Thursday, 29 April 2010

Spring is here .....

The walk to work

Spring seemed so far away this morning as I trudged up the hill to work, pushing my way through thigh high snow, battling through the cold and snowy winds.  But, for a girl from Australia, the snow was quite exciting.  It is so beautiful, everything looks so pure and pristine - well, until we all wade through it with our dirty shoes and our dirty car tyres.  It certainly made school a lot of fun - in the morning, we did our writing by the open fire and in the afternoon, B and I decided to make a movie depicting a scene from his book, which just happens to be about Mt. Everest.  Today, we filmed, tomorrow, we edit and I learn how to use iMovie.  The sun is out now and the snow is scheduled to disappear by the weekend, leaving green grass and hopefully, a touch of spring!

Poor, overloaded trees

The Rockies in the distance

Looking from my apartment to the horse paddocks

My car

Cold horses

Leaving my apartment this morning

Bent over trees

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

No curtains?!

Full moon last night

On my first day in my new apartment, I hunted high and I hunted low.  I could not find the curtains in my bedroom.  I panicked and promptly got out my eye mask and went to sleep.  But, the body's ability to adapt is amazing because within a few nights, I was able to sleep without the eye mask and wake up with the sun.  Being in the country means it is so dark at night, with the stars (and the full moon last night) providing the only light.  It makes such a change from China, where the sky was permanently lit up with neon and the only star (dubbed by the expats as 'The Wuxi Star') occasionally appeared through the smoggy haze.  My Chinese apartment had thick fabric curtains lined with black out material, stopping all light coming in.  Of course, it was still necessary to sleep with ear plugs (even on the 26th floor) thanks to the all-night noise pollution - no such need for them here.  I'm sure that waking up with the morning sunlight is better for you than an alarm (although I do set one as a back up) ... it feels so natural.  Tomorrow morning though, I will wake up to a winter wonderland for it is snowing quite heavily here at the moment, with the snow set to stay for the rest of the week.

Surely this amount of neon has got to be bad for you?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The unsocial life of cramming ....

Canada is not quite as social as China

Is it concerning that I got my weekend social fix from chatting to the uni student behind the counter at Starbucks and then from the pimply teenager who gave me directions to Calgary's best burger and milkshake place?  That's what I get for a) having moved to the middle of nowhere in a new country and b) not being up-to-date with my uni assignments.  I left my apartment twice over the whole weekend - once to walk in the snow and another time to run in the freezing cold.  Unfortunately this situation will be repeated for the next 2 weekends, while I frantically read and write my assignments in time for my holiday - New York, here I come!  Maybe, as a treat for finishing my assignments, I'll go for a burger and milkshake at Calgary's best?!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Photographing food ....

Chicken and sundried tomato risotto with a Canadian red wine

It all began in China ..... Chinese food is (mostly) beautiful to look at - I love the different textures and colours in each dish.  And then there was Uberfood, where the food was always presented so stunningly, it almost looked too good to eat.  My addiction to photographing food has continued in my travels since .... whenever I see beautiful food, whether it be in a restaurant or at home, I feel compelled to photograph it, much to the frustration of some of my dining companions (namely my brothers).  So, I did have a giggle when reading Sarah Wilson's blog on Friday as she remained perplexed at why people would want to photograph what they eat.  She offered another link to some seriously mad people who have taken the obsession much too far.  You can check it out here.  I don't think my obsession is that serious.  Now, what's for dinner?

Mmmm, Uberfood chocolate brownie

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Snow and studying ....

I knew that it was going to be an unproductive day of study when I woke up with the sun shining and a red wine induced headache.  I was worried that I would be tempted by the prospect of going for a run or a horse ride later in the day, but I knuckled down and churned out a few thousand words on the sensitivities of gifted children.  Come lunch time, it felt like it was time for a wander in the sun, but you can imagine my surprise and my dismay when I looked outside to see snow, and lots of it. I kept studying before heading out for a walk once the snow had finally stopped.  It was beautiful walking through the snow, so quiet and so still.  I saw several foxes and deer but was too slow with the camera to capture them.  As I walked back home, it began to snow again and despite the fact that it was so beautiful, I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel a little bit creepy in the forest, with the sky growing darker and the snow falling.  Now, I'm curled up on the couch with a glass of red wine and an open fire, ready for another productive day of studying tomorrow.

Friday, 23 April 2010

What I'm reading ....

Since my social life is somewhat limited here (working on your own in the middle of nowhere kind of kills your social life!), I've had plenty of time to read and I've loved reacquainting myself with my books.  I'm currently reading 'Dark Summit', a great read about the 2006 climbing season on Mt Everest, and have a pile of other unread books to get through.

Joining the library was high on my 'to-do' list but it has been a little tricky than expected ...... I managed to join the local Black Diamond library (for a fee) but the choice of books is somewhat sketchy and ancient (they still have videos for goodness sake) but I was rejected from the Shawnessy library because I didn't live within the city limits.  So, reluctantly (yeah right), I visited the nearest bookstore, Chapters.  Much to my delight, it was filled with a fantastic range of books and paper products, and also had a cafe (albeit a Starbucks) attached.  I browsed for well over an hour, marvelling at the number of books (mostly chick lit) on sale as well as making a mental list of books I wanted to buy.  My main purpose for the visit was to buy a book for my uni project ('Living with Intensity' - scary title, hey?!) but I also allowed myself to buy two novels and I chose very carefully, with the help of the ever-growing 'must read' list in my diary.  My two choices were 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog', which I had heard was a gorgeous read and also a beautiful movie which was screened at the French Film Festival.  My second choice was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' ... another 'must read' according to many people.

On a return visit to the library, I did manage to find a couple of interesting books in the travel section.  I'm looking forward to reading 'Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad' because I'm sure it will be something I can relate to.  I also picked up 'Running with Scissors', which comes with good reviews.  Several books on hiking in the Calgary foothills area are also sitting next to my bed. Unfortunately my reading progress has slowed considerably with my upcoming university assignments calling for my attention.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Canadian quirks ....

Notice anything unusual?

It's unlikely that Canada will throw up as many crazy and surprising observations as China, but there are definitely some Canadian quirks and interesting observations I've made in my short time here so far.  Here a couple from the past week or so:

  1. Shops are open really late .... even the banks!  A bank that is open until 8pm really does make sense though.  Despite this advantage over Australia, Canada still don't offer Visa debit cards and transferring money internationally is a little tricky.  Both these factors make managing my financial affairs slightly more complicated than usual.
  2. The light switches go the opposite way to ours in Australia .... you have to flick them up to turn them on, not down.
  3. The shops are filled with an enormous array of 'convenience' foods.  It took me ages to find basic baking ingredients today (we're cooking ANZAC biscuits tomorrow) .... it seems that not many people bake!
  4. And lastly, in case you hadn't realised ...... the cars have no number plates on the front of the car, only the back.  It did take me a while to work this out, for a while I thought I may have been driving a stolen car!
The cultural quirks are what makes a place unique and I can't wait to discover more on my travels.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Lovely travels, here I come ....

New York, New York!

Now, I know you will all be jealous but it can't be helped - I have a three week holiday coming up. Yes, I know, I've only just started working but the holidays aren't my choice (of course I'll take them though!).  The family are involved in the construction of a school in Zambia, so they are taking a trip to Africa to check it all out.  Which means, 3 weeks off for me!  Where to go?  My decision was made for me when I had a call from my dear friend, Diane, in Australia who is a semi-native New Yorker and just happens to be on a business trip to the US in May, so .... New York, here I come!  I have a flight to New York booked and then 2 1/2 weeks later I fly home from Montreal.  Who knows what adventures will happen in the meantime?  

I can already taste the croissants and cafe au lait in Montreal!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

All care and no responsibility ....

Looking over my balcony into the horse yards

Growing up with horses and other animals introduced me to the idea of responsibility and thinking of someone or something else before myself at an early age.  At pony club, we were never allowed to eat our lunch until we made sure the horses were fed, watered and feeling comfortable.  Over the past few years, I've really missed having animals around and have loved going home and seeing the dogs and riding a friend's horse.  So, as you can imagine, I'm loving having the horses, cows and dogs around all the time here.  The bonus, however, is that I don't need to take responsibility for them.  I can go for a walk or a run with the dogs and then return them to their owners to be fed.  Not once have I had to prepare my own horse for riding - the grooms (R's 16 year old nieces) do that for us!  In fact, after riding the other day, all the adults were very quickly told to dismount and disappear.  I could get used to this!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Running in the Rockies ....

The Rockies (Banff)

Getting into a good exercise routine when settling into a new country is always a difficult thing and it's been a little bit of struggle here but I'm on track now!  I've just signed up to run a half marathon in the middle of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in mid September.  The run is held in Canmore, a small town about an hours drive from here, on the way to Banff where I visited last week.  The website describes the course as following a beautiful route through woodlands, beside mountain streams, and through a historic mine site, with stunning views of mountain scenery. The track is a combination of ashpalt and high quality gravel with several short climbs and winding paths.   Sounds quite nice, hey?  Now I just need to begin training for it.  This afternoon, before I ran, I took the car and measured out some distances so I have some idea of how far I am running.  Luckily, there is a huge variety of places to train - quiet country roads, the ranch here in the hills, the family's other ranch through the farmland and valleys .... boredom won't be a factor, that's for sure.  Today, I just did a short run to the end of the driveway and back ... sounds easy, right?  Factor in the fact that the drive way is 5.6 km (there and back), all up and down hills and at an altitude of 1500 metres .... short but hard run!  My good routine will continue tomorrow when I venture down to Black Diamond to join the gym.

The Bow River winding its way towards Canmore.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

"Shhhh ..... the bears are sleeping"

"Is there a bear in there?"

It would be an understatement to say that I'm terrified of having a bear encounter here in Canada.  So far, I have been very cautious when out wandering and I've listened to all the advice given to me.  The advice is all a little conflicting though.  "Always take the dogs with you when you're walking or running on the property" claimed one of the ranch's cowboys.  So, diligently, I have been taking Malibu and Belle (who I might add are always very willing to go for run) on my runs and walks.  I mentioned this to someone else who said "Oh no, the dogs will get scared and lead the bear right back to you."  Okay.  No more running in the forest with the dogs.

Open grass land is a little safer .... apparently

Then there is the "The bears are sleeping, you'll be okay" train of thought.  Last week, we drove past the start of a hiking trail that was supposedly very beautiful and was okay to walk at this time of year by myself because the bears were sleeping.  Yesterday, I was feeling particularly energetic on my run and found myself at the trail .... "Okay, I'll be brave" was my thought as I plunged into the icy darkness of the woods.  I knew that noise was the key, so as I ran, I clapped my hands and sang along to my ipod ... quite a sight (or sound) considering that some of my 'exercise' playlist consists of 'mother f#*@king music' (the very elegant term for most rap music as coined by my dear mother).  But, my fear of bears made me run a lot harder and I will definitely be returning to the trail with my camera because it was indeed a stunning trail.  Today, I boasted about my beautiful (and challenging - it was all uphill) run and I got some odd looks .... "Oh, you shouldn't go through there by yourself, the bears are just starting to wake up."  Oops.

Warm weather = bears wake up

As you can see, the advice is very conflicting and although I know that a bear attack is about as rare as a shark attack, try telling that to my irrational, overworked mind.  So, I consulted my dear friend Google for some advice.  The 'Parks Canada' website (after firstly proclaiming that bear attacks are uncommon) recommends in italics, You should always carry bear spray with you.  Okay, add it to the shopping list.  It then gets a little more complicated as they explain how to avoid an attack (make noise, travel in groups, don't approach a bear etc) and then gives advice on what to do if a bear attacks.  There are two types of attack - defensive and predatory.  The suggestion (in BOLD CAPITALS) is if it is a defensive attack, you should PLAY DEAD and if it is a predatory attack, you should FIGHT BACK.  Got that?

Stream on ranch

I ventured out on a walk today, listening to the latest bear advice (stay on the wider, more open tracks on the ranch) but still was a little wary and I kept glancing behind me as I walked.  I'm not really sure what I am expecting, I mean do I really think that I will turn around and see a bear just casually strolling behind me?  

Stream in the process of thawing

Another one of my bear related fears is that if, on the very small chance, I do come across a bear is that I will go into tourist mode and whip out my camera, as I have done every time I have encountered deer, a squirrel or just a pretty mountain.  However, I need to put my fears behind me because the hills and valleys in the area are just begging to be explored and I intend to cover every inch of them over the next 6 months, whether the bears are asleep or wide awake.

I'm not sure what my fascination with photos of bare trees against a blue sky is ... 

Friday, 16 April 2010

A food haven ....

Bulk buy flours, nuts, seeds, pastas, rices etc.

Last week I visited the Safeway supermarket for the first time and I was highly disappointed at their range of health foods.  They had a great selection of (unnaturally) bright yellow cheeses and a huge variety of sugar coated cereals but no natural muesli, no sun-dried tomatoes and no wheat free products.  However, today I went shopping with a local foodie who introduced me to the Community Health Shop .... I was in food heaven and probably made a spectacle of myself as I ooohhhed and aaahhhed over the great range of wheat-free and organic products.  I was particularly impressed with their bulk buy section where I filled about 10 bags with an assortment of grains, seeds and nuts, all proclaiming to cleanse my system and extend my life.  Other great finds included brown rice lasagne sheets, an organic dark chocolate that is divine (and may have already been demolished!), a gluten free brownie (special occasions only) and some nut and seed bars that are fantastic for travelling.  I then spoilt all my healthy choices by stocking up on Canadian wines at the liquor store.  Organic chocolate and wine ... that's healthy, isn't it?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Back in the saddle ......

A few years ago .... dressage is far from the minds of the cowboys here!

It's been nearly two years since I rode horses semi-seriously - and by semi-seriously, I mean that I did the early morning weekend competitions, the occasional after work drive to ride, the manure collection and the hay-filled car thing.  This afternoon, I needed no convincing to dust off the jodphurs and Italian riding boots to go for my first Canadian ride.  To say that I didn't fit in is an understatement .... I seemed to forget that I was living in the middle of cow country - jeans, cowboy boots and cowboy hats is the order of the day here.  A visit to the nearest (and there are plenty of them) Western horse shop is on the cards this weekend.  I've committed myself (still not sure if it was a wise decision?!) to helping out with the polo ponies for the season and today marked the first day riding after the scruffy ponies surfaced from the winter.  It was a beautiful ride, across the farmland, through the valley watching deer pounce out in front of us, much to the disgust of the skittish polo ponies.  But, it felt good to be back in the saddle, albeit a tired old polo saddle. 

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Back to work ....

There comes a time when one must stop taking photos of oneself on holidays and return to the real world of working.  That time came for me today and what a shock to the system it was.  The kids and I were still in holiday mode this morning as we began another 'term' - if you can call it that when you're homeschooling.  It will take a little while to get back into the swing of it as we figure out a daily routine that works for everyone here in Canada and I left work this afternoon feeling a little unsettled and a bit flat.  So, what's a girl to do when she's in a new country and feeling a little down?  Well, normally I would reach for a glass (or two) of wine and phone my Mum, but that wasn't an option since the nearest liquor store is a 30 minute drive away and it is the middle of the day in Australia where Mum is busy solving the Aboriginal health crisis.  Instead, I settled for listening to some music while cooking up one of my favourite soul warming soups (Donna Hay's 'potato, pea and bacon soup' courtesy of Jean from the days of the MLC Soup Club) and going for a long walk.  I returned from my walk and over a bowl of soup, planned my course of action for getting into a more positive frame of mind.  Belly filled and mind cleared, bring on day two.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

It's oh so quiet .....

From the noisy construction and bright lights of Wuxi ...... 

To paraphrase Bjork, it is bloody quiet here in the countryside. To think that a year ago, I was living on the 26th floor and despite wearing ear plugs, was still able to hear the busy street below and that the night sky was never fully dark, thanks to the fluorescent glow of the city lights.  Last night was my first night in my new apartment and it was so quiet, despite the crackle of the open fire and the music playing.  My bedroom has no curtains but when the lights were out, it was pitch black.  The quiet is a welcome change from China, but there is a high chance that I will go mad from lack of noise!

...... to the quiet stillness of the snowy Canadian countryside

Monday, 12 April 2010

Rediscovering my treasures ....

The successful de-clutter in China

You may remember that I held a de-cluttering party several weeks before I left China last year.  This made it a lot easier for me when it came time to pack up my belongings and ship them off to Canada.  Today, I was able to unpack the boxes and be reacquainted with my belongings.  As I unpacked, I discovered that my de-cluttering should have been far more ruthless .... I mean how many old, faded, skanky t-shirts can a girl own for 'sentimental' reasons?!  I diligently (and lovingly ... it is my hockey grand final t-shirt after all) folded and stored all the unnecessary clothing items and shoes but I fear that when I move on from Canada, these much loved but unworn things will not be coming with me.  The belongings that I was thrilled to unpack were my books (far more than I remember), my Chinese tea set, my mohair and yak hair blankets, my winter boots, my CDs and my photos.  Ah, it feels like home already.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Walking ....

Lake in the valley

Yesterday, my brother asked me how far I needed to go if I wanted to go out for a coffee and I laughed.  The nearest town is a 30 minute drive away and even there, it would probably be difficult to find a decent coffee.  So, instead of going out for coffee or a drink, I have been spending a lot of time walking.  The ranch and surrounding area has plenty of great places to walk and the quietness of the forest is a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of city life.  It is mighty cold at the moment, so each day I have been rugging up in my winter gear and heading out with Lady, the 14 year old black lab.  It is due to snow this afternoon, so stay tuned for some snowy pictures.

View out towards the Rockies

Thawing lake

Snow in the valley


Old hut in the valley

Frozen stream

Mum and baby

I kept clear of these guys

Bull peeking out from tree trunk