Monthly Archives: June 2013

Goodbye, best teacher ever

Wednesday was supposed to be the last day of school in Calgary. Because of the flooding, however, the school boards cancelled school all week and are opening school doors Thursday so the children will have a chance to say goodbye to their friends and teachers before summer break.

This kind of closure is important for our daughter Avery because her wonderful Grade 2/3 teacher, Mrs. Pomerleau, is leaving.

Avery hugs her teacher in the classroom the day before the class dissects owl pellets.

Avery hugs Mrs. Pomerleau in the classroom the day before the class dissects owl pellets.

At the beginning of the year I blogged about how I thought it was going to be the best year ever because of the gift bag the teacher sent home with the kids on the first day of school. And it was a great year — because of the teacher.

All the kids love Mrs. Pomerleau. She’s kind, patient, creative, knows how to teach and loves being in the classroom. I was continually impressed with the class projects and the knowledge my daughter was suddenly able to dish up at the dinner table. Over the course of the year Avery learned about the culture and life in India, Tunisia, Ukraine and Peru; built and tested different kinds of bridges using blocks and other materials; made an iMovie about alternative energy; and discovered rodent skulls after dissecting owl pellets. She’s gone from knowing 10 + 10 and being able to read the word ‘apple’ in kindergarten, to solving word problems and reading Nancy Drew mysteries in Grade 2.

I’m sure she would have learned these things with any teacher, but Mrs. Pomerleau made learning fun. The kids were always excited about what was going on in the classroom and Avery always wanted to go to school (and often, deliver one of the love letters she’d written to her teacher).

Recently I asked Mrs. Pomerleau what she loves about teaching.

“It’s the kids,” she said. “They’re just so excited to learn. Everything is new to them.” And so it is. Of course, the things she taught them were old hat to her, but Mrs. Pomerleau conveyed all the excitement as if she, too, was discovering new cultures, bridge engineering, alternative energy or owl poop for the first time. Being a great teacher, I now realize, is a special gift.

The kids are sad Mrs. Pomerleau is moving overseas for a year, but the parents are even sadder. It’s not every school year your child thrives so much. Mrs. Pomerleau is leaving some big shoes to fill. Goodbye, best teacher ever.

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Our Calgary flood story

This is our family:

This picture was taken a couple of weeks ago, when the Bow was low.

This picture was taken a couple of weeks ago, when the Bow was low.

And this is our home in the riverside community of Inglewood, the oldest neighbourhood in Calgary, Canada:

Our home in Inglewood. Good thing Blake mowed the lawn recently since we ended up on national TV!

Our home in Inglewood. Good thing Blake had mowed the lawn (and dandelions!) recently since we ended up on national TV!

And here was our view of the river:

We felt quite safe when the river was 200 feet away.

We felt quite safe when the river was 200 feet away.

On Thursday evening, June 20, I was making meatloaf while my kids played after school, keeping an eye on the raging Bow River some 200 feet from the front door. It had rained all night Wednesday and the river had risen more than two feet since morning. I’d heard about the flooding in Canmore and Bragg Creek and I was worried we were bracing for a repeat from 2005, when the Bow had flooded 13 of the 18 holes at the Inglewood Golf Club across the river. Little did I know we were facing three times the peril of eight years ago, and that our street would become a battleground of man vs. nature by Saturday night, with city crews and military muscle working to save the homes on our street from falling into a river that chewed through almost 150 feet of river bank in 24 hours.

You regularly hear stories in the news about people who lose their homes to fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. I’ve always wondered if the residents had time to grab anything precious before they evacuated in the middle of the night. What would they reach for? Their wedding album? A jewelry box? It must be hard to think amidst sheer panic… perhaps they reached for random things, like their favourite book?

When we heard our neighbourhood was being evacuated on Thursday evening I wasn’t yet thinking like a refugee, weighing in my head what I couldn’t live without. Instead, we packed up the laptops and some suitcases in an orderly fashion, and even sat down to a family dinner to eat the damn meatloaf. Honestly, I thought the emergency response was a bit much; that they were being too cautious. After all, our house and neighbourhood had survived the flood of ’05!

We drove to Mackenzie Lake to stay with friends and I figured we’d be back home the next morning. Dream on! We all know what happened that night: By Friday morning downtown was flooded and the Calgary Stampede was basically underwater, as was Elbow Park. Some 25 neighbourhoods, housing nearly 100,000 Calgarians, had been evacuated. All bridges to downtown were closed, many roads were impassable and power in parts of the city was out. People were being told to stay put.

But still I didn’t really start to fret about our home until a friend e-mailed this photo on Friday afternoon:

Pathway to nowhere but trouble as the Bow River ate through metres of riverbank in Inglewood on a soggy Friday.

Pathway to nowhere but trouble as the Bow River ate through metres of riverbank in Inglewood on a soggy Friday.

We drove to our house Friday evening, 24 hours after we’d left, and were dismayed to see the river almost on level with a bank that had been eroded in the span of a day. Police on our street were worried. With the help of a friend we grabbed our lock box from the basement, the jewelry box and some photo albums and camera equipment, and moved some things from the basement to higher ground in case it flooded. But still we didn’t understand how dire the situation was (clearly, as once again I left the cocktail shaker behind).

Another wild bike path ride, Friday evening.

Another wild bike path ride, Friday evening.

By Saturday morning the river was down somewhat, but reports from our street were not good. From photos shared on Facebook and Twitter it looked like virtually no riverbank was left. Only our street separated the houses from the raging river. One report said police expected at least three houses on the end of our block to “fall into the river.”

I now understood the panic of thinking you are about to lose your home. Knots tied up my stomach, adrenaline coursed through my body causing my hands to shake, and my left foot to go partially numb. I couldn’t think. We arrived at 3 p.m. and started grabbing stuff to haul out. Our kids were with us and they started crying from sensing our panic (thankfully, a neighbour escorted them to a home where childcare had been arranged while families along 8th and 9th started pumping out their basements).

We pulled family pictures and art off the wall, grabbed camping equipment, my son’s favourite Lego. We took the files and the photo negatives and the wine (hey, priorities!). And more clothes. Special keepsakes. My kids’ artwork and school binders. Their baby books. Our amazing community rallied and soon friends and neighbours were there helping us carry things out of our house, making judgement calls about what should go and what should potentially fall into the river. I asked a stranger to carry our betta fish to safety, and even stuffed a pack of fish food into his pocket. Later he walked down 9th Avenue carrying the fish bowl, like a character from a Dr. Seuss book. Did I grab anything random? Why yes, my copy of Gone with the Wind and also a cookbook.

What we left behind: furniture and dishes and books and some clothes and most of the kids toys and (sigh) all my shoes. Things that could be easily replaced. Even though there was no rational thought process on our part, it seemed with everyone’s help we had grabbed what was irreplaceable, and also what we would need if we did lose our home.

We were devastated over what was happening — and how quickly it happened — and torn up about the events across the city. But we were also blown away by the support and kindness from people in our neighbourhood who immediately came to our aid. We felt loved, and were safe by Saturday evening with those we loved. As we drove away from our house for what we thought might be the last time, the military was arriving en masse to work with the city to berm up the river and stop the erosion. And of course we saw this on TV, which made it a little hard to stay calm:

Ariel shot of the homes on 8th Ave. on Sunday morning.

Ariel shot of the homes on 8th Ave. on Sunday morning.

We learned Sunday that the team had worked tirelessly to place 40 concrete barricades and 2,000 sand bags into the river to protect the cutback and somewhat divert the flow of water. By 2 p.m. we were back in the ‘hood and learned they thought the houses were safe. Back at the house we were relieved to see the water had gone from our basement and we set about moving furniture to the garage, removing baseboards and taking up the soaked carpet. Minimal damage considering what could have been had the military not arrived when it did. Thank you, boys in green!

We are touched by everyone’s concern and so relieved to think this all might be ending and life could soon be returning to normal for everyone impacted across the city. Of course, through it all we always had what matters most — each other, our children, our puppy, our friends and family. But the thought of losing a home — that thing you build together that is the epicentre of your life — is traumatizing. We are so thankful it looks like ours will welcome us home soon.

Not long ago a realtor pooh-poohed our old neighbours' house, telling them it wasn't "riverfront" when they were listing it. Does it qualify as riverfront now?

Not long ago a realtor pooh-poohed our old neighbours’ house, telling them it wasn’t “riverfront” when they were listing it. I guess it qualifies as riverfront now.

Drink of the Week: Blisskey

If the name of this week’s drink sounds made up, that’s because it is. I didn’t know what else to call my muddled blueberry-mint-lime juice-whiskey cocktail. I was going for a take on a mint julep, but the end result more closely approximates a mojito. At any rate, it’s a little glass of whiskey-blueberry bliss = Blisskey.

Fresh mint, muddles blueberries and a tot of whiskey will be key to your bliss this weekend.

Fresh mint, muddled blueberries and a tot of whiskey will be key to your bliss this weekend.

When creating a cocktail I first see what fresh ingredients I have on hand (blueberries, mint, limes) and then I think about what spirit might taste good with them. I settled on the maple whiskey because it’s slightly sweet and I thought the maple would play well with blueberries and mint. If I’d had lemons on hand I would have opted for them instead, but limes also work (hence the mojito-like taste…even my husband guessed that rum was the base spirit. Maybe I should up the whiskey to 2 oz?). The blueberries don’t add very much in terms of flavour, but they sure make the drink a pretty pink-purple hue.

It’s just the kind of drink you want in-hand when you’ve been trapped indoors all week because of the rain, the children are chasing the dog around the house. Blisskey, take me away!

Whiskey mojito meets mint julep in this pretty cocktail.

Whiskey mojito meets mint julep in this pretty cocktail.

Blisskey

  • 1-1/2 oz Gibson’s Finest maple whiskey
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 3/4 oz honey simple syrup
  • 8-10 fresh blueberries
  • 6-8  mint leaves, plus mint sprig garnish
  • Ice

Gently muddle the blueberries, mint and whiskey together in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add the lime juice and simple syrup and some ice. Shake, and then strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

The open road

Summer break is almost here and I jump-started road trip season with a jaunt up to Red Deer from Calgary to dump the children with their grandparents (my amazing in-laws) for a long weekend while I flew to Saskatoon for a conference.

On the drive up I let Avery play with my iPhone and she took this picture of Bennett with it:

Big prairie skies and fertile fields -- road trip eye candy.

Big prairie skies and fertile fields — road trip eye candy. Photo by Avery Ford.

I love this shot. Bennett’s just looking out the window, watching the fields and farms go by, as if absorbed by the vast prairie sky and endless pastures. He spent most of the drive looking out the window, occasionally pointing out horses or cows or a lone windmill. After awhile, we sang some songs (thankfully, not 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall). And then, just like that, we were in Red Deer.

So often, as parents, we plan our road trips around DVD players, iPad or LeapPad games, or an endless supply of snacks. Feed them Pixar movies, rounds of Angry Birds or junk food to keep them busy, we think.

Why not fill their eyes with beautiful Canadian scenery instead? That’s what this image says to me. Its also means my kids are getting to ages where they’re able to appreciate the journey as well as the destination. Hooray! Bring on summer (and more road trips)!

Drink of the Week: Vodka Martini

It’s Father’s Day on Sunday, which means there will likely be a Dad in your life (your father, or the father or your children) who wants nothing more than to chillax in his Dad Chair and toss back a couple stiff drinks. So why not put in a little effort and shake up a vodka martini?

Why a martini, you ask? Because it’s boozy and means business, and our favourite manly man (that would be James Bond) drinks his vodka martinis shaken — not stirred — just like the Luksusowa recipe, below.

Happy Father’s Day!

This manly martini is heavy on the vodka and features three olives.

This manly martini is heavy on the vodka and features a snack: olives. Image courtesy Luksusowa.

Vodka Martini

  • 2 oz Luksusowa vodka
  • 1/4 to 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • Crushed ice
  • Olive, onion or lemon twist garnish

Sparingly atomize the inside of a martini or rocks glass with the dry vermouth (less vermouth equals a martini that is drier. Gently shake (or stir, if you must) Luksusowa vodka with the crushed ice in a stainless steel shaker, or glass pitcher. Immediately fine strain into the glass. Garnish with the olive, onion or lemon twist.

— Recipe courtesy Luksusowa

“Don’t French the dog!”

There are certain phrases that, before you have kids, you can’t imagine you’ll ever say, like “Stop goosing your sister,” or “We don’t flush underpants down the toilet.”

“Don’t French the dog” is one of them.

Bennett and Piper share a special moment. Again.

Bennett and Piper share a special moment. Again.

Lately, whenever the room goes eerily silent, it’s because our son is making out with the dog. I’ll find him crouched down by Piper, mouth open and tongue out, soliciting slobbery kisses.

Their puppy love began several weeks ago, after Bennett had warmed up to our family’s newest member. He discovered that she liked to lick things — hands, fingers, feet, his neck; it was all fair game. It soon progressed to Piper licking Bennett’s face; specifically, his lips. And, just like two teenagers caught in the act by disapproving parents, the more we yelled, “Ewww, gross! Bennett! Don’t kiss her like that!” or “No, Piper! Stop it!” the more they tried to do it, to spite us.

Conversations between Blake and me about this particular topic now go something like this:

Me: “I can’t believe Bennett has gone to second base with the dog.”

Blake: “I thought second base was feeling boobies.”

Me: “Oh yeah, you’re right. Well, he has touched her nipples when he rubs her belly.”

Blake: “And nipples are like the gateway to third base.”

We all know what base comes last, so let’s not even go there.

When we got a dog I knew we’d have to police her around furniture and shoes to prevent her from chewing them. I knew we’d have to make sure Bennett didn’t pet Piper too roughly, or pick her up by the neck. I did not foresee PDA patrol between human and canine.

I’m sure Bennett will eventually tire of trying to play kiss tag with his new best friend. My only hope in the meantime is that he doesn’t get worms.

Drink of the Week: Remy Ginger

I’m the first to admit I don’t know a lot about cognac. Sure, I love a good sidecar cocktail, and I’ll pick a snifter of Remy Martin over two fingers of scotch any day. But quiz me on the differences between VS, VSOP and XO when it comes to cognac and I’ll be lucky to get two out of three.

So it was with great curiosity that I attended a lunch at the Yellow Door Bistro last week with Alexandre Quintin, global brand ambassador for a luxury cognac from the house of Remy Martin called Louis XIII. And by luxury I mean, pretty darn expensive (e.g. about $3,000 per bottle). Packaged in a crystal Baccarat decanter, the Louis XIII is a blend of cognacs that range in age from 40 to 100 years old.

The Louis XIII has been aged so long, cobwebs have taken over the cellar.

The cognacs that make up the Louis XIII have been aged so long, cobwebs have taken over the cellar. Image courtesy Select Wines & Spirits.

Quintin spoke about the Louis XIII with reverence, saying that its competition isn’t other cognacs, but instead luxury watches or perhaps a bottle of Petrus wine. “It’s the most sought-after spirit in the world. You need four generations of cellar masters in the house to make one blend,” he said. I immediately pictured myself drinking it with European friends on my luxury yacht whilst sailing the Mediterranean after winning the lottery:

This is how I imagine life with a bottle of Louis XIII.

This is how I imagine life with a bottle of Louis XIII. Image courtesy Select Wines & Spirits.

Sadly, an entire bottle was not in the cards, so I settled for a generously-poured glass of the elixir (estimated cost: $300). Quintin prepared my palate for the Louis XIII by having me sample just a small drop. And then, the fateful first sip. Now, I could try and impress you by describing its “warm fruity notes, hint of maple, and smoky, almost tobacco-like finish,” but who am I kidding? Did I like it? Yes! Because of my new-found knowledge, it tasted way better than a Rolex. Also, because it’s cognac, I could close my eyes and picture myself on the yacht, above — definitely more memorable than a glass of fine wine.

Of course, if you don’t plan on cashing in your RRSPs in order to run out and buy a bottle of Louis XIII, there are other ways you can enjoy cognac this weekend. We started the lunch with this refreshing cocktail, a Remy Ginger, which transformed the sippable Remy Martin VSOP into a guzzle-worthy patio highball. Enjoy!

Cognac doesn't just have to be sipped -- it makes a great patio guzzler in this Remy Ginger highball.

Cognac doesn’t just have to be sipped — it makes a great patio guzzler in this Remy Ginger highball.

Remy Ginger

  • 1-1/2 oz Remy Martin VSOP
  • Ginger ale
  • Ice

Pour Remy Martin VSOP in a highball glass with ice and top with ginger ale.

–Recipe courtesy Select Wines & Spirits