I have to confess something: When I listen to the radio, I'm listening to the livestream from CBC Radio One in Calgary. I know there is something ridiculous about listening to the Calgary Eye-Opener morning news and traffic reports when I'm fixing dinner for my family in Al Khobar, but I'm fond of the program hosts and it feels good to keep up with Canadian and Alberta news.
Yesterday evening, I made pizza from scratch; layering pineapple and turkey (none of that haram ham in this place, of course) over my pressed-out dough and sauce while listening to the hosts talk about how it was two years ago that the Bow and Elbow rivers overflowed and parts of Calgary flooded. And the flood of 2013 is an anniversary day for us; two years ago we came back to Canada from Vietnam.
That was only two years ago. And – good grief – we're not even there anymore!
Sure, there were a lot of days in the last two years when I really wanted out of Calgary. I'd be quite angry over how no one de-iced their sidewalk on the way to school in the winter, how kindergarten was even less than half-day, how it felt like I was always busy in a car going somewhere (even when I wasn't). But we landed at the airport two years ago thinking that we were home for three or four years, at least. We bought a car that I love, we lived out of suitcases for six months while our house underwent both repair and renovation and turned into something structurally sound and aesthetically ours , and I fell in love with the local elementary school. We were able to be a normal Canadian family for eighteen months, and even though I missed the slower pace of my former life, there was something comfortable about slipping on my Canadian coat (ahem … goose-down parka) again. It was good to see my kids doing the things that kids in Canada do. It was good to live a life less temporary and just more ordinary.
In all the important ways, I'm happy that we came to live in Saudi Arabia, but I also feel that we were a little bit robbed of our time in Canada. We meant to enjoy our house a little longer, and the same goes for the public schools, the farmers' markets we'd frequent, camping trips in the prairies, and our barbeques and roasted marshmallows in our backyard.
I think it's okay to miss the Calgary future that we thought we'd have, but actually don't.
The first time that we lived in Calgary was in 2000, and one of our big discoveries was the Cookbook Company Cooks. Chris and I surely bought a lot of exotic salsas and jars of colourful salts there, but most of my memories of the Cookbook Co. are of taking cooking classes in the basement. It was a lot of fun when I started out (I remember volunteering to peel all the potatoes over the six week series if my cooking partner Raj would chop all the onions), but after four or so years, the foodie culture in Calgary had changed the demographics of the class and I wasn't enjoying them as much. We'd had a good run, though.
Now we're here for Calgary: The Sequel, and we've enrolled Madeline in a week-long day camp at the Cookbook Co. Despite having to drive across the city twice a day, Chris and I kind of wish that we were thirty years younger because it's a pretty awesome day camp and we're totally missing out.
Madeline's made soups and salads and Mexican dishes and pasta dough for ravioli, and she's even eaten carmelized onions and stuffed mushrooms, but the really cool thing about her camp is the field trips. The campers have gone to Modern Jelly Doughnuts, Cibo, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, the Brulee Patisserie, and Village Ice Cream. Madeline day is always better than ours!
The level of skill in winter sidewalk maintenance exhibited by the people of Calgary leaves me no other option but to conclude that it never once snowed during the seven winters that we were living elsewhere.
This winter, it's a well-documented fact that the City of Calgary is struggling to clear the major roads, let alone plow the snow from residential neighbourhood streets. So what do I see the majority of homeowners doing? Shoveling the snows from their sidewalks onto the street. So there is more snow that will never be cleared, narrower roads to drive on, and a great probability that your car (even ones with AWD – ask me how I know) will get stuck in two feet of snow when you're trying to park on the street.
Some of that snow has melted now, and now the sidewalks are covered in slippery ice that the majority of homeowners are ignoring. My two kids have fallen three times today alone, and one of them has a nasty bit of road rash on her face for show for her trouble. The sidewalks have been like this for well over twenty-four hours now and the grace period for homeowners to take responsibility for taking care of their dangerous sidewalks is over. You don't have to drive for more than ten minutes in my neighbourhood to reach several retail establishments where one can purchase sand, gravel, de-icer, or even cat litter to alleviated the unsafe sidewalk conditions. I am beyond infuriated with the level of ignorance and apathy and lack of regard for others.
Back in the spring, when I grudgingly posted on Facebook (and admitted to friends not on FB) that our next assignment was going to put us back in Calgary, the general response was "How exciting" and "Welcome back to civilization" and other similar things that made me cringe.
I'd lived in Calgary for six years before, the same as I had in SE Asia, and I had a preference. It's not the one that people probably would have guessed if they'd been reading either of my blogs back in 2007 when we moved to Thailand. I'm getting a little tired of hearing that I should be thrilled to be back in North America from people who … well, don't really have the same lived-there-for-many-years basis for comparison.
I don't like the notion that life here must be so superior. I could easily argue that it isn't.
Sure, Calgary (and Canada or the USA) has some material things that I appreciate, like better quality food (even if our fruit and vegetables are shipped in from far away for part of the year). I like knowing that the milk isn't adulterated with hormones and that the plants outside having been doused in DDT. It's nice having our own car. It's nice being able to purchase children's medication at the drugstore and not have to wonder if it's counterfeit. It's nice that my kids can take lessons in gymnastics and ice-skating. Internet is way faster. Netflix exists.
But I miss the slower life that we had overseas. We had more down-time as a family – here, busy-ness is a terribly contagious disease. Our kids' friends in Asia lived nearby instead of commuting to our local school from the deep south, so after-school playdates were possible/easily planned. There were always people to befriend, and seeing how challenging that is here, that was a really lovely thing about living in an international community. It's not hard to find people with similar interests to mine in Calgary, but finding people who can spare five minutes to talk isn't always easy because they're busy, busy, busy.
It's really an odd feeling to be back in the country that I grew up in, and feel like it's a strange place that I have to get used to living in. One of Chris's co-workers from Saigon emailed him a few days ago to report on how much downtown Saigon has changed in the months since we've been gone, and I'm surprisingly sad that we aren't there to marvel or curse about it.
A few weeks ago, the kids and I picked Chris up at his office and headed out to for his early-birthday dinner. Our destination was a restaurant called Il Sogno, which he'd started to frequent back in the spring when he'd travel back here from Saigon for meetings and such. Madeline ordered a pasta with edamame and duck, and I think that Sadie ate some sort of noodles with parmesan cheese, and it occured to me that there are a lot of places to eat in Calgary with kids that don't feature take-out windows.
Since we lived here last, the local southern barbeque spot closed up shop, but we've stumbled upon Holy Smoke BBQ (and it really was a stumble – it's in one of the industrial areas that Chris often meanders through at random when it's his turn to drive) which has charmed the kids with seasonal pumpkin corn bread, and relatively small-sized pulled pork and smoked chicken sandwiches. They also sell Happy Pop in nearly glowing shades and Madeline is fond of the pineapple flavour. This is a very casual eating establishment – the tables have tableclothes, but they're vinyl 🙂
Before being displaced by Il Sogno, Madeline's favourite place to eat since moving here was another little Italian place on 17th Ave SW called Borgo. It serves many dishes family-style, which works out nicely for dining with kids who are better suited to smaller portions. Pasta with cheese isn't officially on the menu, but the waiters we've had cheerfully volunteered it as an option and gave the kids crayons and Da Vinci-inspired colouring sheets. I'm not sure what the crowd at Borgo is like after eight at night, but at five pm the atmosphere in the joint was fine for young diners. We've also been there for their Sunday brunch, and the hot chocolate was kind of cool: you're served a tea cup with chunks of chocolate and a tumbler of hot milk to pour over it. So much better than Tim Hortons!
The third place that is working out well for us is the Calgary Co-op nearest to our apartment – they have a curry bar! And it's inexpensive. Sadie is a huge fan of basmati rice and butter chicken. Aren't we all, though?