Friday, January 29, 2016

There are things we shouldn't talk about.

Blogging honestly is hard. There are certain things people aren't supposed to talk about in public. When I told my husband I was starting a new blog he wasn't particularly excited. He suggested I try writing fiction instead. He's not the type of husband who tries to control what I do and say and I'm not the type of wife to let my spouse be the boss of me so his worries didn't deter me.  Still, I understand my family's reservations about being reduced to characters in my narrative. Some stories aren't mine to tell and it's difficult to straddle the line between protecting someone else's privacy and sharing my own perspective. It's even harder since I have no friends or family close by to confide in. There's social media, but that's more for recording the good parts - the smiling family pics, like-worthy statuses, artsy photos, and cat videos.

I'm not supposed to talk about the company that left our family stranded in another country because they made my husband sign an agreement stating he wouldn't tell anyone how inept they were. I'm not supposed to talk about consultations with lawyers and how we pursued suing them and how in the end the company promised to give us money to go away quietly. This is an integral part of how we ended up here, but I'm legally obligated not to talk about it. 

I shouldn't talk about how upset I am at my husband for bringing us here.
I shouldn't talk about how guilty I feel for uprooting the kids... again. 
I shouldn't talk about how my son is struggling with anxiety and depression.
I shouldn't talk about how I am too. 
I shouldn't talk about how much I hate Toronto.

On my old blog a patchwork world I chronicled kokoleo and my kids early childhood in Los Angeles. I often showed pictures and told stories about how fun and cute they were and photographed them in the clothes I made for them. They're still funny and cute, but they're older now and they don't need me as much. They've outgrown those handmade clothes and are less willing to let their lives to be my blog fodder. When we moved to Seattle my blog posts, few and far between, focused more on the things I made for kokoleo. I started a new blog called Out and About Around Seattle that documented our adventures around the city and camping trips in the Pacific Northwest. Now that that time in our lives is over I wish I would have recorded more. I don't feel up to writing an Out and About Around Toronto-type blog. The endless city blocks and restaurants and shops don't bring me the joy that canoe trips and mountains and the Pacific coast once did.

Of course, all of this angst could be avoided if I was like most people who don't have blogs.  It's a lot easier to let life go unrecorded - there's no struggling to put stories into grammatically correct well-punctuated paragraphs, no feeling guilty for skipping days and weeks and months not writing, and no spending weeks revising one simple post (this one) that few people will ever read. But also, there will be no photos to look back on, no random days saved for posterity's sake, no vague thoughts and feelings and struggles worked out through the act of writing them down, and nothing to look back on when life is better and say, "Whew! I'm glad we made it through that time in our lives. It wasn't so bad after all." (I'm still not there yet.)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Blizzard Envy

Truth is, I'm jealous of my east coast friends who got the blizzard. All weekend long I saw photos on facebook of snow covered decks and pets in the snow and sledding and shoveled walkways and warm fires and comfort food. I have nothing to show but brown dead plants and a few patches of dirty ice. We were hermits in our own house too this weekend but we had no excuse. We moved to Canada fer chrissakes, we should be the ones waist-deep in snow, tapping trees to get our maple syrup and riding sled dogs to school. I haven't even seen real snow here yet. There was that one morning where we had to walk to school in a snowstorm, but by the end of the day the roads and sky were clear. All we're left with are grimy piles on the side of the road and they're no fun.

Snow in Seattle happens so rarely that when it does, it's magical. Everyone comes out and marvels at the ankle deep dusting and evergreens encased in ice. School is canceled and the neighborhood families meet on the hill and share sleds. Within a week it's all gone and life carries on.

My college town - Shepherdstown, West Virginia - made national news for getting the most snow this weekend - 40.5 inches. Everyone was sharing this photo of main street (though the actual snowfall was 3 times as much):

 Across the street from those historic buildings is the house I lived in when I was 20. Immediately my mind went back to the blizzard of '96 when we woke up to 6 feet of snow blanketing the town. No one had to work because none of the restaurants and shops in town could open. We had a pot of chili and bread and whiskey any friend who could dig their way to us was welcome at our house/party. At one point, my guy friends were jumping out of my bedroom window, doing flips, and landing in 6 feet of snow on the sidewalk. I put on my skis and skiied down main street. Man, I miss that town. That town knows how to appreciate their snow.

Where is your magical snow, Toronto?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Free Skate!

I found Canada's closet! It's at Play It Again Sports. I heard they had used skates but I wasn't expecting this many. This wasn't even half of them.

Last week we noticed that someone had filled the ravine in our neighborhood with a garden hose so people could skate. We had heard this was a perk of our neighborhood and were excited to see it. Is it a homeowner's association that does it? Or the city? Whoever it is, I would like to thank them. The notion of skating for free is new to us so we couldn't wait to take advantage. Driving up, we thought it might be packed but we were the only ones there (at first, other people soon arrived).


The kids had only skated one time before at a rink in our former city. This ice was a little rougher, but they got the hang of it. 

They also saw their first puck. 

Afterward we want down to Queen Street and the kids played this game at Mastermind Toys.


 I think we may be turning into cliche' Canadians.

Monday, January 18, 2016

What's next?

Something is different now.  I don't know what it is but I know what it's not. It's not the way I felt in September. Or October or November or December. The ache in my heart is gone along with the lump in my throat. I'm not dissolving into heaving sobs on a daily basis anymore. The phrase "I hate it here" is no longer repeating like a broken record in my brain. 

It's not that our situation has changed. It hasn't. We're still stuck. But I know we'll get unstuck soon. How can we not? When have we ever given up? Never. I'm not devastated anymore. I'm kind of excited to see what happens next.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Date night on Queen Street

We left the kids home tonight and headed down the street for our first date night since we moved here. Living in suburbia for the last 5 years we didn't have the luxury of restaurants and shops within walking distance, so this is still a novelty for us. 

We went to Skwish, a gastropub at 2252 Queen Street East. We were huuungry. We ordered appetizers - a Bao Bun for me and Polpette (meatballs) for my husband, and entrees - Brickworks Cider Poached Stuffed Ontario Trout for me and Black & Blue Salad for him, plus butter chicken poutine to share (which I just now remembered is still in a box in my purse). It was all very good and artfully presented and unlike anything we'd eaten before. We also ordered the signature Skwish Brew Pale Ale which was very good. We asked where it was brewed and our waitress told us it was made in the Granville Island Brewery in Vancouver, BC. No wonder we liked it; we've been to that brewery before. It was nice to have a little taste of the PNW again.   j2252 Queen Street East 2kllj252 Queen Street East

Then we went to the Fox Theater to see the Martian. It's so nice to have an oldschool theater (that serves beer and wine) in our neighborhood. The Martian is about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and has to come up with creative ways to survive until he's rescued. Being stranded in Toronto is probably better than being stranded on Mars.

A guy wearing a Seahawks jersey sat down beside us at the movie. I could hardly contain my excitement. I was like "#24! Marshawn Lynch! How about that game last week? How excited are you for Sunday?" and instantly we had a new best friend. I should have invited him over to watch Sunday's game against the Panthers with us. It's hard being the only people in this city geeking out on the Seahawks right now.

On the way home we stopped in the Fill Station for one more beer.

I got Canadian brand beer and we watched curling on the TVs hung on the wall amid hockey jerseys. Apparently USA and Canada were on a team together against a team composed of several other countries. Go us!


Then we walked back up our steep hill toward home on Scarborough Rd. Make no mistake, Toronto is mostly FLAT, but we picked the steepest street in the city to live on. It's a pain to climb sometimes but it's good exercise.


The struggle makes us stronger.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Going home.

We have no reason to be here. So why don't we go home? Because we don't know where that is yet. Even if we did we would go broke getting there. The company that brought us here paid for all the gas, food, lodging, moving van costs, car shipment, and work permit fees involved in moving a family of 4 from Seattle to Toronto. We never would have undertaken such a difficult journey otherwise. Still, we ended up draining our savings account to cover the extra costs that added up along the way. We looked at it as an investment in our future.

In October we sold our house. It broke my heart to let it go but we got very close to our asking price and made a profit. We replaced the money we depleted in savings, paid off my car, and had a little left over. Things were looking up!

In November, the company said they didn't need my husband after all. Oops! They overhired and had to let some people go. The ones who did the firing were not the ones who did the hiring so they had no clue they just wasted $30K of the company's money to bring us here. Oops! I guess financial mishaps like this are just part of the job at big companies. It must be fun to throw that much money around willy-nilly.

But I digress. And my bitterness is showing. (I'm trying to get over this.) The point I'm trying to make is that even if we wanted to go back to our old life in Seattle the cost to move back would leave us broke. Plus, someone else owns our house now. And we gave up our jobs.

So where is home?

Is it in West Virginia, where we grew up and went to college? Unfortunately there isn't a booming animation industry there. Maybe we should start one. Lord knows West Virginia could use a better industry than coal and fracking.

Should we return to a city we've lived in before? Savannah? Los Angeles? Seattle? We already have friends and connections in these places and I wouldn't have to learn how to navigate brand new neighborhoods. That's more than we have here.

Should we stay here? All signs are pointing to NO. When we told the kids their dad lost his job their immediate reaction was "Yay! Can we move back to America now?"

Should we go somewhere new and different and start over from scratch? It's not that daunting of a notion anymore. I'm not at liberty to discuss it, but options are arising. With each one I research the city (housing, schools, geography, etc.) and try to envision us there. We are proceeding with a bit more caution than we did last time.

For now, home is wherever the four of us are, with our dog and our cat and our fish and bunny and hamster, and that's enough.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Our first real Snow Day... but not really.

This morning I woke up to a darker than usual room. The tiny windows in the upstairs of our house are in awkward places that don't offer a clear view outside so I ran downstairs to look out the front window. It was snowing! Hard! The roads were solid white and none of the sidewalks were clear. Surely, I thought, school must be cancelled.

I quickly turned on the t.v. and tried to find a news program with a school closure ticker running at the bottom of the screen. I found one but I didn't recognize any of the counties they were mentioning. Also, does Canada even have counties? I didn't see Toronto mentioned among them. Wait! I was watching a Buffalo station! So I sifted through the Guide to find a Toronto one. I found one! But the newscasters were having casual banter and there was no ticker running along the bottom.

I grabbed my laptop and and Googled the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) web site. Surely they would have it posted on the front page. Nope! Nothing. I searched "snow delay cancellation."

Nothing. What? I guess they don't DO snow days here? It's been a while since I lived where it snows regularly in the winter, but this weather would surely warrant at least a delay, I thought. Nope. By the time I came to this realization we were already late. I woke the kids up in a panic and then scrambled to assemble some snow gear. 10 years on the west coast have turned me into a wimp. There was no way I was going to drive today.

My poor son had to wear 2 mismatched gloves that weren't even snow gloves but the stretchy dollar store kind. No snow pants for him either, as he's had a growth spurt this year and last years' no longer fit. Yesterday my daughter informed me that a teacher pulled her aside and asked where her snow pants were. I had no idea this was a thing kids were expected to wear to school. In our previous life, snow pants were only worn on SNOW DAYS, or trips to the mountain.

I'm happy to say my daughter wore her snow pants today, and we braved the windy snow to get them to school (only 30 minutes late).

 After school we met them with a sled and headed to the ravine for a little fun. We're slowly getting the hang of this.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The definition of stranded.

verb (used with object)
1. to drive or leave (a ship, fish, etc.) aground or ashore:

The inept company stranded the American family in Toronto.

2.(usually used in the passive) to bring into or leave in a helpless position:

The family is stranded in Toronto with nowhere to go.
verb (used without object)
3. to be driven or left ashore; run aground.

The family felt stranded. 
4. to be halted or struck by a difficult situation:
The family stranded their dreams of living happily in Toronto.
5. the land bordering the sea, a lake, or a river; shore; beach.

The family resides on the strand of Lake Ontario known as the Beaches, an expensive neighborhood they can no longer afford.
6. something long or twisted like a rope 

 Like a strand of pearls snatched from a neck, the family's world fell apart.

7.  one of the elements interwoven in a complex whole  

This is a sad strand in the family's adventures in Canada.


Sunday, January 10, 2016


It's been snowing all day and we haven't left the house. I feel like we're hibernating. We're holed up in this confined space just trying to make it through the winter. This kind of weather is not conducive to exploring the city anyway and the kids are perfectly content to stay home. We are conserving our energy (and money) in preparation for the journey ahead (TBD). We have each other and our cuddly animals, plus t.v., video games, books, beer in the fridge, food in the freezer, a Seahawk game and the Golden Globes. What more do we need?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ode to the Pacific Northwest

O Pacific Northwest, I ache for you.
Not since West Virginia have I missed a place so much.
I miss your snow-capped volcanoes in the distance.
I miss your cool mist and the scent of cedar and pine.
I miss your unfurling ferns, your moss, and mushrooms.
I miss your bugs and banana slugs.
I miss your towering trees reminding me
I am but a moment in time.
I am lost without your mountains and forests.
I long to stand on the shores of your lakes and see life on the other side.
I want to witness your salmon swimming in rivers and oceans...
then welcome them home where they return to spawn and die.
I yearn for the Pacific Ocean, Washington's rocky shoreline,
and the chance to watch a whale emerge from the water.
O Pacific Northwest, until your earth and atmosphere
soak back into my bones
 I will ache for you.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Someone else's dream.

When the company from Toronto offered my husband a job I had just finished my 2nd year of Club Teasdale and four weeks of specialty day camps in the park. It was my dream job, literally. I envisioned an after school enrichment program existing in a building that had been empty for years, convinced the city to let me take it over, and filled it with craft supplies, recreation equipment, and donations from the community. I probably put half the money I earned back into the place but I didn't mind because I was creating a space for my kids and their friends and neighborhood kids and the community to play games and make things. People would stop by and tell me how happy they were to see the building open again. Now that I'm gone, Club Teasdale is continuing without me. That's worth something, isn't it? Still, I miss it.

What's a couple to do when one person's dream job comes calling and the other person has to give up theirs? Usually you ask yourselves whose job can best support the family. I have never had one of those jobs. If we relied on my salary alone we would be destitute.

My husband's career has always been the driving force of our destiny. The feminist in me feels like I should be embarrassed but this, but I'm not. I've managed to carve out a niche for myself in every city we've lived in  - Savannah, Shepherdstown, Los Angeles, and Seattle. (Toronto doesn't count.)  I've taught school and led camps and workshops. I've been a copy editor for a newspaper and I've had my writing published in books and magazines. My one constant - kokoleo - has allowed me to make a modest income off my sewing. I've been active in the PTO, put together talent shows, organized neighborhood bike parades, installed a community mosaic, taught Sunday school, and served on various advisory boards. All of these contributed to our happiness and our connection to the community but this kind of work doesn't make much money, never mind provide health care or dental insurance.

Did I forget to mention that I had a couple babies during this time too? That's kind of a big deal. It alters your whole career trajectory sometimes, often in wonderful ways.

Sometimes though, the one who makes the main money suffers more. Long days, inane meetings, corporate bullshit and bureaucracy, long commutes. I'm thankful I've never had to deal with any of that. I realize that doing what I love and being with my kids has been a luxury and I am thankful. I would never make it in the corporate world. So when a job came along that looked promising and perfect for my husband I said, "If this is your dream job then I will go there with you and we will have fun in a brand new city. It'll be an adventure!"

And it has been. Not the one I anticipated but I can't help feeling (finally) that there's a reason we landed here. We told the kids, "Just think of this as a weird vacation where you have to go to school."

It's definitely a learning experience for all of us.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Capturing happiness.

One moment last summer I captured this photo, my daughter mid-air with an expression of pure joy, My husband relaxing on a floatie in the sun in our yard... I would give anything to go back to this time and place in our lives. It makes me sad when I realize it's over.

Truth is, we were stressed out then too. We had big decisions to make The company my husband was working for wanted him to move to Washington, DC. We had just returned from a house-hunting trip there where we looked at over 30 houses and realized it was not the place for us. Then a company in Toronto called and made an offer.

When you have no family or long-term history in a place, you're less tied to staying there forever. The five years we lived in Seattle were the longest we lived anywhere so it seemed like this new opportunity was a sign it was time for us to leave. Five years earlier we were living in Los Angeles. (These were the tail end of the W. Bush years when the bottom dropped out for everyone.) We both lost jobs thanks to the outsourcing/downsizing boom and our house was worth half of what we paid for it thanks to the housing bust. Seattle came calling and rescued us.

We moved from a sketchy neighborhood in North Hollywood to a lovely suburban one in Renton, Washington. We soon had friends and a 2 car garage and a path lined with blackberries to eat on the walk to school. I felt like I died and went to suburban heaven.

Fast forward 5 years later and Toronto came calling. Why did we answer? Unlike in L.A. we were finally doing okay. We could have stayed. We should have stayed. We thought the natural progression of things is that when you follow your dreams life gets better. Sometimes though, people have bad dreams.

I feel like I'm just now waking up from a bad dream, trying to piece together what happened.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

No offense to Canada.

I'm trying not to hold our current situation against the entire country of Canada. Before we moved here I had great memories of Pacific northwest trips taking the ferry to visit Victoria, camping all over Vancouver Island, spending weekends in Vancouver, BC, wandering around Granville Island, and braving the Capilano Suspension Bridge. I figured, how different can the other side of Canada be?

Our trip out here was a fun adventure too. We could have driven through America and crossed the border at Detroit but we decided to go through Canada instead, driving through British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. We learned our provinces and territories along the way, marveled at their funny-looking money, and sampled new and tasty junk food like ketchup chips, Coffee Crisp, and Kinder chocolate. We drove eastward for 5 days straight, smuggled the animals into roadside motels, learned about Canadian politics from public radio stations, and sampled mom-and-pop truck stop poutine. It was the ultimate epic family road trip with all expenses paid for by the company that hired my husband.

It wasn't until we made it to Toronto that the adventure started to unravel. Still, I don't hold this against Canadians. We've met some very nice people, visited fun and interesting museums and landmarks, and had our minds opened to a slightly different view of the world. We witnessed a civil election process and the excitement of new leadership under Justin Trudeau. I've been inspired by the way in which Canada has embraced the refugees fleeing Syria (while my home country turns its back) and I've admired how they are able provide health care for their residents (even us). We are wiser for this experience but I know now we don't belong here. I don't know where we belong anymore.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Excuse me while I wallow.

I do not mean for this blog to be the Diary of a Debbie Downer. Like I said in my first post, I'm almost over the grieving part. As far as depressions go, 4 months is a relatively short amount of time to have the joy sucked out of you. The only wallowing I'm really doing now is in my writing. This is a self-imposed exercise in self-reflection and it warn you, it may be messy. The hope is if I can just piece back together these past few months - why we chose to move here and how it fell apart - then maybe I can move on. Staying here is not an option I really want to explore anymore.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Nursing a broken heart.

The kids are back in school and I'm sitting here staring at a blank screen on my laptop. After a nice break and the distraction of the holidays, I'm reminded of how I felt in September. The frantic rush to move here was over. We survived our epic road trip across Canada and two weeks of high rise hotel living in downtown Toronto. We found a house and our stuff had arrived. All I had to do was get the kids up and off to school and unpack boxes. I did manage to get the kids to school, sometimes even on time, sometimes even without yelling, but then I just came back to an empty house filled with boxes and cried.

Silly me thought taking a few months off to figure out what I wanted to do next would be easy. I'll reinvent myself! It'll be fun! I thought. I did it in Savannah and Los Angeles and Seattle... I can do it again. It's what I do! But when I got here, that excitement dissolved into dread. Something was different this time.

It felt like my heart was broken. That's the only way I can describe it. It's been years since I felt a broken heart and before, there was always a person or death that caused it. In this case no one dumped me; no one died. My joy just up and abandoned me...because I had just up and abandoned my joy. Who knew that leaving a job and house and community I loved would have such strong effect on my emotional well-being? I should have known.

Here I am on the couch again, still wondering, now what?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

It's the little things...

I'm thankful that there are always things to look foward to...

Like Seahawks victories...

And Downton Abbey...

And not setting foot outside but still being happy.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Honestly uncomfortable.

I'm over saying, "Fine." or lying, "Great!" whenever someone asks me how I'm liking Toronto. Lately I've been completely honest. More than once I've embraced my inner Debbie Downer and uttered the phrase, "I've never been more unhappy in my entire life." The first time time I said it out loud it surprised me. Honesty is uncomfortable.

Sometimes the conversation ends right there and I get a nervous, "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that."

Sometimes people laugh out loud at my unexpected response. They offer an impromptu pep talk and that moment of connection lifts my spirits for the day. Note to self: Be that moment for someone else.

People from British Columbia get it though. When I tell them we moved from the Pacific Northwest we bond over visions of Vancouver and Victoria and pine trees and mountains and coastlines and how the air is  different there. They confide how hard it was for them when they first relocated to the other side of Canada and they promise it gets better (but confess the yearning never goes away).

Being honest allows other people to be honest for the first time too. Sometimes people tell me about how sad and stuck they were once and how they got over it. Sometimes it's not who you would expect. Every story helps me put things into perspective. With every connection I become a little less uncomfortable.

Friday, January 1, 2016

This is how we'll get out of here...

Moving to Toronto was the biggest mistake we ever made.  Now what? Right now we're stuck.  One year from now I hope to be unstuck, in a new place, with meaningful work and a nice house with a yard and garden and some friends... what we had in Seattle; what we gave up to be here.

Why did we leave?   I'm still trying to piece that back together. Suffice it to say we followed a dream that turned into a nightmare as soon as we got to Toronto. The good news is I am almost over the grieving part. I'm ready to chase our next adventure wherever it may lead us. I have faith we'll end up where we're meant to be, eventually.

Here are my goals for the new year:
1. Go three consecutive days without crying, spontaneously, at the slightest reminder of how much I miss my old life. My record is two days right now. I'm able to pull myself back together more quickly now too, rather than succumbing to heaving sobs on the couch. This is progress.

2. Recognize happiness when it happens. Seek experiences to make us like this place more.  Try to find humor in this hell.

3. Realize this is not hell. No one died. Everyone is healthy and relatively happy, despite the circumstances. Our situation is not fatal. We will recover what we lost.

4. Spend less time sifting through cyber stimuli and staring at other people's lives.  Spend less time crushing candies and more time making a better life in the real world.

5. Keep doing kokoleo. Make a new website, find a new venue and lighten my inventory.

6. Find another city to live in (preferably one that's cheaper with houses that have better backyards). Visit that city ahead of time. Make sure the job is legit before we move there and also factor in the cost of living. Call ahead to see if they have mountains.

7. Be somewhere better this time next year.

8. Start over from scratch and then carve out a niche. Create the community I want to see.

9. Find joy in the struggle.

10. Write about it along the way.