Ring in the New Year in Style… and with Good luck

GroupCelebrating_139152893Quick question: What will your wardrobe be on New Year’s Eve? Nice dress? Black tie? How about your, ahem, underwear? If you lived in parts of South America, it wouldn’t even be a question. In São Paulo, La Paz, and other spots, people don brightly coloured underpants to ring in the New Year — red if they’re looking for love and yellow for money.

champagne-NEW-YEARNo matter what we wear, though, New Year signifies a new beginning. Flipping open a fresh calendar, with its 12 pristine, as-yet-unmarked months, is perhaps one of the most universally hopeful acts we humans perform. Finally, a chance to shrug off a year’s worth of worries, conflicts, and mistakes. Finally, a chance to start over.

It’s no wonder we all welcome the holiday with such enthusiasm. In the U.S. (and in lots of other countries), the event is celebrated with fireworks and parades, drinking and toasts. Some cultures, though, have more unusual ways of ushering in the New Year.

In many countries, there’s a shared belief that specific actions taken on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day — or at the stroke of midnight — can influence the fate of the months ahead. In the Philippines, for example, wearing polka dots and eating round fruits is supposed to ensure a prosperous new year. In Spain, wolfing down handfuls of grapes as the clock strikes 12 is said to have the same effect.

In other countries, New Year’s customs are about driving away the bad spirits of the past year, so that the new one can arrive unsullied and uncorrupted. The purifying power of fire is often used in such ceremonies. During the Scottish festival of Hogmanay, for instance, parades of village men swing giant blazing fireballs over their heads as they march through the streets. In Panama, sculptures or statues of popular celebrities and political figures—called muñecos—are burned in bonfires. Other bad-spirit-banishing customs are less fiery and more fun, like the Danish tradition of jumping off chairs at midnight (which gives new meaning to the term “leap year”).

Corn BreadIf food is how you choose to celebrate holidays, there are multitudes of food that are said to bring luck and prosperity.

Black Eyed Peas: Resembling coins, these beans are said to bring prosperity in the New Year and are often enjoyed in the traditional southern dish known as Hoppin’ John, which in some households, may be preceded by a hopping dance performed around the table by the children.

Buttered Bread: New Years Day in Ireland is also known as Day of the Buttered Bread (or Sandwich, depending on the Gaelic translation). Tradition says buttered bread placed outside the door symbolizes an absence of hunger in the household, and presumably for the year to come.

12 grapesGrapes/Raisins: Tradition in Spain says 12 grapes or raisins eaten just before midnight (one at each chime of the clock) will bring good for all 12 months of the year, so long as you finish all 12 before the final stroke!

Greens: Because of their deep emerald color resembling money, healthy, hearty greens like kale, spinach, and collards are believed to bring wealth (and of course, health!) to those who enjoy it early and often in the New Year. For legume or meat-based dishes, a garnish of parsley is also said to ward off evil spirits.

Pork: Bring on the bacon! As pigs root forward while they forage for food (as opposed to cows, who stand still, or chickens, who scratch backwards), pork in all forms is enjoyed by many hoping to embrace the challenges and adventures that await them in the coming year.

Long Noodles: Signifying longevity in Asian culture, a stir-fry of unbroken noodles is a tradition believed to bring good health and luck in the New Year. Those who can eat at least one long noodle without chewing or breaking it is said to enjoy the longest life and best luck of all!

Lentils: Resembling tiny coins, the custom of enjoying lentils in the New Year is a common Italian tradition said to bring wealth.

Cornbread: Golden yellow and inarguably delicious, cornbread is especially popular in the South. Because its color is similar to that of gold, this bread is enjoyed by those hopeful for a prosperous year.

Round Foods: Cakes, pastries, cookies, and round fruits like clementines are often enjoyed on New Year’s Day as their shape signifies the old year has come to a close and the coming days hold the promise of a fresh start.

Whole Fish: In Chinese culture, serving fish whole (both head and tail intact) symbolizes prosperity, abundance, and a good year to come (from start to finish).

No matter how odd different traditions may seem to us, though, these customs share an optimism that’s hard not to appreciate. Out with the old, in with the new!

So no matter where or how you celebrate, Sandman Hotel Group wishes you a very happy and healthy new year. From us to you, may 2014 be full of joy, laughter, and loved ones.
Happy New Year in sparklers

Be Safe This Winter – Especially in Avalanche Terrain

Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography

Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography

Written by the Canadian Avalanche Centre

Visiting a Sandman hotel for some winter fun this year? There’s something seriously magical about sliding on snow, whatever your method.  The Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) reminds you that whether you’re skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or anything else that gets you outside and onto the white stuff, you’ve got to be avalanche aware. Especially if you’re heading into avalanche terrain.

Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography

Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography

The backcountry can be an enticing place — it’s peaceful, awe-inspiring, invigorating, and it deserves your respect. Remember, the backcountry can be many miles from civilization, or it can be just beyond a boundary rope. Any time you’re going into the backcountry, remember the CAC’s three key safety messages: get the gear, get the training, and check the forecast. Essential avalanche safety gear is an avalanche transceiver, a probe, and a shovel. Training gives you the fundamentals of travelling safely in avalanche terrain — whether you’re new to the backcountry or have many days of experience under your belt, you owe it to yourself, your family, and your friends to know as much as you can about avalanche risk management. The avalanche forecast gives you avalanche danger ratings, crucial details about primary avalanche concerns, travel advice, info on avalanche activity, snowpack conditions, and forecast weather conditions for the region. Together, these pieces of the puzzle help you make better decisions in the backcountry.

So who is the CAC? We’re a not-for-profit, non-government organization dedicated to public avalanche safety in Canada. Founded in 2004, we coordinate public avalanche safety programs such as regional avalanche forecasts, deliver public avalanche awareness and education programs, provide curriculum and support to instructors of Avalanche Skills Training (AST) courses, act as a hub for avalanche information, and encourage avalanche research. We encourage safe, responsible backcountry use.

To enjoy the backcountry safely and responsibly, do your homework before you travel. Look through our online avalanche course for an intro to avalanche safety or a pre-season refresher (http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training/online-course). Take an AST course in your hometown or while on your trip. (http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training/ast). Check the avalanche forecast for the region you’ll be visiting (http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/bulletins/latest). Most importantly, have fun and stay safe.

Sandman is a sponsor of the Canadian Avalanche Centre and the Alberta Snowmobile Association’s billboard initiative for the 2013-2014 season. The objective of this program is to remind travelers to get important avalanche forecasts for three major routes in BC and AB.

Autumn Across Canada – Like the Changing of the Guard

Fall is a season that is deserving of its poetry. It’s not blatant like summer’s heat or winter’s snow. It’s a quiet season, when everything is looking to the colder, darker days for rest. With the storms that sway the trees and brilliant leaves that grace the forests, it’s also wildly beautiful. Travelling in Canada this fall, staying at the numerous Sandmans across the country, means bearing witness to the  stunning scenes that could inspire your own poetic musings.

autumn colours

A Wave of Colour
Fall means a change in the colours of the landscape, with spectacular reds, oranges, and yellows that gradually fade into winter’s whites and greys. The Niagara Parkway near Niagara-on-the-Lake is famous for its glorious fall colour, as are the sugar maples, birches, and beech trees of Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains. If you’re in the west, catch a view of the larches changing colours in the mountains around Lake O’Hara in the Canadian Rockies.

Awe-Inspiring Storm Watching
Go coastal, and feel the beauty of the rainy season. Vancouver Island’s Tofino and Ucluelet are famous for the beauty of the surf. Walk along the beach in the mist or pouring rain, or as the winter storms rage while you’re snug in an ocean-view lodge.

When the fall rains come to British Columbia, the streams fill up with spawning salmon.  The pounding water and rolling boulders are inspiring, and the crowds of visitors are mostly gone. grizzly bearFind a safe place to watch the water as it roars by, and you’ll understand the true meaning of the word awesome.

Eagles and bears accompany the salmon, feasting as the fish complete their life cycle. Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria is an excellent place to go salmon-watching, while Brackendale near Squamish is known for its eagles. If you’d like to see wildlife of the larger, hairier variety, day trips and overnight lodges out of Campbell River bring visitors to see the grizzlies as they feast on the fall salmon runs.

Fall Sunsets That Will Blow You Away
On Canada’s prairies, the sky seems to go on forever, and so does the sunset. Sit next to a pond in the evening, enjoying the sounds as night starts to arrive.  Go north, and you’ll also have the opportunity to experience the Northern Lights, bits of colourful light that play across the sky in the dark.

Canada GeeseMigrations That Will Move You
There’s nothing like the honking of the Canada geese to get you in the mood for fall. It pairs nicely with a hot cocoa and a toque.

Across Canada’s north, wildflowers begin to fade, tundra readies itself for the cold winter, and the northern caribou populations begin to make their way south. 

If you’re looking for a somewhat more urban experience, Canadian wetlands play host to a myriad of bird species in the fall, as northern birds migrate south. At the Reifel Bird Sanctuary just outside Vancouver, the fall migration of Lesser Snow Geese arrives in October. Up to 20,000 of these birds come to visit the marshes of the Fraser Valley each year. The geese come from Wrangel Island in the Arctic, and they seek out the more temperate climate of Vancouver for the winter.

The Misty Shores
newfoundland_115011499In the fall, go for the mist rising off the lake or the seashore. Visit Canada’s east coast for beautiful lighthouses, tiny coves, and small villages as well as busy urban centres. More specifically, Nova Scotia’s Lighthouse Route for a collection of more than 20 lighthouses, scenic fog, and ocean spray.

A Canadian fall is all about the quiet mist and gently falling leaves. It’s also about the power of the storm and the magic of migration. It’s an awe-inspiring season of beauty, and one not to be missed.

The Maple Leafs turn red and yellow. And we’re not talking about the hockey team.

autumn“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
as I have seen in one autumnal face” – John Donne

Autumn is on the way. The world is starting to organize into a winter sleep. The trees strip off their leaves after a glorious display of colour. The days get shorter as evening descends on us earlier and earlier each day. And every once in a while, there is a hint of snow in the air.

There is no need to be upset about the end of summer. With the return of sweaters and hockey also comes the fall harvest that presents many delicious fruits and vegetables. And since Sandman has many hotels located in Western Canada, resulting in close proximity to farms and tasty produce, we’ve compiled the top 10 reasons to love autumn and the top 10 healthiest fall fruits and vegetables. Enjoy!

Ten reasons to love autumn:

  1. Breathable air – No more being stifled by the heaviness of humidity in the air. Autumn brings that crisp, cool air.
  2. Open windows – curtains blowing, hair whipping, papers flying!
  3. Hockey – It’s time to trash talk your best friends. No matter who you cheer for, everyone can agree they dislike the Leafs. Unless of course you’re from Toronto, and then you dislike everyone else.
  4. Warm blankets –There’s nothing like a soft, warm, fluffy blanket! Who doesn’t want to curl up with a blanket and their favourite book?
  5. Pumpkins – Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pie, pumpkin pudding, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin tarts, pumpkin carving…
  6. Hot Apple Cider – Warm and spicy and feel free to add a little nip of something extra, if you’d like.
  7. Halloween – It’s a magical time. Time to dress up in something silly or sit together at night and watch scary movies with the lights off.
  8. Spiced Wine – A lighter wine for the spring and summer is nice, but mulled wine and port in the evening help to take the chill off on those cold autumn nights.
  9. Fall colours – Fall has the most impressive colour palette out of all the seasons. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Eastern Canada during the fall, you really get to experience a true Canadian autumn.
  10. Thanksgiving – The eating holiday of all eating holidays! Turkey, gravy, apple pie, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and stuffing.

fall-veggies1If you’re still not convinced, maybe the talk of food will help. Even though the days of bright berries, crisp salads, and succulent summer fruit are behind us for another year, there are delicious replacements on the way to help you keep your healthy eating habits.

Autumn is a season of deep green, dark yellow, and brilliant orange, and these colours mean the fruits and vegetables are rich in disease-fighting nutrients. The more colourful the fruit, the better it is for your health.

Here are our top 10 picks for the most delicious and healthy autumn fruits and veggies.

parsnips1. Parsnips. These might look like white carrots, but they have a delicate, sweet flavour. While they don’t contain the same high amounts of vitamin A as carrots, parsnips are a good source of fibre, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Look for smooth and firm, small to medium sized parsnips for the best quality.

2. Turnips and swedes. A member of the mustard family, turnips – known as swedes in Scotland and Ireland – have a white flesh with a tough outer skin that ranges from yellow to purple, and a more bitter flavour than potatoes. They are a good source of vitamin C and offer 2-3 grams of dietary fibre per serving. Like their cousins, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, these cruciferous vegetables contain the potent phytochemical sulforaphane, which has been shown to protect against cancer, especially breast cancer.

Sweet Potato3. Sweet potatoes. Despite its name, the sweet potato is not related to the potato. Potatoes are classified as tubers, while the sweet potato is a storage root. Good-quality sweet potatoes will be firm, smooth-skinned and tan to light rose colour. They are high in vitamin C and provide three grams of fibre per serving. Sweet potatoes are an ideal choice for people with diabetes, since they are considered a low glycaemic food. This means that the carbohydrate in sweet potatoes is released slowly, which helps maintain steady blood sugar levels.

4. Pumpkins. These are more than just Halloween decorations. The pumpkin’s bright orange colour is a dead giveaway that it’s loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene, as well as being rich in vitamin C and folate. Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and protect against heart disease. Even the seeds are packed with nutritional value. In fact, they are only second to peanuts in protein content and a good source of zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

winter squash5. Winter squash. While summer squash tends to be tender and moist with edible seeds and rind, winter squash develops hard rinds and the tough seeds and fibrous centre are inedible and must be scooped out. Winter squash is one of the few vegetables that do not lose quality after picking. In fact, during storage, the beta-carotene (vitamin A) content increases, and they contain more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. They are also a good source of heart-healthy nutrients, folate, and fibre.

6. Clementines. These are the baby cousins of the Florida or navel orange and are also known as mandarin oranges. They can be quite difficult to distinguish from tangerines, as they are both bitter orange hybrids, but the main difference is that clementines are often seedless.

7. Apples. Apples contain flavonoids, some of the most potent antioxidants around. Several studies have shown that people who eat a diet that’s rich in flavonoids have a lower risk of heart disease and heart attacks as well as several types of cancer.

pears8. Pears. Pears are a high-fibre food, with a medium pear providing four grams of fibre, which is equivalent to one and a half cups of brown rice. Most of the fibre is also of the soluble kind, which can help lower blood cholesterol levels and improve blood sugar control.

cranberries9. Cranberries. If you are looking for berries that ripen in the autumn, look no further than cranberries. Not only are they a healthy, low-calorie fruit, they also play a significant role in preventing urinary tract infections and reducing the risk of gum disease, ulcers, heart disease, and cancer. Cranberries contain anthocyanins, the heart-healthy antioxidants, which are also found in tea and red wine, and the compound that gives them their colour. Only about 10% of the commercial crop is sold fresh – mostly in September through to December. The rest can be found as juice, dried, or as cranberry sauce.

figs10. Figs. These often-overlooked fruits are full of flavour and their chewy texture makes them a tasty, nutritious addition to your diet. Figs are high in fibre (5 grams per 1½-ounce serving), which is more dietary fibre per serving than any other common dried or fresh fruit. They are also a good non-dairy source of calcium – the same amount of figs and milk provide equal amounts of calcium.

What are you making for dinner this autumn?

How to attend the Vancouver International Film Festival

VIFFMovies, popcorn, and premieres. Oh my. The Vancouver International Film Festival (September 26 – October 11) is fast approaching, and with numerous festival theatres downtown Vancouver, Sandman is very excited for this year’s festival.

Now it’s time to go to the movies. Let’s walk through some tips, in chronological order, beginning with the moment you enter the theatre and sit down.

theatre1) First things first: locate your favourite seat (after awhile, you will have one in every venue).

2) The smartest thing to do is visit the washroom about ten minutes before the start of the film. Experienced festival-goers also use this time as an opportunity to share feedback on movies they’ve seen.

3) Most events start on time. VIFF is particularly good about this as screenings are usually booked one after another in the same venue. Staffers use a terrific wireless audio system which really helps things go like clockwork. All festivals have volunteers, but the ones at VIFF are a breed apart. Most return year after year and work very hard, so take some time and acknowledge their presence.

4) “On time” doesn’t mean the lights go down. Almost all movies are preceded by an introduction. This is usually done by a festival programmer. Occasionally, the filmmaker(s) and/or cast members come up prior to the screening but their remarks are usually brief. Most directors say something along the lines of, “Let’s just watch the film and let it speak for itself.”

5) The festival rep will run through a series of announcements, including thanking the major sponsors. You’ll probably have this memorized after a few screenings and be able to recite them along with the staffer. At this point, if you haven’t already done so, it’s time to turn off your cellphones, pagers, beepers, anything that makes noise, buzzes, or has a light.

movie trailer6) Once the lights go down, you’ll see a series of trailers. The primary one lists the various festival sponsors. It’s usually well done with snazzy graphics and cool music. It has to be because you might see it 30 times. Kudos to the festival for always making sure of this. You’ll be tapping along before you know it. You may be reminded to vote for the audience award and to thank the festival volunteers. It’s customary to applaud at this point. That’s always a lot of fun, especially if you’re the one who starts it.

7) By the way, there is a possibility that either during the intro or during the trailers there will be a note about anti-piracy measures being taken. You may then hear a loud “ahhhhrrrrr” emerge from the crowd. It is customary to join the cacophony.

8) Once the lights go down, the standard rules apply as for any movie. Watch it. Don’t talk. One thing you’ll notice is that, in most cases, festival audiences are extremely respectful of these rules and you’ll be spoiled in no time at all. Even at the venues where food and beverages are served throughout the films (not all allow it), patrons know enough to chew and imbibe so as not to distract. The next time you go to your local multiplex, you’ll wish you were back at a festival screening. There is nothing to compare to a festival audience when it comes to respect for the filmmakers.

movie credits9) The film ends. Here is where things become dicey. To leave during the credits or not to leave? Well, keep in mind that there will, in many cases, be a Q&A. Still, many can’t resist the urge to get up and head out as soon as the names start to roll. Keep in mind that someone mentioned on screen might actually be in the next seat. Literally. Of course, if you’ve scheduled your next event too close in time to and/or far away in distance from the current one, then you may have no choice.

10) Many screenings have a Q&A after the lights go up. This generally applies to what the festival calls “Regular” screenings, not Galas. The audience will usually be informed of this during the intro. Also, the likelihood of a Q&A decreases with successive showings of films later in the week depending on whether or not the folks connected with the production are still in town. It’s one of the main reasons to attend film festivals, Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to question the filmmakers, cast, and crew about what you just saw.

11) Usually the same person who did the introduction will call up whoever is present to represent the film. In most cases, these are the director and cast members. In any case, the Q&As are more than anything what distinguishes a festival screening from one at your local theatre and help make the experience a memorable one.

12) A Q&A doesn’t work without the Q. Be ready and don’t be intimidated. That’s what they’re there for. In most cases, it is considered impolite to ask more than one. The session will go on as long as people have questions to ask, and/or until cut off by a festival staffer in order to clear the house for the next film.

13) Depending on how long the session goes and/or if another screening is coming in, there may be an opportunity to meet the filmmakers and actors. This happens more often than most people think and you don’t have to be a VIP.

14) At times, the filmmakers and cast members are moved out to the lobby or on the street and greet the public there. They often will take pictures, sign autographs, etc. You don’t have to be a member of the press to rub elbows with the stars.

Whether this is your first film festival or your 50th, it is always a new experience. Enjoy the show!

film reel