Monday, January 31, 2011

For Matt - On his Birthday

Today is my friend Matt's 22nd birthday.

Matt is in Winnipeg and I am here on the Coast.  If I were in Winnipeg, I would take him out to celebrate to The Crusty Bun for lunch, or we'd go out to the lounge at Boston Pizza for his favourite drink, The Cocobongo.  But alas, I am not in Winnipeg, so I will call Matt today to wish him a happy birthday.  But I would also like to celebrate Matt on our blog to honor him today.

Matt is one of the most exceptional people I've ever known.  We met last year, just before Christmas.  I had heard about a job from a friend of mine to work as an academic support provider and care attendant for a young man with Cerebral Palsy.  After a few emails and phone calls, I went to his house for an interview on a frigidly cold December evening.  Matt and his evening worker, Liam, conducted a gruelling interview.  As Matt asked the questions,   I discovered a few things about him that night...  I learned that Matt was a Bachelor of Arts student at The University of Winnipeg where he was focusing on writing and communications. He loved to laugh, he had a great sense of humour, and he held Stuart MacLean and CBC's The Vinyl Cafe in high regard.  That was all I needed to know - I knew we were a great match!

That Saturday Matt and I had a trial run going through Matt's morning routine together with his friend Stephanie.  Matt needed to see if he thought we could work well together, and I needed to see if my back was capable of lifting him in and out of his chair.   I remember being nervous and unsure.  What if it was awkward?  How would it feel to be in his house with his family around?  Would I be able to adequately understand him?  Would he like me?

My fears were laid to rest that day.  Matt was patient and understanding as I asked one million questions of him and Stephanie.  He lived through a tediously long shower and was emotionally open and warm as I got to know his routine and his preferences.  Let us be clear.  His preferences swing highly in the direction of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and hockey.  That much was infinitely clear that day.   It seemed like we had good chemistry, and low and behold, Matt invited me back the next day to try his morning routine on my own with a bit of support from his dad.  That sealed the deal.  After that day, we made a schedule of when I'd provide academic and physical support and attend his U of W classes with him.

When you are working with someone in Matt's position, relationship is built quickly.  You are spending a lot of time with the other person and they are often at their most vulnerable.  This was a great gift to me.  Matt shared openly about his dreams and struggles and opened the door for me to share mine with him.  He listened intently and asked thoughtful questions.  He was honest and authentic with me and won me over immediately.  I was in awe of his courageous spirit and his fortitude in the midst of great physical challenges.  Matt and I shared our faith journeys with each other and we'd often pray together.

One of the greatest moments of my life was being a part of helping Matt realize his lifelong dream to go to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver to see Canada take on the American team in men's hockey.   Matt invited me over to help him pack for his trip the day before he left, and he afforded me the honor of placing his tickets in his suitcase.  I'll never forget the phone call I received from Matt when he returned back to Mike's apartment in downtown Vancouver after the game.... it was filled with pure gratitude and joy.  What a thrill for me to be a witness to someone living their dream!

As the months went on, my relationship with Matt changed.  My back was not up to the challenge of lifting him, so the physical part of the job needed to be adjusted.  Matt found a full-time worker who could attend classes with him, so the weekly work was no longer needed.  However, our friendship continued and we walked through lots of challenges and goodness together.  I got to be a part of the celebration to see Matt get baptised at his church last spring, and Matt helped me through the transition of preparing to move to B.C.

One of the great parts of having come to know Matt was that my family got to know him too.  He stayed with Mike a few times in Vancouver last year, and my girls spent lots of time with him too.  They were able to see a young man live his life and exceed the expectations of others.  They were always interested in how Matt did things.  Sasha loved to ride in the elevator at his house and adjust the bed in his room with the buttons.  

Now that I've lived in B.C. for the past few months, I don't get to talk to Matt very often.  We spent some time catching up at Christmas and talked about the transition he would be making in January to studying at CMU.  Change is never easy.  Matt faces hurdles and challenges as he seeks out accommodations and support for his academic career at every turn.  But he is determined and his spirit is strong.  I know he won't give up.

Here is a picture of me and Matt taken last spring when Matt took me out to see Stuart MacLean's Vinyl Cafe live at the Concert Hall in Winnipeg.  It was a great night!

I'm not finished yet - oh no...  Matt - this next part is for you!

Two weeks ago, our family went up to Grouse Mountain for a morning of skiing.  I was feeling a little sorry for myself as I stood on the mountain watching Mike and the girls ski the slopes while my broken elbow continued to heal.  I noticed a lot of green jackets on the mountain that morning.  As they got closer, I noticed they said, "Vancouver  Adaptive Snow Sports".  I began watching in amazement as volunteers all over the mountain helped to make skiing accessible for those with various types of disabilities.  One group, in particular, caught my attention...  

There were three volunteers working with a young woman who appeared to have Cerebral Palsy.  I watched in amazement as they maneuvered down the hill with her on her skies, supporting herself on a wooden bar supported by two volunteers, while one followed behind holding onto canvas straps attached to her skies.  I was in awe of the creativity and adaptability of the situation.

I noticed her mom watching, and I went to chat with her as her daughter skied down the slope.  She said her daughter Cheryl has been skiing with the support of this organization since she was 12 years old.  She's 20 now, and she loves the freedom and adventure that skiing down the mountain slopes gives her.  Her mom spoke so highly of the volunteers who give their Sunday mornings to their clients, and of her daughter who has an adventurous spirit.

Here is Cheryl and her team riding the lift up.

She's not able to stand on her own, so she sits in a chair while they prepare to do a run.

Here they are, ready to go!

And they're off!

Seeing Cheryl and her joy that morning made me think of Matt and how much he'd love to see other people with Cerebral Palsy realize their dreams too.   I gathered up all those images and the feelings I had and tucked them away for Matt until today when I am sharing them with you all on the occasion of his birthday. 

May great joy be yours on the journey this year, Matt.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Day of Contrasts . . . Kind Of

I was up early today, for a Sunday - 7:30 a.m. - to go skiing by myself, something I haven't done since last April when I was living here on my own. Over breakfast, I went to the website for the Winnipeg Free Press to check out the latest news from home and immediately noticed the current weather at the top of the page. Minus 32 degrees Celsius. Without the windchill. Holy crap that's cold!

Then I went to the "Mountain Report" on Grouse Mountain's website to see what the conditions were going to be like. Hmmm,  minus 5 and sunny. Perfect.

So, I spent the morning at the top of Grouse Mountain, sking. In the sun. By myself.  And it was white and glorious.


My afternoon was diametrically contrasting . . . almost.  

I went hiking on the side of Capitol Hill. In the shade. With my family. And it was green and glorious.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


There is no doubt - not even for one second - that the most beautiful things I've seen this year have nothing at all to do with the mountain heights and the ocean waves.

It's been people.
Exposition of heart and soul.
Moments and conversations and extensions.

There was a sight today that took my breath away.
It's hijacked my mind and memory and it affords me little room for anything else.

It was a daddy holding his week-old daughter in the crook of his arm.

Can I back up?

Right from the beginning of Kindergarten one of Sasha's favourite friends has been a little girl named Sophia.  She is always smiling - and not just half-way.  Her smiles are full of life and her eyes sparkle.  She is vivacious, fearless and warm.  She is quick to throw her arms around Sasha for a hug and loves to chit-chat with the moms that volunteer.    "There is something with so much substance in that little body",  I remember thinking within the first few weeks of school.

Sophia's Grandma always dropped her off and picked her up from school because her mom worked.  Her Grandma and I would visit sometimes after school as the girls played on the playground.  As we shared, Sophia's story came out...

Sophia's dad, Ciro, lives in the hospital.

A few years ago, it was detected that Ciro had two blood clots in his brain that occasionally caused him severe headaches and difficulty with his vision.  After living with this inconvenience for awhile, his doctors recommended surgery to remove the clots.  The end result of this surgery is a man who has not left the hospital for more than a few hours in a year.  Ciro suffered significant brain damage in the process of surgery and has been left unable to walk with limited use of his limbs.  He has had difficulty eating - as his swallowing reflex was compromised.  His body has withered away and he has had to fight tooth nail to be where he is today.

A young man in a hospital bed.

As Sophia's Grandma related the story to me, she expressed concern for her daughter, Lisa.  "Lisa is 5 months pregnant" , she told me.  She seemed torn for Lisa - thankful that her daughter's dream of having a second baby was coming to fruition, but worried for the reality that she would face as an essentially single mother of another child.

The fact that Lisa was even able to conceive this baby was miraculous.  She and Ciro had been trying to have another baby for a few years before his surgery.  During one period of increased health after his surgery, this baby was conceived to the surprise and thankfulness of Lisa.  She never wanted Sophia to be alone, and she wanted Ciro to have another amazing person in his life to live for.

As Lisa's due date got closer and her maternity leave began, it was her who I'd visit with in the school yard as the girls played.  She is a stunning woman.  Young.  Long, platinum blond hair.  Sparkling eyes and an easy laugh.  So much like her daughter.

We'd talk about babies and daughters.  I asked about Ciro and she gifted me with their story from her own mouth.  I felt as though I was receiving something of so much worth and value.   I deposited those words in my spirit and let them sit.  I stood amazed at this woman - so dedicated to the love of her life whose body is but a shadow of what it used to be.  So committed to a partner who can no longer share parenting,  a bed, and a house, but who she visits every day in his hospital room.

Soon it was mid January and her baby was to be born any day.  Lisa explained the plan - when she went into labour, her mom would come with her to the hospital.  Her dad would stay with Sophia, and Ciro's parents would transport him from his hospital to the one she'd be delivering at so that he could be present for the birth.  He would hold his beloved second-born and then return to his hospital bed.  She explained this with precision and care.  They had taken care of all of the details.

Lisa and Sophia weren't at school last Friday.  The posse of moms outside the kindergarten door guessed and hoped that a baby was being born.  On Tuesday, Lisa bounded through the parking lot carrying a car-seat containing the most beautiful baby girl with a head full of thick, platinum blond hair.  Ava had arrived on Friday and her daddy had been there to welcome her.

Today was Sophia's sixth birthday party and Sasha was so excited to celebrate her friend.  It was a skating party at a huge sports complex in Burnaby.  Sophia was in fine form - wearing a faux fir bolero jacket and a boys hockey helmet, tearing around the ice sharing smiles and hugs with everyone she loves.

Off to the side near the boards was a man in a wheelchair.

He looked intently onto the ice to catch a glimpse of his dear one.  He must have marvelled at her today. Family was around him to support him as he'd occasionally stop to wipe his mouth.  But his gaze was always fixed back onto his six year old working her magic around the ice.

Later, when the party was over, I walked upstairs to pick up Sasha.  That's when I saw the image that has consumed me ever since.

There was a man in a wheelchair holding a platinum blond baby in the crook of his arm.  She was sleeping.  Her tiny fingers were gripping his index finger as he gently lifted it up and down, up and down.  His face looked down at his miracle.

The party was over.
Horns were blowing and an entourage of six year olds were running around shrieking and laughing.

Such beauty I've rarely seen.
Daddy and daughter.

A reason to live in the crook of his arm.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ellie is a Violinist

This year Ellie is learning violin from Stan Gubiotti.  He's an excellent violinist (and guitarist) - the concert master of the Willingdon orchestra that I have been playing with this year.  Because her lessons are at 3:15 p.m., Karla attends and records them so I can watch them later, so I know what to work on with Ellie.  Stan is a bit of a character.  He often sprinkles the lessons with funny pearls of wisdom.  He makes Ellie's lessons fun.  Which is probably the most important thing at her age.

Ellie basically had to start over again this year.  Not enough time was spent on basic technique previously, in my opinion.  Stan is very picky about proper technique and intonation, which appeals to me greatly.  She essentially started from scratch, even going back as far as learning how to hold the violin and bow properly.  It's been hard work but worth the effort.

Here's a quick video of part of Ellie's latest lesson followed by a clip of Ellie and I playing a duet together at home.  Ellie's posture and bowing technique has improved greatly and her intonation is coming along well.  She's a bit pitchy in one spot in the video below; however, you may not even notice if you're not musically inclined.

I think she's awesome.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Family Literacy Day OR Reason #548 of Why I'm Glad I'm a Stay at Home Mom

Today was "Family Literacy Day" at the girls' school.  They basically throw the doors of the school and the classrooms open to the parents from 9-10:30 and invite you in to play literacy games, read, and enjoy your kids.

Part of the day's festivities included "Dress Like a Book Character".  Now, I've been at this parenting thing for awhile now and I've done a few of these before.   When the note comes home giving notice of this day I feel the pit begin to fester in my stomach.  I've got three girls who don't want to just settle in the dressing up department.  There is some work and creativity involved here.  SO, when we finally come up with the ideas and know how to execute them, the pit dissipates and I'm a happy camper. 

This year, things came together quite easily.  I was successful at convincing Sasha that "Fancy Nancy" would be the perfect choice for her.  After all, she really does love the book - but even better, Ellie's already been Fancy Nancy, so we've got the whole costume figured out.

Hannah wanted to be Fern from Charlotte's Web.  That was easy too.  Some pig-tails, jeans, a plaid shirt and a red bandanna and the generous gift of her sister's beloved stuffed pig.   *More on that later.

We finally nailed down Ellie's choice at 5:30 last night.  I had the brilliant (I never claimed to be humble) idea that Ellie would make a great "Miss Frizzle" from The Magic School Bus series.  We had a purple dress, she has long hair we could put up in a bun, and she already had a green reptile that could stand in as "Liz", The Frizz's side-kick.  I assured Ellie we could make some embellishments for her dress from felt and fabric paint I already had on hand.

Shockingly we were all dressed, fed, and adorned this morning and made it to school on time.  We even had time to snap this picture:

Once at school, I wandered around to each of their 
classrooms and participated and observed all of their fun.

Ellie was teaching the finer points of Bananagrams in her grade 2/3 classroom...

Here, Sasha was pretty excited to be hanging out in the grade four portable playing 
a game with her Reading Buddy and another kindergarten friend and her buddy.

The grade five's were playing a group game in the Library.  I popped in to check out what they were doing and got convinced to stay and play as part of Hannah's team.  I'm happy to report that I led the team to a resounding victory.  Hannah actually hugged me in front of her classmates.

Now, about the Pig.   Perhaps you'll remember me writing about Ellie receiving "Wilbo" (a pig she fell madly in love with at a toy store in Banff) for Christmas this year.  Wilbo is near and dear to Ellie.  That's why I was completely shocked when Ellie agreed to let Hannah take him to school today as part of her costume.

I made sure Ellie was comfortable with her decision and the two of us prepped Hannah with expectations of how good old Wilbo would be treated.  Ellie's number one rule was that NO ONE was allowed to hold Wilbo with the exception of Hannah's friend Wesley.  Hannah agreed.  Ellie went one step further and made Hannah promise that if anything happened to Wilbo she would have to buy her a new one.  Hannah agreed to this as well, after all, what's going to happen to a stuffed pig at school?

All seemed well as we marched up the school steps.  I went with Sasha to begin my morning in Kindergarten, and Ellie went to her class and then to the grade five portable to take part in what Hannah's class was doing.

I was happily reading "Fancy Nancy" to Sasha and her two friends when a tearful Ellie came wallowing into the classroom at 9:05 holding Wilbo.  Have you ever seen tears get stuck on Ellie's big brown cheeks?  It's a sight.  She tearfully thrust Wilbo towards me exposing a large patch of green paint on Wilbo's foot, and a little bit more on his side and face.  Seriously, I thought, how does THIS happen by 9:05 in the morning?

Off Ellie and I went to the bathroom to do the best we could with scrubbing out the green paint.  The story came out with the tears as I rinsed and scrubbed.  It seems that one of Hannah's classmates was dressed as a character from a book that was covered in WET green paint.  Hannah didn't agree to let this classmate hold Wilbo, but the student touched him anyway and the paint came off her hand.  Ellie said, "I knew I shouldn't have let Wilbo come to school with Hannah!"  Lesson learned?  Perhaps.

After rinsing and scrubbing and wringing out her beloved pig, I wiped some tears and returned Ellie to her classroom and safely stuck Wilbo in her cubby where he would stay for the remainder of the day.  Not two minutes after returning to Kindergarten did Hannah's tearful face appear at the same door Ellie's had been only a short time before.  The story came out and more tears fell.  I wiped them, explained how Ellie was feeling and why Wilbo was going to stay put for the rest of the day.  A few Kleenex later and Hannah was good to go.

As I left the school later this morning I was thinking about what this whole scenario might have looked like if I hadn't been there.  Who would have scrubbed Wilbo knowing how significant he is to Ellie?  Who would have dried the tears and put a reassuring arm around their shoulders?  Who would have acted as mediator between two sisters and known the intricacies of their relationship and their hearts?

I'm glad it was me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ode to Mike

Today is Mike's birthday.

We tried hard to mark it in a special way.  The girls and I made his favourite supper, set the table with care, and got all dressed up before he came home from work.  I even put on make-up and combed my hair.  If you know me, then you know the dress, the make-up and the hair-combing are a big deal in this house.  I wouldn't have done it if I didn't love him so much!

As the girls were giving him their homemade cards and gifts after supper and he was showered with hugs and wet kisses from Sasha, he said, "I'm so glad I have girls".  We're so glad we have him too.

Mike is as solid as they come...

Committed to his family with every shred in his being.

Mike speaks thoughtfully.  He doesn't "waste" words - but weighs and measures his very carefully before sharing them.   I'm interested in what he has to say.

He adores kids.  Back when we were dating, when I saw how naturally and easily Mike interacted with kids and how they loved him in return, I knew he'd make a great dad.  I was right.

Mike really listens when other people speak.  

His heart is soft.  Tears come easily and show themselves in response to the pain of others.  Even if it's just a character on Little House on the Prairie.

Mike is moved by music.   He places high value on the gifts and creativity of others.

He is a faithful provider for our family - working hard even when the task at hand isn't particularly challenging or exciting.  He does it anyway.  He does it for us.   It's his work ethic and performance that has given us the opportunity to live in this beautiful place for this season.  What a gift!

Mike is spiritual.  He welcomes the view-points of others and holds them up against his own.  He is interested in conversations and committed to community.  He recognizes the fingerprints of God in places, people, culture, and nature and he assigns sacred value to them.

Mike is my companion and helper.
He comes through when I can't.
He is faithful.

Happy Birthday Mike.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


As of Wednesday, there is an eleven year old girl living under our roof.

Eleven looks different on different kids.  That is very evident when you gaze around a grade five classroom in any school.

On Hannah, eleven looks like this...  

Glasses perched on the end of her nose
Book in one hand
Ballet shoes in the other
Facts and figures - obscure parcels of information stored in her brain
Wheels always turning
Tension rising from what she wants to do and what she thinks she can do
Laughs that come quickly and loudly when she is surrounded with safety

She is a remarkable girl.

It is a strange experience, as a mother, to watch your daughter walking the same path you walked once.  As emotions ebb and flow you remember the voyage you were once on as though it were yesterday.  Sometimes, when the tears come, you are fearful of the days ahead.  You know there will be lots of tears to come.  You pray those tears and the angst that accompanies them are inter-mingled with sufficient belly laughs and satisfied smiles to smooth out the rough patches.  It's hard to be a girl.  This you know.  But this girl you've been given is indeed, remarkable.

Eleven was celebrated in our house.  It just so happened that Hannah's actual birth date fell on the same night that her school was having an evening "Jive Night" for all the school families.  Hannah could not have been happier with that coincidence.

After a quick supper, off we went to the gym to jive the night away.  Mr. Tesan, a retired Confederation Park teacher and beloved substitute, volunteered his time to walk us through some steps. 

After a few demonstrations, we all got to give it a try.

Having a five year old partner can put you in a challenging position!  I was thrilled to see that my healing elbow was able to withstand all of the jive moves!

Hannah and Mike were the best Penner Pair by a long shot.  They even came up with a full routine by the end of the evening.

When it came time to pull your partner through your legs, Mike (for some reason) chose Sasha over me.  They really had this move down!

At the end of the night, the mom who organized the night asked me if it would be OK to announce Hannah's birthday and sing for her.  I said, "If you asked Hannah, she'd say NO - but you're asking me, and I think it would be great!"  It was a great moment when the school community joined their voices to celebrate Hannah that night.  She liked it too.

As we were leaving the gym, Hannah threw her arms around Mike's neck and lamented about HOW MUCH FUN that was.  It was the perfect way to spend her birthday evening.

Once at home, it was time for some cupcakes and presents.

On Saturday, we continued to celebrate the birthday girl by inviting a few friends from school over for a little party.  Sadly, Hannah's best friend Wesley wasn't able to make it.   Her friends Miranda and Emilia were able to come and we enjoyed getting to know them better.  These three girls have been very special to Hannah.  On the very first day of school they invited her to join them at recess and that paved the way for Hannah to feel at home and accepted at her new school.  We're all thankful for that extension of friendship.

First if was crafting time.  Frame painting and embellishing.

After the craft, we had supper.  Mike barbequed burgers which were accompanied by chips, veggies, and washed down with root beer.    Hannah's greatest edible pleasures in life are ketchup chips, root beer and chocolate.  She has very refined tastes.

Time for some presents, some pictures, and a rousing game of "Apples to Apples".

We ended the evening with a "Make your own Brownie Sundae" dessert.  I know you all must think that we think we're living in heaven here in B.C.... you'll be glad to know it was confirmed to us as the girls were making their desserts when Hannah's friend Miranda said, "this place is like paradise".

Last Saturday, when we were wandering the shops and the market at Granville Island, I spotted this image in a window and had to rush in to get it for Hannah's birthday.  It was as though the artist had created it with her in mind...
      ...a stack of books
      ...the glasses
      ...the long brown hair
      ...and the little birdie perched on her shoulder.

A picture of our Hannah.  
There is much to celebrate in who she is and who she is becoming.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


"I don't want to take anything to school for my birthday" I hear her say.
"Because I just don't want to" comes after further prodding.

She is a few days away from eleven.  
Her long legs and growing body an incongruent match for her soul.
Growing is consuming her, it seems.

"I want to honor you on your birthday" I say.
"I want you to be celebrated" I continue.

Mediation does its work.
Agreement is reached.

And so I mix cupcakes.
Ice them carefully - adorning them to match her emerging splendour.
I will bring them in...
     ...It's ok to have someone else celebrate you, but not to celebrate yourself
is the message I receive.

"It may be a long road ahead" I think to myself.
I'll be bringing the cupcakes as long as I need to.

Commercial Drive in January

I love Commercial Drive.  

I love the smells that waft from the restaurants that serve food of nearly every ethnicity you can think of.
I love the sight of old Italian gentlemen sitting at tiny tables sipping espresso.
I love the colors of the peeling paint of the architecture.
The love the juxtaposition of people spreading their wares out on tarps to sell in parking lots and fine art galleries just up the block.

On Sunday afternoon, Sasha was invited to a birthday party at a bowling alley on The Drive.  I was thrilled.   It was the perfect excuse to wander the street and enjoy the warm, dry day.

After dropping off Sasha to bowl with a sea of boys from her class,  we let Hannah and Ellie pick the lunch stop, and we ended up at Belgian Fries.

Mike and I had Montreal Smoked Meat sandwiches on fresh rye with giant pickles accompanied by the best fries in a long time with Chipotle Mayo dip.    So.  Good.  

The girls had ginormous hot-dogs with a huge cone of those amazing fries soaked in vinegar.  Yum.

One of our stops was at "Wonderbucks".  I love this place.  It's kind of like an old fashioned variety store.  I always find something here.

I thought Ellie fit right in with the bohemian vibe on Commercial Drive!

I was drawn to the colors here.  
Rich yet ragged.

The warm sun felt so good on my face that January afternoon.  
I got Mike to snap this for posterity.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

PennerFive's Christmas.......Different. But Good.

Christmas was different this year.

"Different" can keep you on your toes sometimes.  
It can barrel you out of ruts and force you toward a new way.
It can refresh you as you see things new ways.
It can usher in simplicity when the old ways are pared down.

The "different" in our Christmas did all those things for me.
Thankfully, the four things that remained the same were the four people that make up my family.
That's all you really need, anyway, right?

Christmas morning was spent at the house of our friends who graciously shared their home with us over the holidays while they were on vacation.  The sharing of their home was one of the greatest gifts we received this Christmas.  Really and truly.  Though it may not appear so, I am an introvert.  There, I said it.  I get re-charged and re-energized from being ALONE.  So, to have a place to call our own where I could be all alone even for a few minutes a day was so critical in me being able to maneuver the holidays.

The girls woke us up and we opened stockings filled with gifts from Santa.  (How'd he get the stockings from our house in Burnaby to Winnipeg, and fill them with presents anyway?)  He's that good.

I LOVE this picture of Hannah!  
Do you see her little sister's adoring eyes on her in the bottom?

Fast forward a week or so....  On January 2nd we flew back to Vancouver.  It was FREAKING cold in Winnipeg that day.  Did I mention lately how much I deplore bone-chilling cold?  As we were saying goodbye to my mom and dad at the airport and giving them their vehicle back, I couldn't wait to run into that airport and throw my bags on the counter to get away from the frigid conditions.  I love the people, I love the heart, I love the places of the prairies, but send me west for the weather any day of the week.

We hopped on the plane and settled in.  
Sasha was sporting her new Piggy pillow...

I ended up sitting alone across the aisle from Mike and Sasha.  My seat-mate and I had a great conversation.  I knew we would when I noticed him pull A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by one of my all-time favourite writers, Donald Miller,  out of his back pack.

It was clear for our landing.  If you fly into Vancouver on a clear day you are in for a gift from God of the biggest proportion.  The magnitude of the majesty of the mountains from that vantage point is mind-blowing.   I would never get tired of it.

The closer we got to the landing strip, the more thankful I was for the green patches of grass that were waiting for us.

After we landed, we hailed a cab for the drive "home".  The girls were anxious to get home because January 2nd was our Christmas.  All of their gifts had been left under the tree until we returned.   We walked in the door to unload the suitcases, and then went out for our Christmas dinner.  We decided on "Cristos Greek Taverna" a neighborhood spot that makes huge souvlaki platters that we all love.  We clinked our glasses to Christmas, shared favourite memories of our trip and looked forward to our time together at home.

To give it that "authentic" Christmas morning feel, we all changed into our pajamas and house-coats before we began.  It was only right.

Who knew a calendar would be this exciting?

Ellie's deranged look in this picture is the perfect reaction to her much longed for "Wild Thing" Snuggie.  That's right.  Snuggie.  We are now a two-Snuggie household.  What does that say about us?

Much to my surprise, Mike had something waiting for me under the tree!  And yes, that package I'm holding says "Holy Crap".  One of our traditions is watching "Dragon's Den" together with Hannah on Wednesdays nights after the little girls have gone to bed.  A few months ago, we saw a couple from Sechelt B.C. touting their "Holy Crap" cereal.  Jim Treliving could hardly contain his enthusiasm for the stuff saying he'd give them whatever they wanted if they'd let him in the deal.   We were curious as to what it was like - could it really be that good?  A few weeks before Christmas Mike flew up to Sechelt to a job site and picked some up for me.

When we were in Banff this summer making our way west, we stopped in a children's toy store.  Ellie found a pig in the back of the store that nuzzles you, takes deep soothing breaths and whispers sweet nothings in your ear.  She fell madly in love with this pig.  She named it, and lovingly carried it around the store.  She was so enamoured with this pig that when we left the store and continued our walk, Ellie was in deep mourning.   The kind of mourning that actually pulls at your parental heart-strings a little. Little did she know that I wandered back to the store while she swam later that evening and scooped up the pig and hid him safely all the way to Burnaby.  Since the summer, Ellie would lovingly talk of "Wilbo" and lament over her lost love.  We could hardly wait to see her open him up!

Sasha picked out some stylin' new pajama pants for Christmas.  They've got Oscar the Grouch all over them and say, "Smell Ya Later".  Perfect for Daddy!

Hannah gave Ellie a little hand-made monster she bought for her at a craft sale in East Vancouver.

We thought it was time to give Hannah something fitting for a soon to be 11 year old.  Something to encourage her independence and sense of responsibility.   She was thrilled to unwrap a watch!

At press time, Hannah cannot find said watch.  We are not surprised.

Sasha's big gift was her very own scooter.  She thought she'd been riding her sister's for way too long.

The best part of living in BC at Christmas time is that you actually get to try out the Christmas gifts you open!  January 3rd (our boxing day) was beautiful, sunny, and warm.  We cracked open that scooter box and took that baby for a little spin around the hood.

My girls were wearing hoodies and riding their scooters on the sidewalk beside green grass.  In January. Does it get any better than that?

As we walked and scootered that afternoon I was in amazement of the green grass and blooming buds.  I always thought there'd be brown grass in B.C. in the winter.  I was so thankful to feel the warm sun on my face that afternoon.  It was nourishing to my body and spirit and helped me readjust to the months ahead.

That was our Christmas.   
It was different.
But it was good.