For research purposes only, you understand ….

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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 …. 🙂

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 … 🙂

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 🙂

Canadian Life – 1 year on …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring it on … 🙂

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

Football frolics

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

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

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Image courtesy of FIFA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jurassic World – hunting for dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, onto our next bucket item ….  🙂

It’s all about the list

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

🙂