Friday, April 30, 2010

Location, location, location - whose head are you in?

We finally have our replacement Permanent Resident cards. Elapsed time since starting to gather the application together: four months, mostly spent with Immigration Canada.

But some of that lag time was in our court. We each had an individual letter (even the children) notifying us that the cards were ready for collection. Office opening hours, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. And you have to come in in person to collect.


Just in case there was a short cut, I made the first exploratory foray last week, nipping out of the office to get downtown to the Immigration office with all our letters and accompanying documentation in my sweaty paws.

There was good news, and bad news. The good news was that I collected my card, and the process was quick and painless. The bad news was that everyone else still needed to turn up in person for theirs. Even the kids. That was the worst part of it. Ali was able to pop in from work the next day for hers, but I was really hoping to be able to collect the children's cards myself, as I had signed the application for them. No dice. And by now we know better than to try to argue with the system.

So this week we notified the school that they would be late, and yesterday I took them in as early as possible, got their cards (hurray!), drove back up the Peninsula to get them to school, then back down again for work. I felt like I'd done half a day's work before I'd even started.

Apart from the inconvenience, we have one serious gripe with the collection process.

The letter we received listed off things that we needed to bring with us. All passports used for the last five years, record of landing (original), photo ID, etc. All perfectly understandable, and all seemed to be the originals of documents we'd photocopied to send with the application forms. So it sounded like a simple matter of verifying the submitted copies as genuine.

Now, I had no trouble with mine, but they asked Ali for a lot more documentation that hadn't been mentioned in the letter. Luckily she had some papers from work that seemed to satisfy them, but we speculated that maybe it was because her passport had expired. Mine is still current, but everyone else's has expired in the last three or four years. So, just in case, I took additional information with me for the kids. Sure enough, the lady behind the counter asked for more proof that they had been living in Canada. Luckily I had recent school reports which did the trick.

So why couldn't they have had the decency to mention that in the letter? We went to a lot of trouble to meet with their diminutive opening hours, and would not have been happy with a wasted journey that could have easily been avoided.

Afterwards, we puzzled over this. The passport bit, not the lack of information. The clerk had leafed through all the passports, presumably looking for whether we'd been out of the country, and if so, whether it was long enough to disqualify us from our PR status. So, we reasoned, why bother with more stringent checks when the passport has expired? How could we have possibly have left the country without a valid passport? Duh!

Later on, completely unrelated to all this, I was thinking about narrative points of view when the answer to this apparent bureaucratic idiocy suddenly became plain.

We had been thinking from our point of view: that of honest citizens who, not having current passports, clearly could not have traveled. But switch to the point of view of the immigration clerk. We are unknowns, and maybe not overly generous with the truth. How does she know we don't have a replacement passport stashed at home with loads of incriminating stamps tracking our travels around the globe, possibly having spent the past three years anywhere but in Canada?

How could I have been so blind? Here I am, writing multi-point-of-view stories where the reveal of information is so crucial, and where I'm constantly thinking about "what would this character make of that situation? What information are they privy to?" Why should that only apply to my characters?

Any writer sooner or later will be exhorted to "write what you know." Now, this is not meant to be taken literally as "write only about things that you know about." It is meant to advise you to draw from your own personal experiences and emotional responses to inform and enrich your writing.

This is a flow of influence from the real world to the fictional. But do you have any personal examples where the flow has been the other way around? Where writing has given you insight into the real world?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ouch...legs hurt!

It's been a while since I posted, for all sorts of reasons.

Magic kept us awake all night for four or five nights on the trot last week. Ali, who is wise in the ways of animals, decided that she (Magic, not Ali) must be on heat. This was odd because, coming from a rescue home, she was supposed to have been spayed before being rehomed. Regardless, Ali called the rescue home owner, who picked Magic up yesterday, whisked her off to the vet, and confirmed that she had indeed slipped the net. That oversight has now been rectified. Thankfully Magic doesn't seem to hold her ordeal against us, which is good because since those few days (when I could have cheerfully returned her whence she came) she has become much more settled and is turning into an affectionate member of the household.

Evenings and weekend have been their normal busy selves, spiced with a power outage on Monday just as Ali was about to get the kids something to eat.

And on Sunday I took part in the Victoria Times Colonist 10k run. I was pleasantly surprised by my time (48m43s) which was slightly faster than last year.

Now, let's be clear about one thing. I am not a runner. I don't actually enjoy running. At least not the solitary pavement-pounding that serious practitioners go in for.

But I do enjoy the buzz of a big event like this. Being part of a ten-thousand-strong river of humanity. The periods of eerie hush broken only by the slapping of thousands of feet. The camaraderie of shared suffering and shared encouragement. The good wishes of anonymous spectators. And (best of all) making my kids proud of me at the finish.

So my training regime is based on the minimum necessary to get me safely through the event. This year it consisted of: in March, two brief outings (about 2 & 3km) to get my legs used to the idea of this unaccustomed kind of effort; in April, three visits to the track with a stopwatch, two 4km runs, and one of 6km so the step up to 10km won't come as too much of a shock.

I guess I might need to do a bit more next year if I want to get my time down any further.

All this has left me with the after-effects, of course. Stairs were a bit of a challenge on Monday. By today I felt ready to get back on my bike, but only just, and it was hard going. more running now, until maybe next year.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Time for some fun

Over the last year or two we seem to have got out of the habit of entertaining as much as we used to. The summer evenings and weekends all seem to have been filled with some Guide- or Cub- or school-related activity and flew by with barely a pause for breath, let alone a convivial barbecue. Must do better this year.

Now, we've seen a couple of Canadian Thanksgivings and we have not yet tried to play in the forty-assorted-guests-for-turkey-dinner league. Mostly, we just have a couple of friends around at a time, usually with children in tow, but children are such easy-going guests. I don't think we've even catered for eight adults since before the children were born.

So last evening we waited slightly anxiously for three of my work colleagues and their partners to arrive. This was an informal dinner, but we had to break out the good china and silverware just to scratch up matching sets of eight of anything. And the occasion prompted us finally to repair one of the dining chairs with a sagging bottom that had been sitting, neglected, in the end room for years.

But everyone arrived. Wine & beers were ceremoniously cracked open, conversation flowed, dinner was served, and not a lot was left at the end of it. Everyone seemed to depart happy, and we certainly enjoyed the evening.

The Menu

Cajun chicken salad (Crisp lettuce hearts, topped with a few slices of red onion, ranch dressing, and thinly sliced chicken fried in cajun seasoning. Simple but effective.)

Beef Wellington (Tender striploin, sealed and laid on a bed of fried onions, mushrooms, liver pate and cream, and wrapped in puff pastry.)
Served with red cabbage braised in red wine, asparagus, carrots, and potatoes.

All sweetened with homemade trifle and washed down with wine, courtesy of our guests.

Today we were in recovery mode, just attending to the minimum necessary weekend chores. The sun shone, and we packed up a picnic and went out to Witty's Lagoon to gaze at the seals (and a couple of otters) and mountains while the kids mooched around in rock pools.

And today we let Magic explore the house, and meet some of her new family.

Award time

A little while ago I posted about character names, and set off a small train of discussion (not yet finished) here and in a writer's forum I belong to. Jean Davis at Discarded Darlings passed on the Over The Top Award to me. You can find out why here.

According to the rules of this award, I must answer these questions with one word.

Your cell phone: Battered
Your hair: Vanishing
Your mother: Tidy
Your father: Clever
Your favorite food: Curry
Your dream last night: Forgotten
Your favorite drink: Beer
Your dream goal: Appreciated
What room are you in: Study
Your hobby: Creativity
Your fear: Blindness
Where do you see yourself in six years: Published :-)
Where were you last night: Partying
Something you aren't: Patient
Muffins: Chocolate
Wish list item: Relaxation
Where did you grow up: Guernsey
Last thing you did: Eat
What are you wearing: T-shirt
Your TV: Off
Your pets: Many
Your friends: Select
Your life: Busy
Your mood: Thoughtful
Missing someone: Childhood
Vehicle: Sporty
Something you aren't wearing: Frown
Your favorite store: Bookstore
Your favorite color: Blue
When was the last time you laughed: Earlier
Last time you cried: January
Your best friend: Wife
One place you go to over and over: Imagination
Facebook: Que?
Favorite place to eat: Home

And I am handing the award on to David Batista at The Bimillennial Man, for shooting around 600 photos in just a few days in Paris.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

(2005) Light at the end of the tunnel

April 2005

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Many apologies for the longer-than-usual gap since my last missive. Correspondence has taken a bit of a back seat recently, but we've finally got on top of a load of things.

The yard is now officially husky-proof, with a smart stretch of cedar fencing visible through the trees at the back, and chain link behind the hedges at the sides. Before that could go in, though, I had fun & games demolishing a tin shed that had been built right alongside a big cedar, and which was now leaning at an alarming angle. And out of that shed I now have three decades worth of old, half-empty paint pots to dispose of somehow.

The house now has a new roof. Would you believe that the previous owner tried to clean it with a pressure washer, and stripped off much of the surface? And whoever put in the skylight in the kitchen used ordinary glass instead of strengthened. Scary. That has been fixed too, and we have a useable amount of workspace and storage in the kitchen, and the kids have moved into their new rooms downstairs.

I think that's probably all we need to do on the house for now. Luckily, indoors had been pretty well cared for, but there's still years of work to do on the neglected yard.

Back in the wide outdoors, we are trying to breathe some life into the poor old hot tub. It seems to work OK, but my carpentry skills - and patience - were tested repairing rotten decking here and there. And Ali attacked the sad and muddy beds surrounding it that made it almost inaccessible. We now have neatly-edged gravel and stone all around that corner and down the side of the house to the gate.

When we cleared the rampant undergrowth behind the hot tub, we unearthed a heap of huge cedar logs from where previous owners had taken out one of the trees some years ago. They are now stacked in the carport. One day, I'll get around to splitting them for the wood stove.

Pauses for breath! And those are just the highlights, not to mention a thousand-and-one smaller jobs all over the place. This business of settling in to a new property is unbelievably hard work.

And in between all this, we've had picnics, taken Gypsy for walks, and celebrated our first birthday in Canada. Matthew was four last month. We gave him a big, pedal-powered tractor which I had to assemble in secret and hide in the other shed (the one that wasn't falling over quite as much).

For all the hard work, there is a lot of good times and relaxation here, and it is good to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


It feels like my feet haven't touched the ground in the last week.

Magic is still settling in. Not too keen on the name myself, but that was the children's choice. She is still quite skittish and selective about when she can be approached. We are keeping her shut in our room for now, until she is settled enough to be introduced to the rest of the menagerie. She definitely doesn't like being approached while she is on the floor, but is happier on our bed and comes over for cuddles more and more often.

She kept us awake the first couple of nights, jumping up, jumping down, exploring, playing with some of the toys we've put out for her...luckily she seems to be getting over that now.

This week at work has been even more hectic than usual, so many demands on my time that I'm barely keeping my nose above water. In fact this past year or so feels like I've been sprinting a marathon, and it doesn't look likely to improve any time soon. The one thing that keeps me sane is being utterly ruthless about closing the door on it when I leave the office and not being tied to a phone or *shudder* a BlackBerry.

Not that home is any less hectic, of course. To the list of extra-curricular activities we have now added music lessons for Matthew. He's having a go at the clarinet. Just a few lessons to start, to see how he gets on, but he impressed everyone by getting a note out of the instrument on the first attempt, and he is picking up techniques that his teacher says many more advanced students struggle with. And he enjoys it, which is kinda important.

And I am glad to be back on my bike again after a couple of weeks hiatus around Easter. That one-hour cycle is valuable "down time" for me.

And finally, sucker for punishment, after taking feedback from "Miss Snark's First Victim" Secret Agent contest back in February, I tuned the first page of Ghosts of Innocence a bit and sent it in to Ray Rhamey's "Flogging The Quill". After a few weeks in the queue it was posted today. Some mixed comments from readers to take on board, but I was pleased that Ray himself voted to turn the page and continue reading.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

And then there were six...again

This evening we picked up a new addition to the family. "Magic", a young adult rescue cat, long-haired, black, and very cute. No photos yet, she is still hiding under our bed. According to the foster carer we collected her from she is a bit shy at first, but affectionate, curious, and very playful. We believe she's about a year old.

The first few cats we had, many years ago, were all kittens. But since Megan was born we have always gone for older cats. They are less at risk in a boisterous household, and we like to give a home to animals less likely to be chosen.

Monday, April 5, 2010

First camp of the year

So there we were, Friday morning, just as eastern Vancouver Island was under a severe weather warning, hitching up the trailer for a long weekend up-island.

Barking mad? Maybe. But, heck, we'd planned this Easter break, made a reservation at a good campground, spent hours over the last couple of weeks getting the trailer ready to roll, and we were darned if we were going to let a little bit of wind and rain put us off.

Even when friends of ours who were already up at the same campground phoned to say "don't hurry, the power's out."

So off we went.

Slowly, to avoid swaying on exposed sections of highway.

And we had a good time.

OK, so we didn't get to cook over an open fire like we enjoy doing in the summer. In fact, we only had one campfire in the three nights there. And it rained every night.

We were thankful that we'd retro-fitted an adjustable arm on the awning. Last year we found water pooling when it rained so we had to bring the awning in. This time, with a proper run-off, it stayed out without a problem and gave us welcome shelter.

But, despite all that, the days were good.

We started with our traditional first night meal of pasta - warm & filling after the traveling and setting-up, and quick & easy to prepare.

There was an Easter egg hunt on Sunday, and we visited a couple of our favourite spots: Englishman River, and the market at Coombs. Megan and Mathew browsed happily under watchful adult supervision, and spent most of their pocket money on toys and trinkets.

The highlight for me was our visit on Saturday to WildPlay, just outside Nanaimo. Ali had taken the kids there with Guides last year, and more recently they went to the new facility in Langford. Both children enjoyed the kids' course, but Megan wanted to have a go at the adult course. For that, she needed an adult to accompany her. That would be me, while Ali supervised Matthew from the ground.

This was all new to me, and I can be nervous about heights at times, but I was soon fully absorbed in the routine of clipping and unclipping safety lines and navigating the range of aerial obstacles.

The ziplines were the best. Climbing up to one of the longest ones, Megan was a bit nervous at first. Soon, the quiet afternoon was disturbed by a long, drawn-out shriek followed by a scream of "That was...AWESOME!"

At the end of the course, my feet firmly on the ground once more, I had to persuade my hands not to reflexively reach for the safety clips and orange lines.

Persuading my face to drop the inane grin took a little longer.

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