Too cool for school

Today I was schooled. This is not a bad thing. Those who know me, know that I love to learn new things and better ways of doing things I already know. I get bored with repetition, and monotony literally makes me weep. Doing the same thing day in and day out brings on a gray, depressed mood that is difficult to lift. So, when I say I was schooled, regardless of how I was schooled, it is a good thing.

Today’s schooling was almost not a good thing. We’ve had snow on and off for the past month or so. It has been glorious! I love the snow. So much so that if I wake up in the wee hours, as I very often do, and it is snowing, I will stand for ages at the window watching the magnificent flakes spiraling softly to the ground. I revel in the silence, the almost-frozen-in-time stillness that is broken only by the obnoxiously noisy clattering and rumbling of the bright, roaring snow plows. These monster machines wouldn’t be out of place in Mad Max Fury Road. I love them! They fill me with such childish glee and excitement! I want to shout with them! I often wonder about the people who operate them: what are they thinking all alone in the roaring darkness?

Back to today’s lesson. Snow, and then warm weather and rain. Followed by freezing temperatures, equals ice. Not the friendly fill a glass with ice and pour a gin and tonic kind of ice. This ice is different. This ice plays a sadistic game of ‘Let’s shatter some bones and bruise some egos’. I knew there was ice today. We are kept well-informed with news reports on the weather with ‘Extreme weather’ warnings. And Canada’s favourite past time is discussing the weather (that’s how I know we are really and truly home – we talk about the weather all the time, too!). So, I knew. But I chose to use this as a learning and teaching moment for me and Holly.

I walk Holly to and from school most days of the week. It’s a wonderful privilege I have, afforded to me because I work from home, and I am grateful every day that I can do it. -15 degrees C? No problem! Pull your scarf up around your face, Buddy, and wear an extra layer of clothes. Snowing? Perfect! Let’s catch snowflakes on our tongues. But ice is different. So I have learned. The thing I should have paid heed to was that no other kids were walking to school (except our neighbour and her children, but she is from the former USSR so this kind of weather is basically summer for her). When the neighbour returned and immediately went outside to salt the sidewalk, that should have been clue number three. Yet, again, I thought I knew better, and Holly must learn to walk on icy sidewalks. We live in Canada for goodness sake! There is snow and ice; toughen up! But, the ice is different.

Holly pretty much ice-skated to school on the sidewalk, fearless as she usually is (being the bravest girl I know). The threat of a fall softened for her by the three layers of pants she was wearing including puffy snow pants. I do not have puffy snow pants and I am somewhat less bendy than Holly. I fall with a greater impact than children do. So, I walked the distance to the school in fear of breaking a leg. I walked in the crunchy snow where it is less slippery but more labour intensive. I felt like an intrepid explorer making my way through yet uncharted land in the frozen depths of Antarctica. Somewhat dramatic, I concede, since her school is 300 meters  from our house.

So, here I sit. Undamaged, bones intact, ego free of lacerations. But schooled in the ways of Canadian ice. There are so many things for us still to learn! It’s excruciatingly exciting. We’ve spent almost our entire lives in almost perpetual summer, snow and ice in nature a notion that was familiar only at the most superficial level. I can’t wait for my next lesson. Let’s hope it’s as painless as this one was.

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Following the light

Instagram gives me severe fomo. With each scroll down, I add new destinations, activities and experiences to my ever-growing list of things to see and do. Every so often, I’ll invite Roger to share in my panic as it threatens to bubble over. But, as ever, he calmly assures me that we have lots of time to explore. Why doesn’t he understand?!

Each time I open Instagram my list grows exponentially! We’ll never be able to keep up. There’s Aurora Borealis-chasing in Iceland; reindeer sledding in Finland; roughing it in a log cabin in upstate New York; an island holiday in the Caribbean; experiencing arguably the world’s most breathtaking views in Banff, Emerald Lake, Peyto Lake, Jasper National Park, Nova Scotia, British Columbia. And, closer to home, there’s learning to ski, ice skate and snowboard, tubing downhill in winter, stand up paddle boarding and tubing down the river in summer, and camping in every beautiful National park within a few hours of our home. And we haven’t even started on the maritimes or the territories!

We haven’t been sitting idle though. We take every opportunity to experience as much of Canada as we can. It may not be ice fishing on Crystal Lake, or dog sledding in the Yukon, but we have been getting out there. Just last weekend we packed the kids into the car and drove over an hour north. There’d been reports of strong electromagnetic activity that would make the Aurora Borealis visible from areas in Southern Ontario. Although we were just slightly south of the visible band, I thought we had to try. We will never see the Northern Lights from our couch! And, worst case scenario, we would get to see some pretty magnificent stars. I couldn’t sit still at the thought of being able to try out our new DSLR camera. I’ve been playing around with it and doing some online tutorials, but I really needed something out of this world to photograph.

We checked our emergency survival kit to make sure we had enough blankets, water, snacks, extra gloves, hats and scarves. Then we bundled the kids into the car and … set off to the car wash. That’s right – at 8:15 on a Friday night we were sitting in a line of about 6 cars waiting our turn to get under the sprays. For those who aren’t familiar with driving in snow and on salted roads, they create a lot of mush. The melted snow and ice and dirt creates a brownish gray clay-like substance that sprays up from the roads and coats your car – all over. If you don’t take good care of your car and wash this gunk off regularly, your car begins to rust. It’s such a thing here in winter, that you get car-wash season passes.

With with twinkling stars reflecting off the car, we hit the streets and headed north, our spirits as high as the kids’ voices as they sang and yelped in the backseat, beyond excited for their adventure. As I slipped my earphones in my weary ears, I noticed, with a sinking heart, that the clouds were blowing in. Never mind, I thought. It may still be clear in Elmvale. So we continued our drive, me enjoying another My Favorite Murder podcast, Roger ‘enjoying’ the kids’ singing as they shared the songs of their people.

As the kilometers sped by, the children quieted down and eventually passed out. Roger and I, noticing the desire to slam our heads against the dashboard had abated, realized the kids had fallen asleep. Aurora Borealis or not, sleeping kids is a win in itself! We arrived in Elmvale to find a completely overcast sky. Not a single star could be seen, never mind the Auroras. We drove to a nearby park, away from the bright lights, just to make sure. Then we turned around and headed back home.

Scary Dog and The Snowman: A tail of Canadian acceptance

He joined our family on an autumn afternoon. Skinny, bony and with deep sad looking eyes that were older than his years. How long had this doggo sat waiting in the shop window for his new family? It must have felt like forever. It certainly looked like he’d been there forever. I closely inspected each hound, looking for signs of weakness and imperfections. I didnt want a doggo that was going to fall apart a few minutes after he got home! There weren’t many left to choose from. He must have been the runt of the litter. Well, everyone deserves a chance. Even a scrawny, bony little puppet with big black eyes.

Eli took one look at Scary Dog and fell in love instantly! Every child needs a dog to love and Eli had found his. They are inseparable! Eli carries Scary Dog everywhere. He even joined us on a night away at a hotel on Thanksgiving weekend. He had a blast on the beach (when he’d dealt with the business of the stones) and enjoyed the car ride. What dog wouldn’t, though? Fortunately we don’t have to worry about him getting car sick.

Scary Dog has become an integral member of our family and a real hoot on our family adventures. He often joins us when we go hiking on the trails in conservation areas. He prefers to be carried as he finds the walk too much for his bony little legs. But we don’t mind humouring him!

Recently Scary Dog, somewhat reluctantly, acquired a new friend, The Snowman. Unlike Scary Dog, The Snowman is just a Christmas decoration. Despite his lack of animation, Eli finds this whimsical inflatable little man a real treat and he spends a great portion of his afternoons and evenings clinging tightly to the green gloved inflatable hand. Fortunately, we’ve not yet been asked to have The Snowman accompany us on our outings. That would just be weird!

Some might be concerned about their children’s obsessions deep interest in holiday decorations. And their fabulously imaginative naming of said decorations (Eli has an ongoing obsession with pumpkins. So, when the Halloween decorations were taken in, he replaced that interest with Christmas balls, now and forever to be called Christmas Pumpkins). But, Roger and I being the laid back and open minded folks that we are, are pleased our children have no prejudices and are making friends. We encourage them to be accepting of all people, and animals. It’s the Canadian way.

We come from a land down south

I’m trying to pick one event that stands out as that ‘defining moment’ that perfectly and neatly captures our time here in Canada. That moment when we knew this felt right, that this was home. And I’ve got to say, I’m not sure if there is one. There may be many. But there may also be none. Let’s review.

We’ve been in Canada for 8 months now. Two thirds of a year. We’ve been through winter, spring, summer, and autumn, and that was just today! We’ve also had a few tornados today but that’s probably a different story. We’ve bought the t-shirt and worn it. Then we shrank it in the tumble dryer and had to buy a new one. But that’s ok, because there are so many more t-shirts to see and we’re super excited to wear them all (I think that metaphor lost me somewhere).

When we landed, I don’t think we were completely prepared for how different our lives were going to be here. Obviously we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that it snowed in Canada, and that we would drive on the right hand side of the road. We knew the obvious things, the stuff you read on the interwebs and that you can learn through research. We’re not totally useless and I like to believe we have the street smarts! But there are tons of less superficial, more implicit things you learn as you begin to acculturate. And that process involves making the conscious decision to identify with the culture of your new home. It doesn’t happen automatically and many people choose not to become part of their adoptive country’s culture. Some people choose to go only part of the way and hold onto their old cultures and cultural identities.

We have gone out of our way to absorb the Canadian-ness around us. We want to belong. We want to fully and totally be a part of this incredible country. That’s not to say we will forget where we came from, it just means that now, Canada is home. And we will throw ourselves into it completely by doing the following:

  • Drink coffee. All. The. Time.
  • Send our kids to learn how to ice skate and play hockey.
  • Enjoy the weather when it’s a pleasant 5 degrees C in winter.
  • Talk about the weather at every opportunity.
  • Barbecue in the garage.
  • Spend many many hours outdoors.
  • Park our car just outside the garage in the driveway or on the road by our house.
  • Walk late at night around the quiet neighborhood.
  • Call the bathroom the ‘washroom’.
  • Turn the basement into a playground for the kids to enjoy on the days when it’s too cold to stay outside for too long.
  • Take a train to work.
  • Use the library, parks and conservation areas.
  • Clean our own home, do our own washing and look after the garden ourselves (although, to be totally honest, we have engaged the services of a cleaning company that comes twice a month).
  • Decorate our porch and the outside of our house with the appropriate decorations every season. This month it’ll be pumpkins and such.
  • And ALWAYS have maple syrup in our pantry.

A parade, a fair and a giant teacup

It’s always good to have a specific goal when you want to do something. It’s even better if you can visualize what you want to achieve. When Roger and I made the decision to move to Canada it was a completely intangible goal. We’d never been to Canada; it was just a concept. So we created some visual goals for ourselves.

I’ve made it sound far more deliberate than it actually was. To be sure, Roger and I very rarely sit down and plan and visualize anything – except maybe supper. Or cake. And beer. But I digress. We are horrible planners. And even worse doers. It’s an absolute miracle that we managed to transfer our entire lives from one continent to another. I’m still not quite sure how we managed. What we did do a lot of was talking about Canada and imagining what it would be like. We also spoke a great deal about what we were looking forward to.

One of the things we were looking forward to the most when we got to Canada was that feeling of community. Yesterday, as I sat working at my desk, I happened to look up out of the window as Roger mowed the lawn in front of our house. Our neighbors were outside chatting to him and their children were playing with our children. To be fair they might have seemed rude had they stayed inside, since Roger was cutting their grass too. Our neighbor to the other side was sweeping our adjoining patios and joining the conversation. It was lovely. Such a small thing, but it it was the affirmation of an achievement.

The second visual goal was something Roger and I had been
speaking about for years. Before we even decided to leave South Africa. It was something that represented the lifestyle we wanted: a family oriented, safe lifestyle. Today we got to Experience that. A parade! Our very first parade in our new country. And it didn’t disappoint. There were bagpipers, firemen, old men dancing, fancy cars, and people lining the streets waving Canadian flags. The kids loved it, so we loved it even more! It was a promise fulfilled.

There are so many more of these events that we’ve spoken about and are looking forward to. People may take them for granted; they may not even notice them anymore. But for the Bloom family, they’re the realization of a dream.

April showers bring snow plowers

Over a period of about 20 years, Roger and I built a life. I met Roger when I was in matric (Grade 12). He taught me to drive and I bought a pink Beetle. Her name was Deliliah and she would break down/run out of petrol at least once a week. Roger and I moved in together, slowly collected used furniture, and cheap plates and mugs. Later, we upgraded our things as we could. We both had jobs and cars; we bought a house; had a child, then another. We went on holiday to the US, and renovated our house. Over 20 years. Give or take.

We have been in Canada for three months. In that time we’ve stayed in two houses, found a school for Holly, bought a car, and got a driver’s license. We’ve seen and become people of Walmart (running, screaming kids will do that to you). We’ve learnt how to shovel and salt the snow. We’ve learnt which ketchup tastes good, where to find $3 butter, and that Fortino’s (it’s like a fancy Thrupps) makes the tastiest bread and has the freshest veggies. We aspire to become Fortino’s people.

We’ve learned that the 401 highway is jam-packed in rush hour, but the 407 is empty (because you pay to use it, which explains our $800 bill!) and you need to get a transponder for your car. We know that a Loonie and a Toonie will almost buy you 1.96 liters of milk. That’s two gallons. We use the metric system here but it’s complicated. People still want to use imperial so, in order to accommodate everyone, both units of measurement are used. We just recently learnt too, that spring is spring in name alone. In spring this year we had an ice storm that almost shut southern Ontario down!

We’ve learnt that despite the strong and ongoing propaganda, Tim Hortons coffee is in fact horrible; Starbucks coffee wins every time! (Shots fired!) Canadian Tire sells so much more than tires (and it’s one of Canada’s Top 100 Employees for 2018!) – it’s a giant man-shop (as opposed to a giant-man shop) but one that women like, too. A bit like Builder’s Warehouse but one that sells sports equipment and supporters’ clothes too. I haven’t actually experienced a Canadian Tire, but the blissed-out expression on Roger’s face told me everything I needed to know.

We’ve also learnt that there’s so much more to learn! This country is like the United Nations. When we take the children to the local playground we hear almost as many different languages as there are people there. No one twitches when they hear a different accent. And with each of those different cultural groups comes a festival or an ethnic supermarket, and a whole host of different stories and experiences.

We truly are privileged to be here and to be able to enjoy everything this incredible country has to offer. It took us 20 years to get to where we felt like we were acing it! We’ve had to fast-track all of that life stuff into just over three months. We’re not quite there, but we’re getting a little closer every day. Hopefully the Bloom’s adventures in setting up our lives will continue to entertain you.

Boobee with a chance of meatballs

‘Boooobeeeee! Boooobeeeee!’ he yelled with his head thrown back and a maniacal grin on his face. ‘Boooobeeee!’ This was at approximately the halfway point in our first IKEA shopping excursion. And to be clear, this was almost-two-year-old Eli, not his father. At this point I’d completely lost my sense of humour. With the little one demanding a boob and not taking no for an answer, and the big one crying because I wouldn’t let her choose a king-size sleigh bed and a cot for her bedroom, I was ready to throw in the grey towels I’d gathered and order an Uber. A note on that.

We do not have a car in Canada. We cannot buy a car until we have insurance. We can’t get insurance until one of us has an Ontario driver’s license. So until we can write the driver’s test, pass the actual driving test and get insurance, and buy a car, we’re dependent on Uber. Or walking to Walmart to buy groceries (this deserves a whole other post).

With Eli’s skinny little arm thrust far down my shirt, his war cry of boooobeeee ringing out through the mazes of hell, I hunted down a minion in yellow and blue. The directions to the ‘nursery’ sounded something like this: ‘Ya wanna know where the nursery is? Okay. Right. Go down there and turn right. Walk past the beds on the left and turn right then turn left. At the workstations turn left, then left and left again and follow the arrows right. That should take you right to the front entrance past the checkout with the nursery on the right.’ Somehow we found the nursery. Despite the directions! Eli was reunited with booooobbbeeee and, when he was done, danced a little jig to the music being played thoughtfully through the speakers.

Following this interesting little detour, our posse regrouped at the beds and we began the task we’d set out to accomplish approximately 90 minutes before: finding beds and trying out mattresses that we could order and have delivered ready for our first night in our brand new, empty house.

When we left Dante’s nine circles of hell (thanks for the reference, Ian Burt) it was snowing. But we left armed with veggie ‘meatballs’, a totally useless and unnecessary cushion my eldest decided she couldn’t live without, and some towels. So it wasn’t a complete bust.