Tag: travel

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?

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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.

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!

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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!

It’s too peopley out there!

Apparently turning this tablet on to “airplane mode” also turns off the bluetooth keyboard… argh! First world problems…
We are on a plane returning home via Toronto, from Heathrow. I still like saying Home, from Heathrow. Gone are the days when landing in London signified the end of a trip! The Canadian adventure continues. However, I am still sad to be returning home, because we have had a wonderful two weeks with The Parents and rushing around all over the UK trying to catch up with friends and more distant relatives. Worse, it’s New Year’s Eve and British Midnight will happen for us in mid-air between Toronto and Regina during our internal flight tonight. Canadian New Year will happen at what we’ll think is 6am tomorrow morning. I doubt we’ll be in a fit state to celebrate either!image
Seeing Granny and Grandad for Christmas was lovely, and it was nice to see all the new weird constructions and eccentricities in their garden, including the newly finished, 24ft high grain elevator (sans grain). My cousin Ol, good friend Hannah and Honourary Auntie Cathy all visited the weekend before Christmas and it was a lot of fun having a large houseful. Ol has already been commissioned to design them a suspension bridge to join the bank to the top of the grain elevator tower, as you do. Hannah was enchanted with everything in the strange parental abode, from the gargoyle that looks like Ol, to the politically correct snowman on the tree to, for some reason, Mum’s 30 year old dinner plates. The mind boggles. It was very, very noisy! Hannah insisted we go out for a walk to find a stone circle on the top of a hill. Whereas I will admit it wasn’t actually raining and wasn’t nearly as cold as Saskatchewan, it was wet and muddy and blowing a gale and a thoroughly unpleasant experience for everyone involved except perhaps Hannah, and Miranda who complained and wanted to be carried until she found Interesting sheep poo.

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Hill walking. Not my thing. At all.

We really trekked all over the place too. The first trip was to Redcar, via Sheffield to deposit Ol. Poor Carl had to quickly relearn not only the route through the twisty little lanes out of the hills where The Parents live, but also how to drive on the left, change gear, negotiate roundabouts and do hill-starts, none of which are necessary skills for Prairie driving. He got the hang of it again fairly quickly, but didn’t seem like he enjoyed the experience. Sheffield was quite hellish though, a lot of pre-Christmas traffic and all the roundabouts have changed again, or so it felt. It took us over an hour to get in to the city, and a further 30 mins to escape again. We did get to meet Ol’s new house mate though. (“What’s she like?” “She’s vegan.” “Oh.”)
DSCF9204We collected Grem and new girlfriend in Richmond a good deal later than planned. Next stop was Redcar: featuring the local speciality, the Lemontop icecream, stunning views of the offshore windfarm, nuclear power plant and steelworks, a desolate stretch of beach on the north east coast, a 99p store (now closed down)a usefully located Wetherspoons, and most importantly, home to the wonderfully welcoming Chapmen clan. The girls are now much bigger and more Northern sounding (Miri, with her neo-Canadian accent, amusingly stated that Ione “sounds silly”, in fact, “everything is silly here” according to her!) The kids stayed with poor Rachel who had to endure watching Frozen AGAIN, while we headed to the Wetherspoons to meet as many Northerners as we could find. We got 8 together eventually, and it was great to see everyone again after nearly 3 years. We’re just sorry it was such a short evening!
On the way back, we stopped near Pontefract to meet Carl’s family, none of whom I’d never met, and most Carl hadn’t seen in 30-odd years either. They all thought Miranda was wonderful, and took great interest in Carl’s now pretty extensive family tree he’d been researchjng. It is very very wide. He has a LOT of cousins. Ah, the joys of Facebook and Ancestry.com. Perfect for emigrants!
After a day to recover, we headed to Birmingham to meet Julie and deliver her Canadian ex-pat care package of Goldfish crackers and strawberry Twizzlers. Mercifully, we opted to take the train rather than drive, because the city was packed with people. Miri was rather excited about her first memorable train ride, too. In true Christmas spirit, we went skating! It was an artificial rink obviously and extortionately expensive particularly when we’re used to Regina’s lovely free one with free skate hire back home. It did have large plastic penguins that you pushed around that helped Miri stay upright, and Birmingham being a very multicultural city, we also got to witness a woman on skates pushing a penguin round, while wearing a full burka. Not something you see too often in Regina!!
Christmas itself involved the usual festive gluttony and cheeriness and manymanymany presents were received!

Christmas Eve pile of presies
Christmas Eve pile of presies

(thank you, all!). The problem is, we received a greater volume than we gave out, and so we had to borrow a suitcase off the parents and pay an extra baggage fee to get them all home! Unpacking them will be good, because I’m sure Miranda got so many she didn’t even see some of them.
As soon as we’d recovered from the festive food comas, Mum drove us all down to see my nan and family in Sussex, via a short stop at my aunts on route. There were very long traffic jams…  Nan couldn’t put all of us up at her house, so Carl, Miri and I stayed at a Premier Inn down town. Comfy enough, but with an oddly smelly hallway. Also, if one of us left the room with the key, the others were left sitting in the dark, as you needed the key card to keep the lights on! Bizarre. On Sunday we visited my step gran, my uncle and then another aunt fed us in the evening. Miranda charmed her honourary great uncle and big cousin Paul into playing Hungry Hippos all evening which was fun (from a safe distance!). After that, we took a double decker bus into Brighton (another touristy thing that got Miri very excited!) and went round the Sealife centre there which she thoroughly enjoyed. She even got to meet Kwazii the Octonaut! (If you don’t know what that means, I shall spare you the explanation!). Brighton was also very busy and we struggled to find somewhere to sit and eat cos everywhere was full up! Best of all though, I got to meet up with Mice, a friend from school, who I haven’t seen for over 7 years. She’s doing well, still recognisibly Mice, and we’re hoping it won’t be another seven years before the next get together.
Finally, on our last day we went up to London on an eyewateringly expensive, horribly early train, to take Miranda to the Natural History Museum and the Science museum in South Kensington. The museums are both free, but it being school holidays, the queue was round the block even though we’d arrived before the place had even opened! There were more queues inside to get into the dinosaur exhibition, so we may well be the only tourists in history to tour the museum with a child and not see a single dinosaur. Instead, Miri LOVED the volcano section and had two goes on the earthquake simulator. I guess this is what happens with a geologist for a father.

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Dad’s family

Speaking of geologists, we’d arranged to meet Carl’s friend Paul (also an earth scientist) that afternoon, along with two more of Carl’s cousins. Unfortunately, meeting them involved navigating the tube system to Covent Garden with an extremely overtired Miranda in tow. The tubes were PACKED. We were wedged in so tight, Miri sat on my foot clinging on to my leg to avoid being trampled. I’m only glad we didn’t have to attempt that with all our luggage, or worse, a pushchair still! Miranda, unsurprisingly, slept through the entire afternoon in a pub with the others, woke up once, glared at Tanya, ate a slice of sausage then went back to sleep, drooling quitely on to my knee. Two of the tube lines were closed on the way home, so we missed the train back to Newhaven. Instead, we got on one to Lewes intending to change, but then missed the connecting train as well. Argh. By this time, I was wiped out, so we had to mournfully phone Dad and get them to come rescue us. They picked us up quicker than the train could have done anyway, and we went back to my aunt’s house juuuust in time for sticky sweet Pavlova. Yum. Miri had woken up again by this point and “entertained” my cousin and the rest of the family, very loudly for another few hours until we forced her back to the hotel to bed…

So, right now we need a holiday to get over the holiday again, but sadly I have to work on Friday. Uuurgh. Of course, we sought out as many friends and family as we could over these two weeks, (most would never have forgiven us if we hadn’t!) But the whole trip felt Uncomfortably Peopley. I love my People, but it’s amazing how quickly you get used to the relatively sparse population density in Canada.  Getting stuck in 3-lane traffic jams heading south, driving in hopeless circles round sheffield, waiting for tables in greasy fish n chip shops in Brighton, queuing and playing sardines on the London underground all came as rather unwelcome culture shock having got so used to small-town-big-space Saskatchewan. We had a total of two sunny days the whole trip, the rext of the time it was wet and miserable or extremely windy and grey, and there was no snow for Christmas either…. I miss the parents and my friends and family, i miss being able to take Miri into cheap pubs, and I miss Cornish pasties and pork pies, but I really do not miss England it seems. We are still far better off where we are!

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Out of Province Expedition!

We actually left Saskatchewan!!

Our beautiful beastling turned FOUR recently, and to celebrate, Granny and Grandad came out for the summer holiday to see her. Having exhausted the tourism possibilities in Regina (sorry Regina Tourism, but this is still a small town!!) – and saved a packet on the flights, they flew via Iceland to Edmonton, and we met them there. Carl spent the fortnight prior to the trip lying underneath the car every night to ensure that nothing vital fell off the thing on route. The drive took TEN HOURS! We have NEVER driven that far in one go. I don’t think you actually could do that in the UK without falling off the edge (though I can imagine you could easily sit in traffic for that time!). Prairie driving is an altogether different experience from cross-country driving in Britain though. Carl barely had to turn corners, let alone negotiate spaghetti junctions or ring roads or traffic jams. In that ten hour trip, you pass just three sizeable towns – Saskatoon, North Batttleford, and Lloydminster, and there is A LOT of flat nothing in between them! The provincial border running through the middle of Lloydminster was quite amusing. Liquor tax is a lot lower in Alberta than it is in Sask; consequently there were three off sale places within 200 yards of the Alberta side of the border!! Other than that little distraction though, there was not a lot to look at. Miranda and I counted branches of Tim Hortons and grain elevators on the way there (11:15 repectively), and played “guess the function of that massive bit of agricultural machinery” (ie: “tractor Mummy!”) on the way back! Miranda also had a Canadian Rite of Passage, and had to have a wee by the side of the highway on route.

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Most of the journey looked like this.

The parents arrived without too many problems, and Miranda was overjoyed to see them again at the airport! We stayed in a self-catering condo place which was quite nice, but a loooooong way out of the city centre, which meant more driving for Carl. We ventured in to West Edmonton Mall on the first full day, and.. ye gads it’s huge!! Biggest shopping centre in the world, it takes up 6 postcodes, has 58 entrances and has an aquarium, full sized hockey rink, life sized pirate ship and an entire theme park inside it!! Dad and I were interested mainly for the 53 shoe shops, Miranda loved the performing sea lions and the manta rays in the aquarium, Carl and I took Miri skating – a weird sensation, indoors in June – and Mum suffered loudly all the way round. Given it was Tuesday afternoon, it was fairly quiet and not too busy, so she tolerated it, but the whole concept is more or less her idea of hell….

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We packed a lot in to a far too short week; Dad found an old fashioned tram that went along the high level bridge across the river – which was fun, after we’d wasted a lot of the morning in a (very good) coffee shop having missed two departures in a row! We also ventured out to the Ukrainian Village, a sort of heritage centre outside the city which was very interesting. It had a fully operational grain elevator, and Dad got very excited and talked to the bemused guide about the plans for the inside and pulley systems and so on for ages, taking notes for their home made one in their garden!

ImageWe also checked out Edmonton zoo (Capybaras! Unimpressed Goat!) and the Science centre (like a more-indepth version of the one in Regina, but with sound wave flames and jars full of ear wax. Our membership passes got us in free which was nice!) It was gorgeous all week – gloriously sunny during the day and not stiflingly hot, but nice enough to splash about merrily in the fountains in the grounds of the legislative building, and to go swimming outdoors – Miranda flatly refused to get in the pool at first, then just as we were getting tired, we plopped her in and then couldn’t get her out again. Typical! Best of all, we got to catch up with our friend Carmen, who moved back to Edmonton from Regina at Christmas with her little girl Maddy. Maddy and Miri were bestest buddies, and it was lovely to get them together again! We had a meal out together one night and Carmen invited us over for a barbecue later on too. She lives in Old Strathcona, near the university, which is a great area to be – much like Cathedral only bigger and with better coffee shops!!

Running about madly after dinner!
Running about madly after dinner!

There were Many Many presents for Miranda, unsurprisingly, but the worry now is that she associates seeing Granny and Grandad with Getting Presents, since she only sees them at Christmas and her birthday!! We took Maddy along with us for Miri’s birthday celebrations too, thinking having a friend along with her would mean Mummy has to go on fewer rides. This was true, but it didn’t make the day any less exhausting!! We took them to Galaxyland, the theme park inside the massive-mall, where fortunately they had a Small Kids section which didn’t involve any rollercoasters. They had an amazing time leaping about in ball pits and down slides and scrambling up rope bridges and so on though, ate an enormous amount of sickly sweet icecream cake, and then got so tired they couldn’t cope, so we had to go see the sea lion show again so they had a chance to sit still for ten minutes!

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So all in all, a wonderful week!! We all seemed to like Edmonton – it was big enough to be interesting, but not overwhelmingly huge and busy. There was plenty more we could have explored if we’d had the time though. The drive back was more boring than the drive there because we didn’t want to come back. A week is not long enough! We reluctantly went back to work, and it’s rained every since we got back, and now feels like we never left. Bah. It’s nice having Granny and Grandad around! They are too far away!! A girl needs constant Presents!!!

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:

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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:

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

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(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:

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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