Review: Mamaskatch

Mamaskatch was an utterly mesmerizing book told in a series of linked vignettes, like the stories the author grew up hearing from his mother. McLeod is honest about the incredibly complex life experiences he had growing up Cree in Alberta in small towns and big cities. He does not shy away from the difficulties he had in his relationships with family members – especially his mother and siblings – or other people around him, and he is raw and explicit about the abuse he suffered and its aftereffects.

And yet, he never overwhelms the reader, just as his spirit was never overtaken by those times of darkness and pain. He is searching and tender and empathetic, while never absolving anyone of their responsibility. And there is always a sense of humour. Sometimes McLeod delivers these punchlines at the ends of chapters, and they really do hit you with theiry wry poignance.

Author Darrel McLeod has also woven in his love of music and language, and captures accents and ways of speaking in a pitch-perfect way. His scenes are vivid and richly rendered, and his prose is as bracing as a cold Alberta stream. I am so glad I was able to spend time with this brave, optimistic and smart “young Darrel”, and to watch as he overcame life’s struggles with his trademark optimism – yet realism – to become a whole, caring man. I can’t wait to read the follow-up to this book, and anything else McLeod decides to share with the world.

Alberta Railway Museum: All Aboard for History and Fun!

It may be a little off the beaten track, but the Alberta Railway Museum is worth the drive if you’re a history buff – or the parent of small children. In fact, when my family and I ventured over on Sunday, June 15 (Father’s Day), the majority of people there were young families, often with grandparents in tow. What a great way to get kids hooked on history!

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Me and Andre with Stephen Yakimets, a volunteer with the museum and our conductor for the day. Thanks, Stephen!

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Just my kind of humour!

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Me and my little guy, Andre, who loved exploring the site during our walking tour.

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We almost missed the train (it ran once every hour) because Andre was so absorbed by all the knobs and buttons.

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We were issued these tickets, which Stephen-the-conductor punched when we were on board. Neat souvenir!

 

December 1st Launch: Wings Over High River

90-year-old Gordon Jones still flies his Tiger Moth from when he was a British Commonwealth Training Plan flight instructor during WWII in High River, Alberta. Meet the man and read his remarkable story as written by Anne Gafiuk at an upcoming launch.

 

Where: Museum of the Highwood. 406 First Street SW in High River, Alberta

When: December 1, 2012 at 1:30pm.

Event is free. Books will be for sale and the author will be on hand to sign them. Refreshments will be provided.

 

 

Named to Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40

I am incredibly honoured to be included in Avenue Edmonton Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2012! This past Thursday, they hosted an event at MKT on Whyte Avenue to launch the issue. Standing in line waiting for my name to be called, I got chatting with the women on either side of me alphabetically. I was blown away: here I was, making small talk with a highly successful cancer research fundraiser and a neuro-surgeon. The rest of the “Class of 2012” includes community organizers, artists, chefs, entrepreneurs (including one of my good friends, Dana DiTomaso), and academics.

What a thrill! And what pressure to continue earning my right to be counted among them…

 

Here’s the link to a quick video they did of the event. And the picture was taken by amazing Edmonton-based photographer Aaron Pedersen.

Alberta Votes 2012

Election season is upon us here in Alberta, and as this is my first provincial election as an Albertan, I am paying particular attention to the platforms and candidates. The parties have staked their lawn signs and their members are putting the word out, but it can still be difficult to track messages, policies, and make a final decision come election day on April 23rd.

Here are a few resources I’ve found useful generally, but also specifically for writers and others engaged in the ‘arts economy’ here in the Sunshine Province:

Regardless of how you choose to vote, I just hope you’ll take the time to do so. Apparently the turnout at the last provincial election was an abysmal 40%… If you can do it with as much awareness as possible, all the better!

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.

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!

A blond on the Yellowhead Trail

I’m taking a break from reno work in Edmonton for the next week and focusing on my ‘real’ work: writing, researching, and promoting myself shamelessly. So yesterday morning I packed up the Mini Cooper -still sporting Wyoming plates – and jumped on Highway 16 out of Edmonton headed for British Columbia.

A few months ago I was invited to go to Vancouver to give talks to the Quarter Century in Aviation Club and the Langley Aero Club. Back then I was so young and naive. I thought I’d have a completed draft of my novel (I’m halfway there) and that all the renos on the new house would be done (I’m a quarter of the way done the interior. The yard/exterior is a whole other story!).
These were some of my thoughts during the first couple of hours on the road yesterday. Once I spotted the Rockies heading into hour three, though, the buzzing in my brain largely stopped as my eyes struggled to take it all in: the mountains, the aquamarine lakes near Jasper, the herd of mountain goats chomping happily on grass at the side of the road.

This was my first time driving the western leg of the Yellowhead Trail (Highway 16’s more colourful name), named after an Iroquois-Metis guide who apparently had blond-streaked hair and was dubbed “Tete Jaune” by French Voyageurs at the turn of the 19th century.
Two centuries later another traveller with blond-streaked hair – me – was taking the same route, gazing at the same peaks towering over the forest. In the above photo is Mount Robson and below is what you see when you turn around. You are literally surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Signs of spring were everywhere, even though on the west slopes of the Rockies there was still a foot of snow on the ground. When I took a break at midday it had warmed up to about 15 degrees and you could smell the warm ground and pine needles. There were butterflies and bees and looking close up at the trees, the first tentative bits of green were pushing through.
After my Mount Robson break I didn’t stop again until I reached my day’s destination of Kamloops, B.C. The scenery in the Thompson-Nicola valley is also beautiful but during the last half of my 9-hour solo drive I admit I was mostly concentrating on staying awake and wondering if I’d find a Tim Horton’s (I was seriously jonesing for an iced cap!).

At 4 p.m. I arrived in Kamloops and realized I’d forgotten the power cable for my GPS. How to find my B&B; or the rest of my stops on my week-long journey? Luckily I was given directions to the local London Drugs and found the necessary hardware (and a Tim Horton’s!) and made it to the Wedgewood B&B;, although in a bit of a daze.

I had very good intentions of working during the evening but after a walk, dinner at nearby Hoodoos Restaurant, and a cocktail (for medicinal reasons) it was lights out at 8 p.m. Pacific Time.

On the Road Again

On Tuesday, March 9th I hit the road for my big move from Wyoming to Edmonton, Alberta. Here is that journey in photos!

Leaving home bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the 2-day, 17 hour drive north.

What I saw in my rearview mirror. I can’t believe Doug made it all fit!

My “Ellie” had had engine troubles the week before and so I was worried I might have to join this roadside community in Idaho if I broke down. “Anyone want to trade a book for food?”

Crossing into Montana there was some beautiful scenery – when the clouds parted and the snow/slush/rain/hail stopped (it must have followed me from Idaho!)

Just me and the open road….

And Riker, who insisted on sitting (and sleeping) up front, even though we’d put his bed in the back (and I’d left several pairs of shoes at home to leave space for it!)

There were lots of cool rest stops along the way – and considering it was blustery and mid-March, they were all deserted. Great for getting out and stretching our legs!

Riker found a new friend in southern Alberta after we crossed the border…
Home Sweet Home. I took possession of the new place on March 11th. Pretty swanky set-up for my first meal (of leftover Korean food!)

Camping in style. Inflatable mattress? Check. Cardboard box/night table? Check.
Unfortunately, I ended up camping out more than expected. I couldn’t work the showers for the first few days (tricky set-up that several people couldn’t figure out and we couldn’t reach the old owners). Gotta love the old bucket bath… Then someone inadvertently turned off the furnace and we couldn’t get it working again for 24 hours (did I mention I’m in the northernmost city in North America? And that it’s March?)
But after a few panicked phone calls to my parents and a few tears, everything’s in working order and I’m settling in to a routine of writing, trips to Home Depot, and updating the decor. Stay tuned for all those project updates!

Adventures in Edmonchuk

From Vegas we flew north – way north – to the city of Edmonton, Alberta, where Doug and I will be moving sometime in the next few months. Doug had a one-day orientation scheduled at his soon-to-be workplace the day after we were scheduled to drive back to Green River from Vegas, so I decided it might make sense for both of us to fly up on a fact-finding mission (I’d never been to Edmonton before). Plus I didn’t want to drive the 9 hours back to GR by myself if I could help it!

It also turned out that a round-trip fare from LAS to YEG was $279 versus the $800+ from our closest regional airport, RKS. And of course it didn’t hurt that his company was paying Doug’s flight and our hotel for four days either.

Here’s a little map to help people get their bearings.
For those Americans among you, Alberta is the province
directly north of Montana!

So off to Edmonton we went, after leaving the car in the NY NY Casino & Hotel parking lot and taking a taxi to the LAS airport at 4am (tip: it costs $10 in cab fare, the parking at the hotels is free, and the parking at the airport is upwards of $10/day. Don’t worry, we checked: they wouldn’t tow us!).

After a short stopover at the Salt Lake City airport, we landed at YEG around 1pm. There we were met by a shiny black luxury sedan sent by the company to ferry us to our hotel. I tell you, there are a lot of frustrating things about the company Doug works for, but sitting on those leather seats with more legroom than I’d had on the plane, I loved ’em… And I loved the company even more when I saw where they had booked us: a boutique hotel on Whyte Ave in the heart of Old Strathcona.


The Metterra on Whyte is nothing short of amazing. The whole place is decorated in an earthy-zen way, there are soaker tubs in the bathrooms, a wine and cheese every evening at 5:30pm, and a deluxe continental breakfast each morning. There was also a great fitness room that was like my personal gym, and a business centre with two computers and a printer that was basically like my personal office except when I ‘had’ to share it with the co-host of the Discovery Channel Canada’s Daily Planet show, Jay Ingram. I am a huge nerd, loved the show when I lived in Canada, and was quite ‘chuffed’ when I got to meet him in person!

Maybe one of the best parts of the hotel was the ‘hospitality suite’ where breakfast and the wine and cheese was served. 24 hours a day you could find coffee and tea as well as one of the coolest coffee barrista robots ever: it was a machine with a touch screen that would make you anything you wanted from hot chocolate to caffe mocha. I made it my mission for our stay to try out as many combinations as I could… flavour shot? decaf or caf? So many decisions!


We didn’t take the time to enjoy all these fine amenities right away, though. First we went next door to Julio’s Barrio Mexican Restaurant to grab a quick plate of nachos (our driver recommended them) and at 2pm met our realtor, Janet Bossert, who picked us up in her silver Subaru Outback and took us on a tour of the city.

After seeing a few semi-dilapidated properties at the top of our price range in the more desirable parts of town (i.e. closer to the University, Old Strathcona, etc) we were more than happy to refocus our search nearer to the research park in the southeast corner of Edmonton: Mill Woods. But that would have to wait until Friday, after Doug’s nail-biting day of presentations, interviews, and informal chats the next day.

Thursday I caught up on some work, worked out, and tested the public transit system by busing it downtown to the Edmonton City Centre. Apparently, Edmonton has the highest level of shopping per capita in North America. I don’t doubt it! I spent a few hours at just one of three downtown shopping centres and didn’t even make it to the shopping mecca – the West Edmonton Mall, with its 800 stores, skating rink, wave pool – or to the big box store development in the south end (Ikea! Home Outfitters! Pier One!).

Edmonton is also one of the greenest North American cities with its parklands, off-leash dog areas, bike paths, and massive recycling program. Sounds like a great combo to me!

Over the next few days Janet-the-realtor drove Doug and I around looking at several more places and grabbing lunches at great spots like the Maurya Palace Dining Lounge (weekday lunch buffet for about $10) and Earl’s, where the three of us split an amazing slice of gingerbread cake for dessert.

Doug and I also explored the gastronomical offerings of Old Strathcona by trying a different cuisine each evening for dinner. Night #1: The Keg, where we feasted on sirloin and king crab legs. Night #2: Chianti Cafe (known as Chianti’s by the locals) where the hand-made pasta melts in your mouth and the 1/2 portion with a salad is plenty. Night #3: Yianni’s, a Greek restaurant that doesn’t look like much from the outside but is warm, vibrant and bustling inside. Plus, we got to sit in a cozy booth downstairs in the lounge where we chilled on cushions while devouring the Mezethes (appetizer) platter – more than enough food for two people! I only wish I’d saved room for some baclava…

On the crisp Saturday morning we also ventured around the block to the Old Strathcona Farmers Market, where you could easily ingest a meal’s worth of samples from the fruit/veggie stands, Ukrainian meat tables, cheesemakers, and bakeries.

Sunday we packed our bags, saw a few last properties – including the one we’re hoping to make an offer on this week – and said a sad farewell to the Metterra, Old Strathcona, and Edmonchuk, that wondrous most northerly metropolis in North America. Ah, Edmonchuk, we will meet again soon and I will get to call you my home…

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.