or indeed, any of the full range of action heroes, (‘I’d rather kiss a wookie’).  There’s the ‘typical’ Halloween dress as you would commonly expect, and then the complete attire to almost every Disney character (I was tempted with Maleficent but worried the horns may attract the migrating Canadian Geese as landing posts).  You could opt for a medieval knight, egyptian goddess, roman soldier, a ‘banana’, ‘cheeseburger, or dressed up as the ‘twister’ board game(?).  Mmmmm ….. I can’t help wondering if something has started to get lost in translation……. My particular favourites were the ‘couples’ costumes.  ‘Mr and Mrs Potato Head’ had me in stitches, as did the ‘Peanut Butter and Jelly’ get-up, or the ‘Bacon and Eggs’ his ‘n’ hers regalia.  Tempting ….

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In the workplace, my husband informs me that they’ve been asked to attend as ‘zombies’ on Friday.  No need to dress up there then and his normal attire and facial expressions should suffice …..

At school, they’re all having class parties with parents asked to donate ‘healthy food choices’ as snacks for the kids to enjoy.  Topic of conversations amongst the kids is certainly centred on what the costumes this year will be, followed by how many sweets on the ‘trick or treat’ quest they expect to receive. (Contrastingly, the immediate thought I’m left wondering is ‘how long it will be before they finally drop off to sleep after such a sugar rush on Saturday evening’?)

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I’ve already bought my stash of treats to have ready at the door, and my oldest kid (who’s not so keen on the dressing up part, but likes issuing rewards), has opted to remain at home and in charge of selecting the requisite treats for those ringing the doorbell.  For my part, I’ll be on supervisory duties and am anticipating this Saturday evening to be the equivalent of attending a gym class – no sooner have I sat back down on the sofa then I’ll be back up to answer the door, 150 times.  I’ve got my hat, wand and broom at the ready but am hoping not to be upstaged by my supporting artist – my black & white cat.

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Now some houses have taken decoration to a whole new level.  We passed one ‘yard’, who has ‘police caution’ ribbon all around it, skeletons hanging from the trees, gravestones across the grass, and flashing lights to create that air of mischief.  It was very impressive.  The local radio show are advertising their stations as ‘haunted houses’ and in the process of adorning them with scary items.  Indeed, whilst offering the tours on Friday and Saturday evening for free, have warned that they would be ‘unsuitable’ for anyone under the age of 12.  The mind boggles.

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There are planned Halloween parties and fireworks in local parks – and we’ll no doubt take a stroll (in full outfits obviously), to watch the fireworks in the park near us.  We’ve also embraced the full pumpkin thing and the kids have painted faces on 6 pumpkins outside our steps (see pics above).  They’d have also opted for a cauldron, skulls and disgusting food items to accompany them, but these are what I generally use for cooking in the kitchen …

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble …..

🙂

Thanks again to Google images for 2 of the pics above …

Canadian Life – 1 year on …

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It would be remiss of me not to mark the passing of 12 months since we arrived here in Edmonton, Canada.  12 months???  Can you believe it?  This time last year we were on a plane (click here for a recap of my blog) and arriving through Border Control, hoping upon hope, that they awarded us permits to stay.  The Border Officials were obviously feeling sympathetic (or unwell) that day and luckily for us, they did – and so much has happened since …

Six months ago, I provided a list of what we were looking forward to doing over the Summer.  Well, all this we did.  We visited Vancouver (have a read), had the pleasure of both sets of grandparents residing with us for periods of time during the Summer (updates here), even ventured further afield and sampled Kauia (very very nice and very very hot), and the kids certainly did get 2.5 months off school with amples of activities and entertainment.  A Bar-B-Q (and a huge one at that) was procured, and has been put to very good use – plus, I’ve not given anyone food poisoning as yet, so everything’s good 🙂

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You’ll be relieved to hear that my cat – who’s now 20 years old – is also alive, well, and still extremely vocal.  Whilst being hard of hearing and slightly blind, she never fails to recognise when the tin of tuna is being opened and beats a hasty path to the kitchen.  There was tough competition from one of the Grandma’s over the Summer who also had shared sympathy for these ailments – the only difference being, she could smell the opening of the sherry bottle at 300 yards and it was touch and go I didn’t get the two favoured delights mixed up between them both!

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Last week we celebrated our first Canadian Thanksgiving – an opportunity to give thanks for the harvest and all things that were good over the last year.  I guess you’d describe it as similar to a harvest festival in the UK.  I think the last time I went to one was when I was still at school and we all had to take in boxes of veg, fruit and foodstuffs – and that’s going back a few years ….   Over on this side of the pond, it’s commonly celebrated with a thanksgiving meal consisting of roast turkey, all the trimmings, plenty of veg, squash and potatoes.  Interestingly, this date coincides with a national holiday both in the US and across Central America who celebrate it as Columbus Day – the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus arrived in Central America. Now, just to add to the melee, it’s not the same date as ‘thanksgiving’ in the US, which is commonly the 4th Thursday in November. It’s very confusing to the uninitiated.

Wanting to embrace the event, a turkey was procured along with all the trimmings and we spent the day preparing what can only be described as having Christmas dinner in the middle of October. It did feel quite bizarre, and almost as a trial run for the major date in December.  Wanting to try out a ‘traditional’ Canadian dessert, we were proffered a suggestion of ‘candied yams’ – sweet potatoes, honey, sugar, orange, marshmallows and nutmeg.  On paper, sounded quite feasible and even amidst preparations, looked quite appealing.  Let’s just say, it wasn’t to our taste, and even the kids took an instant dislike to the concoction.  It’s been subtly suggested to me since, that it should’ve been served as a side dish to the turkey as an additional trimming.  Call me antiquated and old-fashioned, but I still can’t get used to all this mixing sweet stuff with savoury courses.  Goodness me, whatever next …..

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So, what does the next 6 months hold for us I hear you ask?  Well, one thing’s for certain, we’ll definitely be seeing snow.  Lots of it – although ‘word on the street’ has it that we’re in for a mild winter.  All this ‘El Nino’ effect or something along those lines.  Trust me – it’ll still be sub-zero temperatures – this classification of ‘mild’ is all relative!  I’m about to get winter tyres on my truck in preparation so with any luck, I’ll stick to the snow and ice like glue when it arrives.  It’s very technical though – I just want 4 tyres that hold the road.  Apparently, I have to also give due consideration to the look, the tread, the wheels, the type of rubber composition, the size – oh my word, I’m way out of my league on this one.  One for the husband, me thinks …

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There’s our visit to the UK for 10 days in November, and then the snow will definitely be on the ground when we arrive back.  We’ll be attempting to ski  – another item on our bucket list (bet you thought I’d forgotten), and with these newly acquired skills (and hopefully, no broken wrist this time), we’re off to Banff National Park for New Year.  We’ll continue to enjoy living here, spotting the occasional glimpse of the Northern Lights, and maybe the old wild animal here and there (not including the kids).  We’ll no doubt mark off another few items from our bucket list and we can definitely say, it won’t be without incident or a large amount of humour and enjoyment.

Bring it on … 🙂

Thanks as ever to google images for the majority of pics in this week’s blog

Two nations separated by a common language ….

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When I posted last week’s blog, WordPress commended me by saying, ‘congratulations on posting your 88th blog’.  Goodness me … who’d have thought I could manage to ilk 88 different blog topics on the theme of relocating to Canada over the period of 18 months.  To many, it’ll feel like 18 years and I know there are many inflicted with reading this on a weekly basis (mostly due to friendly loyalty, pure nosiness, or general boredom), who know me extremely well and will be shaking their heads in commiseration at my ability to come up with a never-ending stream of inane drivel and constant babble on such a regular basis.  This has never been a challenge for me.  Making it interesting, engaging and positively humorous – clearly is.

Life is never exciting all the time, but it’s the little nuggets of insight and humour that in a normal week filled with the usual routines and rigmarole make it interesting and amusing.  First up, was a conversation with a new swimming coach last Sunday.  My middle kid has changed swimming classes and upon discovering that we were ‘British’ and had an ‘accent’, the coach asked us with sheer excitement if we could say the words ‘Harry Potter’.  I’ve been asked to recite many things in my past – some, not appropriate for this blog, but the words, ‘Harry Potter’ were indeed a first.  Often in dire need of concocting a spell but always finding I’ve left my wand and cloak at home, I did ask her what on earth she wanted us to say these particular words for.  To which she replied, ‘when you say it, it sounds just like it does in the film’.  Who’d have thought.  The British.  Speaking British ….. it made me chuckle.

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Next on the list of excitement was a trip around the local supermarket.  I’m a strong advocate for the ability to order online and obtain all your weekly shopping from one supermarket, on the day of your choice, within your chosen time-slot, and direct to your door – which is a feat clearly unknown on this side of the pond.  Not only that, I’ve concluded that Canadians have perfected the art of never being able to supply everything you need from just one store – when customers can have the delight of visiting at least 3 before you’ve sourced everything you need.  Such is the life that I’ve come to expect.  So, walking around one of the local supermarkets this week, I passed the freezers and remembered noting that there was an abundance of turkeys seemingly available that I hadn’t clocked in such quantities before.  Only upon settling my bill at the checkout, did the cashier remark that since I’d spent over a certain amount, I was eligible for this week’s special deal – ‘a $30, frozen 7kg turkey complete with giblets’.  Now there’s an offer you don’t get everyday …..

It did go through my mind that it was slightly early for Christmas, but given that Halloween items along with pumpkins the size of a small beagle have been readily available in the stores for the last month, I put it down to a high degree of preparedness on the part of our Canadian friends.  It was only after I’d wrestled said turkey into the kitchen freezer that I stumbled across a ‘flyer’ advertising ‘all your feastly requirements for a satisfying celebration’, that I suddenly realised it’s all in reference to ‘Thanksgiving’ on 12 October and not Christmas.  I’m still not used to this celebratory concept but at least it won’t need to be in my freezer for long.  I just need to research what is traditionally consumed along with it so we can endeavour to create an authentic Canadian thanksgiving meal.  I also think I’ll have to dig out recipes to make my inaugural attempt at a pumpkin pie.  Great British Bake Off?  Watch out the Canadian equivalent ….

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Now talking of TV, there’s a plethora of channels over here which after nearly 12 months experience, I’ve concluded are composed of mostly commercials rather than content.  That said, I stumbled across a few variants of their British equivalents this week that made for interesting viewing.  ‘First Dates’ epitomises the concept of two nations separated by a common language.  Exactly the same in concept, the UK version I find much more light-hearted and jovial in nature, banter and sarcasm.  The Canadian version is like a job interview and had me expecting them to sign contracts of engagement (see what I’ve done there), before they leave the restaurant.  Now, on a completely different level is ‘House Hunters’.  The British equivalent is Phil & Kirsty with ‘Location, Location, Location’ – an old favourite of mine.  Unfortunately, it just can’t compete with the range of locations, types of accommodations, not to mention the couples, that the Canadian version serialises.  There’s even a programme called ‘Tiny Homes for Big Living’ which sees couples seriously downsizing into ‘houses’ (and this description is being kind) which are no bigger than a garden shed.  It’s compulsive viewing to say the least.  I’m left wondering where you’d put your husband ….

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…… now, that’s just given me an idea …. 🙂

(Thanks to Google images for this week’s pics)

Hibernation or Participation?

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So they reckon we’ve had the warmest summer for the last 54 years here in Edmonton.  Apparently, the ‘norm’ is 4 days with temperatures in excess of 30 degrees – and this year, we’ve had a grand total of 12.  I did think it was slightly warm at the time – but put it down to the rosy glow from several glasses of white wine.  Mind you, it’s been a desert on the irrigation side as we’ve had lower than usual precipitation (or as you and I term it, rain).  It’s been a gorgeous summer – blue skies, sunshine – absolutely beautiful.  They also forecast another ‘mild’ winter, which in Edmonton terms just means the snow doesn’t arrive until after Halloween, and we get temperatures which ‘only’ go down to -30.  Brrrrrrrr ……. just the thought is making me shiver.

Mild or not, it’ll be a complete shock to the system when it does arrive and there’s only 2 options – either hibernate with a good book and a roaring fire for 5 months, or embrace the cold and take to the slopes or the ice rinks.

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The first does sound highly attractive, I admit.   But, about to embark on our second winter in Western Canada, we’ve decided that it’s all in the mind and we need to get our mental state looking forward to the snow and cold weather.  So, without hesitation or any due consideration of what we’re actually letting ourselves in for, we’ve bought a ski season pass for the whole family – taking us from mid-November through to the end of March.  Only 10 mins away in the car, there will be absolutely no excuse not to ‘hit those slopes’ and with this in mind, everyone is now eagerly anticipating the snow arriving and our opportunity to ski whenever the mood strikes.  Given last year’s debacle of a broken wrist (click here for a refresher), I’ve checked the small print and as long as I ensure any broken bones are newly acquired by 1 November, I’ll be able to get our money back.  I jest ….. let’s hope last year was a one-off, and there are no such incidents.  More likely, is a series of aching limbs, sore knees and bad backs.  And that’s just me ….

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Next on the agenda, is to get us kitted out with all the necessary items.  As you would expect, there’s a run-up to the inevitable snow arriving, and the shops are already updating their stock with all manner of winter sports.  Plus, there’s the exhibitions that are coming up, and the second hand ‘swop’ days which sound ideal for us as ‘first-timers’.  The ‘truck’ has also been kitted out ready for skis and equipment – I’ve now got a cover over the truck bed which will hold all our equipment in the back without getting covered in snow.  Ski lessons are also booked to perfect techniques, what more could we possibly need?

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For now, we’ve still got wonderfully sunny weather and the Autumn colours are really pronounced.  You’ll be sniggering to hear that my rather reckless attempt at physical activity which I touched on in last week’s blog, has seen me achieve a grand total of 20 miles of ‘brisk’ walking at the end of week 3.  Not bad, eh!  In a moment of complete madness, we also entered ourselves in a work charity run/walk over the weekend.  My oldest two kids decided to run the 5km, whilst I brought up the rear with the youngest walking the same distance.  It was an insight into the art of innovative motivational techniques for inspiring my youngest kid to continue walking and taking her mind off the distance.  It did help having the lure of several bouncy castles, popcorn, candy floss, food trucks and a petting zoo awaiting us at the finish line which proved their worth in inspiration….. and that was just me!

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So, I’m milking the remaining time we have left of Autumn weather and aim to get out and about, making the most of the River Valley and the stunning Autumn colours.  It’ll be white shortly, and we’ve got everything in place to enjoy it when it arrives.  When my body can take no more, there’s always the hibernation option, a good book, glass of wine and a log fire.  Mmmmm …… sounds like a plan to me 🙂

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)

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.

🙂

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.  🙂

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 ……

🙂