Thursday, 20 April 2017

First Impressions

Posted now that I have internet
We’ve been in China for 3.5 days as I write this. It’s been intense and I’ve had moments where I wonder if we’re crazy, but overall the excitement of being in a new country is infectious.

Flying here was so easy that it must have been a miracle. The kids were so good on the plane that my scolding of them was only for the regular things, not for anything major. They played, slept, watched shows, and generally enjoyed the experience of flying. As for me, I found that the 11.5 hours passed much more quickly than I thought it would.

Getting off the airplane was intense. The gate area had a lingering smell of food, it was stuffy, and it was just familiar enough to other airports to be really disconcerting in its differences. But after we’d all had some water and a chance to refresh it was no big deal to make our way through immigration and customs and baggage claim and to the taxi. And then it was off for the real adventure!

We live in Minhang, just across the street from Jiao Tong University. I really like what I’ve seen of the area. In many ways it’s like any other large urban area – traffic, shops, busy intersections, and complicated traffic patterns. Sometimes it reminds me of Berlin and sometimes it reminds me of Richmond. The river areas remind me of Cambridge, lined as they are with willows and the reinforced banks that still seem foreign to me as a Canadian. There is a lot of green space where we are, so much well-designed green space. There are pockets of trees and little gardens everywhere and they all have a cultivated, cared-for beauty. It is not nearly as crowded as I’d feared. Yes, there are people everywhere, but it’s never been anything like London or even Cambridge during the busy times. This might be because we don’t live in city centre, so I’ll have to report back. Also, the streets are well cared for and don’t seem any dirtier than other cities. Whenever we go out in the morning there are crews of street cleaners vigorously sweeping away leaves with their brush-brooms.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Just a matter of days...

Our visa applications have finally been approved for submission! Hurray! I didn’t realise just how stressed I was until I got the phone call saying that all the applications had been approved. We’re going to Vancouver tomorrow to pick up our visas. I must say that I’ve been impressed with the number of things that Consulate has in place to help with application hiccups. For one thing, although your application may get sent back a few times for additional information there is no fee to pay for these rejections and I never was left with the impression that things wouldn’t work out. Other countries want the fee upfront, before you learn if you’re accepted or denied. As well, the office is set up with a photocopier and printer, so that if the documents you need are readily available you can actually procure them without leaving the Consulate. This came in quite useful to us on Monday past. 

Now comes the part that, in years past, was the most stressful – the packing of the suitcases. This time I am not freaking out, or at least not freaking out most of the time. I think it helps that the luggage allowance for Asia isn’t as horribly restricted as for the rest of the world. 2 suitcases per person feels like a luxury now that most international destinations only allow 1. And when two of those people are basically the size of one large suitcase, there is perhaps a little more space available for packing than one those suitcases all belong to one adult! It also helps, of course, that I’ve done this move & setup thing so many times in the past. It’s not that I don’t think there will be stressful times, it’s just that I’ve learned not to bother anticipating that stress this time around.

This morning I woke up to the sound of the rain running through the pine trees outside my window. The sky is a luminous white which suggests that the rain will stay. The children & I have been snatching outdoor time here & there, whenever we can, and it’s not often because the rain will not stop. It is easier to embrace the dreary weather because I know there are not many days left of waking up in a 100 year old logging-shanty-turned-cottage in the middle of a coastal rainforest. Soon I’ll be waking up to…I don’t know what. I know that our place has a lot of opportunities for cleaning & tlc, but that’s ok. For the first time in three years I’m looking forward to having the time & energy to creatively turn our home into something cozy.

See? Cozy
When it's not raining
And sometimes even when it is

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Waiting to Move

I mentioned that the kids & I were waiting for some paperwork to come through before we could join David in China. As difficult as it is to be without him, there have been a few benefits to this (for us, probably not for him!):

  1. Settling in to life in a new country is always challenging, and I don’t just mean the learning to do things in a new place. Expat life has this really glamorous image thanks to those Expats who work for big multinational corporations that give them incentive packages to live overseas. This is certainly not the reality for many of us, so travel to a new country usually involves trying to squeeze all one’s worldly goods into 1 or 2 suitcases and then doing a fair bit of roughing it until one has a chance to set up home. I really hate that David is going through this set-up experience without us, but I’m glad for the sake of the children that things will be a little more settled when we do arrive. 
  2. Having time to ease into back into stay-at-home-mum life is amazing. I keep having to remind myself that it’s OK to take as much time as I want to play games with the children – I’m used to having to squeeze all of our fun into a few hours balanced with housework. I know a big part of this is due to being at my parents, since my mum is taking care of most of the meals and if I have any urgent business to attend to I can easily shut the door and get it done, but it’s certainly helping me feel more relaxed and that’s leading to an easier transition with the kids. I’m not sure how things will change once we’re settled but I think there will be a nice change of pace with David coming home from his office every day to give me some downtime. Walter is also supposed to start school in September so I’m trying to enjoy every last moment with my big boy preschooler right now. 
  3. Being able to have all this quality time with my parents is great. It’s the first time since the kids were born that my visits will them haven’t had an undercurrent of change & stress. I mean, maybe this sounds crazy since I’m in the middle of moving overseas, and certainly I have my moments of feeling incredibly stressed, but there’s also lots of time to just kick back and enjoy life. The kids are running around the house & playing with my childhood toys, mum & I spend our days doing spring cleaning and planning yummy things to make, we go for walks in town, there’s lots of opportunity to visit my Gramma, and mostly we’re just enjoying each other’s company on this extended quasi holiday.
sleepy Annie is happy she can indulge in green apples & peanut-butter 

building before breakfast

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Our Next Big Move

I’m back again, perhaps not so briefly. This time the silence was intentional, as there were things in the works that couldn’t be spoken about in public until everything was in place, and that time is now – The Porters Lodge is moving to China!

Greater Vancouver was not a great fit for our family. Yes, there were positives. I loved living so close to the mountains and the sea, my job was amazing, and I got to see my brother a lot. But there were also a lot of negatives. The high cost of living meant a constant tension between work and childcare, without much time left over for us to enjoy our family life together. We were much closer to home than when we lived in England, but it was still really difficult to see family because traveling around Canada without a car is difficult due to the immense distance between places and the relatively small population doesn’t call for better public transit infrastructure. And, raising two little kids and having work eat up most of our spare hours meant it was very difficult to meet new people or even see our existing friends. As we talked about the years to come, it seemed pretty clear that we weren’t getting the work/life balance we wanted and the current situation needed to change.

One day, a little before Christmas in 2015, David asked me how I felt about moving to China. And I found myself giving a very positive “yes, sure, new adventure” as a response, and he told me that he’d been approached regarding a Post Doctoral research position at one of China’s top universities. I gave him my blessing to start the process and we broke the news to our families.

Fast forward over a year later and here we are, or at least there we are going… David has already arrived and the children and I hope to join him in the next few weeks. We just need to wait for David’s residency number to come through. Until we move the kids & I are staying at my parents, soaking up as much of the Island as we can before our next adventure.

morning snow -- shot over the front deck
morning snow in the back garden

Friday, 6 January 2017

2016 in Review: The Year of Grief

Poor neglected blog! I lasted posted in May, saying it had been a hard year, and although we have had some very good things happen, overall it remained a year of mourning. Death, or the cold promise of it, seemed to touch so many of those we love:

Baby Matthew: Christmas 2015 I met up with my best friend and celebrated that she was pregnant with her second child. Then, several weeks later, we learned that her son was unlikely to survive past birth. We live on opposite sides of this vast country, so I spent a lot of time praying, crying, and pouring my prayers & hope & grief into the below since I couldn’t provide any of the more hands-on comforts that I’m more comfortable with:

Uncle Roy: At the end of January my mum told me that my uncle had just been diagnosed with cancer. Two weeks later he had passed away.

Auntie Ushie: In May I lost my beautiful Grandaunt Ushie. She is one of those family members who appear in my earliest memories and saying goodbye was like saying goodbye to part of my childhood and the security that comes with that network of extended family.

Aunt Diamonds: David’s Grandaunt passed away and that certainly made an impression. I had never met her, but she often was mentioned in family stories and we miss having the updates about her latest doings via the family grapevine.

Auntie Robin: Alzheimer’s continues its destruction of my sweet aunt’s body & mind. These days I almost never have an opportunity to see her, so reality as it comes in the form of pictures or updates from other family is always a sad shock. Every time I sing I think about the gift she gave me in training my voice. I am thankful for the years I got to know her as an adult, because we share so many similar interests in books & music, but at the same time I grieve for the slow loss of that relationship.

Gramma: Dementia and “old age” continue their work on my darling Gramma. Sometimes when I see her she is as funny & charming as she was a few years ago, but other times it is clear that she doesn’t really understand what’s going on. Mostly I hate how staged and forced-cheerful it feels visiting her in the care-home. We troop in, usually with donuts, and try to visit, but the visits are never very long and it just doesn’t have the same feel as it did when we’d visit her at home. Also, her home sold this year and it was sad seeing that piece of history (my Grandfather built it up into the structure it is today) leave the family even if that was the practical choice.

Baby Hannah: Shortly before Christmas we received urgent prayer requests for the newborn daughter of friends of ours, as she was being rushed to the NICU with serious problems. Although she is now back at home with her family, it seems that the long term diagnosis is probably not good (ie a degenerative problem) and so we continue to pray and to hope for a miracle.

This is hardly everyone, just the ones that I feel that I can maybe share with the world. It seemed to be a punch of fresh grief each month the past year. Yet, as I said, the year was not without its bright spots, especially on the home front. For the first time since we moved back to Canada I felt a bit of stability and routine in our home life and that is a great blessing. With all that was going on this year I felt it was time to really take care of my mental health and the short of it is that I’m feeling much better than I have in a very long time, perhaps in my whole life.

Now that the kids are both 3+ I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can actually just hang out together, relaxing and having fun, or I can get things done around the house, and basically we are just able to enjoy being together as people rather than just as caregiver & infant dictator. It’s lovely! And it looks like after 2 years of half-assed trying Walter completed his potty training saga all on his own, so that’s been a nice change (it’s been mostly a week!). Plus we put Walter in speech therapy and that did an amazing job with both his clarity and his confidence. Meanwhile, Annie has taught me some strong lessons about learning to accept love, and those have been invaluable. The day I stopped hesitating and finally called her “my besty friend” in return to her usual clamourings brought a huge change in both of us and it’s absolutely delightful to have a mini-me following me everywhere and doing girl-stuff with me.

One day I may cover off the doings of the year, tho’ Instagram has done a much better job of capturing our Liturgical lifestyle and various doings. Mostly, 2016 was a year of cozy domestic doings woven in amongst loss & the inevitable growing up that accompanies it.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Breaking the Silence

I just finished reading Volume 1 of L.M. Montgomery’s personal journals. She wrote in journals up until her death and volume 1, which covers 1889 – 1910 has been a delightful trip into the thoughts and actions of one of my favourite authors. (As an aside, I have always loved that Montgomery, Alcott & I share the first two initials).

I often find myself dissatisfied when reading biographies of my favourite celebrities. Their lives are, I suppose, too human, and contain that level of sorrow or poor morals or what-have-you. It always leaves me feeling a bit let down, to see the flaws in the lives of those I admire, or at least whose art I admire (for often after finishing a biography I no longer admire the person). Reading Montgomery’s journals, however, has had the opposite effect. She had horrible struggles with depression but somehow hearing it in her own words, walking that path with her rather than having it throw at me by a biographer, has made quite a difference and only increased my admiration for her, rather than leaving me with the let down feeling that someone who brought so much joy to the world through her writings could suffer so terribly (need I say I was *not* a fan of the biography I read of her?). It also gave me a good insight to the intensity of “Emily’s Quest”.

Reading her journals at this point in time has been like finding a kindred spirit, particularly when I saw the infrequency of her writing as she took on more adult responsibilities into her thirties. They’ve been a good kick in the pants to get back onto blogging, and journaling, for even my favourite author wrote infrequently but steadily!

In usual form I’m sure I’ll go back in the following months and finish writing up all the things I’ve missed. I’ve also got a ten-mile-long list of embroidery projects, a giant backlog of gifts for babies and weddings and what-have-you. To all my friends who read this – I’M SORRY! But I keep trusting that a personalised gift is worth the wait, even if your babies are toddlers by the time I’m done.

In regards to the every day... I absolutely love my job and I’m so thankful I took a risk last March and applied for it. I’m constantly being challenged, which is an environment I thrive in, and I find the work really engaging. David’s been working very steadily on projects all year which means we’re living in a crazy cycle where one of us is always working while the other one is watching the kids/running the house, which is incredibly exhausting, but I am so proud of the work he’s doing. It always takes so long from when he finishes a project to when it gets published but in fun news a book he wrote a chapter for last year has finally come out in print and our copy should be arriving shortly.

On a larger scale, however, 2016 has been a sad year for us. This is, I think, one of the reasons I’ve not been writing as much. Since January we’ve either had family members pass away OR had close friends/family undergo personal tragedies and loss ever month and this has been emotionally exhausting. 

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Home for the Holidays

The Fourth Sunday of Advent, that wonderful point in time where we're deeply into Christmas/Not Yet Christmas territory. As a kid this was always my favourite Sunday of Advent -- Christmas was *so close*, less than a week away, and school was out and I was home and everything was just geared towards the fun of the holidays.

I usually like to decorate the tree on Gaudete Sunday, but this year that certainly wasn't happening. So we moved it to a weekday, planned an easy dinner, and then let loose with the Christmas decorating! It was so much fun! We don't have much space and with David working from home it's too much for him to try to keep an eye on the kids AND write AND ensure that the Christmas tree doesn't tip over so I opted for a tiny tree this year. I think it was 1.5' tall. But, as we were away for half of Christmas, it didn't make sense to stress ourselves out with a tree that we wouldn't be around to enjoy. And one year if, God willing, we have more space our little Charlie Brown tree can be upgraded to a centerpiece or mantel decoration. Plus the kids didn't care and enjoyed being able to hang ornaments on a tree they could actually reach the top of.

Bobble Head Shakespeare approves. 

My friend's brother made the sign. All proceeds from the sale of his holiday signs were donated to help a family with the adoption of a child from a European orphanage. 

I put up the window clings after the kids went to bed. They were so surprised and happy when they woke up!
This year we had the opportunity to head to Victoria for David's birthday & Christmas (they fall in the same week). Our whole week preceding this Sunday was one of major preparation, because traveling with young children never seems to be easy no matter what. This time around was one of our best travel experiences with them and still felt like running a marathon (my FitBit tells me that I hit 5000 steps by 1pm which is pretty impressive when you consider that it all came from packing/readying the house to leave). We managed to get all the dishes washed and lots of other little cleaning tasks done before leaving. I give myself immense credit for this because I said we should leave on Saturday instead of Friday which meant we could have a much more leisurely (haha) time of getting out the door.

We almost had an emergency when my brother's roommate forgot to leave the keys to the car that was supposed to take us to the ferry. Fortunately my cousin Tara stepped up in a major way and lent us her [super amazing awesome family friendly] van. I was so happy because it is my favourite vehicle (seriously so easy to get the kids in and out and holds loads of luggage) and it saved on a lot of stress and toddler fights on the way to the ferry.

We also had another almost emergency because PHYSICS and I are doomed to be enemies. In the haste of packing up the bottom drawer of our bathroom cabinet did not shut all the way, and one of the kids helpfully slammed the bathroom door shut which caused the drawer to slide out all the way (I think?) which, in our tiny bathroom, meant that the door was completely blocked by the drawer and couldn't be opened. Thankfully, armed with a butter knife and ten million prayers, I managed to slide the drawer back into place after several frantic minutes and we were all good, although my nerves didn't recover until much later!

Emergencies aside, I feel that this is the first trip we've taken as a family, to the Island, where I can look at David and say "we've got this. We're adulting". We have a system down for the ferry -- a spot where we like to sit and where the kids are easy to manage, a plan for how best to feed the family while traveling and trying to not buy too much food on the ferry, and a method for keeping the kids entertained and relatively quiet. It's a flexible plan, depending on the time of day we're traveling, the weather, and the length of the boat ride, but the main pieces are relatively consistent. Arrive early. Secure a spot with ample room so that Walter doesn't feel crowded. If leaving from home, pack some tasty food (like a bbq chicken, baguette, and fruit) buy drinks from the grocery store in advance, but plan to pick up a few supplements (like cheese, yogurt, and ice/water) from the ferry cafeteria because taking a kid through the lineup is a great way to kill 20+ minutes and keep the children separate and occupied. Do separate bathroom trips with the kids because that usually kills 30+ minutes and they need to stretch their legs. Find little chores for them to do, liking carrying trash to the trash can, because it helps them feel like part of the experience (and... kills time!). Colouring is great and we learned on this trip that crayon easily wipes off of the ferry walls (because baby wipes are AWESOME for removing crayon).

Traveling on a Saturday, and arriving in the afternoon, meant that I could have a leisurely time unpacking in Victoria. David's parents are very generous hosts and his mum always has the room done up to perfection for our arrival. We were given "the suite" to stay in on this trip, which gave us plenty of space and privacy (so useful for toddlers and their nap/bedtime schedules). I had the time to get us organised and settled in which goes a long way to helping the kids settle in to strange beds and different sleeping arrangements.

Our Fourth Sunday of Advent was lovely. We were back at Mass after a two week absence. That alone was so nice. We were able to go to Mass with extended family, something which rarely happens, and that also was nice. And we know enough people at Star of the Sea that going there is like a mini reunion. After our giant parish in Vancouver, where it seems like no one notices when we're coming or going, it's nice to feel like part of a community again. Star of the Sea also has an awesome choir, which makes me happy, and it just happens to be a military parish on the naval base, which makes my boat-loving-pirate-obsessed little son very happy. He dubbed it "Pirate Mass" and was quite eager to go.

We never got to the Advent wreath and we never said our Advent prayers but the kids were so happy to be with their Grandparents that I don't think they noticed.