Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Canadian Cultural Experience

I spent most of last week at a training in Calgary, Alberta.  I haven't done extensive travel in Canada so this was a bit of a new experience for me.  My last trip to the north was for a high school music trip over 20 years ago, and we barely tip-toed over the boarder into Victoria, BC. 

As I visited various sites around Calgary and Banff, I came to appreciate the vast diversity of the area, both in geography and culture.  Springtime in this part of the world does not mean green pastures and abundant wildflowers, as it does back home.  Springtime here is quiet, brown and cold.  Winters here are real and the bright sun shining in the window belies the 30-degree spring temperatures outside. 

I don't think Canadians are all that different from Americans.  They drive on the correct side of the road.  They (mostly) speak our language.  There is a Starbucks on every corner (I mean literally.  That mermaid and her overpriced coffee are EVERYWHERE.)  But there are some distinct ironies and humorous observations that I had during my travels. 

Although the Dollar Store exists here, there is some confusion on what that actually means....

You might not know where the trains or buses around town are heading, but you certainly know which hockey team they are supporting.

Fancy Italian pastries, which my husband's family makes every Christmas (and I've NEVER seen for sale on a store shelf anywhere, ever.) are readily available for sale in Canada.  At the Asian market. Go figure. 

Oh Canada.  It's a funny place where pennies don't exist, the dollar coin is called a "Loonie", soda is "pop", and liquor can be bought by children (but not at the grocery store).  It's just similar enough to make travel comfortable and easy for Americans, but just different enough to remind us that it really is a different country with unique customs and local norms. 

By far, the most remarkable part of my trip was the 24 hours I spent in Banff National Park, in the middle of the Canadian Rockies.  I live in a mountain region, so I wasn't expecting to be so completely amazed by the magnitude and beauty of Banff.  The peaks and ridges were like nothing I've seen in California...jagged, stately and covered with ridges and creases that caught the snow in just the right proportions to make the scenery breathtaking. 

I took lots of pictures but none of them really does justice to the scenery.  I found myself torn between aching to have my family with me to experience Banff, and reveling in the quiet isolation to soak it all in on my own.

Thanks for everything, Canada.  The cultural quirkiness, the April snow storms, the natural beauty and the favorable exchange rate....loved it all!  Can't wait to save up my Loonies and go back again someday.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

To Obsess, or Not to Obsess. That is the Question.

Certain members of my family of origin are cursed (blessed?) with the gift of OCD.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Maybe OCD is too strong of a term...but we're organizers.  Planners.  Rule followers.  List makers.  Did I say, "we"?  OK, cat's out of the bag.  I include myself in that group.  I don't want to "out" anyone else without their permission, but let's just say the other Type A is not my mom and his name rhymes with job. 

In many phases of my life, this knack for organization has served me well.  I wasn't pulling all-nighters in college because I carefully planned my work and got things done before the deadline. I managed my money and independently financed a home purchase at the tender age of 29.  I don't have to venture into the grocery store more than once per week because I plan our meals and my shopping pretty well.  So, there is something to be said for a little strategy and organization. 

That's not to say this quirky trait is without some drawbacks.  I drive my husband insane with major purchases or big decisions because I like to discuss and dissect every possible angle to find the absolute best solution.  I struggle to pull myself away from house cleaning or cooking to spend a few minutes with my kids because an incomplete "to do" list can make me develop a nervous twitch. 

And don't get me started on travel planning.  I don't know if Travel-induced-OCD is an official "thing" but I'm pretty sure I have it.  Traveling brings out the best and worst of my organization and research skills.  I sit at the computer for HOURS scrolling through hotel reviews, referencing maps, and triple-checking prices to find the absolute best place to stay.  I'm going to Calgary next week and I must have spent three hours researching rental cars to make sure I got one from a company that was inside the airport terminal, didn't have a cancellation penalty, offered GPS as an add-on, and wouldn't charge me for an extra day if I was an hour or two late turning in the car.  (Mission accomplished, BTW.  Thankyouverymuch, Alamo)

Fast forward a few days, and we're in the market for a new laptop.  My dinosaur machine joined the family in 2009 and is starting to show its age.  Here's what I did.  I did an online search at Best Buy for a basic HP laptop.  I did the side-by-side comparison on four different models.  I picked the one that fit my needs, checked the price on Newegg, and then....I bought it!  Over and done.  I'm guessing the whole process took less than an hour. 

Believe me, nobody was more shocked than I was.

I don't know what possessed me to click the "Buy" button so quickly on that computer. Maybe it was because I'm basically just purchasing a newer version of the computer that has performed so faithfully for almost six years.   Perhaps it was understanding my very basic computing needs and knowing that I don't need to have the very best machine on the market.  I'm not quite sure.  It was odd though.  I kind of wanted to strut around the house saying, "I have made a quick decision!!! Hear me ROAR!!".  But I refrained. 

I think the lesson for me is somewhere in between these two extremes.   It probably wouldn't have hurt to double-check the specs on my new computer or review them with someone who knows something (anything) about computers.  I suppose it wouldn't have killed me to pick ONE website to compare prices on the rental car.  But alas, that's not really the way I'm wired. 

So the moral of the story is, I can make a quick decision, it just doesn't happen very often.  If you want to purchase a computer, I have nothing to offer you.  If you need a hotel in a specific neighborhood with 4-star reviews, non-smoking rooms, free wi-fi, king sized beds, breakfast served each morning, and walking distance to a restaurant for under $180/night....I'm your gal.