Friday, May 29, 2015

Traversing Canada Tuesdays Fridays: Alberta

image from here
highlighting added by me

Alberta is the third province where I have spent a significant amount of time. I worked there (well, okay, just inside the British Columbia border, but my address was Alberta) for six months after my first year of university, and then Dave and I lived there for almost five years, while he was in grad school. It is where Sam and Rachel were both born, so needless to say, Alberta holds a special place in my heart.

Alberta is the third prairie province but it is also home to the Rocky Mountains on its western edge. The mountains make for an interesting phenomenon called a "chinook." These are warm winds which come down from the mountains. They can raise the temperature as much as 20C (36F) in one hour.

Another unique feature of the Alberta landscape is the Badlands. These are in southeastern Alberta and are a vast, dry land of caves and strange rock formations. Pictured below are the Badlands from when Dave, Sam, and I visited them in August 2009.
The Rocky Mountains are a defining feature of the province. Parts of the mountains have snow all year round. Banff National Park was Canada's first national park, and is famous for its hot springs, naturally heated by the earth. Below are Dave and I doing some Spring hiking in May 2008.
Alberta is Canada's wealthiest province, thanks mostly to "black gold," or oil. It has the most oil reserves in Canada and the second most in the world. About 300,000 people are employed in the oil industry and it brings in about half the province's money. These oil reserves are thanks to the stromatoporoid, an ancient dome-shaped, sponge-like creature which lived 590 to 248 million years ago. They grew by continually discharging a hard, calcium-based substance from their bodies. This substance formed hard huge reefs in the Bearpaw Sea. When the seas disappeared the reefs were buried deep underground. As the millions of years passed, the weight and heat of the Earth turned the remains of the reef creatures into oil. Craziness!
Alberta also produces about eighty percent of Canada's natural gas. It is sold to the rest of Canada and the United States. The oil and gas industries pay royalties to Alberta's government and that funds roads, schools, hospitals, the arts, and much more.
Agriculture is Alberta's second largest industry. Almost all the prairie is used as farmland. Alberta is Canada's second largest grain producer. A lot of cattle is also raised for beef in Alberta. Forty percent of Canada's cows, bulls, and calves are in Alberta.

Given that over sixty percent of the province is covered in forest, that is also a large industry. And mostly thanks to the mountains, tourism is also huge.
Seventy five million years ago, Alberta looked vastly different. Most of southern Alberta was covered by a large sea called the Bearpaw Sea and dinosaurs roamed the land. Today, Alberta is one of the best dinosaur fossil discovery places in the world. More than 35 different dinosaur species have been found in Alberta, including the Tyrannosaurus Rex! Alberta even has a couple of dinosaurs named after it -- the Albertosaurus sarcophagus -- a meat eating dinosaur which looked like a small T Rex, and the Triceratops albertensis.

The soft rock of the badlands is continuously being worn away which leads to new discoveries all the time. Since the 1800s, over 300 dinosaur skeletons have been found in Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Aboriginal peoples have lived in Alberta for thousands of years. In the south, the Blackfoot Confederacy was the largest group. It consisted of the Siksika, Kainai, and Piikani nations. The Cree lived on the plains, leading a nomadic lifestyle, and living farther north were the Cree, Beaver, Slavey, and Chipewyan peoples.

European goods reached these people first, including horses which made their way up from Central America and the southern United States. Anthony Henday was the first European who recorded his travels to Alberta. He worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and reached Alberta in 1754.

Settling outside of the fur trading forts was discouraged by the trading companies, but when Canada took over Rupert's Land, renaming it the Northwest Territories, in the 1870s, they encouraged settlement. The Dominion Lands Act was passed in 1872 and offered 160-acre parcels of land for $10 each.

Since travel was difficult, the government of Canada hired the Pacific Railway Company to build a railway. The settlers in the north, near Fort Edmonton, were angry that the railway was built through the south, rather than closer to them, where more people lived.

As the settlements grew, the leaders of Canada realized the large parcel of land known as the Northwest Territories was getting too large to govern, so the province of Alberta was created in 1905. Edmonton was named as its capital. The government worked hard to encourage immigration and Americans, Ontarians, and Europeans, especially Germans and Ukrainians, were invited to move to Alberta. Once the railway was completed through to British Columbia, Chinese immigrants who had worked on it, also moved to Alberta to find jobs.

The Great Depression caused many problems in Alberta, especially when the price of wheat dropped from $1.27 per bushel to just 30 cents a bushel in four years. This loss of the economy, combined with a wide spread drought made for tough times.

However, in 1947, oil was discovered near Leduc, and many companies came to search for more. The business centre of the oil industry was situated in Calgary, a city in the south, while Edmonton, a little further north, became the centre of the oil-industry product manufacturing.

Half of all Albertans live in either Calgary or Edmonton. There are also smaller cities throughout the province. Some places, such as Banff and Jasper, are prized for their mountain location, while Fort McMurray is prized for its location in the oil sands. Edmonton, the capital, is well known for West Edmonton Mall, one of the world's largest shopping centres. (You can read about some of my and Dave's many experiences at the mall here.)

You may be familiar with Calgary, as it is known for hosting the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. Below are pictures of our visit to Canada Olympic Park with Alissa in June 2010. The Calgary Stampede is the world's largest outdoor rodeo. It's a ten day festival of rodeo events, parades, concerts, and festivities. Over a million people visit the Stampede every year. One of the most exciting and dangerous events is the chuckwagon race with a $500,000 prize. A chuckwagon is a covered wagon pulled by a team of four horses which carried food, the cookstove, and other equipment on cattle drives during the frontier days.
Interesting Facts:

Many of Alberta's small towns have their own festivals and events. One of the better known ones is the Pysanka Festival in Vegreville. A pysanka is a Ukranian Easter Egg and Vegreville has the world's biggest one!
Alberta food is centred around beef, specifically steak! It was awesome living there as a vegetarian :) Sweet corn and potatoes are also important.

Canada's most famous women's rights activists all lived in Alberta. In the early 1900s they fought and won a legal battle to have women recognized as people under the law. Their names are Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy, and Irene Parlby.

In Banff National Park, there are 24 wildlife crossings -- 22 underpasses and 2 overpasses -- which have been built to allow animals such as moose, elk, wolves, deer and grizzly bears to safely cross the Trans-Canada Highway.
Computer scientist, James Gosling from Calgary, is credited with developing the computer programming language, Java.

On May 5 of this year, Alberta elected their first non-Conservative provincial government since 1971. The New Democratic Party won an astounding majority. This was quite the shakeup. You can read more about it here.

Reference book: Alberta by Katie Bailey, "Canada Close Up" series printed by Scholastic Canada, 2009.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The End Of An Era

Yesterday was Rachel's last day of preschool. Ever. It was also the end of our family's three year at this school. A lot of that time, it was a great place for us to be. And Rachel learned so much. I can't believe how much she has changed, even in the past few months.
Miss Rachel can be a bit of a ham, when she chooses!
Here is Rachel with her teachers from this year. The one teacher was there all year, and the other teacher was there for about half the year.
And here is Rachel with some of her friends. Unfortunately, her closest friend in her class left the preschool in April :( However, you may have seen B on the blog here a time or two.
And here is Rachel at the end of last year, and the end of this year. Even though you can't really see it in this picture, I can't believe how much her writing of her name has changed. And how much she LOVES to write it. Everywhere!
And one more comparison -- the beginning and end of this year!
Farewell Preschool! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday: Yesterday

Afternoon snack and reading time

Sam lost his second tooth last night.
(I pulled it out and don't want to do that very many more times. Ugh.)

Watching The Lego Movie
Night time snack and reading

Friday, May 22, 2015

What Do The Signs Say?

Ever since I had the stomach flu on Sunday, I've been s-l-o-w-l-y getting better. I still feel slightly queasy for a good part of the day, and that, combined with my cold, has been getting the best of me. However, yesterday showed some signs that maybe, just maybe, things are starting to look up.
I was able to drink a pot of tea for breakfast, but the only solid food which appealed was saltines. Yay?
Rachel and I both got dressed and left the house (yep, we've been having a lot of pajama days lately), but Rachel didn't have many clean clothes to put an outfit together. Yes, she is wearing red socks and peach coloured pants. No, I didn't care.
We did make it to Costco, but then I "fed" Rachel a lunch of Costco samples. She had half a popsicle but balanced that out with some Ceasar salad, among other things -- sausage, popcorn, chips. That's a healthy lunch, right?!
We did get some laundry done but Rachel put everything in and out of the washer and started the cycle going. I think all I was providing was moral support.
The dining room and the kitchen got cleaned but Rachel cleared everything out of the kitchen so I could wash the floors, and then put absolutely everything back once they were dry.
We got the flyers done but Rachel pulled the wagon the entire time.
I made supper but didn't have the energy to make mashed potatoes to go with the goulash.
Dave and Sam had haircuts in the evening, and because I am a gardentrovert, I actually got quite a bit of yard work done. I planted the rest of the front beds, and watered everything.
I also put another couple of planters together.
And I mowed the front lawn. However, I only had energy to mow half the back lawn so that still needs to be finished.
I got some vegetables packed up for Sam's lunch, although Rachel did the spinach. And yes, she was on the floor, but remember, it got washed earlier.
So either the signs prove that I am indeed on the mend, or that I have perfected the art of using child labour. Either way, things are looking up!

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Little Before And After: Yard Work Edition

So even though our family has been sick, or recovering from being sick, for most of the past two weeks, there have been bright days here and there where everyone is feeling quite well. Saturday was one of those days.

I woke up bright and early to go get our winter tires taken off at Costco. I got there at 7:45 and was the first in line. Nope, they don't take appointments and yes, they are cheap, thus it is worth it. I drank my tea, read an entire book, and sat in my lawn chair. It was like a little mini vacation!

I was also shocked at all the people lining up forty minutes early to shop. Not to get a coveted tire spot, but to buy food. Who on earth goes to Costco early to line up to shop? And I checked and nothing amazing was being released. I hope I am never bored enough to become a Costco keener.

Now, I should add a small caveat here: For one of Sam's birthday parties, Dave and I did get to Costco about fifteen minutes before it opened on a Saturday because we were on a deadline for a party which started at 11, or so. So we needed to get in and out quick and get home to do other party stuff. But that is one of the only reasons I could justify lining up early. And I really hope none of you are Costco keeners and that I have now completely offended and alienated you. But if you are, could you please explain the mystery of your ways? Thanks!

Anyways, I was home in time for lunch, after doing a couple of other (not so) quick errands, and then we spent the afternoon outside doing some yard work. Our yard desperately needed some love and attention and we gave it some. Yay!

Before I share "before" and "after" photos, here are some "during" photos!
Plants waiting to be planted
Rachel and I taking a break after putting in some hard work. The kids played about half the time and did useful yard work about half the time. I call that a win!
The kids wanted to dig somewhere and Dave and I told them they could dig up the hard packed dirt which used to be underneath two huge (out of control) bushes, and where, eventually, we want to plant grass seed.
Rachel also did some (approved!) digging in the front bed.
Dave trimmed all the grass along the side of the house! Yay!!!
The planter on the left is yellow snapdragons and alyssum. The hanging basket on the right is strawflowers and biden. I can't wait to see how these fill out this summer.
Rachel picked these dandelions for me for Mother's Day. I love them!

Here are some "before" and "after" photos for you, mostly because I need affirmation as to how much work we got done and you will be able to appreciate it more if you see how far it came!

It's a little hard to see in the picture, but on the right hand side, underneath the window, you will notice that that area was completely dominated by two green bushes. I think the people who lived here before us didn't pay much attention to the yard, and those bushes got quite large. A few weeks ago, Dave and I decided that we needed to trim them back. One of the them cut back quite nicely. The other one had about a foot of greenery and then was totally dead and brown inside, so we quickly decided to trim it down to the ground.
This bed isn't quite finished but here's a little "after" shot. The bush on the left is much nicer, and smaller. The bush on the right is gone. Dave sawed the rest of the trunk off on Saturday. There was already a hydrangea and a hosta in that area, between the two bushes, and I put two more hydrangeas in there. I will fill the rest in with annuals, but hopefully in a couple of years it will just be beautifully full of hydrangeas, which is much better than two crazy bushes. And the dirt in front of the beds is where the bushes were growing out to. We will plant grass and this whole area will look amazing. In about a year, or two :)
Side yard, before. All the grass alongside the house needed to be trimmed, which we can't do with the lawn mower. And since we rarely see this area, it's easy to forget about.
Side yard, after. Dave put a lot of hard work into this and it looks so much better now. We need to decide if we'll plant some grass seed along the side of the house or just the let the grass fill in naturally.
Front bed, before. It needed weeding, desperately.
Front bed, after. I gave most of my time and attention to this bed. It got weeded and I planted some annuals in there. Sadly, I didn't have enough so we had to go back to the garden centre for more. I was very sad about that! Ha ha ha! Unfortunately, I haven't had time to finish planting this bed yet so it's a bit of a work in progress. And given that it's supposed to freeze in a couple of nights I have to decide where I stand in the "get things planted" versus "I don't want to cover up everything" spectrum of things.
Light post bed, before. It also needed some weeding, especially along the front, and as it turned out, there were quite a few fall leaves still hiding in there. Plus, it needed a basket hanging from the light. 
Light post bed, after. See how all the weeds are gone! And the leaves, but you can't tell.
And that was pretty much the extent of our yard work for Saturday. Now I am just waiting for some energy, a nice day, and some time because I have more flowers to plant.

And I think our backyard could use a little attention :)