One thing we've been wanting but missing most places we have lived in the last 10-15 years is a "go to" - a restaurant that is casual enough, tasty enough, and close enough to home to be the place we go regularly and where the waitstaff know who we are.
We found it.
The only consistently good food we have found so far is BBQ, which is something you can find on practically every corner. The place around our corner is very, very good. We went last week when my mom was in town, and as usual for the Madnicks (slightly less so with the Poczaks) gave our server a memorable evening. Which means when she handed us our menus tonight she noted the absence of one of our party.
She is very, very good. We are thrilled to have found our "go to" place so early in the tour. Now I just need to convince Terry that we are not really going to go every week. It's BBQ. Our hearts probably can't handle that.
I should start with the day Terry went to register the children in school (one week before school started, and the day after we had a signed lease). Being supporters of public school when our children can actually learn, i.e., they speak the local language, we had decided not to send them to private school in Calgary.
I get a text from Terry around 20 minutes after the appointment time. Canada uses a March cutoff date and that puts Alex in 7th grade, not 6th. Zoltan will be in 5th grade. My first instinct is "hell no, we're going to fight this." My second instinct is "with a March cutoff, they are not the youngest - they are in fact in the very middle of the pack. And they have pretty much always been bored. Let's see how this goes."
The one concerning feature is that with the moving up, rather than both children attending the same elementary school that is a 5 minute walk from our house, now Alex goes to a junior high that is about 1.5 miles away and there is no yellow bus service - she has to take a regular city bus. She has my (lack of) sense of direction. Did I mention this is one week before classes start?
So we move cell phones around so each kid now has one. We had an emergency talk/text plan for each phone and at the last minute we decided Alex would need data to be able to track the bus routes or get walking directions. I am so grateful we made that decision and horrified about what we would have done had we not done that (more on that later).
The elementary school actually combines grades, so 5th and 6th are in class together although they apparently separate for math and some special classes. Zoltan is settling in, managing very well with being the last one out of the house in the morning and the first one back in the afternoon.
Because Alex registered for school so late, she was not able to get her top choice special classes but she did get art and band. She's also settling in. things are very different - seventh graders can leave the school grounds at lunch if they want, they switch classrooms for every class, and as mentioned before she takes the city bus to and from school. On her first day of school I rode the bus with her to school, she rode home alone and there were no issues. On the second day she missed her stop, rode apparently several stops too far and had to find her way back to school. Has she not had data on her phone she would not have been able to get walking directions to school and would probably still be wandering lost around Calgary. So, yay for smartphones.
Note, she is now a pro at finding her way on the bus system and for figuring out how to fix it if she does make a mistake (wrong bus, miss a stop, etc). We couldn't be prouder.
With the weather and everyone's health in line, we rushed out the door last weekend to check out a reportedly easy hike a bit over an hour away.
Our kids have seen far too many amazing things in their short lives and are subsequently painfully jaded. For Alex I could blame it on tween-ness but Zoltan has no excuse. They did not care about the spectacular mountains. Or beautiful view. Or the waterfall. Or the fresh, crisp air. Speaking of which, it is August and it took nearly half the hike for me to shed my jacket and my long sleeved T-shirt. Needless to say Terry is in absolute hog heaven.
In all fairness, they did did eventually stop whining about wanting to go home.
The guide book calls Canmore "Alberta's Aspen" but about a million times smaller.We headed into town after the hike to grab lunch and to wander around. The kids did an amazing job not whining in the candy store, and were happy to use their allowance to get some treats to snack on during the ride home.
Not too far from our apartment is a Japanese restaurant that delivers the dishes via bullet train, in a very modified version of conveyor-belt sushi places in Japan. Point Sushi also has a number of cooked dishes to ensure the kids ate something too.
The way it works: Each table has a tablet with the menu for ordering. Order in groups of four - the trains have spots for four dishes - but order as much as you like. When the order is ready, a little "bullet train" (looks more like a lengthy car) zips down the runway along the booths and stops at your table. Remove the dishes and the car zips back to the kitchen.
It's tapas-like, with very small plates. We ate about 16-20 dishes for everyone to have enough food. To be completely honest, the cooked food was quite a bit better than the sushi. And the novelty ... we'll try to get back once more while we're still within walking distance.
We really do spend most of our time at work (Terry) or looking for housing (Lynne) but sometimes there's nothing scheduled and it's the weekend so we have been trying to get out and experience Calgary. Or stuff near Calgary. About an hour away is an annual event called the Days of Yore. Basically, there are different groups of historical reenactors - Vikings, Medieval, WWI, WWII and such, and they gather together for a full day of displays, mock warfare, and of course tents of things to buy.
Alex was particularly interested in the older stuff - people using swords rather than guns. The re-enactors were pretty serious and skilled, we had the chance to feel the armor and weaponry before the event and it was all pretty genuine. There was a bit of comic relief when a Medieval knight decided to join in with the Viking duels. Zoltan was thrilled by the military tactics, vehicles and of course guns. But there were other things as well.
One tent held a series of pelts, all the kids of animals found in the Canadian wilderness and the kinds of things the old trappers would sell. Foxes are a lot longer than they seem when they don't have any bones or guts. One particularly interesting exhibit was an amazingly well preserved top hat in its original case, from probably 100 or more years ago. Apparently the wealthiest men in London prized beaver pelts for these hats because they were warm and very waterproof. The hat he showed us was beautiful.
We also tried the very "traditional" taco-in-a-bag for the first time. Is this a common thing in the world and we have been overly sheltered?
After a few hours in the blazing sun we were absolutely beat and decided to curtail the planned second stop (more on that when we do finally get there). One thing we have had a hard time really digesting is that the temperature always feels 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it really is. Too many 60-something days I have made the kids put on pants rather than shorts and later apologized. I have heard a similar phenomenon occurs in the winter, where -20 might feel more like -10. I'm ready for that!
We haven't ever attended a Taste of ... event, although many cities we have lived in or passed through held them. Calgary just happened to hold the annual event at a location about 5 minutes from our temporary housing, so it was a no brainer dinner plan. Even the rain didn't damped our spirits, or that of the crowds of people also enjoying the event.
The highlight is of course that we could try dishes from so many Calgary restaurants - we figured it would be a great way to rule in or out places without having to have whole dinners at each place. When I went through the program back at home I surprised myself with how many dishes I checked off from so many different vendors. The other surprise was how tasty everything was. We've eaten out a bit and not every meal has been delicious, but we ended up ruling "in" every place we tried. One place we did not try: the Wafflepops food truck, because the line went down the entire street.
We started at Pure Modern Asian, where I got "fire chicken" in a seasame seed donut. I don't even like the taste of Sriracha and I adored this meal. Terry brought the kids to Holysmoke BBQ where they delighted in their pulled pork on a cornbread bun. Terry was excited to see perogies at Heritage Bakery and Deli, and got the combo with the cabbage roll and sausage. Alex's beef stick from Viet 2 Go was so good, I think she somehow didn't notice that it has spices and seasonings on it (she's usually a plain meat, maybe salt and pepper girl). We tried Bannock for the first time, getting one cheese and one mixed berry at Kokom's Bannock Kitchen. Good Fillin' Empanada was right next door and I had been hankering for one so I got the chicken ... should have gotten more. Even the kids liked it, although not the little drizzle of sauce on it (see plain eating preferences, above) Zoltan whined for the Wickens Burger from Burger 320, both because it took us so long to circle back for it and because it was so popular we had to wait a long time for it. Terry and I doubt its claim as the best burger in Canada but Zoltan was sold.
The tiny apple tarts at Pie Stories were good enough to go back for, although I think my crust is better. The Saskatoon Thumbprint cookie from Yakima Social Kitchen + Bar was OK, but those who prefer fruity desserts were more impressed that I was so I still call it a winner. We were disappointed that the maple donuts were sold out at Fantasy Donuts & Pretzels but we consoled ourselves with the cinnamon sugar.
The kicker is that so many of the stands we didn't visit looked so good, we could easily construct an entirely new list of foods tasted. If the weather gets better this weekend, we may go back for more.
August 5 is Alberta's Heritage Day, where the locals celebrate their province's heritage. Fort Calgary is a major part of that heritage and they just happened to be hosting a day of events for the day. We met up with another Consulate family and headed over there.
A number of Canadian forts were apparently constructed to crack down on illegal whisky trade (which apparently was caused by those neighbors to the south). I hadn't realized that was even a thing the British government cared about. Learn something new every day. There were RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) uniforms to try on, including several different styles of hats, and try them ALL on we did. There was also a horse statue we were not allowed to climb on but could pose near.
In the craft display the kids had the opportunity to learn finger knitting and make bookmarks. There was a series of "old town" type displays, with a replica main street and the kinds of establishments that may have existed along them a hundred plus years ago.
Wanting to spend some of the beautiful day outside, we headed to the giant checkers board where the kids played while parents chatted. Bored with checkers, the kids eventually borrowed some of the corn hole beanbags, made up their own way of tracking which piece was which, and played chess.
Our fabulous sponsors invited us to accompany them to Shakespeare on the Bow, which is Calgary's version of Shakespeare in the Park. The performers do one play each year, and this year was Midsummer Night's Dream, which is a perfect pick for us because Alex's class did some Shakespeare a couple of years ago and this was one of the plays. It was a beautiful evening, we were congratulating ourselves on throwing the picnic blanket in the car for our road trip so we had it to use, and the performance was amazingly good - especially for being free/donation requested. We are so excited for next year's season!
The only downside came when Zoltan, playing with the other kids after the performance, fell off the stage and injured his foot. He said he couldn't walk on it so I piggybacked him home - thankfully the performance was only a couple of blocks from our temporary housing. We stayed home the next day and on the day after that, when he still refused to put any weight on his foot, we went to the emergency room.
So far I have exactly one complaint about Canada. Who the heck makes emergency room parking paid?? And you have to pay in advance, so you have to guess how long you'll be there. The nice triage nurse guessed we'd only be there an hour and I should not have trusted that, given that I went back twice to add additional hours to the meter. Otherwise, the whole process went very smoothly, x-rays were taken and reviewed, no breaks were confirmed, and crutches were provided when he still refused to put weight on his foot.
Another Calgary delight our fabulous sponsors let us know about is the Southland Leisure Centre, which (most relevantly) has water slides and a wave pool, as well as ice skating, a gym, and other resources we didn't check out because we were there for the pool.
A final adventure of our first two weeks is the spectacular Calgary Public Library. We got our library cards last week, the kids signed up for the reading challenge, then decided it was their job to finish is with all due haste. I told them if they came back one week later with 40 hours of book reading accomplished the library might not believe them. The library has a whole indoor play space for the really little kids, a giant chess set, it's huge, roomy, airy, with super available, helpful and friendly librarians, The book checkout stations are throughout the library, not in one corner at the entrance. There's a cafe inside and a huge variety of seating for reading your finds, from cushions on the floor to a standard reading room with long tables and signed to remember to be quiet.
Between Zoltan's "still injured" foot and house hunting and the weather we still haven't made it to the mountains for hiking. I'm hopeful we get there before too long.
This week will be the last one before the kids start camp and I go to work. Most of our time has been spent either treking from house to house in hopes of finding our home, or kids reading/playing games while I scour the rental web sites for new houses to see, or going to the grocery store because when you are starting from scratch there are a million things you need to buy.
We were definitely surprised when the most expensive hotel room of our road trip was Great Falls, Montana. Until we discovered that the Montana State Fair opened the day before we got to town. And was located 0.2 miles from the hotel.
Terry had mentioned earlier in the day that while we were in Montana we should definitely eat some steaks. We managed to accomplish it on a smaller scale at lunchtime but had planned a steak dinner. Instead, we ended up with fair food. Cheese curds for dinner? Heck, yeah!
The kids were a little whiny as we went from the goats to the bunnies and pigeons and chickens and mules and alpaca. The 4-H club woodworking displays (chairs, benches, etc) were pretty cool. Then we let them loose at the carnival part, where good parents (us) stood in long lines until our feet hurt.
After the carnival came the meal. Cheese curds for the adults, fast food for the kids, funnel cake and fried dough (called elephant ears in Montana) for dessert. Then the hypnotist, then the art exhibit. Then some overtired tantrums and finally bed.
The next day it was up and out the door for the very last stage in this trip - the Crossover Into Canada!!
We got to the border just before noon and decided to get to the other side before stopping for lunch. Major Fail. We spent three hours being processed at the border, something we hope never to repeat as we should have our diplomatic IDs with us for any future border crossings. I was happy for the snacks I always have in my bag, and there was a water fountain by the bathrooms, and the kids had brought their books inside with them, so the whole thing could have been a million times worse. It was, however, seriously uncomfortable. I even eventually went out to the car for more snacks but there is truly nothing like a meal in the middle of the day. And, tip for anyone who might find themselves near the Montana-Alberta main crossing - on the U.S. side there is a little town right along the border. Seriously, we gassed up one last time about 5 minutes from the checkpoint. On the Canada side - nothing for an hour.
The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful. Our fabulous sponsors met us at the apartment and helped us haul in all the luggage. They also left a pile of games for us to play (they seem to be at least as into board games as we are), which has been an enormous help in our downtimes.
The apartment is fine (I keep telling myself). The bedrooms have enough room for the beds and side tables and nothing else. The kids share a room. There is much squabbling from being too close for too long with little else to distract them (how much worse it would have been without the games!)