Tag: driving

Staring at the Sun

There are some definite advantages of having a geek for a husband.

Last week, we managed to engineer a few days away from our brand new jobs to go down to Casper, Wyoming for the solar eclipse. Carl really did drive a 2000km round trip for the sake of 2 1/2 minutes. But it was well worth it! Casper was in the path of totality – as in, we got the full, eerie dark eclipse. The sun really did appear to go out for a few minutes.


Totality Awesome


Two different telescopes accompanied us, one of which Carl fitted with a camera hooked up to his laptop with some nifty software that tracked the moon automatically and took around 4000 images without us having to do anything! Much better than my pathetic attempts with my normal camera.

The drive down there took over 10 hours in total, but we split the journey and stayed at a small town called Gillette (not where they make razor blades, much to my disappointment). We holed up in a cheapish hotel along with very many other people who had had the same idea as us. Unlike virtually everyone else convoying down through the US, we had to stop at the border, get our conspicuously red passports checked, get photographed and fingerprinted, pay $18 for a visa waiver, and sent on our way by Customs. In the customs office in Montana, they had a display case of contraband – things you can’t bring in to the US. Antlers, exotic animals (they had a very pretty but depressing tortoise shell in there), rum, cigars, and so on. Right on the top were Kinder Eggs with their killer plastic toys.

That night I walked to and bought some (very cheap) beer in a “drive-thru off sale” that had a sign outside saying Bikers Welcome! I wasn’t sure whether I should tip the woman who handed me beer through the window. I have never felt more British in my life! There was a “fun facts” section in the little blurb about Wyoming left in the hotel. Apparently, one archaic Wyoming state law still persists: it is illegal for a woman to stand within 5 feet of a bar. So we can go in, get table service, but we can’t actually order anything at the bar by ourselves. Good job I was at a drive-through I suppose!

We spent Sunday in Gillette, Carl recovering from the drive, and the kids recovering from their attempts to eat the utterly ENORMOUS breakfast portions included with our hotel booking.

So. Much. Food.

We also found out that Gillette wasn’t that far from Devil’s Tower, a weird rock formation where they filmed Close Encounters. We even found the aliens. Ahem.


In the gift shop, there was a giant display of wooden toy AK47s – perfect for saving the world from aliens of course. I hope.

But back to the Eclipse! Carl dutifully forced himself awake at 5am, as the plan was to drive the remaining couple of hours to Casper as early as possible to avoid the crowds. I was already awake as Small Beastling had invaded our bed around 4am and woken me up. We managed to get the kids in the car without waking them. That was short lived though, and they woke up as soon as we set off.  The drive was quite fun – Wyoming is possibly even more empty and spacious as Saskatchewan, but it also has hills and a higher speed limit. And deer. Many, many deer who were very active at that time in the morning and tried to play chicken with cars, leaping out in to the road. They certainly kept Carl awake!

We were right to get in early; luckily the first place we tried had space and we parked and just set up right by the car in a field at Casper fairgrounds. By 9am, the field was full up. So was the RV park next to it. Miranda and I wandered around hunting for breakfast and found people setting up telescopes in McDonald’s car park. I read later that 317,000 people had descended on Casper!

We had some special eclipse glasses that allowed the kids and I to just look up and view it without any hassle – Carl was worried that they would knock his telescopes out of alignment through over-enthusiasm! It took nearly an hour of the moon moving across the sun (looking like it was taking a bite out of it, we got “Full Pac-Man” around 10.45am) before it actually got dark. But totality was completely surreal. Even Miranda, who had been watching DVDs in the car all morning and bored, was blown away. For those two minutes, you could look directly at the sun without the glasses. Twilight, and then late evening suddenly happened at 11.30am. All the dogs that fellow sun gazers had brought with them suddenly shut up. The temperature dropped dramatically. Such a weird experience!


Disclaimer: Half-a-car effect not actually caused by eclipse.



I hope Miranda remembers this trip. The next one will be in Mexico in 2024 and Carl is determined to go to that too, but by then Miranda will be a teenager! Terrifying thought.  Here are some of Carl’s laptop/telescope images. Impressive hey?


Cloak of Invisibility

It is December, and right up until last week, I was still cycling to the cafe. This is unheard of!
People are betting on the likelihood of a “brown” Christmas, which amuses me greatly since I remember how hard we used to wish each year for a white one in Darlington. The last no-snow Christnas that anyone in Regina can remember was 1998. So odds are we should be good…
The bunnies are all confused though. There are giant Jackrabbits (technically, hares, I think!) that live downtown, and a couple of them have taken up residence in the car park behind the cafe. We named them Wayne and Waynetta Wabbit and I even have a seasonal Christmas coffee on the menu called “confused jackrabbit” in their honour. They are confused because they have gone white already. Each year, they grow their winter coat, changing them from grubby grey-brown bunnies that match the general downtown concrete, into pristine white bunnies camouflaged against the snow. Except this year, they are white already but there is no snow hide in, and they look very, very out of place.


I want to stick out like a snow bunny.
I mentioned I am still cycling: Theia can now sit up well enough that she can ride in the forward-facing kid seat on the front of the Taga bike, so after another conversion effort (20 seconds to convert it? My arse! More like 20 minutes. With swearing.) – we are happily pedalling about on what has to be one of the most eyecatching vehicles in Regina, avoiding the seasonal idiots who have forgotten how to drive in ice. The advantage of the Taga bike is that I can pretend it’s Mainly Stroller and ride on the sidewalks with it and thus not risk Death by Idiot-in-SUV quite so frequently.  Unfortunately in Regina most sidewalks are in worse condition than the roads, and having 3 wheels means hitting every slope, hole, chip of broken glass, lump or inexplicably unpaved patch City Hall wish to challenge me with. So, sometimes the road is a better option, but there,  I am small, and low and slow and vulnerable, and because I lack a petrol engine, I mysteriously become invisible. This is a car-obsessed land, and unless you have one, you are a nobody, despite freakish hybrid kid-transportation devices.


I am having similar issues with the cafe. Not that people are running us over, but just that we seem to be equally invisible because no one gets out of their cars. We thought our spot on 11th would be pretty good because there is a lot of passing traffic headed downtown. We have a bright purple 26ft sign over the equally massive window, chalkboard outside and over the summer, even a little patio table out the front. Yet people drive straight past; I’d like to say they are concentrating on the road but often or not, it’s their phones… And then, 8 months after opening, we get the surprised, “oh, are you new?” questions along with “I didn’t know you were here!”. Yes, this is partially our lack of marketing budget, but also because so few traverse downtown on foot or by bike. Peoples! This winter is incredibly mild! Get out of your cars and take advantage of it!

Location, location, location.

I am having to wear my new glasses to type this post. I am officially OLD.

Glasses selfie
Glasses selfie

This last week, we have had Hilary and D stay with us, coming from Edmonton and “on route” to Toronto for their beloved rollercoasters. They are both a year older than me, and both spent a lot of time squinting at their phone screens. D admitted he needs reading glasses, Hils isn’t sure… yet. We are ALL getting old. (apart from Carl, it seems, who actually IS old!)

Anyway, Hils and D are the first of our UK friends to make it over for a visit, (unsurprising, given the horrifically extortionate costs of the flights!) and I had a wonderful – if too bloody short – week of showing them my Regina. Ahem. It was also Thanksgiving, which to the British mind, is a festival of Over-Eating. This year, we got an 8kg turkey from the Farmers’ Market, and I spent 5 hours in the kitchen making stuffing for it, sweet potato soup and pumpkin pie. And then Turkey curry and then turkey pie and a multitude of turkey sandwiches. FOREVER. On top of that, I also introduced them to Poutine at the Mercury, explained why Perogies are now a Canadian thing, forced D to eat a maple-bacon doughnut, and took them to Timmies. All this was washed down with copious amounts of homebrew, and I duly gave Thanks to Hils for bringing me a bottle of pinotage wine from afar. Om nom.

DSCF8979When not eating, we did try and see the sights of Regina. We tried to walk off some of the turkey with a wander down to Wascana park to see the lake, but we had spent so long “digesting” – by which I mean lying on the couch groaning – that it was getting dark before we headed out, and by the time we got there, it was pitch black and we found the legislative building had been inexplicably covered in cardboard anyway. We did find quite a few houses nicely decorated for Halloween though.

Explaining a town to someone “from overseas” is quite difficult. Hils and D are not ones to appreciate architecture anyway but Regina is not an architecturally stunning city in the first place. They asked very similar questions to those we asked when we first arrived:
Why are there so many bungalows? (so much space – why build up when you can build out?)
Why is everything wonky? (Particularly true in Cathedral – old wooden houses that have warped and partially sunk in the Regina Gumbo. Ours is a shining example of The Wonkiness)
Why build wooden houses when there are tornadoes here and no native trees? (I don’t have an answer for that one!)
Why do pubs close on long weekends? (again – no clue!)
Why is it so quiet downtown? (See above)
How do you get to the airport if you don’t have a car? (they didn’t like my answer to that, which prompted the next question-)
What sort of city has no public transit to its own airport?!?! Answer: one that is addicted to driving.

I am not going to write another rant about the needlessly enormous cars here or my near-death experiences cycling in Regina, but – and this is for another blog post entirely- I have good reason to keep an eye on specific locations around Regina right now, particularly if they have adequate parking. If I build it, they will come (in their SUVs…) Let’s leave it, cryptically, at that for now. If you do spend all your time driving around town though, the chances are you will miss views like these. Autumn in Regina is simply gorgeous, and I think even Hils and D, Londoners as they are, could appreciate that:

DSCF9078 DSCF9080 DSCF9075

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.

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….


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!!!

Poetic Justice

Tonight I pedalled across town on my trike, on my way to a poetry slam, big fat snowflakes drifting down softly.

It would almost be romantic if it wasn’t MID APRIL.

And then there was some frigging idiot who nearly killed me.


Potholes and stones

Won’t break my bones

But the words you speak on your mobile phone

distracting, as you plough on in to the night

looking straight through my signal and lights

Those words, and your massive Dodge truck

Driven as if you don’t give a fuck

Those are the things that will crush me.



Feeling Local


LOOK AT IT. Just LOOK AT IT! That is not including the windchill. If it’s windy, it feels 10 – 15 degrees colder than that!

Anyone outside Saskatchewan would go “Brrrr!” or, more likely “You must be insane”

Canadians say, “Oh look, it’ll be sunny at the end of the week, eh?”

I am having the same issues as I was last winter, only last year the truly ridiculous temperatures didn’t really hit until January. It’s earlier this year. Maybe January will be WORSE. Anyhoo, my issues lie more in the fact that I am still walking to work. Out the door we go at 8am, having fought Miranda into about 14 layers of clothing to carry her three blocks to the daycare, strip her off again, kiss her goodbye then leg it to work where I usually arrive thawing messily all over the lifts, elevators with precisely 2 minutes to spare. I am usually carrying my insulated, ceramic travel mug full of hot coffee in thickly-mitted hands. Three times in the past fortnight two weeks, there has been a layer of ice on the top of my coffee, inside the mug.

Note frozen coffee dribbles on the top (the inside had melted again by the time I reached my desk on 6th floor!)

My eyelashes freeze, my hair freezes, my breath freezes on the inside of my scarf making it all crunchy and weird. The gap over my knee between the bottom of my coat and the top of my boots goes numb. We are all permanently red-cheeked from windburn. BUT, it is always survivable. And it’s a great excuse to wear silly hats, sorry, “toques”. And it’s pretty and wintery and Christmassy. Everyday that I struggle through the frozen wastelands to get to work, I feel proud of myself for just attempting the journey and making it into the office unharmed. That feeling puts me in a good frame of mind to start the work day at least!

As usual, everyone else is just getting on with things. They plug their cars in, they wear their toques and snow mits, and the streets are scraped very quickly and efficiently. When the postie mailman can’t get through on a weekday, he delivers on Sunday instead!

We had our office Christmas party last week, which was a fun night. We all dressed up, but as far as I know, no-one photocopied their arse or got up to mischief in the stationary cupboard, so it was a little disappointing in that respect. (Admittedly, I’ve never been to an office party before, so my expectations were based on a very vague stereotype!). Now, Sam gave me a lift there, and Fay drove me home afterwards (Thanks!!) but this is what I wore:

Sparkly Sparkly!

I had equally purple 4″ heels on underneath, and yes, unsurprisingly IT WAS FREEZING. The snow is now over the height of my heels anyway. BUT I SURVIVED!!! We had a great night anyway, and there were obligatory group photos, none of which I will share on here after plaintive begging from a friend who HATES photos….

The other news is, I’ve now finished my compulsory 6 hours of driving lessons, and they didn’t actually go too badly. It is a lot easier not having to worry about clutch control (ie: everything’s automatic!) Plus, once I’d got used to everything being on the wrong side, and stopped trying to change phantom gears with the door handle, Saskatchewan driving is fairly easy because the roads are so much wider and there are considerably fewer things to hit. (Though to be fair, I didn’t have to worry about hitting Moose in the UK!) No hill-starts either.

What I did have to contend with though, is driving on packed ice. Carl is saving up to get winter tyres (yes with a Y!) for the car, but annoyingly Revenue and Customs have only just, just paid him his tax refund, (we sent it off in March, FFS!) and they’ve decided to disallow half his claim for no apparent reason, meaning his refund was a lot smaller than we’d anticipated.  GAH. So the tyres have yet to materialise. They make a bit of a difference, apparently, but whatever you do to the car, you can’t avoid the fact that we won’t see concrete for quite a few months yet. Once the ice is there, it stays put, and the street clearers just remove the loose snow on top of it. (Very quickly and efficiently, I should add.) Carl finally, reluctantly let me drive down to the supermarket last week, and I skidded a bit when stopping at a junction intersection. Well, it was that or run a red light on my first outing! Skids aren’t uncommon, but on my last lesson, the instructor made me parallel park, and I could actually hear the ice crunching as I turned the wheel. I thought I was doing something horrible to the car!!

Never mind… I suppose this is actually the best time to learn: it’s got to be done, there is no escaping the winter conditions so I better learn to cope with them, as the locals do. That goes for most other issues too!


2013 in whatever time zone you fancy!

Apparently that celebration of the passing of 365 day block of time has happened again.

I don’t know why but I am getting increasingly cynical about New Years! We did do the required staying-up-til-midnight-drinking-and-being-silly thing last night though. It was very quiet. We did manage to chat online to People from the Future – that is, some friends in the UK who experienced the first few hours of 2013 before we did, which was great. It’s been a very long time since I’ve spoken to them properly. However, it was also a sad night because we also had to drive the parents back to the airport! They spent New Year’s Eve somewhere in the air and the flight crossed 6 time zones, and so they had no idea where they were and what time zone they were in at midnight!

We had a lovely Christmas with them though, and Christmas is not something I can ever get too cynical about! We packed a lot in to their ten days here – not least the many many many shopping trips… we were all spoiled rotten with presents, especially Miranda (of course). We also went to the dinosaur museum, the science centre, the floral gardens (they missed warmth and humidity!), the MacKenzie Art gallery and a boxing day walk around Wascana. Boxing day was the coldest day we’ve experienced so far! It hovered around -28 and -29 all day, but with the wind chill it felt like -40, especially near the lake where it was windier. We had warned the Parents as much as possible about the cold but they were determined… they LOVED it, at least, they loved it out of a window…. They admitted it was a little too much to walk in. We left them on one side of the lake, drove round and collected them again about half a mile further round!

I have a new camera incidentally. It is fantastic!

New camera has panoramic setting. This is the lake.
New camera has panoramic setting. This is the lake.

Christmas day was the normal familial silliness. Miranda really appreciated Christmas – or at least, PRESENTS properly for the first time, as previously she was just too young and was more interested in Boob or Wrapping Paper. She is obsessed with the Octonauts cartoon show, so most things were Octonaut related, and she was ECSTATIC with her big Octopod set. AND she got a lovely wooden trainset from the Parents and Playmobile sets from us and a collection of stacking Penguins. In fact it was a fairly penguin-filled Christmas all round. Father Christmas was very generous… We got the Parents some silly presents, including the 50 Sheds of Grey book(!!) but because of their luggage allowance they had to leave most of their gifts for each other at home! They got us loads as usual though. I have my amazing camera and also a fabulous purple trilby (finally!) and Carl got me a cute but very powerful home espresso machine which is shiny and awesome. I got him a new bass guitar since his last one got stolen in Darlington. It’s left handed and he seems pleased with it! The parents got him all the bits to go with it – an amp, leads, a stand, headphones etc. Now we just need to find someone to jam with!

Christmas Day Mess
Christmas Day Mess. THANK YOU PARENTS!!

Observant readers may have noticed a few references to another of our gifts already: we have a “new” car! The lovely, daft Tamara has given us her old Ford Stationwagon. It is Old and has numerous things that need fixing on it, and other things completely missing (keys, an ignition block, half the exhaust etc) but miraculously, it GOES! We have transport!! Carl is even brave enough to drive it on the snow and ice and is actually enthusiastic about doing it up. It has helped tremendously this week, just getting us all about. We luxuriated in not having to carry the week’s food shopping back on the bus.  Dad even bought us some more flat pack drawer units because we finally had something to bring them home in. We finally ventured further north than 6th Avenue (if just to find Toys R Us!). Amazing.

This leads me nicely on to New Year’s plans. Not resolutions. Plans. One of which is to get my bloody drivers’ licence!! Even this car is automatic and has functional power steering, and it should be simple enough to drive. Under Saskatchewan law I have to wait til April to do my test though.

My parents also gave me these:

Passport (notebooks) for the UK, Cuba, Russia and the USA
Passport (notebooks) for the UK, Cuba, Russia and the USA

None for Canada sadly! I am not planning on becoming a spy in 2013, or attempting to feign citizenship in any of those countries… They are just notebooks, but they are pretty and I intend to use them for pretty positive things. They will be Ideas books. Every day for 2013 I shall write ideas down – be they for novels, my coffee research, for Miranda, for dinner(!) or most importantly, new business ventures…

There are already some in the latter category that I could write pages on…. watch this space.

As usual, here’s some goodies from Twitter:

May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.

and from me:

#2012inatweet: Boredom. Epic betrayal by “friend”. Triumphant emigration. Huge expenses, much stress, many good times, reunion. Snow. RELIEF

#hopesfor2013: new business. new book. world peace. Stop Harper. Stop Cameron. permanent residency. More beer.