Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Beginning to Look (Taste, Sound, Feel) a Lot Like Christmas

So, Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent.  As I've mentioned here already, it's the first day of the season that Christmas really enters the house in a big way.  Christmas sure is a great time of the year to have kids.  They make it all much more exciting.  

More importantly, they also give you company when you break open the Mod Podge.  Have I mentioned how much affection I have for Mod Podge?  It's a staple around here.  Kind of like ketchup is a staple in your condiment collection.  If I had another child, I may consider naming it "Mod Podge Penner", I like it that much.  After we tore magazines to shreds, we cracked open the Mod Podge on Sunday to make some new ornaments for our tree.  

After the ornament making extravaganza, we began our traditional "First Sunday of Advent" feast.  There are a few staples in this spread - one being "Winkler Meats" garlic sausage.  Yes, I said "Winkler", and amazingly I picked ours up along with some farmer sausage at Superstore in North Van.  We Mennonites are taking the world by storm!  The girls also insist on having a cheese ball that they lavishly spread on "Socialbles".  It's just what we do.  Along with many other delicacies, we drank our Christmas Punch in wine classes and toasted the coming Christmas season.  We're kind of refined that way.

When we moved here we left our big tree and all of our Christmas bins and decorations in storage at our house.  Last year that was kind of sad because there were no boxes to open which housed "Christmas memories of the past". In other words,  old decorations, crafts, and ornaments the girls have made and I've saved over the years.  That's always a highlite for all of us.  This year we could crack open the box of what was made and saved from last year and that filled the need for nostalgia just a little.

The tree.  Last year we bought a $24.00 small and skinny tree from Home Depot so the girls would have something to decorate.  We didn't know we'd be using it again this year!   You know, that skinny little tree serves our purpose just fine.  It's got branches to hang things on and it's green.  What more do you need?

It is always - yes ALWAYS - my job to string the lights.  Mike doesn't do lights.  I've learned this over the past 15 years of being his wife.  I do the lights and Mike gives somewhat constructive criticism from the couch.  Now that our roles have been firmly established it works for us.

If you don't have mistletoe, a plastic pine cone can fill in nicely.
It's nice to a have a sister to pucker up for.

During the decoration of the tree we always bring out the Christmas treats.  Again, there are some non-negotiables.  Since Mike and I first got married, we always buy one box of Turtles and one box of Tofiffee.  We ration them out slowly until Christmas.  Then after Christmas the look of them makes you want to hurl.  We also need some nuts, Christmas oranges, Christmas candy, candy canes and Mike's favorite Christmas treat of all time - Macaroons.  You know the ones that sell for $1.99 a box?  They're like crack cocaine for Mike and he falls under their spell the minute the plastic wrapper is peeled back.  If I'm lucky I may get one.

Soon the last ornament was hung...

.... at which time it's the moment to play the traditional song that must be played every year immediatley upon finishing the tree.  Barenaked Ladies "Jingle Bells".  You can listen to it here.  It's a rousing little version of the tune, and the girls get into it in the most dynamic of ways.

And with that, we are ready for the Christmas season to begin.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent - Waiting with Attawapiskat

The first Sunday of Advent is sacred in our family.  It is the day when our expectation of Christmas really begins.  We celebrate it with different family traditions, but the pinnacle of the day is putting up the Christmas tree.  

A few years ago, when I was beginning to learn about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan, we made that place and those people the focus of our tree.  For a few years we researched the current situation, studied the specifics about different refugee camps in the region, and contemplated the faces and the stories that we saw and read about.  Different names of people and refugee camps found their way onto homemade ornaments that hung on our tree to remind us that beyond our walls, the world is not like ours.  It was our way of telling the story of the people of Darfur and saying in a physical way, "we will not forget you".  And we haven't.  Tragically, that particular crisis is far from over.

This year I invited the girls to choose the theme for who we would honor and give focus to on our tree.  We shared different ideas together and mulled them over.  Then last week I heard more of the story of the people of Attawapiskat - a Cree First Nation on the James Bay in the far north of Ontario.   One month ago today, the reserve declared a state of emergency over the housing conditions they are living with.  Many families in the community are living in tents, shacks, and sheds with no access to electricity, running water, or plumbing.   It is beyond reason that people in our own country would be living in conditions this dire.  When the girls heard the story of the people in Attawapiskat they immediately insisted on making them the focus of our tree.

Three weeks in to their declared State of Emergency, no one from the federal government had bothered to travel to Attawapiskat.  Charlie Angus, an NDP MP was the first, and until today, the only government official to actually travel to Attawapiskat to see what the condition were like to result in the state of emergency.  He posted this video to youtube to create awareness gather support for the people of that community.

Various news agencies picked up the story last week and  people began to pressure the feds to take action in Attawapiskat.  It was just announced that federal officials will arrive in the community tomorrow to begin to deal with the situation.  Since the story broke, the government has pledged 2.5 million dollars for housing in the community.  The Red Cross is sending a team that will arrive this week to help address the immediate crisis.

Help is coming to Attawapiskat.   But housing isn't the only problem.

Our girls were saddened to know that since the year 2000 when the community school was condemned due to diesel contamination, the kids on the reserve have had no school.  They have been using portables for 11 long years while they wait for the government to make good on their promise to rebuild their school.   

So on Sunday, we spent the better part of the afternoon reading about the community.  We talked about history, treaties, and the role the Canadian government plays in being responsible for First Nations people.  We talked about how the Band system works and what life is like on reserves from our very limited knowledge and exposure.   

As we traced and cut shapes on paper, we shared what we wanted to focus on.  The girls told Mike what kind of pictures they needed and they began to write phrases and words onto their ornaments that would tell the story of the people of Attawapiskat.

Talking about hard reality isn't a joyful event.  It isn't easy.  There aren't always answers that make sense or make things fit.  Most of the time, there are no answers at all.

No, it may not be easy, but it is empowering.   As the girls were talking with passion rising in their voices for the people of this community they've only just learned of, I felt my energy and my excitement building.  They are going to be world changers, these girls of mine.  They want to see justice and they know that every child deserves to be safe.

Soon it was time to hang their words and the images they found onto the branches...

Does hanging paper with words on a tree change anything for the people in Attawapiskat?  No.  But it changes us.  And it makes us mobilized to chase what's right and just for the people of that community.

Advent is the season of waiting.   
And this year, as we light our Advent candles, we wait with Attawapiskat.


For an update, read this post.

Beer on Tap ... Artistic Masterpieces .... It Might Just be a School Fundraiser!

Saturday night was the date for a big event in our school community.  It was the 5th Annual Confederation Park Arts Show.  This is a huge fund-generator for the Parent Advisory Council each year, usually raising about $10,000 for programs and special events for the school.

Each student at the school works with parent volunteers during the first few months of school to create amazing art pieces that are then sold at the Art Show.  I know what you might be thinking - you have to PAY for your own kid's art?  You sure do.  And you'd buy it too.  Not only because your kid made it, but because it's all pretty incredible.

Last Thursday I joined a few handfuls of parents for a full day at the school to transform the gym into a winter wonderland.  We climbed ladders, hung cables and snowflakes and set up tables to make the gym not feel so gym-like.  It's amazing what some creativity and great lighting will do!

The Art Show officially began at 6.  Mike was coerced into serenading guests with his violin as they walked into the school building.  It was  nice touch.

After he was finished playing we got in line for some refreshments.  There was an actual bar set up in the school gym serving beer and wine.  IN the school.

I still just think it's pretty crazy to have a keg of beer flowing with a fellow PAC member serving to thirsty patrons.  Crazy but lucrative!

I was put on "Napkin Beautification and Replenishment" detail for the first part of the evening.

Mike and our good friend Don were on "Hula Hooping" detail.  One of the moms at the school hand makes weighted hula hoops and was selling them that night.  Apparently, 1 hour of hooping is the equivalent to doing 1000 sit-ups.  Lots of people gave them a go over the course of the evening.

Don may have had some creative technique....

.... but Mike had the stamina!
All hail Mike Penner - King of the Hoop!

There was live music...

.... and even the opportunity to do some people-watching and paparazzi-type shooting.  Ellie's teacher from last year, who is now Sasha's teacher is seen below with her elusive fiance who I've heard a lot about over the past many months.  The girls have always wanted to see what he looks like.  Well, now we know!  I even got to shake his hand!

Here's Hannah's teacher holding some art she's buying for parents who couldn't make it.  
She's kind of awesome that way.
Mike was feeling kind of proud of his subtle photography skills.

But enough about us - here's what we came for - the ART!

If you're a school parent, you best be snapping up your child's art pieces pretty quick.  Some of the art is purchased by general admirers.  This can go two ways - your child may feel pretty amazing that their work was so good a complete stranger wanted to buy it.  OR, they may be completely devastated.  We don't want to find out which way it would go in our house, so we just buy it all up right off the hop.

The other money makers for the night are the Silent Auction, the Live Auction, and the selling of raffle tickets.  I was recruited as a seller.  I hate going up to people and putting them on the spot by asking if they want to buy tickets, so I just walked around with the tickets draped around my shoulders, hoping they'd get the hint...

Here are our friends, Heather and Don with school parent and former NHL'er Jack McIlhargey between them auctioning off some items for the Live Auction.  Jack and Don had their schtick down perfectly.

Many local artists donated pieces for us to auction off.

Here are some other faces in the crowd.  This is my friend Leanna.  She lives across the street from us and her daughter Zoe is a special friend of Sasha's.  Mike likes her partner Darren because he's a Packers fan.  I like Leanna because she has a heart of gold and is the first Italian friend I've ever had that actually says "ciao" when saying goodbye.  Like a real Italian.  

Mike had his sharp-shooting skills in full force again when he shot this picture of Jack chatting with the former BC Premier Glen Clark.  It just so happens that our school Librarian happens to be "Mrs. Clark".

One of the Silent Auction items was a pair of Canucks tickets donated by the McIlhargey family.  Mike was in the running for them and found himself in a little contest with the former Premier....

Here's Mr. Clark sneakily upping his bid...

We played along until it got too rich for us and let them go.  
We don't play games with the big boys.

When ten o'clock rolled around the doors closed, it was time to unwind and have a little fun after all of that hard work...

It was a great night - mostly because so many people came together to make it that way.
The final tally on revenue isn't in yet, but lots of money was raised for the school's art programs.

As of 10:30 this morning, the winter wonderland was dismantled and the gym was back in action.  Amazing what a few parents can do when they believe in what the school offers their kids.