Home is wherever I’m with you

We are coming to the end of our Canadian  adventure and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I kind of wish we’d have had the opportunity (or been coerced) to stay longer, another year. I wonder what may have happened had I been accepted at somewhere like Calgary instead, where the course was two years. I feel as if we’d stay in Canada for good if we were here another year. Like we’d be too ensconced.

A little collage I made to show the way the seasons passed along the ravine near our place in Canada
A little collage I made to show the way the seasons passed along the ravine near our place in Canada

One thing’s for sure: I’m not in love with Canada. I don’t have the connection to North America that Mr Chewbacca does. He wishes we were staying. I kind of understand why but I still can’t quite get over not being ‘in love’ with Canada. It’s a beautiful country, the seasons happen at the right time of year and there are proper seasons that you really look forward to. The landscape is beautiful, as are the plants and animals and all of that appeals to me far more than the Australian equivalents. Canadians are good people, nice people. Similar to the Americans, they often don’t get sarcasm, they can be conservative and overly restrained but they love their country with humility and they welcome everyone as equals. You can’t fault that aspect. Australia could really take a leaf out of Canada’s book in that respect actually. I wish we’d had the chance to visit the west coast but it just wasn’t to be. I think we will return if only to see the rest of the country.

We did do some road trips to New York and Chicago which were awesome and I’m so glad I let Mr C talk me into it. I have to be honest and say I never really wanted to come to North America. It just never had that pull for me, I wanted to go to Europe instead, a place I imagined I’d fit into. And I did, when I went. I felt that connection to the place when I lived in London. Culturally it’s quite a homely place for me. Canada isn’t. But I suppose, given more time, it could be.

Anyway, it’s too late for that now, we’re off, in two weeks’ time. Almost on a daily basis someone asks me, ‘but why are you leaving?’ as if there’s no good reason. And to be honest, when I hear myself explaining the reasoning, it really doesn’t sound convincing.

“Oh, well, I came to do a masters and it was a one-year course and so I’ve just graduated and, yeah, that’s it, I’m done…”

“So what will you do with it, when you get back? What sort of work will you be looking for?”

“Oh. Well, nothing to do with my degree. I didn’t really do the degree for that. I did it so we could come to Canada really, for the experience, and because I knew I could do it. Yes, I like what I studied, I enjoyed doing it and I want to do more, but at the same time we really wanted to see whether Canada might be our forever home.”

“And it wasn’t.”

“No. I guess not.”

“Why is that?”

“Um… I… I don’t really know. I’m not even sure… Yeah. I don’t know.” <cue the awkward silence and rapid change of topic>

“So I hear this year we’re in for a big snow fall. Typical, just when we decide to go back, we’ll miss it!”

That’s pretty much how all the conversations go. Daily conversations. I find myself questioning our decision to leave all the time in my own head, but any time someone else questions it I try to justify our decision to go home. I guess I’ve just come to the conclusion that it needs to happen, that we’ll all be happier at home, and that staying here is like staying in limbo. I’m not sure if that’s right or not really, but I do feel really excited about the prospect of going home to Melbourne and starting something new, finally settling.

Come over for a salmon board sometime

We are a bit meh about the area we live in and the town isn’t quite what we wanted but we have some cool neighbours. The kind of people who lend you doonas and lawn mowers and bouncy balls to amuse kids whose toys from home are still being shipped over. They invite you for beers and salmon boards and they couldn’t be more kind.

wpid-20151016_090009.jpg
Autumn in our street

There’s a lot about living in Canada that I won’t miss, but there are some key things I will.

Firstly, the neighbours, and friendliness of the neighbourhoods. I suspect our town is particularly rife with Canadian niceties but it’s great not just knowing your neighbours but genuinely enjoying being around them. I’ve never experienced this before. I’d always avoided seeing neighbours and if I did have to confront them it would be somewhat awkward and minimal conversation. Awful. Okay, so we don’t know everyone. But we know the inhabitants of the three houses on each side of us which I think is amazing. I’ll miss them.

The second element I adore is the school bus. It was a difficult transition for the dude, catching the bus every day to and from school at the tender age of four and a half. After a couple of weeks of him melting down every morning at the bus stop, it dissipated. I only ever had to physically place him on the bus once (after Mr C had done many a difficult school bus drop off – either driving him to school after he refused to get on the bus, or just putting him on and hoping he’d be fine, which he always was).

What is amazing about the school bus is that, aside from being super convenient as you just walk across the road or around the corner or sometimes right outside your front door for drop off and pick up, it really creates more of a sense of community than the standard Australian way. We often drive our kids to school and back and we may only see a neighbour briefly while getting in and out of the car. Usually older kids catch buses they have to walk a couple of blocks to get to so while they do see their friends at the bus stop, there won’t usually be adults or little kids there and the bus can be quite a daunting, socially scary experience. I refused to catch the bus as mine was dominated by the bad kids who sat up the back and caused trouble. It was a nerve-racking experience.

Because of the school bus, we met at least half a dozen different neighbours from our street and the next street. We met the parents of kids our son goes to school with and our daughter played with the little siblings. We met kids we knew from the local park. And we got to know people active both in our local community and the local school community. The drivers were kind and consistent, they knew all the kids they drove and they were part of the positive experience. I will miss the convenience, the community spirit and the sight of that big yellow school bus roaring around the corner and putting out its safety barrier.

The snow is another thing. Okay so it’s annoying to walk through, it looks dirty as it melts and if it gets in anywhere it shouldn’t, you’re in for some uncomfortable damp. But it’s beautiful and it makes everything sound perfect. It is so cosy to be inside seeing the snow falling, the sound of the crunch underfoot, seeing those perfect hexagonal stars up close. Even shovelling it is great. I always found it so satisfying and like I’d burnt some calories for a good reason. The kids didn’t always enjoy being rugged up in their gear – it can be hot and difficult to move in – but I loved finding the perfect number of layers, a good pair of socks and comfortable boots and just the right combination of scarf, gloves and hat to be perfectly warm while walking in minus 25, a tiny bit of skin on my face feeling the sting.

The autumn was stunning. In fact the four seasons in general were pretty fantastic. I’ve always struggled to see how the beauty of a gum tree can compare to, say, a birch. Like some gums are beautiful – the ghost gum is one that immediately springs to mind. But look at those huge deciduous trees with their multicoloured leaves, bright greens and extreme transition from stark to vibrant over the course of a few months. It’s extraordinary to watch. I don’t hate eucalypts but give me an oak any day.

Skating. I’ll miss skating. I bought my own skates for the first time ever. And it didn’t cost much to go to the local rink. It was just an everyday activity, one of the few sports I’ve ever liked, and you could even skate outside which, as someone who sometimes went to the rink in 30 degree heat as a kid, was so exciting!

wpid-20150907_104715.jpg
Timmy’s!

Okay I’m gonna say this, don’t get mad, Australia, but I miss the crappy coffee. We took a while to get used to it, this watered-down abomination, but you really can’t beat the price, the consistency, the availability and the quality of service. In fact let’s just go ahead and lump in the good service here. They really know how to treat customers over in North America. “But it’s because they work for tips,” say all the Aussies. Sure, I’m aware of that. It’s just awesome to not have to ask more than once for something, to have water brought to your table without asking, to have free drink refills. And you know what? Even in the US, perhaps not as often but still fairly consistently, we always had a server with the capacity to exude genuine care and consideration, a real personality who actually took pride in doing a great job. How refreshing. Our first experience eating out back in Australia (at a pizza place in Byron Bay) was a harsh reminder of just how far removed we are from the North Americans when it comes to service. After waiting quite a few minutes for menus, the waitress actually threw one onto the table as she bustled past, not even a word to say she’d be back to take the order or even “here’s the menu”. Nope, just hurl it in the general direction of the table and hope for the best. Appalling! But not uncommon. Compare that with an experience we had in Toronto. The server was pleasant and quick and helpful and a genuinely nice person. Unfortunately a few things went wrong with the food, things arriving stone cold and not as ordered. It wasn’t her fault but the waitress apologised profusely, sent us replacement meals and when we got the bill, all meals had been comped! We just paid $20 for our drinks. I actually felt terrible! But that’s good service.

There are plenty more things I’ll miss about being over there. I’m surprised really as I didn’t expect to like it after having found it so hard to like at the beginning. I clearly don’t cope well with change. Or maybe I am just like anyone else would be, slowly adjusted to a new life in a new place. Because that’s normal. There are good and bad elements but overall I’m glad we experienced what we did, it gave me new ideas and made me question my habits and beliefs, which is always a good thing.

We never did get to find out what a salmon board is exactly. There’s always next time!

Is snow enough?

It seems we moved to Canada for winter. Being an introvert, and having few friends due to so many moves, I thought connections could be made in time over here as they would be anywhere and the beautiful winter, proper fall and defined seasons would be enough to make me fall for Canada (no pun intended). Over Christmas I began to get increasingly down in the dumps. Despite it being cold outside, having a beautiful tree and millions of lights in the street, even a few flurries of snow, I still didn’t feel the Christmas spirit. 

It’s odd because in Australia it’s so hot at Christmas, too light for little kids to see any lights before bedtime, Californian pine trees that shed needles and droop, no holly or mistletoe… Going to the beach in 40 degree heat and finding ways to cool down are not Christmassy. But it’s how it is and it’s home. 

This winter, so far, is unseasonably mild here in Toronto. But we have had some snow, flurries, as they say. I adore the cold, I feel like I’m physically designed for it, like I’m more alive in winter. I love winter sports like skating and skiing. It’s been amazing actually owning skates for the first time ever, despite learning to skate as a kid. Dude has been having lessons and is really good, and after about ten lessons has gone from being unable to even stand on the ice without assistance to confidently shuffling himself from one end of the rink to the other. We sometimes go to a casual session as well which is fun although it’s getting increasingly difficult to wrangle Thumper who just wants to get out on the ice. I sometimes skate her around just with her feet on the ice and holding her under the arms which she loves but my back is not a fan! They also bring out some witch’s hat plastic cones for the less confident skaters to lean on so sometimes I get her to stand on the base of one and push her around. I think she’ll be getting skates for her second birthday! There’s a pond in the next street which apparently freezes in winter and the kids skate there and set up hockey goals and stuff so that’ll be fun. 

 

autumn
  
winter
 It’s a bit annoying keeping the kids warm and dry enough. Especially Thumper as she finds the bulky snow gear pretty restrictive and can’t play as much as she’d like. At least it’s easy to come by a large range of decent snow gear for cheap via all the consignment stores. They are one of my favourite things about living here, definitely something worth creating in Australia. The wind chill factor is what it’s all about here, the “feels like” temperature. So, for example, it’ll be 2 degrees but feel like -5. And it’s wet. I’ve owned my down jacket and Merrell hiking shoes for about six or seven years now and it’s only being here that I’ve discovered neither is waterproof! Of course I’m doing a lot of walking outside, especially with catching public transport back and forth to uni. I have no trouble doing 10,000 steps in a day. 

Anyway, back to the snow, yes, we’ve had a little and it’s been great. I enjoy the biting cold on my cheeks, much more pleasant than sun burning me in a few minutes. But. Now I’m here, feeling all this cold, and this is what I wanted, I don’t think it’s enough. Not that it’s not enough snow or cold, but just a cold climate isn’t enough to make me feel at home. I know with any new place you have to give it time but there isn’t a lot here to love (for me, anyway) and I’m feeling a pull to Australia. I can’t stand the city, does nothing for me and I have no desire to walk around it. It’s kind of like Sydney actually, kind of messy and dirty and always road works and stuff being built or repaired, shirtless homeless guys taking up the majority of the sidewalk next to intersections, everyone trying to get everywhere all the time. 

 

our street and a few lights
 
I also don’t love where we live. It’s an average suburban neighbourhood, the house is big and good enough although plenty of shortcomings. We’re 40km outside the city so it’s about an hour and a half to Toronto taking bus, train and subway with a walk at each end but that’s not an issue. Our neighbours are great, it’s so nice knowing so many of them. Lots of kids in the area go to the same school so there’s a sort of community feel which is nice too. But there’s something about all this that is extremely mundane and that bothers me. I’m not sure how to explain it but I kind of feel like people are just going through the motions around here and I feel like I want to be in a place of excellence, something exceptional. I can’t explain it but suffice it to say, if we stayed here we’d move. 

But can we really go back to all that heat, the tired bush, the overpriced coffee? Culturally there is a lot I don’t feel matches me in Australia. And that’s the struggle, still presenting itself after all these years. I wish I felt more affection for Canada, I really do, but I just don’t. If we’re talking love for a place, it goes back to the UK for me, hands down, yet I could never live there again. All signs are pointing to Australia… But… Snow!

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.