Monthly Archives: April 2014

Year of the Dog

It’s been just over a year since we welcomed Piper, our Brittany spaniel puppy, into our home. That pup has grown into a dog and become part of the family. I have become a “dog person,” that breed of human I used to look at with non-comprehension, who happily scoops fresh turds into a little baggie and who lives vicariously through her dog’s athletic accomplishments (e.g. when Piper outruns other dogs at the park I feel proud).

Piper at Tom Campbell Hill dog park.

Piper in her element at Tom Campbell Hill dog park.

And yet. Owning a sweet, smart, beautiful family companion isn’t all rainbows and puppy kisses.

Blake and I were commiserating recently with another couple about life with a dog. They, too, have two children and a spaniel. We talked about how we love our dogs, but also about all the other baggage that comes with dog ownership: the walking, dislocating of shoulders during walks (Piper’s a “puller”), never-ending training, policing of autistic son interacting inappropriately with dog (me), incessant grooming (them), veterinary visits, and the ongoing problem of finding care for the dog when we leave town.

At this point I was feeling rather beaten down by Piper. We’d been treating her for an ear infection (translation: pinning her down daily in a death vice to squirt medicine into her ear canal) and the previous month she’d contracted kennel cough from the… wait for it… kennel. It’s an infection that irritates a dog’s lungs and throat and causes her to spontaneously vomit on the floor or carpet or wherever she happens to be standing. Naturally, the kennel cough followed on the heels of Piper’s lice infestation. Yes, lice. Dogs can get a slow-moving dog lice that makes them itch uncontrollably (but which fortunately cannot be passed along to humans — that was the first thing I Googled).

On top of these health problems there was the going concern of Piper and Bennett. We have been trying to teach him how to pet Piper gently and how to play with her, but I think our son delights in bugging her. He is forever grabbing her, hauling off with her by the collar to put her in her kennel, taking her lovey and running away with it, and otherwise tormenting her. It’s kind of how a big brother would treat his little sister, in fact. But I am weary of constantly refereeing them. I also worry Piper will go snake on him one day and we’ll be that family on the news whose kid’s face got torn off by the dog.

So, when our friends asked us, “Knowing what you know now, if you could do it over, would you still get a dog?” I didn’t even hesitate.

“No,” I said. “Absolutely not.” And a month later, with a healthy dog, I stand by the no.

Some people might think this is hard-hearted — how can I say this about a creature so adored by our children, one that has become part of the family? Yes, she’s sweet. Yes, I like all the exercise I get by walking her. Yes, I enjoy cuddling with her at day’s end when she finally collapses on her dog bed. And yes, we’re keeping her. But she’s not my child. She’s a dog, and life would be just as full — and a whole lot easier and way more stress-free — if she had never arrived on an airplane from Saskatoon one snowy day last April.

Piper as a puppy at 8 weeks old.

Piper as a puppy at 8 weeks old.

 

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“Autism-friendly” movies screen monthly at Canyon Meadows

What makes a movie “autism friendly”? To find out, we headed to Canyon Meadows Cinemas this past Saturday to watch the animated children’s movie The Nut Job.

The Nut Job is just an okay movie (Bennett much preferred Frozen), but "autism friendly" is more about the theatre environment than the show itself.

The Nut Job is just an okay movie (Bennett much preferred Frozen), but “autism friendly” is more about the theatre environment than the show itself.

Calgary’s cheap seats theatre has committed to showing one children’s movie a month in an environment that turns the notion of “blockbuster” on its head. Instead of showing a 3-D movie in a pitch-dark theatre with loud surround-sound — and expecting tots to stay glued to their seat for two hours — the cinema screens a show inside a theatre with an autism-friendly ambiance. What does that mean? This:

  • Lights are at medium-low level (dim);
  • Sound volume is low (not loud and startling);
  • Tickets can be purchased in advance at the theatre for patrons who don’t want to wait in line;
  • There isn’t 20 minute’s worth of ads and trailers at the beginning of the film (hooray!);
  • Patrons are encouraged to make noise or move around (under supervision) if they wish.

I admit I have avoided taking Bennett, my six-year-old autistic son, to the movies for years — the kid has only seen three movies in a movie theatre in his life! I stayed away because I worried he would freak out about something in the film, throw a tantrum over spilled popcorn or demand we leave half way through the show. The fact that Canyon Meadows creates an environment once a month that makes it okay for Bennett to do all these things, is awesome. No more worrying about being judged (that I’m a bad parent, or that my son is misbehaving) because the other parents in attendance get it.

Bennett enjoys popcorn before The Nut Job at Canyon Meadows Cinemas.

Bennett enjoys popcorn before The Nut Job at Canyon Meadows Cinemas.

As it turned out, Bennett didn’t take advantage of the autism-friendly perks. He ate his popcorn and sat in his chair for the movie’s duration, with nary a word of protest. Other children walked around in the front of the theatre, made noises, occasionally cried. But it wasn’t a big deal because we understood. And, if Bennett had wanted to leave half way through the movie it wouldn’t have been a big deal, either — tickets cost just $5. It’s great Canyon Meadows is doing this regularly. Keep it up!

 

Drink of the Week: Martinez cocktail

I am not a big fan of martinis. I find them too boozy and too dry, and for those with just a “splash” of vermouth, too Christmas tree-forward (translation: juniper-y). I do, however, like Manhattans, so just imagine if there was a gin Manhattan! Well, there is — sort of. It’s called a Martinez and this classic cocktail actually predates the traditional gin martini.

The Martinez is rather like a sweet Manhattan, with gin and a touch of maraschino liqueur.

The Martinez is rather like a sweet Manhattan, but with gin and a touch of maraschino liqueur. I tried this one at a “Three Martini Lunch” at the Yellow Door Bistro.

The Martinez is basically a martini made with sweet vermouth, a couple dashes of bitters and a splash of maraschino liqueur (a delicious, fairly dry liqueur made from sour Marasca cherries). Peter Hunt from Victoria Spirits on Vancouver Island made me one using his aged Oaken Gin at a “Three Martini Lunch” event during the Art of the Cocktail festival in Calgary. I was smitten.

As a bonus, this drink hits on three of the cocktail trends I wrote about last weekend for the Calgary Herald: gin is still in, vermouth is the latest rage, and everything is better with some bitters. A Martinez might also be just the thing to sip with your chocolate eggs on Easter morning.

Martinez

  • 2 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients with ice in a Boston glass and then fine-strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

— Recipe courtesy Peter Hunt, Victoria Spirits

Marvelous Mount Norquay a hit for families

Back in the days before kids my husband Blake and I happily drove past local Banff ski hill Mount Norquay in favour of chasing powder and longer vertical at Sunshine Village or Lake Louise. But now that our two children are skiing we see the charm and practicality of a smaller ski hill. So, we happily accepted an invitation to Mount Norquay this past weekend for a family ski day.

Posing at the top of Cascade chair at Mount Norquay.

Posing at the top of Cascade chair at Mount Norquay.

Our first clue the skiing was going to be great was the icy road conditions driving west from Calgary to Banff. It turns out Norquay had received 20 cm of snow overnight — more than the other Banff resorts. After handing the kids over to their ski instructors for a morning lesson we got busy tracking up the powder.

We were helped in this endeavour by Canadian ski great Ken Read who, along with five other Alberta partners, owns Mount Norquay. Read helped us find some powder stashes off the Mystic Express chair and pointed out areas where the resort is widening runs to make them more race-course friendly. He also talked about why he loves Norquay: it’s friendly, intimate, and easy to navigate thanks to its small size. It feels like a local hill, and families that ski here regularly or enrol their kids in the racing program really get to know each another and the mountain.

Ken Read skis me and fellow writers Kim Gray and Lisa Monforton around Mount Norquay.

Ken Read skis with me (far left) and fellow Calgary travel writers Kim Gray and Lisa Monforton at Mount Norquay.

But what really impressed me is that Norquay looks after newbie skiers while also offering some gnarly terrain for experts. Not all ski hills strike a good balance between these extremes, and few have black runs right next door to the bunny hill! The fall line at Norquay is also stellar — most runs cut right down the fall line making it easy for skiers to follow gravity and stay on the run.

Our son Bennett, a beginner, was in great hands with Phil, his instructor, during a two-hour private lesson. Phil was incredibly patient and encouraging with Bennett, who has autism, and regularly praised how well he was doing. He even took Bennett on some tree runs (!) and over two jumps (!!). Bennett had such a fun time that when he saw me on the hill he told me to “Go away.”

Bennett shreds the pow-pow at Mount Norquay.

Bennett shreds the pow-pow at Mount Norquay.

We saw Bennett tearing up the pow-pow on a green run called Temptation as we booted over to the adjacent North American chairlift so Blake could hearken back to his mogul-munching high school days. From the top of the chair you get a bird’s eye view of Banff townsite and it’s a steep 1,300-foot vertical drop down bumped-up black runs to the bottom. Luckily (or not?), the Volkswagen bug-sized moguls were covered in snow to cushion me every time I fell.

A view of Banff townsite from the top of the North American.

A view of Banff townsite from the top of the North American.

After lunch we skied Cascade as a family, with one of us traversing the green runs with Bennett while the other hit the terrain park with our daughter Avery. She killed it in the park, catching some jumps and skiing her first rail without crashing — way to go!

Finally we headed up to the tubing park to finish the day on an adrenalin high note. Avery is a natural thrill seeker as well as a roller coaster aficionado, but I worried Bennett would chicken out at the top (the seven tubing tracks are steep and long). Before he knew what was happening our four linked tubes were careening down a wide, super-fast bobsleigh-like track, leaving our stomachs at the top of the hill. “It’s too fast!” Bennett shrieked, only to demand we “Do it again!” at the bottom.

The tubing park at Mount Norquay is awesome.

The tubing park at Mount Norquay is awesome.

In fact, “Do it again!” could well be our motto for the entire Mount Norquay experience. Our family of four skiers of different abilities all had a blast. Perhaps we’ll hit Norquay again Easter weekend, before it closes for the season April 21.

Drink of the Week: Stone Cold Jane Austen

I had the opportunity to judge the Sidecar by Merlet cocktail competition alongside Luc Merlet and molecular mixologist Tony Conigliaro during last weekend’s Art of the Cocktail festival.

Fifteen bartenders from Calgary and Edmonton came together inside the Bourbon Room at National on 10th to add their own creative twist to a Sidecar and to create an original cocktail using either Excellia tequila or G’Vine gin. Each competitor had a mere six minutes to shake up two different drinks while charming us with the story behind them (sporting old-school beards, bow-ties and vests added to the showmanship, but was not a requirement!). We then had to judge each competitor on their performance and the inspiration behind the drink, as well as the drink itself: appearance, smell and taste, balance, interplay of ingredients, and how well it highlighted the Merlet products (cognac and triple sec for the Sidecars).

I was nervous at first being on a panel with two cocktail aficionados who between them could likely create all the cocktail menus in Calgary, but after we compared notes half way through and I saw that we were on the same page when it came to scoring (e.g. we all liked the same drinks best), I became more confident in my palate.

Competition winner Jimmy Nguyen of Teatro knows his way around a cocktail shaker -- and all the ingredients of a Sidecar.

Winner Jimmy Nguyen of Teatro knows his way around a cocktail shaker — and all the ingredients of a Sidecar. Image courtesy Art of the Cocktail.

In the end Jimmy Nguyen of Teatro won the competition and the grand prize — a trip to France — by presenting us with a perfectly balanced Sidecar enhanced by a citrus sugar rim on the glass and a lemon juice and grape tea foam set atop the drink.

Though I am a fan of the classic Sidecar, I have to say that sampling 15 different ones in a row was palate-puckering. It was a nice break to try the creative gin and tequila cocktails. My favourite was the Stone Cold Jane Austen by Edmonton bartender Evan Watson of Woodwork. It’s like a White Lady meets Corpse Reviver #2 (one of my favourite gin cocktails). The peppercorn-lemongrass simple syrup made this drink, in my opinion, and the peppercorn garnish was a beautiful finishing touch. Do try this at home.

The peppercorns and the interplay of gin, lemon juice and triple sec make this drink.

The peppercorns and the interplay of gin, lemon juice and triple sec make this drink. Image courtesy Art of the Cocktail.

Stone Cold Jane Austen

  • 2 oz G’Vine Nousaison gin
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Merlet Trois Citrus
  • 1/2 oz pink peppercorn lemon grass simple syrup (sorry, no recipe)
  • Egg white
  • 3 dashes Black Pepper Bitters and cracked black peppercorns
  • Garnish: Cracked pink and black peppercorns
  • Glass: old fashioned

Method: Combine the first six ingredients in a chilled shaker tin, then place six black peppercorns in a mortar and pestle and break them into a coarse grind. Place a pinch of this grind into the shaker tin, then dry shake. Next, add ice and hard shake, then single strain into a chilled old fashioned glass. Muddle pink peppercorns and black peppercorns in the mortar and pestle, then use a pinch of the combined mixture to garnish.

— Recipe courtesy Evan Watson, Woodwork

Drink of the Week: Lawnmower

Today’s weekly libation, the Lawnmower, is a plea for spring, a desperate attempt to conjure green grass to trim instead of snow to shovel. Spring is coming, right? Right?? Well, if it snows again you’ll at least have this boozy spring-inspired cocktail with which to drown your endless-winter sorrows.

With just a touch of mint the Lawnmower hints of warmer days to come.

With just a touch of mint the Lawnmower hints of warmer days to come.

The Lawnmower recipe comes courtesy of Calgary foodie-turned-cocktailian Wade Sirois, of Infuse Catering. Sirois is also the dapper, fedora-wearing fellow behind Crowbar, the occasional pop-up lounge that brings craft cocktails and small plates to unique, speakeasy-style locations that are only revealed two days prior to the event. Crowbar is by invite only, but you can get on the list for the May 5th and May 31st pop-ups by emailing info@crowbarcalgary.com.

The Lawnmower is a strong, sour and spicy sip that will leave you yearning for spring.

The Lawnmower is a strong, sour and spicy sip that will leave you yearning for spring.

Lawnmower

  • 1-1/2 oz bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 oz ginger syrup*
  • 5 leaves fresh mint
  • Mint garnish

Method: Put ice in a rocks glass for chilling. Place all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake for 10-15 seconds. Dump the ice from the chilled glass. Strain the cocktail into the glass. Garnish with mint.

*Ginger syrup

  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh ginger, shredded

Method: Bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Add the ginger and boil for one minute. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain the ginger from the syrup. Store in a clean glass jar for up to one month in the refrigerator.

— Recipe by Wade Sirois, inspired by Coco 500

Yoga: I don’t bend that way

I have never been a fan of yoga and it’s not for lack of trying. I took my first class through Decidedly Jazz Danceworks in the late 90s and I always forgot to “focus on the breath.” I tried post-partum yoga in the mid-aughts at the Talisman Centre and found it was difficult to hold poses and “be at one with the breath” (again with the breathing!) while my infant shrieked beside me. Determined to benefit from the healing powers of this ancient practice I even joined a weekly class at a neighbour’s house where I finally realized the problem: Not only do I have no clue about “being present” and “quieting the mind” and “synchronizing my lungs to Downward Dog,” I’m basically too bendy. One day, I knew, I would hurt myself doing yoga. That day came last week.

Whilst perusing our daily activities menu at the Four Seasons Punta Mita we saw a Tuesday morning class for Yoga on The Rock. Yoga on The Rock! Who wouldn’t want to salute the sun and strive for quad steeliness in Warrior I while posing on the flat top of a picturesque promontory overlooking the Pacific Ocean? Sign me up! I felt that in Mexico, under the caress of the tropical sun and buoyed by the salty kiss of the humid sea air I could finally get this yoga thing figured out.

Warning: don't try the cobra at home, or ever.

Warning: don’t try yoga at home. Or anywhere.

We took our places on yoga mats and, for the latecomers, beach towels, on a grassy knoll atop The Rock. The toned instructor reminded us that “yoga is not a competition” and to go at our own pace. “There’s no shame if you can’t hold a pose or need to rest.” She demonstrated Child’s Pose to show us how.

We started out with Downward Dog. How good it felt to stretch my calves and hamstrings so early on a holiday morning! We moved into Cobra. How nice to arch my back in a way I hadn’t since Grade 5 gymnastics! Next came the Warrior poses. How shaky my legs felt; how thankful I was not to have a hangover!

With each new pose and sequence I stretched more and pushed harder. The sun rose higher and its gentle caress turned into a forceful backhand. I felt the sweat trickling into my eyes, but I didn’t care.  I was winning at yoga — no Child’s Pose for me!

After the class, while relaxing under a beach palapa, I got to thinking how I’d like to take up yoga in Calgary. Maybe find a hot yoga class and fire up a Jennifer Aniston bod speedy-quick. But then I went to sleep that night and when I woke up the next day I realized what a silly dream my yoga fantasy had been. Overnight, my over-limbered-up lower back had stiffened into a knot of tight and sore muscles. I could no longer bend forward and hobbled around like a wounded warrior.

Back in Calgary my physiotherapist diagnosed the problem. “That can happen with Cobra. You probably inflamed that area by being too keen with the pose.” Proving you really can’t win with yoga. I love the irony in my therapist’s remedy, however: “Do Child’s Pose throughout the day for a gentle stretch.”