Category Archives: Emigrating with Weasels

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

When people ask me “Why did you emigrate?”

WP_002610San diego 6 060Me and the weasels eat lunchThe view from the Yacht ClubWP_000331Viewty spaghetti and doors 017 095 Viewty Victoria ferry trip 015 Deep Cove 011 007 Katie Lily Doughnut Skating and fireworks 117Rocky Point November WP_000713 WP_000753 026 036 (2) Bloedel conservatory 165Any questions?

Fifth Anniversary : Looking forward and back

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of our arrival in Canada. It seems funny to celebrate during the day, since we spent most of that day traveling, only emerging from the airport when it was already dark. In past years we have returned to the restaurant where we had our first meal out (Milestones on English Bay), we’ve had meals with friends, and we’ve completely missed the evening a couple of times too.

outgoings 021

Three Weasels arrive at Vancouver airport, March 9th 2009

This year the busy pace of life has meant our celebration meal is going to be postponed until Spring Break, a week away. I’ve found that, rather than looking back on our five years here, we all seem to be looking forward. Eldest Weasel is starting Grade 11, and making decisions about courses that will help her on to her plans for employment. Middle Weasel begins High School in September and is aiming high with the courses she’s planning to take. Tiny Weasel is struggling to overcome her focus issues (which I’ve tried to help her with, but I keep wandering off to do something else.)

Modern-day Weasels enjoying life in Canada with Mrs Dim and a minion

Modern-day Weasels enjoying life in Canada with Mrs Dim and a minion

Mrs Dim is enjoying her work, feeling positive about the direction it’s going, and I’ve found working at the library is the job I’ve been looking for all this time. We’re all looking ahead and enjoying where we are now.

The irony is, that while we’re doing this, we’re also sorting through cupboards and boxes in the house and trying to organise, which means scanning in photos and converting old VHS tapes to digital files. This has meant looking back in a big way, seeing pictures and film of family and friends, some of whom are long gone, and some of whom have simply slipped out of touch.

In this screenshot from family video, Gran Nichol and Gran Trasler chat at Eldest Weasel's Christening party.

In this screenshot from family video, Gran Nichol and Gran Trasler chat at Eldest Weasel’s Christening party.

Looking back is fun, and it’s important to preserve these memories and pass on the stories that go with them, so the people we have loved and lost are not forgotten. But looking back doesn’t prepare you for what’s on the way, so we’ll be watching the road ahead this year, so we don’t get thrown by unexpected bends.

The story of our emigration and first year in Vancouver is still on sale for the bargain price of $1.99 all through this month. You can find it at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca or Amazon.co.uk .

The question you should be asking yourself…

You’ve probably seen the chart above before, or one of the variants, allowing you to nail your personality type (as defined by Myers-Briggs) to some film character or other. This style of thing differs from the inane “Which character from ‘The Walking Dead’ are YOU?” quizzes because it has a purpose. Defining your personality type is supposed to help you get on in life. To understand a little more about why you act the way you do, how you tackle tasks and relationships.

As a Dad of three girls, I’ve been around for a few talks about hormones and the chaos they can cause in everyday life. Mrs Dim has explained that hormones can cause people to overreact, to get unaccountably angry or intolerant, but the key is they are not an excuse for bad behaviour. They may be behind it, but knowing the cause means we have the power to change the behaviour, to moderate it, or at least to leave the room before killing someone.

Looking around the internet at the types of  charts like this, I also see people finding them and shouting “Hey! I’m XYZ! That’s why I can’t concentrate for more than three minutes! Brilliant! Now I never have to…Oooh, SQUIRREL!”

The point is, learning what personality type you have is the beginning*. Knowing how you’re wired should help you work out how to get things done sensibly, not be a ticket to avoiding responsibilities. If you don’t deal well in situations that require you to think on your feet, you have to find a job that allows you to plan ahead, not use your ‘diagnosis’ to claim an exemption from those moments.

These thoughts are prompted by the run of working with Tiny Weasel as she struggles to keep up with her school work. Lacking focus, she dreams her way through the school day and returns home with a stack of things to finish. Somewhere, there’s a test we can take that will indicate how she could deal with this, and how we can help her. In the meantime, we’re trying patience and persistence. And occasionally, shouting in German.

 

 

 

 

*The geek in my head is giggling uncontrollably and saying in a Nimoy voice “Logic is only the beginning of wisdom, Valeris.” And I didn’t even have to look up that name. I need to get out more.

Prices rise and fall….

Next month I’m experimenting with price points by raising the cost of all my e-books. Except one.

It’ll be the fifth anniversary of our emigration on March 9th, so I thought I would drop the price of “The Great Canadian Adventure” for the whole month. It’s the true-life account of our first year, from the week before we flew out to the purchase of our house. I’ve tried to include helpful links and also added in material from my wife’s viewpoint to balance my own writing.

It’s currently available for $4.99 at Amazon, but will be down to just $1.99 from the 1st March.

Find it in the US HERE

in the UK HERE

and in Canada HERE

And if you’ve already got it, don’t forget to leave a review to warn… I mean, encourage other readers.

The Day of The Doctor

I’ve never been to the cinema to watch TV before.

Holiday disc A 089

Eldest Weasel is a Whovian, in a big way. She quickly latched on to the fact that our lack of cable meant she would have to go elsewhere to watch the episode celebrating the 50th anniversary of the series beginning, and researched some alternatives. Our local cinema was one of those showing the two hour special, but we couldn’t get tickets until Monday 25th, two whole days after the show was being shown on tv. She managed to get together with some like-minded friends with cable and enjoyed the whole show as it was broadcast, then watched it all again. She’s seen it twice more since then.

I’d picked up some minor spoilers from the online fallout in the day or two that followed, but was still excited about the cinema trip. I’ve enjoyed the renewed Doctor Who (because it’s NOT a reboot, you know – just the same series….) but often felt that Stephen Moffat’s storylines needed more legroom than a tv episode offered.

The auditorium was small – our local cinema is a multiplex, and they had given over two screens to the Day of the Doctor. Each was sold out. We were nearly forty five minutes early for the showing, but the place was almost full. Most people were wearing t-shirts or hats with Whovian logos, and there were more than a couple in full costume – a Ninth Doctor and a Tenth, and at least one Rose Tyler. No Daleks…

This was not at the cinema.

This was not at the cinema.

When the lights went down the excitement was palpable. It was great to see that the warnings about cell phone usage and talking during the show were given by Strax, the Sontaran. This was followed by an introduction and reminder about the 3d glasses delivered by Matt Smith and David Tennant, both in character. These familiar faces were greeted with cheers and whistles, which died away as the pair turned to reveal the back of John Hurt, the mysterious War Doctor we would finally learn about when the show started.

Some familiar faces returned for the special episode...

There have been plenty of reviews and analyses of the show itself online, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have anything new to add. There were nods to the fans in every nook and cranny of the film, eliciting gasps, giggles and the occasional tear. As I had hoped, the longer time frame really suited Moffat’s convoluted storyline, allowing him the space to stretch out and fill in all the corners. Though, as befits a story dealing with time travel, the plot swoops back and forth across different time lines , it was never wildly confusing. Nothing needed to be explained in great detail. The crescendo was surprise and delight piled on top of each other, as extra guest appearances and beautifully staged shots crowded the screen.

We’d been warned ahead of time that a featurette would follow the titles, and when the names began to roll, no one moved. Everyone stayed put for the featurette, cheering the actors again and applauding as their favourite parts of the episode were mentioned.

It’s not compulsory to like Doctor Who, even if you’re British. Just as you can’t fool all the people all the time, you can’t PLEASE all the people all the time either. At times it’s silly, and it often takes itself a little too seriously, but the fundamentals of the programme are very worthwhile. The Doctor doesn’t carry a weapon. He stands up for oppressed people and encourages them to stand up for themselves too. He works best when he has friends with him, as we all do. Time and again we are shown that, wonderful as the Doctor is, his regular, human companions play a vital part in saving the day.

I always thought there was more to Supes than muscles...

I always thought there was more to Supes than muscles…

Not so long ago, Mrs Dim and I went to watch Man of Steel. In that movie, Superman has a range of abilities, but most important seems to be his human nature, given to him by his adoptive parents. Yet in the final, endless scenes of the movie, he does nothing but pound away, pointlessly, with super-strength. The movie seems to say “Hey, we don’t care about brains, it’s brawn that’s important here! Sure, his first three hundred and seventy punches haven’t done any good, but you never know, the next one might do it…”

The Doctor’s adventures show that thinking is key. That problems may look insoluble, but they WON’T be solved if you don’t step up and TRY. The courage to try and the application of intelligence are worth more than huge muscles or a big gun. I hope that’s an idea that spreads.

The Future of Libraries – We also have books

If someone offers you Oz, why would you want to run back to Depression-Era Kansas?

If someone offers you Oz, why would you want to run back to Depression-Era Kansas?

This week I was invited to attend a presentation on the Library Services Plan, or something equally vague. I assumed that it would be a thirty-five slide show on Powerpoint detailing circulation figures, looking at areas of economy and target demographics. I assumed, in short, that it would be dull and have little to do with me, a lowly Circulation Clerk.

The presentation was given by Stephen Abram, MLS. He’s a tall man, with a lively voice and a tendency to speak bluntly. He is also, it quickly becomes clear, passionate about libraries. But not in a “Sacred Halls of Silent Education and Reading” way. The physical building, the actual books on the shelves are the smallest part, the least part of the library.

I wanted to write down some of the figures he was giving out, but I didn’t make enough notes simply because I wanted to listen and see what he was putting up on the projector. He talked about experiments he had run with libraries in America, where they’d got liquor licences for reading groups and quadrupled attendance. About persuading one Children’s Librarian to give her Storytime a Facebook page and turned it from a 30 child event to a 120 child event. He pointed out that the number of people who actually come in to the library is only a small fraction of the number who use the online facilities, and what were we doing to make THOSE more welcoming, more engaging?

His ideas, his enthusiasm and his unerring belief that tremendous change was not only inevitable but good, was a message I hadn’t heard before. I’ve worked in a number of different environments, and change is usually viewed as something to be managed. Stephen’s main point was that you don’t manage change: You manage your response to it. Change is coming, it’s inevitable. How you react to that is what you can control.

Our instinct in the face of change is to assemble facts and numbers. In the Civil Service, this was usually to do with jobs and budgets. Here’s our productivity, here’s how much we’ve had to spend. We can’t afford to be the area that’s cut, either in terms of manpower or funding. It was a losing battle, since budgets were always being cut, and the reason was usually that departments wasted money ENSURING they spent their entire budget so that it wasn’t cut the following year.

Stephen suggested ignoring the numbers. What’s the point of holding up circulation numbers for inspection? DVDs are a big circulation item at the moment, but that’s because the rental shops have closed down. Why have they closed down? Because online streaming services are proliferating. It’s easy to predict that the DVD demand in the libraries will begin to fall, just as VHS demand fell a few years ago. Does that mean we should lose funding because we can’t provide figures?

STUDIES IN AMERICA SUGGESTED THAT FOR EACH DOLLAR INVESTED IN THE LIBRARY, THE COMMUNITY RECEIVED AS MUCH AS $28 OVER TIME

Libraries aren’t books and DVDs. Libraries are a place that you bring the questions you have AFTER you’ve asked Google. Libraries are meeting places, they are community centres, they are places to access databases, place to make things, to learn hobbies and skills, to form new groups, to teach the things YOU know to others.

The libraries I work in are all in areas that have high numbers of immigrants (Let’s not forget, I’m one myself). They come to the library within days of arriving in Canada. Getting a library card, getting access to the library and all it provides is viewed as an essential step in making their new life. They come to the library for help with language issues, with Canadian customs and traditions, for Jobs workshops, for schooling, for local information….

I watched the Chief Librarian during the presentation. She was thoroughly engaged in the process  and that gives me great hope. If the people at the top are ready to embrace the change, to push the library and its staff out of the comfort zone, then I might just have arrived in a job that isn’t going to end in the death of the company for a change.

We all saw Oz at that presentation – the glittering, Emerald City. It looked beautiful, though the road may be long and have the odd Flying Monkey to dodge. Still, I’d rather be there than in a dusty, black-and-white farmhouse in the Dustbowl.

As the Autumn leaves fall…

Must be Fall... There go the leaves.

Must be Fall… There go the leaves.

One of the things we told people about wanting to live in Canada was that there were real seasons over here. Summer was hot, Autumn was crisp, Winter was cold and snowy. I think we were both remembering those mythical seasons of childhood, when Summer went on forever and the snow of Winter came up to your hips.

It was an odd claim to make, because until we emigrated, we had only spent three weeks in Canada. Three weeks of glorious Autumn, granted, but in Ontario. We were visiting my Aunt and Uncle, and they certainly told us of cold and snowy Winters: They described being woken on a Winter’s night in their cabin by the sound of trees exploding – the sap had frozen, expanded and broken the tree trunks. We saw the wonderful colours of the trees, enjoyed the late sunshine and the good weather as we drove an RV down the edge of Lake Huron.

But when we came to Vancouver, it was a different story. We arrived just after the worst Winter that many people could remember. Snow had fallen Downtown, and Vancouverites had demonstrated their inability to drive in the snow. Spring was cold and wet and lasted a long time that year, giving us the impetus to book a springtime holiday in San Diego the following year, which turned out to be bright and warm and sunny.

The view from our San Diego balcony March 2010

The view from our San Diego balcony March 2010

Last year was another cold and wet one, with people reminding each other that this area is a temperate rain forest, and really, if you want sunshine, you should be going to Hawaii. We went back to San Diego in the Spring, determined to get some sunshine.

But the Summer was awesome this year. Long, long hot days, breaking records with a completely dry July. We baked ourselves in our own yards, and it’s possible that some of those green lawns may have been illegally using their sprinklers. We were prepared for September to bring the rains again, but the sun has persisted, carrying through into Autumn days that might have sprung from a Famous Five book. The leaves are dropping, crisp and brown, and you can sweep them up because the rain hasn’t plastered them to the ground.

September's weather was good enough for camping and hiking with friends.

September’s weather was good enough for camping and hiking with friends.

Whatever the Winter brings, we’ll be ready. Our Vitamin D reserves have been topped up,and we have the box of gloves, hats and scarves sat by the back door. Not far from that box is the one that holds the ski gear.

Whenever you’re ready, Winter – BRING IT ON!

Grouse Mountain 029

Preparing to recross the pond

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about emigrating. Long ago life settled down into a regular form, became just the ordinary every day. Yes, there are still times I marvel that we live in Canada, that I tell which direction I’m driving by seeing the mountains on the North Shore, but I don’t convert dollars into pounds any more, trying to see if things are cheaper or more expensive. I don’t flinch from saying “pants” instead of “trousers”, and I no longer think “parkade” is a fizzy drink.

Soon we’ll head back to the UK for our second visit since we emigrated. This time we’ll be going back in the winter, with all the added unpredictability that brings. Will there be a sprinkling of snow that closes roads and railways? Having once shoveled my driveway clear three times in the same day, I’m inclined to roll my eyes at that thought. And we don’t get “real” snow here in the Vancouver area… Just ask someone from Winnipeg.

Our last trip back was a summertime thing, and we met friends on the beach in Bournemouth. We walked through parks, in London and Worcester. When I think of going back, those are the images that come to mind.

Weasels and pigeons in the park, Bournemouth

Weasels and pigeons in the park, Bournemouth

After a while out here the view of the UK becomes somewhat idealised, like this:

Younger Weasels and their Grandma in a very English garden.

Younger Weasels and their Grandma in a very English garden.

But we’ll be there for early nights, cold, brisk days. And probably rain. We’ll be spending almost every day going from one place to another so we can visit as many friends as possible, but we also have to set aside time so we can celebrate Christmas with the family we’ve been away from for so long.

The travel is, as ever, the part that bothers me the most. Our appreciation of distance has changed significantly. To illustrate, let me show you our last but one holiday : we went to Cardiff-by-Sea, Encinitas, by way of San Francisco. We drove, and it took a week or so to get there. It was fun (except for going through LA, obviously.) Here’s what that journey looks like:

Thank you, Google Maps!

Thank you, Google Maps!

You can see (perhaps) that that journey is 2197 km. If you need a translation, that’s 1365.153 miles, or a trip from John O’Groats to Land’s End and more than halfway back again. We did the journey home again in three days.

We won’t be traveling nearly as far in our trip around the UK, but our nomadic lifestyle prior to leaving the country means we have friends all over the place, and I look at the map of the UK Mrs Dim has pinned to the wall and the little flags stuck into it and I think….”How hard is that going to be?”

Four and a half years is quite a long time. It’s time for a child to be born and reach school age. It’s been time for one of our Weasels to reach High School and settle in. Middle Weasel is now in the top age group in her school. I’m on my third job, and am convinced the ancient curse has followed me to Canada (I worked for TVS – they lost their franchise. I worked for Peter Dominic’s – they went out of business. I worked at the Bell Hotel in Alresford – it looks like they did  a good job of rebuilding it after the fire. Here in Canada I worked for Canpages and they went out of business.) But I’m happy in my library job and hope to stay with it for a long time to come.

I guess the idea I’m circling here is that the only part of the UK we miss is the people. We moved every two years all the time we were married, and learned to place value on friendships, rather than places. We loved the old stuff like the Cathedral in Winchester, the Standing Stones in the Avebury Ring, or Roman ruins, or Iron Age Forts. We loved medieval towns and historical buildings, and we loved the modern parts of the country too, but they’re not why we’re going back. *

We’re going back to see our friends and family, and we’re only sorry we won’t be able to visit everyone in the time available. And of course, if it snows, we may not get out of the airport….

*There are certain factions within the family that maintain the ENTIRE reason for the visit is The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. If anyone from the BBC is reading this, we know the perfect person to co-ordinate a Doctor Who Exhibition in Vancouver – she already knows EVERYTHING about Doctor Who.

Doctor Wheasel - TARDIS not included.

Doctor Wheasel – TARDIS not included.

An afternoon at Twelfth Night

Screen-grab from YouTube : Go see it in 3D in Vanier Park!

Screen-grab from YouTube : Go see it in 3D in Vanier Park!

I am often surprised by the things my Weasels enjoy, or think about. Last year, I had trawled through the selection of things to watch while I ironed, and found a brilliant film version of “Twelfth Night” (By Shakespeare, in case you were wondering.) Tiny Weasel, and then Middle Weasel crept in, drawn by the sounds of TV, and both watched the film with apparent interest.

So when it turned out that “Twelfth Night” was one of the plays in this year’s Bard on the Beach, we booked tickets. We would have booked tickets anyway, but there was, at least, a reason for choosing this play over “Hamlet”.

Just like last year, I was tremendously impressed. Firstly, the staging is so simple.

Last year's staging

Last year’s staging

With an entrance from the back of the stage and two side entrances, and all props and set wheeled or carried on by the actors themselves, we moved from Hotel, to beach, to Bath house and on. It sounds simple enough, but I read plays every week that struggle to convincingly produce two or three locations on one stage. Like many playwrights, I prefer to find a single location for my action to simplify staging*. Seeing productions like this makes me feel I am limiting my imagination too much. It’s also the definition of what makes theatre a different experience from film.

This production moves the time period to the 20’s with jazz as a soundtrack and Olivia’s House is presented as a hotel. However these details don’t really matter, as the quality of the acting and the singing soon sweep you away into the story. Like many of Shakespeare’s tales, it’s a little unlikely – twins separated by a storm, the girl dressing as a boy to preserve her safety and falling into the service of local Duke. She is forced to carry his profession of love to Olivia, even as she herself has fallen in love with him. Olivia is too deep in mourning the death of her brother to hear talk of love, until she sees the disguised Viola and falls in love with him/her. It’s the classic love triangle. As a subplot you have the officious Malvolio (here the Hotel Manager) tricked into believing that Olivia is in love with him and desires that he dress in ridiculous stockings and smile more. To add to the confusion, Viola’s brother appears, now her true double since she’s disguised as a boy and willingly consents to marry Olivia, who thinks he’s Viola, whom she calls Cesario… You get the picture.

Tiny Weasel found it hard to stay still, but she wasn’t bored. She watched the whole production and followed the story without a problem. It wasn’t updated language, but the original text, and all three Weasels enjoyed it immensely. I’m really glad we went, and we’ll go back again next year.

*It’s true that a director can make the decision to radically alter the staging, but in Shakespeare’s theatre, all these locations would have been presented in the one area, and the impression of each given more through dialogue and mime than exotic set dressing. The Bard on the Beach production is, therefore, very traditional in nature. I believe the onus is on the playwright to communicate the nature of the intended staging. Whether or not the director takes that intention to heart is out of the writer’s control.

Why did I let my daughter have a Facebook account?

You need to be sure your child is old enough for Social Media....

You need to be sure your child is old enough for Social Media….

Are you not a fan of Facebook?

Not really. It’s a useful part of our communication system. We can reach friends around the world (as ex-pats, that’s very important) and we can also trade messages with friends when cell-phones aren’t to hand or convenient. But I keep being reminded that Facebook isn’t there for my convenience – if it were, I would have to pay for it.

Do you have this attitude with all Social Media? Twitter? G+? Tumblr?

To some degree. As a writer, I’m keen to use whatever methods I can to promote my work, and these days Social Media is the best way to reach people. But Twitter doesn’t bombard me with adverts, and G+ is serving a different function for me than Facebook – it’s not for general conversation and swapping photos, it’s a place where I meet other writers, people I don’t already know.

So why let your daughter get a Facebook account?

The basic answer is because she asked. Her friends use Facebook and she was curious about it. We talked it over with her, showed her what a Facebook account looks like, what to watch out for, and let her think about it. After two weeks, she was still interested, so we signed her up.

Are you worried?

Well, yes. Facebook is an aggressive environment. They’re trying to earn money for their shareholders, and the protections available for users are manipulated on a regular basis to make it easier for the company to harvest personal information and target advertising. My daughter is bright, but she’s also a key demographic – just beginning to earn money for herself, growing a circle of friends and interested in the world of media. If the hooks get set in her now, she could be milked for cash for the rest of her life.

Yuck. So why not say no?

We have, for a couple of years. However, Social Media isn’t going away. It’s going to evolve and change, but it’s a part of the world my daughter is growing up in. Cars probably kill more people each year than Social Media, but it’s better to teach your kid to drive than expect them to rely on public transport for the rest of their lives. Yes, signing her up for Facebook felt a little like booking her a cabin on the Titanic, but it’s a good place to begin. She can learn to manipulate Facebook, to keep as much of herself hidden from the advertisers as possible, to screen who she adds to her friends list, to consider what she posts before she presses that button.

What, specifically, did you warn her against?

We tried the old adages. Never post anything you don’t think is necessary, true or kind. Never post anything about anyone you wouldn’t say to their face. If you’re talking direct to a friend, do it in a message,  not a post. Don’t add people as friends just because you know them or know of them.

Aren’t you worried she’ll spend hours wasting time on Facebook?

No, because we still govern her access. Without her own computer and no internet access through her phone, she has to use the PC. And her time on that is already monitored and restricted by the fact that it’s the work machine for the house.

Is it really that important for her?

Right now she wants a Facebook account because she thinks it’ll be a fun thing to have. However, these days it’s unthinkable that someone wouldn’t have an email address, whereas ten years ago you could’ve gotten by without one. In five years time, Social Media and portable computing, smartphones and wireless will have collided to the extent that a social media presence will be as inevitable as a phone number or email. At the moment we’re all concerned that nothing on the internet ever goes away, but in a few years you’ll NEED to have an internet persona because it will affect every other aspect of your life.

Er…you’re sounding a little weird. Do you have any evidence for that?

Sorry. No, I’m extrapolating from available data*. But it’s a fair guess. Five years ago saw the launch of the iPad, and now millions of people use tablets in their everyday life. People update Social Media from their phones, adding their location without thought, giving verdicts on everything from music to shopping and restaurant experiences, things that influence other people to a startling degree. “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t a best seller because it’s a brilliantly written story. (Sorry, it’s not. And yes, I really do know.)

Should other people let their children have Facebook accounts?

Other people do, obviously. What other people ought to do…Well, I think they ought to make sure they can monitor their child’s use of Social Media until the child reaches their majority. If your kid has a smartphone with a data plan that they use to run their Social Media account, it’s very important that you’re in their friends list to know what’s being said. On the other hand, I don’t think it’ll be long before Facebook adopts the G+ model allowing people to easily post to specific groups within their Facebook friends, cutting out parents automatically.

But I think it’s important that parents understand social media is here to stay, and learning to use social media is important, or it’ll use you. Help your child go in with their eyes open and shields up.

 

*making it up