Deck Update

The deck is now almost complete. Work had to stop with the fairly awful weather that marked the first half of June. But now, we hope you can see from this shot that we now have the glass panels in place and the pickets in the rails to the side of the steps. All that needs doing now is the addition of some fascia boards on the steps and the installation of a gas line for the BBQ. We have even installed some lamps on the rear wall of the house which, when lit, illuminate the deck just perfectly (and hey, we didn’t electrocute ourselves while doing it!)You will see that we now have said BBQ and we are very pleased with it. It all comes in a huge and very heavy box and you have to assemble it all yourself, which we spent today (Sunday) doing.It also looks very smart with its protective cover on.You can see that we also have our deck furniture in situ. We bought and assembled that last weekend. We were worried that the furniture and BBQ would dwarf the deck but if anything, it’s the other way around. We think we are still thinking in terms of the size of our UK house and we had to remind ourselves that at 20ft x 12ft,(240 square feet), the deck is larger than the combined size of our UK living and dining room!So, once that gas line is in (we would hope to have that done in the next week or so), we are off and running.

Around the patio, we are still not able to progress with repairing the lawn as we currently have an outdoor watering ban (the result of the recent rains causing some flooding down in Okotoks that all but “took out” the water treatment facility – several weeks later, we have only just had a “boil all water” order lifted but we are still days away from the watering ban being lifted).

All the rain has helped to green up the lawn nicely though…it looked very brown and nigh on dead when it’s snow cover first melted. You might also be able to make out that we have started to do some planting and that we are marking the edges of the borders with the same bricks that were used to construct the patio, which looks quite smart, we think.


Okotoks Summer Parade

The morning of Saturday June 21st brought many of the locals of Okotoks out onto the streets to watch the summer parade. Many of the local businesses and service groups were represented. Our position for these photos is at the end of and looking down Elizabeth Street, the “historic” (in North American terms) main street of Okotoks. We’ll blog more about Elizabeth Street at a later point as it is a very sweet street and quite unusual for North America in being quite individual and non strip-mall oriented. But for now, here’s a few shots of the parade…

Here’s a view down tree lined Elizabeth Street with the crowds awaiting the start of the parade.ReMax are a real estate brokerage with offices across the world.Scouts groups are alive and well in Canada and clearly keeping themselves very busy if this float is anything to go by…The Calgary Stampede starts in less than two weeks and the Calgary Stampede Showriders were out in force to advertise the event…Western Financial are a major insurance company in these parts so you think they might have been able to afford a bigger float! Seriously though, how cute are these fellows?…The Women Of the Wild West were all out in costume……as were the gents…The local “Stingray” swim club had made an excellent effort with their float…It’s always a joy to see some vintage vehicles and the pride that the owners display in their care and maintenance…The Deerfoot Inn & Casino clearly didn’t spend too much of their punters’ money on a large float but sometimes, small is just perfect, don’t you think…Now, if you share the sense of silliness we display in many of our posts, you’ll truly believe either that one is telling the other a joke or that they are plotting their escape at the end of the parade…It’s good to learn something new every day and we certainly didn’t know before today that there is an Arabian Appreciation Society (or some such organisation) operating in Okotoks…It’s always good to know that your tax dollars are being put to good use and here they definitely were. The Big Horned Sheep represents Sheep River that flows through the town and the Ice Age themed Okotoks Town Council float is representative of an anti global warming message. They are really keen on sustainable living around here…It’s always good to be neighbourly and Okotoks didn’t miss out on inviting along its adjacent rural authority, the Municipal District of the Foothills…Community Savings – our friendly local bank…The Calgary Real Estate Board brought along one of the best floats of the day…And the entire event went off smoothly under the watchful eye of the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment…This was our first Okotoks Summer Parade and very impressed we were too.

June 20th, The First Day of Summer

Summer officially started in Alberta on Friday. No that’s not a typo…summer officially started this year, on June 20th! Thankfully, we have now entered a period of rather nice weather with temperatures in the 80’s most of this week just ending. We were getting very concerned as to how June might turn out given we had more rainfall in the first half of the month than is usual for the entire month of June. In fact, we are hearing this has been the wettest start to June in these parts since the 1930’s. It was clearly waiting for us to arrive! Anyway, as we say, the weather is coming on nicely now and everyone is beginning to relax in the sun…even the local animals. We were having a drive around today and came across this very chilled out goat enjoying the improved vantage point that his owner’s picnic table afforded him.J&E

“How high can a human body fly!”

On the back of the High River Rodeo footage that we posted yesterday, here is some footage that we took at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in July 2007. Some of you will have seen this before as we emailed it to a number of people the same day we captured this but now we are in Stampede season again, this is worth sharing with a wider audience.

The footage highlights a number of things for us:
a) That all Bull Riders are completely insane to participate!
b) That sometimes the Bull has all the fun!
c) That Bull Riders put football (ie: soccer) players to shame…compare your average footballer, who needs to be stretchered from the field when he gets a “liddle bitty” bruise, to this guy (you have to watch the clip to the end to appreciate his bravery) and
d) The fact that a Rodeo Announcer and Rodeo Clown will find humour in just about any circumstance…the announcer’s “How high can a human body fly?…he went clear out of the camera shot” comment, oddly, seemed entirely appropriate somehow!

Just so you know, the simultaneous “ooooohhhh” from the crowd, late on in the clip as the Bull Rider is walking away, is because they showed a replay of the incident on the stadium’s big screen at that point…we’re sure he must have appreciated that!

Enjoy. Remember to click on the triangular play symbol in the middle of the picture.


High River Rodeo

As we head towards the Calgary Stampede in July, Rodeo season is in full swing and High River Rodeo started this Thursday, 19th June and continues through the weekend. Local rodeos like High River are a great way to experience the rodeo. They are inexpensive (in this case, just $10/£5 each entrance fee), not too crowded (the viewing stand at High River accommodates maybe 2-3 thousand people) and they get you really close to the action. We went along on Thursday night and had an excellent few hours entertainment.

Every rodeo has a Rodeo Clown who spends the evening entertaining the crowd with a mixture of banter with the Rodeo Announcer, interacting with the crowd and general displays of, well, “clown-like” behaviour. Our clown last night was very entertaining.The Saddle Broncs are all action. Staying on for 8 seconds seems a hell of a challenge.Of course, not every horse or bull is entirely on its game and ready to buck the moment the gate opens, although equally, we’re not sure the rodeo clown’s advice on how to resolve the matter was entirely accurate…”Lift his tail and stick a quarter in!” To play this and the subsequent videos below, click on the play button in the middle of the picture.Team Roping requires much co-ordination between the two members of the team.


Barrel Racing is the only ladies event at a Rodeo. It is one of the most exciting though and requires great skill, dexterity and speed. Here’s a photo and then, so you can really get a sense of what it is like, a video clip.Of course, Bull Riding is, along with the Chuckwagon Racing, the highlight of most people’s rodeo evening. Bull Riders…just plain crazy if you ask us. Judge for yourself…The Chuckwagon Races are all action organised chaos. The skill exercised in controlling the horses and wagon at high speed, with 3 other wagons at close quarters, as they hurl themselves around tight corners, is quite incredible.J&E

Rockies Tour

Geoff & Hazel, Jan’s Mum & Dad, were with us for 3 weeks in April through to early May, during which time we do believe they experienced just about all possible extremes of weather including some quite unbelievable dumps of snow. However, with true British grit and determination, neither they or we were put off and with a little re-jigging of plans to work around the worst of the snow, we set off on an 8 day Alberta tour, first heading north to the capital of Alberta, Edmonton (in atrocious conditions – none of us had ever seen as many wrecked &/or abandoned cars and lorries as we saw that day). Our route then took us west and up into the Rocky Mountains, to Jasper, then south on the Icefields Parkway, acknowledged as one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the world, to Lake Louise, south again to Banff, before heading south east back to Okotoks. Here’s a number of snaps from the trip.

We pick the story up in and around Jasper (given Edmonton was something of a “white-out” – we ended up spending most of the time in the world’s biggest shopping centre, the West Edmonton Mall). Here, the Athabasca River had shaken off the icy binds of winter and was flowing freely although if you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can still see how deep the snow is on its banks.

We took a drive out to Medicine Lake. The weather was closing in and with us passing just one or two cars on the entire drive there and back, it was quite eerie. The lake was frozen and very low lying versus it’s summer height (the First Nations people used to think the varying heights of Medicine Lake were a spiritual phenomenon and it is only fairly recently that it was discovered exactly where the water drains away to from the base of the lake).We drove on and eventually stopped for lunch where, in exchange for a crumb or two of pretzel, we were richly rewarded by visits from a couple of very inquisitive Gray Jays.Road conditions were not so great and great clumps of ice would build up in the car’s wheel arches which we would chip off whenever we could. With Janet’s foot in view for scale, you can see how substantial this ice block was that we managed to separate from Lilly.On the way back and before we left Jasper, we made further stops at Medicine Lake for a family snap or two. On the last of these, the weather was beginning to improve with the sun breaking through…There was plenty of wildlife around, including this slightly cheeky deer who clearly hasn’t learned that it is impolite to stick your tongue out…There were more Elk than we had ever seen in the Rockies before and choosing one picture from the hundreds that we took of them is nigh on impossible but this one is fairly charismatic!Just south of Jasper, we took a trip in the Jasper Tramway up the 8,000ft Whistlers Mountain…Patricia Lake is a beautiful spot at any time of year but the frozen lake gives it an especially clean and crisp look against the backdrop of the mountains and the now clearing blue sky…Just up the road from Patricia Lake is Emerald Lake which also looks strikingly different from the summer version of itself that Jan and Eam have previously experienced…Some of the mountain scenery around Jasper is stunning and it changes by the hour as cloud comes and goes and as the sun begins to set…As you head south from Jasper, you join the Icefields Parkway. It is a fabulous drive, all contained within the network of Canadian national parks. The official website is well worth a visit and gives you a flavour of some of the sites you can see in the height of summer – there are things to stop and see all along the 100+ miles that it stretches from Jasper to Lake Louise.

For us, we saw it in a different state of splendour. A stop at the Athabasca Falls is always a treat and late Winter/early Spring gave the scene a whole new look for Jan and Eam, again having only previously seen the area in the height of summer…You weave your way through fantastic mountain scenery…Along the way, you can stop at the Columbia Icefield and go take a, errr, “bus” up onto the glacier. The route they take brings you down (and up) the second steepest “road” (for “road”, read “dirt-track”) in North America before you arrive at the mouth of the glacier ice pack. Hazel is about 5ft tall…and yes, so are the wheels of the “Ice Explorer”.
The scenery when standing on the glacier is of the normal standard… This is the old “bus” they used to use. Apparently it was a real bone-shaker. Here’s the relevant website.

We continued south and so did the beautiful scenery…

In the ordinary run of events, one of the absolute highlights of driving the Icefields Parkway is to stop and take in the breathtaking scenes at Peyto Lake (as per this photo taken in July 2007).
However, with the aforementioned snowfall, the best we could do was get to the nearby car park. Just in case you think we were being a bit “soft” over the issue, this is the depth of snow we would have had to battle through to get to the lake. Eam thought it was mean that Jan, Hazel and Geoff were encouraging him to go stand by the information board so that they could take a pic – it was the conspiratorial looks on their faces that made him decline the offer, especially as they seemed less interested in taking a photo and more in causing enough of a disturbance to dislodge the snow!When we arrived there, Lake Louise was as beautiful as ever and just showing the first signs of thawing but seeing as we covered winter scenes at Lake Louise with our New Year’s Eve post, we only include one photo this time…After a night at Chateau Lake Louise, we headed south again to Banff for the last stop on our tour. Vermillion Lakes had thawed… Bow Falls were running fast…We took a trip to the top of the 7,500ft above sea level Sulphur Mountain, on the Banff Gondola. Here’s their website.
Atop the mountain, the scenes were as rewarding as you’d imagine they would be…
You get great views of the Banff Springs Hotel…But even up this high, there is much wildlife and this little chipmunk entertained Jan and Eam for several minutes as he scurried around looking for food.Two Jack Lake is one of Eam’s favourite spots in the Rockies and the contrast between this early Spring view and the one we took last Summer demonstrates why it is worth trying to get to see the Rockies in all seasons.The Big Horn Sheep can always be found near Two Jack Lake. Their “thing” is to lick the salt off the road and if your car happens to have salt on it, (which, of course, it often does when you have travelled over gritted roads), they’ll come and lick it off your car too! Here’s the family…Here’s the aftermath (ie: the clean patches) of having your car sheep “kissed”!Here’s Mum and baby. Ahhh, sweet…Nearby is Lake Minnewanka (we know, we know) which is a nice place to stop and take in the views…Although the jetty and boat launch, frozen into the lake, look quite spooky we think…Here’s the Banff Hoodoos and their impressive valley setting…And finally, here is the first, the very first flower we saw this Spring, found on the path down from the Hoodoos!We returned home to Okotoks to find that all the snow we had left behind had melted away, leaving Geoff and Hazel a couple of final days to relax and enjoy themselves before they headed back to the UK.


Calgary Tower

Another trip out during Geoff & Hazel’s visit was to Calgary Tower.Here’s the website:
The website tells of the glass floor (see first picture below) that looks down onto the streets of Calgary below. It says it can hold the weight of a couple of hippos…but we don’t buy it….one of the panes of glass was making serious creaking noises whenever anyone placed a foot on it!
Just checking that no-one has run off with our car! The white one.
Off to the East of Calgary…
Pengrowth Saddledome, which the Calgary Flames Ice Hockey franchise calls home. It’s also where we went to see Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson with Geoff & Hazel and where Jan and I are off to see The Judds, Sugarland and James Taylor during the Calgary Stampede in July. And yep, we know that almost all those names mean just about nothing in the UK!
In the background, you can see Canada Olympic Park where Eddie The Eagle failed so gloriously in the Winter Olympics.
And off to the West and the Rocky Mountains.

Calgary Zoo

Also on the Geoff & Hazel tour of Alberta was the obligatory visit to Calgary Zoo.
When you go to the zoo, you take a camera and you take snaps. We were no different…

We were at a party recently and Eam learned something that might just save your or our lives one day. He was standing chatting over a beer (as you do) and the subject turned to Moose (as it does…remember, this is Canada). Apparently, Moose are so tall, “leggy” and top heavy that if you ever hit one while driving, your absolutely instant reaction MUST be to duck down into the front well of the car because you can be sure that the Moose is going to be thrown across your bonnet (he said “hood”, this is Canada!) and it will crash through your windscreen! Unfortunately, the conversation moved onto pearls of wisdom re Eagles, Deer, oh yes, and Gophers, before the chap could appraise Eam on what he is supposed to do when the Moose is sat above him in the seat of the car. We guess you just work that one out for yourself at the time. BUT, you have been warned! Don’t know about you but this chap seemed reasonably amused by the story…
You don’t need us to name these do you!…here’s a little selection of pics…
Apparently, Porcupines are so bad at just about all the necessities of finding food that they have to forage all year ’round, while all the other animals take a well earned kip during the long Canadian winter!
Ahhh, sweet…

Fort Calgary & Other Matters

Getting back to the subject of Jan’s parents’ visit in April/early May, one of our trips out was to Fort Calgary, which recounts the story of the establishment of the North West Mounted Police’s first post in Calgary. Here’s their website.
It’s an interesting half day out although regrettably, there is nothing by way of original buildings left in situ, with all of the displays now housed in this more modern facility.

Once inside, we were fortunate enough to meet and talk with Officer Clarke of the NWMP First Regiment Calgary, who educated us on the uniforms of the era…Outside is a statue of Colonel James Alexander Farquharson Macleod (a name so long that it spills over to a second line of text on the commemorative plate – surely Farquharson was a name too far and were it not for the fact he carried a sword, we feel sure he would have been the victim of frequent bullying!) Anyway, he was a very celebrated Commisioner of the NWMP, to the extent that you find roads named after him (Macleod, not Farquharson, thankfully) all over Calgary and surrounding towns.

After the visit, we sat outside for a bit of lunch, accompanied by a North American Robin (much larger and more timid than the UK version – more like a Blackbird in behaviour and size).

And just to prove he’s more timid, here’s the Robin we had in our garden in St Albans last year before we came out here (ahhhhh…poor fellow was soaking wet from the rain!)

Also on view was a Prairie Dog or Gopher, call it what you will.

Now we think these guys are really cute but the locals take a different view altogether. They (the Gophers, not the locals) do tend to dig holes in your land and create cavernous networks of tunnels beneath so perhaps we can understand but it still left us a bit dumbfounded when listening to the local radio station recently and we heard the DJ talking to someone who had called in to request a tune. The usual chit-chat ensued rounding off with the DJ asking the caller “And so what are you going to get up to this afternoon?” His reply, “Oh, I’m going to go out and shoot me some Gophers!” Cue awkward silence on air followed by the DJ saying “errr, well OK then, whatever rocks your boat!” Not sure we ever heard that on BBC Radio!

Anyway, we digress. The day ended up with a trip to a good spot just north of Downtown Calgary where we managed to get some decent shots of the city, including this one…