Category Archives: Emigrating with Weasels

Posts that refer mainly to how my family and I are coping with emigrating to a different continent.

A year of citizenship and a new publication

Just over a year ago, we took our oath and became Canadian citizens.

Just over a year ago, we took our oath and became Canadian citizens.

So, what has changed for us in that year? What does it mean to be a citizen, as opposed to the Permanent Residents we were before?

Well, not much. We have shiny new passports that mean we don’t have to stop at the border and get visas to cross into the US (saving time and $6 each!). We do get to vote now, which is a privilege and a responsibility, and means we have to think about what our politicians are doing, and how we might get them to stop doing it.

However, even a year on, it still feels like more of a statement than a tactical move – we were saying “we’re here to stay”, and since we’re still here, I guess we were right about that.

It’s been a few years since I published my first e-book, and while I’ve had a few sales and things, I’m not rolling in cash and movie rights offers. While discussing online publishing with some friends, I realised I’ve only used the Amazon Kindle programme to publish with. Since I was hoping to run a talk at my library on the nuts and bolts of E-publishing (A “how-to” rather than a “Write an e-book and become a Bazillionaire!” type of talk), I thought I should check out the other options.

The main counterpart to Amazon is Smashwords. After asking around, most people seemed to be of the opinion that Smashwords is harder to use than Amazon, but they place your e-book in a wider variety of places, electronically speaking.

I dug out an old manuscript, then downloaded the Smashwords style guide to format it correctly. It was not easy, or fun. I use Word a lot, but I don’t do much that is creative and exciting, so using the Smashwords Template and altering the style of each paragraph and manually building the hyperlink chapter headings was actual work for a change (Amazon requires less formatting, but this simply means the ultimate look of your typesetting is up to you. Mine is, therefore, dreadful.) The end result was a little quirky, with each first paragraph after the Chapter Heading in a different font to the rest of the text, but I thought that might be how they roll at Smashwords.

Odder than that was the fact that I hit “Publish” and a few hours later got a congratulatory message saying it was done. Then I got a message saying there were errors with the text and the cover image. I changed the cover image size to the required dimensions. Nothing. I changed it to greater than the required dimensions, and that was ok. I fixed the text and got the congratulations message again.

Seven people downloaded the free first 20% of the book. I’m fairly sure two of them were me. None of us noticed that I had left a chunk of placeholder text at the end of the book, because that wasn’t part of the free download. None of us bought the whole book as a result of the free sample.

I noticed a button that would let me enter my book into the “Premium Catalog”, so naturally I pressed it. This generated a new message telling me about errors that didn’t matter before, but were critical now I was playing in the big leagues. All these errors, by the way, were simply that my formatting did not match up to the requirements of Smashwords – they had nothing to do with the quality of the prose itself. Smashwords cannot detect one dimensional characters, hackneyed plots, on the nose or trite dialogue, or clichèd situations. I can state this with utter certainty.

Having reformatted the whole book once more (and removed the placeholder text at last) I achieved the dizzy heights of the Premium Catalog. Twenty four hours later, I’m still poor as a church mouse, but my book is theoretically available through Barnes & Noble online, iBooks, Kobo (which powers the bookstores of multiple other retailers such as FNAC in France and WH Smith in the U.K.), OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, txtr, Baker & Taylor (Blio.com and the Axis360 library platform), and others.

If only it was a good book.

You’ll notice there’s no link to my newly published book. This is because I am not kidding about the quality of it, and I was publishing it simply to try out the process. My conclusion is this: If you’re a wannabe writer and you have some basic skills, go with Amazon. It’s easy and most people will find you if they go looking. If you are serious and you know your way around a Word Processor, it’s worth using Smashwords because of the range of places they can put your book. With some active marketing on your part, you could reach a lot of people.

If you’re really smart and have some time on your hands, write two different series of books, and place one series on each platform.

Renovations and the Great Worm Ouroboros…

The Great Worm Ouroboros, a symbol of infinity, since it's eating its own tail. Although Renos seem to go on forever, I actually had a different metaphor in mind. But it was harder to Google.

The Great Worm Ouroboros, a symbol of infinity, since it’s eating its own tail. Although Renos seem to go on forever, I actually had a different metaphor in mind. But it was harder to Google.

This is not a post about the library renos, they’re done. Also, way too late, I realised that I wasn’t thinking of the Great Worm Ouroboros, but of the infinitely recursive nature of Critical Path Analysis, but I thought the first title was better, semantically speaking. Votes in the comments section please.

We got lucky, finding this house. It needed work, it was old, and they showed it while work was still in progress on the basement, putting a lot of people off. We didn’t exactly pick it up cheap, but we got a bargain. We’ve sunk a fair amount of work into it, but now we’ve been living here five years, we’ve really thought about the changes we want to effect. Things we’ve been putting up with for a while have reached the point where we’re going to DO something.

That’s where we encounter the infinitely recursive nature of Critical Path Analysis. Our bedroom faces the street. In the summer, when the nights are warm and the windows are open, we’re occasionally woken by people chatting as they walk past the house late at night. So we decided to swap the bedroom and the room behind it, which is currently used as the study. Before we can do that, I have to take down the closet in the corner, because it’s not a useful one.

How hard can it be, right? Oh...It's lath and plaster, not wall board...

How hard can it be, right? Oh…It’s lath and plaster, not wall board…

Two weeks later, and there's still loads to get rid of. Plus, we're still using the study, so every destructo session has to be followed by cleanup.

Two weeks later, and there’s still loads to get rid of. Plus, we’re still using the study, so every destructo session has to be followed by cleanup.

Another two weeks... But progress, right?

Another two weeks… But progress, right?

So far, so traditionally linear. But removing the closet is simply the first thing I have latched on to because it’s something I can DO. It doesn’t need measuring, or wiring diagrams, or forward planning (except vaguely wondering if that’s a supporting wall I’m whacking on with my lump hammer…). Because if we’re moving the bedroom, it only makes sense to sort out the shocking bathroom on the main floor too. So we found a new toilet  on sale, which is just as well because our old cistern is on the way out, but before we can put in the new toilet, we need to redo the flooring, and we can’t do that because we haven’t got the new tub, which we can’t install anyway because we have to shift the shower plumbing to the other side and we can’t do that without a builder to advise us. And we can’t get the builder in until we’re ready to move ahead with the next phase of changing the windows in the new bedroom, because it makes sense to get the guy to quote for several jobs at once so we can prioritise our expenses, right?

Recursive critical path. Before this, there’s that… And at the same time, I’m wondering how much it’ll cost to move the Internet Access point from the current study to the old bedroom, and if we can use this opportunity to split off a cable running direct to the Living room so I don’t have to run my TV internet off the wireless, which is still on a party line with next door, and while we’re at it why don’t we go for a new dedicated fibre optic line into the house to triple the internet speeds? But to do that we have to go to another supplier, which means changing our email addresses, and they are linked to about sixty  per cent of the web services we use, aren’t they? So, can I change them BEFORE we move to a new supplier, or can we get them changed automatically? And what happens to the inevitable one or two things that get missed in the changeover and send sad and lost emails to the old address for five years while we remain in blissful ignorance? And we can’t be the only people doing this, can we?

Ok, maybe the idea of a worm who eats his own tail forever was the right one. And thinking about this, I have a strong urge to just pick up the hammer again, and take a few cathartic swings at this wall right…here…

RVs – or Camping the Easy Way

I’ve made no secret that camping isn’t my favourite thing, even over here where camping gets done right: firepits, tent pads, running water, toilet blocks and good access. But I have a dream: Waking up in a campsite without feeling like the cat slept on my head and the tent pad was replaced with orthopaedic rocks overnight.

Yeah, this is how I look when camping. No one needs this in the mornings....

Yeah, this is how I look when camping. No one needs this in the mornings….

So, just for a laugh, we went along to the Snowbirds RV show in Abbotsford to see how the other half camps. And boy, were we in for a surprise.

Just one wing of the Tradex facility. There were three other areas of equal size - plenty to see.

Just one wing of the Tradex facility. There were three other areas of equal size – plenty to see.

In the huge Tradex facility there were lines and lines of RVs on display. From humble trailer tents, through the fabulously appointed Rpod…

Small on the outside, but containing a bathroom and a kitchen and double bed...Plus a zip-on shelter out front....

Small on the outside, but containing a bathroom and a kitchen and double bed…Plus a zip-on shelter out front….

…Right up to the monster coach-sized rolling homes.

The biggest RVs had pop-out sections and living areas larger than the flat I lived in at college.

The biggest RVs had pop-out sections and living areas larger than the flat I lived in at college.

We’ve looked at the Rpods and trailer tents before, but only online, and this was an opportunity to really poke around inside them. What I found weird was that these smaller beasties were the ones designed for family camping. Once you got above a certain size, the RVs were aimed at the Snowbirds – the seniors who run south during the winter, and are looking for all the comforts of home in warmer climes without being tied to another mortgage. The big coaches I had assumed could hold a reasonable-sized rock band and their groupies, actually were meant for an old couple. One bedroom, no roll-out spare beds, bigger bathrooms, and plenty of day-living space. The appointments were plush, but Oldster plush. The whole place looked like Grandma’s house (in a good way. If Grandma had a thing for leather sofas.)

There was more of interest for us in this model - a converted van...

There was more of interest for us in this model – a converted van…

We’re looking for something to suit our old bones better than a pad on the floor. And a built-in bathroom is more appealing than those late-night treks across a pitch-black campsite that may or may not contain bears.

Bears who would be scarier than these ones. And the weasel...

Bears who would be scarier than these ones. And the weasel…

We discovered the Rpod would be great, but the trailer tents are more in our price range and neither is likely for now, since we still haven’t got a hitch put on the car. That’s the one hitch in the plan! That we haven’t got a hitch! Ha ha ha ha ahem.

So it looks like we’ll still be in tents next summer, unless the books sales pick up and I make my first $20,000 and decide to blow it all on an Rpod. Or unless the Rpod people would like me to write them a glowing review of their product from personal experience? Go on, lend us one and we’ll be ever so careful with it.

 

The weasels can sleep in the tent outside it…..

Getting Unbored

This summer holiday is likely to be the longest ever, since Christie Clark’s son doesn’t attend regular schools and so she doesn’t care how long the teachers stay on strike. That being the case, there’s a lot of time to fill in, so I borrowed the excellent “Unbored” book from my local library.

One of the many, many great suggestions for activities and entertainments was using old vinyl LPs to make bowls. I know many guys my age argue passionately for the quality and brilliance of vinyl, intimating that it was somehow the zenith of sound recording and reproduction. I’m more of the opinion that it was easy to scratch, hard to find the track you wanted, prone to skipping and that the only positive was the size of the sleeve meant you got some pretty decent artwork. And no, I’m not a Pink Floyd fan.

So, to turn those useless old Duran Duran LPs into handy chip bowls (because who doesn’t need more of them?):

Step One:

WP_20140812_011Take your ordinary LP. Wipe it clean. Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C. While you’re at it, you might want to open the window. A melting record smells a lot like burning plastic.

Step Two:

WP_20140812_012Place the record on a small upturned bowl. Place both record and bowl on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Get a small child to watch through the window as the record slowly droops onto the bowl. Tell them this was what we did before there was TV.

Step Three:

WP_20140812_010Take a second, larger bowl. When the record has drooped sufficiently, hoik the entire collection out of the oven and place the big bowl over the record and small bowl, squashing it into shape. Flip over both bowls and remove the smaller bowl from the middle. Remember, it’ll be hot. Wear oven gloves (should I have mentioned that earlier?) and press the record to the edges of the bowl. Wait a couple of minutes. This would be a good time to tell the small child what records actually used to be used for.

Step Four:

WP_20140812_14_47_52_ProTurn out your new chip bowl. Or, in this case, FOUR new chip bowls. I don’t actually get to eat that many chips. Or listen to records, come to think of it.

I really enjoyed this pointless activity, of turning something I didn’t use into something else I’m not going to use. Lucky for me, I added a couple of things to this week’s shopping list, so tomorrow I shall be helping the kids experiment with Mentos and Diet Coke. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Have a great summer. (Except you, Christie Clark. I hope yours is rubbish.)

What a lot of people say to me:

“It must be tough, being the only guy in the family…”

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I have three daughters and one wife. When people are told the dog, Moose, is a female too, the reaction is often as above. As if Moose being male would be some kind of compensation, as if we could share a beer in my workshop and talk about sports and carburetors while the little women got on with their knitting upstairs…

Why do I need this sympathy? How am I disadvantaged by being surrounded by my family? Am I supposed to be unable to empathise with my daughters? Is there something about their gender that means I can’t speak to them, understand them, laugh with them? Eldest Weasel knows more about Doctor Who than I do, it’s true, and I wouldn’t try and beat Middle Weasel when it comes to Sherlock Trivia. Tiny Weasel has more style in her little finger than I managed to acquire in 42 years, but I don’t wish she was a boy.

Men have a lousy reputation these days. We’re portrayed in the media as stupid and forgetful. We forget birthdays and anniversaries, we don’t get the right gifts for Valentines Day (which isn’t about the men, remember). We’re smellier than girls, untidier than girls, we leave the toilet seat up ALL THE TIME, we can’t cook for ourselves, we’re obsessed with sports to the exclusion of our loved ones and we can’t talk about our emotions.

So, if you want to sympathise with someone, sympathise with a poor lady who has a husband and three sons. Or, you know, talk to her a bit first and see how SHE feels about it. Maybe she likes them, or something. Weirder things have happened*.

 

 

 

*”Jersey shore”, for example.

They make you swear, they really do….

Actually, that’s not true. In the Citizenship Oath, you have the option to swear OR affirm.

WP_003747

It wasn’t that long ago that I shared this post about sitting our citizenship exam, and we began the wait for the Oath ceremony. Certainly the exam was the more nerve-wracking of the two – though there were several dire warnings about what could happen if you failed to repeat the oath, or didn’t produce the required documents.

The main difference this time was taking the entire boatload of weasels along. Only Eldest Weasel was actually required to make the oath, the other two being below the age of fourteen, but we made this emigration as a unit, and we signed in as a unit too. They seated us together, a row of five seats on the right hand side of the same room we took our exam in. The clerk explained what would happen when Judge Nguyen (pronounced “Wen”) took her seat and began proceedings. The judge was a calm, smiling presence, and took the opportunity to tell us about her own history – nine escape attempts from her home country when she was only a little girl. At least six trips to “Re-education camps” before the successful escape which led to a refugee camp and finally Canada. Mrs Dim and I exchanged glances. Suddenly the various stresses and panics we’d suffered in the run up to our own arrival here seemed very, very minor.

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

We were all asked to state our full names in loud clear voices, one at a time. I was happy to note that even Tiniest Weasel had no trouble with this, and then we were reciting the Oath in English and French. After that it was a simple matter of lining up to receive our certificates and take photos with the judge.

DSCN0837After that it was much like the day we took our exam – with a beautiful day outside and no one having to really be anywhere for a while, we walked the seawall all the way up to Milestones on English Bay. Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know that’s the first restaurant we visited after arriving in Canada. It’s just round the corner from the apartment we rented during our first month, and we’ve celebrated at least one arrival anniversary there. Since we missed the five year anniversary meal out, this seemed like a great opportunity for a double celebration.

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver.....

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver…..

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Every time I think “Ok, that’s it, now we just start living…” another big moment pops up. Is there more to come after gaining citizenship? Now we have to apply for passports and things, and I already miss the security of carrying my Permanent Resident Card with me. But I can vote now! I get to take an active interest in the things going on around me, because I have a voice and I am going to use it. Local, Provincial or Federal, I will get out there and use my vote!

Where’s that accent from?

I always had a unique sense of style.

I always had a unique sense of style.

I don’t have an accent.

That always starts an argument over here.

“Yes you do!” people say. “You have a British accent. You sound different to us Canadians.”

And that’s true enough. But people don’t often say “Is that a British accent?”  They say “Where’s that accent from?” and when I say “The UK.”, they say “Oh yeah? London?”

Because, you know, most of the UK is covered in London. Except for the bit that is Scotland.

We went to Scotland once. It was shut.

We went to Scotland once. It was shut.

Anyway, when I say no, it’s not London, people ask where exactly it’s from. And I sigh, and say “It isn’t from anywhere. I don’t have an accent.”

I don’t have a REGIONAL accent, is what I mean. I was born Oop North, and grew up talking like this   but when I was still quite young, we moved down south, where everyone spoke very differently. With only my brother sharing my peculiar way of speaking, I quickly adapted to a more moderate accent. I say “glass” with a long “a”, like in “Darcy”, rather than “passive”. When I say “castle”, it rhymes with “parcel”, not “hassle”. I may have picked up the Hampshire accent, but it’s not really very regionally distinct, so I can’t be sure.

I lived in Portsmouth for a while. Some parts are damper than others.

I lived in Portsmouth for a while. Some parts are damper than others.

The UK is rich with regional accents, and it’s quite amazing to consider the variation over such a small area. I still don’t understand the Canadian need to pin down a specific location, when so many of the people who are asking haven’t been to the UK, and (more importantly) don’t share any of our own regional prejudices.

 

The strange satisfaction of loving my job

I kept this in my pocket when I was a greeter at Home Depot, because people didn't believe I was employed to stand at the door and say hello.

I kept this in my pocket when I was a greeter at Home Depot, because people didn’t believe I was employed to stand at the door and say hello.

I have what is known as a “portfolio career”. Which is to say, I’ve never done the same job twice, or any job for a decent length of time. The most recent changes in my employment have taken place while I’ve been blogging, so you may be familiar with my regular struggle to hang onto, or find, a job that pays me to be there.

The reason I want to mention my library job again is that I have been there for a year. I’ve been there a year, and it doesn’t feel like it. The time has flown by, and I’ve managed to move from Auxiliary to a Part Time position. In my last job, I hadn’t been there for a year before the company folded. In the job before that, vertical movement was almost impossible.

On Star Wars Day (May the Fourth) I brought in my Mandalorian Helmet for the check in desk.

On Star Wars Day (May the Fourth) I brought in my Mandalorian Helmet for the check in desk.

We’re quick to notice when work is unpleasant. We moan about Monday rolling around again, about feeling tired, or sick, or getting a stress headache in the traffic. But we’re not so quick to notice when work is great. Hearing I’d been at the library for a year was a surprise, as was meeting the new group of Auxiliaries who had been hired because MY group had all moved up to new positions. I’m not the new guy anymore! Look how long I’ve been here, and I STILL love it!

Yes, the library even has books you never knew you needed...

Yes, the library even has books you never knew you needed…

So I’m looking forward to the next year at the library flying past like this one has, because everyone knows that time flies when you’re having fun.

Sometimes we need to point out the obvious...

Sometimes we need to point out the obvious…

And sometimes we support the unusual - Why shouldn't Llamas and Alpacas have the chance to be Managers?

And sometimes we support the unusual – Why shouldn’t Llamas and Alpacas have the chance to be Managers?

It’s not about you…

Or me.

Only a couple of days ago, I was sitting in the Driver’s Testing centre just off the Lougheed Highway. I hadn’t been there since my own driving test almost five years ago.

This time I was there because Eldest Weasel was taking her theory test, to see if she was ready for her L plates so she could start learning to drive*. As I sat there, I realised that a lot of the experiences here in Canada have become less about me and Mrs Dim – our new jobs, buying and maintaining the house, struggling with various bots of red tape and so on – and more about the Weasels. They’re doing all the important things that kids do, making and losing friends, finding their way in school, changing up to bigger schools, choosing their life’s directions, trying to balance the things they love with the things they have to do.

Laurel in the garden Oct 99

It’s nothing revolutionary, this realisation. It’s just something that has grown from the first day I left Eldest Weasel at playgroup, a tiny figure alone in a vast ocean of carpet, surrounded by distant shores of toys and an archipelago of playgroup leaders. It doesn’t mean you stop being the star of your own story and have to settle for a bit part. Doesn’t mean your job is finished. It just means that there will be times when you need to remember, it’s not about you.

She hasn't changed a bit.

She hasn’t changed a bit.

 

*She passed.

Hey, Random Citizen….

Citizenship.

When we told folks we were emigrating to Canada, many of them asked us if we were going to get Canadian citizenship. At the time it seemed a ludicrously precipitous question. We needed jobs, schools, houses, short scruffy dogs, that sort of thing. But citizenship? No, not really.

That’s not to say we were opposed to the idea, but it wasn’t something we were really prepared to think about. Like asking a twelve year old about their pension plan. Sure, they’re going to think about it sometime , but right now? Nope.

But over the last year or so, it’s been more of an issue. We’ve been here long enough to apply, we’ve met other ex-pats who DID apply, and the question of electing people we actually WANT in government has become more interesting. To vote, we need to be citizens.

So we underwent the gruelling form-filling and document finding, made all the more gruelling by the fact that we were duplicating a lot of the effort we had to make to renew our Permanent Residents Cards (turns out the “permanent” only applied to our residency status, not the life of the cards themselves, which need renewing every five years…)

We’d been told that processing the papers took a good length of time, so we were very surprised to find an invitation to attend our citizenship exam on April 1st. Surprised and, of course, suspicious. April 1st? Really?

But it was true. I can’t go into details about the exam itself, or I’ll invalidate my own application, but I will say that the booklet “Discovering Canada” is a great source of information. Mrs Dim and I learned a lot about our new home country, as well as discovering that learning new facts has become harder now that we are old and set in our ways (by which I mean “used to Googling stuff we don’t know, so we don’t have to remember it”) I was seriously worried about retaining all this information – Canada’s history, political system, cultural icons…. For a young country, it’s been busy!

On the fateful morning we lined up outside the building with a wonderful variety of folks from all ethnic backgrounds. The test itself went by in a whirl, and then we had a brief interview before our details get passed to an immigration judge. Mrs Dim and I took advantage of our mutual time off to walk through Downtown and admire the city that is our home.

Just a house in Downtown Vancouver...With the most amazing Magnolia tree.

Just a house in Downtown Vancouver…With the most amazing Magnolia tree.

Whatever the final result of the test, I’m happy to be living here, to have the chance to walk through Vancouver, or over Burnaby Mountain. Most of all, I’m happy that my Weasels have the chance to do these things.