White Christmas appeals

Arrowtown book buyer Miranda Spary continues her regular column about her recommendations for a good read and life as she sees it ...

Merry, snowy Christmassy Christmas to you all from Big White in Canada.

I'm so annoyed I didn't know this beautiful resort existed when our children were all younger. There are Wakatipu voices all around here and everyone seems to have been to Queenstown.

Wes, who worked at the Heritage for six years, skied at 14 Canadian resorts last year and said Big White is the only one that matches Queenstown for the nightlife. Everything happens up the mountain - skiing, skating, restaurants, ice-climbing, tubing, even the famous ''Big Reds at Big White'' wine festival takes place in the main building, so you never need a car at all here. Forget all that faffing around driving whichever child has left their right glove or their ski ticket behind home to get it.

They can run back to the apartment themselves, although with the amount of snow around, it's easy to go waist deep the minute you step off the groomed snow.

There's so much sport on offer that a sign I saw for ''horse boarding'' had me imagining some extreme equestrian snowboarding exercise. In fact, they are just offering stabling for your horse, which doesn't sound as thrilling.

I'd never been to Canada, and I didn't know what to expect. Emma Hill warned me I'd love it and she's right. Air NZ does an overnight direct flight to Vancouver so we had three days there. It's right on the sea and we gorged ourselves on the justly famous Canadian seafood (they are way fussier about sustainable fishing than New Zealand is - we should copy them). We went up to Grouse Mountain which is only a 20 minute drive from downtown, then an eight-minute gondola ride.

Lots of people were just going up the mountain for lunch or for snowshoeing, even though the skiing was great, but most were non-skiers going up with children to see Santa and his live reindeer.

Honestly, I know I'm 52, but Santa's cute as a button cabin right on the edge of the skating pond where tiny children were all zipping about, with snow falling and reindeer grazing and twinkly lights had me racing in for a turn on his knee. I think his orthopaedic surgeon will have words to say about the wisdom of letting him put that amount of weight on a fragile joint.

We had a good long chat and he was particularly interested to know how Jack Howley and Oscar Spary are treating their younger siblings. I hope I haven't ruined their chances of a good haul at Christmas.

Santa looks a lot happier in the winter weather than those obviously fake ones in New Zealand with sweat rings in their armpits and a nasty dose of prickly heat.

Christmas is so pretty in the northern hemisphere - even towns in New Zealand that do bother putting up Christmas decorations struggle to make it look festive. It's just not dark enough till too late and there's nothing very festive without the twinkly bits. Every shop, office, house, tree and bridge in Vancouver seems to be sparkling and the smells of mulling cider and chestnuts roasting from every corner definitely make you feel like buying stuff for your family.

Lucky I'm so strong-willed ... The artisan food movement is huge here - there's a real ''buy local'' mood and it seems every restaurant has a tame farmer who supplies them pigs fed on such delicious diets as hazelnuts and rye, or chickens who dine on restaurant scraps. The very delicious Campognolo restaurant even had octopus which annoyed prawn fishermen had found in their prawn nets (or baskets?) and sold on as prawn-fed octopus.

Fantastic.

I think kale is inedible, but Forage restaurant had roasted it with olive oil and salt and now I can't wait to do it myself. They also served popcorn cooked in duck fat with little crispy bits of duck skin and pork crackling. How could I resist? Next time I go skiing I'm going to be borrowing ski pants from a fatter friend.

I am not very computer savvy - there's an understatement for you - and reading Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan really had me wishing I knew more. It's a modern-day fairy tale, where high tech and books collide. I loved the story anyway, but if I'd known whether the techy stuff was real or not, it would have been more meaningful ... Now I have learned the answers to that, I want to reread what was already a fun and fanciful fable. Clay is struggling to find work in the current economic climate and he sees a ''Help Wanted'' sign in the window of a bookstore. At first, the only mystery is how it stays open when it sells almost nothing, but there are more and more mysteries the longer he works there.

When he meets Kat, who is a superwhizz computer girl working at Google, their combined efforts solve one of the mysteries. Right now, the real world of books is in the same state of chaos, where the love of the old, paper, traditional means of storing information clashes with the new.

The bookstore's a more developed character than any of the people, but the story is fun.

Happy birthday and happy housewarming to Jane Todd and I hope everyone enjoys all the Christmas get-togethers this week.