The Best Weekend Of The Year

Canada Day

I have decided that this is the best weekend of the year.  Better than Halloween, better than Christmas, better than my birthday.  This is the weekend of:

  • School Is Out!
  • The Sun Is Coming!
  • Unexpected Holiday!
  • Endless possibilities abound….!

The first year we lived in Canada, we were horrified at the thought of nearly 10 weeks of summer holiday.  How is anyone expected to manage a full time job and afford childcare for that length of time?  The following year we booked every child into every camp possible, and they went back to school in September more tired than they had been in June.  Now we are seasoned, experienced, and almost Canadian.  It helps that our children are old enough to babysit each other, and had been studying karate long enough to inflict discipline on each other without too much real injury.  The prospect of watching them spend the hot months chilling, cycling, swimming and doing what kids are supposed to do (“Stop that, put it down, you don’t know where it’s been, NOW look what you did to your new sandals…”), is just bliss.

Recently we shared a picture on Facebook.  This is what the start of our summer has been like, but it is still better than Juneuary last year, when we were still wrapped in our polar outfits and snow boots, and at least we are not underwater like parts of Alberta.  Summer

This year the rain has meant that everything I planted in the garden, and many things I did not plant (we have an Accidental Pumpkin patch in the area where I spread my home made compost.  I forgot I had put all 7 Halloween pumpkins with their seeds in the compost last November), are growing, and the time of sitting and appreciating the growth, with a little light harvesting, weeding and reseeding, has arrived.  July and August are generally scorching, and the amount of ground water means I may not have to water the lawn or beds for some time.

The Unexpected Holiday is Canada Day.  You don’t realize until you move from the UK how your body has become attuned to the seasons with their high days and Bank Holidays.  I feel a little wrench at the beginning of May when I realize that it’s Spring Bank Holiday, but I am at work.  But that is completely overwhelmed, when you have been dragging yourself and your children to the end of the school year (“Just 3 more days… just one more teacher gift… just one more awards ceremony… I really don’t care where your planner or lunch box have gone, you only have 2 more days at school…”), when you realize that it’s Canada Day Weekend!  Break out the wine and the barbeque!

And now the endless possibilities… tomorrow I am going to load my grumbling husband and happy dog into the car and drive away.  I will leave a note for the children, which will say “Your parents have run away.  You must solve the clues and find them or your college funds are in jeopardy.”  There will be clues to lead them to the Skytrain, along the waterfront, into Stanley Park and round the seawall.  A real adventure to start the holiday, with a picnic and ice cream at the end.   Later in the holiday we will go berry picking, camping, climb the Stawamish Chief, explore Simon Fraser University campus, shop for new school supplies and clothes and backpacks, paint the shed, create a mural of salmon on the wall of the house that faces the salmon creek – or do none of the above.  The kids will play in the street with other kids, and we’ll dish out freezies, After Bite and bandaids in equal quantities.  Before we know it, we will be back in school and greeting our old friends, and loving the run up to Halloween and Christmas!


You gotta love a Freezie on a hot day!


Springtime in Vancouver


Spring sneaks into Vancouver.  You’ve got your head down, and your shoulders hunched and your hood up, when you suddenly look up and realize that the sun is shining, and Spring has ARRIVED!

For the last few days I have been working downtown, and there is nothing more beautiful, in my experience, than Vancouver in Spring sunshine.  I catch the Skytrain through New Westminster, along the huge slow Fraser River, into the bustle of Metrotown and out again, beside the peaceful parks and cycle paths.  As we reach Vancouver, the sun glints off the glass towers, the new leaves and the waves out on the water.  I stare at the new Community Garden which has sprung up on an abandoned parking lot near Science World – raised beds which a month ago were barely filled with soil, now a patchwork of shades of green .  The grass and wildflower roof of the Convention Centre is dazzling and busy with the bees from the Centre’s own hives.  The snow on the mountains, which look so close on a clear day, is almost too bright to look at.

I find myself running late for meetings as I am distracted by all the new cleanness around me.  Buildings and signs and people I have ignored over the winter are suddenly too bright and interesting not to stop and watch.  This is a city where people take cherry blossom very seriously; so seriously that it is a weekend and evening pastime to go for a Japanese-style Cherry Blossom walk.

I return home and sit in my garden, chatting to neighbours we haven’t seen since October – everyone is suddenly obsessed with gardening, everyone is growing something, even if it is just a lawn, and we compare notes and growing tips.  A queue of hummingbirds at the feeders, surprisingly noisy as they get into fights; apparently queue-jumpers exist everywhere.  We cannot wait for the full summer to arrive!  Welcome to Spring!

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What I Did On My Summer Holidays…

Once I was going to write a blog about seasons, and how lovely it is to live in a country with some.  Then the weather went screwy, it rained for 6 months solid, and I thought I’d better keep quiet.  But the sun came out in July, just as the school holidays started, and we had 2 solid months of really hot sun, long days and warm nights.  The west coast is breezy and fresh, never humid, and there is always water to head to if the heat becomes too much.  Today the rain returned, for the first time since July 22nd, and I wanted to reflect on our lovely summer.  So, this is what we did during our summer holidays…

Dinner by the fire at Deception Pass, WA

Tie-dyeing teeshirts at the Township 7 Winery

Raccoon hats and strange machines at Fort Langley

A free Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert at Deer Lake

Swimming and jumping off the dock and more swimming everywhere there was water….

Beachcombing at Porteau Cove

Sailing School at Port Moody

And enjoying our garden as it grew, and grew and grew!

What did you do this summer?

To Bear or Not To Bear… That is the Question

“There was a bear and 2 cubs here last night,” said our neighbour, and thus starts the terrible dilemma.  I have decided that this is the year I will see a bear, reasonably close up and not be terrified.  Cautious, yes, but not utterly freaked out.  After all, I am very nearly Canadian and all Canadians deal well with huge, clawed, jawed, hungry omnivores, don’t they?  Last year we (almost literally) bumped into a couple of small black bears on the cycle route in Whistler and the year before that, we stood in our sitting room and watched as a largish teenage bear crossed our lawn.  This year I am determined to do some real bear-watching.

So this afternoon when I heard that we had been visited, and might again, I was quite pleased.  Then I got to thinking.  The last bear in my garden tore apart my compost bin and I had to move them both into the shed (the bins, not the bear) for the summer to prevent tempting the bear back – luring or feeding bears is against the law, and once they become accustomed to garbage and compost, they are nearly always destroyed.  When I got home today, my compost bin was in 2 halves, but nothing had been taken out – was it bears last night, or the meter man who visited today and might have been really really clumsy?  If I close the gates, will that keep them out?  And if they get in, will they stamp all over my lovely garden, which has finally woken up and started growing? Worse, do they like peas?  Will they eat all my baby vegetables?

Perhaps if I string up bells and get an air horn, I can frighten them off if they come.  But I don’t want to frighten them off, I want to watch them and photograph them.  Argh!  What should I do?

I think tonight I shall sit out on my balcony, within easy reach of the door, with my camera , air horn, pepper spray, bear bells and camouflage netting and see if they come back.   If nothing else, I might be able to surprise the neighbours.

Grow, Dammit, Grow!

This is the first page of our Migration Book.   We wrote it together to keep track of our feelings and dreams about our adventure moving to Vancouver.  On one page it says… “I’m going to have a GARDEN again!!”  Nearly 20 years of moving every 2 years has meant that countless times I have cut beds, made compost, dug in fertilizer, planted out and moved just as the soil gets good and the vegetables ripen.  I was really looking forward to getting a place with enough garden to make something special, and having enough time to do it.

Of course, our dream house is blessed with an aspen tree on one side, nearly 80 feet tall with roots that run through the lawn, surfacing every few feet like cresting dolphins.  So, raised beds it is, then.  My sister explained that, although we are on a similar latitude and the climate feels the same, one can’t just plant the same varieties as in England.  She bought me a book, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon, which I read.

What it doesn’t tell you, but your neighbours will, is that everything is so bloomin’ late.  We’ve had a rotten couple of years, but even so, my innate English gardening sense goes off in March – “Brrrrring!  Spring Is Here!  Lambs are born!  Daffodils are out!  Plant something!”  I just can’t help myself – I gather the seed packets, and start preparing the soil.  Then I wait for soil to warm up.  Maybe Easter….. or late April….. I can wait until May…. Mothers Day, 13th May, still too cold….. my brother in law doesn’t plant out until late May, I can wait….. Where the F*!@ did June come from?  And why is it still cold?

Spider babies on jasmine

Tangentially, children…

Sometimes I wander off the point a little.  My friends and colleagues are used to this, so you, dear reader, must get used to it also.  Today’s post is not about emigrating to Vancouver or the wonders of British Columbia but about parenting (the last time I did this was Eating the Elephant).

We like our children to at least attempt to be helpful.  I am a traditional parent who, when I see a pack of squabbling weasels, will find work for them.  I give out chores.  Yesterday Laurel, eldest weasel, was mooching about in a teenage way, while I was shifting a truckload of top soil into the vegetable garden.  “Laurel” I yelled “Can you bring me the seed potatoes which are sprouting on the windowsill?”  She did.  She took my seed potatoes, carefully sorted into groups by variety, piled them all into one container and brought them to me.  “Which ones are the Warba?” I asked “Huh?” she said.

Later I was marking out a circle for a new bed.  I asked her to make a string compass – peg, piece of string, hammer peg in ground, lay paving stones in circle marked by end of string.  She created her compass from a stretchy piece of fabric, and marked 2 lines on it.  One half of the bed was measured to one line, then she got bored and moved to the other side and used the other line.  It’s an interesting shape, but it’s not a circle. Huh.

In the evening, I asked her to make some cookies for lunch boxes.  “If you want to make triple chocolate ones, swap 2 tablespoons of flour for 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder” I suggested.  This evening, after dinner, she was nibbling at one.  “These are very solid and bitter,” she complained “must be all the cocoa powder.”  “How much did you put in?” I asked.  “I swapped the flour for cocoa, like you said.” “What?  ALL the flour?” “Duh, yeah. Like you said.” “I said 2 TABLESPOONS!” “Huh.”

Then she went off to practise a bit more slouching.  Huh.Image