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...

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.

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.