Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Aviatrix

(A discussion from earlier today, at school.)

"What are you dressing as for Hallowe'en, Fenya?"

I've got this cool coat and old-style helmet, so I'm going as an aviatrix!

". . ."

Like, a female aviator.

". . . "

You know, someone who flies planes?

"Oh, yeah!"


Sunday, October 28, 2012

California Consuming

Part of the challenge with a family vacation in and around Disneyland is eating properly and within a budget.  Although most amusement and theme parks have come a long way from their 'deep-fried everything and little else' and now have somewhat more balanced options, eating three meals a day in the Magic Kingdom can be a daunting proposition.

Thanks to having a Target store across the street from our hotel, we would normally breakfast in our rooms or at the Del Taco kitty corner to our parking lot.  We would also carry some lunch items into Disneyland, like fruit, beef jerky, cheese strings and yogurt tubes, that sort of thing.  We would also take in a bottle or two of water, but eventually stopped doing that in favour of refilling the collapsible water bottle Audrey had brought along.  This little item fit in the pocket of my cargo shorts when empty, could be filled from one of the many water fountains on the grounds, and then made tastier with a squirt from the sweet tea flavoured Mio I brought with me.  It was hot while we were there (35 degrees Celsius for 3-4 days) so staying hydrated was of critical importance.

Cheaping out on a couple of meals like this made it far easier to rationalize the few food purchases we did make while in Disneyland, because fun food is supposed to be part of the experience too.  We tried churros, and soft, Mickey-shaped pretzels, and treated ourselves to cold sodas after particularly grueling line-ups. In the California Adventure, I had a beer inside a Disney park for the first time ever (a Karl Strauss Oktoberfest), and let me tell you, I have never appreciated an ale more than at that particular moment!

I'd had a few people mention the smoked turkey legs before we went down, but I was completely unaware to how much a part of the fair food culture they had become.  We saw t-shirts and sweatshirts adorned with the legendary turkey leg long before we glimpsed the culinary item itself.

For $10 there is a lot of eating to be had from one of these Flintstone-sized poultry offerings, the girls split one, Audrey made a dent in hers, and I was barely able to finish my own; two of them probably would have satiated the four of us.  Heavily smoked, and I think perhaps brined as well, the turkey leg tastes almost more like ham than turkey, but as far as tasty, real park food goes, it is hard to top.  Plus, there is the whole Henry VIII appeal to be considered.  On other nights we had generous helping of soup (clam chowder or steak gumbo) in a bread bowl, but while hearty, they are nowhere near as fun.

Universal Studios doesn't let you bring in food beyond bottled water and fresh fruit, so we enjoyed our yogurt tubes and beef jerky on the bus ride there, which was about an hour and a half.  We enjoyed a late lunch at the Flintstone's BBQ, where Fenya and I enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches while Glory and Audrey shared a rack of ribs of a more reasonable size than the car-tipping variety from the opening credits.

Very close to our hotel was Oggi's Pizza and Brewhouse makes a great pizza, an award winning stout they brew themselves called Black Magic, and a pot roast sandwich which may have single-handedly changed how I define comfort food.

We also had the chance to eat in a couple of themed seafood restaurants: Joe's Crab Shack and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.  These are both loud and lively places with great seafood and charismatic service, and the joie de vivre they can restore to an exhausting day is well worth the premium you can end up paying.

At Bubba Gump, Glory's kid's meal came in a box shaped like Forrest's boat, the Jenny.  She also got a drink in a collectible glass with a bottom full of flashing lights which appears merely distracting when viewed fromt eh side, but looking in from the top reveals a mesmerizing lightshow reminiscent of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Louie (get it? Shrimp Louie?), the Bubba Gump mascot
Even more enjoyable was Joe's Crab Shack, where we enjoyed prodigious amounts of shellfish served in galvanized washtubs with ears of corn and whole potatoes eaten with the hands.  Since Joe's was in the same parking lot as our hotel, Audrey and I felt emboldened to have some tropical drinks, like the Category 4 Hurricane I had (which the menu made very clear that they were only permitted to serve two of to any one guest), and Audrey's novelty drink, the Shark Bite.  Our server was a real dynamo, who even hummed the appropriate John Williams score before plunging the shark into Audrey's glass.

We had such a great time that Glory and I both got tie-dyed t-shirts from Joe's as souvenirs, but they let us keep the shark for free.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

California Characters

Fenya is of an age where the appeal of the Disney characters is largely lost on her, much like it was when I went to Disneyland at age 12.  Glory, on the other hand, eagerly sought out familiar animated icons for their autographs as well as the obligatory photo-op.

I was skeptical about the autographs, but most of the characters were only too happy to oblige her.

And for the photos as well.

Pluto does an especially good job considering he a) is forced to sign the autograph on top of his nose and b) he has no discernible thumbs.

On the California Adventure side, the characters were dressed in clothes from the 1920s and '30s, like Mickey's trolley car conductor finery.

 At Universal Studios, we saw somewhat lesser known characters, like 'Bruce' from Jaws.

A couple of Mummy-inspired characters, their make-up and costumes made even more impressive by the built-in stilts.  The Anubis-looking fellow made my day when he crouched behind a stack of t-shirts at the entrance of the gift shop and softly snarled at three girls as they exited, eliciting significant squeals from them and a number of chuckles from bystanders like myself.
(Audrey is a bit damp having just exited the Jurassic Park River Ride, the wettest ride ever.)
Check out the eyes on Nefertiti here as well...
This gentleman starts out his day disguised as part of the statue near the entrance of Universal Studios, then makes his way around the park in a robotic fashion.  It was 35 degrees out, and he is in black from head to toe, so you have to respect his commitment...

In the gift shop of the T2-3D show, they have a full-size, prop quality Iron Man suit, which makes for a great picture if you like that sort of thing.  And I obviously do.

Even I, a man whose photographic reluctance is second only to Bigfoot, could not resist getting a picture taken with 'the ghost with the most'.

The highlight though, was when Glory waited in line for an hour to meet Merida, the Scottish princess who is the main character from Disney's Brave.

One of the things I like most about Disney is that they do nothing by half-measures.  Merida had a miniature courtyard set up, with appropriate set dressing, accessories and even other characters like the three bears behind her, as well as a tiny archery range where others could shoot Nerf-style arrows at a nearby bullseye.

The main reason for the long wait though, was the amount of time Merida spent with each little girl she met with.  When she asked Glory where she was from, Glory told her Canada, to which Merida replied, "Oh, Canada!  My brothers like to put maple syrup on everything!"

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Best Way to Lie to Your Kids

For some time now, I have subscribed to an aphorism that 'surprised people behave badly', but there are exceptions, such as early this morning, when the girls came to the airport with us having absolutely no clue that we were going to Disneyland.

It has been a real struggle concealing our plans from Fenya and Glory since late August when we booked the trip. We had agreed early on to shoot for an airport reveal, which a month ago seemed really easy. The only sticking points in September were the delays in getting our passports renewed, but the girls never twigged to our anxiety, so that eventually turned out all right.

The change in weather cooperated as well, as the summer clothes rotated out of the girls' closets and into the basement, but instead of returning to their Rubbermaid box to wait out the winter, Audrey surreptitiously packed them into our luggage.

This week was the hardest yet, and we made sure to talk about the (spurious) things we had planned for the weekend and afterwards. There was talk of stowing the bikes for the winter so both cars could be put back in the garage, and possibly watching Fellowship of the Ring, so we could have all three Lord of the Rings films under our belts before The Hobbit opens in December. As far as the girls were aware, we were spending Friday night at Auntie Tara's in Leduc, so that we could give her a ride to the airport in the morning. She was even going to borrow our luggage, so there was a reason to bring it all along.

Friday night we watched Grease (because Auntie is taking them to a singalong version shortly and none of us had ever seen it), ate some deep dish pizza, and said goodbye to Nanny, as she is heading back to B.C. on Sunday. After the girls went to sleep, we re-arranged the luggage appropriately so it would be easily loaded in the morning.

Not surprisingly, Audrey and I found it difficult to sleep, and ended up waking around 5:00, but this gave us enough time to check and recheck everything we needed, as well as leisurely washroom access for our ablutions.

We woke the girls about as late as we could, since the more awake they were, the more likely they were to twig to the fact that something was awry. Besides, maintaining the cover story was difficult for us that early. In fact, Audrey almost blew it on the incredibly short drive from Leduc to the airport, when she mentioned leaving our keys with Tara!

Thankfully, both girls were still somewhat non compos mentos, so we were able to to clue them in as planned, at the curb by departures, immediately after unloading 'Tara's' luggage. Unfortunately, I passed the iPad to Tara upside down, so her fingers got in the way of the camera a bit, but you can hear us talking, and most importantly, see Fenya's and Glory's faces when the realization hits them that they are, actually, leaving for Disneyland right now.

Most of our trips involve visits and tourism in varying measures, but this is our first non-camping vacation together, really, and also our first encounter with the new terminal at Edmonton international, which is actually very nice and very well set up. Well, maybe a bit manipulative to have you walk through the duty-free on your way to the gates; I'm not made of stone, y'know.

The mother of one of Glory's friends worked on the giant mosaic they have there, and we spent quite a bit of time admiring the details within.

If you have occasion to visit, have fun finding the Spider-Man head one of the security officers mentioned as she passed by.

We grabbed eggs Benny at Chili's and boarded without delay or incident, and once seated, I had to beg the question: are you excited to be going to Disneyland?

Truly, more than ten thousand words.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Earthly Remains

For most of my life, I knew where Dad wanted to end up.

For a fellow who had travelled so far and seen as much as he did, he was still awestruck the first time he encountered the Rocky Mountains up close and personal.  It would have been the mid-70s, shortly after we moved to Leduc from New Brunswick.  Friends from Down East came out with us, and I remember staying at one of the Lodges in town, Marmot I think.  We drove around, and saw a bear in the ditch, and rode the tram to the top of Whistler.  I would have been perhaps 7 or 8 years old, and I liked Jasper a lot.

Not nearly as much as Dad did, though.

After a conference at Jasper Park Lodge that included tours of some area highlights, he began to speak of Maligne Canyon as the place he wanted his ashes scattered when he went on to his great reward, originally from helicopter. Later on that detail was left behind, but the place always remained the same. It's a beautiful area, carved out of the rock, rugged but accessible, peaceful but noisy at the same time.

Mum, and Tara and Jerry and the four of us traipsed into the canyon Saturday afternoon, myself carrying a blue shoulder bag with the container of Dad's ashes in it.  You could not have asked for a better day, cool in the shade and traces of snow on the ground in places but a sun so warm it threatened to burn.  The parking lot was about half full, and the trail congested in places, but the further on we went, the fewer hikers we saw.

Mum and Tara were happy to let me scout out what might be a good spot to send Dad on his final journey; I'd been there before and had a rough idea what I had in mind.  My preference was to be over the water, so as not to leave him on the banks, and preferably distinctive enough to find on a return visit.  A number of sites were considered and discarded for being too open, too busy, too dry, not...right.

The 4th Bridge isn't really part of the trail, it is a viewpoint that dead ends against a cliff face, and the trail to it descends from a large rock formation that actually serves to shield the bridge from hikers approaching from upstream.  Mum and Tara agreed this would be a good spot.

The act itself was slightly more complex than I had anticipated: the scattering vessel contained a thick plastic bag with  Dad's ashes, which we needed to remove, open, and then pour back into the tube itself.  The operation had a regrettable lack of elegance, but we still managed to maintain a modicum of respect.

We all took a turn pouring Dad's mortal remains into the Maligne River, from a height of perhaps 5 or 6 meters: Mum, then myself, then Tara, Audrey, Fenya and Glory, stopping once so that a father and his young daughter could explore the bridge without an awkward explanation.  After they returned to the trail, I tried to keep myself between the foot of the bridge and whoever was pouring, shielding them with my body, trying to afford them some sense of privacy.  Before too long, perhaps all too quickly, we were done.

Mum was sitting on a rock by the foot of the bridge, and I asked if she was all right.  She nodded.  "It's a little hard," she said, her voice thick.  "The last goodbye..."

The return journey to the parking lot felt longer than the descent to the 4th Bridge, despite having left so much there, but I'm not sure how much that had to do with physical exertion.  We had a beer on the deck next to the river, and let the sun, and each other, remind us how good it is to be alive, even in grief.

I like the idea of Dad's ashes entering the water, racing downstream to the river, to the sea, to the clouds, and perhaps returning to earth in drops of rain.  I like the idea that he will end up everywhere and nowhere, that his final journey will never actually end, and that he will never be too far away.

Even without a marker bearing his name, I am glad we have a place we can go to remember and commemorate him.  And I told the girls to pay attention, because when my time comes, this is how I would like my earthly remains returned to the Earth, and hopefully 4th Bridge will not be too far away.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Tippler's Trilemma

An enormous new liquor store opened up close to where I work about a week ago, and after about a dozen people from work asked me if I had gone yet, I thought I had better check it out; apparently my reputation precedes me. At any rate, I previously only had to choose between two stores for my alcohol-related purchases, and now a third has entered the mix.  Authoritatively.

Most liquor sales in Alberta are done beneath the banner of a single chain, but Wine & Beyond  looks to challenge that with their gigantic box stores in Windermere and Sherwood Park.  I don't want to overstate the bigness here, but I've been in Canadian Tire stores smaller than the Windermere location.  The map gives you a sense of the scale:

My love for the local beer shrine that is Sherbrooke Liquor is a matter of public record, but their claim to have the largest beer selection in Western Canada at 1000+ varieties is eclipsed by the alleged 1800 beers carried by Wine & Beyond.  I didn't have time to count, but I wouldn't be inclined to dismiss the claim out of hand, that's for certain.  It's unfortunate to have a serious competitor in the breadth category just as their original manager Jim Pettinger has moved on to other things after 8 years at Sherbrooke.

Premium product at a premium selection will not come at a bargain price, and this is just as true at W&B as it is at Sherbrooke.  That said, they have far more space to devote to large merchandising displays and special offers.  It looks like you can even win a Vespa, courtesy of an Italian brewery.

The store is brightly, well laid out and organized, with spacious aisles and copious signage.  If I was looking for something offbeat, its proximity to my workplace makes it an ideal resource.  But the best feature in my estimation is the Growler Bar and tasting area.

W&B keeps a number of kegs on tap with varieties both imported and domestic (Amber's Mountain Pepper Berry was prominently displayed, and they had run out of Alley Kat and Yellowhead offerings) that you can not only sample, but take home as draft in either a 32 ounce 'howler' or 64 oz 'growler'.  My friend Dave in Red Deer had introduced to the growler concept via Drummond Brewing last year, and I have to say I am a fan of the concept.  After tasting up to three different varieties, you purchase your own re-sealable bottle and have it filled with your choice, so I took home a howler of Black Thorn cider for Audrey and myself.  It was very lightly carbonated, dry, crisp, and just the thing for a day when she discovered that after finally returning to work, there are 4 staff due to be cut at her school.

Jill, who was staffing the tasting bar was friendly and knowledgeable, and if she is indicative of the rest of the staff, they are off to a good start.  Being a boutique store makes that pretty much a necessity though, and the Sherbrooke staff have always been delightful to talk to as well.

While Sherbrooke has been working to build a beer culture in Edmonton with craft beer keg nights and food pairings at places like The Next Act and The Sugar Bowl, W&B has their own education area where they can host presentations by representatives or learn to tasting sessions for groups.

If you drink or purchase alcohol at all, you owe it to yourself to check out Wine & Beyond the next time you are in southwest Edmonton, for the sheer spectacle of it if nothing else.  You can also check out some obscenely priced beverages, like the $4500 bottle of scotch, and a number of other 4-digit bottles as well.  The question of where to purchase though, that gets a little more complicated.

For major brands, party purchases and holiday stockage and such, I will continue to frequent the Safeway Liquor Store by my house, because there is frankly very little I will not do for 100 Air Miles, and buying $100 worth of hooch periodically is definitely not going onto that little list.  They are also relatively competitive on price.

For non-major-label beer I will probably continue to shop at Sherbrooke, supporting the smaller local enterprise and checking in at W&B to fill in the gaps the beer spectrum that their prodigious selection affords.  No matter how many different types of beer The larger store can bring in, however, there will always be some I can only get at Sherbrooke, since they have created a number of exclusive labels with local brewers like Alley Kat, or Paddock Wood in Saskatchewan (such as their Beer Gods series).  As long as Sherbrooke continues to bring in unique and quality offerings like their Neapolean (Neapolitan Ice Cream Stout), I will support them to the best of my ability.  Plus, virtually all of Sherbrooke's beer is sold nice and drinkably cold from their walk in cooler, brilliant sanctuary on hot summer days, whereas W&B's selection of chilled beers is a much smaller fraction of their overall selection.

I mean, if not for Sherbrooke and their newsletter, I might never have been made aware of this brilliant Craft Beer Advent Calendar, a brilliant rendezvous of my favourite season and beverage!  24 beers, none of which have been imported into Canada before, each hidden behind a little numbered door on the enormous box.  Glee!  Look forward to approximately 24 beer-related blog posts in December.  And please don't spoil the surprise if you read that cheating git's article on Beer Advocate where he opened all 24 and blabbed about it, thanks very much!

All in all, having even more selection of beer (and wine, and spirits too) within the city is nothing but a good thing, and I wish the purveyors of Wine & Beyond the best of luck, or perhaps more more appropriately, "Cheers!"

Monday, October 1, 2012

Back to Work

Audrey goes back to work tomorrow.

The offer given on Friday still offered a lump sum instead of a wage increase for the second year of the contract, but for $600 instead of the original $200.  Some people really wanted to stay on strike and hold out for the percentage, but in the end, 583 said yes, while only 142 said no.

Best of all, they had 729 out of 960-odd members make it out to vote.  This past April, the 57% voter turnout for the provincial election was the best in almost two decades, so 70% is nothing to sneeze at.  The ECSD website says they ratified the agreement as well, so the secretaries, librarians and Special Needs Teaching Assistants like Audrey should all be returning to their duties Tuesday.

Hopefully things get back to normal, but it could be a lot of cold shoulder for the workers who crossed the line, as well as the administrators who tried to encourage others to do so.  With any luck though, both sides of the dispute can put the struggle behind them and focus on the kids they are there to serve.

For a year or two at least, and then we can revisit the whole mess again...