Saturday, September 02, 2023

A day with Uncle David (August 24)

Our first item of business on Thursday morning was a quick stop in Wal-Mart to buy the girls some new sweaters. My mom didn't feel the girls had enough warm clothing for this trip (that would be me...packing like a southerner) and Phoebe had thrown up all over the only sweater I'd packed for her. I washed it out in the hotel sink, was still so, so wet in the morning that it was completely useless for her.

So the girls all ended up with cute new Canada sweaters (Zoë lost her new sweater on the plane/airport and...we just won't talk about it because she's rather upset about it). We went to my brother David's house to play with Mille for a while (no pictures here because her parents don't put her up on social media, but a big reminder to myself to find the pictures on my computer before printing this out, if I ever get around to that some day). It was wonderful to see her—she's growing up to be a beautiful, good-natured child, so good at sharing and just fun to be around!

Then Uncle David took us to Costco for some poutine, which was so good that Zoë even ate it with the gravy (she usually doesn't when we make poutine at home...and honestly I'm not a huge fan of the gravy we usually make when we make poutine (it needs to be browner), but she ate this and was surprised by how much she liked it):

Here's a picture of the poutine for Uncle Patrick:

Later in the week we went out to eat at Burger King with my parents and my mom ordered butter chicken poutine...which was surprisingly delicious (and something we might have to duplicate here at home as well).

This is purely an observational thing, but I think one cultural difference between living in Canada and living in the United States is how people consume their French fries. Andrew, for example, is perfectly happy to eat plain fries. Just...salted, fried potatoes. 

I can hardly fathom that because I consider fries a vehicle for stuff—be it gravy or cheese or ketchup or vinegar or whatever. Fries should be dipped or slathered in sauce. Otherwise what is the point?

On the rare occasions we've ordered fast food for our family in the States, it has not been uncommon for no ketchup to come with our meal. Granted, a lot of places have those self-serve ketchup bar things (and I love those because then I can get as much ketchup as I want), but if they don't then I have to remember to ask for ketchup and then the workers will typically (stingily) drop a packet or two of ketchup in with our order and I have to stretch it to make it last through my fries. 

In Canada, I did not once ask for ketchup! At the Heritage, our breakfast orders always came with hash browns (which aren't French fries, but which are still fried potatoes) and a little bowl full of ketchup. When we got fries at McDonald's and Burger King (we stopped once at each place during the week), ketchup came with our meals. They often have little packets of vinegar out for people to use as well. 

I told Andrew that eating plain fries is like ordering a sandwich...and then being handed a plain piece of bread. It's not disgusting or unappetizing. It's just disappointing. That's all.

I'm sure people's preferences vary even within those two countries. You may well find a Canadian who enjoys eating their fries dry or an American who carts around a ketchup bottle (though considering I know Canadians who put ketchup on mac'n'cheese (which they call Kraft Dinner) and tacos, and since we have ketchup-flavoured potato chips up north, I'm still leaning toward Canadians expecting ketchup with their fries). That's just my personal experience.

Anyway, after we were full of poutine, we headed to Chestermere to walk around the lake.

It was a chilly, windy day! My girls were sure grateful for their warmer sweaters!

Public land, such as Lake Chestermere, is something that I miss about Canada. It feels like every little place we went had walking trails easily available to everyone. Out here, I feel like I have to search for walking trails (part of that might simply be because I can't see the walking trails for all the trees, but I also knew all about walking trails in BC where there are just as many trees as there are in Georgia). 

It's not that we don't have private land in Canada (because we do: see, for example, the Torrie's farm or whatever), but water is considered a common good and thus cannot be privatized. Lake Chestermere recently enacted bylaws to charge entrance fees to use the maintained beaches (with imported sand and restrooms), but the whole of the lake is truthfully available to anyone. We just parked and walked around because...the lake belongs to us as much as anybody. 

Here in Georgia we live about a mile away from a beautiful lake and I thought to myself how wonderful that would be! To enjoy the walking trail around the lake and...nope. It's a private lake, so no touching

True that we have our little ol' quarter-mile loop around the manmade (stormwater retention) pond at the park, but that's just not the same as exploring the entire shoreline of a lake. You know? And I grew up exploring along creek banks and lakeshores and riversides at my leisure, so it feels rather limiting to have so much private land.

Down by the river, it's the same thing! There's a trail along the river that's about a quarter mile long...but then you hit a big fence that says "PRIVATE PROPERTY! NO TRESPASSING!" that runs across the entire path all the way down into the river (sadly...or beneficially...trapping a lot of trash). It is mind boggling to me that we allow people to "own" access to water in such a way that it impedes public access. 

I mean, at Chestermere there are houses that have lakefront property, with privately-owned docks. However, there is also a public dock and a large swath of land dedicated to public use on the other side of the lake, with plenty of free parking and...

I know that everyone's idea of "freedom" is different, but my definition of freedom includes government intervention that prevents the privatization of wild spaces so that they can be enjoyed by all! Because I miss exploring places that I intuitively feel I should be able to explore (when in reality, I cannot). 

However, because I am a believer that one can be happy anywhere, I spent some time trying to find more walking trails around here and they do exist (they're just...harder to use; y'all are welcome to come at me and explain how easy it is to use public land in these parts, but the truth of the matter is that it just does not compare to how easy it is where I grew up (though I do love the National Parks and State Parks programs here in the States)). We'll have to try to do some more exploring around here.

But that's kind of the thing...we'll have to try to do some more exploring around here. There's a lot less trying in Canada. I'll get to my next point in a minute, but in the meantime, here's Phoebe enjoying the trail (or off-the-trail, rather) at Lake Chestermere:

And here we are having a little break at the hotel room before heading out to play at a playground near our (airport) hotel:

The playground by the hotel was in a new development and was on the shores of a wetland surrounded by another walking trail (not pictured) that went the whole way around. The yards in Canada are often a lot smaller than they are out here, and the houses then much closer together, but it hardly even matters because most neighbourhoods (that I have visited) are designed with access to public areas. This means you (a) get to do less yard work, but can still have a private garden or whatever, and (b) still have plenty of room to roam.

This particular neighbourhood had several playgrounds to stop at; this was just one of them. I admit that these pictures don't really show off any of the playground equipment (there were slides and climbing structures and things), but I also wanted to show what we fill our playgrounds with—pea gravel!

I feel like most parks we visit in the States have wood chips rather than pea gravel (while the opposite seems to be true in Canada). There are pros and cons to both, but I do enjoy not getting splinters at the playground!

And that walking path! I kept imagining just sending Benjamin out on his bike to ride and ride and ride without worrying about traffic or anything. What a dream! And such trails are available everywhere we went! We have bike trails down here, but the ones near our house are right beside traffic (until we get to our pond-park), while the trails in Alberta seem to avoid being right beside traffic. 

It was interesting to be reminded of all these little differences. Differences make the world richer! And even within a small area there are many differences to be found. While I was at once mooning over the public spaces, once we got to High River, I found myself remembering the downsides to small town life (which I don't know that I'll necessarily detail here). One thing I will mention is a what I might describe as a lack of ambition, though perhaps it's better described as a lack of opportunity and/or knowledge that traps people in generational cycles of alcoholism (frequently accompanied by abuse) and poverty.

To be fair, that's a problem that happens a lot of places, but I see it more when I go "home."

It isn't always the case—my cousins were raised in a small town, but were provided with plenty of opportunities (educational and otherwise) that expanded their horizons and broadened their perspective, so even though they've returned to their small town ( after going out into the world, attending college, traveling around, etc., they didn't fall victim to the same issues I see in so many of my friends' lives. And many of my friends did just fine, too. I don't mean that everybody raised in a small town winds up ignorant and drunk.'s the reality for many more than I'd wish. 

But what I really wanted to talk about were the differences to be found even within a small geographic area, right? So, my niece Amy drove down from Calgary (population 1.393 million people) to Cayley (population 340) for my nephew Deklan's wedding. She expressed a desire to procure a caffeinated beverage, specifically Mountain Dew. We told her...good luck!

Deklan had a bar at his wedding, but the only non-alcoholic beverages were water or lemonade. 

Amy decided she'd run and grab one from a store. We told her...good luck!

"You'll have to go into High River for that," we told her (High River's population is 13,584).

"I don't want to drive that far for a Mountain Dew!" she said. "Surely there's a store in Cayley."

"I really don't think so..."

"A gas station, then!" she said. "A gas station will have a convenience store."

"I...don't think Cayley has a gas station..."

"How could they not have a gas station?! Just put it in your phone—I promise they'll have a gas station!"

" phone says the nearest gas station is the Esso in High River..."

"What?! Where do people get their gas then?!"

Well, honestly, they probably all qualify for purple gas (the Alberta Farm Fuel Benefit Program, where you can buy tax-exempted gas to keep on your property to power your farm equipment). I know the Torries have their own little gas station on the farm. Most people in Cayley probably also farm and keep their own gas tanks on their property. Otherwise, I assume they have to remember to gas up in High River or Nanton. 

Amy ended up driving into High River to get her caffeine fix. There were no other options (except, perhaps, for Nanton). 

Cayley has a K–8 school and a couple of farm equipment shops, a concrete wholesale place, things like that, a lending library. Otherwise, there's nothing there but farmland. Amy is from Alberta—but not small town Alberta—and she just couldn't compute that a place could exist without a store. 

High River is pretty big now, but when we first moved there, it was still quite small—with no traffic lights, no real grocery store, etc. etc. So we could imagine a place without a store quite easily!

High River and Calgary aren't even that far apart—and yet are very different worlds!

(And this post is not intended to bash life in these United States; there are many pros to living in the States as well! There is no perfect place to live in the world (and one of my least favourite questions to answer is "Out of all the places you've lived, which place is your favourite?" because I can tell you good things and bad things about all places! My ideal place is a mixture of all the good (but that doesn't exist). One pro about living in the States that I'll mention is how easy—and inexpensive—it is to rent a vehicle! We looked into renting a van in Calgary, but that was around $1000 per day! That's why my parents drove their van up from Utah. Renting a van in Atlanta, for example, is about $500 per week!)

Also...I just took the pictures off my camera-camera and found more from our time at the lake, so here they are:


  1. Most people I know like ketchup on their fries though sometimes if they are seasoned well, I like them without ketchup. I remember someone I knew who liked to dip fries in honey. Zach likes BBQ sauce. I do agree that some restaurant chains are stingy with ketchup for whatever reason.

    I remember being appalled a few years ago when a local news person said he doesn't like steak sauce because he likes to enjoy the flavor of the meat. So maybe Andrew just likes to enjoy the flavor of the potato ... and salt. Ha!

  2. I like the picture’s ❤️ Alex Heiss