Monday, February 28, 2011

Saying Goodbye to a Great Man

If I'm honest, I will tell you that there have only been two times since we've been on the West Coast that I wished I was home.  One was a birth - the day our friends Terry and Carla welcomed their twin girls into their family.  The other is right now - only it's not a birth I wish I was home for, but the Celebration of Life for our dear friend Lorne Sullivan who passed away last week.

Mike and I got to know Lorne and his wife Nancy fifteen years ago when we started going to Gateway South Church in St. Vital.  We were young, newly engaged and didn't know anyone at the church.  Nearly every Sunday an incredibly friendly slightly more "mature" couple greeted us at the door and handed us our bulletins.  They were warm and kind.  They had a great sense of humour.  You could just tell they loved being together.   I was instantly drawn to them because they invited me "in".

A few years and a marriage and a baby later we were asked to lead a housegroup together with two other couples.  One of those couples was our good friends Terry and Carla.  The other couple was Lorne and Nancy.  I couldn't have been more excited or comfortable to be part of a team with them.  Together, the six of us spent many hours together planning and praying and telling our stories in a safe place.  This is where I really grew to love Lorne and Nancy.  They had already walked the road that we were walking. They had grown daughters, grandchildren, and years of life experience that they were willing to share.  They encouraged us, challenged us, and laughed with us many many evenings.  Lorne became a sort of father figure to Mike and I.... a great example of how we hoped to shape and nurture our own family.

He hadn't seen Lorne and Nancy in this past season nearly as much as we would have liked or should have.  Nancy would send the occasional email reminding Mike to eat his vegetables.  We'd hear updates on them through other friends of ours which always brought back great memories of a great man.  Here are some of mine...

Lorne was faithful.
Lorne and Nancy were each other's best friends and partners for nearly 52 years.  He adored her and treasured her.  They walked quite a journey together, and were a team through it all.  Lorne was an amazing dad to his two girls and their husbands and one of the most involved grandpa's I've ever seen.  He and Nancy spent hours and hours with those beloved grandkids make huge investments in them.  They weren't the kind of Grandparents that are just "there" - they were intimately involved with those kids and invested time doing things that mattered together.  If Lorne was in your corner, he was there to stay - whether you were related to him or not.

Lorne was a creator.
Lorne was the perfect combination of artist and handy-man.  If he had the vision to see something in his mind, he could probably make it with his own two hands.  The cottage he built at Hillside Beach was his labour of love and it is simply beautiful.  Their house is full of things Lorne has painstakingly created.  But Lorne didn't only create things.  He created community.  He had friends and relationships in all kinds of corners that he maintained and valued over the years.

Lorne was generous.
Lorne was a man who loved to give.  He gave hundreds and hundreds of hours to people and organizations that needed him.  He was most passionate about the hurting, the poor, and the lonely.  He was the heart behind the Mercy Ministry team at Gateway South for many years and that's where his heart lived.  He received great gifts from giving, and he had a way of getting you to give too, because he knew it needed to be done.

Lorne was authentic.
Many years ago, Lorne overcame an alcohol addiction with the help of AA and that journey was a big part of who he was.  He was a faithful friend to many in AA, and his story of overcoming addiction was one he was willing to share with anyone.  He never hid from his struggles, but was open and real about who he was and who he was becoming - rough parts and all.  Lorne didn't mince words.  He had strong convictions and he'd gladly stand up and share them even if they weren't popular.   When Lorne spoke, you listened.  His words were worth listening to - even if you didn't always agree.

Lorne was inspiring.
After having a heart attack a few years ago, Lorne radically shifted his lifestyle.  He changed the way he ate and added even more physical activity into his already fit life.  This was something for a man who already was in the best shape of most men his age.  Lorne took great care of his body - working out, walking, and feeding it with good things.  He loved to share his knowledge of healthy living with you if you were interested.  He was a great steward of the body he'd been given.

Lorne was steadfast.
Lorne was a good and faithful servant.  He loved God and he loved people with his whole heart.  This is how I will remember him.

I spent some time with Nancy on the phone today.  Lorne's death has left a huge hole in her life.  But through her tears she was still laughing like only Nancy can do.  She shared her life with a great man.

We will miss him.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wonderful Wortley Weekend

This is a snowy, wet, windy weekend in the Lower Mainland.   Thankfully, that wasn't the case just last weekend when we hosted Adrian and Kathleen, Kiera and Thea at our house for a whirlwind weekend of good times under a fabulous sunny sky.  But before I get to that, I must back up and tell you how it all started in the first place....

When Hannah was 18 months old our little family moved across the city to a quiet little Crescent in St. Vital.  We unpacked our stuff and set up our lives and slowly began to observe the life and people around us.  One day, little Hannah and I were walking around the yard when I noticed a woman on a blanket underneath an apple tree just around the corner from our house.  On the blanket with her sat two  little ones, side by side.  I mustered up my courage, held Hannah's hand and walked over to the blanket to introduce myself and find out who my neighbors were. 

Turns out, those two little ones were adorable chubby cheeked twins named Kiera and Thea who were nearly a year old.  Their mom, Kathleen, was wearing a CBC t-shirt, so I had a good vibe about her right away.  They had just moved into the neighborhood too.  We chatted a bit and would stop and talk outside on the front lawn now and then.  A few weeks later we were introduced to Kathleen's husband Adrian.  After a while we made plans to get together with our girls.  We had lots to talk about.  We still do.  I'm still finding out who my neighbors are!  

It's an incredible gift to have neighbors turn into friends.  Not just for Mike and me, but for our girls too.  Truth be told, Adrian and Kathleen and the girls seem more like family to us than simply friends.  Things are easy with them.  When they're at our house,  Adrian grabs a beer from the fridge, and  pours it into a coffee mug because all of our glasses are dirty.  And I'm ok with that.  If that doesn't prove my point, then I don't know what would.

There is an ease to being together that is rooted in the amount of time we've spent together - but also things we care about.... music, people, politics, our girls, running, reading, and good food.  It constantly amazes me that this family fell into our lap and has stuck around to play such a significant part in our lives.

This past summer, when our girls and Kiera and Thea were in the midst of a photo shoot for a scrapbook they were creating, Thea coined the phrase "Some say Friends, We say Sisters" to epitomize the relationship they all share.  I thought it was brilliant.  You see, these girls really related to each other that way.  Sasha is the big winner because she got two extra doting big sisters in her life that treat her like a queen.  When we knew we were moving to Vancouver for this year, it was tough to break up the band of five girls from the Crescent.  I made some "Some say Friends, We say Sisters" shirts for each of them to mark the significance of their relationship.

As soon as we announced our departure, Adrian and Kathleen piped up about visiting us.  It was never a question, they said.  And so, plans were made and dates were set and we all anticipated a whirlwind visit from the Wortley's.   With much excitement and anticipation it finally happened last weekend...

The crew arrived late on Wednesday night after a bumpy flight and a drive out to Burnaby.  We all stayed up to welcome them - even Sasha!  By the time all was said and done, we tucked the girls in at midnight and looked forward to a great time together.

On Thursday morning, Sasha, Ellie and Hannah went to school for the morning.  Each of them had something special happening in their classrooms that they couldn't miss.  This gave me lots of time to ask Kiera and Thea one million questions and catch up on the past few months.  Adrian wasted no time and threw on his running shoes and gear first thing in the morning, as is his passion.  Kathleen and the girls and I walked to school to get the girls and take a little tour of the school.  We then walked home in the pelting cold rain.  Welcome to BC.

After some chatting, the girls settled in for the beginning of their marathon of "Full House".  Yes.  That "Full House".  The one with John Stamos and his mullet.  Between us and the Wortley's we own four seasons of the show and it is HUGE in the hearts of these girls.  It had been a long while since they'd watched together and if they had sat on the couch the entire time and worked their way through the episodes, the trip would have met their expectations.

Mike got home early and we drove down Hastings to "Anton's".  "Anton's" is an Italian restaurant that serves simple food and huge portions.  It's a bit of a legendary place in these parts.  On any given night you will find a line-up of people waiting to get into the restaurant.  The wait is sometimes well over an hour to get in and people will happily stand outside in the rain or the heat waiting for their chance to order an enormous entree.  How enormous, you ask?  Well, to feed 9 of us that night, we ordered salad and 4 dishes.  And there were so many leftovers we had another whole supper of leftovers out of it.  They actually give you a token pen if you manage to finish your plate of pasta alone.  

We were greeted by a beautiful sunny day on Friday and a forecast that was calling for sun for the rest of the weekend.  It was an extra special morning because it was Sasha's birthday.  After breakfast and a present, we were off to celebrate by spending the morning at the Aquarium.  We've been to the Vancouver Aquarium many times by now and there is always something new to see.  We knew Kiera and Thea would love it.

As we were walking out of the "4-D" movie, the craziest thing happened.   I spotted Hannah's best friend's little sister Abby and her dad Chris FROM WINNIPEG in the Aquarium.  I promptly called their names and we laughed at the chances of running into each other in a city of 3 million people.  Turns out they were in Vancouver for a special father-daughter weekend.  We had a little chat, a few pictures, then sent them off for their weekend of fun.  As we walked back to Adrian and Kathleen, things got even crazier.  Adrian asked what the dad's name was.  After I told him he asked for his wife's name.  After that he announced that Chris and Tiffany were their neighbors on Lipton Street in Winnipeg just before Kiera and Thea were born.  Only in Winnipeg.....

"Some say Friends, We say Sisters"   
Wearing it loud and proud.

After a full morning we were off to Lonsdale Quay for lunch.  The blue sky was brilliant, and after lunch the girls had a ball running around, playing tag and loving being together.

Since we were in North Vancouver, we decided to end the day of activity at the "Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge".  It was quiet with hardly any people around.  A perfect way to end Sasha's birthday activities.  We BBQ'd pork tenderloin for supper and had birthday cake and presents for Sasha.  Adrian's favourite gift that she opened was her  bouncing "Baby ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE".  He says it that way.   Many times a day.

Saturday morning was a big one for Mike.  He's been sidelined from running for many months due to Achilles Tendinitis.  This has been a mentally and physically painful time for Mike.  He loves running.  It gives him life and perspective.  The timing of his recovery could not have been better as Mike had been looking forward to doing some trail running with his running buddy Adrian more than anything else.  The two of them headed up to Burnaby Mountain early and got a great run in to start the day.  I know he wouldn't have chosen anyone different than Adrian to share his first run "back" with.

After pumpkin pancakes we headed back to North Van to the Cleveland Dam to go on a hike.  Again, it was beautiful and sunny and green.  

Adrian and Sasha were getting their groove on and she was choosing to hang back with him on parts of the walk.  It might have something to do with the way she laughs uproariously when he says "Baby ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE" in his sinister and deranged kind of way.

After Cleveland Dam we headed up to Grouse Mountain and took the Gondola up to check out the view....

.... it did not disappoint.

It still feels so strange to take a gondola up to play in the snow, and then take the four minute ride down to green grass and warm weather again.

I still think the mountain views are spectacular every single day.  I don't think I'd ever tire of them.

We left the girls for supper and the evening (oh the great joy of having an eleven year old in the house) and the four of us adults went out to Bombay Bhel for a delicious Indian feast.   When we returned the girls were watching, (you guessed it) "Full House".   All was well and we were tired and full and ready for another day of action on Sunday.

Sunday was our urban themed day.  We took the Sky Train downtown to the Burrard Station and then walked to Coal Harbour.

Adrian was feeling very "big city" that day - looking all debonair as he rode the train.

As we were walking back to the train station there was a large area of downtown roped off for the shooting of the T.V. show "Fringe".  We took our chance to pose all New York like with an NYC taxi.

We ended the day with a stroll down Commercial Drive.

We honestly couldn't believe our time together was going so fast.  Monday was our last day.  We spent the morning at Granville Island where the girls all said they ate the best pizza of their lives.  Let me tell you, these girls are cheese pizza aficionados.  If they tell you it's the best, it is.

We then split up with Adrian and the girls going swimming for the afternoon and Kathleen and I heading to IKEA to do a little shopping.

We had planned all along to take the Wortley's out to our favorite BBQ place for our last supper together.  When I called to make a reservation for nine and the message said "closed Mondays" I was so disappointed.  Adrian likes his BBQ.  He was disappointed too.  Since the girls had been looking forward to burgers we BBQ'd ourselves that night and capped off the evening with gelato.

The next morning it was back to reality.  Mike headed downtown to work and I got the girls up and ready for school.  We said goodbye as we left that morning - hardly believing that our "Robertson Crescent Reunion" holiday together was over.

It really was as great as I just made it sound.

Sasha is Six!

Sasha is six.  It's true.  February 18th was the big day and the lead up to the festivities was big.  I love thinking about birthdays with little girls this age.  They start thinking about their party and their guest list and their wish list months in advance.  Because we were having friends here for the weekend of her birthday, we decided to have the party with her friends one week prior.  

It was easy for Sasha to pick the theme of her party.  Pigs, baby.  What else?  Sasha has had a love and affection for pigs for many years.  When she was two, she traded in her soother for a stuffed pig.  Piggy has been through thick and thin with that girl and she loves him dearly.  Her love for Piggy has now transferred to anything "pig" she can get her hands on.  I knew there were lots of possibilities for a Piggy Party, so pigs, it was.

Here's Sasha getting the name cards for the table ready shortly before the guests arrived....

Her piggy cake.  Don't look too closely.  I'm not Buddy from Cake Boss.  I'm just a mom.  I slather the icing on with a butter knife.  It's not perfect, but to a six year old, it's pretty darn close.

Everything was looking pretty pink.

A Sharpie and some pink poster paper transformed regular balloons into flying pigs.

Piggy was the guest of honor at the party!

We made a piggy craft....

Six little piggies - all special friends from Sasha's kindergarten class.

Sophia gives the most exuberant hugs!

Playing "Pin the Snout on the Piggy"

Everyone got piggy ears and a twisty piggy tail to wear for the party.

Blowing out six candles is tough.

After cake, we played a rousing game of "Pig Pig Cow"....

... and a thrilling game of "Pig goes Pop".

After Sasha's birthday party she had to  six whole days for her real birthday to arrive.  She was extra excited because our neighbors from Winnipeg were going to here for her birthday to celebrate with her.  

For several months leading up to her birthday, Sasha had been hinting that she'd really really REALLY like a camera for her birthday.  Mike and I thought a six year old was a little young to get a real camera.  Mike also refuses to buy cheap crap that breaks and doesn't work properly, so he didn't want to buy a kid's camera.  I then had my Eureka moment.  I remembered our old digital camera packed away in a closet in Winnipeg.  I thought it would be perfect for her!  We'd get a new case, wrap it up, and voila!  One good quality, (HUGE) camera that she would love.  Ryan and Babby (who are renting our house) graciously searched and found it, and Adrian and Kathleen brought it with them on their weekend here.  It was challenging finding a camera case that would fit such a monstrosity of a camera, but I did.  Perhaps some could say Mike and I were being very "west coast" by reducing, re-using, and recycling our old camera.  Others might say we're cheap.  Either works.

Regardless of the size, she was thrilled with her gift.  She snapped that thing all day long on her birthday.  The next day she took it along on an excursion and it bit the dust.  Poor kid.  Her "new" camera kicks it one day after getting it.  Don't worry.  A replacement camera has already been purchased.  It's 1/4 of the size and works like a charm.  Lesson learned.

Sasha opened up some great gifts from her grandparents in Winnipeg and Winkler.

And soon it was time to blow out six candles once again.

Since turning six, Sasha has lost her first tooth.  She was so proud.  I was sad.

Sasha is my little companion.  We've been alone together while Ellie and Hannah are in school for a few years now - just the two of us.  She is the perfect side-kick.  She loves to snuggle and read books together.  She can spend hours coloring or writing in her journal.  She likes to help clean (weird kid, I know), chatters away while we're running errands and happily accompanies me while I volunteer for hot lunch days at school.  

I often joke with Sasha that I don't want her to get older - that if she could go backwards on her birthdays instead of forwards I'd be thrilled.     I love to bury my nose into the crook of her little neck and inhale the smell of her. I love to wrap her up in a big blanket and snuggle up on cold winter days.  I love to watch her eyes sparkle and dance when she is excitedly telling me a story from her morning at school.  I'd like to wrap up the little bit of baby left in her and set it aside so I can go and savour it as more teeth fall out and she grows older.

But I can't.

I can just enjoy her as she is.   She is my wonderful companion.  And now she is six.