Friday, December 31, 2010

Last post of the decade

As 2010 draws to a close, I am enjoying a rare few minutes of tranquility. Amazing, considering that we have a house-full right now.

At work, we got the all-clear to finish early this afternoon. These three days between Christmas and New Year are always a blessed opportunity to take time out from the usual pressing demands.

This is now the third year in a row that I've used the time to focus my thoughts on the essentials of my role as a manager, with a view to regaining control of my own time. In past years, all the good intentions evaporated early January in a flurry of new issues, new projects, and the clinging baggage of last year's loose ends.

This year will be different! Now I've roped in other managers and my boss to help me keep focused, and to help work out whether I am going mad trying to do other people's jobs for them, or whether maybe there really should be two of me.

But that was earlier.

Now I'm home. The family are home. Ali's parents are still with us until next week, and we have to make room for our friend Bob, visiting from up-island for New Year. So my desk and laptop have temporarily migrated from the end room (my "office" and general store and rubbish dump) downstairs into our bedroom, so we can set up the foldaway bed.

I am sitting here in the warmth of the wood stove, listening to conversations upstairs. The kids are outside playing while the sunshine lasts. No arguments! Bliss! Bob, who is a keen musician, is giving Matthew's keyboard a try out. It is lovely to hear music permeating the house.

Soon we will be on our way to a party at the nearby Recreation Centre. Swimming and skating, water slide and hot tub await, followed by music and fireworks.

But the best bit is, when I post this, I know I will be sharing my experience with some new friends scattered across the globe. This blogging experiment is probably the biggest surprise of the year for me, and I am amazed at the people I've made contact with in just a few short months.

So, to all those of you who have added a new dimension to my life, I wish you all best wishes for 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My CPU needs an upgrade

Once upon a time, in the days when most home computers required a soldering iron and hours of patience to assemble, a fresh-faced and hairy-headed Botanist reported for duty at his first job as a programmer.

In those days, we shared three terminals between the whole department and you had to book time to use them. And you soon learned which times of the week were good to get work done, and which were not. During the latter times, the mainframe had regular batch jobs to process and the CPU's time was split many ways. You could sit at the terminal, type a command and go make a cup of tea before you got a response.

The machine hadn't died, it just had very little time to devote to any one task and it took a long time to make any progress.

That's a bit how I feel.

When I added the "Words and pictures" page to the blog (link above), Jean Davis observed that I had several projects to keep me busy. True, I have several novels in various states of completion, but I have to come clean here. They are mostly gathering electronic dust waiting for a slice of my time.

The only writing project active right now is Ghosts of Innocence, and even then work on the novel itself is limited while I try to keep up with critiques. I have at least managed to knock out a few critiques over the holidays, and I hope to post more chapters soon.

Another long-neglected project vying for attention is the pirate ship. I took advantage of a dry and bright day today to get back to some of the finishing touches before I can put that to rest.

Finishing touches include: Finishing off and painting the windows at the stern; adding and painting gun port hatches; planking out the rest of the hull at the stern; adding lanterns to the tops of the stern posts; finishing off the rigging (waiting for the builders store to have the right rope back in stock); adding halyards for flags; adding a rope ladder over the bow; and finding or making a wheel.


Just to complicate matters, my visual arts neurons have been twitching lately. Putting that "Words and pictures" page together, and adding some of my old paintings to the mix, got me thinking about taking up painting again.

Oh no! I remember all too clearly just how time-consuming that used to be! If I pick up a paintbrush again I am sure that will put paid to any prospect of revising Ghosts by the end of 2011.

I think I need an upgrade...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

This can be a tough time of year, with the expectations it brings of happiness, gifts, and time with family. These are things that not everyone can enjoy, as I have been reminded over the last week in trawling the blogs of my blogging friends. So, whatever Christmas looked like for you this year, I hope it was at least safe and warm, physically and spiritually.

We had a lazy Christmas day. We prepared the turkey the evening before and set the oven timer. This has become one of the things that marks Christmas day for me, now, waking up to the aroma of cooking percolating through the house.

Santa Claus visited during the night, and the kids woke us up just before 7am.

We have Ali's parents visiting from Bristol, and they are in no hurry in the mornings so it was mid-morning before everyone was breakfasted, dressed, and ready to sit down and exchange gifts. There were phone calls to family the other side of the Atlantic, and, in between times, Ali and I pottered in the kitchen preparing dinner. Because it was all so spread out, it was not rushed and didn't feel like a lot of work. We served up turkey, sausages, mashed and roast potatoes, and assorted vegetables.

The rest of the day was an unstructured meandering of movies and grazing on leftovers. Because everyone was happy to be left to their own devices, it was a relaxed and undemanding afternoon and evening, which suits me just fine.

So, please tell, how was it for you?

On a different subject, you may notice that I've now added links between the header and the posts. I wanted a separate page to describe my work in progress, which I'll update from time to time as things change. That is the "Words and pictures" link - I buried a few painting in there amongst the descriptions of novels.

I don't know if those page posts show up in the blogger dashboard. If they do, I apologise for the flood of edits. It took me a few tries to get it right. I also had to tinker a lot with the appearance of the links above, and in the end resorted to creating them manually because I couldn't get them to show up properly using the standard template tools. Oh well, it was a learning experience.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Be Jolly By Golly

Today is Melissa and Jen's festive blogfest.

So, here are the things Melissa and Jen are asking for...

Pictures of decorations

Here is our Christmas tree, expertly decorated by Ali.

Because we don't do a huge amount of decorating, other than the tree, here's a couple of shots from the lighted truck parade that wound through Victoria at the start of December. Sorry they are a bit out of focus, the trucks were moving at quite a pace and difficult to catch properly in the dark. These are the best I was able to pick out from a series of shots taken during the twenty minutes or so that the trucks streamed past, horns tooting.

Favourite holiday treats

Along with the traditional turkey dinner, we always make an effort to liven things up with some out-of-the-ordinary veggies. I recently posted a couple of recipes here.

Afterwards, a special treat with leftover turkey is a creamy turkey curry. Recipe here.

But the real seasonal treat, very British (I think) but not something that seems to have taken hold this side of the pond, is Christmas pudding. This is a very rich, dark, steamed pudding.

I'll transcribe and post the full recipe another time, but, in brief, it consists of a large quantity of dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, etc.) plus breadcrumbs, suet, sugar, and flour, all mixed together, poured into pudding basins, and steamed for hours. We add moisture by soaking the fruit in brandy beforehand. Puddings are best made months before they are needed, because they mature over time. The one we'll have this Christmas is the last of a batch made over a year ago. In January, once the seasonal hullabaloo is over, we'll get on with another batch ready for next Christmas.

The pudding is steamed again to heat it up ready for eating, and is served with cream and brandy butter.

Favourite holiday drink

Because we put so much effort into food, I don't have a drink recipe to offer. We are quite happy with beer and wine. For special occasions, however, our sparkly tipple of choice is an Australian Seaview Brut. There are a couple of bottles in the fridge ready and waiting...

Now, visit everyone else in the blogfest

See the list of entries on Melissa or Jen's blogs.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The mail man cometh

I know it's the season of glad tidings an' all, but as a rule you don't generally count official missives from government departments in that category.

Well, here at the Bald Patch we do like to buck trends. We've recently had not just one, but two entirely unconnected pieces of joy thrown into our world.

First off, we applied (back in the summer) for a special tax credit.

One thing to get used to over here is knowing how to find your way around the tax system. Not (I add, in haste) to milk or subvert the system. I despised the way the welfare state I saw at work in Guernsey and the UK laid itself bare to shirkers and spongers, appearing to reward idleness and punish those in genuine need.

The Canadian tax system is a complex beast, with all sorts of credits designed to alleviate unfortunate circumstances and reward things like giving to charity, or using public transport. There's vast amounts of helpful guides on the official web sites to steer you around the system. To me, it all appears very open and welcoming, just rather big. But it is your responsibility to understand and apply for what you are entitled to in the way of credits. It makes a big difference!

Anyway, we received a letter a few weeks ago advising that we were indeed eligible for this credit. There were instructions for reapplying in a few years when the current entitlement expired, but it was all a bit light on what to do next. I shrugged, and assumed there would be a line to fill in on next year's tax return to make it all happen.

Imagine the unbounded joy last week when another letter appeared, which explained that this would be included automatically in the universal child tax benefit payments that we were already receiving. Better still, there was a very useful cheque for the back payments, which has helped enormously at this expensive time of year.

Then yesterday we checked the mail and found an envelope from Immigration Canada, acknowledging receipt of our application (back in August) and explaining the next steps in the process. There is the immigration guide, which contains information for the written test.

Given the long processing times, we are still many months away from becoming citizens, but this is an important first step in confirming that we are finally on the road.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Whatever-you-want curry

I remember promising a curry recipe a few weeks ago. Here is not one, not two, but hundreds of recipes all in one go. This is more of a recipe recipe, a formula for creating a variety of dishes.

Yes, I do use a recipe book sometimes, when I want a specific dish such as a tikka, balti, rogon josh, or coriander chicken, but most of the time I just use this base recipe and decide how spicy or creamy I want to make it. And because each time is different, each time is an adventure.

So, as usual, this post pays little more than lip service to a standard recipe format, and because of the inherent flexibility, what little lip service there is will be fleeting indeed. I've listed ingredients (some mandatory, many optional) in groups to go with the different stages of preparation. I think the overall method is far more important than getting too anal over ingredients.


Vegetable oil.

Onions, plus optional additions such as ginger, chillis, and garlic.

Spices: powdered cumin, coriander, curry powder, and (my secret weapon) a teaspoon of Nina Patak's hot curry paste. You can also mix things up by adding an off-the-shelf sauce or paste such as butter chicken.

Meat: whatever you want. I usually use chicken or prawns, occasionally lamb. You can also add tinned chickpeas either instead of, or as well as, meat. Or vegetables, of course. I don't do vegetable curries often so I almost didn't think to mention that.

Sauce: one or more of the following: chopped tomatoes, cream, coconut milk.

Finishing touches (all optional): ground almonds, chopped coriander (cilantro). And anything else you associate with curries.


Ha Ha Hahahahaha!

Oh, OK then, but these are just guidelines to get started. The fun is in varying and experimenting for yourself.

So, for enough for 2 or 3 portions, you want...

1 medium onion, chopped. If you're adding other stuff, then anything up to 1" cube of ginger (finely chopped), 1 or 2 chillis (seeded, unless you like it hot, and chopped), 1 or 2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped).

A generous teaspoon of the dry spices. The hot curry paste is my secret addition to just about everything, even when I'm using a ready-made sauce or following a recipe. This is what adds the heat and its own flavour. Use with care.

Meat: whatever you need to feed yourself with!

Usually 1 tomato. More if that is all I'm using for liquid, less (or none) if I'm going for really creamy. This bit is really just a balancing act, with the idea of ending up with enough liquid to avoid the sauce drying out and sticking. It's surprising how much liquid a tomato will add when it mushes down.


Heat the oil in a large pan, and fry the onions (and other ingredients in that group, except for garlic). This should be done long and slow, so the onions soften and turn golden. I usually let them cook slowly for about 15 minutes.

If using garlic, add that when the onion is almost ready otherwise it can burn.

Add the spices, and stir in well.

Add the meat. Stir until coated with spices and fry on a high heat until it changes colour.

One exception to this method: if I'm doing prawns, I leave them out and carry on with cooking the sauce, and then add them about 10 minutes from the end to avoid overcooking them.

Another exception (with Christmas approaching): if you are currying already-cooked meat, like, say, just for the sake of argument, leftover turkey, add that near the end too, just so it heats through. I curried turkey left over from Thanksgiving in a very creamy sauce. Delicious!

If using tomatoes, make a gap in the centre of the pan and add them. Turn the heat down low and let them mush down (stirring occasionally) for about 15 minutes.

This stage needs watching carefully, because you don't want the dish to dry out and start catching on the bottom of the pan. This will depend on many factors such as the ingredients you use and how good your pan is. The trick is to keep stirring and separating food from the bottom of the pan so it doesn't get a chance to catch. You should have some liquid from the tomatoes very quickly to help things along. If you think it looks dry, and a few spoonfuls of water to help things along.

Stir in the remaining liquid ingredients (if used), and let the whole dish simmer on a low heat until the meat is cooked through.

This stage is very forgiving. You can finish off as soon as the meat is cooked if you're in a hurry, or you can do it long and slow. You can even take it off the heat and let it stand for hours before resuming cooking. Just make sure you stir the ingredients together again when you raise the heat again, and add more liquid if it looks like drying out.

Finally, if the sauce needs thickening, stir in a handful of ground almonds.

Garnish with chopped coriander, sliced hard-boiled eggs, sliced tomato, cucumber, whatever, depending on what takes your liking and how fancy you want to make it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sounds like a bit of fun

But only if you're a writer!

Blogger friend Elena Solodow is hosting a blogfest through January to celebrate her 100th blog post. The idea is to write a single sentence of 100 words, and post it on your blog some time during January.

100 words? That's as long as some whole essays I used to write at school. No, I didn't get on very well with writing in those days.

And it goes so much against all the accepted rules of good writing. I just recently critiqued a story where one of the common themes was finding ways to chop long sentences into more digestible chunks. Even the longest example I could find, one which left me breathless by the end, only weighed in at 66 words.

My first attempt was way short, at 49 words, so I have a long way to go. This is going to be an interesting challege! Thank you Elena.

See full details on her blog.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why I don't read much these days

If I carve my writing-related activities into writing (including revising), critiquing, blogging, and reading, I find I usually have time for maybe one-and-a-half of these in any given week. But not much more than that.

In the last two weeks, I've managed a reasonable amount of critiquing, a bit of revising to get my next chapter ready for Critique Circle, and read a novel. So I think I've been doing quite well.

Apart from the blog neglect, for which I apologise.

But, to get back to the point of the title, no, the reason for not reading much these days is not lack of time.

I got this book from the library. It is a fairly recently-written prequel to one of the classic greats of sci-fi. I was looking forward to more of the magic that entranced me many years ago.


Infodump! my inner editor kept screaming at me. Show, don't tell. Clunky sentence structure. There were whole paragraphs that could do with serious tightening up. Stop beating the point to death and get on with the freakin' story!

The story didn't seem to start until about a third of the way into the book. Most of the early chapters felt like a history lecture. Some of the details that should have added depth to the story seemed either contrived or comically amateurish, lacking the finesse of the original work. The climax felt a bit Deus ex Machina.

When I finished, I realised there were loose ends unaccounted for. That, on it's own, is not too much of a problem. A few ambiguous threads leave room for sequels, but they should be at least closed off in some way, not just abandoned mid-flow never to resurface. Worse, there was a whole plot line that was utterly disconnected from the story.

If this story had gone through any of the critiquing groups I've belonged to, it wouldn't have lasted five minutes. It would have been shredded mercilessly.

But this was a professional, published novel.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the read. Just not as much as I'd anticipated. Also I enjoyed it more for that fact that it revealed how we arrived at the start of the sci-fi classic of my boyhood, than for the story itself.

This is why I don't read too much these days.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A long way from the Caribbean

Now that the leaves have fallen, I can see properly into that far corner of the yard. And today was the first time in ages that I've not been scrambling to get to work and have had the time to look properly out of the kitchen window in real daylight.

And there was the pirate ship, peering around from its berth behind the tree fort, looking a long way from home in the lingering snow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A small sense of achievement

At last! I've revised chapter 1 of Ghosts of Innocence. What a struggle that was!

And I don't think I've actually changed all that much in the end. The overall flow of the chapter is still the same, but I've changed the imagery of the opening paragraphs to get straight into Shayla's point of view from the outset, I've followed a lot of nit-picks from critiques to clean up the text, trimmed some fat, and given Shayla a tougher time making her exit from the crippled ship. This will give her some problems to deal with later on, which I still have to work out and incorporate into the story!

Overall, I'm a lot happier with the chapter. To me, it feels closer in to the main character, cleaner, and more logically-sequenced.

But that is only my opinion. It is now in the queue on Critique Circle ready to be mauled again next week.

Meanwhile, on with the next chapter...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The occasional downside of a long driveway

When we moved over here, everyone told us that Victoria only gets snow once every few years. We've had some of the white stuff every year since.

Fortunately not too much fell last night, so this only took me an hour to clear before I could get out grocery shopping this morning.

I am wondering what the rest of the winter has in store for us, though. Ali's parents are due to join us for Christmas. Last time they did so, we all spent a whole morning digging out the driveway on the first weekend, and then it dumped a load more on consecutive weekends for the next month. On the bright side, we all had our first ever white Christmas that year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bling, bling!

OK, please accept my apologies, I've got a couple of awards that I've been tardy in acknowledging. Real Life is intruding way too much at the moment to devote this the attention it requires, but I do need at least to acknowledge the generous donors, so here goes...

First, there is the Cherry On Top award, from the delightful Lettuce Head.

Then there is the Versatile Blogger award, awarded independently both by the highly inventive Elena Solodow, and by the soft-spoken and ladylike Sam at Rot Du Jour. Please don't pepper-spray me, Sam!

So, there are a couple of rules with these awards. For the Cherry On Top award, I'm supposed to share one thing I'd change about my past.

One thing I would change is the time I wasted trying to be like other people. It took me many years to realise that other people might see me very differently from how I see myself, and with that realisation came a huge crisis of self-confidence. All of a sudden, I had no idea who "I" was any more. So, like a drowning man clutching at any flotsam that drifted by, I started rather randomly trying to emulate things that I thought were "cool" in other people.

It took me many more years to decide that it didn't matter how other people see me. I am who I am, and I have as much right to be me as anyone else. If anyone doesn't like it, they can take the proverbial long walk off a short pier.

And for the Versatile Blogger, I'm supposed to share seven things about myself.

1. See above (you can tell I'm pressed for time!)

2. I used to hate writing. How the heck I ever thought of trying to write novels I cannot now remember.

3. I used to hide behind the couch whenever the Daleks appeared on Dr Who. This was in the days when they first appeared on TV.

4. I hated all forms of physical activity when I was at school, and then promptly took up as much sport as I could cram into my life at University.

5. I have always loved drawing and painting. My mind is bursting with images that I want to share with people. I think writing is actually an extension of this, a way of pulling people even deeper into those imagined scenes than I ever could through a purely visual depiction.

6. I would love to be able to play a musical instrument.

7. I was personally invited, many years ago, by the Speaker of the House of Commons at that time to visit Westminster, see Prime Minister's Question Time, and visit him for a brief (he was a very busy man, which makes this all the more awesome) chat in his huge office overlooking the Thames.

OK, this has taken way too long. I've been really good this week at redressing the imbalance between blogging and writing, and I don't want to regress, so I'm going to cheat for the next part. I am passing on these awards to anyone out there following me who cares to comment and claim them. Because if you're following and commenting, you're awesome by definition, so choose one. Take your pick.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Something warm for a windy day

Typical Monday evening: Ali gets the kids a meal while I'm on my way home from work, then she and Megan disappear off to Guides. Meanwhile I start on a meal for the grown-ups, in the middle of which I drop Matthew off at a music lesson. Ali collects him (it is just down the road from the church where Guides meet) and when they all get home it is time for some adult quality time, shared with curry and beer. All choreographed with military precision.

This evening was no different, except when I took Matthew out to music I ran the gauntlet of first leaves and then branches bouncing off the top of the car. While the curry was cooking, I had to round up the furniture on the deck that had been doing a fair imitation of a scene from the Sorcerer's Apprentice. I finished off to flickering lighting, wondering how much I could get cooked before the power failed.

No power outage, yet, but the wind is still moaning outside and the sound sends chills through me, so here is a warming sight to share instead...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Do it once, do it right

Ghosts of Innocence badly needs reworking before it's ready for another round of queries. I want to do it, otherwise it feels like pulling the plug on someone's life support. Giving up. That is not what I want for my baby. All the same, it is taking me forever to get my head into serious revisions. I'm forcing myself to do it, but it's about as easy-going as persuading a nine-year old to eat broccoli.

The problem is, all my life I've been a semi-perfectionist.

When I excelled at math in school, I used to push myself harder and harder to expand and simplify equations in as few steps as possible on paper. So instead of doing a simple step at a time, and writing out the results each time, I'd do two or three things at once, manipulating terms in my head. It was a discipline, but also a matter of pride, to see how far I could push myself and still GET IT RIGHT.

When I started programming professionally, in the days when we had to share three terminals between twelve of us and our programs were written out on coding sheets to be keyed by another department before we got to run them, I thought nothing of writing out a thousand lines of code and damned well expecting it to compile cleanly first time, and produce some recognisable results on the first run.

Even in my painting I tend to work methodically from one part of the page to another, laying down precise and finished segments of the whole, to which I have no intention of returning once I'm happy and have moved on. And once I sign my name to a painting, that is a significant declaration and I never make changes after that point.

And, surprise, surprise, my writing process is much the same.

OK, reality is not quite as rigid as I may have made it sound.

When I went on to university, math became much more an art of puzzling and insight than manipulation, so it became a whole new game.

The predictable world of mainframe COBOL dissolved when Microsoft introduced the world to operating environments so complex and so poorly architected that the law of unintended consequence lurked around every corner. And with more interactive tools, programming became a step-by-step exploration of incremental development.

Even in the more enduring world of art, if a painting isn't giving the visual impression I want, I'm not averse to reworking large parts of it to knock it into shape. Until I sign it, of course.

So, where does the "semi" come from in "semi-perfectionist"?

Well, I put a lot of effort into doing things right first time, so going back and redoing something in any substantial way is simply not part of my usual thinking process. It's an exception rather than the rule. And my willingness to do so depends hugely on the effort already invested, and the effort of making a change.

If I cut a piece of wood the wrong length, it pains me to set it aside and start again. I live absolutely by the "measure twice, cut once" rule. If it's just a simple cut, it's the waste more than anything that troubles me, but if I've spent time making some awkward angles or cutting rebates then I'm more inclined to seek ways to use what I've got rather than rewind to the start. That is why I can't lay claim to the title "perfectionist".

At the other end of the scale, I don't have too much trouble with reworking a painting because I find it a relatively easy process. I'm fully at home in my medium and can see where I need to get to.

But when it comes to writing, and especially telling a story, this is not something that comes easily. Sometimes I throw words on the page and they flow easily, but more often it is a slow paragraph-at-a-time affair. And I'm rarely satisfied with the results so whenever I dry up, my eye casts back over the words I've written, tweaking here and there. Whenever I sit down to a writing session, I start off by reading a page or two back from where I left off to get back into the flow, and I often pause to edit, refine, reword, before moving on. Sometimes, entire sessions end up as little more than moulding while the clay is still soft instead of adding new words to the page.

While I regard a work as "in progress", I'm one of those people who constantly edit as I go. This is new and unusual territory for me. It is slow, it is painful, but I'm OK with that. It is editing, not revising. It is still a part of the "first time" for me.

In this sense, I'm probably closer to a perfectionist than in many other areas of creativity.

All the same, when I wrote "The End" on my first draft, it felt like signing a painting. Mentally, I flipped a switch and the time for change was past.

Add to that the shedload of sweat and tears invested and, when critiques start rolling in, am I going to give up a single word of it, one solitary hard-won turn of phrase, easily?


Suffice to say, revising hurts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A surprise around every corner

Even within a short drive from home, we still keep coming across things to surprise and delight us.

Yesterday, we went to see the annual salmon run, coincidentally exactly the same weekend as when we went last year.

This year is supposed to be a mega salmon spawning event, but there were actually far fewer fish at Goldstream than we've seen previously. Don't know why that would be so, but the high expectations meant the place was packed with visitors. The highway is narrow there, and was very busy. Once we'd strolled up and down a while, and stopped for a bite to eat, it was time to exit the narrow and congested parking lot.

Rather than join the line of cars waiting for the one-gap-every-five-minutes-or-so to exit onto the highway, we decided to take the largely-ignored and very narrow road leading up into the hills in the other direction.

We knew this would take us home eventually. Instead of looping down and around the north end of Victoria on the highway this road actually cuts through the Highlands in more-or-less the right direction for home. Just a lot slower, because many miles of it are up and down, around twists and turns, and only one car wide in places.

But we were in no hurry, and this was a road we've never been along before, so it beat the heck out of waiting in a line up.

And we were glad we did. It's good once in a while to travel a road you've not used before, so this was a little bit of adventure to brighten up a chilly Sunday.

We drove (slowly) through some beautiful scenery as we wound around the back of Mt. Finlayson.

We came across a fence made of skis...

And as we passed Prospect Lake golf course we saw deer grazing...

Finally we stopped off at the Red Barn market for ice cream to celebrate life's pleasant surprises.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

(2005) Vive la Difference

November 2005

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Canada is a modern technological country, with state-of-the-art electronics, consumer goods, and many public and private organisations embracing the online world.

Nevertheless, since arriving here, we've often commented how in many ways this country is a bit like the UK was several decades ago.

Many of the differences are good. Like the gentler pace of life, uncrowded roads, and returnable bottles (encourages recycling).

Some differences are quaint, like top-loading washing machines. I remember Mum having a top-loader back in Guernsey when I was only a few years old, but I haven't seen one since outside of commercial laundromats. I don't think they're sold for domestic use over there. Ali freaked when she saw one sitting in the corner of our temporary apartment last year.

Then there are the occasional ugly reminders of years gone by. Over the last few weeks we've been hit by industrial action that brought back unpleasant reminders of the 1970's. First the teachers went out on strike, so Megan was at home for a couple of weeks. Then I turned up for work one morning to find a picket line outside the office. This is where the ugliness hit home. They are all highly vocal about the rights of workers to join a union. But the hypocrisy of the union movement showed through very clearly in their outright bullying and threatening attitude to keeping their members toeing the union line. I felt way more intimidated by the shop stewards supposedly looking after my interests than by any employers (unionised or not) that I've worked for. And, of course, they are amazingly tight-lipped on any questions of an individual's right to NOT belong to a union. Closed shops were made illegal in most civilised countries years ago, but union membership is compulsory in BC Government.

On a brighter note, we held a party to celebrate a year in Canada. We had a full house, with friends, neighbours, and a few work colleagues.

Another small landmark...I used my new credit card for groceries last month. Ali was able to get one in her name early on, thanks to her having held a card in Guernsey that the local branch of the company were prepared to recognise for credit check purposes. But it's taken a while to get me on the American credit map. This is a critical catch-22 for newcomers, something which I was able to overcome by talking to our friendly local bank staff.

Then Halloween reminded us once more that we were in North America. In Guernsey we came to dread this time of year, with evening knocks on the door and surly demands for cash, often starting out in mid-October. Over here, we love the family party atmosphere of the evening. And Ali got into pumpkin carving, inspired by the displays at Government House last year.

Friday, November 5, 2010

No No WriMo

Many writerly blogs are a bit on the quiet side at the moment as many people take part in the annual writing marathon known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The idea of this is to write, from scratch, a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November.

It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be there.

The month is an orgy of speed writing, never mind the quality feel the word count, and endless angst over targets and shortfalls. Progress counters sprout like mushrooms in the blogoshpere.

No, before you ask, I'm not doing it.

Real life is intruding way too heavily on my writing time these days to even think about that kind of output. Actually, I think that time is not so much the problem as energy.

Cutbacks at work over the last year have left my division barely able to sustain day to day operations. On top of that we have added workload imposed from above in the form of reorganisations, new planning processes, massive projects to deliver new political initiatives, and wholesale office moves to consolidate space to allow building leases to be given up.

People can only sustain that pace of work for a limited time. We've been keeping it up without relief and without an end in sight for over a year. Everybody acknowledges that it's a problem. Nobody is offering any practical answers.

I've been holding a cold at bay for the last month on a blend of Benylin and adrenalin. I came home this evening and promptly fell asleep.

Writing is a mentally demanding activity. When I'm in the groove, words flow smoothly for a while, but only after I've invested the mental gruntwork to envisage clearly what I'm trying to write.

At the moment, that is out of the question. The best I can hope for is to peck away more at revising Ghosts and maybe start putting chapters up for critique.

It feels a bit like watching the London marathon, seeing all those people braver than me pounding the course, and feeling their pain.

So...from the sidelines...NaNoWriters, I salute you!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Very disappointed!

There was a new event to look forward to on the Peninsula this year: Enchanted Halloween at Heritage Acres. Organised by the folks who put on the spectacular Luminara in Victoria, we turned up with high expectations of a great evening out in exchange for the rather stiff entrance fee.

We came away sadly disappointed.

There were good points, to be sure. The grounds were well-decorated in Halloween themes.

We enjoyed the musical performers and the comical elf in the creepy boathouse.

But beyond that, there was in fact very little to see.

Furthermore, we'd skipped our evening meal intending to support the event at the concession stall. We lined up, hungry, for about 20 minutes and ordered hot dogs. For $3 apiece we were given the tiniest, stingiest hot dogs I've ever seen in my life. About two mouthfuls each, even for the children.

We wandered around the rest of the village and stopped off last of all at the miniature train ride. The miniature railway, snaking for hundreds of yards through the forest, through tunnels and over bridges, is a must-do every time we visit.

But the line-up was staggering. Probably a combination of the number of people there and the fact that there was not much else to do. In the end even Matthew conceded that we were not going to wait over an hour for a ride and, sadly, we turned away.

To cap it all, stomachs rumbling, we headed back to the car intending to raid the freezer at home - and got stuck for half an hour in a traffic jam. An unbelievable first for this venue. The event organisers had allowed people to park on both sides of the narrow, kilometre-long road from the highway, leaving room in many places for only a single line of traffic down the middle. Half-way down this road, where it was at its narrowest, a convoy of exiting traffic came head-to-head with a line of vehicles trying to enter.

Obviously only a rocket scientist could ever predict out how that was going to work.

In summary, we felt that Heritage Acres usually put on a far more lively, atmospheric, and enjoyable evening out for their annual Christmas in the Village, and for half the price.

We thought this would be a great event to put Heritage Acres, a place we enjoy visiting but which seems to be little known in Victoria, firmly on the map. In the end our most fervent hope is that this disasterous event has not damaged the place's reputation for people who've never been before, and who are unlikely to want to return.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Festive veggies

Here's a couple of very simple but delicious twists on vegetables to add a little variety to that Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

These are both "seat of the pants" recipes, so quantities are expressed with cheerful disregard for cook-book precision.

Parsnips in creamy horseradish


Horseradish sauce - mild, medium, or strong according to your taste
Whipping cream
Grated parmesan


Whatever quantity of parsnips you want to serve. Depends on number of people, and what other veggies you are serving, and how much you like parsnips.

Equal quantities of horseradish sauce and cream, enough altogether to coat the parsnips. If I'm making a small dish for 2 or 3 people I usually use about half of a small (125ml) jar of horseradish.

A generous sprinkling of parmesan.


Peel and cut the parsnips into pieces. I usually cut them lengthwise into finger-sized pieces.

Place into salted water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Drain and place into a small baking dish. Mix the horseradish and cream and pour over the parsnips. Sprinkle with parmesan.

Put in the oven at 350 F for half an hour. The cream should be bubbling and the cheese starting to brown.

Sprouts with mushrooms


Flaked almonds
Button mushrooms - either white or chestnut
Generous knob of butter


Equal quantities of sprouts and mushrooms. Depending on the size of the mushrooms, use them whole, halved, or quartered. The pieces should be about the same size as the sprouts.

Enough almonds to sprinkle over the top.


Fry the almonds in a little butter until they start to brown.

Remove the almonds from the pan and set aside.

Add more butter to the pan and fry the mushrooms.

Meanwhile, boil and simmer the sprouts in salted water for about 5 minutes. They should be just about cooked and still crisp. I think sprouts get a bad rap mostly because people overcook them. A properly-cooked sprout should never be soggy!

Drain the sprouts and add them to the mushrooms. Stir until the sprouts are coated in the butter and juices.

Serve sprinkled with the fried almonds.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy anniversary!

Today is our sixth anniversary in Canada. Hurray! And (random uninteresting factoid coming up) October 24 six years ago when we landed in Vancouver was also a Sunday.

In the end, we didn't do anything special to celebrate. It was just a normal Sunday. Ali and Matthew spent most of the morning sorting bottles at a Cubs fundraiser for a camp next year. I tried (and failed) to find a replacement part for a wonky kitchen drawer, and cut a load more pieces for the pirate ship. Then, in between showers and the hands-on stages of bread-making, we all took a wander around Butchart Gardens and renewed our annual memberships.

Today also marks the completion of the first year of this blog.

When I looked back at my first post, I tried to remember what was going through my mind when I embarked on this first foray into an online presence.

I think a part of the initial impetus came from the inescapable exhortations for writers to establish themselves online well ahead of any prospect of publication. Build a platform, we keep getting advised. I guess a part of that was in my mind, and the timing (no prospect of publication on the horizon, captain) was in the right ball park. But that motive certainly wasn't foremost then, and it isn't now.

My main aim back then was to provide a means for family and friends in distant parts of the globe to keep up with our adventures in Canada. We have friends back in Guernsey who still dream of emigrating themselves, and this might give some window into the pleasures and pitfalls of such a move.

A year ago, I thought that the only people who'd ever see this blog would be people who already knew me.

A year later, and the people I started writing for rarely, if ever, visit. But instead my online life has been enriched by a small group of regular visitors.

And you are all most welcome.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Global Suckishness Index

I guess it's just coincidence, but there's been a bit of a trend in some of the recent blog posts I've been following. For example (and ignoring the many blogs dedicated entirely to rants about the state of the world) there's Sam's and Lettucehead's sad experiences in today's employment market, and David talking about the perils of the New York subway.

Anyway, it sparked some thoughts about the general suckishness of the world at large, and why this might be so.

And I came to a startling realisation.

There's a lot of natural danger and hardship out there, and disasters regularly hit the headlines - hurricanes, floods, droughts. But in reality those are minor blips and there is more than enough wealth and resourcefulness in the world to deal with them. Nature really accounts for only a tiny proportion of hardship.

The only logical conclusion is that the vast proportion (I'd guess maybe 95%) of human misery is entirely man-made!

Worse, much of the man-made misery is deliberate, and all of it is avoidable.

Some of it is down to religion - "my belief is better than your belief, and you'd better believe it!" - but most is caused by people wanting to get more out of the system than they are willing to put in.

And that's almost always expressed in terms of money.

Money is the root of all evil?

Here's a little thought experiment.

What if I suggested that money is unnecessary?

What would happen if we all woke up tomorrow in a world without money?

Chaos! Mayhem! Everyone suddenly penniless and starving!

But wait. Why should that be? Did the sun fail to rise on this penniless world? Did crops stop growing?

Stop and think for a moment. What if everyone simply carried on as they did yesterday? You got up, went in to work and did whatever you do. You went to the store and took from the shelves exactly what you would have done before. The shelves are still stocked because the people who stock them turned up as normal. The delivery trucks arrived, fully loaded, as normal because all the factories and warehouses kept working.

It gets better. You walk out of the store a lot quicker because you didn't have to line up to pay. OK, spare a thought for all those cashiers who suddenly don't have anything to do. Aren't they in trouble? Out of a job? But why would they be in trouble? In a world without money they don't need a job. Every other part of their life could carry on as normal. But then they could pitch in and help unload the trucks and stack the shelves and then everyone could go home early.

And think of all those millions of people working in banks across the globe. A whole industry, suddenly redundant. But nobody need go hungry because nothing important has stopped happening. And all those spare pairs of hands that could be turned to doing something genuinely productive.

When you look at it like that, the whole concept of money is nothing more than a vast and unnecessary drain on the planet.

OK, there's one glaring hole in this scenario. Everyone wouldn't just carry on as before. How many milliseconds would we be into the new day before somebody, somewhere, said to themselves "why should he get fillet steak while I'm making do with a Kraft dinner?" Human nature would kick in PDQ, and we'd all start taking more out of the system than it can sustain. That is why everything would descend into chaos and mayhem.

The truth is that there is more than enough food and water, space and energy for us all to live comfortable lives. But human nature compels us to want more, and to take it unless something stops us. Money may have its problems, but it's the most effective mechanism we have for putting a throttle on what we take from the world.

For me, the most frightening thing that global capitalism has unleashed on the world is a new and insidious form of life, and this is where the endemic global suckishness comes from. All the big corporations and financial institutions have taken on a life of their own and they are out of control. They've become self-serving and self-perpetuating, all-powerful, and utterly divorced from any moral or social conscience.

I don't think we're going to change human nature in a hurry, we probably can't do without money as a means of regulating access to resources, so as far as I see it the answer must lie in changing how we manage the flow of money. What we need are financial and corporate mechanisms that put the welfare of the general population back into the frame as the most important shareholder.

I don't pretend to have answers, this is only a rant after all, but I'm happy to accept any suggestions...written on the back of $20 bills.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Braised pork with clams

Following up on the promise I made to post some recipes, here is a dish we had as a pre-Thanksgiving warm-up the day before the main turkey event.

This is inspired by something I ate at a wonderful Portugese restaurant in the Channel Islands, and which I tried to recreate from memory many years later so I won't make any claims of authenticity. Would you believe that I had to wait until we reached Canada to have a proper go at it, because I just could not get hold of clams in Guernsey?


1 medium onion, chopped
Olive oil
Lean pork, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 or 2 tomatoes, chopped
Tomato ketchup
1 or 2 tins of clams, drained
Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes


You'll notice the above list is a bit light on quantities, because this is a "seat of the pants" recipe, not something from a book.

Basically, you want enough pork for a meal for however many people you are cooking for, and roughly the same amount of potatoes. Enough clams to make a noticeable contribution without overwhelming the dish. When cooking for two people I use one tin. For a larger quantity I use two.


Cook this dish in a large pan or frying pan with a lid.

Fry the onion gently in some olive oil until it softens and starts to go golden.

Turn the heat to high, add the pork to the pan and fry until it changes colour.

Add the tomatoes. Keep stirring until the tomatoes start to mash down. The pork and tomatoes together should provide enough liquid, but if the mixture looks dry and starts catching on the bottom of the pan then add a splash of water.

Once you have some liquid coating the bottom of the pan, turn the heat down very low. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender - at least one hour. If you can leave it going very gently for two hours then do so.

Timing is not too critical for this dish, it is something you can comfortably leave on a low heat for ages, or even prepare ahead of time, turn off the heat, and resume cooking later on.

While the pork is cooking, place the diced potatoes in a pan of salted water. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Timing depends on the variety of potato. You want them to have started cooking but still be firm, not about to flake at the edges.

Drain the potatoes, and fry in a mixture of olive oil and butter until crisp and golden. Take off the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, back at the pork...

About half an hour before you are ready to serve, add a generous squirt of tomato ketchup to the pork, enough to thicken the sauce a bit.

Stir in the clams.

Ten minutes before serving, stir in a dash of cream. Bring the heat up to medium and add the cooked potatoes. Mix everything thoroughly and simmer to ensure the potatoes are hot through (depends how long you left them to one side, and this will depend on how good your timing is), then serve.

Delicious with a simple green salad, fresh-baked olive bread...and a nice Chianti

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It could be you!

From time to time, us unpublished writers battling through the writing, revising, querying process just need a reminder that occasionally unpublished writers really do become published authors. Occasionally.

N.B. I seriously dislike the term "pre-published". To me it sounds pretentious and has a slightly icky air of entitlement to it. I am unpublished. I don't need to dress it up and make it sound like something it isn't.

Anyway, to get back to the point, here is that reminder.

Today is the release date for Alex J. Cavanaugh's sci-fi novel CassaStar.

So pop over to Alex's blog, say "Hi," join in the party and read more about his work. Then you can say "I knew him before he was famous."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Take a bow...

Bow section finally finished, and I'm pleased with how it finally shaped up. I've been worrying about that part for ages, with planks going at all sorts of funny angles, but it was remarkably easy in the end.

You can also see the planking starting to extend down to the stern, and the rope ladder up to the crows nest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Olive bread

Here is a recipe transcribed from a photocopied sheet. I think we inherited this from a book somewhere in the mists of history, but there are no obvious clues as to origin on the sheet.

This is a recipe for a bread maker, and makes a 2lb loaf.

Official version

1 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup chopped pimento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup chopped ripe olives
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or bread machine yeast

The instructions are to put the ingredients in according to the manufacturer's directions (in our case, liquids, then all the sundry ingredients, with flour on top and the yeast last of all) and bake on a basic white bread cycle.

My adjustments

I've found with these recipes that it works best to use slightly more liquid and sugar than directed. So nearer to 1 1/2 cups water, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. This is something you have to experiment with for best results.

I don't bother with green olives, just using a generous 1/2 to 3/4 cup of chopped black olives instead. Generous, because Ali and I both like our olives. Exact quantity not really important.

I like to include a bit of wholewheat flour in the mix, maybe 1/2 cup, rather than all white flour. Same overall quantity, though.

Rather that use a full cycle, I prefer to use the dough setting and finish off in the oven.

Once the bread maker has finished the dough, turn it out into a bowl, knead briefly, then cover and stand in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes.

Knead again and shape on a baking tray. Leave to rise again for another 45 minutes or so.

For rising, I get good and consistent results by setting the oven to 170 F, and then switching it off as soon as it is up to temperature.

The nice thing about dough is that you have a lot more freedom to portion it out or make one big loaf, or even make little buns just for fun. Last weekend I split the mix in half and made two loaves: one to eat immediately, and one for the freezer.

Once the bread has risen, decorate with some whole olives. Bake at 365 F for 25 minutes.

When the bread is baked, brush lightly with olive oil and leave to cool...if you can!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

In the spirit of "when in Rome", we've taken to celebrating Thanksgiving. I think it is fitting, because this was the time of year we were busy winding up our old lives back in Guernsey and getting ready, nervous (read: petrified), to decamp to a new country.

For many Canadians, this is a huge family affair. People don't bat an eyelid at talk of cooking for 20 or more but it took a couple of years for us to realise this, because, although huge, this is an intensely private holiday. Although it is talked about, there is none of the OTT commercial hype of Halloween or Christmas.

Of course, we don't have family over here so we celebrate in our own quiet way.

This weekend, we were joined by a good friend now living up in Courtenay. He arrived yesterday, shortly after Ali and the kids returned from an overnight Cub camp. We saved the turkey dinner for today, getting the gastronomic side of things off to a start last night with a dish of braised pork and clams with fresh-baked olive bread and a crisp salad. Today, we pottered around for a while before preparing the turkey for the oven, then went out for a good long hike (and a bit of geocaching along the way) to work up an appetite. Turkey was served with a couple of our signature vegetable dishes: sprouts with mushrooms and almonds, and parsnips in creamy horseradish sauce. We finished off settling down to watch Avatar.

If there's any interest, I'll try posting some recipes another time.

So that was our Thanksgiving. How was yours?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An award

Many thanks to Gary for passing me the "One Lovely Blog" award.

Gary is another expat, but in the opposite direction. Native of British Columbia, now living in England. Good luck over there, Gary. I recommend you check out his blog, and his surreal sense of humour.

In turn, I need to pass on the award to some of the many fine blogs that I know about. I'm limiting myself to five, and not putting a lot of science into this, so please don't feel put out if I miss you. Also I know this award is well-established in the blogging community, so I apologise if you've already received it. Hey! It gives you a chance to pass on to someone new if you were spoiled for choice first time around.

So, in no particular order, I declare the following Lovely Blogs:

Saloma (About Amish) - with some inspirational views on life and freedom.

David (The Bimillennial Man) - Mr Gadget, with some astute observations on the world at large. David, I know you don't care for tags and awards, but I wanted to acknowledge your blog anyway.

Jean (Discarded Darlings) - and her office full of characters giving her hell as she tries to focus on writing. But watch out for the cyborg attack weasels!

Laura Pauling - with her insightful views on writing.

Jan (Tartitude) - from the land of pith and zest.

And Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

Friday, October 8, 2010

A day in the life...

Sometimes when we sit down to eat as a family, we go through the usual rounds of "what did you do at school/work today?" We each take turns to tell something about our respective days.

When it comes to me, unless something out of the ordinary has happened that the rest of the family can relate to (i.e. not technical IT stuff), and unless I've seen deer or other wildlife on the trail, my stock response is usually "meetings". It's become a bit of a standing joke. I mean, most of what I do would need an hour of backstory and explanation to make any sense of it, or is just one of a myriad tiny events that make up my day.

So here is my dinner-time report of a typical day last week...

8:15 Drop lunch things on desk and sign on to network. Launch usual programs - Outlook, a time tracking spreadsheet, and a word document with all my "to-do's" and reference information. I'd be lost without that document.

Clear out action items finished yesterday, check calendar (groan!), and skim emails for anything burning. I like to keep my inbox down to one page, everything else gets deleted, answered and deleted, or added to my to-do list and filed or deleted.

8:30 Weekly one-on-one with one of my direct reports. Quick check-in, things going OK. Finish early.

8:50 Manage to get hold of member of staff to verify what an expense claim covers (system descriptions not very descriptive) and what is still left to pay.

9:00 Meeting with five members of staff to discuss exchange of knowledge on how to maintain part of one of our systems. They've already got things rolling. Good. Way more "can-do" and initiative now than when I first joined the department.

9:25 Director collars me and one of my team leads looking for some information on another application. Needed urgently for a business case going into the new technology planning process for next fiscal.

9:30 Weekly progress meeting on a development project to replace an obsolete module that refused to port to Windows 2003. Verified everything ready for a demo to the business owners this afternoon.

10:00 Gap before next meeting. Clear off the emails that keep magically appearing.

Crap. Server issues affecting another one of our applications. The team is stretched trying to keep production services running, and an aggressive project manager is still badgering them about some testing due to be completed today. Get real! I need to step in for a manager-to-manager chat about priorities. Few trips backwards and forwards through the building to calm nerves, discuss business pressures and priorities, and get a true sense of the issues and possibilities. With contractual obligations hanging over us, the business owner is seriously thinking about putting this testing ahead of production. That is unheard of; he must be nervous. It's his call at the end of the day, but I need to make darned sure he has good information to base a decision on. The team at my end also need clear direction and reassurance that I'm ready to back them up and keep the shit off their backs. Compose a quick email to summarise the conclusions clearly, and then speak to the director in Hosting to escalate the issue.

11:00 Weekly one-on-one with another direct report. All calm there too.

11:30 Meeting with a Security manager to discuss internet blocking policy.

12:00 Another email blitz. Wow! Some good news about a member of staff who's been battling cancer and might be getting ready to return to work. It's nice to hear good tidings once in a while.

Server issues still not fixed, but business owner seems reconciled to the testing being held up.

12:15 Update performance and development plan. Work goals still relevant. Career goals...entirely irrelevant while we're all in siege mode trying to survive on a shoestring.

12:30 Breathing space to get back to those emails that I've not had a chance to deal with properly yet. Yes, I do have a system, but some things need a bit more time to handle than others and it's amazing how quickly things can get out of control. Clear out all the older versions of running email conversations. Delete anything that I missed first time around. Read the rest carefully to make sure there's not an action item buried in there. Don't want to drop anything.

12:50 Try to track down my director to check in on a few things. Saw she's had some information from the team but want to make sure she's got what she needs for the planning meeting. Also not yet had a chance to brief her on the service issues (still outstanding).

1:05 Eat lunch while reading a redrafted business case. Morphed from a relatively simple replacement proposal into a transformational service management strategy. Nicely worded, clear story. Well done. Note of appreciation to the authors.

1:50 Go down to the presentation room to help prepare for the demonstration. Mild heart attack. The room is full of other people and they look like they're settled in for a long spell! Double check room booking. Yes, officially we're still on. Start sweating as 2:00 approaches, my team and business users gather outside the door, and the squatters seem no closer to finishing.

2:00 Mild heart attack.

2:00:30 Room empties. We enter. Presentation goes well and we finish early.

2:50 Meet with manager colleague to discuss agenda items for an all-staff meeting scheduled next week. Director supposed to be there but warned me she might not make it. We reckon there are some big-ticket items that will be on people's minds so build the agenda around those.

3:30 Back to email hell.

3:40 Mentally shift gears again. Gather together preparation notes for interview we need to conduct next week.

4:00 Meeting with other member of interview panel to discuss key selection criteria and suitable questions. Director still tied up in planning meeting, and it's her competition. We reckon we've got a good set of questions now, but will need to discuss weightings and scoring next week.

4:40 Final tidy up. Check no loose ends and nothing critical left outstanding.

There's a year's worth of stuff on my to-do list that I may never get around to doing. In this overstretched and understaffed world prioritisation is the name of the game. We are all living under the tyranny of the immediate. If I can get through the day finishing the things I'd earmarked for today then I'm happy. If I knock off an item from tomorrow's list ahead of time, well, that's a bonus.

4:50 Shut down PC and head for home.

So, how would you convey any of that at the family dinner table?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Then and now

In case you hadn't noticed, the "Dear Aunt Agatha" series of posts is a flashback to snapshots exactly five years ago (at the time of writing), giving a real-time account of our progress as new immigrants. These posts are in the form of fictional letters to a fictional relative back in The Old Country (as we immigrants like to say).

David's comment on yesterday's post sparked a thought: opportune moment to provide an update on where those things I wrote about yesterday stand now.

Work: I feel I'm well entrenched in the fabric of the organisation now, and fully at home there. Yes it's big and complicated, and I still learn new things every day, but I feel like I've got my head around it now. I suppose this is helped by the fact that the Ministry has reorganised at least once a year since I joined, so the current organisation is really only a few months old, and people who've been in the building for thirty years are at almost as much of a disadvantage in understanding it as a complete newcomer.

One thing I can say with confidence: I've not experienced a single day of boredom there. In fact, it can be too exciting for comfort at times.

Cycling: I wasn't too far off in my estimate. My commute takes about an hour on average. A bit longer at the start of the year, and a bit less when my body has lost some of the winter sloth. I don't cycle in the dark months, and I certainly don't cycle every day. Hmmm...idea for future post...have to take the camera out one day and show you the trail rather than talking about it.

Megan and Matthew still enjoy school. The boredom didn't last long and Megan is a good, keen student but has to put in the effort to keep up nowadays, rather than breezing it like she did at first. For Matthew, we've concluded that the content of his lessons is probably less important than simply having a teacher he can relate to and will listen to. They are both busy these days with extra-curricular activities. Way too much choice available!

Ali's commitments have expanded too. Stints on the PAC, and other school committee duties, as well as Guide and Cub leader, and even Guide District Commissioner along the way. Talk about sucker for punishment.

So, after the frenzy and pioneering feelings of immigration, life has settled into familiar routines. Hectic ones at times, yes, and ever-changing from one term to the next as everyone tries to juggle a multitude of interests in the standard allotment of time. Does any of that sound familiar to other parents out there?

Incidentally, yesterday's post was the 100th on this blog. I had no idea when I started this venture that I'd have so much to write about.

(2005) Work and school

October 2005

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Life is finally settling into something like a normal routine.

I think I'm starting to get a grip on my new job, even though it's so unlike anything I've ever done before. More differences I've noticed: love of email (I think I now get more in a day than I used to in a month) and endless meetings.

After nearly a year out of the saddle I've finally got my bike back into commission and I'm checking out possible routes into work. The good news is that there's a stunning trail going all the way down the Peninsula and into Victoria, well maintained and well away from busy roads. The bad news is that I haven't figured yet how long it's going to take me to commute, but it'll probably be at least an hour each way. Good job they have changing rooms and showers at work.

Megan and Matthew are enjoying school and pre-school respectively. Megan said once that she wished it wasn't the weekend, because she wanted to be back at school! Wonder how long that'll last. On the flip side, though, she is struggling a bit with the slower pace of schooling here compared to the UK. She went into kindergarten last year writing whole paragraphs in her journal while many of her friends were still learning to form the letters of their names. Now in grade 1, they are starting all over again for the benefit of kids who missed kindergarten. Megan is getting bored and we've asked her teacher to give her assignments to stretch her a bit.

I know that the disparity between the school systems can cause problems the other way, too. When I was 11, a kid from Canada joined my class. He struggled and never really caught up with the more academic subjects. At the time everyone just thought he wasn't too bright, and I think he came to believe it. But I wonder now how much of a different course his life might have taken if he'd stayed at a consistent pace within one single school system.

On the other hand, we reckon the pace will suit Matthew well. He won't be pushed, and he likes to pick things up when he's good and ready, thank you very much.

Ali's been getting involved in the school, working with some of the other parents to organise a "walking school bus". And she volunteered to help set up a Sparks unit in the district. Megan wants to join Sparks, but the nearest unit is full and they have enough girls on the waiting list for another unit. What they were missing was helpers to run it. Well, there's nothing like getting involved in the local community to help settle in.

The whole moving experience was quite an adventure, but now, nearly a year on, it's good to feel that we are all establishing ourselves in this country.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My, how you've grown

The pirate ship has much more of a ship-like feel to it now that the masts are full height and partially rigged.

I had one heck of a job capturing the end result on camera, though. I settled for a close-up from each end to try to show both the height of the masts and some of the detail.

Even so, it's not too easy to see properly in these photos. As usual, if you click on an image you can see it full size which might help. You can see the new steps in both of these shots too.

I spent most of yesterday clambering up and down ladders, and I can feel the effects today so I think it's time for a day off.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tent city

So this is what happens the first fine weekend after a rainy Guide camp...

Some are hidden behind others so you can't actually see them all from any one angle, but there are actually nine tents in all adorning our front yard. Pleased to report, though, that despite the downpour and a few leaks last weekend the Guides had a good time.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Blogfest aftermath

Well, wasn't that a fun weekend?

Friday evening Ali and Megan had departed for a weekend Guide camp. Matthew and I had tucked into sausage & mash & beans, and the dishes were now all cleared away. With a glass of wine in hand, a peaceful evening lay ahead.

Just on the spur of the moment, I saw and joined in the blogging experiment at Elena Johnson's blog. I posted my entry, added my details to the formidable list of participants, and took a sip of wine while I decided what to do next.


Darn it. The kids have left the sound turned on again. I'll check on email later.



Huh? Has the ISP's spam filter broken down or something?!


Already? Palms sweating, I checked my stats. Holy pageloads, Batman! People are visiting. And what's this? A new follower?

And so it went on through Saturday and into Sunday. A frenzy of visits and comments, while I tried to keep up (in between shopping, cooking, and carpentry) and perambulated through some of the 193 other varied and insightful posts.

If that excitement all sounds a bit lame, please note that I can still remember the surprise, earlier this year, when my first follower showed up and the first comment appeared. And it is only one week since I celebrated breaking into double figures.

Bear in mind, also, that I started this off with no expectations other than providing a handy archive for my family and friends on the other side of the world to keep in touch with goings-on here in more depth than the occasional phone call, email, and annual newsletter. So, as a confirmed sociophobe and resolute non-networker, I stand in awe of all you venerable bloggers with followers in the hundreds. How do you cope?

For the benefit of visitors, here's how I try to work. I appreciate every visit and treasure every comment. If you value your time as much as I do, then I appreciate that you spend some of it with me and I believe in responding to comments as quickly as I reasonably can.

And all you new followers, thank you for joining the family here at The Bald Patch, and I hope you take the time to drop by again. What you see here, in the very nearly 100 posts on offer, is pretty much how it will probably continue.

In turn, I will look you up, hunt you down, seek out your blogs, and get to know you. It might take time because I'm still feeling slightly overwhelmed, and I'm still grazing at the feast of advice on how to write compelling characters, but I will get around to it. So please be patient.

Now, once more, as is our usual custom on a Monday night, curry and beer is calling me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It'll never fly, I tell you!

It's three weeks since I last posted a progress report on the pirate ship, and just over three months since I started building.

Wow! Is that all it's been? It feels a lot longer. Three months of sometime intense effort, with many breaks and interruptions.

Not a huge amount accomplished in the last three weeks because both time and conditions have been against me.

This month, of course, is dominated by return to school, and all the usual after-school activities ramping up. Now that Megan has started in middle school we had, not one, but two "meet the teacher" nights last week. Fortunately on different nights.

Then, shortly after my last post on the subject, the weather turned. Not many opportunities to work on the side planking that you can see here. You can also see how damp everything is; all that previously clean decking is now covered in leaves and bits from the trees. So this is going to be slow work from now on.

I decided a long time ago not to try planking everything solidly, and I'm glad I chose not to. When I started on the bits above deck, I realised how much it would emphasise the flat planes of this only-moderately-boat-shaped structure. Leaving gaps lower down, and subtly varying the widths of the gaps, helps to hide the true shape and give an illusion of roundness.

Luckily there's still plenty of pieces I can work on in the shelter of the garage. This weekend I'm making sets of steps to lead up from the waist deck to the raised platforms fore and aft. Then the top masts will take a bit of work before I'm ready to lift them into place. And I've started drawing up plans for the wheel and working out how to go about making it. Making large round things out of wood is not easy.
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