Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Penners get Trashy

We all know British Columbians are known for their tree-hugging and waving the environmental banner. Since we Penners are BC residents for this year, we thought we should do our part. Mike's consulting firm, HATCH, was putting together a group to participate in "The Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-Up" and we jumped at the chance to help.

Our job was to join other HATCH employees and their families at Spanish Banks on a beautiful fall Saturday morning and pick up garbage. The girls were actually quite excited about this - especially Ellie and Sasha. They had seen an Arthur episode in which the characters on the show did something similar and got to use POKEY STICKS! "Do you think we'll get pokey sticks, Daddy?"

Here are the young recruits outfit in their very generously fitting HATCH t-shirts ready to get to work!
Here's the whole Penner clan outfit in our official uniforms looking eager and ready for the task at hand.

Sticks! Yes - there were sticks to use. But not pokey sticks. These were even better. They had grabby fingers at the end that you could use to get a hold of any and all types of garbage. We were also given rubber gloves, a garbage bag, and an official tally-sheet to keep track of every single stinking piece of garbage we picked up. All of the stats get compiled so that if you would like to know how many bottle caps were picked up on Canada's shorelines this year, you can find out.

We were given our zone and off we went to work. I was the official tally-sheet marker and the girls and Mike rotated positions. It was clear from the start that cigarette butts were going to be the big winner on our sheet. In our small zone alone we picked up 136 butts! Mike even brought one home with him and mod-podged it to his canvas.

Those grabby-sticks work well for grabbing 5 year old girls too!

Here I am, making straight and orderly tally marks in all the right places. No, even though there were places on the sheet to record it, we didn't find any entangled animal carcasses or refrigerators. Just a lot of butts. And juice box straw wrappers. And balloons. And a lot of bottle caps.

Here is Team Penner standing with the trash bags the HATCH group collected. Nice job, girls.

After picking up trash for nearly two hours, we had a bbq lunch with the group and decided to stay at the beach to make the most of the gorgeous warm day. It's Vancouver, people. For all we knew, that was the last time we were going to see the sun until May.

Look at this pristine shoreline....

These are my favourite days and favourite moments. Feeling the sun on my face and the sand between my toes. Watching my girls dance near the water. Observing Sasha's meticulous work-ethic in action as she painstakingly builds a town from the sand.

After spending a few hours at the beach, we went out in search of more adventure. We found ourselves exploring Kitsilano and then ending up on a nude beach just off the UBC campus. But that's another story for another blog post. And if that didn't just hook you, I don't know what would.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Walk with Me...

I thought I'd take you along on a little walk around the neighbourhood. I walk the same route to school with the girls and by myself everyday - today it was FOUR times! It's a good little stroll, so I don't really mind.

We live in an area in North Burnaby referred to as "The Heights". It's a pretty busy area of commercial shops and restaurants along Hastings Street that has a strong Italian influence. There are a lot of Italian deli's and bakeries along that stretch.

In this picture, we've just walked from our house on Georgia and turned the corner onto Gamma heading towards Hastings. The North Shore mountains are in the background. I love the bands of cloud that wrap around the mountains most mornings. I swear that every time I see the mountains towering around Vancouver I am amazed.

One thing that shocked me about Vancouver are the palm trees. Palm Trees! In Canada! I am still known to exclaim to the girls on a regular basis, "Can you believe that we live where Palm Trees grow?".

Here we are approaching the 6 lanes of traffic on Hastings which we need to cross to get to school. In the morning and at dismissal time there is a crossing guard on duty to help kids cross safely. The girls really want a chance to walk to school by themselves. I'm not quite ready for that yet.

This house is on Gamma just before we turn onto Pandora Street and see our school. It always makes me feel like I'm in California!

Here's the girl's school, "Confederation Park Elementary School". This is a really old school that up until four years ago was suffering from declining enrolment and the threat of being shut down by the Burnaby School District. When the school became a "Performing Arts School" enrolment rose steadily every year to where there are now three portables on the school yard and waiting lists to get in. They have an amazing program - attracting staff who are passionate about integrating the arts into the curriculum. The school houses a dance studio, a visual art studio, and large spaces for drama and music.

After we pick up Sasha, we'll take a stroll to the Library across the park. The Library and the large rec complex with an amazing indoor swimming pool and the gym that I go to are all accessible from the neighbourhood park.

Here's our walking companion and very big school-girl Sasha in front of the flower garden at the Library.

There are a lot of differences between Winnipeg and Metro Vancouver. One of them is the glaring paradox of wealth and famine in neighbourhoods. In Winnipeg, if you live in River Heights it's expected that you live in a nice home of a certain stature. Likewise, if you tell someone you live in Point Douglas, your expectations would be lower and it would be expected that you'd live in a small house that needs some work. That's just not the case here. Every neighbourhood is home to such extremes on the socio-economic scale. Beside a 3 million dollar infill home in our neighbourhood streets can sit a house that looks like it belongs on a street like Furby in Winnipeg's West End.

Land and space are at a premium here. I am always amazed at the creative ways people make use of the land that they have. People make use of their small front yards because quite often, there is no back yard! They think nothing of filling their front yard with a garden - creatively staking up all of their plants to make the most of their small space. These zucchini are all staked up and create an arbour over the walk-way into the yard.

Another sign of a Vancouver neighbourhood - you see this parked in front of a house on one side of Gamma....

....and this parked in front of a house on the other side.

Sasha is pressing the button to get us back across Hastings to head home.
Thanks for walking with us!

Friday, September 17, 2010


It's a funny feeling to not be "known".

I've run into this realization a few times this week.

First, we had some forms come home from school that required us to fill in the names of 3 people the school could contact in case of emergency and we weren't able to be reached. Normally, that wouldn't pose much of a challenge for me. Whenever I've done this in the past, I automatically put "Auntie Carla" down in the number one slot. She knows us. We know her. Not only that, but my kids love her and they are most definitely loved by her. It's easy. After her name, I could list many friends who know and love my kids.

This week's form filling out process posed a challenge. We don't know anyone. I may know some names and faces, but certainly wouldn't feel comfortable having them care for my kids. Yet. So I put the following on the forms: "Since we have just relocated here we don't have any contacts. I will update when this changes."

Something else happened this morning at the Kindergarten pick-up zone. Sasha has "a new best friend" and these two girls are joined at the hip. I've spoken with Ganika's mom quite a bit in the school yard - she's been very friendly and welcoming. Today I asked her if she'd feel comfortable with me taking Ganika home for an afternoon sometime to play with Sasha. I could tell she was uneasy with this immediately. She paused, and then said she'd have to come over too to make sure Ganika was comfortable and would feel ok about staying. In other words, "I need to come check your place out and investigate whether or not you're a weird freak."

I can't say I blame her. I'd do the same thing if I didn't know a person well.

But I'm not used to this. In Winnipeg, I'm known.

In the same vein, I've been observing Ellie this week. Of all three girls, she's probably had the most challenge connecting with other friends here. That's not how I would have predicted things turning out. In Winnipeg, Ellie was surrounded by a large posse of friends. If anything, she'd sometimes complain that too many people wanted to play with her at recess and it made her feel torn in different directions.

If you know Ellie, you know she's silly. She loves to laugh and is definitely the most animated and out-going of all the girls. If I watch her here on the playground, or coming out of her classroom, I can tell she doesn't feel safe to be Ellie yet. She's cautious and guarded. She observes and watches. Amazingly, she continues to be positive about going to school each morning.

On Wednesday her buddy from school in Winnipeg called her. Within seconds, I saw Ellie emerge from her shell and light up. She knew she was known by the friend on the line. It made all the difference.

I hope Ellie finds someone here who really wants to know her.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

BC Birthday

I celebrated my birthday on Sunday. Without much pomp and ceremony. And that's ok - I actually kind of like it that way. I'm of the opinion that unless you are celebrating a milestone birthday, if you're over 13 years old, you need to get a grip if you expect the world to stop on "your" day. I'm just a low-maintenance kind of girl, I guess. Mike is thankful.

With that said, we do have a few little birthday traditions in the Penner household - one being that when I have a birthday, Mike and the girls bake a cake in my honor. This is no small feat. It is also incredibly entertaining to observe. I usually pick a pretty easy recipe, but this year I knew Mike was up for the challenge so I stepped it up a notch. I selected "Cool Lime Layered Cake". And so, Saturday night - the work began....

Mike takes this cake thing pretty seriously. He says he's not that handy in the kitchen - but I have never seen anyone take things quite as seriously in the kitchen as Mike does. He measures to the letter of the law (I guess it's an engineering thing). If the recipe say "beat for 2 minutes on high and 4 minutes on medium" that's what he does, and not a second longer. He usually plays up the roll of "incompetent baker" for the girls a little just to make them laugh. And laugh they did on Saturday night.
Sadly, for me, it rained all day on Sunday. That pretty much nixed any grand plans I had of strolling down Commercial Drive and having a picnic at the beach. After enjoying breakfast with some friends we had staying with us on Saturday night and saying good-bye to them, we went to a little church in East Van that has a Winnipeg connection for us. Then it was off to "Mucho Burrito" for an amazing lunch. After arriving home we worked on our canvasses and then I settled into my bed for a good long reading session completely undisturbed. Incidentally, I think heaven might be a big bed, pillows, a fluffy duvet, peace, quiet, and books. Needless to say, I enjoyed myself.

Since I closed my kitchen for the day, it was off to a new restaurant in our neighborhood we'd both been wanting to try. The name sounds less than thrilling but the food certainly was. "Burgers Etc. Barbecue House" is on Hastings and features southern bbq and all of the fixings. This is one of my guilty pleasures.

Mike and I shared a sampler with ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, bbq Italian sausage, roasted chicken, spicy bbq chicken wings, baked beans, coleslaw, and fresh corn. It was ridiculous.

The restaurant is very small, and very simple. It has a jazz and blues theme. Sasha loves The Blues. She has since she was wee. We find that wonderful, considering that her nick-name since birth has been "Satchmo" which is the name Louis Armstrong was often known by. We thought we better take a picture with Sasha beside her name-sake.

The girls could hardly wait until I was ready to open my present from them - a beautiful hand-crafted bookmark they had all collectively worked on.....

....which went perfectly with my gift from Mike - The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I have been longing to read this book for several months. My Winnipeg book club is discussing it this month, and I don't want to lag behind! I am hopeful this book will deposit some richness into me as I read it. Perhaps Mike is hoping it will magically transform me into a permanently happy person.

Finally the moment arrived! With the cake beautifully garnished with fresh strawberries by Mike in what he though looked like my beloved cbc's logo - it was time to cut in and indulge.

It was just as delicious as it looked. Fresh and moist and vibrantly full of citrus flavor. Nice job team!

These lovely flowers were delivered to our door on Saturday. We were all shocked and speechless when we heard the doorbell ring. It never rings. After running to the door, I was so thankful to receive these flowers which were screaming my name. Thanks, Heather.

After indulging in way too much BBQ and a huge piece of cake, I took a long walk alone in the misty, cool, night air. It was a good day. It will be a good year. My life is full.

Swing Your Partner

I think my favorite newspaper-reading day other than the obvious choice of Saturday, would be Thursday. Thursday has the section that lists upcoming events of the entertainment variety in a handy insert. I study this insert. I circle, cut, and save. And I was wildly excited this past Thursday when I noticed a little notice for a "Community Square Dance" with a live string band, a professional caller, and fun for families. Well yee-haw and by golly, we Penner folk sounded like just the group for this square dance!

When I exuberantly announced this discovery and plan to the fam, they seemed skeptical. In fact, Hannah's reaction was a bit more grumpy than skeptical. She thought this was a dumb idea and couldn't believe I'd suggest something so ludicrous. But when this Momma gets a bee in her bonnet, it's full steam ahead - and so off we went to the Square Dance on Friday night!

The dance was happening at a venue in East Van called "The Cultch". It's a beautiful old church that's been re-vamped and functioning as a cultural centre for the community for the past 20 years or so. The vibe in the place felt very much like the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg - tonnes of old friends milling about, hugs, hand-shakes and community. I loved it right off the hop.

We sat down for a few minutes as the string band began to warm-up. Soon, the caller was at the microphone and was inviting everyone onto the floor for the first dance. Hannah decided to sit this one out. (As a note to all you square dancers out there - if you want to square dance as a family, best you have an even number of offspring in your family).

Soon the music was rolling and the calls were coming and you could not wipe the smile off of Sasha's face. This kid was born to square dance. Ellie was my partner for the first few dances. She's a little more reserved, but was the perfect "lady" for this "gent". We circled left and promenaded our way around the floor for a few tunes when suddenly Hannah emerged on the scene keen to get in on the action. Fancy that. Before we knew it she was hootin' and a hollerin' with the best of them while Ellie took a little breather.

Sasha, that sassy young thing, was dancing with an array of men and women.... and she was loving it. She may seem shy, but when that girl gets a chance to dance , well don't even think about standing in her way. Soon Mike took his chance for a breather and the Penner Four made a square and danced the rest of the night away.

There was life in that place. Strangers linking arms with strangers - laughing and clapping. Kids and seniors, talented and un-coordinated, short and tall, gay and straight, in and out and all around. Vibrant life. It took my breath away.

Soon there was a full dance floor. We were tired, hot, and squished. We decided it was definitely time for a gelato break at Dolce Nonna. And then came the best part of my evening. As we drove from "The Cultch" there was chitter and chatter in the van about how much freaking fun they'd had. And then Hannah piped up about even though she'd been reluctant, she had to admit that square dancing was "really really really fun and she'd love to do it again". Score one for this Momma. Yee Haw.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Fair at the PNE - Celebrating 100 Years of Fun

Last weekend was our last chance to go to "The Fair" at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE). The PNE turned 100 this year and we were not going to miss it. We decided not to do rides because there's so much to do and the lines for the rides are so long. Plus, after the two week "Fair" is over "Playland", with most of the rides, stays open. So, we promised the girls we would go back to Playland some other day to do rides.

The first order of business when we arrived was to get cotton candy. Sasha said she had never had it before, which I found hard to believe and totally unacceptable.

As we munched on cotton candy, we listened to Dal Richard's Orchestra. We were also waiting for The Peking Acrobats show to start. Karla graciously waited in line for us while the girls and I listened to Dal's 70th consecutive appearance at PNE. 70 years in a row! This man is a Vancouver legend. 91 years old and still going strong. We only got to hear a few songs (Mack the Knife was one) and then we had to go join Karla in line for The Peking Acrobats.

This show was worth the price of admission by itself. Absolutely amazing.

The ladies would spin these tables (and other objects too) on their feet. And then, while spinning them, they'd throw them to each other. It was crazy!

These boys looked to be about 11 or 12 years old.

The ladies again, this time spinning plates while doing crazy balancing acts.

This guy was nuts. These chairs are balanced on 4 empty wine bottles at the bottom. Then, he'd stack them and climb up.

I thought that was crazy enough, but then he did this: balancing one-handed, with the top chair leaning (not stacked nicely on top), at least 20 feet in the air . . . with NO SPOTTER. It was so high up, I couldn't get the whole thing in the picture. When he got down, you could literally hear everyone finally breathe again.

Ellie liked this one a lot. They're all balanced on one bike, riding in circles.

After the acrobats show, Dal Richards had another set, so we stopped to listen again. This time, he was joined by Jim Byrnes, who is an amazing blues singer. I really enjoyed this.

And so did Sasha apparently . . .

Okay, off to see some pig races. Only, it ended up being a single pig race, which took about 20 minutes to build up to, and about 10 seconds flat to actually race.

Here's how you get people to wait 20 minutes for a 10 second pig race. Pick four people out of the audience, force them to dress up like pigs, teach them to call a pig ("sooooo-eeee"), divide the crowd into four teams, get the crowd to cheer for their pig leader, etc, etc. Oh, and say "Are you sure you want to see a pig race? I can't hear you. Are you REALLY sure you want to see a pig race?" about 20 times. You gotta really drag it out baby!

Finally! The pigs are off. And 10 seconds later, our pig won.

There was an exhibit at the Fair called Container Art. We think that Auntie Corina and Uncle Jason would really have enjoyed this.

This one was cool. It's four chairs and a table, only the table is a flat screen displaying a movie loop of people's arms playing with scrabble pieces. If you sit down and put your arms on your lap and look down, it feels like the moving arms are your own arms. Weird. How do you even think of trying that?

There was an international sand-sculpture competition that had been completed several days earlier. There were about 15 entries and they were all amazing. I don't know how the judges could decide who should win. Unfortunately, it had rained a bit, so they were a bit damaged. But they still amazed us.

This was the 3rd place winner.

And here's the winner.

We saw these guys at the Forks once, about 2 or 3 years ago. They're very funny. "The Chairmen" they're called. They do a 20 minute comedy routine with plastic patio chairs. The routine hasn't changed; neither have the jokes. Makes you wonder if they still have fun doing it. Same jokes day after day after day.

4:30 p.m. - time for the daily parade. We got good seats right at the side of the road.

Superdogs. The girls love the Superdogs. We've seen them at the Royal Canadian Winter Fair in Brandon. Twice. But we had to see them again.

Time for supper. The girls had pizza and Karla and I had a fantastic butter chicken from Curry in a Hurry.

We did not try the "deep fried butter". Yuck.

This was actually just before Superdogs. Candy Nation was in the concourse of the arena where the Superdogs show was. Lots of interesting displays and facts about candy and of course a candy store where you could get just about any kind of candy from your early childhood. The girls each got a bag of Jelly Bellies.

To close out the day, a loud, bright and hot pyrotechnics/dance show called "Kaboom". The show takes you on a musical tour from 1910 until 2010. Elvis, The Beattles, disco, etc, etc. It was a spectacular way to end a spectacular day.

Oh, I forgot to mention the Kettle Corn. Thanks to our friend Adrian Wortley, who introduced us to this highly addictive treat at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, we just had to get two large bags of Kettle Corn. It's the perfect combination of salty and sweet. Better than caramel corn. No pics of Kettle Corn though - too busy eating it and picking the kernels out of my teeth.

Okay, I think that covers the PNE. At least until we go back to Playland to do the rides.