Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ah, the Royal Wedding ...

You either have loved the hype or hated it.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I've loved it.  In fact, prior to the wedding, I even bought one of those trashy magazines that documented Wills and Kate's relationship.  So, I was excited about finding somewhere to watch the proceedings whilst I was in Vancouver for the night.  I had planned a very royal like viewing of the wedding - breakfast, high tea style, at the Fairmont Hotel, a historic hotel with royal connections.  However, I wasn't quick enough in making a reservation, so I had to be content to watch it all at the hostel in which I was staying, with several drunk Australian males (who continued to embarrass our fine country with their drunken lewd commentary about the lovely Kate and her sister, Pippa) and a couple of British girls.  In order to watch this historic moment, I had to get up at 2.30 am.  There we sat for 3 hours, watching the ceremony, ooooing and ahhhing over Kate's dress and yawning through the long wait for THAT kiss, which, in the end, was fairly disappointing, given that it was such a brief peck (albeit two brief pecks).  It was indeed a beautiful ceremony and balcony appearance, and well worth the lack of sleep.  

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Breakfasting and brunching in Canada ...

One of the things that I miss most about Australia (apart from my family and friends, of course) is going out for breakfast.  Breakfasting and brunching is such a leisurely thing to do - spreading out the weekend papers, consuming multiple cups of tea and savouring the delights of a perfectly cooked poached egg or two on perfectly toasted sourdough, with a side of sauteed spinach and perhaps, if the previous evening's wine is getting the better of me, a naughty, fatty hash brown.

Brunch at the oh-so-lovely Uberfood in Wuxi, China

Since living in Canada, I've discovered that Canadians don't do breakfast or brunch well, which is odd given that 'Let's meet for brunch!' is a fairly common call and there are queues at most brunch places on Saturdays and Sundays.  They are great places if you're after a big greasy breakfast, laden with fried potatoes and buttered toast and washed down with coffee.  But, for most places, you get the feeling that you're there to eat and then leave.  No lingering with a second pot of tea and the weekend papers.  Which I find a bit disappointing.  But, if I'm going to be here in Canada for a while, I'm not giving up in my quest to find the perfect breakfast spot.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Island life ...

View from the dock at the Sunset end of the island

Life on Deadmans Island is lovely.  I haven't been here this time of year before and it's wonderful to see everything looking so green and alive, especially after the dull brown that comes with the end of winter in Calgary.  It's a short stay this time, just five days, which is perfect for me because I do tend to get a bit cabin-feverish on the island.  To combat this, I try to get off the island for a few hours each afternoon, either to visit the gym, wander through the cute little stores in Ganges or enjoy a cup of tea and a book at the Tree House cafe.  However, my favourite part about island life is simply sitting on a rock somewhere on the island and enjoying the fresh sea air whilst contemplating life.

Wild daffodils

And more daffodils

A Canadiana goose protecting her eggs

Sunset at the Sunrise end of the island

Spot the cottage - my forest home in the middle of the island

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Easter weekend ...

John Primer and band at The Blues Can (apologies for the grainy iphone photo)

Easter weekend proved to be one filled with a variety of odd, but fun, events.  On Friday, C and I debated the merits of minced onion, filtered sunlight, creme brulee and dune white as we contemplated which colour to paint his house.  The pressure was on, as the painter was to arrive on Monday morning, and we ended up calling in the interior decorator to receive some expert advice.  Eventually, misty air won the colour contest.  Good Friday evening was celebrated with barbequed salmon and a bottle of bubbles.

Saturday bought my first real life entry into the world of Meetup, which, for those not in the know, is kind of like internet dating, but for friendships.  I browsed around (so many to choose from!) and joined several groups - a '20s/30s girls who brunch' group and an 'Australian expat' group.  Which is how I found myself venturing into a new part of Calgary to meet 12 strangers for breakfast.  It turned out to be really fun, and I met some great girls.

On Saturday night, I had an overwhelming (but good) feeling of 'how the hell did I end up here?'  The whole evening felt a little bizarre - I was sitting in a Blues bar (The Blues Can - a big blue shed) with my Canadian boyfriend eating a delicious Deep South dinner of ribs and catfish, all while watching an old black Blues dude from Chicago playing old time blues, accompanied by a tall white girl playing the harmonica.  It was an odd feeling.

Sunday morning bought the discovery of a lovely new breakfast place - a rarity in Calgary, but more on that in another post.  Then, to finish the Easter weekend (Canadians don't take Easter Monday off), I jumped on a plane with the family to fly to Vancouver and then Salt Spring Island. 

Oh, what an odd but fun weekend it was!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Reflecting on special family members ...

Dookie and Aquila ... probably in around 1997

This week has been a bit of a sad and reflective one for me.  The week has bought the anniversary of the death of my grandfather (6 years ago) and my horse, Dookie (3 years ago).  I also found out (via facebook - ah, the wonders of the internet!) that another one of my ponies, Aquila had passed away.  He was old when he was a member of our family, so he must have been ancient by the time his time was up.  Being a cold week, it's been a good time to reflect on things from the past, especially curled up next to the open fire with a glass of red and some old photos.  Now, it's time to move on from my sadness and embrace the long weekend that comes with Easter.  It's going to be a full one with lots of studying, a few gym visits, some fun nights out and ... on Sunday, I'm heading to the family's island for a week!  Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

And then there was one ...

After over a year of having a 'class' of two students, I'm now down to just one, 11 year old B.  It was decided that 7 year old R needed to expand her social network, so she is finishing the Canadian school year at the local primary school, Millarville Community School.  It is actually a surprising little school - it's a public school, right in the heart of cowboy country, serves just over 200 students (K-8) and, the best part about it (for me), is that it is a fully accredited IB school!  It's exciting for us all to make a connection with with a local school, but even more exciting for me to connect with the local IB school.  So for now, I just have the one student (until the end of June), which is turning out to be a lot of fun - we have more time for games, in-depth explorations of topics and full day excursions.  It certainly takes a lot off my plate because I find it much easier to plan for an 11 year old as opposed to a 7 year old.  Plus, I have more time to work on my Masters.  So, it is a win-win situation for everyone!

Monday, 18 April 2011

'The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan' ...

On Friday night, C and I went to see an 'adult' puppet play at the quaint Martha Cohen theatre in downtown Calgary.  The title was 'The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan' and we knew it was going to be fun when the the opening speech warned of puppet nudity.  The story was told by a real actor who played the ghost of Don Juan, the fictional 'world's greatest lover'.  All other characters were played by exquisite handmade puppets, often with up to 3 actors playing the one character where each actor held different puppet body parts (including a set of breasts worn on one actor's head!)  Throughout the play, the audience were in hysterics, making it clear to see how this play has been a hit all across Canada.  An 'adult' puppet play, accompanied by bubbles before and after the show made for a wonderful start to the weekend!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

More snow ...

Okay, so I'm still not over the novelty of snow.  It's just so beautiful!  Before work, I went for an early morning walk down the driveway to the gate (3km return).  I love the stillness that comes with the snow.  It was just me and nature ... I even saw a moose in the distance!  

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

'Race to Nowhere' ...

Last night, I attended the only Calgary screening of the documentary film, 'Race to Nowhere', a parent-made film about the achievement culture of American schools.  The film interviewed hundreds of students, teachers, administrators, parents and people from the medical profession about the pressures facing students in America's testing culture.  The film certainly reinforced and perhaps strengthened what I already knew about the scary inadequacies of the American education system.  What was even scarier was that this film focused mainly on middle class students, not even touching on the dilemmas of schools in poverty and the current budget cuts.  

Perhaps the most important message that I took from the film is the importance of families establishing their own ideal of success.  For some students, getting into a top university is not a priority.  The American education system needs to accept that this is okay.

The American system is certainly in some trouble and it seems likely that American society will soon be in trouble if schools continue to churn out students for whom their best skill is colouring in bubbles on multiple choice tests.  As Art Costa recently said at the ASCD conference, are we preparing our students for a life of tests, or are we preparing them for the test of life?  So, here you have it ... my somewhat simplistic and idealistic suggestions for the transformation of American schools and American students:

Homework - Abolish homework for the primary grades and heavily reduce the homework load of high school students (perhaps by discussion and negotiation amongst subject teachers to ensure students are not receiving hours of homework each night).

Assessment - Abolish traditional grades and instead, use narrative based constructive feedback and increase peer/self evaluations.

Classroom organisation - Re-arrange the traditional seating arrangement of single desks facing the front and allow students to sit and learn in groups, either at desks or on the floor. 

Let them play!  Students of all ages can learn by playing.  They're children, not mini-adults.

Ah, we can only hope.  Until then, let's prepare ourselves for 'the world' (according to America) to be run by bubble-filling-in students who just want to know 'will it be on the test?'

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Rummikub ...

Last year (during Earth Hour, as you can see from the below picture), Dad and Carla taught me how to play Rummikub, a game which I've grown to love and I've steadily gotten better at over time.  This weekend, I bought my own copy of the game ($12 on Amazon) and today, I introduced it to 11 year old B.  He enjoyed it as much as I did, although I was slightly miffed that he picked it up much quicker than I did!

Monday, 11 April 2011

One night at the Black Diamond Hotel ...

Black Diamond is the closest town to where I live in Calgary (but still a 30 minute drive away).  C and I ended up heading to the Black Diamond Hotel for dinner on Saturday night, after discovering that my kitchen was not up to cooking standard due to the increase (from none to a small army) of mice in my apartment whilst I was away.  We intended to stay just for dinner but got sucked in by the live country band, the people watching (real cowboys doing real country dancing) and the pints of Canadian beer.  One thing led to another and before you knew it, our last order of the night was 'two beers and a room please.'  It was a fun and unexpected Saturday night and made for a pleasant break before we returned to the ranch on Sunday to face the mouse problem.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Las Vegas ...

I've been a little slow in blogging about Las Vegas, probably because it didn't leave a lasting impression on me.  Sin City was every bit as tacky and shallow as I imagined it would be.  However, the upside is that you are able to see the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Grand Canal, an Egyptian pyramid and Excalibur's Castle plus more, all in a few hours!  
The Eiffel Tower

The Bellagio hotel's water display

Celine at Caesars

The Grand Canal

The not-so-glamorous back of The Strip

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Flames vs Oilers ...

The Calgary Flames sing the national anthem

Last night, I was able to tick another 'must-experience' Canadian event off my mental list ... an ice hockey game.  Being a 'fake' (ie field) hockey girl, I was especially keen to see how the game worked.  It was a fairly important game for Calgary, because they still held a small chance of making the play-offs.  They were playing their arch rival, Edmonton (think Sydney-Melbourne rivalry), who were on the bottom of the ladder, therefore had nothing to lose.  Right from the start, I loved the game - all the normal hockey skills plus skating plus more physicality made it a great game to watch.  I was particularly fascinated with the number of players (22, I think) for each team and how they changed players so regularly in such an odd manner - the retiring players simply skated off the rink, while the player entering the rink climbed over the barrier.  It seemed very uncivilised, but I found it incredibly amusing to watch.  The players' time on the ice is fairly demanding, so it is easy to understand how numerous breaks are needed.  Each team also plays three games each week, which adds to the exhaustion. C is perhaps regretting taking me to a game because I've since developed a crush on Calgary's super star Jarome Iginla. The game itself was fairly one-sided, with Calgary scoring six goals to Edmonton's one, but as another Canadian 'first', it was a great game.

The play begins

Continuing play

Changing players ... note the player climbing over the barrier

A scuffle

Typical North American message during the game

The winning team celebrates

The losing team slinks off

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Gumboots in fashion ...

When I first visited New York last year, I was surprised to see girls wearing fairly plain gumboots around the city.  Being a horsey, outdoorsy type of girl, I wanted a pair.  I didn't buy any that trip, but when I headed back to NYC in October with Mum, I searched for a pair, but couldn't find any I liked (well, the ones I liked, were well over $200 a pair ... a little too much for a pair of rubber boots!)  But, when I knew I was going to San Francisco, I decided to purchase a pair.  Rather than go for the highly patterned boots, I chose to stick with the traditional British Hunter brand, in particular, the Original boot, in the original army green colour.  It took some time to get used to wearing gumboots out and about in the streets with 'nice' clothes, but I love them!  I can splash about in the snow, which is rapidly turning to muddy slush and huge puddles, and then go inside with warm, dry feet!

Monday, 4 April 2011

One snowy weekend in spring ...

Welcome to spring in Canada!  Over the weekend, 20 centimetres of snow fell here in Calgary, the majority falling on Saturday.  C and I decided to have a lazy day, beginning with a French brunch in nearby Kensington, followed by making a snowman in the back garden and heading inside mid afternoon to enjoy a bottle of 1998 Verve Grand Dame and a cheese platter.  What a lovely way to spend a snowy spring day!

Heading out for brunch

Snowmen in the back garden

Champagne and cheese next to the fire

Popping the bubbles in the snow

Snow covered BBQ

Barbecuing in the snow

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Grand Canyon ...

The suburbs of Las Vegas

When C invited me along on his work trip to Las Vegas, my first thought was to do a day trip out to the Grand Canyon.  After much research into the various tours on offer, I decided upon an 8 hour tour with Maverick Helicopters on their 'Canyon Dream' tour, which consisted of a flight to the Canyon's South Rim, followed by a helicopter ride into the Canyon and then a short drive into the Grand Canyon National Park where some time was allowed for exploration.  As I've often mentioned, I'm not a 'follow-the-flag' kind of person, but with limited time available, this proved to be the best option.  It's hard to describe just how mighty and magnificent the Grand Canyon is ... 365 kilometres long, maximum width of 29 kilometres and an average depth of 1.6 kilometres ... it's kind of hard to take it all in.  As was to be expected, the views from the plane and helicopter were spectacular, but it was the walking along the rim and down into the Canyon that was even more awe-inspiring.  We had an hour to explore inside the national park and I used this time to head down the Bright Angel trail towards the bottom of the Canyon.  It was here that I began to formulate a plan (to add to my 'places to go' list) to return and hike in the Grand Canyon.  Enjoy these pictures (and forgive my indulgence in sharing so many ... I had a lot of fun experimenting with my new camera!)

Views from the plane ride ... 

Views from the 30 minute helicopter ride ... 

Just to prove that I was actually at the Grand Canyon!

Views from a walk along the South Rim, near Bright Angel Lodge ... 

Bright Angel trail ... 5 hour walk to the bottom of the Canyon

Watch out for the mules!

Mules heading back to the ranch after a 2 day trip to the bottom of the Canyon