Month: February 2016

That other official language

Canada? Oh, easy. I’m New Zealand born, studied in South Africa, have international friends ..a daily life using English isn’t going to offer any problem!

And it mostly isn’t (don’t ask me to pronounce photographers). But Canada has two (deux) official languages. The last time I studied French was approximately fifteen years ago. I can say my name and age and explain that I don’t speak French, that’s about it.

For that reason I wanted to settle on the Ontario side of Ottawa, but strangely enough there’s French people here as well. Plus plenty of jobs that have the dreaded ‘bilingual’ in their function descriptions. Which probably doesn’t mean “can kinda read it if there’s no hurry”.

This led me to decide that my usual Duolingo languages will have to step aside, and that French can have another turn. Because answering “Parlez-vous anglais?” to every question is probably not going to cut it.


Do not trust the French (subletting tenant)

Finding a place of my own is another thing I’ve never done before. I lived with parents/boyfriends and all the rental agreement lease contract mumbo jumbo was something other people complained about.

So I could blame ignorant naiveté for the mess that almost cost me an apartment before I could move into it. A (semi-)chronological story.

In December/early January I started looking for a place in Ottawa, mostly on Kijiji. With plans of having my boyfriend stay over, a room plus room mates wasn’t an option. Short term rentals (who knows how long I’d stay), furnished (who knows how long I’d stay) were an option, and quite quickly I found a studio, completely all inclusive, nice prize, nice location. After some basic research to prevent another “too good to be true”, and a long to and fro of half-French emails, I could come over and have a look.

Yes, it was petite, but very fine for one, and all the other stuff checked out. Or so I guessed, because leaving tenant didn’t speak a lot of English, nor understood the remaining part. Nervous but pleased, I forgot the important questions until I was outside. To make sure she’d understand them, I Google Translated them to French and asked for contact information of her land lord, just to make sure everything could go ahead.

Answers weren’t that forthcoming, but I should come over to sign the agreement some time and yes, the studio would be available. I was already planning the many things I could use my semi-permanent address for.

But then.
Four days before the planned move I got another message from the landlord. Without his okay and the tenant’s written admittance of leaving, I couldn’t move in on risk of being a trespasser. Which would lead to him getting the police involved. Turns out that the previous tenant wasn’t the best in communication and following rules/orders, and if I wanted to move in March 1, I better show up with a bucketload of paper work and proof of being a considerate citizen.

I brought biscotti, three IDs, and loads of apologies about how I’m a naive dumb-dumb, new to town, and a beginner in French. My first impression got a polish.
Still, that didn’t mean I could waltz in. Being a rolling stone, land lord wanted several months of rent at once, for (his) financial security. Not being that rich, we settled on three. Next, I (me!) needed to get written admittance from the previous tenant. This after a bank run (goodbye, savings account), and the message that I had 24 hours to do so.
After a few hours of translated texts and begging, I heard from the landlord that he got what he needed. Except for the keys, could I let ex-tenant know to deliver those as soon as possible?

I don’t know if this communication-triangle is usual, nor what I will walk into this Tuesday. As long as its’s going to be the apartment, with keys and lease contract in hand, I’m going to call it a win.

First Job

Finding a job is never easy, finding one in a new city in an unfamiliar country is downright nerve wrecking. It wasn’t just about the money (although I rather like having some come in when some has to go out), it was about becoming an active part of society, of having reasons to get up in the morning, to meeting people.

And then I got two scammers on my tail, three job interviews and one of those working out for me. This after little over two weeks of sending out over forty resumes, so I guess my Sunday Child-side is coming out again. Although it doesn’t really feel like I did a lot for this ..

Cina, a previous farm helper, worked/works at Simply Biscotti and told her boss that she knew someone. The small café needed several people, so if I’d just drop by my resume, she had already put a good word in, done deal.
I dropped my resume yesterday and had my interview today. At the end of the interview we were discussing my schedule and my first day of training (this Wednesday).

I’m going to be a barista, kinda. For 20 – 30 hours a week, which gives plenty of room for other things. The shifts are 6 AM to 2 PM or from 2 to 10 PM. Several years at the post had me start at 5.15, so yes, I rather have my afternoons off. Still, I’m going to have to get used to setting an alarm again. I’m going to be nervous about being on time (please be good, weather). I’m going to be nervous about the work, the colleagues, the to-and-fro.

But let’s stick to the nice part of things. I have a paying job. At a place that looks nice, and isn’t too far away from my own place (20 minutes ride). Yes, I’m nervous and there’s all the regular doubts popping up whenever I start something new (“DO I WANT THIS WHY DID I DO THIS”). But being unemployed made me miserable more often than it made me feel good.

So this is good. Hopefully it stays good.

The temperatures of Canadian winters

When there’s an official(ly looking) warning about the weather, you may wonder if it’s a good idea to do anything else but stay in bed. The warning speaks of the right way to dress yourself, to remember fingers, toes and nose, to please not drink alcohol and really not get wet.

Guess which recent immigrant decided that Sunday February 14, with the appealing number of -22 on the thermometer, decided to go cycling?
In my defense, I had given myself a way out. If it would be snowing, I wouldn’t go. The parade for the Chinese New year was too far away (over an hour) to walk. But after one day spent in bed, I couldn’t do it another time this soon. The parade was a good, (tourist-y) reason to move and get out*. And there would be lai see, red envelopes of luck.

I wore two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two pairs of gloves, leg warmers, four layers on the upper body, a scarf and a helmet.
Winds like these should be illegal, and who knew a nose could run that much because of cold? Still, possibly because of nerves about an unfamiliar bike and unfamiliar route, I didn’t notice the cold too much. Were those ice crystals on my scarf?

It was the way back home that I started to recognise I couldn’t feel individual toes any more. That my pinkies were painfully cold, that my ring fingers were less easy to bend around the bars. And even though I kept telling myself that body parts wouldn’t suffer frost bite in twenty minutes (not with coverings involved) (I hope?) I was still a but nervous when undressing. What should you do with frozen body parts?

Like with any cold piece of meat, I slowly thawed them in lukewarm water before packing them away warmly. I think all of me is fine.
Today is a lovely, soft, -10. I might take a walk to appreciate it.


*= turns out it was really small and really quickly over. And no envelope received either, alas

What do people do all day?

Here I am, in Ottawa, my first week here is just starting. I’m unemployed so I’m going to be looking for and writing to jobs. Another immigrant told me that she sent out like twenty a week before catching something so okay, twenty resumes+letters a week.
But that could be done – especially through the wonderful internet – in two, two and a half days. And it doesn’t take you outside.

What does take me outside? Groceries, already did those for at least the rest of the week. Meals, cinema visits, museums? All cost money, and I don’t know how soon I’ll make some again. Budgeting my life for a while.

At least there’s Netflix, other entertainment, books? I love those, last month I was looking forward to all the things I could watch without comments about being glued to a screen. I just don’t want to be glued to a screen all day, every day.
Right now I don’t even have a dog that will take me outside three times a day.

Of course, I can set “goals” and walk there. The AirBnB hosts have bikes, so as soon as I catch one again, I borrow one of those. With my back, aimlessly cycling around has more appeal than aimlessly wandering around. I also discovered that libraries here offer workshops, that’s something to look into.

But all in all, you discover daily life is still daily life, even in a strange city. It’s friends and family and pets that brighten it up to not make it a complete snooze.

This also makes me realise that I can kind of take my time. That as long as some things are achieved, I don’t have to wake at six and go to bed at midnight. It’s both a freeing and a scary feeling. What do I do with all that time?

Maybe I just need to expand on my morning work out. I could be the most buff unemployed person in Ottawa.

Give yeast time

The first few days were shock after shock. Was I told during our first dinner (see previous post) that this would be my job now, during breakfast the next day I got another shocked-to-my-core message.
“I don’t buy bread. I don’t really eat it when I’m alone. If you want it, you have to make it.” How had I even ended up with this guy?*

There are much more things can go wrong with baking bread than with making a meal. My few tries in the category ended flat, black and raw (thanks, yeast) or burned yet tasteless (thanks, unruly oven). The only well-it’s-edible bread experience I had was beer bread, probably because I didn’t have to use yeast for it.
But a month without bread in any shape or size wasn’t an option. And I had this recipe to try. And Damita said all his helpers before me had turned out to be decent bread makers. If that wasn’t a challenge, I sure did see it as one.

After  a glorious visit to Bulk Barn (oh, I like that place), I made a flat, black, rock-hard-but-raw-inside yogurt bread. Thanks, yeast (this is where my father says not to blame your ingredients). To use an understatement, I was peeved. Extra expenses and a mess had been made and I had nothing to show for it.
Another breakfast with cereals followed.

Damita has a cook book, Mrs Restino’s Country Kitchen recipe book. It may the most comforting and adorable cook book ever. In it, there’s a bread recipe all his helpers learned to make bread with. “If you can’t make bread with this, you fail as a human”, he joked.
I don’t mind failing so much any more, but my stubbornness just won’t allow me to not be able to make bread. I tried again.

The kneading gave my arms a work out you’d pay well for in a gym (I should market the Farm Helper’s Work Out anyway). The bread tins were found. I halved the recipe so that if it failed, less ingredients would have been wasted.
It didn’t fail. Honestly, bake bread when you’re down, because taking leaves out of an oven is like surprise sunlight on your everything.
So when brunch came up, I offered to make the bread. Heck, I even added raisins to one loaf (that still needs working on). I want to try Land of Nod (similar to monkey bread), pizza dough (again), buns, everything. Who knows when I’ll have the chance again?

But isn’t baking more than bread? Of course it is, but cookies and the like are easy. There was a three ingredient peanut butter cookie recipe on the peanut butter jar (I made them). Brownies? Made one for one. Last minute brunch cookies? Modified the recipe while making them. In one hour. A few days ago it was National Chocolate Cake Day, so yesterday I made a coconut cinnamon chocolate cake for the neighbour’s dinner. Baking is much closer to fun, which relaxes me more, which gives less room for mistake.

Also baking: omelets. Last Saturday I promised scrambled, because cast iron pans are still tricky things. Instead I saw such a beautiful omelet form before me, so strong and fluffy, that I could flip it. Maybe The Enchanted Kitchen should be my next writing project. It can be the Canadian version of Chocolat.


*he loves tea. One of his friends calls us tea grannies because we drink tea at least four times a day. He’s got a cupboard full of teas.