Life in a freezer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas ❄️🎄😊

 

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

A taste of things to come …. ???

Edmonton fall

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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.

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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 ….).

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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 …

Do you want to build a snowman?

Ice Castle

Earlier this week, I took the kids to visit the Ice Castle which is currently residing in Hawrelak Park – down in the River Valley in Edmonton.  I mentioned in an earlier blog about the Ice Castle being under construction when we wandered past to investigate just before Christmas (click here for my earlier blog).  It’s been billed as the largest ice structure in North America, and true to their word, it includes slides, waterfalls, tunnels and caves through which you can explore.

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Now for those picturing an Elsa Castle nestled on the top of a forest mountain you would be slightly disappointed.  Edmonton isn’t renowned for mountains – or hills of any kind in fact, but it does have plenty of River Valley and scenic parks, and an abundance of snow with sub-zero temperatures to make you feel at home.  Just make sure you’ve got plenty of layers on, snow pants, ultra-tog-rated gloves and some hand warmers – and you’re good to go!

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We’re often blessed with crystal clear blue skies and sunshine, albeit surrounded by snow, ice and chilly temperatures – and it makes for ever so effective photos which I thought I’d share with you …

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And rather like the Tardis, the castle was much bigger on the inside than it was outside – just single-tiered, with spectacular icicles and ice formations.  You’d think that it would be prone to melting, especially since we’ve been basking in the delights of temperatures that have been just above freezing point for most of the last week …… but no.  I guess one of the advantages for selecting Edmonton as the city of choice for hosting such things and with the degrees of cold we tend to experience, it guarantees ice structures remain intact certainly during the core Winter months.  It’s even too cold to build a snowman ….

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In fact, just to prove the point, I should have captured a photo of the large fire pit that is lit and providing a small degree of warmth, constructed from ice and burning chunks of wood in a section of the castle itself.  The irony wasn’t lost on me!

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There are 2 ice slides which get plenty of use from the kids, and the occasional adult who is petite enough to get themselves through the narrow passage and up to the top of the slides themselves.  I concentrated on making sure the kids didn’t plummet too far off the end of the slides and wiping out a couple of picture-taking adults as they hurtled themselves down at speed.  In fact, I’ve just thought of a new game segment for the TV show, ‘Wipeout’……

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You can’t have a castle without thrones (obviously ….), and there were 2 on which to take a royal pose.  Mind you, getting yourselves on these thrones and sat still long enough for an obligatory pic to be taken without slipping immediately off, is hilarious.  There were some brilliant moments with adults of all ages attempting the feat which had me chuckling away and could just imagine appearing in a ‘You’ve Been Framed’ compilation of comedy outtakes.

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So, a great afternoon activity and definitely worth a visit – it’s here till March.  There are certainly advantages to living in a winter city and with the prospect of snow not disappearing for at least another few months yet – I’m off out to make the most of it.  Although, building a snowman will have to wait a while until it’s a bit warmer … 🙂

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.   🙂

Bears, Beers and Broomsticks …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Half a year is gone already!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll keep you posted.  🙂

The big thaw

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

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

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

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And these things get quite technical.

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

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

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

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

What’s not to like?

🙂

Slippery when wet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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 …..

🙂

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  …. 🙂

It’s cold Jim, but not as we know it

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Whenever I mentioned to anyone that we were relocating to Edmonton, Canada, the first comment invariably made was along the lines of, ‘you do realise they have snow there for 6 months of the year?’  This was then often followed by ‘and it’s extremely cold – minus 40 in the Winter’.

Both points are absolutely true, and yes, the snow has indeed arrived along with the sub-zero temperatures.  In the last 2 weeks, we’ve gone from being in the positive mid to late teens, through to minus mid to late teens – and a windchill that has seen it -24 on a few occasions.  That said, it’s hard to describe what this is like unless you experience it – it’s like nothing I’ve known before.  It’s wonderful, yet cold – although I’m conscious that it’s still a novelty at this point!

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The skies are often blue – pure blue, with not a single cloud in them, and the sun shining.  On the occasional day, there’s cloud cover – usually when it’s due to snow, but more often than not (so far at least), it’s been clear blue skies.  The temperatures are so low that there isn’t any rain anymore, just snow.  And now the temperatures have dropped and the first snow has fallen, it stays where it is and gradually compacts down on the surfaces as ice on the pavements and roads.  I’m used to seeing snow turn quickly into a mucky brown slush in the UK, but this never happens either here.  It stays crystal white – even after footprints and boots have trodden in it.

The air is so dry and cold, that you get ice particles in the air which shimmer and glisten in the light – it’s truly beautiful.  The trees stay covered in snow and ice crystals – and are mesmerising to look at and reminiscent of all the picture postcard scenes seen on Christmas cards in the Winter.

And talking of Winter – this hasn’t arrived yet.  It’s Autumn here – and Winter is still to come.  Everyone talks about February being the coldest month – and with the temperatures already plummeting, we’ve procured all manner of clothing and apparel that keeps us snug whilst outside.  Lots of layers is key, and anything left exposed feels the cold pretty quickly.

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Driving has also taken some getting used to.  Luckily, our new Jeep arrived the day before the snow so it’s been both fortuitous, but also a steep learning curve for someone (me!) who’s not been used to driving much in the snow and ice.  I’ve progressed though.  On Day 1 – I accept – I was as slow as a snail.  Driving with trepidation in the snow and on the ice, much to the disgruntlement of the locals who were extremely polite and patient – no honking of horns or gesticulating gestures which I would expect to find back in England.  It’s been a baptism of fire as I’ve had to drive and navigate myself around in order to deposit kids off to various locations and obtain food and necessaries for the house.  My confidence has grown and now – 2 weeks on – I’m driving on the sheet ice (which has become the new tarmac) with greater confidence and assurance.  There have been no minor mishaps, traffic accidents or vehicle breakdowns – key KPI’s from my perspective and a success story, I’m sure you’ll agree!

It’s also interesting to see that life continues and nothing stops for the sake of sub-zero temperatures or a foot of snow.  Nothing can afford to – not when it lasts for 6 months of the year.  Traffic flows easily, there maybe the occasional bump on the roads (usually as the extra stopping distances required haven’t been factored in), but no great inconvenience.  Gritters grit the roads and life continues as before.

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Even the school has a policy that above -20, the kids will continue to play out at ‘recess’.  Below this (including windchill), the kids stay indoors.  But they need to be hardy, and make sure they always wear hats, gloves, thick coats, and waterproof boots.  It’s one of those learning points in life that you’ll only ever forget one of these items once – and you never do it again, as it’s so cold.

Walking to school in a morning, the school has a traffic light system displayed on the doors depending on the weather and temperature.  Below -20, it’s a ‘red’ system and the kids can access the school and wait in the gym until school officially opens.  Above -20, it’s a ‘green’ system, and they have to wait outside until the school doors are open.

You quickly acclimatise to the temperature though.  It’s warm today.  At only -8, I’ve put a thinner coat on and haven’t needed a hat.  Like life – everything’s relative.

Winter when it hits will be interesting …

Predictable unpredictability

As part of my prep for moving to Canada, I was reading about the different seasons experienced during each year. Canada has 4 distinct seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter. We’re moving to Calgary where I’m informed the weather is quite unusual compared to the weather for the rest of Canada.

For example, where Eastern Canada and British Columbia are quite humid, with ample rain and snow, Calgary is very dry most of the time, with an average annual precipitation of 41 cm (16 inches). While many Canadian homes have de-humidifiers, most Calgary homes have humidifiers. I love this extreme!

The months which have the most rain are May, June and July. On the plus side, Calgary is also very sunny. I was intrigued to read that the summer months see on average 9 hours of ‘bright’ sunshine every day – because of Calgary’s latitude and extra-long summer days. What’s not to like about that?

Another unique aspect of Calgary weather is the ‘Chinook’ – a warm wind from the west which can make a significant difference to temperatures even on a daily basis. Given the close proximity to the Rocky Mountains, the days in summer can be very warm (23 C in July) but cool off very quickly in the evening. Both Spring and Autumn are described as ‘unstable’ – snow can sometimes fall as early as September and sometimes as late as May.

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Talking of ‘unusual’, compare this to England – a place I’ve lived all my life. We certainly have 4 distinct seasons, but the weather is at best, unpredictable – and that’s being kind. It does rain a lot – but never at one particular time of the year. Indeed, it can rain at any time, in any place, on any day – often, without any warning whatsoever!

Frequently, you may wake to find beautiful sunshine, which will be quickly masked by clouds, some rain, a handful of hail and blustery wind – all on the same day, and not necessarily in the same order! In fact, even the UK Met Office get some grief for quite often failing to predict what’s going to happen. We tend to work on probabilities instead ….. that, and a touch of luck!

It certainly makes for an interesting conundrum just working out what to wear and take with you (just in case!) each day. I’ve frequently sent the kids to school on a warm and sunny day, suncream plastered on their faces and yet by mid afternoon, when school finishes and parents are waiting to collect their offsprings in the school playground, we’re hit by torrential rain and freezing cold winds. It makes for an interesting challenge at least and after a while, you just have to grin and bear it. The only predictable thing with British weather is it’s unpredictability 🙂

It may sound extreme, but we don’t experience massive swings in temperature during each part of the year – we’re consistent from that perspective at least. In fact, as I write this blog, the UK is on course for one of the warmest Springs since records began – averaging a balmy 8.97 C between March & May this year. We’re also on track for one of the hottest summers – so the experts reckon!  As an example of how quickly things change in a day, the UK Met Office has just issued severe weather warnings just to keep us on our toes tomorrow and avoid any degree of complacency.  Maybe I’ll keep the suncream at the back of the cupboard and opt for the brolly and mac instead.

 

For me, I’ll be watching with interest from afar as our plans to relocate will be during this Summer – at least that’s something I can definitely predict with certainty.