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.

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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 …..

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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

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 🙂

Christmas goat

Final photo courtesy of google images …

Making memories

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

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

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

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

Good point.  Well made.

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

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

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

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

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

Memories indeed.

Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

Life is full of extremes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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🙂