Month: June 2014

6 Things You Need To Know About Canadaland

Got word yesterday that our good friends Hilary and D are coming out to visit us in October. Flights all booked, it’s official! Actually they are really coming to go on Merry go rounds I mean, rollercoasters in Edmonton and Toronto, and were thoroughly disappointed in us when we moved to the province with no theme parks at all!

After telling them to save their toonies for doubledoubles at Timmies and reminding them to bring their toques and bunnyhugs (with no explanation!) I started thinking of sensible things they may need to know to come out here. Sure, Canada may not be most exotic foreign locale where next to nothing is at all familiar, but there are definitely some cultural differences they may need to be aware of.

Of course this is a case of “two countries divided by the same language” – so there are a few things to remember like, when trying to decorate your home, never go into Walmart Home Dept looking for Pot Plants – they are called “potted plants” or Plants in Pots. Asking for pot plants may get you in trouble. Similarly, if you ask for a Torch in Canadian Tire (sp!!) then you will get shown things you actually have to set fire too, as required by lynch mobs. You actually need a “flashlight.” Another thing I’ve noticed which is weirdly Canadian – no one has overhead/ceiling lights in their front rooms/lounges. Side lamps all the way. I have no idea why, but it makes reading quite tricky in the evening! But more generally, here are my 6 Things You Need To Know About Canada:

1. Distances are measured in hours. I keep coming back to this idea because even after 2 years I haven’t got my head around the sheer vastness of the country. Hils and D are heading to Edmonton then on to Toronto, but thought they’d stop in Regina on route. I guess technically it is on route, but not in British sense of geography. I think the greyhound bus to Toronto takes Two Days from here.¬† But drive you must – there are no trains, and internal flights are inexplicably pricey. Thusly, toilet breaks by the side of the highway are perfectly acceptable, and gas (petrol) is much cheaper.

2. Following on from that it seems that if you don’t drive or own a car, you become less of a person in Canada. Everything is designed around the car, to the point where major thoroughfares don’t have pavements sidewalks. I was warned quite seriously not to start a business here unless the premises had good parking, because people just won’t come in unless they can park right outside the door. There is no concept of “high street” shopping. In Regina, you cannot get to the airport without a car. There is no bus, no shuttle service and no public transport that serves it, and there’s no sidewalk and no pedestrian crossing on the only road that takes you there. Drivers education classes pretty much start in kindergarten and they let 15 year olds out in cars on the roads!! EEK! Setting out on foot or getting on a bike is like donning a Cloak of Invisibility.

3. Everything is huge. The cars. The number of degrees below zero. Walmarts. Mile-long freight trains. Buckets of coffee. Puffer jackets. Loo rolls. (Not that toilet roll itself is actually any bigger, but it is seemingly impossible to buy less than 24 of them at a time). We thought our house was fairly big and spacious until we bought brand new Canadian style sofas. They are humongous! Space is not something Canada lacks, and most residents -semi-consciously at least – appear to relish taking up as much of it as possible.

4. Canadians have a very sweet tooth. Things you expect to be savoury are often worryingly saccharine here! I don’t just mean the local perchance for maple syrup on bacon, I mean sweet barbecue marinades, jars of curry sauce crammed full of sugar, sweet pickles, even bread is oddly sweetened too. Timmies, the ultimate, iconic Canadian brand, offers all things baked fresh – except if you are looking for cheese and onion slices, sausage rolls or Cornish pasties. Savoury baking seems to be a very British thing!

5. The kids are alright. I am not going to get in to my usual gripes about them bulldozing our local school or the extreme lack of daycares in this area, because in general, Canada is one of the best places in the world to raise children. (I am aware that this point is on the annoying side of irrelevant to Hils and D, but… tough.) School starts much later – at 6, not 4 and half as in the UK, which means kids can be kids for much longer. Outdoorsiness is much more actively encouraged, and best of all, when we first arrived, we saw children playing outside on the street, on their own – bikes, footballs, street hockey, pavement chalk, whatever. Point is, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same level of Bubble-wrapped babies and Paranoid Parenting here. Older kids walk to school on their own, and the younger ones are packed off, alone, on the lovely yellow school buses to get themselves to kindergarten. In Regina, there is a park with green space and a playground almost every 5 blocks. Daycare is not cheap, but it is much more affordable here than in the UK, and there is help with the costs available too. Maternity and parental leave is much more generous and accessible and the majority of employers seem to recognise that new Dads need more than 10 days paternity leave to get over the shock! We think this is awesome.

6.¬† When a Canadian says it’s cold, they don’t mean -2 and a bit chilly. They mean polar vortex, road-cracking, often lethal cold. I believe I may have mentioned this before… I learned an interesting fact the other day, from a nurse, who said that dexpite Saskatchewan being the sunniest province in Canada, there were more people here with vitamin D deficiencies than anywhere else too. It may be sunny, but Saskatchewinians just don’t go outside to reap the benefits of it for over half the year, because of the extreme winters. (I feel much better all round because of the sunshine, but then I was always outside walking to and from work, or skating or amusing Miranda all winter. I am still new enough to find it exotic!) All weather is more extreme here. Today for instance, there was so much rain, a car got submerged up to its roof under the railway bridge downtown, and some parts of south Sask have reported 8 inches of rain in 12 hours!! It keeps life interesting, right?

I forget which comedian I am paraphrasing, but this is certainly not an original observation. However, it is worth sharing:
In Canada, there is brail on the bank notes, gay marriage is legal, and French is the official second language. Therefore, Canada is the only place in the world where two blind French lesbians can get married and pay for the ceremony in cash!”

We got a bit wet today. We will no doubt get more wet tomorrow when we drop Miranda at her wonderful daycare, or when I accompany friends from work on the morning Timmies run for a sweet breakfast bagel, having already filled my bucket-sized mug with nicer coffee at home. The rain is supposed to stop in time for Canada Day on Tuesday though, so we can celebrate in style with pancakes topped with maple-bacon, and then cycle past all the huge trucks as people drive their families a few blocks down to the park for huge barbecues and fireworks. It will be a heartfelt celebration for us again – despite the weirdisms and the weather, we love living in Canada!

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Out of Province Expedition!

We actually left Saskatchewan!!

Our beautiful beastling turned FOUR recently, and to celebrate, Granny and Grandad came out for the summer holiday to see her. Having exhausted the tourism possibilities in Regina (sorry Regina Tourism, but this is still a small town!!) – and saved a packet on the flights, they flew via Iceland to Edmonton, and we met them there. Carl spent the fortnight prior to the trip lying underneath the car every night to ensure that nothing vital fell off the thing on route. The drive took TEN HOURS! We have NEVER driven that far in one go. I don’t think you actually could do that in the UK without falling off the edge (though I can imagine you could easily sit in traffic for that time!). Prairie driving is an altogether different experience from cross-country driving in Britain though. Carl barely had to turn corners, let alone negotiate spaghetti junctions or ring roads or traffic jams. In that ten hour trip, you pass just three sizeable towns – Saskatoon, North Batttleford, and Lloydminster, and there is A LOT of flat nothing in between them! The provincial border running through the middle of Lloydminster was quite amusing. Liquor tax is a lot lower in Alberta than it is in Sask; consequently there were three off sale places within 200 yards of the Alberta side of the border!! Other than that little distraction though, there was not a lot to look at. Miranda and I counted branches of Tim Hortons and grain elevators on the way there (11:15 repectively), and played “guess the function of that massive bit of agricultural machinery” (ie: “tractor Mummy!”) on the way back! Miranda also had a Canadian Rite of Passage, and had to have a wee by the side of the highway on route.

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Most of the journey looked like this.

The parents arrived without too many problems, and Miranda was overjoyed to see them again at the airport! We stayed in a self-catering condo place which was quite nice, but a loooooong way out of the city centre, which meant more driving for Carl. We ventured in to West Edmonton Mall on the first full day, and.. ye gads it’s huge!! Biggest shopping centre in the world, it takes up 6 postcodes, has 58 entrances and has an aquarium, full sized hockey rink, life sized pirate ship and an entire theme park inside it!! Dad and I were interested mainly for the 53 shoe shops, Miranda loved the performing sea lions and the manta rays in the aquarium, Carl and I took Miri skating – a weird sensation, indoors in June – and Mum suffered loudly all the way round. Given it was Tuesday afternoon, it was fairly quiet and not too busy, so she tolerated it, but the whole concept is more or less her idea of hell….

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We packed a lot in to a far too short week; Dad found an old fashioned tram that went along the high level bridge across the river – which was fun, after we’d wasted a lot of the morning in a (very good) coffee shop having missed two departures in a row! We also ventured out to the Ukrainian Village, a sort of heritage centre outside the city which was very interesting. It had a fully operational grain elevator, and Dad got very excited and talked to the bemused guide about the plans for the inside and pulley systems and so on for ages, taking notes for their home made one in their garden!

ImageWe also checked out Edmonton zoo (Capybaras! Unimpressed Goat!) and the Science centre (like a more-indepth version of the one in Regina, but with sound wave flames and jars full of ear wax. Our membership passes got us in free which was nice!) It was gorgeous all week – gloriously sunny during the day and not stiflingly hot, but nice enough to splash about merrily in the fountains in the grounds of the legislative building, and to go swimming outdoors – Miranda flatly refused to get in the pool at first, then just as we were getting tired, we plopped her in and then couldn’t get her out again. Typical! Best of all, we got to catch up with our friend Carmen, who moved back to Edmonton from Regina at Christmas with her little girl Maddy. Maddy and Miri were bestest buddies, and it was lovely to get them together again! We had a meal out together one night and Carmen invited us over for a barbecue later on too. She lives in Old Strathcona, near the university, which is a great area to be – much like Cathedral only bigger and with better coffee shops!!

Running about madly after dinner!
Running about madly after dinner!

There were Many Many presents for Miranda, unsurprisingly, but the worry now is that she associates seeing Granny and Grandad with Getting Presents, since she only sees them at Christmas and her birthday!! We took Maddy along with us for Miri’s birthday celebrations too, thinking having a friend along with her would mean Mummy has to go on fewer rides. This was true, but it didn’t make the day any less exhausting!! We took them to Galaxyland, the theme park inside the massive-mall, where fortunately they had a Small Kids section which didn’t involve any rollercoasters. They had an amazing time leaping about in ball pits and down slides and scrambling up rope bridges and so on though, ate an enormous amount of sickly sweet icecream cake, and then got so tired they couldn’t cope, so we had to go see the sea lion show again so they had a chance to sit still for ten minutes!

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So all in all, a wonderful week!! We all seemed to like Edmonton – it was big enough to be interesting, but not overwhelmingly huge and busy. There was plenty more we could have explored if we’d had the time though. The drive back was more boring than the drive there because we didn’t want to come back. A week is not long enough! We reluctantly went back to work, and it’s rained every since we got back, and now feels like we never left. Bah. It’s nice having Granny and Grandad around! They are too far away!! A girl needs constant Presents!!!

{Hashtag} CVAF2014

Last night I cycled faster than the mosquitoes…

I wish that was some sort of metaphor for something more profound, but it isn’t. We have had One Week of sunshine and summer, and I have been eaten alive. I can outrun the evil little buggers on the bike though! And sometimes, in the right atmosphere, even mosquitoes can be poetic.

Last week was the Cathedral Village Arts Festival. This year was made more special (and considerably more exhausting) by the fact that I’ve been on the planning committee for it, for pretty much the entire year since the last one. It was one of the things, like the Ales club exec, that I merrily volunteered for when I was playing Stay-at-Home Mum last year and thought I’d have LOADS of time. More fool me! I enjoy doing this sort of thing far more than the work I do to earn myself a living unfortunately, but that is another issue entirely.

Being on the communications team for CVAF proved an interesting role – basically, because they’d never had a communications team before! I drew the line at live interviews and getting up crack of dawn to go on early morning TV (I left it to the expert – @thereginamom for that!) but I did get to help write some media releases, edit website content and of course, the hours and hours of tweeting. Before the festival, we did the Taste of Cathedral event back in February, and then the “Fence-Weaving” (my name for it!) earlier in May, where we wove fabric (this year’s theme was The Fabric of Life) into the fence outside Connaught school, to make a giant rainbow. It was gorgeous!

ImageI also got to “manage” the CVAF twitter and instagram accounts, although in many ways, it managed me. I live-tweeted every event I went to, and then curated anything using the #cvaf2014 hashtag. During festival week I would regularly log on to discover 90+ new notifications, and went through the whole lot, retweeting the cream of the crop every night. This is on top of my usual online ramblings, plus promoting the brand new Wheelie Good Coffee as much as humanely possible. To my credit, I only got confused once and used the wrong account, but fortunately no one noticed! I got so in the habit of typing #cvaf2014 though that I caught myself signing off like that on text messages, and once (only once!) it nearly ended up on someone’s insurance quote at work…dedication, people! Dedication! I actually admitted that I didn’t want to use Twitter again after that week. That resolve lasted about 36 hours. #addiction.

So, in far more than 140 characters, here’s what the week looked like from my point of view:

Monday:

My last post was all about LAUNCH DAY for Wheelie Good Coffee! I was sponsoring the #CVAF2014 Big Yellow Taxi event, providing enthusiastic singers with hot coffee on a wild and windy morning. They filmed the event, which is lovely because I was so busy with coffee that I didn’t really get to appreciate what they were all doing. This is filmed outside Connaught School – here’s the video and I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about the choice of song and location… You’re welcome to play Spot The Coffee Cart too though!

http://vimeo.com/m/96265416

Here’s how I spent most of that day:

ImageTuesday:

Tuesday was the free-for-all poetry slam at the Mercury. Same format as last year, in that in exchange for a toonie, we were given two random words from a book, and then had to write a poem in 20 minutes incorporating the two words. This is easier in the Mercury than it sounds because it has been a full house every time I’ve been, and you can get inspired by the people around you. Plus, there’s cheap beer. Every single photo I’ve ever taken in there comes out Red though. This is Micaela:

Imageand here is my effort from the evening: http://belwritesthings.blogspot.ca/2014/05/the-pedestal-of-virtual-misery.html The theme was apt considering my role in the festival!

Wednesday:

Somehow, (more through persistence than talent, I feel) I ended up in the Finals of the Word Up Wednesday poetry slam! This meant, No Beer, no “I only had 20 minutes” excuse, (we could choose whatever poem we wanted, and could rehearse), and formal judging with Actual Prizes at stake! I found out I’d got through 6 days before the finals, but in those six days, I had the last minute CVAF running about to do, get the coffee cart ready, survive launch day, work, and even do an exam at work. So, I didn’t rehearse, but I did at least choose my poems. I went for Funny over Deep and Meaningful (as always), but (also as always) the other poets are waaay more comfortable with showing emotion in public than I am. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and even rounded up my own cheering squad in the form of Sam, James and Jeff. I did fairly decently, but I didn’t win. Never mind!

ImageOn Thursday night, I took Miranda to the Dance Expo at the Cathedral Neighbourhood Centre, because she’s recently decided she LOVES dancing (possibly because Abi The Big Girl Next Door goes to dance classes). I was not quite prepared for what we found there. One of my most reshared tweets was “Where else can you see Munchie the Dinosaur learning to belly dance?”! Even Miri was a bit taken aback by that, but she had a lot of fun, especially when we got to get up and dance ourselves. Unfortunately it was a sort of therapeutic and meditational dance session, very slow and calm. Miranda of course, was practically bouncing off the ceiling and entirely in her own little world. But dance is all about self-expression, right?

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Friday:

We attempted to go see some of the bands on in the Holy Rosary Tent stage. Although we had another enjoyable night – it was a beautiful evening to be out – my attempts to get Miri to listen to the band were nearly futile. To get to the tent, I made the mistake of walking past the little play park at the back of the school. Miri saw “the spinny thing” and spent the ENTIRE evening playing on the roundabout with a gaggle of other kids. I got the first batch of mosquito bites there, and doused them in vinegar borrowed from the chip van that was catering there! I bet I smelled lovely for the rest of the night. We caught about ten minutes of Black Drink Crier, but that was it!

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Then came the mahoosive Saturday street fair. We set up Wheelie Good Coffee outside our house. I went to buy milk for it before the street fair had officially opened, and 13th ave was already busy then. By mid morning, you could barely move. So I think my approach was sensible – pitching the cart outside our house, just off 13th Ave, gave me room to breathe, and a steady stream of people walking past who could grab coffee without having to queue up for hours in the heat. And what heat! That was my main hindrance to sales really, few people wanted hot coffee when it hit 30 degrees! Even my mosquitos bites got a bit sunburnt. It was a great practice though, and I got lots of positive comments from people too.

ImageIn the afternoon I closed up shop, so I could go marshal the street fair itself. This involved wearing a hi-vis bright orange vest over my huge purple hippy skirt. My look was completed with my official CVAF cap. Sooo stylish! This is Canada. People are lovely and polite all the time, which meant that “marshalling” basically entailed pointing people in the right direction¬† of the portaloos. Crowd management was out of the question:

DSCF8490There were 7 blocks full of 350+ stalls, and a turnout of over 40,000 people. And apparently, it was also the hottest street fair day that anyone could remember. Fantastic!! It was a bit hot and tiring and overwhelming for Miri, but she coped rather better after getting an ice cream:

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Overall, it was another amazing week, and I have a newfound respect for the whole thing given the sheer amount of work and effort that all the volunteers put in. It was nearly incredible to see how it suddenly all came together at the last minute, thanks to the hard graft by #TeamAwesome. The compliments and reviews keep coming on Twitter too – ALL positive too, which speaks volumes for the local community. I am really proud of #cvaf2014, my fellow volunteers, and this neighbourhood, and I’m so glad to be part of it all!

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