Mobility madness …

I’ve always admired those with the innate ability to stand on one leg, perfectly postured, calmly maintaining their position whilst contemplating life and chanting meditative techniques.  My current mobility challenge of having to only utilise one lower limb, has forced me to adopt a whole new range of similar poses but with all the grace of a lame duck, and the employment of more colourful approaches to language than the traditional meditative yoga-ite might adopt.

That’s not to say I haven’t had assistance.  My trusty crutches have enabled me to ascend the stairs, albeit at the pace of a sloth.  Every now and then the kids will ‘test’ my ninja-moves, by forcing me to navigate my way around a multitude of items they’ve dropped or left lying around.  It’s a wonder I manage to remain upright at all.

Then there’s the husky.  She’s somewhat baffled by this turn of events and is quite fascinated by the ice grips on the sides of my crutches which seem to be magnetically attracting her to take a nibble every time they move.  In desperation, she keeps looking at her lead as if to say, ‘well, are we off then or what?’.In a sudden flash of inspiration, it occurred to me that there must be a whole range of mobility aids available which may assist in my maneuverings around the house.  A brand new building recently constructed on the road into Edmonton advertising ‘healthcare solutions’, was my destination of choice.  Equivalent to a top-end car showroom for the ‘healthcare mobility’ market, this place has glass windows stretching two floors in height, showcasing every type of mobility device known to man – or woman for that matter.  Hobbling in on crutches through the snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures, my husband remarked, ‘I think I’ve just had a premonition of our future‘.  From mobility scooters, to Pilates balls, to incontinence pads – this place has the lot.

Let’s just say the lure of electronic gadgets and scooters had my husband salivating at the mouth and treating the place as a ‘playground for the older gentleman’.  ‘I’ll just go and investigate’, was his refrain as he disappeared out of sight for the next hour or so.  I fleetingly caught a glimpse of him every now and then out of the corner of my eye, as he careened around the showroom testing out all manner of devices.  My only comforting thought was being thankful I hadn’t brought the other 3 kids along too …..

It occurred to me that whilst this place offers an invaluable service to the local community and those who find mobility a challenge; based on the reaction from my husband, I couldn’t help but think there is a wider market they haven’t yet tapped into …. as an additional positive, at least they also provide all surgical dressings and applications readily to hand …..Functionality and practicality goes a long way when you’ve only got one leg and despite all the latest technology, I’ve hired a wheelchair for the next few weeks until I get myself back on both feet.  My middle kid was ever so disappointed it wasn’t electronic, but this doesn’t seem to have hindered her whisking herself around the ground floor trying to determine its ‘top speed’.  Life father, like daughter …..

For me, it’s been life changing.  I now have two free arms to hold and carry stuff, clean things, make food and load the dishwasher.  It may take me a little longer than usual, but I can now do more things in the house than just sitting on the sofa.  Making a cup of tea is now in my gift, as is re-polishing the kitchen tops.  I’ve even started to master the finer intricacies of manoeuvring the chair in and out of tight spaces which I reckon should be included as a new olympic sport.

Only the husky remains bemused.  Every time I start to move, she insists on trying to race me in the chair, crawling directly underneath it, or trying to fit through the same small narrow space as the one I’m attempting to get through.  She’s a sled-dog and there’s nothing she would like more than to be harnessed up to the front of my wheelchair and pull me along.  Much like the kids, the only downside she has is her inability to react to the commands, ‘stop’ or ‘wait’!   So, whilst I’m incapacitated, I’ve come up with a new way of exercising the husky and keeping the mountain biking husband occupied ….. bikejoring.   What can possibly go wrong??  As my husband recently commented, ‘I think I’ve just had a premonition of our future‘ and maybe I’d better reserve an additional wheelchair just in case?

🙂

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

Life on the sofa …

Ask me at any time prior to New Years Day, and the prospect of being able to loll on the sofa without having to move for hours on end, would’ve been a figment of my imagination and only something I could ever aspire to in the after-life.  Any futile attempts at trying to recreate this on this mortal planet usually go something along the lines of …..

  1. House goes quiet, no one in sight, opportunity sensed ….
  2. Sit down on sofa,
  3. Start watching or reading something of interest that’s been on the ‘to-do’ list for ages,
  4. After 5 minutes, kids/dog/husband (select as appropriate) then can’t find something, someone pinches someone else’s things, or an argument breaks out between one or all,
  5. Noise and tempers escalate to the point where the United Nations are needed to mediate a peace treaty,
  6. Temporary truce negotiated,
  7. Resort to the G&T.

The sofa sits there, taunting me with the prospect of relaxation and yet, never materialises.

So, following the broken leg saga and my surgeon’s instruction to keep all weight off it, I was issued with a pair of crutches (and the optional upgrade of ice grips – essential when the whole place is covered in snow and ice for another 4 months as yet) and sent home to recline on the sofa for the foreseeable future.  Bliss, you’d think.  Finally, my prayers had been answered through divine intervention …..The first week passed in somewhat of a blur …. mainly, I assume, as a result of the morphine to dampen the pain and swelling.  I vaguely recollect an abundance of assistance from my numerous tribe who diligently provided me with regular cups of tea and sandwiches for lunch just to keep me going whilst they were at school.

A fleeting visit to the hospital last week to check progress gave me a welcome change of sofa scenery.  I was greeted warmly by an orthopaedic nurse and an announcement that she would remove my dressing and take my staples out.  I didn’t look – fearing that my mind would hurl me into mental oblivion and make the whole procedure a lot worse than it actually was.

When presented with the abyss, sometimes it’s better not to look.

With gritted teeth, husband holding my hand, the nurse started the unwrapping.

I’m excited to watch this‘, declared the husband as the nurse offered me a sympathetic smile and the reassuring comment, ‘It’ll be fine.  You’ve got age and the fact you’re female on your side.  Men aged 21 – 40 are usually the worst‘.  Not sure whether this made me feel better or not?As my husband unconsciously clenched his hand around mine, bracing himself every time a staple was removed, I just tried to imagine the pain of childbirth being significantly worse.  As the nurse was halfway through the procedure, he proclaimed – ‘you’re doing really well, only another 45 to go ……..‘.  The nurse offered me a withered smile and enquired whether he was always this sarcastic.  I’m afraid so.

I admit I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I eventually deigned to glance at my left leg which now resembled the look of plucked chicken with malnutrition due to the loss of muscle mass.  After numerous years’ experience watching the hospital drama, ‘Casualty’ on the BBC, I had sat through a multitude of ‘operations’ and naively assumed technology had progressed to the point that keyhole surgery employed a simple – and small – 1 inch ‘cut’ as the solution of choice.  Alas, no.  Neat, it may be – but at 5 inches long and with a fair depth of an incision, it came as somewhat of a shock.   On the plus side, clearly their knives had been sharp and next time I visit, I may enquire who they use to have them sharpened as our kitchen knives could do with some enhancement and I’d be interested in employing their services …… Roll forward another week and whilst my cast has been removed, the instruction remains the same and I’m starting to climb the walls.  I’ve still got another three weeks – and on my birthday at that – until I revisit the surgeon where I’m hoping I can start to place some weight on the leg finally.

My band of merry helpers in the household have clearly tired of the novelty of meeting my every whim and desire.  I’m sure they attempt to by-pass the lounge as quickly as possible by employing every known trick to adopt the characteristics of the ‘invisible man’ such that I don’t notice them so avoid being allocated a household chore.

Me?  Well, I’d give anything to be off this sofa and able to hoover the house.  Oh the irony …..

🙂

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

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’

Slip sliding away ….

Roller skatingWhen I was a teenager, the biggest draw on a Saturday afternoon was to the roller skating rinks in either Rochdale or Bolton – a good 30 minutes drive away from where we used to live in North-West England.  They were popular hotspots, with the latest 80’s music blaring out through worn-out speakers and dimly lit rinks illuminated with flashing disco lights.  We’d attempt to look proficient and adept on wheels, always believing we were more ‘hip and trendy’ than we actually probably looked.  Roll forward 30 years, and as I’d always been ‘competent’ on roller skates, (i.e. could stand and move forward in an upright position), it was with an air of self-confidence and blind optimism that I felt my ability to adapt to moving on ice would be a seamless transition.  How wrong I was.  For those who remember our first Winter in Canada just over 2 years ago, my inaugural attempt to ice-skate ended within the first 2 minutes and resulted in broken bones and a trip to the local A&E.  Ice skating is clearly harder than it looks ……

Screen-shot-2013-12-07-at-5.00.34-PMGiven my newfound admiration for anyone who can demonstrate the ability to remain vertical on ice whilst wearing ice skates (or any type of footwear to be honest), I was in complete awe when we went to watch our very first ice hockey match between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Saskatoon Blades last week.  Edmonton has just splashed out $600m on a new world-class arena, Rogers Place, which only opened in September after 3 years in development, and is sited in the heart of downtown.  It’s an impressive building and will act as the new home to the Edmonton ‘Oilers’ as well as playing host as a major concert venue for touring acts – we get some big names appearing up here in the freezing North, you know 🙂

Rogers PlaceI’ll admit here and now, that my knowledge of ice hockey is absolutely zilch other than it’s split into 3 periods of 20 minutes, with a 15 minute break separating each one.  I don’t know about the players, but I needed a break to recover after watching each period.  You can’t fail to be impressed with the speed by which the players move around the ice along with their short reaction times chasing a ‘puck’ which seemingly moves at the speed of light.  By the time I’d spotted where the puck had gone, it was then down the other side of the rink – and I got the decided impression that I was consistently 3 or 4 seconds behind where the game was upto throughout the entire duration of the match (my husband would probably argue there’s usually a few seconds delay in me with most things in life ;-).

And it’s violent too.  You can see why they need so much protection gear as the speed and ferocity with which they bash each other against the sides of the rink prompted an audible gasp from the audience and made me wince on several occasions.  Clearly tensions were running high as at various junctures, a fight broke out between players who would then throw their headgear off and chuck a punch (or 2) at each other before the referees stepped in and sentenced them to the ‘sin bin’.  Clearly there are rules and guidelines of which I know nothing, but it makes for engrossing watching when it’s happening right in front of you.  Much better than watching it on the tv …..

2016-11-10-18-45-06I’m a convert.  Audience participation is encouraged throughout – plus the obligatory food stands selling hot dog and fries are a must.  We loved it.   It was a great night out and we’d definitely go and watch another game.  It’s a far cry from roller skating in Rochdale all those years ago.  Mind you, the outdoor ice rinks are starting to open here for the winter season and I’m sure with a bit more practice I can stay on my feet for at least 5 minutes this year!  Better get those skates on and start slip sliding away …. 🙂

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

A taste of things to come …. ???

Edmonton fall

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

Canada white house

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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 …..

Arctic-Hare

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 …..  🙂

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 …. 🙂

Just give us a push …

cross-country-skiing

I’ve been out and procured some cross-country skiing equipment over the last week – part of an early birthday present and also, if I didn’t do it soon, I’d miss the brilliant snow conditions that are in Edmonton at the moment.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking days or weeks before the snow disappears.  No – we’re in it for the long haul and it won’t be probably till April before we get to see glimpses of grass underneath the blankets of whiteness that surround us currently.  That said, there’s no time like the present, and after my brief ‘trial’ just before Christmas, I’ve been keen to try the sport and get out in the River Valley and enjoy it.

The equipment is slightly different.  For those familiar with downhill skiing and having to prise your feet into the solid, rigid ski boots, then you’re in for a treat with cross-country skiing. The boots are wonderfully comfy, rather like wearing a pair of flexible slippers on your trotters – and clip into your skis just at the tip of the toe, leaving your ankle free to move up and away from the ski itself.  This is great as it enables you to really push-off and ‘skate’ through the snow.  The skis themselves are much narrower and significantly lighter than downhill skis, with the poles much taller.  There’s a whole industry surrounding waxing underneath the skis – to provide grip and glide – and knowing the difference and what to use, and when, seems to be riddled with complexity to me as a complete novice.  I’ve copped out and gone for ‘waxless’ skis  – and so far, these are working really well and I’ve at least remained upright.  Success!

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I’ve mentioned in numerous blogs over the year that the City of Edmonton certainly embraces and encourages activity – providing an amazing number of activities and sports from young to old.  Cross country skiing is no different, and there are a number of park locations in the city which are purposely groomed and maintained for people to purely turn up and have a go.

One of the other advantages of living in Edmonton is that rather like living in Cheshire, England – it’s extremely flat, albeit much drier than it seems to be over the other side of the pond.  This means that for the majority of cross-country skiing opportunities, there may be minor inclines and small sections of downhill, but for the most part – it’s flat.  Not challenging for those wanting to adopt it as a serious sport, but for the recreational user and for me, it’s proving a hit. I can tell though, that getting up minor inclines needs more finesse on my part – I’m doing a good impression of a dilapidated duck and it’s been pure luck I haven’t ended up in a heap back at the base of the climb.  Good job there’s nobody filming my exploits – you’d have ‘cine-gold’ to blackmail me with!

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

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

Cross country skiing

Yesterday, I took a friend of mine around one of the skiing tracks.  It was a beautiful day – blue skies, sunshine and temperatures that were verging on freezing point, ie. mild!  The scenery was spectacular, and the skiing wonderfully crisp, it’s an utter joy to be out and experiencing it.  We even spotted a family of 3 coyotes quietly enjoying the sunshine nestled underneath a conifer as we passed only 10 feet by.  I haven’t had any disasters as yet, and despite being hard work on your muscles, it’s highly aerobic and doesn’t take long before the sweat is dripping and you begin to wonder whether all the layers of clothes may have been overkill.   I’m enjoying it, and boy, do you feel much better mentally just having got out there and given it a go.

I wonder what’ll be next!!  🙂

Thanks to google images for this week’s pics!  Hard to take pics when you’re travelling at speed …..

Seasons Greetings from the cold north!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final photo courtesy of google images …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long may it continue.   🙂

Give me a good book and a glass of wine …

Dr Seuss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading everyone 🙂

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

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 🙂

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?

🙂

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 🙂

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 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 …