Archive for July, 2010

As I sat on the Teddy Bear Special diesel train from Stettler to Big Valley, the discordant rhythm of the car lulled me into a welcome sluggishness and I started to decompress. 

My thoughts meandered from one subject to another. I wondered if I would have found this relaxing if I was travelling across the Prairies in the heat of summer with five kids in 1910? Would we have had meals of bread, dried fruit and salted meat? What did they do for bathrooms? Would the countryside look at all like this if we were travelling through Germany?

It was Sunday, July 4, and we were on an Alberta Prairie Railway excursion, named the Teddy Bear Special because all the kids were invited to bring their favourite teddy along for the ride. The train left the Stettler station at 11 a.m. and arrived in Big Valley near 12:30. We had two hours to have a buffet lunch and wander the nearby streets before boarding the train for the approximately 90-minute ride home.

I admit to being a little hesitant before the trip, as the idea of train cars full of children in a confined space brought Grinchy thoughts of all the noise, noise, noise. But I was pleasantly surprised when people were able to fall asleep on the trip down and back, and I was even happier when my sniffly four-year-old slept the entire ride back to Stettler. Actually, he was almost asleep on the southward leg of the journey, but the train robbers had him quickly on alert. 

We were rolling into Big Valley when the train slid to a stop and the popping of gunshots brought curious heads out of the windows. Horses ran the length of the cars, carrying robbers in full cowboy gear and handkerchiefs over their faces. 

As we were gruffly told to hand over our change, I could see the kids holding their teddy bears a little bit tighter. Up and down the train the cowboys rode, collecting coins for the Edmonton and Calgary children’s hospitals.

After lunch we meandered up to the little ‘Blue Church,’ otherwise known as St. Edmund’s Anglican Church, built in 1916. Then we wandered on and bought gemstones at the quaint shop on the corner. 

We poked around the museum and were herded back into the train car early, as it started to rain. Before naptime on the ride home there was a teddy bear promenade, with all the kids walking the length of the train and back. Some kids (mostly girls) proudly held aloft their favourite teddy, while others (mostly boys) sauntered along with their friend dangling by their side. Do boys really learn to try to look cool at such a young age?

The trip home was a little uncomfortable, with my little guy using us as a mattress, but being able to kiss his warm cheeks made it worthwhile. The entire day ended up being relaxing and easy, and I highly recommend the trip to anyone. The countryside is beautiful and the excursion staff is fun and friendly. 

Visit absteamtrain.com for more information on their various seasonal excursions.

And now I will just leave you with one thought: why hasn’t someone designed a children’s bed that shimmies like a train car?


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Online guidebook in seven languages
encourages visits to provincial parks

From campfire safety tips to checklists on what to bring when you go camping, the province’s new Nature as a Second Language online  guidebook teaches new Canadians about provincial parks.

“Many new Canadians face barriers in finding information about our parks, so we are working hard to make provincial parks more accessible,” said Tourism, Parks and Recreation Minister  Cindy Ady. 

“We want to encourage all Albertans to enjoy parks regardless of how  long they’ve lived here, or what language they speak.” 

The new 45-page online guidebook  is available in French, Punjabi, Tagalog/Filipino, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and English at http://www.albertaparks.ca/naturelanguage and hard copies are on display at various Park Visitor Information Centres.

“Part of living in Alberta is enjoying its  natural beauty,” said Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk. “Whether you are a new immigrant or  one who has been here for generations, these online books will help you connect  with the beauty of our province.”

In addition to the new online guidebook, there are several Nature as a Second Language programs across the province that support the full participation of new Canadians  through experiences, knowledge and skill development. For more details visit http://www.albertaparks.ca/naturelanguage. 

The Nature as a Second Language initiative is one of the priority actions outlined in Alberta’s Plan for Parks.Through implementing the Plan for  Parks, the Government of Alberta is committed to supporting the participation of all people in provincial park experiences, offering modern programs and encouraging interest and opportunities in parks. 

The  Alberta  government has a clear plan for a strong economic recovery. An important part of The Way Forward is maintaining support for programs and services Albertans need most, such as health care, education and safe and vibrant communities. For more information on the plan visit Alberta.ca.

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This is an excellent, quick meal for two. Serve with steamed rice.

• 2 garlic cloves

• ¼ cup rice vinegar

• 1 tbsp granulated sugar

• 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

• 1 green onion

• 2 tsp sesame oil

• ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce

• 1 zucchini, sliced diagonal

• 6 portabello mushroom slices

• ½ lb thinly sliced top sirloin

Process first seven ingredients in blender until smooth. Makes about 2/3 cup marinade. 

Place zucchini, mushrooms and steak in sealable plastic bag. Pour rice vinegar mixture into bag. Marinate in fridge overnight, turning once or twice to distribute marinade. 

Drain and discard marinade. 

Preheat lightly sprayed electric grill to high. Cook vegetable pieces for about two minutes per side until tender-crisp. Remove to serving plate. 

Cook steak pieces on grill for about 45 seconds per side until just seared but not overcooked.

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Come on home to Evansburg

Next weekend, the hamlet of Evansburg is celebrating its centennial with a three-day homecoming celebration.

If you or any of your family lives there now, or has ever lived in Evansburg in the past, this will be a don’t-miss weekend. A lot of forethought and planning has gone into making this a thoroughly enjoyable weekend for young and old.

The Aug. 6-8 weekend will be filled with a long list of events meant to inspire and entertain guests of all ages. Families can enjoy an art exhibit, farmers’ market, family photos, fireworks, storytelling and a jamboree. Or how about the kids’ games, dunk tank or live theatre?

History buffs can take in the cemetery walk, historical tours and antique tractor show, or you can wander around the car rally and garage sale.

If you’re hungry or thirsty, check out the beer gardens, barbecues, teas and pancake breakfasts.

Evansburg is 88 kilometres west of Edmonton in Yellowhead County. The hamlet is named after Harry Marshall Erskine Evans, a former Edmonton mayor and provincial government advisor. Today, the sign welcoming visitors says the thriving village is home to 784 people, two dogs, 41 cats – and one grouch.  

The Pembina River and Pembina River Provincial Park are adjacent to Evansburg, and they are popular spots for camping and floating down the river.

While you’re in Evansburg you can also get in a round at the Pembina Valley Golf Club.

For more information visit http://www.evansburghomecoming.com and view the long list of events and how to register. 

Come on home to Evansburg. You will be very glad you did. Who knows? You might even get to meet the grouch.

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Instead of moving away from the body image obsession in our culture, as some predicted, we seem to be immersing ourselves in it even more fully. How many ads do you see on a weekly basis for companies that charge outrageous sums for weight loss supplements, personal weight loss counsellors, and pre-packaged food sent to your door to “melt away those pounds”?  

I remain obstinate about my weight – although it’s not ideal, I have no problems breathing, no joint pain, and no chafing. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels are well within a healthy range.  

I have only one set of clothes, my semi-chubby clothes, not two or three sets for fluctuating body weights.  

Many women are in the same boat, not exactly overjoyed about their appearance, but not obsessed with changing it, either.  

I present here for male readers a list of 10 advantages to being married to or partnered with a larger-size woman. I realize these are general and don’t apply to all men with Rubenesque companions, but they are based on what I see as bonuses for my own partner, and possibly many other men.  

1. The cupboards and fridge contain real food. If you want a sandwich, there is thick-sliced bread, real mayonnaise, butter if you desire, and cold roast beef. Cheese, too, if you want it, and big ripe tomatoes, which God forbid, you can put into a BLT if you like. For dessert, you can forage for ice cream or rhubarb cobbler or both.  

2. If you get stuck in the snow on the driveway, you can stay behind the wheel while I push you out. If we get a third person to steer, you and I together can probably hoist an Expedition out of a snowdrift.   

3. Again on the topic of winter, sitting or lying next to me will warm you up instead of making you feel that you’re snuggling with a tangle of coat hangers.  

4. I will sit and watch hockey with you and maybe even have a beer instead of rushing off to spinning class or hogging the T.V. to watch a DVD of “Work Out Until You Throw Up” and even make you feel guilty for not participating.  

5. I don’t spend a fortune on clothes that make me look like an aging Miley Cyrus.  

6. Because I enjoy eating, I will cook hearty stews, soups, and dishes with real meat and sauce. I consider it a compliment if you take a second helping. And I don’t sit by miserably nibbling a lettuce leaf while you dig in.   

7. I am not unaware that the human body needs exercise, so I will usually volunteer to walk the dog.  

8. Instead of confining my reading to motivational texts on exercise and weight loss, I am interested in politics, human psychology, other cultures, ecology, and current events. Therefore, our conversations are frequent and lively. I have no illusions that my perfectly toned body exonerates me from developing a personality.   

9. Our house will never host a Nazi-like personal trainer so that you have to flee to a buddy’s for a couple of hours.    

10. And finally, if your luggage gets lost when we go on holiday, I will probably have some unisex T-shirts and shorts you can borrow!

As I say, these are not all points that apply universally; I know there are shallow, neurotic chunky women out there, and nice well-adjusted fit women. But hey, guys, some of these points may be worth considering.  

I hope this isn’t a dehumanizing analogy, but aren’t there reasons you chose that SUV or pick-up over the tiny two-seater sports car?     

You can reach Barb at barb-wright@hotmail.com.

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Are you a beach bum?

One of my favourite childhood camping and swimming spots was Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, on the east basin of Lac La Biche. It’s an island park accessed via a causeway, and it easily resides on my “places to revisit” list.

The private campsites were nestled within heavily treed boreal forest, home to my first pet squirrel that I named PJ. I think he was named after Prince John in the 1973 Disney animated version of Robin Hood, in which Peter Ustinov played the lion prince. 

I taught PJ to run up my arm and take an unshelled peanut from my mouth. It sounds a bit unhygienic with the potential for rabies, but my Grade 6 self just thought it was really cute and kind of tickled. Evenings were spent around the fire, and we were usually sunburned and full of hotdogs and roasted marshmallows.

My best friend Kathy came camping with us one summer, and we had matching bathing suits and spent hours splashing in the lake. She was a master storyteller, just one of the reasons we stayed up late every night (you can add huge quantities of sugar and endless giggles to the list of reasons).

The park is full of meandering trails and is well known for its large and varied bird population. The amphitheatres are perfect spots for movies and park information sessions and the lake is a swimmer’s paradise. I remember walking out for at least 100 paces on a sand bar. It felt as though I was in the middle of the lake in only chest-deep water.

This park is one of many you’ll find on a useful website called albertabeachbum.com. The site is dedicated to beaches, campsites and all manner of recreational activity in and around the Lac La Biche Region, the M.D. of Bonnyville and Bonnyville. This beautiful area of northeastern Alberta is home to more than 200 lakes and a selection of sandy beaches, prime fishing holes and relaxing picnic spots. 

I love having these amazing spots basically in our own backyard. You don’t need a passport or currency exchange, and you barely need a map. 

You can easily do a weekend blitz or a week-long chill. It’s natural and beautiful and helps support local tourism. Check out the website for a lot more information.

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Almost a best-kept equestrian secret

Just 10 kilometres northeast of Fort Assiniboine, nestled close to the Athabasca River, a road ends at Horse Creek Ranch. 

Riding out from this guest ranch, one enters the picturesque Sandhills Wildland Provincial Park. The park has a diverse landscape including steep valley walls and river flats, rolling hills and low wetlands, and a mixture of pine, white spruce and aspen forests.

Throughout the park are kilometres of equestrian trails. Sandy trails mean your horse does not need shoes and after a rain the trails dry quickly and are never slippery. And – no OHVs will ever destroy the peaceful solitude and beauty of this wilderness.

The Klondike Trail Staging Area is located in the southwest end of the park. You can ride on part of the historic Klondike Trail, originally established as a portage between the North Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers for the Hudson Bay Company’s trade route. 

Later this trail was used again as part of an overland route to the Klondike during the gold rush of 1897-99. Today, you can see the marked grave site of a young Klondike-era girl and an old trapper’s cabin.

The marked trails have names like Wolf, Mule Deer, Moose, Beaver, Lynx and Migration. I’m surprised there is not one marked ‘Bear’ since we have had a few encounters with black bears. Yes, this is definitely a wild land park, but there are excellent maps to pack with you, as well as maps on posts at all the major trail junctions. Wagons and snowmobiles are permitted on designated routes only.

Every May long weekend the Cooking Lake Saddle Club (www.cookinglakesaddleclub.org) and their friends from Alberta Trail Riding Association (www.atra.ca) book Horse Creek Ranch for a camping, trail riding weekend. 

Most of our members camp with their RVs, some using the electrical hook-ups. A few opt for booking one of the six rustic cabins, two luxury and four standard. Everyone enjoys the hot showers and flush toilets! This weekend is so popular that we have a waiting list each year.

Individuals keep their horses in separate pens (40 in all) and a large group turns their herd out in a pasture. Water taps are conveniently located along the pens. All you have to do is fill your bucket, supply food for your mount, and later use the wheelbarrows to clean the manure and excess feed from the pens you use. If desired, you can work your horse in the round pen or outdoor arena.  

This year my husband and I, complete with camper (no power requested) and two horses, paid $30/day plus GST. 

Where else can you find such a great deal? And just a two-hour drive from Edmonton!

Horse Creek Ranch is the result of years of hard work by Siebe Brouwer. Year by year, Siebe has added improvements until HCR is the super guest ranch we enjoy today. 

Our accommodating host opens up his workshop for our club to enjoy evening entertainment, complete with a toasty iron stove if the evening happens to be chilly.  

Endurance Riders, 4H Clubs and other groups have enjoyed HCR’s hospitality, too. 

It’s also a great place to visit on your own for a quieter get-away. HCR is open from May to October. We’ve ridden there in the spring and summer, but imagine riding in the splendour of autumn colours!

Ready for a great holiday? Contact Siebe Brouwer or Ingrid Schelkens:  info@horsecreekranch.ca or visit http://www.horsecreekranch.ca.

You may also call 1-888-699-6099 (toll free in U.S. and Canada) or 780-584-2535.

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