March 30, 2016

The Crow & Gate ~ BC's first neighbourhood pub

It was BC's first neighbourhood pub, built in 1972 in the rural community of Cedar, near Nanaimo. The Crow & Gate is located on four hectares in a rather pastoral, almost British kind of setting.

Crow & Gate Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

It's décor is much like the now disappearing English-style taverns of my youth (when I backpacked across the United Kingdom as a lonely teenager): exposed beams, massive stonework, two wood burning fireplaces, friendly bar maids, cozy booths and the comfort food of home.

Orders and settling the tab takes place at the bar, which creates a wee trifle of congestion at times. Just as it did during my youthful sojourns to the UK.

On our afternoon at the Crow & Gate, the weather kept us indoors by the fire, but on finer spring and summer days and evenings patrons enjoy their beverages and meals outdoors in the beautiful gardens.

The food is better than your average pub, nicely presented and reasonably priced. My Reuben sandwich was excellent, and the other plates that went by all looked fine too. Much of the menu is locally-sourced and made in-house.

So it's a great place all round. The Crow & Gate is screen-free: no big screen televisions screaming a hockey game or any other sport. Likewise, there isn't the deafening sound of music that Vancouver establishments seem intent on providing. Here, you can actually have a conversation with your friends. Come to think of it, that's what neighbourhood pubs were supposed to be all about in the first place: good food, great friends, and "the crack was good too."

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

March 24, 2016

Working in the Text Office has its perks ~ beer and flowers

Jeem discovered a few perks after seeing his office move to the Langley Campus of KPU. It's further away from home, which has it's drawbacks of course...

Jeem went from his own small, windowless office to a cubicle in an open-concept office arrangement. With a bunch of other people.

Creating a space to call his own was a challenge for Jeem, but after hanging flags and setting up favourite photos of special some-ones, it felt much better. The prominent placement of an old photo of the founder of the family fortune, made with his invention of the ice pick: Uncle Leon, made all the difference.

Langley Campus has some weekly activities that Jeem and his co-workers eagerly anticipate. As part of its polytechnic quality, KPU Langley has a wonderful horticultural department, and every Thursday flowers and vegetables are sold at modest prices to students, staff and the general public.

Knowing how to get there is important as the greenhouses are located across the highway from the main campus. Fortunately, there's a pedestrian overpass.

There's always a queue on Thursday mornings and people tend to wear black for some reason. The lineup will only get longer as more vegetables come on-stream during the spring.

Again in keeping with the polytechnic theme in KPU's mandate, there is the beer-making department where students delight in learning the art of craft beer-making.

On Fridays, free tastings are provided, and a queue forms again,this time with a slight variation in the fashion colour. And for a nominal fee, Jeem, students and staff alike, can buy ales, stouts and/or lagers to take home for the weekend.

Yes, there are some perks at Jeem's new office, and when all the beer has been tasted, Jeem can sit and reflect on what to do next.

Hmmm, there must be something....

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

You Are Her ~ now at VanDusen Garden

Between the rainstorms, the sun comes out, somewhat briefly these days on the wet coast, and it's then that VanDusen Garden is a wonderful place to view the first signs of spring.

New signage at VanDusen features the now famous "You Are Her" branding made popular in Europe and Asia. At select and discreet locations within the gardens you'll find the impressive logo first seen in the world-class gardens of Paris and Shanghai.

For brief moments, time dependent on your reasonable donation to the Vancouver Park Board, or a contribution to the mayor's re-election campaign, you too can be her. On our day at VanDusen, you could be this famous celebrity.

Companion merchandise will soon be available for sale in the gift shop.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

March 23, 2016

Giving blood ~ better late than never

All my life I've seen and heard the ads. Give the gift of life. 

My sister has been giving blood for years. A colleague at work has been giving four times a year for over forty years. It's in you to give. 

Oh, I've had good intentions. I've encouraged others to give blood. I've thanked and praised those who have. Yet, for some reason I have never have. I've never had a reason not to give, though somehow I've managed to miss the actual doing.

Until last Sunday.

A simple visit to the Canadian Blood Services centre on Oak Street. A warm welcome and a bunch of forms to fill out. A complicated set of questions related to my world travels and personal sex habits made me pause somewhat briefly. As did the request to see my arms for evidence of needle marks. Pausing even briefly at this sort of thing is not a good idea. Friendly yes, funny no. Apparently. Giving blood is a serious matter.

Anyway, my feeble attempts at humour aside, or political outrage depending on the question, I managed to pass the screening tests and was again welcomed warmly as a first-time blood donor, and ushered into a room next to an area full of juice and cookies. And salty snacks too it turned out.

It all went rather quickly, and I didn't feel a thing. In fact, it was all so easy, I'm going to make this a regular habit. Every few months I will give blood. It won't make up for all the years I've missed, but it's a start.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

March 21, 2016

First day of spring ~ between the rain storms

It's been a wild first weekend of spring on the Left Coast. Mainly rain, sometimes heavy. Wind. Thunder. Lightning too apparently.

Yet, there were brief moments of calm and peaceful surrender. And beauty in the blossoms.

Photos by Jeeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

Vancouver Story Slam

It is one of the most basic of human things we do: to tell stories. We've been doing it since the very beginning.

Sherry MacDonald 

And yet it is something that is missing from many of our lives. We don't often tell stories anymore. We let television and movies and Facebook tell us stories, but that isn't the same as coming together with friends and strangers alike, and sharing stories. Our stories, personal and collective, are important; we don't need ad agencies or movie studios to frame the narratives for us; these are our stories. Or at least they should be in a civil society.

Vancouver Story Slam is the second-oldest storytelling group of its kind in North America. It provides a safe and inviting space for storytellers, and lovers of stories, on the second Tuesday of every month at the Cottage Bistro on Main in Vancouver.

It's a competition of sorts to be sure; prizes are awarded as determined by the audience, but it's also a place to connect with other people in that simplest of ways: the telling of stories. Some are funny, some reverential, and sometimes, some aren't even stories. It's the gamble we take when we enter the door; stories, and their tellers, are not pre-screened. There's a sense of wonder with every new month, and it's always fun.

Susan Cormier

Susan Cormier is the organiser of Vancouver Story Slam and Bryant Ross is its genial host, and together they've created a new and impressive buzz around the event, with increasing audience numbers and more and more new storytellers vying for one of ten spots each month.

Bryant Ross

Sherry and I have told stories at the Story Slam, and we've become regular audience members. My sister Susan Dickson has also been attending for many months and took to the stage in March, telling a highly personal story of loss and healing.

Susan Dickson

At times the Vancouver Story Slam can be quite amazing. The Cottage Bistro is worthy of a story in itself. Come. Laugh, cry and celebrate storytelling. Mood swings are acceptable.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

March 16, 2016

Phở Tan Vietnamese Restaurant ~ in Kerrisdale

Raw bits of shaved beef, cooked in broth before your eyes. I first tasted Vietnamese phở in the 1980s. when my family and I came to the left coast from the Canadian prairies, though I learned about Vietnam's popular street food while reading about the country's culture and politics years before during the American War.

At its simplest, phở is a noodle soup made of broth, rice noodles, a few herbs, and either chicken or beef. Historically, people in the south of Vietnam ate it for breakfast and sometimes lunch, whereas those from the north tended to eat it anytime of the day. In Canada, phở is usually consumed for lunch, and often dinner too.

Along West 41st, in Kerrisdale, is a local favourite spot for phở, called Phở Tan. It's a small place and the decor, like many Vietnamese restaurants, is somewhat kitschy. Service is prompt and friendly. The usual Vietnamese dishes are available but it's the Phở Tai I come for, as do hundreds of others, and it's excellent.

Phở Tan is a small restaurant and during the prime lunch hours it fills up. Dishes come out quickly so wait times, inside by the door, or outside, are relatively brief.

Pho Tan's Vietnamese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Phở Tan is a wonderful neighbourhood gem. Located at 2076 West 41st, it's open most days 10:30 to 20:30. Debit and cash only. No credit cards.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.