Past, present …. and future

I was reminded the other day of an album I bought on vinyl, 30 years ago.  Apart from it being as brilliantly sounding today as it was back then, just hearing the opening bars to each track – took me back to when I would play it endlessly on the second-hand record player in my bedroom.  Some tracks I haven’t heard in a very long time – yet, I still know all the words and the nuance of every line and song.  Sometimes I can’t remember what I was told last week, and yet this album from 30 years ago, I can recite verbatim.  I also wonder, that as a teenager listening to this in my bedroom all those years ago – what would I have thought if I’d have known that 30 years later I’d be listening to it again living in Western Canada?  I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me.

Three years ago, I started this blog after being asked if we would move to Canada for a year or so.  Back in 2014, being issued with temporary work permits for 3 years seemed a long time in the future – and yet, here we are.  They are due to expire in September.  For those of you who have been keeping up with our antics, you’ll know that about 18 months ago we started the process of applying for permanent residency as an option to extend our time over here.  It’s certainly been a long time in the making and by no means, is a simple process.  We’ve had the ‘delights’ of sitting an English test (part 1 and part 2!), demonstrating our education credentials, applying for police checks, taking medicals, proving job histories – the list has been endless.  Not to mention the cost.  Anyhow, as you’ll know, we finally submitted the full application back in February (click here for that saga) – and this culminated in an interview with Canada Border Agency last Thursday.  During which, we were all granted permanent residency in Canada.  Success!

I was expecting some trumpets heralding the news, a few fireworks to mark the occasion – but alas, no.  We have a piece of paper as confirmation, but now have to wait until our formal ‘PR’ cards arrive in the post which will then act as our main source of documentation proving our status here.  In the meantime, all other temporary permits, study visas and work visas have been taken in lieu of the cards arriving – which means that whilst we can leave Canada, they won’t let us back in – until the PR cards arrive.  Thank goodness, we’ve got no overseas trips planned for the next 2 months …

I’m also slightly relieved that we don’t have to worry about having to pack everything back up to return, and even more so, our cat (yes, she’s still here at nearly 22 years old) equally can continue to reside in the manner to which she has now become accustomed.  I was starting to panic that she wouldn’t last the flight back across the pond ….. mind you, I had the same concern 3 years ago when she first flew across here.  She’ll outlive me at this rate.

So what does it all mean?  Well, it never prevents us from returning back ‘home’ – but at least it allows us to continue residing and working in Canada for the foreseeable future.  It provides options and choice – and that’s what we wanted.  And for my British friends reading this, no need to rush about getting a trip over to visit in the next few months!  Take your time – we’ll be here for a while for those venturing over this side of the pond.  Feel free to sample the harsh cold of the far north with lots of winter skiing and skating – or bask in the blue skies, constant sun and high temperatures over the summer months.  The choice is yours ….

So, upon reflection – the latest albums I’m now listening to over here in Canada, I’m just wondering where I’ll be when I replay them again in another 30 years from now?  Now there’s a thought ….  🙂

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 …

For research purposes only, you understand ….

wine

There are few better pleasures to look forward to each day than collapsing onto a comfy sofa in an evening with a glass of vino.  Not a day goes by without hearing on the radio yet another ‘research article’ on whether 1 glass, 2 glasses, no glasses, red glass, white glass, whatever …. are good for your health, prolongs your life, or reduces it considerably.  I’m prepared to take the chance.  I don’t care whether it’s the latest fad or whether there’s proven evidence that drinking a glass a night is bad for you.  I wonder whether there’s been detailed research on the best or worst times of day to succumb ….. maybe I’ll have to volunteer ……

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Anyhow, one of the delights of being in Western Canada is that the Okanagan Valley, located in the south of British Columbia, is home to one of the most prolific wine-growing regions throughout Canada. It’s also a massive fruit-growing region with farmers stands at the sides of roads where you can purchase their mouth-watering produce, or even go in and pick some yourself from their overflowing fruit orchards.  Nestled between the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia, and the world’s only inland temperate forest on the western slopes of the Columbia mountains, it receives relatively low rainfall and enjoys hot temperatures – so attracts over 200 different commercial vineyards where nearly every style of wine is produced, with over 60 different grape varieties.  I’m on a mission to sample each one ….

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Since arriving in Canada, we’ve taken a keen interest in Canadian produce so given that one of the items from our bucket list was to visit a vineyard (or two), we thought we’d take a road trip to the next province and see what all the fuss is about.  For research purposes only, you understand …

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Now, having come from the UK, one of the things about living in Canada that we continuously struggle to appreciate, is the sheer vastness and scale of the country.   What looks like small distances on a map, are actually huge monster drives.  The Okanagan, for example, is fairly ‘close’ to Edmonton at just over 540 miles (870 km) away, taking at least 9 hours constant driving, during which you cross over the time-line, scale the Canadian Rockies, go through at least 3 national parks, traverse 2 mountain passes – witnessing the climate and dramatic scenery changes as you go.  It’s stunning.  Once you hit the Canadian Rockies, it’s virtually just one road too – the Trans-Canada highway – beside which for the most part, you travel alongside the Canadian Pacific Railway line and the huge red CPR freight trains that epitomise Canada.

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Once you reach the Okanagan, there are vineyards and fruit orchards galore.   The terrain reminded us of being in Tuscany in Italy, with huge lakes and rolling vineyards – it’s a beautiful place to visit.  There are local maps detailing where all the vineyards are, and you can drive in and sample their produce – oh, and purchase a few bottles too (it’d be rude not to).  For kids and adults alike, the lakes are superb to swim and play in – crystal clear waters and at various locations, activity platforms harness small zip-lines on which you can throw yourself in the lake.  You need to in those temperatures too ……

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But it’s the road trip through the Rockies and the national parks that is the most spectacular.  If you’re prepared to do some research, you can hunt out various stop-off points along the way which are just hidden off the main Trans-Canada highway – literally, within a few meters too.  Boardwalk trails which not only give you 20 mins to stretch your legs, are within steps of the parking lot, and can see you deep within the forest – walking amidst Giant Cedar trees, many of which are over 500 years old.  Just watch your tank of petrol during the road trip as the distances are so large and the availability of gas stations few and far between – it’s an extremely long walk if you run out!!

So, I’d definitely recommend it.  The road trip, the scenery, the lakes and the wine.  I may have to take a repeat trip …. for research purposes only, you understand …. 🙂

How do you like yours?

fast food

You’d have thought that moving to a completely different country and establishing the Canadian way of life would be difficult, but I’ve got to say in the overall scheme of things, that small accomplishment has been relatively simple compared to having to navigate ourselves through the use of incorrect terms for various items of produce.  Never more so – and with immensely disappointing consequences, than the Canadian use of the word, ‘chips’.  For the British amongst you, this is plain and simple.  Just the word itself, can invoke mouth-watering symptoms at the mere idea of a plate of ‘chips’ (particularly when accompanied by meat pie, mushy peas and gravy).  Over on this side of the continent, the term refers to ‘crisps’ and many has been the time when I’ve looked forward to a plate of ‘burger and chips’ or ‘fish and chips’ only to be bitterly dismayed when it has arrived accompanied by a portion of ‘crisps’.

chips and gravy

I’m from the north of England, where there’s nothing more satisfying than a decent portion of ‘chips ‘n’ gravy’ – and soggy chips at that, nestled in a polystyrene oblong white tray complete with plastic fork that soak up all the deliciousness, drenched in a heart-attack inducing sprinkle of salt and vinegar.   Oh, we sure know how to live, us northerners …..  Nowadays, I have to consciously use the term ‘fries’ to make absolutely crystal clear my intent – but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it, asking for ‘burger and fries’ or ‘fish and fries’.  See – you’ve not even salivating at the idea either, are you?  First world problems, I know.

Now I know different areas of the UK have particular regional variances for what they choose to smother their ‘chips’ in.  In Canada, the closest equivalent is an extremely popular dish commonly referred to as ‘poutine’.  In this, they also cover their ‘fries’ with gravy, but instead of stopping there at minimalist perfection, continue to then add ‘cheese curds’ and sometimes, a sprinkle of bacon pieces too, just for good measure.  A good example of how keeping things simple and not over-complicating a dish could have been very rewarding.  It takes some getting used to – but needs must, when the devil drives …….

poutine

Stood in a supermarket earlier this week, I spotted 3 new varieties of ‘crisps’ – or ‘chips’ for the North American continent reading my blog, staring down at me from the shelves.  ‘Lays’ – a popular brand of crisps over on this side of the pond, and actually known as ‘Walkers’ in the UK, held a ‘World Favourites Contest’ earlier this year and invited Canadians to vote for their favourite flavours inspired by global influences.  Votes were counted and what I saw on the shelves earlier this week, were the 3 ‘winning’ flavours of chips now available.  Are you ready for this?

  • Lay’s Bacon Poutine: a delicious combination of gooey cheese curds, rich gravy, and smoky bacon flavours, inspired by Canada.
  • Lay’s Thai Sweet Chili: a tantalizing mix of sweet and spicy with aromatic and chili pepper flavours, inspired by Thailand.
  • Lay’s Cheese & Onion: a blend of sharp cheddar cheese with savory onion, inspired by the UK.

There you are.  The UK made it into the top 3 – who’d have thought.

Lays crispsIf this wasn’t complicated enough, shopping in a supermarket, or better still, choosing a sandwich in a deli can be riddled with abject disaster.  I like to think I’m fairly open-minded when it comes to food and will try anything once, but even I can’t help staring in disbelief when the server behind the counter constructing my butty asks, ‘would I like sprouts?’ on the top.  Sprouts?  Even I drew the line at having some brussel sprouts placed on the top of my sandwich, but suffice to say, I needn’t have panicked, and ‘cress’ it actually meant ……. Other less unusual terms to translate have included, ‘rocket’ which is referred to as ‘arugula’, ‘aubergine’ which is ‘eggplant’, and ‘courgette’ which is ‘zucchini’.

Never let it be said that moving to another english speaking country didn’t require some degree of translation.    🙂

Thanks as ever to google images for the pics in this week’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 …

Should I stay or should I go now?

ClashStayorGosingle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

All in a day’s education …

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

What on earth am I doing here ???

Canada Immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

A brief change of scenery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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 …..  🙂

Vehicle maintenance? Just leave it to me ….

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I’m not the most educated when it comes to four-wheeled vehicles – mind you, I’m not exactly at the top of the class with my limited knowledge on most other forms of transport either, but I do enjoy driving and can appreciate an attractive-looking car with an abundance of power when you touch the throttle.  I’m clocking up the mileage in my truck which is an absolute joy to drive – so much so, that I’m fast approaching the 100k mark.  There’s also a niggling dial indicating that the oil needs changing fairly imminently and whilst I’ve been quietly hoping it will rectify itself, the sane part of me has acknowledged that I can only put off a visit to a car mechanic for a certain amount of time.  Given that we experience sub-zero temperatures for a substantial part of the year, getting the oil changed regularly is big business here – and a necessity.  In the UK, I can’t ever remember doing it other than as part of my car’s recommended service regime.

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As with most things in Canada, the concept of ‘drive-thru’ applies to the vast majority of service outlets.  Avoiding them when we first arrived 18 months ago and preferring to park up and walk into a store – how times have quickly changed and I’m a frequent visitor who uses the ‘drive-thru’ for the bank, coffee, prescriptions – you name it.  So, unable to avoid it any longer, I took my truck for an oil change at the local drive-thru ‘Jiffy Lube’ place.

It is literally a brilliant concept. No appointments, just turn up and drive up to the large doors – one of which opens for you if there’s a space in the bay, and you’re directed to the maintenance bay straight ahead.  My usual tack when I’m completely out of my depth, is to sound confident and assured.  So with that in mind, I assertively stated that I wanted an oil change and could they check there were no oil leaks.  I usually find that in visiting a new outlet, the instant I open my mouth, there’s often a comment about my accent.  True to form, the chap remarked on it and how I sounded just like ‘Adele’.  He clearly wasn’t referring to my ability to hold a tune – which would be more akin to the sound of a goat in significant distress – and neither my bank balance.  Unless of course, my husband is withholding disclosing the many millions he’s squirreled away in a secret bank account from me.  Ironically, other than her being a fellow ‘Brit’, that’s where the similarity sadly ends – but I thanked him for the thought …

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We’d got off to a good start, I was feeling confident and the chap clearly understood the task in hand.  I even requested the specific type of oil required (based on instruction from husband), but made it sound as though I knew what I was talking about.  Maybe, just maybe, it would be one of those instances where I manage to get something done on a vehicle without blatantly demonstrating my naivety and living up to the stereotypical female image.

Alas, this wasn’t to be.  I was caught out just a mere 30 seconds later when the chap simply requested me to ‘lift the bonnet’.  I hadn’t banked on that, and having no idea at all where the lever was located, had to admit my deficiency and the chap came to my rescue with a simple chuckle and ‘it’s just here, madam’.  Blast.  I’d been doing so well too.

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The job didn’t take long and he checked many other things on the truck that I have absolutely no clue what they do – but assured me all was in order.  That’s all I needed to know.  The best bit about the whole experience, was that I didn’t even need to leave my vehicle and unbuckle my seatbelt.  Canada is awesomely brilliant at minimising any effort required – what a superb country.  All done in less than 30 minutes, I was good to go and with the roller-shutter doors in front of me opening, I drove off.  It’s a concept that would go far in the UK.

Vehicle maintenance?  I have absolutely no idea …. but I know a man who can …… 🙂

 

As ever, thanks to Google Images for the pics in today’s blog

Give it a shot … ?

Photography

When I was little, my Dad used to spend many hours upstairs in the attic which he’d converted to a small office.  There were two items which used to draw my attention – one was a Hornby train track which he’d set up and the miniature trains would run around the track, stopping at the mini stations.  It was great fun and probably inspired more by Ivor the Engine rather than Thomas the Tank Engine ……

Anyhow, the second attraction was that he would convert the attic to a dark room, for processing the negatives from his camera.  I remember there being an abundance of different chemicals and a highly complex process which had to be undertaken in aspiring to produce the perfect print.  I used to help out and would be in charge of switching on and off the red ‘safelight’ – and watched in awe as the pictures slowly emerged onto the photographic paper.  I remember having to ‘hang’ the damp photos up on a small washing line so they could dry.  You’ve got to admit, technology has certainly speeded the entire process up these days, but there’s something more authentic and unique when the technique to produce them was so variable and long-winded.

I’ve always enjoyed taking pics but never really put more thought into it.  My back-catalogue of pics pre-Canada has largely been dominated by the kids in all manner of British places and undertaking an array of past-times.  Interesting for me to look back on and remember the events, but less so for others!

Since arriving in Canada, I’ve found a new sense of inspiration in the natural landscape.  I have no photographic technical knowledge whatsoever but can appreciate inspirational shots.  I also have a personality trait which lacks patience – so taking pics immediately and ‘in the moment’ is more my style along with devoting total reliance on the sheer brilliance of the automatic camera built into my iPhone.

A friend recently challenged me to post a photograph of nature – online, every day, for 7 days.  I wasn’t sure whether I was cut out for the task, but gave it and go, and thought I’d share these with you – along with details of where they were taken……… enjoy 🙂

Day 1: There’s an abundance of red berries as you walk through the River Valley in Edmonton which are striking against the predominantly white snowscape and bare-branched trees.  I love the colour contrast and this was taken in the grounds of the Muttart Conservatory – rather like a small ‘Eden’ project here in Edmonton, and definitely worth a visit.

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Day 2: There’s a walking trail called the ‘River Loop’ which takes you around Fort Edmonton park.  Probably just under 3 miles in length, it’s a popular walking route of mine – fairly flat and easy too, for kids to tramp along.  I’ve spotted the occasional coyote along it in the past plus you get to see parts of Fort Edmonton as you walk along. I thought I’d test out a black & white shot …

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Day 3: Also taken along the River Valley but looking towards the Fort Edmonton footbridge over the North Saskatchewan River.  I’m constantly fascinated that it can freeze completely over …

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Day 4: Autumn (or ‘Fall’ as it’s referred to over here), is my favourite season by far for the abundance of colours which are simply stunning.  This next shot I took back in September walking along the Whitemud Park North trail.  We visited ‘New England’ in the Fall several years ago and I think this is equally as spectacular in colour with the ranges of yellows, oranges and reds set against the crystal clear blue sky.  Life can’t get much better than this surely?

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Day 5: There are plenty of bridges cutting across the North Saskatchewan River, all of which are subtly different in style.  I’ve taken lots of pics of many of these, but this next one was a footbridge across a river estuary leading into the North Saskatchewan.  I love the angles and shadows – and whilst this was taken mid-day in Winter, it has something compelling about it.

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Day 6: One of our favourite places we’ve visited whilst being in Canada is Canmore, just south of Banff in the Canadian Rockies.  Along with being home to the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company (highly recommended for any beer-lovers out there), it also has stunning scenery.  This pic I took on a weekend trip when my parents visited last Summer, on a walk up to Spray Lakes just past the Canmore Nordic Centre.  It was particularly notable, as we were obliged to carry bear spray with us and the kids were constantly wondering whether they would out-run grandma should one appear.

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Day 7: My final submission. Taken last Spring, this is Lac Beauvert just outside the Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper.  I can’t begin to describe how peaceful and serene the place is, and the mirror-image reflections in the water, with the turquoise colours and typically blue skies, are staggeringly beautiful.

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Nature at it’s best.  It just goes to show, that as with most things in life, it’s worth taking a shot …. 🙂

Winter sports …

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We seem to spend forever planning and preparing for the imminent arrival of Christmas and all the festivities that go along with it, and yet no sooner has it arrived, then it’s over and we’re now already heading midway into January.  It’s frightening how fast time goes.  But in terms of Christmas, we’ve just had the fortune to celebrate our second Christmas over in Canada – and we made a concerted effort to try to make the most of the break by doing new things and trying different activities.

My last blog mentioned the various shows and attractions we went to see with the kids just prior to Christmas (click here for a reminder).  As soon as we’d recovered from the Christmas Day excesses, we hit the road, and travelled the 4hrs over to the Rocky Mountains and Banff.  Edmonton isn’t renowned for its hills, so you can never take away the delight of seeing the Rockies slowly appearing on the horizon after 2 hours travelling, and the size and scale of the mountains covered in snow.  Ironically, we left Edmonton in -20, and arrived in Banff at -5.  The heady temperatures didn’t last for long and the cold flipped on its head and plummeted us back to the ever so familiar ‘minus double digits’ for the remainder of our stay.  That’ll teach us for thinking it may be warmer further south!

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It’s always nice to have people visit, and extra special this year was my best friend from home who flew over from the UK along with all her family to spend New Year’s week together.  We’re both of a similar mould, and making the most of a week together with family members whose ages ranged from 6 to 76 required a detailed plan and meticulous planning which we’d been developing for the last 2 months.  One of the first activities all bar the seniors of our party were first to attempt, was skiing.  We opted for a family lesson, and ended up with a tutor from Cardiff in good old Wales.   I lived in Cardiff for a while years ago, and we happily compared notes and places as we traversed the mountains.  It’s the first time I’ve been skiing in the mountains since doing it in Europe many moons ago, and you forget the staggering views and scenery at the top of the mountains, just after you disembark from the chair lifts.  Trying to concentrate on the terrain is hard work when your eyes are constantly drawn to such wonderful views – and the skiing itself is crisp, dry, and beautiful powder snow to ski on.  We had a brilliant day.

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Another highlight and ‘must do’ in the Rockies is a trip to the hot springs.  There are several different locations and last year, we visited the one just outside Jasper.  Banff equally have hot springs, and the view across the mountains is amazing when you get there.  There’s nothing quite like the experience of sitting in a blistering hot pool of 40C, whilst your shoulders and head are exposed to the outside elements of -25!  It’s much more pleasant doing this in winter than it is in the summer I’ve found, and there’s also a comical element as your hair, eyebrows and eyelashes start to form ice crystals and freeze.  It’s hilarious!  The worse part, is the decision to come out of the pool and move indoors to get changed …… brrrrrrrr…………

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Next on the itinerary was ‘dogsledding’.  It’s been on our bucket list of things to do in Canada and it didn’t disappoint.  We opted for a firm just based outside Canmore – probably one of my most favourite places in the Rockies – who take you via minibus about 17km towards Spray Lake.  There, you’re greeted by tour guides and 185 huskies who are all excited about being hooked up to sleds and going for a 10km run.  The dogs howl and jump with excitement until the sleds are off and then within an instant, there’s complete silence as you move along the trail except for the patter of paws on the snow and the occasional encouraging command shouted by the guide.

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The sleds are surprisingly comfortable and the winter views of the lake and forest scenery, spectacular.  We even had the rare pleasure of spotting a moose with her youngster moving through the trees – brilliant!  Nature at it’s very best – and certainly puts life into context when you can be out and about just witnessing such majesty.  Amazing.

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Spending time together, doing stuff together, sharing experiences together is what makes such things memorable.  And it truly was.  It was a great week spent with friends and family – and all the more important to us as they’d flown from the UK to spend it with us.  We certainly had a few comic moments too – and we’ll be dining off and recounting these for years to come!  What a way to start 2016 ….

Happy New Year one and all 🙂

Seasons Greetings from the cold north!

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It’s been a bit of a chilly week here in Edmonton.  Temperatures are usually around -4 to -6 for this time of year, but this week we’ve had the delights of -19 and at one point, -24.  Now I know it’s going to get a lot colder as we move into the New Year, but still – boy, is it a bit brisk.

On the last day of school, it was pyjama day so all 3 kids trampled off to school with their PJ’s on underneath ski pants, boots, thermal coats, hats, gloves and scarves.  It was so cold that they didn’t even get ‘recess’ – which given the scant nature of their PJ’s, I was somewhat relieved.  That said, there’s no doubt about it – every year it’s a white christmas here, and it certainly feels it with the snow, the ice, the cold, and the numerous christmas decorations.  Now talking of which …..

Once we pass Halloween, it seems to be a ‘free for all’ on the Christmas decorations front.  With the dark early nights, cold temperatures, and snow all around, the colour from the displays definitely brightens things up as you drive through the City and residential streets.  We’ve even joined in, and have added to our range of Christmas cheer this year in the form of a moose.   No, not a real one, but standing on our decking about the size of a Shetland Pony, beaming out white Christmas lights.   Ho, ho, ho …..

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Ever wondered about the definition of a ‘white’ christmas?  Well, I know in England it’s determined by the UK Met Office who only require one snowflake to be observed falling in the 24 hours of Christmas Day somewhere in the UK – whether or not a single snowflake melts before it hits the ground.  I remember every year just wishing for a ‘White’ Christmas to be declared – but they’ve been few and far between and seemingly unlikely this year too.

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It’s a different story here in Edmonton.  A ‘white’ christmas is one where there is at least 2cm of snow on the ground at 7am on Christmas morning.  This year (and I assume each and every year), we’re safe on that score.  Now, this doesn’t invoke a sense of expectation or excitement when the prospect of snow is somewhat a ‘given’, so there’s an additional element built on top as to what constitutes a ‘perfect’ Christmas?  Any ideas?  Well, the formal definition is that along with the criteria being satisfied to declare a ‘white’ christmas, snow needs to be falling at the same time ….. a-ha!  Let’s see if we’re in luck this year then …..

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Now, on the topic of frozen ice….. Edmonton is home to a huge Ice Castle currently under construction in Hawrelak Park, a beautiful location down in the River Valley.  Billed as the largest ice structure in North America, once completed, it’s going to be open to the public and along with the castle itself, will also include slides, waterfalls, tunnels and caves which you can explore.  Every metre of the castle is made up of at least 400 icicles which have been grown from over 3km of water sprinklers.  We’re booked to explore it in early February so the kids are extremely excited about going inside.  Here’s a pic amidst ongoing construction as we walked past earlier today …..

2015-12-24 11.41.52Edmonton isn’t called the ‘winter city’ for nothing.  Along with opportunities for ice and snow sports during the day, there are lots of shows to go and see in the winter evenings.  We’ve been on numerous excursions this week, ranging from the ‘Singing Christmas Tree’ show (brilliantly light entertainment and it was, literally, a choir nestled amongst lights and tiers resembling a Christmas tree), the “Festival of Lights’ at the local zoo (only the snow leopard and reindeers were out and about that night), the theatre play – ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens and excellently performed by a professional cast in a  beautiful theatre, followed by the British panto, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ at Fort Edmonton which was in 1920’s style.  Quite a cultural and eclectic mix of events and activities over the past few weeks – but great fun and well worth seeking out and visiting.  The challenge will be maintaining the momentum and managing expectations for Christmas in Edmonton next year!!

So, as it starts to get dark here on Christmas Eve, I’m off to pour myself a glass and toast to everyone’s good health.  All that remains on this cold and snowy evening, is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 🙂

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Final photo courtesy of google images …

Active? Me? Well, what do you know …..

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When asked to describe me, friends invariably come up with all manner of descriptive terms – some complimentary, some jovial, some just plain rude. One thing that they all would have in common though, is that the term ‘active’ or something even indicating the essence of any effort being deployed in the pursuit of fitness – would definitely not appear. On that they would certainly agree.

But, take me away from home pastures and place me in an unknown city with snow for 5 months of the year, and mostly blue skies and high 20’s temperatures for at least 4 months – then a transformation nothing short of miraculous has occurred. I’m now hankering after any exercise possible – and you know what I put it down to? Having the scenery, blue skies and sunshine – irrespective of the degree of warmth. That’s what.  Staying inside would be sacrilege.

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I tested my theory recently on my brief return trip to the UK. Every day delivered weather that was miserable, raining and cloudy. Now, I do admit, that my social diary was rather manic and a large portion of time taken up meeting friends and family – which was absolutely fab and a wonderful tonic. But did I get the urge to be out and about exercising? No. In fact, it was decidedly the opposite.

Since the kids returned to school in September, at least 3 times a week I’ve been traipsing the trails around the River Valley in Edmonton, seeking out new routes and taking great delight in listening to various playlists whilst enjoying the views. I’ve loved it. It’s become my preferred form of ‘me’ time, and I’ve felt much better for it too. It was a shock to my muscular system initially, and I can only imagine the frenzy of activity it provoked inside my body – rather like an opening episode of the sequel to the animation, ‘Inside Out’. I like to think that instead of ‘emotions’ competing against each other, there’s ‘muscular’, ‘skeletal’, ‘digestive’, ‘common sense’ and ‘reckless’ all jockeying for position. Upsetting the norm of what has been the best part of 40 years, I certainly have.

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The snow came down nearly 2 weeks ago and whilst only a small dump by Edmonton standards, coupled with sub-zero temperatures, it’s still on the ground. Two weeks on, it’s still pure white, shimmers in the light and creates it’s own sense of beauty. It’s cold, but that’s manageable if you just make sure you’ve got your layers on 🙂

So, traipsing in the snow has become my new pursuit and not only that, true to my word, I’m now hitting the ski slopes for an hour or so whilst the kids are otherwise engaged in educational establishments. Strava is struggling to cope with all these various nuances of exercise, but I’m loving it.

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Friends recently asked me if the snow turns a yucky brown colour and goes to mush. Not in the slightest. In fact, most of the trails that are paved are cleared for snow which makes walking on it all that much easier. Only the gravel paths stay full of snow and even then with the advent of others walking the same routes, the snow slowly gets worn down and it’s easier to navigate. Whatever the case, invariably, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and the view is a wintry picture reminiscent of Christmas cards.

A fellow Mum who I see everyday in the drop-off and pick-up at school is a cross-country skiing fan – and has invited me to join her.  I’ve no idea what I’ll need to do, the amount of physical exertion it’ll require, or even the type of skis needed – but I’m game and we’ll try to get out over the next week.  It’ll be a laugh and lovely to enjoy with a new-found friend.

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I’m coming to the conclusion that maybe, all my years of experiencing the UK weather has made me appreciate such a climate and finally having the environment to enjoy such forms of exercise on my doorstep, has unlocked a new-found passion for doing so. I’m not advocating it as a recipe of success for others – but it’s certainly working for me!

Long may it continue.   🙂

Home sweet home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, not yet …  🙂

‘Eye of newt, and toe of frog …’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

Canadian Life – 1 year on …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring it on … 🙂

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

It’s the little things …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two nations separated by a common language ….

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When I posted last week’s blog, WordPress commended me by saying, ‘congratulations on posting your 88th blog’.  Goodness me … who’d have thought I could manage to ilk 88 different blog topics on the theme of relocating to Canada over the period of 18 months.  To many, it’ll feel like 18 years and I know there are many inflicted with reading this on a weekly basis (mostly due to friendly loyalty, pure nosiness, or general boredom), who know me extremely well and will be shaking their heads in commiseration at my ability to come up with a never-ending stream of inane drivel and constant babble on such a regular basis.  This has never been a challenge for me.  Making it interesting, engaging and positively humorous – clearly is.

Life is never exciting all the time, but it’s the little nuggets of insight and humour that in a normal week filled with the usual routines and rigmarole make it interesting and amusing.  First up, was a conversation with a new swimming coach last Sunday.  My middle kid has changed swimming classes and upon discovering that we were ‘British’ and had an ‘accent’, the coach asked us with sheer excitement if we could say the words ‘Harry Potter’.  I’ve been asked to recite many things in my past – some, not appropriate for this blog, but the words, ‘Harry Potter’ were indeed a first.  Often in dire need of concocting a spell but always finding I’ve left my wand and cloak at home, I did ask her what on earth she wanted us to say these particular words for.  To which she replied, ‘when you say it, it sounds just like it does in the film’.  Who’d have thought.  The British.  Speaking British ….. it made me chuckle.

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Next on the list of excitement was a trip around the local supermarket.  I’m a strong advocate for the ability to order online and obtain all your weekly shopping from one supermarket, on the day of your choice, within your chosen time-slot, and direct to your door – which is a feat clearly unknown on this side of the pond.  Not only that, I’ve concluded that Canadians have perfected the art of never being able to supply everything you need from just one store – when customers can have the delight of visiting at least 3 before you’ve sourced everything you need.  Such is the life that I’ve come to expect.  So, walking around one of the local supermarkets this week, I passed the freezers and remembered noting that there was an abundance of turkeys seemingly available that I hadn’t clocked in such quantities before.  Only upon settling my bill at the checkout, did the cashier remark that since I’d spent over a certain amount, I was eligible for this week’s special deal – ‘a $30, frozen 7kg turkey complete with giblets’.  Now there’s an offer you don’t get everyday …..

It did go through my mind that it was slightly early for Christmas, but given that Halloween items along with pumpkins the size of a small beagle have been readily available in the stores for the last month, I put it down to a high degree of preparedness on the part of our Canadian friends.  It was only after I’d wrestled said turkey into the kitchen freezer that I stumbled across a ‘flyer’ advertising ‘all your feastly requirements for a satisfying celebration’, that I suddenly realised it’s all in reference to ‘Thanksgiving’ on 12 October and not Christmas.  I’m still not used to this celebratory concept but at least it won’t need to be in my freezer for long.  I just need to research what is traditionally consumed along with it so we can endeavour to create an authentic Canadian thanksgiving meal.  I also think I’ll have to dig out recipes to make my inaugural attempt at a pumpkin pie.  Great British Bake Off?  Watch out the Canadian equivalent ….

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Now talking of TV, there’s a plethora of channels over here which after nearly 12 months experience, I’ve concluded are composed of mostly commercials rather than content.  That said, I stumbled across a few variants of their British equivalents this week that made for interesting viewing.  ‘First Dates’ epitomises the concept of two nations separated by a common language.  Exactly the same in concept, the UK version I find much more light-hearted and jovial in nature, banter and sarcasm.  The Canadian version is like a job interview and had me expecting them to sign contracts of engagement (see what I’ve done there), before they leave the restaurant.  Now, on a completely different level is ‘House Hunters’.  The British equivalent is Phil & Kirsty with ‘Location, Location, Location’ – an old favourite of mine.  Unfortunately, it just can’t compete with the range of locations, types of accommodations, not to mention the couples, that the Canadian version serialises.  There’s even a programme called ‘Tiny Homes for Big Living’ which sees couples seriously downsizing into ‘houses’ (and this description is being kind) which are no bigger than a garden shed.  It’s compulsive viewing to say the least.  I’m left wondering where you’d put your husband ….

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…… now, that’s just given me an idea …. 🙂

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

Hibernation or Participation?

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So they reckon we’ve had the warmest summer for the last 54 years here in Edmonton.  Apparently, the ‘norm’ is 4 days with temperatures in excess of 30 degrees – and this year, we’ve had a grand total of 12.  I did think it was slightly warm at the time – but put it down to the rosy glow from several glasses of white wine.  Mind you, it’s been a desert on the irrigation side as we’ve had lower than usual precipitation (or as you and I term it, rain).  It’s been a gorgeous summer – blue skies, sunshine – absolutely beautiful.  They also forecast another ‘mild’ winter, which in Edmonton terms just means the snow doesn’t arrive until after Halloween, and we get temperatures which ‘only’ go down to -30.  Brrrrrrrr ……. just the thought is making me shiver.

Mild or not, it’ll be a complete shock to the system when it does arrive and there’s only 2 options – either hibernate with a good book and a roaring fire for 5 months, or embrace the cold and take to the slopes or the ice rinks.

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The first does sound highly attractive, I admit.   But, about to embark on our second winter in Western Canada, we’ve decided that it’s all in the mind and we need to get our mental state looking forward to the snow and cold weather.  So, without hesitation or any due consideration of what we’re actually letting ourselves in for, we’ve bought a ski season pass for the whole family – taking us from mid-November through to the end of March.  Only 10 mins away in the car, there will be absolutely no excuse not to ‘hit those slopes’ and with this in mind, everyone is now eagerly anticipating the snow arriving and our opportunity to ski whenever the mood strikes.  Given last year’s debacle of a broken wrist (click here for a refresher), I’ve checked the small print and as long as I ensure any broken bones are newly acquired by 1 November, I’ll be able to get our money back.  I jest ….. let’s hope last year was a one-off, and there are no such incidents.  More likely, is a series of aching limbs, sore knees and bad backs.  And that’s just me ….

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Next on the agenda, is to get us kitted out with all the necessary items.  As you would expect, there’s a run-up to the inevitable snow arriving, and the shops are already updating their stock with all manner of winter sports.  Plus, there’s the exhibitions that are coming up, and the second hand ‘swop’ days which sound ideal for us as ‘first-timers’.  The ‘truck’ has also been kitted out ready for skis and equipment – I’ve now got a cover over the truck bed which will hold all our equipment in the back without getting covered in snow.  Ski lessons are also booked to perfect techniques, what more could we possibly need?

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For now, we’ve still got wonderfully sunny weather and the Autumn colours are really pronounced.  You’ll be sniggering to hear that my rather reckless attempt at physical activity which I touched on in last week’s blog, has seen me achieve a grand total of 20 miles of ‘brisk’ walking at the end of week 3.  Not bad, eh!  In a moment of complete madness, we also entered ourselves in a work charity run/walk over the weekend.  My oldest two kids decided to run the 5km, whilst I brought up the rear with the youngest walking the same distance.  It was an insight into the art of innovative motivational techniques for inspiring my youngest kid to continue walking and taking her mind off the distance.  It did help having the lure of several bouncy castles, popcorn, candy floss, food trucks and a petting zoo awaiting us at the finish line which proved their worth in inspiration….. and that was just me!

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So, I’m milking the remaining time we have left of Autumn weather and aim to get out and about, making the most of the River Valley and the stunning Autumn colours.  It’ll be white shortly, and we’ve got everything in place to enjoy it when it arrives.  When my body can take no more, there’s always the hibernation option, a good book, glass of wine and a log fire.  Mmmmm …… sounds like a plan to me 🙂

Walking on sunshine (whoa …..)

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For those that know me, they’ll probably spit out their mouthful of tea into their Cheerios when I mention the words ‘exercise’ and ‘me’ in the same sentence.  Yes, not naturally known for seeking out most forms of physical activity, it has come as somewhat of a surprise that over the last 2 weeks, I’ve subscribed to ‘Strava’ and have achieved more than 17 miles in recorded exercise this week alone.  Bet you weren’t expecting that.  And in all honesty, it’s come as a slight surprise to me too.

I did mention in last week’s blog, that since the kids are now in school for 7 whole hours every day, I’ve the opportunity to create my own routine and daily activities.  Well, sometimes it’s the things around you that inspire you the most, and we’ve got the most amazing Autumn colours and weather going on at the moment – to such an extent, that I’m beginning to take up residence in the River Valley, and delighting in how many different scenic walks and views I can manage each day.  On average, I’m managing around 4  miles each day and it’s taking me just over 1 hour to achieve.  See what havoc I create when left to my own devices …

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Now, before we get too carried away – it’s only the end of week 2, and I wouldn’t say it’s formed part of a habit just yet.  I’m also conscious that snow may only be just around the corner and when it does arrive, it’s here for a whopping 4 or 5 months at least.  So, I’m taking the initiative, and spending time getting some brisk walking under my feet and revelling in the stunning scenery that I’m not used to being so blessed with just on the doorstep.  Literally, there’s no excuse, and it would be a travesty if I didn’t.

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So, back to Strava.  It’s quite clever all this modern technology malarkey.  I go into the ‘app’ on my phone when I start walking, and press ‘stop’ when I’ve finished – couldn’t be simpler!  It maps my route, tells me how far I’ve walked, where I’ve been, and I can upload pics along the route too.  The only thing it’s lacking is the ability to provide a cup of tea at the end of my efforts …..  For some of my routes, it even compares me to others who have walked the same segment and gives me a ranking.  I’d like to say I’m not competitive in the slightest and that this doesn’t interest me at all.  But I’d be lying.  It’s extremely addictive, and has me to the point of seeing if I can beat my average pace per mile each walk I do.  I’m up to a ‘brisk’ walk – not just any old saunter or stroll, but a good walking pace – just short of those who do ‘race walking’ and waddle like constipated chickens.  That’s a bit too advanced and certainly not for me.  Chickens can rest easy in the knowledge that I’ll be stopping short of adopting that pose.  I’d rather run – and that’s an insight into how mad things have become in such a short space of time.  I know!  I’m unrecognisable …….

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So how’s my body reacting to the onslaught of muscles being plied into action, I hear you ask?  Well, last week I was walking like an 85 year old granny, but I’ve picked up since then and my body has readily acclimatised to the flexing of muscles.  It’s been a shock to the system in the literal sense as well as the metaphoric.  I’m finding the glass or two of red wine in an evening tends to balance things out quite well.  Purely for medicinal reasons, you understand …..

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Not only that, I’m now travelling in my truck ;-), with a pair of headphones, walking shoes and water bottle at the ready – so I’ve absolutely no excuse why I can’t take a stroll whenever the urge strikes.  This is a serious turn of events.  I’ve also discovered that it’s a brilliant way of finally getting round to listening to all the albums and tracks I’ve downloaded in the last 11 years but never had time to really listen to (my oldest kid is nearly 12 …..).  And I don’t mean just background noise and stuff – or having it on in the car with the kids interrupting proceedings and any form of concentration I can muster every 10 seconds.  I mean – really listen to.  When it’s playing directly into your ears, and you’ve got a fast pace going on, beautiful scenery with absolute peace, it certainly brings new meaning to living and loving life.  🙂

And there are loads of people doing the same.  The variety of people I pass on each and every route is astounding, and the numbers of people capturing some form of exercise is positively motivational.  Everyone says ‘hello’ – it’s just like being back home in the North-West in terms of friendliness.  IMG_4111I love that.

It’s much better than strangers just passing like ships in the night, with no acknowledgement or recognition of another human being.  I can’t ignore people, and I’d need to be in a coma before I do.

So, I’m feeling all replenished, active and inspired.  All the pics in this week’s blog I’ve taken along my walking routes so hope you get the bug and some form of inspiration from them too …..  🙂

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…

🙂

Three cheers to the grandparents

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We’re nearing the end of the Canadian visits from the grandparents, and both sets have had a truly wonderful first-time experience of this vast country.  Not only has it been lovely having familiar faces around – it’s amazing how much you miss not just being able to ‘pop round’ or arrange an impromptu weekend visit every now and then – but the seniors in the family and the youngest 3 members, have thoroughly enjoyed spending time together.  Common factors are clear winners with both sets – demands for ice-cream, desserts, cakes and biscuits – I’ve had to be the umpire and affect some degree of sensibility otherwise the oldest and youngest generations would be eating them continuously!  Grandparents have clearly been leading the kids astray … 😉

My in-laws are in their mid-80’s and had never envisaged a trip to Canada, believing that physical limitations and sheer old-age, preventative factors.  However, following a series of prompts by us and eventually, just buying tickets with the dates for their travel, meant there was nothing for it, but for them to board the plane – and they arrived without incident and importantly, all completely intact.

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That was nearly 3 weeks ago and during this time we’ve seen an abundance of superb weather and also some excellent trips out – both near and far.  It’s made us explore and find things to do that all parties enjoy, and for the last 3 weeks it’s been particularly challenging as accessibility with wheelchairs has had to be incorporated into the mix.  I’ve had to balance limited physical abilities alongside the abundance of energy my 3 kids display and need to burn off on a daily basis.

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So, we’ve had some delightful trips.  One was to the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton.  It’s set in the River Valley just outside downtown Edmonton, and has 4 glass pyramids.  For those familiar with ‘Eden’ in the UK, it’s very similar but on a much smaller scale.  That said, the Muttart Conservatory is an accredited museum and is home to one of Canada’s largest botanical collections.

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There are 3 biomes, each displaying a specific climate year-long.  Temperate (very similar to the climate in Edmonton), Arid (desert and drought-like), and Tropical (humid and hot) each host an array of botanical delights that have their own appeal.  The kids loved wandering around and looking at the different varieties.  The fourth pyramid is entitled ‘Feature’ and provides a themed display which changes approximately 7 times a year.  At the moment, it’s theme is ‘Journey to Middle Earth’, and along with a ‘hobbit’ home, wizard, dragon breathing out plumes of smoke through its nostrils, along with cascading waterfalls – it was truly amazing.  There was a photo with both dragon and my mother-in-law that both myself and my father-in-law had a chuckle about as we both had the same caption in mind.  Suffice to say, I’ve not included it here, I’ll leave it to your imagination – you’ve only got the painted dragon to feast your eyes on below.  The latter pyramid was definitely the most striking of the four, but with wheelchair access available throughout the displays, it meant all members of our party could see everything and experience it together.  Brilliant.

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Fort Edmonton was another day-trip affair.  Edmonton’s heritage park takes you back to 4 eras.  The original Fort built in Edmonton from 1846 signifying the fur-trade era is an impressive structure, and shows how tough it must have been to live and survive in such a harsh climate without the joys of central heating or warm clothing.

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A street depicting 1885, and the hardships the first settlers had to go through is full of original buildings from this time which have been re-sited and located in the park alongside each other.  This is followed by a street from 1905 and Edmonton’s growing municipality, and then finally 1920 with ice-cream parlours, motor vehicles and movie-theatres.  It’s brilliantly done, staff are dressed in clothing from their specific eras and take the form of residents in each of the communities.

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There’s a steam engine and street tram providing rides and assisting in the transportation across the park, plus a fair and midway – attraction park with carousel rides and other amusement delights from the early 1900’s.  Well worth a visit – but leave yourselves a day for the privilege and don’t forget to pack a picnic 🙂

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Further afield, and a trip to Western Canada isn’t complete without a visit to the mountains and the awe-inspiring Rockies.  Jasper was as beautiful as ever – we’ve been there 3 times now in the last 12 months, and has become our favourite destination of choice.  Lovely to see the mountains without snow for a change, whilst the most impressive view was when my oldest kid and I took a walk around Lac Beauvert at 6am in the morning.  The sun casting red glows on the peaks of the mountains above and only the sound of the animals for company – staggeringly beautific and iconic.

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This was followed by a brief jaunt to Lake Louise, a mega tourist attraction, but when you arrive at the lake you completely understand exactly why.  Nestled in between the mountains, the lake is the most gorgeous turquoise colour you can imagine, and it’s a view you can never tire off.  The older generation were staggered by the breathtaking scenery and along with a car journey that takes you through the Icefields Parkway – one of the most scenic drives in Canada – were stuck for words.  It even took their minds away from the lure of ice creams for a brief period!

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Back in Edmonton, we’re now taking things easy for the last few days of the grandparents stay with us and I’m sure it’s a trip they’ll never forget – for numerous reasons.  More importantly, it’s given everyone a replenished sense of connection with one another, shared experiences, and unforgettable memories.  It just goes to show, that no matter how old you are, you can experience things you never thought possible – and truly benefit from the process.

It’s going to be quiet next week …… !!  🙂

Living the Canadian dream …

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We’ve been talking about getting a second car for a while, but have always talked ourselves out of it based on a) the cost, and b) whether we really need it.  We’ve been muddling through with just one vehicle for the past 9 months, and given the number of extra-curricular activities my kids now attend, I’ve had the delight of retaining the vehicle for the majority of that time.  My husband on the other hand, has had the joys of navigating public transport – something he’s not done since being at college and if truth be told, has forced him to socialise with various characters who stand at the bus stops or travel on the trains each day – rather than be nestled into a cocoon in a car listening to the tunes of choice and not having to converse other than offering the odd profanity at the inept driving ability of certain drivers on the road.  Don’t get me wrong, public transport in Edmonton is very good and it’s been ideal for what we need and where we need to get to.

But the sun’s out, the temperatures are high, and the lure of the open road with roof down and doors off, is proving too much.  We’ve adopted the ‘when in Rome’ approach and have done what every other Canadian seems to possess as their vehicle of choice.

Is it a 4×4 I hear you ask?  Why yes.

Does it have an absurdly huge engine?  Of course.

Is it bigger than the Jeep?  By a long way …

Does it consume gas like my husband consumes beer?  The new recruit clearly has the edge.

Can I reach the door on the front passenger side from seating in the driver’s seat?  Not a chance.

Will I need step-ladders to get in?  Certainly.

Is it quick to drive?  Amazingly so.

And the most fundamental question of all, and key decision-maker:  can I buy this in the UK?  Even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to afford to run the thing.

So, critical questions answered – we’ve bought a pick-up truck.

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It’s got a 5.7 litre V8 engine, and does 18mpg in the City, reaching a dizzy 26mpg on the highway.  It doesn’t have side-rails so I have to hoist myself in, and driving it is absolutely wonderful.  Prior to our recent search, I had never sat in a truck before we found our pre-loved one, and the space and quality inside is amazing.  The kids have named it ‘the tardis’ and it’s very true.  Driving it, you feel like you’re in a large performance vehicle, with indicative dials and buttons which tell you everything you need to know – if I knew what half of them meant it would be a bonus!  There’s a trailer brake – obviously useful for towing, but to the uninitiated, I haven’t a clue what that actually means.  I have a sat nav and back-view camera, can only just fit it in our garage (with the side mirrors tucked in), and there are ‘under the floor’ storage bins for filling with ice and beer for those long trips.  They’ve thought of everything!  Best of all – and for those that read my blog you’ll like this – it’s a RAM and has a ‘goat’ logo on the front and steering wheel.  Clearly a sign, and an ideal fit for my ‘goatandkids’ blogsite!  Not that I needed an excuse 🙂

2014-ram-1500-ecodiesel-outdoorsman-crew-cab-4x4-interior-viewCompletely different to the UK, all used vehicles have to be registered and number plates assigned – they don’t stay with the vehicle for it’s entire life like they do back home.  So, it’s now registered and back home, the critical question is clearly – who gets to drive it on a daily basis?   My husband has obtained a parking ‘spot’ in the parkade at the bottom of the building in which he works in downtown Edmonton, but my starting gambit has been to register a concern that I think ‘the tardis’ will be too big to fit in.  This was instantly rebuffed by the comment,’it can’t be too big as everyone else drives one of these in Canada‘.  Fair point.

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I’ve moved onto a swift counter-attack and focused on the opportunities now afforded to my husband for him to concentrate all efforts on ‘pimping up’ the Jeep.  Whilst we’ve already removed the hard top, and replaced it with the ‘soft-top’ which folds down; you can also take off all the doors, windscreen, and procure all manner of accessories like ‘bikini tops’, cloth doors, raised suspension, and super-large wheels.  My practical nature has always kicked in and prevented all the above, based on having visions of all 3 kids disappearing out of the vehicle (not to mention cuddly toys and goodness knows how many other kid-related items which seem to reside in the back seat), every time we turn a corner.

So, it looks like ‘the tardis’ will be coming in my direction on a daily basis.  Having the obligatory cowboy hat, boots and coffee cup at the ready, I satisfy the majority of Canadian requirements for getting behind the wheel of a pickup.

Yeehaa… 🙂

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 ….  🙂

Bear spray at the ready …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Hidden gems …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving me crazy …

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One of the things that takes some getting used to is driving in Canada.  Maybe it’s just Edmonton, but there are some nuances that have me completely baffled each and every day as to the logic behind their safety for pedestrians, road users – or anything else in between.

The first thing you probably think of when driving in Canada (or the US for that matter), is getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road – and by this, I mean driving on the right rather than the left ;-).  I’m British so therefore, the left hand side is the correct side – regardless of the fact that about 75% of the world’s countries drive on the right.  Despite the modern invention of the car, the side of the road on which we drive has developed through centuries-old custom and tradition.  The fact that most people are right-handed is the biggest factor contributing to which side of the road people initially chose.  A further reason I stumbled across made me chuckle – ‘Ancient Romans drove chariots with the reins in their dominant right hands to allow them to whip a horse with their left.  That way there was little risk of accidentally whipping a passing chariot.  But if a warrior needed to do battle from a horse, he could attack a passing opponent on the right with his stronger hand‘.  Not much has changed.  Another key influence in driving direction was Henry Ford, who designed his Model T with the driver on the left.  That decision meant cars would have to drive on the road’s right, so that passengers in both the front and back seat could exit the car on the curb.  Apparently, countries like the UK remain on the left-hand side down to sheer stubbornness and practicalities.  I like to think of it as something we’ll be proven right to stick to ……

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Anyhow, it only takes a short while to get your brain functioning in the opposite direction – plus, it’s made a lot easier with wide roads and absolutely gigantic trucks and cars and for the most part, everything is largely automatic transmission so having to cope with manual adjustments just means operating the windows and doors …. what couldn’t be easier?  Master this, and that’s the least of your problems …..

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Roundabouts.  Those reading this in Canada who are of UK descent will be physically groaning.  The concept of a roundabout and right of way seems to be lost on most Edmontonians – to the point that the ‘Driver Safety Handbook’ devotes a specific section to this very topic.  They don’t appear as road furniture often, but when they do, seem to cause complete and utter confusion.  Adopting the correct lane, yielding to cars coming from the left, and providing enough indication of your intentions to other road users – all seem to be a total anathema to the majority of drivers.  For the serious offenders, I’d send them to Warrington, England for 2 days and get them to navigate from one side of the town to the other.  It’s riddled with the things to the point of excess, but will certainly rectify any deficiencies in driving talent with regards to roundabouts.

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Pedestrian crossings.  Simple you may think.  For the pedestrian, a green man (well, technically – white), means ‘walk’, and an orange hand indicating ‘stop’, means just that.  And people abide by these totally and utterly.  Not so in the UK, where we adopt the approach of using the pedestrian signs as pure indicators of the severity of risk in crossing a road – and often proceed with or without them being taken into account.  Now the Canadian system is great, until as a vehicle user you wish to make a turn left or right at a junction.  At this point, the pedestrian light is most likely on ‘white’ too, and you have to not just navigate the turn amidst other vehicles on the road, but also minimise the impact of running a pedestrian over in the process.  And pedestrian’s don’t rush either – there’s no polite recognition that a car may also be wishing to turn across the crossing and a degree of speed adopted to aide your plight – oh no.  As a driver, you have to sit there and wait whilst coffee is balanced, iPhones checked and headphones repositioned by those walking.  How on earth there’s not more accidents with pedestrians I’ll never know – and statistics to try and either prove my point or completely distill it are not readily available.  Maybe that’s a sign ….

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Finally, the most fab thing is being able to make a right turn on a red light (providing it is safe to do so, obviously).  Sheer brilliance – and the novelty of turning right on a red light never wears off.  In fact, I’ve now worked out that as the roads are largely constructed on a grid system, if I ensure all my journeys are undertaken in a clockwise direction, I get there a lot quicker and easier than trying to fight the opposite way – unlike my sat nav who usually insists I’m attempting to get to my destination in the most inefficient direction.  I’m female, and this is one of those instances which I usually take great delight in proving my skill to the electric unit (who clearly couldn’t care less), for completely ignoring.

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Canadians are almost there with never having to vacate your vehicle whilst going about your weekly chores as most of the outlets operate as drive-thu’s.  Whilst these are convenient for some things, what always makes me chuckle is the length of the drive-thru vehicle queue at the coffee shops – when quite often the shop itself is empty and it would be much quicker to park up, get out and walk into the store!  You’ll notice something prevalent in the front seat of every vehicle – a drinking cup which is normally holding a recently purchased coffee.  God only knows what will happen to people in Canada if the world’s supplies of coffee beans ever dry up…..

All in all, driving over here is fun and keeps you on your toes.  The traffic is non-existent compared to UK standards so a tail-back quite often is a couple of cars deep – rather than a couple of hours long.  I’m just not sure I’ll fit back into UK driving as easily when we return.  But that’s a problem for another day ….. I’m just waiting for my coffee at the drive-thru …….

🙂

Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)

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At what point is it polite to say ‘it’s too hot’?  I’m currently basking in 28 degrees, blue skies and sun with no let up now for the past 2 weeks.  It’s beautifully hot and everything is decidedly parched – but we’ve gone from one extreme to another.  We’ve spent 5 months under snow and ice with sub-zero temperatures, and now have a blistering heat that makes us warmer than Phoenix in Arizona and Las Vegas in Nevada.  Who’d have thought!  The climate is ultra dry so there’s now a province-wide fire ban as the continuing hot, dry weather has raised the wildfire hazard to high, very high or extreme over most of Alberta.

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I mentioned in my blog last week, that I’ve finally procured plants and outdoor furniture – along with a rather large BBQ – to revel in the delight of the sunny outdoors.  In fact, not only the plants, but the lawn is requiring daily watering just to keep it alive and not parched in the dry heat outside.  Watering the grass wasn’t something that immediately came to mind as I’d assumed being subsumed under snow for months at a time, it would relish the prospect of dryer weather at last.  Not so.  When you’re used to an abundance of rain (cue: NW England) and often several times a day – if not constantly – it’s amazing to live in a climate which is extremely dry and any moisture disappears within seconds.  It’s lovely too, and when you get the chinook wind coming across the plains, it’s very pleasant and makes you think you’re on a permanent holiday.  Staying hydrated is a challenge, so the obligatory glass of wine for rehydrating purposes only, you understand, goes down extremely nicely too …

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The Jeep (you’ll remember me mentioning this in previous blogs) which was super-brilliant in the snow and ice, has now shed it’s ‘hard top’ and the ‘soft-top’ has been deployed.  Not only that, the roof has been down, roll-cage visible and it’s all I can do to persuade my husband not to remove the doors (which I’m informed is a ‘quick’ job and ‘won’t take but a minute’).  Trouble is, with 3 kids sat in the back, I have visions of at least 2 of the 3 departing the vehicle as we round a corner and if not them, the mounds of absolute rubbish that fester under the seats and on the floor which I’ve given up constantly removing, will make a rapid departure from the vehicle and we’ll be ticketed for brazen littering.  It’s a great vehicle though, and perfect for any weather we experience – I quite like the roof down and roll-cage look although I’m not sure the grandparents will appreciate the ‘bare look’ when they visit in a few weeks time.  It puts a whole new meaning to ‘air conditioning’, that’s for sure.

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Everything is starting to come to life and spray parks, outdoor pools and visitor attractions are gradually opening their doors.  Given the current climate, the spray parks are superb and perfect for keeping the kids cool and screaming in delight – and are dotted throughout the City.  The River Valley – which I mentioned in a previous blog – is simply stunning and one thing’s for certain, the Canadians certainly know how to embrace outdoor activities and sports.   In fact, the National Geographic magazine has just released it’s list of ’11 of the best summer destinations’, and along with ‘stargazing in a canyon in Arizona’ and ‘attending a concert in the shadow of ancient Greek ruins’; ‘hiking through Edmonton’s river valley’ has also made it onto the list. And deservedly so.  How fab is that?

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Farmer’s Markets are also opening up for the Summer season.  There’s a few which are year-round (my market of choice, being in Strathcona every Saturday morning which is exceptionally good), and there’s now one every Wednesday evening just around the corner from our house.  It’s on a smaller scale, but the quality of the produce, the home-made chutneys, ice creams, sauces and meats are well worth trying – plus there’s several food trucks which make an appearance for those wanting hot bites to eat or an early tea.  My kids sampled ‘popcorn ice cream’ which was delicious and I’ve got my eyes on the ‘black liquorice’ ice cream which my Mum will no doubt make a bee-line for when she visits.  Let’s hope there’s some left!

So, here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo),  here comes the sun – and I say, it’s alright.  🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take me to the River

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It’s Spring in Edmonton – the sun is out, Canadian geese are arriving and the grass is returning to green –  and we’ve been out exploring.  In fairness, we’ve been exploring since we arrived but the snow does impose some limitations on our ability to go for long walks and take in the scenery.  So we’ve been out investigating the delights of the Edmonton River Valley ….

Here’s a few facts for you.  At 7,400 hectares, Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley is the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America.  There are 22 major parks and over 150 kilometres of trails on which you can enjoy walks, bike rides, picnics, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and lots more.  Built into the River Valley are major attractions like the Edmonton Valley Zoo, Fort Edmonton Park, the Muttart Conservatory and the John Janzen Nature Centre.  On top of that there are both public and private golf courses set into the River Valley, plus four downhill ski slopes – two of which are within the city and two immediately outside.

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It’s not called the River Valley for nothing.  The North Saskatchewan River is a glacier-fed river that flows east from the Canadian Rockies to central Saskatchewan.  It is 800 miles in length and winds in a northeastern direction through Edmonton.  It originates 1,800 metres above sea level in the massive 325 sq. km Columbia Icefield in Banff National Park, before flowing across Alberta and Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg, into the Nelson River and eventually into the Hudson Bay.  It also is accountable for supplying Edmonton and surrounding communities with drinking water.  The banks of the river are wide, and the colour of the river a bluey-green which looks magnificent amongst the many coniferous trees, blue skies and bright sunshine.

Whilst it’s been picturesque in the snow, it’s only since the snow has finally departed and the temperatures have started to warm up that we’ve started to explore this vast area.

The sheer scale of the paths and walkways is amazing, and there are access points where you can park up, hop out and start exploring throughout the whole River Valley system.  It’s cleverly designed too – encouraging access through numerous paths that connect across the valley to other parks, walkways and bridges enabling you to criss-cross the river.  There’s also a tonne of thought that’s gone into making it absolutely accessible to anyone, on any mode of designed transport, whether that’s 2 legs, 4 legs (usually the canine variety but not necessarily limited to…), horse trekking, mountain biking, segways (yes, I’ve seen a few of those around too), skateboards, and scooters.  With 22 parks, there’s ample large green spaces which are dotted with picnic benches and barbecues – some of which were in active use with families and friends this weekend.  The smell as you walk past was extremely appealing.  One family group had also brought a bouncy castle with them, plugged it into a portable generator and the party for kids was well underway.  Games of ’rounders’, baseball and football were in abundance, and yet, only a couple of paces away you’re back onto the single tracks and paths along the banks of the river and it goes quiet again.

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Dogs seem to be one of the most popular pets and owners are out en masse in all the parks – some of which are ‘off leash’ areas and the volumes of dogs running around and generally having a great time was superb to see.  Although, at one point I did wonder whether we’d stumbled into a ‘Dog Owner’s Meet’ given the large numbers of canines in existence – but my kids thought it was superb and spent most of the time debating between themselves which types of dog they would prefer and what they would be called.  It served a great purpose as a point of distraction from the usual grumblings of, ‘are we there yet’?  I did remind them that the prospect of a dog in the household would probably be the final straw for my 20 year old cat (yep – she’s still here), which then triggered a whole barrage of sarcastic comments from my husband who has never been particularly keen on the feline variety and saw it as a potential opportunity.  Suffice to say, we won’t be looking at a canine for the foreseeable future …….

Edmonton has designed numerous ‘Community Walking Maps’ which are available online and cover most of the Edmonton area and River Valley separated into individual communities.  Designed to encourage activity (something the Canadians absolutely excel at), each map has lots of different walking routes, things to see and what to do.  Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking Edmonton a smaller city, the scale of the area and distances is deceptively large – and with it the opportunities to do more things and experience additional stuff, much greater.

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A bit like being in Northern England, everyone says hello and is extremely friendly.  If you visit the most popular parks then you’ll see many more people – but this is still only a portion of the volume you would get compared to going for a walk in the UK.  It’s not surprising to only meet one or two people when you’re out for a walk, such is the scale the River Valley area covers across Edmonton.

It’s a beautiful part of the world and we’re lucky to have the chance to experience it.  Having something like this on your doorstep is a gift and we’re planning to make the most of it.  Now, where’s my canoe …

🙂

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.  🙂

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 🙂

St Valentine’s Day – sharing the love

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It would be remiss of me not to mark the greatest of all days that is chocolate, flowers and cake … whoops, I mean St Valentine (patron saint of love, young people and happy marriages)!

In the UK, Valentine’s Day is an occasion for people to express feelings of romantic love, usually in the form of cards or gifts to their partner or somebody for whom they have romantic feelings.  Often sent anonymously and consisting of a variety of delights in the form of chocolates, red roses (anything else is considered frugal), champagne, lingerie and a surprise meal.  Prices spike for all the aforementioned items and premiums are charged – waiting till the ‘sale’ is considered bad form.  Just a point of note for any men reading this, please don’t consider these to be either/or options – all, are especially appreciated and received with great affection 🙂

Given the above, it’s always been a day filled with slight awe and yet anguish. At school, you would send a Valentine’s card (or a few, should you prefer to keep you options open), in the vain hope that you would receive at least one from an unknown admirer (which only lasted until their friends let you in on the secret to great mirth) to know that someone somewhere thought you were special.  Not to receive one was a distraught experience.  Less said about that the better …

As the years progress and boyfriends appear on the scene, it is obligatory to shower love and devotion on the man of the minute, and fast forward again, to married life when it’s a divorceable offence to forget or not put much thought into it.  So interesting to note the difference this year now we’re residing over the Atlantic and how the same day is marked.  And there are notable differences I can tell you.
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Whilst I can’t talk for the whole of Canada, certainly in our immediate location, St Valentine’s Day is regarded as a day of appreciation and an opportunity to make it visible how much you appreciate others and those around you.  Those more cynical, may class this as a mere commercial opportunity to widen the target market for cards and chocolate to the greater community, but there is something positive about encouraging each other to show gratitude and genuine human love and warmth to friends, colleagues and neighbours.  Cards, chocolates, flowers, candy … and more chocolate … are  the commodities of choice with no one batting an eyelid or thinking twice about issuing such items to work colleagues.  ‘Happy Valentines Day’ is the common phrase of turn at the checkouts and our local school embraced the concept whole-heartedly.  My youngest kid has been encouraged to take cards for every child in her Kindergarten class (that’s 23 in total!) to tell them she loves them and yesterday was marked with a Valentine’s party and heart gifts aplenty.  My middle kid – not used to this concept – felt slightly out of her depth when the exchanging of gifts, cards and sweets between friends was taking place – not having gone prepared with any provisions in exchange. That said, she gratefully accepted all the gifts laid upon her and declared upon leaving school in the afternoon ‘this was the greatest day at school, ever’, and clearly her earlier reservations were laid to rest in lieu of copious amounts of chocolate waded on her.
It’s a lovely thing to do and in this day and age of aggression, violence and terror, it’s nice to celebrate others around you and show them how much you appreciate them. It brings out the best part of human nature.
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There is a downside though.  With this being such commonplace and gifts galore to all and sundry, how then do you let someone know that there’s more to the gift than mere platonic gratitude?  I’ll just leave that statement hanging and thank the Lord that I’m not back in my early teens amidst the minefield that is St Valentines Day.
So, how did we celebrate?  Well, a trip to the local British import store and the stocking up on cordial, Bisto gravy granules and Cussons Imperial Leather soap.  Some things just can’t be replicated although I didn’t turn down the chocolates, wine, jewellery and red roses that were also proffered!
Happy Valentines Day 🙂

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!!!!!

🙂

It’s all about the list

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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  🙂

Making memories

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

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

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

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

Good point.  Well made.

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

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

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

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

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

Memories indeed.

Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

Life is full of extremes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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🙂

How many items does it take to fill a Canadian house?

 

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Despite the snow, sub-zero temperatures and the trans-atlantic distance between England and Canada; our goods which were last seen being packed into a container back in mid October, have finally found their way to our new home in Edmonton, Canada.

The removal agents were keen to keep me updated on the progress of our items throughout the entire journey.  For the ‘small’ trip across the Atlantic, I was readily informed that the container had been loaded onto the ship and was about to set sail (on a ship called ‘Sandra’ no less).  Once arrived in Canada, and being transported from East to West by rail, I was provided with regular updates on where our items were during the long trip  – the updates being the equivalent of the ‘container diaries’ as they slowly progressed and undertook a rail trip across a huge country that many would pay a fortune to experience.

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That said – and slightly later than originally expected, I finally heard the news of their imminent arrival in Edmonton.  Even when they’ve arrived, you have to seek clearance by Customs so off I trundled to the Customs Cargo depot to seek the required stamp of approval – rather like the one in Calgary for collecting my cat (see previous blog – who’s settled in very nicely, thank you for asking).  They don’t make these buildings easy to find or in any shape and form, welcoming, so I took my youngest kid along as a source of sympathy should things start to go pear-shaped.

There was a slight altercation in the fact that the shipping contact details on our goods were in the name of my husband, and despite having a marriage certificate and no end of documentation to prove my identity and linkage to our worldly possessions (see previous blog topic),  they wouldn’t accept me as the one to sign for ‘our’ goods.  So, a hastily requested email from said husband arrived at the customs front desk, and this appeased the process.  Once I read, agreed and signed against all the requirements that I can/can not do with any of our possessions, they gave me the sought after ‘stamp’ on the documents and our goods were cleared.

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You may be thinking, they’d get delivered at this point?  Alas, no.  Getting clearance means the rail company can release our container to the removal company, who can then schedule us in for delivery.  A few nice words and a sob story about having no furniture or clothes for the last 8 weeks plus the fact that Christmas is coming and at this rate, we’ll be depicting a modern day enactment of ‘Tiny Tim’s’ family, from the famous novel, ‘A Christmas Carol’ – the removal firm agreed to deliver the following day.

To say I was excited to see our ‘stuff’ again, would be an understatement.   The removal firm arrived as promised, complete with actual container on the back of a lorry.  I’m not sure what I expected to see, but I could’ve sworn it looked smaller than the one we originally sent.  My eyes deceiving me, probably down to the sheer size and scale of everything Canadian, I was asked to stand outside and witness the ‘seal’ being cut from the container.  I guess this is to show there’s been no tampering with the items in transit, but I’ve got to say it was a slightly surreal experience, watching them slowly open the doors of the container and seeing the familiar UK removal firm boxes in the back.  A small sigh of relief too, as I’m not sure what I’d have done if none of the items looked familiar to me at all!

It’s surprising the things you are pleased to see the most, are not always the items you expect.

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My piano (an upright, not a grand), which was an inherited gift from my Grandpa, had the removal firm chaps staggering in under the sheer weight of it.  Not massively large, but extremely heavy, they did a wonderful job amidst the snow and ice.  I was expecting it to sound off-key and in desperate need of a re-tune, but it’s fantastically still holding a tune and satisfactorily complete!  In fact, all our items – bar a wooden picture frame – made it in entirety.

One factor I hadn’t even anticipated but how on earth we didn’t have any more breakages I’ll never know, was the degree of cold everything had clearly gone through.  In taking out insurance for our possessions, I was of the mind that it would cover any fateful sinking of said ship, or the container being ‘dropped’ from the huge cranes used to load and unload shipments.  It never occurred to me, that cold may be such a key factor, and I’ve got to admit, we’ve been extremely lucky to get away so lightly.

Everything took a few hours to defrost and come up to temperature.  Our bathroom items had all frozen in their tubes, old (and well-used) casserole dishes were showing cracks in the pottery, so we unpacked and left things to acclimatise in their own time.  Only a glass ornament suffered from the glue not being able to withstand the frozen temperatures and had a clean break – which is now fully restored.

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Everything is unpacked out of boxes, but with limited furniture as yet, it looks more akin to a jumble sale in many of the rooms than a welcoming invitation to sit down and relax.  That said, everything is here.  And judging from the Canadian scale of things,  we’re going to need a lot more items to fill this house!!!

On that note, I’m just off to the shops – back later  …. 🙂