Monday, February 1, 2016

About that Vernon, British Columbia housesit...

"Let's housesit in the mountains for the holidays!" we said. "Seeing that part of Canada in the winter will be great!" we thought. "Getting snowed in, watching movies and reading books all day, hanging out in the hot tub - it'll be fun!" we told ourselves.

And it was fun... for about a week. Unfortunately, we were there for five weeks and it turns out that all play and no work makes Slowly Global pretty darned cranky.

First things first: our hosts' home in Vernon, British Columbia was really lovely - a great kitchen, plenty of space, an outdoor hot tub under the stars, a comfortable bed, all the Netflix and televised hockey our hearts desired, fun board games to supplement our collection, a lovely view of the lake and mountains, helpful neighbors who helped us plow snow from the driveway, a well-stocked local library (our hosts kindly lent us their card)... and did I mention the hot tub?

Their animals were hilarious, sweet, and fairly low-maintenance too.

Roxy, Obi and Boston most of the time

neighborhood watch, part one

neighborhood watch, part two
(or, as Roxy and Obi would say, "OMG DEER OMG OMG DO YOU SEE THEM 

Boston watching the Bruins lose
(this would happen on several occasions)  

can't pose, too busy nomming snow 

But Vernon itself is just a weird little town. It's roughly the size of Corvallis, which means it's actually quite large for a Canadian city. It has "one of the best North American ski resorts" nearby and three beautiful lakes scattered around the city, including that one in the picture above.

According to Wikipedia, in 2005 Vernon was ranked as one of the top six most desirable communities to retire in North America by Consumer Reports. (This explains all the "50+" activities - bingo, bridge, square dancing, chair yoga - in the Community Happenings section of the Morning Star, Vernon's thrice weekly newspaper.)

We had to wonder if that ranking still holds today. The economic situation of the area is quite poor - there are at least 10 liquor stores within a few miles' radius downtown; every week the Morning Star featured several articles about break-ins or homes/cars getting set on fire or businesses closing; and in addition to the "50+" activities, the Community Happenings listed weekly support meetings for every "anonymous" reason under the sun.

People drove like maniacs, even in snowy and icy conditions. Homeowners had menacing, barking dogs behind fences. The residents were not nearly as friendly as we'd come to expect in Canada. It was like a much, much colder version of the Big Island, actually, and we only ventured out of our quiet neighborhood every third day or so because of all this.

Our occasional cultural outings included a visit to the Vernon Public Art Gallery, cheering alongside the locals at two Vernon Vipers hockey games, and touring the Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery (where we walked out with a reasonably-priced bottle of the best gin we'd ever tasted).

We also attended the Zirca Ukranian Dancers' Christmas concert. Fun music, beautiful costumes, and really impressive young dancers!

ages 3-17

(As an aside, afterward I was wondering about the large Ukrainian population in the area so I did a little research. Turns out, during WWI more than 8,500 people across Canada were interned under the War Measures Act of 1914 which gave the government power to inter or detain anyone they thought might be an "enemy alien." A lot of these people were of (completely innocent) Ukrainian descent; many were women and children and many were Canadian citizens. Vernon was one of 24 camps across Canada where internees were forced to do heavy labor. Most camps lasted just a few years but Vernon's camp lasted 6 years. Unfortunately, most of the written and verbal history of camps across the country during this time has been lost. Insert cliche-but-relevant quote about those not remembering the past being condemned to repeat it. End of aside.)

Oh yeah, and this happened. Of course this happened.

at the "Galaxy Theater" in Vernon, of course!

Other than those outings, though, we mostly hibernated. We played board game after board game after board game... Sequence, Word Yahtzee, LIFE, dominoes, three different versions of Trivial Pursuit, and of course Scrabble.

do these tiny travel Sequence cards make our hands look fat?

We read 10+ books between the two of us. We watched Master of None, Cabin in the Woods, and reruns of Farscape. I (finally!) watched Still Alice, binged on additional Whedonesque shows, and caught up on old episodes of The French Chef from the library. We had a Sherlock marathon one day.

We had the benefits of Vernon's indoor farmer's market, a lovely gas stove, and a ridiculous amount of spare time, so I cooked A LOT. Beet pancakes, homemade pizza, vegetable soup, tofu curry, multigrain bread. International recipes like Moroccan vegetarian couscous tajine, Polish(ish) stuffed cabbage, Turkish pide, Tuscan spaghetti squash pasta, and a homemade Chinese spread for our Christmas dinner (wontons are so easy, who knew?!). And, of course, Canadian staples of beaver tails and Kraft Dinner for our Winter Classic lunch.

if I had a million dollars
we wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner
(but we would!)

Unfortunately we were too early for Vernon's Winter Carnival (the biggest in western Canada) and skiing at Silver Star proved to be cost-prohibitive. There were plenty of cross-country and snowshoeing trails around, and it would've been easy to rent equipment for a day, but quite honestly it was way too cold for us wimpy Pacific Northwesterners, especially since the sun really only made a few appearances during our whole stay.

day 36
(also known as "the third sunny day")

It's all good, though. We have definitely learned that long-term housesits in snowy mountain towns are not for us, so that was good. Our American dollar was strong in Canada (and wine was pretty cheap!) and that was also good. At this stage we're just biding time until spring, really, so we'll just chalk up our time in Vernon to winter hibernation in prep for what should be a pretty crazy year starting this April.

Next up: a quick Pacific Northwestern tour, and then four weeks on lovely Orcas Island! Been looking forward to this housesit since last summer...


  1. 5 weeks is a LONG time to be someplace that you don't really love. It sounds like you made the best of the trip though!

    1. We tried... there were definitely some cranky days though!

  2. Did you find this through one of those housesitting websites? I've been intrigued by them and thinking about trying it out. Sounds like a fun idea - minus it being 5 weeks, I can totally understand why that would be too long in a snowy, small town! That sharpee is super cute by the way!

    1. Yes, we use but I've heard good things about trustedhousesitters as well. I plan to write a post on housesitting tips after we wrap up our Orcas Island gig.

      And yes, Ms. Roxy was pretty adorable. :)

  3. A long stretch of quiet time with books, movies, and a hot tub does sound good... for about a week. Tops. I'm with you there, especially if you weren't able to get out and recharge outdoors.

    1. Glad it's not just me! I know this sounds dreamy to a lot of people...

  4. 5 weeks in a not-so-great community is a long time, but this sounds so fun, totally a winter hibernation, and at least there were cute animals and a gorgeous view!

    1. Thanks Sarah... I think if we had real jobs and this was our winter vacation, it would've been awesome. But we've been doing this so long now that we're getting picky about what's "fun" and what's not.

  5. Glad you made the best of your winter hibernation. :)

  6. Interesting food for thought for anyone considering long-term stays. Thanks for your honesty!

    1. Thanks Michele. In the right place, a long-term stay could be really awesome!

  7. What an experience! I have to know: what's up with the beaver tails and Kraft dinner? I do like the idea of hibernating for a while but 5 weeks is definitely a loooong time... sounds like you both made the best of it!

    1. Thanks Marlynn! Some Canadian foods like poutine are regionally-based but not these. The beaver is Canada's national animal. Beavertails in Canada are like funnel cake at our state fairs - you find them everywhere. Kraft dinner is a Canadian staple. I saw a quote from Douglas Coupland: "it so precisely laser-targets the favoured Canadian food groups: fat, sugar, starch and salt." Should also be an *American* staple if that's the case, eh? ;)

  8. Ack! Sorry this housesit was a tough one. However, I would love to have 5 weeks to catch up on my reading!

    1. I'm sure! Had it been our first 5-week housesit we would've loved being cooped up with our books! But after a few of these... eh. :)