Tag: Saskatchewan

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?

4f6946a74ead3c6570f080dc38875ccb

 

Want to help?? *bats eyelashes*

Advertisements

Saskatchewan stereotypes

I am in a wide open space…. There is a great deal of snow-covered nothing out here. Carl is driving us back, 300km of dead straight roads stretching out ahead of us and not another car in sight. Its almost eery. They even put rumble strips running up to the few junctions to wake you up in case you’re using cruise control and forget to turn!

image

There are many jokes and stereotypes about Saskatchewan, most of which I have ignored because they don’t really apply to Regina.
“In Saskatchewan, time stands still” (no daylight saving time)
“In Saskatchewan,  you can see your dog running away for two days”
There’s also plenty of Corner Gas references that I can’t comment on having never seen it, and then there are the less kind comments about marrying your cousin and so on….
In comparison to the UK equivalent, Regina is a small town, barely a blip on the map and certainly not a “city” in the more generally understood sense of the word. To my mind, a place is not a city unless you can walk for more than half an hour without running in to someone you know. After nearly 4 years here, i am pretty much guaranteed to see a familiar face as soon as i leave the house. This is not just because the population is tiny but also because everyone is so friendly. But outside Regina, in rural Saskatchewan the likelihood of running into anyone,  whether you know them or not, is distinctly remote.

The Parents are here for Christmas, and this year we decided to go adventuring and booked a log cabin in the woods near Greenwater Lake, which is about 3 hours north west. It was gorgeous! Much more snow than in Regina, and Proper Trees! I didn’t realise I missed trees, but it was oddly pleasing to wake up surrounded by them again.  We were the only people in the campsite, and got to play around in the snow,  take Miranda toboganning and march across the frozen lake completely undisturbed. No phone signal and no wifi either – actually quite lovely, At night it was pitch black and utterly silent, to the point where Miri woke up st 1am wanting her bedside light on because she was scared of the dark. She’s not used to it!

Of course,  this also meant that there was no food. We’d read online that there was a cafe in the provincial park, and so hadn’t brought much with us. It being Christmas week and the park being empty apart from us, of course the café was closed, and so we had to venture out to “nearby” Porcupine Plain (25km away) as soon as Carl started looking hungrily at the squirrels. There were only two places that did food in Porcupine Plain, and both were just about to close at 8pm when we finally arrived. The first was WEIRD. Funny little cafe with chunky white diner mugs, and a group of old men who just stared at us without saying anything when we went in. There seemed to be no one behind the counter and no one interested in serving us, and also nothing that looked like food, just the diner mugs full of stewed coffee. So we turned around and walked out again, and still the men didn’t say anything.  Next door (literally), was much more friendly, and despite us arriving two minutes before closing time (sorry!) we were soon presented with enormous burgers and small mountains of chips. Yum. As we left, I read the community notice board: a house for sale for $45,000 complete with its own well on site(ie: no running water), a poster for the Christmas Eve service at the church, and an ad for “Firearms training”…

On route, we’d stopped in Wadena, and encountered our first Coffee Row. I’d vaguely heard about this little ritual: small cafes in tiny communities where people gather with their coffees on one long table to chat and discuss the world all day, every day. It may sound simple enough, but it is a very distinct cultural phenomenon in small town Saskatchewan. From what we heard it was mainly about what was on TV last night and the weather, but my parents rather reluctantly got into conversation with the old man next to them, who was not only fiercely proud of being Canadian, but also a devoted Christian. After makinng sure we understood the true meaning of Christmas, he fortunately turned back to his friend before he really noticed he was addressing a bunch of liberal godless cynics!

Those cafe experiences were glimpses of Real Saskatchewan for me: remote but friendly, conservative but well-meaning,  flat and cold, but beautiful and certainly a very very long way removed from the grey, miserable mass of humanity in Britain where we were last Christmas!

Little House on the Prairie

I have never seen that show. Ever. Is that a bad thing?

In other news:

image

This is VERY exciting, especially after the miserable summer. I’m 14 weeks now, feeling very sick and lethargic (still), we’ve had a scan and all seems to be well in there. I’m due at the end of July, which of course is going to complicate cafe matters no end, but something will work out, it always does!
What’s this got to do with Little House on the Prairie? I hear you ask. There is a tentative connection, I promise. I have a friend who is also pregnant now, and we’ve been discussing all sorts of things baby-related, including nausea, the cost of giant bras,  exhaustion, how sympathetic are husbands are(n’t), the lost art of sewing, hospitals and midwives, and restricted diets.  She misses wine. I miss wine too, and watching Carl drink beer over Christmas was not particularly fun at all.. grr… but actually I am usually too sick to contemplate the idea of alcohol anyway.
But why can’t I have wine? She wails. “In medieval times, they drunk beer and wine all the time because the water was too dirty, and they all had babies quite happily….” A good point, though I am doubtful about the “happily” part. I also pointed out that not only was the beer much, much weaker, they also used alcohol as one of the few forms of painkiller, despite high infant mortality rates they had no way of diagnosing foetal-alcohol syndrome anyway, and a great many women died in childbirth too. Apparently, this means I am no fun.
I have been having random attacks of creativity recently, and I am wondering whether this is part of the “nesting” instinct – I certainly haven’t been filled with the desire to clean my house or anything. But I did attempt to sew a baby sleeping bag and ‘upcycle’ an old t-shirt into a swaddling blanket for summer. Neither attempt was particularly successful. This is how we got on to talk of Little House on the Prairie. I’m not sure exactly when it is set, but Pregnant Friend was saying how the family had to cope with the horrific prairie winters with little food and no coal, and how overjoyed they always were in the spring when the train finally arrived again and brought fabric so they could make new clothes.
It is a fairly safe assumption that neither of us would cope at all in those conditions – if the enormous trains running behind my house actually stopped and brought fabric supplies in the spring, we still wouldn’t know what to do with it. Though I think I might have the edge over my friend, especially when she says things like “I’d just curl up and DIE if I had to walk to work in the snow while pregnant” – erm, welcome to my world, dear… First world problems, indeed.
I have had similar discussions with other Mummy friends, some of whom are considerably more “naturally-minded” than I am. Some of them sew. Most Upcycle – (a word I believe has no place outside Pinterest) One had a water birth. There were doulas involved. Some even go as far as using all-natural, home made, environmentally friendly cleaning products. Crusty parenting, basically, though in Canada it is adorably called “crunchy”. Of course I respect their choices, and to them I must seem like a heartless cynic, but my real issue here is just the loose and liberal use of the word “Natural”.
I have a midwife now and I have every intention of breastfeeding, and I like using slings. (Babywearing to me, sounds like you have skinned your offspring and are using it as a scarf or something) This is about as crusty/crunchy as I get. However, I WILL have a natural birth, but I am not living on the set of Little House on the Prairie. Natural is not the same thing as “traditional”, and just because we always used to do it one way, doesn’t mean we should continue. It is 2015. Natural, for a white, Westernised woman living in one of the richest countries in the world, means hospital birth with medical experts on hand and as many free drugs as possible!!

Becoming a Regina Farmer

Miranda came home the other day saying she wants to be a farmer when she grows up. Fair enough – we’re in the right place!

Saskatchewan is Canada’s bread basket apparently – a lot of agriculture happens here in the Big Flat Spaces between towns. Abundant grain elevators. Last year at the Mustard festival, we learned that Saskatchewan is the largest exporter of mustard seed in the world. And then of course, Regina has it’s own Farmers’ Market. ( awaits jokes along the lines of “how do I farm Reginas?” from Mr Chapman) It is awesome. It gets bigger every week. Something like 13,000 people visit it on a week day morning. It wins awards.

Not every market vendor is actually a farmer. I don’t think the bread guy grows his own wheat, and I don’t think the pastry people grind their own flour..and as for me, um… well anyway, everything is made locally at least. All the vegetable vendors grow their produce locally, and it is all the better for it. There’s even a cheese stall with  my favourite goats cheese from their goat farm, and a man selling meat from his ranch, who originated from Cumbria, England. Although I am not a farmer, the market has welcomed my coffee business with open arms and empty travel mugs. It would be seriously difficult to cultivate and farm coffee in Saskatchewan anyway. But, I brew it here, straight in front of local Saskatchewinians, and more importantly, Bill roasts it here too. I feel like we fit in.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lacking the appropriate >800m above sea level altitude, the climate that never drops below 18C and the required humidity means I can’t farm coffee here, but to my surprise, I have actually managed to grow vegetables here – and not just any vegetables, MUTANT MARROWS. Apparently courgettes and marrows are both called Zucchini in Canada, but I mean excessively large tubular green things anyway. One little project I’ve been working on when I’m not at beer club/poetry slams or either of my two jobs, is gardening. Marianne and I have been tending a small plot in the local community gardens (allotments, to UK folk), and under her tutelage, I’ve managed not to kill anything (an amazing achievement!). Our veg even survived numerous storms and the wettest summer anyone can remember. I have been eaten alive by mosquitoes down there, so I feel my blood sacrifices may have been beneficial to the mutant generation process.
Who would have thought this:

humble beginnings
humble beginnings

– could produce this?

marrow
A Mega Marrow!

I should point out, that is one Mega Marrow of Many. One was so large I couldn’t get it home on my bike. I’ve made zucchini pasta sauce, zucchini gratin, stuffed zucchini, deep fried zucchini, zucchini Thai green curry, zucchini stir fry and zucchini relish. Marianne made zucchini chocolate cake too, and I even gave away seven of the buggers to people at work. And both Marianne and I still have several of them in our freezers.

I NEVER WANT TO SEE A ZUCCHINI/MARROW/COURGETTE EVER AGAIN!!!!

My neighbouring stall on the market last week was Scandinavian Sweethearts, who make amazing pickles with homegrown veg. The Scandinavian sweetheart told me she had over 300lb of cucumbers this year. I can sympathise, but then, she is intentionally growing them in bulk. Ours were… not intentionally so oversized… Mind you, it seems to be a Saskatchewan trend this year. Market Manager Ada has been spotted modelling a huge cabbage on her head. Perhaps this is what happens to you if you spend too long in the company of Regina Farmers….?

Fallen through the gaps

I thought we were pretty much settled in Canada. I thought the hard bit was over, all that painful waiting for LMOs, betrayal by someone I considered my best friend back in Darlo, the stress of being parted from Carl for a while, getting rid of the house, all the hassle of being entirely dependant on a spiteful, bullying employer, renewing our work permits, financial worries over the summer, finding more work, daycare, preschool, and applying for permanent residency, all dealt with! Frankly, I think we are doing bloody well, considering.
I got in the paper the other day!
The QC Magazine/Leader Post article

The article was nice, but even better was the response I got online:

wpid-wp-1392590750051.jpegwpid-wp-1392590768632.jpeg

I loved that. For the most part, we’ve been made to feel extremely welcome here, and we still love being here. The response to my business ventures has been incredibly positive as well.
(Conversely, I dared to comment that I liked the sunshine when my friend drove me across town for a work thing. It was -25C and she claimed she never wanted to be outside ever again. When I said it was so pretty with sunshine on the snow, she said “You are such an immigrant, Bel!!”)

Sadly, nothing is ever straightforward, and every time we relax and think we’ve got there, something else comes and bites us on the bum. The next lot of set backs and bureaucratic difficulties involve Miranda, and the fact that the health services don’t appear to think she exists. This is ridiculous, but sadly not something we can just laugh off.  Our original Saskatchewan health cards expired when our first lot of work permits expired. We renewed the work permits, Carl and I got updated health cards, but for some reason, Miranda didn’t. We tried to sort it out, sent in her passport, birth certificate, our permits, her old card, everything we could think of. The health services eventually wrote back and said her application remains incomplete, but didn’t say why, or what we could do about it. I phoned three times, never got a response, i emailed, and only got a reply 3 weeks after I sent it, and that only said “we need an updated immigration document” – what the hell does that mean??

Anyway, after assuming no further explanation was coming, the HR department at Carl’s work stepped in to help, and their immigration lawyer advised us that the quickest and simplest way to sort this out was to go to the border and “flag pole” – that is, drive into America, turn round, and come back again, and in doing so, get ourselves new stamps in our passports, thus renewing Miranda’s status as An Actual Person in Canada, apparently.

In some respects, it is fortunate that the US border is not that far away. We don’t have to cough up for flights or anything. Instead, we have a three hour drive to the North Portal office in North Dakota, just south of Estevan. Sadly, it is not exactly a scenic route, full of mountains or winding streams or glacial lakes. In fact, most of it looks like this:

wpid-20140215_123343.jpg

There are small little towns with much-appreciated toilet stops and grain elevators, and not much else:

wpid-20140215_124806.jpg

(At that one, Carl actually had to turn a corner! He’d almost forgotten how!)
As we got further south towards Estevan, we got out of grain silo country and into the oil lands, and discovered an oddly amusing population of nodding donkeys:

wpid-20140215_125054.jpg

They seem to roam in herds around here, there are loads of them!
Estevan itself looks… flat. I was looking forward to finding a Very Boring Postcard for Mr Chapman, either here or in North Dakota to add to his collection, but sadly all I could find was a fishing and hunting magazine. “Come to Sasatchewan! See magnificent wildlife! Shoot it!”

The border is a very funny place. Disappointingly, there is no actual line to cross. We essentially had to drive round in a car park, circling the metaphorical flag pole I suppose; passports checked in the Canadian side, move to the left, walk into the American office, check passports again, get a sheet of paper with our names on it saying that we had tried to enter the US from a bemused looking but intimidatingly armed border services agent, get back in the car, drive round the loop past a sign saying Enter the USA > or Return  to Canada<, then at the next gate, we were given this:

wpid-20140215_143847.jpg

I am intensely proud of that little pink slip!!!
We then had about half an hour to hang around in a little office with Miri eating peanut M&Ms out of a machine and dancing about as if to prove she was cute enough to be given a new status document. After Carl very carefully explained the situation, backed up by a letter from the wonderful Lacey in HR, Miranda was eventually given her own immigration document freshly printed and stapled into her passport. Woopedidoodah!! So she is legit again, and hopefully that new document is enough to prove her existence to the health authorities.

There were a few others waiting nervously in the office for similar immigration or emigation bureaucracy to occur. One guy from Saskatoon was awaiting his permanent residency certificate. We said congratulations – that is our next step I suppose. He had not been met with a particularly friendly service on the American side of it and was very glad to be back in Canada. So were we. So we celebrated by stopping at a Canadian institution in Estevan on the way back and eating bacon sandwiches and vanilla-dip doughnuts.

wpid-20140215_165239.jpg

It may be a 6 hour round trip in the snow, it may be a flat barren moonscape populated by industrial herds of nodding donkeys and oil-carrying mega-trains, but it is so worth it if we get to stay in this friendly, eccentric, vast and sprawling country!

wpid-20140215_180810-1.jpg

Getting all Googloid and festive!

I have a very new, very shiny, Google/Android gadget, courtesy of Carl. It does manymany thing that I don’t understand!

I turned it on this morning, and Google has made me a little video of my year in photos, all by itself, which is fun but a little creepy.

Also, my year appears to stop in September because I messed up the settings on my camera and apparently all pictures since then read as being taken n 2012! But never mind, enjoy!

The Girl is THREE!

Miranda, aged 3, with an enormous amount of presents!
Miranda, aged 3, with an enormous amount of presents!

I can’t believe I have a three year old daughter! She was only just a year old when we start the process of emigrating. And she’s now spent over a third of her short life in Canada. That makes me very happy indeed!

Celebrations kicked off far earlier than they should have done, in that we had Miranda’s party a full three weeks before her real birthday, because we wanted to do it when The Parents, sorry, Grandparents were here. Miranda neither knows nor cares I suppose! Mum and Dad have now been to Regina three times, once for Miri’s second birthday last year, once at Christmas, and now this next birthday. The upshot of which is, Miri now firmly associates Granny and Grandad visiting with Presents. Lots of Presents!

All Miri’s little friends came round, accompanied by their parents, meaning we could have a more adult get together as well. There was lots of beer (for us, not the kids), paddling pools and nakedness (the kids, not us), lots of brightly coloured pretty outfits (me, Mum, Miranda.. well, all of us really), a dinosaur Cake, jelly and icecream, and Carl did a magnificent barbecue as usual. We also started the day with a trip to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, or “wanna go see dinosaurs!” as it is more colloquially known. Miri and her friends Bryony, Willem and Maddy made use of the Paleo Pit quite happily! I’ve met so many people recently, entirely through staying home with Miranda instead of working in the coffee shop, and it was really nice knowing I have good friends so close that can be called on for sunny afternoons drinking beer in the garden AND providing company for Miranda. We’re only missing the sauna!!

Granny and Grandad stayed another week after the Arts festival and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They complain about the flatness, or the heat, or the rain, or both, but they do seem to genuinely like Regina, and not just because Miranda is in it. They spent a long time taking photos of the interesting houses around Cathedral Village, inspected Miri’s library sessions and the playschool we go to, and then took us to the Legislative building so I could pose in a graduate’s gown (hand made by Mum, out of a bedsheet, dyed an unfortunate pink, then touched up with Photoshop..!) and the fantastic mortarboard made by Rachel Chapman Millinery  because….I finally got my PhD! All official, but of course I can’t afford to fly back for the real graduation do. So here’s my doctorate photo that can be formally sent to my Nan!

That hat is even more fabulous than the picture shows! It has glass coffee beans on it!
That hat is even more fabulous than the picture shows! It has glass coffee beans on it!

We also went camping! Well, glamping. Alright, we stayed in a lovely log cabin, by Pike Lake, outside Saskatoon. But we did cook over a firepit (can you guess who loved that?), and got eaten alive by killer mosquitoes, and went swimming in the lake and it was generally glorious! We even hired an Aquabike to splosh about in. (Aquabikes are large tricycles with giant, floating wheels with paddles on – so much fun!)  It was a really lovely weekend and felt like a little holiday for Carl and I as well as the Parents. We’re slowly beginning to explore the Flatness  – a lot easier now Carl has managed to fix most of the car’s more serious injuries. My parents weren’t overly keen on the very very flat drive to Saskatoon and back, but they did get inspired enough to decide to build a replica Grain Elevator in their garden. As you do.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.