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November 2019
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An active life

A few months ago, I was playing hockey and a good friend suffered a heart attack while on the ice. As it happened, it turned out that he was lucky that he was playing hockey, both because of the guys on the teams with medical training who were able to help him, and the proximity of the hospital. I’m pleased to say that Stephane has made a full recovery and is now playing hockey again as part of his rehab.

Stephane talks openly about what happened, and the story has been a wake up call for a good number of people.  It has had a profound effect on a number of people, with some life changing consequences.

Hockey is a demanding sport, especially for those middle aged out of shape sorts, who are pushing their bodies hard for the minute or two whilst on the ice, before sitting on the bench – all after a week sat behind a desk.  I’m not sure if it applies to all, but when I go on the ice, when I go orienteering, or so many other things, I think I should be able to do what I did when I was 18. I have yet to fully accept that the body does not react the same way when you are 40+, and I probably set the expectations too high, and then wonder why I’m out of breath, or why the muscles ache for hours afterwards. The pressures of family and work all eat into the time available to maintain an active life, and finding a sensible balance is not always easy.  Couple that with a perceived, ever increasing, need to regularly turn to a computer or ipad to keep connected on an information or social level, or just for entertainment reduces time further.  Jo will tell you of my growing intolerance to my perception of the ‘stupidity’ of computer games like “Freeflow”, or “Bejewelled”, or even worse those that involve flicking you finger across the screen to ‘run’ and collect coins – while I get there might be some benefits to memory, the only physical exercise is the movement of one or two fingers – really!!

My second concern relates not to me, but to Millie and Sophie. Is it a dad thing that says kids need to be active and out playing all the time? Is it rose coloured glasses that means memories of childhood include playing out in the street with friends, the bike races around the roads, the ad hoc soccer or cricket in the local field, the games of Acky 1,2,3 etc etc, with some homework getting in the way? Is it that girls really  just want to sit and read all the time? It seems crazy to me to be demanding that Millie and Sophie get out of the house and play – Go, go out and play, go and have some fun, call your friends, get on your bikes, just do something that gets you active! Shouldn’t I be calling them to come in to set the table, or because homework needs to be done?

I’m not expecting Millie and Sophie to be the next Olympians, but I do want them to have a level of fitness and stamina that enables them to enjoy sports and activities, through which they will develop important like skills such as communication, empathy, team work and leadership and a desire to be the best they can be.  Most importantly though I want them to have fun, and enjoy a full and active life, grasping the opportunities presented to them with both hands, and giving each one a try. Having tried it, they can either decide yes, they liked and want to do more, or no, I’m glad I tried but it is not for me. Just seize the opportunity and don’t let life pass you by.

Oh for a simpler more active life! But hang on, who is deciding what we do, and how we spend our time? That’s right we are, we have the ability to make a choice and to do things differently. Maybe that’s easier for me to do. After Stephane’s heart attack, I got that medical check I’d been putting off, I’ve improved my diet and started to get towards a healthier weight. I look for those opportunities to be active. I now walk to the station each day, and run up the stairs. I look to get out on my bike or to go for a run when I can. The challenge now is to keep it up and not to relapse into the old habits.

For Millie and Sophie, they have a choice , and we will keep asking them to make that choice. Are they ready to grasp the enormity of the choice, maybe not. So I’m on a mission to cajole, to get them active, to teach them fun ways to be active and to give the opportunities. This is to be a summer of change – wish me luck, I think we might be going the long way round!


Local Wildlife

We may not have the “big” wildlife on Montreal island, that you get elsewhere in Canada (moose and bears are pretty rare around here!), but the little ones still make their presence known.

Around Easter time we heard scratching in the attic above our bedroom. We got the local pest control guy out to check it out…only to find that a mama raccoon had smashed her way through the soffits into our attic and had made a nest for her babes. Mama was quite an aggressive raccoon by all accounts, and did not want to move. A tin or sardines didn’t work on her, and she even managed to smash her way from the one attic space into the other to move her nest to a “safer” place (at least it meant that we could sleep again at night).

In the end, a good old dose of loud rock music did the trick – apparently she’s not a fan of meatloaf! The next day, we found her moving her babes, one at a time, from our attic to the new nest she found elsewhere. Millie managed to video her taking one of the five away…if you click on the link underneath you can see her with it in it’s mouth:



Chocolate and Crisps!


I never thought I’d get excited about a packet of cheese and onion crisps, but five years in Canada does strange things to you! For my birthday this year, Millie and Sophie visited the local English Store, Bramble House. You can see my present in the photo. Teabags, crisps, “proper” chocolate and pickled eggs…what more can a girl ask for??!!!

birthday present

I guess you need to be an expat to really understand how special this is…

C’est la vie

We’re living in interesting times in Quebec. There is a relatively new minority government, the Parti Quebecois, trying to drive that separatists wedge between the Province and the Federal government. The Parti Quebecois exist for one reason – separation from Canada – an independant Quebec. As you would expect they blame the state of the economy on the previous administration and the Federal bodies, and claim there isn’t enough money to go around.  There is a lot that needs to be sorted in Quebec, and I can’t help but think there are more important things to resolve than whether Quebec is in or out of Canada.Bill 14 Protest,

Given the state of the infrastructure, the lack of family doctors, the aging population, etc etc, one would think that language issues would be at the bottom of the list when it comes to things to be resolved. But no, not in Quebec. Instead it is right up there as one of the first pieces of legislation that the new government wants to introduce. Why you might ask? Well as far as I can see it has nothing to do with enhancing life in Quebec, instead it is about eroding the rights of anglophones, in the hope that they leave Quebec, and hence improve the chances of a ‘Yes’ vote to separation, when they finally announce the next referendum. Some highlights from the new law include:

  • reducing the number of students who are eligible to be taught mainly in English
  • reinforcing the laws of the language police to check that french is being used in businesses and shops etc
  • making all businesses with 26 employees or more work in french (the number is currently 50 employees)

When all of the above is coupled with the existing deconian measures, it appears to have two simple aims. Reduce the human rights of anglophones, and keep the population of Quebec ignorant of the english language, and that there is a world outside of Quebec.

To me it seems such a shame and missed opportunity. Quebec and Montreal in particular have a wonderful opportunity in my mind. The fusion of English and French in Montreal is really quite amazing. The chance to be bi-lingual is so much higher in Montreal than in most others major cities around the world. If every child from Kindergarden upwards was immersed in French and English, they would have skills for life. I only have to look at us, to see the impliations. We thought we were doing the right thing when we came to Montreal by sending Millie and Sophie to Christmas Park School. We thought sending them to an english school would help them make the transition from the UK to Canada. We thought it would be an easier introduction to french, as  it was notionally as 50% english/50% french school. In hindsight we got it wrong, we should have sent them to a french school from day one. It would have been hard, and there would have been tears, but it would have been the right decision. Why? well after 3 years at Christmas Park School, Millie and Sophie had some knowledge of french but weren’t fluent. They would default to english at every opportunity. Whilst the french was taught better than it would have been in the UK, it wasn’t the best way of learning the language. So after 3 years, we moved Millie and Sophie to Ecole St Remi, the french school next door. Instantly their french has improved, and they are fluent speakers, and ever improving written french. They have even passed the entrance exams in french to attend one of the good French private high schools in downtown Montreal from September. They have english at home, but are immersed in french at school. This immersion is key in my mind. The only reason they are not completely fluent is the fact that they were not immersed at an earlier age. When this is compared to me, I really struggle. I started from having being taught limited french in the UK, and then whilst I have had lessons whilst in Canada, my work and home life is in an english environment. The reality is I started to late, and my only hope of improving is to expose myself to the french language on a daily basis, and become as immersed as I can. (Not always that easy when there are deadlines to be hit, and for me to work efficiently means working in english). Trying to learn a new language when over 40, is much harder than when you are at a pre-school age. We want Millie and Sophie to be fluent in french and english, so that if they choose to live and work in Quebec they can, but also they have wider opportunities to live and work globally should they desire. By being bi-lingual it will help them and it will help Quebec.

I should caviate this by saying that the reason it works for us, is that having english as a first language, means that the girls learn english at home, but have the french immersion at school. This is vital, because the quality of english taught in the french schools is poor. Did you know the plural of sheep is sheeps? So as an anglophone family we want our girls to go to french school, and if we were a francophone family, I would want our girls to go to an….. wait for it…. english school. But does Quebec allow this – no. Unless you are part of an ever decreasing minority who have eligibility to the english school system, by law you have to attend school in french – mais oui!

An interesting twist to all the above, is that it is almost always the english language which is blamed for the demise of the french language in Quebec. This is despite the influx of chinese and asian immigrants who bring their own languages and cultures. In many ways their human rights are protected, whilst the rights of anglophones are diminished. It is also in spite of the fact that the statistics show that french is being used to the same degree if not more in the workplace than before. For me, the focus is wrong, the governement efforts should be looking to encourage investment in Quebec, not put up barriers; they should focus on the really big issues and get a long term plan in place for sorting the infrastructure and health care – if Parti Quebecois wants to retain power then these actions would help them do so. All the talk of languages is a side issue that just drives divisions within communities for now healthy reason.

All I can say is thank god for hockey, because if one think brings Quebecors together it is a successful Canadiens team, and with the team having exceeded expectations so far and having made the playoffs this year, we’re all hoping for a long run – Go Habs Go!

Stepping down now, until next time.



Classe Neige

Last week, Sophie and I went away with school for 3 days and 2 nights. We went to le P’tit Bonheur, an outdoors camp. We went on the Monday and we came back on the Wednesday. When we got there, we met the monitors – Bleus, Delta, Alter, Imagine and Gauther.

We did all of the following activites:

  • Cross-country skiing
  • Life in the forest
  • Bird watching
  • Orientation
  • Snow-shoeing
  • Walk to the cabins
  • Games
  • Ringette
  • Skating
  • Tubing
  • Camp fire
  • Walk at night with flames
  • Gang show

It was really fun. But the first night Sophie, Rebeka (a friend of ours), Anne-Sophie (another friend of ours) and I did not get to sleep until 4 o’clock because of the noise coming from the room next to ours. Sophie and I had Alter as a monitor.

The second night we all went to bed early and slept like logs. We were all very sad to leave.


Boy, it’s cold!!!

We have to admit to having a little smile (well, quite a laugh actually) when we read comments on Facebook from friends about how cold it has been recently in the UK, and just how much snow there has been. Really??? Let me update you on our last month…

On December 27th, the day that Doug’s parents were flying back to the UK, Montreal had a record dump of snow. 45cm in a day to be precise. Now that really IS a large dump of snow. Actually, I have to admit at this point to having gotten my car stuck while driving down the road and having to phone Doug to come dig me out (oops!). I knew I should have taken the 4×4 that day. It was the first time in five winters that I’ve done that, though, so I can’t be doing too badly.

After that, things got very mild. We couldn’t understand it…the calm before the storm, maybe? Well, that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Last Sunday, we were hit with weather from the arctic. This past week we’ve seen windchill temperatures fall to -41C. We’ve had these temperatures before, but not continuously. Just to put it into context…the insides of your nose (yes, the snot!) freezes at around -15C. That’s when we know it’s cold. Breathing in while walking outside last week I could feel the insides of my nose sticking together…not something I really want to repeat very often. It’s also the first time I’ve taken the girls to ringuette and have been glad to get inside the arena to get warm.

Luckily, we’re back to around -14C today. It is feeling positively tropical!

Scarlett and Mr. Jinx

Scarlett and Mr.Jinx are the cats that we recently adopted. They are very timide. We got them on December 16th 2012. When they came home, they lived in mummy and daddy’s bedroom. They kept mummy and daddy awake all night long for at least a week. Then we left the door open so they could come out and explore. Now we have kicked out them out of mummy and daddy’s room. But all night long they are running around the housecrazy destroying everything they can. Also we have noticed that Scarlett is always so hungry and if she can eats all the food before Mr. Jinx can have any of it so that is fun as well. Here is a couple of pictures of them. Scarlett is the grayish coulored one and Mr. Jinx is black.


mr jinxmr jinx2    mr jinx3 S and Jscarlett scarlett2 scarlett3

Christmas Letter

Sorry it’s later than planned but here’s a link to our 2012 Christmas letter.


Time to be thankful

Just realised the time since the last post… time has raced by, it will be Christmas soon!

As I sit down to write this post it’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, so Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

There really is so much to be thankful for. We’ve been blessed with the most amazing weather this summer, and now as the trees turn red, gold, yellow and brown, mother nature puts on a show that is simply mind blowing. Fall is such a pretty time of the year, I just love it. And then as the temperatures start to drop, it’s a sign that the snow will be with us soon, and that means skating in the garden, snow forts, skiing, and snow shoeing – another magical season.

We can be thankful for our four years in Canada, and hopefully many more to come. The last four have passed so quickly, it does not feel like it is four years since we packed up our house and watched our belongings heading up the road in a large orange container only to see them a month later in Canada. In a few weeks, we will be packing up the boxes again, but this time to move into the house we’ve bought in Beaconsfield, having sold our house in Solihull. Our time as tenants will come to an end, to be replaced with Jo’s “To do” list of tasks to be completed around the house. There will be a few weeks of chaos as we get a new kitchen fitted, but after that it will be nice to be in our own house.

We’re thankful that we obtained our permanent residency in Canada, and are now on a path to becoming citizens. We love being in Montreal, and are trying to embrace the french language. Millie and Sophie are enjoying their last year at ecole St Remi, and are now on the journey to finding a high school. A sure sign they are growing up fast. Their french is still getting better at a faster rate that Jo and mine – we put it down to the younger mind being able to soak it up!

We’re thankful for the opportunities, Canada and life gives us. The chance to play hockey, Ringuette, soccer, orienteering, canoeing, skiing – the list could go on. The chance to go to a cottage for the weekend, laze by or in a lake, to fishing and paddle through the early morning mist, or just sit with a good book and soak up the peace and quiet and sunshine.

We’re thankful for our friends and the people we meet and that live around us. We’re thankful we live in an open and democratic society. We may moan about some of the political decisions, but we have to be thankful that Canada is such an open and welcoming society, and not as oppressive as some other countries and their political systems or lack of.

In summary – Life is good – and for that we are truely thankful!

Olympic dilemma

So the past few days have thrown up an interesting dilemma in our house. Who to support during the Olympics – Canada or Team GB?

Let’s take the easy part of the question first. When there is only Canada or Team GB it is easy, we can support the country being represented. However it becomes more challenging when they are both taking part in the same event.

So Canada or Team GB? Would we or should we pass the cricket test?

Some facts to set the scene:

  • Jo, Millie and Sophie born in England, Doug born in Uganda
  • So Doug and Jo have lived more than 30 something years in UK, but 4 in Canada, Millie and Sophie have lived 4 of their 11 years in Canada.
  • Millie and Sophie don’t recognise ‘God save the Queen’ but will sing “Oh Canada’ at the top of their voices
  • “Football” is now called “soccer”, and there is only one kind of hockey and it’s not played on grass

The big challenge came in the women’s soccer on last Friday afternoon, Canada vs Team GB – who to support? The loyalities have been split, Jo has supported team GB, but wanting Canada to do well, whereas Doug has supported Canada, and hoping that team GB do well (so long as there’s no Canadian competing against them),  and then Millie and Sophie have supported team Canada, and don’t really seem to care too much about Team GB. the one common thought is ‘it’s good to beat the US’, but maybe that’s the Canadian coming through!

Is this support right or wrong? I’ve thought back to when we were in the UK, and all the comments about if you live in the UK you should support the UK, so I guess that if we live in Canada we should support Canada – right? But then I think it also goes a bit deeper, if we are living in Canada we need to respect the laws, and the Canadian values and integrate ourselves into Canadian society, rather than thinking that the UK way is always right and better than anywhere else.

I think, on the whole, we have adopted to a Canadian way of life. But then maybe it is relatively easy coming from the UK. However Quebec is different to the rest of Canada, and hence it is also right that we do understand the importance of the french language, and all that brings with it. It may not be easy but we need to embrace the french language as much as we possibly can. Millie and Sophie have the advantage here and are now thriving in a french school, and could be considered bi-lingual. It is somewhat harder for my older brain to learn and process the french language.  So it may sound strange but we feel part of Canada, but still have some way to go to really feeling part of Quebec, but that is just down to the confidence of speaking french in the areas away from the West Island.

One aspect of life in Quebec which we have embraced is the love of life, and of sport and being active. The girls swim, play soccer and ringuette (can’t get more Canadian than ringuette), Jo kick boxes, whilst Doug tries to go orienteering when his knee allows it, and swims, cycles, canoes  and plays hockey.  The weather and climate seems to allow a more outdoor life in both summer and winter. Yes, when it is -10 and sunny, I just can’t wait to get outside to ski or enjoy the experience of being outdoors. Maybe this helps to explain why we see athletes from Quebec winning a good share of the medals for team Canada.

I guess there is also an issue of time, and the longer we live in Canada, the stronger our ties will be with Canada and weaker with the UK. For Millie and Sophie this is definately true, as most of their strongest memories now come from Canadian experiences.

We’re all convinced that staying in Canada is the right decision, so my final conclusion is “Go Canada Go!” and we wish Team GB well, so long as you don’t beat the Canadian.