Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

What better way to start Christmas morning on the prairie than on the radio broadcasting to the Ralston?

For the first time ever, Jim joined me in the studio to do a 'Mr & Mrs' Christmas breakfast show on BFBS.

The BATUS Commander, Col. Ben Edwards popped in with port and mince pies and we had lots of phonecalls from families in the village who had tuned in, we even brought our stocking presents in to open live on air.

It was a very rewarding experience, I really enjoy broadcasting to a small community, we were even able to give every listener a mention by name! Now we are spending the afternoon at home with an embarrassing quantity of food, whilst preparing to fly home on Saturday for New Year in the UK.

Happy Christmas to everyone and I leave you with a short video of Macy the dog getting ridiculously excited about the prospect of Santa coming... (really!)


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Sunday, 21 December 2008

Welcome home darling, now I have a little job for you...

As has been mentioned many times before, winter in Canada is to say the least exceptional. In Europe when it's cold you have to scrape your windscreen and use de-icer which is mildly irritating.

In Canada when it's cold you have to plug your car in. That's right, you plug it in, right into the mains power socket outside your house, otherwise you aint going anywhere...

Now here's a confession, back in November we noticed that last year's extension lead (neatly suspended 6ft above the ground on our washing line) had given up the ghost. Jim was off to Kenya for 6 weeks and he thought he could just buy any old random replacement leads (not worrying about whether they fitted) and leave me here to worry about it later.

I thought, "He's gone to Kenya, but it never gets that cold to January, so I'll sit this one out and he can deal with it when he gets back..."

Both of us very nearly got away with it.

But as you know, last weekend it got very cold, very quickly and the car wasn't plugged in and I discovered too late that the leads I'd been left didn't reach the drive. I could go in to detail here about how, in a last ditch attempt to save my transport I spent two hours running outside to hook up one bit of power cable and then running back inside to restore feeling to my hands and then repeating the process several times before eventually giving up entirely, but I think you get the idea.

So Jim came home last night and the car hadn't moved for a week, the weather wasn't going to get any warmer and typically the only store within walking distance had sold out of power cables. Nice.

The only solution was to borrow the work car (which was plugged in) to drive it to town to buy the cables, so we could defrost our own car overnight. So far so good and we did just that this afternoon and returned with the goods breathing a sigh of relief that we'd managed to get away with it all.

That was until we realised we'd bought the only external power cables in the whole town that were two pin, not three pin and the car as you may have guessed is three pin.

Never mind, apparently AMA (the Canadian equivalent of RAC) will come out to your house and "power up" your car so you can start it again, won't tomorrow morning be fun?

On a final more positive note, I'll leave you with a photo of some last minute Christmas presents I've knocked up. Is there ever an occasion when a personalised bag isn't the perfect gift?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

What does -48c feel like?

This week temperatures in southern Alberta have suddenly and prematurely plunged to winter extremes. On Monday the temperature was -37c, and a startling -48c with the wind chill. A lot of people ask, what does -48c feel like? And the surprising answer is nothing like the less extreme cold in Europe.

Cold dry weather doesn't penetrate the body like damp cold. It's not the kind of cold that gets under your skin to your bones and make you shiver. Primarily it feels sticky and painful.

Sticky because firstly it will make your eyes water and then the moisture on your eyelashes freezes, so when you blink its as though your lashes are coated in glue, with every brief contact they hesitate and take a second longer to pull apart.

Below -20c, nasal hair freezes too, so every breath you take has to negotiate a tangled maze of follicles. At these temperatures, you can forget breathing through your mouth. The body knows what's good for it and rejects a gulp of frozen air with more ferocity than a mouthful of smoke.

The second thing that marks out extreme cold, is pain. It creeps up on you and then suddenly burrows into your skin.

At -48c unexposed skin can develop frostbite in about a minute. When you go outside in this weather, nothing can be left uncovered and only densely woven fabric provides enough protection against the biting wind.

Any skin that isn't protected well enough screams out pretty quickly. Usually it's the face, where your goggles and face mask don't quite meet. One moment you're fine and the next it's as though someone is drilling into your face!

The most remarkable thing though is that despite all of this, our dog remains happy to run around unprotected. The video below was shot on Tuesday when it was "only" -25c...


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Saturday, 13 December 2008

Arctic blast!

It's been an eventful week in Ralston, as winter finally arrived full throttle. On Wednesday with the weekend's snowfall still on the ground we decided to spend the evening awaiting the transit of the Canadian Pacific Holiday train through Suffield.

The Holiday train makes an annual journey across Canada and the US stopping at over 100 locations in seven states and six provinces. It's beautifully decorated with lights and looks like something out of a Hollywood Christmas film.

Sensible people would have perhaps opted to drive to Medicine Hat where the train was stopping for half an hour or at least perhaps have decided that the best vantage point to see the train as it journeyed from Medicine Hat on to Brooks would have been at some distance from the track, but for reasons that now escape us, a group of decided the best place to see the train was beside the railway and about 3 foot from the track.... oh, for the benefit of hindsight!

After nearly an hour of waiting, drinking hot chocolate and faffing around with our cameras, the train finally passed through Suffield... at about 100km an hour! Instead of slowing for the level crossing we were positioned next to it sounded its horn, whipped up a icy gust of air and dumped a shower of snow on us. We were left gasping in disbelief and covered from head to toe in snow!

Instead of the wonderful action photos I had anticipated, I instead ended up with the photo above right! (the one at the start of this entry is courtesy of the Holiday train website)

We must have provided a huge amount of entertainment for the people sensibly parked up on the other side of the TransCan and the worst thing is that we won't even be here next year to benefit from what we have learned.

Our second big event this week happened yesterday with our first arctic storm. The winter so far has been unseasonably warm and we all knew that sooner or later temperatures would have to start dropping.

On Friday the weather channel put out a storm warning promising 25cm of snow, 60km winds, a wind chill of nearly -40c and zero visibility by the evening. Snow dumps at the weekend are a complete pain because living in the middle of the prairie I only manage one shop a week, on a Saturday.

With a storm promised for Friday night I knew we'd be running the risk of missing out on our weekly food shop, (they give us chest freezers for a reason!) So yesterday lunchtime I left work early and raced down to town ahead of the storm, I got back two hours later just as the weather started to close in, a bit of a gamble, but it paid off!

However, the fun was far from over, at 6:30pm I noticed the heating was no longer working and it quickly became apparent I wasn't alone with my problem. A massive gas leak in the village had forced them to shut off the supply to about 30 houses and with the temperature dropping rapidly (both inside and out) we were faced with the prospect of forced eviction and being rehoused in the gym on camp beds!

I had a mess function to attend, so I kept my fingers crossed and went out. Eventually after lots of updates being sent between the workmen and the mess, we heard they were "pretty sure it would be back on by midnight" and low and behold 15 minutes after I arrived home, a man turned up on my doorstep to relight the furnace (and what a treat I must have looked in ski socks and pyjamas!) I must say after everything, I was quite impressed that the house had only dropped to 5c in nearly 6 hours!

On a final note, I've noticed a lot of new traffic coming to this site looking for information about BATUK (the wonders of Google Analytics!) For anyone who is looking for more information, Jim is back next Saturday and I hope to extract a few more photos and some relevant details from him then, I know there was very little on the web when I first looked, so hopefully we can provided something of use...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Here comes the snow

animated snowmanOut of nowhere this morning it begun to snow. At first it was just a light flurry, but as the day progressed it grew heavier and heavier and most surprising of all, it appeared to be the European kind! White stuff that can be moulded into snowballs and used to construct things!

Normally our snow is very dry and powdery, almost impossible to bind together, but today's dump, which is now several feet deep is exceptionally versatile! This wonderful snow lady was built by a couple of kids outside their house this afternoon.

Macy was thrilled by the arrival of winter and after a hearty Sunday roast at my friends MaryAnne & Ed's, we braved the blizzard and took both dogs for a walk across the prairie. I've included a short video of this, largely for Jim's entertainment, he can then see the freezing conditions he's missing out on!

Other than the snow, there's not a huge amount of news to report from the village, or from Jim in Kenya. He is entering his final fortnight in BATUK and after a month in the mess is keen to come home for Christmas and a bit of normality I think!

Meanwhile Christmas party season is in full swing for us. On Friday we have a mess function themed on a "Cowboy Christmas". So beef not turkey to eat and heaven knows what to wear! A party dress and cowboy boots perhaps?

After spending the holidays in the Rockies last year, this year we're staying in Ralston for Christmas and Jim has bravely agreed to host the Christmas Day radio show with me. It'll be an opportunity for him to answer back after a year of one way banter on the airwaves!



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Friday, 5 December 2008

-20c and feeling festive!

Lots of ups and downs with the weather this week. We started with +15c and I spent the day in the office in a t-shirt, then midweek it plummeted to -20c (-29c with the windchill!) and finally we ended the week at +5c.

Last weekend was the village Christmas fayre. Lots of stallholders, many of them military wives turned out to sell everything from door dogs to soup. There was also a charity Christmas tree auction with a wide selection of different themed trees.

I bid on three trees, losing out on the Canadian themed one which eventually went for $90, but I did win a kitchen themed tree decorated by the lady chefs.

It's adorned with miniature cheese graters, pots and pans and cookie cutters . I also won a steel tree which was made by one of the guys in the workshops. The kitchen tree is now in our studios at BFBS and the steel tree looks rather beautiful lit up in the garden!

Saturday evening was rounded off with a carol singing parade around the village, lead by a baby donkey (Aah!) I even managed to get some Christmas lights up on the house in time for the Ralston Festival of Lights!

However, Macy the dog is not quite so thrilled with all this festive spirit. Delving into the box of last years decorations I rediscovered a singing dog. You can see what she made of it in the video below!


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Thursday, 27 November 2008

Extraordinary weather

Every reference I hear about the weather at the moment seems to contain the word "extraordinary". Apparently the fact that we are now nearing the end of November with daytime temperatures still well above freezing and absolutely no sign of snow is "extraordinary".

In addition the fact that the long range forecast through to mid-December indicates this weather will continue till near Christmas is "extraordinary" and perhaps most reassuringly of all, the weather we had last winter, where the snow didn't melt for six months was also in its own way "extraordinary". How nice of Alberta to treat us to such unique weather during the two winters we are living here!

Still, warm weather is always good news, particularly for the carol singing which is planned round the village this weekend and with it a festival of lights.

I'm afraid our own little house on the prairie is looking a little less than festive this year after Jim's short notice departure to Kenya left us with the old Christmas lights removed from the house and no new ones put up!

Fortunately as you can see above, other houses in the village have made a real effort.

Talking of great efforts, this week I also finally got my hands on my beautiful bespoke quillow (a quilt that folds into a pillow) that I had bid for at a charity promises auction earlier this year.

Kim our Ralston "Master Quilter" made it from some fabric I picked out. It's produced by Moda and is called Dandelion Girl. I really love the slightly 1970s feel to the colours. The photos don't really do it justice, but then isn't that always the way?

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Brown season

Another week's gone by and we are now deep into my least favourite time of the year on the prairie - brown season!

All the grass and plants have died off and there is literally nothing between us and the horizon that isn't a shade of brown or beige! (Macy was also pretty brown before the bath she'd had in the photo right!)

At least brown season means I am almost looking forward to the change that snow will bring, which technically should be due any minute, but there is still no sign of it on the weather forecast!

It's actually been a fairly eventful week locally, with the local rag able to run two big front page stories in a couple of days. First one of Medicine Hat's nightclubs burned down in mysterious circumstances (mysterious, but not uncommon, there seem to be a lot of fires in Med Hat) and secondly southern Alberta was hit by a rather large meteor, a story which even made the Daily Mail in the UK!

Trust Jim to miss it all! He's now completed his second week in Kenya where he's been seeing a bit of the country with a trip up to Nanyuki Show Ground where the main training admin base is. He writes the following...

"Just outside Nanyuki is the airfield where the Lynx helicopters (above) are based and there also happens to be a very good little cafe! We stayed the night at the Pangoni Lodge at Nanyuki which was pretty basic but ok, we were in tents whilst some others were in huts.

From there we drove up to Archers Post and had a quick detour to the Shaba Lodge (see right) where we saw the wildlife (limited to monkeys and crocs though). Finally we drove up to the Forward Operating Base (FOB) out in the bush to speak to a couple of people."

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Sunny Kenya and Snowy Ralston

I woke up to our first dusting of snow this morning, an event which last year, would probably have merited an entire blog entry - This year we are a little wiser about the extent of what's coming!

No such weather concerns for Jim in Kenya. He finally arrived on Tuesday after two long-haul flights and although he's arrived in the rainy season, judging by the blue skies in the photos (see BATUK HQ left) it doesn't look too unpleasant!

This week he's been mainly finding his way around the base and settling in, on Monday he starts his job proper. The Commander in Kenya (I think encouraged by ours here) has apparently got it in his head that BATUK needs some BFBS coverage and so he has told Jim to find a way to "get your wife out here" - which is all very flattering, but I'm not quite sure who he thinks would foot the bill!

Whilst Jim's been away, the Great British Banger sausage project has been expanding, yesterday I collected the first batch of Somerset Apple as well as a second batch of Leek & Stilton, 80 packs in total. Our chest freezer looks like something you'd find in a farm shop!

I've also been busy getting to grips with my new sewing machine and I found some fabulous camouflage fabric in town yesterday with Canadian animals on it, which I have used to make some drawstring bags for Christmas presents for young relatives in the family (see right.)

Sunday, 9 November 2008

From BATUS to BATUK

A flurry of social activity this week has insured that Jim had a good send off to Kenya. On Wednesday the village was out in force for the annual Guy Fawkes bonfire and fireworks with chili and mulled wine on hand. The local fire brigade were very much in evidence (see photo) lest Ralston's one annual fire were to get out of hand!

Friday was the belated mess Halloween celebrations, the evening took on a Rocky Horror theme and we had cast members from a local production join us and perform a few songs from the show.

As with all fancy dress functions the British Army tackled the theme with a fever unmatched by any other profession. Photographs of the night have a strictly limited circulation, so I'm afraid all I can offer you is a photograph of me in a rather wonderful red fur coat I acquired temporarily as a result of a game involving trading the clothing we were wearing. Jim's bow tie which I traded has yet to find its way home!

Saturday daytime was the annual BFBS hockey tournament, an all day event during which the six Batus Hockey League teams and an amalgamated ladies Devils team play 15 minute games and compete for a cup.

Then we rounded the week off last night with a Murder Mystery Party. The game was "Nip Tuck & A Murder" and was based around the world of cosmetic surgery. Once again the local charity stores did us proud and everyone turned up in wonderful outfits including scrubs splattered with fake blood!

Then after a frantic few days and nights, Jim packed up his belongings and headed for Kenya this afternoon. He'll be spending 6 weeks at the British Army Training Unit Kenya and will hopefully return the week before Christmas.

To keep me out of mischief while he's away, he has bought me a new sewing machine, a rather fancy Pfaff Expression 3.0, you'll no doubt see a few of it's creations on this blog in the next few weeks.

On a final note, weather is still hovering around 10c every day and no sign of snow yet, long may it last! Being back on snow watch again reminded me of a great joke email I had last year which sums up our first winter in Canada, it follows below...

Aug. 12 - Moved to our new home in Canada. I am so excited. It's so beautiful here. The mountains are so majestic. Can hardly wait to see them with snow covering them.

Oct. 14 - Canada--it is the most beautiful place on earth. The leaves have turned all colors and shades of red and orange. Went for a ride through the beautiful countryside and saw some deer. They are so graceful. Certainly they are the most wonderful animals on earth. This must be paradise. I love it here!

Nov. 11 - Remembrance Day. Deer season starts soon. I can't imagine anyone wanting to kill such a gorgeous creature. Hope it snows soon. I love it here!

Dec. 2 - It snowed last night. Woke up to find everything blanketed with white. It looks like a postcard. We went outside and cleaned the snow off the steps and shoveled the driveway. We had a snowball fight (I won). When the snow plough came by we had to shovel the driveway again. What a beautiful place. I love Canada!

Dec. 12 - More snow last night. The snow plough did his trick again to the driveway. I love it here.

Dec. 19 - More snow last night. Couldn't get out of the driveway to get to work. It's beautiful here but I'm exhausted from shoveling. ****ing snow plough.

Dec. 22 - More of that white s**t fell last night. I've got blisters on my hands and a sore back from shoveling. I think the snow plough hides around the corner until I'm done shoveling the driveway.

Dec. 25 - Merry ****ing Christmas! More frigging snow. If I ever get my hands on the sonovabitch who drives the snow plough, I swear I'll kill the bastard. Don't know why they don't use more salt on the roads to melt the ****ing ice.

Dec. 27 - More white s**t last night. Been inside for three days now except for shoveling out the driveway after that snow plough goes through every time. Can't go anywhere, the car's stuck in a mountain of white s**t and it's so frigging cold. The weatherman says to expect another 10 inches of the stuff again tonight. Do you know how many shovels full of snow 10 inches is?

Dec. 28 - That ****ing weatherman was wrong. We got 34 inches of the stuff this time. At this rate it won't melt before summer. The snow plough got stuck up in the road and that bastard came to my door and asked to borrow my shovel. After I told him that I had already broken six shovels shoveling out all the snow he had pushed into my driveway, I damn near broke my last one over his ****ing head.

Jan. 4 - Finally got out of the house today. Went to the store to get food and on my way back a damned deer ran in front of the car. Did about $3,000 damage to the car. Those ****ing beasts should be killed. The bastards are everywhere. Wish the hunters had exterminated them all last November.

May 3 - Took the car to the garage in town. Would you believe the thing is rusted out from all that ****ing salt they put all over the roads.

May 10 - Moved to Florida. I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would ever want to live in such a God forsaken place as Canada!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Autumn's borrowed time

The unseasonably warm weather continued this week on the prairie - 1st November yesterday and it was 23c! Seasonal averages for this time of year are normally between -6c and +5c, so we very much have the feeling we are on borrowed time with the weather.

Halloween on Friday and the surprisingly warm weather meant a record turn out of kids, which caught many housholds on the hop! My small batch of homemade cakes (left) proved to be woeful inadequate and after answering the door to about 50 trick or treaters, we were out of cakes, sweets and chocolates and were forced to retire to the local pub to escape the crush!

On the subject of timely escapes, Jim has received confirmation that he is off to Kenya on detachment. Subject to flights, he should be leaving next Sunday (9th) and returning in the middle of December, leaving me to face the wintery onslaught (when it finally arrives) alone! We'll be giving him a good send off though because next Saturday we are hosting another Murder Mystery party.

Whilst Jim is away, I will try my best to ensure he keeps us all updated with photos and stories. I am curious to find out whether it is the exotic posting that it sounds or whether he'll be in the African outback with quite basic facilities!

Finally for today, a video for my niece and nephew. This is Macy and a local Border Terrier called Branston playing in our garden. As you can see Branston can run Macy ragged!

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Friday, 31 October 2008

Pumpkin Pie Eating

There were some very Canadian Halloween celebrations on the breakfast show today. Jenny and I held a Pumpkin Pie eating competition and you can watch a video of it below.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Autumn into winter

As we approach the end of October, our Albertan autumn has been stuttering into a frozen winter. Temperatures continue to fluctuate wildly as though the two seasons are having a tug of war. It was -13c this morning, but +20c is forecast for tomorrow and Wednesday.

In Ralston Halloween is seen as the traditional seasonal watershed. In 2006 there was snow on the ground when the children went out trick or treating, and last year our first dump arrived not long into November.

As the 31st approaches, all around the village Halloween decorations have been appearing in gardens. Even the tedious task of clearing up the leaves has been livened up with these jolly bin bags which have popped up outside a few houses.

Of course, the best part about the Canadians love affair with Halloween is that it delays the arrival of Christmas stock in the stores. Until November there is an all out sales push for costumes, inflatable ghosts, pumpkins and ghoulish trinkets and we are spared being bombarded with Christmas songs for a little longer than we would in the UK!

Away from the festive preparations in the village I am continuing to make discoveries in Medicine Hat. Last weekend I went on a girlie shopping trip and at lunchtime I was introduced to the fantastic Damon Lane's Tea Room.

Tucked away on a side street in town and occupying what used to be a house, it is a little gem! Inside you can feast on a wonderful homemade lunch and behind the tea room is a maze of inter-connecting rooms which house the gift shop. Yet another great spot I've found for lunch which Jim will have to be introduced to!

On that subject I might be forced to have a few more girlie lunches in the next couple of months. Jim is on standby to be detached to the British Army Training Unit in Kenya. He is likely to be heading there in early November and returning for Christmas and we are anticipating no more than 7 days notice for his departure.

However an extended African winter holiday really does not compare to the six month detachment to Afghanistan that a lot of army wives are having to cope with at the moment, so I can't complain.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Audio from Spouses Trip

You've read the blog post and seen the photos, but I thought you'd also like to hear the report I put together for BFBS. Just click on play below...

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Monday, 20 October 2008

15 hours on the prairie

Last night I was out on the exercise training area here at BATUS for the Spouses Prairie Trip. It was an evening devoid of glamour but rich in experience!

We left Ralston village at 10pm, weighed down with collapsible chairs, blankets, thermos flasks, sleeping bags and cameras. A coach took us 3km along the road to Range Control where we had a short prairie brief and then we were transferred into our extremely basic transport. Myself and the other 16 wives were to spend the next 15 hours being shuttled round the dirt tracks of the prairie in something called a Man SV.

Man SV's are those huge open backed trucks you often see transporting troops around in the UK. They have a row of rollercoaster-like plastic seats down the middle and no windows. Your only protection from the elements are the canvas sides. Although they no doubt have a very useful role in the army, they are cold and dusty and you get thrown around in the back of them like a sack of potatoes.

After a second briefing at Exercise Control and a fair bit of time just hanging around (a reoccurring theme of the night!) we were loaded back into the truck at 3am and driven to the area where the next assualt was due to take place. We spent 3 hours in that location, sitting on our garden chairs, wrapped in sleeping bags and with at least 5 layers of clothing on - it was extremely chilly! The forecast had been for lows of +1c, but I think it must have been below freezing for most of the night!

At 7am we moved with the exercise vehicles to a second location to watch another assualt and from there to our last stop, an appointment to view the largest, most expensive explosion on the prairie - The python rocket-propelled mine-clearing system. The python is launched by one of these and should have been a rather spectacular end to the night, if high winds hadn't scuppered any chance of launching it!

So 15 hours later, covered in dust, very tired and rather desperate to be reunited with a proper loo, the wives returned to the village. You can see some photos of our trip here.

There is also a short video of some of the night-time fighting. The big white blobs on the screen are illumes, flares sent up to light up a target.

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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Back to reality... for a day!

It's been a pretty busy weekend and its not over just yet (more on that in a moment). Yesterday I was up with the larks to catch a bus to Calgary for a shopping trip organised by the Canadian families resource centre. Everyone on the trip paid $5 for our 5 hour return journey and got to visit Ikea and the Chinook Mall.

Although Jim and I have done lots of weekend trips elsewhere, we've only actually visited Calgary 2 or 3 times and so yesterday provided a strange kind of confirmation that whilst we've been stuck out on the prairie, life has been carrying on as normal in the real world! It's amazing how life affirming a trip to Ikea can be!

We finally got back to Ralston at 9pm last night, so we were all pretty exhausted!

Tonight I'm off on the wives overnight prairie trip. We leave at 10pm and return at 11am tomorrow and we're spending the entire night outdoors watching the exercise, so I have been digging out snow boots and thermals. We are fortunate that it's only going to drop to +1c tonight. Jim has camped out (with a tent admittedly) at -20c! I'll report back tomorrow and tell you if we survive the night!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Family life in Canada

Funny what you find Googling on a Wednesday afternoon. I just spotted this on the Army website, it's also on youtube. It's a two minute video about life in Ralston and if you watch carefully, you might spot me. You have no idea how off putting it is presenting a show with a video camera trained at you through the glass!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Sausages and second hand shops

As you may recall a couple of weeks ago I inadvertently ended up becoming a sausage salesman! This strange side project came about because BATUS's first sausage entrepreneur left at short notice for a new job in Vancouver and being one of his most loyal customers, he handed over the job of importing the ingredients and selling the sausages to me.

I should add that this is very much a hobby rather than a business, as with each pack selling at $7 each, the profit is negligible. However I do get to play around with expanding the range and most importantly we always have some frozen sausages in the house!

The first two batches, which are now selling under the name of "Great British Banger" are available in Leek & Stilton and original. Next month I think I'll try Somerset Apple and Pork...

In this post I also wanted to mention the wonderful second hand stores in Canada. I have never been a fan of car boot sales or charity shops in the UK, but in Canada it's a whole different game.

We have two huge second hand superstores in Medicine Hat. Value Village is a vast supermarket like building and The Post is a sprawling shop full of inter-connected rooms and hidden corners. Value Village has served us well for fancy dress outfits for the last year as well as the odd surprising homeware gem, where as The Post is a more recent discovery.

The most remarkable thing about these stores is that they sell EVERYTHING. Clothes, electrical goods, furniture, bicycles, glass, china, baskets, bedding, ice skates, toiletries...and it's all washed, packaged up, labelled and priced.

On my last trip to The Post I came away with two cake stands, two Kilner jars, some fabric for quilting and a set of Christmas lights, all for $35. I am particularly chuffed with my heavy vintage glass cake stand and cover that I got for $10. It's had lots of compliments!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Fall road trip

Since my last post we have spent a week on the road with my parents traveling around the US and Canada discovering some fantastic new places and revisiting some wonderful old ones.

On our first day we headed off to the Cypress Hills, south-east of Ralston and close to the US border. Here we discovered a hidden gem, the Cypress Hills Winery, a small family run vineyard in the middle of nowhere which produces such exotic tipples as rhubarb wine, honey mead and Saskatoon berry wine. We had a wonderful lunch of cheese and bread on their patio in the sunshine and bought a few bottles to bring home too. Jim wasn't with us for this leg of the trip as he had only just flown in from the UK, so I think I might be taking him for a return visit quite soon, especially as they stop serving lunch at the end of October!

In the afternoon we drove on to Fort Walsh, which was a mounted police and trading post in the 1880s. It has been rebuilt as it was at the time and we had a guided tour of the site, finding out about the heavy bison coats they used to wear in the winter and the illegal whiskey trade they were sent to control.

Then on to Elkwater for our first night, taking a very scenic unmade road across the park which is only accessible in summer. I'm not sure if it was during this or later journeys that my father cracked the windscreen of his hire car, but his Ford Escape did not make it back to Calgary airport in one piece!

On our second day we drove across the border into the US, stopping at the one horse town of Havre for lunch and then spending the night in a brilliant 'Kamping Kottage' at the KOA campground in Great Falls. Along the way we drove alongside the Missouri river, which begins all the way up this far north and meanders down to St Louis in the south east of the US.

Our third night should have been spent in St Mary on the southern side of Waterton Park, but the hotel screwed up our booking and as we weren't impressed with what we saw anyway, we used their error as an excuse to dump the accommodation and press on to Waterton.

As it turned out this was a great decision, as we ended up having 3 wonderful days in Waterton in tropical temperatures! (It was 27c on October 1st!). Jim and I have visited Waterton in various weathers (remember the deep snow in May?) and have always loved it, but with the colours of autumn, the sunshine and the lack of tourists, it was idyllic. (see photo right)

My parents stayed in a fantastic loft room in the Glacial Suites, whilst we parked the RV up in the town campsite. In a strange twist, it turned out that the huge RV next to us was owned by the in-laws of a bit of a Canadian celebrity, Brad Pattison, the presenter of At The End Of My Leash, a show that Jim and I watch regularly!

Whilst in Waterton I also managed to see my first and second bear. Unbelievably despite having lived in Canada for 14 months, my parents had seen more bears in a 3 week holiday than I'd seen in over a year!

We eventually spotted the bears after pulling the car over at dusk on the Red Rock Canyon and waiting. They were both quite far away, but at least I now believe they exist!

After an amazing few days in Waterton, we moved on to Fernie, where the highlights were walking up the ski hill we spent so much time on last winter and seeing it without snow and an absolutely amazing breakfast at the Red Tree Lodge. I had something called Decadence For Breakfast, which was french toast stuffed with banana and Nutella with a side of fresh fruit and maple syrup. We'll be coming back for more of that in a few months!

From Fernie we drove to our final stop, a beautiful mountain resort called Nipika. It's 32km from Radium Hot Springs, deep in the forest close to Kootenay National Park.

Nipika has eight log cabins built round a meadow. It was absolute dog heaven because Macy was allowed off her lead to run round, meet other pets and frolic in the stream - and the humans didn't have a bad time either. I absolutely fell in love with their little blue roofed cabins and despite the fact the weather had changed for the worse by the time we arrived, we had a great weekend reading books round the open fire. Nipika is added to a growing list of places we must return to!

We arrived back in Ralston last Sunday with apparently noticeable tans after our Indian summer in Waterton and in the last few days temperatures have been dropping steadily. It was -5c when I went to work this morning! Still, we have lots to keep us busy including sausages and thrift shops, but more on those two subjects in my next post!

If you'd like to see more photos of our travels, click here or use the link on the right hand side of the page.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sausages and quilts

This week's blog post is mostly about sausages and quilting, an unlikely combination I admit!

Firstly the sausages. A few years ago, Hutch, one of the British civilian employees here at BATUS went to great lengths to get a recipe for proper British bangers, he also tracked down a supplier for the rusk and spices and found a local butcher to make them.

Even then, getting them made was far from straight forward because the Canadian butcher refused to believe that the quantities in the recipe could be right, but eventually the first batch was made and they were a great success. From then onwards Hutch's little hobby has grown into a small little club of ex-pat sausage admirers!

Last month Hutch got head-hunted and left Alberta for a new job in Vancouver. As one of his sausages biggest fans, he decided to hand the reins over to me.

So last week, I drove down to Premium Sausage in Seven Persons, near Medicine Hat and placed my first order for 20kg. I will collect the freshly frozen results on Friday morning and I am already considering expanding the range to include leek and Stilton sausages too!

As you can see from the photo above Premium Sausage, like most of the locals, are very excited about Alberta's latest Canadian Idol winner, the third in only six series. Theo is from Lethbridge, a couple of hours away and so in the grand scheme of Canada, he's a local boy!

This week I have also be finishing my latest quilt which was a slightly more ambitious undertaking than the last one. It is made from more than 500 individual pieces of fabric all of which I had to cut. A rather tedious job!

My colleague Jenny said the colours reminded her of the American flag, so it its henceforth known as the American Flag Quilt. As you can see, when I completed it the cat showed her usual appreciation of all clean linen, by sitting on it. It will be her new favourite sleeping place until she has moulted black hair all over it and then she'll abandon it in search of somewhere cleaner to sit!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Back to (dog) school

With Jim back in the UK on a course for the next fortnight, I'm home alone on the prairie this week, but fortunately with more than enough to occupy me!

Macy started a new term at puppy school on Thursday. Before the summer she graduated from puppy pre-school and will now spend the next eight Thursday evening's doing the canine equivalent of Grade 1. In her class are our good friend's MaryAnne & Ed and their dog Reggie. Rather handy for sharing lifts, but as we discovered last week, rather distracting for Reggie when he's trying to learn AND show off to his best puppy buddy!

Also in the class was the owner of a young collie who seemed to have mistakenly wandered into our group with a fully trained performing dog. Whilst the rest of us were patiently running through "sit" and "leaveit", she was showing off polished performing skills worthy of Britain's Got Talent! Nobody likes a show off, so lets hope she gets moved up a class!

Also in our group was an employee from BATUS called Michelle. Now Michelle and I speak everyday when she calls BFBS to enter the competition I do on the radio show. However despite this, we've never actually met, which was somewhat confusing because she recognised my voice when I appeared in class and came up to say "Hi" to me. This resulted in a very embarrassing moment of zero physical recognition from me whilst I tried to fathom out why she was so earnestly and enthusiastically greeting me!

Meanwhile, autumn continues to add it's vibrant colours to the village pallet. I have been kidding myself a little that it has arrived later than last year, but after looking through some photos, I realised that it was a year ago this weekend, that we visited Dinosaur Provincial Park in shorts and t-shirts and returned in the afternoon to take photos of the village with brilliant blue skies and striking yellow trees. So the seasonal shift is running to schedule!

Top photo in this post today is courtesy of Nikki Balldock, another army wife here at BATUS. It's me during the pre-calf roping brief at the rodeo.

Monday, 8 September 2008

'Little House On The Prairie' goes to print

This month Little House On The Prairie goes to print, as this blog becomes a monthly column in Downland Village Magazine (see left.) So a warm welcome to any new readers in the Chichester area who has just discovered this site.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, here on the Albertan prairie there are signs all over the village that autumn has arrived. I went out at the weekend to take a photo of one tree I had noticed turning golden and found, when I started looking, that there were actually several.

It's astonishing how quickly the weather has changed from the debilitating heat of three weeks ago, to nights which now touch freezing point.

The above ground pools that popped up in gardens over the summer are all being drained and packed away for the winter and once again the village social life has started to revolve around the ice arena, which after a summer without ice, was opened up again last week.

The second year ladies team (who I played for last year) are in hockey school this week and the season begins in earnest at the end of September.

Having had my turn on the ice last year and lived to tell the tale, I have decided this winter to spend more time on another great Canadian past time - quilting. We have an excellent teacher in the village and although Jim is utterly baffled by the concept of spending hours cutting up fabric, to only spend more hours sewing it back together. I must say I am rather enjoying it!

This week Macy also starts the canine equivalent of first grade at obedience school in Medicine Hat. On our last course we were one of only two dog owners who managed to complete the course, so it will be interesting to see if this group have better sticking power!

Monday, 1 September 2008

5c and raining!

Lots of cold damp weather this week and to make matters worse the boiler in our house has been condemned, so we are without heating! I've been making lots of cakes in the kitchen to provide an excuse to run the oven to keep us warm. We are of course living on top of Alberta's most profitable gas field, so our gas is very cheap! (not something you want to hear in the UK right now, I know!)

Thankfully despite the rumours circulating the village that snow is on the way, it seems the opposite is true and temperatures should be back up to 27c next week... but in Canada, you never know!

Still, at least the bad weather has provided lots of opportunities to stay inside and plan the road trip we are doing with my parents. We have finalised our route and the stops we will make and the map of the right shows where we will be going. (click on it to see it full size)

First port of call is Elkwater, Alberta, then down across the border into the US and Great Falls, Montana. On to St Mary, Montana, back into Canada and on to Waterton Park in Alberta, across to British Columbia to visit Fernie (our favourite winter haunt) and finally to Kootenay and a place called Nipika.

We seem to be scraping into every stop just as the shutters are being pulled down for the end of the season. We are hoping we won't be too late in the year to dine at our favourite Italian restaurant in Waterton town!