Sunday, 27 April 2008

Hurrah! The kitchen's finished!

Good news! Not only has our kitchen been completed on time, but the snow is at last thawing and the grass seems no worse for wear. Let's hope this now means we have seen the back of winter...and building work!

Appropriately enough the departure of the snow coincides with the ice coming up at the arena and the Ralston Devils end of season party, which took place last night.

All the team were presented with a framed photo and a ice hockey trophy. I must say breathed a sigh of relief at having survived the season and I think I can now happily put my kit away for good and consider the "ice hockey" box ticked!

I also made a round trip to Calgary airport yesterday to drop Jim off for a brief trip to the UK and whilst making the less than stimulating drive back across the prairie, it occurred to me that I should make room on this blog to mention a little about driving in Canada...

There are a few things that are memorable about driving here. Firstly the simplicity of the road networks. As in the US, all the cities and major roads are built on a grid system and thus corners on a highway are a big event, so much so that every winter several people end up in the ditch when they fail to awake from the monotony of the drive and negotiate one of three bends on a 200 km stretch of road between here and Calgary.

Because of this linear highway system our Satnav which we brought over with us, has been made utterly redundant. The directions for an hour an a half's drive to Dinosaur Provincial Park are simply "Up the Jenner, turn left." and the directions from Calgary airport to our house 2 and a half hours away are "Out of the airport, right onto the 1 and turn off a Ralston". We haven't tried it, but I suspect the directions to Vancouver on the west coast, wouldn't even fill a page of A4.

The final thing that marks out the Canadian driving experience is roundabouts, or rather the lack of them! Roundabouts in Canada are rarer than bends on a highway and when, in a radical move, one was built in Canmore in the Rockies, the local paper ran a full page feature giving the locals directions on how to use it.

Instead of roundabouts, Canadians have a complex system of four way stop signs. That's not stop as in give way, that's stop as in cease to move completely. This subtle difference is a tricky adjustment for Brits and failing to grasp it can land you with a fine of several hundred dollars. Fortunately 9 months into our tour we've got the hang of it!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Pick a puppy or two

We're still knee deep in snow here, although the road conditions have improved enough to allow us to leave the village at least.

A thaw is forecast for the weekend, but even then temperatures will still be about 7 degrees below the average for this time of year.

It's been bad weather for the gophers in more than one sense. Most of their food is a foot beneath them and they are also very easy for predators to spot against a white background. A friend of ours found one being disemboweled by a large bird of prey in their front garden.

This week however, we've been preoccupied by animals of a different kind.

Yesterday we managed to escape the village for a belated trip to Strathmore to view the Golden Mountain puppy we are interested in.

Before we left we happened to have an opportunity to test the water and introduce Blackie the cat to a lively 2 year-old Collie. Despite bristled tail and wide eyes to begin within, after 10 minutes she was asleep on the sofa a couple of feet from the dog, which bodes well!

So up in Strathmore to meet the puppies who I'm pleased to say were fantastic. We are taking the as-yet-unnamed female (see above) and we'll collect her a week on Thursday, the same day that Jim's father arrives for a 2 week visit. We're hoping the cat will blame him for the appearance of the puppy!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Snowed in

As I type we are in the midst of the worst snowstorm we have seen since we arrived last July. It has been snowing continuously since Friday night, we now have about 2 feet of snow and are well and truly snowed in. This weather is, by all accounts, quite exceptional.

Unsurprisingly our trip to the farm to assist with branding was called off first thing on Saturday morning (when we only had a couple of inches of snow) and although we did manage to make it into town yesterday for some shopping, we have been unable to get out at all today.

We had been planning to view another litter of puppies in Strathmore near Calgary, but although Jim was able to dig the car out, when we got to the TransCan the first thing we saw was 3 cars stuck in a snowdrift on the eastbound carriageway, so we turned back and have had to settle for a rather frustrating afternoon reading books and watching films.

On the subject of the puppies, we did hear back from the rescue centre about the litter we saw in Brooks last week.

They called us on Wednesday to tell us we could have Anneka, the female pup. We were delighted and discussed collection dates, adoption fees etc. then just as I was about to get off the phone, the lady at the rescue centre told us they'd found out that the puppies father was no less than a St Bernard!

As you can imagine, this rather changed things and so although we haven't totally ruled Anneka out, we've been looking at a few other options. This latest litter we are hoping to see are Golden Retriever x Bernese Mountain Dog, otherwise known as a Golden Mountain Dog. Hopefully we'll make it up there later in the week, although the forecast does not look encouraging!

More on our wacky weather here

Friday, 18 April 2008

14c and sun... now here comes the snow!

Another beautiful spring day today and the grass is also beginning to turn green at long last! We begun our watering regime earlier in the week and will now be watering non-stop through till then end of the summer.

This means when we're at home we have to go outside every hour or two to move the sprinkler round our rather substantial garden - all on a quest to maintain a perfect British lawn in the midst of the dry Albertan prairie!

On the plus side water isn't metred here and Canada has more water in its lakes than the 38 million population could ever drain dry.

So, the grass is green, the weather is warm. It's a home run to summer now? Not quite. A snow storm is heading our way bringing several inches of the white stuff and plummenting temperatures. The predicted high on Sunday of -7c will be 34 degrees colder than last Sunday!

At this stage we're not quite sure how this will impact on our plans to assist with branding at a farm tomorrow. We're waiting on a phone call at 8:30am tomorrow!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Medicine Hat Spring Rodeo

The Chinook wind has been blowing in our direction today, briefly lifting temperatures to 28c mid-afternoon. The Chinook brings a strange kind of warmth, outside it's like being blasted by a hairdryer - too breezy to sit in the garden, but baking behind glass.

These few weeks of springtime must be savoured though, we are at a rare point where it is warm outside, but we are not yet besieged by insects! We've yet to complete the loop on our first year, but we do know that sometime between now and July the mosquitoes will come out en masse and that we'll no longer be able to leave doors and windows open for fear of letting the aircon out and the bugs in!

So whilst this season lasts we are making the most of it. Today we went to the Medicine Hat Spring Rodeo. Despite the weather (which no one could have predicted) it was an indoor event with the usual mixture of Steer Wrestling, Calf Roping and Barrel Racing along with a quaintly North American event, Boys Steer Riding. This event involves children aged between 9-13 riding a bucking bull for as long as they can and then being thrown off into the arena. The kids then have to pick themselves up quickly enough to escape the bull when it inevitably spins round and looks for its rider!

Health & Safety in the UK would have a fit, but here it's entertainment and is often the beginning a profitable rodeo career!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

That was it's summer!

After a brief return to order in the house, chaos descended on us once again on Friday when a team of workmen arrived to rip out our kitchen, which within 3 hours is exactly what they had done! Where once there was an oven, a sink, units and a lino floor, by lunchtime there was nothing!

Blackie was absolutely bewildered, like most cats she hates change, particularly because twice before, the moving of furniture in a house has preceded her being rehomed. After our return to normality last weekend I guess she was starting to relax, but when we reopened the kitchen door on Friday afternoon and her 'feeding room' had disappeared, she'd didn't look too impressed!

Still, Blackie had better get used to this crazy household. There's potentially another change on the horizon... the arrival of a puppy! We went to Brooks Animal Shelter today (about 40 minutes away) to view some Border Collie crosses. We have put in an adoption application and if we're approved (and it's a big IF, they are popular pups!) he or she will be ready to collect in 5 weeks time. The mother was a lovely calm, quiet dog, so we are hoping her offspring will be the same.

We also visited another litter of Karelian Bear Dog puppies (sound quite scary don't they!) all 7 of which were living with 3 cats, their mother and two Beagles in a house in town. We were besieged when we arrived as you can see in the photo right!

Anyway, you'll notice from my change of attire (no North Face jacket for once!) that Canada has made a sudden (but brief) leap into summer! We are forecast an astonishing 27c tomorrow, so barbecues all round! But before we get over excited, it's not yet time to pack away the winter clothing - there's talk of snow next weekend!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Getting the house in order...briefly

Just after Christmas builders begun work on some fairly basic changes to the basement of our house (photo left) although the work was simple it involved quite a big area and meant a load of our possessions that are normally stacked out of sight had to be temporarily stacked up around the area we sleep in.

Last Wednesday, nearly three months after they started, they finally finished! Work had ground to a halt for several weeks whilst the military wrestled with contractual difficulties. However, to give credit where it is due, we are very pleased with the results and now have a lovely new bedroom.

Like the owls, the squirrels, the rabbits and most of the human population in Ralston, we too have chosen to cope with the extremes of temperature here by sleeping below ground level. It's an idea that took a bit of adjusting to, but our basement is very different to any below ground accommodation you might have seen in Europe and our bedroom has two large windows at ground level (see right.)

So as you can imagine, we spent the bulk of this weekend reorganising our possessions, moving the Ikea bed (Jim's favourite job!) and tidying up the house. Nice to have everything back in order you'd assume? Well, not for long! Later this week our kitchen is being ripped out, a job which is scheduled to take 2 weeks.... we'll see!

We actually picked up the 'kitchen job' from another family in the village who were supposed to have it but kicked up a fuss about the building work. So, I guess you could say we are gluttons for punishment, but actually I am rather looking forward to it...

Away from our preoccupation with home renovations, spring has definitely arrived in Alberta, there's even buds on the trees, as you can see from the photo! Temperatures are a steady 14c all week, the ski kit has been packed away (something which I'm trying not to look too gleeful about!) and we have a couple of spring activities planned. Next weekend it's the Medicine Hat Spring Rodeo and the weekend after we are going to a local farm to help with branding the cattle... although, when I say 'help', I suspect Jim will be at the sharp end and I'll just be taking photos!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Four seasons in one day

Just when we thought spring was finally here, we awoke this morning to a fresh rather thick carpet of snow. The photograph on the left shows Valcartier Avenue at 8:30am as I walked to work in my snow boots!

However, the weather at the moment is at very least variable. By 4:30pm when I returned to the house, temperatures had lifted and the village was looking more like the sun baked prairie that we grew used to last summer!