Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Annual Decorating of the Gingerbread House

Sunday was full of merriment, family, and candy. Piles and piles of candy.

Since 2011 Matthew and I have been gratefully piggy-backing on the K family's Crackertown tradition. The cousins assemble houses, buildings, and other landmarks (pond, or spaceship, for instance) out of graham crackers glued with royal icing and festooned with candy.

We bring along a gingerbread house that we have made the day before, and cover every surface with m&ms. This year we got fancy, added some licorice all-sorts.

Here's how it went down.

The Assembly

Matthew carefully measured the shapes. Well, pretty carefully.

While the icing set, we tired it round the middle with twine.
Full disclosure: the assembly of the gingerbread house after hours on Saturday was not the most harmonious moment in our marriage. However we were super extra peaceful and team-spirited in the decoration the next day, so all is forgiven.

Decorators At Work

Gramma and Aunty Lorraine kept a watchful eye.

The Works-In-Progress

This is the space station! Jessie's work. Natch.

The Finished Product:

What happened next
We ate it!! Well, a bit of the roof. It is HUGE so we will have to nibble a bit every day.
Massive thanks to cousins and bf's of cousins, for decorating and photographing! It was an awesome afternoon of Christmas crafting.

Photo courtesy of Bryerton.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Season. It Is Upon Us.

Welcome back, friends. It is the Saturday before Christmas, and Matthew and I have just come back from a wet and wild walk to Main Street. We had a lovely catch-up with Martina and Stu before Christmas at 49th Parallel, and ate a festively-themed "Snowball" doughnut and "Stollen" doughnut. There is some gingerbread cookie dough resting in the fridge, and a glass of red and some Stilton to my right. We are gearing up for a big evening of baking and assembly of the annual Gingerbread House (and car, because that's how Matthew rolls).

We are here for our fourth Christmas in Vancouver. We are lucky that Jessie is with us here this year (she was also with us the first year!). We are noticing patterns emerge in our activities leading up to Christmas, these patterns are our Christmas traditions. They still feel new, but we are getting better at them.

1. Decorating the tree. Matthew does this, bless his heart. He has the strength to move the furniture, and the patience and attention to detail to hang the ornaments at regular but artless intervals all over the tree. Also he is tall enough and his arms are long enough to wrap the lights around the tree.

2. Christmas craft markets. We actually went to two of these, one in East Van at the PNE Forum, and one on Main Street, in the Town Hall. They were a bit samesy, but nevertheless we found some beautiful gifts locally made. I even found some panforte, and got a cheerful earful from the stall-keeper about technique and ingredients.

3. Baking. Matthew and I have our gingerbread men down to a fine art now. I bake, he decorates. He stays clear while a bake, and I stay clear while he decorates. They turned out deliciously. We actually had a Christmas Party the day after we baked them (our first ever party!). There was so much delicious food, and we demolished 7 bottles of champagne. We fit more than 15 people into our 500-square-foot apartment! Roaring success, and so good to see friends before Christmas! And, because Vancouver is a small world, we discovered quite a few connections between friends!

***okay I took a 24 hour break from writing, because it got to 11:30 and we were still putting the gingerbread house together!***

4. Thirfting. I love to go to op shops around Christmas time. I think Matthew does too? He is a champion op-shopper, anyway. I love finding vintage gifts because they are unique and they have a history. And if I happen to find a handsome sweater or dress for myself at the same time, it's never too much of an indulgence. I do try mightily to avoid shopping at other times of the year.

Okay. There is lots to catch up on, and I am looking forward to returning to blogging on a more regular basis. It's one of my New Year's Resolutions!!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Reflections and Gratitude

I hope I don't ramble here. Today was jam-packed. It was graduation day! Matthew and I went our separate ways in the morning, me to UBC to get my regalia on, and Matthew to the East Side to collect Gramma and Jessie.

That's right, Sister Jessie is visiting!!

I remember my last graduation, in the middle of a work day, struggling to get across town in terrible weather, and struggling to see the point of graduating at all. This convocation was much closer to the actual finish-time of my degree, so it was easier to see the ceremony as a natural end-point.

I met with a really lovely fellow English Department alum, Emily, in the Regalia lounge, and we pinned each others' gowns on, took photos, and paraded together. It didn't rain, and in fact at the moments of our parade, it was even a bit sunny. We recognised some friendly English Faculty faces on stage, and it felt satisfying to be witnessed by them.
Thanks to Emily and her lovely husband for this photo!

I want to write another post on Graduation Proper, when I have some more photos to share. But after the ceremony, I was whisked by Matthew, Gramma and Jessie to the VanDusen Gardens restaurant, where we were met by all my aunts. We had a beautiful lunch, and then went to Gramma's house for a rich and delicious tuxedo cake with raspberries on top, and a well-deserved cup of tea.

This post feels like a good place to try and express my gratitude. The degree took a lot longer than anyone expected. For Gramma and my aunts to mark out time to celebrate the occasion, especially in such a busy time as the lead-up to the festive season, means so much to me. I am thankful for their generosity of lunch and cake, and for being so supportive over so many years. I moved to Vancouver to do this degree and to be near to my family, and now my degree is over I am so grateful for the great constant that is family.

I understand Jessie's visit here as an early Christmas present for us all, but also something of a personal graduation present for me, so I am very grateful that she could be there to see the ceremony, see the campus at its most authentic (cloudy, chilly, windy, full of puddles), and shower me in flowers and good cheer.

Lastly, there can never be too many or too frequent thanks for Matthew, who with great integrity and patience has supported me emotionally and financially through this degree. Even just graduation day itself would not have happened had Matthew not bolted out of bed before sunrise and driven across the city to get our loved ones for the occasion. All morning he drove us around, and he always offered an arm to hang on to. Thank you, my love.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Remembrance Day at the Vancouver Aquarium

My good friend Ann took me to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night and we took in a very crowded and earnest performance of Britten's War Requiem. It was sombre and considered, and by the time Remembrance Day arrived on Tuesday, we felt we had memorialised with attention and care. There is no end to memorialisation, and when we were downtown that morning, we heard the guns and saw the planes fly overhead. But we didn't attend the Remembrance Day parade.

Instead, Ann took me and Matthew to the Vancouver Aquarium.  (Ann has a magical "keys to the city" sort of arrangement.)

Ann and me at the new front door of the Vancouver Aquarium.
All the Jellies. As I like to tell everyone, Jellyfish will take over the world, and it won't be pretty.

This sea otter is a young female. She tapped the glass with her paw to be fed more fish. So charming.

African Penguins! Their belly spots are unique to them, but they all have belly spots, so unless you carefully memorise them, they still all look the same.

These little eals are the best. There are striped and spotted varieties in this tank, and they are divided stripes on one side, spots on the other.

The clownfish loved to hide in the anemones.

These might be piranhas?

This ugly fish looked a bit out of place in the beautiful corral.

We took in the dolphin show, the beluga show, and the sea otter show. I can't remember the last time I went to all the shows! Still good. The belugas, especially.

There are no photos of the Amazon room, but we hit this up first, and the power actually went out while we were entering there! Once we were in, we saw marmosets, a green parrot, some turtles "having carnal relations" as a lady delicately described it, and two raucous blue macaws, one of whom was malting badly around the scruff of its neck. Wild times in the Amazon. And we had a sloth sighting!

Afterwards, we went for fish and chips (yes, we appreciated the irony of this) in the little log cabin pub beside Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.

Matthew and Ann in front of the Stanley Park Pavilion

We found some swings!! And they were completely empty! There were three in a row, and they were just waiting for us.

We walked from Stanley Park back into town because it was such a beautiful evening. We passed the most inflamed and glorious trees on West Georgia. But gosh it was chilly.
Warmest thanks to Ann for such a lovely day out! The Aquarium is always worth a visit.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Parade of Lost Souls

Last night I met my friend Kelly and we checked out Parade of Lost Souls. I don't have any photos, so I hope my powers of description will suffice.

Parade of Lost Souls is a yearly "around Halloween" community event on and around Commercial Drive. It is mysterious because the location is a secret until the night before. And it is not sponsored or sanctioned or anything, so (as far as I can tell) there is no funding or roadblocks or anything. It is just a pop-up festival, really.

Our evening was off to a rocky start. On the bus to Commercial Drive I got harassed by an aggressive man. We went to some bar for a stiff glass of wine (it was chilly out), and this Australian guy with guitar came on stage and turned it up to 11; it was a bit early for that, before 7pm.

So we popped back out onto the street at about half past 7 and went in search of the Parade. Not having been to the parade before, I thought we had missed it. But we followed the costumed people and the sound of drumming, and before long we encountered some festivities.

An aside: We were wearing the most beautiful masks. Kelly's was like laced metal with clear diamentes. And mine was read lace with red diamentes. But we saw a pacmac and some ghosts, a lot of men in kilts (like I think they were dressed up, not just wearing them as usual). And one in three people had Day of the Dead face make-up on.

We realised that it is the spectators who do the parading, not the other way around. We realised that we had to push past the crowd around the drumming, that the drumming was the front door to the parade. It felt like Lucy in the forest of Lion/Witch/Wardrobe, or Alice falling through the tree trunk into Wonderland. Very liminal.

The parade was oddly quiet. There were lots of people, but not a lot of laughing, talking, shouting, etc. There was plenty of dancing though. We saw:
  • A group of mimes dressed in white, bending around on the spot. Every once in a while they would start "wooooo"ing gently, all in different and inharmonious tones.
  • A clanging station with pots and pans and drumsticks, DIY clang. Popular with the under 10s.
  • A small dark theatre tent which we filed into in a great crowd. Inside was a writing station with pens and paper, and a sign "What do you want to let go of?" I obviously wrote "my degree", and we proceeded, in a big human press, outside to a little fire pit to burn out papers. It was actually really simple and lovely.
  • (Aside: there were a lot of open flames in this festival. And everyone was on their best behaviour.)
  • A coffin station, where you could hop in a coffin if you wanted to. We did not want to.
  • Lots of nice music: a choir, a jazz band, a gypsy band, a thriller flash mob, a neon rave, and some other stuff.

The parade grounds were spooky in their own way, it was in the Brittania Community Centre, which feels like a massive highschool, and has the concrete dead-ends and high chainlink fences which feel like prison. On the grass field there was a giant lantern installation, with lights hung from wooden tripods. It all felt a bit Pinterest-y, a bit Cirque du Soleil-y. I loved the home-made feel of it, and people were careful and curious consumers of it.

Afterwards we took the bus to Gastown. There was a man carving wood with a stanley knife of the bus. At one point, the bus jerked to a stop and he dropped the knife. And when he got up, there was a radius of wood chips surrounding the seat and floor. Sigh. Vancouver. We love you, but...

Kelly took me to the Pourhouse on Water St. We had delicious cocktails and sat in high-backed arm chairs. It was so warm and cozy, we stayed for hours.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Photopost! False Creek Date

Sunday, the first day of freedom for us both (because Matthew works Saturdays). The sun was, in places, shining. And we were ready to 'splore.

First, we walked down to the sea wall at Granville Island, but instead of just taking the main street, we cut through a side street onto a cute rail bridge, and then wended through the beautiful apartment buildings on paths with names like "Birch Walk" "Fountain Way" (such romance!) until we encountered the sea wall.

We saw many fancy pedigree dogs, obviously.

We then walked along to Leg in Boot Square (love this name, I could type it again I love it so much) and almost stopped for fish and chips at the newly-opened Mahoney and Sons. The deck of this pub goes right out over the water, and there were many picturesque boats on the Creek. But we resisted the temptation, and walked on to Olympic Village.

Just past Cambie Bridge, there are some awesome concrete block piles, twice or three times as tall as us. Matthew stopped to take some pictures ("weathering", good inspiration for his miniature painting) and I got very distracted by this cat here:


 This all-white cat's name, according to his necktag, is Kool Whip. He seemed very far from home, there were no apartments or houses nearby. He was a bit aloof, though. I fretted. Also I wanted to take him home.

Elsewhere on the road to Olympic Village, was this public art:
Look at the name in the yellow!!

Pretty sure this wasn't there last time we walked past.
There's actually a picture of me on this blog about two years ago, with this very sculpture. Giant Sparrow. Never gets old.

A man stopped and asked if he could take our photo. We were a bit suss, but we let him do it anyway. He said he was from a Meet-Up group which takes pictures of people in public places. Okay, dude, whatever.

Thence to fish and chips:
Do you like my fancy nails? I hope so, because I spent like two hours waiting for them to dry...

There's a happy, and handsome, man.
Really we went to Olympic Village for a walk and maybe an incidental sandwich. We ended up staying for over an hour, and devouring our weight in fish and chips. We both agreed that this was a bit of a slip up in the plan, and vowed to police each other if we are tempted to do this in future weekends. Stick to the sandwich next time!!

We were so bloat that we didn't deserve a short walk home, so we hoofed it up Quebec Street hill, and along (I think it was) 7th Ave, we saw the creepiest and best house.

What's missing from this photo is the amazing 6-foot-tall white coral sculpture in the front yard, the bits of pottery littering the hedge bed, and the extra floor at the top of the house. But you can see the mailbox and the naked mannequin torso, so you have an idea. It was stunning. Also, it was next to an ancient creepy apartment and an empty lot, and it was opposite a Chinese Christian church (converted from an old school) with all the windows wide open. Perfect, I tell you.

(And then we got chai lattes, because we are yuppies.) (And then I bought a navy blue double-breasted woolen winter coat from Front and Company, because Treat Yo Self.)

The walk home is for another post, because it was full of such wonders. Happy Monday, all.

How We Are Celebrating

Now I have finished my degree, I find myself with expansive free weekends. Yesterday was my first real Day Off. I've forgotten how to be free. I'm like a caged chicken who doesn't escape when the door is open.

1. Hillcrest, for a workout and sauna. Last week I did not work out at all, because I wanted the extra sleep and also because I was pushing for my final thesis submission. Also, I accidentally ran 109 miles in September, so by the start of October I had a mighty sore hip/leg. It is not healed, so I have a physio appointment on Monday. But yesterday I went for a treadmill jog, a bit of a spin, some lunges, and 20 amazing hot minutes of pure sauna time. Yeah.

2. Painting my nails "watermelon" coloured. Nothing says party like hot pink. I'm even going to give myself a sparkle nail in about 15 mins from now. Glitter!!

3. Last night we went to the housewarming party of some UBC friends downtown. Their apartment is perfect and they had the most magical patio with fairy lights. The evening was not too cold, and the sky was pretty clear. I think I drank a whole bottle of champagne. And I'm sure a ate three cupcakes. Whatever, it was fabulous.

4. Growing out my bangs. I talked to Jessie (sister) on skype yesterday, and she is a big advocate of having a ceremonial chop after a big life event. I'm not sure about that, but I agree it is time for a new look. Growing out the bangs is a long process, and I am giving myself a crick in the neck with all the hair-flicking I am doing to get it out of my eyes. Sigh. By January it should be longish again.

The other thing I am doing is missing my parents. Mum and Dad left on Tuesday evening. We went to the airport and had dinner with them before their flight. Dad was only on town for one week, and Mum for three weeks. It was just not enough time. Because of our PR application and the fact that I have been a student for so very long, we are looking at a pretty travel-free year in 2015, so I do not know when I will see them again. It is tough, but that's part of being an expat. That said, I believe Mum and Dad had a pretty good visit with all the friends and family. We had a genuinely delightful Thanksgiving Dinner together with all the family here (there were not one but three pies, and the tofurkey was unexpectedly delicious!!). But it is always too brief. I also feel guilty that I was "so busy" with the last dying gasps of my thesis, and also my work, while they were here. I have a whole post of feelings about the Finishing of the Thesis, but it is too soon. I might just never.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Mum, Dad, Thesis, Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! It is a long weekend here in Canada, and there is a short crust pastry in the fridge, ready to become a pumpkin pie this afternoon.

Since last blog, lots has been going on. Here are the highlights:

Mum arrived in Vancouver
We have been on a couple of adventures, including dinner at The Acorn on Main Street. We then went to Bellagio and had gelato.

I think mum took this picture. I can't find any pictures from that evening with her in them!!
We saw a catholic parade carrying icons (??) up Main Street, with a marching band playing "Tequila". Wonders never cease. Main Street is so cool. Mum and I also went to Hillcrest and we had a sauna and went to brunch (again on Main Street). At some point she also visited for an order-in Indian buffet at our place, yum.

Dad arrived in Vancouver 
He has been in Italy for the last three weeks, great adventure. Also, it was his birthday! His flight was delayed so we couldn't pick him up, but we had lunch together a couple of days later at Fable on 4th Avenue. We then went op-shopping. Watching mum and dad in an op-shop, I realise I come by my enthusiasm for thrifting honestly.
Family resemblance!!
We all went to dinner with the Grays last night at Rogue at the Convention Centre. It was delicious and the place was practically deserted! I think because it is a long weekend. The streets have been pretty quiet yesterday and today.

I defended my thesis, and passed
THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT. It was early in the morning (10am) so I did a lot of cardio and then the bus was running late, so I got to the defence with 5 minutes to spare, not really enough time to get my knickers in a twist. My committee was quite gentle on me, in retrospect, although I did find their questions challenging, and am still puzzling over them now.

So Matthew and I are at home, waiting for Mum and Dad to arrive for lunch and pie-making. Then we will rendezvous with the whole family in Burnaby for Aunty Lorraine's famous Thankgiving Turkey Dinner. (This will be a moral temptation for me, since it is the first turkey I have encountered since vegetarianism. But cousin Carolyn will be my partner in Tofurkey, so I'm not alone. Wish me luck.)

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Running. A Lot.

I've been very inspired recently. My professional life has been a real struggle to me over the last month, and I am finding great comfort in exercise. At this tough time, exercise feels like the only activity which I can do to feel good physically and also mentally. And by good I don't mean happy. I just mean a basic level of self-care which allows me to function properly for all the other hours of the day and night that I am not exercising.

A couple of weekends ago, Matthew and I met our good friend Steph at the Vancouver Airport. We only had a few precious hours with her between her flights, so we whisked her over to Steveston for some fish and chips and a walk in the park. Luckily, it was one of the top ten most lovely days of summer.

Steph lives in Alaska (although we know her from Melbourne) and she found herself on a layover at the Vancouver Airport because of her amazing running adventures! She had just finished an ultra marathon relay from Alaska to Yukon, and her leg of the relay was in the middle of the night, when she could see the Northern Lights as she ran.

So inspiring!

Anyway, we had a lovely (though brief) afternoon together, and then drove her back to the airport. But I continue to be inspired by the story of her run.

Last weekend our friend Martina (who has featured occasionally on this blog) invited me out for a "virtual half marathon" on a course of her choosing. It was the best way to run a half marathon, because there was no standing around at the crack of dawn waiting for a bus or anything. I met her at her house on the other side of Oak Street, and we jogged a beautiful course down to the sea wall and along to Locarno Beach, and back again. I had never run with Martina before, but I think we were pretty evenly matched in pace, because we were able to jog and chat quite happily the whole time.

Locarno Beach last Sunday morning.

Kits Beach last Sunday morning

Finally,  there's a lovely Aussie lady at my gym who has recently befriended me at the gym, April. I actually met her at the finish line of the Scotia Half, and I have seen her several times a week since then. She is a much keener runner than I am, however she kindly put me through a speed interval work out on the treadmill last night (much needed, as we were both madder than a nest of bees after our long and difficult work weeks). We then met another friendly Aussie at the gym, Nicole, and the three of us went out for a hard earned Japanese feast on Broadway in Kitsilano.

So this morning when I woke up (without the alarm! luxury!) I laced up and hit the sea wall solo. I usually fear running alone, but it is a route I know well, and the sun was shining. I stopped several times to take pictures, because it was so achingly beautiful.

On the Sea Wall, the blinding sunlight. I did not have sunglasses, so this is really how I experienced it.

Cambie Bridge

Industrial bit.

Science World! (half way done!) I was so proud at this point, I sent Matthew a picture message.

More loveliness. Look how still the water is!

Some keen yogis.

And the mountains. Sigh.

There were loads of boats out by 10am. Good day for boating. Excuse my finger.
At the end, I ran all the way up Hemlock hill. Usually I wuss out and walk up, but this morning the conditions were great and I was so well rested, I must have had more energy than usual. It was a good run. I am so in love with the long summer, and so grateful for all the great runs and people I have run them with.