Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teenage Angst

  • Dinner last night was a success, I think.  I made beer stew, and after Mayu tasted it she got up, went to her room to get her camera and then came back and took a picture of her plate.  We didn't talk about it, but I'm choosing to take that as a compliment.

  • I do have to watch myself, because I think our culture tends to keep ourselves busier than the Japanese do.  It's quite common for Mayu to just sit quietly and stare ahead at nothing.  My instinct when I see her do that is to assume that she's bored and give her something to do; but I'm starting to suspect that quiet time to sit and think is what she needs.  (It makes me glad that I also put a chair in the spare room before she arrived, so that she has a chance to get away from all my hustle and bustle.)

  • Yesterday was a bit upsetting.  Nanako, who is the girl staying with my friend Jen, and who we spent the weekend with, planned an impromptu party last night and didn't invite Mayu.  Jen and I  had planned for me to take both girls last night, so that Jen could go to a meeting.  However, when Mayu came home, she said that Nanako had made other plans.  I soon got a call from Jen, who said that her husband was inundated with a gaggle of girls in his living room and didn't know what to do.  I asked around covertly and confirmed that Mayu had not just chosen not to join them but was in fact not invited.    We couldn't force Nanako to invite Mayu (nobody wants to be that girl who is only there because the adults say she has to be invited), but it didn't seem right.  While it may be different in their culture, the general consensus around here is that if you are part of a group or small class, and some of that groups makes plans without you, then it feels like you have been deliberately excluded.  I got all mama bear and set about making sure that Mayu had a great night without the other girls.  We didn't have a lot of luck with our plans, but I think she had fun.

  • We tried to go paint pottery, but that store is closed on Mondays.  Then we decided to go out to a par 3 and introduce Mayu to golf - a storm blew in and there was lightening, thunder and funnel clouds.  Golfing wasn't meant to be, so we ended up shopping.  We went to Chapters so that I could get a Japanese/English dictionary and we could look through some books on Japan.  Then we wandered around a pet store, where Mayu seemed to fall in love with guinea pigs.  Finally, we set off to Michaels, so that she could pick out beads.  The next time we have a slow night, I told her that we would make jewelry together.

  • With the long weekend coming up, I wasn't sure what we'd do.  I was waffling between the Calgary zoo and Lake Louise.  My mom suggested that I take her out to Drumheller to see the dinosaur museum.  Honestly, she's such a girly-girl that I ruled it out right away.  However, when I asked her about the weekend and gave her the three choices, she jumped on the dinosaurs.  I've come back to it a few times to make sure that she understands what she's picking (I can't imagine picking bones over mountains), but she seems adamant.   I've shown her pictures, and she wants to see the "Die-no-soars".  So, I guess we're heading to Drumheller for a day on the weekend.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Farm Tour

We took the girls out to a farm tour yesterday, so that they could get an idea of what agriculture is like in Alberta. I suspect that a lot of the talks went over their heads, but we tried to explain the basics to them and I think just the sights were something for them to experience.  And, they got to taste local produce at each stop, which they seemed to like.

Last year, when I went on this tour, I didn't think to bring my camera.  This year, I did bring it but I inadvertently left the telephoto lens instead of the usual one.  I took loads of pictures, but most of them were of the girls from a distance (telephoto lens) when they were unaware.

So - some shots of what we saw...

Cherry tomatoes, growing in the greenhouse
They're already ~20 feet tall, and will keep growing taller until November.  You can kind of see supports along the ceiling between the rows in this shot - the plants are tied to lines that hang from the supports.  As they grow taller, the tomatoes are more productive near the tops of the plants, to the lines that support them are lengthened and the bases of the plants are stripped of leaves and wrapped around the pots.  By fall, there won't be any space to walk between the pots.

This is brussels sprouts, I think, although the truth is that the plants looked exactly like cabbage to me.

This is definitely cabbage in this shot.  There are four different kinds, but I mostly took this shot for the girls because of the derrick. We have derricks all over oil-rich Alberta ... Except, now that I look at it again, I don't think that's a derrick.  I think it's farm equipment of some sort.

Asparagus.  So pretty, I might just grow it in my gardens next year for its aesthetics.

We actually got the girls to use a pitch fork and then dig around in the dirt with their hands for potatoes.
I'll bet they never expected that they'd be doing that on this visit.

Artichokes!  In Alberta.  The last farm we went to is expanding its horizons, and trying new techniques to grow produce that until now has been considered impossible for our weather.  They had rows of artichokes and celery to show off their success.

Then there are about 50 shots of the girls in the fields. We spent quite a bit of time in the strawberry fields, in particular.  Strawberries are a special treat in Japan, so it was just great to watch them skip around the field, filling up on something they clearly love.

Both girls are so pretty and graceful to watch, I wished I had a video camera.   I felt almost like a stalker, as I snapped shot after shot of them tip toeing through the fields or bending to pick produce, but I was very open about it.   They looked up periodically and saw me with my camera pointed at them, and didn't seem to mind.  I got some great shots that I'll pass on to them and their families, but but since they are only 16 with limited ability to communicate, it wouldn't be right for me to share them publicly.  I am actually kind of sad that I can't post them here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hand Gestures

Lucky for me, body language and hand gestures are universal.

Our students, Mayu and Nanako, arrived on Friday.  Mayu, who is staying with me,  speaks very, very little English, but we are making it work.  There's a lot of me waving her towards me, and holding the index finger up wait, and thumbs up for good.   I wonder if she noticed if these are the same gestures we use with Jen's deaf bulldog?  If she has, I hope she doesn't take offence.

So far, we've mastered "I like"  and "I don't like", "I want" and "I don't want", "I am full", and the big one: "OK" and "Not OK".    For the first day, everything was OK, so I wasn't sure that she understood that things could be not OK. Mayu is such a respectful and accommodating girl that at first, I was afraid that she'd go along with me and do or eat things she doesn't like rather than risk being rude.    Thankfully, I think we've got it worked out and she's managed to tell me when something isn't to her liking.

This, of course, means that I'm now going to broaden her horizons and try new things with her, expecting her to tell me when she doesn't like it.

Yesterday, the four of us went to the local market.  The girls, who have never met each other before,  didn't even really talk amongst themselves as they followed Jen and I around.  They did laugh at the silver guy acting like an Elvis statue.  Then we took them to the spa and we each got pedicures.  They seemed a little stunned at first, but I think they liked it.

After that was the breakthrough.  We took the girls to the grocery store to buy the food for their stay.  They laughed and laughed.  I don't think they've ever seen so much food being purchased at once.  If they pointed at something, we bought it.  If they said "I like" to something, we bought it.  (Within reason).  Eventually, we had a cartful for the four of us, which I don't think is unreasonable for four people for two weeks, but the girls seemed surprised about the volume.

I was expecting her to not like most of our foods, but so far she has seemed OK with it.  There have been a few things that got an apologetic "I don't like" but for the most part, I get a smile and an "OK" as she tastes new things.  This morning, I even got a request for more pancakes with maple syrup.  I've heard horror stories about how our food tends to make the Japanese sick, because it's so different from theirs.  I suspect, though, that that's the processed food that we North American's eat.  I've been giving her simple, whole food with an emphasis on fresh fruits and veggies and trying to cut back on the dairy.  So far, as far as I can tell, it seems to be working.

Today we are off to do a farm tour.   A local co-op of 5 farms that work together do an annual appreciation day where the public is welcomed out to their farms and given a tour.  Some friends and I went last year and had a blast, so we're hoping that the girls like it just as much today.

Tomorrow, they'll start "school" for week.  We aren't sure what will happen after that - if they'll want to hang out with the other Japanese students in the evening or if they will want to spend time with us.  We have some rough plans for things we could take them to, but for now we're thinking we'll play next week by ear.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


That's "welcome" in Japanese.  It isn't the word I thought it was going to be, but I've got a lot to learn over the next couple of weeks.

Tomorrow, a young girl from Japan will arrive to stay with me for two weeks.   I don't know much about her - she's 16, and is here to learn about Canada.  She'll be going to school down the road from me, says she's shy, and that her English is "not good".

My friend Jen, who lives across the road from me, is also taking in a Japanese student.  She talked me into it but it didn't take much convincing; we both agree that it'll be easier for us and the girls if we both have support groups near by (across the road).

I was matched with my girl (Mayu) because I have previous ESL experience, she wants to learn about nature in Canada and because she doesn't like seafood (of which I'm allergic).  She also likes Japanese Pop music, which I've never heard and likes to dance.  She says she can't dance well, so hopefully she won't judge my lack of dance moves.

For the next two weeks, my job will be to show her around Central Alberta, have fun and teach her all things good about Canadians.  I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Red Finch!

I am so excited... I've wanted wild birds in the yard for so long.  I've planted trees for them, I've left food out for them, and finally this year they've arrived.

The sparrows come and go pretty regularly.  I suspected that there might be a few finch, but they've all been brown until today.  Today, this little guy stood on top of the bannister over the back porch as he sang and flapped his wings at a nearby female.  I was afraid to move and scare them away, but ran and got my camera once they settled in at the feeder.

He didn't want to come out of the shadows for the photo op, so this is all I got.  Doesn't matter, though -   I saw a red finch in the yard!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Front Porch Redo

I've wanted rocking chairs for my front porch, since the day it was built.    The problem is that I have a set of perfectly good, comfortable chairs that make it hard for me to justify buying new rocking chairs.

I might end up buying the the rockers down the road anyway, but I decided to freshen up the old chairs in the meantime with a lick of paint.

I was aiming for raspberry in colour, and forgot that everything seems three shades lighter outside.  I landed squarely on HOT PINK
but I've decided that I like it, especially behind the colourful garden.

One thing that is screamingly missing is a foot stool.  I have one that needs to be repaired and then painted tangerine orange.  I've got plans for the next couple of weeks, though, so that'll have to wait.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The C Word

I've had a few weepy days lately, after finding a lump last week.  I'm not one who does self-exams with any sort of regularity, but found it after feeling achy for a few days .   I know that the chances of it being cancer are low, but the pain and the fact that I can't remember the last time I checked somehow made it seem scarier.

I called to get an appointment to see the doctor, hoping that I'd made it all up in my head and that he'd say it is nothing.  He didn't - he felt a definite lump and wanted it checked out further.  

I was scheduled for an ultrasound and mammogram (what fun!), this morning.  The tech said that they didn't see anything to worry about.  Maybe I should wait until the report comes back from the radiologist until it's official, but I'm guessing now that I'm in the clear.

The moral of this story is: if you don't do your self exams now, you should start.  Even if you don't find anything, at least then you'll know.  Because if someday you do find something, it'd be easier  to handle if you knew that you were good just a few weeks ago.  I can tell you from experience that it's no walk in the park to have to wonder not just what that lump is, but also how long it's been growing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Honest Opinions, Please

I picked up this necklace the last time I visited Whyte Ave in Edmonton.  I liked it because of all the colour, but was unsure of the sequins.  It turns out that I've worn it almost non-stop since I got it (It matches everything!) but I'm still not sure about the sequins.    

I almost feel like I'm wearing a child's dress-up jewelry from the dollar store, but at the same time I think I like it.  So, please tell me either way.  Is it OK, or should I send it into retirement?

And, a closeup, so that you can see the sequins that I'm talking about:

Just for the record, it's no easy feat to take a close up of a necklace while you're wearing it, and not end up with a photograph that showcases your boobs.   

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bird Dog

It was the hottest night of the year, so the little white dog headed out to the front porch - the only place in the yard where he could get both shade and - thank you God - a bit of a breeze.  The little white dog figured that if he was stuck out there, he might as well hunt some birds.

So he donned his blue camouflage coat, to blend in with the not-quite blooming delphiniums.
And then he settled in behind the garden foliage and waited for the birds to arrive.

 He waited...

 and waited....

and waited....

I sure hope the birds get here soon!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day with the Nephews

My sister was in town over the weekend, and brought her boys along.  She worked almost all weekend, but that gave me an excuse to take the boys out and spend the day with them.

We started off by going for breakfast, and holy cow, was I not ready for the appetites.  Sure, I noticed that they'd both grown in the almost-year since I'd seen them.  The older one must have sprouted up a good 5-6 inches, but it's amazing how they've learned to pack food away.  We went to a local pancake joint - I ate less than half of my egg-filled crepes dish.  They pounded back huge plates of chocolate chip pancakes and apple cinnamon crepes (both with Lots of maple syrup and whipped cream thankyouverymuch!)

Then we went to the market, where we learned about vermicompost (which we all agree I should do... the boys, because they like the idea of their auntie storing worms under her sink, me because a small bag of worm castings cost $15 freaking dollars).   While we were there, we bought some locally grown produce for dinner.    Then we drove out to a U-pick strawberry farm just outside of a nearby town, only to realize that they aren't open yet, due to a late start in the season.  That would have been annoying, but I find that some of our best conversations happen in the car.

Next, I had the slave labour portion of the day scheduled.  I had the boys put on their swim trunks and convinced them that they'd be doing me a huge favour if they would pressure wash my fence so that I could paint it.  Really, I just wanted them to cool off in the +30C temperature.   They seemed to have fun, and thought they looked like ghost busters with the pressure wand.

The reward for all that hard work was a late lunch at the Wok Box, where I declared that it was time for them to master the art of eating with chop sticks.

There may have been some rice and other foods flicked, dropped or otherwise spewed across the table during this little endeavour.  
But we had fun.

We spent the afternoon at the local Nature Centre, where we learned about local birds and saw more swifts and ruddy ducks than we could count.

(not my pictures)

Back to my place we went, where I made secret pasta that they had to taste before I'd tell them what it was.  After they assured me that they loved it - and wouldn't change their minds once they learned the ingredients - I told them it was full of spinach and artichokes. We also had fresh baby carrots and peas from the market, and finally  - FINALLY  - they were full.  So much so, they didn't notice that I didn't offer dessert.

After a long walk with the dogs, we came back home.  They were still pretty hyped up from the day, so I let them watch a few episodes of Avatar - the Last Air Bender to mellow them out.  At 11:00, they crashed on some mattresses on the floor.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tuktoyaktuk - bound

The heatwave that everybody else seems to be talking about finally hit central Alberta yesterday.  I think it's supposed to reach 31C today.  Everybody is saying that it'll feel like 37C because of the humidex, but I don't think that's necessary.  As far as I'm concerned, anything hotter than 30C, can be summarized as Too Dang Hot.

Cotton Dog agrees.  His cold coat, which he usually only wears on walks during particularly hot days, hasn't come off (other than to be "recharged" with more cold water) in 36 hours.  The dude's hot, and has kindly requested that we move to Tuktoyaktuk forthwith.

Except...  What I didn't plan for is that the coat gets really rather solid when it dries out.  Normally, since it's worn for an hour or so, taken off and then folded up and put away, the fact that the coat becomes stiff like a thin cast doesn't matter.

Last night, Cotton went to sleep the way he normally does - curled up in a tight little ball.  When he woke up a few hours later, he was distressed to realize that his coat was acting like a shell.  He could barely uncurl, and he most certainly couldn't curl up on the other side.  Luckily for him, I woke up and came to the rescue.  Tonight, I'm hoping that we can forego the cold coat so that I don't have to wake up at 3:00am to resoak it for him.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I don't have much to blog about lately - mostly, I've been poking around in the yard, so all I've got to report on is the plants.

I could tell you that I've eaten strawberries from the garden, and now have enough lettuce to make my own home-grown salads.  Onions too.  Hopefully, tomatoes won't be too far behind.

Right now, it's the mockorange bush's turn to shine.  It'll be a solid white by the weekend, but I couldn't wait.  I went out last night and took some shots of it.

Inside, I repotted the newly acquired (with strings!) Christmas cactus.  It needed a bigger pot, but I didn't want to go taller with it.  I was happy to find this shallow but wide pot at Ikea on Tuesday.

I think it kind of makes it look like a bonsai.

Finally, we've been having a lot of brief but intense rain storms interrupting our otherwise sunny days.  We've had our fair share of rainbows as a result.  I tried to get a shot of this one, since I could see both ends.  Unfortunately, my lens isn't wide enough and the ends were cut out off.

Tomorrow, I'm going to start work on some new shelves in the spare room/office.  If I finish that without too much stress, I might start work on a new daybed for that room.  I've got the wood for the project; I just don't know if I have the energy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Late night fun

Yesterday's fun started with a text that I sent to the BFF.  "I should be embarrassed but I'm not.  I want to see Magic Mike.  Can I talk you into seeing a movie about hot nude men with me?"  I promptly realized I sent it to the wrong number when I typed a 3 instead of a 5.    Oops.

Anyway, I got a hold of Kat the old fashioned way - I called her on the phone - and we made arrangements to get together yesterday.   I headed south and met Kat and her kids for the afternoon.  At  dinner time, we left the kids with their dad and headed out to an amazing restaurant for dinner.  I'd never heard of the Phoenix Grill until yesterday, but the service was excellent, the prices were good and food was to die for.    I cheated on my diet and got a burger for dinner, but it was absolutely worth it.  (What a relief - there's nothing worse than cheating on your diet and then not enjoying what you eat.)

After that, we headed over to get our tickets for the movie.  We were more than an hour early, so we were surprised to see the lineup to get tickets had people packed in like sardines.  We almost made it in time, but it sold out just as we got to the front of the line.  What to do...

We did the only thing that two rational adult females can do.  We very quickly ruled out the idea of seeing a different movie, and bought tickets to the show that started at 10.  Kat's still nursing her youngest, so we ran to a couple of stores and picked up a few things to pass the time and then ran home for her to feed the baby.  We were back at the theatre by 9, but we still had to wait in a line up of women (and a very few deer-in-the-headlight-looking men) that wrapped around the theatre for 45 minutes before getting our seats.

I won't give away the movie.  Not that there's much to give away.  It's about male strippers.   They're good looking.  They strip.  It's no classic, but it could have been a lot worse and was entertaining.  We laughed a lot, both at the audience and the movie.  Matthew McConaughey, who lost his appeal to me a while back, has never looked slimier... I'm pretty sure he meant to do that, but I don't think I'll ever see him otherwise again.

It was 1:00am before I even left Calgary last night.  I didn't get to bed until 3:00.  Thank goodness I didn't have any plans today, because I'm realizing that I pay for these late nights a little more as the years go by.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


There's a nursery in town that puts their plants on sale for the Canada Day long weekend.  If you can fit it on a tray, you can have it for $10.  Moosepants, the little V's and I headed out there first thing yesterday morning. (I mistakenly thought there would be crazy crowds, so I talked Moosepants into going at the butt crack of dawn... oops.)  I bought a tray and a half of annuals, and a weeping potted tomato plant, hoping that I'll end up with oodles of grape tomatoes.  Then I forgot my half tray in Moosepants' truck... oops again.

That actually worked out because when I got home, I realized that I'd bought all relatively tall plants, and didn't have anything shorter for the borders.    After I put my tray of tall plants in, I had a good idea of what short plants to get and how many, so I went back and got them.

The back garden is now done for the year.  It's not how I envision it in the long term, but since I can't plant trees, I think I need a while to mull over and rework my plans.  In the meantime, I planted corn along the back to give me some height.  That area is fairly shady, so I don't expect them to produce; but if the corn plants grow as tall as I hope they will, I might have found a reasonable workaround.

  • In other news, I got two pretty great compliments in the last couple of days.  One came from the family down the road, who was having a BBQ at their place.  They wandered down to my yard with about 6 of their guests. Through the open window, I heard them saying "this" was the yard they'd been talking about and wasn't it pretty - then they debated about whether or not some of my plants are real

  • The other compliment that I got is something that you'd have to have known me for a while to understand.    Although I'm quite healthy now, I had some issues a while back that resulted in grossly swollen feet and ankles.   The lady that waxes my legs the other day commented "Jeez - your feet are boney".  She may have been referring to my recent weight loss but either way,  it great was to hear.

  • Finally, on the weight-loss tangent, I calculated my BMI the other day.   I'm happy to report that I am no longer obese!  I'm "just" fat - and on track towards a healthy (yet to be determined exactly) goal weight.

  • I've got the next week off as vacation from work.   My plans are to do more yardwork, hopefully go visit a friend in Calgary, and then come back and hang out with the nephews who will be in town at the end of the week.