Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Corona in Alberta

COVID-19 has not made the same deep inroads within Alberta that it has in other places. We have been watching the rest of the world, making plans, stocking up on food and books and waiting for The News. Kids' spring break was supposed to be at the end of the week and of all the places in the world we could have planned to visit for the very first time ... Seattle. So we cancel those plans and instead think about where else in the neighborhood we want to hike. Outdoors is pretty good for social distancing and keeping sanity.

My home office in DC is down to skeleton crew and I started teleworking this week. It's a little funny because of course I telework every day, but from an office rather than my house.

The kids' school was finally cancelled Sunday afternoon, along with all other schools in Alberta, so together with my telework we need a plan to keep the kids from fighting outside the door to the study between 7:30am-4:00pm.We've put together a schedule that includes everything from Khan Academy math to practicing their instruments to doing chores, getting outside, and reading. And a documentary every day - it's TV time, so they are pretty happy about it. Day one went spectacularly well, and I was reminded of how much my children crave structure and predictability (some experts will say all children need this, some parents will argue not their kids). In any case, Alberta Board of Education is doing a rollout of how learning is going to go for the next three months that starts with high school, then middle, then elementary last. Alex got some assignments when she went to school to clean out her locker - all students has certain days and times to go, based on their last names, to avoid a crowd. We're heard essentially bupkis for Zoltan but he's still in elementary and Khan Academy has 5th grade math all ready for him.

On day 3 of learning from home, the kids baked chocolate crinkle cookies for "science".

We are so incredibly fortunate. We can telework, and if we can't we have leave, and if we run out we have savings. We are healthy and secure in our jobs. Our kids are old enough to not need our constant supervision so we can actually work while working from home. We have internet, heat, clean water - and sufficient toilet paper for about a month - and we can easily get outside even if we can't get near other people.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Finally Snowshoeing

Our very first snowshoe adventure was in Finland, back when we were posted to St Petersburg. It was amazing, magical, so very much fun. We were younger, fitter, and tired kids could be pulled on a sled thing that attached at Terry's waist. We decided we'd snowshoe at the cabin in the winter, so we went ahead and bought ourselves a bunch of snowshoes.

Fast forward to being back in the USA. We realize that winter visits to the cabin are a bad idea - arriving near midnight with kid who either did or did not fall asleep in the car and in any case need to get to bed RIGHT NOW but the cabin is below-freezing temps inside, other than in the furnace room, which is a "roasting" 50 - nothing good comes from this. So, no showshoeing that year.

Fast forward to Kazakhstan. We do go snowshoeing once. It was bitterly cold, below -20 without windchill and massive wind that nipped at any exposed flesh. We turned back very early.

Now we are in Canada where everything is glorious. In our introductory hikes we tried to instill in the kids the love of outdoors and hiking so we focused on really cool things like ice falls. Having hit every one in a two hour radius of Calgary (other than Fish Creek, which is within Calgary city limits), we decided it was time to break out the 'shoes.

Our plan was to hit a highly recommended, easy trail that was almost two hours away. Around the hour mark of our drive was a visitors' center we knew would have indoor bathrooms - winter is no good time for the porta-potty type toilets at most trailheads, which have doors that let a lot of outdoor air circulate.  During the stop we had a quick conversation and re-orientation and decided to do the easy trail that left from the other end of the parking lot.  That was a very good decision, as it was a richly fact-finding experience for us. Fact #1: Snowshoes really are a double workout compared to hiking (as in, you get exhausted at what would have been the halfway mark on a hike). Fact #2: Although the children are still technically under the weight limit for their snowshoes, the 'shoes are legitimately too small. They post-holed a number of times when playing around in the deep snow to the side of the trail. We need new-to-them 'shoes before our next trip out. Fact #3: 10 year olds can not be trusted to account for all of their gear before departure and must be reminded.  "I thought I had it so I didn't look", and "I told you so you should have reminded me" are apparently valid excuses. Fact #4: The deep snow is way more fun than the trail.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Bowness Park Lagoon

Looking for open ice places to go skating, I stumbled upon the Bowness Park Lagoon. Having no idea at all what to expect, we packed up our skates and headed out.

There is a section of open ice across a wider part of the river. Two firepits lined one bank of the river and a hoarde of very young kids congregated in that general area. At one cleared end was a pickup hockey game, at the other end was the entrance to the "skate along the canal" portion. I thought it would be like the town in Quebec I've read about, with kilometers of trail and hot cocoa stands along the banks. It was not that - it only took a few minutes to get to the end of the cleared portion of the trail, but it was still very fun. My highlight was the woman on skates pushing her stroller along the canal. I later saw a couple of other parents with their strollers on the ice.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Human Bonspeil

Across the street from the Consulate in Olympic Plaza there is a fountain that is made into an ice rink in the winter.  It is free to use assuming you have your own skates, but who doesn't have there own skates in Canada.  For people without skates, there are also rentals.  So once a year there is a charity event to raise money for KidSport Calgary.  The organization helps kids without the financial means to play in organized sports.  The fundraiser is a Human Bonspiel competition.  What is bonspiel? you may ask.  It is normally a curling competition (curling: winter sport mainly in Canada played with brooms on ice. Has a horseshoe/bowling element of throwing something heavy down a lane and attempting to hit a bulls-eye). The human bonspiel is similar, except instead of a stone thrown down the lane, players jump on intertubes and they are the stones.  There is also no sweeping.  Officials measure how close you are to the "button" (the center of the target).  Teams of four compete, with each throwing themselves down the ice.  The goal is to get the lowest total measurement of all four teammates.

I was on a team with three other Consulate members.  Due to the skills of other players on my team we did manage to get through the first round of competition.  Because we made the top three for the day we went to the finals.  Monday through Thursday were the initial rounds.  The top three from each day continued on to the finals on Friday. We performed better than the first day a team but we had much stiffer competition with 12 teams competing for the win. Unfortunately we did not place, but I did have a ton of fun and we raised some money for charity.  Above is short video of me sliding on the ice.

Monday, March 2, 2020

More Emergency Room - Canadian Rockies version

Our low key Monday was meant to focus on a ski slope in Canmore that had a sledding hill and skating rink. We figured we'd have some winter fun, cut it short when Zoltan got cold (his boots didn't dry completely), lunch in Canmore and head home in the early afternoon.

We got to the slope and parked at what turned out to be the far end from where we were. When I asked a woman in the parking lot where the sledding hill was, she pointed the way then said "just follow the bloody noses". Confused, I followed the direction and found the hill shortly.

The kids took a few runs, which were longer but a gentler grade than they had gotten used to. On the side there was a steeper grade, which also included a curve and a pretty steep drop off if you missed the curve.  The kids regularly missed the curve, although at first they veered off after already entering it.

Then came the run when Alex missed it practically from the top. The drop was probably four feet or so. We saw her stand up, then seem to crumple down. Terry first, then I raced down to check on her. She said it hurt to breathe and she was having trouble gathering her breath. She could move all fingers and toes so we were slightly less panicked but had her rest a while. When she still complained, we called a local clinic to be sure they were open on this holiday and let them know we were coming.

Have I mentioned frequently enough what a relief it is to have universal health care? We could worry about whether Alex was OK and not what the visit would cost. In the end she was perfectly fine, just a bit bruised and very shaken up. By this time we were hungry and she was OK so we hit a local restaurant for lunch.

Graze was well reviewed and conveniently located to where we could find parking.  The food was tasty, the owner roamed the floor to make sure everyone was comfortable and well served. I was particularly impressed when he came over and said the meal had taken longer to come out than he preferred and our beverages would be comped (it did feel like the kitchen was oddly slow, and I was very impressed and touched at the gesture. We'll be back).

All's well that ends well.