Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The sandwich generation

The economics of grandparenting are thus: I give you an adorable child who loves you unconditionally - the one you've always wanted, ever since your own children turned out less adorable and loving than you'd hoped - and you give me unlimited free childcare where and when I request it.

This works better when you live on the same continent as your ancestors, but Mum and Dad fulfilled their side of the deal to perfection when they offered Hannah and me a night away during their stay.  "Is the Pope a Catholic?" was all I replied, swiftly booking a night at Harrison Hot Springs before that particular conversation ended.

An hour-or-so east of us, Harrison is a resort town in the great tradition of the 1950s.  There's still a dinner dance that takes place every night, which we would have totally gone to and re-enacted the finale of Dirty Dancing, but we decided to stay in our room eating pizza and watching TLC.

The hot springs have been drawing tourists since the late 1800s, and even though the outside temperature dipped to -14C it didn't stop us dipping in the soothing, steaming, mineral-rich waters.  Clothing was sadly not optional, but even that didn't take away from the relaxing enjoyment.  To be honest, I'd have been happy to sleep on a park bench knowing my parents had taken on all feeding, changing, and entertainment duties back at home.

Next morning we made our lazy way home, following a route that took us past several eagle feeding grounds, both bald and golden.  I wondered about these graceful, powerful flyers, swooping with utter freedom in the clear, silent air.  Do eagles eat their young?

Back in Vancouver it's not entirely clear whether grandparents/child noticed that we'd been away.  "I was very strict!" claimed my mother, which means the baby was only allowed ice cream and cake four times a day rather than the five he requested.  Whatever - when the cat's away the mice can play, especially if the cat is sipping cocktails in a hot mineral pool under the twinkling stars.

The view from Harrison.  Not too bad, but cold.

Not my photo, but I wanted to give you some idea.

They also have some indoor pools but, frankly, they're for wusses.

Hannah enjoys a large glass of chardonnay with lunch.  Just like I do on any normal day.

Me and a Sasquatch.  When I shed my clothes to jump into a hot spring I look surprisingly similar.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A Child's Christmas in Canada

With Pete's added years comes an added understanding of what presents are, and therefore what the true meaning of Christmas is: unwrapping stuff in a frenzy.  He was aided and abetted by his mother and grandparents, and so my rule of no presents before church was roundly flouted.  Stereotypically for a toddler, the boxes were often more exciting than the things they contained.

Hannah pulled all the stops out for Christmas lunch, and the turkey would be happy to know how moist and tasty it was after its expert roasting.  All the trimmings were there, even brussels sprouts, although done California-style (pan roasted in balsamic) rather than boiled to within an inch of their tasteless lives, then a mile beyond.

After that I tried to whip up enthusiasm for a game of charades but everyone else wanted to nap.  I took advantage, spending a happy hour helping Peppa Pig pilot her aeroplane around the penguin slide before serving her a play dough ice cream sundae.  Then the baby woke up and I had to give him his things back.

The sun's not up, but the present openers are.

Grandpa reads Pete a new book.  For the sixteenth time.

You mean the humiliation of a silly paper hat is going to happen annually?

Chef and sous-chef.

Ooohhh yes.

Non-traditional creme brulees for pudding, though alcohol and flames are a standard Christmas mix.

Grandma was allowed to share select toys.

And after all that...

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Bearing gifts, travelling far

Like the three wise men, my parents have arrived bearing gifts.  I would have preferred gold but there's no arguing with the number of packages under our tree.  Air Canada must have a very generous luggage allowance.

They're with us for the season, which means that Pete is once again over the moon, having powerful sympathisers who will feed him pudding and cakes and even if he doesn't eat his main course.  Wherefore discipline?

As soon as the possibility of taking a grandson on a carousel was mentioned we had to go back to the Christmas market, where prices for marzipan hadn't dropped.  Almost everyone had fun.

Tomorrow it's the big day, and while there has been much talk of Father Christmas (tied to a strict naughty/nice guideline), elves, Rudolph, etc. I'm not sure Pete's entirely clear on what's happening.  But then, who needs Santa and flying reindeer when you've got grandparents?

You wanted a grandchild, so you're in charge now.

Grandma steps up.

What good is a nut cracker without some nuts?

Mummy didn't want to miss out.

Christmas jumper from Aunty Emily.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

I made it out of clay

It's amazing how many cultures have stolen the idea of Christmas from the Anglican Church, and today I was surprised to add Judaism to that list when we were invited over to Jessie and Jane's to celebrate the suspiciously Christmas-like Hanukkah.

Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights as it's often known, is all about the re-dedication of the Temple in 165BC, after the Romans had got up to their usual tricks and put an altar to Zeus in there.  The Maccabees kicked them out, wrote a couple of books in the Apocrypha about it, and since then people have lit menorahs, played dreidel and, most importantly, eaten a lot of food.

Judaism has all the best holidays, with personal favourites being New Year of the Trees and Shavuot, when everything you eat has to be made of cheese.  Top that, Christianity!  The original story of the Temple involves a miracle of oil, and what else can you do with oil but fry food in it?  Or pull it out of the ground and sell it, if you're Hannah.  So Hanukkah dinner (which lasts eight days) included fried potato latkes and deep-fried donuts, lovingly prepared by Jessie, although she did sneak some salad and even some home-made oregano jelly onto the table, which they surely didn't enjoy in second century BC Jerusalem.

We lit the menorah, we sang songs, we ate far too much fried stuff, and after that came time to play dreidel, which is like gambling except the dice is a spinning top and you can eat the money.  You also won oranges, although I don't think that's Biblical.

It was a fantastic night of fun, which made me wonder: why not put every religious holiday onto one calendar?  Being the Internet someone has already done this, so my New Year's resolution must be to celebrate them all.  It's going to busy - see you for L. Ron Hubbard's birthday on 18th March.

Jane - lighting the menorah, singing in Hebrew, serving as Parish Council Secretary at the Cathedral.  Go girl!

Hannah and Pete get in on the act under Jessie's sensible guidance.

It's a feast day, literally.

Gambling and religion: uneasy bedfellows since the dawn of time.

I'm sure my dreidel was fixed.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

European deficit

One more Vancouver tradition ticked off our list today with our visit to the Vancouver Christmas Market.  We're actually more Vancouver than most who were born here.  Do you know how few people from our church have visited North America's largest clothing optional beach?  It's quite shocking.

Christmas in Hannah's family remains a big deal, with fevered phone calls between siblings, much excitement/vein-popping stress over present buying, and a lot of cooking.  She was understandably upset to miss last year's Christmas market and, having heard all year from work colleagues how wonderful it is, was determined to go this time.  With entry prices starting at $7, and rising to $40 for a VIP ticket, it must be something amazing, right?

Well, no.  It's an outdoor shopping mall.  Where was Santa, that I may sit on his knee?  Where were elves handing me tankards of mulled wine and gigantic mince pies?  They were there, but I had to pay extra to see those.  It also turned out to be a German Christmas market.  As if holding the World Cup (again) and having the only functioning economy in Europe wasn't enough, Germany also owns Canadian Christmas, when everyone knows it was invented (like football) in England.

After deciding that $25 was too much to pay for my favourite marzipan I sniffed out the place serving the hot wine.  It was $6 in a "souvenir mug"...and you had to give the mug back. "Ist dass die Größe des Bechers ich für meine Glühwein?" I asked the server. "Weil ich finde dass mehr als ein wenig enttäuschend und ich überlege mir ob Sie mit Ihrem Vorgesetzten anrufen und sich beschweren."  That told him.

Peter and Hannah had a lovely time, taking many rides on the carousel, and perhaps indicating that I haven't yet achieved the correct attitude for the festive season.  Like my idol, Mr Scrooge, I muttered a dark "humbug" and took another bite of kartoffelpuffer.

It looks so happy and cheery from the outside.

The closest we'll get to Pete sitting on Santa's lap.

'Tis the season to be merry and joyful.

"Made in Germany with love," said the signs.  Where are all the English Christmas markets, with people complaining about the weather and serving overbrewed tea in polystyrene cups?  That's what the public wants.

Decorations.  They cost extra.

People having fun.  Whatever.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Santa: Year Two

I don't know how the plunging oil prices have affected Santa - I presume he's stopped his exploratory drilling under the North Pole ice cap - but he did decide to come to the Chevron Christmas Party.  We hopped on the cable car to head up Grouse Mountain for an all-you-can-eat hot buffet breakfast and to see him!  But mainly for an all-you-can-eat hot buffet breakfast.

Pete was excited.  He's now somewhat familiar with Santa, having seen him everywhere around Vancouver (how does Santa do that?) although I don't think he really understands who Santa is, or where baby Jesus fits into it all.  Anyway, after last year's quick and unsuccessful attempt to get an 'on Santa's knee' pic I've been talking lots to Pete about the man in red, in a homespun self-help mix of cognitive behavioral and exposure therapy.  Cogbahsposure therapy, if you will.

Initial results on my one-yr-old test subject were good, as he displayed much excitement when Santa entered the buffet room, pausing from eating his fourth pancake with maple syrup.  However, as Santa approached, enthusiasm waned, and when the big man reached our table and asked for a high-five Pete clung to his mum like a baby koala.  If Pete was aware what his mother's really like he'd have leapt at Santa, but he's only known her for a couple of years.

Being much bigger now, we couldn't balance him on Santa's lap and hope to get a nice shot in the nanoseconds before crying/escape began, so no physical contact was made.  I tried to rescue the situation, constantly telling Pete that he'd been naughty and so Santa wouldn't bring him any presents, and that the elves would probably kidnap him and take him to the North Pole and feed him to the reindeer, but even this didn't help.  Oh well - twelve months of intense psychological work and I'll hope for better results next time.

Transport to the top.

A lot less wintry than last year.

Pete takes to the ice!  A skating prodigy?  Maybe I'll force that on him next year.

Santa's transport.

Pete's transport (he wishes).

The ski season isn't exactly in full swing.

It doesn't look like it.

Plate #5.

I saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus...but decided against direct physical contact myself.

Corporate Christmas card.

Gospel carols before we head back down.

But the view made it all worth it.

Home, and time to "help" with making the Christmas cake.

And what tree is complete without a Chevron-branded bauble?  Not ours, that's for sure.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Bushtucker trial

As you know, I regularly put life and limb on the line in service to this blog, and never was this more true than today when I decided to drink a Chai Nog Latte so that you, dear reader, don't have to.

How could I resist one?  The number of themed holiday drinks that all local coffee chains are offering has now risen to ridiculous levels.  I'm all for the pumpkin spice latte - it's not Halloween without one - but with a well-known coffee chain currently advertising a Christmas Cookie Latte ("A buttery creamy latte infused with shortbread cookie sauce, topped with whipped cream, shortbread cookie drizzle and butter cookie crumbles.") I'm just waiting to be told "Cappuccino?  Sorry, we don't do those anymore."  The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Anyway, I swallowed my principles (which were tastier than the drink I ordered) and was soon looking at a Chai Nog Latte as offered by Blenz, which could only be a high-end coffee chain in a country where Tim Horton's is the most popular cafe.  The poster outside Blenz (see below) promised much, most notably that the beverage was 'spiced, creamy, and classic', just like me.  Truthfully, I couldn't identify all the ingredients featured - nutmeg, tea, vanilla...cardamom...what looks like the inside of fish fingers...

Shortly after ordering I was was handed a cup filled almost totally with warm liquid.  A first taste revealed the complexity of the drink: an initial hit of sweetness, followed by undertones of sugar, developing into further syrupy notes and ending in a long finish of saccharin that coated the mouth with the subtlest hint of chemicals.

So, on balance, try not to be tempted as I was.  The biggest sin the drink commits is that it doesn't actually contain any coffee that might possibly balance the mountain of sugars.  Maybe I should try again and ask them to add an espresso shot.  Dirty Chai Nog Latte anyone?

If the holidays are supposed to taste like this, roll on January.

Tastefully presented.


I'm not enjoying this drink of sugar and chemical flavourings - give the rest to the baby.

Next time.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Lighting up

It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid.  Unless, like me, you're scared of elves.  Unfortunately Vancouver is full of them at the moment as the city gears itself up for the festive season - we had story time with Scuba Elf Jen at the aquarium, saw several at Bright Nights in Stanley Park, and lost count of the things in today's Santa Parade.

This week was mostly about Christmas lights, with the Stanley Park display back for another year, together with the train ride through the gaudily decorated woods.  Hannah, who's been desperate to go on the train since last year, judged that Pete was old enough to provide her with the excuse.  I waited for them in the warm and pleasant theatre tent, watching Frozen.

On Friday the Vancouver Christmas lights were switched on!  I was expecting something slightly bigger, with a few C-list celebrities, but the "lights" turned out to be four Christmas trees next to the Olympic torch.  There was a performance by a boy band, and free hot chocolate.

Today it was the parade, or the "Rogers Santa Claus Parade" to give it its fully-commercialised title.  The whole of the centre of the city is blocked off for marching bands, dance troupes, and a long queue of floats sponsored by various city businesses.  I'm still waiting for Chevron to put a float together so I can throw out sweets to the masses, but I've been told that we might have more things thrown back at us.  They're not as oil friendly up here as in California.  Strange!

The one true light of hope in all this madness was the Christingle service at church.  Even this was not without its shock revelation, as Canadians don't know what Christingles are!  It turns out that this tradition involving oranges, ribbons and sweets is entirely British and, now I think about it, it does have a bit of a Stonehenge pagan vibe.  Luckily the cathedral's children's worker, Rosie, is English, and so she was able to educate our colonial cousins in the ways of true religion.

And it's still three weeks until Christmas!  I'm sure the madness can't continue at this pace...

Stanley Park - an oasis of untouched natural beauty in the heart of Vancouver.

Gingerbread, maple leaf.

This guy was here last year too.  Although I didn't see baby Jesus this time, possibly a victim of needing space to show Frozen.

The Olympic torch, glowing nicely, whatever the season.


Pete's height, and my back, mean the days of baby backpacking are numbered.

Who gets to turn on the lights?  Santa, and a beluga, and sundry others.



Where d'you want this reindeer?

Christingle paraphernalia.

Rosie instructs young Canadians about their first ever Christingle.


Complete!  Guess how long Olivia's sweets lasted (even though her dad told her she had to eat the candle first).

On the way home through the parade we were reminded what it's really all about.