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

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 ….. 🙂

Past, present …. and future

I was reminded the other day of an album I bought on vinyl, 30 years ago.  Apart from it being as brilliantly sounding today as it was back then, just hearing the opening bars to each track – took me back to when I would play it endlessly on the second-hand record player in my bedroom.  Some tracks I haven’t heard in a very long time – yet, I still know all the words and the nuance of every line and song.  Sometimes I can’t remember what I was told last week, and yet this album from 30 years ago, I can recite verbatim.  I also wonder, that as a teenager listening to this in my bedroom all those years ago – what would I have thought if I’d have known that 30 years later I’d be listening to it again living in Western Canada?  I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me.

Three years ago, I started this blog after being asked if we would move to Canada for a year or so.  Back in 2014, being issued with temporary work permits for 3 years seemed a long time in the future – and yet, here we are.  They are due to expire in September.  For those of you who have been keeping up with our antics, you’ll know that about 18 months ago we started the process of applying for permanent residency as an option to extend our time over here.  It’s certainly been a long time in the making and by no means, is a simple process.  We’ve had the ‘delights’ of sitting an English test (part 1 and part 2!), demonstrating our education credentials, applying for police checks, taking medicals, proving job histories – the list has been endless.  Not to mention the cost.  Anyhow, as you’ll know, we finally submitted the full application back in February (click here for that saga) – and this culminated in an interview with Canada Border Agency last Thursday.  During which, we were all granted permanent residency in Canada.  Success!

I was expecting some trumpets heralding the news, a few fireworks to mark the occasion – but alas, no.  We have a piece of paper as confirmation, but now have to wait until our formal ‘PR’ cards arrive in the post which will then act as our main source of documentation proving our status here.  In the meantime, all other temporary permits, study visas and work visas have been taken in lieu of the cards arriving – which means that whilst we can leave Canada, they won’t let us back in – until the PR cards arrive.  Thank goodness, we’ve got no overseas trips planned for the next 2 months …

I’m also slightly relieved that we don’t have to worry about having to pack everything back up to return, and even more so, our cat (yes, she’s still here at nearly 22 years old) equally can continue to reside in the manner to which she has now become accustomed.  I was starting to panic that she wouldn’t last the flight back across the pond ….. mind you, I had the same concern 3 years ago when she first flew across here.  She’ll outlive me at this rate.

So what does it all mean?  Well, it never prevents us from returning back ‘home’ – but at least it allows us to continue residing and working in Canada for the foreseeable future.  It provides options and choice – and that’s what we wanted.  And for my British friends reading this, no need to rush about getting a trip over to visit in the next few months!  Take your time – we’ll be here for a while for those venturing over this side of the pond.  Feel free to sample the harsh cold of the far north with lots of winter skiing and skating – or bask in the blue skies, constant sun and high temperatures over the summer months.  The choice is yours ….

So, upon reflection – the latest albums I’m now listening to over here in Canada, I’m just wondering where I’ll be when I replay them again in another 30 years from now?  Now there’s a thought ….  🙂

Fast and furious …

Human nature is a funny thing.  The clips on ‘You’ve Been Framed’ and ‘America’s Funniest Videos’ generating the greatest uproar in our house are always when an individual has the fates conspiring against them and they end up plummeting to the ground.  Their moment of impact sees you cringe, you let out a gasp, before howling with laughter at their misfortune.

You’d think that as the years go by, I’d learn from my mistakes and be a bit more cautionary when attempting something new.  But no.  You’ll no doubt remember my dalliance with ice skating and the very first attempt I made on ice, which resulted in several hours at the local Canadian A&E department and a broken wrist (click here to relive the saga …..).   Mind you, I’ve attempted cross-country skiing and downhill skiing since without much incident – although there was that time when I tried jumping off the ski lift …..My middle kid has been pretty proficient about learning to skateboard – and now most of the snow has finally disappeared (I know …. it’s May), skateboards are a popular mode of transport and can be seen out and about around Edmonton.  She’s been learning on a small narrow board, so has ‘upgraded’ to a longer and wider board that is probably closer in style to a surfboard than a skateboard.  We never had flat pavements when I was young, so the ability to even attempt roller-skating – never mind skateboarding – was always limited by the severity of the uneven flags and the sense of foreboding that at any second, you’d be thrown into the air like a catapult.  It’s a completely different story over here.  Smooth pavements, well-laid pathways and flat surfaces make learning to roller-skate and skateboard much easier.  So, upon leaving the store this weekend with her larger and visually stunning  new skateboard, she wanted to head straight to one of the local parks to test it out.She quickly started getting the hang of it, declaring it was far easier than her previous smaller version, and the ability to balance seemed effortless.  I watched her for several minutes, impressed with how quickly she adapted, after which an element of what can only be described as sheer recklessness then descended as I uttered the immortal words …… ‘give it to me, I’ll have a go’.Clearly catching the rest of the family by surprise, they were stunned into disbelief as they watched me place the skateboard on the floor and try to decide which foot to start off with.  It wasn’t an immediate choice – do I start on the left foot, or start on the right – there was certainly some hesitation as I debated how to put my best foot forward, and this possibly translated into some degree of trepidation and nervousness in the watching family members.  For my part, I was totally confident in my abilities and had a mental vision of me demonstrating the moves with professional skill and adeptness as I set off.  The first attempt went well.  I wasn’t quick – just getting my balance, and in all honesty, one foot was on the floor most of the time.

‘This is easy’, I declared – getting more enthusiastic and overly confident by the second.  ‘I’ll have another go’.

In hindsight, it all quickly went wrong the moment both feet left the ground.  Recognising the need for speed, I pushed off a bit too keenly.  This only magnified into a problem – which resulted in my downfall – the moment my remaining foot left the ground.  It didn’t even get as far as being placed on the skateboard as the visual representation of Newton’s law of force = mass x velocity, and what can go disastrously wrong when any of the elements are miscalculated, was perfectly demonstrated.  The skateboard continued its projection forward, whilst I was momentarily horizontal in mid-air before gravity took charge and landed me unceremoniously on the tarmac and in a mound of gravel.

Two of my kids burst into side-splitting laughter, whilst ‘husband’, just tutted, rolled his eyes, and uttered, ‘for goodness sake, you’re not a teenager you know!’.  Half suspecting he had an afternoon’s delight in the local A&E to look forward to, he was somewhat relieved when I hobbled to my feet, hand bleeding profusely from pot-marked gravel embedded in the skin, and a sore bottom that was saved from being scalped literally by the thickness of my jeans.   Thankyou, Levi.

To say I’ve got a slight bruise on my behind would be an understatement – there’s quite a range of deep blues, purples and blacks; and no doubt all colours of the rainbow will make an appearance over the next few weeks.  Sitting on the sofa and chairs are proving a challenge, and the palm of my hand has seen better days.  Still, chalk it up to experience and another sporting attempt I can now cross off my list.  Fast and furious wasn’t the wisest of choices, it’s safer just watching it at the cinema ….

🙂

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’

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 ….

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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

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 …

For research purposes only, you understand ….

wine

There are few better pleasures to look forward to each day than collapsing onto a comfy sofa in an evening with a glass of vino.  Not a day goes by without hearing on the radio yet another ‘research article’ on whether 1 glass, 2 glasses, no glasses, red glass, white glass, whatever …. are good for your health, prolongs your life, or reduces it considerably.  I’m prepared to take the chance.  I don’t care whether it’s the latest fad or whether there’s proven evidence that drinking a glass a night is bad for you.  I wonder whether there’s been detailed research on the best or worst times of day to succumb ….. maybe I’ll have to volunteer ……

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Anyhow, one of the delights of being in Western Canada is that the Okanagan Valley, located in the south of British Columbia, is home to one of the most prolific wine-growing regions throughout Canada. It’s also a massive fruit-growing region with farmers stands at the sides of roads where you can purchase their mouth-watering produce, or even go in and pick some yourself from their overflowing fruit orchards.  Nestled between the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia, and the world’s only inland temperate forest on the western slopes of the Columbia mountains, it receives relatively low rainfall and enjoys hot temperatures – so attracts over 200 different commercial vineyards where nearly every style of wine is produced, with over 60 different grape varieties.  I’m on a mission to sample each one ….

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Since arriving in Canada, we’ve taken a keen interest in Canadian produce so given that one of the items from our bucket list was to visit a vineyard (or two), we thought we’d take a road trip to the next province and see what all the fuss is about.  For research purposes only, you understand …

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Now, having come from the UK, one of the things about living in Canada that we continuously struggle to appreciate, is the sheer vastness and scale of the country.   What looks like small distances on a map, are actually huge monster drives.  The Okanagan, for example, is fairly ‘close’ to Edmonton at just over 540 miles (870 km) away, taking at least 9 hours constant driving, during which you cross over the time-line, scale the Canadian Rockies, go through at least 3 national parks, traverse 2 mountain passes – witnessing the climate and dramatic scenery changes as you go.  It’s stunning.  Once you hit the Canadian Rockies, it’s virtually just one road too – the Trans-Canada highway – beside which for the most part, you travel alongside the Canadian Pacific Railway line and the huge red CPR freight trains that epitomise Canada.

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Once you reach the Okanagan, there are vineyards and fruit orchards galore.   The terrain reminded us of being in Tuscany in Italy, with huge lakes and rolling vineyards – it’s a beautiful place to visit.  There are local maps detailing where all the vineyards are, and you can drive in and sample their produce – oh, and purchase a few bottles too (it’d be rude not to).  For kids and adults alike, the lakes are superb to swim and play in – crystal clear waters and at various locations, activity platforms harness small zip-lines on which you can throw yourself in the lake.  You need to in those temperatures too ……

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But it’s the road trip through the Rockies and the national parks that is the most spectacular.  If you’re prepared to do some research, you can hunt out various stop-off points along the way which are just hidden off the main Trans-Canada highway – literally, within a few meters too.  Boardwalk trails which not only give you 20 mins to stretch your legs, are within steps of the parking lot, and can see you deep within the forest – walking amidst Giant Cedar trees, many of which are over 500 years old.  Just watch your tank of petrol during the road trip as the distances are so large and the availability of gas stations few and far between – it’s an extremely long walk if you run out!!

So, I’d definitely recommend it.  The road trip, the scenery, the lakes and the wine.  I may have to take a repeat trip …. for research purposes only, you understand …. 🙂

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.

Tour of alberta

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …. 🙂

Do you want to build a snowman?

Ice Castle

Earlier this week, I took the kids to visit the Ice Castle which is currently residing in Hawrelak Park – down in the River Valley in Edmonton.  I mentioned in an earlier blog about the Ice Castle being under construction when we wandered past to investigate just before Christmas (click here for my earlier blog).  It’s been billed as the largest ice structure in North America, and true to their word, it includes slides, waterfalls, tunnels and caves through which you can explore.

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Now for those picturing an Elsa Castle nestled on the top of a forest mountain you would be slightly disappointed.  Edmonton isn’t renowned for mountains – or hills of any kind in fact, but it does have plenty of River Valley and scenic parks, and an abundance of snow with sub-zero temperatures to make you feel at home.  Just make sure you’ve got plenty of layers on, snow pants, ultra-tog-rated gloves and some hand warmers – and you’re good to go!

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We’re often blessed with crystal clear blue skies and sunshine, albeit surrounded by snow, ice and chilly temperatures – and it makes for ever so effective photos which I thought I’d share with you …

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And rather like the Tardis, the castle was much bigger on the inside than it was outside – just single-tiered, with spectacular icicles and ice formations.  You’d think that it would be prone to melting, especially since we’ve been basking in the delights of temperatures that have been just above freezing point for most of the last week …… but no.  I guess one of the advantages for selecting Edmonton as the city of choice for hosting such things and with the degrees of cold we tend to experience, it guarantees ice structures remain intact certainly during the core Winter months.  It’s even too cold to build a snowman ….

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In fact, just to prove the point, I should have captured a photo of the large fire pit that is lit and providing a small degree of warmth, constructed from ice and burning chunks of wood in a section of the castle itself.  The irony wasn’t lost on me!

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There are 2 ice slides which get plenty of use from the kids, and the occasional adult who is petite enough to get themselves through the narrow passage and up to the top of the slides themselves.  I concentrated on making sure the kids didn’t plummet too far off the end of the slides and wiping out a couple of picture-taking adults as they hurtled themselves down at speed.  In fact, I’ve just thought of a new game segment for the TV show, ‘Wipeout’……

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You can’t have a castle without thrones (obviously ….), and there were 2 on which to take a royal pose.  Mind you, getting yourselves on these thrones and sat still long enough for an obligatory pic to be taken without slipping immediately off, is hilarious.  There were some brilliant moments with adults of all ages attempting the feat which had me chuckling away and could just imagine appearing in a ‘You’ve Been Framed’ compilation of comedy outtakes.

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So, a great afternoon activity and definitely worth a visit – it’s here till March.  There are certainly advantages to living in a winter city and with the prospect of snow not disappearing for at least another few months yet – I’m off out to make the most of it.  Although, building a snowman will have to wait a while until it’s a bit warmer … 🙂

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!

cross country skiing

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 …..

Winter sports …

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We seem to spend forever planning and preparing for the imminent arrival of Christmas and all the festivities that go along with it, and yet no sooner has it arrived, then it’s over and we’re now already heading midway into January.  It’s frightening how fast time goes.  But in terms of Christmas, we’ve just had the fortune to celebrate our second Christmas over in Canada – and we made a concerted effort to try to make the most of the break by doing new things and trying different activities.

My last blog mentioned the various shows and attractions we went to see with the kids just prior to Christmas (click here for a reminder).  As soon as we’d recovered from the Christmas Day excesses, we hit the road, and travelled the 4hrs over to the Rocky Mountains and Banff.  Edmonton isn’t renowned for its hills, so you can never take away the delight of seeing the Rockies slowly appearing on the horizon after 2 hours travelling, and the size and scale of the mountains covered in snow.  Ironically, we left Edmonton in -20, and arrived in Banff at -5.  The heady temperatures didn’t last for long and the cold flipped on its head and plummeted us back to the ever so familiar ‘minus double digits’ for the remainder of our stay.  That’ll teach us for thinking it may be warmer further south!

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It’s always nice to have people visit, and extra special this year was my best friend from home who flew over from the UK along with all her family to spend New Year’s week together.  We’re both of a similar mould, and making the most of a week together with family members whose ages ranged from 6 to 76 required a detailed plan and meticulous planning which we’d been developing for the last 2 months.  One of the first activities all bar the seniors of our party were first to attempt, was skiing.  We opted for a family lesson, and ended up with a tutor from Cardiff in good old Wales.   I lived in Cardiff for a while years ago, and we happily compared notes and places as we traversed the mountains.  It’s the first time I’ve been skiing in the mountains since doing it in Europe many moons ago, and you forget the staggering views and scenery at the top of the mountains, just after you disembark from the chair lifts.  Trying to concentrate on the terrain is hard work when your eyes are constantly drawn to such wonderful views – and the skiing itself is crisp, dry, and beautiful powder snow to ski on.  We had a brilliant day.

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Another highlight and ‘must do’ in the Rockies is a trip to the hot springs.  There are several different locations and last year, we visited the one just outside Jasper.  Banff equally have hot springs, and the view across the mountains is amazing when you get there.  There’s nothing quite like the experience of sitting in a blistering hot pool of 40C, whilst your shoulders and head are exposed to the outside elements of -25!  It’s much more pleasant doing this in winter than it is in the summer I’ve found, and there’s also a comical element as your hair, eyebrows and eyelashes start to form ice crystals and freeze.  It’s hilarious!  The worse part, is the decision to come out of the pool and move indoors to get changed …… brrrrrrrr…………

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Next on the itinerary was ‘dogsledding’.  It’s been on our bucket list of things to do in Canada and it didn’t disappoint.  We opted for a firm just based outside Canmore – probably one of my most favourite places in the Rockies – who take you via minibus about 17km towards Spray Lake.  There, you’re greeted by tour guides and 185 huskies who are all excited about being hooked up to sleds and going for a 10km run.  The dogs howl and jump with excitement until the sleds are off and then within an instant, there’s complete silence as you move along the trail except for the patter of paws on the snow and the occasional encouraging command shouted by the guide.

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The sleds are surprisingly comfortable and the winter views of the lake and forest scenery, spectacular.  We even had the rare pleasure of spotting a moose with her youngster moving through the trees – brilliant!  Nature at it’s very best – and certainly puts life into context when you can be out and about just witnessing such majesty.  Amazing.

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Spending time together, doing stuff together, sharing experiences together is what makes such things memorable.  And it truly was.  It was a great week spent with friends and family – and all the more important to us as they’d flown from the UK to spend it with us.  We certainly had a few comic moments too – and we’ll be dining off and recounting these for years to come!  What a way to start 2016 ….

Happy New Year one and all 🙂

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.   🙂

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)

You’ve gotta visit here …

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

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

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

So, my chosen destination was Elk Island National Park.  We’ve never ventured anywhere to the east of Edmonton, and this is just 35km outside the city, taking just under an hour door to door, to get there.  It’s one of 43 national parks and park reserves in Canada and also Canada’s only fully fenced in national park, home to North America’s largest land mammal; the wood bison.  In fact, the wood bison is on the threatened species list with numbers having diminished to extremely low levels, and the park has been one of the most influential organisations in re-establishing bison not only in Western Canada and the US, but has contributed to growing bison herds all over the world.
Wood Bison

The park was originally founded in 1906 as a wildlife refuge for the preservation of elk herds in the area, and since then, has grown to be a wildlife sanctuary for bison, moose, elk, white tail and mule deer, beaver, porcupine, Canadian lynx and other small animals.  It is home and a migratory stopover to 250 species of birds, including pelicans, great blue herons, a large assortment of ducks, and birds of prey … bald eagles, great horned owls and osprey.  After the African Serengeti, Elk Island has the 2nd highest population density of grazing animals in the world.  Bet you didn’t know that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Three cheers to the grandparents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a farmer’s life …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jurassic World – hunting for dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, onto our next bucket item ….  🙂

Bear spray at the ready …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Hidden gems …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take me to the River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

It’s all about the list

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

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

 

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

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

Newfoundland

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

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

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

🙂

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

Paperwork

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

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

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

Maze

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

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

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

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

Sign here

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

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

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

Best places to live in Canada? Big isn’t always best …

 

Official logo of St. Albert

Official logo of St. Albert

Given the size and epic scale of Canada, you’d think there would be a natural gravitation towards larger cities as being the better places to live.  Whilst Calgary certainly factors up there in number 2 spot for 2014 (Moneysense 2014 survey of best places to live), a much smaller town appears in the number 1 position – St Albert.

Luckily for me, it’s a small ‘town’ to the north-west of Edmonton in the state of Alberta.  It’s a small community with a population of 64,000, unemployment is low, incomes are amongst the highest in Canada, crime rates are low, and whilst the winter is extremely cold and long, it’s sunny all year round.  20 minutes drive from Edmonton (who, incidentally, was placed 8th overall, 3rd best largest city to live in after Calgary and Ottawa), St Albert has an abundance of open spaces, active areas for sports of all types, and for those with ‘kids’ it seems to tick all the boxes, and is a parents’ dream.

St Albert Clocktower Downtown. Originally post...

St Albert Clocktower Downtown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

St Albert has been mentioned to me by many people as ‘the’ place to live when we relocate.  My husband visited it for the first time last week and (as instructed), came home at the weekend weighed down with maps, leaflets, newspapers and general ‘bumf’ about things to do, places to stay, where to eat, schools to attend.  In fact, the most noticeable feature when you look at the street map, is the amount of play areas, parks, woodlands and sporting facilities there are available.  He described walking around almost every corner to be greeted by another ‘park’ with climbing frames to die for – in fact, based on my middle ‘kids’ recent exploits and ability to fracture her wrist from some monkey bars (see previous blog), she’d be able to break almost every bone in her body each week for a year from what he saw in the play areas and the range of stuff to climb and generally have fun on.  (Better make sure the medical cover is up to date 🙂 )

 

As in the UK, the weather was hot last week in St Albert, with paddling pools in abundance and fountains spraying water over pre-school children who were clearly in their element.  These turn to ice rinks during the winter months when the snow arrives.  There are basketball courts, rugby fields, soccer fields, tennis courts, athletic tracks, cross-country skiing facilities, BMX parks, canoeing, water parks and of course, swimming pools.  Ice hockey pitches, fishing, golfing and nature trails also appear.  And all this, in an area with a population size of 64,000.

St Albert Playground

64,000 people doesn’t sound a lot, and when I look at places I’m familiar with in the North-West of England, it’s equivalent to the population of Bury, a town just north of Manchester (yes, the one with the 2 football teams), and the place I was born and brought up in.  I can probably recollect a few of the facilities in the list above being available, but certainly nothing the size and scale of leisure and active sports Canada seems to offer.

On the accommodation front, I hear it’s a busy market with properties not appearing and staying long on the open market before being snapped up.  Not surprisingly, if the range of facilities is anything to go by, the sheer number of schools built to educate the youngsters, and the promotional material advertising it’s place in the top spot, it sounds like a prime location and let’s just hope we manage to secure even a tiny spot for the 5 of us.

I’m sure there’s a little space …

Go and explore!

Jasper Park, Alberta, Canada

Alberta, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever an event calls for a speech of some description, a spokesperson, a re-count of events in an interesting and often humorous style – my Dad has often been asked to perform the necessaries. Throughout all my life,  events of any kind – whether they be funerals, weddings, birthdays, or general family celebrations – have seen my father making considered observations and final reflections on behalf of others.  So, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I asked him how he felt about our relocation to Canada

 

This is what he said:

 

1. When he was told about the intended relocation, what were his immediate thoughts?

He reflects that when we broke the news we may move to Canada, there was such excitement in our voices, and he was delighted for us.  Grandma and him later reflected on the misfortune of ‘losing us’ to Canada just one year after my sister returned from 5 years in Switzerland as it has always been their desire to have the family nearby and together.  But, he would never wish to hold us back from exploring the world.

 

2. What does he think will be great about relocating to Canada?

He knows that my sister and her family benefitted hugely from their stay abroad. They lived in french speaking Switzerland, so the children attended lessons in a bi-lingual school at a tender age.  Having football lessons in French was a great incentive to learn the language – so much so, that when they returned to England and the ‘kids’ enrolled in their English Primary School, they were more fluent in french than their french teacher!  Getting involved in the community, meeting people and starting to develop strong friendships will be important when we arrive in Canada – and we’ll have a huge benefit being able to speak the same language!

 

3. Relocating to another country – is this something he would have done?

English: in , Alberta, Canada.

English: in , Alberta, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He has a lot of respect for Canadians and is sure we’ll be made to feel very welcome. He remembers a cousin who emigrated to Canada to live in Bracebridge, Ontario and that I have a common 3rd great grandfather with this long lost cousin.  Whilst none of us have been to Canada, my father’s impression is of huge space and stunning scenery and he’s looking forward to travelling the region and photographing the landscapes.

He is apprehensive about the journey to visit us there. It will be a 9 hour flight but worth the effort.  He thinks his artificial knee and heart stent will be challenged by the journey, but it will be worth it to see how we settle in such a wonderful country.  (My mother can now rest assured she’ll be able to get my father on a plane and visiting us, see her earlier blog ….).

 

4. What is he looking forward to most when we return?

Being back home and close by.

 

5. If he had to describe his thoughts about the move in 1 word, what would it be?

 Good Luck

If and when we return, he’ll be delighted – but won’t be surprised if life in Canada, and its opportunities, persuade us to stay.

 

Time will tell.