Saturday, January 11, 2014

Back at Blogging!

After a two year absence from blogging, a comment from an old friend made me think about getting back into writer mode. He observed my "addiction" to surfing on my smartphone, cut through my lame excuses like a hot knife through butter and suggested my time would be better spent adding something new to my blog. This one is for you, CW.

Since my last entry, we have moved to Calgary, Canada.  Sitting here in January 2014, I can say that the reason, the irresistible lure, the seductive draw to return to Canada was definitely not the winter weather. My husband, a former resident of Hawaii and California, would agree between lifting shovelfuls of snow and spreading handfuls of de-icing salt. Of course, I couldn't hear him answer or see him nod yes because he is swaddled in multiple layers of sweaters, long johns, ski pants, gloves, mitts, scarves and a balaclava. The weather is not why we moved here.

Seven grandchildren aged from 4 years to 8 months proved to be the siren's call to us. If you remember your Greek mythology from high school, you know that the Sirens were women with enchanting voices who lured sailors into dangerous situations. The dictionary definition of siren call is "the enticing appeal of something alluring but potentially dangerous ". So yes, these seven small people, these four grandsons and three granddaughters  are very alluring but also dangerous! Dangerous in that they have turned both Ron and me into baby-talking, diaper changing, baby-food spooning, story-reading, potty watching, stroller-pushing old fools. But, God in heaven, do we ever love them.
Seven grandchildren from 4 months to 4 years, July 2013

In August 2012, we changed countries.If anyone tells you it is easy to change countries, laugh pleasantly and move on. He or she is plainly an idiot.It was very hard for us to change countries.

Movers taking our boxes to the truck

Ron and grandson looking at the truck filling up
Taking down our ten foot wind chimes to ship to Canada
We put in hours and hours of pre-move work with an immigration lawyer, a mover, Customs officials, and packing and saying goodbye to family and friends.  We completed tons of paperwork and hours of scanning and photocopying. We were well-prepared. We thought we would breeze through the US/Canada border. No such luck. We were there for hours satisfying the bureaucratic whims of both countries. I am a dual citizen (USA/Canada) and my husband is an American citizen. My husband had to produce a thick packet of paperwork including his FBI reference letter and wait and wait and wait for a decision to be made by someone somewhere else. At one point, I had to leave Canada driving my car, loop through the parking lot and come in on the USA side to “import” my car. My daughter and her family had been down to California to holiday and she kindly volunteered to help us drive our two cars to Canada.  Her husband and one-year-old son flew home the same day that we left Santa Cruz. She was newly pregnant and in hindsight, we should have put her on a plane to Canada because she was so sick with morning sickness all day long and all night long that she was not much more than a comatose passenger by the second day of our journey.  Oh, I almost forgot.  When she wasn't comatose she was cranky.  At the border as the wait stretched into hours and the day got longer and longer, my daughter told me quite seriously, “You know I love Ron and all but could we just leave him here? It is not worth it.”  Once I told her that we could not/would not leave Ron, she glumly accepted that and went on to strike up a conversation with an older French-Canadian Border officer. I was glad he was there to be a distraction for her because by then I was ready to leave her at the border. Eventually we managed to clear the border. We stopped in the next town, had a late night celebratory dinner (my niece and her fiancĂ© met us for coffee) and then at 11:00 at night, we headed to our new home in Calgary two hours away.

Our house awaited us with empty rooms and overgrown grass. After one night at my daughter’s, we moved a mattress into our master bedroom and slept on the floor. We borrowed a card table and folding chairs, and installed a rocking chair in the living room. Home sweet empty home.  Our moving boxes from California would not arrive for another month. We had purchased a lot of my brother’s household items when he sold his house and these things were in storage in our garage. We unpacked boxes of kitchen things: pots and pans, cutlery, plates, bowls, tea towels, spices and small appliances. Our kitchen cupboards were full. We unpacked sheets and blankets and towels and soap dishes, tablecloths and napkins and candles. Our linen closet was full. The kitchen cupboards were full. The rooms were empty. We moved in furniture. A bed frame and two leather couches and two large end-tables and a lamp did not fill the rooms but they helped. We hit numerous garage sales. We scoured the online ads every day. We bought things and more things every time we went to Walmart.  My husband cut the grass. 

After a week, I began a new job. I was hired at a Calgary continuation high school to work with students that needed more help to be successful. These students were over 18 and had finished at their neighborhood high schools. Some had learning disabilities, some had mental illnesses but the majority were immigrant students learning English. Calgary, a city of one million residents, is a booming international and cosmopolitan city. Refugees and immigrants from all over the world are coming here to Canada for safety and security from wars, rebellions and genocides. Once safely in Canada, they come to Calgary because of the wide-open job market. There are 52 different languages spoken in one of the local high schools. That high school 'feeds' the alternative high school where I work. My new school was so different than the high schools in which I worked in California, and I was part of the administrative team which was new for me as well. A steep learning curve presented itself, and I struggled. It took six months for me to relax enough to take a deep breath at work!

While I was bumbling around learning the lay of the land at work, my husband and son-in-law demolished the main level of our forty-year-old house in preparation for remodeling. The newly filled cupboards and closets had to be emptied out; everything was moved downstairs. We lived on the lower level in about 400 square feet for 4 months. We felt like college students who had just rented their first basement suite as we bumped elbows in the kitchen trying to cook and wash dishes by hand,  used two desks as counter-tops and a cardboard box as a food cupboard, and tried to stretch out on an IKEA love-seat  to watch a movie. My son-in-law and husband labored through the winter to transform the upper level of our house from ugly worn-out early seventies decoration to a new modern look.

Winter hit us hard. As California residents, we were used to dressing warmly when the the outside temperature fell below 10 Celsius, and to taking our umbrellas with us in the winter. In Canada, we dress warmly because it is -30 Celsius sometimes and instead of umbrellas, we carry wind-shield scrapers and mitts.My husband traveled to Texas to help move his 90 year old mother into a care facility at the end of October and was gone ten days. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt when he left.  There was snow on the ground when he returned! The first really big snowstorm occurred on the day he was to have his first appointment with his new doctor. After a hair-raising skid and slide to work myself that morning, I phoned him to warn him to give himself extra time to get there. A trip that should have taken fifteen minutes took forty-five. Cars were stuck right on the street, cars were going sideways and spinning around as they lost control, cars were stalled in intersections as they tried to make turns, and the traffic was moving at a snail's pace. This would have been hair-raising for my husband as well but he is bald. Instead his blood pressure became so alarmingly high that the doctor wasn't sure if he would be doing a check-up or an autopsy. He ordered my husband to sit still in a quiet room and retook the blood pressure in fifteen minutes. It was much lower but the doctor was so alarmed that he referred him to a cardiologist for a stress test two weeks later. When the stress test turned out normal, the spike in his blood pressure was blamed on the road conditions!


Spring also hit us hard. In June ,the city of Calgary suffered a catastrophic flood. Our house is on a hill but many neighbourhoods, including my son's, were evacuated. Shelters were set up for those who had nowhere to go. We provided shelter for ten days to my son, daughter-in-law, two grand daughters, my son's mother-in-law and the family dog, a stubborn Pug named Stuart. The city has never experienced a flood this disastrous and it was so sad to see the affected people and businesses and neighbourhoods. We were so glad that we were here to help.

Downtown under water

Calgary came together as a city to get through the flood. People fed and housed the evacuated, people went to the severely affected areas and shovelled mud, hauled wet drywall and carried destroyed furniture to the curb. Calgary city officials, especially the one and only Mayor Nenshi, worked hard to get the city back on its feet. It was nice to know we had moved to a city with a big heart.

The move to Canada has been good for us in several ways. Number one, we get to see our family much more often. We have four grand-kids in the city with us, and three grand-kids that are a seven hour drive away. We don't get to see the faraway three as often as we would like but we have seen them more in the last eighteen months than when we lived in California.  Three of my grown-up children live in Calgary, two of them live near the faraway grand kids. We see my parents much more often and they often stay overnight with us. My brother and his lady live in the same city. My sister lives near the faraway grand-kids so we see her when we see those grand-kids. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby. We really love to attend and to host great family gatherings. Number two, this has been good for me in my teaching career. I have learned new things, been given new opportunities and had some great new experiences. Teaching in Canada is very different in many ways from teaching in California. Number three, my husband and I have both learned new skills. I now haggle with the Hutterites at the local farmer's market over buying beets in bulk (50 pounds), use the back yard as a gigantic freezer before Christmas, and the barbecue as a smaller version of a deep freeze in the winter months, as well as navigate a huge city without becoming lost more than uh...ten times. (Who am I kidding? I got lost again last night!) My husband has learned to demolish walls with a sledge hammer, rip up old sub-floors and install new sub-flooring, pull wires for electricians, and walk directly to whatever he wishes to buy in Home Depot in less than five minutes. We both can do up and undo kids from car seats in a flash, we can put up and take down playpens in a heartbeat, bathe a full tub of kids(6 is the record) at once, change diapers on our knees or on the run, convince kids to eat something ( or anything!) and comfort them (and their mothers) after vaccination needles, entertain kids in grocery carts and manage kids in church.

This move has changed our lives and continues to change our lives every day.The positives absolutely outweigh the negatives so far but ask me again after the next blizzard or catastrophic flood. Right now, we are happy!