Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A visit to China ...

Okay, I'm struggling to contain my excitement here.  Because ... I'm going back to China!  C is visiting Shanghai for business in the first week of July (he goes twice a year) and I happen to have that week off, so I decided to join him.  As I have written about before, I really miss China, so I'm super excited about heading back there to visit friends and enjoy the things that I miss so much about China.  Unfortunately, most international schools will have finished for the year, meaning that many of my teacher friends will have already departed for a summer holiday in their homeland, but my Chinese friends and several other expat friends will still be around.  I'm also excited to share a Chinese experience with C since it is how we first got chatting when we met a year ago.  Here are the things I'm looking forward to:

Massages ... every day.

Visiting the tailor and getting a new wardrobe made.

Eating street food.

Showing C my 'home city' of Wuxi.

Catching up with Ashley, my old work colleague and dear friend from Melbourne.

Catching up with my Chinese friends (and hoping that they'll take me to some secret shopping and eating destinations in Shanghai!)

Catching up with Wuxi friends, Peter and Virginia (and meeting their baby, Senne) and any others who might be around.

Shopping at the Hongqiao Pearl Market.

Shopping for DVDs.

Eating at Uberfood.

Eating real Chinese food.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Lilac Festival ...

The sun finally came out on the weekend and to celebrate, we headed to the Lilac Festival on Sunday.  There were no lilacs to be found, but plenty of stalls for a wide range of interests - everything from hippy clothes to local parliamentarians.  Bands played all along the street in beer gardens outside pubs, but we avoided these as we were at the festival with a young family, and I'm having an alcohol free month.  Perhaps the most common stalls were pet related, which worked perfectly well for me in my bid to convince C that a puppy would be a good addition to our lives!  We also stumbled across an Aussie Rules stall, promoting the game in Calgary.  As it turns out, the AFL scene is alive and kicking in Calgary (even if there is nowhere to go to watch a game on a big screen) with several teams in action, including a few teams for women.  After a while, however, all the stalls seemed to be promoting the same wares, so we headed out of the crowds and back to C's house for an afternoon of lazing in the sun on the deck.

A drumming circle

AFL stand!

Dog watering hole

Blues band

Friday, 27 May 2011

The spring rain has arrived ...

This is me on my way to work in spring - ski jacket, cap and gumboots!

May and June are typically rainy months here in Calgary (unfortunately, last year, someone forgot to tell the weather gods that July and August are not meant to be rainy as well!).  We've been spoilt the last few weeks with lots of sunshine and warm weather.  However, four days ago, the rain arrived and it has been our constant companion ever since.  The rivers are raging and there is flooding all over the city.  Thank goodness I bought my lovely Hunter gumboots to splash about in!  C and I were hoping to do our first hike of the season this weekend, but in this weather?  I think not.  Instead, it'll be an open fire, a pot of tea and a good book!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A stroll along Gonzales beach ...

As I mentioned yesterday, Victoria is a great city.  In fact, it is the city I'd most like to live in, given the choice of Canadian cities.  It reminds me a lot of Hobart (small, close to the water, filled with quaint old buildings) and has the added advantage of being close to Vancouver (for flights to Australia!), in amongst the Gulf Islands and close to the US (hang on, is that an advantage?!).  There are so many great neighbourhoods, all close by to the water and downtown.  C and I spent Sunday afternoon driving through my favourite neighbourhood, Oak Bay (think big old homes with beautiful established gardens and water views).  We stopped at a small beach, Gonzales beach, and got out for a stroll.  As we walked, we watched kayakers enjoying their time on the water, sea lions enjoying their time in the water and dogs enjoying their time on the sand.  Hmmm, I could easily live here!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A visit to the bog ...

Enjoy your visit to the bog!
On the long weekend, C and I travelled to Victoria to help his parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.  Victoria is a terrific city because everything is so close to the water and to downtown.  His parents live about 15 minutes out of the city, right next to Rithet's Bog.  Which I found quite funny given that 'bog' is a slang word used (albeit infrequently) for 'toilet' in Australia.  I giggled when C's mother suggested a walk around the bog.  But, it was a very pleasant 45 minute stroll, looking at the wildlife, plant life and neighbouring homes, all while listening to stories of cougar sightings in the area and the most horrifying story of a woman being sucked into the bog.  That certainly made me stay on the path!

The bog

A tent caterpillar

The boggy bog

A disappointed duck ... we didn't have any food for him

Having a peaceful paddle

Friday, 20 May 2011

An eventful but slow blogging week ...

C's homemade birthday cake - wholewheat, low cholesterol chocolate cake with raspberry coconut icing ... mmmm!!

This week has been an eventful one.  On Monday, it was C's birthday, so I took him on a bike riding adventure along the Bow river and then to a famous steakhouse for dinner.  On Tuesday evening, I drove myself to the emergency department of the Oilfields General Hospital (yes, this is oil country as well as cowboy country) with an incredibly painful stomach.  There, I spent 7 hours being prodded and poked and finally hooked up to an IV drip.  The problem?  Pancreatitis due to dehydration caused by too much wine and green tea.  Just a little embarrassing.  Wednesday bought my first ever parent teacher interview on the other side of the table.  Kind of weird considering I don't actually have any children of my own.  Wednesday also bought the tragic death of a much loved polo pony here on the ranch.  Thursday was a day of rest for me, given that the family have disappeared to Salt Spring Island for an extended long weekend.  I spent most of the day getting over my illness, with a little help from endless episodes of Sex And The City.  Today, I finally roused myself to begin my second university assignment.  And tomorrow, I head off to Victoria for the long weekend with C where we will be celebrating his parents' 50th wedding anniversary (sans the champagne for me!).  Here's hoping that next week isn't quite so eventful ... or painful.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

"If it were a library book, I'd steal it" ...

These were the words of my 84 year old grandmother during our Mothers Day Skype chat.  You're probably wondering what the book is, right?  Well, it's this delightful little book about life on the Canadian prairies by W.O. Mitchell ...

C gave me his childhood copy earlier this year for my 30th birthday and it is one of loveliest books I've ever read.  I passed it on to Mum, who cried when she read it, and then to my grandmother who also loved it, so much so that she wanted to steal it.  So, when I came across it at the Calgary Reads book sale, I had to pick up a copy for her.  Along with this beautiful book, I picked up a box of books - fiction and non-fiction - for the grand total of $37.  I stuck with this year's resolution - only buy quality books (ie. no trashy chick lit books) - and came home with a range of books from 'Catcher in the Rye' to 'The Shipping News' to 'The Time Traveller's Wife' to 'Birds Without Wings' and many others.  I tend to read a lot at the best of times, but when I'm writing assignments, I find myself escaping into good books long into the night.  Here are a selection, of quality and not-so-quality books that I've read in the last week or two ...  

An easy, feel-good read for island life

A detailed story of an intriguing character

Quite appropriate to be reading after the announcement of Osama's death

The following are books that are sitting on my bedside table, either in paperback form or electronic form on my Kindle, waiting to be read ... 

Recommended by Grant Wiggins, educational guru

Recommended by my good friend, Becci

Another appropriate one to be reading in the current times.  I loved 'Three Cups of Tea'
Although Jodi Picoult's story writing 'recipe' is wearing a little thin, it still makes for a good escapism read

Friday, 13 May 2011

Early morning walks in spring ...

Livestock bask in the early morning sun
Since my job is pretty sedentary, I like to start the day with a walk on the ranch. It's particularly lovely walking at the moment because ... spring is finally here!  Several weeks ago, it was in the negative temperatures when I was walking (-15 one morning!) and now it's definitely in the positives, with daily temperatures reaching as high as 25.  The grass is green, the sky is blue, the mountains sparkle in the sunshine and everyone is smiling.  And an early morning walk in the spring is such a lovely way to begin the day.

Belle can't decide if she wants to go walking

Malibu scans the woods for something to chase


One of my favourite sights ... bare trees contrasted against the blue sky

The three bulls who were loose last week, but now safely locked up!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Match Report ...

This blog post is primarily aimed at Fi, my good friend and ex-hockey team mate in Melbourne (that's us above, celebrating our grand final win in 2007).  Fi requested a full match report after my first hockey game, so here it is.  Weather - sunny, warm and lovely (spring is finally here), even at 8.15 pm, game time.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had been placed in an A grade team, something I was slightly nervous about, but had no reason to be - the A clearly stands for 'A Very Friendly Competition.'  Ten minutes before the game, only a couple of players had arrived and five minutes before the game, I was still trying on my new uniform (red sleeveless shirt and black skort, for those of you interested in hockey fashions).  There was no warm up and no coach, just a few half-hearted stretches and a couple of veterans making suggestions to everyone.  Positions were very vague and we were all in charge of our own subbing off and on the field.  After three years of not playing, my skills left a lot to be desired and I won't even mention my fitness levels.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I scored the first goal of the game!  The game turned out to be a demolition of the other team, who were 4 players short, and I lost count of the number of goals scored by us, the Astro As.  Unfortunately, despite numerous opportunities, I didn't score any more goals.  The most challenging part of the game (apart from the fact that my lungs were burning) was coming to grips with the new rules - a 'self pass' rule and a rule about not hitting inside the 25 metre line that I really didn't get.  The big question for next week's game is 'will I be able to stay awake until the 9.30 pm game?'  I promise not to bore everyone with weekly match reports, especially given I'll be playing two games a week soon (I'm going to have a hit with the B grade team as well), but I did promise a full report this week to Fi, so there you are Fi!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Big dogs, small dogs ...

I'm not sure who is taking up more room on the couch ... Belle certainly looks happy using my rear end as a pillow

On the weekend, I looked after the two ranch dogs, while their owner, the resident cowboy, was away.  I'm not used to having big dogs around, having grown up with terriers - Australian Silky, Cairn, West Highland -  since I was small.  So, it came as some surprise when both dogs, Belle and Malibu, wanted  to jump on the couch with me on Saturday evening.  I certainly wasn't going to be squashed up at one end of the couch, so they had to be satisfied with taking turns.  As much as I loved having the dogs around, they were just too big for a small apartment.  Hence the reason why I'm planning to get West Highland terrier some time in the next year.

Two dogs, one mother - plenty of room for everyone on the couch!

Monday, 9 May 2011

So still, so quiet, so peaceful ...

Morning view from my living room balcony

This weekend was an incredibly quiet one for me as I worked hard on my uni assignments for 3 full days.  The only relatively exciting events were an evening workout/dinner date with C, a couple of Skype calls to Australia and a walk involving a run-in with three loose bulls (hey, that's life on the ranch for you!)  Because I work best in the morning, I got up super early each morning and wrote in my PJs with a pot of tea and the fire crackling.  The mornings are just so beautiful here in the foothills of the mountains.  The sun coming up, layers of mist coating the hills, the mountains in the background, frost on the ground.  It's so peaceful and and calming.  And productive.  I managed to get some great writing done this weekend in such a beautiful setting with few distractions.

And from my bedroom balcony ... that's Malibu the dog, not a coyote!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Happy Mothers Day Mum!

The three kids and Mum

Happy Mothers Day to my lovely mother, and all the other lovely mothers out there.  I feel lucky to have such a wonderful Mum who is more than just a mother, she's my best friend ... how corny does that sound?!  But, it's true.  I miss her an awful lot since I've been living overseas and I can't wait until she comes back to Canada for another visit.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The curse of perfectionism ...

Mostly, when people commit themselves to something, they aim to do their best.  Not me.  No, I like to be the best, or at least somewhere near the very top.  When I got my Year 12 results, I wanted to repeat a subject because, in the final exam, I didn't get an A+, the result I'd come to expect throughout the course.  This is the curse of perfectionism.  Therefore, it's quite ironic that in my current studies, I'm reading and writing about how to help students overcome perfectionism and learn to be happy with reasonable expectations and results.  After a week of stressing about the possibility of not receiving the highest mark in this current assignment, which in turn has lead to lack of sleep, increased teeth grinding, grumpiness and a tendency to eat and drink poorly, I decided to do something about it.  I went to the gym, I had a massage, I took a bath, I cooked healthy dinners.  But, most importantly, I allowed myself time to think.  I was reminded of this important element of doing something well when I read Sarah Wilson's post entitled 'being great takes time.'  I pride myself on allowing students time to think, but hadn't been allowing myself the same luxury necessity.  I've simply been too stressed about watching the word count grow and padding out my reference list.  In other words, I was just playing the game, and a game is university.  I thought back to my reasons for taking this course - to think and to learn, not to get high distinctions.  After reminding myself of this important lesson, I've taken the time to think - which for me, is best achieved during long walks, long showers, long browsing periods through research articles on the net.  And now, if I do say so myself, I'm coming out with some pretty great thoughts!  So, for the moment, all is well in this perfectionist's world ... I'm still aiming to write a bloody good essay and if I get top marks, great.  If not, I'll just drown my sorrows in a bottle of Verve.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Field, not ice, hockey ...

2007 Kew hockey team - Grand Final winners!

After watching an ice hockey game here in Calgary a few weeks ago, I decided that I missed playing competitive sport enough to hunt down and join a women's field hockey team.  As soon as I'd found a team, I had my suspicions re-affirmed ... field hockey is not a hugely popular sport in Canada.  The club seemed desperate for players; they put me straight into the A Grade team; and it is close to impossible to buy a hockey stick in Calgary.  Which is how I ended up in Vancouver last Thursday night.  I stopped off in Vancouver on my way back to Calgary so that I could visit a store dedicated to field hockey.  It turned into a very funny afternoon actually.  The taxi driver who took me to the store (way out in the 'burbs) was an interesting guy from Iran and we got chatting about travel and living away from 'home'.  I almost felt sad to get out of the taxi after such an intriguing conversation.  But then, as we pulled up to the store and he realised where I was going, he revealed that he had been the youngest player on the Iranian field hockey team in the 1980 Moscow Olympics!  After some wowing over that, it was decided that he would come hockey stick shopping with me and would then drive me back into downtown Vancouver.  We entered the store and spent about 20 minutes trying the sticks out until I chose a stick that felt good and suited my budget.  So, now I can say that I've played hockey with an Olympian!  After three years of not playing, I'm slightly nervous about my A Grade debut tonight, but fingers crossed, my skills, running fitness and 'hip and shouldering' ability (!) will return quickly.

After note - Due to my ability to procrastinate well, which leads to uni assignments not being written, which leads to major stress, which leads to feeling poorly, I've decided to postpone my hockey debut until next Tuesday night. 

Monday, 2 May 2011

Canadian Election ...

Today is the day of the Canadian election.  I don't really know much about it as I haven't been following it terribly closely, but I thought I'd share a bit of Monty Python Election Night Special humour.  I am, however, making more of an effort to understand this great country, with an upcoming visit to the Glenbow museum to see Calgary's premier, Naheed Nenshi, speak about his vision for Calgary's future.

Lacrosse ...

Pushing with the stick

Did you know that lacrosse is Canada's national sport?  I didn't before last night - I had, wrongly, assumed it was ice hockey.  My reason for going to the lacrosse game was to meet the Australian expat social group based in Calgary.  We were an interesting group - some Aussies in their AFL tops, some in lacrosse tops, a couple of Canadians (C was in the minority for once!) and a German guy who I suspect thought he was joining the Austrian expat group.  We had tickets for the play offs for the National Lacrosse League, so it was a pretty important game for the Calgary Roughnecks (roughneck meaning someone who works on the oil and gas rigs here in Alberta) and the Colorado Mammoths.    

Passing ... to the opposition?

A Calgary Roughnecks goal is celebrated

The  game was held in the same arena in which I've seen the cattle penning and the ice hockey, however the crowd at the lacrosse was totally different.  Tickets were only $22, which meant that the crowd was more family friendly.  However, the locals behaved in quite an un-sportsman-like manner towards the other team, with the announcer making a loud cry of 'What's he got?' when the opposing team missed a goal, to which the crowd roared 'Nothing!'  If the aim was to demoralise the other team, it certainly worked as more than once I noticed the goalie with his head down and the home team ended up winning by quite a significant margin.

In trouble with the refs
More cowbell!

The fans are a major component of the lacrosse game, with many opportunities for them to get involved during the game.  In fact, it seemed that the game was just as much about the entertainment as it was about the sport.  Loud rock music played for most of the game and the crowd was encouraged to support their team loudly and proudly.

Interchange bench
It's a rough game too - hacking and hitting with your lacrosse stick is encouraged and throughout the game, and many players were sent off for being too aggressive.  According the lacrosse fanatics, the Calgary Roughnecks may not be appearing in the NLL next year ... apparently they have run out of money.  Which is a sad state for Canada's national sport.

Finally, some sportsmanship ... shaking hands at the end of the game