Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Bloomin' heck it's cold!

It is still astonishingly cold here! Apparently if you have skin exposed for 5 minutes outside you will get frostbite, unsurprisingly the schools were closed again today and at this rate I don't think they'll be open tomorrow!

Despite the cold, The builders started work as promised on the basement, although even they admitted defeat when it came to replacing a window at -35c!

Jim's been dog sledding today as part of his course (photos to follow at the weekend) and incredibly they are still planning to camp out tomorrow... I can't think of anything worse, but I suppose they do it on polar expeditions!

I went to my first quilting class last night. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, they are nuts about crafts over here, so I'm going to start making a king size quilt, a project which I hope will keep me occupied for the 18 months we have left here. The idea is to have each square representing something different about Canada... nothing like an ambitious project to keep you busy in the long winter months! I'm rather fortunate to have met an enthusiastic and rather gifted quilter in Ralston, who I'm confident will keep me on track!

We're off to Fernie for the weekend again, so I expect that's where I'll blog from next...

Monday, 28 January 2008

Snow storm!

I can confirm, reports of it being "cold" up till now have been exaggerated. Last night we had out first proper snow storm with gale force winds and heavy snow. When I went to work this morning it was -30c and -46c with the wind chill! The ridiculous outfit I'm wearing on the left was really the bare minimum I could get away with!

Because of the very real risk of hypothermia and frostbite at these temperatures, the kids in the village aren't allowed out today and all the schools are closed.

As you can imagine, it was pretty chilly in the house last night, the boiler was working overtime to keep most if the house warm, but you could really feel the cold when you stood next to the windows, which had iced up on the inside.

We went down to our bedroom in the basement at about 11pm and found that the windows (which are at ground level) had filled up with snow between the double glazing and that snow was also obscuring our view of our outside thermometer. Whilst I went upstairs to grab the camera, Jim decided to pull back the first layer of glazing and tap the outside window to clear the snow from the thermometer... something which (should you be wondering) isn't advisable when it's -30c. One tap and the outside window shattered! So with snow blowing in, we had to seal up the window with a bin bag, parcel tape and a blanket!

Of course, we're already scheduled to have one window replaced this week as part of building works, so I'm rather hoping that the window they are taking out might be the same size as the one that shattered! By the way, Jim's missing out on all of this, he's left this morning for a week of adventure training in the Rockies!

By the way, I thought you'd like to see some video of our entertainment at the Burns Night celebrations in the mess. We had pretty good seats!


video

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Snowshoeing

Despite temperatures getting up above freezing this weekend, there was still lots of snow on the ground for our snowshoe expedition in the Cypress Hills today. In fact as you'll see in the second photo on this post, the snow was several feet deep in some places...enough to bury a picnic table!

Four of us went in the end, Karen & Annwen (who you can see on the left) and BFBS boss Patrick. We didn't see any cougars or wolves, but we did see a couple of deer and we had a good giggle whilst trying to get to grips with our new footwear.

I'm reading a novel set during the winter in deepest New Hampshire at the moment, so it was quite evocative trudging through the woods in the proper kit.

As this was the free introductory course, we were only out for about an hour and were all left wanting to do more. The Cypress Hills park do run full day hikes with a lunch stop, so I'll have to try and coax Jim out on that. I must say though that the full day's hike costs about the same as a pair of snowshoes ($40) so we might just end up buying our own and going it alone.

By the way, on the subject of winter weather, the forecast is for +4c tomorrow (Sunday) and -30c by Tuesday! Jim's on an adventure training course all week (dogsledding, camping out overnight etc.) and we're having one of the windows replaced in the house midweek, so it sounds like it'll be a fun few days!

More photos of snowshoeing in the "Winter 07/08" album on the right.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

The World's biggest truck

North Americans like to supersize everything! Here's a photo of Jim with the world's largest truck which we drove past on the way home from Fernie at the weekend. You can just about make out all 6ft 4in of Jim standing by the front wheel!

After the weekend, we've all returned to the village with 'Fernie Fever' and our friend Mark has already booked us in to a B&B (one with a hot tub this time!) for the weekend after next - Fingers crossed I'll be allowed on the slopes this time, I've got to be checked over by a physio to make sure everything is where it's supposed to be after the ding on Friday!

This weekend I'm off to the Cypress Hills, near Hidden Valley, for a free snowshoeing excursion. I'm rather hoping to have some good wildlife photos to share afterwards. They have coyotes, wolves, cougars, skunks, elk and moose in the area. So far the most exciting thing I've spotted was three coyote running across the TransCan in front of the car. We always seem to find out we have just missed an enormous moose or arrive somewhere the day after a wolf walked across the ski slopes...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Fernie

We're back from our weekend in Fernie, which is in British Columbia and about 4 hours from Ralston. We stayed in The Old Nurses B&B which is in one of the town's oldest buildings and is full of character.

Our group stayed in 3 of the 4 rooms and the final room was being shared by 3 British guys - who were on a skiing holiday. The hosts opened a bottle of wine every night for the guests, so it was all very sociable and much more fun than a hotel.

Fernie's had loads of snow over the last few weeks and combined with the fact that it's a much smaller, quieter resort than Sunshine it was easily the best place we've been to so far.

Fernie itself is very pretty and looks like the image of a typical Canadian town that I've been carrying around in my head since we got here (and which Medicine Hat definitely isn't!) lots of little shops and cafes and a high street that looked like a film set. Fernie's got quite a strong art scene too, with an excellent arts centre selling everything from jewellery to metal work. In fact the couple who own the B&B had their photos and quilts for sale there.

So a nice weekend and we arrived back last night to deal with all the phone calls and paperwork after the accident on Friday. Ironically I think it was easier to sort out the repair on the mini in Germany when we didn't speak the language, because the whole case was handed over to a third party.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Recski

I've just finished a fantastic couple of days on the BATUS organised recski course at Hidden Valley which is just over an hour from the base. We had a great day to start the course on Wednesday, allbeit on manmade snow, which is a bit like falling on concrete!

Then I drove down on Thursday morning in a blizzard with the promise of a thick layer of fresh snow. It took 2 hours to get there because of accidents and snow covered signs and when I arrived I was met by a flood of people leaving the slopes! They'd lost the power and had to close, so I didn't even stop the car, just drove straight out and home. Three and a half hours on the road for nothing!

The weather and roads cleared on Friday and we had a really wonderful day on fresh powder with blue skies and sunshine. I thoroughly enjoyed my day of snow boarding and finally started to understand what it was all about!

Unfortunately a great day finished badly, whilst I was waiting at traffic lights in Medicine Hat, the car behind me skidded on ice and ploughed into our six month old Jeep.

So Friday afternoon was spent frigging around with the police, witness statements and paperwork. All conducted at the side of the road when it was -18c. The woman in the other car was finded for dangerous driving and her car was taken away on a pick up truck.

We'd been planning to head off for a skiing weekend in Fernie at 5pm, but were delayed leaving and ended up not reaching our B&B till nearly midnight. All enormously frustrating. as is the fact that whiplash has written off snowboarding for this weekend... just at a point when I was starting to really enjoy it. I'm going to skulk round the shops in Fernie being grumpy instead.

Some of you may recall that my 6 month old mini was reversed into in a car park in Germany. That insurance case has only just been resolved and now this! I'm wondering if there's something about me and new cars!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Antelope

This Wednesday, we will be one quarter of the way through our stay in Canada. Incredibly we've been here for 6 months already, time is certainly flying!

I've got some more wildlife for you today in the blog. These are Pronghorn antelope, which are pretty plentiful on the prairie, although not as inclined as the deer to come right into the village.

Apparently they are found through most of the US and as far south as Mexico, but this part of Canada is the furthest north that you'll find them. (Sensible antelope!)

Still no coyote photo opportunities yet, although I am going snowshoeing in the Cypress Hills in a couple of weeks and you are supposed to see all sorts of wildlife doing that, so fingers crossed!

I came across a great statistic this week, I'll give you a tease and the answer will be in the next blog.... Nearly 90% of Canadians live with 200km of what?

Saturday, 12 January 2008

When parrots attack!

I had to share this photo with you! We've just come back from a trip to Medicine Hat where Jim spent the morning picking up waifs and strays! First of all I found him in the fresh produce section of the Canadian Superstore having an in depth conversation with a lady about herbs.

Then almost as soon as he'd finished he was pounced upon by a middle aged lady who obviously think he was some kind of culinary expert and wanted to ask him how to make Gucamole! We finally got the food shopping done and went to the pet store, where Jim was pounced upon by this parrot, who refused to get off his shoulder and launched a ferocious attack on me when I tried to assist.

The shop was quite busy and it took us a while to attract the attention of someone who could help, much to the entertainment of the other customers! I also didn't realise until we got home how similar Jim looks to the cartoon character on the wall behind him!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

More snow in the village this morning and some fresh coyote tracks too! Temperatures are back to a more seasonal -10c this week, although it's going to be warmer over the weekend again.

I started hockey training again last night and we've got a match (against the men!) tonight. I'm quite impressed that I've survived more than half of the season already, although I must admit, it is subject to constant review, especially when we have training sessions that end at 10:30pm!

To prove that I am a real glutton for punishment, I'm having some more snow boarding tuition next week. BATUS runs subsidised 'recski' courses at Hidden Valley near Medicine Hat and so I'm getting three days on the slopes for $50. I'm hoping I might get to grips with going down the slope backwards (apparently an essential part of snowboarding) away from the crowds in the Rockies.

Just in case you worry I'm having all the fun on my own. Jim's off on a week's adventure training soon, which apparently involves dog sledding. and a few other winter activities. Can't be bad!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

A bit of a thaw

We've had a bit of a break from winter this weekend as the warm Chinook wind, which is famous in Alberta, has been blowing in our direction.

The Chinook can lift the temperature by as much as 50 degrees in a day and if you think that's impressive, in 1962 Pincher Creek saw one of the fastest temperature changes on record, when it rose by 41°C (from -19°C to 22°C) in one hour!

After weeks of sub zero highs, our temperatures weren't quite that warm, but it did reach +6c on Saturday, so we were able to wash the car for the first time since November. It's been warm enough to melt the some of the snow too, much to the delight of our resident rabbits and deer who, for the first time in 6 weeks, haven't had to dig for grass. I spotted this family of White Tail deer making the most of the thaw!

Jim arrived back from his boys trip to Fernie on Friday night, having left at 4:30am on Thursday morning in an attempt to cram in two full days of skiing. Despite the 8 hours of commuting (4hrs each way) he said it was well worth the trip, especially as they arrived to find 28cm of fresh snow had fallen overnight, on top of the metre they already had.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Introducing Blackie!

So this is the latest arrival at Valcartier Avenue. Blackie the cat!

As you may recall from earlier posts, the family she had been living with in the village are leaving Canada, so we offered her a new home.

We didn't know much about her, but had a chance to look at her paperwork this evening and from what we can work out, she's got quite a sad story.

She was taken in by the local cat rescue centre in November 2006 when she was estimated to be less than 3 years old, then in February 2007 she was adopted by a boy in Ralston called Oliver Marshall. We don't know what happened to the Marshalls (they'd certainly left by the time we arrived) but at some point after that, she was taken on by the family we have just got her from. Three homes in less than a year, which is rather sad!

The good news is the only anti-social behaviour she's guilty of so far is having selected the exact same favourite seat in the sitting room as Jim... but I think they'll work it out amicably.

Obviously we're keeping her in until she works out this is her home, which means she's spending a lot of time keeping an eye out for wildlife through the window.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy new year!

Our last day in Canmore before we head back to Ralston first thing tomorrow. After a week of mainly overcast weather, we had a beautiful day on the slopes yesterday. Unfortunately I can't be quite as enthusiastic about my progress with snow boarding. Although I've mastered getting off the lift without crippling myself, I still spend most of my time falling over and getting cross.

The only advantge to spending so much time on my bottom is that I do get a chance to pause and take photos!

We spent New Year's Eve in Canmore at the annual Party On The Pond celebrations. The pond freezes of it's own accord, but they spend several days reinforcing it with more ice so that it can take the weight of population of the town! I managed to go native and put my skates on for a bit of the evening, but it wasn't quite the same as the well manicured surface of the Ralston arena and they came off pretty quickly!

There were two rounds of fireworks in two different parts of town, both of which we only made it to by the skin of our teeth and then we toasted the new year on the street with a half bottle of Freixenet shared between 4 people... we know how to live!

I'm back to work tomorrow, but Jim's going off on a boy's jolly to Fernie for yet more skiing on Thursday & Friday before he returns to work on Monday. Oh and of course, we take possession of the cat tomorrow evening!