A brief change of scenery

New Westminster

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 ……  ðŸ™‚

 

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

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 ….

🙂

Where does all the time go?

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I admit it.  In amidst all the preparations for relocating to Canada from the UK, and as we arrived and were getting ourselves ensconced; I was quietly of the view that it would be an opportunity to select a lower gear in life and be able to take the foot slightly off the gas.  Have a bit of a rest.  You know what I mean?

I wasn’t completely misguided.  I did recognise the gaping gap of having no immediate family or long term friends to call on in emergencies, or even, helping me out with life in general and the management of 3 excitable kids.  That said, I couldn’t help but suspect that life may be slightly less busy.  Slightly less manic.  Slightly less ‘full on’.

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Well, my analysis complete, I can safely tell you that after 6 months of being here, life is just the same as it ever was before.  How on earth diaries and schedules fill up I’ll never know, but they do.  The kids are in school, but with the variety and numerous ‘before and after’ school activities to ferry them to, plus getting homework sorted and basics like ‘feeding them’ – which they seem to insist on in ever increasing frequencies and quantities; time literally disappears.

Then there’s my work which needs to get done in amongst all the shenanigans, and if I’m honest, it’s the time when I can concentrate on really interesting stuff and get my innovative and creative juices flowing.  The delights of modern technology and ‘virtual working’ mean that I’m as productive over here as I ever was at home – if not more so, and I relish and look forward to the highlights of the week which are often conference calls with the UK team on a project, the jovial banter and the fact that I’m having conversations with other human beings – other than my kids and the cat (yes, she’s still here …….!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m making lots of friends and new acquaintances over on this side of the pond too – the challenge is fitting everything into a normal day!

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Volunteering here is much bigger than it is in the UK – and more rewarding too.  I’m now assisting with the Kindergarten Reading Programme at the school once a week, sorting and organising the books for the 5/6 year olds to read the following day.  My youngest kid loves the fact that I’m in the school longer than just the usual dropping off and reading a story before her afternoon classes commence.  Then there’s volunteering as a swimming judge during the competitive ‘meets’ for the Edmonton club my oldest kid swims for.  I took it up in the UK as a means to understand and be able to articulate the rules around each of the swimming strokes to my kids.  Also, during a ‘Meet’, it’s a better way to keep occupied and involved by being on poolside, being active, and ensuring the rules are adhered and complied to by all competing swimmers.  My oldest kid loves the fact that I’m there and involved.  I’ve now completed a variety of modules ‘on-line’ for Swim Alberta, have become registered and will be commencing my judging duties in a few weekends time during one of the major competitions.  It’s good fun and thoroughly enjoyable.   I’m looking forward to it.  The sight nuances and variations between requirements in both countries is interesting and I’m ever keen to take on a challenge!

Swimmng

In the meantime, additional things arrive completely ‘out of the blue’ and time has to be found to sort them out.  Over the last week or so, we’ve suddenly realised that all Canadians have to complete a self-assessment form and submit it to the Canadian Revenue Agency (like the Inland Revenue or HMRC in the UK), by 31 March.  It’s for the previous calendar year and all income – whether earnt in Canada or elsewhere in the World – has to be declared otherwise penalties are applied.  The good news is that we discovered this prior to 31 March so have approximately 13 days left to get it sorted.  The bad news is, I’ve had to instigate emergency protocols and source a Canadian tax specialist who is familiar with ex-patriate income, first submissions by newcomers to Canada, and quite frankly, can navigate their way around what we can and can’t declare – plus what we can claim for and what we can’t.  Life is never simple and our circumstances are not the easiest to decipher and make transparent.  On the plus side, there’s less than 2 weeks of pain to pull all the documentation together and sit down with the tax specialist for her to submit on our behalf, and we’ll be on an even keel again.  No doubt something else will emerge that we have or haven’t done in the meantime!  How on earth they reconcile completely different tax years between countries I’ll never know, and quite frankly, just tell me what the answer is after everything has been thrown in the mix and let’s be done with it.  God help us when we’re doing it the other way and upon our return to the UK.  Another delight to look forward to!!

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It’s all fun.  It’s all learning and it’s part of life’s great experience.  And that’s what we wanted, that’s what we’re getting and that’s what we’re loving.

🙂

(Big thanks for Google images this week for the selection of pics……!)

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.  🙂

A swimmer’s dream

 

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As I write this, I’m sat watching my 10 year old ‘kid’ do her usual 2 hour swimming training.  She trains for 2hrs a day, 6 days a week.  The only difference today, is that once a week, she travels 30 miles each way to the Manchester Aquatics Centre – which was built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.  It’s a wonderful facility and a chance for her to train in a 50m pool rather than the usual 25m, ‘short course’.  It builds stamina and tests endurance over a longer distance.  The session sees them swimming in excess of 120 lengths – I’m tired just watching.

It’s a strange environment as the ‘training pool’ is directly underneath the main aquatics pool – almost buried in a ‘crypt’.  There are no windows and with only 4 lanes wide, it certainly concentrates the mind.

English: Manchester Aquatics Centre

Manchester Aquatics Centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Symbolically, as you make your way down the stairs to pool, the walls are covered with photographs of British Olympic swimmers and the medals they’ve won – it’s a fantastic way to visually motivate each and every individual swimmer.  Once you arrive in the ‘crypt’, there’s a digital board with a second by second countdown clock providing a visual display of the number of  ‘days to Rio 2016’.  Now that’s inspirational!

Canada has a worldwide reputation for sports, having hosted the Winter Olympics on 2 occasions and the Summer Olympics once. Canadian swimmers are up there on the world stage as some of the very best.  This year alone, they are 9th in the world rankings out of 45.   It boasts a superb level of investment in facilities as well as the sheer range of sporting opportunities for Canadians to participate.  In a recent study about the level of children’s activity in sports, 84% of Canadian kids aged 3 – 17yrs participate in some type of sports with 60% doing it on an organised basis.  Given the clear health benefits of undertaking physical activity and adopting healthier lifestyles, this is clearly reassuring.

One of the ‘conditions’ my oldest ‘kid’ requires as part of our relocation to Canada, is for a ‘very good swimming team’ which she can join and continue to train with as part of her desire to be a leading competitive swimmer.  She’s most concerned that in her time away from the UK, if she doesn’t enter competitive swimming galas, she won’t receive ‘official’ times for any of her strokes across a variety of distances – these provide a direct and immediate comparison of how well she’s progressing, and how well she compares with others.  Without a doubt, she’ll be keen to join the Edmonton swimming club and become an active member as soon as possible after our arrival.

 

World Waterpark, West Edmonton Mall, Edmonton,...

World Waterpark, West Edmonton Mall, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, serious swimming aside, those who have read our ‘Canadian Bucket List’ will have spotted item number 32 which is ’to visit the largest swimming pool in the world’.  I stand corrected – it’s actually the second largest (after Germany) and is based in Edmonton, Canada.  It opened in 1986 and is the second largest waterpark in the world.  In terms of key stats, it hosts a maximum of 40,000 guests, has an average temperature of 28 Celsius, and has the world’s largest indoor wave pool with a capacity of 12.3 million litres.  That’s huge.  It covers 5 acres, is one single pool, and harbours 23 water slides – offering different levels of adrenaline ‘hits’  and there’s a least one to suit every age and swimming capability.  As a form of entertainment and enjoyment, it’s a ‘must do’ and just goes to show what Canada can offer is on epic proportions.

Looking up from my laptop, the training session is nearing completion and whilst there’s an element of tiredness kicking in, as the kids make their way out of the pool, they are chatting away, clearly invigorated by the exercise and smiles all round.

I’m smiling too 🙂