Monthly Archives: October 2012

The not-so-wild Devonian Gardens

Remember the Devonian Gardens? That prehistoric jungle of trees and faux rocks and tiered waterfalls that occupied the top of TD Square in downtown Calgary? Well, it has finally reopened after a four-year hiatus during which time it received a $37-million facelift. The only problem is, I liked the old gardens better.

We visited the new gardens on Thanksgiving Monday. They are still in the same place but (memo!) the shopping centre has been renamed the Core (I don’t get out shopping much). It was cool and overcast outside and we hoped the new airy space would add some tropical heat to the day.

Avery isn’t really sure how to play on the circles. Behold the highly manicured gardens in the background.

The redevelopment is bright and modern and boasts 10,000 shrubs, 550 trees and a living wall of plants. But it felt more sterile than wild, a trend that seems to be taking hold across the city as land and parks get redeveloped (think trees in orderly rows instead of scattered groves, and unnatural, patterned groupings of shrubs that only a landscaper could dream up).

Blake assists Bennett on the playground at the redeveloped Devonian Gardens.

The kids were ho-hum about the playground — it was crowded and features one of those unusual new climbing structures (and only one slide = boo!) that children aren’t quite sure how to play on. Avery may have used the word “boring.” They liked the enclosed garden areas to practice balancing along the edging, and they loved the fish ponds, though I wouldn’t describe them as “teeming” with fish. There were, like, five.

The ponds are certainly not “teeming” with fish, as The City of Calgary website claims. You’ll see way more at Dragon Pearl in Chinatown.

In all, exploring the Devonian Gardens was a pleasant way to spend an hour on a chilly day. But both Blake and I agree we miss the wild and overgrown — if dated — look of its former self.

What about you? The redeveloped Devonian Gardens: yea or nay?

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Drinks of the Week: Bols cocktails

Never heard of Bols Genever? Neither had I until a four-hour stopover at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Bols is an Amsterdam-based liqueur maker that also makes its own version of gin, called genever. I gathered that Bols was kind of a big deal in town since the airport featured not only a bar lined with Bols products, but a cocktail kiosk dedicated to educating tourists.

Blake chooses a cocktail based on his taste preferences. Then, Antony shakes it up.

Blake and I stopped into the kiosk where virtual bartender Antony invited us to choose a cocktail based on our taste preferences. After picking a Holland House, he walked me through how to make one. I got thirsty despite the fact it was 9 a.m. (which explained the shocking number of people already in the bar). Then, I printed off the recipe and Antony instructed me to take it to the bar to get a 15 percent discount on the drink. Well, okay.

With his jaunty cap and suspenders, Antony embodies pre-prohibition happy hour. Who’s thirsty?

We sat right at the bar and showed our drink recipes to the real bartender. Unlike Antony, he hadn’t a clue how to make a BG3 or Holland House, and spent the next 15 minutes eyeing up the recipes and trying to find the dry vermouth. That was fine though because by the time we were served it was close to 11 a.m. and I felt it was okay to start drinking since it was almost noon in Tanzania.

Blake got the BG3 and liked it even though he’s not a gin fan. I loved my Holland House: tart, smooth and really the perfect drink to knock back at 3 a.m. Calgary time. Cheers!

Holland House

  • 1/4 oz Bols Maraschino
  • 1-1/2 oz Bols Genever
  • 3/4 oz dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and fine-strain into a coupette. Garnish with a lemon zest.

Look at the bottles behind the bar and you’ll see Bols.

BG3

  • 1-1/2 oz Bols Genever
  • 3/4 oz Bols Triple Sec
  • Bitter lemon
  • Lemon wedge

Build in a tall glass with ice. Top up with bitter lemon and garnish with a lemon wedge.

— Recipes courtesy Bols

Not unlike a Tom Collins: tall and refreshing.

Hey parents: would you go on strike?

On days when the kids make a mess of the house (every day), stack up dishes in the sink (three times a day) and then expect Mom and Dad to double as the cleaning service and pick up after them, it’s very tempting to go on strike. Sit back on the sofa sipping wine when you would normally be on your hands and knees picking up sticky rice grains from the kitchen floor. But would you really? Could you live with the pig sty that would become your house over the course of a week as it all went south, and quickly?

Does your living room look like this every day at 5 p.m.? It might be time to go on strike.

One Calgary mom did just that and has become a cause celebre because of it. On October 1 Jessica Stilwell decided enough was enough and stopped cleaning up after her three daughters. To motivate her from giving in to the piling up laundry and souring cereal bowls, she started blogging about it, with photos to illustrate disgusting things like used tissues wadded up on the ottoman. The Huffington Post began following her story, and now Stilwell is in New York for an appearance on the Today Show.

While many moms have been in awe of her tactic (the strike ended on Day 6 when the daughters couldn’t take it anymore — they cleaned the house on Day 7),  some bloggers have shown Stilwell no mercy, claiming her blog proves she’s a “sucky mom” because she raised slobs who should have been cleaning up after themselves long before the ages of 12 (the twins) and 10.

By the time I was 10 I’m pretty sure I was clearing my dishes, loading and unloading the dishwasher on request, helping with some meals and cleaning up my room. But now that I have kids, I see how easy it is to do stuff for them that they should be doing themselves. We’re more time strapped and it’s faster if Mom helps pick up the toys and sweeps the floor. At seven and five, Avery and Bennett are too young for some chores, but Stilwell’s blog steeled my resolve to get them doing more around the house — as I was expected to do. Besides, if you start them early, the logic goes there will be no need for drastic measures like a strike later.

What do you think, Moms? Would you ever go on strike, or have you trained your kids from an early age to pick up after themselves?

I’m thankful for electricity, indoor plumbing and a smoke-free home

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all we’re thankful for — plentiful, nourishing food, good friends, family and — for some — football. This year I’m looking at the holiday from a slightly different perspective and will add some items to my grateful list: a furnace, shoes, pillow-top mattress, windows and indoor plumbing.

These are first-world luxuries that are so commonplace, we rarely give them a thought. But after visiting a Masai village in Tanzania I believe they make a huge difference to everyday comfort. For me, anyway.

Masai kids strike a pose.

Ololosokwan is a village in the Serengeti, a 30-minute drive on a dirt road from andBeyond Klein’s Camp, the luxury safari lodge where we were staying. Tourists can pay $50 per jeep to tour through the village and learn a bit more about life in one of Africa’s best-known tribes.

The traditional Masai diet of meat, milk and cow’s blood has now expanded to include greens.

Before visiting the village I had preconceived ideas about the Masai from images I’d seen in documentaries and on one of last year’s episodes of The Amazing Race. The men wear bright red blankets draped over their shoulders and spend their days herding cattle and goats, and keeping the livestock safe from threats such as lions thanks to a sharp spear. Not so long ago they ate a diet of meat, milk and cow’s blood, but have now added vegetables such as cabbage for extra nutrients. With the exception of tourists who visit and bring money, and the western clothes trickling in, life as they know it isn’t much different from 100 years ago.

Red patterned blankets are a Masai style staple.

It’s one thing to see the Masai on TV, but quite another view to visit a village in person. The Masai live in huts made of mud and cow dung. The huts are heated by a fire that doubles as a cooking area. On either side of the small kitchen is a cramped sleeping area — one for the mother and girl children, another for the father and boys. The ceilings are low to trap heat and there aren’t any windows or ventilation of any kind that I could see. It was all I could do to squint through the heavy smoke in the dim light to take in the spare surroundings: dirt floor, no electricity, no plumbing, no furniture beyond a couple of squat wooden benches. The smoke was really the limiting factor, I felt — it burned my eyes in a way that made the Grizzly House in Banff seem airy and refreshing.

Smiling through the smoke.

I’ve stayed overnight with a hill tribe in northern Thailand, slept at modest guest houses run by Nepalese families in the Himalayas, and I had just spent seven nights in a tent while climbing Kilimanjaro. But this home felt primitive beyond compare. I’m sheepish to admit I had a “Holy crap I can’t believe people live like this!” moment, immediately followed by a “How long do we have to stay in here asking questions? I think I’m going blind from the smoke,” thought. I pitied my poor, safari-spoiled western self in the village surroundings, but not the villagers themselves — they were way too well-adjusted and cheerful. Children walked barefoot through mud and cow dung to greet us with smiles. Men and women proudly showed off the livestock. And of course they were keen to sell us some beautiful beaded bracelets or bowls.

The beaded bowls were sold at a significant mark-up, but at least the money went directly to the village.

For them, life is life. They have food, shelter and family. I’m the one who had a hard time reconciling their privations with the comparatively opulent safari lodge we returned to after our visit, where a candlelight dinner of lamb curry, carmelized beets and mixed vegetables awaited, followed by a Pimm’s Cup nightcap in the lodge bar. It was a little Bizarro-World.

Still, I’m hugging my kids a little harder this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful they have a varied diet, shoes and flush toilets, and especially that I don’t have to share a twin mattress on the floor with them.

Drink of the Week: Gin Fizz

When in Africa, drink gin. Many countries on the continent, such as Tanzania, were settled by Great Britain. If there’s one thing the Brits successfully exported to the world — beyond lace doilies and racy photos of Prince Harry — it’s gin.

Back in the day the colonial set usually drank their gin with tonic, which contains quinine (an anti-malarial), but gin has become so commonplace in Africa you’ll find many other gin cocktails, such as a Gin Fizz.

The Serengeti and a refreshing Gin Fizz beckon.

I tried this drink one afternoon before an evening game drive at andBeyond Klein’s Camp, a luxuriously rustic safari lodge situated on a private land concession adjacent to Serengeti National Park. At 4 p.m. tourists are supposed to take a page from the Queen and sip tea, but I asked for something a little stronger.

A Gin Fizz is basically a Tom Collins with less simple syrup and different garnishes. Its main attribute is its ability to refresh while simultaneously delivering a lot of gin in a nice format: tart, slightly sweet and, well, fizzy. It also calms your nerves if you’re a little jumpy about coming within 10 feet of a bunch of lions in an open-air safari jeep. Enjoy!

Totally calm thanks to the Gin Fizz.

Gin Fizz

  •  2 oz Gordon’s London Dry Gin
  • 1/2 oz sugar syrup (use the British ratio of two parts sugar to one part water)
  • 1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • Top soda water
  • Ice
  • Lime (or lemon) wedge garnish

Shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup with ice, then strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with soda water and garnish with a lemon (or lime) wedge.

— Recipe courtesy andBeyond Klein’s Camp

Lions’ buffet

Before travelling to Africa I naively thought it was somewhat difficult to see the wild animals. I mean, your chances of seeing North America’s “Big 5” — grizzly bear, polar bear, moose, wolf and bison — on a week-long trip to Canada is far from guaranteed.

But the three Tanzanian game parks we visited — Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Lake Manyara National Park — were teeming with wildlife. Upon pulling out of Lobo airstrip in our open-air Toyota Land Cruiser safari jeep and hitting the dirt track road in the Serengeti, Blake declared, “Holy crap, it’s a lions’ buffet!”

There are so many animals in the Serengeti, it’s shocking the predators ever go hungry.

Everywhere we looked, herds of wildebeest and zebra grazed on green grass under a cloudless Serengeti sky. Impalas, Thompson’s gazelles, hartebeest and many other species of antelope I never knew existed pranced between acacia trees as if they hadn’t a care in the world. A water buffalo, one of Africa’s Big 5, gave me a hostile stare beneath his heavy rack of horns.

Don’t mess with me, mzungu! (That’s Swahili for hapless tourist.)

Closer to Klein’s Camp, our safari lodge, we spotted giraffes nibbling acacia leaves high in the treetops and elephants plundering the bush for leaves, grass and even thorny branches — anything they could wrap their trunks around.

These “gentle giants” can evidently kill a lion with a swift kick from an impossibly long leg.

When we spotted a pride of lions later that afternoon, I had to wonder if they ever went hungry. All the animals we’d seen earlier were still visible, though they kept a healthy distance between themselves and the beasts at the top of the Serengeti food chain.

Well-fed lions frolic near andBeyond Klein’s Camp.

In fact, we got so close to the pride — still in our open-air jeep — I marveled that mzungu (western tourists) hadn’t replaced wildebeest or zebras as a favourite meal. The crazy reality is they took nearly no notice of our Land Cruiser, but watched the other animals of the Serengeti intently.

Psst, buddy, there’s a tasty snack taking your picture.

The lions looked healthy, happy and, well, a little fat. Turns out they’d just sampled a preferred dish from the Serengeti buffet: a wildebeest.

Mmmm … paw-lickin’ good!