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

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’

The art of confusion …

mass confusion

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

box of chocolates

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

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

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

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

🙂

 

 

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

Life in a freezer

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

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

temperature snoopy

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

Cute_Funny_Animals-05

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

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

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

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

2015-12-06 20.04.14

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

Merry Christmas ❄️🎄😊

 

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

Christmas comes but once a year …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

Making magic happen …. literally …

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

A taste of things to come …. ???

Edmonton fall

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

Canada white house

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

Pass the remote …..

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

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

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

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

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 ……

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

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

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

I’m not quite ready for that yet …

Not quite ready

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

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

Tour of alberta

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

Jungle Book

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

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

Canada seasons

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

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

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

 

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

A Casino, a Caesar, and a Cetera …

30 years ago

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

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

Glory of love

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

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

casino-scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should I stay or should I go now?

ClashStayorGosingle

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

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

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

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

school house

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

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

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

🙂

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

All in a day’s education …

I love reading_Stickers

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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 …

National pride …

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

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Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Spring has sprung??

Canada Geese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 … 🙂

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 🙂

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 …..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  🙂

Football frolics

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

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

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Image courtesy of FIFA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jurassic World – hunting for dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, onto our next bucket item ….  🙂

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 ……

🙂

Take your marks …

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My oldest kid is a serious about swimming and my usual week is full of the frantic juggling to get her to her swimming training sessions at a variety of locations across Edmonton – usually lasting between 2 to 3 hrs long and luckily, all after school.  To add some complexity, my other 2 kids also swim but in different places, on different days, and at different times.  Whoever said life was simple!

Back in the UK, I started training as a swimming judge – mainly so I could understand the rules and be able to articulate them to the kids.  It also provides an opportunity for me to do something meaningful during the numerous swimming competitions we attend, rather than watch from the spectator stands.  My oldest kid loves the fact that I’m there and on poolside, so it works well.

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When we relocated to Canada, I was keen to try and transfer the skill set across – albeit, my broken wrist at Christmas didn’t help (click here to get up to speed) and somewhat delayed the process.  The volunteering system is huge over here and requests to transfer in as a swimming judge, welcomed with open arms.  Everything is slick, well-managed and catered for.  So, I have just spent the last weekend carrying out 5 shifts as a swimming judge (‘Stroke and Turn’ if you must ask), and am now officially registered as a judge with Swim Canada.  For those that know me and my uncanny ability to avoid any significant forms of exercise, the irony is not lost on me I admit.  However, this appeals to me completely – I can justifiably encourage and enforce the Canadian Swimming rules, without having to venture demonstrating them myself.  I know exactly what a good butterfly and breaststroke look like, how turns need to be executed, and relay change-overs applied – and can readily articulate this.  Just don’t ask me to demonstrate otherwise you’ll be bitterly disappointed – or alternatively, will keel over laughing at my inane attempts!  It’s not a dry past-time either.  Prepare to be doused in water and lots of it.  I got that wet at times over the weekend, I was beginning to wonder whether I would’ve been better as a competitor in the water rather than a judge on poolside!

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Compared to my experiences of judging in the UK, the attendance and sheer number of volunteers around the poolside in Canada is extraordinary.  Everyone is assigned a specific role for the duration of a session and with a formal briefing prior to the start which is conducted bang on time, every time, by the referee; it gets everyone well versed on what needs to happen, how the referee wants to run the ‘meet’, and what to do should an ‘infraction’ be observed.  The interesting and most significant difference I notice from judging in both countries, is the Canadian emphasis on doing it purely for the kids and providing them with the environment during a ‘meet’ which best demonstrates their abilities as a result of the enormous efforts they put into training every day of the week.  It’s a subtle difference and I’m not inferring that this isn’t the case in the UK, but it’s articulated that many times that you find the behaviours align to the ethos.  It’s a positive experience for everyone concerned, and I’m sure it delivers better results in the longer term.

It was an ‘International’ meet with teams travelling all across Canada to compete.  A different use of the word ‘international’ than what I’m used to in the UK, but given the size and scale of Canada alone, well justified.  The organisers are rightly proud of its longevity as a stalwart in the ‘Meet Calendar’, citing that the ‘Meet’ started back in 1978 and was also where changes to the rules for false starts were made and then applied across Canada – and are now applied across the World.  Good heritage indeed.

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One of the by-products is that you get to meet such a variety of other volunteers, and we all have a laugh and a joke alongside the seriousness of the ‘meet’ and ensuring adherence to the rules and regulations.   Perfect for us a ‘new arrivals’ to the country.  My oldest delivered some PB’s (personal best) times in her swims and left smiling each day.  That’s what it’s all about.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, felt as though I’d assisted and made a difference, plus got to use a completely different skill set than the one I do on a daily basis.

So here’s to the next one.  Take your marks ….

🙂

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 …

🙂

Bears, Beers and Broomsticks …

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My blog has been absent for over a week – and with good reason.  We’ve been busy ticking off some of our items from our bucket list.  Unlike the UK, the schools in Alberta don’t get many breaks during the school year longer than one or two days at any time, with the exception of Christmas and Easter where we get just over a week.  It’s worth it in the longer run, as schools finish the third week of June and don’t go back until the second week of September, so it’s the equivalent of stacking all your presents up and having them in one long hit during the warmest and sunniest time of the year.  So, Easter is the prime time to take a short holiday – and we’ve been to Vancouver, one of the places on our bucket list to visit and explore.

I’m still amazed that being only in the next Province, it still takes just under 2 hours on a plane to reach – and with a complete change of landscape and climate too.  Rather like the UK, Vancouver sees a lot of rain, and with a temperate climate, it’s very green.  Having experienced snow, ice and a general ‘whiteness’ around everything for the last 5 months, the colours and wetter climate hit you as soon as you arrive.  The landscape too is wonderfully scenic – with mountains, sea and what feels like a greater history in the architecture and buildings.  It’s a lovely reminder of home.

Many would balk at the rain that was coming down like stair-rods on our arrival – but having not experienced rain for the last 6 months, it was a novelty and being from the north of England, a somewhat familiar experience.  Grab your raincoat and brolly, and just get on and ignore it – we had a great time.

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We spent the week gradually ticking off all the iconic stuff to do whilst in Vancouver.  There’s a superb seawall – a walk and cycleway (we did both during the week) that’s approximately 9km and takes you around Stanley Park.  It’s a public park just over 1000 acres, that is almost entirely surrounded by the waters of English Bay and Vancouver Harbour.  We saw a sea otter, watched the huge tankers anchored up waiting for their cargoes to arrive, sampled the fresh fish in one of the eateries around the park, and explored the park.  It’s also home to the Vancouver Aquarium which houses white beluga whales – which we’d never seen before.  Another first.  Very impressive and the range of sea-life and even a sloth (!) kept the kids entertained for a couple of hours.

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Downtown Vancouver looks out at the mountains to the North, and a trip across the harbour on the SeaBus and a local bus up towards Grouse Mountain is a must.  On our way, we stopped off at Capilano Suspension Bridge.  Built in 1889, it stretches 450 feet (137m) across and 230 feet (70m) above Capilano River – and takes you into the West Coast rainforest, a natural temperate rainforest where some of the oldest Douglas Fir trees are more than 1300 years old.  A treetop walk takes you 100ft up into the trees and allows you to see and experience the rainforest from a height – and with seven suspension bridges attached to the trees, it’s accessible to anyone and everyone.  Well worth a trip.

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Further up the road, Grouse Mountain is over 4000 ft high and ascended by either cablecar or by doing the famous ‘Grouse Grind’ – a 2.9km gruelling trail up the face of Grouse Mountain and commonly referred to as ‘mother nature’s stair-master’.  With 2,830 steps and taking the average person approximately 90 minutes to complete, experienced climbers can do it in 45 – it’s not for the faint-hearted.  Needless to say, we took the cablecar….

It’s well worth the view – overlooking Vancouver Harbour and beyond.  We were also in luck as 2 grizzly bears had just come out of hibernation a few weeks earlier and we managed to tick these off our bucket list too!

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What was most enjoyable, was the vast range of artisan shops and crafts you can visit and wander around.  Granville Island was our favourite, and also home to the Granville Island brewery (another item on our list), and Liberty Distillery.  ‘Taster menus’ offer selections of their nectars along with tasting notes which make for a truly pleasant experience.  Authentic coffee bars were also sought out – and well worth the effort of the find, compared to the commonplace commercial coffee establishments familiar to all across the world.  The coffees were equally a delight to sample and the range and complexity of different tastes just goes to show how much we get used to middle of the road multinational, mass-produced fare.  Tasting original and unique food and drink was certainly a highlight.

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One of the most distinctive shops visited was a ‘Broom Shop’.  I’ve never seen one.  Ever.  It’s run by 2 sisters who aim to make 25 brooms a day in their workshop which also serves as a retail outlet.  The skill and beauty of what they do and make is amazing and the kids found it fascinating to watch them hone their skills.  I couldn’t resist a purchase and despite ‘where’s your hat?’, ‘you forgot your cloak‘, ‘have you joined Harry Potter‘, ‘which one should we get for the mother-in-law?‘, comments being hurled in my direction – I admit it was fair game – it’s a lovely reminder of such a great city.

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A wonderful week away.  Next job on the list is planning our adventure and travels over the Summer … with or without broom ….

🙂

Half a year is gone already!

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Would you believe it.  This week, we’ve been in Canada for 6 months.  6 whole months.  Most of them spent in sub-zero temperatures and covered in snow and ice.  I’d like to say that based on my blog last week proclaiming ‘the big thaw‘ had begun – oh, how wrong I was – which will serve me right for tempting fate.  I’m now back to -7 with 30cm of snow falling over the last 48 hours, and very sore muscles spent shovelling it from the drive.  Anyhow, I digress……

6 whole months.  When I mentioned this to the kids, they all agreed that it felt more like 6 weeks, and I’ve got to say, I absolutely agree.  Whatever ‘half a year’ feels like, it certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve been over in Canada that long already.  And such a lot has happened in such a short space of time.  A quick reflection on the half-year events and we mount up a heck of a list …..

  • We spent the first 4 weeks in apartments and during that time not only viewed properties to buy, but offered, arranged finance, secured and moved into a property.  Not bad going.
  • Within the first week, the kids were enrolled in school and had recommenced their education.  (If truth be told, they were all disappointed it happened so quickly …….. unlike me!!)

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  • Bought a Jeep which has been brilliant combatting the ice and snow.  Oh, and have learnt rapidly how to drive and manoeuvre on such road surfaces too.  I wouldn’t say I adopt a reckless approach, but I’ve certainly built up loads of confidence navigating the terrain.  Plus my major KPI of ‘not having a road-accident’ seems to be a minor miracle but reassuringly unblemished!
  • All our worldly possessions safely arrived after 8 weeks in a container from the UK.  Even my 19-year cat made it across on a flight and settled in like the move was just next door (by the way, she’s still with us for those slightly nervous to enquire……)

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  • Learnt how to ice-skate – and equally, how to break a wrist.  I’ve experienced the health-care system in Edmonton and whilst excellent, am hoping there’s no repeat visits.
  • My oldest kid is competing in all manner of swimming competitions, and has even been away with her team for 4 days by herself.  Is loving it, and has benefitted hugely already from the training and coaching support – plus new friends that she’s made along the way.
  • Spent New Year’s tobogganing on a slope whilst watching fireworks go off – a fantastically memorable event.
  • Had several glimpses of the ‘Northern Lights’ from our house so am holding out that a really vibrant display at some point will arise.

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  • Investigated Edmonton – been to the Zoo, Galaxyland, West Edmonton Mall (on many occasions), Farmers’ Markets, Strathcona shopping, visited ice sculpturing competitions, witnessed cross-country skiing, walked in the river valley (it truly is beautiful).
  • Been educated in the art of living in a winter city – it’s all about the layers, getting out and doing stuff.  Kids are enrolled into extra-curricular activities and we’ve got as busy a schedule here as we had at home.
  • Sampled lots of cuisine from around the world, from the vast number of eateries, diners and restaurants dotted all across the city.  With superb variety and an immense choice.  Even discovered a couple of ‘Brit Fish ‘n’ Chip’ outlets too – so my craving for mushy peas has been met.

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  • Husband procured a ‘fat bike’ to add to a growing Canadian collection of bikes to supplement his UK ones.  The grapevine informs me that there’s a potential Canadian biking trip on the horizon that’s in the planning stage with his ‘mates’.  The annual brokering of the arrangements for his ‘holiday jaunt’ has commenced …..
  • We’ve met – and made  – some superb new friends who’ve helped enormously with getting us sorted and providing different experiences for us to enjoy and participate in.

And I’m sure there’s lots more I haven’t covered.  The next 6 months should be equally exciting and enthralling.  We’ve already got serious stuff planned – most notably,

  • First on our list of places to visit will be Vancouver and hopefully, tick off some items on our bucket list (I haven’t forgotten!).  Just a stones-throw away in the next province, it’s 2 hours on a plane and right on the coast.  I still can’t get over the size and scale of this country.
  • Both sets of grandparents are visiting over the summer months, both looking forward to seeing all the grandkids again and all experiencing Canada for the first time.
  • All the kids completing their first school year in Canada and then getting 2 whole months off.  They can’t wait.
  • Finally seeing the warmth of the sun and experiencing beautiful summer weather!  I’ve got plans to invest in a serious Bar-B-Q and sample some of this outdoor living that’s been promised!

I’ll keep you posted.  🙂

The big thaw

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When you enquire about the winter we’ve been experiencing this year, most Edmontonians will describe it as ‘mild’ and positively warm.  Being new to the whole ‘snow in your back garden for 5 months’ scenario, and sub-zero temperatures for months on end, I’d hesitate to agree at this stage – but we are certainly acclimatising to it.  For the last 10 days now, we’ve been on the positive side of zero – even double digits for the last few days which has been blisteringly warm.  Well okay, maybe not blistering, but it’s been t-shirt weather for sure, and there’s also been the odd glimpses of people sporting shorts and sandals on the pavements (sorry, sidewalks).  We must be used to lower temperatures as walking back from school this week, all the kids were in t-shirts as it was ‘too hot’ wearing coats in 8 degrees.  8 degrees!  At home in England, I’d have had my thick coat on, scarf, gloves and hat just to keep warm!

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And people have been coming out of their houses … spring must be here!  It’s quite bizarre.  When we first arrived, a few people observed to us that we wouldn’t see anyone as nobody comes out of their houses – but come the Spring, everyone will reappear and friendly neighbourhood banter will resume.  They weren’t kidding.   The only reason for going out when it’s so bitterly cold is to remove the mounds of snow from the drive so you can get in and out in the car – which you conveniently drive straight in and out of the garage, keeping your exposure to the cold to an absolute minimum.  You never see anyone save the other poor soul who’s trying to clear their drive as quickly as possible before frostbite sets in.  It’s certainly not a conducive environment for taking 5 minutes and passing the time of day.  The most ventured is a hasty, ‘hello, it’s cold today, isn’t it’, and quickly do the job required, before retreating to the warmth of indoors.  So, with the welcome warmth of the sun and unseasonably high temperatures, the snow is finally melting and people are appearing out of their hibernations and venturing outside.  I’ve even met a few of the neighbours ….

And when I say the snow is melting, it’s still not quite disappeared.  Amazing really.  We’ve had positive temperatures for the last 10 days and there’s still snow in my back garden – but it’s starting to melt and the grass is finally appearing.  It just goes to show how deep it is that it’s taking so long to dissipate.  At this rate, it may have just melted before we get to next Winter!!

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And these things get quite technical.

The foot attire has also changed.  We’ve been wearing snow boots for the last 4 months, and with the big thaw, everything has now become wet, soggy and waterlogged.  Snow boots are no good.  Wellies are the order of the day and the local Walmart is doing a brisk trade in meeting retail demand.  The volume of water that is sat on the land and draining into the water system is immense – the sound of the water going down the drains like waterfalls, makes you wonder how the local water utility copes with such volumes and run-off.

And people are out walking dogs!  Yes, even the ‘dog attire’ has changed.  I kid you not.  Before we arrived in Canada I’d seen the occasional novelty dog coat and chuckled at dog boots in the shops, but hadn’t taken any of them seriously.  If you’re a dog out here, those items are absolute essentials and only the most hardy of canines ventures outside without them.  And that’s those that venture out at all.  Given the volume of dogs spotted outdoors being taken for a walk in the last week, it just goes to show how many must have stayed indoors in the warmth for the last 4 months.  It’s become the norm to see a dog in boots that now, they look decidedly under-dressed without them!

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So.  We’ve got the big thaw.  I’ve even had my windows open – that’s after I’d worked out how to open them after 5 months owning the house!  People are remarking that based on experience, we may still get another big snow dump, but for all intents and purposes, the worst is over for this winter.  Part of me is quite sad to see it finally go – it’s extremely beautiful when everything is white, the frost glistens in the air and there are blue skies all around.  Our first winter in Edmonton has clearly been an easy ride so I’m seeing it as ‘breaking us in’ gently.  When there is a ‘typical’ Winter, at least we’ll now know what to expect.

So today.  The sun’s out, there are blue skies, birds have appeared, temperatures are lovely and there’s a positive vibe around the place.

What’s not to like?

🙂

Life is a roller coaster …

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At the end of my last blog, I mentioned a trip to Galaxyland …. the largest indoor amusement park (cue Jeremy Clarkson) … in the world (click here for the pre-amble).  Situated within West Edmonton Mall (largest shopping mall in the world until 2004, and now only the largest in North America and 10th in the world), it has 24 rides and covers an area of 400,000 sq ft – all packed together under one roof.  The one roof is pretty key, as when the temperature outside is a blistering -25, you seek the warmth indoors and being able to enjoy the rides without the fear of frostbite or ice freezing up the equipment.  It is home to the world’s tallest (14 stories), and longest indoor roller coaster, the ‘Mindbender’.  It is also home to the ‘Space Shot’, the world’s tallest indoor tower ride (12 stories high).

Now, just to put this whole mall into context, it also hosts the ‘World Waterpark’, the second largest indoor waterpark in the world and the world’s largest indoor wave pool.  It has a full size ice skating rink, multiplex cinema, sea-life centre, Fantasyland Hotel, and by the way, over 800 stores.  Receiving in excess of 32.2m visitors every year, you can safely say it’s huge.

You would also think it busy – and according to Edmontonians, it is.  The Mall itself receives 32.2m visitors every year which isn’t a small number.  But to someone who comes from the UK and upon any visit to an amusement park, whether in the UK or Florida, the meaning of ‘busy’ entails most of the day spent queuing for rides for the delight of a few moments experience – our trip to Galaxyland was positively quiet.

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This was brilliant, as we could get straight onto each ride without even a single queue – the most we spent was when it got truly busy in the mid-afternoon and delayed us by having to wait a whole 5 minutes.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if anyone else takes up the mantle and upon their visit is  met by all 32m visitors arriving on the same day – please don’t blame me.

The kids loved it – and I’ve got to say, not being one for thrill rides as a rule, I quickly got into the swing and partook in all except the truly hair-raising and petrifying experiences.  These, I left to my 11 year old kid who sprinted onto both the ‘Mindbender’ and ‘Space Shot’ time and time again, by herself.

For those with toddlers – this is equally catered for.  I did think these would appeal to my youngest kid, who at 5 years old, hasn’t had that many experiences of large rides and I suspected would find the prospect of these pretty daunting.  I was proved wrong, and she refused to entertain anything simplistic – opting for the ‘Intermediate’ level rides and anything she was just about tall enough to gain entry on.  It was hilarious, as her squeals of terror/laughter as they careered through the park, made me and my other kids break out into fits of giggles too.  Never quite knowing whether she truly enjoyed it or not, the test seemed to be at the end when the ride eventually stopped.  If her immediate response was met by the shriek, ‘again’, back we went on the same ride.

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The one downside with it being indoors, is that you don’t necessarily get the scenic views like you would at the top of the Pepsi ‘Big One’ in Blackpool.  That said, the number of rides which have been packed cleverly inside this cavernous space was brilliant.  I was left marvelling at the science which must have gone into positioning each and every ride so they don’t hit one another!

Only the ‘Haunted House’ had the youngest screaming in terror – as mostly it was blood and gore, with motion sensors making the dummies move quickly upon entry to each room which made me jump at one point.  For those wondering how I fared with my broken wrist – well, it’s now out of plaster and having physio treatment.  I had to make sure it didn’t receive too much of a jolt on some of the rides, but my daily exercise picking up a glass (or two) of red wine each night seems to be doing the trick 😉

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Galaxyland is a great proposition.  Where else do you get something that caters for everyone and all their tastes.  Whether or not each family member takes to the rides, those that prefer the ‘retail’ experience can opt to hit the shops which are next door.  The food eateries are too numerous to mention, and the range of food on offer equally so.  Best of all, it’s only 15 minutes drive from our house so I’m guessing we may be visiting it on a regular basis.

‘Mindbender’ anyone …… ????

🙂

Being 5 …

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My youngest kid is only 5 years old, and already almost as tall as her 8 year old sister, she has acclimatised to the move across the Atlantic as though it was just another trip to the shops and back.  Not a fleeting quiver of hesitation, she’s used to being one step ahead and taking opportunities where she can – based on the aged experience of having to fight her own corner (both literally and metaphorically) with her older 2 sisters.  This week has been no exception.

Unlike in the UK, children don’t start school full-time in Canada until they are 6 – which means she’s in Kindergarten (at the school) for half a day, each day.  Despite only being half the time, she absolutely loves it and has a superb teacher – who acknowledges it’s only a matter of time before the younger kid will be taking over and running her class.  They seem to get through as much in 3 hours as they did in a full day of school back in the UK – they’re reading, sounding words, writing, playing out, learning about space, planets, culture, dancing and making lots of new friends with everyone in her class in the process.

Volunteering plays a heavy part in Kindergarten, and the kids’ home reading programme is managed by parents who volunteer to exchange the class reading books according to the levels and instructions that the teacher has left each day.  It’s a great way to get involved, and the kids are loving the books they get – to the extent that the whole approach is around fun and building an enjoyment of reading, rather than ‘how many words can they sound out’ or academically recognise.  Likewise, I’ve fully anticipated not just an emphasis on English, but given we are in Canada and with French also an official language, all the kids learning this too.  What I didn’t expect was Chinese ……

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There’s a large community from Asia and with Chinese New Year celebrations over the past week, Kindergarten has been appreciating and recognising this culture as much as any other.  They’ve clearly been learning new Chinese words and as such, my youngest has started to reiterate these at home.  It was quite a surprise to even know she knew any words, and not knowing many myself (none to be exact), encouraged her to say a few more.  My middle kid was more skeptical about her younger sister’s capabilities and started testing her on some key words – to which her younger sister responded without hesitation.  This culminated in my middle kid ‘upping the stakes’ somewhat and posing the following key phrase, ‘could you tell me the way to the nearest bus depot’.  The youngest didn’t break sweat, just looked at her older sister with disdain and responded with absolute aplomb and utter seriousness with a phrase in what sounded like Chinese.  I spat out my spring roll, burst out laughing and gave her a round of applause – with the rest of us not having a clue whether she was correct or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if she absolutely right …..

For the remaining half of the day, she gets to spend it with me – and for two mornings each week attends a ‘KinderArt Class’ at the local recreation centre.  They get to play with paint, pastels, pencils, pottery and all manner of mediums – plus I only have to wash her clothes following her exploits afterwards, rather than the whole kitchen too!  She’s been producing some art work and has kindly given permission for all the images in this week’s blog to be used.  Not bad for a 5 year old …..

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We also had a day off yesterday from school so went to investigate ‘Galaxyland’ – the largest indoor amusement park in the world – at the West Edmonton Mall.  Absolutely huge, the size and scale is staggering and having the positive feature of being indoors and undercover (useful, when the climate is sub-zero for the majority of the time), we had a brilliant time.  I half expected the youngest to be dubious about the rides, but pouring scorn on the ‘baby and toddler’ rides as ‘being too young and not exciting enough’ (direct quote), she wanted to experience all the rides her older sisters did.  Having the advantage of size on her side, she was accepted onto all except the truly hair-raising and adult-only rides – which my oldest kid at only 11yrs, but being taller than me, went on by herself – several times (I had to watch you understand).  Only the haunted house had my youngest in sheer terror, but the majority saw cries of glee and complete hysteria, revelling in being thrown up and down the roller coasters at speed.

It’s been a good week.  No, a great week.  As usual 🙂

Heed the words of an 11 year old …

My 11 year old ‘kid’ has been doing ‘persuasive writing’ at school this week and has been quite vocal about how much she enjoys crafting an argument (must take after her father 😉 ) and putting it into text.  With this in mind, I set her a challenge to draft me a response to the question …’if you got the chance to move to Canada for a few years, would you?’

This was her reply …

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If you got the chance to move to Canada, would you?  

Imagine all the amazing things you could see.  When I got the chance to move to Canada I did and I’ll tell you exactly why this great experience is worth doing.  You would learn new things, have loads of fun and try loads of different sports.  Don’t you think that would be fabulous?

First, you would learn lots of new things.  For example, you would learn how to stay warm in -30 temperatures.  Although, there is no possible way to stand outside and not get cold, you can still learn what types of clothing to wear when it’s freezing.  I would know because wearing leggings is definitely NOT the right thing to wear.  You have make sure to wear snowpants when going outside (even if you’re only walking across the road!)  Also, wear a big fluffy, waterproof coat that has a label saying ‘goes up to -30‘ on it and make sure to wear some gloves, a hat and a scarf.  Whatever you do, do not go outside without these things on.

Another example, you could learn about all the animals and the nature surrounding you.  In the summer, it’s great to go on adventures and see all the wildlife that climbs up trees and hides in the ground.  In temperatures of 20-30 degrees it’s great to go in all the outdoor pools and learn how to swim.  Also, you could go fishing and see all the little fishes swimming around in the ponds with bubbles floating out of their mouths.  There is so much you can learn in every season Canada brings, so wouldn’t you have a great time here?

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Next, you would have loads of fun.  For example, playing in the snow is so much fun (as long as you wear the right clothing).  Me and my sisters love to build snowmen in the back garden, we build big ones and little ones, thin ones and fat ones and even snowmen bigger than us!  You never run out of snow because the sky seems to have an endless supply of it!  At my new school, the snow freezes and creates mini ice rinks.  Everybody slides around on them until they fall over.  It’s so much fun, I bet you would love to try it.

Another example, the parks here are way better than in England.  They have moving monkey bars that you hold onto and they slide along, from one side to the other.  Most of the parks have sand on the ground, so if you fell off anything then you wouldn’t hurt yourself.  In the parks there are baskets that spin around when you sit on them and there are loads of slides so you can race your friends down them.  The parks are one of my favourite bits of Canada but the swimming pools definitely come number 1 on my list.

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Finally, you would be able to try lots of different sports.  For example, in Edmonton, there are at least 20 different sports centres that you can go and visit.  Me and my sisters always look forward to the days when we can go and play on the millions of slides that they have in the swimming pools.  We go in the wave machines, dive tanks and if we’re lucky then we get to go in the hot tubs.  One of my favourite things about the sport centres are the running tracks.  I love running around on them and I usually beat everybody else to the finish line.

Another example, you can go sledding on all the hills.  In the playground, at my school, they have these massive ice hills and I spend all break going sledding on them.  Also, on New Year’s Eve, me and my family went to the park to see fireworks whilst we sledged down the hills.  It was a really fun night and we went to bed after midnight!!!  Where else in the world could you sledge and watch fireworks at the same time?  What I’m really looking forward to now is learning how to ski.

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Taking all this into account, would you like to move to Canada?  I think it would be a fabulous experience for everyone.  Learning new things, having fun and trying different sports is a great way to spend time with your family and friends.  I know that if you tried it then you wouldn’t regret it.  If it were my choice then I know what I would do…MOVE TO CANADA!!!!!

🙂

Slippery when wet

large_article_im375_heatwave_2Well would you believe it.  We’re having a heatwave.  I kid you not.  It’s true.  It started earlier this week and is expected to continue to the middle of next week.

I know what you’re thinking, and it’s best to put this ‘heatwave’ into some context.  The definition of a heatwave seems to be if the temperature is more than 5 degrees higher than the average for this time of year.  Given that the average for January in Edmonton is -6 and we’ve been basking in the delights of a heady 6 – 11 degrees (that’s on the positive side!), we’re by definition, having a heatwave.  I also never thought we’d find ourselves warmer than back home, but there we are.  I’m leaving the house with a ‘light’ jacket rather than the usual duvet.  I’m not sure I’d class it as my idea of a heatwave, but it’s certainly very pleasant.

Mind you, this has generated some downside in the orthopaedic departments across Edmonton and wider afield over the last few days.  They’ve experienced a spike in the number of emergency admissions to the point that doctors and staff have been drafted in from home and those on leave.  Why?  Well, we’ve still got snow – lots of it – but this has been compacted and compacted over the past few months and the top layers are melting in the warmer air.  Great, you may think?  Alas no.  The melting ice on the top layers turns to water which then freezes as the temperatures drop to zero overnight.  The effect?  All pavements and walkways are like ice skating rinks and absolutely lethal.  Already in one plastercast with a broken wrist (it’s a long story, and to catch up just click this link), I’ve been rather dubious about taking my chances on the ‘sidewalks’!

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It has had some hilarious moments.  My middle kid goes out to check the community postbox every day which is at the end of the Close and she does this with mounting excitement at finding whatever may have been sent us in the mail and bringing it back.  She made it to the end of the drive and couldn’t get to the front door.  Every time she tried to take a step forward, she slid right back to the bottom.  Those of us watching from the safety of our front room, were in stitches laughing at her fruitless attempts.

Then it was my husband’s turn.  He leaves early to catch the bus into Downtown Edmonton and had been rather dismissive at my advice to watch the pavements as it would be slippery underfoot.  He struggled and slid to the end of the road where we have a ‘ginnel’ (if you’re not from the North of England you may need to look this term up!), to the main road where the bus stop is.  He described his attempts to ascend the moderate incline as starting to generate mild panic as the chances of getting to the top and catch his bus were minimal without significant intervention.  Opting for submerging his boots and work trousers in the 2ft of snow at the side of the path just to provide some traction on the ice, this was his only way of making it to the top.  Once there, and with the pavement the equivalent of a skating rink, he placed one arm behind his back, adopted the stance of a speed skater and ‘skated’ his way to the bus stop in his walking boots.

The mild temperature encourages the desire to go outdoors and take advantage of the warmer weather, and yet, being treacherous underfoot, it’s a risky venture.  Some have taken to putting lead-tipped shoe spikes or strap-on grip enhancers on their feet, but the advice from the Canadian Safety Council suggests ‘walking like a penguin’.  Arms out, feet turned slightly outward and small cautious steps.  They forgot to add, and the ‘flapping of arms and short yelps’ which seems to come unconsciously when I’m out on the ice!!

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As luck would have it, there’s an ice festival which starts this weekend in Edmonton where ice carvers across the world come and create amazing ice sculptures.  It’s still going ahead despite the melting temperatures and we’ll go and take a look later today – life goes on and nothing stops here despite whatever the weather throws at us.

We’ll continue to make the most of the temperate weather, but I’m not looking forward to when the temperatures return to normality and plummet below zero.  We’ll have to suffer the challenge of all the water freezing during the day unless some serious snow showers intervene and provide a blanket covering.

I’ll let you know.  Now, where’s that bikini …….

🙂

Holiday? Oh no it’s not … (oh yes it is)

Talking to my middle kid earlier this week, we were discussing when the next full week off school will be – and it’s not till the end of March.  I reminded her that the plan is to select something from our ‘Bucket List‘ and this is what we’ll do during the holiday, to which she responded, ‘well, living here is like being on holiday all the time’.

Very true.  Or at least, a winter holiday at that.

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It’s been a cold January already – we’ve experienced -26 and below, and the kids still have to walk to school and everything functions as it would do normally.  They go in snow pants, boots and thick winter coats with hoods up and gloves – any skin left exposed quickly feels painful, but they’ve taken it completely in their stride and enjoy tramping in the snow which is a constant companion.  It’s warmed up this week and we’ve had a balmy +2 degrees which has seen the snow start to melt on the tarmac on the main roads – but never on the side streets or gardens.  It’s amazing how quickly your body acclimatises to different temperatures as I’ve generally been regarded as part-reptile and will always have cold extremities at the best of times in the UK.  But the last few days has seen me switch coats from my -30 winter duvet to my much thinner and somewhat frivolous jacket with a verbal comment or two along the lines of ‘it’s positively mild out today’.

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The kids take their toboggans to school and make the most of the snow and ice during their breaks or ‘recess’ during the day.  They have an hilarious time and the antics they get up to have me chuckling as they recall the day’s events.  I can see why they regard it as a type of holiday.

On top of that are their classes.  They always describe their school days as fun and yet when I see what they’ve been learning, the curriculum isn’t massively different to what they’ve had back in the UK – but ‘fun’ wasn’t a descriptive term that was prevalent.  Maybe it’s the delivery.  There’s a huge use of technology – everything is based on this as a platform, and an enormous amount of creative learning too.  My middle kid is currently doing a project at school over the next 2 weeks to create and build a series of musical instruments from recycled materials they bring in from home.  They’ve had a develop a plan and they’re now in the execution stage.  It’s Blue Peter on acid – but it’s getting them to think about construction and feasibility.  She’s loving it.  Goodness knows how she’ll get it back home!

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The amount of activities which are available and offered during the winter season is vast.  There are a large number of outdoor venues across Edmonton and despite the temperatures, people are out jogging, running, power-walking and cycling.  Ice skating is encouraged (although off the menu for me for the next 2 months since my last debacle ended in disaster), and is free – just turn up, get your skates on, and try not to fall over!  As is skiing – another one on our list for when my bones have mended.

And getting to all these events and activities is easy.  You may think that the snow impedes how much travelling can be done, but not in the slightest.  The City of Edmonton does an exceptional job of clearing roads and thoroughfares – obviously concentrating on the main artery roads when we have a heavy snowfall, and each area of the city has a specific day of the week for ‘snow blading’ – clearing and maintaining the side roads in that area down to 5cm above the tarmac level.  Refuse gets collected as normal, and the recycling which is encouraged is superb – compared to what we’ve been used to back home.  Nothing stops and if anything, cranks up a gear.

There’s a wider selection of food ingredients available than I expected – and some wonderful independent shops which bake their own breads, delicatessens for meats and a range of authentic spices which has seen me emulating some pretty decent curries.  The kids are enjoying the variety and different ‘treats’ which make it into their lunch boxes each day.

We’ve got all the benefits of living in a new place, different views and way life, but with our own stuff (or at least most of it) around us.  Social media means we’re in touch with friends and family much the same as we would be if we were back home – and in some cases, we now see more of – courtesy of Facetime and Skype!  The kids are starting to get party invites so the diary is filling up, and we’re even off to watch a British Pantomime this Saturday evening at a local theatre put on by a British ex-pat amateur dramatic society.

Oh no you’re not ……. oh, yes we are ….

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Holiday?  Life is what you make it and if it can feel like one for most of the time, then why not.

🙂

Here’s to 2015 …

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Well, if you had said to me on New Years Eve 2013 that this time in 12 months we’ll have bought another house and be living in Canada, I would conclude you had drank too much babycham.  In fact, up until early March, moving to Canada wasn’t even a thought on the distant horizon.  Funny how things can take a significant turn over such a short space of time isn’t it?

It’s been a transformational few months – moving house, leaving England, buying cars, starting new schools, breaking bones – and we’re all loving the change that only true change brings.  It’s easy to become comfortable with our new surroundings and my conclusion is that given time passes by in the blink of an eye, before we know it, our 3 years over here will be over and all the things we want to do, mean we’ve only achieved a small minority.  With this in mind – we made a new years resolution to make the most of the opportunity we’ve been presented with and make sure the next 3 years in Canada is as memorable as possible.

So, we had an idea …..

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We have a wall – a full length wall at that – in our kitchen which is a blackboard from floor to ceiling.  We’ve bought some chalk and the plan over the next few days is to create a ‘Canadian Bucket List’ which we ‘chalk up’ and then ‘cross’ items off when we’ve achieved them.  This has to be done collectively, and we’ve developed a set of rules to this ….

1.  All list items must be things that can ‘only’ be done in Canada

2. Everyone (goat, 3 kids, 1 husband) collectively agree what goes on the list

3.  Each person has a maximum of 2 additional things they can submit on to the list – almost like a joker card – for those items which may not get collective agreement

4.  Items can be big and they can be small, but need to be ‘realistic’ and achievable

5.  We focus on achieving all items on the list over the next 3 years and review progress each 12 months

So, before school and work starts again on Monday, we’ll be creating our list – and the excitement is brewing.  This doesn’t mean though that the only things we concentrate on are our bucket items.  Not at all.  It shouldn’t prevent us from making the most of each day, our weekends, school holidays, and time spent with friends and family enthusiastic enough to visit us whilst we’re over here.

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It started on New Years Eve.  Our traditional celebrations with our best friends in England meant a change to our normal frivolities, and as new arrivals, we had been invited to spend the early part of our first New Years Eve in Canada with a family who live locally to us in Edmonton and had taken pity on us British expats.  It was a mild night (luckily!) and at only -1, our walk from their house to the local park to witness fireworks was an enjoyable 20 min trek through the snow.

The fireworks were amazing (I haven’t been in Canada long enough yet for the word ‘awesome’ to be part of my everyday terminology), and truly superb.  Not only that, but there was a tobogganing hill and the kids had gone complete with snow pants and toboggans at the ready.  So, on a clear starry night, with snow on the ground, temperatures at a bearable sub-zero, and fireworks with every colour of the rainbow going off over the period of 25 mins above them, the kids tobogganed down the hill amidst whoops of joy and screams of enjoyment.  How many times can you say that New Years Eve was this memorable and beautifically perfect?  We were the last to leave the park having to the prise the kids away off the hill, and spent the entire remaining ‘Eve’ with our new-found friends.

It just goes to show that seizing opportunities as and when they present themselves – and creating them too, can take us in avenues we haven’t even dreamed of – and we’re better off for it too.

Here’s to 2015, and the creation of many more memories.  We’ll have our bucket list in the next few days and I’ll let you know what makes it on there!  If it’s anything like the last 12 months, I’m expecting and anticipating great things……

Happy New Year  🙂