BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Holiday Season

Well, as the official end of Christmas (and etc.) is today, we now move into a more chaotic schedule. With Claire moving her stuff into storage over the next two days, Brad will be lifting. And reception guest arrivals, mean dinners, playdates and catch up time galore.

How does one keep an excitable toddler from going rabid and biting the ankles of the endless new people he supposedly "knows"? I am hoping that a good dose of "Mama Zen", the occasional chocolate bribe, and a healthy dose of "training pants" (versus underwear) may fit the bill. But we'll have to see, because even Christmas day was all too much for Nikolai's two-year-old sensibilities. As he told Uncle Peter, upon being presented a gift, "I already opened lots of presents today at Grammy's" and so that one remained unopened.

The photo was taken at the Vancouver Christmas Market. A bit overpriced... but then again these sorts of things always are. At least the photo was free! (As you can see, someone needs to work on their "fake smile")

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vancouver through new lenses

To give context to my observations on Vancouver, I must first describe my experiences in Ireland. Everyone loves the Irish, whether at home or overseas. This is because the Irish are polite and kind, almost to a fault (I'm sure my Irish friends are shaking their heads at this... but imagine how rude I must come across much of the time!) I've blogged before about how, in general (this whole blog will be generalizations) the Irish would never complain. But the politeness in the culture extends beyond that. For example, you wouldn't be given your bill in a restaurant, because it would be "rude" to suggest that you should leave (it took us a few restaurant outings to figure that out! Waiting at an empty table for our bill was a wee bit awkward).

Once you have a personal connection of any kind with a person, they are like your BFF (hence why pubs are so much fun). Thus, the support network of people who would help one out if needed would extend to most of your acquaintances. For example, our friend Steffi delivered her baby prematurely, and so they spent a month going to the hospital in Dublin. Their friends made up a rota and left a meal outside their door every day. The meals did not come with any names attached so that Steffi (et al.) wouldn't feel obligated to thank everyone.

Thus, in general, strangers wouldn't talk to you, for if they were to do so... then you would have more of a connection and an obligation to be kind and friendly. For example, when the mums from the toddler group all went out for an xmas drink, we were approached in the pub by a fairly tipsy man (think effusive complements and endless ballads). But we weren't able to get rid of him, because no one wanted to be rude. So after about 15 minutes, we just decided to ignore him (which was the rudest you could be in that type of situation) and he eventually moved on.

Now on to VANCOUVER. A world class city, in a world class province. So self assured that the licence plates (I kid you not) proudly state: "The Best Place on Earth". There are mountains, an ocean, skyscrapers and culture. The city is a multicultural melting pot (40% of Vancouverites were born outside of Canada), a sustainable city (Eco Density was trademarked courtesy of city hall). So politically correct is Vancouver, that the previous mayor, Sam Sullivan, was quadriplegic and Caucasian, yet fully fluent in Cantonese, and the current mayor, Gregor Robertson's claim to fame is his "Happy Planet" juice company and the fact that he's an avid cyclist.

As an illustration of Vancouver's entitlement, on Saturday, we did a shop at our two closest grocers and tasted the samples of the season. They included:
- chocolate truffles (local, and your choice of 10 flavors)
- panettone made into french toast, served with whip cream and maple syrup
- brie, with nuts and cranberries served on rice crackers
- matcha green tea with cocoa
- manuka honey chocolate bars
- plus the usual meat bits (not sampled, so not described)

And the city steeps it's people with this sense of wealth and self being. The hipsters, the yuppies, the granola, the boomers and all the ethnic groups are celebrated and bolstered in this city. So, what we have noticed the most in Vancouver is that strangers talk to you! They smile at Nikolai, complement him on his coat, his talking, they tell us how to get off the bus with a stroller (buggy), that Nikolai should be walking as it's better for his health. All of this is delivered with a sense of self esteem that suggests that their opinions should be expressed, yet without an obligated friendliness; for in this city you can have an encounter and then disappear into the crowd.

No pictures of Vancouver as it's rain, rain, raining, so we stole one off the interweb...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Traveling toddlers don't need sleep

On the trip out to Ireland, Nikolai was only 18 months.  He slept much of the flight, freaked out in the Dublin airport and slept once we finally got to 11 Carton Square. I figured our way back (29 months) would pretty much be the same or better (as he now sleeps through the night, verbally communicates feelings, etc.)

I always knew that Nikolai was a partier... but this was extreme. He slept only 2 hours on the 9 1/2 hour flight. That would be fine if the flight had occurred during the day, as two hours is sort of a typical nap length. But this was an evening flight, with our plane landing at 2:30 am Maynooth time. So then I figured he'd fall asleep in the 1/2 hour car ride back to Grammy's... or after we arrived... or some time before 9:30 pm local time. He then woke up at 1:30 am demanding his dinner. Luckily he went back to sleep after 3 hours of play... for another few hours.

This lack of sleep was making Brad and I a tad grumpy... but not Mr. Nikolai. The next night was actually worse (hard to imagine that it was possible) with a wake up at 3:30 am... and no return to sleep. We did get to listen to several renditions of Twinkle Star, Hey Baby (not my choice of music, but a regular appearance at the Library story time) and travel related stories.

This morning we got to sleep until 4:30 am, so things are looking up! And my brain is finally together enough to blog.

We know we're back in Vancouver because:

- there's so much variety in the stores that we are at a loss when trying to shop

- the fruit is surprisingly bland (not sure why this would be... but sooo true. Perhaps it's less local? Would the Okanagan and California be further than France and Spain?)

- the cars are sooo polite! (ie. they stop at crosswalks and stop signs and don't park on the sidewalk)

- bikes are everywhere

Other comments:

- Nikolai was fed fruit cocktail as his dessert on the plane (see picture above)... and he was probably the only person waxing ecstatic over how good the food was.

- the view is breath taking (even Nikolai is in awe of the mountains)

- inflation in Canada coupled with deflation in Ireland makes us groan when grocery shopping. When we moved to Ireland everything was sooo much more expensive... but this doesn't seem to be true anymore.

- today is the first day we feel awake (though still under slept... but 6 hours is better than less), which is good because we're off to talk to the event coordinator at Season in the Park.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Farmleigh and Mind Control

The snow started melting on Thursday... and so yesterday we went to Farmleigh. It was nice: a good (although over-priced) food market, choral singers and Santy (as they refer to him over here) made a few appearances. Nikolai played shy the first time Santy came out, but the second time I had to take him away, as he wouldn't let Santi talk to any other children. Farmleigh is the house where all the visiting dignitaries stay. It was nicely decorated for Christmas, and pictures of its visitors dot the environs (including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton).

As we walked through the park on our way back to the train station, the sky was a bright clear blue, and full of contrails. Now, I know of the scientific explanation for contrails... but Brad told me that there's also a conspiracy theory suggesting the contrail are actually mind numbing chemicals being released from airplanes to ensure submissiveness. And though I'm not a believer in things that are less then rational... it seems somehow fitting at the moment.

The budget faithfully came out on Wednesday... and it came not with a roar but with a mew. Everyone is resigned, sad, and stoic; rather than angry, indignant or shouting with the lungs of a country that staged the 1916 Rising.

I blame the media... which, in Ireland, has never been critical enough... and certainly delivers more of the "party line" rather than analytical information. Also, there's a surprising number of people in my life who willfully choose to know nothing about the IMF, the budget, or the bank bailouts. The only hope now is that the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) has promised to bring the bailout to a vote in the Dail (Parliament). But in order for the Irish not to once again be relegated to a position of European servitude, people need to get angry and get loud.

Some "fun" bailout facts:
-The Irish government won't even be able to pay the interest off on the bailout in the next few years
-The total bailout amount is €85 billion. A ridiculous amount for a population of just €4.5 million to pay back.
-The Irish Government is also putting €17.5 billion into the bank bailout, drawing from it's cash reserves and the pension fund.

Given that the average Irish person is not really living it up to the tune of €85 billion, one has to wonder where all the money is?? As it turns out, the Irish bank bonds are held by a number of other countries... is it irony or just plain feudalism that is resulting in the Irish population receding back into "hard times" so that the rest of the Europe (and perhaps the global economy) can be paid out?

Regardless, the pressure is on... with the threats of Portugal, Spain and Italy going bankrupt "if Ireland is not bailed out" and the Euro failing "if Ireland is not bailed out". Regardless, I would question whether the country should payoff the bill for the banks... but in a country that has a history of indentured servitude, it is only the foreigners that wonder at the lack of anger. To paraphrase a German friend "the Irish are overly polite, and would never complain about anything. Perhaps this results from a feudal history, where to complain of suffering could result in being killed."

Whether it's mind control in the contrails, or a culture of smiling in the face of adversity, it is rare to hear a truly angry complaint. Even my punk rock friends were disparaging of angry protests as "there's no point in creating that much negative energy in a time when we need to keep positive."

Monday, December 06, 2010

I'm dreaming of a green christmas

Well, I was hoping to be blogging about our trip to Farmleigh (cancelled) or any of the other exciting seasonal activities that we were set to be doing. However, the snow, freezing frost and ice have closed down much of the country. So instead I'll be telling tales of snow.

Tales of snow in Ireland mainly involves a Canadian incredulousness at the lack of ability to deal with the snow on the part of the Irish. This weekend Brad had to help a number of neighbours push their car out on the ice field that is Dillon's Row. At least two of these cars involved multiple people sitting in the car, with at least one of them being a young man. We are definitely incredulous that two people would simply spin their wheels for 5 minutes without one of them hoping out to actually push the car.

And we are also incredulous at the military's efforts towards snow "removal". These efforts involved a small truck loaded with a salt/sand mix, 12 soldiers, 12 garden shovels, and a fire-bragde style distribution line for the salt/sand (one would have thought that wheelbarrows are common enough to be put to use in the winter). What we don't understand is why everyone insists on putting the sand down on the snow!? It just makes for a powdery/slushy mix of snow that eventually gets packed down into ice. With 12 soldiers and 12 shovels, actual snow removal (ie. shoveling the snow off the pathways into a pile along the side) would have been the most effective way of dealing with the snow.

Brad pointed out yesterday that our snowy landscape is completely lacking in the piles of snow that would normally dominate a winter landscape in Canada. To the Irish, the only conceivable method of snow removal is for it to melt (usually snow lasts less than a day in Ireland)... however, with the current persistence of the snow, the only way to get snow to melt is with salt... as such, there's tons of compacted snow around, which, over time, has turned into ice with a dusting of salt on top.

So with all of our normal activities cancelled, and the University under a complete lock down for 4 days (Brad normally gets 24-hour key card access, but for his safety, the university locked out the key card access), we've spent some time sledding. However, the hardest part about the cold weather is our woefully cold house. I noticed that Dunnes sold out of most of those adult-sized fleece sleepsuits last week. So clearly, we're not the only ones suffering from the cold.

On a very exciting upside, Claire is being transferred to the London office with Tourism Canada! Clearly she missed us too much. Perhaps I should buy one of those sleepsuits for her, as London has been suffering from the cold too. Let's just hope the weather improves soon, as we leave for Vancouver next week, and the airport closes for just the smallest amounts of snow.

However, the snow can't help but make me smile, with its beauty, the silence, and its pervasive pull on the heartstrings of my youth. Tonight, as I walked home on the empty streets of Maynooth under a thick snow of heavy, plump flakes, for a few moments I was reminded of my younger self, spending several months each winter under a blanket of snow so thick that you could imagine the palace of snow that you could (and would!) build for your imagination.