Sunday, December 30, 2007

Satellite picture of the house

Until recently, Google Maps were using an out of date picture of our local community with lots of bare land awaiting house building. However, upon checking today, they have taken a new shot that shows our house and that of our neighbours. We've also marked the nearby community "beach house" which is our access point to the lake (unless we want to climb over the garden fences of a couple of our near neighbours!) You'll see that those houses backing directly onto the lake each have a little jetty. It is from these, that the locals are making their way out onto the now frozen lake to clear ice hockey rinks and so on.

Wikipedia gives a good little summary of the history and geography of Okotoks.,_Alberta

It mentions the flooding risk but we're situated way up out of the Sheep River valley and so any future flooding should not directly impact us.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day 2007

So we've made it...our first Christmas as residents of Canada. Whilst it's strange to be away from our families, we are also proud of what we have achieved in making it through the Canadian immigration process and then actually making the move across in October, finding a house and car and getting ourselves settled.

2008 will present us with all sorts of challenges, not least getting financially established as the search for work begins in earnest in January - but with all the hurdles we've jumped to get here, we feel confident about our ability to wrestle to the floor, all the big tasks ahead.

From a very mild Okotoks (it hit 6°C today - with a clear blue sky and lots of sun!), we wish you a very Merry Christmas.
Lots of Love

Fireman's Santa Parade

Each Christmas Eve evening, the local fire brigade (situated just around the corner from our house) do a tour of Okotoks with a Fire Engine decked out with lights and a santa.

Although this video is not as good as we would like, we wanted to test posting a short movie to the blog and so fingers crossed this works and you can view the mini parade. Try clicking on the triangular "play" button just beneath the picture below.


Heritage Park - 12 Days of Christmas

A few days back, we took a visit to Heritage Park, a "historical" (in North American terms) village situated in the west of Calgary. We visited in the Summer when we were here on a research trip and really enjoyed our day, so we thought we would pop back to take a look at their "12 Days of Christmas" presentation. A selection of photos follow and we hope you can see what a pretty (and interesting) place it is. Each of the buildings started life elsewhere in Canada and were moved piece by piece to Heritage Park where they were reconstructed. You can go into each of the buildings and speak to well informed guides dressed appropriately for the time period.

It was a fairly cold day (about -6°C) but with the sun shining brightly and the clear blue sky, the wintery scenes were that much more beautiful. The last shot is from the edge of the park, looking across the now frozen Glenmore Resovoir towards the Rockies.


We've got competition...

A family member was asking us the other day if the Canadian's make much of Christmas. The answer is yes - if the use of Christmas lights is any form of indicator. We previously posted some shots of our first attempt at applying some Christmas lights to our house, but some of the houses down around our local streets have rather left us "in the shade".

We especially love the world's biggest candy cane below...that's a VERY big house and quite where they sourced a candy cane of that size, we have no idea. You'll see what we mean below.

The last one is of our house again...after we've added some lights to the tree outside.


Watch out for the bears... they are innovative forragers and this bunch have taken up residence on our front porch.
We bought these at Spruce Meadows (a local show-jumping venue) when they held their Christmas Market recently. We spent an age choosing just the right three bears, each of which had a slightly different expression.

Danny, the chap who makes the bears (with a chainsaw!) was selling his wares directly and it was nice to be able to speak to him personally about his work. Here's his website.


Our Town

So this is where we live. Don't you just love the "Population" figure on the sign...makes us think of one of those western movies where the population figure is crossed through and replaced with a lower number after one of the locals gets killed!

You can see reference to the Okotoks Town There's lots of information on there including maps where you'll be able to see our Crystal Shores area in the north of the town and the lake that our house backs onto.

They seem very keen on sustainable living here and the plan is to cap the growth of the town when the population reaches 30,000, the idea being that they think this is the maximum number of people that can sensibly be serviced by the Sheep River, that flows through the centre of the town. According to the sign above, we're just over half way there at 17,000.


The overhaul has begun...

Having completed our mini project to raise the level of light in the house by changing out all the lightbulbs, it became apparent just how dreadful some of the paint colours were! So, in the period before Christmas, we have got to work on eliminating the worst of them by re-decorating the 3rd bedroom, the family bathroom and the main floor loo!
The 3rd bedroom was the worst. Before our predecessors moved in 2 years ago, this house was a show-home and unfortunately, the designer that Sterling Homes (the builder) had got in had thought it a good idea to half cover the walls with a dark chocolate brown colour, beneath two other fairly ghastly coloured stripes. This in a room that does not get a tremendous amount of natural light. As the Canadian's would say, "go figure"!
So off we went to Home Depot (the nearest equivalent in the UK being B&Q) to get some stain blocking primer to cover up the dark colours and a top-coat of an off-white (Linen) colour. We have left all the woodwork as is for now and we will tackle that as a job throughout the house at a later stage but we're pleased with the outcome.
Neither the family bathroom or the downstairs washroom have any windows and so the use of fairly dark shades of green paint was inexplicable.
We have changed these out too for the same Linen colour and again, the impact has been fairly striking.

The problem, of course, is that the rest of the rooms and open areas now look that much more dreary...oh no, what have we started!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas is coming...

...and Jan has got into the spirit by getting the decorations up.
First up were the outside lights and the candy canes.

And then she got stuck into the tree.
We sited the tree upstairs in the "bonus room". This left us with the problem of there being no tree downstairs. Jan was also struggling to accomodate all our decorations on the tree (as we tend to collect them as we go along our travels). The only answer was a second tree, a 7.5 feet one that we have sited in the dining area (or the "nook" as the Canadian's call it).
Yes, that's a beaver under the tree!
Throw in an Advent Calendar...
And an emerging yuletide village...

And we're done! Now, bring on the food!

Changing of the seasons...

Do you remember that late summer scene of the lake out the back of our house...

Look what a few weeks of cold weather and some snowfall has done to it..

The lake has completely frozen over. It looks stunning. The Canadian's seem an enterprising bunch and they certainly love the outdoors, evidenced by the following...

This is one of maybe 5 different ice rinks that the locals have created for themselves on the lake. You have to admire their determination. It is a significant job to shift that much snow to expose the ice and then they spend an age trying to smooth the surface. Then it snows again and they have to clear the rink again!

It's fascinating to watch them at work and then to see them enjoy the fruits of their labours.


Coming out of the dark

If you've ever been in a North American hotel room, you will know they are not big on lights. Rooms are often very dimly lit. This preference for gloom seems to pervade residential addresses too and one of the first projects we have undertaken in the new house is to replace all the light-bulbs. There were a lot of them, most being inappropriate choices for the socket into which they were inserted (which resulted in some very corroded fittings) and almost all having very low wattages. Replacing them with appropriate and brighter bulbs has made a huge difference to the level of light in the house, all for under $50. Here's the old in the trash!

So that's what minus 27°C feels like!

How typical of our luck. The weather folk have been going on about how this will be the coldest Canadian winter in years and to underline this "fact", we have been going through an extremely cold spell this past couple of weeks. Until a couple of days ago, we'd had numerous continuous days of "overcast" (it's sort of different here...the sky goes very white) weather with daytime temperatures of -24°C (with a wind-chill factor making it feel like -27°C).

We decided that we weren't going to hide from it and even though we weren't brave enough to venture out for walks, we did make sure we went about our business in terms of going to the shops and so on. You know that brain-freeze feeling you get when you eat too much ice cream at once...well it sort of feels like that, all over your head and body! So, it was out with the hats and thermal gloves and numerous layers of clothing, which all helped to make it manageable.

It's been nice to see the sun again this past couple of days although we had a fairly large dump of snow last night. Quite bizarrely though, we looked out the front door just before lunchtime today and someone (we have absolutely no idea who) has cleared our drive of all the snow. What a saint! It left us completely dumbfounded...we'll let you know if we find out who the Good Samaritan was and why they felt compelled to be so kind!


Sunday, December 9, 2007


A number of people have asked us about the postal system here.

The first thing we should say is that it is a bit flaky. A number of items of post have gone astray (although that could have happened at the UK end) and at least one item has gone to a neighbour because a comma was interpreted as a number 1!

The key difference from the UK is that you don't get the post delivered to your door. Indeed, the doors do not have letterboxes. Instead, you are assigned a box at a nearby postal delivery station and the post-person drives up and pops all the post for the local area into the respective boxes. You're given a key for your box and you pop along each day (or whenever you want) to see if you have mail. You can imagine how our little faces light up when we find mail in our box! Our box is just around the corner from the house, so it's no big deal to walk (or in current weather conditions - more of that later - slide) over there to check. Here's our postal station...our box is on the bottom row of the middle section.



We've been delighted to receive a variety of new home and Christmas cards. They have all been so welcome. One, in particular, really took us by surprise, so much so that we have framed it and it is now hanging on the wall. The author will instantly recognise their handiwork but we wont embarrass them by naming them, but we thought it was excellent to be able to paint such an accurate picture of the house without having seen it "in the flesh". Again though, since thanks to all for the well-wishes.


So, after a month of waiting, we took possession of our new house on Wednesday, 14th November. However, we spent that night as our final night at the barn as we had to wait until the following day until our UK furniture (and a number of other items) were delivered.

We were pleasantly surprised to see how much stuff we could fit into our car (we had been stock-piling essential purchases at the barn over the prior few weeks).

On Thursday morning, we arrived at the house bright and early and shortly afterwards, the lorry delivering our goods shipped from the UK, arrived.

There were just two, apparently slightly built chaps on board to shift all our belongings but boy, could they carry heavy loads! They would reach behind their backs and grab the far edges of a package and then run into the house and if necessary, up the steps) with the package (some of which were extremely heavy) behind them. It looked weird but was very effective. They unpacked many of the boxes for us and left us to do others when we told them that was OK. Our driveway was a mass of packing debris when they finished some hours later.
The lads did a pretty professional job on the whole, especially as they had to work around a series of other deliveries from other companies (ie: sofas, TV, etc) the same day. We do have some damage to a small number of items but versus our expectations of moving a house full of things 4,400 miles, we're reasonably satisfied with how things went.