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 …

🙂

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 ….

🙂

So … you want to stay?

Time flies

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

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

 

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

There’s a reptile in flight ….

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

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

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

 

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

How does it work, again???

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

The art of confusion …

mass confusion

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

box of chocolates

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

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

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

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

🙂

 

 

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

Life in a freezer

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

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

temperature snoopy

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

Cute_Funny_Animals-05

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

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

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

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

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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

Pass the remote …..

dog remote control

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

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

nothing to watch

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

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

BBC test card

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

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

nothing-to-watch-on-tv

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

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

squirrel dancing

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

🙂

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

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 …. 🙂

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.

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

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

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

🙂

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

All in a day’s education …

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

What on earth am I doing here ???

Canada Immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

A brief change of scenery

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One of the novelties of living in a country the size and scale of Canada, is that new experiences and opportunities to do things crop up which you would never previously have thought.  My oldest kid is a keen swimmer (see previous mentions and blogs), and aswell as competing at the provincial level – which sees her travel mostly between Edmonton and Calgary, there are a few opportunities to venture across Western Canada which appear in the swimming calendar during the year.  Back in December, she flew to Victoria on Vancouver Island with her swimming team just to compete – something at the age of 12 in the UK, I don’t think would ever have featured in the itinerary.

These last few days, I’ve flown with her to Vancouver for yet another competition.  It feels quite close to Edmonton being on the left hand side of the country, and yet is still 90 minutes on a plane and for those wishing to drive, a mere 12 hours in a car away.  Distances are deceptively large over here.

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Being a swimming competition, they are not always held in the traditional tourist locations, and this week is no different.  30 minutes outside Vancouver, we’re staying in New Westminster – just south-west of the main area of Vancouver and on the banks of the Fraser River.  Apparently, it was named by Queen Victoria after Westminster in London, and as a result gained its official nickname, ‘The Royal City’.  It’s a working river, and there are tugs and boats transporting huge logs all connected together up the river, plus huge mounds of sand and gravel, piled high and being heaved along on boat platforms.  It reminds you of the sheer scale of transportation which is used in Canada, alongside the huge Canadian Pacific Railway trains which seem to also predominantly focus on freight.

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It never ceases to amaze me the total difference in climate and geography compared to Edmonton.  Edmonton is extremely dry and flat – as is a large proportion of the whole Alberta province.  The recent devastating forest fires in Fort McMurray which are still being fought alongside many other fires across the region, lay testament to the challenges this poses when rainfall is so slight.  Everything is tinderbox dry and the province-wide fire ban has had to be enacted to try to minimise risks further.  It’s a dangerous situation – ironic when we generally spend 5 months a year under snow, but with colossal forests, mostly wooden building structures and very warm weather once the snow has gone, it’s a potent cocktail.

Now in Vancouver, it’s akin to arriving in Manchester, UK.  It’s green, wet, cloudy and humid.  Rain doesn’t seem to be far away, and I stifled a smile when the hotel informed me that an ‘extra amenity’ included in all rooms was the use of an umbrella.  I don’t think I’ve used one of those since I was last in the UK ….. I’ve enjoyed being re-acquainted.

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That said, you can never tire of the wonderful mountain views – it’s so nice to be in a place which isn’t flat.  You forget how much you miss having a hilly terrain when you’ve spent the vast portion of your life surrounded by them.  And the abundance of water, estuaries, bridges, rivers and sea is lovely – something you can only appreciate when you’ve not seen the coast in a very long time.

We’ve had to navigate ourselves on public transport – and get ourselves to the pool locations at daft times in a morning – all of which we’ve managed without major incident.  Thank goodness for modern technology and google maps……

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And food.  We could’ve resorted and played safe with the usual food chains that can be found dotted up and down the streets and avenues, but I’m a bit of a fanatic for sourcing out and discovering more authentic eateries and trying things that are different.  One of the swimming mum’s took us to a new ‘Trattoria’ that had recently been voted best new restaurant, and the food was delicious.  Portions were generous, the quality of the food was exceptional, with my oldest kid appreciating the supply of carbohydrates to provide the energy required for her races the following day.  I also discovered an asian eatery on the New Westminster Quayside, which provided good quality produce cooked healthily and was truly scrumptious.  Next door was a small bakery making all their own pastries and breads, alongside other artisans housed in a small building complex clearly trying to reinvigorate visitors to the Quay.  I may have to restrict my food intake for the next week to compensate for the last few days …

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We’re now down to our last day of competition and whilst my oldest is doing all the hard work, I’m enjoying the change of scenery and chance to explore along the boardwalk, parks and quayside.  Given another chance to visit Vancouver, for those that haven’t been I’d recommend the downtown area and waterfront every time, but for those looking to venture further afield, take a trip to New Westminster and you may be in for a pleasant surprise ……  🙂

 

Most of the pics are author’s own, but a few have been kindly obtained via google images 

Up in smoke … well, nearly…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

Job opportunities available here …

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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 …..  🙂

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!

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

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

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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.   🙂

Give me a good book and a glass of wine …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading everyone 🙂

Home sweet home

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After over 12 months in Canada, we’ve just been back to the UK for a fleeting visit to see family and friends.  The most I’ve ever spent outside the UK at any one time is probably 2 weeks – so I was interested to see what I’d notice the most after such a long period of time away.

The humidity in Alberta is very low, such that your skin dries out quickly, lips crack and a good smothering in all types of lotions and potions just to retain and regain moisture is a must.  So immediately upon arrival, the humidity hit me and my hair quickly adopted its natural ability to frizz at the hint of any moisture, and my skin breathed a welcome sigh of relief.  The humidity was also quickly followed by the UK’s signature offering – rain.  In abundance.  That said, we hadn’t really experienced such rainfall for 12 months so it was a familiar sight and treated as somewhat of a novelty.  At least we knew we’d come home 🙂

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A cockney bus driver ferried us to pick up our hire car where his ability to talk and recount tales was clearly in his job description.  The funniest observation being made by my kids who remarked at how he seemed to understand every word I uttered and didn’t need to ask me to repeat anything.  We may be living in Canada where the common language of choice is English, but let’s just say there are dialect challenges when it comes to deciphering the terms used by someone from Northern England which never fails to amuse my kids, who are usually called upon to translate requirements.  Oh the delight of being back on familiar turf and linguistic terminology.  We chatted for ages ….

I have a new-found sympathy for any American or Canadian traveller arriving into London and picking up a hire car.  My goodness.  Not only do they have to fathom the whole ‘driving on the left’ scenario, but the delights of a manual gearbox.  In fact, even making it out of the maze of roads surrounding Heathrow deserves applause.  Roads are small, lanes are narrow, volumes of traffic huge, and with endless congestion – welcome to England.  The pace of life is much quicker, the prices of petrol absurdly high, and traffic signals seem to move back to red as soon as they touch green.  Being natives of the UK, we quickly adapted but it’s baptism of fire for foreigners and goodness knows how they cope.

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All the scenery (albeit wet and rainy), is much greener.  In fact, the famous lines of ‘Jerusalem’ – a national anthem for any Brit – certainly sprang to mind as ‘England’s green and pleasant land’.  It certainly is.  It was awe-inspiring to see rolling countryside and hills.  And sheep.  Lots of them.  I’ve spotted the occasional flock in Alberta, but just not in the same volumes and varieties you see in the fields back in the UK.  It’s interesting how much you take for granted when you live there all your life.

I loved driving on the country lanes and winding roads.  Knowing some of the areas we visited like the back of my hand, my knowledge of the back streets, cut-throughs and scenic routes quickly kicked in and had me smiling with delight at familiar sights and places.  Whilst the grid system in Edmonton is brilliant to navigate and decipher with many opportunities to vary your route and avoid any queues, the logical and structured development of unbelievably straight roads doesn’t provide as much stimulation and interest to the casual driver.  That said, I quickly lost patience with the traffic chaos, time spent waiting in queues, and  sheer volume of traffic on the UK roads.  Some things I don’t miss in the slightest.

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The history, just the ‘age’ of anything and everything, the buildings and architecture is stunning to see.  Western Canada is fairly modern in every shape and form by comparison, so I had a renewed appreciation and noticed more readily, quaint villages, old bridges, picturesque canals, historical buildings and monumental statues which would in previous years have passed me by.

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Food wise, we made a bee-line for a local chippy.  Several times.  What a brilliant British institution.  And pubs.  Love them.   I had great meals out with various concoctions of family and friends.  I think I managed to cram my usual 6 month social calendar into the space of 10 days, so I’m now back in Canada for a rest and diet.  That’ll just about do me for another 12 months.  I loved going back home, being in the UK, the sights and smells – and enjoyed my refill of friends and family.  It was wonderful and had much more of a regenerative impact than my friends probably realised. A huge thank you to all.

Our new home is in Canada.  But did I miss my UK home enough to want to return?

No, not yet …  🙂

‘Eye of newt, and toe of frog …’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

Canadian Life – 1 year on …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring it on … 🙂

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

It’s the little things …

the_little_thingsSomebody mentioned to me a while ago that they would struggle to relocate abroad for any amount of time as after even the shortest of periods, they’d be missing home and wanting to return. I must admit, I’ve always been somewhat the same when going on holiday for 1 or 2 weeks at a time. I’m quite a homebird, and there comes a point doesn’t there, when you’ve done what you came to do, you’ve had the experience, welcomed the change of scenery and are now looking forward to returning home and everything that is comfortable and familiar.

I think the longest I ever spent outside the ‘north of England’ prior to moving to Canada was when I was at University in Sheffield – and maybe even that doesn’t really class as being outside what can only be regarded as the ‘true north’ 😉

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Well, it’s been nearly 12 months since we boarded a plane and set off for our adventure overseas. Canada has not only delivered, but exceeded our expectations.  The time has absolutely flown and with it, there have been new experiences, different opportunities and a huge variety of people and places which have been welcoming and positively embracing.   I’m loving it.   It’s a gorgeous part of the world in which to live.

In the next month, we get a return flight to the UK to visit friends and family just for a brief period. By the time we return to Edmonton, it will no doubt be revelling in the delights of sub-zero temperatures and covered in 3ft of snow.

Rather like the project management and organisation that I imagine is going into the 2016 Rio Olympics, our visit to the UK is no different and commands the same level of detail and meticulous logistical planning. You won’t be surprised to hear that a detailed timetable, spreadsheet and visitation log has been established in order to navigate ourselves the length and breadth of the UK, seeing as many family and friends as possible, savouring the delights of food we’ve missed from our culinary table, and procuring essential items that just cannot be replicated over this side of the pond.

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So, after 12 months abroad, apart from friends and family, what have we missed the most? Well, I can tell you with absolute clarity, it’s the little things. It’s the things you would least expect and if you’d asked me the same question prior to us moving to Canada, would not have featured remotely in my expectations of life over here.  That’s not to say there’s gaping holes.  Canada provides the majority and indeed in a lot of cases, there’s a whole chunk of new and different stuff that has enhanced our life over here, what we do, what we eat and what we see.  But there’s no getting away from it.  It’s the little things.  Here are my top 10 …

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  1.  I love food, and my first stop in the UK will be to a chippy. Yes, a proper chippy. One that does chips ‘n’ gravy, with curry sauce, steak & kidney puddings, and mushy peas. I’m drooling just at the thought. Don’t get me wrong, Canadians attempt to construct ‘fish and chips’ but it’s just not the same and doesn’t taste anywhere near as good.
  2. Now don’t get me started on the topic of pies. I’ve had to make my own or buy them from my fellow British ex-pats just to satisfy the urge. Any type of savoury pie, I’m not fussy. But a pie. With gravy ……. Mmmmm.
  3. Talking of which ….. Bisto. Bisto gravy granules – sheer innovation. Unknown on this continent for the ability to serve it with anything remotely edible. A truly flexible product that even UK ‘southerners’ have never maximised to it’s full potential. I’m from the north-west of England, it’s in our DNA, and I’m a gravy connoisseur. I’ve nothing else to add.
  4. Biscuits. Yum. Hobnobs. Custard creams. Gingernuts. Al the ones you can dunk readily in a brew
  5. Earl grey tea. Probably the one item I’ve missed the most in terms of taste to the extent that my mother has been sending me regular shipments just to keep me functioning with any degree of proficiency.  You may have been able to detect through my blogs when resources have been short and supplies limited….
  6. Colman’s english mustard. Other interpretations are readily available but none as good or taste the same. It’s something that just fails to be adequately replicated. Perfect with steak and chips.
  7. Moving onto other essential items. The BBC is an institution that cannot be matched. By comparison, Canadian TV is poor in quality and whilst we’ve been able to keep up with our favourite UK programmes, I’m looking forward to being able to watch the BBC on a TV, start to finish, without the spooling data icon appearing on screen as we struggle with the data downloads.  If I’m lucky, I may be able to get in several episodes of ‘Strictly’…..
  8. Pubs. Now there’s another British institution. Readily found on most street corners and in which I’ll be found upon our visit home …

As with any list, there is a necessity to have 10 items in a list.  It’s the rules.  Just has to be done – and I’m struggling after 8.  Sat next to me on the sofa whilst I tap away is my husband, strumming on his ukulele (no, that’s not a euphemism), and reading ‘Ukulele for Dummies’ (never has there been a book more aptly named).  He has gamely volunteered the last 2 on the list:

9.  Imperial Leather soap.  Unavailable in Canada, and no other soap will do (according to the usual complaint I receive when attempting to find a Canadian replacement).

10.  And finally …. germaline.  ?????  I haven’t asked.

I’m guessing for the Brits reading this week’s blog, they’ll be nodding in recognition and amusement at the items I’ve missed most about Blighty over the past year. For those from other countries who won’t have a clue what these are, put them on your list so that if you ever take a trip to England, you can seek them out.  You won’t regret it – just send me your thanks and appreciation for such insight at a later date 🙂

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In the meantime, the flights are booked and arrangements are being made. You have been warned. Watch out UK. We’re coming back – for 10 nights only, to a town near you ……. 🙂

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

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 …..

Girl drawing back to school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep calm and open wide …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve gotta visit here …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Martini anyone? Anytime, anyplace, anywhere …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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.  🙂

Bear spray at the ready …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Hidden gems …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School’s almost out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Raising a glass to Queen and Country …

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Victoria Day everyone 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take 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 …

🙂