Tuesday, 15 September 2015

It's been a while ........

I can’t believe it’s been over 2 years since I last wrote my blog!!!!  We wanted adventure and we’ve certainly had it.  We have traveled across the entire of Canada from east coast to west.  We have visited 12 of the 13 Canadian Provinces/Territories.  The only place we haven’t been is Nunavut and you can’t get there by road.  We have visited the Arctic twice and have crossed the Arctic Circle four times – we even put our bare feet in the Arctic Ocean which was unsurprisingly FREEZING!!!

We have been to Canada’s most easterly point at Cape Spear, Newfoundland and it’s most westerly community at Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory.  We drove the iconic Dempster Highway across the Arctic Circle to Inuvik, Northwest Territories – what a road!  We have also explored Alaska extensively from north to south to east to west – if there was a road then we went there! The famed Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay was an amazing adventure – we got to see muskoxen, mountain goats, caribou, a grizzly bear and lots of water birds.
So this post will be a quick catch up on where we’ve been, the things we've seen and some of the adventures we’ve had.

After leaving Nova Scotia we spent just over 4 months on the beautiful Bruce Peninsula in Ontario.  Sauble Beach was our favourite place to swim in Lake Huron – one of the Great Lakes.  Soft sand and warm water plus big waves made for lots of fun!  We went to Tobermory and took a glass bottom boat tour for Flynn’s birthday.  It was a little choppy but we saw shipwrecks under the clear blue water which was very cool.  It was boiling hot at over 35C for a lot of the time and incredibly humid which was a new experience for us all.
When we left the Bruce Peninsula we headed north around the Great Lakes and into Northern Ontario.  This was in the autumn of 2013 and we got to see the amazing colours that happen at this time of year.  We saw the famous locks at Sault St Marie and hooked up with some lovely fellow homeschoolers in Thunder Bay.

We spent 2 weeks just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba and Flynn experienced his first North American Halloween – we were massively unprepared for the amount of goodies he would get and ended up stuffing things in every available pocket when his bag was full.

We hit a snowstorm in Alberta so hung out in a little campground till it had passed.  We had winterised the caravan so had no running water and it was pretty cold, but we coped.  Once the storm had passed we finally made it to the Canadian Rockies which were simply breath taking!  We stopped for a night in Golden, British Columbia, at a truck stop and then ended up staying for our first winter.  Tony got a job working for highways plowing the roads and we rented a little place just outside town.

Our first winter was white and bright.  Tony was on call so it made planning things a bit tricky and we were also having major problems with our house in the UK which was rented.  It was a difficult time, but we got through it together.  We visited Lake Louise and Banff, walked Johnston Canyon and watched the ice climbers and had a lovely time at Radium Hotsprings.  

We continued our journey west in April 2014 and finally made it to the Pacific Ocean.  We spent a month exploring in and around the Vancouver area.  The Lyn Canyon Suspension Bridge was amazing as was Hells Gate.  We strolled on beaches, fished for trout at the campground where we were staying, met up with an old school friend and made some amazing new friends in the local homeschool community.  We packed in A LOT in that month!

We had made it from east to west so it was time to head north.  We had arranged some work in a campground in the Yukon and we were pretty excited as we would cross the 60th parallel and enter the Great White North.

We drove the famous Cassiar Highway and finally saw some bears!  10 black bears in one day after never seeing one before! We stopped in Smithers for a few days so Tony could do some repairs to the truck and then continued to push north.  We entered the Yukon around 8th May 2014 and our first stop was Watson Lake and the famous Signpost Forest.  Tony had made us a sign with Culworth on it, where we lived in the UK and the distance to it.  There are over 70,000 signs and it was all started by a homesick soldier in WW2 when they were building the Alaska Highway.  He put up a sign to his hometown and it snowballed from there.  We also watched a very cool movie at the Northern Lights Centre on their 360 degree screen.

Whitehorse was the next stop to stock up before heading to the campground where we would be working.  We knew it would be a 10 hour round trip back to shop if we ran out of anything so we tried to make sure we had everything we needed.  On the way to the campground we stopped at beautiful Kluane Lake – wow what a place!  We explored the remains of Silver City and soaked up the sunshine and views for a couple of days before carrying on with our journey.  We finally made it to Discovery Yukon Lodgings on May 17th 2014 – our home for the next couple of months.

This was our first experience of living remotely and off-grid and we loved it!  The campground is known as “An Oasis on the Alaska Highway” and it really was.  Beaver Creek was our nearest community – about 52kms with a population of 112.  We could buy very expensive fuel and some basics if we needed them, but we managed pretty well.  We really fell in love with the place and the people we were working with so it was a real wrench when we left.  We headed into Alaska on 18th July – just before Flynn’s 10th birthday.

Alaska was a bit rough sadly.  We had our first puncture and were plagued by breakdowns resulting in needing a new engine for the truck!  This was very unexpected, but we still had a good time.  We took Flynn to Chena Hotsprings for his birthday and visited the Ice Museum there too.  We saw Mount McKinley – the tallest mountain in North America and we got to visit the Kilcher Homestead, just outside Homer and famous due to the hit show Alaska:The Last Frontier.

Once our mechanical difficulties were solved we drove to Chicken and then on to the Top of the World Highway back into the Yukon Territory to Dawson City.  We LOVED Dawson!  So much history, so many tales, so much GOLD!  We did lock the keys in the truck but luckily we managed to break back in!

From Dawson we drove the Dempster Highway, across the Arctic Circle to Inuvik.  We got our second puncture on that bumpy road!  Now when I say puncture, what I should really say is that the tyre was shredded and there was no rubber left! Then it was back south to Whitehorse where we found ourselves a lovely off-grid cabin to rent for the winter.  

Once we had our winter accommodation sorted we headed back to the campground where we worked earlier in the season to help get it all shutdown for winter.  Autumn in the Yukon is beautiful. The trees turn shades of gold, the sun shines and it’s just gorgeous.  We went off into the bush exploring on the ATV and visited the ghost town of Snag.

On October 2nd we moved into our little cabin and got ready to experience a winter in the Great White North.  We loved our cabin even with no running water and only an outhouse.  We had a couple of solar panels for electricity and a back up generator and it was a fantastic adventure.  To start with we hauled water from the river but then it froze so we used to get water from the community centre.  We lived on Annie Lake Road which is a beautiful area surrounded by mountains.  We were lovely and cosy with the woodstove going and Tony and I both enjoyed chopping, splitting and stacking the wood.  Our landlord had 5 dogs which we could take for walks and play with – I was in heaven!

We hit –40C a couple of times and had spells of –35C which stuck around for a couple of weeks at a time.  I’m told we had a pretty mild winter, but your eyelashes and hair still froze!  There was an active community so we got involved in lots of things.  Flynn loved ice skating and had some cross country ski lessons. Tony joined the Volunteer Fire Fighters and qualified as a Fire Man and we both got new tattoos!  I had the best birthday present ever – a ride with a dogsled team!  We also attended the start of the Yukon Quest dogsled race – now that was a very cold morning!  We made some great friends and had a really amazing winter.
May 2015 saw us heading back to Discovery Yukon Lodgings to work again.  My Mum and Dad had arranged to come and visit so we were very much looking forward to that – we also had a big surprise in store for them, but that will have to wait for the next blog.

So this is just a short update of our adventures to date.  We have all been on a massive journey of self discovery and have grown even closer as a family.  We’ve had some ups and downs, but things have always worked out in the end.  Personally I now trust this process and have let go of a lot of stuff.  I don’t worry and stress anymore because I know it will all work out for the best – it has been proven to me over and again.

I promise it won’t take me 2 years to write the next blog!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Lets get going!

Our time in Nova Scotia is nearly done.  It's going to be strange leaving here.  Through all the difficulties we had before we still always kept our love for this beautiful little province.  At one point we thought this was going to be "home" so it will be sad to leave.  I love always being so close to the ocean - I always feel peaceful sitting listening to the waves, so it is going to be hard to leave knowing we won't see the ocean again for a really long time!

Still, I know we have exciting adventures ahead of us and I know at some point we will come back to Nova Scotia - Canada's Ocean Playground.

The teething problems we've had with the caravan are now all fixed - yippee!!!  We have a new convertor, some new wiring for the lights in the slide and Tony fixed the problem with the toilet!  He was right all along in his diagnosis that the stench/stack pipe was pushed too far into the black tank where the toilet empties.  This meant that the tank couldn't vent through the pipe and instead blew back through the toilet!  The dealer we bought it from was going to have the caravan back in on Thursday for the day, but Tony took matters into his own hands and fixed it in about 20 minutes - brilliant!  Saved us the hassle of having to move the caravan and having to amuse Mr Puss in the truck for a whole day - something I was not looking forward to!

So we are pretty much ready to go.  We will need to move things around bit before we head off - anything that might shift in transit needs to be put away or secured.  Towing a caravan is a whole new experience for me.  I'm used to traveling in a campervan where you know about it straight away if something shifts or a drawer or cupboard door pops open, and you deal with it.  With a caravan we won't know until we stop if something has moved so we need to be extra careful when we pack up.

It's exciting to know that in less than a week we will be back on the road.  Tony has really enjoyed his work at the campsite here and the owner is so pleased with his efforts he has told him there will always be a job waiting for him should we come back - it's so nice that he has been appreciated for all his hard work.

We have a job lined up for July and August in Ontario near to Owen Sound on the Bruce Peninsula.  It looks an amazing place with 400 acres of wilderness, 14kms of trails, a lake and even caves - which Flynn can't wait to explore.  There will be lots to keep us busy, plus lovely facilities we can use and lots to see and do.  Tony has a second cousin not far away so it will be great to catch up with him and his family too - they really made us very welcome on our first Canadian trip back in 2009.

We will be setting off on 24th June and aim to be at our new site by around the 30th so we can enjoy Canada Day on 1st July in our new location.  Our first stop is planned to be Saint John, New Brunswick, where we hope to catch up with a friend and then we will make our way to Quebec and then into Ontario.

I will leave you with a short video of the famous Bay of Fundy Tidal Bore which we saw yesterday.  The Bay of Fundy experiences the highest tides in the world with a peak tidal range of 15 metres, (50ft), and the Tidal Bore is "a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a standing wave of water that travels upstream, against the current of a river or narrow bay", (bayoffundy.com).  We watched the tidal wave coming in yesterday and although it wasn't a huge wave at this time it was still pretty cool.

Monday, 10 June 2013

A New Adventure

So this post has been a long time coming!  Big changes have been afoot and we are finally embarking on a new adventure!

After what happened when we attempted to emigrate to Canada in 2011, I said I didn't want to "try again" - I wasn't even sure if I ever wanted to return to Canada at all!  Once we got our residency and after a short trip in 2012 I did feel better about the place though - after all it wasn't Canada's fault everything went so badly wrong!  We were just unlucky to fall into a place with such terrible people - but still, I digress!

Summer of 2012 saw us undertaking a road trip around Europe.  3 weeks, the open road - pure bliss!  We visited my lovely godmother in France, walked on a glacier in Switzerland, crossed some amazing mountain passes and generally had a brilliant time.  After this trip I came to the conclusion that I really didn't want to return to Canada to "settle" - however, I did want to make the most of all the time and money we had spent gaining residency and wondered about just having a big adventure.  I suggested to Tony that we could return to undertake a huge road trip - 12 months to explore Canada and just see what happened.  He thought it was a brilliant idea so we set about making plans.

Seven short months later and here we are - back in Nova Scotia.  We still had our truck in storage and the old girl started first time, so then our first mission was to find a caravan, (travel trailer).  We had a month in a motel in Boutilier's Point and we took that time to get ourselves ready to roll.  We also enjoyed the amazing views!!!!

Finding our caravan was fairly painless.  We visited several dealers and searched on Kijiji, (online free ads), and then there she was!  Once we'd seen her nothing else came close as she has a pretty unusual layout - we'd certainly never seen one before.  She is a 2008 Timberlodge and she has an upstairs!  32.5 feet from bumper to hitch and we just fell in love! Single slide, plenty of storage and a loft for Flynn.  It does make her a bit taller than your average caravan though - 12.6ft, but nothing Tony and our big truck can't handle.

We've been back in Nova Scotia just over 5 weeks now and in our new home for a week.  So far, so good, and everything is going smoothly.  We're staying local whilst we make sure everything works properly as we have a 30 day warranty but then we will hit the road! 

Tony got work on the second day we were in the campsite - if it carries on as easy as that then we will be fine!  Currently he is clearing a path through the woods from the tent sites to the toilets.  He has a chain saw, a digger and a tractor - what more could any man want lol!  The job basically means we can stay for free and he earns some money too which is brilliant!

We have also just secured a 2 month job in Ontario for July and August!  Again it was pretty easy and is a similar sort of thing just not on a campsite.  We will be mowing, gardening and lots of other bits and pieces.  They have 400 acres of woods and 14km of trails so we will have lots to explore. Flynn is particularly keen on exploring the caves!

So we have probably another 2 weeks here and then we will take a week to get to The Bruce Peninsula in Ontario.  We don't want to rush so will just take our time.

I don't know where we will be heading come September, but that is half of the fun.  We aim to go wherever the road takes us and just live life to the fullest.  I plan to keep you all updated on our travels as regularly as possible and as long as we have wifi.

Let the Canadian adventures begin!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Immigration Trap - A year on

Exactly one year ago today we were boarding a plane ready to set off for our new life in Nova Scotia.  Our hopes and dreams were intact and we were full of excitement about our new adventure.  All of our belongings had gone into storage, our house was empty and ready to be rented and the three of us and the cat were setting sail for pastures new.

How things can change in twelve short months.  We certainly had an adventure, not quite what we were expecting, but an adventure none the less and a valuable learning experience.  Looking back now I can see the signs of where things started to go wrong - isn't hindsight a marvelous thing?!

May of 2010 saw us embarking on a six week tour of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland looking for a job for Tony.  Of course it couldn't be just any job, it had to be one that fulfilled the criteria for Provincial Nomination and that also meant that the employer needed to be willing to go through the process with us.  It might seem like that was a pretty tall order but we were optimistic that things would work out.  We had a list of companies we were going to approach and a folder full of resumes to hand out plus we got to explore more of the provinces we had so fallen in love with.

Imagine our surprise when on the second day of our trip Tony was offered a job! We hadn't even started to travel around or approach any of the companies we had short listed.  Tony had simply been doing what he does best - talking to people and explaining what we were doing.  It almost seemed too easy.  The people who offered him the job had just bought a new business and needed to replace existing staff for the following year, so even the time frame worked perfectly for us!  We would have time to get our UK house finished and ready for renting and to get our belongings sorted out and sell what we didn't want to keep - perfect!  They were looking for an Operations Manager to run the business for them as they didn't have any experience in their new venture and wanted someone who could solve problems with the minimum of disruption.  Now that job had Tony's name written all over it!  I have never met a better problem solver than Tony.  He truly can "think outside the box" and his associates in the UK have a phrase they frequently use - "If anyone can Tony can - he's The Can Man"!

So, the job was offered, they were willing to go through the immigration process with us and everyone was very excited!  Plus it also meant that we now had six weeks to use as a holiday - what a bonus!  Admittedly, it was a bit cold and as we were so early in the tourist season practically nothing was open, but that didn't stop us having a great time.

The job came with accommodation in a caravan onsite which seemed perfect as it would give us time after landing to find somewhere more permanent to live and would take some pressure off the move.  We could live in the caravan for up to 6 months and after all the touring we had done in campervans I knew we would be fine.  We had already spent 16 weeks in a much smaller campervan so a large caravan would seem like luxury!  We were required to return in October so that Tony could have some training with the guy he was replacing, but that seemed perfectly reasonable.

However, the warning bells started when we had to completely fund that trip ourselves.  Surely an employer who was bringing over someone they wanted to fill a vacancy would offer some assistance with the costs?  Flights to Canada are incredibly expensive, but at the time all we could see was that the job was there and it was a ticket to our new life in Nova Scotia.  The two weeks training went fine and Tony was in his element.  He had everything under control within the first week, but the atmosphere was different.  The employers weren't as friendly and there seemed to be something going on under the surface.  It turned out that the business had made a massive loss that year so understandably they were worried about their venture.  However, we were confident Tony could turn things round and with careful planning and a kerb on spending we knew it would all be OK.  We submitted our application for the Nova Scotia Provincial Nomination Programme whilst we were there and we were excited that things were moving along.

Once we got home we continued in earnest with our preparations and kept in regular touch with the employers to make sure everything would be in place for our arrival in April 2011.  By January 2011 we had been approved for Nomination by the government of Nova Scotia so now we had to apply to the CIC for federal government approval.  The costs to apply for residency in Canada are high.  It's a very expensive process what with application fees, medicals, x-rays, photos and also the fees for the Temporary Work Permits and Study Permits we would need. We knew our residency application wouldn't be approved before we had to start work, so we had to apply for work permits.  This was something I had never wanted to do.  I had always wanted to wait until we had residency as otherwise we were tied to one employer and if things were to go wrong we would be stuck.  However, the earliest our residency would come would be August - all being well, which was simply too late.  It was risky, but we decided to go with the work permits - after all, what could possibly go wrong?

Around this time a second warning bell started to chime.  As most of you probably know we have a beloved, if slightly mad, family cat.  We had talked at length about what to do, but I just couldn't face leaving him behind.  He was a rescue cat and had already been through some terrible things and I wanted him to stay with us where I knew he would be safe and cared for.  He is a very mellow cat so I thought he would manage the flight OK - otherwise I would never have considered taking him.  We got him a Pet Passport - not cheap, but I wanted to make sure we could bring him back to the UK easily if we needed to and we were all set. Just when we thought everything was going smoothly the new employer in Nova Scotia suddenly decided she didn't want our cat in her caravan as he would spray and make it stink.  OK, so he has NEVER sprayed and is neutered so unlikely to start.  First of all she said her father had rented out his basement to someone with a cat who had stunk the place out.  Then she said she wanted her father to stay in the caravan after we left but he was incredibly allergic to cats and wouldn't be able to enter it if our cat had been in it.  Hmmm - this is the same father who had rented out his basement to someone with a cat who had sprayed - yet he was so allergic if he entered a room where a cat had been he would instantly have breathing difficulties?  Something simply wasn't adding up.  Still, in an effort to keep things going and to offer some reassurance we offered to replace the caravan - like for like - if our cat did any damage to it.  You can't say fairer than that surely?  There were still some objections, but in the end they grudgingly agreed and we thought everything was fine.

Obviously I was now slightly nervous about how we would be received when we arrived, but I didn't see what else we could do.  I knew Mr Puss would be fine - which he was - and we had done everything we could to reassure them.  Other than finding somewhere else to live, which they didn't want as they wanted Tony onsite, we would just have to hope everything would be OK.

So, on 28th April 2011, with small alarm bells still softly chiming in my head, we landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.  My first priority was finding my cat but it took quite a while to get our work permits issued.  He was fine though, chatting away to anyone who went near his cage.  We went through customs as we needed to show them our goods to follow list and also the paperwork for Mr Puss. That all went pretty smoothly too - although interestingly no one actually looked at any of the cats paperwork which I was surprised about.

Anyway, I've covered most of what happened in previous posts and the point of this piece is to look at where things went wrong so that others in our situation don't get taken advantage of like we did.  As I mentioned earlier, when we went over in October 2010 there was a definite under tone of something going on.  This was even stronger when we arrived in 2011.  The money problems were pretty severe and everyone was understandably worried.  It seems the new owners really hadn't done much research about what they were taking on or how much work it would need to make the business profitable.  Tony tried so hard to explain things to them and get them to see sense, but they were so blinkered in what they wanted that they literally threw away thousands and thousands of dollars on unnecessary and pointless expenditures.

It didn't take long to realise that they really were taking advantage of Tony and our position.  We knew the salary they offered was low, but didn't realise that it simply wasn't enough for us to survive on.  They worked him like a dog, over 70 hours a week in 6 days, with no overtime paid, even though it was in his contract and I believe is actually a legal requirement for anyone working over 48 hours a week in Nova Scotia!  I mean who were these people - life draining zombies?  Quite possibly!  He never got any peace and was called on for the most ridiculous reasons.  The employer actually said that she was glad we were on work permits as it meant she had Tony for 2 solid years as he couldn't work for anyone else - that was a rather large alarm bell.  It was pretty obvious that she thought she had us over a barrel and as we desperately wanted things to work she pretty much did.

Around the middle of May yet another warning bell started to clang in my head. The employers and all their kids went down with a nasty sickness virus.  It went through the whole family over a period of a few days, but they kept bringing their kids to play with Flynn!  We had been in the country for less than 2 weeks and everything in me was screaming not to let Flynn play with these children, but how do you say to your new employer that you don't want your child playing with their sick kids?  The atmosphere was already strained and the children were brought over specifically to play with Flynn - it was a very difficult situation.  I can honestly say that I made a big mistake here.  I should have stuck to my guns and refused to let Flynn play, but what sort of parent brings sick children to play?  The kids had literally spent the previous couple of hours throwing up and then as soon as they felt slightly better they arrived to play.  In the UK if a child is sick then they are not allowed in school for 48 hours following the last occurrence and I'm sure there are similar rules in Canada.  After all who wants to spread germs around and make other peoples kids sick - surely that is common sense and part of being a responsible parent?  Apparently not and I am still amazed at the sheer selfishness of these people.  Subsequently Flynn caught the virus and was terribly ill and ended up in hospital.  It was the most frightening experience of my life as Flynn simply is not a sickly child and is very rarely ill.  I hold my hands up to that mistake and maybe if I had stood my ground then things wouldn't have deteriorated so much later.  It just goes to show how completely self absorbed these people were and how they really didn't care for anyone apart from themselves, not even children.

Early on Tony was sent to Toronto for training.  A pretty pointless exercise as he didn't learn anything other than how to clean  - not necessarily an important thing for an Operations Manager.  Now this was supposed to be an all expenses paid trip but that was not the case.  The flights were paid, but we had to fight tooth and nail to get an allowance for food.  He was put up in the most basic of accommodations and the trip actually ended up costing us money.  They didn't even pay him for all the hours he worked whilst he was away.  Having spoken to a lot of local people in Nova Scotia I am now certain that it is normal for employers to pay for the hours worked whilst on training, including travel time.  This wasn't training Tony wanted to do, it was compulsory and he should have been compensated adequately.  When I queried this I was pretty much shot down - yet another warning bell that we were being taken advantage of.

One final note which I think really shows the character of these people.  In July it was Flynn's seventh birthday.  We had invited several of his friends for a little party and of course we were obliged to invite the employers kids.  I wanted nothing to do with them by this point, but it was Flynn's party and they were his friends so we invited them.  The day of the party, Tony's day off, he was obviously called away to yet another disaster and missed nearly the whole thing.  However, the party was going really well and all the kids were having a great time.  Nearly an hour late the employers turned up for the party, dumped all their kids and left without so much as a happy birthday.  Honestly, who turns up at a child's birthday party, just when they are opening the presents, without even bringing a card?  Regardless of the fact that we had bought a card and present for their kids birthday, what sort of person would do that?  The answer - a selfish, arrogant and rude one.  I have to say I was amazed.  These people who loved to show of how rich they were with expensive gifts for their kids and throwing money around willy nilly turn up to a birthday party with not so much as a card, dump their kids and leave.  Speaks volumes in my opinion.

I think I've pretty much covered the other terrible ways we were treated in previous posts. Being ignored and ostracised seemed to be the way they dealt with their invaluable staff who were trying to save THEIR business.  The complete arrogance was astonishing when they had someone on hand literally working themselves into the ground to make the business successful.  They preferred to start rumours, talk behind our backs and cast us out of their little "click".  Now we really weren't worried about being out of the "click" - leave them to it we said.  If they chose to employ other staff who were incompetent and too lazy to carry out their duties then that was up to them.  Tony would carry on doing his best with what was available, and if that meant losing those useless individuals as friends when he pulled them up on the quality of their work, then so be it.

Tony and I are both intelligent, highly skilled individuals.  We both have university degrees and many years of experience in various fields of work - we are not stupid and yet we still managed to get caught in the "Immigration Trap".  You hear of people all the time who are brought to a country to work by employers and then treated terribly, but you never think it will happen to you.  Surely you are too intelligent to get caught out like that?  The trouble is that all you can see is a way into a country that you desperately want to call home, so you ignore the little warning bells in the hope that it will all be OK.  In hindsight we should have negotiated rather than just accepted what was offered.  We should have agreed on a decent salary, working hours, an on-call rate, powers over staffing and generally what was expected - but all we saw was a way in.  I would strongly urge anyone reading this who is contemplating a move abroad to really take stock from our mistakes.  If this post stops just one person being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers then my work here is done.  If people learn from our mistakes then I feel what we went through was maybe worth something.  All the pain, heartache and financial losses we experienced must have been for some reason.  Maybe it was so I could stop other people falling into the same traps we did.  We also would NEVER fall for any of those tricks ever again.  We are worth too much and will not be taken advantage of ever again.  If any employer wants us then they will be willing to pay appropriately and treat us with the respect we are due.

Of course the employers thought they had us by the proverbial short and curly's. They had us for 2 years and we were so desperate for residency that there was no way we would quit.  WRONG!!  It might have taken us a while, but in the end we knew what they were doing was very wrong and we had no reason to put up with it.  It did mean that we had to return to the UK - not something we wanted to do and yet more costs, but we had a beautiful home to return to and a successful business which Tony could re-start easily.  So that is what we did.  We returned and waited for our residency papers to come.  Tony already had several job offers on the table from people who could see just what a valuable asset he would be to any company, so we could wait, bide our time and with luck things would all work out for the best.

In November 2011 we were awarded Permanent Resident status and in February 2012 we landed back in Nova Scotia to activate our visas.  That was our first experience of a Canadian winter and I have to say, the place is just as beautiful. My initial fears about moving with only work permits were right, but in the end it all worked out.  If I've learnt nothing else from this experience then at least I have learnt to listen to my intuition because time after time it has been proved right.  I will never ignore it again, if I had listened in the first place it would have saved us all a lot of heartache but at least now I know I can trust it.  Having doubts is one thing but when my intuition shouts "warning" I will now always listen.

We have so many new adventures ahead of us and we never lost our love for Nova Scotia or the people of that beautiful province.  I would like to add that none of the people who treated us badly were actually from Nova Scotia - they were all "from away" and not all of them were even Canadian.  The people of Nova Scotia who we met and made friends with were always warm and welcoming and helped us keep the faith that we had chosen the right place to move to.  I hope what we experienced is not the norm for people moving to another country.  There will always be difficulties settling in to a new country and culture but I'm hoping our experience was an extreme that most will not have to go through.

The future is bright and exciting for us and I hope it is for all my readers too :) Below is a picture of some ice covered rocks we saw by the beach back in February - how cool are they?!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Next Chapter

I know, I know - it's been far too long between posts.  Life has been pretty chaotic to say the least what with moving, Christmas and everything else life has thrown at us!  Still, enough with the excuses and time to get back with the programme. The problem now is where to begin.  So much has happened in the last 4 months it's hard to know where to start, but as one of my readers pointed out to me, it's best to begin at the beginning and carry on from there.

So, I wrote my last post from beautiful Hubbards.  We badly needed that time in such a beautiful and peaceful place.  Time to relax and recover before moving on with our journey.  We toured around the area visiting Chester and walking the old railway lines and had some amazing weather to go with it.  Lots of our friends came to visit us in our sanctuary by the sea and we also had some fab meals with fellow British expats Sam and Darren and Judith and Mike.

The house we stayed in was AMAZING!!!!  It was advertised as a cottage, but in my opinion it was a house - a massive house!  A cosy fire in the living room and collecting sea glass on our very own private beach - even one time in the dark! The owner was a really lovely guy and made our stay very comfortable and nothing was too much trouble.  Anyone looking for a vacation rental could really do no better than here and I would thoroughly recommend it.


We had some tough decisions to make about our next step, but I still think that everything happens for a reason so deciding to head back to the UK really felt like the right thing to do.  Until our residency papers came Tony couldn't work for anyone else and we had been advised that the Canadian High Commission in London had a massive back log and we would be waiting at least another 6 months.  That would be 6 months with no income so the decision was really pretty easy.  We had a beautiful home to come back to - one that we had never actually been able to enjoy as we only finished it just before we flew out to Nova Scotia.  I contacted all of Tony's clients to see if they had work for him and to say they were pleased he was coming home would be a major understatement!  So we had a home and a business to return to, making us feel really very lucky.

Still, we were very sad to be leaving the beautiful shores of Nova Scotia and all the great friends we had made, but we knew it wouldn't be forever. Things hadn't worked out as planned, but plans can change and we are adaptable people which makes for a much easier life.  So on 4th October 2011 at 11.45pm we took off from Halifax Stanfield International Airport heading for London Heathrow.

I expected to be a complete emotional wreck by the time we landed back at Heathrow.  My parents were waiting for us but I was actually very calm.  The night flights from Halifax to Heathrow always wipe me out as I can never sleep on a plane, but with so much to get on with I didn't really have time to be tired.  My parents took most of our luggage and Flynn with them whilst we waited for Mr Puss to be cleared.  Now the whole saga with Mr Puss and the way things work on returning to the UK with a pet really deserve a post all to themselves, so all I will say is that it is a very frustrating and long winded process - even with all the correct paperwork!

Still, we finally got him back  after around 5 hours of waiting and as ever he was chilled but ready to go home.  We stayed with my parents for a couple of days until our belongings were returned from storage and it was lovely to be looked after and to be with people who love and care about us.

The return of our goods from storage also deserves a post all to itself and I'm sure many would be expats will be keen to hear of our experience.  All I will say is that we were very unimpressed with how our belongings had been packed and shocked at the complete lack of care and professionalism.  I am just glad nothing was ever shipped across the Atlantic as I fear everything would have been smashed to smithereens.  It was bad enough as it was and it only went 30 miles and then back again!

I have to say it was lovely to be home.  The house was just as beautiful as we left it and I was finally going to get my one Christmas in my finished house - something I always said I wanted.

Flynn settled straight back into school with all his old friends and Tony was incredibly busy with his business lighting up 2 brand new Christmas Coca-Cola trucks - he's such a clever boy!

Christmas was great.  My Mum, Dad and big sister Lizzie all came to stay and I think I can safely say that fun was had by all.  As expected, Flynn was super excited when we put out the beer, mince pie and carrot for Father Christmas and his reindeer and even more so scattering the sparkly reindeer food in the garden so they knew where to land the sleigh.  We all ate, drank and were very merry and although in some ways it was bittersweet, as we had been looking forward to our first Canadian Christmas, it was wonderful to be surrounded by family at such a special time of the year.  I also made my very first Christmas Cake, Christmas Pudding and sausagemeat stuffing - all of which were fab, even if I do say so myself!

So 2012 has dawned and I wonder what this year will hold for us.  I'm sure new adventures and challenges are waiting just round the corner, but so are new beginnings and I'm looking forward to the new ventures I have planned. We've already been back to Nova Scotia and it was a great trip which I will fill you in on later, but I will leave you with a picture which I think will explain to most just why we love the place in every season - it really is quite breathtaking.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Peace at last

After 5 long and very difficult months we are finally free.  Tony quit his job and we are now settled in an amazing house by the sea with our own private beach.  We have been in such desperate need of this and it is simply wonderful to be able to stretch out, have complete privacy and to just have some peace.  Time to be together in such a beautiful place, time to heal our wounds and allow us to regain some perspective.
It is a real shame things have turned out like this.  Tony loved his job and the work he was doing, but there were only so many times he could bang his head against a brick wall.  He was employed as a Manager, but was never allowed to “manage”.  He was ever the professional and was the best at what he did – there cannot be any argument about that.  He could solve any problem thrown at him as he is one of those rare breeds who truly can “think outside the box” – a lateral thinker in every way.  The issue was that he was forced to deal with people day in and day out, who simply refused to listen and constantly made stupid  and costly mistakes - what other choice did he have but to leave?  After all, why should he jeopardise his reputation when problems weren’t his fault or his making?

I lost count of the number if times I heard the phrase “Oh well, we’ll just throw some money at it”, after yet another needless error.  What is the point of simply “throwing money” at problems?  Surely it is better not to make these senseless mistakes in the first place?  Especially when you’ve been told the solution over and over and over again.  I honestly believe that these people simply do not have any common sense – not even the tiniest bit and that made dealing with them on a daily basis a terrible struggle.

So, after 5 long months of trying his very hardest to make things work it came to the point where Tony realised they weren’t going to change and he didn’t want his work or reputation compromised any longer.  For example, there is simply no excuse for a lack of cleanliness – other than laziness.  If you have a member of staff who is not competent in their work, either pull them up and train them or sack them and get someone else.  Simple really.  If you were paying over $200 a night for a hotel room, would you expect it to be clean?  Of course you would and there really is no difference here.  Complaint after complaint seemed to fall on deaf ears and they refused to do anything about the problems.  Tony would inspect areas that should have been cleaned and would then send the cleaner back 3, 4, 5 times and still there would be dirt and grime everywhere.  Quite frankly it was embarrassing, especially when showing potential customers around a unit and discovering a fridge full of rotting food because no one had bothered to empty it from the previous customer and since then it had been switched off.

For 5 months Tony asked for help.  He was expected to run an entire fleet of 35 units single handed as well as keep the site functioning.  The standard answer was “we can’t afford any more staff”.  Time and again he explained he would happily give up 20 or 30 hours a week from his 70 for a second pair of hands.  Someone to cover when he had his 1 day off a week, someone so that he could work 40 or 50 hours a week like any other employed person.  Someone so he could spend some time with his family – the answer?  Always “No”, even though it wouldn’t cost them a penny extra.  You can imagine he was more than a little angry to hear, near the end of the season, how they were bragging about saving $35,000 on wages!  The question is at what cost?  Most certainly at the cleanliness and efficiency of their business.

On our final morning all we wanted was to pack up and leave quietly.  Of course that wasn’t going to happen.  There had to be one last vicious attack on me and how I’ve been writing “hurtful things” and how it “has to stop” – yet in the very same breath the onwer admitted that he had never read any of my blogs!!  There were also lies about how the “Wicked Witch of the West”, as she has been nicknamed, came to see me to sort things out.  How she came and knocked on my door and I refused to let her in.  Well I’m sorry, and I don’t swear, but that is complete and utter bollocks.  There is no other word for it.  Another lie, told to put me in a bad light. 

Lets look at it logically.  The glass on the caravan door was heavily frosted so there was no way you could see who was outside the door.  The only people that ever came to knock on the door were Flynn’s friends or occasionally the security guy.  I would have no reason to expect a visit from anyone else so why would I refuse to open the door?  You couldn’t see who was approaching and couldn’t see who was outside so logically either she never came or she came when I was out.  I am a very logical person, I am not rude, unkind or bitter and I don’t tell lies – I leave all that behaviour to them.  I was raised well and would never ignore a person who came to my door or an acquaintance I passed in the street, just a shame those values weren’t shared by the people I was forced to live in close proximity to for the last 5 months. 

So, yet more lies and I’m sorry, but I won’t stop writing because some person who has never read my work tells me to.  What I write about will change as my life journey changes, but I will continue to write and tell the truth.  Sometimes the truth does hurt and sooner or later the truth will always come out.  In this instance I don’t doubt that will happen and the truth will come and bite them firmly in the bum.  All I have ever done is write with honesty and I have a clear conscience about that. 

The trouble is they don’t know, what I know, and that frightens them.  You see I do know, I know exactly what they’ve been doing and I know that they have already been found out about certain things by the powers that be.  What will I do with my knowledge?  Absolutely nothing – I don’t need to do a thing as sooner or later it will all come out.  When you tell enough lies and try to manipulate figures eventually Karma will come around and you will get what is due to you.  If you are honest, truthful and try your best to make things work then the universe will reward you for that.  If you lie and cheat then I firmly believe in the saying “what goes around, comes around”.

At the end of the day I have a clear conscience, I’ve done nothing wrong and Tony has done nothing but be professional and worked hard to keep the business going.  This is why we now have multiple opportunities available to us.  Tony has made some amazing contacts, as have I, and he now has so many job offers it’s simply a case of sitting back and choosing the right one.

I truly believe that things happen for a reason.  Maybe the reason we had to endure such a difficult time was so that we could make contacts, could discover the areas we like and those we don’t and so we could learn to never allow ourselves to be taken advantage of again.  I guess it has helped us to fine tune our dream and realise what things are really important and also that money doesn’t buy happiness.  Throwing money willy nilly at problems doesn’t solve the root cause – although to be honest we had enough common sense to know that one already.

So now we have some time to chill out by the sea and think about what the next stage in our dream will be.  These people have no power over us and we are still the rock solid unit we always were.  I was angry for a while about the way we were treated, but I’ve let that go and moved on.  Staying angry gives my power away and I’m too strong a person to let that happen.  In the 14 years Tony and I have been together I had never seen him angry.  In the last 5 months I saw him angry on many occasions and it is a testament to his strength of character that he never unleashed that anger – I certainly would not have wanted to be in the firing line!  We’ve been tested almost to breaking point, but we’ve come through the darkness and back into the light.  We are a strong family unit and nothing they could have thrown at us would change that.  I’ve shed some tears – a lot of tears – and I’m not ashamed to admit that, but again I’ve now let all that go.  I even wish them well in their business.  With any luck they will also have learnt some valuable lessons, most importantly that if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well – something Tony learnt from his Grandfather when he was very small and has stood him in good stead throughout his life.  So good luck to them. 

We have weathered the storm and it’s time to regain our “peace”.  After only 2 nights in our haven by the sea we finally felt clean again and like a huge weight had been lifted from us.  I will tell you more about this wonderful place in my next post, but for now I will leave you with the view from my bedroom window and you know what?  You can’t put a price on falling asleep listening to the waves gently lapping at the shore.


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

It's here!!!!!

Finally, my long awaited article is here - IN PRINT!!!!!  It's so exciting to see my name and picture in a proper, glossy magazine.  I even have a whole page to myself - how cool is that?  To see my name on the Contributors page is the most amazing thing ever and I am so proud to have achieved this.

The fantastic editor of the magazine kindly sent me a few copies so you can all start bidding on them now!  You never know, my very first piece in print might be worth a fortune one day!  For anyone who might want to subscribe to the magazine or find out more about the area, The Halifax Magazine website is packed with great articles:


So, the question is - what next?  Well, I will continue with my writing.  Now I have found how much I love it, and that other people actually want to read it, there will be no stopping me.  I have another piece in the pipeline for The Telegraph and also for a couple of other travel and expat sites.  I'm also going to be involved in the launch of a new site for those with the travel bug, which is pretty exciting. Plus don't forget my contributions for the fabulous Paris a la mode - all thanks to Perry Paris who gave me my first chance to write for someone other than myself. My blog of course will always be my first love, even if I neglect it from time to time.  It is "my place" to get things of my chest, to say how I feel and to tell it like it is.  The fact that so many people read it now is just amazing and I thank my lucky stars for that fact every day.

However, big changes are afoot here at the moment and my next blog will reveal all - and I mean ALL!!  I will try not to keep you in suspense for too long I promise.  On to bigger and better places - away from the small minded and bitter folk we somehow managed to get stuck with, and yes we all know who you are.

The season is changing, autumn appears to have most definitely arrived.  The temperatures are cooling, the leaves are turning to their autumnal beauty - I love the leaves here at this time of year, we just don't get the amazing reds and golds back in the UK, although it is still a beautiful time of year there too.  The change in season marks a time of change for us in our journey.  A time to take stock and re-evaluate, to see just how far we've come and what fantastic achievements we've made.

Personally, I love this time of year.  It's a time of bounty as harvests are bought in, a time of colour as nature gets ready to rest and re-cooperate.  I love the fresh mornings and the cooler evenings when you just want to snuggle up together around a blazing fire.  But then I guess I am one of those people who can find beauty and happiness in any season.  I love them all and each one has something different and amazing to offer.  I am also one of those strange people who actually like winter!  Frosts and snow?  Bring them on!  I worked for the last two winters outside in all the freezing temperatures and snow - was I cold?  Yes - most definitely from time to time, but I still loved it anyway.  Weather is just weather and bad weather simply means you have the wrong clothes on.

So, my next post will come as soon as possible and our exciting new adventures will be revealed.