Category: Uncategorized

Get Real?!

To the guy who yelled “get real!” at me as I cycled to work in the snow this morning and made me jump out of my skin:

1. You’re an arsehole.

2. What possible difference does it make to your day whether or not *I* cycle to work? You weren’t even heading in the same direction, so it wasn’t like I was in your way.

3. I hope you skid and get stuck in a snow drift.

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Get real: Whereas I don’t expect random idiots like that to comprehend that some people actively don’t want to drive, I’d hope that maybe he’d understand that not everyone can afford to drive. I kinda fall into that category. Very, very reluctantly I am learning to drive finally. I feel like I am selling out and going against everything I believe in… but even if I miraculously pass my test, our functional car is in PA with Carl, and the other one needs a new transmission that will cost nearly 3 times what we spent on the car in the first place. We do not have that sort of money right now, so biking is where it’s at for me, even in the snow. (For the record, there is no bus that can get me to or from work at times when I actually need to travel, annoyingly).

Get real. To my mind, cars are like cigarettes. They are highly addictive. Once you start driving, it is very difficult to break the habit of driving everywhere, all the time. I’ve seen all my friends who got their licenses in their 30s do just that – we all used to walk everywhere and take the kids in strollers, but now they all drive 3 blocks ‘just cos it’s easier’ as the kids got bigger.

Get real, cars are bad for you (as they stop you walking/biking), and bad for the whole planet. More people are killed by cars every year than by cigarettes  (I think?). Cars smell and pollute the air (like cigarettes), and if that guy this morning is anything to go by, they are as anti-social as cigarettes too.

It is my fervent belief that in the not-too-distant future private car ownership will be looked back on with horror, as early cigarette adverts are today.

Until then though, in Regina we have totally inadequate cycling infrastructure to deal with, brutal winters and screaming car-worshipping commuters. Bike safety advice from this city might as well be:

– Do not expect drivers to waste time looking for you. Wrap yourself in fairy lights at all times and sound an air horn as you travel.

– There is no situation where bikes ever have right of way.

– Reexamine your life choices at every intersection.

– Never inconvenience your superiors in cars by occupying the middle of the lane. Your place is in the gutter. To turn left, please levitate above the traffic.

– For safety, consider travelling in a motorized metal box at all times.

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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?

The significance of yellow boots

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

I don’t often give my dreams much thought, other than when helpful friends point out the screamingly obvious – teeth falling out dreams meaning insecurity and so on. (Thanks Andie!) However, I think recurring patterns and one very vivid recent dream have some poignancy. The other night I dreamt about riding a motorbike. I did used to ride, but never got my full license. In the dream, I knew it had been a long time but that I could ride if I tried hard. Except for some reason, I was chasing something down a hill on a huge yellow motorcycle, whilst wearing my yellow Doc Marten boots but I was sat on the bike the wrong way. My feet could just reach the pedal, but I couldn’t really see where I was going. Yet, I was swerving around successfully and just about navigating, but I did not feel at all safe. Someone else passed me on a bike also wearing yellow boots and I knew I could catch them up if only I could turn round and see the road, but I couldn’t. And I still didn’t know what it was I was supposed to be chasing.

An odd metaphor for my present situation, I believe. I know I can make this business work, I have done so before, but I am out of practice, and there are various factors outside of my control. I have to go on despite not being able to see where it is all headed, and I am also consciously aware of competition – the folks who are sat on the bike the right way round! A quick google reveals that yellow is the colour of intellectual design and of awareness and identity. Make of this what you will, dear reader.

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The Wascana Tea Party

I may not have written since Theia was born, but that does not mean we haven’t been up to much. In fact, at 10 weeks old, she has been getting political:

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Since my last post, the country has changed, or at least we all hope it has. We experienced our first federal election! The build-up to it was (by Canadian standards) exceptionally long, and it was certainly expensive. But well worth it in that the deeply unpleasant cyborg tyrant, Stephen Harper was finally ousted after 10 years.
I have rapidly been learning Canadian politics from the relative comfort of my safe little left-of-centre middle class bubble. I even read Harper’s biography, and that was worryingly negative given it was written by a more right-wing sympathiser. I always thought that, ignoring a lot of dismal social policies, Harper had at least handled the economy well in comparison with most of Europe after the 2008 global banking crisis. Unlike the UK, Canada did not have any collapsed banks or major industries to bail out. It also recovered from the recession quicker than anywhere else. But then, I learned that we are now in another recession – in part of course a consequence of falling oil prices. And oh boy does Harper like oil. He probably dunks his Timbits in it. As I see it, the only way Harper managed to balance the budget was to cut the funding to all that was good in the world, namely women’s groups, First Nations services, environmental research, health care and support for war veterans, immigration and refugee services, CBC and Canada Post. On top of that, he’s also muzzled scientists and prevented any one publishing research that is in any way inconvenient to Tory policies – in other words, any thing related to climate change and how damaging the oil industry is. His environmental record is appalling. The government’s relationship with First Nations leaders is disfunctional at best. He’s an Islamaphobe and somehow managed to turn one woman wearing a Niqab into an election issue (although that did give rise to the wonderful tumblr account, Niqabs of Canada) and I even read about the PMO apparently vetting refugee applications from Syrians and giving priority to non-muslim applicants. I sincerely hope that’s not true. And he’s royally ballsed up the temporary foreign worker program (as I’ve documented on here!). Oh yeah and there’s the C51 anti-terrorist/license to spy on people bill and the un-Fair Elections act. And all the senate scandals. All in all, not a very nice guy.
Theia and I have already been on an Anti-Harper protest, we went to go sing “Harperman”. A pissed-off  government scientist (researching migratory birds?) wrote the song and put it up on Youtube, then got fired for it. So last month, groups all over the country staged a mass Harperman singalong, Regina included:
Harperman singalong in Regina

Anyway, we sat up to watch the election last night. We couldn’t vote, of course. We’ve been living here for 3 years, paying taxes for three years, we’re 3 years into the inordinately long permanent residency application, I started a business here and employ Canadians, I gave birth to a Canadian(!) But nooooo. No vote for us.(flippancy aside, I am not that surprised really…) I got talking to another expat on Twitter, and we decided that in the spirit of 18th century Bostonians, we would form the Wascana Tea Party. I got my tea bags ready to chuck in the lake:

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No taxation without representation!

Even without our votes (ahem!), Harper was ousted. Unfortunately the NDP, who I would probably have voted for, also got pretty badly defeated. That leaves us with a Liberal Prime Minister called Justin. Justin. He’s young and charismatic and made out to be the saviour of the old liberal party, snd he fills me with fear because I just see a better-looking Tony Blair. Please don’t be a Tony Blair, Mr. Trudeau. I admit, I don’t know much about the Liberal’s actual policies yet, but, well, Harper’s benchmark was set pretty damn low, so they MUST be an improvement,  right? And as the internet has already pointed out, Trudeau is showing how in touch he is with the millenial generation – by moving bank in to his parents’ house…

Explosions, the Blue Moon and the world turns upside down…

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A7E2F4 Illustration of asteroid colliding with earth <- No idea who to credit for this image, sorry/thanks if it’s yours!

She’s here!! Little Theia was born last week, almost exactly on time! Even better, she was born under a blue moon, and on our wedding anniversary. Whereas I can think of several more comfortable ways to spend our anniversary, she’s the best anniversary present ever – or at least, since Miranda showed up pretty close to our when-we-met-anniversary 5 years ago. Theia is HUGE and beautiful and brilliant and we’re all a little bit in love.

Everyone LIED though. The second one is in no way easier nor quicker. In fact, Theia took 28 hours of painful labour to arrive, exactly the same as her sister. I say “painful labour” – I know there is a difference between active labour and the first contractions, but I don’t subscribe to the theory that the first bit doesn’t count – it’s still just as much work and just as painful! Without getting too graphic… well… not really… I started getting contractions and my “hind” waters broke around lunch time exactly on my due date. I called the midwife, and went in to hospital when I thought the contractions were close to 5 mins apart. It wasn’t comfy but it wasn’t agonising at that point, but losing fluid meant that things were actually officially happening. However, the hospital had different ideas. The Labour ward was packed – they only have 8 rooms, and had an induction list with 10 people scheduled, let alone “walk-ins” like me. They examined me, but said they would only admit me when I was 4cm dilated. Despite the contractions I was nowhere near. So off we went home again. Miranda was really disappointed, she’d been so excited recently and even has a little countdown clock that had reached zero and now just says “BABY” expectantly.

By midnight I was in a ridiculous amount of pain and having very regular contractions, so we tried again, going in through Accident and Emergency. Again, they checked and again, I wasn’t sufficiently dilated. Argh!! I was so frustrated and so tried I cried in the car going home. However, the nurse did give me a blissful shot of morphine, so at least everything went foggy for a while and I got some sleep.

I survived around til 11am the next morning thanks to a few different forms of opiates, but by then I couldn’t stand it. My friend had brought round a “birthing ball” and it was actually quite handy – made you squat in the right position, but supported you underneath during the contractions. AND it was purple. I persuaded Carl to take it with us to the hospital. This time I FINALLY got admitted, but I’d been having contractions for nearly 21 hours by that point.

The Lovely Midwife met us there, and mercifully got me an epidural. I dozed through dilating from 4cm to 9cm, with Carl calmly eating sausage rolls and reading The Martian in the delivery room, and therefore fully deserving the screaming and swearing I hurled at him later. I wasn’t allowed to eat in the hospital except “clear” things – water and fruit juice was fine, but nothing solid except jelly/jello! Very odd, but I had three tubs full.  When it was time to do the pushing, my beloved epidural had to go as I needed to be conscious and active; they already knew she was going to be big!  I am not going to pretend that was a miraculous, beautiful and magical event – there was a lot of screaming and a lot of blood and it was utterly agonising, and it took nearly two hours. This doesn’t happen on Coronation Street.

Theia came out at 9lb 2oz, or to sensible people, just over 4kg. Her head was 37cm circumference – go measure and WEEP. That is one BIG baby, given she wasn’t remotely late. In comparison, my friend ended up having her daughter 2 weeks early, three days after Theia was born, and there was a full 3lb difference between them. I had stitches, again, but my dramas weren’t limited to her size – I haemorrhaged while delivering the afterbirth (although Lovely Midwife did describe the placenta as “very fryable”!). Ended up losing over a litre of blood, proper horror-movie style projectile gore and everything! Gruesome.  They tried to move us to the Mother and Baby room, but I passed out as soon as I tried to sit up. Cue worried looking people rushing in,Carl being handed Theia rather quickly,  a drip, iron tablets and scary talk about blood transfusions. I don’t know how long I had to rest up at that point, but eventually they let my parents and Miranda come visit (which I think !helped Carl a lot – he got to hear a lot more of the scary stuff than I did) and that made me feel a lot better!

They kept me in over night and all the next day, just in case. I didn’t really get that much rest because Theia learned what boobs are for within 10 minutes of being born, and she gets HANGRY. Not just upset, but red faced and RAGING until she’s fed. It’s so cute! After that, I managed to convince them to discharge me on grounds that I was “asymptomatic” – blood count was very low but I hadn’t passed out again. We were finally home with The New Moomin!

Theia was absolutely fine – got lots of hair and the longest toes imaginable. Miranda is over the moon about being a Big Sister finally! She suddenly seems so big and so grown up in comparison, but she’s very proud and wanted to show off her new baby sister to everyone at daycare. In fact, we aren’t allowed to call her Miranda any more, she just wants to be referred to as Big Sister. Granny and Grandad are equally besotted, and its been great having them here to help. They’ve been keeping Miri busy and entertained while I “recover” – I’ve been confined to bed for a week to regain strength and haemoglobin and allow stitches to heal (I didn’t actually survive the whole week in bed due to impatience and boredom, but I will admit I overdid it a few times when I disobeyed!). It’s been hard on Miri because its a big adjustment anyway in terms of not being the Only Child anymore, but she also can’t really understand why Mummy can’t play or bath her or rush about with her at the moment. Hooray for expeditions with Granny!

Anyway, here she is!

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But what of the explosions, I hear ye cry? In Greek mythology, Theia was goddess of blue skies (appropriate for Saskatchewan, I thought), and one of the Titanesses, and mother of the moon and the dawn. Though we couldn’t really plan it, our Theia was born under a blue moon! Carl did influence the name decision as well: Theia was also the name given to the theoretical planet-sized asteroid that collided with the earth and formed the moon over 4bn years ago. Again, we thought this was quite appropriate given the explosive nature of her birth and her large size. The image at the top of the post is supposed to be the Theia explosion. We didn’t actually have a boy’s name picked, so we were lucky that we got the Theia we’d planned for!

We love our little explosive bundle. 

The Big Reveal

Double-posted cos I’m excited and not everyone is geeky enough about coffee to read my other blog!

Spilling the Beans (Research Journal)

It is all happening again!

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My personal collection of madness hamsters have been nibbling on my brain again  too much recently. The weird little critters that invade at 3am and whisper things like “you’re not a corporate person” or “what’s the point in having a salary if you have no time to enjoy it?” Or “you’re too creative for a 9-5”  and “the more bored you get, the more we will steal your brain” and so on. They are annoying. I also tend to think they are right.

hamsters Copyright: Edward Monkton

I don’t want the hamsters to steal my brain, but I was resigned to what I tried to convince myself was a sensible option – working a secure, decently paid and non-stressful (but BORING) job for a number of years in order to save up enough money to start my coffee shop again properly, and also to…

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6 Things You Need To Know About Canadaland

Got word yesterday that our good friends Hilary and D are coming out to visit us in October. Flights all booked, it’s official! Actually they are really coming to go on Merry go rounds I mean, rollercoasters in Edmonton and Toronto, and were thoroughly disappointed in us when we moved to the province with no theme parks at all!

After telling them to save their toonies for doubledoubles at Timmies and reminding them to bring their toques and bunnyhugs (with no explanation!) I started thinking of sensible things they may need to know to come out here. Sure, Canada may not be most exotic foreign locale where next to nothing is at all familiar, but there are definitely some cultural differences they may need to be aware of.

Of course this is a case of “two countries divided by the same language” – so there are a few things to remember like, when trying to decorate your home, never go into Walmart Home Dept looking for Pot Plants – they are called “potted plants” or Plants in Pots. Asking for pot plants may get you in trouble. Similarly, if you ask for a Torch in Canadian Tire (sp!!) then you will get shown things you actually have to set fire too, as required by lynch mobs. You actually need a “flashlight.” Another thing I’ve noticed which is weirdly Canadian – no one has overhead/ceiling lights in their front rooms/lounges. Side lamps all the way. I have no idea why, but it makes reading quite tricky in the evening! But more generally, here are my 6 Things You Need To Know About Canada:

1. Distances are measured in hours. I keep coming back to this idea because even after 2 years I haven’t got my head around the sheer vastness of the country. Hils and D are heading to Edmonton then on to Toronto, but thought they’d stop in Regina on route. I guess technically it is on route, but not in British sense of geography. I think the greyhound bus to Toronto takes Two Days from here.  But drive you must – there are no trains, and internal flights are inexplicably pricey. Thusly, toilet breaks by the side of the highway are perfectly acceptable, and gas (petrol) is much cheaper.

2. Following on from that it seems that if you don’t drive or own a car, you become less of a person in Canada. Everything is designed around the car, to the point where major thoroughfares don’t have pavements sidewalks. I was warned quite seriously not to start a business here unless the premises had good parking, because people just won’t come in unless they can park right outside the door. There is no concept of “high street” shopping. In Regina, you cannot get to the airport without a car. There is no bus, no shuttle service and no public transport that serves it, and there’s no sidewalk and no pedestrian crossing on the only road that takes you there. Drivers education classes pretty much start in kindergarten and they let 15 year olds out in cars on the roads!! EEK! Setting out on foot or getting on a bike is like donning a Cloak of Invisibility.

3. Everything is huge. The cars. The number of degrees below zero. Walmarts. Mile-long freight trains. Buckets of coffee. Puffer jackets. Loo rolls. (Not that toilet roll itself is actually any bigger, but it is seemingly impossible to buy less than 24 of them at a time). We thought our house was fairly big and spacious until we bought brand new Canadian style sofas. They are humongous! Space is not something Canada lacks, and most residents -semi-consciously at least – appear to relish taking up as much of it as possible.

4. Canadians have a very sweet tooth. Things you expect to be savoury are often worryingly saccharine here! I don’t just mean the local perchance for maple syrup on bacon, I mean sweet barbecue marinades, jars of curry sauce crammed full of sugar, sweet pickles, even bread is oddly sweetened too. Timmies, the ultimate, iconic Canadian brand, offers all things baked fresh – except if you are looking for cheese and onion slices, sausage rolls or Cornish pasties. Savoury baking seems to be a very British thing!

5. The kids are alright. I am not going to get in to my usual gripes about them bulldozing our local school or the extreme lack of daycares in this area, because in general, Canada is one of the best places in the world to raise children. (I am aware that this point is on the annoying side of irrelevant to Hils and D, but… tough.) School starts much later – at 6, not 4 and half as in the UK, which means kids can be kids for much longer. Outdoorsiness is much more actively encouraged, and best of all, when we first arrived, we saw children playing outside on the street, on their own – bikes, footballs, street hockey, pavement chalk, whatever. Point is, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same level of Bubble-wrapped babies and Paranoid Parenting here. Older kids walk to school on their own, and the younger ones are packed off, alone, on the lovely yellow school buses to get themselves to kindergarten. In Regina, there is a park with green space and a playground almost every 5 blocks. Daycare is not cheap, but it is much more affordable here than in the UK, and there is help with the costs available too. Maternity and parental leave is much more generous and accessible and the majority of employers seem to recognise that new Dads need more than 10 days paternity leave to get over the shock! We think this is awesome.

6.  When a Canadian says it’s cold, they don’t mean -2 and a bit chilly. They mean polar vortex, road-cracking, often lethal cold. I believe I may have mentioned this before… I learned an interesting fact the other day, from a nurse, who said that dexpite Saskatchewan being the sunniest province in Canada, there were more people here with vitamin D deficiencies than anywhere else too. It may be sunny, but Saskatchewinians just don’t go outside to reap the benefits of it for over half the year, because of the extreme winters. (I feel much better all round because of the sunshine, but then I was always outside walking to and from work, or skating or amusing Miranda all winter. I am still new enough to find it exotic!) All weather is more extreme here. Today for instance, there was so much rain, a car got submerged up to its roof under the railway bridge downtown, and some parts of south Sask have reported 8 inches of rain in 12 hours!! It keeps life interesting, right?

I forget which comedian I am paraphrasing, but this is certainly not an original observation. However, it is worth sharing:
In Canada, there is brail on the bank notes, gay marriage is legal, and French is the official second language. Therefore, Canada is the only place in the world where two blind French lesbians can get married and pay for the ceremony in cash!”

We got a bit wet today. We will no doubt get more wet tomorrow when we drop Miranda at her wonderful daycare, or when I accompany friends from work on the morning Timmies run for a sweet breakfast bagel, having already filled my bucket-sized mug with nicer coffee at home. The rain is supposed to stop in time for Canada Day on Tuesday though, so we can celebrate in style with pancakes topped with maple-bacon, and then cycle past all the huge trucks as people drive their families a few blocks down to the park for huge barbecues and fireworks. It will be a heartfelt celebration for us again – despite the weirdisms and the weather, we love living in Canada!