Easter in Calgary, Visiting with Friends, Eating Russian Food

Years ago, Easter weekend meant a trip to my grandmother’s in Toronto for a dinner with the rest of the family. It’s been a while since I’d been in a large family gathering for Easter, but this year certainly did put a new spin on everything.

I’ll get to that in a moment or two.

Friday morning started slowly for me. Usually, I’m up around 6:00 (sometimes as late at 6:30, if I manage to completely out-sleep my alarm clock), and I start to get ready for work. Recently, it’s included a trip down to the pool for 30 minutes of swimming (although I have yet to reach 30 minutes, I’m wiped out after just over 20 — I figure it’s going to take me a while before I’m even close to being in the same shape I was in high school). Then it’s a shower, make lunch, and head out.

Friday morning, I didn’t get up until 9am. I would’ve slept later, but the light in my room was overpowering. At least I didn’t wake up to an alarm clock. I skipped the morning swim.

One of the things on my agenda was attempting to clean the apartment. It’s been on the agenda almost since I moved in, but you’d be surprised at the lack of motivation to do that. Dunno why.

I watched TV for a while, before moving a few things around. The impact was negligible. Around 11:30, I decided to call Adile, one of my co-workers (and rapidly becoming a good friend). Adile’s an interesting character, to say the least. He’s 23 (aside from Rob, who sits next to me, I think I’m the second oldest in my department), has a masters in Palaeontology (he was working on a PhD before his funding ran out), and is a wizard with bizarre HTML layouts.

He also had a wad of furniture he wants to sell. A couch (made by Sealy), a matching loveseat, coffee table, dresser, and a desk. All for $200. Needless to say, I’m mildly interested.

We’d arranged the day before that he’d call me and we’d arrange a time for me to drop over. But after 11:30, I thought I’d check with him before trying to plan the rest of my day. (It’s a pain in the neck trying to figure out what to do when the person you want to get a hold of isn’t getting a hold of you.) He was still asleep. I remember being able to do that. He said he’d call me later, so I took the opportunity to do something else.

I went to work.

Relax, I didn’t actually do any work … at least not work work. I did my own thing. I’m helping a friend of mine with a website. It’s good practice for me. It also gave me a chance to read email (I actually get more email here than I did at Radical … and I dreaded coming back from vacation at Radical, reading email took hours).

Around 3:00, Adile finally called me and said I could drop by. I hopped in the car and made a beeline (as much a beeline as can be made in some of Calgary’s hurly-burly subdivisions) for Adile’s home. Adile still lives with his parents (I make no comments on that, for I did the same thing until I was 25) in Ranchlands, not far from where Stuart and Therese live.

The couch was an off-white, though parts of it were more off-white than others. It’s well-used, but not in bad shape. I looked at it carefully, and it didn’t look too bad. Even if it did get a little unsightly, a quick drop sheet eliminates that problem. Of course, this is still something I need to throw by my future roommate and see what he thinks.

I quickly returned to my apartment to shower and make myself presentable — Aunt Brenda and Uncle Mike had invited me to Easter dinner at Chez Znack. Before leaving Ranchlands, I stopped briefly at Crowfoot Village to pick up a 12 pack of Sleeman’s and a couple of bottles of wine (partly for dinner, and partly for partial payment for all my Aunt and Uncle have done for me).

I arrived in Whitehorn just after 5:00. Uncle Mike was out front adjusting the lawn sprinkler (spring has sprung here in Calgary, despite a few naysayers who keep predicting a “big dump”). Maggie (their Dalmatian) looked happy to see me.

The kitchen renovation was still in progress, though the trickiest part of the work was complete. When last I’d seen the kitchen, the counters were reduced to plywood, awaiting a layer of tiles. The tiles were now on the counter, though they had yet to be grouted. Tiles also adorned the walls in a backsplash following the length of the counter. It looked wonderful. The tiles are 6×6, coloured almost a sandy-grey. Some of the wall tiles are decorative, and add a nice touch to the design. It will be really interesting to see what the kitchen looks like when it’s done.

We were served fried scallops as appetizers. I’m finding I’ll eat most seafood now, though it all seems to taste the same. I have a sneaky suspicion that it won’t be long before I’m eat (shudder) lobster. We’ll see…

Between the appetizer and dinner, my phone rang. It was Greg Mayer, one of my friends and former co-workers from Radical Entertainment. He was in Calgary for the weekend visiting relatives, and we had made rough plans to get together during the weekend. We talked briefly, setting up a tentative time for the following day.

Dinner was turkey. I was looking forward to turkey. I love turkey. Especially with turkey gravy. On mashed potatoes. Mmmmm. And stuffing. Double mmmmm.

It wasn’t long before we finished dinner (with Jen rushing off to play her video game, pausing only long enough to ask me to come down and play with her when I was done). Turkey coma wasn’t far off…

“Turkey coma”, for those of you who’ve never heard of it, is Stuart’s term for the sleepiness that sets in after a good turkey dinner. A lot of people dismiss it as having eaten too much. In reality, it’s the turkey. There’s a chemical in turkey meat that acts like a natural sedative — it makes you sleepy. The more you eat, the sleepier you get. (And having wine with the meal really doesn’t help matters much.)

Just as I was about to go downstairs and join Jen in her video game, Aunt Brenda handed me a little gift — a set of frying pans. Just when I’d thought I was about to start paying them back for everything they did for me, they had to go and do something else nice for me. Like I said before, I love my family … even if I do feel like I’m going to be forever in their debt.

When I got downstairs, Jen was in the middle of playing her rented copy of Super Smash Brothers. There are some games where I can actually beat Jen. This ain’t one of ’em. As a team, we were unbeatable … though she could have won the match on her own. Against her, well, “total slaughter” comes to mind. She’d been playing all week, and I hadn’t. I got in a few good hits, but I was no match.

I decided it was time to leave when I noticed that Aunt Brenda had succumbed to Turkey Coma (she had been overseeing the carnage). Frying pans in tow, I returned to the sanctity of downtown Calgary.

I rose just after 9:00 on Saturday, again forced awake by the bright sun. Don’t get me wrong — I rather like it this way. The sun is certainly a more preferable way to rise in the morning.

My early wakening also afforded me the luxury of doing something I haven’t done since before I went to university — watch Saturday Morning cartoons. Although I watched them until noon, I didn’t get the same pleasure. Probably because most of them seem to be either Pokemon or Digimon. Nothing like the ones I watched when I was a kid: Blackstar, The Smurfs, Thundarr the Barbarian, Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Pac Man, Alvin and the Chipmunks, He Man, Droids, Ewoks … the list is literally endless (I watched a lot of cartoons). Although Fox is bringing back Dungeons and Dragons @ 10:30 PST next Saturday.

Sometime after noon, Greg called. He was ready to get together. I still had to run through the shower, and I had to pick him up. Originally, I had hoped that Torre (another of my former co-workers, Torre left Radical just days after me (though I suspect his reasons for leaving weren’t as dire as my own) and has landed in Calgary) might join us, but Greg told me Torre was entertaining friends. I’ll have to make sure I call Torre up soon.

Greg told me where he was, and the basic direction I needed go. Looking at the map, it looked pretty easy.

After being in Calgary for nearly two months, you’d think I’d know better…

I was about a half hour late because what I thought was on the map ended up being something complete different, sending me off in a bad direction because I hadn’t expected the city planners to do something so stupid … or at least the map designers to mark it properly. Luckily, Greg wasn’t upset…

Returning with Greg to downtown, we stopped at the Barley Mill, a bar at Eau Claire Market. It’s got probably the best selection of draught beer in town, and is cheaper than Shank’s. Greg and I perched ourselves on the patio, and basked in the warm sunshine.

It was good to see Greg again. I hadn’t seen him since he helped bring me to Calgary. I know this will sound weird, but seeing Greg was kind of like pinching myself, helping me to remember that the last two years weren’t a dream. Call it a reality check if you want. But it was good to see him.

We talked for a couple of hours about virtually everything that we could think of. Greg had to be careful, though. I’m not a Radical employee, and he had to skirt the cool stuff that’s always floating around there. I could tell he was having a bit of trouble too — he almost looked like a kid who’s just dying to tell some other kid a secret. I found one of them out this morning on the ‘Net — Radical’s not making sports games anymore. At least not for Fox, who announced they were bailing out of the genre. It’ll be interesting to see what Radical does next…

My phone rang around 3:30. It was Aunt Brenda. Easter Dinner Part 2 was with the rest of the Western Clan (save for Nana) that evening, and I was informed that I would be picked up at 5:00 instead of 6:00. This meant Greg and I had to cut our visit a bit short. Luckily though, the time didn’t seem too short.

As we left the Barley Mill, Greg asked if it was possible to go by the Alberta Boot Factory Outlet. I had mentioned earlier in one of our conversations that I not only work but live fairly close to it (relax, I’m not buying cowboy boots), and Greg was looking to see what he could find.

The Alberta Boot Factory Outlet is on 10th Ave. SW, at the corner of 5th St. (just a block or so away from Cowboys — a local western bar). It’s large — so is the selection. But Greg’s criteria were tight … very tight. There was one pair in the entire shop that he liked. Really liked. I mean *really* liked.

But he didn’t buy ’em. Though if he had the money, he would have. Why didn’t he? One of his criteria was for steel toes, and I have yet to hear of a cowboy boot with steel toes. (I certainly wouldn’t want to go line dancing with someone who wore steel-toed cowboy boots … not that I’d want to line dancing in the first place.)

Greg agonized about the boot problem all the way back to his Aunt’s. I know what that kind of torture feels like. I’m on a restricted budget myself. I get paid this week (I think — the schedule here is a little strange), at which point I can start getting my life in gear.

I met my Aunt and Uncle out in front of my apartment building at 5:15 (I’d called earlier and asked for a short delay). Then it was off to a part of the family I’d never met before. This was my Aunt Alaine’s sister and brother in-law. They own a home in the western edge of Kensington. A nice home. A really nice home.

My parents had met Dawn and Ron before, when they went on a cruise about a year ago. This was good for me — it meant I wasn’t a complete stranger to them. We got there before the rest of the family, so we took the opportunity to look around a bit.

The house is amazing. It’s on a small lot, so it’s a very vertical house. If only the home builders in Vancouver knew how nice a place you could build on such a small lot… The main floor had the dining space, living space, kitchen, and a parlour. Only the parlour had doors, the rest of it was open space.

The kitchen was finished with cherry cabinets (wood, not colour). Ron mentioned that he’d never use cherry again — too high maintenance. Uncle Mike and I marvelled at the construction — it was gorgeous. As was the rest of the house. The upstairs had possibly the most efficient use of space I’d ever seen. Three bedrooms, all quite large. Certainly a liveable space.

The Tisdales arrived not long after us. It’d been almost a year since I last saw Uncle David and Aunt Alaine, about a month since I’d seen Pam (and Muck, her boyfriend … don’t ask about the name, it’s not his real one, and I honestly don’t know the story behind it), and a couple of months since I’d seen Darren. (I last ran into him out front of the Capitol 6 when Pure3D had gone to see Toy Story 2.)

Darren was a bit of a surprise. We were under the impression that he was in Indonesia doing some field work. We didn’t actually know he wasn’t there, and was in Calgary, until the night before when Uncle Mike was making golf arrangements with Uncle David. Apparently, Darren’s company didn’t get the permits they needed for the team … Darren hopes he’ll be going sometime in early May.

Our final arrival was Dawn and Ron’s daughter. Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say her name was “Randy”. It might be “Randyne”, or “Rian” or “Ryean” … all I know is that I heard “Randy” when someone said her name. For all I know, it’s not her real name. For some stupid reason, I never asked. (I’m certain someone will correct me on this.)

We stood about, chatting and snacking, until about 7:15, at which time we piled into three cars, and drove to our restaurant for the evening. This was Pam’s idea, and I’m going to give her full credit for sticking her neck out on this, and finding one gem of a good restaurant.

It’s called “Kremlin”, and like the name suggests, it serves Soviet cuisine. I’d say “Russian”, but that wouldn’t be correct. Several of the items on the menu are Ukrainian (such as the pirogies), of which Uncle David took extreme pleasure in ribbing Uncle Mike (whose heritage is Ukrainian). My family’s a little weird some times. (Have I mentioned the midnight excursion through a golf course on mountain bikes looking for elk?)

We all opted to get platters of food, so we could all share in the various tastes of the menu. The server/owner told us that because they had only four burners, they’d have to bring food out in shifts.

Oh yeah, I never told you how big this place was. Ever seen pictures of those small, quaint little Dari-Freeze joints? 50’s-style? That was what housed Kremlin. Tiny doesn’t even really come close to describing the size of this place. There were six tables. We had two of them. We dominated the place, literally. We outnumbered all the other patrons combined, and we certainly were louder than them.

The first round was pirogies. There were two flavours: Spinach and feta cheese, and pork and ginger. I much preferred the spinach and cheese — I found the pork a little bit on the mushy side. But they were very tasty, as was the coleslaw (or Ukrainian salad, I’m not exactly sure what it was) and the roasted nuts. I stayed away from the beets. Ick.

Round two was tequila prawns. (Doesn’t sound Soviet to me, but hey — it’s worth trying.) Yes, I eat prawns. Go figure. They were accompanied with some rice which added some excellent flavour.

We had to wait a while for round three, during which time we delved into a couple more bottles of wine (I cut myself off at about two glasses, opting for a bottle of Alexander Keith’s instead).

Round three was curried chicken and rice (supposedly basmati, but it sure tasted like couscous), appearing about a half hour or so later. This, again, was an excellent part of the meal, and was fairly filling. It was a good choice.

Now, most people would end dinner there. But we were having too much fun, and dove into dessert. First off were fruit and chocolate crepes, followed shortly by banana and chocolate egg rolls (topped with ice cream). The last round was fruit pirogies. Oh yes, please understand that we didn’t get full orders each — these were platters as well.

Then came the bill. A quick batch of math, and I dove into my wallet to dig out enough to pay for dinner. Imagine my horror when I realized I was $20 short. I was about to ask to be let out and raid a bank machine when Uncle David told me to put my wallet away (he did the same for Darren, Pam, and Muck). I said it before, and I’ll say it again — I love my family.

Three and a half hours after entering, we all staggered out and found our ways home. I practically collapsed onto the mat on the floor until I could move again. Ouch.

Sunday in downtown Calgary is quiet — nothing opens before noon. Which is fine with me — gives me time to sleep in and do other things. Like sleep.

I went out walking around downtown, popping in and out of whatever stores happened to actually be open (a large number of them declared they were closed for Easter) before I ended up back at Critical Mass, again to do some work for a friend.

I spent the rest of the day cleaning up. I made more headway on Sunday than I had in the past week. Probably because I had nothing better to do. I was waiting for Stuart and Therese to get back from Edmonton so we could get together. I was in no rush.

At a little after 5:00, Stuart called. They hadn’t left Edmonton yet, and wouldn’t likely be leaving for a while. I suspected they were having worlds more fun than I was. Instead of dinner with friends, I went over to the Subway (barely a block away) and got something to get me through until morning.

It was a good weekend, but I should think I would call it Thanksgiving Weekend, rather than Easter. I had a lot to be thankful for: My family, my friends, my freedom.

Hmm… sounds like a good motto.