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.


I’ve never heard this music before but my dad has recommended it and the artist is Italian so it’s fitting. I plug my free Apple earphones into my broken Samsung and hit shuffle. Within moments of hearing the opening bars there are tears in my eyes and for once I’m grateful for my vision being obscured by my child-scratched sunglasses. It’s piano, reminds me a bit of Michael Nyman and I remember the story my friend K told me about him propositioning her one late night in London.
This MA study, it’s hard, in all respects. It may even be one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced to date. The work is hard, the commute is long and complicated, and I feel totally conflicted about leaving my kids, neither of whom like being without me.

This music is my soundtrack now. Ludovico Enaudi. If I have another child, I think I’ll call him Ludo. Or maybe that’ll be a good name for a family dog. I won’t forget what this music has done for me. Although damn it, stop with the tears already!

I wrote this on the third day of my first week at uni. I was sitting on the bus at 8:15am having just forced my protesting 13-month-old into the arms of a lovely stranger while I put myself through the torture of a complex class conducted all in Italian. I think in those early days I understood about a quarter of what was said, if that, and what made it worse was that the other three members of the class understood everything.
At this point I’d been to five of my six classes and I was feeling overwhelmed. And to top it off, other than Thumper’s separation anxiety, the Dude was having huge meltdowns about catching the school bus and Mr Chewbacca had just messaged me saying he was almost in tears too at having to take Dude to school against his will because he’d point blank refused to get on the bus.
Looking back, yes, it was hard. But we’ve moved on now. That first week, wow, I’ll never forget it. And I’m glad I wrote this as it reminds me just how easy I have it now in comparison.

First week as a student again

I pinch myself constantly. Are we really doing this? Living in Canada? Am I actually doing an MA? Is this real? It really is like a dream. Although trying to comprehend the Roman accent of my lecturer is like a nightmare! No, it’s not that bad, but it’s hard work, especially as I’ve not been speaking Italian for over a decade now. I felt it coming back as that first class wore on and I think I’ll manage it after a few weeks, but man, it’s hard going! Luckily it’s really the only class I have that’s totally in Italian. (Just a side note that won’t interest anyone but Italian students: I emailed my professor before the first class to apologise as I would be late and I actually titled the email “la prima classe oggi”. “CLASSE”!! What was I thinking?! That’s not the correct word for “class” in Italian. Urgh. Feeling stupid!)Displaying 20150917_105824.jpgDisplaying 20150917_105824.jpgDisplaying 20150917_105824.jpg

Lovely buildings around campus

Lovely buildings around campus

My other classes are either totally in English or a mixture, which works well. The Italian professor is luckily a super nice, kind guy who is very understanding about my family responsibilities. He even had no issue with my having come late to the very first class. Meanwhile there’s no hint at any assessment and the course outline is all in Italian and I can’t see anything in there about due dates! It looks like we will be expected to do a presentation and an essay at least… scary!!

My week generally looks like this: nightmare day Mondays with 10-12, then some weeks we’ll stay back and watch a film as part of the course. Then at 2pm I have my Book History class in the rare books library which is a good 10 to 15 minute walk from the Italian faculty. That class is meant to go til 5pm but, typically, I have a clash as the foundational pedagogical class for Italian is scheduled between 4pm and 6pm back over in the Italian department! Apparently these clashes shouldn’t happen as the Book History people asked any collaborating department to confirm in writing that they’d leave that time free and not schedule any of their classes during those three hours. In typical fashion, the Italians have ignored that and I’ve been screwed over. It’s too late for them to rearrange things and, frankly, why would they go to all that trouble just for one student? Yes, this confirms that I’m the only person doing the Italian Studies and Book History collaborative program. Quite cool! And to be honest, that third hour looks like it might be just dedicated to faffing about some weeks anyway. The professor spent a significant portion of time at the beginning of the class talking about the best places to get coffee and nice food around campus! Okay, sure, coffee is important, and I’m missing proper espresso like nothing else, but I don’t consider this a good use of the time. Surely there are other places and people we can ask for this sort of info.

As for the final class on Mondays that is apparently so incredibly important, it really reminded me of being back in high school or even first year uni. All this stuff about the dos and don’ts of essay-writing! Seriously?! We’re master’s students here! But I’m beginning to see that the standard of writing is pretty low generally and these professors obviously dedicate a significant portion of their time ironing out issues and wading through shit writing. So at least I’m in front there. Although I haven’t written an essay in over 10 years so it won’t be easy!

Oh, back to my schedule, so Monday is the day from hell as I don’t get home til 7:40! Past the kids’ bedtime. It already sucks with Mr Chewbacca being at home but once he gets a job it’s going to really suck. Dude gets off the bus at 4:10pm and someone has to be there to collect him, plus little Thumper finishes daycare at 5:30pm. And then there’s dinner to cook, entertaining both kids who will no doubt be tired, especially the little one who is still breastfeeding and will no doubt miss it during the day. Although she’s great with food and doesn’t ask to feed, maybe just for nap time if I’m there.

Anyway the rest of the week is early starts again Wed and Fri for my 10am class with Rome accent professor and Thursday is my favourite class, philology. On Tuesday it’s just the afternoon with 2-4pm diaspora class and then a 4-6pm film class, so another late one home to two tired kids at about 7:40pm. A 10am start may not seem early but because we’re so far out of Toronto I have to leave home by 8am to be at uni for 10. My routine so far is to put the little one in the stroller and walk her to daycare which is about 8 minutes’ walk, then the bus stop is just up the road. I catch an 8:15 bus to the train station and catch an 8:56 train to Union station, then the subway takes about 10 minutes. I get off at Museum and it’s five minutes walk to my class which I can be on time for providing I can stick to that schedule and don’t have to line up to get a coffee for too long. The difficult part is leaving the little one at daycare which she started this week. She didn’t want me to hand her over the first few times but on Thursday she reluctantly went and same on Friday, without tears. Phew! I think this means she will be okay.

The good thing is that this difficult class that’s on three mornings a week finishes after about a month as the professor is just visiting so in October I’ll have Wednesdays and Fridays off, which I’ll no doubt need. Because I’m doing this collaborative program plus this term we have to do this pedagogical course in addition to the standard full time course load of four, I am actually doing six courses! It seems unachievable at the moment but I’m determined to do it, somehow…

Can I really do this?

So I’ve officially started at uni. My Master’s. I still don’t even know whether to use the possessive form Master’s or not. Because it’s a Master of Arts. Gah. Stupid language. Why am I doing this again?


The view exiting Museum Subway station

Anyway, this week has been all about the orientation sessions. I went to one first about the School of Graduate Studies and it was great, so interesting and inspiring. I felt really excited and empowered when I left. I had another look around the library where I’d been once before to get my student card. I went over to the Italian department only to discover that I was referring to an old timetable and this week is just orientation sessions.

I had to leave Thumper at home with daddy which is hard. Normally I handle all sleeps as she is fed to sleep and expressing/bottles is way too much of a headache. She’s one now and I know she can go without a feed the whole day but it’s an easy way to get her down for a nap and I had no idea how Mr C would manage. Luckily he’s resourceful, and by the third day he was into a groove and could get her to sleep easily by standing in the dark and rocking her then putting her down in her cot. I’m pretty sure I’ve found her home daycare nearby, just need to work out how to pay for it! And the Dude begins school on the same day as me. School bus for the first time!

The Italian orientation was okay, a little odd and a little intimidating. Thinking of it now, it reminds me of my first Italian class… oh my god! I was just calculating in my head how many years ago it was now. Seventeen years ago!!! Man, that makes me feel ancient! Anyway, so in 1998 I began a BA that I’d transferred into after a year of a BA (Visual). I enrolled in Italian thinking it seemed like the easiest thing to do as I’d already learnt some in high school. Despite my bad grounding in the language and my inability to speak much, my comprehension was above that of a beginner. I met with the department head, a gorgeous, wonderful woman who spoke Italian to me and quickly established that I should begin at the intermediate level. I was excited until that first class. I remember sitting in the room with a bunch of other students and in walked the lovely department head. Following her was a tall, funky-looking dude wearing 3/4 length shorts, Doc Marten’s, and red, thick-rimmed glasses. He sat on one of the desks at the front and swung his legs while the head introduced herself and welcomed everyone and I assumed he was another student. Then he stood up and introduced himself as the teacher! Suddenly everyone around me was speaking Italian, not just the two professors but all the students! Words, jokes, phrases, casual remarks were flying through the air and it was just all too fast and overwhelming. I had no idea what was going on but I knew one thing: I wanted to start from the beginning.


It's a nice campus

I don’t regret it, starting from scratch, even though I could have toughed it out at the intermediate level. I was 19 then, I had zero life experience and even less maturity. I would have struggled. Now, sitting in a similar classroom across the other side of the world feeling slightly overwhelmed by the speed at which some people were speaking, and being somewhat taken aback at being asked about my research interests up front, I had a different experience. I put that down to maturity mainly. It was intimidating but not to the point of not wanting to continue.

I think Italian departments must have parallels the world over. There’s always something old-fashioned about Italian. Like no one’s updated their decor since the 70s. And they refer to things as being “in internet” which has this kind of fuddy duddy ring to it, like they are still using dial-up modems. They always make you sign to say you’re present. They have some really specific expectations, pet peeves, odd sort of stubborn requirements. It’s like, “oh this series of talks isn’t compulsory but if you don’t attend it’ll be noticed”.

Suffice it to say, I’ve got six full time courses to get done this term, when a normal full time load is four. Oh and I have a clash between my book history program class and the fundamental pedagogical one for Italian. I don’t think that’s ever happened. Certainly I’m the only one from Italian doing the collaborative program. And I can understand why, six is a lot! So wish me luck. My first official week begins 10am Monday morning and I have no idea what that first class will even be about be a use my Italian isn’t good enough to read up further.

Setting up the basics

We’ve been working hard to get some basics set up this week. I wanted to mention a few things we have done that might be helpful for anyone else moving to Canada.

Our house contained no furniture whatsoever on that first day we arrived. And of course having sold everything before moving except for a bookshelf and our son’s bed frame, we needed to buy some replacements. Our budget wouldn’t allow for new stuff and with little kids it’s really not practical to buy brand new as you’re constantly worried they’ll trash it and you’re having to make a whole bunch of rules about being gentle with the furniture when really there are more important things to be policing. So it was second hand all the way.
The problem with buying second hand is that, these days, you need the Internet to find stuff. And of course not only did we not have Internet at the house, we didn’t have Canadian numbers so couldn’t text or call people advertising things for sale. So an Internet connection became our primary focus and because cable TV goes hand-in-hand with wifi, we had to buy a TV as our first piece of furniture. Ridiculous! But that’s just how things seem to go with this move, one thing depends upon another and so on until you find yourself having to buy an electric screwdriver in order to use the toilet.

We bought our TV from Costco and it sat on the borrowed dining table while the cable guy connected our Internet. We asked around and went to half a dozen furniture places but realised very quickly that our thoughts about buying second hand were spot on and we couldn’t afford anything new, even heavily discounted.

The next options were Kijiji, kind of like Gumtree, for those in Australia and the UK, and various buy/sell/swap groups on Facebook. The trouble with buying stuff like this, aside from not having the Internet or phone numbers, was that even if we settled on something, how would we actually get it? The hire car we got is just a Toyota Rav4 (what a crap car, I’d never buy one!) so not much room to carry big items of furniture.

We met our neighbour on the other side (not the burly, bare-chested towtruck driver guy) who very kindly invited us to dinner with her family which was delightful and very welcome given we were starting to get sick of eating out after five days of it since arriving. Someone mentioned it was possible to hire trucks for the day from Home Depot, more or less like Bunnings in Australia or B&Q in the UK. So we thought, great, we’re set.


A sign out the front of the consignment store. One of many scattered throughout, all fabulous and funny!

After doing a bit of hunting around, I discovered something called a consignment store. We drove down and it was basically just a second hand furniture store. After looking at new stuff in other stores like The Brick or even Ikea, we knew even the cheapest new stuff would be out of our price range. The stuff in the consignment store was priced well and the sales assistant was fantastic, showing us everything they had that we could have missed just browsing around by ourselves. We discovered prices were flexible so we chose what we liked, based on what we could afford predominantly, and we ended up with two big chests of drawers, a TV unit, an armchair, an ottoman, three side tables, a padded blanket box, a matching bedside table and cupboard for the Dude’s room, an oversized coffee table and a glider for about $900 all up. We took what we could on the spot and arranged to pick up the rest the next day in a $20 hired truck from Home Depot.


Cars. Some of these North American ones are just stupidly big!

Well. It wasn’t straight forward. When Mr Chewbacca rang to ask about availability of trucks he was told they will not hire to someone without an Ontario driver’s licence. So he rang U Haul and was told something just as ridiculous. It’s like they didn’t know that people from other places might want to hire a truck and they really had no idea what to say. I did some quick Internet research and discovered a bit on U Haul’s own website saying they’d accept a licence from overseas and eventually we convinced them. What a stupid ordeal! Like most stuff of this nature in Canada, it’s bureaucratic and any systems in place are antiquated.

Anyway so Mr C picked up the stuff and that was great, we had some proper furniture finally! We found a lovely couch on Kijiji and after some research, traipsing around various different shops, purchases and returns, we settled on some rugs from Walmart and Canadian Tire as the house has no carpet in it.


I spy a moving truck... finally, our stuff from home has arrived!

Oh, the house. I could write a whole series of posts about how dodgy it is in terms of the quality of workmanship, materials, everything. It’s not the age of the house, it’s clearly just been built to a very low standard. And over the years it’s been painted or updated or repaired but never to a good standard. I now understand fully why Mike Holmes is as successful as he is. I think he may be the only Canadian thus far to realise that you need actual standards to construct a house properly. Anyway, we’ve got toilets that get easily blocked, walls that are slightly curved by accident, strangely undulating floors, warm patches on kitchen tiles, doors that don’t fit properly, just cheap, shoddy workmanship all round.


The truck arrives. Yep, that's the extent of what we brought!

The fridge, which is from Ikea, of all places (generally speaking rental properties here come with whitegoods), looks pretty but the water dispenser gives very odd-tasting water and the water hammer is so loud. Oh and it doesn’t fit in the space properly so has been rammed in and actually warped the surrounding cupboards. No air circulation. And you can’t open the cupboards above it because the doors get stuck on top of the fridge! The microwave (another fixture) is balancing on a weird shelf that juts out at just the right level for you to take out an eye of you move while standing in front. The oven is this huge white standalone monster, self-cleaning apparently, and all gas! It’s a beast and looks ancient but apparently isn’t and works well. Virtually all the kitchen cupboards are too small and not easily accessible. It’s like the whole kitchen was built for show, not to actually be used.


Setting up the only piece of furniture from Australia that we weren't willing to part with

Anyway, enough whingeing, suffice it to say the house looks cool but pretty much needs to be rebuilt from scratch and we now have furniture! We also have a car, the purchase of which and inevitable associated drama is a story for another time. And our stuff arrived from Australia. We spent thousands to send toys to Canada apparently…

A story about everyday life

I want to relate a little story. In a regional city in Ontario, Canada, there lives a family. The grandparents are in their late 40s to early 50s. They live in a small house, the same one they’ve lived in for the past 27 years. It’s across the road from the school where their children went. Those children, a boy and girl, are now 28 and 26. The younger daughter is a single mother of a two-year-old and lives with her parents in their basement. She works long hours for minimum wage in retail and her mother looks after her daughter. The older son got married a week ago. He lives with his new wife and their two children aged four and a half and two in a tiny house about ten houses up the street. He works doing shift work labouring and his wife works at Tim Horton’s for minimum wage. They don’t have much money. In fact they had to sell their car to pay medical bills and for their small wedding they held in the parents’ back yard.

Every morning, six days a week, grandmother walks down to her son’s house at 5:30am and waits for her grandchildren to wake up. She then takes them down to her place for breakfast. Their mother leaves at 6am for work and their father got home around an hour and a half earlier after his 4pm to 4am shift in the factory. The grandmother feeds and dresses the boys and brings her other grandchild up for breakfast while her daughter gets ready for her shift at the store. Grandmother takes care of the three, brings the older one across to school. When her son wakes around 10:30am he takes over for a little while. Nobody ever earns enough to buy a bigger house, a newer car or to go on vacation. They don’t entertain their dreams. But they live and work and enjoy each other’s company on the rare days they’re together as a family.

This is a story of working class Canada.

We are not working class although we feel like we are! I am about to begin a postgraduate degree at a top university. We have no income. One child is starting school, five full days per week, right from the beginning, in a public school. The little one will be in daycare (if I manage to find something suitable). This is going to be an enormous achievement if we pull this off. I actually don’t know how we’ll do it. There is no support here, government or family, and things are expensive and foreign.
It seems that classes don’t matter so much. It’s not about social standing, who is doing some fancy degree and who is working for minimum wage with nothing to show for it. Ultimately it’s about finding what makes you happy. It’s a cliché but it’s true. We wanted cold and snow and seasons and we are willing to sacrifice a lot to get that. The only way we’ll know is to do it, that’s what we’ve said from the beginning.
This post is going nowhere but I was just struck by the comparison between this family and ours. The antithesis of each other in a lot of ways. But striving to be happy in common.

Thumper turns 1 (and we almost forget!)

My little girl is one year old. Amazing! How did that go so quickly?

She is the most amazing little girl, really happy and outgoing. She is also loud! And a climber. She is bold and strong and she does everything possible to keep up with her brother.

It’s been such a crazy time since we arrived almost a month ago that we almost forgot about our girl’s first birthday. Every day is shades of the previous day, getting up and getting out of the house as quickly as possible, some days going to Grug’s Sunset, as the Dude calls it (Sunset Grill – he was reading a Grug book when we told him the name of the breakfast place). Other days we just do a quick Tim Horton’s drive-through and head straight to whatever we’ve got on the list – buying stuff, picking stuff up, looking at cars, wandering around shops trying to work out if they have what we want. And then later in the day we might do something for the kids, go to the splash pad or the park or check something out in an area that we haven’t seen. Then there’s dinner. Urgh, the dreaded dinner. We had expected our Aussie stuff to have arrived by this point but it hasn’t (long story, too boring to mention here but I’ll put a footnote for the sake of documentation*) which means we have no dishes or cooking things. So we haven’t really been grocery shopping. Which means we don’t eat dinner at home unless we get takeaway which is Pizza Pizza. Most days we don’t even eat lunch. I take fruit and crackers for the kids, Dude sometimes gets something bought for him if he is hungry after the bits and pieces I take from home, and the little one usually eats most of the fruit during the day. It’s not ideal and it’s expensive. Plus we’re really getting sick of going out to eat. Okay so we could just buy a few things. But why do that when everything we need is about to show up on the doorstep?

So for the little girl’s birthday we decided that we should do something to mark the occasion. She is one so has no idea what’s going on which means we get to decide what to do. We decided to head to Niagara Falls, take some picnic food and have a little cake out there. It’s about an hour from us so a perfect distance to take the kids. And it’s a pretty cool place to go to celebrate your first birthday! The drive was great as we got to see a little bit of the land that we hadn’t seen before. The lake and all that surrounds it is lovely, and I’m appreciating the green that we don’t get much of in Australia. Some strange traffic along the way, seemingly there for no reason, and then on the way back a random car on fire on the side of the road – now the Dude thinks that cars just “go on fire” every time they have a crash!

Niagara itself was busy but fairly easily accessible. And of course amazing, it’s an extraordinary place! I can’t believe the First Nations people don’t consider this a sacred place and there’s no hint of any kind of preservation campaign. Or maybe they do but they’re happy for it to be exploited, what with all the casino type stuff around. It is an amazing natural wonder, it’s almost like being in a dream seeing it up close. It was lost on the kids of course. Bub just wriggled a lot and after waking up properly after her nap on the way over, she was just keen to crawl around which was impossible around the falls themselves as it was big crowds of people, dirty concrete, and just not a good place to crawl. Dude of course demanded an icecream so after getting some great views, snapping some photos, and dodging other tourists, we got an overpriced icecream and walked back in  the direction of the green space. Both kids enjoyed just being outside I think. We ate some lunch, followed by cake, and a special first taste of it for Thumper, which she of course loved! The boys “played baseball” – ie. Dude tried to hit the foam-covered ball with his kid-size foam-covered bat and succeeded about fifty per cent of the time. Not bad actually, for a four-year-old who hadn’t heard of baseball until a month or so ago.

It was a lovely day out, beautiful weather, stunning natural wonder. I wish there wasn’t a whole bunch of shops surrounding the falls and the buildings so close, on the other side too. It’s amazing to just look across and think, hey, that’s America just over there! Weird, anyway. But I guess for a European it’s like, um, what’s the big deal? The falls, however, cannot be dismissed. The water just cascades away, it’s incredible, it’s almost too amazing to conceive of, like you can’t take it all in and realise that, yes, you really are looking at this.

We jumped back in our grossly undersized yet awesome Ford Focus hire car and drove home. We did think about going to Niagara on the Lake as well but it would have been a bit much for the kids to make two stops and expect bubs to sleep and/or cope with being awake in the car for an hour without getting restless, given her need to practice walking around holding on to things.

There was the usual discussion about whether we should go to Kesley’s or Jack Astor’s or some other delicious but unaffordable place we’ve been numerous times and are actually quite sick of now. So we decided to try something new. Chinese food, in fact Asian food in general, doesn’t seem to be as prevalent here, or at least it’s not done as well as in Australia from what I can gather. If we were in downtown Toronto, we’d find something cheap and delicious from any part of the globe but here in Oakville it’s a little bit of a backwater. So we took a hint from Google (I had nothing to do with it, as everywhere I’ve suggested so far has been a disaster!) and went to this Chinese place nearby with great reviews. It turned out to be quite swanky and all the servers were dressed in full on traditional dress. Every time they served a particular dish they rang this gong, it was quite cool (and slightly odd). It was a little intimidating going there with the two kids as the atmosphere was very quiet, gentle music playing, everything laid out just so to a high standard, lots of beautiful traditional decorations all around. But the people were nice and didn’t seem put out by us. We ordered some dumplings for the Dude which are not 10 for $7 here like back home, and it was very pleasant, despite the usual trying to commandeer both kids, stop them running around and trashing things. Thumper doesn’t like to sit in a high chair for long, especially if there is no food on offer, so I always bring little snacks while she’s waiting for her meal but inevitably she ends up climbing out of the high chair (or screeching until I undo the belt, if it’s a really good one that she can’t get out of herself – most of them aren’t and she does a Houdini type escape).

Anyway, the food was delicious and the people were very accommodating. Luckily the restaurant wasn’t full, probably because we were there at 5pm, and we managed to get through the meal without totally destroying any possibility of going back again. Near the end, as we drank our coffees, the Dude went off to the toilet for the hundredth time, and Mr Chewbacca and I had a rare few minutes with just Thumper. And then the most amazing thing happened: she walked! On her birthday, she took half a dozen steps to walk from daddy to mummy, just like that. So typical, she’s such a “normal” baby, hitting all the milestones exactly on time and in the way described in the most mundane of parenting manuals. She just did it, and was like, hey, now I can walk! We just looked at each other and laughed, not really believing what we’d just witnessed! She did it once or twice more before the day was done. It really topped off a brilliant day where we were so proud of our girl and momentarily distracted from worrying about the giant task of settling in here in this new place.

*So the story with our stuff: Allied Pickfords told us the expected delivery is between 10 and 12 days after uplift in Melbourne. Then they sent us some form to fill out for Canadian Customs. We couldn’t do that straight away as we were flying across the world and had no access to phones, Internet or printers for ages after we arrived but we thought we had time because it’s a Canadian form. Turns out, no, they wouldn’t even put our stuff on a flight leaving Australia until we’d sent them back the stupid form! And they decided to let us know about this around the time we were expecting our stuff to arrive. Gee thanks. So we did that but it meant our stuff took like 27 days. Yes, it arrived the day after Thumper turned one. Phew!

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!

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