Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oh, It's On.....

As you can tell from the previous post, we Penners are rooting for the Vancouver  Canucks BIG TIME.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I opened up my email and saw a message from my friend from high school, Corrine Phillips.  Corrine was part of a big group of amazing girlfriends that I hung around with in high school back in Winkler.  Amazingly, nearly 20 years after we graduated, we're all still friends and stay connected.  Corrine ventured the furthest away - falling in love with a southerner and settling down in Nashville Tennesee.  That's right.  Nashville - home of the round two Canuck opponents, the Predators.

Surprising to me is the way Corrine's husband Nolan and the rest of the family has embraced "Canada's Game" - that right Nolan Phillips, I said Canada's game.    They are hard core Predator fans, as are their three beautiful kids.

Apparently Nolan couldn't wait a second when seeing our family picture of us decked out in Canucks apparel.  He had to one-up us and grab some pom poms to show us they're just as serious about a win as we are.

Well, Nolan, you may be holding a pom pom, but our Canucks have got some tough action in store for your Preds.

A little rivalry makes things more exciting, doesn't it?

The trash talk has begun, and game one is underway.

May the best (Canadian) team win.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

We Jumped on the Bandwagon....

...and are taking a ride with Canucks pride!

What a game!  What a goal!  What a win!

When in Vancouver - do as Vancouverites do!  As soon as round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs began we followed the lead of our friends and neighbors here in the lower mainland and jumped on the Canucks bandwagon with vigour.   We got our shirts and wear them with pride on every game day.  Ellie can yell "Luuuuuuuuuuuuu" with the best of them every time Luongo makes a save.  Hannah had to leave the room tonight after the Jonathan Toews goal - the tension was just too much.

I have to say - I get it.  I get why a city wants an NHL franchise.  

I get why Winnipeg needs the Winnipeg Jets back.  

It's been amazing to see the entire city go crazy together for the Canucks.  It draws the population together like nothing else can.   It's a unifying force that creates community and enthusiasm.  As I'm typing this I'm hearing horns honking in celebration on the street right next to ours.

And maybe - just maybe - we'll get to cheer for the Winnipeg Jets as a family in the not too distant future.

Until then,  GO CANUCKS!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week

We are in the midst of Holy Week.

It began on Palm Sunday, and will take us through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then finally the celebration of Easter Sunday.

For the past few years, our family was fortunate enough to be part of a house church in Winnipeg.  We were part of that gathering of friends for about four years.  In that short amount of time we were able to develop and establish rich traditions together.  Our family was just warmly remembering them together last night...

On Palm Sunday the families with kids would get together for breakfast.  Auntie Di would bring a bushel of fresh palm branches.  The kids would go to the end of the hallway and parade into the living room mimicking the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.   This would all happen with Uncle Ken playing his guitar and us singing Steve Bell's "Holy Holy Holy Lord".   Afterward, as the celebration continued, Ken would do his best "old Jewish man" impressions and for some strange reason and to the delight and urging of the kids, he'd also do some Russian dancing which we thought went very well with the Jewish songs we were playing.

Every year the adults would gather together for a Maundy Thursday meal and conversation, and communion.  Those were rich times.

On Easter Sunday we'd have a family celebration.  One year we released helium balloons into the air with words that Jesus spoke that inspired us.  We ended the morning with a dance party to hits from the 80's, 90's and beyond in our basement - choosing to celebrate the freedom we received on Easter.

Our season of doing House Church deposited significant memories and moments into our family.

We're alone here this Easter.  We don't have our house church to celebrate with.  In fact, we're heading away together for the weekend.  We do however, have our own traditions that we've created over the past many years.

Every evening of Holy Week we read from a children's book the girl's received at Easter a few years ago.  If you've got young kids, it's a great one - it's called Eyewitness Animals - the Story of Easter by Robin Currie.  The book is definitely well below Hannah's age level, but she still loves the stories and the memories they bring from hearing it over the years.


Another book we look at each night of the week before Easter is The Easter Story by Brian Wildsmith.  This book has the most amazing artistic representation of Jesus' experiences the week before Easter.  The girls spend a lot of time studying the detail in the illustrations - loving the royal feel the gold gives to each page.

A final resource for us has been Common Prayer - A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals compiled by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro.  We've tried to use this book after supper over the past few months.  Sometimes we do better with it than others.  I try to pick and choose excerpts from the daily reading that will fit the girl's ages best.  There is a whole section devoted to The Holy Week and it packs a powerful punch.  I know this book will become tattered and worn over the next few years.  At least I hope it does.

What are some Holy Week traditions your family has?

Ellie's Debut at the Burnaby Art Gallery

Our family was feeling a little cosmopolitan one night last week.  We were hanging out at the Burnaby Art Gallery - invited to an opening reception - none the less!  All because a member of our clan had a piece of her art on display for a special exhibit!

Arts Alive 2011 filled the main gallery with artwork by elementary students from across the Burnaby School District.  This year, the students took their inspiration from prints and drawings of animals by BC printmaker Alistair Bell.   After spending time studying and enjoying his work, Ellie's class took part and  each student created sketches, then sculptures.  They were fired and painted with great care.  Then two student's creations were chosen to represent the grade 2/3 class at the exhibit.  Low and behold - Ellie's turtle was one of them!

Students and their family members were invited to the opening reception of the exhibit at the Burnaby Art Gallery.  The Gallery is a stunning building - the Ceperley Mansion - located in Deer Lake Park.  It was a great night to appreciate amazing art and to celebrate Ellie's creativity.

After looking at many paintings and drawings, we spotted the display case for sculpture.  There we found Ellie's piece, The Happy Turtle, in all his splendour!

After looking at the sculptures, we continued through the main gallery enjoying the different styles and mediums on display.  There are some amazing young artists in Burnaby!

We ended the evening by going into the reception room for some shmoozing and nibbling.  They even had a candy bar set up  for the kids.  It was a great way to make the young artists feel important and like their artistic contributions have value.  The art gallery obviously takes investing in the next generation of local artists seriously!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Vancouver Sun Run

Today was the legendary Vancouver Sun Run . . . the largest 10K race in the world in 2008 and 2nd largest last year.  This year, they expected to top 50,000 runners for the 6th consecutive year.

I was in Vancouver by myself last year and so ran by myself.  This year was much more fun because Karla decided it was a good opportunity to run her second 10 km race, her first being the CN Tracks of Glory several years ago.  And since I'm still recovering from an injury, I had a good excuse to stick with her rather than trying for a PB.

Hannah just took an 8-hour babysitting course yesterday, so we felt pretty good about leaving the girls at home by themselves, to wake up to an empty house.  We caught the 7:36 a.m. bus downtown and, since my company sponsored "Hurricane Hatch, we met with the team at the Hatch offices for a quick team picture before heading to the starting line.  It's hard to describe the starting area and pictures don't quite do it justice, but the photo above (stolen from the Vancouver Sun website), and the few I took below give you an idea of the incredible size of the mob of runners jammed into the starting fences, which take up five blocks of W. Georgia Street, between Thurlow and Seymour.

Thankfully the weather was perfect, meaning that it wasn't raining.  It was partly sunny and cool.  If there was anything wrong with the weather, it was that it was a bit too cool.  About 3 degrees Celsius at start time.  

Big crowds always bring out a few nuts . . .

The official start time was 9:00 a.m., but the wheelchair athletes, elite runners (blue), and the really good amateur runners (yellow) get to start before the average runners (green), which is where we were seeded.  So, by the time we got going, it was 9:15 a.m. or so.  They had a band playing at the start line - as we headed past they were playing one of our favourites:  "Play the Funky Music White Boy".

Finally it was the greens' turn, and we were thrilled to get moving - standing around elbow-to-elbow (and sometimes worse) for 45 minutes in 3 degree weather was starting to get old.

The thing about the Sun Run is that you spend much of your energy just trying to figure out how to maneuver past all the people that are running really, really slowly or even walking.  Not everyone seems to understand the etiquette of such huge runs, even though there are large signs instructing walkers to keep to the right.  Or maybe they understand but are just jerks and don't care.

At around the 4 km mark we noticed a whole bunch of fire trucks and ambulances ahead of us and police officers started directing runners to get to the right.  We looked left and saw flames and smoke coming out of the fourth floor windows of an apartment building.  It was a terrible sight.  I just hope that the emergency vehicles were able to get to the building without any trouble caused by the race and that everyone was able to get out in time.

At the 4 km mark we spotted our favourite car in all of Vancouver.  This was the third time we've seen it.

This is Karla running along Beach Avenue by English Bay, looking and feeling strong.

This is Karla running down the Burrard Bridge after climbing one short but very steep hill and then the uphill side of this bridge - looking strong but starting to feel a little less strong.

And finally, here's Karla approaching the finish line, after battling the last hill over the Cambie Street bridge - still smiling for the camera.  Wow!

We did it . . . together . . . in just over one hour.  
Unofficial time: 1:01:39.

To celebrate Karla's accomplishment (and Mike's return after injury), we drove to one of the best restaurants we've discovered in Vancouver - Heidi's Cafe on Fraser, for their "All Day Breakfast".
Awesome food!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


He sits there on the corner of Burrard and Georgia
Withered hand clasping an empty Timmy's cup -
Holding it out for your generosity.

Long grey beard.
Dirty denim jacket.
Shoulders rounded as if to shelter himself from the impending storm.

There is no sound.
No clinks or jingles from the coins that should be falling together.
His cup sits abandoned.

The storm is coming now.
A storm of people.

      Hurrying along in Gucci suits.
      Multiplying wealth and building towers.
      Looking ahead for there is a job to do.
      No time for distractions.

      Laughing and talking.
      Canucks jerseys rubbing shoulders with others.
      Forging ahead for there is a game to win.
      No time for distractions.

      Shuffling and walking.
      Running ahead to get ahead.
      He lifts his gaze and sees it all.

How he wishes he was among the mob.
Carried along in the purposeful momentum of living.
Lost in thought and history, pain and brokenness, memory and madness.

No time for distractions.
The Timmy's cup sits empty.
There is a job to do.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Saturday Night's Alright at Pub Night

This last weekend was a the biggest fundraising event of the year for our school's Parent Advisory Council.  Each year, the school puts on "Pub Night" complete with games, auctions, and of course, drinking.  This year, Pub Night was held at a local landmark on Hastings Street called The Old Admiral Pub.

I can't tell you how far away I feel from my Mennonite roots in Winkler or from the private faith-based school my girl's attended in Winnipeg when I'm at these type of school events.     In a way, I feel like I'm skulking around at my first dance or in the bar for the first time as an eighteen year old newly minted adult. It just seems crazy to be doing shots or nursing a beer "for the kids".  Crazy in an enlightened, entertaining, curious kind of way.

There were tonnes of silent auction items up for grabs.  Mike and I had our eyes on a few of them at the start of the evening.  As the night went on and the bidding got a little more intense, we narrowed our focus down to two and got into the game.

One was a package from Granville Island Brewing Company that included t-shirts, hats,  glasses, special edition brew, and a brewery tour.  Since living out West, Mike's beer of choice has been the Granville Island Pale Ale.  We thought it would be a great reminder of the year to get some good brew memorabilia.

The other auction item we were vying for was an amazing art collection from The Lattimer Gallery in Vancouver.  Peter Lattimer - owner of the Gallery - is a school parent and one of the organizers of Pub Night.  He put together a great collection of traditional Haida art done by Vancouver artist Bill Reid.  Mike has a special appreciation for Haida art and design, so we thought it would be the perfect acquisition.

We kept our eyes peeled on the bidding sheets - even setting up some friends of ours to watch and let us know if we needed to go up.  As the night went on, somehow it became more about winning the bids than the actual items themselves.... but I suppose that's the way organizations make money with these things, isn't it?  And we did need to remind ourselves that it was "all for the kids".

In the end we won both of the auction items and proudly carried out our new purchases.  It was money well spent - amazing artifacts from an extraordinary place, and money invested in public education that has given our girls so much this year.

In the end, Pub Night raised just over $10,000 for the school for next year's start-up costs. 

That's a lot.

I don't think any soup and pie suppers or chocolate almond sales are going to create revenue (or hang-overs) like that.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just Thinking....

I think...'s spectacular that our girls really like Indian food.'s interesting that members of other cultures can be just as racist as we white folks.

...that libraries are one of the greatest community offerings on the planet.
Is it any wonder that my over-due fines over the years have purchased many MANY new acquisitions in Winnipeg and now Burnaby.  You don't even want to know how many.

...that having the freedom of an eleven year old daughter who babysits her younger sisters is amazing.

...that it puts something to rest in me knowing that all of my girls are now good readers.
Anything is now possible.

...that listening to CBC radio makes people smarter.
It also entertains you, challenges you, and tells you stories of other Canadians that you won't forget.  It's been my constant companion over many years as a stay at home mom.  I'd be lonely without it on my dial. will be sad to not have fresh rhubarb to bake with from my pathetic garden this spring.
The garden might be pathetic, but the rhubarb is always extraordinary.'s sad that most people assume that Christians are all anti-gay and watch Fox News.

...that it's lovely to watch Mike and all of his girls share a facination with Star Wars.
He's waited years for this.

I hope...

...that my girls still like me when they're teenagers.
I'm annoying and temperamental.  I think they're beginning to figure that out.

...that my girls will find their own way to faith.
A way that fits who they are and is full of life and creativity.  A way that values their femininity and is outside of the lines.

...that I live what I talk about.  At least some of the time.

...that there is a job for me that I can be passionate about.

...that my girls always think that "home" is a safe place.

...that one day pistachios will be given their own food-group status.

I wonder...

...if I'll ever be able to go back to being part of an institutional church.
I want to be able to.   I just don't know if I can do it.

...if the good really does out-weigh the bad.

...if I've made the most of this year.

...if I will love Miriam Toews new novel, Irma Voth as much as I think I will.

...why reading with Sasha in the afternoon functions as a tranquilizer.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shaking it 8 Year Old Style, Baby.

Last weekend was a whirlwind of activity at Chez' Penner.   It was finally the weekend to have Ellie's 8th birthday party.  Her actual birthday was on March 4th, but one of her dear friends was in Mexico for most of the month of March, so we needed to wait until she returned to celebrate.  

Ellie loves life.  She loves to have fun and celebrate.  If there is one thing that has captured Ellie this year more than anything else, it's dance.  She lives for her Jazz class on Thursday nights and the hi-lite of the school year for her so far was probably being part of the "DC 2-3" which was the grade 2 and 3 dance club.  We decided to incorporate dance into her party.  Since we're renting a massive house, there was no need to rent a space to dance the night away - we just cleared the furniture out the living room and we had an instant dance studio.  We even made arrangements to have a "special" dance instructor join us near the end of the party to teach the girls a routine.

Ellie also loves to watch t.v.   To be honest, we're not quite sure how this became such a big thing for Ellie.  Mike and I don't watch a lot of it, it's always been stuck down in our basement, and we've always  regulated the time and type of t.v.  the girls watch.  Regardless, the girl loves her down-time with the tube.  One of her favorite shows is TLC's Cake Boss.  She does a perfect New Jersey accent and loves to say, "That's how we do it Hoboken style" or "That cake was AWESOME".  SO, Ellie also wanted to incorporate Cake Boss into the theme and have each guest decorate their own cake.  That's right - cake.  Not cupcake.   More on that later.

We spent Saturday afternoon preparing for our guests and getting everything ready for the big night.

Before we knew it, the guests had arrived, the music started, the bass was booming, and moves were busting.  These girls know how to dance!

Shakira's "Waka Waka" was played more times than I care to remember!

After some dancing, it was time to open presents.

Ellie has been the beneficiary of wonderful friendships this year.  She has surrounded herself with fun, vibrant girls who know how to have fun!  I love the fact that the nations of Egypt, Japan, China, India and the good old US of A (one of her friends recently moved here from New Jersey) were represented at her table.

Beautiful Girls

When you blow out your candles with your friends in the room, it means you are officially 8!

While Mike went to go and get the dance instructor, it was time for the girls to get their "Cake Boss" on and pipe their hearts out.  I "dirty iced" each cake before hand.  When I say, "dirty iced" I mean it.  I took the word "dirty" to a whole new level.  They weren't pretty before hand, but they sure started looking pretty as the girls added their flair to the cakes.

Ellie even let her sisters get in on the action.

The finished products!  
I'm sure Buddy would be proud.

This is Ellie's special friend Natalia.  Her dad is Egyptian.  We think she and Ellie look more like sisters than our girls do!   On a completely unrelated note to Ellie's birthday, Natalia told us that her Grandfather had just left Montreal for Cairo so that he could dance in the street to celebrate the liberation of his country.  I love hearing stories like this.

 Shortly after the cakes were finished, our "special" dance instructor arrived.  He came in with a flurry of excitement and the girls were speechless at the sight of him.  His name was Dietrich van Mussen Oppenheimer.  He had a really interesting German accent and the most luscious long black hair.  He was also adorned in bright green leggings, silly bands, and an animal print headband.  He took the girls through their paces.  Though they might have been wary of "Diet with the Beat" when he first came in, it didn't take them long to warm right up to him!

It was a great party.  I'm glad we did it.  Ellie loved her night.

But -

I'm more thankful that the LAST of the annual birthday parties is over and that the container of icing sugar has its lid safely fastened tightly until next year.