Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon
Mr. Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rabbie Burns day

I know, I know. It's "Robert", but see last night when I was listening to the Caithness Craft Collective podcast, Louise in her Scots accent made it sound like "Rabbie" so I'm going with that.

In the middle of last week's depressive episode fell Robert Burns' day. I've never celebrated this nor even knew how, but Toni and the Skipper decided we should have a haggis and a special meal. They were both at work so I was sent out to buy the haggis. I didn't even really know what haggis was. I was told that basically it's ground up (lamb) organ meat traditionally, but now they probably just use the meat itself, along with oats and spices. I know, right? Doesn't sound awesome. I don't like the taste of lamb. I have tried it in all kinds of ways, because I would like to like the taste of lamb but I guess the fiber artist in me just can't bring myself to eat a fiber animal. Having said that, I was willing to try haggis because dear reader, you know that I am always up for adventure and having an Interesting Cultural Experience.

 So here it is. I had a slice of haggis. Also featured is sausage gravy, "tatties" (mashed potatoes), token greens (cabbage), and "neeps" (mashed turnips). I tried a wee bit of the haggis. I could have just given it to the Skipper, because in truth I didn't enjoy it, but I thought no, I will do this. I decided if I was going to get this down, I would need to have something strong to wash it down with.

Enter the Scotch.
Toni and the Skipper have been trying for more than a decade to get me interested in drinking whiskey. They have tried me out on all kinds of awful things which they love, and they have quite an impressive collection of them. I think the Skipper especially was always trying to get me into the smokey flavors, and there are very few things that are smokey that I like - bacon and salmon are the exceptions. I'm not fond of chipotle (am irritated, in fact, that a chipotle somethingorother is an integral part to most restaurant meals because it's fashionable right now), don't like smoked cheeses, and I sure don't like smoke flavor in my beverage.

So on Wednesday when we were sitting down to have our Rabbie Burns supper, I smelled Toni's glass, smelled the Skipper's glass. He had a smokey whiskey, she did not. When I tasted the haggis and said "I'm going to need some whiskey to get this down", it's like I won the lottery. There was triumphant music, there was confetti, flashing lights, dancers, and a fair amount of squeeing.   Ok not entirely true. There was definitely a "woo hoo!" and a "finally!" I tell you, I have never seen the Skipper move so fast as when he was leaping up to pour me a dram of Glenlivet.

So I cleared my plate, emptied my glass. Really. I had that whole dram of 48% and didn't feel so much as a buzz (this is good, I am working on building up my alcohol tolerance for when I get to North Carolina and hang out at the brewery a lot). I felt happy, to be sure, as we were celebrating. CBC radio was on and the Burns poem was read.

Part of the nightly routine here at Backyard Feast is that after we have dinner, we head downstairs to what has been coined "the comedy room" where we watch last night's episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report via the Comedy Network website. Sam comes out to join us, jumps up on my lap, then she walks over to Toni's lap and settles in. Given the Republican primaries that are happening right now, these two shows have a lot of material to work with in their political satire. It's good. In this way, I am getting my education about American politics.

Last night, as mentioned in the opening of this post, I was listening to LouseJHunt's episode "Mr. Burns". In her podcast, she threw a party to mark the event. What a scream it was! She made sure everyone had enough to eat, more than enough to drink, and there was music and dancing. My name (yarnsalad) was mentioned, so apparently I was there! All the guests were given two tea towels (I'm imagining their awesomeness). Louise is great, dear reader. Even if you are not a knitter or crafter, she has a great wit and lively conversation. A new segment at the end of her show is called the Drams section, where she and her husband sample whiskey. How could you not love that?

Friday, January 27, 2012

a dropped bag of rice

It's a metaphor. The other day, I had a bit of a money shock. See, I'm not really employed at the moment and I was expecting a small sum of money, and then it turns out I misunderstood and won't actually be getting that money. I can't go into details about the whys, but suffice it to say, I took that news really hard.

I haven't been wanting to ask Dan for money because he just forked over a bunch for a plane ticket to come visit me and then a bunch more for the application for my temporary visa. But the truth is, I am so beyond broke that I have less than no money, and that is very stressful.

A friend of mine keeps pointing out to me that I have been enduring multiple traumas over the last six to eight months. I didn't really take her seriously because I generally try to be upbeat about my situation. I think about things on a cosmic level being everything happens for a reason. So I am adaptable and flexible and accepting, which is all very great. But there does come a point, I realize, that I do have to admit that I have been under a lot of stress ever since, well, a long time.

We moved to the Pacific Rim area for a job that Dan took in 2010, but within a few months of being there, it became painfully clear that this job was not going to work out and we would have to figure out either how to make ends meet in a place that has almost no winter employment and that is, because it is a super popular summer tourist destination, an extremely expensive place to live (not to mention very remote). I never felt I could really settle there, and we despite our working two and three and four part time jobs, couldn't make things work. It came clear that we had to leave the area to be able to build a life for ourselves, and if it meant moving to another country, then we would do it. I was not really sad to leave the area, save for a few good friends I made while living there, because eight months of winter rains and cabin fever really grate on someone like me.

So in May of 2011 I experienced the parting of the love of my life, as he drove off to forge our future on the other side of the continent, three time zones and 3,200 miles away. I had the task of packing up our life and moving.

Then I spent the summer with family in Alberta. Having grown up in that province I have always felt like I 'got away'. I witnessed some unpleasant family stuff that I obviously can't go into here, but which was stressful. I also got really sick in August, enough that after coughing all night long one night I saw a doctor and was given some medicine. I have never recovered from that illness, have had some manner of cough ever since, and have been told by friends in health care that I'm probably still recovering from injured lung muscle on top of the bug that's hanging on.

Then came the shock at the border (moving a second time) at the end of September, where they said NO. By that point it had been four months since I had seen Dan and we were together for barely sixteen hours when the border guard told me I could not cross the border with him. We spent the next ten days together, often in sadness, knowing that we once again faced the uncertainty of our future, not knowing when we'd see each other again, when I would be allowed in the country.

Then I stayed with his family for the following two months. The house was a bit crowded, and my cat did NOT get along with the house cat, which was extremely stressful for me. Toni and the Skipper offered their spare room, so I moved again.

Dan is busy working long hours, as his responsibilities at the brewery have been increasing. With the time difference, it is often difficult for us to connect. We communicate largely by text messaging, and if we are lucky, we have a phone conversation on the weekend.

So I have been dealing with missing my spouse, moving, ill health, uncertain future, poverty, and all of that snowballs into bouts of depression. Back in November I had suicidal thoughts, which is something that never happens to me, so I knew things were bad. I had frequent anxiety attacks where I my brain would just shut down and I could cry for hours on end, with no apparent reason. Sometimes it was linked to PMS, sometimes it was just missing my husband.

I have had a very predictable menstrual cycle for years now, so last month when there was a blip and then a late start, I was concerned. I've already had an ovarian cyst and my right ovary removed, so I didn't want to take any chances. So I had an ultrasound this past week, and it turned out to be nothing. So that's good. But it was still a source of stress.

So with the money shock this week and then just feeling like there was no way out from under, I felt like I was a bag of rice that had fallen, spilled, and then soaked in water. Could not see my way to get up. I worried that one day Toni would come home from work and find me on the floor in a heap, crying for no apparent reason. Wednesday was a total write-off for me (well, until the evening, when we celebrated Robbie Burns Day, but that's for another post) and I wondered what it would take for me to get well.

Last night at about 10:15pm, which was 1:15am Dan's time, I had another anxiety attack. I really hate to disturb him, especially this week knowing he is putting in extra long hours before he's away from work for a week, but he has always said contact him any time I'm feeling bad like that. So I did. It was a text message conversation but it worked. I said "Tell me everything will be okay", and he did. My husband, he is so freaking good at giving me pep talks it is amazing. As I told my Twitter friends, he "texted me down from the edge".

I know I haven't really told you much about my inner workings, dear reader, at least not on the Internet. One must be careful what they put up for public consumption. I am in no way seeking sympathy or pity or anything like that. I'm just being honest with you and letting you know that yes, this has all been very hard on me. Luckily I have dozens of good people in my life here, dozens more on Twitter, and tons of friends-I-haven't-met-yet waiting for me in North Carolina. I will see Dan tomorrow, he'll be here for an eight-day visit, and I can reset my mental health. (So if I don't post between now and Feb 4, it's because I'm busy with my husband!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

New hair

I've been reading this book* and it has me thinking a lot about stuff. I'm not going to go into it right now because I'm just full of previously unthought thoughts and processing them all is taking a bit of time. But Friday morning, I was writing in my Morning Pages, and my mind clamped on the idea of me cutting off all my hair.

I have long wanted to have the experience of feeling what a shaved head looks like, but my vanity always got in the way. What if I look awful? Would that hurt my chances of getting a job? (And back when I was still single) how will I attract a mate?

As you may know, the colour of my hair has been a moving target these past couple of years. I went from my flat mousy brown with strands of white to blonde in 2010/11, with the blonde getting increasingly lighter. I wouldn't do any touch-ups or roots, I would just apply the stuff in the box to my whole head and I was pretty close to platinum, I think. Every 5 - 8 weeks I would have to reapply, as my hair grows at about a half an inch a month. After all that abuse, it sure wasn't feeling healthy anymore. I wasn't too concerned, it's only hair, it will grow back. I know this.

Just before Christmas I decided to go red as an intermediary colour. I did blog about that. The first round of red (which was more of a burgundy) quickly faded out and my hair was turning the dreaded copper colour that just makes me look dead. Two weeks later I tried again with a box that said "Ultra Violet". They were great colours when they first settled in, but it too got to washing out.

I decided it was time. It was time to cut out the colour and go back to my natural. It's been almost four weeks now since I last coloured, so I have almost half an inch of my roots showing. Wow. There is a lot more white than there used to be. This being apart from my husband for eight months has aged me. Well, no big surprise.

As usual when I want to change my hair, I want to do it now, and I have long owned my own hair-cutting scissors. You may recall in June when I went from long hair to shoulder length, I Tweeted my way through the process. This time was no different. After chatting with Toni about the idea of me cutting my hair, I went for it. Put the garbage bin on the counter, leaned over, and just started hacking.

It took a couple of days for me to keep trimming and fixing. I'm just about where I want it. My original idea was to get out the clippers and get rid of all the red, but when I asked the Skipper to help me out he refused. "Nooooo, Stace, you can't! Wait until Dan leaves...". Harumph. Okay then, I'll sleep on the idea and see if I still feel the same way.

After some trimming and reshaping myself (I am mighty acrobatic with scissors and mirrors), I am pretty happy with it. It was really spiky and sticky-uppy- at first, but I soon discovered that if I put my running toque on while it's still wet, it will tame the hairs that are sticking up. It's cute now, says Toni, and I feel like I am channeling my inner pixie.

So I probably won't take the clippers to it now, I kind of like where it is right now. This was on the outset me confronting my vanity and it seemed really hard at first, but I felt utterly compelled to do it and so it had to be done. Not only that - where previously I would not have left the house without having my hair and makeup done, for some strange reason I feel less of a need to have make up on at all. There must be a sea change in me.

I also don't know the future of my hair. I assume I will grow it out again, and even with the prospect of that awkward growing-out length, I will simply have to knit more things to wear on my head either to hide or control my crazy hair. And my crazy hair will have more whites, I am finally okay with that.




*The book I refer to is The Disappearance of the Universe

Poilane style miche bread

I am working on developing my bread making skills, as I think I mentioned in a previous post. My sourdough starter, the barm, is now ready to use and I have been having great fun with it. I made my first sourdough bread the other day, and yesterday I made the bread on the cover of the book I'm using, The Bread Baker's Apprentice. If you read the introduction of this book, the author tells the story of having this bread for the first time, then taking it to a friend's house in Paris, and the friend gets mad for "ruining" him for other bread. I had to make it.

Breads like this take two days to make. I'm nowhere near ready to explain how and why all this works, as I'm a newbie, and I'm just working on my skill and technique. The firm starter takes a day, then the dough is made, kneaded, proofed, reshaped, proofed again and then baked.

This particular loaf is massive. When it was done & baked it ended up being five pounds. When I was kneading the dough, I kneaded by hand for 15 minutes (the book recommends 12-15), and then I was tired. Toni suggested letting the dough rest, though she kneaded it for a bit as well.  She suggested we get the Skipper to give it a knead as well (he is much stronger than we), but he was out at the time. I gave it another ten minutes of kneading and decided that I can live with it not getting to the "windowpane stage" of elasticity.

When it was time to bake the bread, I put the pizza stone in the oven. Toni and the Skipper have a pizza peel, so I covered that in corn meal before putting my Poilane on it. The oven temperature was at 500 degrees when I started, and there was a pan of water in with the bread. I slipped the bread from the peel to the stone. When the bread went in, I reduced the temperature to 450.

The book says to turn it after 25 minutes, but it was baking so evenly in the oven that it wasn't necessary to turn. It was, however, starting to get too dark, so the book says to lay a sheet of foil over the loaf to protect it. I did that. Gave it another 30 minutes, now at 425.

Here is how it came out:




 This is the bottom. It's is so beautiful!
Toni and the Skipper tried it last night, after it had cooled for two hours. They said it was really good. I had some for breakfast this morning. This is the best bread I have ever tasted and it was worth all the effort. So I really do need to buy this book. With this loaf weighing in at 5 pounds, it should last 5-7 days, just like the book said.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

wooden hangers

Here I go again, into #purgemode

I case you don't know what I'm talking about, I am referring to the beginning of the getting rid of all my stuff that happened in May/June last year, just after Dan left and as I was getting ready to move away from Ucluelet.

Each time I go into Victoria now, it seems I am getting something out of storage. Last week I had a list of a few things I wanted to get. While I was rooting around in my stuff, I couldn't help but notice the wooden hangers.

What an odd thing to keep. I know. After several cullings, somehow those made the cut. But see, I put a lot of thought and effort into those wooden hangers. They symbolized a shift towards more quality items instead of plastic hangers (which, I must point out, are much lighter and take up less space).

So I thought about them for a few days and decided that even though I have a small collection (there are about 20 of them, maybe not as many as that), I'm going to leave them behind. They don't need to travel across the continent. I'm willing to bet I can buy wooden hangers in North Carolina, and for cheaper than I paid for them here.

My consciousness is shifting. I am continuously reconsidering all those things I have packed and repacked. I have yards of fabric that I plan to sew "someday" even though I gave my sewing machine away and I'm not actually excited about the fabric anymore. So that should go too. So should the patterns. I barely know how to use a sewing machine, I'm a knitter for crying out loud.

So here I am, whittling down my stuff even further. I'm not culling my kitchen tools - they are too dear and carefully selected, and besides I don't have that many.

The last thing I may have to reconsider is - gasp - my books.

Dan and I have a lot of books. Not as many as we used to, but at the moment it stands at about 25 boxes, with the majority of them being Dan's science fiction paperbacks. I admit I am not excited about the idea of revisiting our collection and making further decisions about what should go, especially in the middle of winter in a cold, uninsulated basement. Dan and I may have a conversation about the books when he's here. One could argue that because I'm doing further culling of my other things that there will be more room for the books. I'm just thinking about packing all that stuff into the back of my truck and driving across mountain ranges.

Don't tell Dan, but I'm hoping I can convince him to take some things back with him on the plane. Nothing in particular, it would just be nice to have less stuff to pack when, someday in the unforseeble [sic] future, I can cross the border with my green card. Sure do wish I knew when that would be. Yep. That would really help me do things like plan my life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

my Sweety is coming to visit!

Okay friends I can hardly contain my excitement! Dan is coming here to visit me!

After we got the news(?) last week about my immigration taking five months, we turned our attention to having Dan come visit, because it's now been three months since we've seen each other and almost seven months since we have lived together. It took some doing but Dan has finally found travel arrangements to get here - and he'll be flying into Victoria!

This will mean that chances are I won't be blogging much, if at all, between January 28th to February 5th.

We'll probably spend our first five hours just looking at each other.

As for the whole five months thing, well, the lawyer isn't sure what's going on. My processing was supposed to be in Texas, not California, so there is a lot of confusion about where my file should be. No one believes it will actually take five months, which still makes planning anything difficult. I just don't know.

Hey - offhand - how do you come to read my blog? Do you follow the link I post on Twitter? Facebook? Am I in your bookmarks or RSS feed? Do you subscribe to my blog? I ask this because I'm curious about how much of a disruption it will be when I make the move over to WordPress (haven't decided when that will be). Please let me know either in the comments below or some other means, thanks!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

WordCamp Victoria 2012: a brief recap

I love conferences. I love going to these kinds of events where a whole bunch of interesting brains are in one space and having one big gigantic brainstorming love-in, with lots of different options of which session to go to. During and after each session I always feel like I want to press the "pause" button so I can run off and write in my journal about all the thinks [sic] I'm thinking. But there is no pause button alas, and I just simply have to take copious notes and hope that I remember to revisit every detail later in writing. Is that even possible?

Here is what happened: On Thursday, someone retweeted that there were extra tickets available for WordCamp Victoria if someone wanted to attend but couldn't afford it, just go to the website and contact the guy. This was a right place-right time situation, and I was on it. I contacted the guy, was registered and two days later I was there.

So were 300 other people. Holy cow, this was a thing! This un-conference (as it was billed) is for WordPress enthusiasts, but I figured there would be lots of content for people who are social media fans and bloggers in general. I knew that I might perhaps be lured to move my blogging activity to WordPress. You have been warned. There is an actual Social Media Camp in Victoria in June, but by then I'm sure I will be long gone to North Carolina with green card in hand.

I will do another post about the specific sessions I went to, because there really is just way too much content to put into one post (and you might not be interested in it anyway) but there were some general observations and themes throughout the day that I would like to share with you.

Who was there? Good question. I didn't actually interact with a lot of people in person, believe it or not. I spent most of the day being an audience member, and as so many people were live-Tweeting, it meant that those same people (I was one of them) were not interacting with other attendees. That did feel admittedly odd, since the whole point of an unconference is to interact with people. But that's the thing, right? It's about being online. I did get to meet a few people from Twitter (was starstruck by a poli sci prof from UVic, @janniaragon who is interesting and prolific, she later referred to me in a tweet as "statuesque"!) and made a bunch of new Twitter friends. It was kind of surreal. In one session, someone I follow on Twitter (@scribbler9) was tweeting about the same seminar I was in, so I tweeted "where are you sitting?" she said "second row, red water bottle", and I said "I'm in the third row, blue water bottle". Then later, a new Twitter friend/follower asked if it was me knitting with the pink yarn (I think I was the only person knitting there). It was like public stalking, but in a good way. In terms of demographics though, it seems everyone was proportionally represented, given the demographic of Victoria. I would say more than half the attendees were 45+, more than half were women, there were not many visible minorities. Lots of technogeeks (as evidenced by the sheer volume of iDevices) and WordPress superfans. There were writers, photographers, graphic designers, social media junkies, academics and laypeople. And all of them were Tweeting.

There were seven sessions, one per hour between 9am and 5pm, plus lunch. There were two keynotes and I missed the first one (I think I was confused about the schedule) but everyone was live tweeting the content so I felt like I was there. I'll talk later about the specific sessions.

What surprised me: people schedule their blog posts. Then they schedule the tweets announcing their blog posts. There is software to do this for you. Does this seem weird to you? It did to me. Some people tweet about their blog post three or four times to make sure everyone reads it. Then there was talk about linking from all the social media sites, Twitter and Facebook being the main two, but Google + being a leading contender and people are actually using LinkedIn. (For the record, I hate LinkedIn, never found it useful when I was on it and would go back with a great amount of resentment if I had to). There is a feature in WordPress that gives you suggestions on what to blog about. Um, what? Toni and I were talking about this the day before, about what an odd thing that was. Why blog at all if you can't think about what you want to write about? What I found hugely surprising is that no where in any of the presentations I saw was there any attention to language skills, to grammar, punctuation and spelling, or to the conventions of writing. Is that a given? Is it even an issue for people who blog that if you don't have the language skills that you might not retain a sophisticated readership? As a word nerd, I was rather shocked by this absence.

It also gave me cause to give some thought to why people blog, tweet, and otherwise engage in being an online presence and social media. There was a very clear message early in the day about being your own PR manager and creating your own personal brand, because everyone, it seems, has something to sell. Lots of people want lots of people to come to their blog so that they will attract advertisers so they can make money from blogging. This made me uncomfortable and I have to do some thinking about why I blog. At the moment I blog to keep people up to date with what kinds of adventures YarnSalad is having, and I hope that will always be interesting. While I think I have lots to say and I am delighted that I get more than a thousand hits to my blog every month, I do need to think about the future of my blog. A future employer or publisher could be reading my work here so this must be a consideration. I'm sure if you Google my name this comes up high, and it is true that potential employers and landlords are using Google to see what kind of person their applicant is. I am one of those people with a unique name (and not a Kevin Miller or something like that) and a solid internet presence, so I do have to be very mindful of the content I put on the Internet.

At any rate, by the end of the day my mind was full and exhausted, but I am so glad I went. I will start paying attention to more things like this in the future because I think unconferences like this will proliferate and, well, you know me, I like to be on the cutting edge (that was sarcasm). Something to consider though, is how to keep the balance of being a smarmy salesman engaged in shameless self-promotion and being a sincere human being behind the keyboard? Hopefully, dear reader, I will keep it real and that will mean you will continue to hang out with me.


Friday, January 13, 2012

The Bread Maker's Apprentice

This is a book I need to own. It's been on my amazon wish list for quite a while (ahem) and someday I will own it because it's awesome. Toni and the Skipper have it here at Backyard Feast and I have decided that I am going to work my way through it and learn how to make bread. It's a fascinating subject and I love how making bread is both art and science, and I consider myself both an artist and a scientist.

Yesterday I started what is called a seed culture. Basically it's flour and water that hang out four four days, getting added to every day, until it becomes a barm. After a week or two, if I remember correctly, this barm is what is also known in common parlance as the sourdough starter.

When Dan and I were living in East Sooke, I was using the bread machine at least every other day. Without getting too deep into the hows and whys of breadmaking, I somehow managed to create a sourdough starter back then that was not too bad, but I don't remember going at it with the scientific precision I am this time around.

This time around, I have time on my hands. I mix up some stuff and then set the timer on my phone to let me know when I have to do the next thing. So today was day 2 of adding to the seed culture. Tomorrow I'll be at WordCamp, so Toni will attend to the seed culture for me.

Seed culture, day 1


Meanwhile, I am reading my way slowly through the lengthy introduction of The Bread Maker's Apprentice to get a better scientific understanding of flour and gluten and temperature and humidity and all those things that combine to create the magic that is bread. And, not wanting to wait until my sourdough starter is ready, I baked my first loaf from this book, a light wheat bread.

Light Wheat Bread beginning of second proofing
Light Wheat Bread end of second proofing
Light Wheat Bread just out of the oven!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

An event for writers

Gotta love Twitter. It's a case of being in the right place at the right time, and I happened to see a tweet that said there were still spaces left for WordCamp Victoria 2012, this coming Saturday. I'm in! It's largely directed at Wordpress users (and I am clearly a Blogspot user) but I'm sure there will be some useful content there. There will be 275 attendees! Will report.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How much stuff does a person need, anyway?

I am not a person who has a strong personal attachment to things. I don't know where that came from, but I have often credited it with my early pursuit of Buddhism. Not having an attachment to things comes in very handy when, say, getting ready to move house. Throughout my whole adult life I have moved house a lot. I could try to count, but I think I would lose count at about 20. The longest I have lived in one place was two and a half years, in East Sooke.

When we moved from East Sooke to Ucluelet, we did get rid of a lot of stuff but it seems like we took a lot too. We also seemed to acquire rather a lot while we were there. We had a big house to fill, after all. Dan has an amazing ability to scavenge and repair things, such as aluminum boats and theater seats.

When we knew we would be moving to North Carolina, we agreed that we would only take what would fit into the back of his truck (aka the floundertruck), a 1986 Nissan 720, and my truck, a 1999 Ford F150. We spent two weeks getting rid of as much stuff as we could, inviting friends and acquaintances to come by and pick through everything, take it all away, please. The theater seats went first, oddly enough. Sofas and tables and shelves were highly coveted.

Dan left on May 25th. I spent the next several weeks doing further culling, which included (eventually) three trips to the dump, a garage sale, and a trip to the thrift store. I drove away from Ucluelet on July 2. I spent a week on the south end of Vancouver Island and then headed for Alberta, to stay with my sister until immigration came through. We all know how that went. When it came time to leave, I did a further culling and reduced the volume of my stuff by half.

Returned to the Island on September 30th after being rejected at the border, then unloaded all the stuff from my truck into the basement of The Stately, the basement of Dan's mum & stepdad, where I was to reside for just over two months. I have now been in Cowichan Bay for a month, and just today I popped by The Stately to get some things out of storage.

I was looking for a few specific things. I found a new home for my beloved vacuum cleaner, so that's one awkward thing that I won't have to take with me. I will use up the rest of the bag of pine kitty litter. I found a couple of books and magazines that I can read here and then give away. Found a pair of old socks that I am not especially fond of and don't really plan to wear them ever again, wonder how they had made the cut of the first few cullings.

The news from yesterday, the whole 'five months' thing and the possibility of me going to North Carolina on a temporary visa to wait out my immigration has not surprisingly reframed how I am looking at my situation. If I am going to fly there and leave all my stuff (including my truck!) here in British Columbia, what will be the essentials that I take with me; what can I not live without for a few months while I am reestablishing myself in Kinston? Well, I don't know. It will depend on how much I am allowed, and how much extra luggage costs.

The most important thing of course will be the kitty. She hates traveling by plane and is terrified of being in a box/cage/kennel. I didn't want to have to do that to her, but in the bigger picture, it might be better to just get her there in 14-16 hours of travel rather than six or seven days in the truck. Yes she'll hate the trip, bit it will be over quickly.

And then what else? I have been thinking about this all day. Lately, as I have been interested in my Russian roots, I have been watching a lot of films and documentaries about Russia and Europe, many of which are set in the first half of the 20th century. There are so many tales of displacement and evacuation. If you were forced to leave your home forever, what are the important things? I realize that I am not in such a dramatic position, but really, what do you need on a daily basis and what can you live without?

The other night I asked the Skipper about photos of himself when he was younger. He had a massive stash of them and we were able to see what he looked like at all ages. That, and the beautiful photo album Dan's sister gave me for Christmas full of photos of Dan when he was younger, made me realize that there are probably very few photos in existence of me when I was younger. I know I don't have that many - I have moved too many times. The few that my mum had (she fled her crappy marriage with my dad on a day's notice, so didn't have much) may not have been saved from the mold-ridden basement suite she lived in back in the 90s. I doubt my sister would have many of me and well, I'm pretty much done communicating with my father. So probably I'll just have to draw photos of myself.

At any rate, back to the topic at hand, what would I take with me if I was boarding a plane for North Carolina? I'm not sure I would bring my entire yarn stash. Gasp! you say. Well no, I don't actually have that much yarn anymore. I would actually bring all my tools though - all my needles and hooks and notions. I don't own very much clothing anymore. I can't recall if I told you all those months ago - before I left Alberta in the fall, Dan had told me not to buy clothing because everything is cheaper in the States. So I didn't. I just had a small selection of summer clothing. With all the weight I had lost, most of my stuff didn't fit me anymore anyway. So, when I ended up coming back to Vancouver Island to spend the winter here, I had almost no winter clothing. I had one wool sweater and a couple of hoodies and some jeans. (Lots of hand knit wool socks though!) Dan's mum lent me a sweater dress and then decided I should just have it. Zola lent me a pile of sweaters (I still have one of them, and it will be returned to her). Toni had a big stack of clothes she no longer wore or no longer fit, so I have been getting a lot of mileage out of all these lent garments. Most of them will stay here in Canada though, so there will not be a lot of clothing coming with me either.

So then what? My computer, obviously. Dan has a Kindle now, so I don't really need to bring books. I will use the library anyway. Believe it or not, I will probably fill my luggage with small kitchen utensils. Again, we'll see what I'm allowed to bring.

Which leads me to something else - I don't own luggage. I have a 40 litre backpack and that's it. This raises another question then - would I be able to use Rubbermaid bins as my luggage or will I have to go and buy something? I am probably putting the cart before the horse here, because at the moment we aren't even allowed to apply for my temporary visa, so me actually boarding a plane is unimaginable. This is what happens to me when I have lots of time to myself to think, my mind gets me into trouble.

My last consideration in all this is while I'm waiting for immigration in North Carolina, what would I actually be doing? Believe me, I have no problem filling my hours. Between my computer (Twitter, blogging, podcasts & movies) and my knitting, I'm happy as a clam. I can go running (if I'm there by March, my friends-I-haven't-met-yet and I will be running an 8k race). I can be the Queen of My Kitchen! And, I suspect, we'll be doing a lot of entertaining. So that just means I'll need to make sure I also bring my running gear and my party dress.

So... dear reader, if you were in my situation, what would your essentials be, what could you not live without?

One of my most precious possessions: a one-cup pour-over coffee filter cone that I bought in Japan for 100 Yen. That thing goes everywhere with me.



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I'm feeling numb

Yesterday Dan received an email saying that my immigration file had arrived at the visa processing center in California.

I didn't know how to feel about this. We know that we were waiting for the third Notice of Action, and that after that a package would be mailed to me with instructions on setting up appointments for my immigration interview and health check in Vancouver. After that my green card would be printed and I'd be home free. We were led to understand that processing time was counted in days, not weeks or even months.

Then today Dan received a phone call from a very friendly immigration agent, cheerfully telling him that my file was at the top of the pile, and that this should all be settled in five months.

Um, excuse me?

O yes, this time last year processing time was about seven months, so they're catching up.

Five months.

It's already been seven and a half since I've lived with my husband. It's been almost four since I have seen him.

I'm numb. I don't believe it. I don't know what to think. I don't believe five months. That's June. I don't believe it.

What do I do in that time? Get a job? If you read my post yesterday, you know that just getting a job is not that easy. I even went into a place that said "Help Wanted" but they want help with FoodSafe and first aid and cash handling experience (I only have the latter). And they probably don't pay more than $10/hour.

So the next thing is that I need to see my husband. We need to see each other. He's going to make every effort to come here for a visit sometime in the next month. That will really help.

Something else: once we get to a certain stage in the process, we can apply to get me a temporary visa that will allow me to wait out my processing time in North Carolina. I won't be able to work, but I will get to be with my husband. But we're not there yet.

I'm numb! When I was rejected at the border, the information made contact with my brain immediately and I was sick to my stomach. Everything was churning and I spent some time in the bathroom. But now, well, I don't know. It doesn't seem real. I can't quite believe it. I feel like I need more data in order to be able to process this emotionally.

I just don't get it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The value of a piece of paper

I have a Master of Science degree in Health Information Science. Most people with this (HINF) degree are either clinicians wanting to deepen their skills and perhaps encourage greater linkages with the field of informatics, or are people with a programming background with an eye toward management. I fall into neither category, as my first degree is a Bachelor of Arts in English.

In 2005 I started the Bachelor's program for Health Information Science, as I was advised, and I completed half that degree (to gain experience in the field) before switching to the Master's program. One could say I have two and a half degrees, or one and a half bachelor's and a master's. Of course I have nothing denoting my half a bachelor's degree, I only hold two pieces of paper.

When I enrolled in 2005, we were basically told that a degree in this burgeoning field was a license to print money, the world was our oyster, blah blah blah. Then what happened? I don't know, perhaps the world economy caused a shift in the need for health informatics professionals because when the time came, lots of people in my field found themselves scrambling, even those who graduated at the top of the class.

I think I have mentioned before that because I have a weird set of skills and background for someone with this MSc, it makes me a bit of an anomaly. The skill set I pursued was that of qualitative health informatics research, not programming. That, and I can write.

I have been thinking a lot over these past few years about my work and the nature of work in general. While I was writing my Morning Pages this morning, I was musing how whenever I had to compete for a job among many others, and under which there is strict criteria for a position, that even though I may have interviewed well, I might not have answered the questions right to score the points. I have often grumbled about my resume or curriculum vitae not making it through the keyword search software that some large organizations use when trying to weed out potentially inadequate candidates.

Truth is, I'm not sure I want to work for an organization where I have to fight that fight - to jump through just the right hoops (as in craft my resume with just the right key words) just to get an interview. Some of the best jobs I've had have come from word of mouth or by people who knew me just offering me work. I don't know what kind of opportunities will present themselves to me when I get to North Carolina, but I am excited about the prospects because I have a lot to offer in terms of workplace skills.

On Friday night, the friend I was staying with in Vancouver had arranged a dinner for a bunch of us HINF grads. I have the MSc, all my friends have BSc. One friend launched straight into pharmacy school after he graduated. Another is now in her second year of nursing school. Her husband joined the RCMP. I am technically unemployed, leaving only one of us, the friend I was staying with, to be the only one at the table actually working in the field we went to school for. And everyone was happy.

I found this extremely interesting. They were all good stories about why they are not working in HINF, why they are now following their dream. It turns out HINF is not a license to print money. I feel compelled to go back to the School at UVic and tell them this - that the people they are graduating are not happy with their career options once they graduate.

A few years ago I was at a conference and one of the discussions we had was about core competencies. What certain sets of skills should our graduates have, that employers can depend on? This conversation, as I recall, was occurring in tandem with a conversation about credentialing our field so we all had to carry licenses or be registered with a college of our own creation. I don't remember the sentiment in the room at the time but I am (now) strongly opposed to this idea.

Something I have discovered in the past ten years is when looking for work, employers, particularly ones of institutions like governments, health care organizations, and universities, are seeking applicants who have a long list of credentials. It seems like they want a piece of paper that confirms that you know how to use a keyboard, how to spell medical terms, how to change the toilet paper roll. Even though I have nearly nine years experience of working in the food service industry, I couldn't get a job in a restaurant now because I don't have my FoodSafe certificate. (This irks me greatly, because I was trained in these practices long before FoodSafe was a thing, I have the skills, I don't need a F#*&ing piece of paper to prove it). My issue, then, is that employers want evidence that the people they hire have the skills they need, when really, in my view, the piece of paper only indicates that the person did what was required in terms of jumping through hoops in order to get that piece of paper. Bare minimum, in some cases. It's like that old joke - what do they call the guy with the lowest grades in med school? Doctor.

I don't know how rampant this credentialization of work is, but it is absolutely stifling our workforce in British Columbia. And they wonder why people can't find jobs! They want me to take a FoodSafe course (for example, nobody really wants me to do this, I'm just speaking  hypothetically) so that I can handle food in a restaurant but really what they want is me to pay $80 to the college and I'm sure at some level, the government gets a cut of that. This leads then to the larger issue - the more things are regulated and licensed is just one more way the government makes money of the backs of the people who elected it.

So then when Dan and I were trying to claw our way out of the Pacific Rim, it was much easier for Dan to find work. He has a much broader skill set than mine (even though mine is also quite broad) but he has tons more work experience (I have spent nearly a decade in post secondary, remember) and dual citizenship. His resume is impressive and his skills are in high demand. He was lucky enough to find an employer who recognizes is skill and lets him use his brain at work. He has a certain level of responsibility as well as the freedom to be creative. They appreciate his talent. And like it or not, Dan had to go to America to get this job because things sure weren't working out for us in Canada. Dan is happy there in his job and he is certain that once I get there, I will have no problem finding work. I am excited about this. I am excited about working again and about working in a new environment - I'm a fast learner and can adapt well to new social settings. I also feel like the attitude is different. Maybe I'm jaded after being on the west coast for too long where there is such an "I'm better than you" attitude but I'm looking forward to being in a place where I can let my work speak for itself.

/end rant

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A whirlwind trip to Vancouver

Involving public transit...

Did you know that when the ferry starts to reach the destination terminal, they start playing what I call "get out" music to get the people to return to their vehicles?

I worked at the Greater Victoria Public Library for a number of years. When it was 20 minutes to closing, someone would put on the announcement that "The library will be closing in 20 minutes" and then some obnoxious music would start playing to let patrons know it's time to get out. I called it "get out" music.

So when I heard this on the ferry on Friday, I was mildly irritated.

Today, when I was making my return journey, I was settled in a window chair with my headphones and my knitting. All a sudden I heard the loud noise of a football game. I didn't know what was going on, I looked to the people sitting behind me, was really mad that some jerk didn't at least turn down the game on his laptop or use headphones like I was, and then I saw that on the flat screen in front of the rows of seats where I was, the game was playing. BC Ferries was playing a football game and blasting the audio for everyone to hear, like it or not.

Well shit. I'm certainly no fan of football but each to his own. But really BC Ferries? If you're going to put something like that on a screen, can't you at least do what the airlines to and get your passengers who want to hear the action to use headphones? Where has courtesy gone?

I'm a bit too tired to tell you all the details of my adventures between my ferry rides, but suffice it to say that I had a great time and learned lots of stuff and saw some cool things. I'll tell you about that tomorrow and show you some photographic evidence.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

happy kitty

so...  This is Sam, laying happily in front of the electric fireplace that is in the room we are staying in. She's pretty happy. This makes me happy.

I have lots to share with you, I have for some reason been incredibly busy this week. Tomorrow I head to Vancouver to visit some friends, and then next week I will dive deep into my farmhanding at Backyard Feast.