28 September 2010

Moose Jaw Minute #7: One Month and Counting...

It's been one month since I crossed the border to enter into Canada-land.  What a month it has been!  I can say without a shadow of a doubt that while I miss Chicago to no end, I am ridiculously happy to be in Moose Jaw with Dave.  It has been a busy month for us...setting up the home office, traveling to Banff and Calgary, a couple of trips into Regina and several attempts to secure a driver's license and cell phone for me to no avail.  We have cooked and camped, walked and talked, and are settling into married life in the Jaw. 

I had the opportunity to tour the Moose Jaw YMCA on Thursday of last week with their CEO, Jeff Fox.  He is engaging and the YMCA is doing a fantastic job in the community with their child care centres filled to capacity, what looks to be a happy staff, and a great facility with the right kinds of community partners involved.  I will be looking for more ways to get involved and have some ideas floating around in my head.  I know more conversations with Jeff will come.  I am also excited to report that the Regina YMCA is also on my list of places-to-see in the coming weeks!

This last weekend, weather forcasts were predicting temps in the mid-70s and after several weeks of nothing but grey skies and chilly rains, we wanted...no, we NEEDED to get outside.  We took the short road trip to Lake Diefenbaker with a canoe strapped to the top of the car, hoping that this weekend of gorgeous weather would permit some time on the lake and decent camping.  Camping, yes...canoeing...well, not so much.  The water level in the lake is high and putting in anywhere was presenting us with some challenges.  Every small road (and by road, I mean a dirt path) we turned off provided nothing more than a steep look over into choppy waters as the wind picked up.  While the wind was warm, it would have made for some challenging paddling across the lake.  We searched and poked along the shoreline, hoping for a good access point to reveal itself and instead we found an abandoned RV (think Breaking Bad), cows blocking a path to the shore along one route, and grassy patches that, while beautiful, would not have allowed for a good campfire.  Since we couldn't find anything, we headed into Douglas Provincial Park to pay our dues and set up shop in a proper walk-on site for the night.  We made the short walk to the lake where we dined on cold cous cous salad and semi-frozen mangoes as we talked about the past month and the differences between then (pre-Canada) and now (in Canada).

It's been a good month and as I get used to the different money, the working from home, the big skies, and the quiet of Moose Jaw, I look forward to the next month...and counting.

ps.  A note of congrats to good friends of ours, Amanda and Regan...welcome to the world Oliver Thomson!

pps.  I have been without my camera for the past two weeks after leaving it in Chicago (I'm getting it back soon!).  So, here are some pics from our last trip to Diefenbaker back in July.  Cheers!

Canoe on the Car...we are so colo(u)r coordinated!

Hiding out in the Prairie

Where is the lake?

Home on the Range

The Homestead

Diefenbaker Shore

Bacon Breakfast of Champions!

Bird on a Wire!

Farmer Dave

Diefenbaker Sunset

17 September 2010

Moose Jaw Minute #6: The Urban/Rural Jungle

Another week in the transition from city to prairie life…
Dave and I are settling into a routine here in Moose Jaw.  I work from home in my newly set-up office in the second bedroom, listening to Harvards and Hawks (planes, not birds) buzz overhead from time to time, staring out at the steel-grey sky, and waiting for the bird migrations to start (which I hear are amazing).  I wake early, get ready for work, head downstairs to make my cup of Josephine and then back upstairs to get a jump-start on the day.  I am wringing out work like it is my life’s business and am finding that while not being in the Chicago office is lonely, it does mean I am cranking out data analysis like no one else…a good thing, especially at this time in the organization’s life cycle.  Dave wakes, heads to work, lives his Top Gun day, and then returns home to find me…well, still analyzing.  We are enjoying starting and ending each work day with one another and it is a nice change from compartmentalizing our time into two or three hour stretches on Skype every night (a must-have for any long-distance, cross-border relationship that you are attempting to sustain).  We go for walks in the evenings, either through town or Wakamow Valley…the lovely sister park to New York City’s Central Park (ahem) or Chicago’s Millennium Park (ahem, again).  Okay, Wakamow is nowhere close to CP or MP, but whatever, a girl can dream.  All that being said, what it doesn’t have in size, it makes up for in charm with a small river, delicate-but-steep hills that challenge my used-to-flat-road-running-quads, and plenty of places to picnic.
Speaking of the park and our evening walks, one of the largest transitions has been in my relation to space.  I adopted, during my time in the city, the city-woman-walker-approach to making my way through alleys, navigating the El, and ensuring that I wasn’t making myself a target for rummaging and pillaging.  In other words, I notice I don’t look people in the eye, I am on high-alert when walking after the sun goes down (and in Moose Jaw, that means it is DARK), and I tend to approach the safe small stretch of main street in the Jaw with the same attitude I did when dis-embarking the El at the Red Line Wilson stop – jaw clenched, keys in hand, and ready to pounce on anything that approached me.  I’ve had many a conversation with my city-dwelling friends (primarily my feminist posse city-dwelling friends) about how much more comfortable we are in the city versus wide open spaces.  Well, if you want to test your fear-mongering (in)sanity about things that go bump in the night and bushes that have the potential to come alive and drag you underground to become a wormy feast, Moose Jaw is for you.  I noticed my odd behavior (which, by the way, I’m sure by now Moose Javians (Dave just informed me that is how they refer to themselves) have pegged me as the sure-fire “import”) on a run the other day.  I ran along a trail and two small kids were playing in the dirt nearby and, as does every Canadian, they glanced up, smiled broadly, and said “Hello, eh!”  I nearly jumped out of my skin, adopted the Karate Kid pose, aimed my keys at their mud pies, and hissed a quick “hi” before high-tailing it out of there.  Abso-freaking-lutely absurd?  Yes.  For sure.  My point of reference for interacting with strangers, whether they be five or fifty years of age, is a tad skewed for the friendliness of Moose Jaw and the rest of Canada as I slowly transition away from life in the big city.
Ah, but life in the big city does have its pleasures and I was fortunate enough to spend less than 24 hours back in the Second City.  O’Hare, the El, Starbucks on a bustling street corner, cabs, a visit to the office, catching up with friends/co-workers, the buildings, the people, the rush, and the electricity in the air…my kind of town, Chicago is.  I do miss it…a lot.  The missing has been bizarre…most days I don’t think about it as I punch out formulas in Excel, walk with my husband, and think about the next project to tackle in the house – but, when the craving for Chicago hits, it hits hard.  My heart hurts, I get short of breath, and I wonder how I will find ME, as in -- who am I supposed to be here, anyway? -- in this awesome country of Canada.  I know I will and I know it is just a matter of time, but the process sure does have its ups and downs.  As I make my transition back to the Jaw after being back in the city, I realize that there are plusses and minuses in both places and I am choosing to focus on the plusses. 
Oh, and I've had some requests for more pictures...so, here you go!  Enjoy!

Border Crossed!

GIANT Canadian Wheat Sculptures on the way to Moose Jaw

Grain Silos...GIANT!


Wakamow Valley...aka, Moose Jaw's Central Park

Dave...readying the car for Calgary...

Elk!  REAL Elk!  Seriously!  HUGE!

Where's Heather?  Hiking in Banff.

Top of a waterfall.

Gorgeous Banff.

Big Trees


Saskatchewan...Land of the Living Skies

More Living Skies...um, they kind of go on forever out here...

Happy Friday, all...

08 September 2010

Moose Jaw Minute #5: Calgary and Banff

After 24 hours in a U-Haul together  last weekend, crossing over into Canada, and listening to our fill of music from Dave's iPod, you would think we'd had enough of tight spaces, food out of a bag, and towns whizzing past our windows...think again.  Less than one week later, there we were, packed into the Chevy Cavalier with dreams of Calgary, Banff mountains, and a visit to IKEA dancing through our heads.

Driving to anywhere from Moose Jaw is an adventure all unto itself.  You play fun games along the way, like...."how flat is FLAT?" and "Guess when the next roadside stand is?" and "Who has the bigger bladder?"  The sky stretches out long and far and depending on the time of day, you can watch the sun rise for miles, feel the heat of the afternoon sun for hours, or watch the deep purples, pinks, and blues inhabit the sky as the sun sets.  You get excited when you see farm animals and traffic congestion is never an issue.  We traveled along the Trans-Canadian Highway, which is THE highway stretching from one end of Canada to the other.  Apparently, this road is so popular and famous, it even has its own Facebook group...go figure.  Maybe the Trans-Canadian and Route 66 can have a duel for the most number of fans...

Calgary is a city like none other...it stretches out for miles, and miles, and miles...a lot of space for a population of only about one million.  The city has grown exponentially in the last ten years and continues to do so.  The majority of the construction is new and they continue to build and build and build...out, and not up.  We started our visit with a stop over at Dave's friends Cathy and Bryan and their two little ones.  We had a great time chatting, catching up, drinking Bryan's delicious homemade wine, and playing with the kids.  They have a lovely home on the outskirts of Calgary in the Evanston neighborhood.  They are fantastic people and I can't wait to get to know them better.  We checked into our hotel for the night and then made our way on foot to one of the best meals of my life at Sultan's Tent. Delicious Moroccan food, sweet mint tea, and the best coffee.  It was incredible.  We ate salads, lamb, vegetables...all spiced and flavorful.  YUM!

The next day we woke up and (surprise!) hopped back into the car to make our way through Canmore and into Banff. Banff reminds me a lot of Garmisch in Germany...a quaint little outdoor paradise.  It's like Vail gone Canadian.  As we drove in from Calgary, the mountains were shrouded in cloud and the temperature was, well...damp.  We couldn't see the tops of any peaks, but we knew the mountains were there.  We drove into the town center and then made our way to the Sundance Canyon trail.  At the base, we feasted on meats, cheese, and bread.  Good hiking food!  We started up the trail and at the very start, we stumbled upon two elk.  HUGE elk!  This is the season where the woodland creatures continue to stock up for the winter ahead.  There were signs everywhere warning of bears and elk.  The elk were happy just to munch as we made our way past, but I was awed by their size...needless to say, I would NOT want to piss one off!  The hike was lovely and culminated for us at the top of a small waterfall that cascaded down rocks and fallen trees.  The sun had started to peek out during our hike and the warm sun felt good after such a chilly start to the hike.  We hiked, chatted, said hello to other hikers on the trail and enjoyed the fresh mountain air.  It was GOOD to be outside.  Oh, those elk?  Yeah, they were still there when we got back to the trail head, only this time, they were butting antlers. 

We made our way back to the center of town and wandered through the shops...Patagonia (for the winter jacket I have been lusting after), a fudge shop, a little chapel, more outdoor gear shops.  The mountains were all around and as the sun began to dip below the peaks, we headed back into Canmore for dinner.  We had asked some folks at the Patagonia shop if they knew of any place nearby that had good locally focused food.  They steered us in the right direction.  Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company is a gem of a restaurant focused on family-friendly, local, organic dining.  We sat down for a flatbread with goat cheese, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes -- paired with two pints of beer and a salad with an amazing blackberry dressing.  Perfect food after hiking.  The pizza oven flames were lit and kept the dining room warm as the sky outside turned a deep electric blue before descending into an inky black.  We made our way back to Calgary, wishing we could stay with the mountains a bit longer, but grateful for our time outside, our warm bellies, and our time together.

The next morning.  IKEA.  First, I love you Dave and I am sorry.

I WANT to love IKEA.  I really do.  I love their design concepts, I love the ease with which you can put their furniture together, I love that their stuff is relatively cheap.  I HATE their stores, their catalogue, and their website.  From Chicago to Calgary, it doesn't matter.  I am not a shopper to begin with.  IKEA forces you to browse...guiding you like cattle with arrows painted on the floor for your carts to follow.  They MAKE you wander through dozens of couches, a flurry of children's items, more lamps than you can shake a stick at.  When you walk through that maze, you suddenly realize that the fluggenpeffper you really needed with is actually near the checkout lane at the very end.  I am bombarded in their stores with music, families talking, too many options, and fluorescent lighting that makes my eyes water.  Even before Dave and I set foot in the store, I had made up my mind that this was not going to be a pleasant experience.  If I was ever captured and someone wanted to get information out of me, just stick me in an IKEA store on a weekend and I'll tell you whatever you need to know after about five minutes of being there.

All that being said, Dave is incredibly patient with me...we worked methodically through the list we developed to help us set up the home office.  Dave loves IKEA and finds a lot of inspiration there.  I felt horrible for making it a not-so-great experience, but he took it all in stride, picking up various items off the shelves, examining the stagglewaffer and the hooklum, weighing the pros and cons of one bookshelf versus another.  I admire his ability in this area and know that I can apply it in my own life -- whether it be IKEA or the grocery store.  He loves to experiment, figure things out, and eventually settle on the best solution for the challenge.  For that, I am a very grateful wife.

We headed back to Moose Jaw with a car full of goodies, sushi in our bellies, and the sun at our backs knowing we would be returning soon to Cathy and Bryan, to Banff and Canmore, to Calgary and the Sultan's Tent, and yes...even to IKEA.

01 September 2010

Moose Jaw Minute #4: Away We Go

How y'all doin' there, eh?

Over the river the through the prairie, to our Moose Jaw home we go. Okay, that's a lie. More like, out of Chicago, into Skokie, a buzz through Madison, whip around Minneapolis/St. Paul, overnight in Fargo, stop in Minot, cross the border at North Portal, through Estevan, and then to our Moose Jaw home we go. Twenty-four hours in a U-Haul, a border crossing, and a load-up/unload later and Dave and I find ourselves standing at the starting line of our lives together as a married couple (cue Etta James singing "At Last!").

The trip was uneventful...seriously. We had the fortune of driving one of the newer U-Haul models on our one-way trek to the Jaw. It lets you know when you are getting the best MPG on your trip. Needless to say, sometimes we were in the green and sometimes in the red. We managed to collapse my one-bedroom apartment into the 10' truck, leaving behind one chair, one towel rack, one floor lamp, and one credenza (that one managed to take a nice tumble as I attempted to maneuver it on my own...needless to say, I made a bit of a mess and ended up with a door off the hinge, shelf on the floor, and back piece torn up. I'll miss that credenza -- heavy as it was), and a partridge in a pear tree (the squawking was just too much for the long haul). The night before we drove out, our friends threw us a lovely picnic by Belmont Harbor, a potluck of good food, wine, friendship, laughter, and tears (on my part). It was a gorgeous last night in the beautiful city of Chicago and I will never forget it.

From Chicago we drove to Fargo, ND and managed to swing through Madison to visit one of my best friends from college, James, and his girlfriend, Alison. We had an awesome brunch and had the chance to catch up on life, family, PhD work, and our wedding. It was so good to see them and I am hopeful they can make a trip up sometime soon (hint, hint James!). Our brunch was at the Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery and they have delicious-ness in the form of a bacon cupcake. Did we sample the bacon-y goodness before us? No, but we have vowed to go back -- sans yummy brunch -- so we can make room for this delightful morsel of food. James and Alison, we will let you know when we are on our way.

Fargo was fantastic. A small town that appears to celebrate local artists, farms, and people. We ate at a great restaurant, HoDo, where local farmers are the name of the game. Now, mind you, this is where a mini freak-out happened. As we walked down the small "main street," I suddenly came to the realization that this whole street would be considered one neighborhood in Chicago...think Andersonville. Instead, this was the town. Where the majority of folks seemed to be hanging out on a Saturday night. I suddenly had visions of myself being blocked in on main street, end to end, with no public transport to take me out of this neighborhood and into another -- why? Because there aren't any! Let the hyperventilating begin -- sans the brown paper bag but with a death grip on Dave's hand. Are those fingernail marks I see? Just kidding...but, it did suddenly dawn on me, in a VERY real way, that I am entering quite a different world from the one I am coming from knowing that Moose Jaw is much like this. Alice down the rabbit hole.

From Fargo we ventured through Minot -- John, I now see what you are talking about -- and then up to Portal, ND/North Portal, SK. The border crossing. Portal is, well...oh, my. Just sad. A town that exists solely because folks cross the border there and for no other reason. We sat in a line behind trailers and trucks before realizing we could move over to the automobile lane. Here is where anxiety builds...we pull up to the crossing and the guard behind the window asks a few questions and then fills out a pink sheet of paper and indicates we have to park and then go into the office in order to have our paperwork processed. Fine...we were expecting this. We were also expecting that, per everything we've read, processing of paperwork and having my goods checked out would take between 1.5 and 2 hours. We step out of the U-Haul (okay, we groaned, creaked, and stumbled out of the U-Haul) toting paperwork, our large file with all of my immigration docs, passports, and everything in between. I put on makeup to make myself look more presentable and Dave spat on his hand and ran it through his hair. We gave each other a high five, chest bump, a "WE CAN DO THIS!" and then entered the building. We stepped up to the counter, placing bets on how long this whole adventure would take. Dave's guess: 36 minutes. My guess: Longer.

Reality...FOUR MINUTES. That's right. Four. Sign here, stamp there, attach docs here. See ya. Done, done, and done. How's THAT for efficient service? Now, granted, I wasn't carting over my wine collection, toting a vehicle, or smuggling child labor across the border...that may have been the difference, but four minutes...unprecedented. I felt a little cheated. I wanted to yell, "But, but...I LABELED everything! I spent Thursday LABELING everything! I have nice labels that match up to the paperwork we are providing you. Everything is in ORDER. Don't you just want to LOOK in the truck?!?!" Cheated or not, I did NOT say those things and we were happy to make our way back to the U-Haul and start the last stretch.

We crossed through Estevan, SK (The Sunshine Capital of Saskatchewan!) and then settled in for the remaining bit of travel in our cabin of U-Haul cab comfort. I've never been more happy to see Moose Jaw, my new home. Nothing says "home" like 48 degree weather, spitting rain, Mac the Moose ready to greet you (side note...there is a jet next to Mac and Mac is bigger than the jet. Talk amongst yourselves.), and a tight back from too many hours hauling my goods across the border. I'm happy to have had the 24 hours with Dave, to see some things I wouldn't have seen otherwise, to be able to put a pin in Fargo, ND on the map and know that I want to return. It was a good trip.

We unloaded in record time on Monday and everything is pretty much ready to go. We are planning a trip to Calgary, AB for the three-day weekend in order to stop by IKEA for office supplies. We are hoping to make a stop in Banff as well and visit some friends of Dave's that live in the area. I'm looking forward to getting away for fun this weekend and think it will be a nice way to celebrate the three-day weekend we both have.

What's twelve more hours in the car? :-)

Moose Jaw Minute #3: Chicago Bound

Back from home, home on the range....

*Disclaimer: I have talked a lot of smack about Moose Jaw in the past few months. Why? Well, my husband does a good job of it as well, I read a lot of stuff on the interweb, and well, who can resist making fun of and talking smack about a place called Moose Jaw??? So, lessons learned = don't believe everything you read and February is not an indicator of what the Jaw can be...

On that note...
I love Moose Jaw...I really do.

Now that I have been back in Chicago for more than 24 hours, some things to know...

1. We did not HAVE to walk the two hours across town to the grocery. We just chose to. In fact, there are at least three groceries in town: the Superstore, Sobey's, and Safeway. Why they all start with an "s" is beyond me. I may open a Jewel just to mess with people's heads.

2. There is a Starbucks in the Safeway so I can get my Via fix.

3. I love running in the Jaw under that big, BIG sky. It's a little suffocating at first (all that sky) but really nice once I got used to it!

4. There are more prairie dogs than people.

5. Prairie dogs make weird chirping noises.

6. They are not the smartest animals on the planet and seem to have perfected the art of running under car tires while in motion. I think they love this.

7. I am amazed at technology! Yay for no connectivity issues while working from Canada!

8. On that note...I'm not gonna lie...the commute in Moose Jaw beats the Red Line any day.

9. I am really going to miss Chicago. The lights, the noise, the convenience of 24 hour pharmacies, the idiosyncracies, the people who yell randomly at no one in particular and for no good reason, the idea of belonging someplace bigger than me, my friends.

10. I am pretty pumped that my husband and I get to live together. No lie. I think he is fantastic and I'm excited to start our married life together under one roof.

Dave and I hope some of you can make the trip up at some point over the next 2-3 years. After that, who knows where we will end up! That's all from the Minute for now...stay tuned for more in September.

Cheers (with a prairie dog squeak on the side)!

Moose Jaw Minute #2: Regina Outing

Good morning, everyone!

I hope you are all having a fantastic week!

Moose Jaw is providing all sorts of entertainment in the form of walks across town and back to get groceries (two hours walking time -- a great walk, but not like the Jewel a block away!); prairie dogs everywhere that emit little squeaks that sound like dolphins homing in on one another; adhering to posted speed signs in "km" not "mi"; and working from home. On the walk to the grocery, Dave showed me the park in the center of town -- very nice with a little running path along a small creek. I just can't believe how different everything looks when it is not -20 F out!

Last night, Dave and I ventured into Regina for a nice night out. Regina is the main city closest to Moose Jaw and is about a 45-minute drive away. There is really nothing between here and there except a few farms and it is as flat as a sheet of paper -- great for seeing where you are headed! The evening was gorgeous and we stopped at a sushi place on the main square. While we are in the middle of the prairies, it is nice to know that I can still get a decent helping of spicy scallop and dynamite roll whenever I need it! We stopped at the Canadian equivalent of Borders on the way home (they call their chain "Chapters") and enjoyed walking around, checking out books on how to set up a home office, and relishing the sight of blue water and sandy beaches in the travel magazines. Someday?

We are planning to have a BBQ with some friends tomorrow evening as long as the weather holds out. Good people, good burgers, good fun. That's the way I like to end my week. You all are invited, so come on over...the commute isn't that long!

All in all, it has been a wonderful trip and it is so nice to be able to spend time with each other. Still so bizarre to consider that in just over a month this will be our normal mode of operation as opposed to the exception to the rule. We are both excited and eager to get this next chapter started and have some projects on the docket for when I move up (home office being project number one!).

Moose Jaw Minute #1: Toe in the Water

So, as you know, I am in Moose Jaw for the week...going to try the working from home thing and see how it goes.  I landed here on Friday and was lucky enough to snag some time with immigration as I checked through customs. We were able to secure my Visitor Record (or VR) which allows me to stay in country for a year and pass through the border with a little more ease. It comes with restrictions -- I cannot work, or vote, or claim Canadian citizenship, or eat Canadian bacon, or drape myself in the Maple Leaf flag -- all that being said, however, it will make it easier for Dave and I to bring my items across the border in August when we cross over in North Portal. We won't have to take the time to secure the VR at that time.

As most of you know, we have already started the immigration process. We started the submission of materials on June 24 and as of right now, the immigration office in Mississauga is at June 4 applications, so we are moving up the queue! We now have to focus on other paperwork -- the B4 -- in order to get my personal artifacts across the border. It means assigning value to all of my goods. Um, socks for $1.50 anyone? Not only that, but the goods have to be submitted with value in Canadian Dollars. So, a looney for my socks anyone? *sigh*

Dave and I went camping yesterday and returned today. We traveled to a spot on Lake Diefenbaker. We picked up a canoe, stocked up on some food and camping gear and headed out. The drive through the fields was gorgeous and I made Dave pull over to take some photos of the gorgeous scenery. The night was clear and cool and after a dinner of soup over the fire, we watched the Milky Way come out, listened to the coyotes in the distance, and counted 14 satellites and about five shooting stars. Perfect.

We are now back in town at a coffee shop while I catch up on email and Dave studies for his nav trip. We have lots of errands to run this week -- the bank, signing me up at the gym, getting me the book to study for my driver's exam. I am also trying to get more familiar with my surroundings and have plans to go for some runs, and will drive around town to get my bearings (ps. I will take driving in Chicago any day over driving in this town!). The weather is perfect this week with nary a snowflake in sight...guess I can put the winter parka away!!!

I hope all of you are having a fantastic weekend and I'll chat with you soon...stay tuned for more Moose Jaw Minutes as the days go on and the move looms closer.