Friday, July 12, 2024

Three months since the last post... because stuff

In the three months since I've written so much has happened which I may never get to writing about, but should at least have a summary.

The trip out west was in March.

In April we did a half flying/half driving trip in the U.S. to see the family. Having missed Christmas together, I think our future looks a lot more like singletons visiting us, or us doing a trip to see them.  Assembling everyone together is still the goal, just hard. 

We learned after flying out of Pearson that if we can do anything BUT fly out of Pearson our lives would be better.  So we flew out of Buffalo.  The night before our flight we, of course, had a hockey game we could not miss.  Caps played in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.  So we drove to Buffalo after the game, stayed overnight, and flew out the next morning to Atlanta via Charlotte.  BTW, Charlotte is a really nice airport.  We stayed with Becca, Max, and Jonathon for the weekend, then flew to Columbus, OH via Charlotte.  Stayed there for a few days, then drove to Carlisle, PA where we met my parents for dinner and collected Tandoori.  He couldn't come to Haiti, but he could definitely come to Canada.  I still think his cat TV view of squirrels, ducks, and deer out my parents' windows is better than what we have (nothing) 36 stories up though!  Kat and Erich met us for breakfast in Carlisle before we drove back to Buffalo to get our car, and then to Toronto.

A few weeks later in May, we flew to DC.  Ian gave the alumni speech at Marymount's Social Sciences graduation.  We spent the rest of the weekend meeting up with friends.

And the weekend after that we were back in Buffalo meeting up with an old friend, Brian Simmons, and catching up with the entire family.  They had all gathered for Young Ian's university graduation, so it was great to spend time with them at the Buffalo Zoo and lunch.  It was also our anniversary that day, so we made it a weekend staying at the Falls (Canadian side of course), and doing the "Journey Behind the Falls."

At the end of May, Becca came to stay with us for about 10 days.  She seemed to enjoy Toronto, except for the food.  She was right though, we tried a few new places and they were just Eh. On the way back from picking her up in Buffalo we stopped at Wayne Gretzky Estates, where 99 has a distillery and vineyard.  She and I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario while Ian took her to the Distillery District and St Lawrence market.  We visited Kensington Market on a pedestrian Sunday, and of course took a day to see Niagara Falls and rode the Hornblower.

She had flown in through Buffalo so it worked out that when she left (just in time to catch her next flight to Mexico with Max), we were also on our way to Cleveland to watch the Hershey Bears play.  While the Bears started the playoff series up 3-0, the Monsters came back to force a game 7 (OT no less), so we got to see the Bears get stomped twice in Cleveland.  The better part was that for the first game Nicholas and Taylor came to watch, and for the second game Nicholas came up again and spent a couple nights and hung out with us at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the U.S.S. Cod submarine.  Since that submarine visit I've read the Lusitania book, Dead Wake, by Erik Larson and watched an MST3K movie "The Land That Time Forgot."

Oh, in case you're wondering, the Bears won in OT, then proceeded to win the Finals as well against the Coachella Valley Firebirds, and won the Calder Cup for back-to-back years.

Closing out June was the Consulate's 4th of July party at the Hockey Hall of Fame.  It's a working event, not meant to be all fun, but how can it not be fun there?  We were the first to have the Walter Cup (for the PWHL) on display!  

That led right into a week both Ian and I took off for our birthdays.  With Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day falling in the same week, as well as his birthday and mine close by, we both took the week off.  A while back Ian had asked if I would be interested in seeing puffins and whales for my birthday.  YES.  So we flew to St. John's, Newfoundland and saw puffins, whales, a famous Stellar's Sea Eagle, wild irises, rocky beaches, lakes upon lakes, and so many harbour towns that deserve to be on postcards.  Fog you could cut, sea breezes, and bright sunshine.  While we stayed on the eastern side of Newfounland, we drove to Elliston in the north for puffins you could almost touch to St. Vincent Beach in the south for whales just off the shore thanks to a coastal shelf drop.  We rode on a boat that was not designed for comfort with birders who were agog at a bird we could barely see.  It was a fabulous trip.

Now we're home with no real travel plans for the next few months unless something work related comes up.  That's a good thing since the day after my birthday I started feeling off, and the next day I stayed home sick - where the Covid test popped up very positive.  So apologies to everyone I sat next to in the prior days.  Covid has not gone away, and it's not fun.  My inner ear pain was the first clue, and everything else was a copy of when I had Covid almost exactly a year ago.

So take care folks.  I'm definitely better than I was two days ago, but there are a couple more days of clearing my lungs and my brain before I'm fully functional again.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Hockey catch-up

This year a brand new professional women's ice hockey league debuted and Toronto is one of the 6 cities with teams cobbled together from the previous women's leagues.  In the prior leagues there had been disputes primarily about salaries but also about sponsorship, exposure, etc.  The PWHL got past all that and has done it mostly right, starting with 6 teams (Toronto, Montreal, Boston, New York, Minnesota, Ottawa) and opened with sold out season tickets.  We didn't even have the opportunity to buy tickets since the Mattamy Athletic Center (former Maple Leaf Gardens) only seats 3,850.

It didn't matter though.  The PWHL is working all the angles.  We saw Toronto play Montreal at a sold out Scotiabank (seats nearly 20,000), and the teams are taking their games to other cities like Philadelphia for even more exposure.  Don't be shocked if the league grows by a team or two each year.  In ten years, the league and the women's game itself will look totally different.  I just learned that the rink and goals are the same as the men's, but on the Toronto roster there are players as small as 5'2".  I told Ian all the taller players are busy with basketball and volleyball.  They'll come over to hockey, but give it a decade.

I should mention that the weekend we saw the PWHL Toronto game (you know, I can't wait until they actually pick team names... hopefully by next year?), we also watched a Maple Leafs/Flyers game at Scotiabank.  The Ambassador to our Mission is from Philadelphia and bought three sky boxes for Consulate Toronto to watch the Flyers get crushed by the Leafs.  The boxes are an interesting experience with the loftiness and food, but it's definitely for people with a) money who b) don't really want to watch the game.

The day after the PWHL game, we walked over to the Coca-Cola Coliseum to see the Hershey Bears squash the Toronto Marlies.  Truly, it was a great hockey weekend with wins across the board.  The Bears have traveling fans and we happened to sit near them.  A nice taste of "home."

Then in March Ian had a work trip and I tagged along.  True to form, he scheduled the trip over a Capitals western tour.  Unfortunately we couldn't squeeze in the entire schedule and had to miss Winnipeg and Edmonton this time around, but we did watch them play in Seattle, Vancouver, and Calgary.  All wins!  Wait... the PWHL, the Bears, the Leafs, the three Caps games... I think it's us.  I think we're the lucky charm.  Right??

Over the past couple years we've followed the Caps to a number of away games and really love checking out the arenas, particularly for the food options.  So far our absolute favorite is Seattle's Climate Pledge arena.  Thoughtful design, great food including plenty of vegetarian options that aren't popcorn and candy, we never felt crowded!  Vancouver's Rogers Center was fine.  Calgary's Saddle Dome is a relic of days gone past but with that comes a certain charm.  It was the warmest arena we've ever been in.  Though we sat about 10 rows off the glass both of us over-heated.  Yeah, Calgary needs a new home for the Flames.  Huh, I wonder if the temperature is part of the experience?

So in addition to collecting pucks, Ian bought a scratch-off arena tracker (with the impending move of the Arizona Coyotes to SLC we may have to get a new one, arg).  So far we've visited 9 arenas, plus two that are 1/2 visits as we've been but didn't see the Capitals play (Madison Square Gardens and Raleigh).  Yes, there are rules, but heck, we have time and it gives us a guide for travel plans.  Much like my parents are visiting national parks, we'll visit cities around the North America.  Oooh ooooooh, what if they jump on the NFL bandwagon of playing in Europe?  That would be fun!

The season is winding down and I don't have high hopes that the Capitals will make the playoffs, and if they do that they'll make it out of the first round, though the Bears have clinched top spot in the AHL league, so we'll definitely be watching post-season there.

For now... this afternoon you can find use watching the IIHF Women's World Championship.  

USA vs. Canada.  

It's going to be awesome.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

The All Stars

Every year hockey takes a break from the regular schedule and the supposed best-of-the-best congregate somewhere for light-hearted competition and bragging rights.  Well, there is money involved too of course, otherwise I guess no one would show up.  A million bucks for the "winner" of various challenges.  But... not everyone participates in every challenge, and some are more "I'm just here" rather than actually trying, so the winner of the million shouldn't crow too much.  And every year the All Star weekend is different so there's no way to compare one winner to another.  Cale Makar should have won it all, instead of Connor McDavid (again).

This year the All Stars was held in Toronto.  How lucky is that?  We decided to skip the 3-on-3 game, and instead spent our money on watching the Skills competition, and then going to the Convention center for the Fan Fest.  By far the most fun was watching the mascots.  At the end of the Skills the mascots took to the ice for a very silly East vs West game on ice.  At the Fan Fest they played street hockey.  The mascots just have fun... they lie down in net if they aren't turning the net around completely, pick fights, forget to play, etc.  

We'll probably never go to another All Stars, so lucky we went in our backyard.

That's Connor Bedard.

As realistic as it gets at the Fan Fest.

What are the chances it's a Gretzky?



Monday, February 19, 2024

Last full day in Ottawa/Gatineau

I'm not going to go deep into the great divide between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada, and then that oddball New Brunswick that is both English- and French-speaking, but suffice to say that there's a long history of why Canada is the way that it is.  My paternal grandfather's side of the family is from French Canada so it's time to learn some.

The Canadian Museum of History is immediately across the main bridge from Ottawa.  If you take both sides of the river together you get a decent sized city, but don't.  Don't take the two sides of the river together.  They are not one big town.  Gatineau is part of Quebec and is French through and through.

Originally we'd talked about hitting both the History and the Canadian War Museum, but both were open from 10-4, so we opted to do the History since we'd already visited the Canadian Warplane Museum in Hamilton a few months ago. The most direct walkable bridge was closed for renovations, so we Ubered over and then walked our way home a little more roundabout.  Even then, the return walk was only about 45 minutes and we passed the Canadian War Museum on the walk - not a big town.

But first, food.  Across the street from the museum is a bagel place.  These are not NY bagels in the slightest, but they are authentic.  I can't even say Montreal style, because that is a thing, as I've never been to Montreal and don't know, but... recommended.

We took the museum backwards, starting at the top and at the end - the late 20th century, and slowly rewound the years to the bottom floor that showcased First People's homes, art, clothing, and totems.  I'll say this, I don't really recommend this method as we did a lot of "who is this person?" or "what does that word mean?" only to find the introduction to said person or term in the next room.  This was particularly frustrating with the whole French separatist movement and the various referendums (and OMG, did Charles de Gaulle really say that IN CANADA?)

U.S. History from outside the U.S.... always fascinating.

Canada seems to be acknowledging its history a little better than the U.S.  The section on colonization discusses agreements broken, atrocities, and more.  A heart-breaking section on the forced re-education of indigenous children, where the death of those children at remote schools from cold, malnutrition, and abuse was viewed as better than allowing them to be raised by their families, had exhibits under review for whether they told the story as truthfully as they could.  The parallels between Canada, the U.S. and Australia should not surprise anyone as all three countries hail from the same pool of colonizers, with the same ideas about white colonizer superiority and methodology of destroying cultures not their own.

The Embassy.

The walk home crossed a bridge by the hydro plant, a river walk park, and past the Parliament.  We made our way to the Byward area, picked up a beaver tail and considered getting poutine (we decided we're still going to wait until we get to Montreal... we have a poutinerie behind our building in Toronto, this is a hard decision to keep!)

Ottawa was a fun trip and a nice introduction to train travel in Canada.  The next time we go, we'll try to arrange a visit during Winterlude.  Hopefully the Rideau Canal will be open too.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Art in Ottawa

I haven't made it to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) or the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) yet, but while in Ottawa, I visited the National Gallery of Canada for all the art and then we crossed the "border" to the Canadian Museum of History on the Quebec side of town in Gatineau.

I'm still not at all knowledgeable about modern art but it often intrigues me into the "why?? no really, why???" questions.  A metal box.  A black painted canvas with a single strip of yellow.  I like looking at it just for the brain exercise and confusion.

The religious pieces periodically grab my attention by how serious they take themselves.  So much emotion in every face.  Usually the detail is through the roof.  

The period masters always stop me for a long while, the Monet and Van Gogh tribe of painters.

For still lifes, portraiture, or mythical scenes, I tend to focus on the edges and see what odd things the artist incorporated into the background.  That's typically where you find the best lounging cats, hunted squirrels, or slinking demons.

Peek-a-boo owl...

Like, who are these people/ghosts/demons?

Gingers and their devil bugs.

But really what I went for was the early Canadian artists, both the First Peoples and the colonizers as they moved around the northern landscape and painted, drew, and carved what they saw. 

There was a "Group of Seven" (all men) who take up a lot of space in the museum.  I could see why.  Later, there were other official "groups" of artists that included women.

J.E.M. MacDonald

Lawren S. Harris

Arthur Lismer

Franklin Carmichael

Lawren Harris

Tom Thomson

Emily Carr

The Indigenous People's art is always fascinating, even if I don't understand as much of it.

The bear's like "You take my ice, I take your kayak"

The four above are by Nick Sikkuark.

The gallery I went into was for Riopelle. The exhibit moved decade by decade. He did huge pieces and moved from massive swipes of paint to mixed media.  I think the geese were my favorite of his.

But you know I can't leave a post without a hokey mention.....

There's a second large art museum in Ottawa, but I have to save some things to see next time, right?

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Our first weekender.

Ian had a trip to Ottawa for work and guess who tagged along?

We took the train, which was awesome.  Ian and I enjoy a good train ride, and part of the route to Ottawa goes along Lake Ontario.  As soon as we left Toronto the banks of snow showed up and stayed with us all the way to Ottawa.

Ottawa is pretty.  Our view included the Rideau Canal, the Arts Center, Parliament, some other government buildings, and the Fairmont hotel.  It's hard not to imagine being at Hogwarts with the view.

More later!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Last Day Home

In January 2020 I started working (well I went to training and then started working in March 2020... we all know what happened next) in a Civil Service position in DC for Consular Affairs.  An important note - the section was created specifically for Eligible Family Members of Foreign Service Officers who were back in DC for a couple years. When we moved to Pennsylvania in 2022 I switched to full-time remote.  For the months back in the DC area in summer 2023 I went back to the office.  It was a great arrangement.  Unfortunately, when I was hired I knew that my job was a limited-term appointment.  I haven't figured out the purpose of limited-term appointments, but there you have it, it was a two-year limited-term appointment with the option to renew for a second two-year term.  I knew that come January 2024, I was out of a job.

One positive thing that came out of the pandemic was the transition to telework.  I know it's being reevaluated now, and for some good reasons.  However, the office I was hired into is, at its heart, a remote position.  The name literally had "Remote" in its name because it was an office in DC that worked on cases in other countries.  The pandemic made it work that much better as the State Department was forced to really amp up remote capabilities.  The expansion of DETO, telework, and remote work was awesome and allowed me to work in PA even easier than it had before. 

What didn't change was the four-year term limit.

Well, I should say that due to an awesome amount of work by our supervisors, it did change.  With the recognition of how important the Remote office was, particularly during the pandemic when we continued processing visas while missions were closed globally, the wheels turned and in the beginning of 2023, the Remote officer personnel were transitioned to real Civil Service positions with no term-limit.  This means they can keep their jobs as long as they want, while they are in DC but also bringing the job with them as they move to posts abroad or even just moving to other states to be closer to family.  

But it didn't apply to everyone.  

For some reason it only applied to employees with still valid NCE or Non-Competitive Employment status.  Eligible Family Members (EFMs) earn an NCE after working 52 weeks at a mission overseas.  It's good for three years, and the clock starts ticking the day you land in the U.S.  It gives EFMs a leg up in the hiring process.  Why did it only apply to those employees?  I never got a real answer for that, but suffice to say that my NCE kicked in the summer of 2019 and expired 2022.  By the time early 2023 rolled around my NCE had long expired and so even though I had been there the longest, folks who just started were now guaranteed a forever job if they wanted and I just watched the looming expiration date draw ever closer.  

On a side note, even though I had proven that I could do my job remotely for a year, the vacancies advertised in the same section were all in-person only, so I couldn't even apply for my own job.  Yeah....

I was a little bitter, but OK, because we were going to Haiti and I had already lined up a job there.  It was a decision between trying to apply for remote job from some CA office  or joining my new community and really being present.  I went with the latter.

Then we didn't go to Haiti.  So now I didn't have an onward job, and I'd run out of time trying to figure out a DC job that might allow me to jump right into remote work.  ARG.

Toronto is severely understaffed.  It's a problem in developed countries where the USG pays a certain salary amount, isn't flexible, and have you seen the cost of rent here??  Yeah, they can't hire people even with how understaffed they are.  However I can't work in the consular section because... Ian.  And I'm not really qualified to work anywhere else because consular work is very niche.  There's something that might work out in the future (I'll let you know), but in the meantime I'm going to branch out into a position where I'll learn a lot and hopefully feel good while doing it.  I'm nervous.  I'm anxious.  Yeah, I'm scared.

I've thoroughly enjoyed being home since we moved into this apartment on December 3, but this is the end of my quiet days watching the snow and enjoying all the homemaking.  I was doing Ian's laundry... yeah, that's gonna stop!  I crocheted a couple blankets.  I made cookies.  I organized shelves and cleared out junk, and watched some TV Ian doesn't like.  I started reading again and I restarted this blog.

We'll see what keeps happening and what amount of brain space I have left over at the end of the workday (knowing myself... for the first few weeks - NOT MUCH).  That's what I'm going to miss the most, and I know how lucky I am to have had this time so don't hate me because it's hard to give up.