The American Calgarian

Tales of a Midwesterner transplanted in Western Canada

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4.1.2012 – No kidding!

Thankfulness on April Fools’ Day..

I was terribly annoyed that JB left his cell phone at home one day this week. The damn thing went off with every friggin’ email and phone call and text and meeting scheduled, as it is a work issued phone. Then it occurred to me that I should be thankful to be annoyed by this beeping, vibrating thing on the kitchen desk because it demonstrates that one of us is gainfully employed and able to provide for our family.

Our friend Sue made my day on Thursday. She is a leader with the Guides group with which Girl is involved. Girl made a little presentation to earn a badge and Sue had asked her what she likes best about living in Calgary. Girl told her it is that I am around more, since I don’t work outside the home anymore. She loves it that I am able to pick them up at school each day, come on field trips and that I am generally less agitated. Sue shared this conversation with me and it made me smile. As I noted in a post last week, I am a recovering corporate person. It lifted my spirits to hear that the kids really do like it that I am around more. Also, I am apparently not as bitchy.

JB and I are learning Italian. I am thankful for the program at our kids’ school that has classes for parents to learn Italian and the teachers that spend one evening per week with a bunch of bumbling English-speaking folks trying to learn a new language. The teachers are terrific and we had a great wrap-up pot luck dinner this week. During the evening, one of the parents sang a few opera pieces for us and I am also thankful for, and in awe of, her talent. It was a great night!

“What is it about coffee that makes you feel human again?”, said a woman in my running group as we gathered outside for coffee and breakfast after our run today. So two things here, really. I love coffee. Also, I love having coffee outside in the sunshine.

Also, another woman in the group made my morning. We are racking up the mileage for the next two months preparing for a race and everyone’s legs are starting to get a little sore. Anyway, as we were stretching after our run, talking about how we are feeling about training, how great the weather is today, etc, she said to me, “That looked easy for you. How are you feeling?” Let me tell you, I feel great now! The truth is, I enjoy the company of our running group and the pace is just right. Not too slow, not too fast, and I do feel good after a long Sunday morning run.

Here’s to Spring!


A January Confession

When I announced that I was moving the NW, a man I worked with warned me.  “It gets cold there.  I lived in Manitoba for a while and it was lovely, but the winters can be like nothing you have experienced.  Bloody bone-chilling.”  I smiled and nodded politely, because I really like and respect this person.  But I was thinking, dude, you are from South Africa, what do you know about cold?   I was raised in Wisconsin, for crying out loud, I know what cold is. (To get the full effect, say it like this – whi-KAHN-sin, through your nose.)  All through November and December, well-meaning Calgarians had been asking us if we were ready.  Winters are not usually this mild, the cold weather would be coming soon, they would say.  Bleh.   It was fine.  I had barely gotten out my parka.

For the last couple of days it has been -29C, with a windchill of about -40C.  (-22F without the windchill.)  I have a confession.  I am cold.

The interesting thing is that although things have slowed down a bit, almost nothing is cancelled.  Schools are still running, businesses are open as usual, people are going to work as planned.  I have only seen a few things temporarily close where the activities are outdoor, like downhill skiing.  Which reminds me of something a running coach said in San Diego last year.  “Winter does something to a person.”  He meant it in a positive light.  Winter does, in fact, do something to you.  It makes you appreciate things like the air you are taking into your lungs, (because you can feel it all the way down), the crispness of a morning, the grass under the snow that is just begging to turn green again in the spring.  This morning the sky is a bright seawater blue with shiny ice crystals.  Its beautiful, assuming you are indoors with hot coffee, of course.  Winter makes you slow down, to be better prepared.  It can also keep you inside with your family, and when the time is used wisely to play inside games or read or just snuggle on the couch, it is all good.

Winter makes you an optimist.  For me, I am optimistic that the forecast is correct for the weekend and it will make it to 0C.  Heat wave!

Process for Christmas Greetings

The Christmas cards (letters) are out!  I am almost done shopping and haven’t been terribly cranky yet.

Getting out the letters was tough this year, as I had a few spreadsheets to put together to be sure I got everyone.  The whole thing is difficult to explain, so please see below (wish I had flowchart software at home)…

Process for Mailing Christmas Cards

  1. Pour Coffee.
  2. Open Spreadsheets:
    • Holiday 2010
    • Charity Fundraising Spring 2011
    • Family Mailing Lists
    • Friends Mailing List
  3. Merge Spreadsheets and Run Check for Duplicates.
  4. Curse.
  5. Refill Coffee.
  6. Why are there missing addresses and emails?
  7. Track down missing emails and addresses through:
    • Facebook
    • LinkedIn
    • Twitter
    • Email Accounts
    • Mom
  8. Evaluate relationships with people whom I cannot locate addresses using the methods listed above.
  9. Refill Coffee.
  10. Update Consolidated Spreadsheet to New Folder “Holidays 2011”.
  11. Curse as I am reminded that I have an updated version of Excel, which will change the formatting when I “Save”.
  12. Walk away from computer.
  13. Refill Coffee.
  14. Return to Computer, fix formatting of spreadsheet.
  15. Send emails of Christmas letters in batches.
  16. Go to Post to snail mail those for whom I do not have a current email address.  Wait in line 20 minutes while man behind me coughs up a lung.
  17. Curse as I pay for industrial strength Vitamin C.
  18. Return home to find that I have forgotten some of husband’s friends.
  19. Upon his arrival home, instruct husband to mail out his own damn Christmas cards.
  20. Pour wine.
  21. Turn Fire Log on Television.

So there you have it.  I apologize in advance that the snail mail cards will be late.  I also apologize if I missed you; the new spreadsheet format through me for a loop.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

It’s good to be a ‘Sconnie..

There is a fresh blanket of snow outside.  The UW Badgers are Rose Bowl bound.  The Green Bay Packers are 12-0.  I just saw the delightful new Muppet Movie.  It is great to be from Wisconsin right now.  OKay, I know the Muppets have nothing to do with Wisconsin, but I love the Muppets, its my blog and I just saw the movie.  Where was I again?  Oh, yeah, its great to be a ‘Sconnie.  Except I am in Canada.  Could someone please cue the Beer Barrel Polka?

This weekend we started with the usual provisions for a Badger football game, Usinger Brats cooked in Old Milwaukee, kraut, baked beans and beer.  Add some neighbors and we had a little party.  Our neighbors are from the UK, so some of the game had to be explained, (why is the clock stopping with a first down?  why can’t you hit the punter? why do you have a stock certificate from the Green Bay Packers?), and we had a great time teaching our British friends the way of the Wisconsin tailgate.  They took to it like old pros, and we shared many stories of football games, both American and British style.  At one point, our friend said, “You Americans DO know how to do college properly.”  This made me laugh, especially because she has such a strong British accent. 

Weekends like this make me appreciate all that is home.  Warm fires, snow, football, kids running wild all over the place (inside and out) and the UW Varsity Band.  I could practically hear our former neighbors (and UW Alums) cheering with every WI score.  I may be a time zone and a country away, but I am in a Wisconsin state of mind. 

U. Rah. Rah. Wisconsin.

Happy Thanksgiving, eh!

I am thinking of all my friends and family in the United States as we give thanks for our blessings and gifts.  Its our second time this fall where we will take a moment to give thanks. 

We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving  the tenth of October.  The Friday before the big day the kids had a Thanksgiving celebration at school and parents were invited.  Apprentice had a speaking part, so of course I was armed with a camera when attending.  Exciting!  Their first assembly/holiday party in their new school!

The kids have been in countless little productions such as this through church and school over the years.  Usually, this is how it goes.  A chaotic entrance into a packed gymnasium with faculty, parents, grandparents, random family members, followed by the obligatory waving to all those the child knows in the audience.  The production goes off successfully and there are cupcakes, juice and congratulations following.

Not this day.

I entered the school gym to two rows of chairs for those in attendance.  Seeing there were only the two rows, I quickly picked a seat, as this place is sure to overflow any second.  There was a hymn playing and some grades were already in the gym getting seated.  Then, I heard an overhead page for each grade to come into the gym.  Individually.  Quietly.  In a single row.  As each class entered the gym, they joined in the Thanksgiving hymn being played on the piano by the music teacher.  It was peaceful, almost therapeutic.  I started to question whether I was in the right place. After all class were seated, the principal explained why we were gathered and his expectations for behavior.  The gym, he explained, had been transformed into a church and we were all to act as we would on Sunday Mass.  Really?  And he was not even speaking with a microphone!  The rows filled up, but no overflow.  It seems only parents of those children that are directly participating came, and I didn’t perceive many extended family members in the gym either.  The Thanksgiving service was really nice.  It WAS a mass, where the kids did all the readings and the principal did a brief homily.  I sat in amazement as the children all sat silently and listened to the words being said.  The words were of prayer and poems explaining how we are to be thankful for family, food and shelter.  It was noted that we should also be cognizant of, and helpful to, those less fortunate in our own neighborhood and across the world.   And, I thought, this is all good.

The service ended and the kids headed back to class to complete their day.  That’s right.  There was still 1 ½ hours left in the school day and they had things to do.  I gave my kids a quick wave and headed out.

When I picked the kids up from school a bit later, I asked for their impressions of the Thanksgiving service.  Mid spoke first, dramatically, “Some party!  There weren’t even cupcakes!” The other two asked why there were no refreshments, why I could not stay, why they had to go back to class, etc.  I explained that this is a Catholic School and they do things a little different.  And I stressed that I was proud of the Apprentice for doing a good job when reading his lines and that I was pleased to see the other two sit so attentively during the service.  Even so, they were puzzled about the lack of cupcakes.  Perhaps for American Thanksgiving.

Veterans Day Thank You

This week at school each if the kids were given a poppy to wear to honor those Veterans that fought for freedom in Canada and the United States.  We have talked quite a bit over the last few days about the people in our family that have served in various branches of the military at different times.

Today, at 11:00am, we will take pause, as requested by their school, to say a small prayer of thanks for those that have served and for those that continue to serve today.  It is because of these brave men and women that we live in a free country and are citizens of a free country. 

What does freedom mean?  To me, it means in part that I can say four simple words in public, “I do not agree.”  In the United States and Canada, we can say these words to each other about our ideas and about the policies of the government without fear of persecution.  We can show our disagreement by occupying public areas peacefully, speaking about new or different ideas about how things should be done, and we essentially overthrow the government every four years through voting in elections.  Imagine if those in Libya, China or Iraq or other places in the world where demonstrations have erupted recently could do these things which we take for granted. 

Today we will thank those that have fought so that we voice our agreement or dissention freely and openly.  For me, I would like to thank Carrie, a college friend, who comes from a family of those that serve in the Army.  I would like to thank Mike, a former coworker, that awaited orders while supporting his family and working in the office during the second conflict in the Gulf.  I would like to thank Mr. Johnson, my high school civics teacher who taught us that the Coast Guard is also an important part of the national defense.  (By the way, the Coast Guard is based in New London, CT, 06320, and no, I did not have to look that up.)  For all those that have served in our military during peace time and war time, my children and I are thankful. 

Our political ideas aside, today is a day to honor those that have made it their mission to protect all of us.  Whether you agree or not, the fact that we can debate issues in public, on facebook and twitter, blog about our own point of view, write a letter to the editor, or simply complain about foreign policy with the neighbor, is due to their service.

Thank you.

I’ve got Peace like a River in my Soul

The day was sunny and warm.  I was productive in getting the house clean, running errands, dinner was going and I was on my way to pick up the kids.  The children walked out of school five minutes after the bell, as scheduled.  “How was your day?” I asked.

“Good”, says the Girl.

“Good”, says Apprentice, “do I have skating today?”

“No, not today.”  I turn to Mid.  “How was your day?”

“Better than yesterday.  What’s for dinner?”

These are the customary responses I have become accustomed to hearing every afternoon.  We load into the mom-mobile (aka Sarah Siena) and head for home.

I hear quiet singing from the backseat.  Is it possible?  Could it be?  My children are quietly singing Kum Ba Yah.  Voluntarily. I get the feeling the temperature in Hades may have dropped a bit.  And then I start congratulating myself on what a great parent I have become.  I wonder how many other children are singing so peacefully on their way home from school.  Not many, I bet.  Supernanny has NOTHING on me.  I am deep into my acceptance speech for Mother of the Year when…  what?  Mid breaks into a rap worthy of Snoop Dogg or 50Cent on the MTV Music Video Awards, along with appropriate upper body motions…  

“I’ve got peace like a rivaahhh, PEACE like a rivaahh, puh-puh-peace like a rivaahh in my s-s-s-sa-sa-sa-soul!”

“Word”, says the Girl.

What the WHAT?  Have my peaceful-kum-ba-yah-singing cherubs turned a beloved song into a cover for Eminem?  I have a moment of angst.  Do I cease this massacre of a beloved song?  Or, just go with it and encourage the creativity?

The German in me wants the song sung as written and intended.  There is another voice, though, from parenting books and my more open-minded friends telling me to just go with it.  So I do.

I ask who taught them this new way to sing the song.  Response?  “I made it up.  I like it better.”  This cracks me up.  We arrived home, rocking out to the new version of many a church hymn.  All three kids and I rapped through final dinner preparations about the peace in our souls.  We danced around and laughed while adding other verses. 

Kum ba yah-yah-yah my Lord, kum ba yah. You hear me Lord? Kum ba yah, baby!

JB came home to a lot of (joyful) noise.  The kids greet him with their new arrangement.  He looks at me, smiling and bewildered.  I shrug and smile.  There is indeed peace like a river in my soul.


The Scariest Part of Halloween

We are preparing for Halloween.  The kids have all picked out their costumes and, as is customary for this time of year, they have asked about decorating the house.  To be honest, I am not much for Halloween.  I don’t like the candy and processed “food” that results from this day.  I am pleased that they have a “Black and Orange Day” at school in place of a Halloween party. 

Why am I a scrooge at Halloween?  Is it over-sugared children running through the neighborhood begging for food?  Is it parties where I am told to dress in a costume, pretending to be something I am not?  (My most reliable costume to date is “Responsible Adult”.  Some years I even pull it off.) Is it the cost of all the treats, costumes, parties and decorations?

No.  For me it is the crafts that I am expected to assist my children with, on account that I have a uterus and all.  And so, it begins…

JB and Apprentice are at the NHL game so I tell the Girl and Mid we will to go look for some decorations for Halloween if they will come to Ikea with me. (Don’t judge me – you know you bribe your kids too.)  After the lap around Ikea, we continue on to the craft store.  Girl and Mid see a foam 3D haunted house they HAVE to complete.  “We can do it together, Mom!” they bellow.  Do you see how I am being played here?  Yeah, me too, but I am a mom with the appropriate amount of guilt.  And besides, I am a Homemaker now and these types of crafts are in the job description, right?  Worthy to note here – along with having limited to no patience, I am not talented in the craft-making department.  When I taught Sunday School the crafts often scared me.  In fact, a few times the craft relating to the Bible story was so intimidating I would search the internet for an alternative.  My class did a lot of crossword puzzles and word searches relating to the lesson of the week.

Anyway, back to the 3D foam haunted house.  It looked simple enough.  The kids and I could do it during the Green Bay Packers/Minnesota Vikings game.  No sweat.  So, here goes…

 The design and directions.  

We started this fun project early in the afternoon.  First up, construct the house. The kids are adorable in their energy and helpfulness.  It was truly a group effort as we sort the pieces – did I mention there were over 100?  We put down the foundation.  I start with the walls of the house.  Okay, they should lock into place, just like the directions.  Shoot.  This is tougher than it looks!  Girl helps me place the walls.  Oh, crap, need glue.  Send Mid to get glue; he returns with slippers.  Although I have been searching for said slippers for 3 weeks, I am annoyed.  For the love of Persephone am I the only one that can find anything around here?  Leave project to find glue.  Have children start simpler projects independently.

It’s already halftime?  Seriously.  Send kids outside to wander while I drop countless f-bombs trying to get this torture-masked-as-a-foam-3effingD-haunted house built.  If I get one more “when can we put the stickers on it?” I may lose it.  A few hours and a Packers win later, I have the house constructed.  Of course, by now all three kids have lost interest and are outside playing football, riding bikes or chasing coyotes.  And how am I supposed to know?  This stupid house has taken the bulk of my afternoon. 

  Progress as of I-don’t-know-when after the game.

“What’s for dinner? “  Is it really that late? In any case, the house is constructed.  The kids complete the house with the stickers and other random foam thingy’s while I get something organized for dinner.  Just when I think the entire day has gone to hell in a hand basket, JB hands me a gin and tonic and comments, “Great job on that haunted house.  The kids really like it.”  Even with that glowing affirmation, somehow, I don’t see many crafts in our future for Christmas.  Outlet mall, anyone?


Random notes about my first weeks in Alberta..

I miss Target. My almost fifteen year boycott of Wal-Mart has sadly come to an end. For now.
I miss knowing where I am headed. I get honked at occasionally, though Canadians are too polite to cuss at me.
For our first week or so, we were pretty disconnected from the outside world. I did not mind the absence of television, but the lack of internet gave me shakes at times.
Just like in Milwaukee, everything is in two languages. However, in Canada, bilingual means English and French.
JB has a renewed excitement about his work. I haven’t seen this in a while and let me tell you, it’s nice.
Ski Jumpers are crazy. I can see the Canada Olympic Park (COP) from my kitchen, which includes the ski jump and bobsled run. All I have to say to all those would-be Olympic ski-jumpers – Really? Does your mother know what you’re doing?
Canadians are nice, polite people. But you must understand their rules. They will tell you the rules clearly and politely, followed by clear direction that getting caught disobeying the rules is a huge no-no. (see “Distracted Driving Law”)
Is anyone really from Calgary originally? Outside of a very few, introductions usually go something like this. “Hi, I’m Lisa. These are my boys, Max and Sam. We have lived in Europe and Asia before settling in Alberta, although we are originally from the United Kingdom.” It seems that everyone I have met on the block is from somewhere other than here. Mexico, England, Italy, South Korea… it feels good that it is not odd to be a foreigner.  Backyards are overrated. Why have a yard when your ‘hood buddies are going to set up street hockey? Nobody plays in their yard, assuming the even have one, but children are everywhere. On the street, in the field, on the trails, everywhere. My American kids find this a bit odd. “You mean we can just go out there, Mom?” “Yes! Go explore! Stay together! But, please, this is Canada, not the Caribbean, dress in layers and wear a hat!”
I miss our garbage disposal. You know, the thing we take for granted in the suburban USA? That magical thing in our kitchen sink that makes yucky stuff go down the drain?  Yeah, that.
Just because the box is labeled “China”, don’t think it does not contain the pancake griddle and muffin pan. Enough said.
This metric thing I harder that I thought. Gasoline is only $1.13? Woot! Oh, you meant per liter. And there are how many liters in a gallon? Cripe, I give up. Note to self – stop trying to convert everything and just go with it.
The Girl has joined the choir. I have been asking her to do this at church for years. Finally! And of her own conviction, she came to me and said “I need ten bucks”. As you can imagine, I immediately asked why. Her reply of “to join the school choir” almost made me break into song.
I miss my running buddies. Saturday early mornings on the Glacial Drumlin Trail or at the Milwaukee Lakefront with Mike, Dione, Jessica, Mike, Jennifer, Mary Ann, Mandee, I know I forgot some…. Great way to start a weekend and blow off some steam. On the “to do” list – must find running buddies. After all, I have an open invitation to all listed above to run the Calgary Marathon next May.


She was born in the fall of her 40th year, coming home to a place she’d never been before..
It does not have the same ring to it as John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”, but I truly felt like singing this today after driving home from dropping the kids at school. Truth be told, I sang. Really loud. And it was fun. And just another example of why JB will not endorse guitar lessons for me. He has this (only slightly) off base vision of me playing John Denver, Grateful Dead and Indigo Girls songs to the kids until I am blue in the face and they are flannel wearing, tie-dyed, long-haired hippies relaxing in the mountains after a day of skiing, biking or hiking, (depending on the season of course). But I digress.
When I posted some pictures of Calgary on Facebook after moving here, a friend commented, “I think you have found your happy place.” And you know what? I think I have. Is there anything better than the sunrise reflecting on snow-capped mountains with a sapphire blue sky? Every day that we have been here I have wanted to stop what I was doing at least once and take a picture. Instead, I have done this only half the time. Every day I do pause, though, and just take it all in. I have found my beach, as they say in the Corona ads.
Don’t get me wrong, I get homesick for the Badger State. We left many friends and family to make this move. The promise of another gorgeous sunrise helps to remind me that the Good Lord is looking out for us, and though I am not sure how it will look, things will work out the way they are meant to be.

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