Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Penner Pumpkin Patch Extravaganza

Every year back in Winnipeg, we've grown pumpkins in our small garden. Not just any pumpkins. BIG ones. HUGE ones. GIGANTIC ones. Lest you think this has something to do with superior horticultural skills we might have, let me be clear. This had nothing to do us. At all. It had everything to do with lots of sunny exposure and a dear and wonderful next-door neighbour with two green thumbs. We miss Richard. He was the best next -door neighbour you could ask for. All that to say, there was no garden, no Richard, and thus no pumpkins here this year. You could go to Safeway to pick one out of a big box, but we wanted to do it up right, so off we went to Richmond to a pumpkin farm where you could wander out to the patch and pick your own. Mike and I both expected this to be a little family farm with a few handfuls of people in the field. Not so. This was a big deal. From the cars of the parking lot, we estimated there to be about 2000 people at the patch on the sunny Saturday we were there. When you arrive, you get your tickets, and proceed to the entertainment area where corn and carrot dance to the music while you sit and wait for your turn on the wagon to take you out to the fields.

They really do love each other. Whew.

Once out at the fields, the hunt began. It was a beautiful day. Sunny and warm. Blue sky and vibrant orange pumpkins all vying for the chance to be your "one". Some of us took longer to find the "one" than others did. Hannah just couldn't decide to go for size or shape.

Ellie went for size. She wanted a big one. It didn't take her long at all.

Mike is a perfectionist. His was perfect. He was very proud.

Poor Sasha. She just couldn't decide. And don't dare make a suggestion to her about potential picks. That will take them out of the running immediately. She wandered seemingly aimlessly for a good long while until she finally came up with a winner!

After the pumpkins were picked, it was time to head back onto the wagons for a trip back to the main gate. Each wagon has a musical host who serenades you with pumpkin themed songs all the way back.

You get to end your adventure by picking an apple from the bin. Kind of an idyllic way to spend a fall day if you ask me.

And so, tomorrow we will carve those beauties to prepare for Halloween night. It won't be the same without the neighbours back on Robertson Crescent. But we'll make family memories just the same.

Thanksgiving in Whistler

With no family out here in B.C., Thanksgiving weekend didn't hold much promise of being anything special. The weather forecast looked even less promising - rain all weekend. And cold. Nevertheless, we decided, last minute, to take our chances and go to Whistler for two nights. We found a great deal at the Whistler Village Inn & Suites online. Here's the view from our suite on the third floor:

We arrived in Whistler well after lunchtime, and hadn't stopped along the way for a bite, so we were all very hungry. We found the Village Stroll just behind our hotel and went searching for the perfect restaurant for lunch. That lasted for about 2 minutes and then we just wanted to find something fast. We found a pizza joint that looked quick and "cheap" . . . Fat Tony's Pizza. Of course nothing's cheap in Whistler, but it was damn good pizza! We were too hungry to take pictures once the food came, but here's a picture of me trying to keep Sasha's mind off her stomach (and me off mine) by playing rock-paper-scissors.

After lunch we were all much happier:

Whistler was of course host to many Olympic events, so there was evidence of this legacy:

The first day was cloudy, but only really rained in the evening for a few hours. We went to a restaurant called Caramba for supper, which our friend Craig Vidal used to manage. After supper, we had a bit of a mishap on the way back to the hotel. It was very dark already and pouring rain. A few shops were still open for business. Karla and I wanted to go into a little hat shop on the way back to the hotel - don't worry Luke, we didn't buy anything - and Hannah was following behind. Well . . . we thought she was right behind us. We went into the hat shop and were in there for a couple of minutes before we realized that Hannah was not in the store yet. We went outside to find her but she was nowhere to be found. We knew she had wanted to go into Cows, an ice-cream parlour, which was a few stores back, so I rushed in there to find her and give her a tongue-lashing - that she should stay with us. Except, no Hannah. Where is that girl?! I go outside again and have another look in the street. Can't see her anywhere. Okay, now I'm starting to get a bit worried. Karla's standing in the rain in the middle of the Village Stroll starting to freak. Sasha's crying. I go into FootLocker and tell the salesperson I've lost my kid and ask who I should call or talk to for help. She tells me to find the Info booth down the stroll. We've been there - they called Caramba for us to reserve a table - great! I know where that is. I'm striding quickly down the Stroll to find the Info Booth, dragging poor Sasha by her hand as she's bawling her eyes out. Before I'm 50 feet down the street, who do I see wandering around looking completely frantic? Hannah. Whew! "Hannah!! Hannah!!" She looks around. Doesn't see me. Starts walking AWAY from me. "Hannah!!!!!!" She turns around and sees me. Starts running towards me, pure relief on her face - almost pure relief - some worry, probably worried about how mad I'm going to be. Except, I'm not mad. Only glad she's safe. Hugs. "I'm sorry Daddy".

After that excitement, we ended the night with some relaxing in the hot-tub and the girls actually swam in the pool, in the rain.

The next morning it actually looked pretty nice out. Sunny almost. So, we decided we'd better take advantage of the good weather while it lasts and go for a walk. Autumn is a great time to visit Whistler - the colours are stunning.

While on our walk, it started drizzling a bit, and we were getting hungry, so we headed back towards the town to find a bite to eat. And this time, we wanted something a little more healthy. No pizza. Soup and sandwich was on the mind. And we found a gem of a place - The Little Eatery.

Ellie and Hannah had waffles with banana and chocolate and whipped cream - it was Karla and I who wanted healthy, not the girls - and Sasha had a grilled cheese sandwich and potato chips.

And now, introducing the best part of the Whistler trip. Really. No kidding. The soup at this Little Eatery was the best Karla and I have ever had. Ever. Anywhere. It was called "Wicked Chicken Thai Soup". My mouth is watering 3 weeks later just blogging about it. Soooo good.

We were going to go back there for lunch on Monday, and told the server that, but we were informed that they were closed for Thanksgiving Monday. Dang it! We almost bought some to go so we could put it in the fridge in our hotel room. Still the biggest regret of the trip that we didn't.

By the time we left the restaurant, it was sunny again, so we explored the Village a bit.

In fact, we were getting so warm, we finally got that ice-cream that Hannah wanted so bad.

The girls wanted to go back to the hotel and swim. So, that's what we did. Well, they did. It was sunny and "warm", but c'mon man! 14 degrees is not swimming outside weather. Unless you're a kid I guess.

After swimming, it was still nice (where was all that rain we were supposed to get?) so we decided to go for a real hike. We cut through the Village Stroll to get to the trail head for Lost Lake Trail. Here are some pics from the hike:

45 minutes later, we arrived at Lost Lake. Stunning.

That evening Karla and I went to the Keg, which was attached to our hotel, while the girls enjoyed more carbs and cheese in the hotel room (Avalanche Pizza to go).

On Monday morning we picked up cinnamon buns from a nearby bakery for breakfast and hunkered down for a rousing game of Uno, since the weather was finally living up to the forecast. After several rounds with various winners, we decided the last round would decide the ultimate winner - winner-take-all.

Most Dads let their kids win. Not me. Nope. I wanna win. Not just win. I want to crush them. And did I crush them!

I am the Uno Champion!

After the girls finished crying, we packed up and left for home, around noon. This time we were a bit smarter about lunch - stopping at a quaint little restaurant in Squamish called The Sunflower Cafe.

And that was our wonderful Thanksgiving in Whistler. We'll be back. For the soup.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Taste of Community

I'm really glad Sasha is in Kindergarten this year. Sasha goes to school from 9-11:30. The girl's school is an old building, and is like one of those schools you've seen on a movie or a US television show. There are steps and doors outside to each classroom, and the students enter and exit right to their own room. Every day, the parents stand outside the door and the roomful of 19 students run out to greet their waiting parents. Because it's kindergarten, each parent waits - and with waiting comes talking. Once you start talking and listening, relationship isn't far behind.

And that's why I'm thankful I'm a momma to a Kindergarten student.

When there is a day without rain, Sasha and I stay and play. There are four other moms and their kids who almost always stay and play too. It is amazing how relationships form. You know nothing about these people and their lives except that their kids are in your daughter's kindergarten class.

Soon you are pushing their kids on the swings and asking questions about your new city. You are learning names and listening for clues about their lives. One day you are brave enough to invite all four women and their kids to your house for lunch. Stories are told and layers are peeled back. You like what you see under the layers. It's vivid, colorful and real. You want to know more. You might even be willing for them to know more of you.

And that's where I find myself. We were invited to a family Halloween party tonight at the home of one of the four moms who stays around after school along with the others. There is something about going to someone's home that takes you to a new level of knowing someone. It's vulnerable to expose yourself to people in your own home. You are putting who you are or who you are perceived to be on display. As it so often is in life, vulnerability is rewarded.

We arrived with husbands in tow, having told them how much they'd like each other. We brought delicious food and shared a meal and a brew together. We stood around the kitchen counter and helped to get each other's kids plates ready. We listened to our kids laugh and play together and build relationship the way kids do. After being "just us" for much of the last four months, the sound of our kids enjoying friends in someone's home was a beautiful thing.

There was such richness in that home tonight. Authentic community is something I crave. I've craved it in so many areas of my life - and a few times I've been fortunate enough to find it. When you find it, you know. You just do. I had a taste of it tonight. I had nearly forgotten how good its flavour is.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nana & Papa's Visit

So, Karla's parents (Nee Nee & Papa) are arriving for a visit soon. Tomorrow actually. I figured I had better post about my parents' (Nana & Papa) visit, which happened 3 weeks ago, before I get too far behind.

The weather forecast for Karla's parent's visit looks terrible. Cool and rainy . . . all weekend. My parents were much more fortunate. Perfect weather. Of course we took them to some of our favourite spots in and around Vancouver.

Burnaby Mountain, one of our favourite places to take visitors. We go frequently even without visitors. I've posted pictures before, but here's what my Mom and Dad saw . . .

The next day, we went to the market at Lonsdale Quay for lunch and ice cream.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died at this point, so I didn't get any more pictures that day. After lunch at Lonsdale Quay, we went for a short hike at Lynn Canyon, over the suspension bridge and to the "30 foot pool". Whenever we've gone before as a family, it has been later in the day, so it's been fairly empty. Well, this time is was prime time - Saturday afternoon, good weather - so it was absolutely packed with people.

The following day, Nana and Papa took the girls to the Vancouver Aquarium and Karla and I spent a few hours by ourselves for the first time in a long time, shopping on Commercial Drive and having a fantastic lunch at Cafe Deux Soleil, which is, ironically, a vegetarian restaurant. It was ironic because my Mom is vegan, and she wasn't with us, not because it was fantastic and vegetarian. That wouldn't be ironic, that's just unexpected.

Karla says it's like Stella's in Winnipeg, but after smoking pot.

There's a really odd store on Commercial Drive called "Beckwoman's". If you can't make out the tagline underneath it reads "Because My Father Didn't Open a Store and I'm Not a Man".

That's not what makes the store odd though. It's what's for sale and how it's all presented. Ever watch the show "Hoarders" on A&E? This storeowner is a hoarder. The aisles were hardly wide enough for one person to squeeze through, never mind trying to let someone pass by you. If you are walking one way and meet head-on with someone else going the opposite way, one of you has to concede and back up to the nearest intersection. The store sells really weird things too. Belly dancing supplies and radically left-wing bumper stickers. Disco balls and scarves. Jewelry and beaded curtains. Eclectic. Eccentric. Odd.

For supper one evening, my parents took us to a B.C. institution: White Spot. Yummy.

Hannah, my Mom and I played Banagrams, which my Mom kicks at because she's a Scrabble buff. AI, EM, XU . . . these are words?! Come on! I tried to make a rule that if you did't know what the word meant, you couldn't use it, but that hurt me more than it hurt her I think.

Thanks for the visit Nana and Papa!


It's amazing where it comes from.
Something from nothing.

You start alone.
You stand alone.
You are alone.

Alone is not bad.
It can be comforting and quiet.
Alone brings space and time.
It allows you the chance to reintroduce yourself to you.

Soon there is one, two, three or more bodies assembling around your once solitary figure.
You are cautious of crowding - but even more of being crowded.
A crowd or even one around you can feel like a slow drowning.
Or it can feel like life.

The one, two, three or four find their way around your table.
The little bodies in tow into the nooks and crannies of your house.
Your table is full of voices, of stories, of small expositions.

You ask yourself if it feels crowded.
You examine your space and consider if some reclaiming is yet in order.
The jury remains out.

Amazing how it grows - this something from nothing.
Born in the dust and wood chips of a school playground.
This something stands where the nothing was.

Alone no more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ellie's Gift

Ellie has been given a great gift this year. Part of her knows this, and part of her won't really know this until she is older. Most days I get to see this gift unwrapped - little by little. I get to see the paper peeled back and watch as more and more of it is exposed.

This gift has a name....
Has a face.....
Has a voice....
Has a story.

Ellie is in a combined grade 2 and 3 class. It's a relatively small class, with only 19 students. Immediately upon entering the classroom, you notice the gift...

She is small - much smaller than all of the other students. She has significant gross motor issues which result in an awkward gait and deliberate movement. She has a low voice that speaks in one or two word phrases and doesn't sound like any other 7 or 8 year old I know. She has interesting facial features which include a repaired cleft lip and palate and wide-set eyes that draw you in. She sits and watches and makes choices consistent with a 2 year old. She has an assistant with her constantly during the day that helps her with everything.

This is the gift. The gift has a name. Her name is Nikki.

Nikki was born with Kabuki Syndrome - a very rare genetic disorder that only appears in about 1 in 32,000 births. It affects heart function, cognitive ability, speech, gross and fine motor skills, appearance, and disposition. Interestingly, most children with Kabuki Syndrome have an exceptionally positive and happy disposition. Nikki is one of them. Joy oozes its way out of her body and spirit.

This is Nikki's second year at Confederation Park Elementary. She bounds up the steps to her classroom each morning and one step inside her classroom will tell you why. It's where she is loved, accepted, and valued. She has found community.

Inside the classroom doors Nikki is surrounded with affection. The 7 and 8 year olds in her community greet her with hugs and smiles. She is doted on and cared for. She is protected and guarded. Girls and boys alike playfully engage her consistently through the day. One boy regularly spends his recesses playing games of "hide and seek" with her outside just to see her smile. Groups of girls will dress her up at Centre Time like you would a toddler and she delights in it. Other students will read simple stories to her on the carpet because they want to. This is community.

I am so grateful Ellie has the chance to learn and grow beside Nikki. She is seeing differences honored and embraced. She is a witness to inclusion and adaptation. She is watching boys show affection and put the needs of someone else before themselves.

Most of all, she is a recipient of hugs and handshakes from pudgy hands and a warm heart belonging to a freckle-faced gift.

This gift has a name.

Her name is Nikki.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Family Outing You Don’t Necessarily Want Your Kids to Write About in Their Journal on Monday

Last Saturday was a glorious day in the Lower Mainland. There was a brilliant sun in the sky bearing down its warm rays. A gentle breeze was blowing, and the leaves were falling slowly from the trees. Since we were in the city anyway for “The Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up” we thought we’d spend the day exploring Vancouver.

After a few hours on the beach at Spanish Banks, we hit Kitsilano. We wandered, people watched, and drank smoothies on a patio. It was lovely.

Mike and I had long wanted to check out the UBC campus. It’s located near Kits, so we thought it was the perfect day to do some exploring. We drove onto the campus and headed toward the ocean, expecting that there would be some awesome views from the shore.

As we neared the shore we searched for both parking and a walkway or trail that would take us down onto the beach. We kept seeing glimpses of water through the forest but no clear way to get down where we wanted to go. Finally a parking lot appeared. We paid the parking and started to walk along the sidewalk hoping for an opening or clearing that would take us down to the water.

After walking for a few blocks we ran into a large group of students dripping wet and carrying their skim-boards. We asked how we could get down to the water and were told it was just up ahead. As we approached the clearing to the water, I heard Mike say, “Wreak Beach. Isn’t that the nudist beach we read about?” Yep. It sure is.

Mike and I had a quick pow-wow that lasted all of 15 seconds which consisted of us assuming that since it was the end of September and only moderately warm out the odds of running into a bunch of naked people down below was fairly slim. Plus, we’d just PAID FOR PARKING and walked a few blocks, and hadn’t even seen what we came for. Get ready kids, we’re going to Wreck Beach.

The way down to the beach wasn’t for the faint of body. There were 500 stairs leading down to the famous beach. This provided us with ample time to set the scene for the girls and enlighten them with what could possibly be awaiting them at the bottom of the stairs. None of them seemed too concerned, and again, we were not expecting a huge crowd below.

When a woman going down inquired to Mike about whether this was our first time going to Wreak Beach and “you do know this is a nude beach, right?” we could have re-evaluated but by that time we were 300 stairs into it and we could see the glorious view below, so there was no turning back.

When we finally descended the stairs we were witness to the most beautiful view. Skim boarders were still out on the water and the sky was clear enough to allow us to see Vancouver Island.

As soon as we finished glancing at the view, it was hard not to glance at the other view of the naked persuasion. We hung back near the stairs to save the girls unnecessary trauma but laughed and talked about all we were seeing. Only about 10 percent of the beach were in their birthday suits, so it definitely wasn’t overwhelming.

I told Mike I thought he should go and photograph the view to which he replied that he didn’t think cameras were well received at a nude beach. Finally he relented and walked out to the water. He was very relieved when Sasha willingly wanted to go with him to take the edge off.

Interestingly, Wreak Beach was the busiest and most populated beach we’d visited in B.C. this far. You’d expect buff and young bodies to parade around a nude beach, but all the ones we saw were well into middle age and proudly strutted their stuff, wrinkles, rolls and all. In a funny way, there is something kind of freeing about visiting a place like that. Shame didn’t exist for those people on the beach that day. Now this doesn’t mean we’ll become regulars there, but there are lessons to be learned from every experience and we took some home with us that day.