Monday, July 27, 2009

A numb bum

It was someone's bright idea on a recent holiday to sign up for one of those pony treks.

Let me start off by saying that horses are strange creatures and I am not at all comfortable in their presence. Which of course they sense straight away, and make a beeline for that wussy female that doesn't know which way is up. My total knowledge of the equus can be written in one sentence. They have big teeth and a leg in each corner. Am I right, or am I right?

My husband was in a hotel lobby alone one afternoon and picked up one of those colourful brochures. (Better than picking up a call-girl I guess.) The brochure (not the call-girl, 'cos I didn't see her) was aimed at the passing tourists (probably just like the call-girl).

"Ride into the legendary mountain west and experience the connection between horse and rider as it was in the past, and share in the legacy of the cowboy" (Are we sure I'm still not talking about some call-girl? OK, enough with the lady of the night, she's not important - not to this story anyway.)

"Step into a time and place where the "Spririt of the West" lives on .... the brochure beckoned.

My dear husband then decided we should all do this - a one-off - good family time, good for the soul. Initially he thought an all-day ride would be great fun, until I pointed out that my backside would probably barely last an hour in a saddle. I know my bum, you see. Somehow we compromised on a two and half hour trek and booked it up for the next morning.

Waking at an very uncivilised hour, we dug out from the suitcase the one pair of jeans each of us had brought 'just in case'. The 'just in case' I had in mind was a torrential downpour, or some July snow (quite feasible, believe me) - not a 'just in case we decide to clamber onto the back of a tall animal'. We set off for base camp, which was about a 20 minute drive from Waterton National Park [] and then duly signed on the waiver dotted line and were introduced to our horses.

I think each member of the family has physically sat on horses twice in their lives, but at varying distances in their history. My experience of a horse is waaaaaayyy back in time. Not so good then, still imprinted on my brain. Fear, I think they call it.

We were all sized up for suitable horse - mine was called "Wrangler". An ominous start, don't you think?

To cut a two and a half hour trek story short, the girls absolutely loved it. They were trotting and kicking and steering the horses, and I never realised just how much they would enjoy this. They even had the sneaky idea of trying to barter their dance lessons (already booked and paid for in September) into horse riding lessons instead. Not gonna happen.

Within half an hour I was getting uncomfortable. My horse would walk the slowest of the pack, bimbling along in his own sweet time, then the rancher-rider-leader girlie would come along and 'encourage' him to go faster. Which meant trotting. Let's just say my bum and the saddle became well acquainted. Bang, slap, owwww, bang, slap, owwww. It's obvious by now that I do not know how to ride. I tried to do the whole 'stand up in the stirrups' bit and bounce in a rhythm in keeping with saving one's arse from a whooping, but it was not pretty.

We were wandering through pretty countryside with beautiful mountains in the background and all I could think about was how the hell am I going to walk back to the car?

The last 45 minutes was agony. My bum was sore, but in fact it was my left knee that objected the most. It just locked at a silly angle in the stirrup and I had no strength in it at all.

The final indignity came at the end when I told my husband - note, I told my husband - that he would have to catch me as I slid off said horse in a none-too-stylish, locked-knee, legs-akimbo heap. I wasn't far wrong, and I'm so glad no-one had the video camera going at this point.

I literally could not unlock my knee for about two minutes, so I stood there, stooped over, smiling through gritted teeth - yes, I'm absolutely fine, wonderful morning, lovely - until my leg would co-operate and move.

And yes, predictably, I did do my John Wayne impression as I limped back to the car.

So that's me and horses finished for another decade or so. Lovely creatures. Mwah.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The power of wind

This entry is not an ode to my huband's flatulence, just to be clear on that. Those that know him realise that would be a 1000 word essay all on it's own. And thank heavens we still don't have smelly-vision. Anyway, as I was saying ....

We were driving through southern Alberta last week and with the combination of a poorly detailed map (no GPS in this car, but that is a whole other story for another day) and my inclination to knock about 20km off the route we had chosen, we ended up on some hot and dusty gravel back roads through some prairie farmland near Fort Macleod.

I was delighted to see some wind turbines, up close and personal.
This is the Macleod Flats Project.

A hotly contested topic at the best of times, and I guess I don't really know a huge amount about wind turbines apart from the usual stories that make the headlines about birds, bats and visual impact.

I like them. Aesthetically, they please me. I think there is something quite beautiful about them - something noble in conception and stunning in reality. Silent (from a distance) and powerful. I feel this is technology we should be embracing, investing in and something about which to feel proud.

But, I don't live near them.

I'm not necessarily one of those NIMBY's on this topic. If I was a farmer, and a power company wanted to pay me several thousand dollars per turbine to put them in my field, I might be very grateful for the extra income. Especially if I can still grow my product or graze my cattle around the massive posts without too much bother. But are they always conveniently sited on a farm?

Are they really noisy? Court cases disagree but local residents don't. I couldn't get underneath one to check it out.

Does the spinning shadow annoy? I figure if you live right under them, then yes, it must do.

Is the prairie landscape with the Rockies backdrop being ruined by acres of giant, white twisting sticks? Some would definitely think so. Are some areas better than others to site this technology, ie, offshore ?

Is the need to drive tons of concrete into the ground in order to support these things as ecological as we are lead to believe?

Are they really that safe, with reports of fires, falling ice and light aircraft hitting them? Construction and maintenance staff getting caught up or falling to their deaths? Birds dying and the lungs of bats exploding due to change in air pressures?

I really don't know. I think many good practices are being implemented to lessen the negative effects that wind turbines have presented in the past and there is no doubt still a long way to go.

In 30 years time will we look back and say "well, we tried", or will the satellites in the sky look down on a globe dotted with millions of little twisting sticks trying valiantly to dent the power supply required by our greedy planet?!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Glacier National Park, Montana

The route bans long or high vehicles and I would suggest that nervous drivers need not apply - there are little red 'buses' that will pick up and drop off passengers anywhere along the road if you need to leave your 35 foot camping trailer behind in the car park.

I think the motorcyclists were having the best experience and views as they were weaving back and forth across both lanes to get a better look at the scenery and the American guys were not wearing crash helmets either which must add to that sense of freedom-wind-in-my-hair moments (right up the point they fall off and crack their skulls open - c'mon guys, even when it's not the law ....).

I was saddened to see yet another example of the devastation caused by the pine beetle that has been moving across many western states of the US and has been silently attacking millions of hectares of the landscape in British Columbia and Alberta amongst many other areas.

I guess nature will sort itself out at some point, but not in my time...

There are still little pockets of snow to be seen across the mountain sides and a couple of mini-glaciers left at the road sides, which people were sliding down, my kids included, which was all just a tad weird bearing in mind it was a toasty 32 degrees outside.

Out of the mouth of babes ...

... or my 9 year old daughter anyway.

Our Cocker Spaniel has - how do I put this delicately? - piled on a few pounds since being "done" back in April. She has a bit of a rotund mid section these days (don't we all - and I don't even have the excuse of being "done" (steady!) ).

Daughter Number Two overheard my husband and I discussing her weight issues. And her answer to extra poundage? It's because Honey (the dog, not my daughter) likes collecting cuddles and doesn't let them go and that's why she's getting bigger. Simple really. Made me smile anyway - cute.

But on that theory, at the rate this dog does collect cuddles, she'll be waddling by the end of the month.

Speaking of children's views of the world, this is what happens when you give a child a camera to play with.

Imagine my surprise, while flicking through all the holiday photos, to find a collection of miniature white rabbits in varying poses. This wasn't the wildlife I recalled seeing. Bless.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Been on me hols ...

Have been on a wee road trip with the family this past week or so and I will no doubt post tons of photos of not-another-mountain-mum and but-it's-just-another-lake-dad, plus some others of god, do-I-have-to-stop-the-car-again flowers.

We travelled south from Banff, and then crossed the US border into Idaho, turned east for a while, ended up in Montana, did a wobbly route north-ish and then back into sunny Alberta again - just shy of 2,000km in all.

We saw lots of wildlife - invariably when the camera was inaccessible - but sadly, no bears this time. The weather was beautiful, cooperative and in perfect keeping for throwing oneself into cool lakes and the hotels were all obligingly equipped with air con which, frankly, was a saviour.

Which firstly brings me to the title of my blog.

Here's a photo of my in-car thermometer taken in January 2009. Please note the "minus" symbol.

And here's a photo from July 2009.

Here is a place in the world that swings wildly from temperature extremes during the course of your average year.

Growing up the south of England, -6 degrees would be "very cold indeed" and involve hunting out the worn-three-times-a-year gloves, some moth-eaten grandma knitted scarf (sorry to all busy-bee knitting grandmas, no offence) and contemplating a day off school. And anything above about 29 degrees in the summer would involve three showers a day and an afternoon nap. Oh, and a large glass of something very chilled and very alcoholic by about 4pm. Even if we were at work.

Canada, and specifically my adopted chunk of Alberta, will throw -25 degrees at you for a week or three and we won't bat an eyelid (that's 'cos we can't - the lashes are all frozen). And for the few years that I have been here anyway, we get a pretty hot few weeks in July too - sufficiently humid and uncomfortable for us to de-camp to the cool basement to sleep.

I never thought I'd be complaining about heat in Canada. No - honestly! Everyone is so busy trying to put you off with treacherous tales of snow and ice (which afterall, is all that anyone knows of the country), that they omitted to tell me about gorgeous summers. OK, so they are a bit short - the summers, that is - but by god, the inhabitants wring it out for all it's worth.

Anyway - I've sidetracked. Holiday piccies to follow in due course. I need some kip ....

Monday, July 13, 2009

Caption Competition

This photo was taken last week - from outside my front door. We live beside a big hill from which human beings of varying levels of insanity throw themselves. They attach brightly coloured paraglides to themselves and just run and launch.

My husband has been learning this art of flying too. And he is just loving it. Talk about getting high!

Anyway - caption competition .... obviously the perspectives are all wrong in the photo making it look like it does. That mast is actually about a kilometer away behind the glider.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A favourite tree

A friend of mine has a favourite tree. This is it. I kinda get it. It sits alone in the middle of a field, slightly raised, with a stunning backdrop of the Rockies behind it.

My brother also has a favourite tree. It is also a lonesome structure in the middle of field, but this time in Headley in Surrey (UK). I like his tree too.

I haven't yet found my favourite tree in Alberta - it's out there somewhere, I am sure - but we don't exactly have a lot of diversity on the tree front out here. Hardy fellas, definitely - but shapely, imposing or inspiring? Not so much.

There is one stunning specimen within the grounds of Calgary Zoo outside the Cafe - an enormous willow - and each time I see it, it reminds me of that Disney film Pocohontas. Grandmother Willow. It's just like that - I anticipate it will talk to me one day, offering wise words of guidance for my journey through this life. Or it might just tell me to avoid the Soup of the Day.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Glass of Bolly ?

Hope you can read this - taken from the wall of a pub near Pangbourne (I think) near Reading in Berkshire.

Not much I can add to this really ... wise words indeed. For it to make better sense, note that the 'quotation' is signed off by Madame Bollinger!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dogs love water ...

... and mud and generally getting as wet and mucky as possible .... and then they walk up to you with that look in their eye and you glare back at them and through gritted teeth you say "Don't you dare". And they do dare and they take another couple of steps to get really close to your bare legs (and they are bare legs 'cos it's a lovely hot day - which is why you took them along that nice path along the river) and then they set their button to the spin-cycle and do that flicky, soggy, spinning routine so as to get you almost as wet as they are. Gotta love 'em. Little shits.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where do old buses go when they die?!

Ahh, what a sad sight! I wonder how many lives were hauled back and forth to school during the life of this bus?

Seen abandoned at the side of a town site close to home. Try recycling that one then ...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reading habits ...

Are you an avid reader? Will you try anything from the book shelf? Do you have your favourite authors that you are willing them on to just finish their next production?

Let me start by saying, probably to a small boo'ing audience, that I have never willingly read Jane Austen, or Shakespeare, or Tolkein, or indeed anything else that English teachers used to thrust excerpts upon you and ask you to comment on what the author was really trying to say. For goodness sake man, spit it out, just say what you mean! Anything with a whiff of A Level Literature about it has me running for the hills. (Having said that, I did study 5 literary whoppers in French for A level, and that was surely enough to finish me off).

In years gone by, in my 20's, I used to just love international spy/thriller type novels. Lots of intrigue, back-stabbing and stories unfolding in a stylish European city. Enter Frederick Forsyth and such. And I still enjoy that kind of format on the screen such as the Bourne trilogy (and Matt Damon doesn't hurt the eyes either). I also loved the epic novels spanning centuries like the Ken Follett "Pillars of the Earth", Leon Uris' "Trilogy" and the Jean M Auel "Earth's Children" series.

In my 30's I seemed to enter the chick-lit phase. I'd snigger at Bridget Jones, and enjoy the latest Dublin-based Marian Keyes novel. I recall sobbing my way through Chapter One of "PS I Love You" with my husband looking on, with 'that' look on his face. I was a new mother with the attention span of a knackered gnat so light and fluffy, funny and sarcastic suited me well. Something to dip in and out of, something to distract me from domestic bliss(!). In fact, looking back, I just enjoyed witty writings - John O'Farrell, Stephen Clarke's "Merde" series, a quirky little book called "Written in Jest" by Michael Lee about a guy that writes to various institutions asking for a job for which he is whole-heartedly unqualified for - and prints their responses. I would marvel at the author's view of the world - my world - those who jotted down observations that had passed me by.

And now, in my 40's I am changing direction again. I think I'm growing up (just a little bit - don't like to rush these things) and there has been an unconscious physical shift as I now wander down different aisles at the book store. Maybe I am just more open minded - maybe I actually have a few more spare minutes of the day to ponder another point of view.

Is this a mid-life non-crisis?

I bought my first book from the "Self-Help" aisle the other day. I don't actually think this self needs much help - no, really - I am that smooth and accomplished in my life (yeah, right) - but I am willing to dip a toe and see what's out there. Maybe it's the North American "Oprah" effect? I read a 'worthy' book last month too. In the past few years I have reached out to new authors (to me), I have paid attention to the sparkly stickers highlighting Literary Awards (though my hat is off to anyone who made it through that "Life of Pi" thing - sorry Mr Martel Author Bloke - I really did try - three times).

My husband and I have always had an interchangeable book list. We can run our fingers down the book shelves at home and read each other's choices - mostly. However, he has an unhealthy fascination with the fantasy genre - and I take the piss wickedly about just how many pixies or elves are in the current book he is reading. But again, something subtle has come about because the other night I finished one of his Jim Butcher "Dresden Files" novels - and I thoroughly enjoyed that too. No pixies or elves, mind you, but plenty of wizards and vampires to be going on with. A delightfully deadpan style of writing too.

Are you a greedy bookworm (or even blog-worm)?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Laid Off

For the first time in my life, I have been asked to leave a job. This is weird territory and I feel somewhat bemused.

I started a 'seasonal' job in April working at a local Garden Centre. I was on the Information Desk and it was the first time I had worked anywhere like it. And I really enjoyed it, I have to say. Knowing it was a seasonal post, I figured that working through the summer until maybe September would do me just fine. But what I forgot to work into that equation is that 'summer' in Calgary - as far as the retail world is concerned - is pretty much done by June. Quick! - it's mid June - let's put everything on sale now. Including letting go of some seasonal staff. So that's me out of a job - bah humbug.

I've never been 'let go' before but on this occasion I reassure myself that there is no need to take it personally, and they have asked that if I was free next Spring, to come back again - which is a good thing, right?! But herein lies the dilemma. I can foresee my life going more into this horticultural/sustainable development type route which seems to be where a seedling of interest is forming. And an albeit slow realisation that living in Alberta might not offer me too much in way of employment (or variety) in this field. D'oh! The lengthy frozen winter season does not do too much for the horticultural world here. In fact I spent last winter learning and studying some courses through the Calgary Zoo Botanical department (highly recommended by the way - ) as a way of usefully using the chilly months. I might do the same again this winter and sign up for some more stuff. That is, of course, if I do not find suitable employment in the meantime.

With two young children, I want a proper part-time job that pays more than minimum wage and that has some kind of meaningful spin on it. Like gold dust of course, and if you hear of one, do let me know ... not much to ask, is it?

The downside of not working, apart from the blindingly obvious financial fallout, is that I will now have to be Chief Entertainments Officer for two young ladies for the duration of the 10 week school holidays. Aaghhh - give me a regular job any day of the week!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Kitchen Chaos

We cannot afford a brand new kitchen - but if I have to look at pink laminate worktops for much longer, I will not be responsible for the food poisoning that ensues.

We have lived in our house just over two years - it has a 13 year old solid oak fitted kitchen. No doubt it was a good one in it's day - and I have to concede it is well fitted and there is nothing much wrong with it. The colour of the oak stain dates it, as do the groovy rounded arches on the top of the doors. I would not have chosen this one. But I am putting away my wasteful habits of replacing stuff every few years (and getting into debt because of it) and I am being sensible. Now, there's a first.

So last year we swapped over door handles and light fittings, and replaced the dishwasher that went on permanent strike (not before flooding the kitchen I might add). Earlier this year the stove gave up the ghost and we got a cheapie deal on a brand new one that was drastically reduced because it had a large dent in the side (which you cannot see once it's pushed into place).

The other day my husband and I attacked the glossy white tiles (with obligatory groovy pink and grey detailing) - and boy, those suckers were stuck on tight. Brought chunks of the wall down too. The construction of our home here in Canada often perplexes us. No slab of new plaster for this baby, oh no - cut out and insert a new piece of drywall (or plasterboard as us Brits call it!).

A man-wot-can came in this week and heat-gunned all the nasty pink laminate and peeled it all off. He will return tomorrow to re-apply slightly more tasteful (in my opinion) granite-look laminate. No requirement to purchase new countertops (and don't even ask me how much brand new gorgeous kosher granite would have cost - OK, ask me - $5,000). But $400 for two large sheets of laminate will have to do, plus another $300 for tiles and Bob's your wotsit. To me, that's a cheap fix - but it should drag the room into this decade.

(The work top doesn't actually look pink in that photo, but believe me - it's nasty)

We already have a brand new sink and taps sitting in the garage - been there over a year while we contemplated our bank account - so we'll dust off that box in a day or so and Bingo! - one "new" kitchen. This is the most restrained I have been on a 'makeover'. I have expensive tastes at the best of times. I trust my husband appreciates my restraint and I'm sure I'll make up for it some other way - and soon.

I'm free again

Wimbledon has come to a close and my time is now my own again. Or should I say my time is now my family's again. They are allowed to converse with me, no longer constrained by "shhhh - after this game - honest" ....

What a final - Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick - and I'm exhausted! Great game - was somehow cheering for both players and complimenting them both continually through the tv vibes - I'm sure they took it all on board.

I was chuffed for Federer to win his 15th Grand Slam and beat the old record - but I was gutted for Roddick and could have cried with him at the end - he sooo badly wanted that first Wimbledon title and truly deserved it too after today's match.

Anyhoo - I'm free to ignore all tennis related programmes and adverts for Rolex and Gillette shaving foam for another year.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Let's kick off with some random photos

All the best blogs have wonderful photos of some of the most overlooked but everyday sights around the blogger's home town. Random items or places spied when on a day trip. Amusing or rude signs. Flags or chimneys or horses or buckets. Birds and lights and teapots and squirrels. I am fascinated by how fascinated I am. I love startling colourful photos of flowers. I think we all love those sky photos. In fact, since moving to Alberta I have become just a little obsessed with my sky.

It sounds a little pathetic to state that I never realised how big it is - like "good grief woman, where have you been" pathetic. But it is phenominal to me now only because I can see so much of it. Let me explain - afterall, the sky has been there all the time.

Where I grew up in Surrey which is a lush and green county, albeit commuter land, I completely took for granted all the centuries-old oak trees, the massive (and somewhat weed-like) proliferation of huge sycamores, my old road was lined with beech trees, the large overgrown yew hedges and the short blast of magenta on the rhododendrons. But what I never realised was just how much of the sky all that greenery obscured. On a return visit to the last summer, I felt claustrophobic at the height and coverage of those canopies of leaves. I felt the need to duck down in all the tunnels, or to breathe in along the country lanes. Where was the sky?

So I would like to soon join in the with the skywatch entries in the blogosphere and hope I can do justice with my camera to some of the outstanding and inspirational skies that nature offers me in this chunk of the world.

And in the meantime, here's my starter for ten - some extremely random selection of photos from my album.

Dog Number One - say hi to Smudge

Dog Number Two - and here's Honey - my Lion King

A ground squirrel-type fella, cooling off in the shade ....

A Grey Jay