Landscaping the backyard

There’s nothing quite like realizing that your garden sucks.

When I bought the house, I couldn’t really see the backyard gardens — there was quite a lot of snow. That obscured pretty much everything worth seeing and worth hiding. So naturally, when summer rolled around, I was surprised by the plethora of vegetation that was growing from them.

Sadly, mostly weeds. Pretty-looking weeds, in some cases, but still weeds.

I woke up Sunday morning with a bolt of inspiration and purpose: I would landscape my backyard. Well, okay, maybe not something *quite* that drastic. I was at the very least going to clean up the two weed beds and make something of them. I wasn’t exactly sure what that was going to entail, but I did know at the very least, they were going to look much better. The Wasteland of Weeds was about to come to an end.

For Christmas last year, Mom had given me some money to hire a landscaping consultant to come in and do something with my rather large mess. (This was Mom’s way of suggesting that my gardens sucked. Not that I’m arguing that at all.) Due to other things getting in my way earlier in the year (dating Alex comes immediately to mind), I never got around to it. I figured that at the very least, I could put the money to use and do the landscaping myself.

Scooting up to the Rona near Sunridge Mall in the Northeast, I went in search of a helpful Rona employee. (Yes, I could have gone to Home Depot as well, but I have a healthy dislike of talking with teenagers who think baby’s breath is something that comes from eating too much pabulum.) Luckily, I found Sandra, whom I would describe as a hard-core Calgary gardener.

Yes, I was looking specifically for a Calgary gardener. Why? Because this city has some really bizarre weather, hard water, and soil conditions that challenge even the best of gardening experts. I needed someone who knew what they were doing. ‘Cuz I don’t. Most of my family has a green thumb. Mine’s black.

I gave Sandra the basic view of what I wanted: something low-maintenance (I don’t want to be planting new flowers every year) that would take to my sometimes shady / sometimes sunny (depending on time of year and angle of the sun) backyard. Giving her the approximate sizes of the two gardens, we went off looking at what Rona had to offer. Being “late in the season” (I assume that means planting), there wasn’t a massive selection. But more than enough for my meagre needs.

So began my horticultural buying spree. Plants of several varieties (hostas, junipers, lilies, baby’s breath, asters, small shrubs, echinaceas (not the kind for colds), yews, and a couple of things I can’t remember), three bags of landscaping soil, 150 feet of landscaping fabric, and a hand shovel.

(Here’s a tip about the landscaping soil: Rona has an unwritten rule that if the bag is torn, they’ll give it to you for $1. But there’s a catch — you need a staff member to tell the cashier that the bag was torn, so it’s only $1. Otherwise, they’d have *everyone* tearing the bags open. Sandra was quite helpful in pointing that out.)

Add onto that a set of outdoor lights to add some accent lighting to the longer garden, and I had a plan in motion. I had planned on getting some solar lights, so I wouldn’t have the additional cost of running cords, dealing with electric set ups, and the benefit of a photovoltaic cell for turning on and off. But Sandra and the electrical expert both warned me away from them. Apparently, they’re quite dim (the lights, not the staff members) and unless you’re in direct sunlight, won’t necessarily charge enough for use.

Then there’s the cost. One solar lamp: $28. A 10-lamp kit (with transformer, wires, etc.): $25. You do the math.

I managed to cram the whole lot into the Mini. (For those of you who think it’s not a big car, I offer this as evidence.) Dumping the load into my backyard, I set out to the task of cleaning things up.

About an hour and a half later, two large piles of ex-weeds, two piles of shoots from the two trees in my backyard, and a pile of branches from the lilac bush (I need to really trim that sucker even more), I had brought the yard at least into a state where I could begin the landscaping work.

Well, as soon as I assembled the lights. That took another half an hour.

Step 1: Lay out the lights so you can snake out the 50 feet of low-voltage cord. Surprisingly enough, it was just the right length.

Step 2: Roll out the landscaping fabric, being careful not to crush the two existing hostas and small red shrub (I have no idea what it is). Cut to length. Cut slits so the existing plants come through the sheet.

Step 3: Layout the new plants so they have suitable spacing, have a good aesthetic arrangement, and are ordered by size (small in front, large in back).

Step 4: Go get a beer.

Step 5: With each plant, cut a triangular slit in the fabric where you want to put the particular foliage. Dug out a hole twice the size and 1.5 times as deep. Partially refill with landscape soil. Place unpotted plant into the hole, and fill the remaining space with landscape soil.

Step 6: Repeat Step 5 until out of plants, or back gives out, whichever comes first. Grab another beer somewhere in the middle of all that.

It didn’t help that it was over 30 degrees, even in the shade. To say that I was hot is putting it mildly. After six hours (from the time I got back home), I hadn’t even finished the one long garden. It was about then that I realized that Alex hadn’t come over (she had to work on Sunday) or had called. I figured it was time for a break.

We would meet a little later at the Prince’s Island Park footbridge (over the Bow River), and walk over to Eau Claire Market for a little air hockey rematch. We haven’t had an air hockey game in a VERY long time (it was something we did almost religiously when we first started dating). I could say my performance was due to exhaustion, tight muscles, lack of proper food, but the simple fact is that Alex was better. We’ll just have to do another rematch at a later date.

Returning home, I got back to tackling the smaller garden (I’d finished the large one before meeting up with Alex). That one required less work insofar as planting is concerned, but I had to move a lot of dirt around, as the bed was a little too low for my liking. Luckily, I had to dig out a lot of dirt to get the rest of the plants in place.

Sadly, I would not finish in one shot, my efforts being thwarted by darkness and the onslaught of mosquitoes. (The ones out here are quite small, almost negligible, but they are now carrying West Nile Virus, and it’s not something I’m too keen on catching.) The remaining few plants will have to wait a couple of more days yet.

Now if I can just figure out what to do with all those branches…

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Birthday Camping in Kananaskis

This weekend, Alex and I went camping. It was the first time I’d gone camping since about 1997, before I’d moved to Vancouver. Seven years is far too long a dry period.

We weren’t camping alone, though. My aunt and uncle had invited us. This meant a good campsite (because Brenda would get up there long before us), good food (my family always cooks well, no matter where it is), and some really good insider knowledge of the Kananaskis area.

Still, one had to be prepared. That meant going to Mountain Equipment Co-op for seam sealer (my tent had leaked the last time I’d used it) and two self-inflating mattresses so we wouldn’t be sleeping directly on the compacted gravel ground. (I still think I’m young, but even in my prime I wouldn’t have been able to sleep on that ground — it was like concrete.)

Friday night, I picked up Alex and we headed west, stopping at the Safeway to get our basic food supplies. As we arrived at the store, we could see very dark, ominous clouds heading east. There was a storm approaching. A big one. A nasty one. One that was generating a lot of worry for a lot of people. Alex told me that a tornado watch was in effect.

As we drove west, we started to pass under the storm. Big, heavy drops of rain fell periodically on the windshield. Not the little drops of a starting storm, but the elephantine plops of something wicked this way coming. Alex asked:

“Um, just out of curiousity, how do you tell when a tornado is going to strike?”

I thought about all the documentaries and articles that I’ve read about tornadoes. The general aspect was pretty simple:

“When you see the worst weather you’ll ever see in your life.”

We continued driving, the Mini skating a bit around on the highway. (It was quite windy.) The rain fell harder, the drops barely diminishing in size. Suddenly, going back to Calgary was seeming a better idea.

Plink.

Pling plack plink.

[Insert sound of a million ball bearings bouncing of a tin roof.]

Calgary is conveniently wedged in an area loosely known as “Hail Alley”, and for good reason. There’ve been a few nasty hailstorms here in the last decade or so. This was yet another one.

Like every vehicle on the road, we pulled over. (If I’d been smart, I would have pulled alongside a transport truck, to shield myself from the deluge.) For the next 10 minutes, we were target practice for Mother Nature. The storm was wild, winds buffeting the little car (and its two occupants), pellets of ice rapping into the side as if to tear it apart (I honestly worried that we’d lose a window) and creating a 5-6 inch sheet of ice and water on the highway. It was so thick that we couldn’t see 10 metres away.

The hail ranged from little pellets right up to near golf-ball size. The noise was deafening.

Finally, the storm passed over (thankfully, storms out here don’t last too long), and we were able to start moving forward. It took a couple of kilometres driving barely over 20 km/h before the road cleared up enough for some forward movement. By the time we got to Scott Lake Hill, it was hard to tell that it had hailed. By the time we got on the highway into Kananaskis, you couldn’t even tell that foul weather had passed by.

As the storm shrank in the distance (before pummelling south Calgary), Alex noted:

“That was the worst weather I’d ever seen in my life.”

(The result, in case you’re wondering, was hundreds of little dents on the roof, hood, and passenger side of the car, and a cracked driver’s side mirror. I’m taking this up with State Farm for repairs.)

We finally arrived at site 17 of the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park’s Interlake campground just after 21:00. They were more than a little relieved to see us, since the campground manager had told them there was a tornado warning earlier in the day. (We would have no foul weather for the remainder of our time there.)

We quickly pitched the tent and got ourselves settled. The managers (who zipped up and down on a golf cart) soon spotted the tent and let us know that we had to pay for the time we were there. By that point, we’d already been to the lake, started a fire, and chatted with Brenda and Jen about the drive out to the campground. (The managers were almost horrified at the story.)

Brenda and Jen took off for the showers (the nearest ones are over a five minute drive away) while Alex and I enjoyed the setting sun and the lightning from distant storms illuminating the horizon over the mountains. We tried to roast marshmallows, but realized that we’d have to wait until they got back with the car. (The marshmallows were in the rear.)

The two of us stayed up late, sitting on rocks on the shore of Lower Lake, watching the stars (we saw two satellites — the moving glint is hard to miss), and the massive thunderstorm way off to the south, which flashed light even through the trees (though you couldn’t hear a single rumble of thunder).

We woke up late(ish) Friday morning. It looked earlier than it was, but since we were nestled well within the trees, it was hard to tell just how early (or late) it was. Almost as soon as we had waken, Alex turned to me, smiled, and said:

“Happy birthday!”

She would say this to me all day long. Have I mentioned that I love this woman?

On Thursday, I’d had a little rant about how after waiting for four years for Critical Mass to finally have a Stampede breakfast, they decided to have one on the day I’d chosen to go camping. (It figured.) When Brenda offered pancakes as an option, I couldn’t resist. Alex whipped up the batter, and I tackled the bacon.

So on my birthday, I still had my pancake breakfast. ‘Course, watch Critical Mass not do a Stampede breakfast next year.

Following breakfast, Jen, Alex, and I went for a bike ride to fetch some milk. Jen, as you might recall, needs milk as badly as cars need gasoline (see [[Turning Japanese Again, Touring Osaka]]). Skim milk just wasn’t cutting it, so we biked to the store (near the showers) to pick up four litres of 2%. It would at least tide Jen over until later in the day. (Okay, yes, a bit of an exaggeration. But only a bit.)

The ride there was a bit difficult, but not too hard. The trip back was considerably more difficult, as the hills were steeper. We arrived back to find a rope tied between two trees, brandishing a series of white balloons. The word had been spilled. Someone knew it was my birthday.

(I have to admit that for quite a while, I thought Alex had something to do with all of this. She routinely denied anything beyond her own personal involvement, so I can only assume that my mom must’ve let her sister in on the deal.)

The bike back had gotten us quite warm. (It didn’t help that it was already in the high 20s.) This seemed like as good a time as any to go swimming. And since our campsite was next to the “beach” (a very rocky beach), it seemed like a good idea. So armed with a couple of chairs and our books, we went in search of something a little cooler.

Lower Lake is … cold. I won’t mince words, it’s numbing. It’s about 10 degree (an estimate, as I have no thermometer). Walking in was hard enough. Dunking was painful. By the time we got out, we could barely feel our knees. (We had to wear our flip-flops into the lake, due to the sharp rocks on the bottom.) Jen had even more trouble that we did.

Sitting on the beach, we took in the sun, watching the people pass us by and the birds fly overhead. Using a pair of binoculars, I scanned the slopes of Mt. Indefatigable for signs of an illusive bear and her two cubs. They’re responsible for the mountain’s trails having been closed for the second year in a row. It’s not a good idea to climb a mountain with a mother grizzly bear.

The search only garnered me a sunburn on my upper back. Ouch.

Uncle Mike showed up not too long afterwards, with Maggie in tow. That meant it was time for lunch. We went with the old camping favourites: hamburgers and hotdogs. And some potato salad thrown in for good measure.

After lunch, Mike and I hung the hammock. At that point, we officially lost Alex for the rest of the afternoon, as she wanted to spent the rest of her time swinging between the trees. I joined her before too long, and we drifted in and out of consciousness most of the afternoon. (We were supposed to go to Kananaskis Village with Mike and Jen, but they opted not to disturb us.)

Dinner was later than usual, but given the late lunch and the heat, a break from eating wasn’t such a bad thing. Given the option of a side of beef and chicken, we went with the chicken. It was chicken served with a salad that had avocado and mango thrown in with the raspberry vinaigrette. Quite tasty, really.

We also had dessert, which I’d half-hoped they wouldn’t do. (Of course, I half-hoped they would, so I wasn’t disappointed.) Out came Jen, carrying a birthday cake, riddled with candles. (I hopefully need not mention all the “old” jokes I got as we sat around the table. Don’t worry, Alex, you’ll get yours in due time.)

Cheesecake. Sadly, not something I can usually eat. In fact, I’ve only ever been able to eat one cheesecake (one my friend Emma had made during the CBC 50th Anniversary Train journey). Fortunately, Mike and Jen had brought back some chocolate delicacies that would keep me placated.

Following our meal, Alex and went for a short walk (primarily to the toilets, but we looped back via the beach). As we walked away from the campsite, we reached out to hold hands. But there was something in her palm. As I pulled my hand away to see what it was, she deposited the object into my palm. Keys. To her apartment. I think my heart actually stopped for a moment.

Yes, folks, it’s that serious.

We didn’t stay up too late that night, as it was quite a bit cooler than the night before. Which is too bad, otherwise we might have heard more of the coyotes, who howled around the lakes all night.

Waking around 10:00, we took immediately to the task of collapsing the tent. So long as the tent was down before 11:00, we wouldn’t have to worry about being charged for one more night. Breakfast soon followed — bacon and eggs, a classic if there ever was one.

Following our meal, we headed up to Upper Lake, for a short hike to Rossland Creek. Or at least that was the idea. Unfortunately, Alex had a blister under her little toe, which subsequently burst, making walking exceptionally difficult. We made it about a kilometre or so, arriving at a large waterfall, before deciding to turn back.

The idea was to head back towards Calgary, stopping at Calaway Park for the majority of the afternoon. Before leaving, we hit the showers at the Boulton campsite, to remove two day’s grime. Timed or not, that shower felt good.

Arriving at Calaway Park about 90 minutes later, it was 32 degrees. It was stifling. But not nearly as stifling as the $23.54 entrance fee. Having neither enough money (or inclination), we decided that a Slurpee and Bowness Park was more than good enough. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in my backyard, where we read, drank a couple of beers, and cooked the last of our camping food — two hotdogs, and cobs of corn.

So ended our camping weekend away. It’s a forgone conclusion that we will be doing this again. It’s just a matter of when and where.

And preferably without the hail.

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Stampede Breakfast, Topmade Barbecue, and Quidam

The Calgary Stampede is up and running again. The kick-off was on Friday, with the much-anticipated Stampede parade. Naturally following the parade is another much-anticipated event in Calgary…

The Stampede Breakfast.

This has got to be one of the weirdest phenomenons I’ve ever experienced. Malls, business, even small communities all over the city sponsor free (or exceptionally inexpensive) pancake and sausage breakfasts. All you really need to do is show up and partake. Of course, that can also be part of the problem.

Alex had wanted to try go to Westbrook Mall, not far from where she grew up. She had fond memories of the Stampede breakfasts there. Sadly, there was none to be found, so we were left with trying to get to Chinook before their breakfast was over. The route to get there was a little circuitous, which is not itself a problem, but it did take a little longer. Such as it is, though, we found a breakfast (apparently free, from what we could tell) in Garrison Woods. But we continued to Chinook nonetheless.

The breakfast takes place in the south-east parking lot. And I mean the whole thing — from the road at the main entrance all the way down past the Chapters. It’s big. It’s huge. It’s actually listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as being the largest outdoor cooked breakfast. It’s a sea of people, with a flotilla of pancakes followed by a armada of sausages. And best of all — it’s free. In it’s 44th year, it still attracts droves of people.

Food is sponsored by the stores of Chinook Mall, and its employees staff the grills. Alex and I got in the Sears line, which we would soon find out was either the fast cooking line, or the really lazy line because when we finally got to the food (after waiting about half an hour), there were no sausages to be found. And we could get anything from the other lines. There is a temptation to complain about this, but how can you when you didn’t pay for the meal in the first place?

Sadly, the pancakes weren’t exactly outstanding, and the coffee seemed only fit for those with no taste (Alex would abandon hers to the ground, only to accidentally splash her feet with the concoction). We would supplement our meal with smoothies from Jugo Juice inside the mall, shortly before going on an underwear-buying spree.

Yes, underwear. I needed some. So sue me.

Realizing that we were officially running a little later than planned, we headed out to Bowness Park way out in the northwest, to attend a barbecue. This was the first annual Topmade Dragon Boat Club barbecue. The Topmade club has several teams, one of which is the DI-Hard team. (The “DI”, incidentally, means “Diagnostic Imaging”. Most of the people on the team, save for a few, work at Foothills Hospital as technicians. Those of us not working there are significant others.) The Topmade club is large, having about 130 members.

Not all of them came out, unfortunately, but it was still interesting to see all the people that were on the other teams. We didn’t get a chance to mingle, though. We were there long enough to eat a couple hamburgers (more free food), listen to a speech, talk to a couple of people, and then we had to run off again.

Yes, we were busy people on Saturday.

This time, it was back to our respective homes for a change into clothes more suitable for a show and a dinner afterwards. The dinner? South African. The show? Cirque du Soleil’s “Quidam”.

I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil several times over the years, even from back in the day when they were just getting started. Today, they’re one of the most recognizable entertainment brands in the world. The last time I saw Cirque du Soleil was for Mystére in Las Vegas (see [[Road Trip of the Southwest United States, Touring Las Vegas and Cirque du Soleil Mystére]]). It was an amazing show to see, and I knew that Quidam wouldn’t disappoint.

Cirque du Soleil requires a fair bit of space to set up all their equipment, and a tent of sufficient size for their stage and bleechers for the audience. The only space in Calgary good enough for this is the old Currie Barracks, currently being used for office space (as the Canadian Armed Forces no longer use the facility). This was where they set themselves up last year, too.

We arrived running a little late, but managed to not miss anything with the show. We found our seats just in time for the ringmaster, John (one of the characters in Quidam) to start the show. The lights dimmed, to the point where you could not see your hand in front of your face. Despite being in a tent, the blockage of light was absolute.

The show started with a bang, quite literally, as one character walked out into the middle of the round stage, and whacked his hands (wearing boxing gloves) over his head. The sharp crack and deep roll of thunder was accompanied by bursts of light high up in the canopy, and more darkness. And so began a little girl’s adventure from her boring life into the world of Quidam.

That’s the general premise of the show — the girl’s adventure through a strange fantasy world. I don’t know how on Earth Cirque du Soleil comes up with their themes for the shows — but I’m glad they do. It’s a refreshing way of seeing entertainment in ways that many of us have seen before.

The first act was the German Wheel. You’ve seen this before — a metal wheel, about seven feet in diameter, in which sits a sole performer who twists and turns not only himself, but the wheel’s motion. He was extremely adept with it, bringing the wheel almost to resting on the ground, only to push it back up (rolling around in circles) without ever touching the ground with his body. That kind of muscle control is exceptionally impressive. The fact that he did several acrobatic moves that I’ve never seen on a German Wheel before was also quite impressive.

Next up were four little (assumedly) Chinese girls, who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old each. They displayed their talents with the diabolos — wooden spools slung on strings tied between sticks held in either hand. The strings are run back and forth to make the diabolo spin rapidly, allowing them to do a wide variety of tricks, usually involving throwing the diabolos high into the air. But there was also some rather impressive juggling, with rarely a beat missed.

I say “rarely” because of one mistake. One of the girls stands still and flings her diabolo in the air. Another runs up, jumps up onto the shoulders of the first girl, and catches the diabolo on her string. The first time, she missed. But on the second attempt, she caught it. A rather impressive trick, in my opinion (and another reason why there is a live band — a pre-recorded soundtrack would not have allowed for a second attempt).

Intermixed with the various performances were the ubiquitous clowns, who were quite good at making people laugh. They’re mimes, mostly, and do not look like the stereotypical circus clown. The first clown act drew a young woman out of the audience, who had to act along with the clown (they were all male) on the act of a first date. The poor woman did an excellent job playing along, despite the obvious embarrassment potential.

The first half of the show continued with some interesting performances, including the Cloud Swing, Aerial Contortion in Silk (a woman hanging on a long sheet of silk), Aerial Hoops, and Spanish Webs. Intermission sent us out in search of some fresh air.

That turned out to be not such a good idea, since our eyes had adjusted to the inside, and the sun had come out since we’d arrived. For me, it was blinding. I could barely see. For Alex, it was migraine-inducing. We didn’t spend much time outside before we went back in to take our seats.

It was the right decision, since we were able to find Alex’s friends, Mandy and Oliver. We’d known they were coming to the show, but couldn’t find them in the melee during the break. Their seats were three rows away from ours, and we saw them when they came back. As we were meeting up for dinner afterwards, it was a good thing that we’d found them ahead of time.

The show resumed with aplomb, subjecting us to the wonders of the Statue (a man and a woman who moved around each other in powerfully slow motions — they were so strong that he supported her upside down, her shoulders resting on his, and able to slowly stand and kneel without her falling off), the Banquine (acrobats who could do the most amazing stunts without the use of a trampoline or safety wires), and Skipping Ropes (boring-sounding, I know, but you’ve never seen a pentagonal jumping rope before, I’ll bet).

The show ended with three curtain calls. The cast was about 40 people or so, but that’s a guess since I wasn’t able to count them all. That includes musicians, by the way. The lights came on, and we headed out to try and not be blinded outdoors.

We headed down to 17th Ave., where we met up with Mandy and Oliver at Jabulani, a South African restaurant. (Mandy and Oliver are South African, hence the reason we went.) It’s been around for a year, and seems to have some sort of regular customers (Mandy and Oliver were recognized by the staff).

The cuisine of South Africa, not completely represented at Jabulani, isn’t much different than what you’d find at some of the Western restaurants in Calgary. But it’s closer to authentic South African. You’ll find the obvious Dutch and British influences, but also Indian (which I found a bit of a surprise). For example, I had oxtail stew, Oliver had curried lamb, and Alex had “pork chops” (they were more like slabs of ham). I can’t remember what Mandy had.

The meals were excellent. We had South African (soda) pop to go along with our repast. I had Schweppes Dry Lemon, which is basically tonic water with lemon in it. (I was parched from the dry air in the tent, so drank my first Dry Lemon quite rapidly.) Many and Oliver had Grapetisers, which is more or less carbonated grape juice.

Dessert was an experience, indeed. I had something called “koeksisters”, which are braided dough, sort of like a tough donut, which you dip into slightly-sweetened whipping cream. The dough is soaked in syrup, so it quite tasty (but not sticky). Mandy had banana samosas. Alex went with roiboos ice cream.

We stayed until almost 22:00, when we finally headed off in our separate directions. But Alex and I didn’t go home just yet — we went to check out the fireworks display at the Stampede from Scotchman’s Bluff, which overlooks the Stampede grounds. It’s a popular location — the hillside was already well covered with watchers by the time we arrived.

Bed didn’t arrived until after midnight. “Exhausted” doesn’t quite cut the feeling of drained. But it was a good exhausted, as it had been a great day. I felt sorry for Alex, who had to work the following morning. I almost feel guilty because I got to sleep in.

Almost…

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Mini-golf and sandals

Saturday started with the *hope* of going out to Elbow Falls to try and do some hiking. Notice that I used the word “hope”. Hope turned to not, with the realization that the weather wasn’t likely to cooperate with us.

We slept in a bit.

After packing in some breakfast, Alex and I went out to do something fun. Specifically, mini-golf at the Golf Centre at Harvest Hills. This appears to be a relatively new construction, or at least the mini-golf course is — the driving range might have been there a while already (I honestly can’t remember).

The course is a little more playful than most, but lacks some of the really wacky aspects that some mini-golf courses have. (I say “lacks” because, in all honestly, the really bizarre courses are often the most fun.) The course was still damp from previous rainfalls, which provided a few interesting obstacles — namely, wet feet and a bit of slopping when the balls hit a wet patch.

Most of the holes weren’t a particular challenge, but that didn’t stop either of us from hitting some bad shots. We redid two holes, partly because the holes were fun and partly to improve our abysmal scores. (There was also no-one behind us.) In the end, Alex beat me, although I’m not sure by how much. We kept score, but not really…

I realized after a couple of holes that Alex could probably whip my keister in mini-golf, if given half the chance. However, a competitive streak in me was coming out — a bit of a sour one, at that. (I’m usually self-deprecating, but it’s a fine line from making fun of your lack of skill, to appearing to be a sore loser.) While she mentioned nothing, and I didn’t ask if she had noticed and started to play differently as a result, I felt it wise to smarten up a bit.

Putting over, we decided to give the driving a chance. While I had a few really good hits, I was woefully out of practice. I hooked a lot too, seemingly drawn to a parked cherry picker off to the left. I cleared a few over the extra-tall fence. The grips made mince meat of my left palm — not sure if my grip was off or if its affirmation that I need a glove on that hand. Either way, I need more practice.

The experience on the rather damp mini-golf course made me finally decide that I *had* to get new sandals. (That, and Alex’s hinting that the smell could be construed as a biological weapon under some treaties.) Lest you think that I’m being extravagant with my footwear, you need to understand something first…

I loved my sandals. They were Teva Univerals, purchased from Europe Bound on Front Street in Toronto seven years ago. Seven years I wore them. I wore those sandals as much as I could. When I lived in Vancouver, I had thought about replacing them — they were getting a little worn (and that was only after about three-ish years). I didn’t put much effort into it, though, and let it slide … for over four more years. As of Saturday morning, the insole was reduced to the glue used to hold the insole to the rest of the sandal with the remaining insole cracked and splitting, the velcro barely held, the sole was worn through to the straps and foam rubber insides, and the aforementioned smell was … well, let’s just be glad that you can’t smell things through the Internet.

For the record, I’ve been actively looking since sandal weather finally hit Calgary this year (took a while longer than usual). Problem: finding sandals that I a) liked, and b) fit. What I wanted was another pair of Teva Universals. Problem? Nary a place in Alberta seems to sell them! I hunted through every store I could find. Nothing. Nada. The closest I came was a pair of the women’s version at Abominable Sports in Banff (Bamf!). But no men’s. Anywhere.

It came to pass that we went to Sunridge, where there was rumoured to be leather Tevas. Sadly, I was thwarted yet *again*. However, in the midst of my disappointment, came across a pair of Clarks. Well, my feet haven’t been so happy. I feel a certain amount of sadness for putting my beloved Tevas to one side, but for the sheer joy of walking in sandals without the squishing, flapping of unbound straps, or the near-unbearable stench, there can be little argument that I’ve done well.

Just to make sure the sandals were right, we walked around the mall a bit. The walk was good to break in the feet. Even when we stood in the Sanrio store for about 45 minutes while Alex had a serious relapse to her childhood (not that I’m complaining — I’ve had similar problems). It’s safe to say that should we end up with kids, we will have a Hello Kitty room somewhere in the house.

The big debate will be who gets to spend time in the room — the children, or mom.

We left the mall into the dark clouds of a passed storm. I had thought I’d heard rain while we were inside, but it was hard to tell. The wet ground, however, was a bit of a give-away.

A note on that rain, incidentally. There are a lot of people who wonder if we’ve somehow been transported to the West Coast. The weather here is more typical of Vancouver, not the fringe of the prairies. It’s quite odd, and annoying for some. We haven’t had the really warm weather normally associated with this time of year. Instead, we’ve had rain almost every day (even if just a sprinkle) for a month! We should be entering our dry season, seeing brown grasses, not witnessing torrential downpours every few days.

While Alex went off for tea with her friend Erin, I set about the task of making dinner. It took me longer than planned (owing to a minor issue in preparation), which was just in time for Alex to arrive and start making cupcakes. (We went to my relatives’ home Sunday night, and we were bringing dessert. But more on that in a minute.)

Betty Crocker? Ha! Safeway brand? Puh-leaze! Alex made ’em from scratch. Including the icing! (And darn tasty, too, I might add!) I got to be the official taste-tester. I need to do more baking to get the feel for it. I can handle sauces, entrees, soups, stews, barbecues, even a few desserts. Ask me to bake a cake and I’ll give you a blank stare. Wouldn’t even know where to start. Not a one. One day, though. One day.

Sunday we tried to get up early again. The weather, yet again, conspired against us. In lieu of a picnic and hike at Elbow Falls, we opted for a hike at Fish Creek Park and a picnic at Starbucks (or other widely-available similarly-branded store selling things not particularly good for one’s dietary needs).

Finding the entrance to the section of park we wanted to go into wasn’t easy. The signs are, well, mostly non-existant. On the bright side, we explored some of the newer subdivisions in the south-west corner of the city. Yet more reasons why I don’t think I’d ever want to live that far out. (As Alex so eloquently put it, anything with five digits on the house number is too far away.) It feels like suburban hell out there.

When we finally found the park, we saw signs that bears had also apparently found the park. We never saw any, except on the signs the City of Calgary Parks Department had left up to let park patrons be aware. Considering that we covered a good portion of the park west of MacLeod Trail, it might be safe to assume that the bear(s) prefered to either stay hidden, or leave altogether.

Damp (due to continued precipitation in various strengths and quantities) and hungry, we headed over to South Centre Mall for a quick repast (careful to keep it light for the upcoming family dinner that night). Yogen Fruz. Not the most substantial of snacks, but a load healthier than the bulk of the crap for sale in the food court. We wandered the mall, eating our small frozen vanilla yogurt mixed with fruit, seeing what there was to see.

We stopped in a few stores, but the only one of real consequence was the Charm Diamond Centre, where we looked at rings.

Whoo… I can see the wide-eyed stares of disbelief and panic from here!

Relax, we’re not engaged and we’re not getting married any time soon. We went to look. No other reason (for now) than to view a piece of jewellry. In fact, it was a specific style that Alex had seen before that drew us in there. They didn’t have it available, though, so I don’t really know what it looks like (hence, cannot describe it to you). There was an illuminated poster, but the colours were rather washed out.

With that, it was time to head up to Mike and Brenda’s for dinner. The first meeting of the family is always a bit nerve-wracking, no matter how many times you’ve done it before or how confident you think you are. Families are always different. My turn will come later this summer.

It was a night of digging. Some digging was about Alex (though not too deeply) and some digs were at each other. Uncle Mike, unfortunately, caught a few too many (some from me, and I went a little too deep on a couple — sorry, Mike) when the subject of the missing cupboard doors came up. They’ve been off so long that I don’t even notice the lack of them anymore.

Dinner was wonderful — crab cake appetizers, roast beef, freshly roasted BC potatoes, two kinds of salads, and the weirdest bread I’d ever had. Of course, we had cupcakes for dessert. All the ones we brought were eaten. Three by Jen, alone! (Needless to say, Alex is welcome back.)

So yes, if you’re wondering, things are going exceptionally well for us. I can’t imagine them going any better. They will, of course, but I can’t imagine what that’ll be like. I haven’t been this happy in a relationship … well, ever, really. They say that the person you’re best with is the person who is like your best friend. And that was exactly the premise that had sent me in search of a partner in the first place.

Funny how life works sometimes, ain’t it?

Canada Day in Banff National Park

Our fair country has been around for 137 years, now, and it doesn’t look a day over 100 — we’ve still got all the problems we did back in ’67.

Alex and I had a fairly action-packed day. We started off with a jaunt over to Booster Juice to get ourselves a snack to get the day started. Why there? Well, a smoothie goes over pretty well right before you do a run.

Yes, run. (If you have missed a few of these, either by living under a rock or scanning them like I know some of you do, I have taken to running for exercise.) This was for the P.A.R.T.Y. program, run through Foothills Hospital. It means “Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth”. (Yeah, it should be P.A.R.R.T.Y., but then it could be construed to sound like the mating cry of a frat house member.)

Simply put, it’s a “scared-straight” method. Take a bunch of teens, and run them through the trauma bay at the hospital. Show them what’ll happen if they drink and drive. Show them the injuries, the equipment that would be used, and the procedures they’d have to go through. Some of them get sick, at least one almost always faints. I don’t know if it always gets the point across, but I’m sure that the program must reduce the number of teens injured in DUI accidents.

The race is to raise awareness and money for the program. Fees are $35, which includes the administration of the race, t-shirts, food (though that might be donated), with the rest going to the program. It’s a 5 km walk/run or a 10 km run, depending on what you want to do. We did the 5 km version. We weren’t exactly the fastest ones out there.

We were beaten by a one-legged man and a woman carrying two babies.

(Okay, yes, we walked. It was more for helping the program.)

Following the “race”, we headed out of town to Banff (Bamf!). The day was starting off to be beautiful, and we hoped it would stay that way long enough for us to enjoy the weather. For the most part, it was great! Right until we passed the 1X interchange near Exshaw. That was when we hit traffic.

Lots of traffic.

About 90 minutes of traffic.

Ninety minutes that would normally take about 10 minutes in regular traffic conditions.

Why was it so bad? They’re doing bridge reconstruction on the Trans-Canada Highway not far from Deadman’s Flats. The highway is reduced to two lanes and a speed limit of 50 km/h. Normally, this doesn’t affect traffic too much. But this is a long weekend (well, it is for some people), which means that most of Calgary goes into the mountains.

Would it *really* have hurt whatever level of government agency that is responsible for this project to put up signs warning of heavy traffic, and suggest alternate routes like the 1A? Y’know, I’m thinking that maybe the government might want to think about that for the next long weekend that comes up (or possibly every weekend, now that the weather is outstanding) so people can avoid that kind of traffic. (That would be a subtle hint for any of you government-types listening out there.)

Arriving at the east-end Banff off-ramp, we turned north instead of south, and went to Lake Minnewanka. I’d only been there once before (see [[Banff National Park and Lake Minnewanka]]), during some very nice weather. Yesterday, sadly, wasn’t great. Clouds had rolled in as we had started to leave Calgary, and had splashed rain on us at Canmore. We would be rained on several times yet before the day was through, and usually while we were outside, away from the car.

We walked past the boat launch at the south end of Minnewanka, and up to a rocky shoreline. There, we found a place on the “beach” to just look around at the beauty of the area. It drizzled a little, not enough to chase us away.

From there, we drove over to Lake Johnson, where we had the chance to wander a bit in the forest. A plethora of mosquitoes eventually chased us back out, and we headed into Banff (Bamf!) townsite.

For the first time since I can’t remember when, we couldn’t get a parking spot in the free lot. Yes, I know it was Canada Day, but even the last time (see [[Visiting Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls, Canada Day in Banff (Bamf!)]]), we got parking there. We ended up circling the side streets before finding a nice spot, and headed for a late lunch/early dinner at Bruno’s Diner.

When we exited, we found that Banff Ave. had effectively been closed down. It was a parade, of all things! I’d never seen a Canada Day parade before, so it was a bit novel. Even more so that it was in a small town, meaning it was going to be a small one. Still, there was room for the Shiners (a necessity at any parade), a couple of floats (including one for the Calgary Stampede, which starts next Friday), two or three marching bands, a fire truck, a Snocoach from the Columbia Icefields, and the 10th Brigade pipe and drum band.

Parade over, we walked down more side streets until we found our way to the Bow River, where we sat for a while, eating our Turtles fudge. That’s about when the rain hit again. We took cover under some conifers, waiting for the rain to pass enough that we could walk back to Banff Ave. without getting soaked.

We took the opportunity to into a couple of stores and view wares for sale. Alex bought a rather nice toe ring, and I bought a book called “Why I Hate Canadians”, by Will Ferguson. (It’s a rather interesting book about a Canadian returning home after several years abroad. He goes after the sacred cows and reminds us that while we think we’re the best thing since sliced bread, we’re not as special as we think we are.) Alex read it aloud to me as we drove back to Calgary.

And as should be done by every Canadian who can, we went to see fireworks last night. The best show in town is at Canada Olympic Park. We didn’t opt to go all the way out there, since the traffic back would be simply ridiculous. So we opted to hike up the side of Nose Hill to get a good view. In theory, it was a splendid idea. In reality, well…

Nose Hill is a great place for a hike. During the day. At night, it’s difficult to see, so you run risk tripping over large rocks. Also, you have deliriously stupid teenagers who feel the need to shriek like idiots the whole time (I swear I got 40 years older last night), nearly drowning out the faint booms of pyrotechnics exploding several kilometres away.

And then there’s the mosquitoes. With all the rain we’ve been having, there’s a lot of ’em this year.

All in all, it was a wonderful Canada Day. And a busy one. Sadly, I had to come in to work today (not having the foresight to take it off), so was a little out of it for most of the day. Next year, though, I’m going to enjoy it more, and make a nice, long weekend out of it.

With Alex, of course.

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