Saturday, October 30, 2010

Alberta: Part One

Maybe it was writing about the family bible.

Maybe it was watching Great Canadian Rivers: Milk River on the Knowledge Network.

Maybe it was the day at work I spent listening to Corb Lund sing about cattle on the old Milk River Ridge and husking Taber corn.

Maybe it was the subsequent conversation with a coworker about how she used to drive from Calgary to Taber on the weekends to get fresh Taber Corn.

Maybe it was realising that this November will be four years since I've been back and that's the longest I've ever gone in my life without a visit, but somewhere in there I started to miss Southern Alberta. Missing it turned into an ache and then it became down right painful. That's right, I miss it so much it hurts.

Big Bro and I at the Alberta-BC border on the Crowsnest Pass

My mom hails from Milk River, a small town situated along the river just a few kilometres north of the Montana-Alberta border. My mom was raised on the family farm a few clicks east of town but by the time I came around, Grandma and Grandpa had retired and moved to town. The farmed passed to my uncle, Phil, and now to my cousin, Ryan. Still, I've always called it "Grandpa's Farm" and I challenge anyone in my family to tell me that it's not (except Ryan because, well, see above).

Grandpa may have retired to town but that didn't stop him
from still working the fields every chance he got.

The only years I don't remember going to Alberta in the summer, I was in Ireland. Those years, however, we often went to Alberta for Christmas so really, I'm pretty sure that my visits to Alberta would average one a year until Grandpa passed away. Although I have never referred to Alberta as 'my other home' like I do when talking about other places I've lived, it really was a second home (although with funny tasting water). The majority of trips were made by plane, but there were a handful of road trips and even a trip on ViaRail.

My most vivid memory of the trip was the drunk guy getting kicked off in the middle of the night.
Hmm, maybe I should do the trip again and make a better memory.

Growing up I used to complain that Alberta was so boring, that it was so flat. I was a west coast girl, with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other, what's there to see in Alberta but wheat, cows, more wheat and more cows? In one moment that whole opinion changed; I was walking south from Milk River Town towards the river, I would have been 17 at the time, I looked out towards the Sweetgrass Hills and it hit me: yes, visually Alberta could be considered plain compared to BC but, my goodness, was it ever beautiful in its own way.

Big Bro in the wheat fields. Somewhere there is the same picture of me but I can't find it.

I loved staying at Grandma and Grandpa's. You'd wake up in the morning, climb the dark stairs out of the basement, and open the door to a bright kitchen. Coffee and tea would be made, cereal would be lined up for the choosing and the cinnamon buns would be waiting for the icing. Oh, the cinnamon buns. They were to die for. Years later I learned that grandma would make a batch and freeze it. When she had company, she'd just warm up a few in the morning, drizzle a little icing and voila, Grandma's 'fresh' cinnamon buns. They were the best part of breakfast.

At some point during our trip, Grandpa would take us out to the farm. If we went in the car we'd be stopping in for a visit to the house, but if we went in his Ford truck we'd be driving out to the fields. He'd tell stories as he drove: who owned what fields, if and how the owner was related to us or someone we knew, what crops they grew every year or if they were experimenting with something new. On and on he'd prattle, eventually landing on stories about great-grandpa and great-great-grandpa living on the farm. I wish that I had thought to write some of the stories down because all I have now are snippets from my foggy childhood memory. I'm never sure how much of the story was told to me and how much is my own memory trying to fill in the blanks.

Grandpa's Ford on the left. I loved spending time with him in that truck. He taught me to drive in it.
He taught me how to recognize when a Chinook is coming. He taught me that great-great-Grandpa
bought the farm because it had a slough to water the horses. I learned a lot in that truck.

Learning to roller skating on the flat driveway, going to the public pool four days in a row, walking the golf course while Grandpa, Uncle Dave and Big Bro played a round, scampering around the hoodoos at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, walking to the Milky Way for an ice cream, picking up the mail from the post office on the way back, watching my brother on the local news being interviewed about the dinosaur eggs found outside of Warner, Ryan teaching me how to flip my eyelids inside out, walking across the Coutts/Sweetgrass border crossing just to play a game of tennis, playing a game of Nerts with Grandma and any other cousins who were around, seeing my first buffalo at the Miller farm, inner tubing down the Milk River, watching old family movies on the wall above the fireplace. There are a million memories attached to summer holidays spent in Milk River, each one a story unto itself, yet Milk River was a just a fraction of the time we'd spend in Alberta.

Writing-On-Stone in the winter. As the name of the park suggests, there are pictographs carved into the rock face.

There were Ellert family trips to Waterton National Park where we'd sleep 20 of us inside the cabin and everyone else outside in tents, where Jolene and I crashed a rented bike-thingy and walked away unhurt, where we took a tour of the Prince of Wales Hotel then took a picture in the wind with our hair going every which way, where I saw the Northern Lights for the first time, where some guy flashed us from the back of his buddy's van while they drove by, where we took a paddle boat around Cameron Lake and made a joke about making a break for the American border, where I read my first romance novel, and where we decided to hike to Little Bertha Falls because the name made us laugh.

We'd visit Taber. My uncle was the principal of the elementary school and sometimes he'd let us 'sneak in' during the summer so Big Bro could play basketball. We once came up with the great idea of getting out as many of the bouncy balls as we could and get them all going at once. You know those old balls, the ones you'd use at lunch time for dodge ball and squares? We made such a racket that my uncle came back from his office to tell us to stop it but he just ended up helping us get even more going. I would play the old family piano in the basement, the same piano that my aunts and my mom learned to play on. It even had some of their old lesson books. I'd pull them out and give them a rattle on the out-of-tune keys. Lethbridge, Calgary, more family, more laughter and more memories.

My one and only time at the Calgary Stampede.

The only trip better than a summer in Alberta was a Christmas in Alberta.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hwy Thirty-Six

This was originally part of the piece I wrote about Alberta but as I rewrite I'm finding that this doesn't work with the rest of the post. It means too much to me, however, to just toss it aside.

One of my favourite drives in Alberta is from Milk River to Taber. Just north of Milk River, at Warner, we'd get off the highway onto another, well, it's called a highway, I call it a road. It's fairly flat and straight (and boring) until the road dips a little, then it swerves as you drive down between two hills, and then suddenly you're crossing a bridge over a long, skinny lake (the name of which escapes me). You reach the other side, climb up the small hill, and you're back to fairly flat and straight. I loved that moment as a child, I would anticipate the change in the scenery for the whole trip, and I did my best to try and memorize the change in the road which would tell me when the lake was coming up. I made a game out of it. How many false guesses to when the lake would appear? Eventually I didn't need to make it a game. I knew that road so well, I knew exactly when the lake was coming up.

At the age of twenty, after not having done that drive in a few years, my mom and I drove up to Taber to visit our family there. As we approached the dip which proceeded the lake, I found my feet tapping on the floor of the car in time to my fingers tapping on my legs, my heart started to skip a little as noticed the familiar change in the scenery, suddenly we were driving down and as the bridge appeared a huge smile broke out on my face. I wanted to shout and clap, to tell my mom I still knew all the signs but I some how managed to contain myself. When I close my eyes, I can still see the changes I memorized (I wonder if they're still there) and the image of the bridge as you come out from between the hills. If I was an artist, I would draw the scene because it's so vivid in my mind. There is nowhere in BC--no hidden road, no secret forest campsite, no memory-laden beach--which fills me with the glee and excitement of that 2 minute stretch of road in Alberta.

Where Did I Leave the Valium?

Today was our Halloween costume contest at work. To say mine was a success is a bit of an understatement. People I've never seen were being sent to search me out. The costume itself was nothing elaborate but apparently I do 'the look' very well. A little too well, perhaps, as five different people told me I was born in the wrong era. What was I? Why, a 1950's housewife!

I can almost smell the pie baking!

I didn't realise until I got home but this was the only picture which was in focus and it's also the only one which didn't show my awesome high heels. For a little authenticity, I would like to draw your attention to the glasses that I'm wearing. These are my grandma's glasses from the 50's which we found in the original house on the farm (no longer standing) during one of our treasure hunts.

The case says Lethbridge because that's the big city where you go to buy everything!

Also to add to the 'authenticity' (or 'because it makes me laugh') I drank my water from my martini glass all day. I even asked our CEO if he could top me up... twice.

It was all about the lipstick on the glass!

It was a fun costume except three hours later I'm still wearing the fake pearls and wishing they were real. Perhaps this is the start of finding my hidden domestic goddess.

Non sequitur: The spell check wanted to changed 'Lethbridge' to 'lawbreaker'. Ah, no. Not even close. Thanks for the giggle, blogger!

GBC Question #22

Question #22: Favourite Series

Emily of New Moon. I liked Anne of Green Gables but it never spoke to me the way the Emily series did. Anne always felt like a character in a novel to me while Emily felt like a dear friend who just happened to exist in a book.

A close second but not chosen because I already talked about it was Lord of the Rings. What can I say? I'm a big dork.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting Into the Spirits!

We're having our Halloween Costume contest at work tomorrow. For the first time since, well, ever I've actually put some thought into it (unlike last year when I taped a no.2 on the back of my rugby jersey, taped up my head, walked around with a rugby ball, and told everyone I was a hooker) so I'm really excited. Of course, the excitement could be because I'm walking around with a martini glass at work and no one can get mad at me.

Now if only I could actually get away with a martini in the glass...

I'll post some pictures tomorrow night.

GBC Question #21

Question #21: A guilty pleasure book.

I have stared at this blank post for over an hour and I'm still coming up empty handed. I enjoy the odd chick lit book (usually when I'm sitting on a beach and don't want to think too hard) so I guess that would be my guilty pleasure, but I honestly can't think of a specific book that I would give this title to.

Oh, unless I can count The Hockey Sweater. There's not much guilty about it per se except that I like to read it out loud to myself in a French accent. I've never done that with someone else in the room so I guess that makes it a guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

GBC Question #20

Remember these? While I'm working on my epic post about the joy that is southern Alberta, I figured I should get back to these and may be finish off the last ten of them. So, without further ado...

Question #20: A book you would recommend to an ignorant/racist/closed minded person.

While I can think of a few people in these categories who would be better off just being hit with a book, for the rest of them I'd recommend Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. In this day and age of heightened mistrust of Muslims, this book is a fabulous reminder that fundamentalism is not confined to one religion.

Every religion has its skeletons hiding in the closest (or in Bountiful, BC) and what religion doesn't have a bloody past? But to paint everyone of that faith with the same brush does a huge disservice to furthering understanding between people of different backgrounds. Just because I think the Blackmores are dirty men with an insatiable thirst for power over 'their' women doesn't mean that Mormons as a whole are a bad people. It would be like basing your opinion on Baptists in general on the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. (Speaking of which, it makes me sick that the hatred spread by the WBC is protected under Freedom of Speech. Doesn't the US constitution have something like the Canadian Criminal Code Section 319 to deal with people like this?)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Sneak Peek

It's been a busy week and and even busier weekend. I even went to Wal-Mart again this weekend just to leave with nothing! I think I may be the first person to ever do that. This morning was the start of our Hallowe'en Unit Decorating Contest at work and everyone said that Wal-Mart had a great selection of decorations... Well, I heard decorations but I think my coworkers must have been saying 'crap'. I should get my hearing checked.

I'm minutes away from running out the door to watch the Victoria Symphony perform Beethoven Lives Upstairs. I loved that series when I was younger and so my stepdad, stepsister and I are taking my niece to see it. Afterwards, it's back to my mom's for our delayed Thanksgiving meal. Do Sunday's get any better?

I have a gazillion pictures to upload for the Project 365 which I hope to get around to this week and a handwritten post just waiting to be typed up now that I've upload all the photos (including the one below).

Can I get an 'amen' for indoor plumbing?
Milk River, Alberta

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

103: Stop People From Giving Me Cookbooks

That's right. Someone at work gave me a cookbook today. It's from her son's school--part of last year's fundraiser which they're now just giving away--and she knows that I like to cook.

I really should sit down and figure out exactly how many meals this is going to be for goal #97. Then I can set that as the number and just ignore any new cookbooks which find their way into my possession.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

First Goal Crossed Off My List

In a moment of gung-ho-why-the-heck-not feeling this evening, I became a member of the Board of Directors for Matoto. It's a two year volunteer post and my position within it (if I have one) will be decided at the next meeting of the board. Matoto uses the 'working board' model which means I will be expected to participates in committees/task forces as a member of Matoto. I think it's safe to say that #23 is crossed of my list even without have actually done the volunteer part yet.

Only 100 more items to go.

102: Stop Buy Cookbooks

I can't believe it is the weekend again already! It's been a busy past week and it's kept me away from the internet more than I was expecting. I never got to talk about my lamb Thanksgiving dinner. That's right, lamb. We're Irish and my dad didn't feel like cooking a turkey. I love lamb; it really has to be in the top three for my favourite meats (along with fresh salmon and Alberta beef). The only downside is that I missed out on the leftover stuffing and turkey sandwiches. Sigh. Christmas isn't too far away so I will get those sandwiches soon :)

Wandering around dad's property

Despite being away from internet, I've been doing a lot of writing via the ancient tradition of using a pen and paper. How quaint, I know! I have a blog post written but I'm waiting for my mom to come home from Nova Scotia so I can use a few of her photos. Even knowing that I was writing it for the blog, there really is something about the act of writing that I love. Computers, for all their ease and speed, will never replace that.

Here's a hint: the post has something to do with Grandpa's farm in Milk River, AB

Tonight is the AGM for Matoto, the non-profit connected to MoonDance. I'm going to go check that out and if it looks like something I want to get involved in then I can cross #23 off 101 in 1001. During morning coffee with a friend (during which we also played rummy... me and my cards!) there was a discussion about a possible cross-Canada road trip in the future. It feels good to know I'm working towards crossing things off the list!

Taking names and kicking ass in Rummy. It's what I do.

As much as I'm trying to cross things off my list, it would help if I stopped buying things that added to it. While in town this morning, I bought another cookbook. It was on sale for $7, how do I say no to that? So that's one more meal that I have to cook for #97. Two steps forward, one step back!

Monday, October 11, 2010


If you read both my blogs, you're not seeing double. This post appears on both of them.
What am I thankful for?

I am thankful to my birth mother for choosing to give me a life she could not provide.

Me at 5 weeks

I am thankful for my parents who never let me doubt how much I was loved.

Dad, Mom and me

I am thankful that I have two brothers who are both pretty awesome in their own rights.

Little and Big Bro about eight years ago

I am thankful that I was born in country where my gender was not seen as a reason to not educate me...


...or disallowed my participation in sports.

Soccer as a teenager

I am thankful that I know my extended family even though they all lived plane rides away. 

Me and Cormac on a family trip out to Donegal

I am thankful for all the amazing places I have travelled in my life.

Trinidad, Cuba

I am thankful for the opportunities I've had to live in some of these amazing places.

Freiburg, Germany. Mein Universitaetstadt.

I am thankful for the people I've met who have helped shape my world view.

My going away party in Tanzania. I'm the only non-Muslim at the table.

I am thankful for living in a country where political discord amounts to little more than name calling in the House of Commons.
Political Message along Falls Rd, Belfast

I am thankful that I am privileged enough to be able to give back.
Dinner time, Usa River, Tanzania

I am thankful for all my friends who make life a little bit more worth while.

Looking forward to a hungover train ride back to Victoria after a girl's weekend in Parksville.

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hockey Season Is Here Ergo My Productivity Is Gone

Tonight was going to be a post-crazy night but instead it ended up being a scream-at-my-radio-during-the-hockey-game night. There was a lot of pacing in my apartment and I'm sure the people downstairs are probably writing up a letter of complaint to my building manager right now. Well, I hate to tell the people downstairs to shove it, but hockey season is officially here for Canucks fans so they better get used to it.

I've had a very productive week and the weekend is also proving to be productive but in a much more relaxing way. Despite the yelling tonight, I did manage to get my 101 in 1001 list up.. finally. Earlier this week, I attended my flamenco teacher's performance as part of the Romp Festival here in Victoria so I was able to put '1/4' beside #76.

After she danced, she did a Q&A. Her parents are Spanish. Every single picture I took of her had blurry hands.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Beauty and the Beast Isn't Going to Watch Itself!!

Remember how on Sunday I said it was going to be a busy week for me? Remember? That's why I still haven't gotten my blog up about the '101 in 1001' even though I did actually start it on Monday like I said I was going to.

Today, I was able to cross something off the list. Okay, I was able to say "1 out of 4". I didn't even realise until after it was done that I had completed a portion of one of my goals. I'll talk more about it when I have more than 10 minutes before bed.

PS. I tried to look for a funny picture dealing with 'lists' and Google gave me a Firefly picture of Summer Glau. I love the Internets so much right now.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happy Sunday, Everyone!

I am spending a relaxing Sunday night listening to Vivaldi, drinking my last glass of white wine and updating my blogs. It is my calm before the storm. I have a busy week coming up, especially seeing as I'm finally feeling better so I've got a million jobs to catch up on, I've got something on every night this week and *drumroll, please* tomorrow is the official start of my "101 in 1001". Yes, I'm taking the plunge and tackling this slightly crazy idea. As I always like to say before I do something (usually) stupid in Rummy, in for a penny, in for a pound. I picked October 4, 2010 as my start date for two reasons: 1) I thought two weeks would be enough time to complete my list (it wasn't, I'm scrambling to complete it tonight) and 2) it makes the end date July 1, 2013. How patriotic of me!!

October 1st was supposed to be my second attempt at Project 365, however, thanks to a few dead batteries, I had to push it back to the 2nd. When I started the Project 365 the first time, I was a person who only took photos while on holidays. I failed miserably due to my own self-consciousness about taking photos of people and things. I gave myself a month to get used to taking photos and not feeling so uncomfortable with snapping every chance I got. I feel much better prepared this second time around. Like last time, you can click on my flikr account link on the right to take you the pictures. Not all of them will be posted in an actual blog.

I also spent a lot of time with my mom this weekend. She and my stepdad are off to Nova Scotia for the Cape Breton Celtic Music Festival and to visit some friends over there. I am just a wee bit jealous of them and it didn't really help that during dinner we listened to a CD of a guy they saw last time there were in Nova Scotia. He played song after song of Irish songs I remembered from my childhood. I hate my mom and stepdad right now and I don't care if they know it. "Oh, we might drive the Cabot Trail again." Yeah, well, I'd like to drive it once so bah-humbug. I hope you guys have a great time, I really do, I'm just going to be bitter about it until you're back.