Category: lifestyle

School’s out for the summer

Kids at play signWhen we were kids we looked forward to the summer. Do you remember the excitement of the last day at school, with the seemingly endless pleasures of summer beckoning? Life seemed full of possibilities. And so much time to enjoy everything.

The last day at school was exciting because of the expectation of pleasures to come. But it could be sad too as there were likely to be one or two friends who were leaving. Perhaps just for a summer holiday, but maybe to go onto a different school.

Now, as an adult, the summer might mean something quite different. How do you cope with entertaining the kids through July and August?

Thankfully a lot of the pleasures of childhood still exist. Canada, and B.C. especially, are outdoors places. There are so many ways to exhaust the kids in the great outdoors. Here in Vancouver we have the mountains and the ocean, so there’s hiking, swimming, biking and all kinds of water sports.

Many parents send their kids off to summer camp. There are loads of different camps, varying from the full on residential camps to the more common day camps.

Residential camps usually include a variety of activities. Our kids did some of these, and got to kayak, sail, hike, climb, do archery and sit around a lot of camp fires!

Day camps are of all kinds. Many are sports related, like soccer or sailing. Then there are music camps (pick your instrument) or even academic ones if you want to learn basic computer skills say. (You might be interested in our son’s account of sailing camp, to get an idea of what goes on).

Some parents send their kids to summer school, particularly when they are older. This is often done to give the child a boost in a particular subject, say Math or English. I’ve heard of parents who send their kids on a course that they’ll be doing in the next academic year – so that they can get good grades when they do it for real. For me, though, summer is the time for the kids to get a chance to switch off from the pressures of school. (I doubt we could get them to switch off their electronic devices, but that would be nice too!).

Childhood lasts only so long and let’s hope your kids get to enjoy their summer along with you.

Going potty over potlucks

Plate of food from a potluckWhen we first came to Canada, like most Brits, we didn’t really know what a potluck was. Hence this brief introduction to an essential element to life in Canada and the US.

If you are invited to someone’s home for a potluck then you are expected to bring some food that can be shared by you and the other guests. The host will usually give you some guidance, such as bring a dessert, main course or appetiser. If not, then it is wise to ask: “what can I bring?” or “would my chocolate brownies be ok?”.

Some tips:

  • Bring a suitable quantity of your dish to allow all guests the chance of getting a serving. 
  • Label your food, especially if it contains nuts or other allergens. 
  • Also label the container you use if you want it back. We usually use painter’s tape with our name and phone number at stick this on the underside of the dish. That way the host knows exactly who to call.
  • Don’t eat all the food you bring! (Unless no one else is eating it!)
  • Compliment the food if you want to make friends.
  • Even if it is not a potluck affair it is common for people to bring a hostess gift, often a small item of food, such as pickles, relishes or chocolates. Bonus points can be obtained for bringing homemade items.

Once you realize the benefits of potlucks, you’ll wonder why they’re not more common. It makes the host’s life so much easier and encourages entertaining by spreading the strain around evenly.

Living the dream or just dreaming?

A beautiful home on BC's Sunshine CoastOur friends recently wrote a post about a couple who have decided that Canada is not for them. It was rather sad reading about how their dream had become, if not a nightmare, at least something less desirable.

It has been one of my continuing themes that research is crucial in deciding on your move to Canada. I would like to add that you need to take stock from time to time both while waiting for your visas and also once you are in Canada.

When you are first thinking about a move to Canada, if you are like me, then you are really dreaming. I think that’s a good thing. You want to use your imagination to paint a picture of what you’d like your life to be like. I remember that we did this as a family. We got the kids involved in talking about what they wanted. (A pool featured quite prominently).

The next step is making sure that your dreams are rooted in some semblance of reality. Living in an ocean front property with the infinity pool and the boat mooring might not be within your financial grasp. (If it is, talk to me!).

Research can be based on hard facts – like the cost of real estate, cost of living, likely income and chances of getting the job you want. These are the basics.

I’d argue that the intangible things that we group under the title of “lifestyle” are equally important. Maybe you want to go skiing every weekend? Will that be possible? What will it cost?

Most people have their kids in mind when they are dreaming of Canada. Our girls were competitive dancers in the UK, so when we came on research trips we checked out dance schools, cost of dance costumes and the like. We also assumed they’d want to get into snowboarding, so we looked at that.

As I said earlier, it is also important to take the pulse of your new life from time to time. Things have the habit of changing! For instance our girls never did any dancing once they were in Vancouver. They were far more interested in new activities, like snowboarding and acting (in their school’s film program). Our son got into sailing, which we’d hardly considered.

Sue and I loved theatre in the UK, but found little comparable in Vancouver. Our spare time was spent in more active pursuits. Who knew that we’d be doing yoga, snow shoeing or running? We never bought a home with a pool.

As time has gone on, our kids have grown up and their interests have grown too. Two of them dance, but for pleasure rather than competitively. One has started rock climbing, cycling and hiking. Another is singing.

The changes, for us, have been largely positive. But we do know that there’s always a trade-off. Our old life had its positive points, and our new life has its negative ones. The balance is what is important.

Finally, I’d advise that you don’t dwell in the past. I have seen a few people who have spent way too much time comparing their life here to what their life used to be like. Often there’s a rose-tinted view of life in the old country that can be seductive. Several people have ended up moving back. And of those a few regret their return and come back to Canada – older and wiser!

Outshining the neighbours in your holiday preparations

The house is lit up‘Tis the time of year to..

Put up the Christmas lights.

And here in Vancouver most homes have at least some lights adorning them. I have seen everything from the token string of lights around a convenient bush to the full-on Griswolds from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

In our last house we had someone put the lights up simply because I didn’t have ladders long enough to reach the eaves. And I figured that I was contributing to the local economy and helping a retiree earn a bit extra (while putting his life at risk up the top of a ladder).

Our new home is a rental and our lease forbids us to attach anything to the exterior of the home. I am not sure if that was an expression of “bah humbug” or whether they wanted to protect the neighbours from our poor taste in exterior illumination!

Luckily at the front of the house is a row of 4 foot cedar trees. With some extension cable and piggy backing lines of lights, I have lit up all 12 trees, as well as the bamboo thicket. If the dog stood still I would have illuminated him!

Our neighbours have all entered into the spirit of the thing. The spirit being competition. Across the way there have been more lights added to their display almost every day. The nodding reindeer were a nice touch.

A deflated Santa is a sad sightFurther down the road they’ve gone with the inflatable Santa and snowman. Personally I think that is sad. Especially when the compressor is off and the poor devil is flat. That could be quite damaging for young children. If you’re thinking of going with an inflatable decoration please keep the compressor running throughout the Christmas season. After all Christmas is all about the kids isn’t it?

Our top 5 apps for Vancouver’s visitors

screenshot from the Visit Vancouver iPad appIf you are planning a research trip or holiday in British Columbia then you might want to get these apps to help you make the most of your trip.

1. Visit Vancouver iPad app

This new app for the iPad is pretty comprehensive (and free too). You get:

  • A guide to the local transit system for finding your way around
  • Hotel and hostel guide
  • Restaurants
  • Activities of many kinds
  • Local calendar of events
  • And beautiful video and photos to inspire you

Find the app at the app store.

2. Street Food Vancouver

The street carts selling food to passing pedestrians have grown way beyond the humble hotdog stand. Now you can sample food from a huge variety of cuisines, really showcasing all that Vancouver’s foodies can provide. The Street Food Vancouver app lets you find what food trucks are operating and where.

Details for Street Food Vancouver are also on the app store.

3. On the Go Kids

If you’re visiting with your kids then this might be the app for you. Full of events and activities for the younger set, you can search for activities that they might enjoy. A research trip needs to include fun time for both adults and kids. Find out what your family activities will be when you’re living here.

On the Go Kids can be seen here.

4. Canucks

If you really want to experience being a Vancouverite then you have to support the Canucks NHL hockey team (assuming they get to play this season). This app will keep you in touch with what may just become your team.

Go Canucks at the app store. (Other versions are available for blackberry and android at the Canucks site.

5. Translink’s trip planner

This is a really useful app for getting around on the transit system. It even includes up to date information on bus arrival times etc. Some features require a subscription.

Details here.

Finally if you know of any other apps or resources for those visiting Vancouver (or elsewhere in BC) then let me know.

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