Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween is such a Great Excuse for a Party

Traditions fuel me.  
Especially traditions that involve people I really love.

Last year at Halloween we were true West Coast newbies and were thrilled to get an invitation to go to our new friend's house for a Halloween party with some other school families.  It was so comforting to be a part of something bigger than just our family in our new city.

This year Marc and Michelle decided to repeat last year's mayhem and throw an even bigger Halloween party.  It fueled me, alright.  When you're repeating something great and it feels like tradition, it feels like your roots go down just a little deeper.  When you look around the room and you see even more faces that are significant, and you love the ones you've known for while even more you know you are living in richness.

But before we could get to all of the great people and food and fun of the party, we had to dress up. 

First off, let me tell you about Ellie's costume.  Ellie fell in love with Charlie Chaplin this summer at the Burnaby Village Museum's theatre where she watched Charlie Chaplin films and couldn't get enough of him.  It was her idea to recycle her "groom" costume from her spring dance recital and turn it into a Charlie Chaplin costume.  How many 8 year old girls want to be Charlie Chaplin?  Just mine, as far as I'm aware.   We added a value village boys dress shirt, a cane, hat, and moustache and eyebrows from the dollar store and we were done!  

Here's our Charlie!

When we were  in Winnipeg this summer, Sasha and I found Hannah's old "Clowning Team" costume from LCS hanging in the closet.  It fit her perfectly.  Sasha is so easy to please... a momma's dream at Halloween.

A new nose, some glasses, some curls in her hair, and our little polka-dot clown was born!

Hannah was a challenge.  It's not easy to appease a nearly 12 year old girl who shoots down every last one of your ideas.  After exhausting my brilliance and creativity with responses from Hannah like, "that's dumb", "no" and "no one will know who I am" one million times, I remembered the little purple poodle skirt that our friend Brenna donated to the Penner costume pile once upon a time.  After finding a shirt and saddle shoes at Value Village and adding a dollar store scarf, she was set as a girl from the 50's.

That left me and Mike.

Some grey felt and cut-up oven liners and tin foil transformed us from mere mortals into Salt and Pepper shakers.   And yes, I'm the pepper because I'm way more spicy.

Enough about costumes.  Let's get to the party!

There was a room dedicated to decorating mini-pumpkins....

Can you believe this little pumpkin's eyes and lashes?

These women are lovely, nurturing, very kind and maternal in real life.  
I promise.

And this guy is normally very masculine and manly.  
The testosterone just oozes out of him.

Our neighbor Stan should work in make-up in the film industry.   

Isn't his wife Sandra adorable?

But not quite as adorable as my favorite little pumpkin, Ava.  
I kinda like her mom, Lisa too.

But Ava's got more kissable cheeks.

The kids had an amazing time being together.

We ate each other's delicious food and shared our lives just a little more.

Rich deposits.
I was full.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Hannah has been blogging a lot longer than we have.  In fact, she just published her 100th post tonight, with a special list of 100 random thoughts and facts.  You can celebrate with her by reading it here.

Great job, Birdie!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Playground Party OR Score One for the Regular Moms

Confederation Park is an old school.   

It's got peeling paint,  crumbling concrete, and a playground full of weeds.

When you walk inside, that "old building" smell hits you.  You know the one I mean.  You smell it in  schools and churches and community centers that are well past their prime.  It's not a bad smell, it's just an old one.  I've always found something comforting about that smell.  You know you're in place steeped with history and roots when you catch just a whiff of it.

Confederation Park is a small school.

With seven grades and a little over 200 students, it's not the numeric powerhouse of the district.  There are combined classes, a small gym, and only one main hallway that runs through the entire building.  But every time I walk down that hallway, I see a face I know and can greet that face by name.

In a school like Confed, you find out pretty quick that if you want to make a difference, you can.  You just have to be willing to make a contribution.  And there are no shortage of opportunities for those.

Two years ago, a team of two school moms decided that a new play structure was needed for the playground.  Play structures are expensive.  Very expensive.  School districts don't go around installing new ones - that's the role of parent advisory councils.  

These two moms stepped up and began a campaign to raise money for the new structure.  They lobbied organizations and wrote grant proposals.  They got the kids on board last year by doing a penny drive.  They kept at it with some grassroots work ethic and a tonne of enthusiasm.  They believed in it.  They wanted it for their kids and for their school community.    By the end of last year, the goal was reached and the structure was purchased.  It was put up during the summer and has been enjoyed by the students everyday since then.

Two moms.
Not a committee of professional fundraisers or bureaucrats with deep pockets.

I like the fact that it was moms.  Moms who bring their kids to school every day and pack their lunches.  Moms who hang out and shoot the breeze with others in the same boat after school each day.  Just some regular moms.

This year, the PAC wanted to thank the school community for supporting the project and also celebrate the acquisition of the structure with a grand opening celebration.  A Saturday afternoon was picked, plans were made, and the forecast was studied.

It turned out to be a warm sunny October afternoon.  So many school families came out to celebrate - people that don't usually attend school events.  It was free, their were no expectations and it was a safe and accessible location.  It was for everyone.

There was a button maker for the students to try out...

There were speeches and "thankyou's".

There were also a LOT of local politicians on the scene - jockeying for the microphone and shaking hands in the crowd.  No, they didn't write any cheques to help in the purchase of the playground, but there is a  municipal election just around the corner.  Coincidence?  I think not!

There were friends.
This is Ellie and her special friend, Nikki.

There were the two regular moms who made it happen.

There was a countdown, and the ribbon was cut!

There were free hot dogs....

...and smiling faces.

There was even our grade 4/5 teacher dressed up in full regalia painting faces.

There were lots of kids playing and squealing.

There was Sasha on the monkey bars.
As a side note, Sasha has a monkey bar addiction.
Really.  She can't get enough of them.  Her hands are blistered and raw and she just goes back for more. Coincidentally, she prefers the monkey bars on the old playground best.

There were also faces with big holes where their teeth used to be.

It was a good afternoon because it brought community together. 
Community of all shapes and stripes.
Just because two regular moms had an idea.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Happy Hagfish Day! (Guest Post by Ellie)

Did you know that today is Hagfish Day?

I first discovered Hagfish at the Vancouver Aquarium.  When I saw Hagfish I thought they were gross.  Then I found out what they do.  Then I thought that they were even more gross!  They go into a dead sea creature's anus and eat them from the inside out.   Don't you think that's really gross?

Hagfish Day is about how ugly things can be beautiful.

If you want ideas for how to celebrate Hagfish Day, you can find them here.

I especially want to wish Adrian Wortley a happy Hagfish Day!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Whistler Weekend

Last weekend was Thanksgiving, and we had the chance to spend it up at Whistler with some great people in a beautiful place.

One of Ellie's good friend's family owns a beautiful home at Whistler just a short walk from the village.  This house has everything  - all the comforts of home and more.  It's also huge!  So we joined up with two other families we know from school and made a crazy extended weekend out of it.  We were joined on Thursday night by our friends the C's (Marc and Michelle, Elise and Vivi) and then our friends the Courtneys (Don and Heather, Alejandro and Susie) later in the weekend.

Here's our home for the weekend.... if you know Whistler, it's at the Blueberry Hill turn-off, just 1 kilometer from the heart of the village, and is nestled right into the forest.

I won't even attempt to give you a play-by-play of the weekend.  But I will hit on the hi-lites .... nature, people, food, and music.

While Marc and Michelle went on a grocery run on our first full day, Mike and I took the 5 girls on a neighborhood walk and then a short hike.  The leaves in Whistler were just beginning to turn.  We thought this one was pretty beautiful.

This was our hike on Blueberry Hill.  It was all fun and games until we saw an enormous fresh pile of bear poop, (complete with blueberries) on the trail.  Sorry, no pictures of that.  We felt it would be best to turn back.

All of our girls had a few more sisters for the weekend...

As we were walking home, I wondered aloud if passers-by felt great compassion for Mike - thinking he must be the father of 5 girls!  We then lined them all up from smallest to tallest to see what that might look like.  To emphasize the amazon-esque qualities of our girls, and the itty-bittyness of the C sisters, keep in mind that their oldest daughter, Elise (second in line) is the same age as our Ellie.  Our Sasha is two years YOUNGER than her, and the same age as their youngest, the first in line, Vivi.  Check out the height difference!

Our family split off for awhile that afternoon and we explored the village.  It was a beautiful, warm sunny afternoon - perfect for ice-cream.  I chose not to have any, and Mike doesn't like to share.

We ended up near the Olympic rings in a part of the village with a playground.  While the girls played, we sat in the sun and soaked up the warmth and the sights.

The forecast for the weekend looked dismal.   We woke up on day number two shocked to see the sun and geared up for a good long hike.  Mike chose the "Rainbow Trail" for us - the trail head was just a short drive from the house.

Along the way, Ellie and Elise found a tiny white butterfly that wouldn't fly away.  They carried it lovingly with them the whole hike and Elise named it "Karla".  Here we all are together - Elise and the two Karla's!

 Look at those peaks.

Later that afternoon Heather, Alejandro and Susie joined us.  Don was stuck at home for one more night.  He's the vocalist in an amazing cover band called "Hey Stewie".  They had a few shows for the weekend that he couldn't miss, so we expected him the next day.

I didn't know if I should apologize or high-five Alejandro... surrounded by only girls for the whole weekend.  What a trooper!

When we were in Whistler last Thanksgiving, Mike and I both tried the world's greatest soup at a little restaurant called The Little Eatery.  It was called "Wicked Thai Chicken Soup" and it was out of this world.  Well, we couldn't believe our fortune when we discovered it just happened to be the soup of the day while we were in town, so we went back for more.   Best soup ever.

While on the topic of "best things ever",  Michelle made breakfast for us one morning.  Mike has deemed this breakfast, "Unbelievable".  That doesn't happen too often.   Here's Michelle in an action shot flipping over the perfect egg.

Michelle gracefully slides said egg onto a lightly buttered and toasted bagel.  The egg has a gooey melty slice of herbed Havarti cheese on top of it.  A slice of both ham and tomato are added.  Pepper is cracked on top.  And there you have it, folks.  The "Unbelievable Breakfast Sandwich".  Here's Mike going in for round two.

On our last night, we fed the kids early and had a late dinner of appetizers.  Marc created an amazing Thai salad called "Yum Nua" for us.  I can still taste it in my dreams, it was that good.  He perfectly grilled some sirloin steak and thinly sliced it.

He sliced some of the other ingredients, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, purple onion and lots and lots (and lots) of cilantro, while the dressing flavours blended together and the steak rested.

And the assembly has begun.   Iceberg lettuce, all the fresh veggies, the steak and then the cilantro and dressing.  The dressing is a combo of fish sauce, lime juice, and sweet chili sauce.

He created a masterpiece.  It was heavenly.

We munched away on Yum Nua and an assortment of other deliciousness including Bruschetta...

.... and oooey gooey Brie topped with mango chutney spread on Baguettes. 

There was lots of good music talked about, listened to and played over the course of the weekend.  Marc is a fantastic guitar player and singer.

Mike will happily play along with whatever is going on.  His best life-moments involve music.  There were lots of shiver-inducing musical moments during the weekend.  Mike's biggest shivers came while they all played around on Neil Young's "Down by the River".  Life-memory for sure.

All the kids blew off more than a little steam with a fiddle medley one night that just got faster and faster and faster.  They had a little routine choreographed and everything.  Good memory making moments.

On our last full day we had lunch outside in the sunshine...

... after which Ellie shrieked and screamed as only Ellie can do due to her loose molar bleeding.   I am the self-proclaimed tooth-pulling master of teeth pulling in these parts.  Not even a molar scares me away.  I pulled it out in one foul swoop, ran back into the restaurant for some napkins, rolled them up and shoved them into the hole, and we were good to go!

Whistler really is a beautiful place.  
So thankful we've been able to spend time there...

.... with some of these faces.

Of all the things to be thankful for, 
it was the faces, the conversations, and the moments of magic.
The words, the laughter, and the giggles.
If felt like we were with family for the holiday.

Best Penner Thanksgiving weekend on record.