Tag Archives: Immigration

My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day!

One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years.

From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States. While I can’t say for sure if this is true for other countries as well, I hope that all of my readers, Canadian and otherwise, find something that piques their interest on this list.

On one final note, I narrowed this list down to books and authors that I hadn’t heard of at all before I moved up north. This meant leaving out some fabulous writers like L.M. Montgomery and Margaret Atwood simply because so many people across the world have already discovered their work.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

The Stone Angel has actually become one of my favourite books of all time even though Hagar, the main character, was often a pretty unpleasant person to those closest to her. What I enjoyed the most about the storytelling was how real it felt. As I believe I’ve mentioned on this site before, Hagar went through some incredibly difficult experiences throughout her long life. She was treated poorly by both her parents and the much-older man she married as a young adult. It was so interesting to get to know this character and come to understand why she was so stubborn and prickly at the end of her life.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Raising an intersex child can come with some additional challenges, especially for a family that decided to keep this part of their child’s identity top-secret. I knew almost nothing about this topic before I read this book, but I was impressed with the way the author explored everything from how gender identity is formed to how a secret can take on a life of its own.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

It took me a couple of tries to get into this story, but once I did I couldn’t wait to find out what else Saul remembered about his life as he lay dying in a hospice bed. There is something about looking back on one’s life and finally attempting to put all of the pieces together after years of ignoring them that really speaks to me.

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

 I was especially interested in discovering how the three youngest siblings in this tale compared their childhoods. There is something fascinating about seeing all of the similarities and differences siblings will remember when they were raised in the same home. My family only had three children in total, but I’d say that all of us would still describe our childhoods in different ways based on how our family culture evolved as we grew older.

I also enjoyed this peek into Chinatown, Vancouver from so many decades ago. The families who moved to such a faraway place that often rejected them were very brave.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Reading about an eleven-year-old girl being kidnapped in Africa before being sold into slavery in the United States isn’t an easy experience. I can’t recommend this book to anyone who is triggered by violence or sexual assault, but the storyline is well worth the read for everyone else. Aminata was an incredibly brave character. I loved seeing how she changed over the years as well as how her yearning to return home and be with her family again never wavered no matter how many years she spent far away from her birthplace.

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote

Not only is Ivan a gifted storyteller, she’s hilarious as well. I’d especially recommend this book to members of the LGBT+ community who grew up in small towns or anyone who has ever wondered what that experience is like.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

Longterm readers may recognize this author. I’m  a huge fan of his writing, and I’ve talked about his books here several times before. Someday I might have to dedicate an entire post to him.

Calculating God was the first thing I ever read from Robert. At the time, I was quickly growing uninterested in religious themes of any sort in novels, so it took me a while to decide to pick this tale up. I made assumptions about it’s content that turned out to be pretty off the mark. While it did ask questions about the nature of faith and why sentient beings choose to believe a wide variety of things about the existence (or non-existence) of any deity, the vast majority of the plot was actually about a palaeontologist who was stunned when an alien wandered into the Royal Ontario Museum, his workplace, one day and asked for help.

This is the sort of thing I’ve since been recommending to people who might think they’ll never like science fiction. Not only was it an excellent story, it was thought provoking and a smart introduction to my favourite genre as well.

What are your favourite Canadian books? If there are any fellow immigrants or longterm world travellers following this site, what authors were you most excited to discover when you settled into your new country?

How to Celebrate Canada Day Like a Canadian

Today’s post is a little off the beaten path, but I do occasionally enjoy sharing snippets of my life that aren’t related to writing, science fiction, fitness, or mindfulness.

As I discussed in Things Nobody Tells You About Moving to Canada, I’m an immigrant. I was born and grew up in the United States. When I was in my early 20s, I moved to Canada and have called it home ever since.

Don’t tell the Canadians this, but these two countries were so similar that I didn’t experience the kind of culture shock that some immigrants go through when they move to a place that is nothing at all like him. Part of that is due to the fact that Caucasian immigrants are given social privileges that immigrants from other parts of the world don’t get, of course, but part of it is also due to the fact that the U.S. and Canada share a lot in common in general.*

*(Although, if anyone is curious, I might have to write a post about the differences between these two nations one of these days.)

Canadians and Americans generally both speak English. With the exception of a few quirky words like chesterfield and toque, we normally understand each other’s dialects without any issues at all.

The U.S. and Canada have remarkably similar etiquette rules and social customs. It was rare for me to accidentally step on someone’s toes when I first moved to Toronto and began adjusting to the cultural differences that I did notice here.

People in both countries tend to have access to similar sorts of foods throughout the year. While there are a few special foods in each nation that I can’t find when I cross the border, all of the staples in my diet can be found anywhere I might roam in Canada or the U.S.

The weather wasn’t much of a change, either, since Ohio and Toronto are so close to one another geographically speaking. I didn’t have to suddenly trade my entire wardrobe in for one meant for a much hotter (or colder) climate.

With that being said, there was one thing about moving to Canada that surprises me to this day.

You see, I grew up in a very patriotic country. I routinely saw American flags decorating people’s cars, homes, shoes, tattoos, toys,  t-shirts, and assorted foods among many other items.

When the Fourth of July rolled around every summer, many of the people my family knew threw huge barbecues or other backyard parties to celebrate it. Sometimes we might have even attended more than one of them on that long weekend some years due to my father’s prominent role in the community as a minister.

There were always fireworks, both the legal kind that were set off by the city and the semi-legal to illegal types that people sneakily ignited in their backyards off and on during the first week of July. At any other time of the year, I’d assume that a loud popping noise was a car backfiring or, much less likely, gunshots going off. During the week we celebrated Independence Day*,  it was fireworks without a doubt.

*Yes, non-American readers, it’s just as contradictory as it sounds. I have no idea how what should have been a one-day celebration ended up being spread so far, but it did.

The way Americans talked about their country was different as well. I’d often hear people say that we lived in the best place on Earth and that we didn’t know how lucky we were to have all of the freedoms we enjoyed. This wasn’t even necessarily done to be boastful. It was closer to a matter-of-fact response to the thought of our country turning another year older. There was a sense of pride in their voices and body language that couldn’t be ignored. Everyone presumed to know that this was the truth.

It was all such an ordinary part of life that I honestly didn’t think about it twice. I assumed that every country had a similar holiday they seemed to relish just as much as our own.

Patriotism, Canadian Style

Due to these early life experiences, I looked forward to Canada Day earnestly when I first moved up here. It occurred so closely to the Fourth of July that I couldn’t wait to take notes and find out which traditions, if any, might be different between my birth and chosen countries.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the Canadians around me didn’t seem to be all that fussed over Canada Day as the first of July crept closer and closer.

Oh, there were a few advertisements in the local grocery store for barbecue-friendly meal ideas. The Canadians I’d met seemed to be happy to have a day off from work and school as well.

But they weren’t exuberant, and the Canadian flag wasn’t plastered on everything you could possibly imagine and a few things you maybe couldn’t.

Their patriotism was subdued at best.

Nobody wore a Canadian flag bikini from what I could see (although I’d still totally wear one if I ever find such a thing. Be warned, Canadian kin! I’m still a shameless American when it comes to silly stuff like this.)

Nobody decorated the outside of their homes in large swaths of red and white to celebrate this special day.

Nobody swore up and down that Canada was the best country on Earth either. If anything, Canadians seem to be a little bashful on this topic. It can be hard to get them to understand just how lucky we are to live in a society whose safety net is so much more secure than it is south of the border. By no means is my adoptive country perfect, but a part of me is always amazed to see a doctor when I need to without worrying over how much they’ll charge me for the treatments I might need.

The handful of Canada Day barbecues I’ve attended have been much more about the food than about taking pride in one’s country.

This is a quiet way to observe the founding of Canada. While it wasn’t at all what I was expecting when I moved up here, I’ve come to appreciate the subtleties of it all.

If you celebrate Canada Day, what do you do for it?

5 Unexpected Things that Can Make You More Mindful

I’ve been thinking about mindfulness a lot lately. It’s a habit that needs to be built up and reinforced over a long period of time. Mindfulness is not the sort of thing that you can achieve in an hour, a day, or a week.

With that being said, there are certain experiences in life that can give you valuable opportunities to become more mindful.

Waiting in Line

One of the easiest but also most surprising changes that came into my life when I started trying to be more mindful happened the next time I stood in a line.

Rather than impatiently wondering how much longer I’d be waiting or why some shoppers wait to begin to search for their wallet until every single item has been bagged and scanned, I started framing this as an opportunity to observe how people behave when they have nothing to do.

Some folks become so engrossed in their smart phones that they don’t notice anything going on around them. Others try to strike up a conversation with the first person to catch their eye. (The jokester in me wonders if the first group is always desperately trying to avoid the second one!)

You will overhear interesting snatches of conversation as well. People will talk about all sorts of things if they get bored and restless enough. The conversation I found most thought-provoking, believe it or not, had to do with whether or not a child truly needed more socks. One of the adults who was buying clothing for her thought she did. I can’t remember what the other one said, but it was fascinating to listen to them quietly discuss how many socks a child truly requires.

These days I enjoy watching the crowd move so much that I’m actually a little sorry when I reach the front of the queue and can no longer quietly pay attention to people who are standing so close to me.

Not Getting What You Want

Many years ago I interviewed for a job that I desperately wanted. It was with an organization that shared some of my biggest ideals, and so I began dreaming about what it would be like to be paid to pursue them. The hours, location, responsibilities, and salary were also exactly what I was looking for.

I thought I had a good shot at being offered it, so I was crushed when that didn’t happen.

It took me a long time to get over that dream I’d imagined. One of the things that helped the most was focusing on what I could do in that exact moment to feel better.

I couldn’t have the experiences I’d fantasized about, but there were a lot of other things I could do to cheer myself up as well as to prepare for future opportunities that were sure to come my way.

Government Bureaucracy 

Is there anything more annoying than waiting for a government agency to process your paperwork or make a decision?

I’ve had a lot of experience with this one. Becoming a Canadian citizen is a opportunity to live in the moment that literally lasts for years. There are so many steps along the way that you have no control over whatsoever.

Once you file all of the appropriate paperwork, it’s up to government employees that you’ll never meet to decide whether to approve, delay, or reject your application. They are impervious to how long it might take to process your application or how anxious you are to know the results.

If I could go through the process again, I’d be much more relaxed this time around. Waiting for the government make a decision would give anyone the patience of a saint.

There are so many other examples I could give of how dealing with bureaucracy can actually be a good mindfulness tool, but I think I’ll save them for a future blog post.

Injuries, Pain, and Illnesses

Whether you’re waiting for possibly scary test results from your family doctor or figuring out how to go grocery shopping when you’re having trouble walking, injuries and illnesses provide a wonderful opportunity to live in the moment.

There is nothing anyone can do to speed up the amount of time it takes to find out if you have a life-threatening disease or for a broken limb to fully heal. In the meantime, you are left with a body that isn’t behaving the way you’d like it to.

My experiences with this have been mild and transitory so far, but there still have been a few times when I lived in limbo for a while. I’d be lying to you if I said that I was always peaceful during those long waits. It’s frightening not to know what the future holds, and I am definitely not a mindfulness guru.

With that being said, keeping my attention on what was happening in the present moment did help me to worry less about what might or might not happen to me in the future.

Grief

Someone I knew died years ago before they had a chance to tie up all of the loose ends in their life. Our relationship had been  complex and sometimes difficult for many different reasons, so I was surprised by the grief I felt after they were buried.

There had always been a small part of me that held onto a faint hope that our relationship would eventually improve. Having that sliver of hope snatched away for good was sad.

You can’t change the past, though. It is what it is, and remaining mindful as I adjusted to this change in life helped me to accept the finality of this person’s death. Not everyone gets the chance to fix the things they could or should have tried to fix much earlier on in their story.

 

Things Nobody Tells You About Moving to Canada

Twelve years ago I immigrated to Canada from the United States. Today I thought it would be fun to share a list of things I learned about moving up north that I found surprising, funny, or interesting.

International Postage is Slow and Expensive

It costs me about $1.35 to mail a greeting card to the United States. Once I actually ended up spending more to mail a small box of gifts to a family member than I spent on the presents themselves. Needless to say, I don’t regularly send boxes of goodies to my loved ones down south these days. They are only mailed off for the most special of occasions.

There’s also the time factor for international packages. It is often much slower than it would be to to mail something to someone within Canada. You need to send stuff early if you want it to arrive on time, especially during the busier seasons of the year. Normally I try to mail stuff out at least two weeks before I hope it will arrive. This is usually overkill, but there have been times when packages haven’t arrived until the tail end of that window of time.

Immigrants Are Everywhere, and They Are Welcomed Here

20% of the people who currently live in Canada were born somewhere else in the world. That percentage is more like 50% here in Toronto.

It’s so interesting to hear stories about where other Canadians came from and how they ended up living here. Some of my fellow immigrants originally moved here to go to university or to accept a specific job. Others came here because they fell in love with someone who already lived here just like I did. Regardless of why they’re here or when they arrived, I love hearing people talk about their adventures along the way to temporary work visas, permanent residency, and/or citizenship.

While my adopted country definitely  isn’t perfect, stories like this are common here. I’ve personally witnessed similar random acts of kindness playing out more than once in Toronto. It’s one of the things I really like about living here. There is an openness to strangers in Canadian culture that seeps into your bones once you’ve lived here long enough.

Canadians Have a Dark, Unique Sense of Humour

On the flip side, one of the first things I noticed when I moved up here was how dark the Canadian sense of humour can be. It’s not quite as dry or self-deprecating as British humour, but I can see how it was influenced by them . Both Canada and England laugh at things that aren’t quite as common to joke about in the States.

Sometimes my Canadian-born spouse likes to gently tease me when I react to Canadian jokes like an American would. They make me pull back even though I know there’s nothing malicious about them. I simply don’t quite understand why they find stuff like Nina Conti’s monkey puppet act so hilarious.

Obviously this is one of those things that not every Canadian immigrant will notice or think about. So much depends on which country you grew up in and what assumptions you make about how society works when you move to a new culture.

I hope that other Canadian immigrants who read this blog will consider writing their own posts about what they’ve observed here. It would be so interesting to get other perspectives on this. If anyone does this and lets me know about it on Twitter, I’ll edit this post to include links to their posts!

You Are (Probably) Going to be Doing Most of the Traveling to See Everyone Back Home
My parents spent a lot of time visiting us in Ontario during the first year or two I lived up here when I wasn’t legally allowed to leave the country. I was still waiting to become a Permanent Resident at that point, so the government wanted me to stay in the country full-time until all of that paperwork was sorted out.

Once I became a Permanent Resident, though, it quickly became clear that it’s a lot cheaper and easier for two young adults to go visit a few dozen relatives between the ages of 0 and 90+ than for those relatives to come up to Toronto.

We really appreciate getting the visitors we do up here, but my spouse and I are used to doing most of the traveling these days.

On a positive note, family reunions quickly become the highlight of your year. It is so much fun to be surrounded by relatives who are all thrilled to have you around for a week or two. Sometimes it feels like being a mini-celebrity because of how excited your family is to see you when you go back home.

These are a few of the many things that I didn’t know about life in Canada before I moved up here. Perhaps I’ll share more of them in a future post!