Showing posts with label Culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Culture. Show all posts

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Stampede Pancake Breakfasts

Of course I had heard of Stampede before moving to Calgary. The rodeo thing, right? And when we moved here I heard a bit more about the pancake breakfasts. I heard about corporate sponsored ones, fancy with cocktails and invites being handed to clients and contacts.

During COVID the whole pancake breakfast thing took a hiatus, so this year was our first opportunities. I was a bit of a disbeliever - organizations just have this breakfast spread and anyone can just show up and eat the pancakes? Yes. Oh, yes.

While I was busy hiking mountains, Terry took the kids to a neighborhood breakfast at a new establishment we had been meaning to check out.  They were on the early side so although the pancakes were cooking, the band was not yet set up and the ponies for kiddie rides were just coming in. Apparently they were wearing cowboy hats. How disappointed am I that Terry took no pictures???

This morning we went to a nearby neighborhood for a church's pancake breakfast so I could see what this was all about.  This time we arrived about 15 minutes after it officially began and the line was down the street, the tables they had set up were full and they were setting up additional ones, the band was in full swing as was the petting zoo. These things are basically like block parties but better in just about every way! What an amazing thing for communities to do in a city.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Being Jewish in Calgary

 There is not a large, thriving Jewish population in Calgary. That became abundantly clear last year during the frustrating Hunt for Hanukkah Candles, where when I finally found some (thank you Michaels) I went ahead about bought enough for all three years. Last year I also made my own matzah, having given up on even searching for it.

This year i decided to do better research. After all, there are three different synagogues in the city, AND a JCC - although they are all within about three miles of each other in a part of the city far, far from mine.  The research turned up solid gold: there is one Safeway grocery store, down in the neighborhood of other Jewishy things, that not only carries Matzah but actually has a Kosher food section!  

caveat: Terry did not take this picture and does not sanction its presence on the blog

Our pilgrimage took place this weekend. Upon entering the store we were met with this Wall O' Matzah,  and it only got better, with matzah meal for the matzah ball soup, or soup kits, or pre-made balls in broth in glass jars. Three kinds of horseradish.  Gefilte fish. They even had a full range of Passover candy.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Canadian Tire

A phenomenon we had never even heard of before our move is the magic that is Canadian Tire. They do in fact sell tires (I wasn't entirely sure). But in addition, they sell every thing you can possibly think of. Kids need ice skates? They even sharpen them in the shop. Looking for a shower curtain or bed sheets? Sure thing. Clothes? Indoor shoes for school? School supplies? It's Canada's Target. And also somehow K-Mart-y. But no food.

Friday, December 16, 2016

German Language training Part III

Structured Learning
It's been about 12 weeks.  We have switched teachers three times.  We had our first assessment - a miniature/friendlier version of the Final Exam.  It happened to occur during my nadir of confidence and performance. I still did OK.  I have learned a lot about myself as a learner - stuff that might have been useful in my 20 previous years of learning stuff in a structured environment (school, university, graduate school).

My German is painfully slow and riddled with false starts and errors.  But it is 12 mere weeks of knowledge and I am unabashedly proud of myself. And I still have 2/3 of the course to go!

Last week most of us got all switched up - classes broken up and scattered to the wind - so not only are we all adjusting to a new teacher but also to new classmates.  I think we are getting into a groove, though, and am looking forward to more Deutsch lernen.

Outside of Class Learning
Our fabulous au pair is introducing us to aspects of German culture. One of which is the importance of Saint Nicholas Day - December 6 - where she gave the kids fabulous monogrammed stockings with little treats inside them. And she bakes cookies. Which we shared with our classmates (yes, we properly attributed her).

Also, we went to the Christmas Market held at the German School in Potomac a couple of weekends ago.  The lines for gluhwein and crepes were way too long but Terry managed to snag himself some sausage and the kids got cotton candy. We didn't use a ton of German but could hear it spoken all around us (as well as, to be honest, a bunch of Russian). The kids decorated and then ate cookies, and they got to play at the school's playground to burn off steam.

Our fabulous au pair also hand wrote these amazing little booklets for the kids with some simple "Hi my name is ... do you want to play with me" type phrases, basic vocabulary, and great drawings throughout. We got them bound at Staples and hope they will survive a couple of years of heavy use.

Wir haben viel SpaƟ! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The kids' first (and only) advent calendar!

Jelly Bean Count-Down to Christmas Advent Calendar
I waited a little long, so they only arrived today. But my kids are getting the thrill of opening up a little door each day and finding a treat inside.

What's going on?

This year, the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas eve!  And Jelly Belly makes an advent calendar and although the bean is driving a sleigh and wears a red and white hat, there's sufficiently little Christmas reference that I'm comfortable with this.

Because it arrived late, they start with the 6th now and they will go back and open the first five during nights 2-6 of Hanukkah.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Breaking up is Hard to Do

... no, no, don't worry, Terry and I are fine.

With 5 weeks to go in my tour things are winding down. Many of my kids' friends - whose parents are often our friends - have started leaving for their summer holidays, only to return after we've left.  My kids spent the last couple of weeks bickering with their friends more often and some friendships ended on such terms that there was no goodbye. Cultural differences I used to think enriched out experiences, and even found endearing at times, are grating on my nerves and offending my sensibilities. We're starting a lot of sentences with "When we are in the USA..." and "When we get to Germany..."

We all know the end is nearing, and it is easier to say goodbye if we are also saying "good riddance."

It isn't you, Astana. It's us. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Spreading American Culture, Hockey Monkey style

The musical group The Zambonis, which we are not sure are even still together, put out this little gem some time in the last. It is a much-requested song among the kids.

Apparently, Zoltan has taught the song to his best friend, who happens to also be the only other American kid in class.  And today, he tells me, the two of them performed the song for their music class.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Day of Knowledge

September 1, the Day of Knowledge, is a traditional first day of school in at least two countries where I have lived (Russia and Kazakhstan).  Today the kids met their teachers, listened to a lot of speeches, and then went home by lunchtime. Tomorrow will be the first real day of school.

We're happy that Alex's class is pretty much still together, and one of the very few new kids is another American!

Zoltan snagged a class with several friends, so although he was nervous and grumpy, we think he will settle into class faster than if he'd been with a full slate of strangers. Of course, one thing that makes it easier is that we don't bring him in - he rides the bus - so he can't cling too much.

Alex, in Key Stage 2, now has to wear the blazer and house tie. Appropriately, we just watched Harry Potter 2 over the weekend so she liked pointing out the similarities in attire. Edmonstone is most like Ravenclaw because it has blue. (And Ravenclaw is the house for the cleverest pupils ... and, you know ...) Sadly, Haileybury has no cloaks. I'd dig cloaks. I wouldn't even complain about the ridiculous prices if it were for cloaks.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Bless America!

One of the many blessings of annual trips home is we appreciate our country in ways that people who don't leave it for extended periods of time can't.  I don't think I will ever tire of an American grocery store even after we retire and spend decades in one place. So much stuff. So many choices. Thank you America, for having sugar snap peas, fresh green beans, endless sweet corn, steak, bacon (both piggy and turkey varieties), hot dogs, Turkey Hill All Natural ice cream, any kind of otherwise dairy food in a dairy free option (Alex has eaten her own weight in Tofutti Cuties). And when I go through the produce section, it is possible that I may not find even one rotting piece of fruit, even if I am looking for it. I think I gained 5lb in our first week. We've eaten Chinese, Thai, BBQ, Nepalese, real PA pizza, cheesesteaks (No, NOT with "whiz". The better, Lehigh Valley style with Provolone and tomato sauce).

It's mostly the food, but it is not just the food. I speak the language fluently. "Graduate school in this language" level of fluency, truth be told. It means I can communicate anything I want with anyone I want. Customer service? Ooooh. Nobody does customer service like good ol' USA - except the Japanese. But here, as aforementioned and how we can distinguish from Japan, I speak the language. And, for the most part, things just work properly here. This bears repeating. Things just work properly here. Until you live somewhere that things just don't work I don't know if you can have the same level of appreciation. Maybe you can. I didn't.

It's easy to watch the news and figure our country is going to hell in a handbasket. But the on-the-ground truth is that there just isn't anywhere quite like home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Alnwick Castle

When we went to England, we were desperate to find a book long enough to keep Alex's attention for more than an hour because we didn't have enough space or weight to carry as many of her usual books as it would take to make the trip.  I thought Harry Potter would be the perfect complement to an English vacation.

She stubbornly refused to read it. In retrospect we should have had her watch the movie first.

The scene in the first movie where they have their first flying lesson?  Alnwick Castle, about 1.5 hours' trip from the hotel.  Turns out a Downton Abbey Christmas Special got filmed there too.

The place is impressive, with several smaller museums in various towers, the main State Rooms beautifully decorated, a library I could kill for, and for the kids a whole Knight's Quest area with costumes for dressup, activities to pursue (they made soap) and medieval games to learn to play. In addition, for the older and/or braver ones, a Dragon Quest that was like a tamed-down version of a haunted house but with the addition of riddles and games to solve to get the answer to the Quest.  And, finally, the broomstick flying lesson.  Because there must be a broomstick flying lesson. It went way longer than we expected so halfway through Zoltan got bored and tired and went to sit down.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Observations from outside Kokshetau

Kazakhstan had a presidential election Sunday April 26. I was one of the embassy folks who participated as an election observer. I'm not going to talk about the work now (or, quite honestly, ever), but the general experience was definitely something to write home about.

The region I was assigned to was around a biggish town outside the oblast (state) capital of Kokshetau.  The train ride from Astana was 4.5 hours to Kokshetau, then about 30-90 minutes by car, depending on where exactly I was going, to get to these little villages.  I have now taken the train three times to cities within Kazakhstan and have to say I greatly enjoy the rides.  The train carriages I have been in so far have all been a series of 4 person compartments.  In each compartment are, essentially, bunk beds - sometimes fixed, sometimes that fold out of the wall. Each passenger is given a featherbed/mattress, pillow, linens and a blanket. Usually I stretch out and read or do work, and the rhythm of the train often lulls me into a catnap. In one ride in one of the fancy Spanish trains we were given little toiletry bags with soap, a comb, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc

It turned out that one of the villages we went to was where our driver had grown up.  To get there, you drive until the dirt road itself disappears, and then you follow tire tracks through fields.  He told us when he was young they would go to the disco in the nearby town - a good 20-30 minutes away by car - by horse. I should note I still considered him young, so his story can't be more than 10 years old. In retrospect, it probably took the same amount of time to travel by horse as the car couldn't exactly speed down the not-road.

Several times along the way our headway was slowed by cows or sheep crossing the road. I really wish I had gotten better photos.

Kazakhstani hospitality was in full bloom all day.  In nearly every polling station where we stopped, we were invited to sit for tea and something to eat. Also in nearly every polling station where we stopped, the commission members wanted to take photos with us.  I would not be surprised to learn we were the only non-Kazahstani people some of these villagers had ever met.  Although only hours from the capital city, it felt remarkably remote.  Chickens, ducks and geese wandered around, there were small garden plots around most homes, and most villagers seemed to have cows and/or sheep and/or horses. One of the villagers mentioned that everyone had a dog, and they were working animals not pets.

All in all it was a wonderful experience and a chance to see part of the country far from the main tourist attractions (although actually geographically pretty close to some tourist attractions - forests and lakes and resort type holidays.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Happy Nauryz!

On March 22, otherwise known as Nauryz in Kazakhstan and a few other countries, we went to see how they celebrate.  We had gotten some advice of where the celebrations would be and headed over there.  I was a little surprised that it wasn't more crowded, although it threatened and finally did rain.

There were the traditional swings
 Men handling eagles

Yurts - it appeared as though different groups/organizations each decorated a yurt and then the public was invited in to check it out. I so want a yurt. Terry says we have nowhere to put one. I don't see where logic fits into this conversation.

We popped inside for lunch and it was raining when we came out. We popped into Congress Hall for the exhibition but it seemed to be the same kind of market as any other day.  We did linger at the honey stall, though, and brought home some treats.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


The most exciting thing happened tonight. A neighborhood kid we know from the bus stop rang the doorbell. We've almost never spoken with him, the kids have never played with him. But, with the kindergarten confusion of what he actually wanted, he was able to make clear that he wanted to talk to Alex. And now all three kids have been running and playing outside for the last half hour. I thought such things only happened in TV shows and certain compound embassies.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Some cultural observations

When it was raining our first day here and I told Alex to wear her rain pants when we went to the hospital, she wanted to take off her skirt and just put in on when we got there. I had to tell her in America kids don't wear just their panties in public places even if it's just while taking the rainpants off and putting the skirt on.

People are way friendly in America. Every place we go there's someone who wants to talk to Alex. I am amazed and relieved that when I talked with her about it, she said it's OK. This is a kid who is fastidious about her personal space, so I've been worried about future tours in most of the rest of the world where people are more intrusive than in Russia. The part I don't like is they all tell her she's pretty, which she is, but I don't want her to learn to define herself that way.

The garderobe phenomenon in Russia has become so ingrained I was actually indignant when the hospital didn't have anywhere for us to leave our wet raincoats and the stroller. Same with the Franklin Institute (well, just the stroller. It was a hot sunny day)

We've been worried about her losing her Russian language skills. While we've been here she's read half a book and talks and sings in Russian every day. It certainly may still happen, but I think we'll be OK until we get her to Russian afterschool care or a babushka babysitter.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sleeping Beauty

In my 4 years in St Petersburg, I have seen the ballet Sleeping Beauty 4 times.

1. Mariinsky, classical interpretation
2.Ballet on Ice, a child-friendly performance. Alex and I agreed that it wasn't good enough ballet or good enough ice skating and the two should not be merged.
3. Mikhailovsky, Nacho Duato's interpretation. My favorite of all time. I may try to see it one more time before we leave here.
4. Children's Ballet at the Gorky Culture Palace. Zoltan's first ballet. Very modified due to children dancing it.

It probably goes without saying that this is my favorite ballet.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fashion Week

So this post won't do much for dispelling the rumors of our high-falutin' fancy pants diplomatic lives.

It was Aurora Fashion Week in Piter, and the Consulate was able to score some tickets. Some friends and I went. It should go without saying this was my first fashion show, and I had no idea what to expect.

An American, Thom Browne, was the headliner and the main show. At 11:00pm. So Russian! We went a bit early to check out the place and other shows but TB was our main purpose. The first show we went to went like this: The show was to start at 9:00pm. Around 9:00pm we wandered over to the crowd of people massed together like Indians at the train station and started weaving our way towards the front. We got as close as we could then waited, crushed alongside the other 100 or so people like Japanese getting into the subway. When the bouncers finally started letting people, the 4 of us who'd gone together got a bit separated but only for moments and eventually we all squeezed through. We even found seating for 3 of us, which was fine as only 3 of us were in heels.

The show itself ... first 4 men in shorts and T shirts, then 4 women in similar gym attire (with super high heels). Sweatshirts .... nothing interesting. Nothing very pretty. One of my friends couldn't get over how unappealing the models were. In sum, maybe worth it to have the experience but certainly not worth our time. We had thought initially that when we got into the show we'd just stay put so we could keep our seats for the next show, but everyone had to clear the room between shows.

We decided to skip the 10:00pm show and save our energies for Thom so we went to get a drink and while milling about we found some more people we knew, including the guy who got us the tickets who was in the VIP section. He did eventually come slumming and hang out with us for a while, and when it came time to line up for TB he invited one of my friends to go with him. Good thing for her as she's the only one of us who saw anything. We got back into the scrum, which at first seemed smaller and calmer than the previous one but after 30-40 minutes of jostling we decided we didn't care that much and our feet hurt so went to get another drink and sit down.

About 15 minutes after we'd settled down - and been checking the progress of the show on the video monitors 20 feet from where we sat - a crowd began to fill into the area where we sat. I recognized some of the people who'd been standing near us; most of the crowd never got in to see the show. We should have quit earlier but at least we got some comfy seating from bailing as early as we did. At least we could watch the show on the video monitors when our conversation didn't take our attention away.

We decided to skip the after-party, figuring it would involve as much standing, waiting and being crushed as the shows had and after one aborted attempt (turns out some bars actually close for Easter. This place isn't as heathen as some might think!) we settled in for some food and beer at the Telegraph. Good wife that I am, I noted they carry 2 Scotches T likes although we could buy a bottle through PJs for the price of a glass.

I got home at 2:30am, which I never do as wake-up time is wake-up time no matter what bedtime was. The kids miraculously slept til 8:00am. I guess daddy being away affected them more than I had thought - which means he's never allowed to travel without us again!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sleeping Beauty on Ice

Alex and I, as well as some friends and their daughters, went to see Sleeping Beauty on Ice. It was performed at the Rimskogo-Korsakova Conservatory, not at any of the ice arenas, which was a bit interesting.

The costumes were beautiful and the skating very pretty. I liked how they kept pretty true to the ballet. I really thought Alex would get into it, as she's been ice skating and her instructor used to be an ice ballerina not too long ago.

Nope, she prefers "real" ballet to this. She even prefers hockey to ice ballet. Maybe she's a purist.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Arctic Hysteria

For President's Day, Terry and I had a little "date day" - nanny came for Zoltan, Alex went to preschool (American holidays sure aren't holidays for the Russians!) It was all last minute as I thought until Sunday night I might have to deal with an IWC mini-crisis but it got resolved enough that my Monday freed.

Although there are many items on the Petersburg "bucket list" we hadn't yet checked off, we're also realizing that we don't care that much about some of the Must See sites. I'd also noted an exhibition at the State Russian Center of Photography ( that looked interesting, called "Arctic Hysteria". The museum is interesting, it takes up half of two very separate floors (meaning, to continue the exhibition we had to go out the door, down the stairs, and ring the bell for the second part of the museum to let us in, show the tickets we had purchased on the floor above, and then be admitted). The artists were Finnish, and the art was varied. Our favorite piece was this one. Terry is astonished that I like it, I tell him I studiously ignore that the bunnies are stuffed - as in, formerly lived.

We also discovered a new artist to admire, Ilkka Halso.

Then we lunched at Russkii Dachinki on Nevsky. My Greek salad was great, and that's about all we can say about it. The pelmeni were the worst I've ever had and most of my pelmeni experience comes from the frozen food aisle.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My swag bag

We're Friends of the State Hermitage Museum. That means that in addition to getting in for "free"* and being able to go past the long lines, we also get invited to regular evening events. For many reasons we've never actually attended one of the evenings, but December is the 15th anniversary of the Friends Club so I booked the nanny and told Terry he had to wear a tie and planned to go.

Well, Terry's been sick with nobody-knows-what and it turned out I knew a whole group of ladies who were leaving their husbands home so he got a bye, we canceled the nanny, and I went alone. Due to my uncanny ability to get lost going a straight line, I got there later than planned. After checking my coat and the fancy shoes I planned to wear, then showing my invite to a dozen people, I was haphazardly included in a group of people following a Russian speaking tour guide through a new exhibit I'd never heard of and that I think Terry would really like. As I was completely ignoring the guide due to my complete inability to understand what she was saying, I did catch an earful of English coming from a different corner and glommed onto that tour group.

The tour went on for about 1/2 hour and then we were led into the Throne Room, where the director of the entire museum gave a speech. We thought we would then hear the concert and eventually get a canape or glass of water but instead we hung out in a large otherwise empty room while a trio or quartet played (I forget which) and nobody paid much attention, which is a shame as they played well. Our tour guide eventually rounded us up and another 30-40 minutes went by as we toured a different special exhibit that I also have to bring Terry back to see. At this point, however, we were thirsty, hungry, with aching feet and getting grumpy.

Just at that time we were led into the atrium where the food and drinks were. We all got enough to eat to assuage our hunger, and I even got scolded by a Russian because I put my empty plate on the bench on which I was sitting. Completely uncouth and I may never be allowed to enter the Hermitage again! I was pretty happy to be so Russian-ignorant as had I known what she was saying I probably would have gotten upset. In translation it wasn't so bad although I did keep insisting my friend point out to the scolder the stain that was on the bench from before we sat down.
Time to leave, we gather our coats and things and note a very large quantity of plastic shopping-type bags and a couple of people who looked like they worked there. We almost walked right by, but then we asked what was in the bags. Turns out, it's for us! In addition to the Annual Report, we go a DVD, magnet, moleskin datebook, and yummy Frazer chocolate. A perfect evening all around, even if I could barely feel my feet the next day.

* it's not exactly free when the membership costs about a hundred individual visits, but I don't have to have cash on the day I go so in that sense it's free.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hermitage with Zoltan part II

Today was truly perfect. Alex went happily into her classroom at school. Zoltan even chose to wear his boots today rather than fight me for his sneakers. Traffic was normal, not awful. Garmin actually led me to my destinations.

First stop, the Grand Choral Synagogue to buy hanukkah candles. And, as I was there, a challah. Who thinks French toast will be on tomorrow's breakfast menu? Next stop, Hermitage.

Today the Hermitage must have staffed their dezhornaya nice-mean-nice alternating through each room. One lady smiled brightly when she saw Zoltan, chatted for a bit then gave what were clearly directions and a room number and said something like "On lubit" (he'll like it). Turns out that room held the suits of armor and replica horses, also armored. Another women gave me a nasty "neel zya" (not permitted) when I was showing Zoltan a painting, describing it by pointing to the different features, and I guess my hand went within a foot of the canvas. Horrors!

Completely by accident we got to an exhibit I've been wanting to see, Antony Gormley. His exhibit has 2 parts, one where he convinced the Hermitage to build up the floor in its ancient sculpture room so the sculptures are even with the visitors rather than being on pedestals, and the other part includes his own art. Zoltan had a blast with Gormley's figures, especially the one "laying down" (bottom right in the picture). He kept pointing to that and and yelling "lay down" and then to one of the other sculptures and yelling "stand up".

     The other interesting aside is that my 2 year old has a real preference in art forms. If there were no paintings or photographs in a room he'd sadly say "no pictures" and wander through to see if the next room would hold "pictures." My budding critic!