Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Letter to the Editor

I wrote a letter to the Editor yesterday. 

I used to write a lot of letters to the Editor.

But then I stopped because a local politician got personal through trading letters with me in the newspaper. The message got lost in the personal attacks.

And then I ran in local politics and found myself self-censoring what I wanted to say lest the electorate be irritated.

And then I became the Executive Director of a community organisation and again I felt limited in what I could or should say given that people would associate my name / opinion with that of my organisation.

I really have missed writing to the Editor.

It's not as if I stopped having an opinion...... ha ha..... so I wrote the letters in my head....at 2am....they were so eloquent and cogent and witty......and then I fell asleep.

I wrote a couple of letters for other people (just like I used to write book reports for my friends in High School) but it's just not the same.

So yesterday when I read this letter in the local paper I just had to respond. Who knows if they will print it but it felt good to write it...... and (shockingly) it was not about politics or child care.....but about assumptions and arrogance...two of my favourite bugbears....So here you are..... her letter first then my response

The Editor,

Re: "Two-week break passed," News, May 18.

I heartily agree with school trustee Linda McPhail when she said we need to look at the school calendar on the whole, and make it more balanced.

In order to help avoid a deficit, the Vancouver Board of Education increased its school day by  16 minutes and school closures by 10 days.

As a teacher, I quite like the extra days off. However, my students learn little to nothing in  the added time, and they learn nothing during the 10 days.  I know what they are doing; gaming/social media until all hours and sleeping in to avoid boredom. They are eating junk food and soft drinks that will harm them. How can we justify dumbing down our kids this way?

After reading an article by Murray Dobbin about a book entitled The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the future looks bleak indeed for my students. The article referenced that: "A 2005 Statscan study revealed that median earnings of full-time employees  in Canada were completely flat from 1980 to 2005. In that 25-year period, the income of the  richest fifth grew 16.4 per cent, while the poorest fifth saw their real earnings decline by  20.6 per cent." Not only will my students likely be poor, they won't understand why.

Patti Outram


Dear Editor

With reference to the letter from Patti Outram May 27, 2011 regarding the 2 week Spring Break:  I found Ms Outram's statement "As a teacher, I quite like the extra days off. However, my students learn little to nothing in the added time, and they learn nothing during the 10 days.  I know what they are doing; gaming/social media until all hours and sleeping in to avoid  boredom. They are eating junk food and soft drinks that will harm them. How can we justify dumbing down our kids this way?" to be be offensive.  As a parent of school age children for the past 10 years and the spouse of a teacher for 20 years, it is my experience that the most needed break, in terms of rest, in the school year is Spring Break.   We, and many many of our friends, who are average families, take Spring Break for family time.  Ms. Outram does NOT know what families are choosing to do with their break time and her negative assumptions about children and families make her commitment to her profession questionable.

My children did the following during their Spring Break: visited a new City, tried new cuisine , spent hours and hours in bookstores, ran up and down sand dunes, bonded with cousins, fished  off docks, built driftwood houses on the beach, paddled kayaks and canoes, caught salamanders , designed and planted a veggie garden and made memories with their family that will last their life time.  My children and husband returned to their classrooms rested and rejuvenated (and more knowledgeable) and ready for the crazy rush that the last 3 months of the school year are.  As we come to these final few weeks they are faring better than in years before, in part, due to their Spring Break.


Nicky Byres

Monday, May 30, 2011


While doing my current office re-organisation I HAD to go to IKEA of course. 

New coffee table - check
New lamp  - check
New area rug - check
New storage containers - check

I did not grow up with IKEA - it was such a revelation when we first came to Canada that we would walk aimlessly on the maze of walkways just marvelling at the various rooms set up.... and then eating in the ridiculously cheap restaurant...... and often go home empty handed.... just
too overwhelmed to make a decision.

That did not last long.

As soon as we got our first apartment we furnished it from IKEA. To this day I think almost every room in our house has a piece of IKEA furniture in it. Miraculously our marriage has survived putting together that many pieces of IKEA furniture.

When we moved into the house we live in now we had to gut the kitchen.  We checked out various places but ended up back at IKEA with graph paper and measuring tape in hand.  They made it easy to order and we walked out delighted we had a kitchen, of our design, on its way to us. 

A few days later I fell down the stairs and broke my arm in 5 places.

A few days after that 90 boxes arrived.

Our flat IKEA kitchen.  

I swear I did not throw myself down the stairs to avoid putting the kitchen together.  It is, in fact, more frustrating to watch other people screw the door on upside down than doing it yourself.

I think it all turned out rather well.....

So as I was walking the blue IKEA maze this week I was marvelling again at the whole concept and the creativity and the prices and the crazy names of all the items.  I have this uneasy feeling that back in Sweden a bunch of designers are laughing their butts off at the names they have called something we loving put in our homes.....

Some crazy IKEA images for you...

Do not put your baby in a the big plastic box...ok, just don't.... it will get spots
Lies Lies Lies...and is anyone in Sweden called Billy?    

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dads and Daughters

FINALLY a sunny Sunday.
FINALLY a Sunday that Allan had no homework.
FINALLY a Sunday that Lindsay had no dance (and no homework!).

We all enjoyed a quick lunch after church sitting outside in the sunshine - the warm sunshine.... it was SO lovely.

We did a quick inventory of the garden tasks that needed to be done: tomatoes planted, herbs planted, potatoes mounded and the next tire added and a trellis for the peas built and installed, baskets watered.

David is our water boy

Lindsay wanted to build the trellis for the peas with her Dad and he was willing to let her.  These two have a beautiful but complicated relationship but one of things Lindsay most loves and needs her Dad for the most is to learn from him.  And he is a talented and wonderful teacher.  So lucky for them both.

So they set to work, side by side.  Allan giving the needed guidance and instruction and Lindsay loving getting the project done.  She listened and she followed instructions (without much sass) and in 40 minutes the trellis was installed and netted and ready to go. 

Note the pencil in the back pocket

Measure twice , cut once

Lindsay just recently decided to switch from taking photography next year as an elective to taking woodworking.  Her Dad is a wood work teacher and I think it makes them both very happy to have this new thing to share.  I think Allan is going to have to share the "Man House" with his little girl as she build things.  Right now they are out there together building a gumball machine.  Lindsay is being taught by the woodshop teacher at her school who is a former colleague of Allan's so there is some friendly rivalry going on between the Dad and the teacher and while Lindsay proclaims that this is "so embarrassing" I think she is secretly enjoying it.  Who knows what will happen when she shows up with a better gum ball machine that she made at home with her Dad on Monday.... the shop teacher, who is quite eccentric, and thinks his gum ball machine is the best ever, might just explode!!!  There is much pride on the line here and Miss Lindsay in the middle of it all!! And loving it!

So a happy, calm, sunny Sunday in Steveston........ wonderful.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

14 years

of motherhood.... of being the mother to an amazing little girl.......who somehow, in what seems an impossible way, is 14 years old today.  she.was.just.born..........

I prepared for her birth by watching 5million episodes of TLC's "A Baby Story" (and attending a pre-natal course) so I expected the baby to be born screaming.... so when Lindsay was delivered (after 2 4 long gruelling hours of labour) by forceps I FREAKED out when she made no noise...... I was sure there was something terribly wrong...... I asked every Dr, every nurse and Allan 500 times why she wasn't crying..... the Pediatrician came over and said "She is fine - she is lying quietly with big brown eyes , she's very contemplative".

That lasted 30 minutes and then she found her voice and her lungs........

Miss Lindsay has been a feisty and sometimes fiery presence in our lives.  She has kept me on my toes every step of the way (occasionally weeping in a corner in despair) and she has made me a better person.  She was speaking in full sentences by her first birthday and one of the things I love the most is her great conversation.  She is smart and way.too.sassy and she can have me in absolute stitches of laughter and her giggle has enthralled me from when I first heard it in a diner in Hope one sunny day in September 1997.  I count it has a huge blessing that she still cuddles with me and we have great chats and hang out together (and I achieved some high level of mothering when I successfully bought clothes for her without her this week.......I KNOW!).

I am so proud of the young woman she has grown into, the amazing friend she is to so many,  her maturity in dealing with adversity, her poise and grace and her spunk........ a dancer and a rugby player and honor roll student.  I am privileged to be her Mom and her friend.

Happy Happy Birthday our sweet girl - we love you to the moon and back millions of times.

And now I am going to embarrass you...........
Lindsay is 10

Lindsay is 11

Lindsay is 12

Lindsay is 13

Lindsay is 14

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Weight of Paper

According to my sources.....(ok I am not going to lie... I used Wikipedia for this one) One sheet of paper weighs around 5g (seems a bit steep to me but Wikipedia couldn't be wrong could it?) but the point is one piece on its own... pretty insignificant...... but add many MANY MANY pieces together and they will crush your office if not your sanity.

It's the snowflake example: one=pretty little speck; many=roof caves in.

So it is clearly a miracle my entire office had not crashed through the earths crust and been burned to a crisp - such was the inordinate weight of paper.  Most of it unfiled or misfiled or piled on various flat surfaces.... boxes piled everywhere - I could hardly move.  I enter this photogrpah as Exhibit A.

In my defence...... there is NEVER enough storage space in a child care centre and one with the luxury of a big(ish) office becomes a store room of sorts.  At the moment it has art for the Art Auction on July 9th as well as Silent Auction items for the same event.  It also has the after effects of two conferences and several work events....and all my teaching stuff..... ok it's not much of a defence but it's all I got.

A paper angel descended a few weeks ago in the form of an Office Goddess names Kristin.  We hired her to tame the paper and it has been a BIG (weighty, one might say) job. First she surveyed the chaos (and didn't quit on the spot) and then she designed a filing system on paper that made sense to me (and hopefully anyone else who might use it) and then she actually made the system - every file, every label....... it is a thing of such beauty I get misty eyed (Ok no I don't but it does make me happy!).

Then we Kristin moved piles and piles of paper - much of it in to achive boxes that I shipped off to the storage unit today (on a side note - it was a genius who invented storage units - what we will pay for space to store stuff - and how creepy are those places? shiver).

And we Kristen shredded.....a lot.....

And now I am going to move the furniture around and it will be a whole new office.

And it is, in fact,  so light, so free of those millions of 5g bits of paper, that it might just float away this weekend. (I wish)


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Year End

I know some of you think its about to be June and consider it closer to the middle of the year but over here in the Great While Wet North it is about to be the end of the year...... for school, for soccer, for dance, for David being in out-of-school care...... (for the first time in 10 years we won't be paying child care fees!).

And it is BUSY.

June is like a sprint to the end and we all collapse on the Canada Day (July 1) Long Weekend and the long 2 month Summer vacation starts (or that is the usual plan..)

So it's about now (at the 11th hour) that the issue of teacher/coach gifts comes up for me.  I know if I was a "real" woman I would have made charming and delightful personal gifts that would be all ready to go..... BUT... I am scrambling to compile the list of who I need gifts for nevermind actually getting it done.  Ok well  I did already do the Dance Teacher gifts as the year end show was on Tuesday - they got a lovely french wine.

I guess what trips me up is the dilemma I feel about how much to "gift" someone for doing their job (as in school teachers and early childhood educators) or for doing what I paid alot of money for them to do (as in Dance teachers).  Soccer coaches are a no-brainer for me, they volunteer their time and skill (and after standing in the torrential rainstorm coaching last night deserve more than I could "gift" them anyway) and I am thankful and frankly happy to give a gift.

Which brings me to the next dilemma......what to give?  I have not even met the soccer coach and have no idea what would be appropriate (or completely offensive and/or useless to him).  The same is true of the teachers and ECE's and Dance instructors to some degree..... I might know them a little bit (or have an inside source who can tip me in the right direction) or my kids will have some insights.

I LOVE giving gifts - but I detest giving thoughtless gifts.  It is all too easy to stand in front of the "Gift Card Centre" at the Safeway and throw three pieces of plastic in the basket but not only does that add up to a high $ total in surprisingly little time but it is often a shot in the dark.  And it can make you, the gift giver, look cheap and disinterested.  I know some people adore gift cards but I think you have to be totally sure it's the right thing. 

SO.......... I have my list now and I have some ideas. I know from Allan's experience as a teacher and from all my staff that the words written in cards most often have the deepest and longest impact so I will be making some cards this weekend and trying to find that perfect gift........and if I really can't (or I run right out of time) I will slip a bookstore GC in the envelope..... sigh!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Dance Dance Dance

Fuel the dancer!

Getting Ready - dreadful costume!

Having a Hunch...... Seussical

Rhythm of Life - Sweet Charity

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's not easy getting the greens

Ok I am not going to lie - I think that is a genius title......  :)

We are in our 3rd season as Urban Gardeners and this years version of the Veggie Garden got off to an early and optimistic start........ we had recently read Barbara Kingsolver's book (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and there was a chapter in which she waxed lyrical about seed catalogues and about using heritage seeds.  So we boldly decided to eschew the all-too-easy seedling route and actually plant seed.  The All Knowing Dude at Westcoast Seeds in Ladner schooled Allan and the kids on all things seed and they came home with a plentiful supply of seed for us and for our fellow gardeners (we have 4 other families close by who are also growing veggies and we had a communal planning meeting early in the Spring and shared  resources and ideas).

Before we planted we were in Powell's Books in Portland and found this book called The Urban Homestead that showed, among other things, how to grow potatoes in tire tubes.  So on the last weekend of Spring Break we started our Veggie Garden 2011.

And then it rained....................

And rained........

And rained.......

While we contemplated building an Ark we also watched the veggie garden in vain hope of seeing little green shoots of.....anything.....

Finally we saw some signs of life in the outside bed (peas, snap peas, lettuce and beets) and in the incubators inside....... but even we, novice gardeners knew we were in trouble...... our dreams of bountiful heritage crops were fading fast.   I did feel somewhat less of a failure when I read this in the local paper this weekend..... and more determined than ever to grow rather than pay for our veggies.  I must say our potatoes are growing like crazy..... in their cozy tubes of rubber......

BUT we needed an intervention.

So this weekend I went on a quest for healthy, well-started veggie plants.  Although their heritage may not be as legendary as we may have hoped , at least they were grown here on a local farm and weather-willing could grow in our garden and feed us!

So with seedlings in hand my Garden Gnomes got to work and I was delighted to have the bed look productive.  We even got one day of good sun in before the return to the grey and the rain but I feel certain it cannot last much longer - sun will prevail!

 And veggies will grow.......

Monday, May 23, 2011

Eating locally

As you know - eating locally is a goal we all hold in our family.  Eating in season is part of that.  I have been paying careful attention to those little white stickers on fruit and vegetables that often say "Mexico" or "Florida" or places even further afield.  I just put them down - we don't need food that had expended gallons of fuel to get to our table.  But this means we need to be on top of what is in season locally....... and this week we hit the ....... JACKPOT!!

It's BC Spot Prawn Season!!!  

Allan headed down to Steveston Harbour and got 2.5lbs of the little beauties right off the boat....... the kids were not.at.all amused that they were still wriggling in the bag!!

 Last night Allan beheaded them (this is the reality of fresh food) and simmered them to get the "bits" and shell off. I was grateful he did this on the BBQ burner outside because as much as I love seafood the smell seems to linger for far too long in the house.

Then he sauteed them in a little garlic and finished them with lemon and pepper and a little cream.

Of course one must accompany such delectable local bounty with a fitting side dish...... so in true Allan style.. you make your own pasta...... yes you do...... with a little help from your kids.

Lindsay cranks the handle as Allan feeds the pasta

Long, skinny, ribbon of pasta

becoming spaghetti

Did you know - you use a pencil to make...


Sunday, May 22, 2011


I have been planning to move a small ornamental maple from one planter to another.

This is not just any tree.

It was a tree I bought and planted on the one year anniversary of my sister-in-laws death.

I put this plaque on it........

The tree sat at our front door as a constant reminder of her precious life.  Last summer we moved it around to the patio at the back so we could put in on an irrigation system while we were away for a few weeks last summer and there it stayed all winter.  I think we'll keep it there now.

It has out grown its planter and I bought a beautiful copper planter last weekend to make the move.  I did it today and it was hard work.  Our Hazel tree was well and truly rooted in the old cedar planter and did not want to give it up.  It took lots of digging and I could hear the roots snapping.  I felt awful - I have this ridiculous tendancy to humanise objects (I am the kid who put her dolls in boxes and poked holes in the box so they could breathe) so it was not only a physical tug of war but an emotional one too.  I actually told the tree that she would love the new planter and have lots of space.......I was talking to a plant..... but I was also talking to Hazel and remembering her.

The tree is now safely tucked into the new planter and I am praying it settles in and grows strong.  I need to reattach the plaque and the job will be done.

We don't need the tree to remember our sister/aunt but I like having something tangible.

So I dedicate this, my 150th blog post, to Hazel Ann - we miss you.

Friday, May 20, 2011


The City we live in, Richmond BC, has lots of smallish elementary schools in various neighbourhoods.  Several of these feed into larger high schools.  These elementary schools are often surrounded by large fields and have playgrounds so they become a neighbourhood park in many cases.  Lots of children walk to school.

When we were looking at Kindergarten for Lindsay (which seems like just yesterday) we made a choice that meant us driving across town to go to school. We made this choice because we really liked the kindercare and after school care that was available in that part of town.  We also made the choice to send her to french immersion which is only offered in a limited number of schools so we were very pleased she got into a  non-catchment school and into french.

Since she started school the School District added a second French Immersion High school very close to our home (less than 2 blocks).  Only 2 of Lindsay's Grade 7 class came over to McMath - the rest went to the high school closest the their elementary school.  Of course we worried she would know very few kids having not been at elementary school in our neighbourhood. But that was not the case at all.  She knew so many kids from soccer, from dance, from church, just from the neighbourhood so the transition has been remarkably easy.  She also walks to school now.  And as I leave at a similar time to her I see the kids walking from all over the neighbourhood, backpacks on, iPods in, or with a group chatting as they wander their way to school and home everyday.

On a rare day I offered to drive her, but just down the street she spotted some girls she knows and hopped out to walk the rest of the way with them. 

I am now seeing how being at your neighbourhood school builds community.  She knows just about every teenager who walks past the house and I feel a curious benevolence towards them too, even when they are playing silly in the back alley because there are "our" kids, from "our" school. 

It feels like we live in the "Village" that is, at least, looking out for its kids.

I do regret taking them out of the neighbourhood for elementary school.....

I listen to many parents of the preschoolers in my child care centres going on about the best schools and where the most advantageous placement would be for their child...... and I do wonder what happens to "us" when we make all these other considerations (academics, programs, special services, nicer buildings) more important than letting our children grow up in a community.

I can't wait for David to be finished Grade 7 (one more year) and then he can come back to this community and wander off to school and back everyday and for my kids to be connected to where they live....and the people who live there alongside us.

When we left our townhouse complex which was a great little community, we really worried about finding community when living in a house on a busy street.  We are so blessed to have found great neighbours who have a son the same age as David and who moved in a month before we did. We try and get together for a glass of wine and some snacks a few times a year.  In the summer we chat over the fence and share veggies from our gardens. The boys bike up and down the alley together.  They are bigger Canucks fans than we are so when our pre-planned visit tonight ended up also being Game Day (Go Canucks Go) we agreed we'd just watch the game together..... David and Noah will head off to school together in 2012.... 2 kids from the "village"....

I am very blessed to live here, now, with this family and these friends....

And it is sunny and warm today!!