Calgary's first heavy snowfall of the season

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And it’s not even Hallowe’en yet.
Starting early this week, the weather folk started telling us to prepare for Calgary’s first snowstorm of the season. This is something we’ve heard a couple of times before — some of you might have heard about this “big dump” we were supposed to get back in September (we had, at most, a light dusting).
This time, though, they weren’t wrong. Tuesday, it started raining. And the temperature fell all day. By 20:00, it was snowing. Only colder things (e.g. cars and benches) were gathering an accumulation. Everywhere else it was melting away. I walked home from downtown — by the time I got there, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a simple dusting.
The temperature dropped overnight, and the snow fell harder. By morning, there was at least four inches of snow on my front walk. I debated for a moment on either shovelling before the gym, or dealing with the aftermath when I got home. I chose the latter, mostly because I wanted to get to the gym, and my snow shovel was in the garage.
Before I left, I realized that I would not be able to wear my shoes outside. For the last few years, I’ve worn running shoes — the same ones I would wear to work any other given day. Sounds a little chilly, I know, but because I’m always moving, it’s never been a problem. But my current choice of footwear was definitely not suited to winter weather.
Thus, I hauled out my pair of winter boots. They had not seen outdoors in over six years. The last time I’d worn them was when I worked in downtown Toronto. I had to don a second pair of socks (wool ones), as the rubbing of the leather would probably wreak havoc on my poor feet. These boots have massive grip … on anything that’s not ice (as I found out this morning when my heel got a little too far ahead of me, and I found myself sitting in the middle of Centre Street).
None of the roads had been ploughed, and only one short segment of the sidewalks in my area had been shovelled (the guy gets up even earlier than I do). Memorial Drive was a mess, as the night time traffic wasn’t frequent enough to clear the road. Fortunately, the city Peanut Pusher had cleaned off part of the pathway, giving me an easier walk to the Prince’s Island Park footbridge. The bridge was a little difficult, and the snow was still deep on the other side. I was a couple minutes late getting to the gym.
The snow was still falling heavily when I left the gym over an hour later. The walk to work wasn’t easy. Although more sidewalks were now clear, they were also quite slippery. (Most hadn’t put down any salt.) I was about five minutes late getting to work.
Some people were almost two hours late. And people wonder why I live in the inner city…
It snowed most of the day. It was still snowing when I went home and shovelled the snow from my walkway and sidewalk. (On the bright side, the thick layer of snow obscures the scar where the sewer was replaced — see 24 September 2003.)
The snow had stopped by this morning. But it was -12 when I left the house for the gym. Minus 12. It’s not even November yet. The windchill was double that. So say that this is not exactly expected (or desired) is to put it mildly.
And, of course, tomorrow is Hallowe’en. The forecast is for at least -7, if not colder. You won’t be seeing any ballerinas, elves, or fairies tomorrow night. This years’ hot costume in Calgary? Inuit.
Snow is forecast for a few days yet to come. We won’t see above-zero temperatures for at least a week, by the looks of it. This is definitely one of the weirdest autumns I’ve yet experienced.
I’m not ready to go walking in a mid-fall (hence, not-quite-winter) wonderland.

Therese gets her doctorate in psychology

I love seeing old friends. I just hate seeing them leave.
Therese was in town this weekend. Not really to visit with people so much (though that was one thing she did), but to defend her dissertation — the last step in obtaining her PhD. It’s the end of a very long road for Therese, something she’s been working hard to complete for over a third of her life.
The defence was on Thursday afternoon. I had vowed to leave her be until then, since I knew that she’d be in preparations until then. We ended up talking for a while Wednesday afternoon — Therese called me while she took a little break. I’m not sure if she called so much for a social conversation, or looking for affirmation. As Therese would explain to me, graduate students often have low self-worth, having been told time and time again their work isn’t good enough. Luckily, it didn’t take much to instill faith in her knowledge and wisdom.
Either that, or she was gullible enough to believe me.
Therese’s defence began at 14:00 Thursday afternoon. Exactly what happened in there, I will never know. (Not that it’s really any of my business, anyway.) The defence was supposed to last about two hours, after which, Therese would receive her final grade. It’s a three-point score. If you get a ‘1’, you get champagne. If you get a ‘2’, you get a congratulations. If you don’t get either, you get to do it over again. Therese would find out around 16:30 what that score was. Ideally, that’s when I would find out if I had to start calling her “Doc”.
16:00 came and went without any news. I called around 16:45, in hopes of catching her before something happened (we were supposed to get together that evening). I ended up at home around 17:45 without so much as a peep. I called again, and caught Therese in the midst of something very loud. I didn’t ask if she passed. I didn’t have to. I knew.
“So, can I call you ‘Doc’ now?”
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to present the new Dr. Therese Hollingsworth. (Feels kinda weird to be writing that, I have to say.)
The plan was to meet at Catch at 19:15 (the first time they had a table for five) and celebrate. (Besides, Therese had $50 in gift certificates to spend.) Therese drove over with her friend Joe, Geoff and Deanna would meet us there later. When I arrived, I found Therese alone at the table. It had only been a month and a half since I’d last seen her, but it felt like a lifetime.
What made it more poignant was that this was a different Therese. This wasn’t the Therese I had come to know over the last decade. This Therese was happy, relaxed, and for the first time in her life, free of school. And just to complicate things even more (as if finishing her doctorate, moving to Montreal, and buying a home weren’t enough), Therese is three months’ pregnant. In a few short months, two of my best and closest friends will be parents.
I suddenly feel about 10 years older. (That’s 28 for those of you keeping count.) I’m not ready for this level of maturity. I’m too young for this.
We ate a wonderful dinner and celebrated Therese’s success. The conversation around dinner naturally stemmed towards Therese’s pregnancy, sprinkled every so often with the defence and how it had gone and what Therese was going to do with her post-doctorate in Montreal. Life, it seems, rarely stays in place.
I drove Therese to Stefanie’s that night, where Therese would stay until she leaves for Montreal this afternoon. But this wasn’t goodbye yet — there was still much to do. And Friday night would be such an event.
Geoff (I should point out that I’m not talking about myself in the third person — this is *another* Geoff) booked the private room at the Blind Monk for Therese’s “reception”. So, after work, Erin and I headed down (after making a quick pit stop at Bernard Callebaut — Stuart had asked me to pick up some chocolates for Therese), where Therese got to meet Erin for the first time.
The evening was long — running from about 19:00 to just after midnight. For us, it was tiring. For Therese, it was a marathon. Being on Eastern time, still exhausted from the defence, and pregnancy don’t really help one’s stamina. But Therese was among the last to leave.
The next day, later in the afternoon, I picked up Geoff and Therese from the university to go shopping at Chinook. Therese and Geoff were going to visit Jeanine, Dory, and their new baby in Innisfail the next day, and weren’t about to go up empty-handed. Baby clothes and toys were the order of the day. I even threw in a small blanket with a bunny head sewn in the middle. (It sounds rather morbid, but it is cute.)
Geoff left early, as Therese and I finished shopping. First to Willow Park for wine — a thank you gift for Therese’s advisors. Then it was to PetSmart to obtain a gift for Stefanie and Ian, who had put Therese up for a few days. Then it was the long drive back to Stefanie’s (not counting a side trip for a quick snack). Therese and I talked the whole way. I knew this would be the last time I’d see Therese for a while.
Leaving her was difficult. I didn’t see Therese (or Stuart, for that matter) as much as I would have liked while she lived in Calgary. Now she’s 3,000 kilometres away, and three months’ pregnant. I’ll not be seeing her again until after her child is born. We both found it hard to left go. Luckily, the dark streets were empty as I drove down the street. I could barely see the road through the tears.
My weekend did not end there, though. Sunday brought around another first for Erin — not only had she met one of my closest friends (she had met Stuart when he had come out a month ago to ship out the contents of their house), but now she was going to meet my family.
Well, “clan”, I guess. Since Mom, Cathy, and Craig live back in Ontario, Erin won’t meet them until Christmas (or so). But this was a chance for her to meet my Aunt Brenda, Uncle Mike, cousins Jen, Pam, and Darren, Sean (Pam’s boyfriend), and of course, Nana.
Needless to say, Erin was a little nervous.
Actually, even *I* was a little nervous. I mean, they’re my family and I love them to death, but it’s hard to know how things will go. It’s not that I planned on disaster or anything (I wouldn’t have brought Erin if I didn’t think things would go well), but you never really know how well things will go until they happen. Besides, strange things always seem to happen when we go over there for dinner.
Example: Mike announced that he had to pack up three bags of crabs for a co-worker. This suddenly conjured images of three large bags of Snow or Alaskan King, making me wonder what bet Mike had lost. I wasn’t the only one with this thought, and we soon found out that he had meant crabapples, not seafood. A co-worker wanted to make crabapple jelly. This led Mike, Jen, Sean, Darren, and I outside and quite literally up a tree.
Sadly, many of the apples were going soft (some were outright rotten), but there were still many to be had. The tricky part, though, is getting them off the tree. Rotten apples are a breeze — just shake the branch. The good ones have a much stronger grip, and have to be picked by hand. Darren climbed a latter. Mike hopped on the fence. I went up the tree itself. (And have all the scratches to prove it.) It must’ve been quite the sight to see all of us in the denuded tree. I’m sure I’ll find out when Brenda gets her photos developed.
Dinner, as expected, was outstanding. The food was excellent, and the conversation well matched the repast. But dinner was cut a little short. It seemed Darren and Sean were harbouring a virus, which showed through soon after the meal was complete — they were fading fast. Dinner was over by 20:00. A little unusual for my family, but not unwelcome — it gave us plenty of time to drive Nana home, me to drop of Erin (who lives in the deep south of Calgary), and be home in time to get my butt up for gym in the morning.
I now sit, staring out my window, half wishing I could see planes taking off from the airport. I’d wave to them, knowing eventually Therese’s plane would be passing over. Instead, I have to wave at the crackheads and hookers who love hanging out in our area.
Have a safe flight, dear friend. Hopefully it won’t be too long ’til when next we meet.

Thanksgiving in Nanton

In years previous, I’ve spent Thanksgiving with my family. This year, however, I spent it with Erin’s.
This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. In fact, this was loosely planned from the last (and first) time I’d met Erin’s parents (see [[Meeting the parents]]). The idea had arisen during the dinner, when (thorough engaged in conversation, not at all affected by the wine we were drinking or by the comradery Erin’s dad and I felt as we took on Erin in a battle of wits) Erin’s father had suggested that next time we might stay the night and not have to worry about what we ate or drank.
Thanksgiving was just the next logical opportunity. And with my family out of town, there seemed no reason not to go.
Not there wasn’t any possible apprehension. Let’s be realistic here — I’m spending over 24 hours with my girlfriend’s parents (in their home). I’ve met them from before, so in that respect there’s no pressure, but this is a slightly different aspect. In my last serious relationship, I spent the night on my first visit. But I slept in a separate bed. Erin and I were destined for the same room, same bed. At times, I almost worry that there’s *too* much acceptance. If that actually makes any sense…
We headed out from Calgary late Sunday morning. I love long weekends — Sundays never seem sad because you don’t have to go to work the next day. I think I’ve always disliked Sunday for that reason. (I’ve never minded long weekend Mondays, though.) The day was cool, but bright, and the trip down to Nanton was fairly speedy … except for that stretch of Highway 2 just north of High River being repaved.
Dinner preparation was already well underway. The turkey was due to hit the barbecue (yes, not the oven — you’d be surprised how well it works) at 13:00. As Erin and were running a little late, the original plans for lunch had to be altered. While Erin’s dad stuck around to ensure that the turkey hit the heat on time, Erin, Erin’s mom, and I went on a little trip to retrieve sustenance.
Nanton’s a small town. Erin’s parents live a block away from the “downtown” core. (If you drive south from Calgary on Highway 2, you’ll pass right through downtown Nanton.) You can walk around the downtown in about 20 minutes, I think. About half of the stores are antique shops, there’s a couple of restaurants, a pub or two, a CIBC, one hotel (near as I can tell, anyway), and a few grain elevators.
Nanton, once upon a time, was a (fairly) major station on CP’s MacLeod subdivision, when it ran from High River down to Ft. MacLeod. (Assumedly for lack of profitability, the subdivision was closed and the tracks ripped up south of High River between 1998 and 1999.) Today, the rail bed is still very visible, and the grain elevators sit forlorn, no longer in active (rail) use.
Whether or not the disappearance of the railroad has led to Nanton’s shrinking commercial base (there are a number of closed businesses) is a debatable one. The loss of the railroad has affected other towns in the past (Hanna, Biggar, Melville, Stratford), and some manage to recover through various efforts (such as the Stratford Festival). Nanton, however, seems quite content to be as it is.
The three of us wandered across a somewhat chilly downtown to a small restaurant on Highway 2 north (the highway divides running through Nanton), sitting between the road and the rail bed. While the name of the place completely escapes me, it’s the only (open) restaurant on that side of the road. There you’ll find all sorts of homemade-type foods. And without a doubt, possibly the best sandwich I’ve ever had. (Mind you, the uber-fresh, all-natural bread from a little bakery in High River contributed to that.)
After some discussion, Erin and I went for a walk around town. Specifically, I wanted to see all the antique shops. I think Nanton’s second-largest industry after agriculture is antiques — there’s more stores in two blocks than in most of Calgary, I think. And the prices are actually pretty reasonable (well, except for one place). Most of the items are quite interesting, too, and you don’t have to spend huge amounts of time filtering through things.
One store in particular is massive. Once upon a time, it was a hardware store on the main level, with apartments in the second floor. Now the entire building is nothing but antiques. Name it — it’s probably in there, somewhere. Once upon a time, so I’m told, the store owners had things laid out very carefully. The apartments were laid out as “suites”, with entire collections made out so you could (in theory) buy an entire suite at once. The original owners sold and moved on, and now things are just stacked to the ceiling.
There was only one shop we didn’t make it into before closing time. But by then, Erin and I didn’t really care too much — the whine of Erin’s parents’ fridge and the musty smell of the antiques gave the both of us headaches. We retreated to Erin’s parents’ home to do something about the pain.
Dinner was the traditional fare for Thanksgiving: turkey, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and buns. For most of the day, I managed to keep myself clear of food preparation. But as Erin was mashing potatoes, I felt the urge to suddenly interject.
I have issues with mashed potatoes. I hate them. Well, to be specific, I hate plain mashed potatoes. They’re boring. They have no flavour, and almost no texture. It bothers me immensely. So when I saw Erin’s mom bringing out the milk, I suggested a slight modification to the dish: Beer.
Yeah, I know, beer’s my solution for everything. In this case, it partly is. You want to make really good mashed potatoes? Here’s what you need:

  • 4-6 medium-sized red skin potatoes
  • 1 medium-sized white (or yellow) onion
  • 2-5 cloves of garlic (depending on how strong you like)
  • 1 can Sleeman’s Honey Brown (or beer of choice)
  • salt and pepper
  • dried or fresh rosemary

Clean, but do not peel, the potatoes (there’s a lot of flavour in the skin). Cook as you would normally, until ready to mash. While cooking the potatoes, chop the onion and put into a frying pan on medium-low heat. Cover the frying pan with a lid, uncovering only occasionally to stir (you don’t want anything to burn). This will caramelize the onions. When you’re ready to start mashing the potatoes, chop and add the garlic to the onions. Mash the potatoes with a hand masher — it’s more work, but the texture is better than with a blender. Pour in only as much beer as you need to mash the potatoes. You can go for thick and chunky or “creamy”, depending on what you like (I find that just enough beer to take most of the large lumps out is perfect). Add the onion/garlic mixture, sprinkle some rosemary, and mash some more.
Everyone seemed to like them. (Well, why wouldn’t they?)
I also dabbled in making the gravy, when Erin’s mom tried to back out of making it by saying there weren’t enough drippings. (Small children could have swam with all the drippings we had.) I was more than happy to dive in and “solve” the problem.
The turkey was completely free-range organic. The farm it came from (Sunworks Farm in Armena, AB) is so eco-friendly that its pamphlet even advertises that it’s “predator-friendly”. It’s more expensive, to be sure, but I have to say — you can taste what turkey is *supposed* to taste like. This is a farm I’m definitely going to have to look into much closer in the future.
Oh. I have to mention the cranberry sauce. (I can hear the “oohs” from Cathy and Mom.) I’ve never liked cranberry sauce. Felt it was just not the sort of thing I would eat with turkey. Well, Erin’s mom pulled a recipe for “Gourmet Cranberry Sauce” from one of the bazillion “Best of Bridge” cookbooks. It’s essentially cranberries (fresh or frozen), oranges, and Gran Marnier. Screw the turkey — that stuff you can eat on its own.
Even though we were quite full from the first round, we had to partake of dessert — pumpkin pie. As we briefly congregated in the kitchen to carry out the dessert, Erin’s mom suddenly thrust a small crystal bowl mostly filled with a transparent green substance.
Lime Jell-o.
Now, there are probably a few people in my family who will laugh at this. The rest of you are probably confused beyond all heck.
What’s the deal with the lime Jell-o? This stems back to the last time I was in Nanton. I’d told Erin’s parents about Christmas (and other family dinners) at my father’s mother’s home in Leaside (Toronto). At the time, I’d hated all the other desserts: pies, some cakes, trifle, etc. So Grandma had always make bowls of Jell-o for me, which I sometimes had to fight over with others.
Erin’s mom had remembered, and made me a bowl of Jell-o. Erin was thorough confused, apparently having forgotten that conversation. Heck, even *I* hadn’t realized why Erin’s mom had made it at first, until I remembered the stories I’d told the last time I was there.
Needless to say, I like Erin’s parents.
We had a late harvest Riesling with dessert. By that point, my stomach was crying “uncle”, and I spent about 45 minutes trying to put myself in a semi-comfortable position as not to feel too ill. Turkey coma kicked in about an hour later, and I ended up crawling into bed shortly after midnight.
The next morning, it was my turn to cook. (I’d made this request from when it was suggested that I was coming to Nanton.) I’d been wanting to make my dad’s pancakes for years — I hadn’t had them since Christmas of 2001, and was dying to have them again. So, with Erin’s family watching, I whipped up a batch of pancake batter, fried up some sausages (Erin’s mom made some really good bacon), and julienned a couple potatoes for hash browns.
My poor stomach hadn’t recovered from dinner the night before.
The sausages were thoroughly delightful, not the least of which was because they (like the turkey) were all-natural. Instead of fillers or sweeteners, there were cranberries. I’m certain the casings weren’t edible plastic, either.
Having completely ruined my diet for about a month, Erin and I set up to head back to Calgary. Both of us had things to do, and while sticking around was a good thought, we readied to roll. But not without trucking back enough food for a small battalion.
I love leftovers. Especially when it’s turkey.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train: Reunion

This weekend, I visited southern Ontario. Even though I’ve only just left, it almost feels like I was never even there.
A few weeks back, Critical Mass announced (to the employees) that it was in the process of pitching a very large client (see [[Friends: Visiting and moving away]]). And no, I still can’t tell you who it is.
Anyway, at the time, there was the great expectation that I’d be coming out to Toronto to help interview people and (ultimately) help set up the team in the Toronto office — assuming that we won the work.
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