Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cook-Off Results, and the Calgary Zoo

No, Otto didn't get the blue ribbon. There were three categories: hottest, most unique, and best overall. I think he was going for best overall, but was beat out by a chicken chili. He said the winning chili was very tasty, and deserving of the win. Although he didn't win the chili contest, he did have a lot of Cool Whip pies thrown his way. People had to pay $5 a pie to chuck at him. Apparently he raised quite a bit of money for the United Way!

Saturday was a gorgeous day, and we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the zoo. At the Houston Zoo you generally hear ambulances and medical helicopters because it's right next to all the hospitals. At the Calgary Zoo we heard (and saw) airplanes flying over, all day. Every 1-2 minutes. At first it was neat and we were pointing up and looking ("Wow, look, an airplane!"), but by plane number 20 they kind of became background noise.

Here are Andy and Sam toward the beginning of our day. This was a little hill you could take as a detour from the main path. Any opportunity to climb is seized!

A bison family. And that baby could run!

An elk with an awesome rack.

Several peacocks freely roamed the grounds.

The hippos and giraffes. These massive indoor areas where large animals can be sheltered from abnormal cold were new to us. Don't need stuff like that at the Houston Zoo! When we made it around to the indoor side, there was a large tank with fish, and as we looked at the fish the hippos decided it was time for a dip. It was pretty neat to see them make their way into the water, swim by, then climb out the other side.

There was a prehistoric area complete with dinosaurs and hoodoos (there will be a little more on hoodoos when I post the last BC vacation entry). Here the boys pose on some of the man-made hoodoos.

Baby and Mama Elephant.

At this point we had been at the zoo for about five hours, and weariness was setting in.
We saw a couple more things, such as this snowy owl,

then headed to China Town for an early dinner. I should have taken at least a picture of a Chinese sign to put here. I even went back to the car to get the camera after we had walked a few paces. I guess I was a little tired, too.

We ate at Happy Valley, which hit the spot. Won-ton soup, spring rolls, and various stir-fried chicken, beef, and shrimp dishes. After our meal we headed down to the Chinese bakery in the lower level of the same building. Since it was an hour before closing we got 20% off our purchases. We snagged the last three butterfly cookies and a foot long slightly sweet cinnamon raisin bread/pastry, which tasted like it had just been baked, but I'll take the 20% off anyway, thank you.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chili Cook-Off

Otto's United Way chili cook-off is tomorrow at work. At one point he had a pot going inside and one outside so the meat would cook faster. Sam loves to get in on any cooking action.
The quantity of chopped onion not only made Otto well-up, but Andy and I in the living room (not terribly far away from the kitchen, but still) started reaching for tissues to dry our eyes. Yet Sam had nary a tear - standing right next to Otto.

I was shocked when I saw cans of beans on the counter. I always put beans in my chili, but this was always a no-no in the Texas chili cook-offs. When I asked him about it, he said the local constituency liked their chili con frijoles. Hey, I've finally found my people! A foodie blog I was reading a little while ago coincidentally mentioned chili. She said no beans in chili, and if you do add them, then it's bean and meat soup (she was Texan).

Now both pots have been combined to the outside pot. The lighting is not so good out there! I didn't know that until I went out to take this picture; I guess I haven't had a reason to go in the back at night yet. On this one I used the flash - makes it look a lot brighter than it actually is.
I'll let you know if he won....

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

British Columbia - Part II

The next day morning went to the outdoor water park where we were staying, then to the Lussier Hot Springs near Whiteswan Lake, also about a 40 minute drive away. To get to these hot springs, we had to traverse a perilous, mountainside road. Some passes were only wide enough for one car, with a few pullouts along the way to let oncoming trucks with HUGE CAMPERS attached pass by. Lucky me was driving, which meant lucky Otto saw his life race before his eyes as he sat on the passenger side, and thus closer to the cliff face.

Once the road widened again and we parked the car, we trekked down to the pools. There were several small pools, which appeared to be formed by people with some of the large rocks from the river. The first was pool was the HOT HOT spring - I think I heard someone say it came out of the rock at about 114 degrees F. The next pools going closer to the river were comfortably warm. The pool closest to the river was a bit chilly, and the river was COLD. So you had a full gamut of water temperatures to jump into and out of. There was also a lovely eau de sulfur wafting about.

After the springs, we drove a little farther down the road to Whiteswan Lake, which Otto took a dip in for about ten minutes. It was a little too choppy and cold for my taste; I think Sam got in with him for a while.

On the way to Lussier Springs, we snapped this shot of Columbia Lake. This lake is the origin of the Columbia River, which eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean in Astoria, Oregon.

That evening, we had an easy dinner of frozen pizza and apples on the porch, ending our last day (unfortunately) of warmer weather.

The next day we walked around Invermere. There was a nice sandy beach area here on Lake Windermere, but it was cooler that day, so no swimming. The boys had to settle for rock skipping. Here they are looking for the perfect, flattish rock.

What trip to the beach is complete without a little hole-digging?

Sam pretending he just caught a big fish!

And another picture courtesy of Andy.

One more BC post to come.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

British Columbia - Part I

We took a vacation to Fairmont, BC the last week of August. Beautiful, fun, and a bit chilly at times. On our first full day, we took a 40 minute drive to Premier Lake. There are lots of campsites here, a great lake to swim in, with docks for your boat (if you have one), and a fun playground with a very fast-spinning tire swing. It piqued in me the most interest I've had to go camping since forth grade, when my parents had to pick me up from a summer Girl Scout camp in Mississippi, two days into a two week camp because I was homesick.
View from our picnic table.

Andy feeling the water,

then a nice smile for the camera.

After lunch and checking out the dock, we walked around the lake for a while.

Sam making noises to scare any hungry bears away.

I call this one "Family on Fallen Tree".

A bee that was hanging around. I swear this bee was making clicking noises as it flew.

And the spinning tire swing.

That evening we went to Invermere for dinner. It was a Scottish restaurant - Something McSomething's (don't remember the exact name). Good beer, decent food, and lots of bees that ran most people inside from the patio. They never did bug us though. Andy took a picture of Sam and me while we waited for our food.

More on the trip later....

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ike, and a random hot air balloon

Just the tropical storm remnants of mighty Ike are left, now wandering through northwest Texas and Arkansas. I think most of Victoria and Lake Jackson evacuated. We just sold our house in Lake Jackson a week and a half ago. Good timing. Not that we don't feel bad for the people that just bought the place, but having to get a hurricane-damaged house repaired from this far away would be excruciating. Having to do it while you're living there would be bad enough.

From the short interview I heard on with the mayor, it sounds like Lake Jackson fared pretty well. Lots of downed tree limbs, no power, and please don't come back until we can get things cleared up some more. We eagerly await to hear from our friends as they return. The community where we would go to the beach, Surfside, looked to be mostly underwater. We know a few people that live there, and I'm hoping the stilts held that all the houses are on, and kept the homes out of the water. We liked to eat at the Purple Cow - a hole in the wall burger joint. Really good burgers, and their seafood platters were tasty too. Andy asked if that was underwater. It's on ground level, so I imagine they will be rebuilding.

The first time we went to the Purple Cow, I believe Auntie Claire was with us, and after we had been seated at a table I left the boys with Claire and went to use the restroom. We had been at the beach for several hours and I wanted to freshen up and wash my hands. Well, there was a picture of a guy in the bathroom. Tanned with a nice physique, and a rectangular wooden flap over the groin area. Hmmmm, what to do. To lift or not to lift. I didn't give it much thought, really, and flipped it up. BUUUUUUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...

The buzzer not only went off, much to the amusement of everyone in the restaurant who was clapping and laughing, but got stuck. So after roughly 15 seconds of standing frozen, wishing the stupid thing would stop, I stuck my head our the door and shrugged my shoulders at the waitress with an inquiring look. "Just push the flap down, it gets stuck sometimes!" she yelled back. So embarrassing! I was so flustered I don't even know what was under the flap - but I think it said something like "GOTCHA!". I got back to the table and told Claire why the buzzer had been going off, and she was quite amused. I guess everyone one else there were regulars and knew EXACTLY why the buzzer had been sounding.

And in other news, as I was doing the breakfast dishes this morning, I looked out the back windows to see this:
What the?!

Well, would ya' look at that, it's a hot air balloon! I don't know how common this is, but I'll let you know if I see it again.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pizza and snow boots

Otto won't let me turn the heat on yet, so I've been using the oven more as a means to stay warm. A couple days ago I decided it was time for homemade pizza. Fun for the kids to make, and you heat the pizza stone in the oven for an hour at 500 degrees F - bonus! For some reason, I never made pizza in Lake Jackson. And in Victoria I only made it when it was cool outside, because the oven would heat the house up so much the a/c couldn't keep up.

Making the dough.

Spreading the cornmeal on the pizza peel. Cornmeal granules act as ball bearings so that the pizza slides (relatively) easily off the peel, onto the stone in the oven.

Patting the dough onto the peel, after I pulled and tugged on it draped over my hands for a while. I haven't attempted throwing it into the air yet.



Is it ready yet?

Oh yeah - that's what I'm talkin' about!

Sooooooo goooooood.....
Actually, the crust was thicker than I or Otto remembered. Maybe I used a rolling pin last time; I prefer a thinner crust. I guess we'll just have to make some more!

And here Andy and Sam are modeling their new snow boots that they are ever-so-ready to wear in actual snow.

P.S. A random culinary question: I picked up some broccoli rabe (aka broccoli rapini) at the store. Looks like a cross between dark flat leaf parsley and broccoli. But, my word, was this stuff bitter! I doctored it up with all sorts of stuff (chopped onion, garlic powder, salt, olive oil, Tony Chachere's, a dash of nutmeg, and finally a can of cream of mushroom soup!), but still didn't feel right making the boys finish it before they could have dessert. Otto and I figured out if we mixed it with the rice it made it more palatable. I did finish the rest of it - over two days. It tasted so awful (although it kind of grew on me) I figured it must be REALLY good for me. Any suggestions??

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First day of Grade 1, and grapes

Today was the first day of school here in Red Deer. Andy was excited up until last night, when he told me he didn't want to go. I thought it might be a battle this morning, but he was fine. Not necessarily excited, but willing. Andy was so loaded down with school supplies that Sam helped out with the lunch box.

It was 1 degree C this morning - there was frost on the roof tops. That is just too cold for the second day of September!! But it's pretty warm this afternoon. Crazy weather!

Andy's school is a French immersion school. There are also Francophone schools where the kids that attend come from French-speaking households. French immersion schools are for the kids whose parents don't necessarily have a clue about French. (Does 'laissez le bon temps roulet' count?) However, I am going to take a conversational class on Tuesday evenings so that I can maybe help him a little.

I asked if the teachers (he has two) spoke in French first and then explained in English, and he said that they spoke a little English, but mostly French and used hand motions so you knew what you were supposed to do. That would be something to see during a history lesson!

He seemed to have a good day, and ready to go back tomorrow. Of course, that could all change in the morning. Last year his first week of kindergarten went great, then the two weeks after that it was quite painful to get him out the door. Seems reality had set in that he actually had to go EVERY DAY, but eventually things lined out.

Also, I bought some Coronation grapes at the store today; I had never seen such a thing in my years of grocery shopping. They were the same price as the white and red seedless grapes, and they were grown in Ontario, so I thought I'd give them a try. I popped one in my mouth, and it was like the skies opened up and let the light of truth onto years of confusion and perplexity, much of which had been shoved into my subconscious at this point of my life. Finally, I know where the artificial grape flavor comes from! It was quite a moment. I think I heard choirs in the background. So if you see some in your store, give them a try!

Monday, September 1, 2008

And the topic of the day is....

Gustav, of course! We don't get the Weather Channel here (although I could probably stream it from the internet - not as comfy as sitting on the couch), so I'm missing the people who like to show themselves almost being blown away. But we do get CNN, so that's what we've been watching. Even CTV, the major t.v. station up here, has a person or two reporting from New Orleans right now - I'm impressed!

My father and sister arrived in Brooks, GA (near Atlanta) yesterday morning. They are staying with my uncle and aunt (Steve and Gail), and spending time with my other uncle and aunt (Mary Jane and Alan) who also live in the area. My mom is still up in Michigan spending another day with my grandfather's wife, Lyn, before flying into Atlanta herself tomorrow. Her husband, Bill, and his family have also fled to outside Atlanta where they have some family, and my sister has Mom's car in Atlanta, so that seems to be the place to go right now.

All this hurricane business has made me homesick. Weird. Because it's no fun to be in the long line of traffic for hours upon hours, although Dad said it seemed to move pretty steadily for them. And the stress of getting out of harm's way, and 'WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN TO MY HOUSE THIS TIME??!!' certainly isn't pleasant. I think it's because I normally have family evacuating to OUR house, and we kind of keep vigil together.

But, we are still thinking of everyone, and watching the tube for updates. Hope you are all staying safe, and may Gustav dissipate quickly.