Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday’s Top Five - Things I Love About My City (Edmonton)

True dialogue:

Me: I think I better write about something positive this week for fear of being lynched on the bus.
Dani: Agreed. But it’s pretty hard to lynch someone on the bus when they’re standing between two backpacks.

Despite the fact that I’m obviously more unhappy than I am pleased with my city, there certainly exist certain aspects that I do love about Edmonton and that help make this place somewhat bearable for me.

It’s funny, because each week in the Edmonton Sun newspaper, the Sunday edition features a 20-questions-style interview with a local celebrity, and one of the questions is, “What’s the best part of Edmonton?” And nine times out of 10, the interviewee will respond with, “The people.”

Which I, of course, have always thought was a total copout of an answer and proof that they just couldn’t think of anything else nice to say. (That, and they’re also attempting to suck up to local residents and mere mortals such as myself.)

But the more I’ve reflected on this issue in the past week, the more I’m able to understand where they might be coming from.

By no means do I feel Edmontonians are superior to the residents of any other major city -- but if you ask me what keeps me living here despite my obvious hatred for the climate ¾ of the year, then my response is: family and friends. That’s it. If not for them, I probably would have bailed a long time ago.

Regardless, there do exist a multitude of more tangible entities in Edmonton that are truly wonderful and should be commended.

Friday’s Top Five - Things I Love About My City (Edmonton):

5) The abundance of playgrounds.

This is something I never really appreciated until earlier this summer when my visiting-from-the-US mother-in-law made the simple observation that, regardless of which direction you turn when leaving our house, you will encounter some type of children’s playground within a few blocks. And this isn’t unique to our area, either, as it’s true of virtually every community in town.

And the added bonus is that many of these playgrounds are also equipped with a spray park. Yes, a complimentary, open-to-everyone SPRAY PARK!!

These days we can’t drive or walk anywhere with my daughter without her noticing a playground and announcing, “Oooooh. A Park. I want to go to the park. I want to go down the slide. Mommy, I want to go! MARINA WANTS TO GO NOW!!”

Okay, so the child obviously enjoys going to the park. (And boy does she hate it when it’s time to leave.)

4) The Edmonton Public Library.

I’m sure this isn’t unique to just Edmonton, but our local public libraries have some truly fantastic resources available for children and families.

My daughter was one of those naturally shy babies who was essentially afraid of everyone outside of our immediate family. The symptoms started when she was only three months old, and I remember being near tears in the pediatrician’s office as I tried to speak with him about this over the sound of my daughter’s terrified screaming (you know, as I also tried to gently hold down her flailing limbs so he could examine her).

I asked if this was something that would get better and if she would soon grow out of her fear, and his response was, “Not necessarily. Some kids are just shy, and that stays with them into adulthood. That’s who they are.”

Meanwhile, everyone else with an opinion was more than happy to tell us we suck as parents and this was all our fault. (Okay, nobody actually said that to us in so many words, but as a stressed out / sleep-deprived / hormonal new mom, that’s how I took it.)

So, shortly before my daughter turned one -- and once I had put on a brave face and just sucked it up myself – we began taking her to the library each week after work in an effort to help her interact with other families in a calm and fun setting.

The first day was a challenge, as could be expected. We attended a “Daddy & Baby” class in which dads and their little ones sit and read books or sing songs in a somewhat organized setting. She had no interest in the other dads or babies there – in fact, she panicked if anyone else even looked at her – but it was a start.

As she got older, we later began attending the “Sing, Sign, Laugh and Learn” classes that not only did the things mentioned above, but they also taught us to communicate via sign language -- a fantastic tool for when your toddler needs something but just doesn’t have the words to articulate it without having a fit.

We continue to attend these weekly sessions still today, and the progress she’s shown is remarkable. She loves her teacher and the other kids (as well as their parents), and she even talks about them by name when we’re at home. (“Tomorrow is Saturday. I go to library class on Saturday. I go to see Marcus and Stas and Katherine and Taylor and….”)

She’s become a fearless little super star at the library who loves to sing, dance, and perform with everyone else. Total transformation from the first day there when we had to virtually drag her in.

Oh, and did I mention that all of these classes are free? That’s right, FREE.

Libraries. Totally. Rock.

(Meanwhile, back on the farm, my daughter is still terrified of the pediatrician and will only enter if I haul her in kicking and screaming, but I digress.)

3) Vicinity to diverse landscapes.

Feel like spending the day in the Rocky Mountains? Then just drive west for a bit.

Want to go to the beach? Wizard Lake is a mere 45 minutes away.

Or are desert landscapes more your preference? Then Drumheller is a must.

The beauty of living in Edmonton is that you don’t necessarily need to fly out to a full-fledged all-inclusive resort to feel like you’ve escaped the city and gone on vacation. There are a number of quick-escape day trips you can take – although the only problem is that once you’ve started exploring each locale, you quickly discover that you wish you had more time to just relax and enjoy the scenery.

In other words, one day is not enough!

I think a lot of people head out with the intentions of it just being for the day, but then they quickly find themselves calling in sick for work the next day. (I’ve never done this, per se, but I have no doubt that it occurs. Ahem.)

It’s so nice to have the option of what type of panoramic views you’d like to enjoy on any given day, and I’ve said all along that if only there was an ocean nearby, then Alberta would have it all.

2) Non-stop summer festivals and tourist destinations.

Whenever out-of-town family and friends express interest in coming to visit us, our response is always, “Wait until summer.”

Yes, the frozen tundra does actually thaw for the summer months when we’re able to enjoy some spectacular weather and, moreover, there’s ALWAYS something to do.

We love the convenience of bringing guests to visit West Edmonton Mall – and the novelty never wears off for visitors – but it’s also nice to show them the outdoors via one of our many local festivals.

Without fail, there are always back-to-back events taking place in the summer. From the fireworks display on Canada Day, to Klondike Days and A Taste of Edmonton later in July…. Plus the Heritage Festival in August and the multitude of nearby farmer’s markets throughout the city – I just love it all.

Plus, as an extension of point #3 above, there’s always something to see just outside of the city as well. We frequent the Devonian Botanic Garden each summer, and this year we even ventured out to the Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm in Bon Accord -- which is now my daughter’s new favourite place simply because they have GOATS and CHICKENS and a CHOO-CHOO TRAIN.

It just doesn’t get any better when you’re a kid. (Or an adult, for that matter!)

1) The River Valley.

If I was a local celebrity responding to the Edmonton Sun’s 20-questions-style interview, I would readily declare that the River Valley is by far the best thing about Edmonton (in my opinion, of course).

This is an excerpt about it taken directly from the Edmonton Public Library’s website (Hey, Library, did I mention that you totally rock?!):

River Valley - Edmonton:

- The valley was formed by post glacial erosion over 20,000 years ago and has been eroded by the river to form terraces, meanders and flats. The valley is 60 metres deep from clifftop to river and varies in width from 1 to 1.6 kilometres

- Early settlement around Fort Edmonton was located in the valley and along its upper banks

- In 1907, Edmonton's city council recognized the benefits of preserving the river parkland

- In 1915 the Provincial Government adopted Frederick C. Todd's report which recommended protection of the River Valley environment so that Edmontonians would be provided with a contiguous recreation and open space system.

- The North Saskatchewan River Valley and Ravine System encompasses an area of 7,425 hectares (18,348) acres which is mostly designated for recreational use. That is 12 times larger than New York City's Central Park. Edmonton's river valley the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America

- The valley system includes 14 ravines, 22 parks, over 100 kilometres of trail and four lake systems

- There are 58 kilometres of paved trails, 39 kilometres of granulated trails, 28 kilometres of pedestrian trails, 7 kilometres of equine trails, and 48 kilometres of ski trails

- The valley also includes: 2 ski hills, 6 golf courses, 1 driving range, 29 day campsites, an equine centre, 25 reservable picnic sites, 2 outdoor pools, 70 staircases, 95 viewpoints, 6 toboggan hills, 58 minor bridges and 5 major bridges

- There are 39 facilities in the River Valley as well as major attractions such as Muttart Conservatory, Fort Edmonton Park, the Valley Zoo and the Kinsmen Sports Centre

It’s true. I love the River Valley and wish that I could visit it every day. In a way I guess I sort of do, in that I’m fortunate enough to pass through during my daily commute to and from work, travelling across the river and passing the equine centre listed above.

It really is beautiful to see, and for a few moments you can almost forget that you’re in the city at all.

Danielle and I have long been huge fans of the River Valley, and we often escaped to one of the many ravines or trails for hours on end during our youth. (You know, because there was no Internet back then, and we didn’t have cars or boyfriends or any other place to be at the time. Ahem.)

MacKinnon Ravine and Laurier Park were our most-visited areas, but we also occasionally frequented Mackenzie Ravine, which links the two regions.

Jo’s Note: We only went down into Mackenzie Ravine a couple of times because, frankly, bad things happened to us whenever we ventured that way. I’m sure it had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the fact that we were UTTERLY UNPREPARED for the hike and were armed with nothing but our flip-flops and a water bottle, but I digress. If nothing else, at least we always managed to keep Lindy, my always faithful companion, safe from being mauled by circling coyotes.

(Okay, we don’t have proof that they were actually circling us, but we suspected as much.)


All right, that's it for this week. Head on over to see what Divulge with Dani and (potentially) Juice with Junior have come up with as well.

Sept 15 @ 10:15pm - My husband has again decided to weigh in on the subject matter as well, so please check him out at Wayward Yankee.

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