Have cat … will travel

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Whilst some will consider moving to another country in itself a highly stressful experience, I’ve got to say, moving a 19 year old cat (who’s never been much further than the back door) across a continent has proved to be the most ‘cat’-astrophically stress inducing process by far.

For those up to speed on developments, she’s made it.  She arrived into Calgary airport on a direct flight, in a purpose-made wooden crate, and was unimpressed by the surroundings and the fact that her usual warm bed had been substituted for mere strips of newspaper.

It’s been a long process.  Right from the start, I was reluctant to leave her in the UK and indeed, the local vet saw no reason why she shouldn’t fly.  That decision made, it was left to finding an animal transporter who would successfully get her from ‘A’ to ‘B’.  And, I found an absolutely excellent shipper who solely transports small live animals across the world – usually, New Zealand and Australia; so the prospect of sending a cat to Canada for them was not a big deal in the slightest.  They also kindly let her ‘board’ with them for the last 6 weeks whilst we found somewhere to live and get ourselves sorted, regularly keeping me updated with how she was and the latest news.

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My biggest concern was the weather.  And by weather, I mean snow and sub-zero temperatures.  It didn’t help to discover that there are no direct flights to Edmonton from the UK after the end of October.  This means a round trip of 588km to collect her from the ‘local’ airport in Calgary, 3hrs driving each way.  Manageable if the weather is good, but with snow now on the ground and me being slightly new to the ‘driving on ice’ experience, I was nervous about the journey to say the least.  I also had to take the 3 ‘kids’ who viewed the whole saga as an adventure.  Unlike me, their only concern was having enough sugary snacks to last the journey and whether their iPads would hold out for the full trip there and back in keeping them entertained.  I did suggest we could adopt a more traditional style and perhaps talk and spot things on the roads (which was met with rather withering looks from all 3), and I finally conceded that virtually driving in a straight line between Edmonton and Calgary on one road, in a prairie region probably didn’t offer the full range of stimulation that would last them for 6 hours.

Anyhow, I had a stroke of luck.  The weather held for me and the journey was long but straightforward.

Having never transported a cat – or any animal for that matter before, I wasn’t sure how this was done.  Travelling as ‘cargo’, they are managed by a ‘cargo’ team for that specific airline.  Finding my way to Calgary from Edmonton was a piece of cake compared to navigating the whereabouts of the Cargo office at the airport – which was completely away from any passenger terminal or the usual entry points I’m familiar with.  Reams of documentation are required and upon arrival at the cargo office, you wait for the animal to be unloaded, received by the cargo team and all required documentation completed.  This takes about 1 hour after the plane has landed.

Once you’re provided with the landing documentation, you physically go to Customs to get clearance.  This is held with a border official who requires considered responses to all questions posed and checks all the papers to assess the validity of bringing an animal into the country.  If they are satisfied, you’ll get clearance stamped on the papers – plus relieved of $31 dollars.  Goodness knows the protocol for what happens if they refuse to sign …

Back to the Cargo office, the Customs papers with the ‘clearance’ stamp enable the team to charge me a further $55 dollars and I’m finally issued with the last piece of paper which allows me to obtain (and see) the cat.  Moving to another room, and what can only be described as a warehouse complete with JCB’s and mechanical equipment hoisting goods around, you present this final piece of paper and they offer over the cat.

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For the price of the shipment across the waters, you’d be under the impression that the cat is treated to first class luxurious seating and the full use of a personal butler.  I suspect the reality is more along the lines of being placed alongside the passenger luggage in the hold with not so much as a touch screen TV in sight.

So, after a further 3 hours in the car to our new home, she’s now in situ, favouring a bed in the back of a cupboard where it’s warm and she’s left to herself.  She’s eaten lots and been out for a quick look around and walk around the house – before taking herself back to her domain and catching up on some serious catnaps.

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It was worth it and lovely to see her back with us.  However, for anyone considering doing something similar, I’ll warn you now that it’s easier giving birth …

Happy New Home

Thompson Place HouseIn terms of speed and efficiency, it’s 4 weeks since our arrival in Canada and we have moved into our new house.  Not bad going considering the vast paperwork required (see previous blog), the weather (snow and sub-zero temperatures), and the fact we’ve had to start from scratch in viewing properties, applying for a mortgage and securing bank lending.  It’s been worth it and yes, it’s lovely to be in a house once again with plenty of space to roam and for the kids to make as much noise and mess as only kids do.

And we’ve not had it tough at all.  In terms of accommodation, ‘husband’ secured us a serviced apartment in downtown Edmonton which proved to be absolutely ideal and perfect for what we needed in the initial weeks of our arrival.  In fact, I would advocate its use for holidays and short vacations, especially for those with kids who want the facilities of separate bedrooms and a kitchen thrown in – all the benefits of being in a hotel, but with additional facilities and the freedom to eat and drink what you like without any of the inflated prices.  Bonus features included access to a gym and swimming pool which the kids thought fantastic.  The new house comes without such lavish items …

It’s still nice to finally be in our own home.  For those of you who have diligently kept pace and read my previous blogs, will know that our goods in the UK were shipped on a container in the middle of October (to get up to date click here).  I’ve received word (with some relief), that they’ve now made it across the Atlantic and are currently being transported by train from Montreal and due to arrive in Edmonton early next week.  Perfect timing considering we hadn’t even viewed any properties in Canada when our stuff was sent.  Let’s just say our new home is rather sparsely furnished at the present time – with only 4 beds (thanks to Ikea) constructed and in place.  There are 2 new additions – a television in the basement and a new sofa which was delivered today – which all three kids are currently road-testing.

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So what are the features of our Canadian house compared to the UK, I hear you cry….?

Space.

Space.

And even more space.

Those who have astutely been reading this blog will have spotted the reference to a ‘basement’ which now has a sofa and TV residing in it.  This is in addition to the utility room, bathroom and bedroom which is also down there.  A massive difference to being in the UK and probably bigger than most people’s flats alone.  It’s a wonderful space and something which is a complete novelty.

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Then there’s the bathrooms.  How many sinks and toilets does one family need?  Answer: clearly, like handbags and shoes, there can never be too many.  I can just imagine a few of you thinking, ‘she’ll regret it when there’s all the cleaning to do’ …. very true.  But I’ve also got 3 female kids who are going to be trained in the art of maintaining a clean space.  Unfortunately, I suspect the training programme will fall on deaf ears with ‘husband’ who will remain a lost cause ……

My kitchen (notice the change of personal tense with regards to this particular room in the house), has a monster fridge – the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on American sitcoms, a waste disposal, 2 ovens and a walk-in pantry which I’m just having to concentrate on filling entirely (has to be done).  I’m also a reformed recycling nerd who, having spent the last 8 years living in a property with antiquated disincentives with regard to conserving waste – I’m embracing this with a vengeance.  The kids think it highly entertaining my aspiration to minimise all general rubbish whatsoever and are wondering how long this will last for.  As for me, as with most things in life – I’m in it for the long term …

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What about my 19-year old cat I hear you cry?  Has she made it across the Atlantic?  Well – not yet.  She’s been luxuriating in a boarding cattery at a specialist animal transporters for the last 5 weeks and is due to fly into Calgary Airport next Monday on an Air Canada flight.  I’m not sure what she’ll make of it at all having never been further than the back door for the majority of her life, let alone the sub-zero temperatures, but she’s got a thick coat and I’m sure she’ll adjust.  If nothing else, I can’t wait to see her and be reunited.  Unfortunately, my husband isn’t of the same mindset ….

And there’s the bikes.  Yes, these were culled from the original 9 in our garage back home, and said ‘husband’ has been pining for their return on a daily basis.  He’s stopped eating, can’t sleep, is thinking about them constantly …. do you think now’s the best time to mention there were only 2 that made it onto the container?

🙂

It’s cold Jim, but not as we know it

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Whenever I mentioned to anyone that we were relocating to Edmonton, Canada, the first comment invariably made was along the lines of, ‘you do realise they have snow there for 6 months of the year?’  This was then often followed by ‘and it’s extremely cold – minus 40 in the Winter’.

Both points are absolutely true, and yes, the snow has indeed arrived along with the sub-zero temperatures.  In the last 2 weeks, we’ve gone from being in the positive mid to late teens, through to minus mid to late teens – and a windchill that has seen it -24 on a few occasions.  That said, it’s hard to describe what this is like unless you experience it – it’s like nothing I’ve known before.  It’s wonderful, yet cold – although I’m conscious that it’s still a novelty at this point!

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The skies are often blue – pure blue, with not a single cloud in them, and the sun shining.  On the occasional day, there’s cloud cover – usually when it’s due to snow, but more often than not (so far at least), it’s been clear blue skies.  The temperatures are so low that there isn’t any rain anymore, just snow.  And now the temperatures have dropped and the first snow has fallen, it stays where it is and gradually compacts down on the surfaces as ice on the pavements and roads.  I’m used to seeing snow turn quickly into a mucky brown slush in the UK, but this never happens either here.  It stays crystal white – even after footprints and boots have trodden in it.

The air is so dry and cold, that you get ice particles in the air which shimmer and glisten in the light – it’s truly beautiful.  The trees stay covered in snow and ice crystals – and are mesmerising to look at and reminiscent of all the picture postcard scenes seen on Christmas cards in the Winter.

And talking of Winter – this hasn’t arrived yet.  It’s Autumn here – and Winter is still to come.  Everyone talks about February being the coldest month – and with the temperatures already plummeting, we’ve procured all manner of clothing and apparel that keeps us snug whilst outside.  Lots of layers is key, and anything left exposed feels the cold pretty quickly.

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Driving has also taken some getting used to.  Luckily, our new Jeep arrived the day before the snow so it’s been both fortuitous, but also a steep learning curve for someone (me!) who’s not been used to driving much in the snow and ice.  I’ve progressed though.  On Day 1 – I accept – I was as slow as a snail.  Driving with trepidation in the snow and on the ice, much to the disgruntlement of the locals who were extremely polite and patient – no honking of horns or gesticulating gestures which I would expect to find back in England.  It’s been a baptism of fire as I’ve had to drive and navigate myself around in order to deposit kids off to various locations and obtain food and necessaries for the house.  My confidence has grown and now – 2 weeks on – I’m driving on the sheet ice (which has become the new tarmac) with greater confidence and assurance.  There have been no minor mishaps, traffic accidents or vehicle breakdowns – key KPI’s from my perspective and a success story, I’m sure you’ll agree!

It’s also interesting to see that life continues and nothing stops for the sake of sub-zero temperatures or a foot of snow.  Nothing can afford to – not when it lasts for 6 months of the year.  Traffic flows easily, there maybe the occasional bump on the roads (usually as the extra stopping distances required haven’t been factored in), but no great inconvenience.  Gritters grit the roads and life continues as before.

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Even the school has a policy that above -20, the kids will continue to play out at ‘recess’.  Below this (including windchill), the kids stay indoors.  But they need to be hardy, and make sure they always wear hats, gloves, thick coats, and waterproof boots.  It’s one of those learning points in life that you’ll only ever forget one of these items once – and you never do it again, as it’s so cold.

Walking to school in a morning, the school has a traffic light system displayed on the doors depending on the weather and temperature.  Below -20, it’s a ‘red’ system and the kids can access the school and wait in the gym until school officially opens.  Above -20, it’s a ‘green’ system, and they have to wait outside until the school doors are open.

You quickly acclimatise to the temperature though.  It’s warm today.  At only -8, I’ve put a thinner coat on and haven’t needed a hat.  Like life – everything’s relative.

Winter when it hits will be interesting …

Paperwork, paperwork and ….. yes, even more paperwork

Paperwork

My goodness.  If anyone had told me the extent to which moving to another country would incur the volume of paperwork and means of identification that we’ve had to show over the last few weeks, I wouldn’t have believed them.  There’s also no consistency, so it’s akin to a big game of ‘Guess Who’ and you have to try and predict which forms of identification and paperwork will suffice for which organisation.

For some, it’s obvious.  On entry into Canada, we had to provide a ream of paperwork on official forms, with every type of UK identification you can think of, along with employer letters and bank statements, payroll slips and birth certificates.  But this you expect, and equally, you’re reassured that the authorities are taking all measures to ensure who they accept into the country are both eligible and authentic.  How did we slip through the net then I hear you shout …..

So, upon entry into a new country we were awarded a work permit and visitor permits for a set duration of time.  Another piece of documentation to add to our set – yes, but an absolute essential item, as without it you can’t get any further.  Imagine snakes and ladders – this would be the first snake you’d go down without being able to present the official permits and you’d remain there until one was obtained.

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Moving on, we then had to obtain a Social Identification Number (or SIN) as it’s commonly referred to – rather like a National Insurance number in the UK.  It’s unique to you, and it validates your entitlement to then register for a range of social services and healthcare, but also importantly, for those working in Canada, any Canadian employer isn’t able to pay you without having this.  (By the way, no one tells you the critical path of obtaining all these various forms of identification – it’s very much a sense of luck that you manage to get them in the right order).  This is another piece of critical paper that you mustn’t lose and is required for further services down the line …. (not that I realised it at the original time).

Next up, was opening a bank account.  I’m informed all banks take a different approach to the identification required – luckily, ours accepted all of the previously obtained documents above – plus a UK passport, driving licence, birth and marriage certificates to prove who we were.  It’s a good job we were extremely well prepared and purposely travelled with every known document we possessed.  We had also tracked down all documents we thought we may need, which covered every possible eventuality before departing the UK  – just goes to show, without doing this, we would definitely have come unstuck.  Think of Monopoly – you cannot pass go …

MonopolyWe’ve also had to buy both a house and a car.  Let me just say, that whilst both have required paperwork, the volumes of which even ‘The Hobbit’ would be classed as a ‘light read’ in comparison – on reflection, it’s been harder to secure a car in Canada with financing over a 3 year period than it has been to get a mortgage for the next 25 years.  I kid you not.

You get caught in a catch 22 situation.  You need to build up a credit history to be able to apply for credit cards and smaller loans – even ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes for sofas – but they won’t accept you as you’ve got no previous credit in the country. It’s no good showing UK letters from banks and previous insurers about your credibility as they don’t count for anything in a different country.  We’ve often had to adopt an approach of hauling all manner of documents out of our bags and asking them to peruse which they’d like to accept from the vast ream available in the hope that there’s the critical 1 or 2 hidden amongst them which offers the assurances required.

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And just when you think you’ve navigated your way through what can only be described as a minefield, there’s always something which presents an additional hurdle which wasn’t foreseen.  For example, we managed to buy a car at the end of last week, and once all the documents have been signed and finance agreed, you can’t take the vehicle without going to a ‘Registry Office’ and obtaining a registration plate for the vehicle.  Simple you may think.  To do this, you have to show proof of identity with a driving licence … an Albertan driving licence which also forms the basis for your car insurance as well as a registration plate for the car.  This we didn’t have.  Yes,  we could offer UK driving licenses and in the end, these have been surrendered and temporary Albertan driving licenses provided in lieu of the official ones being dispatched to us over the next few weeks.  It’s an offence in Alberta to carry 2 driving licences – you can only have one, and can only hold a UK licence in the country for upto 12 months anyhow.  It was with a bit of trepidation that we handed these over – but the good news is, we secured our car in the process.  Some things you just have to sacrifice in battle in order to win the war.

Luckily, there are some surprises and things which you expect to prove difficult which have been amazingly easy and quick to secure.  Take enrolling the kids into schools – this was a 5 minute telephone conversation followed by a visit to the school and demonstrating we were moving into the designated area along with birth certificates and school reports.  Fantastic!  This also meant the kids were only out of any education for a week – not bad considering.

Tomorrow, we finally move into our Canadian house and become officially Canadian residents.  Bit of a milestone.  Not bad for Week 4 since our arrival … the saga continues 🙂

Education, education, education …

SchoolThe kids have now completed their first full week at school and started their second week earlier this morning by bounding through the doors with excitement.  They’ve had a culture shock of a week – but in a really nice way, and a way which has seen them all unanimous in their views that they ‘really like it over here’.  Bit of a relief if I’m honest – I had no back up plan should they have pronounced they wanted to return to the UK and resume their education in their local primary school at home!

All 3 kids are at the same school.  It was built in 2010 and caters for Kindergarten (Reception class in the UK) through to Grade 9 (Year 9 equivalent).  It’s a larger school as a result – nearly 800 students, and there are lots of classes for the same year groups.  The nice thing is that they stay with their same class for most of the time so getting to know other kids is easier than being dumped in a class that changes constantly with the curriculum.  For the UK, this is a school which is like having Primary plus half a Secondary School included (or Middle School for those who live in areas where these exist).  I’ve got to say, I wondered about the larger school being too overwhelming, but it’s proved not to be the case and also, has the added benefit that my oldest kid gets to stay with her sisters for the next 3 years without having to change school again which was an important feature.

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It’s all non-uniform with very little rules about what you can and cannot wear.  Grades 1 – 3 have a milk option (I remember these from my days at Primary school although they were taken away quite a long time ago) – and not just an option of ‘plain’ milk, oh no – ‘chocolate’ milk no less is also offered.  I’m putting money that my middle kid just goes for the latter option every day ….

The timings are extremely exact – and a longer day than in the UK too.  This comes to fruition in Summer where they finish for the summer holidays a month ahead of their friends in the UK.  As someone said to me last week, ‘there’s not much point having holidays when the snow is thick on the ground for 6 months of the year – we may as well spend the time indoors educating the kids’.  Fair point.

They start at 8.20am (in the UK it was 8.55am), and finish at 3.01pm (in the UK it was 3.05pm).  Lunch/recess is between 11.17am – 12.09pm and they have the option of staying at school under supervised care (which you pay extra for), or taking the opportunity to walk home and have lunch there.  All mine are staying for the time being – mostly so they can make friends and play on the extremely good playground which has slides, swings, climbing frames, and numerous other items which the kids absolutely love.  These fabulous playgrounds feature in all the schools over here – and all look new and are well maintained, painted in bright colours.  There are no security fences – the community gets to also use the facilities when the school kids aren’t on them, and parents are welcomed with open arms into the school and the classrooms.

St Albert Playground

It caught me by surprise at how open the school is.  Don’t get me wrong, there are security policies in place so it is ‘safe’ for the kids, but it’s a completely different level of trust and openness that takes me back to when I was at school.  It’s much more conducive to education and supporting the kids too and you forget how wrapped in regulation and security the UK has become that only by moving and experiencing somewhere completely different, do you realise how constraining it is.

All the teachers welcome direct email communication, visits to classrooms, and spend time putting daily updates on the school intranet site – to which all students and parents have direct access to.  Homework and all school news is also put on there – there’s very little physical paper.  Monthly progress updates on every student are posted by their year teachers and sent to their parents to assess progress.  It’s heavily technology driven – all the Grade 6 students and above are expected to have laptops which they bring to school and work on.  Mobile phones and iPads are allowed with the teachers permission and there is certainly a degree of freedom for the students which is refreshing and you can see they thrive on it.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a loud voice or shout in any of the corridors – everyone just gets on with doing what they do and the way they’re expected to do it.  It’s lovely.

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My oldest kid had a band concert on day 3 of her arrival – she learnt 6 of the pieces that were being played by her year group and joined in on the trumpet.  She has been learning the cornet in the UK, but it’s not a common instrument in Canada so the trumpet is going to take over.  She also did a written test on her first day and passed with flying colours – one advantage of moving from the UK with a curriculum that sees kids start school at 4 so puts them slightly ahead of their Canadian counterparts.

My youngest has just turned 5 and as such, has started Kindergarten – but they only do half days, not the full days which she’s been used to.  It’s not a hardship – she’s already enjoying the half day she gets to spend just by herself with me and we’ve been exploring the various activities and things to do during that time together.

Everyone is extremely friendly – all say ‘hello’ and have welcomed us into the school with open arms.  It’s a true joy walking in there every day.  One thing I’ve noticed, is that the assistant principal is always outside on the school crossing patrol every morning and every afternoon – says ‘hello’ to every student and parent and knows all by name.  It certainly makes for a wonderful atmosphere and if this is symbolic of their next 3 years at school in Canada – the kids are loving it and can’t wait.

And that’s all that matters 🙂

 

The difference a week can make!

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Welcome to Canada!  Well, this time last week we were already on a plane headed to Edmonton, Canada from Heathrow, London.  It was a rather traumatic week and was akin to the last 400 metres of a marathon when the pace picks up and there’s a sprint for the finishing line.  We made it and the flight was boarded and landed 9 hours later in sunny Edmonton.

Our first stop was immigration and for anyone else thinking about applying for a work permit upon point of entry – absolutely.  There’s a bit of a wait, but providing you’ve got the required documentation and lashings of patience, you’ll get through eventually with the signed permits and approval to stay in the country.  Bit of a relief as there was no ‘Plan B’ if we weren’t successful …..

We hired a car and headed towards a service apartment which we’ve booked for a month – so all’s good.

So, the checklist upon arrival looked like this:

1.  Place to stay – tick

2.  Transport obtained – tick

3.  Husband in a job – tick

Thompson Place House

Day 1 was already planned and 10 properties to view with a ‘Realtor’ were scheduled in diaries.  It was just me and the 3 kids – with the agreed remit from husband that we ‘could select whichever property we liked’ (direct quote).

It was fascinating going around all the houses and my oldest kid became a godsend, as she was busily scribbling down notes about the good points and negative aspects of each property which after 10 – all became rather a blur!!!  The biggest observation was the sheer amount of space compared to UK houses.  There’s loads of it – and rooms upon rooms that you have to find a use for.  Bathrooms are aplenty, and the number of washbasins has a ratio of 1:1 with the sizes of the bathtubs and showers positively mind-blowing!  I saw some basements with their own gyms, pool rooms, hot tubs, bathrooms, artist rooms, playrooms, cinemas!  Tempting – yes, but the practical reality of housing a lot of this was at the top of my mind.

On the negative side, Canadians seem to enjoy living side by side and directly overlooking one another in the city suburbs.  I’m used to a house which overlooks Cheshire hills and only has 2 neighbours within half a mile.  It was a drawback and several extremely nice properties had to be rejected literally because I didn’t want to be looking into the next door neighbours lounge.  That said, we found a lovely house which will do us proud – and better still, it is vacant and looking for a quick sale.

Day 2 then found us putting an offer in on the preferred house and securing a mortgage broker who would ensure appropriate finance is put in place.

Plan construction

Day 3 had the offer accepted and we have agreed a completion date in 3 weeks time.  I then spent 2 hours queuing for a SIN (Social Insurance Number) which then led me onto yet another building where I had to duly sign up for healthcare.  There’s no getting away from it, these things just have to be done and luckily for me, the 3 kids are extremely patient (probably something to do with the treats I’d taken with me to keep them amenable!).  Day 3 also saw us visiting the Edmonton Keyano Swimming Team who had asked for me to bring our oldest kid as a trial to join one of their squads.  Not only are the facilities absolutely fantastic, but the number of coaches and amount of technical training offered is superb – and she enjoyed every minute.  She’s now enrolled in their Provincial squad and trains with them 6 days a week.

By this point, I now had all the required documents, to enrol the kids in the local school for the house we’re buying.  This was Day 4 – and all the kids were amazed at the newness of the school (it was built in 2010), the size of the playground (lots of climbing frames and swings), and the fact that it takes kids from Kindergarten to Grade 9.  In England, this is like saying from Reception class through to Year 9 at Secondary School  – and for my kids, also means that my oldest doesn’t have to swop to another school in June when she completes Year 6, but gets to stay with her sisters for the next few years.  A great bonus when they’ve just arrived in a new country and they only have each other.

School bus

Day 5 had us purchasing supplies for the kids to use in school – each class has it’s own supply list which you are asked to provide.  This also includes a laptop for the oldest kid, which we’re just hanging fire on until we get a feel for the type of laptops the others are using in her class.  That said, even without this the list is long and the local ‘Staples’ and ‘Walmart’ certainly benefitted from our business!

So, with the house and school secured, Day 6 moved us onto buying a car – a Jeep Wrangler which you can’t get in the UK and well, why not!  The doors, windscreen and roof all come off – and it can traverse any type of terrain known the man – why ever not!  Should just about cope with the snow here then …

Talking of which, upto this point we’ve been lucky with the weather and basking in 21 degrees with blue skies and sun.  Hard to believe then that Day 7 had snow and blizzard like conditions appear!  It was also my oldest kid’s birthday so we took the day off and celebrated with a trip to the cinema and a nice meal.

So, checklist at the end of Week 1?

– House sale agreed – tick

– SIN Number & Healthcare enrolled – tick

– Bank account opened – tick

– Kids enrolled into school – tick

– Car bought – tick

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How funny the difference a week can make?  We’re only 1 week into our Canadian adventure and yet have achieved things that would traditionally take a few months in the UK.  Week 2 sees the kids start school so I’ll let you know how they fare …

🙂