Some very strange things to be thankful for.

It’s Thanksgiving, it’s beautiful and autumnal, and we finally all have a day off together! For this, I am thankful, because it has been a long time coming.

Carl being away in Prince Albert during the week is really taking its toll on me and the girls at the moment, and I am getting increasingly frustrated with the situation at times. I am effectively playing single-parent all week, and have to negotiate school and daycare drop offs and collection (at two different locations), coping with Judo and crochet club(?) and play dates and field trip permission slips, ferret-care, feeding them both, fighting them into bed (an ordeal in its own right, especially with Theia), making lunchboxes and then getting them up again and out the house by 8am. And working full time. And doing all this on my bike.

It is exhausting, and I keenly look forward to Carl’s return every weekend. But then, there is the added pressure of fitting in all the things that have to be done with him (or more importantly, the car-) here like food shopping, and laundry, and still making a point of Doing Something Fun while we’re all together. Most of the time I am exhausted and just want to spend my days off doing nothing, but that is not fair on the kids. And then we get cross with each other because I feel like I’m wasting the precious little time we do have. Gah!

However, there are many things that I love about this situation too, namely my job. Luckily, both kids thoroughly enjoy their respective daycares and after school clubs and activities, so I don’t feel too bad about relying on them so heavily. There’s also only been one horribly rainy day this season, so my bike commute around the lake is usually glorious and doing me a lot of good. Carl is doing well in Prince Albert, enjoying his work and our finances are now looking much more healthy as a result.

Without wishing to sound gushy, I really love my job. I’m working at the Science Centre, and the job is so varied that it is very difficult to define to a lot of people. Most recently, I’ve been heading up a big science festival there called Ignite! I inherited quite a lot of the set up for it from my predecessor, and the existing team of staff there are exceptional and very supportive, so I didn’t feel too overwhelmed with having to organise the whole four day event on my own. Even so, it was still more than a little daunting. I enjoy the job so much that I really want to do well at it.

I am also learning a whole load of things I never thought I’d come across – like how to dissect squid, for instance, how to build popsicle stick towers that withstand flooding, and all about different sections of the brain, all of which are covered in the workshops I am now trying to present to other people! For the festival, we had to organise a careers fair with the aiming of getting school kids interested in engineering and the sciences. Then, we ran adult workshops in the evening, which is where the squid came in. The next day was Family Maker Day, and we hosted an event for the Global Cardboard Challenge and encouraged kids to make Arcade games out of cardboard, and ran other workshops like Toy Take Apart (involving skinning an Elmo) and colour-changing putty, where I had to make playdough and explain the science of thermochromatic pigment to 40-odd kids for a couple of hours. The schools were closed for Thanksgiving that day, so Miranda had to come to work with me…

On Saturday, it was the culmination of the festival in an Expo, showcasing local innovation and plenty of weird and wonderful things that local people have created. It is did not happen without hiccups – for a start, I would have liked to get more participants than I was able to, so I was a bit disappointed. Then, one group dropped out at the last minute, and I roped Carl in to replace them! He dutifully brought his telescope and equipment and showed people all his eclipse photography – thank you husband!! (He also got a day out with the kids, a chance to geek out with fellow nerds, and the science centre’s snack supplies, to be fair.)  Actually on the day, one group arrived, introduced themselves, I showed there where to set up, and then they just vanished without saying a word! Weird. And irritating.

I still managed to get in “live blacksmithing” (which took a lot of wading through fire permit by-laws), a virtual reality game company, a solar-powered electric bike, robots built by high school students, a Vortex Cannon of Doom and a portrait of Princess Diana done in Lego, amongst other things.

I would like to think it all went off OK! The feedback I heard on the day was all very positive, anyway. I don’t yet know how the numbers of visitors compared to last year, but it certainly felt very busy, particularly on the Family Maker Day. It was also utterly exhausting!

Sunday and Monday were our weekend this week, and we did the annual OverEating Ritual with turkey and all the trimmings. The girls even admitted they liked the food for once as well! Life is not exactly easy right now, but I am enjoying its complicatedness.

 

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Staring at the Sun

There are some definite advantages of having a geek for a husband.

Last week, we managed to engineer a few days away from our brand new jobs to go down to Casper, Wyoming for the solar eclipse. Carl really did drive a 2000km round trip for the sake of 2 1/2 minutes. But it was well worth it! Casper was in the path of totality – as in, we got the full, eerie dark eclipse. The sun really did appear to go out for a few minutes.

 

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Totality Awesome

 

Two different telescopes accompanied us, one of which Carl fitted with a camera hooked up to his laptop with some nifty software that tracked the moon automatically and took around 4000 images without us having to do anything! Much better than my pathetic attempts with my normal camera.

The drive down there took over 10 hours in total, but we split the journey and stayed at a small town called Gillette (not where they make razor blades, much to my disappointment). We holed up in a cheapish hotel along with very many other people who had had the same idea as us. Unlike virtually everyone else convoying down through the US, we had to stop at the border, get our conspicuously red passports checked, get photographed and fingerprinted, pay $18 for a visa waiver, and sent on our way by Customs. In the customs office in Montana, they had a display case of contraband – things you can’t bring in to the US. Antlers, exotic animals (they had a very pretty but depressing tortoise shell in there), rum, cigars, and so on. Right on the top were Kinder Eggs with their killer plastic toys.

That night I walked to and bought some (very cheap) beer in a “drive-thru off sale” that had a sign outside saying Bikers Welcome! I wasn’t sure whether I should tip the woman who handed me beer through the window. I have never felt more British in my life! There was a “fun facts” section in the little blurb about Wyoming left in the hotel. Apparently, one archaic Wyoming state law still persists: it is illegal for a woman to stand within 5 feet of a bar. So we can go in, get table service, but we can’t actually order anything at the bar by ourselves. Good job I was at a drive-through I suppose!

We spent Sunday in Gillette, Carl recovering from the drive, and the kids recovering from their attempts to eat the utterly ENORMOUS breakfast portions included with our hotel booking.

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So. Much. Food.

We also found out that Gillette wasn’t that far from Devil’s Tower, a weird rock formation where they filmed Close Encounters. We even found the aliens. Ahem.

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In the gift shop, there was a giant display of wooden toy AK47s – perfect for saving the world from aliens of course. I hope.

But back to the Eclipse! Carl dutifully forced himself awake at 5am, as the plan was to drive the remaining couple of hours to Casper as early as possible to avoid the crowds. I was already awake as Small Beastling had invaded our bed around 4am and woken me up. We managed to get the kids in the car without waking them. That was short lived though, and they woke up as soon as we set off.  The drive was quite fun – Wyoming is possibly even more empty and spacious as Saskatchewan, but it also has hills and a higher speed limit. And deer. Many, many deer who were very active at that time in the morning and tried to play chicken with cars, leaping out in to the road. They certainly kept Carl awake!

We were right to get in early; luckily the first place we tried had space and we parked and just set up right by the car in a field at Casper fairgrounds. By 9am, the field was full up. So was the RV park next to it. Miranda and I wandered around hunting for breakfast and found people setting up telescopes in McDonald’s car park. I read later that 317,000 people had descended on Casper!

We had some special eclipse glasses that allowed the kids and I to just look up and view it without any hassle – Carl was worried that they would knock his telescopes out of alignment through over-enthusiasm! It took nearly an hour of the moon moving across the sun (looking like it was taking a bite out of it, we got “Full Pac-Man” around 10.45am) before it actually got dark. But totality was completely surreal. Even Miranda, who had been watching DVDs in the car all morning and bored, was blown away. For those two minutes, you could look directly at the sun without the glasses. Twilight, and then late evening suddenly happened at 11.30am. All the dogs that fellow sun gazers had brought with them suddenly shut up. The temperature dropped dramatically. Such a weird experience!

 

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Disclaimer: Half-a-car effect not actually caused by eclipse.

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I hope Miranda remembers this trip. The next one will be in Mexico in 2024 and Carl is determined to go to that too, but by then Miranda will be a teenager! Terrifying thought.  Here are some of Carl’s laptop/telescope images. Impressive hey?

A motivational morning

It seems the internet is currently filled with clickbait articles that are ‘life changing’ and inspirational, with the sort of headlines like “7 things to do to kickstart your morning routine” and so on.

I appreciate that most of them are designed with good intent, but as with a lot of supposedly motivational rhetoric, I find it just makes obvious how much of a chaotic mess my own life is.

This morning was a prime example. Here is what greeted me on Instagram today:

(I am very sorry to borrow you, Kyle… but as the founder of Wheelhouse Cycle Club, I figure you know a bit about getting people motivated in the mornings!)

Here, in contrast, is the 5 odd things I ended up doing this morning:

1.) Attempt to insert Fruitloops into two decidedly not-awake children at 7.40am. While they are eating, I realise that when the husband left the house at 4am, he inadvertently locked my house keys in my bike basket *inside the locked garage*. Scramble around madly looking for the automatic garage door opener, only to find it helpfully clipped to the outer door handle on the back door. Which is the *obvious* place to look for it… Stand in the alley in barefeet and eventually get into the garage, reclaim keys, find shoes, packed lunches, backpacks and shunt kids out the door.

2.) Arrive at daycare 8am. Smaller beastling is fine right up until we are inside the entrance way, then she realises where she is and that Mummy will be abandoning her there. She starts howling and literally clinging on to my ankle so I can’t leave. Detach her and transfer her into the arms of one of the poor women who have to deal with regular tantrums and snot all day. Make a break for it with the bigger beastling, who is now complaining that her backpack is too heavy.

3.) Miss 8.07 bus to the Science Centre for day camps. Cross road, find another bus ten mins later. Get downtown. Bus does not meet up with connecting bus, despite what it says on Regina Transit’s schedules. Start fuming. Sit downtown waiting for the next one and playing I Spy.

4.) Discover that this bus does not actually go right to the science centre. Persuade a shy and tired Big Beastling to walk about half a mile across Wascana Park. Discover that some fricking idiot has set all the park’s sprinklers to soak the entire sidewalk for a good 200 yards, and that there is no way to avoid them. Try to convince daughterling that it is an obstacle course and we have to run and duck between the sprays. She thinks it’s fun until she gets hit in the face with cold water.

5.) Arrive at Science Centre dripping wet. Successfully drop off daughter only 5 minutes late, but see the direct bus drive off before I can make it to the official stop. Make my way back to the other bus stop, and get drenched again. Bus appears… and sails past me, as it is an Express bus and won’t stop at minor stops. Sit for another 20 minutes drying off in the sun, and use the time to write an official complaint email to the Wascana Centre about the sprinklers.

5.5) Arrive back home, 10.07am, and realise that not only did the whole ordeal take TWO FRIGGING HOURS, I haven’t had any coffee or any breakfast yet.

I’ll go to the library, I think, I’ll collect the books I ordered then treat myself to coffee and reading time at the coffee shop to relax.

Forget that it is Monday and the library is closed.

Come back home again amidst silent screams of despair.

 

Prince Albert

For years, friends back in the UK made constant “Regina” jokes (“snigger snigger”) – they loved the “University of Regina” and that my friend is a Regina Professor, and then when I started Wheelie Good Coffee on the Farmers’ market, I got “How do you become a Regina Farmer?” and so on. I feel that they would have as much fun with Prince Albert (as the towns called Climax and Intercourse in Saskatchewan are not subtle enough). I really hope there are loads of piercing studios up there.

Prince Albert first appeared on our radar when the Parents treated us to a camping trip up there in June. We wimped out of actually tenting, Mum and Dad citing their Old Agedness and ‘knackety knees’, but we hired a little cabin up at Waskesui lake in Prince Albert National Park. It was utterly glorious!

We swam in the lake, toasted marshmallows (as is a requirement), hiked – well, stumbled – through the forest (proper trees!!), rode wonderful Quadracycles and even saw bears (of the non-threatening, handsome type). It was a fantastic place for the kids, and not even that many mosquitos.

To get to the national park, we had to drive for nearly six hours (made longer of course by kid-and-granny cup of tea breaks). We drove through Prince Albert city on route too, and apart from the usual array of gas stations and the Timmies and Subway visible from the highway, there was little to see. Little did we know at the time that we would suddenly need to know far more about the place than that!

Carl applied for a job in Prince Albert a while back – out of total desperation, as he has been out of work for four months now. One job advertised in Regina just disappeared in all the stupid budget cuts,  one never responded to the application, and another took a full 2 months to even interview anybody.  His hope with the Prince Albert job was that they would let him work remotely, or at least, not require him to be physically present 40 hours a week. Besides, he figured he needed the interview practice. Meanwhile, my own job hunt is entirely hopeless. I have now applied for 45 jobs, and gotten just 5 interviews and no offers. This means that 40 companies (most with HR departments) just didn’t even bother to respond. It’s incredibly frustrating and every application makes me less inclined to ever want to work for someone else anyway.

The Prince Albert company got back to Carl remarkably quickly, however, and invited him to interview before they even closed it for applications. He made the effort and drove all the way up the for the interview. He talked for nearly 2 hours, and came back, exhausted, saying it was pretty positive.  Two days later, he got called for an interview at somewhere in downtown Regina, which also seemed to go well. That was the company that took two months to get around to interviewing for the position though.

Then, Prince Albert called, and offered him the job! On an amazing salary, a definite step up from what he was doing before, and even offered relocation costs. There lies the downside. He is going to be in charge of a new team, and so they need him to actually  be there.

We do not want to move again. We may have stayed in the same few blocks, but including emigration, we have actually moved 5 times in 5 years. And now we have a mortgage to contend with as well. Every single person we know in this whole country is in Regina. Miranda is in school here now. My Wheelie Good Coffee, which is the ONLY thing that has allowed us to actually eat in the last few months, (no exaggeration) is based here. We even have a brand new kitchen! All of us moving to PA is just not an option.

We stalled the company for as long as possible, still hoping to hear back from something I applied for and Carl’s other interview, either of which would have allowed us to stay here comfortably. Yet again, I was rejected, and we are STILL waiting for the results of Carl’s job, 3 weeks after his interview. So, at risk of losing the offer altogether, Carl accepted the PA job. The plan is, he will rent a small apartment up there for the week, and just come home at weekends. It will be very, very hard (especially since Miranda is home on summer holidays at the moment), but at least it solves the immediate financial crisis – there is no point in turning down an opportunity like that in favour of staying in a city that we can’t actually afford to live in anyway.

Hopefully, he will really enjoy the job – it does sound good. Hopefully, we can find a nice apartment for him and make it an adventure. Hopefully, it won’t be forever – they can let him transistion into remote working, or he will find something else in Regina first. Hopefully, me continuing to stay home with the kids will enable me to keep writing and find a publisher for the book and make my fortune… (yeah, right). Hopefully, Theia will reach her 2nd birthday and suddenly decide to sleep through the night without needing Daddy to wobble her to sleep all the time.

Hopefully.

A Short One for 1st July

I am always a little uneasy about Canada Day. Any public displays of overt patriotism – anywhere – do not sit well with me; I’m a World-Without-Borders type of hippy. This year, with all the contrived emphasis on construction of “Canada 150”, the butt-clenching discomfort is worse than usual. Canada isn’t 150 years old. It’s been 150 years since various factions organised themselves into a nation state. If that really had been an end to the preceding colonialism, cultural genocide and abject racism, then it would be worth celebrating. However, it seems more like Canada has spent 150 years ignoring all that (at best). So, what exactly are we celebrating?

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When we told friends that Carl had lost his job, everyone, and I do mean everyone‘s first reaction was “If you need anything, just ask”.

Our local church holds pancake breakfasts to raise funds for Syrian refugees, and even ran adverts for “Camp Trash and Filth: Queer City Cinema” outside its door.

Yesterday we spent a happy afternoon with 4 out of 6 of the neighbour’s kids helping us pick all the cherries off our tree and swapping jam recipes.

I had a really successful day on the Farmers’ Market on Saturday, plenty of comments along the lines of “I love your accent!”, and sealing my reputation as “that weird British woman who brings Caffeine”. (A description I wholeheartedly endorse.)

A proactive couple down the street applied for a permit and organised a Canada day block party last week – everyone brought food and drinks to share, we had a fire in the middle of the potholes, and the kids all camped in each other’s houses without a care in the world. And we actually met and chatted with our neighbours properly. This is a first, for us.

Last week, I got a call from the owner of the Junction, a cool and quirky salon and art studio, inviting me to bring my coffee cart there and discuss “co-lab” projects because she wants me to join in as part of the Junction community. It was so lovely to be asked!

Today it is 32 degrees Celsius and we have slopped on the sunscreen and are heading to the splash park, just one of many elaborate, wonderful and free facilities that the city provides for kids.

 

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Canada Day at the Legislature Building

 

For all these things, and many more, I am proud and grateful to call Canada our home.

R Streets R Stories

You can thank Sheri for that title – we used it as a hashtag for the Cathedral Village Arts Festival this year, and as an abbreviation of our theme, Our Streets Are Stories.

I always look forward to the CVAF anyway, but this year was extra special because I got Involved again and volunteered as the communications coordinator for the festival. This involved the usual social media effort, manning the Twitter and Instagram feeds while managing to keep myself as far removed from Facebook as possible. My alter ego on there suddenly became alarmingly popular though! This was a thinly disguised excuse to have an official reason to go out every night of the week and pack in as much festivalling as possible. I was creating valuable live coverage, honest! I even got an all access pass! (to a free festival).

I also had to help write press releases and schedule interviews with local media. Sheri (the chairperson) and other members of the planning committee were shunted off to TV and live radio interviews, frequently at horrendous times of the early morning. I did one myself too, at 6.45am on a Tuesday on community radio, practically guaranteeing me an audience of bus drivers and unfortunate Tim Hortons workers.

All these efforts paid off though, and the turn out was HUGE, despite the weather not being as exceptional as last year.  One key message we tried to emphasise in our media briefings was that the festival is #AllWeekLong. So many people still seem to think the festival is just the Street Fair on the last Saturday, when there are arts, dance, theatre, literature, music and film events on every evening for the whole week. Here’s a small sample…

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My parents arrived the first evening of festival week! A great way to start their summer holiday and I made sure to drag them to as many events as we could. They both even wrote and read poems at the poetry slam just 24 hours after their arrival! Poems had to be on the theme of ‘our streets are stories’ again. Here is my effort:

Cathedral Stories are worthy of glory
My poetry usually is not
While trying to avoid complication
I went for literal interpretation
The point of which I forgot.

It’s easier to start with a question, she says
How about, ‘What’s the word on the street?’
SLOW
or sometimes
‘No Parking’

At this time of year
Stranger signs start to appear
One popped up today
A stencil, sprayed, just outside Safeway
“It’s Good To Be Alive” the street seems to say.

Our cathedral story truly began
Five years ago
Returning from another poetry slam
Or was it just burgers in here?
Memories fade, the details unclear
But walking home we were
Small girl complaining
It had started raining
Small girl stops, plastic jacket undone
Not caring, while I start quietly swearing

She sits on the curb
In a puddle, plants her feet
And starts reading her book
In the middle of the street.

 

 

 

 

Limitless Stupidity

The budget is out. Federal and Provincial, although it’s Premier Brad Wall’s provincial one which I am stupefied by. Stupefied is the right word – I do feel like dumbassery is an actual virus that is reaching epidemic levels in the world at the moment, and if I spend too long reading the news (and especially social media ‘news’) it will lower my IQ.

So, Saskatchewan is in a mighty big deficit. I can see several reasons why this arose – financial mismanagement and some seriously dodgy deals (Global Transportation Hub, anyone?) – but mainly just the province being almost wholly reliant on oil and gas, and oil prices falling so dramatically. Common sense would dictate that even if we must rely on a volatile commodity, it would be sensible to save some money from when the markets were doing really well (‘Saskaboom!’) to cover us when they are not, like now. Norway does this with its oil money and has zero national debt. Neighbouring Alberta did similar and used the surplus to build pension funds and negate the need to charge provincial sales tax. Brad Wall just cut corporation tax and then ran out of money for anything useful.

If that were not stupid enough, the tactics he’s using to try and get rid of the deficit are just myopic. A 3% wage cut for public sector workers. This is fine for MLAs and the cabinet members and people on six figure salaries. It is most certainly NOT fine for teachers and nurses and, well, a whole host of underpaid but *useful* people.

In the budget itself, there were more horrors: cuts to schools, the universities, obscure things like the provincial hearing aid program, and then libraries and the Saskatchewan Transport Company rural bus service. But don’t worry folks, they cut the higher levels of income tax by half a percent! This is so obviously a budget written by people who never have to use and have never worked in any of those services. It doesn’t actually affect people’s take-home pay, (directly) so it must be OK, right?

All these things deliberately hurt the poor, the vulnerable and anyone living in rural areas, and they are all interlinked. Cutting the STC bus service saves around $17million. Which is the cost of just over a kilometre of the new Regina bypass that they’re building just so people can avoid coming into Regina. Obvi..! However, the STC was never supposed to be profitable. It’s a service designed to link up small towns and provide an essential route for people who need to travel to the cities who may not be able to drive – lets see, like older people, or cancer patients going in for treatment, or students getting to the SIAST campus on the Regina-Moose Jaw bus in the mornings. But hey, SIAST lost some funding too, so maybe it’s not worth going to any more anyway… you can just do all your studying at the library, right? But no… the libraries are screwed too. What provincial funding the city libraries received could be supplemented by City Hall funds instead, (which means our City taxes may well go up accordingly) but rural municipalities just don’t have the population numbers to make up the shortfall from local taxation. And guess what? The STC buses were crucial for transporting *actual books* for the inter-library loans scheme too.

The school and university cuts fly in the face of the ‘Saskatchewan brain drain’ too. People with degrees and useful skills tend to leave the province to go make money elsewhere. So, as a friend pointed out, the budget helps ‘keep them dumb and keep them here!’ And look! They can’t even get the bus outta here now! Less flippantly however, the argument in favour of cutting public spending to fund corporate tax cuts is always ‘oh we have to remain competitive, if we don’t keep corporations happy, they will just leave the province and set up where it’s cheaper’. That is a remote possibility I suppose, but more likely they will leave because there is a lack of skilled workers to work in them! Cutting education funding is not going to help that one little bit.

It gets worse. On top of all that, the budget raised Provincial Sales Tax to 6%, but then added it on to things that were previously exempt like restaurant meals and children’s clothing. This has caused uproar within the restaurant business community and I can see why. My coffee shop proved unmanageably expensive to operate anyway (and I have just suffered through my business tax return so this is very raw!) but adding 6% to all the prices would have killed it far earlier. More expensive treats would mean fewer regular customers, plus adding 6% on to the cost of the ingredients would seriously hack into the bottom line. The news predicts a lot of restaurant closures, but of course, it’s all the small independent businesses that come off worst – the sort that are least affected by the cut in corporation tax.

It is this last part that affects me so directly. It damages my chances of either setting up another coffee business or even just getting a new job in that line of work too. And I really, really need a job. I’m up to 27 applications now, still nothing. This is becoming crucial because, on top of everything else, Carl just got laid off from his job! After 5 years there, being incredibly busy and putting in some serious overtime, getting a pay rise in January and even winning an award for his work at one point, they just let him go last week with no warning whatsoever, along with 10 others in the same office. Little consideration for the fact that he was actually in the middle of working on projects at the time, nor that he was the only person in the Regina office doing that job with that skillset. The only other person who could do what he does is in Saskatoon and only works part time. Someone, somewhere is not thinking things through, and it’s at our expense. The company could lose a load of business over this, and Regina is a small town – their reputation is in the mud now.

He can get EI benefits, but it is not going to cover things for all four of us, so we will have to rely on the Saskatchewan Social Assistance Program – that is, provincial funding that will help us cover all the new provincial taxes on things like clothes for our kids and no doubt, go towards the hike in city taxes that will come to make up for the provincial cuts too. Ironic, isn’t it?

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Want to help?? *bats eyelashes*