Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My World Tuesday

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I am surrounded by scenes like this - the foothills of the Rockies are predominantly prairie farmland - cattle and ranches, horses and low-lying bushes, animal feed-making fields, which then give way to pine forests and then bloody great snow-capped rocks. I never tire of it.

A peaceful vista for the new autumnal season.

As an aside, it's got me wondering when did the farm machinery change from spewing out rectangular bales to these round ones - how many years ago? It's surely more difficult to make seats for your Ho-Down, or to build your new hay bale home with these large barrels !

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This is for Rob

An inukshuk (man-made stone landmarks believed to be used for navigation purposes) - seen near Golden, British Columbia on the road up to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort - but look further ....

Some very clever and very strong person has also built a dog to keep it company. Bless.

Nothing unusual about this sign really - they are everywhere around school zones and bus stops - but 25 metres further down the road was this sign .... only in Canada ...

Gotta look after the kids, eh? Love it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Skywatch Friday

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Belatedly added to Blog - sunset outside my home on Friday evening.

I don't think this was a classic chinook arch - but the dramatic lines in the sky were stunning nonetheless. We had vibrant reds for just a few minutes, and literally four minutes after taking the photos, the reds had disappeared to boring greys and the whole effect was lost.

Camera (and me) do not do the scene justice as usual but you get the idea !!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Spruce Meadows, Calgary

We had one of those conscientious moments the other week and decided we ought to go and support and explore our home area a little more. Go and experience something new and local(ish) and after being prompted by some freebie tickets (thanks A) we decided to head out to Spruce Meadows - which was hosting a Masters tournament competition thingie with huge and proud-looking glossy horses that jump over fence thingies. Dead technical, me.

Look, I've already confessed my ignorance about horses in another page of this blog and nothing has changed since July. Anyway - this was a huge international affair with probably pretty famous riders making an appearance. You know - top of their field sort of thing - Olympic winners and world class athletes - and about who I know absolutely nothing. Not household names in this household, that's for sure - sorry.

So it was through incredibly naive and inexpert eyes that we viewed this whole event. That didn't make it any less interesting though.

We just has a good ol' nosey around, checking out exhibition halls, looking at a gazillion horse-related products - things that I personally would not have a clue what they were, or what to do with them - and this is obviously one massive market that has passed me by. The sheer scale and finances involved are staggering. Horsey creatures are no cheap hobby.

Daughter Number One and Daughter Number Two got to pet and stroke lots of different breeds of horses (they are called breeds? I don't know) and of course fell in love with each of them.

They liked this fella with blue eyes.

Fluffy toys, horse-related jewellery, bling-stylie belts and buckles (a yee-ha nod to the Stampede methinks). Even bronze sculptures were available - not quite sure where one would place this young lady - bit big for my mantlepiece.

And look - they could audition for "Fame" with these leg warmers ...

The show-jumping part was good - difficult to get a seat initially, and then when we did, we dared not venture anywhere for risk of losing it, so we sat and topped up our suntans in the gorgeous sunshine until we could stand the heat no longer. My ears were on fire! As already confessed, I did not know who any of the riders were. There were huge cheers for the home boy representing Canada who came 2nd overall, beaten by an American guy... the 'real' fans were busy scribbling timings and number of faults onto their programmes. I just admired the jackets. Aren't they nice? So smart. One rarely sees sartorial elegance in sport these days, such a shame.

Hang on - under the guise of being just a little bit professional, let me just go and Google the riders...... OK - the guy who won was American McLain Ward riding Sapphire, who just beat Canadian Eric Lamaze riding Hickstead into 2nd place with a time difference of just 0.02 of a second. There, I nearly sound like I know what I'm talking about now.

So jumping over fences looks quite difficult, she says with mild understatement. Well done everybody!

All the peripheral stuff was interesting too. The dining experiences followed the international theme with numerous huts and kiosks serving over-priced traditional fare from their homeland. The UK kiosk, of course, was selling fish and chips. We ended up with a Canadian Angus burger!!

Holland, in case you were wondering...

There was a British shop selling oft-longed-for Brit foodstuffs (Orange Squash), chocolates (Curly Wurly's) and cheeses, and selling Scottish heritage plaques and shortbread and many things tartan. I sincerely wonder who buys all this though. The staff seemed to be doing a roaring trade, and I did happen to purchase a Curly Wurly. Just a taste test you understand. Quality control.

Also in keeping with the international flag waving were various groups of 'artists' highlighting traditional song or dance. Some were bloody awful, it's got to be said, but some were pretty good, cute or funny. I'm talking choirs, lederhosen, tap shoes and clogs and "Edelweis" here. The hills were alive .....

The weather was just stunning - staff said it had frequently rained in previous years. All in all, a lovely day out - the walk back to the car park was hot, thirsty work.

Perhaps we could have taken one of these limo-golf carts, especially built for the lazy, knackered or infirm.

But, by not being lazy, knackered nor infirm, and using our own two feet (or eight feet if you want to get technical) we bypassed this tiny little church within the grounds of Spruce Meadows. Simple, but kinda cute and I wonder what is on the stained glass window. Probably dedicated to the fallen heros of the equine world ... like Silver perhaps (hi ho). C'mon, it's the only horse I could think of.

I don't know that we would rush back to Spruce Meadows again soon - but it was an eye-opening afternoon and we did enjoy absorbing a new world.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Brain ache, thumping hearts and Clip Art ...

I've spent this whole week in a classroom. Strange territory. Long time no see.

In order to appear supremely employable in a Canadian marketplace, I thought it wise to upgrade my Microsoft skills (she says, updating her blog from her Mac).

I profess to having a basic working knowledge of most of the packages and can muddle my way around most documents and formats but I did not have a little certificate to prove this - and this piece of paper is crucial - vitally important to be taken as a professional. One needs a certificate for everything nowadays - I believe you need a masters degree to pull pints and the cleaning lady at the Town Hall is fluent in four languages - but she hasn't got Microsoft Word under her belt you see. Well, now I do. Certificates galore - Yay me!

I spent two days navigating Vista (yawn), a day re-learning Word, yesterday was Excel and today was Powerpoint. I return next week for two more days on Excel (glutton for punishment - but at least I now know one end of a spreadsheet from the other - but both ends are pretty boring to be honest with you) and I categorically know that I do not wish to work with accountants or anyone else with any excuse for needing large spreadsheets - yuck. Little and occasional use is acceptable to me, thank you.

The classes were graded as "fast paced" and they weren't kidding. But I managed to keep up till about 3.15pm and then my brain said "Sorry, we're closed for the rest of the day, please try again tomorrow". I found the Powerpoint enormous fun and it appeals to my (well hidden) artistic side, with all that ability to play with colour and shapes and presentation. Ooh, you can go mad. I think I'd enjoy drawing gardens or homes with design technologies. Now that would be a job for me. So I can see why people love to make powerpoint presentations, and why every other bugger hates to sit and watch them.

We've all sat through the "Death by Powerpoint" training days, trying desperately not to fall off the chair when we do that sudden jerky movement 'cos we momentarily fell asleep. Huh! we grunt, and then smooth our hand over our face and hair trying to sneak a look sideways to check out if anyone noticed. C'mon, you know you've done that too. It's the same when you fall asleep during a really boring film at the cinema and spill your precariously balanced popcorn.

I recall reading comments about Powerpoint presentations, and one stuck in my mind.

"If I see one more presentation with that Clip Art of the man holding a light bulb, I think I'll scream".

Well, I sniggered like a naughty child today when I found said piece of Clip Art, and therefore instantly inserted the picture into my pretend slide show - and then enlarged him for good measure (wouldn't that be a cool option in the real world too?).

I can see how he would be annoying though - smug, puffed-up bastard, with his Gucci briefcase and his toned pecs. You'd want to smash him over the head with that bulb, wouldn't you?

The irony now is that a couple of days after booking this course and parting with some hard cash that I can ill afford ('cos I'm not gainfully employed 'cos I haven't got the certificates - are you following this?) is that I was invited for an interview today. Yes, for a real-life job. Cool. Actually I was more chuffed that someone had actually read my resume.

So I sloped off from PowerPoint an hour early this afternoon for the interview - and I think it went pretty well - but you never really know do you? I obviously have no idea of the quantity or quality of my competition, and I forgot to ask how long it would be before they let me know. D'oh. So I now sit on my sharpened tenterhooks for the foreseeable future until Mr HR Fellow calls me back to invite me to join their happy gathering, or writes to me politely to let me down gently - I figure he's unlikely to telephone me to say I was unsuccessful ...

Cross your fingers, toes and eyes for me this weekend, and here's hoping Mr HR Fellow contacts me soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Skywatch Friday - Blue Blue Skies

(see more Skywatch Friday posts here)

It's been one of those true Alberta Skies days today. Blue, blue, blue. Nothing else. No clouds anywhere, just a puff of a breeze and nothing up there in the vastness of blue of any note or feature. About 22 degrees and simply gorgeous.

It's days like this, when I sit on my back deck with a drink in my hand (non-alcoholic on this occasion - I know, amazing) that I wish I was into poetry, or that the muse would take me and inspire me to dream up some profound words to describe the sheer peace I feel on occasion. It doesn't happen often - the peace that is - so one ought to record it carefully when it does strike! Perhaps I should open a bottle of wine afterall.

I've only been pottering around at home today and therefore the pictures I have taken to prove "blueness" to you were taken around my garden.

Warning - boring, garden geek bit coming up. I am very proud of my one tomato plant! It is my first attempt ever at tomatoes and it has been lovingly tended, picked at and fertilised and is currently producing a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes - I pick about 6 to 10 a day, perfect for us. I've rarely been successful at growing vegetables in the past due to a nasty habit of buggering off on holiday for three weeks in the summer - and because I've never set up a proper irrigation system, nor had neighbours near enough to bribe into watering my plants, any previous attempts have withered and died through lack of attention.

This was me being silly, and lying down on the trampoline looking up. Trampolines would make incredibly comfortable beds, I think.

Honey decided to join me. So warm and comfy in the sunshine. Zzzzzzz.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Canadians love a parade ?

Labour Day Parade, Cochrane, Alberta - this morning.

- something homely, community spirited and just slightly bonkers about the whole thing.

The locals arrive early, bringing supplies of chairs, blankets and the essential coffee cup and set themselves up for a comfortable hour or two of waving and cheering. My family, of course, were disorganised, late and severely lacking in chairs, comfort or coffee. We managed the odd wave though.

The trailers, tractors and numerous ancient automobiles file down the main street - the driver and passengers waving and tooting, advertising their business or politics.

This fella had a huge bladder - the cattle thing, not the human - I don't know exactly what species it is, but when it relieves itself in the middle of Main Street, can I suggest that one stands well clear. In the meantime, why exactly is a human riding on one of these things anyway? Had they run out of horses? It was HUGE.

Lots of Albertan Yee-ha's along the way - this float relates to the Calgary Stampede - some little ol' party they hold once a year in the wee town down the road .... I doubt you've heard of it.

You've got to hand it to the participants. They were all no doubt awake at Silly-O'clock this morning, donning daft outfits, decorating floats and negotiating their way to the starting line-up. I don't really remember anything similar in scale in the UK on a local level. There must have been over 100 trucks, cars and trailers. The sheer numbers of volunteers and smiling faces is probably something I see as inherently Canadian. Good on 'em.

I was intrigued by this dog's haircut. A little off the top perhaps.

And I think this pony shrank in the wash.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Away from it all - well, the kids anyway ...

Our 16th wedding anniversary this weekend was celebrated with a night away to Banff - without children. Anyone with kids will appreciate the enormity of organising this. I love my kids to bits, but honestly? Thank God for friends who will take them (and the dogs, bargain!) for a night. Friends like this are my heros!

Number One - we had a pub lunch - with alcohol - and sat like real grown-ups, in the sunshine on the patio just chatting about things we wanted to chat about.

Number Two - We wandered into stores that we wanted to go into, and stayed there as long as we wanted to. We booked into the hotel and swam in the pool and relaxed in the hot-tub without having to dive-bomb our children, tickle or rescue them, or struggle back into clothes whilst still wet and brushing hair that has not been conditioned.

Number Three - we took our bicycles with us and went for a ride around the back streets of Banff and up a hill (with no-one complaining) to the other side of the Bow Falls - all the while chatting and looking at things that we wanted to look at (which from my point of view is ogling all those f-off houses that always leave me intrigued as to who can really afford them, and how much they pay the cleaner).

Number Four - oh, you get the idea. No kids around is just sometimes heaven.

Rather than post photos of mountains and lakes (again) - I mean that is soooo old hat - or bore you rigid with just how lovely the couple of days away were for two still-gooey-eyed-old-marrieds, here a few things that caught my eye.

For the uninitiated, the route along Highway 1 travelling west from Calgary towards the Rockies is a journey of pent-up and rising excitement. Those mountains in the distance begin to loom larger and larger and suddenly your senses are assaulted by the magnitude of rock and a slow realisation of just how small and insignificant you are. Whilst quietly whispering "wow" far too frequently. And it doesn't get old.

However, before you roll away on a romantic, snow-capped dreamcloud, let me interrupt your thoughts with a photograph of a factory. This is the Lafarge cement plant which greets you at the gateway to the Rockies - it literally brings your daydreams skidding to an abrupt halt as you stare at this eyesore plonked into the middle of the surrounding beauty. And no matter how they present the plant in the glossy brochure, it simply doesn't fit here. But hey, next time you need some cement, try to imagine it's humble roots.

Canmore is the first town you come to - a town literally nestled in, under and dominated by huge mountains. It's a cute, more artsy and slightly less touristy centre than Banff - it's more famous neighbour - and Canmore has expanded hugely in the past ten years or so (because it is just outside the National Park, hence planning restrictions are not so stringent as Banff, which has barely changed or expanded at all in the past few decades).

The town council helpfully added signage to point you in the right direction.

Some artwork on a wall - not entirely sure why the pigs might fly here, but it looks better than grey concrete blocks.

I liked this dovecote. No inhabitants spied, sadly, which begs the question would doves even visit or survive in Alberta anyway? I trust some other flying fellas take refuge and make use of this charming abode...

Let sleeping ducks lie ...

This made me smile. Not the nuptials, per se, but the footwear. Part of me thinks that if you've gone to the bother of doing the whole white dress and tuxedo routine, then at least finish it off with some matching footwear. On the other hand, what's wrong with opting for comfort and having some Converse on your wedding day?

"Take a left just up here mate". Chief Navigator here was quite comfortable on the lap of the guy in the passenger seat, hanging out of the window and generally making himself at home. But hold on one dog-gone minute, that steering wheel is on the right hand side of the truck and that guy is actually the driver. "I said LEFT"

Finally, in our haste to get back home by Saturday afternoon, we were belatedly reminded that this this a holiday weekend in Canada (Labour Day) and in fact every other bugger was headed in the other direction going to the Banff National Park. The queues of traffic at the gateway were long. Every man and his dog, trailer, truck, RV and canoe was off to enjoy the final days of summer weather. No doubt the hotels, shops and restaurants were geared up to welcome the hordes on what is most likely the last really busy weekend before Christmas. We got out just in time!