Category: personal reflection

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.

Five questions to ask yourself before you rent or buy

Rent or buy a home?I met with a new arrival in Vancouver this week and one of the things we discussed was the whole issue of whether it is better to rent or buy.

I strongly believe that there is no single answer to this question as so much is down to your personal circumstances. So instead, here’s some questions to ask yourself that will help you make this decision for yourself.

1. Can I get financing?

This is the first question for a reason. If the answer is NO, then there’s no need to even think about any of the other questions!

Financing is available when you first arrive in Canada, despite your not having a credit rating here, IF you have enough money to put down on the property. That is generally 35% or more. And that can be a large chunk of change.

If you are newly arrived and have a job already, then your financing may be available with a smaller down payment. You will need to have passed your probation in your job.

My advice is to contact a mortgage broker (like ours: Keith Baker) because then you will have access to a wide range of financial institutions. There’s no charge for this and you’ll get advice that’s specific to you.

2. Do I know where I want to live?

This is a pretty basic question and one that every immigrant should ask quite carefully. Let’s face it there’s no point in buying a lovely home in an area that you sooner or later find is not one that suits you.

If you’ve done really good research and been over here enough to know what area is right for you, then buying is worth considering.

If not, then you’re probably still in the research phase of your move – even if you’ve landed. Now’s the time to rent for a while and check out whether what you think is the right area is really so in practice.

3. How long am I going to be here?

Real estate is a long term investment especially when it is your family home. If you aren’t sure how long you will be in the area, then renting might be better for you. Buying and then selling within a short time can be ok, but only when the market is active and moving up. When it is slow or the prices are going down then you might lose out.

4. What about schools?

Getting your child into a specific school can be a factor. Most schools have catchment areas and your challenge might be in finding a rental property in the right area for the school you want. And once you’ve found one there’s a possibility that your lease will not be renewed at the end of the year and you’ll be looking for another suitable place.

Buying somewhere to be in the right catchment area is a familiar tactic all over the world. In Canada it happens too. You would need to be certain that you want the school and are prepared to live in the area for the time your child is in that school. If so then buying is for you.

5. How do I feel about renting?

So far, if you’ve been following along, you’ve been asking practical questions. This one is all about your own thinking and gut feeling about renting or buying.

Some people just object to renting at all. They’re the ones who see rent as “dead money” or talk about “paying someone else’s mortgage”. Depending on how strongly you agree with this, you might be buying even if some of the other practical factors suggest renting is better.

Another psychological factor that often plays is “wanting to get settled”. Immigrating is a stressful process and for most of us, we are in limbo whilst waiting for the visas to come and the move to happen. That leads to a feeling of being unsettled that is uncomfortable. Buying a home and finally unpacking all your belongings is very appealing.

On the other hand, you might be someone who is happy to have no mortgage and to be flexible enough to move around. Perhaps coming to Canada was your chance to be freer and you wanted to move around and explore the country. Renting is for you! (Or maybe an RV?)

It’s a sign

Deep Cove's dog sign
Good dog!

There must be something in the water (or more likely coffee) that the sign writers in North Vancouver drink because they certainly let their sense of humour out to play. This example is one of the best known. It is in Deep Cove, the eastern most part of the north shore. Perhaps that’s where it all started – the sign writers must have thought that this would be too far off the beaten track. Not so! Deep Cove is a popular place because it is quiet and has great access to the waters of Indian Arm. In fact just by this sign you can hire a kayak and go out and explore this beautiful inlet.

Off leash area exit sign
Sorry buddy

This one apologizes to the dog for having to go back on the leash when leaving the off leash area. This is down by the harbour centre in North Vancouver. The fenced in off-leash area has its own beach so that the dogs can swim.

There are a lot of other signs around the area. I collected a few photos on our facebook page if you want to see more. Or you can spend an enjoyable day yourself and tour North Vancouver looking out for similar signs.

Who knew the summer Olympics would be popular?

Rosy MacLennan
Gold medal winner - Rosy MacLennan

In 2010 BC, and Vancouver in particular, were (eventually) gripped by the excitement of the winter Olympics. That was understandable from two perspectives – being the host nation (and city) and Canada doing well in the medal count gave us all something to cheer for. Cynicism was forgotten in favour of┬ápatriotism. [Much the same seems to have happened in London]

So what about the summer Olympics? After all it is being held in the far off mother country (at least of some Canadians) and it has a lot more sports that Canada hasn’t really embraced.

The media coverage is understandably heavily biased toward Canadian athletes. Not as much as the woeful American coverage where you’d be forgiven for thinking that the US was the only country competing. At least Canadian commentators mention the other competitors from time to time.

Most people I’ve talked with have been enjoying the Olympics, though it hasn’t been like being in the midst of it as we were in 2010. The opening ceremony was very well liked, though I do wonder how much of the history was understood, especially by those watching on NBC, where the commentators were apparently baffled by a lot of what they saw.

It is interesting that allegiances can be split. Do you cheer for Canada or your former home country? Most of the Brits we know here seem to be rooting for team GB, with a passing interest in how the Canadians are doing. Perhaps that because Britain has been doing so well, and certainly outscoring Canada.

I am not sure whether allegiances matter in our multi-cultural society. After all we welcome people from all over the world and we’re used to them celebrating their cultures and cheering for their sports team. But on hockey night we’ll all be Canucks again!

A tale of two locks

Door lock
A typical UK style door latch will lock automatically on closing.

One of our friends mentioned the other day that he’d been away and had left the house unlocked. While he didn’t do this deliberately, it did remind me how different Canadians seemed to be in their attitudes than the Brits.

I think there’s something to be learned from the differences in the kinds of locks that Canadians and the British typically have on their homes. In the UK the usual front door lock is a latch that locks as soon as the door is closed. The default setting is locked.

In Canada doors don’t usually lock automatically. You have to remember to lock the door once you are outside. That’s probably why my British friend was able to leave his door unlocked.

This choice of locking mechanism speaks to a trusting feeling about the likelihood of anyone robbing the house. My Canadian cousin, when we stayed with her years ago, told us we didn’t need a key. All she asked was that we hide her laptop under the sofa cushion when we went out.

This relaxed attitude to security extends to your car. There’s a TV campaign urging us to lock our cars and hide valuable. Many people do leave their cars unlocked, even with windows open. Not that this is a wise thing to do – theft from cars, or of cars, is fairly common place. It does suggest that trust is our default setting here.

Frankly that is something I like about living here. I do lock my car and the house. What do you do?

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