Alberta snapshot: Fullerton loop.

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I don’t recall such a snowy February here in Calgary…we’ve definitely got good snowshoeing weather at the moment.  The thing is, the risk of avalanches in the mountains is massive right now and sticking to safe terrain is crucial.  Fullerton Loop, outside of Bragg Creek, fits the bill perfectly: it’s a no-risk snowshoe trek, fast and easy and short (just over 6 kilometres). It’s fairly heavily trafficked right now, so if you don’t have snowshoes, you can simply hike it (and at this very moment, you probably don’t need microspikes).

We headed out there last Sunday morning and it snowed the whole time; in fact, Highway 66 wasn’t even ploughed when we arrived at the trailhead, beating the crowds that arrived later in the day.  For us, it was snow…trees…quiet.  Blissful.

Calgary snapshot: Regal Cat Cafe.

A couple of weeks ago, my hubby and I honoured a very special reservation for coffee and baked treats at a café in the neighbourhood of Kensington here in Calgary.

We had a few guests join us afterwards.

Of the furry variety.

You see, we spent the morning at the Regal Cat Café, where you can sit and enjoy a delicious tea or coffee and a scrumptious variety of baking, and then, if you choose (and who wouldn’t?), you can pay a small fee to spend the better part of an hour entertaining and being entertained by a roomful of cats.  The Café works in conjunction with The MEOW Foundation, a Calgary cat rescue charity, and the cats you get to play with are all up for adoption.  The money you pay to spend time with the cats goes to help fund the Foundation’s work.

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It was probably the most delightful morning I have spent in years.  We don’t have a cat, but I am utterly infatuated with them, so to have free time just to play with these rescues and watch them do goofy, fun cat things, was such a treat.  And the Café’s ultra-spacious, kitty-approved (and quite frankly, supremely swanky) accommodations, completely separate from the food, are set up with all manner of hiding spots, climbing areas, platforms, scratching posts, blankets, chairs, and sunny nooks just for snoozing.  It’s absolutely perfect.  (There is even an inner room with a sink for washing up and lockers to securely leave your belongings in).

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For anyone in Calgary who wants to visit the Café, there are a few drop-in cat visits permitted, but they do prefer advance registrations.  The number of people allowed in the room at one time is restricted.  And you have to observe a few rules for the safety and comfort of the cats (and you), but everything is clearly explained when you get there.

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I’m looking forward to filling up my new Loyalty card at this wonderful place.  🙂

Tuesday tidbits.

If you’re looking to ID native wildflowers on the Canadian Prairies (specifically in Saskatchewan), this website has the most amazing photography I’ve ever seen on the subject.  We have most of these plants here in Alberta and I know this is a resource I will use over and over again. Even if you don’t live in this part of Canada, you will hugely enjoy the beautiful images. I am floored that these are not yet compiled into book form; I would buy it in a heartbeat.

I somehow missed the name change for African violets and I can’t seem to find out when it was made official (for all I know, it was quite a while ago)…but here it is: Saintpaulia spp. are now more accurately termed StreptocarpusThis article offers a bit of explanation.

My favourite recipe so far this week: this one for Cranberry Muffins.  But I didn’t have any oranges, so I didn’t use orange zest or orange juice; I substituted 1 teaspoon of pure lemon extract instead.  And omitted the glaze entirely.  They were wonderful.  I will get some oranges and try them the way they were intended as well.

From the “Toot My Own Horn Department”:  I am delighted that my article “Vibrant Viburnums” is included in the new volume of The Prairie Garden!  The 2018 book is all about shade plants and was officially launched last week.

 

Tuesday tidbits.

While putting away picture books at work this past week, I came across an illustrator I am now officially absolutely gaga over: Sonja Danowski.  You can see some of the work she did for Michael Rosen’s story Forever Flowers here, as well as a gallery of other art she has done. An incredible talent!

Despite its name, the site American Literature doesn’t feature strictly American authors; it’s actually a great source of public domain short fiction, novels, and poetry from writers from all over the world.  Enjoy!

Although I found it a bit late (the article was published in June of last year), this information about discovering rare plants in Hawai’i using drones is fascinating (and you have to watch the breathtaking video at the end!).

Have you ever come across a dead tree with an odd spiral shape?  I’ve found a few examples on our mountain hikes but unfortunately the only photograph I have of one was taken with a film camera way back in the early 2000’s and a printed copy that I can scan and post isn’t immediately at hand.  Although the title of this article is sort of misleading, the explanation it offers is accurate. Another interesting thing to watch for during those walks in the woods!

My fave “new” recipe of last week?  This sweet and sour chicken. (I didn’t make the fried rice; I just served it over hot cooked basmati. I reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup, cut back the vinegar to about 1/3 cup, and used only one egg).  Easy and delicious!

Book review: Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge.

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James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge – Zoo (2012, Little, Brown and Company, New York)

All of the animals on the planet Earth have suddenly and inexplicably turned into bloodthirsty monsters out for human flesh in this fast, furrious (see what I did there?), and frequently gratuitously gory read from James Patterson.  This is actually the first Patterson book I’ve read (he has about a trillion titles so I don’t know how I managed to miss him so far) and I admit, I chose it because the plotline reminded me of something Michael Crichton would have come up with.  The story is largely formulaic, which I anticipated: we have our wisecracking, slightly irritating (first person) narrator-hero, Jackson Oz, a young biologist possessing a simultaneous lack of credibility and insight no one else seems to possess…that is, until he rescues beautiful ecologist Chloe Tousignant in Africa and the two band together to try to warn mankind.  When things go very, very sideways, it’s up to Oz to try to save the world.  The conclusion might be disappointing to some, but offers an interesting commentary on our high-tech society.  Zoo is an easy, quick read and reasonably entertaining, as long as your expectations are not too high.

There is, of course, a television show based on this book, and no, I haven’t had a chance to watch any episodes yet.  (If you have and you enjoy it – or if you can’t stand it! – let me know in the comments).

Book review: The Dinosaur Hunter by Homer Hickam.

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Homer Hickam – The Dinosaur Hunter (Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2010)

What looks like just another busy summer wrangling cattle at the Square C Ranch for former-homicide-cop-turned-cowboy Mike Wire becomes decidedly more bloody and interesting when a paleontologist and his team discover that the ranch is the site of a cache of dinosaur bones – and someone is willing to kill to get at the extremely valuable fossils.  Sounds like a fascinating read, right? – I was totally sold on the promising combination of murder mystery and dinosaur bones.  And, indeed, the paleontology was the best – and strongest – part of the book.  Unfortunately, Mike’s character grated on me; old enough to have participated in the decimation of two marriages, he spends most of the book alternately chasing after every woman who enters his periphery and pouting when they don’t return his advances (or expansively congratulating himself when they do). His shenanigans seriously cut into the time where he could be solving the case, which you’d expect an ex-police officer to tackle with a bit more aplomb. Furthermore, his cheeky wink-wink first person narrative only solidifies his immaturity and damages his credibility with the reader – at some (very early) point, it’s easy just to stop caring about Mike and his sassy thoughts. (And how many times do we have to be reminded that he’s a vegetarian living on a cattle ranch?).  Most of the other characters are poorly-drawn caricatures and stereotypes (especially the poor women!), and don’t get me started with the whole Russian mob angle.  There is, however, some interesting stuff here with the discussion of land rights and the struggles faced by ranchers in Montana, and the controversy of the recovery and preservation of dinosaur fossils for historical value or to sell for big bucks.  Although this book proved a disappointment (for me), I’ll give Hickam another chance and try some of his YA SF novels when I have a spot for them in the TBR pile.

Alberta snapshot: Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail, Kananaskis Country.

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A quick stroll during the first week of the new year….

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The scale and skillful construction of even the smallest beaver dam never ceases to amaze me – and when the little critters truly go to town, this is the result….