Tag Archive | Christmas

The first Vancouver snow of the winter!

I should have written this post two weeks ago, when the snow was actually here. Instead, I was mostly running around the seawall being really excited about winter and Christmas. I know it sounds crazy being excited about snow when I live in Canada, but when it comes to the white stuff I might as well be back in Southampton. We hardly EVER get snow, so it’s kind of a big deal when it happens. SO much so that I forgot to write this post. Then the snow went, December happened and life got in the way. Oooops.

It’s been weirdly mild this week (the temperature is back in double figures) and although the warmer temperatures are nice, it’s ruling out any chance of the current torrential rain turning into snow. There’s now less than two weeks until I’m back at the Washington State cabin for Christmas so it better get colder soon, at least south of the border, so we can have our white Christmas. Until then, I’ll remember the blissful two days when we had snow in November.

The (somewhat) snowy view from our building when we woke up

Dave and I by False Creek

Dave snug as a bug in his jacket!

James and Dave walking along the seawall

False Creek seawall in the snow

A Very Cabin Christmas

This post is very late coming, and Christmas now seems like a very long time ago. It’s been a pretty hectic 2014 so far and I’m only just getting round to writing this. Hopefully, you’re still interested in how I spent my first Christmas away from home.

The morning we left to drive down to the cabin did not start well. Dave had a little upset stomach emergency and we ended up rushing him to the vet. Luckily all was well, and we were on our merry way with some pills for a minor bacterial infection, only an hour behind schedule. We just had my brother and his girlfriend in the car with us as our other two friends were coming down after work on Christmas Eve. The initial wait at the border was only about 30 minutes, and Dave was waived through without any questions. My brother was not so lucky, as he hadn’t been into the US in the past 90 days so needed to buy a visa waiver.  We were all asked to get out of the car and line up inside the building with my brother, and Dave and I were directed to a kennel at the back of the building. When I say kennel, I mean 10ft x 4ft concrete cell with wire mesh walls. There was no way I was leaving tiny little 10lb Dave alone in the freezing cold, so I stayed with him. I was plenty warm in my ski jacket and James’ coat, and had my iPhone blasting out my Christmas playlist on full volume. No-one came to tell me I wasn’t supposed to be pacing up and down inside a kennel, so I was still there when the others finally reached the front of the line two hours later. I dashed inside to meet them at the desk, and ten minutes later we were finally able to enter the US.

The view from the border kennel...

The view from the border kennel…

Looking not so happy in the kennel

Looking not so happy in the kennel

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Feeling a little bit Festive

Today is December 6th (though WordPress thinks I’m on UK time, and will say that this was posted on December 7th), and this December is already feeling longer than most. Usually at this time of year I’m packing my suitcase to head back to the UK for a two or three week vacation, which includes Christmas and New Year. This year is my first Christmas away from home, and I’m spending it at a cabin in Mount Baker with my brother and friends. We don’t head down until the 23rd, which means that my December in Vancouver is suddenly longer than two weeks. I haven’t been overly impressed with how Vancouver does Christmas for the last couple of years, so I’m hoping that this year is different.

First, we have a tree! We haven’t bothered getting a Christmas tree the last two Decembers because we’ve always been heading back to the UK before some people even get round to decorating. We just wait until we get home. Picking out the Christmas tree is always something that I do with my Dad, and always involves strict testing criteria of symmetry, bushiness and how-tall-can-we-go-without-Mum-minding-ness. Then the tree goes in the garage for a week so that the branches can drop before we start decorating. The decorations are a mix of old and souvenir baubles of all different colors and styles, with multi-colored lights and all kinds of tinsel. I know Mum would really love a tree with more of a classic theme (think wooden decorations), but Dad and I are in charge of the decorating, so that’s that. Saying that, I’m not there to supervise this year, so maybe Mum will win after all!

Oh Christmas Tree!

Oh Christmas Tree!

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All Change, All Change, All Change!

The fact that it’s been six weeks since my last post is an indicator of just how busy this summer has been. I had an amazing three weeks with my in-laws from mid-Wales, and enjoyed a whole month without rain. I visited Astoria, Cannon Beach and Gibsons (twice). I hiked the BCMC trail, ate brunch on Main Street and took advantage of Earl’s Mexican Bulldog Mondays – all for the first time.  I continued my summer traditions of reading magazines on the balcony, drinking coffee on the seawall and enjoying a cocktail in the gorgeous Reflections bar. Now Labour Day is here, and it’s time for me to start looking forward into fall. Usually I’d be disappointed that summer is coming to an end, but the last few months of 2013 (and beyond) are just holding way too many fun things for me to even think about the post-sunshine blues. Here’s a taster of what’s in store for me between now and the C word (Christmas, of course…).

1. Reconciliation Week – September 16th – 22nd 

Those of you who read my post on my new job at Reconciliation Canada will know that the week commencing September 16th is a big one in my calendar. Reconciliation Canada is hosting three major events during Reconciliation Week, including a traditional burning ceremony (Monday 16th), a visually stunning canoe gathering (Tuesday 17th), and top top it off, the biggest event of all: the 50,000 participant Walk for Reconciliation & A New Way Forward Celebration (Sunday 22nd). My job has been to lead the recruitment, scheduling, on-boarding and training of almost 1,000 volunteers who will make these events happen. With less than three weeks to go until it’s all over, the busyness starts now. On a related note, today is where my social life ends for a while…see you all on September 23rd (unless you’re someone who believes in renewing relationships among all Canadians, in which case I’ll see you at our Reconciliation Week events, won’t I?)! As I also mentioned in my previous blog post, my contract will be ending at the end of September, and I’ll be looking for another job. I’m not in a huge rush (mainly due to the length of this list), but there are couple of potential options floating around that I’m really excited about. Watch this space.

Join us in the Walk for Reconciliation on September 22nd in Downtown Vancouver

Join us in the Walk for Reconciliation on September 22nd in Downtown Vancouver

2. New Apartment – October 1st

After two years in our beloved Downtown apartment, we’re officially on the hunt for a new home from October 1st. We’re looking to stay in the Downtown core (Yaletown to West End) as we love our location so much, except this time it needs to be a pet friendly building (more to come on that). We’ve been scouring craigslist on the half hour, every half hour, and have a number of viewings lined up this week. We’re hoping to get somewhere sorted in the next week or so while I have evening hours available to look at places, otherwise the madness of Reconciliation Week will kick in and the manfriend will be searching solo. Pet friendly places are generally more rare of than their no-pet counterparts, and the laws of supply and demand have therefore driven the prices up substantially. Saying that, we’re really pleased with the viewings we’ve been able to secure this week, and have everything crossed that we find somewhere soon. We’ll really miss our current place, but are looking forward to moving somewhere unfurnished that we can customize just as we like. Wish us luck!

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There’s No Place Like Home…

After 11 months in Vancouver, I’m happy to be writing this post curled up on the sofa of my house in Shotley Gate, near Ipswich, in Suffolk, England. The Christmas tree is up, the wreath is on the door, and I’m watching The A Team on Sky. I’ve been back in the country for a week now, and I still have another two weeks before I fly back to Vancouver. I’ve spent time with my family in Ipswich, friends in Southampton and grandparents in Basingstoke. I haven’t checked my work emails once, and am well and truly on vacation.

The flight from Vancouver was better than I expected it to be; I didn’t sleep or watch many movies, but I did close my eyes and listen to Westlife for 2 straight hours (oh yes). I arrived at Heathrow very, very tired but very, very excited to see my parents waiting with a huge ‘Welcome Home’ sign and a UK SIM card. Priorities indeed. I managed to stay awake for the drive back to Ipswich, and thoroughly enjoyed the toasted cheese sandwich that was waiting for me when I arrived. My first evening meal was an infamous family speciality: sausage meat pie with mashed potato, vegetables and a lot of gravy. How very British.

It's not quite Vancouver, but Shotley beach is still beautiful

Once I got home it felt like I’d never been away, and it was the same when I arrived in Southampton. I was nervous about what it would be like being back on campus, but I had a fantastic few days of coffees, lunches and dinners with friends. I found myself repeatedly pinching myself to remind myself that being back wasn’t a dream, and more importantly that Vancouver wasn’t either. I was surprised at how easy it was to settle back into old patterns, and before long I was complaining about the prices of drinks on campus and fighting for a seat on the bus to town. The only difference was that this time I was openly celebrating drinking soda with lime cordial (finally), and paying for the bus with a £20 note as opposed to exact change (a luxury). Catching up with friends didn’t feel like a whole year had passed, and the awkwardness I’d worried about just didn’t appear. It was a little surreal being back in Starbucks in Southampton High Street after so long, but this time I savoured my toffee nut mocha, knowing I couldn’t get that flavour in Canada.

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Countdown to Christmas

Today marks the 10month anniversary of my Canadian adventure, and also one month until I arrive back home for my Christmas Vacation (Holiday Roooooooooaaaad).  It’s been 10 months since I saw my friends, 10 months since I walked my dogs, and 10 months since I had dinner with my family. When I first booked my flight back I was disappointed to be returning home so early in December as it wasn’t ideal to be using up so many of my previous vacation days at this time of year. In reality it turns out I’ll have plenty to spare after all, and the timing is in fact perfect. I have had an amazing 2011 and couldn’t be happier in Vancouver (well, the Canucks could pick up their game this season), but I am beyond excited to be returning home for three and half weeks.

Those of you who know me will not be surprised to know that the planning has well and truly started. Facebook messages have been sent, dinner reservations made and travel plans arranged. When I arrive back at the airport the boy and I will be heading out separate ways.  Him to spend some time with friends in London and me to go straight back home with my family, where I’ll spend a relaxing few days being jet lagged, playing on the Wii and eating British cheese.

My family home isn't quite the Griswold's house at Christmas, but I can't wait to be there!

It’s my birthday on December 14th, and I’m celebrating with my family and grandparents during the day then meeting the boy in London that evening. From there we’ll travel onto Southampton to catch up with friends before stopping off in Winchester on the way to Basingstoke to visit my other grandparents on the way back home.  The next few days will be spent travelling in and out of London and more coffee, lunch and dinner dates before returning home for Christmas. I’ll be visiting Cambridge between Christmas and New Year, then seeing in 2011 back in London before flying back out to Vancouver in early January (date TBC when flight is eventually booked).

It’s going to be a busy few weeks, but one I absolutely cannot wait for. I’m excited to see my friends, excited to see my family, and excited to see just how I’ll feel about being back in the UK after my year away. The strangest part of the whole trip will be not being at work for over three weeks, which is hard to imagine after the craziness of the past few months.  Checking out of my Canadian life and back into the UK will be a little like stepping into a parallel universe, and I can’t wait to find out what I’ve missed. The countdown to Christmas is well and truly on!

All I want for Christmas…

Being that it’s Christmas Eve and all, I thought I’d get in the festive spirit by sharing my Christmas wishes.  I’m lucky enough to have been born in mid-December, so my list of presents gets to be twice as long, and this year it has a very distinct theme – if it can’t fit in my suitcase it won’t get under the tree.

Roxy Terry Snow Boots – These après ski boots have solved the one eternal dilemma that Ugg and Emu failed to do, and manage to keep one’s feet warm and above all dry in the rain or snow.  A must for Vancouver.

Roxy Fleece-lined Jacket – Also essential for Canada, and the one I chose is nice and bright too.

Roxy Iceberg Jacket, James and James Clothing

Roxy Backpack – As well as continuing the noticeable theme, a backpack is going to be far more useful for hand luggage, snowboarding, hiking and general outdoor activities than the Cath Kidston handbag that also made the list.

Padlocks – A bit of a boring one, but padlocks are necessary for securing one’s suitcase, as well as hostel lockers.

Skype Headset – 2011 is going to be the year of Skype for me, so I need a headset to be able to use it.  The one I asked for was Bluetooth and wireless so I can walk around whilst chatting.

Towel – Not very glamorous, but I’m going to need one of these so it might as well be a nice, fluffy, new one.

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The Long Goodbye

So, chapter one of my Canadian adventure is over – I’ve finished work, moved out of the flat I shared with my boyfriend and driven out of Southampton for the last time for a very long time, if not ever.  I’m now well into chapter two, which is living with my parents over Christmas and new year until the start of chapter three, which will see me leaving the country on January 11th (assuming there’s no snow on the runway of course).  What happens when I land is a currently a source of panic, anxiety and extreme fear which doesn’t bear thinking about, at least until the last of the cold turkey sandwiches have been eaten.

Most of the milestones in the journey so far have come and gone just as I imagined, with the major exception of saying goodbye to friends (I haven’t got onto family just yet).  I didn’t quite anticipate just how many people there were to go for dinner, drinks or both with, and how busy I would be in my last few weeks before I left, to the extent that I can count the number of times my boyfriend and I cooked in our own flat in December.  Even then there were people I didn’t get to see, and people I still have yet to meet up with over the holidays (get me – I sound Canadian already!).


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my social life suddenly rocketing through the roof, but there are definitely pro’s and con’s to an endless string of leaving do’s.  The more time I spend going out for lunch, drinks and dinner the more food and alcohol I consume, the more money I spend, and the less time I have to go to the gym to burn off the food and alcohol I’m consuming, which I’m also still spending money on a monthly fee for.  A vicious circle if ever I knew one.

Despite losing pounds and gaining pounds (geddit?) at such an alarming rate, it’s been fantastic to see so many friends for one last time before I go.  Making an effort to get up and get out of the flat every evening when all I want to do is curl up after an exhausting day of handover at work was definitely worth it, as I have that many more memories to take with me.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that the most important thing isn’t how you feel at the time (tired, stressed, panicked), but how you’ll feel weeks and months down the line when you look back on the long goodbye with happiness or regret.  For me it’s definitely happiness, and I’m already planning what I’m going to say in my first postcards home.

Climate Control

This week I’ve been lucky enough to have not one but two days off work as a result of ‘adverse weather conditions’ (just about the only positive thing about working for a UK University at the moment – the ConDems can take our funding but they can’t take our snow days).  Every time the snow starts to fall within inches of our coastlines the buses and trains stop running, the schools start closing, and every man and his mother has something to say about how terrible it is that we’re so unprepared for winter weather.  This usually involves comparing the UK to somewhere like, for example, Canada.

Whilst it’s true that other countries seem to fare much better during ice and snow, Vancouver was also taken unawares at the end of November when an unexpected drop in temperature caused delays on the SkyTrain, Vancouver’s public transit system.  The SkyTrain is an electric and fully automated train line that operates largely on an elevated tracks across 47 stations on three lines.  It seems that an accumulation of snow and ice on the SkyTrain’s power rail is enough to temporarily cripple the service, which is unfortunately what happened when two trains stalled in separate places on the Canada line during the morning rush hour (read the full story here: http://tinyurl.com/2umht3s).

This Canada Line train couldn't cross Vancouver's Fraser River Bridge because of ice and snow.

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My life in colour coded categories

I’ve been adamant all week that this weekend would be a productive one, and if keeping my own promises wasn’t enough to spur me on the sudden realisation that I’m moving out of my flat in 11 weeks today has succeeded in whirling me into a cleaning, sorting frenzy (think Monica from friends but replace the extreme organisation with extreme panic).

My plans for the holiday season are as follows: Move out of flat on Sunday 19th December with help from parents who will be transporting my worldly goods to their house for storage; stay with friends from Sunday 19th until Thursday 23rd December, during which time I need to go to work; leave work for Christmas (and for good!) on the 23rd and get the train to parents house; stay at parents house until January 11th when I will arrive at London Heathrow suitably packed with everything I need (and nothing more) for my working holiday.

I’m going to make somewhat of a large generalisation and assume that the vast majority of 18-30 year olds in possession of a working holiday visa are either living with parents or in private rented accommodation (like me), which means that moving out in itself is relatively easy.  All I have to do is give my lettings agency one month’s notice in writing, which is a doddle compared to the stress of having to sell/rent out a house had I been in the position to own one (which I most definitely am not).

Modern, two bed flat for rent, fully furnished including one disorganised traveller...

The only niggle in my plan stems from the fact that successfully departing from my flat, sending my belongings home to my parent’s attic, and staying with friends for my last week at work all require me to have sorted my belongings into the following categories:

a)      Things I don’t want or need, that nobody else will want or need either, and are therefore destined for the rubbish bin (skip loads).

b)      Things I don’t want or need, but may have some small financial value and can attempt to sell via a bar boot sale/ebay/gumtree (a good few boxes).

c)       Things I definitely want and need, but am not intending to take to Canada with me so will pack up for storage at my parent’s house (boxes, bags and overflowing bin liners).

d)      Things I cannot live without and will be lugging with me on the plane (two suitcases).

e)      Things I may not be taking with me but will need when I stay at a friend’s house for a week, and also taking home on the train (small holdall).

A friend suggested I apply to go on Cash in the Attic, which sounded like a great idea except I don’t have an attic, everything in my modern, two bed flat is less than five years old, and I imagine they have a turnaround time of more than 11 weeks per episode.

Alas, there is nothing for it but to embrace my inner Monica, invest in some seriously strong bin liners and start the sorting process.  I am more than a bit of an organisation freak, so if it all gets too much I’ll concentrate instead on making pretty, colour-coded labels for each of my categorised boxes until the panic subsides and I can continue pulling long lost treasures from under my bed. I think I’ll start with the spare room. Deep breath now…!