Snowpocalypse 2011: Edmonton Edition

On Friday afternoon the snow started falling… and falling… and falling…

By Saturday morning there was a good 20 cm of fresh powder. Even though motorists were advised to stay off the roads, they didn’t look that bad in our area yet and so we piled the dog into the Honda Element (with snow tires) and headed for a hearty breakfast at Cora’s. Then off to the dog park with our snowshoes.

We certainly weren’t the only ones braving the snow and Riker had a good romp with some other dogs. As you can see above, the snow was already skimming the bottom of the park bench, and the storm was only half over!
Yesterday we didn’t attempt to take the vehicle out, and on our walks with Riker we strapped on our snowshoes at the end of the laneway!

Riker is just loving all this snow (he dives into drifts and banks head first) and we like how much the chest-high powder tires him out.

The city is slowly digging itself out this morning, but for some, rescue might not come until spring. Yes, that is a small pickup truck facing the sedan…

The big hit is done, but the weather network promises a few more flurries in the coming days even as the temperature plummets and the wind picks up. I feel pretty lucky, though – working from home I don’t have to battle the roads and I’m still acclimatized to the cold from my time up north…

Berton House thermometer during December cold snap

Jasper Photo Diary

Friday, September 10th:

Left Edmonton at 7:30am. Hit some construction on the Henday and missed my turn. After a short detour back on the road. Stop in Edson for Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwich combo.
Doug at trailhead. Used Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies hiking guide to choose Trip #123: Beaver, Summit and Jacques Lake. It had a very good shoulder-season rating, promised to be easy, and wasn’t too far away from where we’d be staying.
Me chilling at Beaver Lake after an easy 2km walk on a well-groomed trail. These boats were locked up, but apparently you can rent them and hang out on the lake.
A bird – a female Spruce Grouse, I think – Doug almost stepped on it was so well camouflaged. Could also throw it’s voice – we heard a call but thought it was up in the trees someplace!
Another few kilometers and we reached the First Summit Lake.

Judging by these animal prints (my guess is moose) we weren’t the first. Also saw quite a bit of bear scat on the trails but the only aggressive creature we encountered was an irate red squirrel.
After our hike we headed to our accommodations for the weekend – the rustic but luxurious Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (think of the most expensive log cabin you’ve ever stayed in). But, for those who read my last post, you’ll know I got the whole weekend romance package for $495 on Kijiji!
When we arrived at our Junior Lakeview Suite the wine and cheese welcome was on the table. And I have to say, the Mission HillSonora Ranch Cabernet Shiraz was just to my taste (I let Doug have some too)!
For dinner we headed into town to the Jasper Brewing Co. and I was a little disappointed by their beers. Doug got the sampler and we agreed that compared with Brewster’s, Granville Island, and many of the other microbreweries we’ve fallen in love with, they just didn’t measure up. The food was great, though, and Doug’s fish n’ chips were served in a bucket, which was awesome. My yam fries and salmon on ciabatta were pretty darn tasty too!
Saturday, September 11th:
Back into town for breakfast at the Bear’s Paw Bakery. We each had one of their world-famous sticky cinnamon buns and an Americano. Can’t wait to go back to try their muffins, and scones, and cookies, and…
Doug went off to play a rugby game in Edson and I went for a hike around Lac Beavert (aptly named for its pretty blue-green water) to wear off breakfast. Chatted with the other folks I encountered on the trail, including a European woman who was ‘shore support’ for her scuba-diving husband in lake, and lots of Brits.
Nearing home I crossed paths with another woman and said cheerfully, “Looks like we’re going to get some sun after all!” I guess my guttural Canadian English and Germanic looks threw her because she responded in a thick ‘Souf London’ accent: “It’s Guten Tag, itn’t it?” “Yah,” I said, and kept walking.
Doug got back in one piece and we went for our Fairmont dinner at the Moose’s Nook Northern Grill. Great service, amazing food, and with my kijiji deal the price was right. Appetizers: scallops with ancho pepper and caviar. Entrees: Beef Tenderloin with potato/lobster risotto and mushroom/asiago ravioli. But the desserts were the standouts: barrista sampler (espresso ice cream, mille feuille, and creme brulee), chocolate-dipped strawberries, and the caramelized banana martini (heaven!).
Sunday, September 12th:
The next morning we had our final part of the romance package: breakfast in our room. I never thought I’d be able to eat again after the night before, but when that brioche French toast arrived with vanilla-scented whipped cream and Saskatoon berry compote, I gave in. And Doug’s west-coast eggs benny (smoked salmon on a crab/chive/potato cake) wasn’t bad either!
We’d intended to do a hike on our way back Edmonton but it was pouring rain… so we made a beeline for home, picked up the dog, and had a nap.

Adventures in Kijiji-land

Where can you buy a piece of art for $3 and a bag of buttons? Or sell an ugly pink chair for $5 and a loaf of bread? Or trade your book for a toilet? Kijiji!

Those are just a couple examples of my local online transactions this summer. In fact, some have even called me the Kijiji Queen (or in less-nice times, the Kijiji Nut). Here are some things I’ve learned:

1. As at thrift stores, garage sales, and Walmart, there are ridiculous people on Kijiji. I had one woman who wanted to buy a $5 bookshelf from me. After a flurry of emails getting dimensions and bargaining down the price (which I did because she ran an animal rescue program) she had the gall to ask me to drive it all the way to the other side of town because she didn’t drive and her boyfriend was very busy. I still haven’t figured out how to vote people off the K-island, but she’s first on my list…

2. There are serious buyers and casual trollers. To show you’re serious, include your phone number, that you will come pick it up, and what you’re willing to pay. If you really want it, pay full price or offer more – in cash. That’s how I got a $1500+ value Jasper getaway package for $495. My competition was offering to trade a Brick’s gift card and some beer… but that won’t pay the expensive divorce lawyers!

3. There are people on Kijiji called Tiger, Candi, and worse. I’m not kidding.

4. You can start your art collection for $10 if you cruise the site regularly and are willing to drive half an hour.

5. If you’re like me and hate cigarette smoke, you should always ask if the item is coming from a smoke-free home. I have walked into places that had obviously been hot-boxed for years. But if the deal’s good enough and the items don’t hold the smell – like my bamboo room dividers and bar fride – then you may have to make a judgement call.

6. A coat of paint – whether low VOC latex or toxic spraypaint – can transform anything. Hence my $10 oak night stand turned printer stand; my $40 bed frame; and my $20 t.v. stand.

7. Use the map function and target the nicer neighbourhoods in your city. That’s where you get your discounted Pier 1 items because the domestic diva likes to shop a little too much. Or where you get a patio set because they only really use one of their balconies and don’t need their second set. Or where you get the great gift cards that were freebies at the last Porsche event.

8. Before you buy anything at Ikea check Kijiji. Chances are a student or young professional purchased that exact piece you wanted 8 months ago and needs to find it a new home.

9. I have found the best time to post items is around 10am on a Thursday. I don’t know why, but I suspect it has something to do with at-work cruisers who are winding down for the week and looking to pick things up over the weekend.

10. The best time to get good deals seems to be earlier in the day, earlier in the week. So grab your coffee Monday morning and get ready to peruse the new ads!

I’m still not sure if I should eat that loaf of bread Crazy Candi gave me in exchange for the chair, but I know that my house would be a lot more empty – as would my bank account – if it weren’t for my adventures in Kijiji-land!

Canadian, Please


One of my friends sent me a link to this song/video by two London, Ont. artists in response to the “Oh… Canada rap.” They don’t call me Dani Canuck for nothing!

Oh… Canada Rap. Yeah!

Pretty darn catchy, eh guy?


Montreal, Mon Amour (and Onwards to Ottawa)

My friend, Andria, arrived in Montreal June 3rd, which turned out to be perfect timing, as by that point my brain couldn’t hold any more information about history and aviation (or anything else for that matter)…

I met Andria when I was living in Wyoming and while she has logged many air and road miles, she’d never been to Canada before. Imagine my surprise back in our local coffee shop last winter when she volunteered to drive a U-haul across this great nation of ours as her vacation! Her only requirement: we visit Montreal first.

She arrived at Dorval (aka Montreal-Trudeau International Airport) and we somehow managed to find our way through the maze of construction and round-a-bouts to the bus station. We parked at the mall across the street and carried our day bags to catch the bus into town (there was no way I was bringing my parents’ car into the city centre!). Sitting in the drizzle Andria was still zoned from her anti-nausea patch but excited at being in the land of her distant French-Canadian ancestors…

After our bus and metro rides, we emerged at Sherbrooke station. Completely disoriented from being underground, it took us a few moments to get our bearings, but soon enough we found our way to the Grand Plaza Montreal, where I’d snagged us a deal online. After dumping our stuff, we walked up St. Denis looking for food and found it at a great pasta bar called La Popessa. This was to be the beginning of what we called “our culinary tour of Canada.”

The next morning dawned bright and sunny. To fortify us for a big day of touring, I chose Chez Cora’s on du Parc for breakfast, a place where I had many a happy brunch during my university days. The resto, like me, has ended up all over the country, which has made me very happy indeed!

From there we wandered to McGill campus and I got to relive some great times: my home away from home at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), lectures in Leacock, Writer’s Circle meetings in the Shatner Building, and the summer day in 2005 when Doug proposed on the grounds. And then we went up, up, up Peel St. through the Golden Mile and into Mont Royal Park.

Lunch was a continuation of our gastronomical tour of Montreal, with carrot ginger soup and a delicious selection of Quebec cheeses at Le Cap Vert on McGill College. It’s a good thing it didn’t exist when I lived there, or I would have been even more broke as a student!

That evening we headed up St. Denis again for our 5 a 7 (Montreal equivalent of Happy Hour). Bieres et Compagnie has an amazing selection of microbrews from Quebec and the world, and some great Belgian-style frites with mayo dip (we had the spicy garlic). Andria sipped the St-Ambroise apricot while I had the Rebelle Quebecoise, but I could spend many happy hours and days sampling their other brews.

From there we saved our feet a bit by grabbing a metro back down to the Old Port, where we’d spotted some restaurants earlier in the day. By then we were eating on European time – 7:30pm – which also happened to be when everyone else was. And we’re used to eating on farmer’s time, so there was no way we were waiting in line for an hour even with some frites in our bedons

Luckily, a short walk away we found a less trendy (read: less busy and pricy!) resto/bar where we got a sampler of Belle Guele beers and amazing sandwiches on the best baguette I’ve had outside France.

Onwards to Ottawa!

The next morning as we prepared to leave Montreal after a much-too-short visit, the clouds warned of rain. We got sprinkled a bit on our way to breakfast, but it didn’t diminish our exquisite breakfast at Universel up St. Denis. What can I say? Montrealers know how to live and it’s a simple recipe: incredible bread, wine, beer, cheese, and maple syrup. You can’t go wrong!

And their demands for lovely foodstuffs have spread to the Laurentians, the picturesque lands to the northwest, where you can’t throw a fork without hitting an organic farm. It also happens to be were my parents live (and where I was storing the Uhaul), so after rejoining the car in Dorval, Andria and I drove the two hours there. With one quick stop: an asparagus farm! Needless to say, lunch at the “Chateau Chenail” was just as good as any Montreal bistro.

Later that day we arrived in Ottawa and rested our feet and bellies for the night. But the next day we braved the rain to enjoy Ottawa’s food legend – the Beavertail – al fresco in the Byward Market after a walking tour of the Rideau St., Parliament Hill, and the market.

[Man, after writing this post my lunch is going to seem kind of lame!]

Of Rugby and Riker

This past weekend was a big one for our little family. It marked the opening game of Doug’s rugby season with Edmonton’s Leprechaun-Tigers (yes, that’s really their name, although they usually refer to themselves as the L-Ts. I wonder why?). Go green!
Doug played on teams all through high school and undergrad, and his last season was in Montreal with the Westmount Ravens in 2005. Grad school in B.C. didn’t offer many opportunities (plus he was too busy scuba diving) and not many people in Wyoming have heard of the glorious Commonwealth sport of rugger. Also, we decided we should wait until we had socialized medicine again before Doug engaged in the “game for gentlemen played by barbarians.”
The past few weeks of practice have been hard on him – and not left him with much time or energy for renos – but it paid off on game day. Not only did the team win but Doug scored a try. Now we just have to convince his coworkers I’m not the one roughing him up!
It was a nice day so I brought Riker along to the game. We were going to have our last beginner’s obedience class the next day and so whenever a player went down and there was a time-out for the medic to check him over, we’d practice commands. Needless to say, we had a lot of practice time…

And while he might still choose other dogs over us 99% of the time, we are mastering quite a few commands after 8 weeks of Pet Smart training with Vanessa (aka ‘treat lady’).

The happy graduate!

Half-Way There House

We’ve been in our new house for about a month and a half now and people are clamouring for pictures of the renos. No before and afters yet, folks, but here are some in-process shots of our ‘half-way there’ house:

The main bath back in mid-March when I took down the hinged mirrors, demo-ed the DIY ceramic tile backsplash, and revealed that it used to be painted (ceiling and all) this day-glo green.
A blank slate and lots of mudding to do to repair those walls…
When Doug arrived in Edmonton one of our first orders of business was stripping the wallpaper in the dining/living room (and the basement bathroom, which had it on every available surface). Here he’s still smilling as he removes leftover screws and nails. After hours of steaming and washing sticky goo off the walls? Not so much! [p.s. don’t waste your money on wallpaper scorers – they seemed to make it harder!]
The front entryway had this half banister that just didn’t work for us. So Doug ripped it out of the floor and off the wall and removed the pendant lights above it.
Unfortunately the ceiling had a popcorn finish that was old and grimy. When he used a new spray can of the finish it was bright white and looked seriously out of place. So we decided to remove all the popcorn ceiling in the main living area. After some trial and error we hit upon a great system: one person has a roller on an extension handle and a bucket of soapy water while the other one stands on the ladder and uses a wide mudding spatula to scrape the ceiling!

Next on the list was ripping up the carpeting in the living room and dining room. It smelled of pee and smoke and was at least 10-15 years old. Had to go. I wasn’t taking any chances, though, so I donned my goggles and facemask and then had at it with my utility knife, pry bar and brute strength.
When I saw all the stains on the underside of the carpet, I was very glad for my safety gear and my trips to the backyard to dump it – at least I got fresh air every few minutes!
The carpet underlay was gross and all that got tossed too. I had a full load for the Eco-Station that day and rode there with the windows down so Riker and I wouldn’t suffocate!

[Don’t worry, the after shots will come soon!]

It’s Been A Hard Month’s Work

I am sitting here trying to think of how to start this post. Staring at my hands poised above the keyboard I see various shades of paint, the bit of subfloor still lodged under my fingernail, and the cuts and bruises from banging into things like walls and pry bars.

These are not the hands of a pampered writer/historian. These are the hands of a labourer.

And I certainly look and feel more like a contractor these days. I spend more time at Home Depot than the library. More time up on a step ladder than at my desk. I long for the days when my biggest occupational hazards were paper cuts, strained eyes, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Now I’m dodging shrapnel from ceramic tile as I chisel it off the wall, lugging pee-stained carpeting to the dump, and keeping the pets away from home improvement hazards (“No, Riker! We don’t play fetch with carpet tack strips!”)

After months of watching those home reno shows on HGTV I’ve decided they’ve been holding way back on me. Through the magic of tv no one ever gets their clothes dirty or swears their head off when frustrated (I guess I sound like a contractor too!). I believe they are in a conspiracy with Home Depot, Rona, Home Hardware and all those other stores out there to help the DIY-er with ‘easy and fast’ projects.

But while it may not always be fun, fast or easy, it can certainly be satisfying. I have fallen into bed exhausted most nights – once at 6pm! – but with a feeling of accomplishment: “Here,” I can say. “I put down 9 boxes of laminate flooring today.” Or “I learned how to patch drywall.”

At the very least, it’s good to have a whole new “hard” skill set to supplement my “soft” writing ones. And the callouses to prove it.

High Plains Pancakes

Well, just as I’ve gotten the hang of high altitude baking, it’s time for me to move to Edmonton – which sits much closer to sea level. Before I depart, however, I would like to share a little of my hard-won knowledge. (Some of you might recall my initial attempts that resulted in ‘flat tire cookies’).
As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I’m a pancake fiend. When I lived in England and couldn’t find the Aunt Jemima mix I had grown up with, I figured out how to make them from scratch (and tried to convert my British friends to maple syrup with mixed results).

The Brits I lived with ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday like this: flat, crepe-like pancakes served with sugar and lemon juice. Sorry, mates, just not the same!

My next pancake challenge in life came when I moved here to Wyoming. It turns out that like cookies, they react to the higher altitude and my first efforts were more like crepes than the fluffy North American-style deliciousness I crave. Don’t get me wrong, I like crepes too, but they’re just different.

So, over several months of experimenting on Doug, I adapated a basic recipe for use in the High Plains. And now I will share it (and its healthier version) with you:

High Plains Pancakes
(yields about 6 good-sized pancakes)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
3 tbsp canola oil
1 1/4 cups milk

Extras: 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, chocolate chips, or slice bananas on to the batter-side of the pancake once it’s in the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Don’t try and skimp on the salt (as I tried a few times) – for whatever reason it affects the fluffiness factor. To cut down on dishes, I measure the milk into a 2-cup measuring cup, then add the eggs and oil to it, mixing it until the yolks are broken up. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and ladle it up with love onto a hot, non-stick pan or griddle.

Healthified High Plains Pancakes:

Instead of 1 1/2 cups of white flour, I usually do 1/2 cup white, 1 cup minus 1 tbsp whole wheat flour, and 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed. I also use skim milk instead of 1% or 2%. They turn out really nice!

Serving suggestions:

My favourite these days is to defrost mixed berries (it isn’t exactly berry season in Wyoming) and spoon them over my pancakes. And of course you need maple syrup – and none of this ‘table syrup crap’ – it has to be the real stuff from Canada or, if you’re really in a pinch, Vermont. And crispy bacon on the side, of course. Add a hot cup of coffee and a glass of cold OJ and you will soon be in breakfast heaven, my friend.

Bon appetit!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.