A Little Cheer

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I think it’s high time I shared a holiday round up, don’t you?

Craft Fairs

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for craft fairs. This time of year they are at their peak. I’ve got a selection of favourites for you.

Make It! is big, comprehensive and worth an afternoon’s browse.

Toque is a fundraiser for Western Front, so it’s not surprising that the wares on display have a fine arts sensibility. It’s always a hit.

Got Craft? still sets the bar for what’s indie and in when it comes to craft fairs. This year, they’re taking the show to North Vancouver.

Shiny Fuzzy Muddy is organized by some of my favourite artists and it’s a small, curated show full of beautiful art, jewellery, and apparel. If you’re thinking about buying yourself a present this year, do it here.

Markets

It’s not all about crafts, though. Holiday markets are a pleasure all their own.

The Baker’s Market is back, just in time for the holidays. It’s a one-stop shop for indie sweets purveyors, so prepare to get all your stocking stuffers out of the way.

The Vancouver Christmas Market imports (literally) the Germany holiday tradition and is always popular. Go hungry.

Speaking of hunger, the Vancouver Farmers’ Market Holiday Market is a great place to shop when you’re hungry, too. There are goods of all sorts, though, so you just might polish off your gift list.

Tourist in Your Own Town

Your condo may be too small to safely install even one string of outdoor lights, but luckily, there are thousands of lights for you to enjoy across the city. Then, work off the hot chocolate at the ice rink.

VanDusen Botanical Garden‘s Festival of Lights is bigger than ever. Tour the grounds, then go for a meal or hot chocolate – they’ve got everything from snacks to fine dining.

See the Capilano Suspension Bridge in a whole new light – well, hundreds of thousands of lights.

Or, keep it simple and go skating at Robson Square. It’s surprisingly magical.

Performance

There are a bewildering number of great performances happening around here at this time of year, so I’m just going to highlight a few.

This year’s East Van Panto is Hansel and Gretel. They’re always hilarious, topical fun.

A Christmas Story, The Musical sounds like fun, too, as long as nobody puts an eye out.

Christmas at the Chan is going to be majestic – five choirs in that space!

It’s the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas. So, why not celebrate with the The Vancouver Chamber Choir?

And finally, Vancouver Cantata Singers are performing at Holy Rosary Cathedral. Experiencing the gorgeous acoustics there should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Have you checked out my holiday cookbook review series? There are copies of 5 great cookbooks up for grabs. You can find the links to the giveaways (as they go live) here.

Got Craft? Spring Edition 2015

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I was given free admission to Got Craft?, but received no other consideration. All opinions in this post are my own.

Craft fairs have come a long way since I was a little girl. Back then, there were tables full of simple knitted toques, sugar-stiffened lace figurines, beadwork, and Phentex slippers. Everything felt homespun and full of a grandmother’s love, but it wasn’t exactly the right place to find stylish gifts or exciting home decor.

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These days, craft fairs are where you look for the newest trends in the making, across a number of disciplines. You’re much more likely to find a unique, on trend item at a craft fair than you are in a department or chain store.

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In Vancouver, Got Craft? was a pioneer of this new style of craft fair. I’ve got them to thank for a number of my favourite pieces of jewellery, home decor items, and well-received gifts. And they’ve helped to establish a healthy network of craft fairs and shows throughout the year here, supporting a diverse array of makers and crafters.

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Today I visited the first day of the spring edition of Got Craft? and was happy to find lots of new things to get excited about, along with some that have been favourites for a while. And once you finish shopping, you can take in one of workshops led by local favourites like A Spool of Thread.

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They’re back at it tomorrow and here are some of my personal highlights:

  • Anonum Design, one of a number of vendors that repurpose materials that would otherwise be headed for the landfill. They turn rubber printing blankets into an array of colourful, useful goods.
  • Craft’ed‘s whimsical cards, magnets, and bookmarks.
  • Cabin + Cub‘s wooden accessories. (I came home with a bicycle crest pin for my partner, who was delighted.)
  • The Green Flamingo Design‘s dapper ties and pocket squares, for any gender.
  • Graveley and Sons‘ syrups and infusions

I could go on, but you can check out full list of vendors instead.

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You needn’t worry about getting hungry, either. The area around the Maritime Labour Centre may be light industrial, but there are treasures around every corner. You’re only a block away from Parallel 49 Brewing, and there are plenty of tasting rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops within blocks. You can find a list of many of them at the East Village BIA website.

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But, you don’t have to wander far to find something tasty – there are food trucks parked right outside and treats from the likes of Livia Sweets and The Lemon Square in the foyer.

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And if you can’t make it this weekend, the folks at Got Craft? are also behind Strathcona’s London Fields Shoppe, or you can head over to Tiny Finery in Hastings-Sunrise for a similar commitment to the best of local makers.

3There won’t be another edition of Got Craft? until the the end of the year, but thanks to them and the other entrepreneurs that support Vancouver’s vibrant craft scene, the city is full of markets and shops that will keep you busy until then.

Chock Full of November

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Last Saturday, the Parade of Lost Souls inhabited Britannia Community Centre, leading the audience through a maze of performance, music, and interactive experiences informed by traditions acknowledging the waning of the year. I’ve told you about the parade before, but things have changed since then. The Public Dreams Society has, sadly, folded and Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret has taken over the stewardship of this event so it can live on. If you want them to be able to continue to do so, visiting their Indiegogo fundraising campaign would help a lot.

I’ve peppered the post with photos from this year’s parade, but it’s the rest of the month that I want to tell you about. My favourite event of November is always the Eastside Culture Crawl, which I’ve also told you about before. The Crawl is four days long now and well-worth all that tramping around the neighbourhood, no matter what the weather.

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Now that you’ve set aside those four days for the Crawl, you can finish filling your calendar for the month – here are a few of your choices:

You look like the well-read sort; I just know you have a library card. So, I also know you’ll be thrilled that you can show it at the door for free entry into Between the Pages: An Evening with the Scotiabank Giller Prize Finalists. Your appetite for captivating presentations properly whetted, you might want to check out Interesting Vancouver next. There’s also a few days left of the Heart of the City Festival. Or, you can get in on the act (well, workshop) at this year’s CircusFest – I’ll be sticking with my role as audience member, personally. For a less strenous look behind the scenes, you can listen to some of the Culture Crawl’s artists at HOT TALKS: Eastside Culture Crawl.

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There are more exhibitions and performances this month than I can reasonably mention, so I’ll just give you a taste of a few more that caught my attention.

You can pick up some original art while supporting the Seymour Art Gallery at their ‘Art Party!’ exhibition until November 8th. Kevin and I are big fans of Portland’s The Wonderheads and their latest show, Loon, sounds like another instance of their signature blend of magic and bittersweet. Museums matter and are more relevant than ever, as spaces like MOV are proving. On November 14th, I Came to See the Beautiful Things will celebrate museums with music, performance, and discussion.

So, by now you might be looking for a little bit of fun in this list. Doctor Strange’s Future Think Dinner Show might fit the bill. Or maybe all this activity just worked up your appetite. In that case, the Ocean Wise™ Chowder Chowdown will fill your belly while supporting sustainable seafood simultaneously. And with that out of the way, you can concentrate on some pre-holiday shopping therapy at a few of the MANY craft fairs that November brings.

Blim is always a good bet and The Province has a nice list that extends all the way into December. I’m also going to put in a good word for the craft fair that my mother is helping to put on at Sts. Joachim and Ann’s Parish in Aldergrove. They have some great crafters and artisans lined up.

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And before I go, I’d like to remind you that this month, civic elections are happening across Metro Vancouver. The Broadbent Institute has started an interesting initiative to increase voter participation. Feed Democracy is a non-partisan awareness campaign that has some of Vancouver’s favourite spots to eat and drink signed on to help get the vote out. In Vancouver, advance polls opened today (though, rather maddeningly, not on the east side) and the big day is November 15th. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, there are at least three more all candidates meetings to go.

November, you are no wallflower.

Spring Into It

Blossoms

I’m looking forward to spending more time outdoors, now that the blossoms are out, though it looks like the weather won’t be cooperating for the next week, at least. There’s a lot of rain in the forecast. I hope it lets up soon, because there are plenty of events on the horizon here.

In Bloom

March and April are Vancouver’s most beautiful months, in large part because we have so many blossoming trees at this time of year. The Cherry Blossom Festival takes full advantage of their beauty and celebrates with events all month long. Here are a few highlights:

Sakura Days Japan Fair
Plein-Air Blossom Painting
Bike the Blossoms

Crafty Sales

Spring is a time for clearing out the old, but that just makes way for the new. So, it seems natural that craft and fashion sales are making a reappearance at this time of year:

Nifty for Fifty
Great Canadian Craft Show
Blim
Got Craft?

Foodie Fun

It might be time to start the garden, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay at home to taste and talk about food:

Bakers’ Market
Slow Food Vancouver’s Olive Oil Tasting
Food For Thought, a governance conference focusing this year on food security, sustainability, and sovereignty
EAT! Vancouver

Art Attack

Food may be a creative outlet for many, but there are plenty of ways to experience more traditional artistic expressions this spring, too:

Discuss public art, immerse yourself in FUSE’s mix of performance and music amidst the Vancouver Art Gallery’s current exhibits, and get in there and root for artists making art at Art Battle Canada.

Or, go DIY and head out to Vancouver’s Mini Maker Faire, instead.

Kicking It Up a Notch

Roller Derby is high-energy and a lot of fun. Fitting for a sport that takes off as the weather gets warmer. Terminal City Rollergirls’ Season Opener is on April 5th. If you want to make your own mayhem, you might want to show up for Pillow Fight Club 9.0 instead. Or perhaps a perfect storm of “wibbly wobbly… sexy wexy… stuff” is more your speed – Geekenders have got you (at least) covered. But maybe you’re more of a hardcore nerd – thank goodness for Fan Expo Vancouver.

As for me, I’m going to be spending a lot of time planting, weeding, and rearranging the garden over the next six months. I think that’s a good enough reason to reward myself for my hard work with at least some of these less labour-intensive forms of fun.

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A Holiday Round Up

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We’re well into December now and we’ve even had some snow here, so it’s hard not to feel a bit of holiday spirit. There’s a lot going on this month, with some of my favourite craft fairs yet to come, seasonal music and performances, and more. It’s been a while since I’ve done a round up, but what better time of year? Here’s your holiday hit parade.

Arts & Crafts

Shiny Fuzzy Muddy is the sophisticated older sister of the craft fair. It’s the place to find investment pieces in art, clothing, and jewellery. Which makes Got Craft? their slightly alternative cousin. I’m going to drop the metaphor before I get to Circle Craft, I swear. Well, one more. I don’t know whether Craftacular is the punk rock youngest or the mischievous middle child – you decide. A short look at Refresh‘s vendor list might take care of a good chunk of your gift list (or your wish list). Another upcoming favourite is Blim, which looks like it has some fun in store. And if your heart needs a little melting, I think the Winter Wonderland Children’s Art Fair should do the trick. It’s an opportunity for ten to nineteen-year-olds to sell their wares, from art to crafts to baking.

Most of these are taking place this upcoming weekend, but for the truly last-minute shopper (putting down the mirror, now), there’s still hope. The Eastside Flea and the Last Chance Christmas Craft Fair have got you covered. They’re both on that last weekend before St. Nick arrives.

Food

What better place to start than the Vancouver Farmers’ Market Holiday Market? Then, there’s Gingerbread Lane, a fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which technically involves food, but might get you arrested if you actually try to eat it. So, go to the Vancouver Christmas Market afterward and get your fill of Glühwein, Schupfnudeln, and Flammenkuchen. And don’t miss the Winter Solstice Festival at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens. There will be Dragon Spice holiday tea to drink and hot buns to eat while you enjoy the lanterns placed all around the gardens.

Performance

There’s more music, dance, and theatre performances than my fingers care to type up at this time of year, so I’ll just mention a few. The York Theatre is back in action with it’s first post-reno show, Jack & the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto – everything you ever wanted to know about my neighbourhood but were afraid to ask. Another locally set Christmas tale, It’s Snowing on Saltspring, has long been a Christmastime theatre tradition here. Music and stories take centre stage at Pacific Theatre’s Christmas Presence. Speaking of music, Musica Intima‘s Christmas concerts are always profoundly beautiful. Early Music Vancouver is presenting Festive Cantatas for Christmas, featuring their Bach Cantata Project. And the Vancouver Bach Choir will be presenting Handel’s Messiah. If it’s the Nutcracker you’re after, you’ve got two choices. Goh Ballet and Ballet BC are each having a crack at it, so to speak.

Fun

I’ve already told you about Christmas at Canada Place and the rest of the events at the Winter Waterfront District, but there is lots more going on. Free skating at Robson Square, the Festival of Lights at VanDusen Gardens, or for those who are suffering from holiday fatigue, MOV’s Play House: The architecture of Daniel Evan White exhibition.

Like I said, it’s a busy month. I’m going to try to make it to at least some of the events on the list, but I’ll also make sure to make some time for hot chocolate and It’s a Wonderful Life, holiday baking, and visits with family and friends.

Now it’s your turn – what’s up this month where you live?

FFWD – Sugar-Coated French Toast

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I’m a week behind, but that might not be such a bad thing. While everyone else has been struggling with these, I’ve been working my way through a mountain of homemade goat cheese.

I actually made these on Sunday last, but am just getting around to posting about them now. I wasn’t one of the industrious souls who used their own challah for this recipe, but I did stop in at East Village Bakery and picked up a brioche bun, on my way to Make It. It was meant for a burger, but once I sliced off the crown and the bottom crust, it was perfect for French toast. As a bonus, I got to munch on the scraps. I think I might use this sort of bun again, even when I’m making French toast for more than just myself. I loved the little rounds of toast I got – so pretty!

This recipe is a nice simple one, but has an extra step that finishes it perfectly. When you’re ready to cook the toast, you sprinkle a thin layer of sugar across the pan. Then, when you’re ready to flip it, you sprinkle another thin layer of sugar across the toast. You end up with a beautifully caramelized surface and a little extra sweetness, to boot. As you can see, it’s quite lovely, too.

Update: I had to come back and add this – I made a variation, rather than the straight-ahead recipe. (This is what happens when you wait almost a week to write about something.) Dorie’s recipe is flavoured only with vanilla, a typically French approach. I decided to do something a little different and picked up a bottle of Vancouver’s famed Avalon Dairy eggnog to use in place of the milk and cream. It was so good! It had extra eggy richness and I loved the subtleness of the eggnog spices in the French toast. I’d definitely recommend this, but make sure you get the good stuff.

I appreciated the treat, after having spent the afternoon exploring the unbelievably varied offerings of one of the best craft shows of the year. I even got to go for free, as Vancouver East Village was running a little contest and I won one of the passes. I love craft shows that include the making of products as well as the finished ones and Make It never disappoints. I especially loved the little craft table that Spool of Thread set up, with easy instructions and a range of materials for making pinwheel brooches. Here’s a collage of some of the cooler things I saw there this year:

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I’m looking forward to more craft shows and treats through December. I hope this month brings you some of your favourite things, too. And I hope that those of you who just finished celebrating Hanukkah had a lovely and peaceful holiday.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this FFWD recipe here: Sugar-Coated French Toast

I’m a Sucker for a Good Craft Fair

It’s that time again, full of craft fairs, holiday events, and lots and lots of food.

Since I’m still not quite back into the swing of writing regularly again, I thought I’d do a little round up of some things that have caught my eye.

Crafts

Strathcona Winter Craft Fair
Crafts for a Cause
Toque
Got Craft?
Women’s Winter Faire
Shiny Fuzzy Muddy

Food

Baker’s Market
Vancouver Farmers’ Market Holiday Market
Dinner with the Wild Things

Music

Choral Concert Calendar
Universal Gospel Choir
Early Music

Fun

Candytown
Giant Used Book Sale

Light

Winter Solstice Lantern Festival

Now, I’m going back to perusing cookie recipes for some upcoming swaps. What seasonal sorts of things are you looking forward to?

It’s That Time of Year

Branches against the sky.

The day after next, I can officially begin listening to Christmas carols. I like to wait until December, so the season doesn’t lose its shine too quickly. I like the standards and traditional songs, especially Medieval carols, and I also have a soft spot for Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. I’m especially looking forward to pulling out Susan McKeown and Lindsey Horner’s Through the Bitter Frost and Snow and Nativité by Vancouver choral group Musica Intima. Sadly, I think I’ve lost my copy of the Chieftains’ Christmas album, but I’ve got enough music to get me through the month.

Lovely ceramics from Blackbird Studios.

My favourite part of this season is getting together with some folks, baking holiday cookies and squares. I also love visiting craft fairs and seeing what the independent stores around Vancouver have to offer. I don’t like the way consumer culture goes into hyper drive at this time of year, though. I most admire those who take the time to find or make meaningful gifts, without getting carried away by quantity or expense. The Kitchn is always a good resource for homemade gift ideas, but there are tonnes of others, too.

So many Make It posters!

For Vancouverites, the holiday craft fair season starts with Make It, a huge four-day craft show. I was lucky enough to score tickets, courtesy of the Bee Vancity crew, and the photos you see were taken there. Got Craft? has put together a quite comprehensive list of upcoming craft fairs and sales that should take care of just about anyone’s shopping list. Local, unusual, and often sustainable – this sort of gift-shopping can be an antidote to the corporate Christmas model.

The folks at the Just Work (www.justwork.ca) table.

I don’t take it for granted that the yearly love affair with Christmas traditions is universal, though. Something I never fail to do each year is to be mindful of the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas, or participates in winter celebrations the way that I do. A little mindfulness is one of my traditions, too.

My Friend Monster's stuffed creations.

Now tell me, what does December hold for you?

Jacqueline Robin's beautiful black and white ceramics.

Not Quite a Seamstress, Yet

You may recall that last month I wrote about overcoming my fear of learning to sew. Well, I took an introductory sewing class at Spool of Thread and it went pretty well.

I went into Spool of Thread on a weekday evening before the class to pick out my fabric and met Henry, one half of the couple that owns the shop. Lili, who taught the class I took, is the other half. Spool of Thread carries a range of colours and retro inspired patterns, making it hard for me to decide which fabrics to choose for the double-sided totebag I’d be attempting to make in class. Henry told me that they put a lot of work into curating a collection of fabrics that you won’t necessarily find elsewhere in Vancouver. They’ll be adding more soon, including some Liberty prints. I was impressed with the large, open space, sales goods in the front and sewing machines, ironing boards and a big worktable in the back. This was intentional, as Lili and Henry wanted to make the workspace a central part of their store, where those who rent the machines can interact with the owners, customers and each other.

This welcoming ethos fits in really well with the rest of the businesses that inhabit the tiny, unprepossessing strip mall near Fraser and 15th, including Ruby Dog’s, Collage Collage and the fantastic Les Faux Bourgeois. It’s a corner of East Van that I wish I could pull a little closer to my own neighbourhood.

But, back to my adventures in sewing. The introductory class had only five members, which allowed for a lot of one on one with our instructor, Lili. We spent the first part of the class learning how to use the sewing machines and doing some test runs on scrap fabric. I noticed the speed control had a turtle at one end and a rabbit at the other. I had my suspicions about which animal I’d most resemble. We also shared our reasons for taking the class and, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t alone in having had a Home Ec. teacher scare me away from sewing.

Lili walked us through each step, thoroughly explaining everything as we went along and checking our progress at various stages. Two students, who’d never touched a sewing machine before, raced through the pattern, while the rest of us…took a bit longer. We were definitely divided into turtles and rabbits. Still, it was wonderful seeing the bag come together. My lines were (basically) straight and the finished product is actually kind of nice. It helped that Lili had developed a straightforward, forgiving pattern that hides many of the sewn edges. The sewing that shows is done late in the process, when you’ve had time to improve.

At the end of the class, I picked up a stamp card (at a post-class discount) for using the sewing lounge. I’m going to go back and make a few more tote bags before attempting anything else, which will have the added benefit of making me more prepared for Christmas that I’ve ever been before.

Spool of Thread regularly offers Sewing Machine 101 classes, along with a range of project-centred classes. They also rent on site use of their machines and equipment by the hour. They take music requests while you’re there sewing, too.

By the way, I’m going to update this post with a picture of the finished product – I forgot my camera the day of the class (go me!) and only have a couple of iPhone pictures to show for my day’s sewing.

Skills for Living

Just because it's pretty

Sewing is one of those skills I’ve been meaning to master for many years, but it just hasn’t happened. When I was in junior high, I did my obligatory time in Home Economics, which was enough to scare me away from sewing for a long, long time.

There were two Home Ec. teachers in my school. The cooking instructor was famous for her erratic and fickle moods, but because I cooked at home with my mother, I came away with no lasting scars. The sewing teacher made all of her own skirt suits and came to school each day in full evening makeup, her long nails freshly painted. She was icy to all but a few in the class and generally left the rest of us to figure out our assignments on our own. To make matters worse, I was very ill for several weeks that semester and when I returned, I found that she’d confiscated all my sewing equipment. I managed to pass the semester (and get some of the contents of my sewing box back), but I kept my distance from sewing machines from then on. I limited my sewing to replacing buttons and hand-sewing simple hems.

At the time, it didn’t seem like a big loss. I felt very DIY for mastering thrift-shopping and I needed to spend a lot of leisure time scouring Odyssey Imports for the Brit Pop that local radio stations so criminally neglected to play.

As the Handmade Revolution took hold, I took up knitting again and taught myself how to crochet. After a while, though, I started to notice the cute outfits and accessories that others were sewing. I realized that much of it was very simple in design and thought, I should be able to do that.

Well, I’m determined that this year I am going to learn how. Maybe I won’t be making myself a dress with darts and gathers, but I’m going to have at least one tote bag made with cute fabric and I’m going to feel confident enough to hem my pants on a machine.
I’m signing up for a Sewing Machine 101 class at Spool of Thread. I’ll meet you back here early next month and let you know how it went.