Thursday, December 24, 2009

(2004) Ready for our first Canadian Christmas

December 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Christmas Eve, and it is exactly two months since we landed. Seems like a lifetime now. Guernsey seems so far away and so long ago.

I am starting to get into the job search in a more systematic way, but I must admit I never thought it would be so difficult to break into a market where IT skills are supposed to be in demand. I've been setting up a few "informational interviews", which is a novelty to me and extremely nerve-wracking. It gives me the creeps to pick up the phone, call a complete stranger out of the blue and ask to meet with them, but it seems to be the expected thing to do here. Unfortunately, I am also getting the impression that much of the private sector is effectively a "closed shop", with most positions being handed to local people that the recruiters already know from university co-op placements or other networks. Well, it is early days yet.

In between times, we've continued to explore the region, both touristy and "local" sights. Royal BC Museum, the Wax Museum, the Maritime Museum, Witty's Lagoon, Willows Beach, and the fabulous truck parade. We also paid a visit to the famous Butchart Gardens to see the Christmas lights. As this will be right on our doorstep when we move into our house, we decided to take out a twelve month pass. I'm sure we will be visiting many times in the months to come.

On one of our trips I got talking to a chap who turned out to be an independent IT consultant. He confirmed what I'd already heard about the local job market, but was also confident that persistence would pay off. And he mailed me a list of contacts to follow up.

Well, we are all set now for our first Canadian Christmas. The tree looks fantastic in the apartment, with presents for the kids underneath it, and we've been invited for dinner tomorrow by friends we met camping eight years ago so we will see how real Canadians celebrate. There are snacks out for Santa and the reindeer, and it is time for bed. No knowing how early we'll be up tomorrow!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Not a bad dog, for a cat

One of our cats, Tigger, is a great big affectionate softy. When he and his brother, Tubbs, pale-ginger nearly-twins, are lying together in the sun, they would not look out of place in the Serengeti.

Despite appearances Tigger still has kittenish tendencies, like reaching through the banisters to swat you as you walk down the stairs.

But he also seems to think he is a dog sometimes.

He follows Megan and Matthew down the driveway to the bus stop each morning. And he often meets them coming home again.

A few times, he's hopped into the car when Ali has been taking the kids somewhere, and he's gone along for the ride. Cats don't usually enjoy that.

This afternoon, I took Gypsy for a walk. I got about a hundred yards up the road when I looked back. There was Tigger, trotting up the hill after us. I carried on walking, thinking he'd stop and turn back. Nope! Another hundred yards and it was obvious he wanted to come for a walk too!

As I was getting near a busier road, I had to phone Ali and get her to come and collect Tigger to take him back home, otherwise who knows how far he might have gone?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

(2004) Settling in

December 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

We both passed our BC driving tests you'll be happy to hear. Although not half as happy as us! When you go in to take your test, they take your UK licence off you, and you don't get it back if you fail! So, just to be safe, Ali didn't book her test until I'd passed mine.

We have also made our second major purchase - a new car. We went for a Ford Expedition. Huge great thing by our standards, although I suspect it wouldn't be too out of place in the country lanes of St. Saviours, where vehicle size seems to be inversely proportional to road width. One of the reasons for something this big is pulling power. We plan to go camping, and eventually we plan to buy a trailer (that's 'caravan' to you English) so we decided to start off with a suitable vehicle.

I did say 'eventually'. Right now, with the proceeds of our house sale sitting in the bank in Guernsey, twenty or thirty thousand on a trailer seems like nothing, even after accounting for the balance to pay on our new house. But we know we have a lot of more important things to buy, and I'm sure there will be significant expenses that we haven't yet taken into account, plus we don't know how long it will take me to get a job. The scary thing is that we can easily gain or lose that kind of money just on exchange rate variations from one week to the next. Let's hope for a strong British pound for the next month or so!

Now we know where we will be living next year, we've registered Matthew into a pre-school in Sidney, and Megan into kindergarten at McTavish school. Ali researched a number of pre-schools in the area, and Matthew was immediately at home in this one which was pretty much the deciding factor.

For Megan, we'd toyed with the idea of French Immersion, but everyone we'd spoken to here said that the system was highly over-rated. Also, the nearest school offering French Immersion was ten kilometres away and had no bus service from our area. In the end, we felt that it was more important for our kids to mix with children from the neighbourhood. One thing we are worried about is her getting bored at school. Before we left Guernsey, she was already in full time schooling and her reading and writing was highly advanced. We've found that the Canadian system starts off a lot slower, so while Megan is happily writing whole paragraphs of full sentences in a journal each day, some of her peers are only just learning to write their own names.

We are now all set for our first Canadian Christmas. We've been steadily stocking up on gifts for the kids, and our landlady kindly lent us a box of decorations. On our regular visits from downtown up to the Peninsula, we've driven past a Christmas tree farm, so we went and got ourselves a real tree. We drove very carefully back down the highway with it tied to the roof of the car. We still had the rental vehicle at that time - you didn't think we'd risk scratching the new one, did you?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Never let an eight-year-old pack his own swim bag

Yesterday, I had to drop Matthew off for his swimming lesson.

This is usually something Ali does while I do battle with the Sunday dinner. But yesterday she was helping out at A Touch of Saltspring craft fair, so the task fell to me. She would pick him up afterwards (the craft fair was at the rec. centre), all I had to do was see him safely to the pool side.

Let us gloss over the entertaining forty-minute game of Hunt The Goggles. That was a new one on me. But once I'd mastered that (they were hiding underneath a heap of shoes down by the guinea-pig cage) I thought I'd passed my initiation.

Chicken and potatoes safely in the oven, and vegetables all prepared, the game of Get Your Sweater, Coat, Shoes, and No You Can't Wear Those Shorts It's Minus One Outside was familiar territory. We were there, in the changing room, with a few minutes to spare.

"Dad! These swim shorts are too big!"

Yes, they were. Falling off him, in fact.

"Have you ever worn these before?"

"No. I just wanted to try them."


Go home for another pair? The lesson would be half over before I got back.

Send him in with these? No chance of them staying put.

Send him in without? Dangerously tempting.

In the end, I limped back to the car with one shoe flopping off my foot. After, that is, flapping to the poolside to brief his instructor on the experimental and slightly insecure role my shoelace was playing in his swimming attire.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas in the Village

Every year, the Saanich Historical Artefacts Society holds their "Christmas in the Village" event at Heritage Acres.

There are train rides on the marvellous miniature railway, through the woods and over trestle bridges all lit up.

Buildings everywhere are all lit up too.

And, of course, there's Santa surrounded by trees that the Peninsula Guide units decorated.

And even a bit of imported snow to make Gypsy feel at home.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The slippery slope of time

I often wonder why I always seem to have so little time for things like writing, and why the years seem to pass so quickly these days.

I (and others) usually ascribe it to the onset of old age (I'm allowed to say that. Others are just cruel.) But I'm working on a theory that it's simply because we are all so darned busy!

I present evidence thus:

What does a typical weekend look like for us?

Well, let's set aside all the mundane weekend stuff, like shopping for groceries, preparing meals, doing laundry, fetching in a stock of logs from the carport, cleaning out pet cages etc. because that's only a few hours.

But then, last weekend for example: Saturday morning, Ali and Megan volunteered at the soft plastics recycling bank while Matthew and I fetched a trailer load of logs that a friend had in their yard that they had no need of. In the afternoon, the Peninsula Guide, Brownie, and Sparks units took over the cinema in Sidney for a movie, then took part in the Santa Parade. Sunday, Ali, Megan, and Matthew helped decorate Christmas trees and the schoolhouse at Heritage Acres ready for their annual "Christmas in the Village."

A typical weekend? In a sense, no, most of those things are one-offs, but let's see...

Previous weekend: Saturday, drove up to Courtenay (a three-hour drive each way) to visit a friend who's recently moved up there. That didn't leave much room in the day for anything else! Sunday, we spent the whole day winterising our trailer. It's our first time through the procedure, so it took a bit of figuring out where everything was.

Today, the kids decorated their Christmas tree in the playroom and we put up our outdoor lights, as well as making a (belated) start on our Christmas mail. As soon as darkness fell, we went for a wander around Heritage Acres, then Ali & Megan went to help clean up the church hall after an event. Tomorrow we need to crack on with that mail if our international cards are to have any chance of reaching folks in Guernsey before the end of 2009.

Next weekend there's a Cub camp out in Sooke, and we need to cut a Christmas tree for the living room.

Hmm ... Anyone see a pattern emerging?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A magical start to December

After a long day at work, getting home, walking the dog, and fetching Megan from her musical theatre session, all I really wanted to do was curl up with a glass of wine. I was not in the mood for scoffing a quick meal and then turning out again into a chilly night.

But I'm glad we did.

It was the first night of the Christmas lights at the world-famous Butchart Gardens. By the time we got there, the first rush of visitors had died down and the gardens were eerily quiet. The lights were spectacular as ever, but the big attraction was the opening of the new carousel in its pavilion which we'd been watching slowly take shape on our visits throughout the year.

After a couple of rides, we wandered around the rest of the gardens then stopped for hot drinks and cookies. To finish off, I fetched Megan & Matthew's skates from the car so they could take a turn on the outdoor rink.

On the way out, we drove under the twelve arches each topped by a drummer, the last part of the Gardens' "Twelve Days of Christmas" display. As we left, we all sang the last verse, one line as we passed under each arch.

Barking mad? Yes, but it was a beautiful evening.
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