Perpetual Tangent

I just know that something good is gonna happen. I don't know when, but just saying it could even make it happen.

Stuff about Canada that is weird and/or makes no sense

We’ve been in Canada three weeks now. It’s a great place. But there’s so much stuff that’s very weird or outdated or crazy here. I know there will be differences but some stuff is just bizarre.


Yep, this is the perfect illustration of the Canadian toilet problem.

1. Toilets: there’s so much water in the toilet bowl! I seem to recall a lot of European toilets are like this too. It’s totally impractical as I think it uses more water, plus if you are too careless with your wiping technique you risk accidentally touching the toilet water. I shudder to think of the splashback when vomiting! (Image taken from here.)


Shows you how right I am - this image is from the website of a Canadian bank. And it came up in the results of a search for "1970s bank teller"!

2. Banks: walking into a bank is like walking into the most conservative place ever, but in Canada it’s that and also like stepping back in time about 40 years. I seriously don’t expect to see a computer smaller than my living room actually in use and doing more than spitting out punch cards. There’s a lot of wood veneer, glass, and brown aluminium. Ron Burgundy would have a field day down at the local Scotiabank branch!


Yeah, there's a reason it's only 99c: it's bloody awful!

3. Coffee: Oh non-dairy creamer, how I hate you! You most revolting of non-foods! Seriously coffee here is generally pretty unpleasant, or at least it is only distantly related to what we call coffee in Australia. Gone are the days of the $4.50 small flat white served by a flesh-tunneled hipster named Gavin. Now it’s free refills of vaguely coffee-like beverage served by a small Phillipino woman in an apron called Gloria.


And the reason Caller ID is even more important here? You get lots of random calls from machines with smarmy American accents telling you you're a valued customer and a whole bunch of other crap you aren't interested in hearing. Or maybe that's just me.

4. Phones: not only do some phone companies not even give you a sim card unless you give them a pound of flesh with your Social Insurance Number branded on it, they charge you both for outgoing and incoming calls. Oh, and caller ID. Cos that costs extra, of course!


Some blocks of cheese are only an inch thick but about eight inches long! (Yes, deliberate use of imperial measurements - see how annoying it is? What the hell is a quart anyway?)

5. Cheese: I don’t even know where to begin on the cheese. Not only does cheddar not resemble cheddar visually, in texture or by taste, it also comes in the most inconveniently shaped slab ever! Seriously, do you need some special type of cheese-slicing apparatus to actually extract a slice suitable to go on a sandwich? So weird. And speaking of dairy products…

6. The milk in the freaking bag: why? I just want to know why. Why do you persist with bagged milk, Canada? It was apparently introduced to assist Canadians to transition to the metric system by developing a better understanding of how much a litre actually was. Um, newsflash: not only do you still not consistently use the metric system, you’re still making us get milk in a freaking plastic bag! Why? Oy vey!


And when I was searching for images just now I discovered they are definitely called mailboxes, not letterboxes. Or is it the other way around? I'm confused.

7. Mailboxes: maybe this is just an Ontario or Toronto thing, but for some apparent “security-related” reason we don’t have letter boxes at our houses any more. No, if you want to get your mail you have to get a key and walk up the street a minute to a bank of small mailboxes with no external indications as to whose is whose. It’s odd.

I could go on, I really could, as there is so much weirdness here, but I’ve no doubt Canadians coming to Australia are all like, “all this room and they don’t even have basements, what’s with that?” And a myriad of other perplexing mysteries I’m probably not even aware of as it’s normal for me. I’ll say one thing though, I will never become accustomed to bag milk, never!

Seven years

On 13 Aug we celebrated seven years since we first met. Seven years! This is officially my longest relationship and I think Mr Chewbacca’s too.


Our dessert at the end of a very expensive meal at an Italian restaurant in St John's Wood on our first anniversary, 13 August 2009

This won’t be a long post because, although I tend to blab to whoever will listen about anything and everything, privacy is important, and some things are just, well, private. Especially things that relate directly to others upon whose behalf I wouldn’t like to speak without prior clearance. I just wanted to mark this moment because seven years is an important milestone.

When we first met I was a couple of months off turning 30 and I felt old. Mr C was 34 and I think he felt old too! We met at Liverpool St Station outside a small Starbucks next to the Bishopsgate entrance. We went to a pub in Wapping, The Captain Kidd I think, although I could be mixing it up with the other one nearby. Which one is the oldest pub in London again? I forget. Shame on me!

We discussed the work of the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the possible names of our children, but ironically not at the same time. He told me about the tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe and we went outside to look at where it begins. I expected food but none was forthcoming, just beer, which I attempted to drink but didn’t get far as it doesn’t agree with me. We swapped music players to go through each other’s music and draw conclusions. That was important. I can’t be with someone who has no ear for music. It didn’t seem to matter that, despite being Aussie, I hated rugby. Or maybe it did, who knows.


One of the best photos I've ever taken. Hyde Park, London, at the Christmas Market, December 2009

I went home and told my flatmate I’d met my future husband. We both fell hard in love. I was surprised, he wasn’t who I’d pictured myself with, yet somehow I knew there could be no one else. He was like a male version of me. Reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry meets Jeannie (Janine Garofolo) and, upon falling in love with her, remarks to George: “Now I know who I’ve been looking for all these years. Myself!”

I don’t know why we were in such a rush to complete our courtship – perhaps it was the age thing – but we were virtually inseparable from that day on. Gee it’s been some kind of crazy ride. But I wouldn’t change it, I really wouldn’t.

Happy seven years to us. The beginning of a new cycle in a new country. How apt.

Canadians are the nicest people in the world

Another late night for the kids on this our second full day in our new place. It’s been slightly more productive today in that we managed to organise our Internet and cable TV to be hooked up on this coming Saturday. Although there is the slight complication that we don’t currently own a TV. However a trip to Costco will sort that out tomorrow.


Mmm... Timmy's...

We decided to shower this morning as we bought some cheap towels from Walmart yesterday but yet another minor issue arose when we realised we don’t have gas connected yet and therefore a hot shower wouldn’t be on the cards. So we skipped the showers and headed straight out to the Newcomers Centre before breakfast. We were greeted with enthusiastic queries regarding our need to take an English test and quickly realised that we were not really part of the target demographic of the service. Nevertheless we were given some forms to fill out, the kids deposited in a playroom at the back, and plenty of help in the way of free phone and Internet as well as a discussion with someone about our problems getting established due to lack of Social Insurance Numbers (equivalent to an Aussie Tax File Number, a British National Insurance Number, or an American Social Security Number).
Whilst there we managed to beg and plead with the gas company and the nicest woman in Canada, who happened to be at the other end of the phone line, pulled some strings and arranged for a gas connection to happen tonight. I discovered that I’m going to have to have my visa amended to show I’m allowed to work on campus as without this I can’t get a SIN. And we stumbled upon the realisation that Catholic school may be on the cards for the Dude as it’s closer to home. But apparently the bus comes to pick up every kid for school anyway so there is no issue with the school local to this area being further than we’d like. I’m not sure how I feel about the Dude going to school on the bus by himself but we’ll see what happens there.


No point in taking our suitcases upstairs as we're sleeping in the living room on crappy mattresses

Anyway, after the partial success at the Newcomers Centre we went to Tim Horton’s for breakfast. “Timmy’s”, as it’s sometimes known, is a Canadian institution. They sell coffee-type beverages (it’s totally nothing like any real coffee you’d get in Australia), donuts, chilli, sandwiches of all sorts, muffins, danishes, breakfastish type egg and bacon muffins, etc. There are odd things like “biscuits” (they look like they’re halfway between a burger bun and a cracker but I’m pretty sure they’re actually scones) but the French Vanilla coffee is pretty awesome. It’s the kind of thing I know I’m going to need when it’s minus 15 and I have to travel to uni. It’s sweet, caffeinated, and we discovered today you can even ask for extra espresso so the sweetness is balanced out a bit more. The food is a bit fake and processed but I am a Tim’s convert, it’s good. And highly addictive!

After that we went to a fairly lame mall nearby as we needed to sort out phones and Internet. We talked to a few companies and discovered that not only is it hellishly expensive, they may not even let us have an account due to our lack of SINs. Even for prepaid! So strange but it’s fairly typical of the way a lot of stuff happens here, just archaic, hasn’t been updated in decades. We did get wifi and cable with a TiVo box organised though.

When we got home it wasn’t long before our realtor arrived. This is a guy we’ve been in touch with for months, who helped us find this place. He has been nice so far, helping us find a house and sign papers and all the stuff that goes along with it. But this afternoon he rocks up, so nice, Walmart gift card in hand, goes round checking all the stuff that isn’t right in the house, taking pictures of all the problems. He isn’t even responsible for fixing anything – in fact he doesn’t even need to be here, his work finding us the place is done. But he goes out and comes back with the carbon monoxide detectors that are legally required with our heating/cooling system and he even installs them for us! He explains a whole bunch of weird Canadian shit like why there’s a switch in the living room that looks like a light switch but actually turns on an exhaust fan upstairs, or how we get mail as there’s no mailbox at the house and instead we have to check a funny little box in a bank of boxes up the street that aren’t numbered according to the houses because that would allow you to be targeted. Weird. He was even going to take us out to dinner but we couldn’t go because we had to wait for the gas company dude to come.

Now just a little word on Canadians. They really are the nicest people in the world! We’ve experienced our fair share of kind people along the journey here, although perhaps they were extra nice because of all the crap we had to deal with. But there’s something extra special about Canadians. I guess it began when we arrived in Toronto and had to sort out our lost baggage. Even though it was nearly midnight, the three people at the American Airlines counter were so very nice and happy to talk to us about Canada. Then there was the immigration officer, such a lovely man, I can’t fathom how someone that nice could ever not issue a visa! He talked about children and sports and made us feel so welcome. The guy at Service Canada, so helpful, so good at his job. Our dear friend A who has bent over backwards to help us settle in and find our way to the new house, all the while dazzling us with her smile and charming us with her wicked sense of humour. There was the guy who called out to us in the street and gave us ideas about what to do next after we left the bank frustrated at not being given the assistance to open an account. Another random guy in Denny’s who was so keen to help us with directions. The cool Cogeco (cable TV company) people who were so friendly and open and generous. Even the people at the bank did everything they could to get us accounts and entertain our children at the same time. The gas dude, who finally got here at 9:10pm when we’d given up hope of him arriving, was kind and courteous and did his job so well, explaining everything so clearly. Everyone is down to earth and real “true blue” Canadians have this wholesome, salt-of-the-earth, grounded feel about them. They are tough without being arrogant and confident without being mouthy. I like them. I like them a lot.

Early days

Even though we’re finally here in Canada it feels like we are still against some invisible opposing force. It’s hard going, this whole thing. Nothing is logical or works as it should. Everything is complicated and convoluted. It still feels as though this may not be the right thing to do.


This is actually at Sunnyside Grill but it gives you an idea, Sunset is similar.

We got up and got ready quickly this morning (no towels for showers or food or plates for breakfast) went to the Sunset Grill for breakfast, the third time since we’ve been in Canada. Dude calls it “Grug’s Sunset”, I think because he was reading a Grug book around time he first learnt the name of the cafe. It just so happens there was one near our hotel in Toronto (a Sunset Grill, not a Grug book) and there’s also one near our new house. It’s actually not as cool as I thought. The novelty has worn off somewhat. But it’s cheap and cheerful. And waffles. Waffles.

Once we were done with breakfast we went across to the bank. It was very quiet, virtually no one in the typically weird standalone 70s style building. A receptionist greeted us and we told her we’re new to the country and would like to open bank accounts. She went off to get someone to help us and it just so happened he was sitting behind a partition right next to us. So we heard him say he isn’t interested in helping us, too busy. Another lady was asked and apparently she was also otherwise engaged. The receptionist didn’t hesitate in telling us no one could see us and gave no other option than, well, get lost. Scotia Bank, they are something else. We were blown away and quite angry really. A guy who was in the bank and overheard what had gone on came out and said he couldn’t believe what just happened and advised us to go to a different bank. I just want to leave them a scathing review. But in the end went elsewhere and yes, it took ages and was super confusing but at least we got somewhere. Sort of. Still don’t have credit cards (and you need them for a lot here) because we can’t get Social Insurance Numbers yet (long story).

It’s tough going, with no wifi or phones, can’t call or go online to organise anything we so desperately need. So we hunt for free wifi networks everywhere we go and ask at various shops we go into if they can let us use the phone or scan a document or print something. But the great thing is that people here will do whatever they can to help us. The systems and processes are so outdated so they cause problems for us but in contrast people are so kind and helpful.
Today was a rough day though: only partly successful with the bank, unsuccessful with Service Canada and immigration (I have to mail my visa to Ottawa for an amendment), unsuccessful getting Canadian phone numbers and two very bored and slightly sick children. It will get better. It has to!

First night in a new house

I’m lying on a single mattress next to my sleeping baby. Son and husband are on my other side on another single mattress. There’s a table and chairs nearby, graciously brought by a new friend, but the house is more or less empty. My head aches as does my body. I still have a bit of a cold. I haven’t had any dinner.


Luckily it’s summer here in Canada so it’s not freezing cold. It’s actually a bit like Sydney weather, high 20s and humid. We arrived at our new place today and it’s really not as great as we’d expected. There’s only so much you can tell from photos but while it has a new thermostat and faces south, the place is a bit dirty and tired. There’s some serious shoddy workmanship gone on here. But maybe that’s how houses are built in Canada. Mike Holmes didn’t build an empire on the basis of a few dodgy tradespeople it seems! There are a few things that need fixing and replacing. I think once we get some furniture in here, beds and stuff, it will feel more comfortable. At the moment it is not comfortable at all! But this is the first night.


We arrived to a totally empty house but that was soon changed when new friends brought some beds, bedding and the dining set. We are really back to basics though. I don’t even have a pillow! Our stuff from Australia is supposed to arrive ten to 12 days after it left our house in Melbourne which was a week ago so it shouldn’t be long like this. Oh and no hot water as the gas isn’t on for some inexplicable reason.

We very nearly checked into a hotel tonight. I know Mr Chewbacca wanted to, and if I hadn’t been so utterly shattered from a near sleepless night last night due to a sick baby, I might have agreed. But it was all I could do to get her changed and lie down on this mattress and feed and fall asleep. The Dude and daddy watched Home Alone 2 on the laptop and then went to sleep on the other mattress.


The sounds of our new place are different. The air conditioning is on although it seems excessive. There are crickets outside chirping in a very normal-sounding way. There are occasional creaks or thumps, house sounds I guess, or sounds from our neighbours whose houses are attached to ours on both sides. The occasional car sound echoes in the distance. It’s a very quiet place so far.

We met our neighbour briefly, a big, shirtless, red-faced Canadian who greeted us warmly and exuded confidence, saying he’d been living here from the beginning when these places were built. Fifteen or 20 years or so would be my guess. After introducing ourselves, we stood on the front porch and watched the rain come down in sheets. It really rains properly here. And then a few minutes later it was clear again, and humid of course.

The enormity of the task ahead of us is almost overwhelming at the moment, even despite what we’ve already achieved, packing up our entire lives in Australia, leaving so much behind, coming halfway across the world. It’s huge. I’m so tired right now that it feels like too much and I just want to go home and go to bed. But I know it’ll seem better in the morning. And this is the worst night, every night after this will be better.

Melbourne to Toronto

There’s so much to catch up on with our story of the journey to Canada but I’ll document first our early days here now because I think the jetlag might turn my brain to mush and I’ll forget easily.

We left our hotel in Melbourne at 7:30am on Friday 31 July. A large taxi took us to Tullamarine with our six big bags, two car seats and pram. We had a decent amount of time to get on the first of three flights, a short jaunt from Melbourne to Sydney. But as soon as we went to check in for our 9:30am flight, the first disaster hit. QANTAS wouldn’t allow us to board the flight as the immigration requirement specified that all passengers need either a valid visa or a return ticket. The nature of our visas meant that while we’d received pre-approval, we wouldn’t be granted visas until border crossing in Canada. And while Mr Chewbacca had a return ticket due to his visa’s requirement to demonstrate intent to return to Australia, the kids and I had only one way tickets. Stymied at the first step!

Mr C in particular was fuming when we realised we’d need to book return tickets on the spot and I ended up doing all the talking to try and keep everything cordial which was very hard, although to their credit the QANTAS staff did everything they could short of copping a $30,000 fine for us. They put us on a flight at 10, checked through our many bags and we headed down to sales to sort out the tickets. Once we got over the initial shock of discovering we’d be maxing out the credit card in one hit, we relaxed knowing we’d book fully refundable tickets and get them cancelled as soon as we arrived in Toronto. Except of course something went wrong with the credit card payment and it wouldn’t go through. They sent Mr C and the Dude through security to board the flight and I stayed to finalise the booking with the little Thumper asleep in the ergo on my back. The Dude was crying not understanding where mummy was and both Mr C and I were on the brink of tears worrying we would miss the flight. We didn’t say it but I know we were both thinking that this did not bode well for the rest of what was always going to be a challenging journey.

Anyway, with ten minutes to spare I literally ran to board the flight, picturing how I’d apologise to all the other passengers waiting to leave. The staff were great, so kind, and they reassured me the flight was already delayed due to something else. I am normally calm in these situations but I was so stressed out at what had just happened. I also quickly realised that because we were on a later domestic flight, we’d be rushing to get to our next flight through to Dallas. So I asked the flight attendant to call ahead and try to make sure we’d be given swift passage. I never do stuff like that – asking for things goes totally against my Libran diplomacy! As it happened, it wasn’t too bad and we went straight through and onto the flight I was dreading: 16 hours, Sydney to Dallas.

It was long, yes, but somehow it just wasn’t that bad. Both kids were really chilled, and the Dude even let us do a modified bedtime routine and went off to sleep using his seat and the spare one next to it to lie down. He did keep flailing out his legs and nearly rolling off the seats so we had to hold him, plus the little one didn’t stay down for long in the bassinet so I mainly held her while she slept which was sweet but very uncomfortable for me. But overall we sailed through that long flight quite easily.
We collected our bags in Dallas and were surprised to find one missing. It was an odd setup at the baggage collection area with random baggage handling people hanging around suspiciously as though we were supposed to tip them when they helped us with our bags. After realising our bag was gone we traipsed to the lost luggage counter and a super helpful dude took down the number and wrote out a thing to give to American Airlines upon arrival in Toronto. We then went through to the baggage transit area which basically involved dumping our remaining luggage on the floor alongside about 500 other suitcases with a few confused baggage handlers hovering about looking thoroughly disorganised. We weren’t sure whether we’d see it again.


Waiting at Dallas during a few minutes' peace

Dallas Fort Worth is a fairly big airport and because we were there for five hours we decided to get one of those 30 minute hotels and have a shower. We then ate a horrible McDonald’s and then just wandered down to our gate. For a few minutes we relaxed and I took a few photos of the kids playing and looking out over the tarmac. But that didn’t last long. For some inexplicable reason, they changed the gate where we were meant to board and so we had to rush to what was effectively the other side of a massive airport. It was so far we had to take a train!

We lined up to board our final flight, Dallas to Toronto, worrying about the hoops we’d have to jump through to be granted our visas. It seemed fitting that we’d run into obstacles there. Of course as soon as the staff saw us and realised who we were they took our passports and asked us to wait in an alcove while they boarded all the other passengers! No real explanation. We thought it might be because they wanted us to pay excess baggage as our heavy bags were over the allowance for American Airlines. But no, after some cautious questions we ascertained that there was yet again some technical glitch whereby the baby’s ticket wasn’t attached to mine or something. It seemed to take forever to get the go ahead to board!

Once on our final two hour leg, the tiredness really set in. We had the nicest air hostess in the universe do everything she could to make us comfortable but alas, both of us had trouble staying awake. The little one conked out again within minutes of taking off and the Dude chilled out eating some chocolate from a snack pack we were given. We were almost there.
When we landed in Toronto we roused ourselves and gave each other a hand squeeze and a look: we still had to get through immigration. What if they gave us a hard time? What if we didn’t have the right paperwork? What if they said no, we won’t be issuing a visa, sorry, you’ll just have to go home. Maybe it was because we’ve watched too many episodes of Border Patrol but I know we were both nervous.

We headed to collect our bags only to discover another piece missing, the baby’s car seat. I began to realise that the more pieces you have, the higher chance of something going missing. And you could probably guarantee that if it was the last item of yours to be checked in then it would be the most likely to be lost. American Airlines were awesome, and the three people working at nearly midnight were doing everything to find our stuff. They took our address at the hotel while giving some suggestions about nice places to live in the Greater Toronto Area and we were on our way with our somewhat fewer pieces of luggage. Through passport control who weren’t interested in our visa status at all, we arrived at immigration.

There were no other travellers there and a lovely smiling Canadian waved us over. He chatted away, pausing to give directions to the bathroom because of course the Dude needed to go at this most critical moment! I nervously explained that I’d left the “duration of stay” section blank because it wanted the exact number of days and I felt silly writing 365 when I truly wasn’t sure! He totally didn’t mind. He didn’t ask to see anything, just our passports and preapproval letters. The only thing that held us up was Mr Chewbacca rabbiting on about how we’re going to watch the baseball and the guy was obviously a fan and had a bit of a chat. He handed us some official-looking sheets of paper and we were off to customs! We couldn’t believe it, it wasn’t an ordeal, we’d sailed through just fine. Customs were nice too and I think impressed with me ticking the box to declare food “just in case”, just like a good Aussie always does. We stepped out into a warm evening and realised we’d need to wait a bit for the car we’d hired as we were early. It was nearly midnight in Toronto but we were still on Aussie time and felt like zombies anyway! We ate chocolate, the Dude pointed at all the giant North American trucks masquerading as cars and thus began our time in Toronto.

Our guy picked us up in one of those enormous SUVs and drove to our hotel which was a nice place from the look of it. We were barely upright yet still smiling and glad to be there at this point. We got up to the room and immediately got ready for bed. I’ve rarely been that tired in my life! The Dude crashed out on his sofa bed and the other three of us in the big bed and apart from one very scary wakeup from the Dude where he jumped out of bed and ran crying out of our room and down the hall, we slept until 10 or 11am. Toronto: we had finally arrived.

Less than a week

I’m writing to document this process but will probably publish later as it’s just too insane now to be sure what I’m publishing is okay.

In less than a week we are getting on a QANTAS plane and flying halfway across the world to Toronto, Canada. I’ve never been there before. And we’ll be staying there for a year. We’re leaving all the comforts of the best place in Australia behind and taking a big gamble. Yes, I’m going to have a great master’s degree from a prestigious university and it’s exciting living somewhere new. But it’s going to be hard. What we’re going through now, selling everything we can’t take, living in chaos, this pales in comparison to the difficulty we’ll experience over the next year.


So Melbourne.

We’re going to need to establish ourselves in a strange place fairly quickly. Then our children will need to get used to being without us during the day. We’ll be on a single income, and that’s providing Mr Chewbacca can find a job. The commute is going to suck. And it’ll be worse in winter. But we’re doing it. I must say it’s liberating to relinquish all these worldly goods, offload everything we really don’t need as well as things we just can’t take like electrical goods.


Regular sightings of hot air balloons out our window in Melbourne. I wonder if there will be in Toronto?

Getting rid of so much, you start to realise just how little you actually need. Even things you thought were important become just things and you can let them go. It’s hard for me because I am very sentimental about stuff and I like to document everything. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. Mr C freaks me out on a daily basis by expressing his worries around whether our stuff will fit in the four cubic foot container we are limited to, and I am momentarily worried enough to go through and cull books or random things in the cupboard I realise I don’t need.


She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.

Things that have been hard to offload:
– My sewing machine. It was a 21st birthday present from my parents and I love it, even if it took the sewing machine repair guy five months to service and repair. I have passed it on to a sweet friend who vows she will be only too happy to pass it back should I ever return.
– Artwork and schoolwork from my primary school years through to art school at university. I had no time to go through all this so it was chucked in the recycle bin.
– Our car. Our lovely and shiny Subaru, the only new car I’ve ever owned, with all the bells and whistles, had to be sold, that’s it. Boadicea will be passed to her new owner the day before we fly out and we are sad as she is a great and beautiful car. Plus there’s no way we can afford to buy her sisters in Canada. Her great aunt’s cousin twice removed is more what we’ll be in the market for.
– Our mattress. It is the most amazing surface I’ve ever come in contact with and sleeping on it is heaven. King Koil is the way forward! Mattresses don’t hold their value either so as soon as you buy one it’s worth maybe a quarter of that immediately. Irony is that people pay huge sums to stay in hotels and sleep on mattresses that hundreds of others have slept on and done Lord knows what on. Weird.
– Some of the kids’ toys, like the lovely wooden blocks passed on from a dear friend. At least I passed those on to another lovely friend who will appreciate them.
– Mr Chewbacca’s original Star Wars toy collection from his childhood. Sold for about half what they’re worth and will no doubt be sold on for much more, it was an amazing collection. Ewok Village, Millennium Falcon, AT-AT, four tea crates full, some in their original packaging.

There are lots of other things I found hard to let go but as I kept doing it, it got easier. And then it started to feel liberating! Yay, no more stuff! It’s certainly weird seeing our furniture slowly dwindling down to nothing though. Luckily most of what we have was acquired for free or bought second hand and we are not attached to it. Only our bookshelf is coming with us, a freebie that we sanded down and painted and upon whose sides we mark the kids’ heights every six months. A garage sale this last weekend in Melbourne has seen our furniture reduce down to our dining table, Dude’s bed, bookshelf and a few other small things. Our house is echoing!

Hotel time about four days before we leave so that’ll be interesting with two little kids. No idea what will happen with all our food. It’s not like an interstate move where you can pack dry goods.

Dude has had ridiculous amounts of screen time in the last week or so and will probably continue to once we arrive but we’ve agreed that we’ll use the big change as an opportunity to wean him off it. There’s something really unsettling about a four year old staring at a screen like a zombie. And the mood afterwards or if we try to switch it off or take away whatever device he was playing on? Not good! Lots of outside, screen-free time for this kid!

So the next step in the big move begins: the packing and uplift of our belongings and moving out. Please let it all fit in the container!!

There are no mistakes, only necessary lessons

Years ago, during my early 20s public service phase, I worked as a deputy editor of a crappy government magazine. My editor moved on and I applied for the role but didn’t get it. Instead, a total freakazoid douche was employed, I think because he was friends with my big boss.

I say freakazoid douche but I should qualify that. He was camp as a row of tents and very high maintenance. He would freak out about things but pretend he was all cool and authoritarian on the outside. He pretended to be nice but came across as quite fake and very insecure. In hindsight, I kind of feel sorry for him. One thing he was good at though, he knew his grammar, punctuation and proper English. He had a really good eye for detail and was as pedantic as they come. Which, as an editor, can be a really good quality.

I hated working with him, I really did. Yes, I was a bit pissed off about being knocked back for the role myself but in my heart of hearts I knew I really didn’t have the experience or discipline to succeed as editor at that point. I would have screwed up and been out of my depth. So I made a conscious effort to treat him with courtesy and respect but it wasn’t long before I really loathed having to work with him.

And of course he fairly quickly showed himself to be unworthy of the role too. He couldn’t communicate without pissing someone off as his manner was so abrupt and quite bitchy and huffy. He’d get offended at everything and look down his nose at everyone yet it was just due to insecurity on his part. It was the worst kind of inferiority complex. Eventually he was moved on. I can’t quite recall how it all came about but I think he may have made his excuses. It’s really hard to fire someone in the public service, so that didn’t happen, but I think he was a contractor and his contract wasn’t renewed.

Anyway, just reading a post on one of the editorial Facebook pages I follow reminded me of him. It was about em dashes and en dashes. I knew about these and had an idea of how to use them prior to meeting this guy, but it was he who told me their names and demonstrated their usage. It’s stuck with me ever since and I’m very grateful for this knowledge. So despite not enjoying working with this insecure and incompetent drama queen who was actually a good editor as well, I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. I adore the em dash too!

This whole thing got me thinking, and it’s very relevant in the context of our upcoming journey to Canada, that there really are no mistakes, just lessons that need to be learned through experience. So it may seem daunting now, but this adventure is going to teach us some important lessons. There may be hardship and it may feel like too big a mountain to climb (or that we’re climbing the wrong mountain!) but I know that these lessons can only be learnt via this experience. Bring it on, I say.

23 days

It’s really coming to the pointy end now. We’re really doing this. Selling all our stuff. Even our beloved car! Oh Boadicea, we will miss you!

Some good news though, we have a house in Canada! Finally we were accepted to rent a decent three bedroom townhouse type place backing onto a ravine, as they call it. I picture this giant chasm ala Grand Canyon but in reality I know it’s probably what we’d call a gully.

New terminology:
– splash pad: children’s water play park
– den: kind of a study type area in your house
– broadloom: carpet
– real estate broker: someone who goes out of their way to help you find even a rental as they get paid a commission and not by you.
– GO: the train system
– TO: Toronto

We are still feeling quite nervous about how this will all work out and it doesn’t help that so many things seem to take ages and lots of effort. It’s certainly not just falling into place easily. That’s making it even more daunting as throughout my life I’ve relied on things falling into place as a sign that I’m on the right path. This Canada thing is proving hard work at every turn! It’s kind of like a test to demonstrate that we really do want to do this.

Coming to a friend’s place today that I’d never seen before I found myself smiling as a twinge of excitement rose within me. The house was lovely and big and open with enough play space that didn’t have to encroach upon the living space. A real home. That’s what we’ll have, I thought. So exciting. It’s not perfect but it’s closer to what I want.


Paintings at CERES, one of my regular Melbourne haunts for playgroup

I’m feeling a little sad about leaving Melbourne. It really is the best city in Australia. I say that having never been to Perth or Darwin or Alice Springs. But it beats Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane. That’s just from my perspective of course, you certainly can’t say one place is definitely better than another overall. It’s all relative to what suits those living in the place. Most people hate Melbourne weather and not because it’s “the rainy city” as I knew it growing up but because of the four seasons in one day. And I must admit, it’s really annoying to have to adjust your outfit to prepare for any weather throughout a single day. In terms of life and culture, it’s the best. It also has great food places and plenty to do, even with limited funds. The cost of living is high but no higher than any other large Australian city. I would come back to Melbourne if I had to return to Australia.

It’s funny, everyone immediately mentions how cold it will be in Canada as soon as we tell them we’re going. Usually it’s people who’ve never been to Canada too. But they are more shocked when we explain we’re looking forward to the cold, that it’s one of the reasons we want to go. At first I dismissed these kinds of concerns completely, then I went through the “smile and nod” phase, but in the last few weeks I’m beginning to wonder just how much we’ve romanticised the snow. Sure, it’s great if you like the cold and you get rugged up and have fun skiing or whatever. But then you go back to your warm house/ski lodge and drink hot chocolate/mulled wine and there’s an open fire and lots of yummy food and you think maybe I’ll just read or watch a movie and then go skiing again tomorrow. That’s not what it’ll be like on a daily basis. I don’t even know how to dress for minus 20 with a wind chill factor of minus 40! I need snow boots.


Everything is awesome! This is our mantra!

So, the car is up for sale and we’re slowly offloading all our furniture and electrical, except for our second hand bookshelf which holds so much sentimental value with the kids’ height measurements marked on the sides. Oh, and we’re taking an old CD player Andrew bought when in Canada 13 years ago. It has a tape player on it and it’s only right that it goes “home”. We have to be ruthless with our stuff as the size of the container we can afford is the same size as our dining table, so not big! I’m kind of worried about what will happen if our stuff doesn’t fit as we won’t really know until it’s being packed. Allied Pickfords are doing it all, even the packing, which is a massive relief as there’s no way we could do it ourselves with the kids constantly underfoot and wanting to help. Dude keeps grabbing random toys he’s playing with and announcing he’s packing them.


All the books get pulled off the shelf while mummy is distracted with moving stuff...

Little Thumper has no idea what’s going on, just that there are some cool boxes to explore and the Dude is handling it really well. He’s been through a couple of interstate moves already so I guess he has an idea of what to expect. It’s really hard selling his furniture from his bedroom though. I thought he’d freak when I took everything off his shelves but he was amazing and didn’t seem concerned. He knows about Canada (he only recently stopped calling it Can-da-da) and recognises the maple leaf already. I’m hoping that, as he’s a bit older now at four and a bit, he won’t pine for home as he didn’t when we came to Melbourne. He was about two and three quarters and he was a bit concerned about the truck taking our things but mainly excited. The excitement lasted a few hours into the eight hour drive from Canberra to Melbourne but soon he was asking to “go home” every little while. We couldn’t even reassure him that we were going to our new house as we didn’t have one and were set to stay with old friends of mine from years ago. Anyway he settled in there quickly and then didn’t want to leave two weeks later when we needed to move into our rental place.

So, selling furniture etc – check. Finding place to rent – check. Enrolling in my uni courses and discovering that I’m actually doing a kind of Italian literature degree – check (phew!) Being really scared and excited at the same time – double check! This better be worth it!

What is home? (Part 2)

The second part of my “how we decided to go to Canada” story. Following on from part 1.
So I broached the subject of applying to do something in Italian and I can’t remember what Mr Chewbacca said but it was probably along the lines of: “Didn’t I already tell you that? You should be doing some kind of language shit! Get it done, woman!” I am, as most who know me will agree, not spontaneous, and I need time to adjust. So I sat on it for a bit, withstood regular hassling by Mr C to email my ex professors to seek references, and we moved to Melbourne in January 2014.


The exhibition building opposite the Melbourne Museum

Soon after that I finally began to look up what my options might be for an MA somehow incorporating Italian but also with something to do with creative writing or literature. I knew already that I couldn’t apply to somewhere like the University of Toronto as their creative writing program was insanely competitive but I noticed their Italian Studies program was actually pretty awesome and I could apply. So that was the first application, MA Italian Studies. My ex professors both immediately agreed to be my referees despite my not having been in touch with them since 2001 and I wrote up some convoluted statement of intent about wanting to research the formation of cultural identity and the part of language in that or something like that. I thought I’d be very unlikely to get into a program at Canada’s most prestigious university.

Secretly I still hoped I’d somehow get into creative writing. I started reading about studying creative writing and being a writer and I had so many ideas for what to write about. Typically, I didn’t get to write much down. But nevertheless I became motivated to apply to some other unis. Of course in my typically diplomatic way I didn’t confront Mr C about my desire to write, especially as I knew he was probably sick of hearing me talk about it and not do it. Instead, I suggested I apply to some other unis in case I don’t get into Toronto. He had no idea I was applying to creative writing rather than language programs. Guelph had a creative writing program and it relied on student portfolios to get in. Both Western Ontario and Calgary also had some appealing programs – English and Comparative Lit I think – and I found myself doing four separate applications. I casually asked my Italian professors to be my referees for these three other programs with nothing to do with Italian and they agreed.

There was a period of time where I just didn’t go out for one day on weekends. Mr C would take Dude swimming or something and I’d “do applications”. To be honest, this sometimes meant putting together the perfect YouTube play list, showering and making coffee for two hours and then quickly doing something for the last half hour before the boys came home. Ah, spare time, I’ve now forgotten what that’s like. I was halfway through my pregnancy with little Thumper by then and I was relishing the last months with no child distractions.

I did gather some writing and submit it but I shudder to think what the universities I sent it to thought. They must have thought I was mad, submitting all these unpolished ramblings! It’s an odd thing, about writing. I feel compelled to write, or at least spit out the thoughts and ideas that come to me, as though they have some value, yet I can never manage to actually write every day and create a whole, complete work. Mr C told me a few home truths of this sort when I hinted at applying to do creative writing and that just confurmed what I already knew: I would have to work in a completely different way to do it at this level, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me.


It was a complete surprise to me when the first response, from the University of Toronto, was an acceptance to do the MA Italian Studies! I was shocked! Why did they think I was good enough? Did I really want this? Had my ex professors bigged me up too much? I immediately sent them each a thank you package of chocolate and coffee. This was not what I expected and I was terrified but also excited. The start date was down as mid September sometime and I still needed to get my visa approval letter. To be totally honest, I was glad I didn’t have to choose although slightly disillusioned when the next two letters – from Guelph and Western – were rejections. “After careful consideration, we regret to inform you…” Surely I had some literary talent? But English marks barely over 70 and crappy, stream-of-consciousness writing don’t get you into a good course. The fact is, I looked better on paper in my Italian Studies with the majority of my marks High Distinctions, a previous scholarship to study in Italy and great references.

Now came the hard part: coming to terms with actually going to Canada. Moving across the other side of the world to a country I’ve never visited. I’ve never even been to North America! I know next to nothing about Canada, unless you count what I learnt from watching Degrassi Junior High repeats. (“Everybody wants something, they’ll never give up!”)

We knew we’d need to be there in plenty of time to get settled before school began, so we thought we’d aim for July. By the time we scraped together all the silly paperwork it was March when we submitted our visa applications via the least user-friendly system ever. No number or even email enquiry line to contact about getting our applications right, and no way of knowing when the letters would be sent. We held off booking our flights on advice from some online forums we joined, as obviously anything could go wrong. But when no visa was granted by May, we just booked.
It was a risk, yes, but the flight cost would be big if we waited.

It was the absolute worst, waiting for the go ahead from Canadian immigration. They asked for some further info which we provided within a few days but it turned out that the time frame they’d given within which to provide the info was also the time frame they adhered to in giving preapproval. In other words, they asked us to provide further info by 15th June and didn’t touch our application again until that date even though we provided the info in late May. Given we’d booked to fly out on 15th July, we realised we were cutting it too fine to be ready to leave then so we made the very costly decision to move our flights forward to 31st July. And within days the preapproval letters came through and thus began the wind down to departure. What a process, and that was just the beginning!

We were quite nervous about telling friends and family that we were going. Not only was it quite a big deal to be moving when we loved Melbourne so much but there didn’t seem to be much logic attached to our decision. I still don’t really know why we’re doing it, and we have questioned it all along and almost backed out throughout. Every evening after the kids were in bed or distracted Mr C and I would look at each other and one of us would say, “Are we really doing this?” Usually the other would be reassuring. We’d always come to the same conclusion: if we don’t do it and we stay in Melbourne and buy a house, we’d always wonder if we’d missed out, if we’d just settled for the easy option. There’s no way we’d subject our kids to a move like this when they’re older and we’ll established so it’s now or never. And frankly I can’t handle another big move. This has to work out.

I wonder if this is how my grandparents felt when they came to Australia. My dad’s parents in 1959 from London to Melbourne, and my mum’s parents in 1950 from Augsburg, Germany to Sydney. I think the urge to find our place is just strong with us. I know Mr C has always had a connection with North America and he could have ended up being American had his great great grandfather kept the family in Chicago where they migrated at the turn of the 20th century. The irony about all this is that we’re moving away from everything and everyone we know to find something that matches us. We expect to find our place somewhere completely foreign. So familiarity doesn’t equal comfort. It’s a contradiction really. Only time will tell but I hope for all our sakes that this is the last overseas move we make.

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