The morning after

26 12 2011

All the build-up, all the hype, all the anticipation, all the preparation, all the shopping. And then poof, Christmas has come and gone.

In our years together, Katie and I have developed our own Christmas traditions, a Christmas eve outing, followed by a German dinner of rouladen, potatoes and brusselsprouts, then huddling around our modest tree to exchange gifts. It’s our time together.

This year's Christmas eve outing, to the twinkle lights at Vandusen Gardens.

The festive display at Vandusen Gardens.

I asked for, and received, the Steve Jobs' biography. But Katie knows I don't read, so she also got me the abridged Time magazine version!

Coming soon to The Big Ring, video!

On Christmas day it’s all about family, a raucous ever-growing gathering of Katie’s siblings, their families and whoever else manages to secure an invite to the Fleming’s rural homestead where Katie’s mom and dad put on a magnificently sprawling spread of turkey, ham and all the accompanied fixings that leaves everyone collapsed on the couch or floor because it’s so delicious and we’re so stuffed.

This year we added a new wrinkle’s anticipation of the feast to come, Katie took me on a Christmas morning run, our second in three days. And, sensing my frustration and unrest over the lack of cycling lately, she’s pulling me along for longer distances, up to five kilometres.

A little stair training halfway through our new Christmas tradition.

Of course for her, she of the two marathons and a handful of half-marathons and 10K’s, such a distance is barely worth strapping on her Fuel Belt, but it’s only four or five years ago when she trained and ran her first race, a hilly 5K on a brutally cold and frosty March morning in Mission. Not that I plan to follow in her footsteps to marathon pain and suffering…

Urban renaissance

22 12 2011

New West is finally chic.

After languishing for years as an also-ran suburb notable only for its multitude of SkyTrain stops and street crime, the city is undergoing a renaissance. New condo towers are going up aimed at younger, more urban buyers who can no longer afford to live in Vancouver. Tired old businesses are being usurped by funky shops, restaurants are renovating to go a little more upscale, new restaurants are opening.

One of them, Wild Rice, is just up the boardwalk.

When our vagabond trucker friends from New York City hit town, that’s where we took them. Did you make a reservation? they asked panicked. It’s a new restaurant and it’s Friday night, it’ll be packed.

But this is New West; everyone is still at The Boathouse.

Sure enough, we had no trouble getting a table.

Monday, Katie and I went again, this time to learn how to make dim sum.

The menu and fillings for dumplings

To bring customers in on an otherwise slow night, and to spread good word of mouth, the restaurant is offering demo classes in making some of its signature Asian fusion dishes. The chef shows us how it’s done in his gleaming open kitchen, we get to try our hands at making a few things, and then we all retire to a big communal table to enjoy a four course dinner.

The chef shows us his trade secrets

It was a lot of fun, the food was delicious, and it all felt very big city, sophisticated.

Suddenly it's chic to be in New West

Which is great to have within walking distance, rather than having to ride transit into Vancouver.

It’s been a long time coming though.

Since I moved here 20 years ago, i’ve heard stories and done stories about the city’s potential.

New West is BC’s oldest city. In fact, it was the province’s first capital. It was the gateway for explorers and prospectors heading up the Fraser River into the Interior to seek their fortune.

But as Vancouver grew, New West diminished. When the mega-malls went up in neighbouring suburbs, people no longer had a reason to come here. The downtown shopping street once known as The Golden Mile lost its lustre.

When I first did an assignment in New West, I was immediately smitten. The city has a great history, plenty of old buildings and homes with lots of character. And a gritty edge.

For most of the past 20 years that grit got in the way of its potential. Seedy bars took over the downtown, populated with shifty characters. Owners let their buildings fall into disrepair.

When one was converted to an upscale billiard hall, that was supposed to be a catalyst for new development. It never happened.

Then an old Russian submarine was brought to the pier to attract tourists. A few came, but most people just wondered what a Russian submarine had to do with the Fraser River.

Then a casino was built on an old MIssissippi paddlewheel to attract a different kind of tourist. But gamblers weren’t interested in gambolling around town; they just wanted to play the slots or card tables and head home to count their losses or winnings.

Even the world’s tallest tin soldier tarnished.

But now that magic elixir of development, a population of new residents, and businesses to service those residents finally seems to be brewing. There’s people on the streets and energy in the air. New West is finally developing its city vibe, and we’re right in the middle of it.

‘Twas the week before Christmas

18 12 2011

We’re a week out from Christmas, and all through the loft

Not a creature was stirring, not even Lapierre

The bike is hung on the wall rack with care

It’s been more than a month since she last left this lair


It’s been a tough month for riding. Oh sure, there have been a couple of evening trail rides, and one or two runs a week, but the nice weather we’ve had on a few Fridays has always coincided with the need to do other things.

Like getting ready for Christmas.

An entry at a fancy gingerbread house display at a downtown hotel.

For the most part, I’m pretty on the ball for seasonal preparations. I start my shopping in October, get most of it done by mid-November, precisely so I can enjoy the freedom of my days off to do things like riding. And avoid the overcrowded mall scene.

But this year there seemed to be a surplus of errands to manage, like getting a haircut, or getting the car in for service.

It’s made for some crabby afternoons of self-loathing, as I reasoned that I could have ridden on those days if I really had the motivation.

It’s a funk I’m going to have to shake, otherwise it’s going to be a long winter.

Into the lights

9 12 2011

I love the water. But I don’t do wet.

Where I grew up, Lake Ontario was a constant companion and a go-to destination. When I went off to school in Ottawa, I gravitated towards the Rideau Canal almost daily, walking along it when the weather was warm, skating on it when it had frozen over.

Here, we’re fortunate to live right along the Fraser River. One of the world’s great waterways is just 50 meters from the front door of our condo building.

Though I’m not a runner, putting on the sneakers is a good excuse to spend a little time with the river. Tugs churn up and down, pulling long crooked log booms, huge hoppers filled with wood chips, dredgers and cranes, sometimes other tugs. Birds swoop low over the water. Occasional a frisky salmon will leap to the sky.

Cold nights are especially magical along the river. The boardwalk is sparsely populated by other runners and walkers. The moon pierces the sky like a klieg beacon. The lights from the container docks, and paper mill across and down river double up in the reflection like a Rorschach ink blot test aglow.

The Fraser is a working river; there's always something going on.

This time of year we’re also treated to the colourful twinkle lights decorating the balconies and windows of the condos along the river. There’s even a contest for the best displays. The perfect salve to forget the cold air and get into the holiday spirit.

Christmas twinkle lights along the boardwalk.

Thinking outside the pub

4 12 2011

I love the patio scene.

Given the choice of drinking a post-ride beer inside the pub, or outside on its patio, I’ll always open for the open skies. Especially now that many pubs have banned smoking from their outdoor seating areas; it’s about time.

But on Dec. 1? When the temperature is barely above freezing?

Yet that was our only option after a brisk trail ride the other night. And as we were the first customers to take the outside option, the heaters first had to fire up.

Riding buddy Dan, staying warm and getting thirsty on the outdoor patio

But once the beer and nachos arrived, all was good.

Patios in this neck of the woods are hamstrung by a ridiculous array of arcane city bylaws and liquor regulations. They have to conform to certain sizes, they have to have a physical barrier to the adjoining sidewalk, they often have to close early to appease nearby neighbours.

It all adds up to a rather inadequate patio supply, especially when the weather is more conducive. And often those patios are lacking in atmosphere; sure it’s nice to be outside, but who wants to look at a parking lot.

The interaction with the world passing by is one of the best things about the patio scene. It’s one of my favourite things about Europe, where every cafĂ©, restaurant and pub has tables and chairs spilling onto the sidewalk out front. Sure, the sidewalks are usually wider in cities like Paris, Berlin and Barcelona than standard North American sidewalks, but that hasn’t stopped a city like Portland, Oregon from developing a lively patio culture. There, the Pearl District is alive with outdoor pubs and eateries, and even more established parts of the city, like Nob Hill, have plenty of patios despite narrow sidewalks.

City governments just have to loosen up a bit, realize that an open beer on a sidewalk table isn’t going to turn innocent passersby into raging drunkards.