12.09.2018

this week, give 15 minutes of your time to defend human rights #write4rights

Are you writing for rights? I almost gave myself a pass this year. I'm living out of a hotel room and I don't have easy access to a printer, and... what the hell? I'm one of the most privileged people on the planet. Surely I won't skip Write For Rights because it's a bit inconvenient!

On December 10, 1948, the newly-formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first document of its kind in history.

Every year, on and around December 10, people who have human rights use them to help others whose human rights have been violated or negated.

Here are the 2018 Write For Rights cases. Notice anything different?

Join me and thousands of others.

Join the biggest human rights event on the planet.

By giving 15 or 30 minutes of your time, you can join thousands of others who believe that all humans have rights, no matter who they are, where they live, and what they believe.

The right to peaceful protest.

The right to inform others.

The right to be free from torture.

The right to not be arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned; the right to a fair trial.

The right to express their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The right to worship in any faith and the right to not worship.

The right to organize a union.

The right to refuse military service.

The right to live free from involuntary servitude (slavery).

The right to be free from sexual violence.

Read: Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What you can do.

Think you don't know how to write a letter defending human rights? Take a crash course.

Want to know more about Amnesty? Here you go.

Here are the 2018 Write For Rights cases.

Write because an issue resonates with you.

Write because you've been to a country and you feel solidarity with its people.

Write because you're angry.

Write because you're horrified.

Write because the world breaks your heart.

Write because you believe in something.

Write because it works.

Write because it feels good to help others.

2018 Write For Rights case are here.

This year, all the Write For Rights cases are women. Write because you are a woman, or because you love a woman, or because you believe in a woman, or all three.

12.08.2018

in which an old-fashioned mom-and-pop motel saves me from union busters

For the portion of my training taking place in Campbell River -- two days this week plus all of next week -- I was booked into the Coast Discovery Inn, a Coast chain property. Before this trip, I was unfamiliar with the Coast chain. Their slogan "Refreshingly Local" means they acquire already-established hotels and bring them into the Coast brand. We stayed at one in Tsawwassen the night before taking the ferry to Vancouver Island, and my employer booked me in one in Nanaimo. They were both very nice -- lovely rooms, amenities, and service.

Based on those experiences, I was very disappointed when I saw my room in Campbell River. It was tiny -- one bed, and the bed took up the entire room. This is fine when you're out exploring Paris, but when you're living in a room for 10 days, it would be confining and inconvenient. In addition, Allan and Diego are spending the weekend (yay! can't wait!), and I don't see the three of us living in a shoebox together, even for a few days.

I asked if I could change rooms, and explained why. I was told: "All our rooms are the same size. The only difference is the size of the bed."

I asked, "You don't have any rooms with two beds?"

"But you are booked by yourself. Do you need two beds?"

I was amazed. One person staying in a room with two beds is standard. Rather than argue about that, I noted that my partner was arriving on Saturday, and bringing our dog, and we needed a larger room. He said there was a room available on Sunday. I said never mind.

I had arrived in Campbell River that morning and was checking in on my lunch break, so I would be able to crash right after work. I went back to the room, found another pet-friendly Campbell River hotel, cancelled the rest of my reservation, and went back to work, grabbing something for lunch along the way. (Not exactly a relaxing break!)

After work, I went back to the Coast Discovery Inn. The moment I walked in, I began to cough -- quite a bad "fit" requiring use of my inhaler. The whole place smelled very strongly, either from cleaning products or air "freshener". Luckily my room didn't also smell, or I couldn't have stayed even one night.

I went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. It was dismal. It looked like a coffee shop -- which is fine for coffee shops, but strange for a supposedly upscale hotel -- and the food was marginal at best. I had a decent night. Breakfast was the usual limited hotel self-serve options. I packed up the car and went to work. 

Later that day, as we were getting ready to leave, I mentioned to my manager that I was checking in to a different hotel. He asked me where, and gave me a tip on how to find it. Then he said, "I'm glad you're not staying at the Coast anymore. They are extremely anti-union."

Hooray for working with someone who cares about such things! Apparently the owner shuttered the hotel for nine months rather than work with the union representing hotel workers. Googling, I didn't find a lot on this: one story from the local Campbell River Mirror, and one in the Times Colonist. My manager is well-versed in the story, because one of the organizers works part-time in the library.**

So, after work, I drove off to find the Heritage River Inn. The name is misleading, because it is an old-fashioned mom-and-pop roadside motel. My room is huge, with a full kitchen! This is very welcome, since I'll be here for a full week. It also has a wooden floor. The feature of mom-and-pop motels that is often an issue is old carpeting. On our road trip from Ontario, we stayed at non-chain motels in two towns, Wawa and Ignace. Both rooms had carpeting and a corresponding musty smell. They weren't mouldy -- I know that because my body is a mould detector -- but the carpets were somewhat icky. The bare floor solves this problem.

There are other chain hotels in Campbell River, but they are not pet-friendly. So if this room didn't work out, I would have to change a second time, after Allan and Diego go home, and I did not want to do that.

** I found this story from Unite Here, about a one-day strike earlier this month at this same hotel -- which means they did unionize. And from the small-world department, the union bulletin was written by someone I know.

12.05.2018

guest post: allan and diego's first week in port hardy

Allan wrote some really nice things about our new life, both in emails to me and on one of his non-baseball blog. With his permission, I've collected some of them here.

* * * *

I drove into town today, thinking I would go to the library and museum, but I forgot they are closed on Monday. I went into the Cafe/Book Nook. Small book area in a semi-lower floor, way more new books than used. There is a craft store upstairs that has all kinds of nice things, including earrings I'm pretty sure you like - and a wonderful golden-haired adorable young dog. Quiet as a mouse, s/he followed me around and then went back to the register and laid down. I got a tea and walked over to the library (sign on door said something like "No bathrooms - Key is missing"), went over to Mo's pizza/sub place (they deliver for an extra $2, fwiw).

I found the Ministry office but this was the 12-1 PM closing time, so nothing was going on. I walked back to the main street. One business had a handwritten sign saying it was closed ("More Medical Procedures!"). I saw the post office down one street, so I went and got our mail. There was a taped green envelope addressed to "Laura and Allan". No return address. I figured it was one of those 'welcome' flyer things with junk mail inside. I opened it and it was a card for you from library people. They said extremely nice things about you. I walked back to the car and came home.

I sat out on the deck reading for a bit with Diego on the stake in the side yard area. Our neighbour in the house beyond the deck came over and said hello to Diego. Brenda and her husband are retired and they travel a lot in their massive RV (Arizona, Florida, "down island"). She asked if we were retired. (I guess I looked really old today.) When she heard you were a librarian, she said she used to work as a librarian and her husband was a school principal. They apparently are famous for having the most Xmas lights on their house, but they are getting a late start. She wanted to know if she could come into our yard to string lights on the fence because there are plants and whatnot on their side. I said sure. (I think that was the real reason for introducing herself.)

I am going to grill some burgers tonight and maybe have a fire. M got it all prepared, so I can't really call it my first fire. ... Also, a lot of frost on the grass this morning. The roof looked like there was a very light dusting of snow.

I really liked walking around in the town. This seems like the right amount of town for me. (That may change, who knows?) Plus, I like the uniqueness of every single house, the water nearby, the cool weather, etc. And being in a house instead of an apartment is such a wonderful difference. Everything else has worked out according to plan - and then some - so that aspect had better do so, too.

* * * *

For more of Allan's thoughts and some pics, including one of the house we're renting, go here: Port Hardy After One Week.

I'm sorry I haven't posted any pics. This is all I can deal with right now.

Funny note: Cafe Guido, mentioned above, has the spare key to the library in case staff gets locked out.

12.03.2018

first day of work braindump

I've just finished my first day of training and orientation at [my new library]. I have a lot to report on! Much of this may be of interest only to library workers, especially my union buddies.

I took notes all day, and I'm getting it all down here -- in no order, with no attempt to weave it together. All questions are FAQs I've been getting since announcing my move.

1. Who had this position before you and why did they leave?

It is a newly created position; I am the first person to hold the job. The position is part of a larger strategy to bring more robust library services to the North Island, to put them on par with the rest of the Island.

2. My position, the "Customer Services Librarian II", is the equivalent of the senior librarian position I recently left. However, there are only a handful of CSLIIs in the system. I will have an opportunity to attend a special CSLII meeting.

3. Will the manager be in the branch with you?

I will mostly work on my own. I will report in to a manager, but he will work out of Campbell River, 2.5 hours away. The manager is also new to the North Island and has not yet been able to visit all five branches.

4. I have the opportunity to make this position what I want as I go along. Not only am I the first CSL II in this area, there has never been a CSL at all -- meaning no librarian.

5. What are you going to do for two full weeks of training?

Today I was given a schedule for my first three days, which are taking place in Nanaimo. I spent the day at the North Nanaimo branch, a beautiful, huge facility that opened in 2015; it previously housed only the administration and back-office functions.

Today I met with senior staff representing HR, payroll, finances, health/safety, and IT. A full hour with each. This is so amazing. I'm more accustomed to being thrown in with no or minimal training. This system is also way more efficient. I can't begin to describe how much time is wasted trying to track down the appropriate person for an issue.

I also had a tour of this branch, and I met the union steward for my union. (There are two unions.)

The COO/Deputy Exec Director and the head of all the branches (both new this year) took me out to lunch.

Tomorrow I will be at the Nanaimo Harbourfront branch, right near the hotel.

6. I was given a laptop and a cell phone. There are eight hours of online training to complete, and I can do it in bits as I find time over the next two weeks.

7. As professional staff, I am allowed to modify my hours as needed. For example, one of my branches is on a different island. If I need to work different hours because of the ferry schedule, I can do that.

8. I will be responsible for approving payroll for my branch. Many of my responsibilities are managerial responsibilities in my former library system.

9. VIRL has 39 branches -- on the Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte islands, and in two mainland locations. They have been building or renovating branches since 2010. By 2020, all branches will either be renovated, rebuilt, or newly created. Previous to this, the entire system was falling apart or communities were simply not served.

10. With a few exceptions, the entire collection is floating! Customers must be adept at using the catalogue and placing holds to get what they want. There is a lot of staff instruction available for customers.

11. There is a YNF collection! I first saw a youth nonfiction collection in Vancouver Public Library and absolutely loved the idea. I developed a proposal and pitched it to the Mississauga Library. They rejected it, of course, but I love that VIRL has this.

The youth collection also includes "Playaways" -- digital audiobooks with a rechargeable battery. They are very popular.

12. How long does it take for a hold to come in? "It depends."

Drivers do not go to all branches on all days. Many branches get weekly deliveries. The North Island is served by private courier service. (I don't know if this is a good or bad thing for union members. I will find out.)

13. Books are sent by mail -- delivered by float plane -- to customers in remote locations. These are sent weekly. Loans are six weeks with no fines.

14. Next year children's materials will all be fine-free. !!!!

15. On December 12, there is an all-librarians meeting in Nanaimo -- CSLs, CSLIIs, and managers. It's perfect timing for me, as I'll still be in training. I will be in Campbell River on that day, but they will pay for my travel to attend.

16. Today I felt and appreciated how much I've learned in the last five and a half years as a working librarian. I was very comfortable with the information and asked a lot of good questions. I didn't feel like I was faking it. That is huge.

17. Yesterday I had a horrific getting-lost experience, and so was a bit anxious about driving to the branch and back to the hotel. Both drives went smoothly, and I even did the last bit by feel.

18. Almost all the front-line (CUPE) staff are part-time... but they are looking to turn many of those part-time jobs into full-time jobs. The employer and senior management see full-time jobs as a win-win-win -- better for staff, for the library, and for customers. I was agog. When I said, "That's exactly the opposite of current trends," she said, "We don't want to be part of that. We want staff to be more engaged in their jobs, better supported, and more accountable. We want people to want to work here." !!!!!

19. Their intranet is friggin amazing. When I remarked on that, the person working with me -- also from Ontario -- said her former library's intranet was also a mess. (Almost everyone I've met so far is originally from Ontario.)

20. The COO/deputy director said, "We have all the same problems on the Island as everywhere else -- homelessness, addiction, social isolation. But here, no one has talked about it until very recently, so many people think the problems themselves are new." In her observation, these changes have given rise to a conservative backlash. The catalyst for this discussion: an overdose death in a branch.

21. The provincial government here is a "fragile coalition" of NDP and Green. One NDP MLA stepped down to become mayor of Nanaimo. This means a byelection could shift the balance of power. Scary!

22. There is a room in the admin offices called "hotel". Guests can park their stuff, login to a computer, and take breaks there.

23. For one of today's meetings, I was sitting next to someone who was walking me through some processes on her computer. The desk and monitor were too high for me, so my neck was straining the whole time. Her screen backgrounds were the default white, and the room had harsh flourescent lighting -- all of which give me headaches. I was becoming very uncomfortable. This made me think about accessibility for interviews and training. I repeatedly tried to adjust myself, but was unwilling to straight-up say I need help.

24. Until very recently, there was very little (understatement) understanding of or attention to health and safety. That is all changing now. Violence prevention, mental health first aid, ergonomics, and working alone (including travel) policies, procedures, training, and standards are all being assessed or implemented.

25. I will be coming in to my branches as the new senior supervisor -- the new boss. Typically, some people will like this and feel relieved and happy, and others will be threatened and see me as encroaching on their turf. I will enjoy the challenge.

12.02.2018

a walk on the bay and a drive to nanaimo, plus photos of the rockies

I am in Nanaimo and will be in Campbell River, for two weeks of training. My former co-workers in the Mississauga Library are amazed and envious. Training in Mississauga ranged from nonexistent to inadequate.

I'm at a lovely hotel in Nanaimo with a view of the harbour, but I'd much rather be home setting up my office or organizing closets. Allan and Diego are going to visit me on the weekend. I don't know what this training will entail, other than mandatory first aid. I'll keep you posted.

Yesterday we took a break from working on the house to take a walk on the bay. We drove five minutes from the house to a paved path right on the water. It was so quiet and peaceful. A few other people were walking, some families were in a playground. Mostly it was just water, trees, and sky. It was overcast, making the scenery even more dramatic. It's hard to believe that this is our backyard. (Photos to follow.)

On the walkway, there are interpretative signs posted about the wildlife. Even better, there is wildlife. I saw a bald eagle swoop down over the water, then sail up to the top of a tree. By the time I got the attention of Allan, M, and SIL, there were two of them, perched on two nearby trees, surveying their kingdom. It made my day.

Also yesterday, we drove to the tiny Port Hardy Airport to rent a car. No one was at the counter, but there was a phone number to call. A woman asked, "You're at the airport? You have a credit card, driver's license? OK, I'll be right over."

Ten minutes later, she appeared, her feet in slippers. "I was pickling. Beets! I think I brought some with me on my shirt." Later: "You're lucky, yesterday a guy called, said he got a ride. That's the only reason I have anything available." The Ontario driver's license raised a few questions, which we answered; she shook my hand and welcomed us to town. She was hilarious.

Unfortunately we forgot to make both of us drivers... so we ended up calling her in (and possibly waking her up) today as well. The rental car outlet is supposed to be open on Sundays, but if there are no reservations, no one comes in. Who can blame them? After all, the airport was locked! We were very apologetic, she was very good-humoured.

While Allan and I were dealing with the rental car, M and SIL were driving to Campbell River to return the U-Haul truck. I drove down shortly after them, then we met up and went to Nanaimo.

This was my first opportunity to see the north island drive during the day. It is beautiful. A winding, hilly road, forest all around, with mountains beyond. Often the hills were shrouded in mist and low-lying clouds. Sometimes you can see the mountains on the island's west coast, huge and snow-capped. Signs are posted for the turnoffs to the few north island communities, but the road feels so remote and solitary.

On a decidedly less beautiful note, I'm not happy about all the damage from the careless movers. I know they're only material things, and replaceable. But it was all completely preventable. This makes the scam with the US dollar conversion rate even worse. I don't know what recourse we have, if any. I'll investigate this week.

Bonus: photos of our drive through the Rockies are here on Flickr. They're not great -- taken on the fly through the windshield -- but it might give some idea. By the way, I believe those two black animals are dogs.

12.01.2018

eleven things about our new life in port hardy

Here are some really nice things about our new life in Port Hardy.

1. It is very quiet. In the house, we hear bird song, the occasional barking dog, a car going by. No sirens, car alarms, bus announcements, school bells, screaming children. We have never lived anywhere quiet. It's lovely.

2. People are friendly. Very friendly. Also lovely.

3. It has not rained since we got here. It is sometimes misty or foggy. I can tell the air is humid by how long it takes damp laundry to dry. But so far, no rain.

4. We are very near water. Mississauga and Toronto are technically on a huge body of water, but you never feel it unless you're right beside it.

5. Having laundry in our own living space again is very wonderful.

6. All of the appliances in this house are shiny and new, and not the bare-bones that we usually find in rentals. I always say, I am destined to have crappy kitchens. This seems to have changed.

7. We have had two very good meals in restaurants in town, including really good pizza at a pub. There are still two or three cafes we haven't tried.

8. We have outdoor space again. There's no describing how wonderful that is.

9. Diego seems completely adjusted and at home.

10. Allan is happy. This sometimes feels like a rare event, so seeing him happy fills me with joy.

11. Having M and SIL with us for the move-in has been so wonderful. SIL is a great organizer and has unpacked a ton of stuff. M is Mr. Fix-It -- actually more like Mr. Fix-It, Break Down and Rebuild It, Repurpose It. All that plus the four of us have been having a great time together.

Life is good.

11.29.2018

port hardy day one: perfect fish and chips, bad movers, wild wildlife

Coming to you live from my own desk and my own computer, from internet in our own place -- after my first full night's sleep in ten days.

Yesterday was quite the day. The people who I hired to unload the truck arrived early, and unpacked the truck in record time. In fact, they would have put themselves out of a job, but we paid a four-hour minimum. After all, they may have turned down other work to do the unloading.

Interesting story of how I found these guys. I posted ads on Craigslist and Kijiji: heard nothing. I contacted moving companies, but (a) they were based in Campbell River, and we'd have to pay for all the travel time, back and forth, and (b) they don't want to only unload, it's not worth their time. I even contacted a temp labour company, but they had no clients in Port Hardy.

A kind Port Hardy resident saw my Craigslist ad and emailed with a suggestion: join the Port Hardy Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook group.

I looked it up and sent a request to join. The Facebook group has the same number of members as the population of the town! The moderator who approved me said, "What brings you from Toronto to our little hamlet?" She is originally from the US, then Kingston, Ontario -- a path similar to ours.

From the Facebook group, I had a flood of responses. I was very concerned that people show up, so I paid very generously, feeling that would be good incentive, in addition to just plain good. A few people stayed in touch by email, and they were the four men who came yesterday -- a father and two adult sons, plus one other guy.

This was one of those times when I was acutely, uncomfortably aware of my own privilege. Here I am moving into this big house, with all this stuff, with my dog who has better health care than half the population of the United States. And we're here because I wanted to be, out of choice rather than necessity.

These feelings were exacerbated by the fact that three of the men were Indigenous. Perhaps that shouldn't matter, and perhaps I will feel differently as I spend more time in this area with a significant Indigenous population. But yesterday, I was not entirely comfortable with it. Offering the men sandwiches and coffee, and hanging out with them a bit on a break, helped. I think all one can do in those situations is be aware, be respectful, and look for ways to connect as people.

It turned out there was good reason to distrust the guys who packed the truck. Our dining room table has deep gouges from where the points of other furniture was digging into it through the entire move. There's a kitchen chair with two similar gouges. Two broken lamps.

All this easily could have been prevented by using some of the three dozen blankets we ordered from U-Haul -- which were still in plastic bags in the truck, untouched. This morning we found some broken wine glasses; unsurprising, since I had to ask the men to not throw and toss a box marked FRAGILE onto the top of a pile.

On the day they loaded the truck, the owner of the company offered me an $8.00 rebate in exchange for a five-star review. Now that I've seen the results of their work, I will definitely write a review. Can't wait. I'll share it here, of course.

When the men left, M, SIL, and Allan went to work. I was exhausted from being up since 2:00 a.m. and did very little except for a mountain of laundry, but everyone else did a lot. SIL unpacked and set up the entire kitchen! Allan and I had to force SIL and M to stop working -- or try to, anyway. M never stops.

Allan went out to the post office to see if anything was waiting in our mailbox. No door-to-door delivery here; P.O. boxes only. He came back happy and buoyant, saying, "I really like this town." For Allan, that's practically gushing.

Later on, we managed to get ourselves together enough to go out to dinner. We had a bit of trouble finding the restaurant, because it appears to have two different names -- Captain Hardy's, but also Fire Chefs. I guessed that they changed their name at some point, but wanted to be recognized by old customers; this turns out to be correct.

It's a one-room restaurant that looks like a coffee shop or diner. And, I kid you not, I had the best fish-and-chips I have every eaten. Incredibly fresh halibut, cooked to perfection, with whisper-thin batter, perfectly crispy, perfectly flaky, plus perfect fresh-cut fries. Even the coleslaw was outstanding. There was also a lot of it. We were all so happy and amazed with dinner!

We strolled a bit on the sweet little main street, which is about five-minutes driving from our place. (Everything is five-minutes from everywhere else.) There's a couple of hair/aesthetics salons, an Ace Hardware and a Home Hardware, a clothing store, a bookstore/cafe combination, and several restaurants. It seems both a bit touristy and also very sweet and homey. And, right there on the main drag: my library, attached to the Port Hardy Museum. Very, very exciting for me.

The main street was almost completely empty when we came out of dinner at 7:00 pm. Restaurants here close at 8:00, at least this time of year. And you know what? That's fine. It's been a long time since Allan and I needed a nightlife.

This morning I felt like a new person after getting a good night's sleep. Diego and I walked around our neighbourhood, a few curving streets of very large houses, fairly close together, although with big front and back yards. More than half the homes have an RV or a boat in the driveway.

An interesting note about our yard. There had been a line of big trees between this house and the house next door, as well as a few big trees in the front yard. They have all been cut down to stumps. In Mississauga, this might be from the ash borer infestation. Here, a cougar had been hanging out in the trees, and killed a small dog next door.

We've spent the morning unpacking and setting up, but after I post this, we're going into town. We now have internet, next step is a cellphone service that isn't roaming from Ontario.

Thank you all for bothering to read this. I must admit I don't entirely get it, but it's great to write, and I'm very happy that you're reading.