Friday, September 30, 2011

Corina and Jay Came to Play

We've had lots and lots of visitors while we've lived in BC.  Multitudes, really.  

Every time someone leaves, I am reminded by how much you discover about people when you spend lots of time together in close quarters.  Let's face it.  I'm sure our guests would say the same thing about me.  Most of you haven't seen me wandering around the house in my PJ's and bedhead, but nearly all who have stayed here have.   As I get older, I have less and less time and concern for appearances.  Future guests to 4816 Georgia beware.

Last week we were hosts again.  This time, it was Mike's sister Corina and her partner Jay who came to stay.  We all adore Corina.  I remember when I began to date Mike and was overwhelmed by the incredibly sweet and soft disposition his sister had.  All these years later, she's still got it.  She's just really easy to love.

Now Jay, on the other hand, I can't say we adored.  I mean adore is a pretty strong word.  We all liked Jay.  He's always been funny and quirky and really artistic.   We just hadn't spent enough time with him to move him up to the "adore" level on the scale.

Until now.

Can I tell you a few things about Jay?

This is a grown man who spent hours playing games with my girls.  He didn't flinch when 6 year old Sasha schooled him in Crokinole.  In fact, he just came back for more.  "Don't Make me Laugh Junior"? The game that Mike and I will think of any excuse in the book NOT to play with our girls was cracked open happily and played with flair and energy.  Now that's love.

Jay is a full-sized grown man who willingly scooted to the very back seat in our van while it was in motion, to switch seats with Hannah so that the ensuing mayhem in the back quarters would stop.  He was jammed between a 6 year old girl and her 8 year old sister in a traffic jam over the Lion's Gate Bridge and not only lived to tell the tale, but actually entertained them with his antics.

Jay doesn't complain or roll his eyes.  

He talks to the girls, makes them laugh and laughs with them.  He and Corina take the time to get to know their nieces... who they are and what they love.

He picked people up, held little girl's hands, and even endured pre-pubescent female drama with ease.

Corina's pretty special.  We've always known that.
But now we know that Jay is too.  We might even adore him (just a little).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup - The Sequel

On Saturday we took part in "The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup" for the second year in a row.  Mike's company, HATCH, always puts together a group of volunteers for this event,  and the girls were game to take part again. 

We woke up to a rainy, cloudy, grey day on the Coast.  Not exactly the kind of weather that you want to have for walking around on the beach picking up garbage.  But Mike and I served as cheerleaders for "Team Penner" and said, "if everyone looked outside and then stayed home, who would  clean up the beach?"  That did it.  We were dressed for rain and drove down to Spanish Banks beach to get picking!

Once again, the girls were keen to use the "grabby-thingies" (obviously a technical term).  Mike was the crew chief, and I served as administrator.  You have to tally up each piece of garbage you pick up.  Each.  Piece.  That meant there was a lot of "cigarette butt" heard yelled in my direction over and over and over again!

Notice Sasha's HATCH t-shirt hanging out the bottom of her jacket.  It's 30 sizes too big for her, but we're proud of our team!

Ellie has a skill for finding things on the shoreline that are not garbage and do not need to be picked up. 
She has a special fondness for Bull Kelp. 

And now she gets with the program and deposits a plastic cup into the bag.  Nice job, Ellie!

Ellie was wearing blue plastic gloves and would sometimes dig into the sand carefully to expose a piece of garbage.  I laughed out loud - she reminded me of a forensic investigator!

As the morning went on, the drizzle stopped and the sky started to clear up just a little.  The Vancouver skyline is still beautiful on a cloudy cool day.

Here's our final tally sheet.  In the end we picked up 3 kilograms of garbage.  Most of that was cigarette butts.  DON'T let your butt fall onto the sand and then leave it there, people!  Another surprise to us is always how many balloons we find and pick up.  I guess a lot of people have birthday parties at the beach.  Straws, bread tags, and food wrappers are also high numbers on our tally sheet.

  The beaches in B.C. are beautiful. 
Let's keep them that way.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Knowledge is Power

We're in the midst of interesting days here in the land of politics in British Columbia.  No sooner was the HST referendum held, (it got scrapped, by the way) that the B.C. Teacher's Federation began to take job action in their quest for a new contract from the Provincial Government.

Before I hear you non-teachers start saying, "What - are they crazy?  Teachers are overpaid as it is - what do they want now?"  Let me tell you that surprisingly, teachers in B.C. are among the lowest paid in the country.  This seems crazy, doesn't it?  Remember that the cost of living in Metro Vancouver is substantially higher than in Winnipeg, but their salaries are considerably less. 

The Teacher's Federation is not only looking to increase their salaries, they're also looking for a reduction in class sizes and more support for those learners in their classrooms who have special needs.  They sound like pretty reasonable requests, don't they? 

The Provincial Government has not budged on their negotiations.  This has led B.C. teachers to begin to take job action - we are in "Phase One" right now.  Phase One has resulted in teachers refusing to undertake administrative tasks in the classroom (collecting money, forms, filling out paperwork, etc) as well as not taking part in staff meetings called by administration, and not taking duty supervision.  So far, this really hasn't affected the day-to-day experience of the students at all. 

"Phase Two" of their job action will begin in a few weeks unless a deal is reached.  This phase has the potential to disrupt student experience a lot more, as in it, teachers are being asked by the Federation to not take on any extra-curricular activities.  At the girl's school, Confederation Park, a huge part of the school experience and what makes it such a great place to be a part of, are the amount and quality of the extra activities and clubs the students have the chance to be a part of. 

"Phase Three" is a full-fledged teacher's strike - something that is not beyond the realm of possibility.  In 2005 teachers in B.C. went on strike for several weeks until they received a new contract they could live with.

As the beginning of the school year approached, I talked to the girls about the looming job action and what it means.  We also talked about what the teachers wanted from the government.  That night Hannah was in tears worrying about the possibility of missing out on things like Dance Club, Choir, and The Jump Rope Demo Team.   As she was getting more and more worked up, I said, "Hannah, worrying about this is not going to do anything - but you can DO something".   A long conversation ensued which resulted in a plan.

The next day Hannah researched the B.C. Teacher's Federation web page and checked out the Ministry of Education web page.  She drafted a letter to her classmates explaining the situation.  We guessed that most of them had absolutely no idea that any of this happening in the first place.  After she wrote her letter, she and Mike wrote up a statement to put on the top of a petition she drafted which she wanted students and parents at the school to sign.  Her goal was to collect as many signatures as she could at recess and after school and then send it to the Education Minister, George Abbott.

Here's the letter she handed out to her classmates:

Did you know that teachers in BC are trying to get a better contract from the Provincial Government?  Right now, our teachers are some of the lowest paid in Canada.  They would like a new contract which would give them a raise, as well as smaller class sizes and more support for students with special needs. 

The government doesn’t want to give the teachers what they’re asking for.  You might be asking, “Why should I care about this?”  Well, to pressure the government into giving them what they want, teachers have taken job action.  Part of this means that extra-curricular activities and clubs (like Volleyball, Dance Club, etc) may not be offered until this is settled.

I don’t want to miss out on all the fun things Confederation Park usually offers students.  I’m guessing that you don’t either.  We can do something about this!  If you want to support the teachers, come and find me at lunch recess and after school all week.  I will be holding a clipboard with a petition that you can sign.  When I have enough signatures, I will send the petition to the Education Minister.  Tell your friends and siblings.  Even your parents can sign.

Hannah Penner
As of yesterday afternoon, Hannah had 72 signatures from just a few days.  Is this petition going to change anything?  I don't know.  But if we all did nothing - nothing would change. 
We'll keep you posted on what happens.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"37" Part 2

I remember last year's September well.

I can jump back to those days of standing alone at the school playground at pick-up time, listening to the conversations going on around me, but not being part of them.

I remember looking around at a sea of faces that looked friendly, but not safe.
There is a difference, you know.

Funny how you can feel about a place can change in a year.
How you feel about the people who make the place.
How the sea of faces have names and stories attached to them now, and how some of their threads are running alongside mine in my 37th year.

No one here knew me last year on my birthday.

This year was different.

The girls and I walked to school together.  I was dressed for the gym - ready for a work-out right after dropping the girls off. 

As soon as we walked up to Sasha's door, her special friend Sophia bounded up to me with a "Happy Birthday Karla!" like only Sophia could do.  She ran to her mom, Lisa, one of the strongest and optimistic women I know, and then the two returned to me.  With a plate of cupcakes iced and sprinkled for my birthday.  Those cupcakes were such a symbol of something bigger than turning 37.

After the girls were in their classrooms, I found myself surrounded by women (and a dad or two).  I knew them, and they knew me.  Relationship where once there was none.

As I turned to walk towards the gym, my friend Karyne called over and asked if I wanted to do a power-walk with her instead.  The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and Karyne is strong and walks fast.  "I'd love to", I said.

As she walked (and I half walked and half jogged) the four miles to New Brighton and back I heard stories and I told some of mine.  I am invested in her, and she in me because our daughters are connected.  And now so are we.

After our walk, Karyne and I drove down Hastings to a tiny little Italian Cafe that you'd never notice unless someone pointed it out.  I'd never noticed it after driving that strip a million times in the last year.  The signage is old, and the awning outside is faded.  This is Karyne's spot, her "Cheers".  Everyone really does know her name in that place!  The tables inside were filled up with older Italian men drinking espresso and telling stories.  The owner made me the best Iced Mocha I've ever had in my life. 

We sat outside at a tiny table and ended up beside an old man with only one ear.  Karyne asked him what happened and he told us his story.  Soon his wallet was open and he shared ancient pictures of the people he loved.  We know his name now - he said we could call him "Old One Ear" or "Darrell" - the choice is ours.

I drove home feeling full, and known, and connected.
I wanted nothing more for my birthday.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"37" Part One

Yesterday was my birthday.  I like celebrating with my family around, so we declared Sunday my "Pseudo Birthday" so we could spend the day together.

Before I tell you about how we celebrated, could I back up just a little?  Stay with me, because you'll likely wonder where this tale is going.

My very dear friend Tanya lives in Vineland, Ontario.  She lives in Ontario because many moons ago she fell madly in love with a boy from there.  This boy is now a man.  This man has a mom.  This mom is Grandma on the Farm.  A year or so ago, Grandma was celebrating a milestone birthday.  Instead of lavish gifts or a huge party, Grandma wanted her family to do something together to make life a little bit better for others.  Her kids and grand kids all got together and prepped and served food at a soup kitchen.  Her kids gave her some money which they wanted her to practice acts of kindness with.  Grandma doesn't need a lot of encouragement in this area.  She found some pretty neat stuff to do with the money, including walking through a grocery store until she found a tired mom with a full cart of groceries.  The groceries were on Grandma that day, and I doubt that tired mom will ever forget it!  What Grandma on the Farm really wanted was for her birthday celebration to spur other people on to do the same.  This past year, her Grandson Zack followed suit.  It made her pretty proud.

When I was thinking of how I wanted to spend my birthday this year, Grandma on the Farm came to mind.  I didn't have a lot of time to formulate a plan.  I did know that the Lower Mainland has been experiencing an unusually hot heat wave for this time of year.  I also knew that when it's hot, Slurpees taste really good.  So I proposed my plan to the girls and Mike over supper one night last week.  In lieu of a gift, I wanted us to fill up a cooler with Slurpees and head to the Downtown Eastside and pass them out. 

Sunday was hot.  Really hot.  I was thankful.

So off to Sev we went to fill up the Slurpee cups ...

I had the cooler near the front of the van with me as we drove down Hastings toward the DTES.  The girls wondered how we'd know who we wanted to pass the Slurpees out to, and I said - "when you see someone who looks hot and could use a break, let me know".  There is no shortage of people who fit this description in that neighborhood.  We turned off Hastings onto a side street just in time to see a few cops cuffing someone and leading him into their cruiser.  Turning the corner to round the block we came upon a group of women sitting against a building, looking for shade.  I rolled down the window and told them the Slurpees were on me for my birthday.  They came running.  Literally.  One after another.  All of the women said "Thank you", but one.  She said, "you're beautiful".  

As we drove away further toward downtown, the girls said "That was FUN" 
I agreed. 
Best birthday present ever.

The day wasn't over.  I got to pick the spot for my birthday supper, and I chose "Las Margaritas" in Kitsilano. 

Lime Margaritas, Corona, and delicious Mexican food...

.... followed by a little stroll down 4th Avenue with my favorite guy.

All capped off with lemon squares baked with love by Mike and girls.

It was a good day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Swing Your Penner Round and Round

Last fall we were thrilled to go to an all-ages night of square dancing at "The Cultch".  We lamented then that it was sad that we wouldn't have the chance to do it again... Well, here we are for year two - and when we heard about this year's square dancing night, we were SO in!

The event happens at "The Cultch" - a theatre-type venue in East Van.  The place has character ooozing out of its floor boards.  The live band was Vancouver's "Shout!WhiteDragon" with Paul Silveria of Portland, Oregon calling the dances.

It was a jam packed venue!  It was also incredibly hot that day, so needless to say, Mike was feeling a little warm.  Mike wears shorts in January in Winnipeg, so that's understating it considerably.  He was a trooper, though - getting into the dances and clapping his hands and stomping his feet with the coolest of them.

One silly thing about being a family of 5, is that one of you always has to sit out.  I volunteered to sit out the first dance, when not two seconds later, a gent about my dad's age from the crowd asked me if I wanted to dance with him as he had no partner.  Mike and the girls laughed their heads off as I marched onto the dance floor with my new friend.  I don't even know his name, but we swung me around and promenaded me across the floor for two whole dances!  That's the beauty of square dancing!  First strangers, then dance partners!


They announced another square dance for October , with the possibility of a monthly dance for the rest of the year!  We're crossing our fingers for more!

Here's a little taste of what our night was like....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Diez Vistas

A week ago today, our crew joined up with two other families and took on the longest hike we've ever done.  This one was called "Diez Vistas" or "Ten Views".  In our research, we discovered that it was supposed to be a 5-6 hour hike over rocky terrain with lots of incline.  We wondered if the girls were ready for something like this - especially on what promised to be a really hot day.  We knew that if there were other kids and adults in our group, chances are it would bring out the best in us and put us ALL on our best behavior.  (ALL means me, if you're wondering).  So we took the challenge and eagerly looked forward to the day ahead.

Our group consisted of our family, the C family (Marc, Michelle, Elise (8) and Vivi (6)) and the Dominguez /Shore family (Roberto, Marilyn, Emilia (10) and Silvio (8)).  As you can see, there were lots of little people in our bunch.  But little does not usually mean unable.  I laughed my face off when Vivi appeared at the trail-head wearing sequined ballet flats for the hike.  She had told her mom that her runners hurt her feet and these were the best choice for her.  Low and behold, the kid was right.  She was near the lead most of the way, taking the trail by storm.  Don't ever say that you can't have bling on a hike.

Diez Vistas is supposed to a loop that takes you through 10 scenic viewpoints along the way.  We had our maps and our trail guide and we were prepared.  We even had 2 cans of bear spray, bells, whistles, and a knife! While we were prepared for the 10 viewpoints, we didn't see them all, as you'll soon find out.

The trail started off with some steep inclines.  I expected them to even out after the first half hour or so, but two hours later, we were still going up...

After a few hours of beauty, great conversation and NO complaining, we got to the first viewpoint where we put our packs down for some lunch and a short rest. 

                                             The view from the first stop really was beautiful!

It's a good thing we had our lunch when we did!  After we started up again afterward, we began the anticipated "switch-backs" of the trial ... the zigs and zags to get you up the steepest inclines.  The younger the people, the better they did!  We adults were huffing and puffing, but the kids were running on skittles, sour wine gums and adrenaline!

An hour or so later we reached the second small viewpoint area, and then finally, the peak of the mountain.  The peak was at 550 m elevation, but we started the hike at 110 m, so we climbed 440 metres of elevation together. 

                                                                   It felt really good!

                                                     Here are the girls digging into the candy fuel
                                                             bags to get us back onto the trail!

This is our fearless 8 year old leader, Silvio!  No joke!  This kid RAN most of the way up that mountain, and held the lead position all the way back down again.  He is in crazy-good shape and has amazing endurance from playing A LOT of soccer.  He was amazing!

After we reached the peak, we were a little confused and befuddled about where the trail continued on.  We had been warned that the markings were not very good.  After a bit of discussion, we started down the trail we thought was the right one, only to discover about 15 minutes in, that it was the same trail we came up on.  By this point, we decided to just keep on, as making our way back and then finishing out the loop would take us back to the trail-head very close to dusk.

Here we are, rounding in towards the finish point.

The great thing about "Diez Vistas" is that it begins and ends at Buntzen Lake - a great little beach for swimming.  We had remembered to bring our bathing suits along, but left the flip-flops at home.  Who needs fashion when you're superstar hikers, anyway?

           The water was cool and refreshing.  The view was spectacular, and the chair felt really good.

The best part of the day was we did it, and we knew we could do it again.
Here's to more long hikes, good friends, and pushing yourself further than you thought you could go.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The PNE 2011, Baby!

Well that toothless little piggy and  the crazy rooster up there are your introduction to
 "The Penners take on the PNE - Season Deux"

You will all have to forgive us if this blog has a lot of  "Season Two's" and Part Deux's in the near future.  We're on year two, after all!  A lot of the things we did and wrote about last year, we thought were going to be a one time only event!  And now, here we are, getting to do them all over again!

The PNE (Pacific National Exhibition)  is one of those things.  It's something you've just gotta do if you live in the Lower Mainland.  We had been waiting for the perfect day to go, and last Saturday was it!  The weather was picture-perfect and one of our family's favorite bands "Delhi 2 Dublin" was the featured band at the evening concert.

The girls love everything about the PNE.  Really, there's not much NOT to love.  But one of the reasons our girls love it so much is because it's become our day to say "yes" to pretty much everything.  Cotton Candy?  Yes.  Kettle Corn?  Yes.  Slurpees?  Yes please.  Mini Donuts?  Hell, yes.  You see?  It's a "yes" kind of day.  And it feels good to be a "yes" parent for a whole day, doesn't it?

So we started off the day roaming through the grounds, snacking on gigantic bags of cotton candy and getting the lay of the land.  Mike was supper impressed with this sculpture made entirely out of steel.  It was pretty amazing and enormous.  It took the creator 2 years to build it from start to finish.  And, it's for sale!  If you're interested, I could point you in the right direction.

We made our way to the Pacific Coliseum to catch "Super Dogs" for our 4th time!  We've seen their show twice at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair in Brandon, and now twice at the PNE.  It is always a huge crowd-pleaser.

Afterward we lay on the grass and listened to the "Dal Richards Orchestra".  Dal is a legend in Vancouver.  He's got a great band, great crooners, and a touch of class.  They play songs from the Big Band era that we all love. 

We called the afternoon quits with huge plates of "Wiggle Chips".  You know their kind.... the crispy, deep fried, thinly sliced potatoes that are part chip and part french fry.  We had to try and do our part to fill our quota of deep fried food early in the day.

After checking out some exhibitions we were off to see the "Peking Acrobats" show at the Coliseum.  It's a huge crowd pleaser!  Thankfully we got great seats and were not disappointed.

Mike's testosterone tank needed filling after all the lycra and sequins in that show, so it was off to the "Evolution of Extreme".  (Please say Evolution of Extreme in your most macho-host voice ever)  It was basically Evil Knievel on dirt-bikes, quads, and (wait for it) snowmobiles.  That's right, people, the guy flew through the air doing flips and turns on a snowmobile.  All the men and boys in the audience were very impressed.  All of the girls covered their eyes and held their breath at the appropriate times.  It was a great show!

We refueled with butter chicken and naan and then took our places on the grass in front of the concert stage to await Delhi 2 Dublin's show. 

We have loved this band since discovering them at the Winnipeg Folk Fest a few years back.  Amazingly, Hannah was lucky enough to see a full show of theirs this past year as part of the concert series offered to kids in grades 5-7 here in Burnaby.  D2D is band that is hard to categorize.  I've read one reviewer talk about them as what you'd get if you cross an Indian wedding party with a drunken sailor just off the boat in Newfoundland.  They merge Indian, Celtic, Electronica, hip-hop, and reggae.  It's like nothing you've ever heard before.

That description doesn't do them justice, so here's a clip of their song "Tommy" which we've been singing all week long.  We love the message of this song.... "What you have is not who you are".  Amen.

Needless to say we danced our faces off all night long.  Our girls have some pretty fine Punjabi-esque/hip-hop moves if i do say so myself.    I love having our girls grow old enough that we've started discovering and falling in love with bands together.  It's just the beginning!

We finished the night with mini-donuts and a gigantic icy-cold root-beer from a wooden keg.
The perfect way to end  a great day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Once upon a Sunny Sunday

Two weeks ago, on our first Sunday back in Vancouver, we knew our adventure tank was feeling low and we had to make some deposits.  It had been awhile since we had done a good long hike, so Mike did some research and found a hike on "Dog Mountain" in North Vancouver.  To get to the trail-head, you drive up,up, up, up Mount Seymour.  It's a long way up.  You realize this as you pass many bikers peddling their way up slowly on one side of the winding road, and careening down the other side.

We parked at the Mount Seymour ski hill parking lot and got ready for some action.  We've been here long enough that a few bear sightings in the area don't cause much fear and panic anymore!

Our fearless leader checked the map one last time and declared us "good to go"!

And we were good to go.  Except for the fact that there were one million black flies swarming around us, as well as a good number of horseflies stalking us at the same time.  This is the first time bugs have bugged us on a hike.  We weren't prepared. 

The hike involved a nice steep start with lots of rock, roots, and .....MUD. 

There was a lot of snow pack from this winter at this altitude.  Some of it is only starting to melt.  We guessed that the wet conditions were the perfect breeding ground for all of the black flies.  It was pretty fun to stand on a little snow hill in the middle of summer on a plus 25 day!  Just reminds you of how high up you really are!

We slugged our way through the slippery mud and the pesky bugs.  Finally we reached the first view-point of "First Lake".  We stopped and admired it and thought for 5 seconds about whether we wanted to continue on.  We all agreed that this was the least fun we'd ever had on a hike and made the group decision to head back the way we had come.

And the way we came was full of... you guessed it - lots of mud!

At the end we could see this Mount Seymour ski-hill in all of its green glory - just waiting for the first snowfall of winter.  The girls and Mike are already starting to get excited about swooshing down the slopes again.

After the hike we drove to Lonsdale Quay for lunch and the afternoon.  Ellie and Hannah have a favorite fish stand at the market that they say makes the best halibut they've ever tasted.  They were happy to try it out again just to confirm their feelings.  Then it was time for some ice-cream to cool down.

It just so happened that an awesome cover band called "Dr. Strange Love" was playing outside at the market all afternoon.  Even Mike had to agree that they were really good.  My favorite part of the day was listening to the band play and watching two men with developmental delays enjoying them.  One of the men was dancing his heart out to every song - playing air-guitar and shaking what his momma gave him.  The other man enjoyed them just as much, but he stood perfectly still - right in front of the stage staring at the band with the biggest grin on his face not moving a muscle.  They did this for the whole set.  It was awesome!

Ellie and Hannah were thrilled to have a venue to try out all of the moves they learned at their school's "jive Night" from last winter.

                            Dancing makes you hot.  Good thing you can cool off in the fountain!

A beautiful summer day with blue sky, hot sun, and the beautiful cityscape of downtown Vancouver behind us.  We need to make the most of every Sunday, just like this one.