Monday, October 31, 2011

Hushed Halloween

We almost missed Halloween this year......... ok.....that would be hard to do but it's the quietest Halloween since 1997.....

Jet-lagged Lindsay just isn't into it this year and given David is at a new school we decided to recycle the Wii-remote from last year so no costume designing/making/building.
He had a very happy day at school.  He is hoping to go out for a while tonight and given it is dry and the Wii won't disintegrate I think we'll make this the swan song of Halloween Trick or Treating for the Byres Family.  

On the other hand I did more on the Halloween treat side than ever before.  I didn't mean to do more - it just turned out that way.  I had an idea, David concurred but it took me way, way longer than I anticipated......but I was happy with the results.

Fun and easy.....but doing 32 was a bit much!!!

The house was done last night and looks respectable but the pumpkins have yet to be carved! And keeping them lit in this wind will be a feat!

So my parents will come over and we will order pizza like we always do!  That might be all that lasts of Halloween in our house after this year. 

Oh and answering the door for the cute little trick or treaters........

Life moves on........sigh........

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I was chatting with a friend about being busy, working-more-than-one-job-kind of busy, and how to balance family time without losing your mind...... or something along those lines......I don't have the answer (sorry) but I do have a strategy I often employ that works for my family.

We huddle.  Figuratively of course because a 14 year old girl and 12 year old boy don't "do" physcial contact unless in a life threatening circumstance (I can only hope) or being given the "death stare" by their mother.(and then as quick as possible!)

Our "huddle" is a declaration of "Byres Family Day".  And being us........ it is usually focused around food.

And so on this Byres Family Day we headed out for breakfast at the Steveston Hotel.  We then headed to our beloved Granville Island with a half-formed dinner plan than would involve lamb.  We wandered our usual market route and bought:
2 litres chicken stock
2litres vegetable stock
Dry smoked chorizo
Organic red skinned nugget potatoes
Organic onions (we had a little chat with the vendor about the fact the onions were from California and how surely organic could be sourced locally because we would actually choose local over organic - it was an interesting chat).
Russet potatoes, corn, celery,gala apples, macintosh apples, nectarines, peppers, ginger
Key limes and corn tortillas and cumin and coriander (it was at this moment the idea for a Thai curry dinner with jasmine rice was born - to be followed by key lime pie!).

We put the food in the car (in the cooler Allan brilliantly remembered to bring!) and wandered through our favourite stores in the Net Loft and then into "Ten Thousand Villages" where we did some excellent Christmas shopping - very pleased indeed I was!

We wandered a bit more - found a totally cool new store called "Make" and bumped into an old colleague from work.

With my trusty canon back in my hands I also snapped a few Fall trees on Granville Island and on some of the avenues on the way home - stay tuned for Wordless Wednesday!  I am loving the Fall colours this year.

The rest of the day has been chores but we have done them together - with much chatter and help:
Groceries at Save On including pumpkins for carving (and candy)
Got the Halloween Rubbermaid out of the storage closet
Did some Halloween decorating
Finished treats for David's class
Check on costumes for tomorrow
Made soup (corn chowder for Tuesday)
Lindsay plugged away at homework which is backlogged from her trip
Laundry was done
I cleaned all the toilets !!!  Its a yucky job but someone has to do it!
Allan and I synched our schedules for the next two weeks

And now dinner prep is well under way and smells amazing. Looking forward to family dinner and a sense of "reconnectedness" from our "huddle" day!   This will preserve my sanity for a few more weeks until another "huddle" will be required with the team that makes every day worth living - even the crazy too busy days. 

I love you

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Brainy Ladies

I do not relish new and unknown social situations. 

I am actually quite shy (no really I am!!) but have learned how to make small talk at parties.

Last night I ended up in circle with 3 others women.  An engineer, a patent lawyer and an educator.  Wicked smart ladies - all older than me.

And we discussed a very broad range of topics from politics to religion, to raising children, travel, robotics, unfinished renovations, education, funding for education........ so many topics and I had a blast.  I had to think hard, be articulate, argue my points...... it was fun. 

Tonight it's girls night - a reunion of the our girls weekend getaway and I am so looking forward to the chatting, relaxing, laughing, singing, sharing and smart debate .... it will be easy because I know these girls - we have a great level of trust and respect and love for one another.

Two totally different evenings - two different crowds - lots of fun.......... LUCKY ME!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Great Teachers

Todd and some other guy....
Tonight we have been invited to a dinner party for a colleague of Allan's who recently received the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence for the robotics program he built at Gladstone Secondary in Vancouver.  Todd and Allan have worked pretty closely for a number of years on various robotics competitions, served on the Pacific Youth Robotics Society together and traveled with their teams all over the pacific northwest and other parts of the USA.   Todd is a worthy recipient of this honour and we look forward to celebrating with him and his family this evening.

On December 7th (our 20th wedding anniversary) our family will be attending the "Volunteers are Stars" Gala dinner at a local hotel as Allan was recently nominated for the Constellation Award – Individual that honours individual volunteers for their service and contribution to the community for his work with his robotics teams.  I am so very proud of him!

Neither of these men, these teachers, mentors, life-changers like the limelight - they are both embarrassed by the attention.  These are men who teach as a passion, as a vocation. To them it's more than a job with benefits.  What the robotics gives them is an opportunity to work with a small group of kids on a common project.  Theses kids are usually very diverse - you get the really smart ones, the ones with big ideas, the ones who need to belong to something and the ones who have nowhere else to be 3 afternoons a week.  Todd built his club into a regular school course and Allan is working to do the same.  The kids who graduate from these clubs / programs come back and tell these teachers just how valuable their time was in robotics, how important the skills they learned.
Working some "stuff" out at the World Championships in Dallas

Some of these skills were technical - these kids are wicked smart and build complex robots that do complex things!  But they also learned to work in a group with people whose skills were different, with different work styles and personalities.  They learned how to travel, to eat out to  - I spent a memorable evening with the Cambie team in Dallas teaching them how to calculate the tip..... life skills. 
Learning about Rosa Parks in Dallas

They also get to know their teacher well - see him in different situations - build trust.  One of Allan's first robotics club kids from 1996 at Prince of Wales in Vancouver went on to University in New York and every summer when he came home he would call "Mr Byres" and come over for a visit - now with a PhD,  married and with his own son he still keeps in regular contact and still calls Allan "Mr Byres". 

I am proud to know these two outstanding teachers and the many other outstanding teachers, who won't be nominated or win any awards, but who make a difference in a child's life everyday. 

I salute you all!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Shortly after we moved into this house I had a very clear moment of "vision" that this house would be full of babies.......... and I knew they would not be mine!!!

We have been so blessed by the small people who  have come into our lives over the years and many, many times - more than I can remember - this house has been full of babies and children.

It always makes my heart so happy!

Most cultures have a way of welcoming  a new human - some sort of celebration to pause and focus on the new life among us.  Sometimes the focus is on the parents too. 

It has been my immense privilege to host  over 15 baby showers in our home over the last 6 years - the last one was, in fact, a triple baby baby shower for three babies - two who have now been born and the third still eagerly anticipated!

There was a baby shower (strikes me as a silly name - Baby Blessing - Baby welcome???) in our community last weekend and though not at my house, much of the preparation was done here the night before by some fabulous ladies!  I have seen some pretty great ideas over the years of things to do at baby showers, decorations to make, gifts to give etc.....  We had fun crafting together!

I was determined to make a "diaper cake"....... I had seen them done but when I started doing some research I saw there were so many variations. 

I don't like variations when it comes to craft projects - I am "craft deficient" and I need straight up instructions - don't give me 30 variations - it will only lead to disaster!

I finally got the courage to try one variation and got the bottom "tier" of the cake done on my own before anyone arrived - I wanted to face whatever humiliation might lie ahead (like diapers spraying across the dining room ) on my own!

I was pleasantly surprised I got it done without too much trouble (that's my story and I am sticking to it!)....... I definitely needed help on the other two layer and the lovely Leslie was a great assistant.  Glad to have got it done before too much wine was consumed because I find that rarely enhances craft projects!

We had a great "Girls Night In' getting ready for the shower and I believe the shower went off without a hitch!

So for all of you dying to rush off and make a diaper cake - here are the straight up instruction!

You will need 96 diapers. I used size 2 eco diapers from Superstore because I wanted as plain white as possible.

I used a foil pizza tray with a slight lip to set the bottom layer on.  You use 40 diapers for the outside "fan" for the bottom layer and then 8 to fill the middle.
Once in place you tie a ribbon or string to secure everything - you can then arrange the diapers evenly and adjust as needed.
Layer 2 is made the same way with 28 diapers in the "fan" outside and 4 in the middle.
The top layer is 14 in the "fan"on the outside and 2 in the middle.

You end up with a three layer "cake".  I used a variety of wide ribbons on each layer and decorated it to my taste.  I did see some that had tons of stuff added like baby lotions, powder, diaper cream etc....I kept mine a bit plain - I am calling it "classic"!
I am not going to lie - I thought it was pretty sweet!

And trust me........if I can do it......anyone can do it!

Here it is again...... just because!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Be the Change

David asked to go to school early today. Like dark and very early.  He wanted to be at school at 7:30am - a full hour and a quarter before necessary.  He and his friends had brokered their early entry with the Principal so that they could work on their first WE day project - a bulletin board of information for their fellow students.

A couple of weeks ago David was lucky enough to be one of a few kids from his school that attended the Free the Children Vancouver "Me to We" day at Rogers Arena.  There were 18,000 students there to learn about world issues affecting children. 

Free The Children was founded by 12-year-old Craig Kielburger in 1995 when he gathered 11 school friends to begin fighting child labour. Today, Free The Children is the world's largest network of children helping children through education, with more than one million young people involved in our programs in 45 countries
Free the Children

It would be impossible not to be moved by the line-up of speakers at "Me to We" day including Mia Farrow, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Kielburger brothers and Shaq as well as bands and dancers and people who have worked with "Free the Children" all over the world including Robin Wiszowaty who wrote "My Maasai Life" which Lindsay, David and I all read earlier this year.

It was intended to inspire children to help other children and David and his friends were very inspired and motivated to do their part - to be their piece of the global puzzle. They have lots of ideas and lots of energy and I am sure with some guidance from their teachers they will come up with a worthy campaign.

This is more than the 3 R's of school - this is more than David ever had before, this is life-long impactful social justice that a child as privileged as him should be part of.  This is teachers on job action?

Just another reason to be grateful for his new school and his renewed sense of himself and his place in the world.

I look forward to championing the Homma Elementary "Me to We" Campaign , whatever it turns out to be!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hidden Treasure

You will remember that I posted about cleaning out the junk/cutlery drawer a week or so ago.  In that catch-all drawer I found three old camera films....

Remember these?

David and I dropped them off at London Drugs a week ago and on Friday we went back to see what was on those films.  While I knew there was a high probability we would get nothing seeing as the films were 6-8 years old and I had no idea if they had even been used at all......I was hopeful...and so was David......

So we weren't all that surprised when they told us one film was blank - unused.

The next film had images on it but they were so degraded there was no point in printing them.


BUT the 3rd film had images - 29 were salvaged and as requested saved onto a CD. 

We paid and walked 4 feet over to the photo booth computer and excitedly put in the cd to view the images

And the CD wouldn't open......

We switched computers and voila the cd opened........ with grainy images of David's graduation from Treehouse and Lindsay's Grade 1 birthday!

Yay yay yay........ how much fun to see those photos.....and see our kids when they were so small.....

So interesting to see their personalities coming out in the photos in much the way their personalities are today...... Lindsay often hamming it up and David often with the shy smile...

Lindsay is likely going to use the following photos as grounds for not returning from France but I think the rest of us will get a kick out of them......... 

Jump in the time machine with me - we are going to 2003

Lindsay's first manicure

Birthday girl
The infamous three hamming it up for the camera

Birthday morning

Off to school

Friday, October 21, 2011

Job Action

I have been hesitant to dive into my thoughts and feelings on the current discourse on the BC Teachers job action.  After all my husband is a teacher on job action and I have one child in elementary school and one in high school and many friends and colleagues who are educators - not exactly objective!

And yet in the midst of it all I do see the deep complexities of the system, both positive and negative.

I certainly don't want to be defensive, not all I have experienced of the education system in BC is defensible, but I am increasingly frustrated that the voices that are being heard publicly in this debate are the two BIG parties at the negotiating table - the BC Government and the BC Teachers Federation (the union) and most of that through the filter of the media who, sadly, has it's own agenda.

This week a teacher on Vancouver Island went Public on CBC radio about what her work life is like. It is not a pretty picture.  I feel great shame that in a country as well resourced as ours, children are that stressed and distressed in school and all bets are off how long that dedicated teacher will last in the profession.

I want to say 2 things I really believe:

1. Class size and class composition REALLY MATTER.  In my work in early childhood education our "class" sizes are legally mandated - we have to stay in set ratio's or we lose our license, our insurance in voided etc.  Not everyone in our field does this, some try and squeeze a couple extra kids in here or there but that is illegal and they can be shut down.  I have seen first hand how one or two children in distress can totally throw the whole group off.  A death in the family, divorce, immigration, hunger, fatigue, normal developmental stages of tantrums, toilet-training etc demand so much time from our educators to guide children through safely and with a degree of emotional assurance.  We still get to pull a child onto our lap and give them a bear hug and read a story on the couch, to stay close and offer consistent day-to-day love and guidance.  And we have 4 adults with 25 children and even then it takes huge dedication and effort to make the whole thing work for the children, the families, the educators.

One year later you have 1 teacher with up to 22 children and the problems don't lessen as the children grow -often the opposite is true.  Something gets lost in the shuffle even with the very best teacher. Sadly, it is most often the child and his/her needs.

A woodwork class with one behavioural issue can be a safety hazard.  30 children in Grade 12 physics leaves little time for those who need some extra help.

My son fell through the cracks - it made me angry but he was in a very mixed class with several children who had issues from learning challenges to poverty - I wanted to blame the teacher and the Administrator but I don't honestly know what else was on their plate.  And my child had me and his Dad to advocate, we know the system, we speak English and it was still exceptionally challenging and time consuming to manage and negotiate.

If we don't demand manageable and balanced classes with enough assistance for children who need it, whatever it is, hot breakfast, extra help with reading - there is too much at stake -  all the children suffer and good educators burn out.

2. Most teachers go above and beyond. Everyday.  All year.
The media is full of parents yelling about not getting report cards in November.  They demand to know how their children are doing.  I feel the same way.  So I met with my children's teachers.  They were happy to discuss my child with me, they welcomed the opportunity.  So pick up the phone.  These are the same parents who never attend a meet the teacher night.  Year after Year my husband sits in his classroom for 3 hours on meet-the-teacher night and sees maybe 2 parents, on a good night. I was shocked at my first meet-the teacher in highschool - the place was near empty, except for the teachers of course.

Teachers are teaching, right now, they are assessing your child's learning - there are 270 marked physics tests on my coffee table.  Teacher want to teach.  And they are.

Today is the Provincial Pro-D day when hundreds of teachers are in workshops and attending conferences (often, as in our case, paying their own transportation and accommodation costs to do so) around the province to better educate themselves so they can be better teachers.  Last Pro-D day some teachers took alot of flack because they had a fun team building day of playing games and getting to know one another - they were lambasted in the media........but I bet they went back to work feeling more energized, more connected to their colleagues, more ready to face the week, month, year ahead.  I want an educated, motivated teacher for my children.

Teachers do not want to strike. 

But teachers, most teachers, care enough about our children to fight for an education system that serves children, the teachers, the administrators and all the other support people well. 

I am standing with them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Steveston Hotel

We had to be up at the crack of dawn - actually it was pitch dark out - no sign of dawn at 6:45am when we left the house.  Allan was catching a ride with a couple of colleagues to the BC Technical Teachers Conference in Kamloops so David and I dropped him off and seeing as we were up and out we decided to go for breakfast.

Our sleepy village of Steveston was still mostly closed up at 7:15am but the lights were shining brightly at the Steveston Hotel so in we went. 

As picturesque as our village may be (see yesterday's post), the Steveston Hotel is not exactly the jewel in the crown.  I don't think anyone actually stays there..... ever ..... although there once was a raffle in town that offered a nights stay as the prize, in the Honeymoon Suite, no less, but I truly think that might have been a joke.

 There is a pub at street level on the north end called the "Buck and Ear" - a play on the maritime heritage mere steps from the door.  It's one of those dark wood panelled interiors, big TV's, a couple fireplaces, staff who have been there forever and a bunch of regulars who wouldn't go anywhere else.

On the southside is "the Steveston Cafe".  While the menu had been updated since I was last there years ago, the decor has not.  It has faded, mismatched wall paper and a high shelf with an old collection of's dated but clean and bright and friendly.

And full of regulars.

I love that.

In the 45 minutes David and I were there this morning about a dozen men came in for breakfast and every one was greeted by name by the one waitress (just back from Vegas where she won $1000 on her last pull of the slots!)....there were fishermen off the boats, a couple RCMP officers whose car we see there everyday and a couple of retirees. 

I was the only female other than the waitress.

As I was paying my bill at the counter the waitress stuck her head in the kitchen and said "Here comes Mike" and the chef said "Ok, eggs are coming up". Nice! 

So it might not look like much from the outside but for many folks it's a "home away from home".

And the breakfast  was great.

One more reason I love Village living!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One for Many

I, like many the world over, have been reading about the release of the one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in return for the release of 477 Palestinian prisoners.  Here if you haven't read it.

It reminded me of the bible story in Luke Ch 15 of when the Shepherd goes looking for the one lost sheep 
 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
I looked at the photo of that young soldier, so thin and pale, held against his will for 1941 days......and the photos of the jubilation of his people all across Israel at his release.  It mirrors the story above and although the stories both likely happened in the very same area, the subtext of this one is so political, fraught with so many agendas.  These "prisoners" from both sides are mere pawns in a process so much bigger than themselves. A sad and violent story. 

Will this exchange of the 1 for 477 make for any positive change in that whole situation?

What a price was paid....... not just the inequality in the numbers but Mr. Shalit lost 5 years of his life.....

I just wonder what it must feel like to be "the one" vs the 477?  How can a person be worthy of that?

And yet Luke 15 applies to me, there was rejoicing when "little old me" who was lost, was found.

I know I am not worthy of that.  Thank goodness for Grace.

I hope Gilad Shalit and 477 experience Grace.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shoot......No Canon

Tonight we had a sunset that would make my friend Leigh grab her tripod and run for the waters edge and spend 45 minutes shooting images..........which she would post and get hundreds of "likes".....maybe even win a competition.

The clouds were dramatic, the sun was low, the underside of the clouds glowed pink, the sky was streaked with orange bands trailing into blue skies.......I was in awe of it all the way home form Jazzercise.

Enough already, just post a photo and be done.

And therein lies the rub.

My trusty but dependable and trustworthy, fit-in-my-purse canon(pictured above) is in St.Brieuc, Brittany, France.

With Lindsay (who is hopefully putting it to excellent use!).

I am camera-less for 2 whole weeks.

In the Fall.

When the light is so special and the trees are all turning dramatic colours of yellow and orange and red..

So there is no photo of that incredible sunset tonight. And you know what.......... it was no less enjoyable.  I just let myself revel in watching it as I walked and drove.  I stood on the sidewalk and drank it all in.  I can still see it now.  It made my day.

I am not going to kid you ........I will be very pleased to have my canon back, to get back to taking photos but I am sort of enjoying paying closer attention to what I am seeing and enjoying it instead of just racing to capture it.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hi I am ______ and I would like to be your City Councillor! many City Councillors in your city can you name off the top of your head......

Sadly I think very few of us know our City councillors or school trustees. And yet these are the politicians closest to us, who make decisions on a local scale that can be very impactful and yet we so often ignore them until they do something we dislike.

I ran for City council a few years ago (and will never do so again!).  It was a very eye opening experience both about myself and about my community.

Sadly at the few All Candidates meetings that were held less than 50 citizens actually showed up (that were not related to the candidates).  Sad and shocking and yet we are now into another municipal election season and I don't even know when the All Candidates meetings are and the chances of me going to one are slim (admittedly I do know most of the candidates quite well and understand their platforms but I should go out and ask some questions!).

What I learned about politics in the last election is that it is less about good people and good ideas and more about how much money you have to spend and how many people recognise your name (which is inextricably linked to the first point).  You really are up against it if you don't have a big party machine and a big bank balance.

I shook hands with a candidate outside the grocery store today who has neither of these but who would be a voice for the poor and women, affordable housing and sustainable development at the table, who would have no problem asking the hard questions, who would demand fair process, equality and ethics.  I told her I would vote for her but most people wouldn't even take her business card.

This is not a glamorous job folks, its a ton of work, alot of it on boring issues like sewers and setbacks and services.  There are lots of demands on your time.  You do get to be an important part of the development of your City, attend some important functions and events but noone is doing this for fame and fortune I assure you!  These people, even if we disagree with their politics, are doing this because they want to make a positive difference in our City.

I am not going to tell you who to vote for (as people often ask me to) but rather I am going to share some links and ask you to do your own research, to think about your own issues and what you want your City and School District to be like.

And please, please go and vote on November 19, 2011.


Richmond First

De Whalen

Malcolm Brodie

Richmond Citizens Association (no web site)

List of all declared candidates

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Wow - I am trying the new blogger interface today - it is so different but I think I like it so far!  I also really like the new changes that the iOS brought to my iPhone.....I am keeping up with this technology (mostly:)!

I love doing housework..........some of my family and close friends just snorted their coffee after reading that......the truth is really that when I have a free day and the time and energy, I like to get the house in order.

I have a fair degree of tolerance for mess...... I simply don't have the time to give full vent to my Martha Stewart-esque tendencies (some call it OCD tendencies........some might be right!).  I wish my linen closet looked like hers but alas other than once in a blue moon when I pull it all out and label each shelf and square up the folded sheets...... it looks messy (and also I choose not to spend thousands on colour coordinated linens).  And the surfaces in our house get cluttered easily.

These piles, especially of paper, drive Allan and I crazy and we have tried various systems of containment over the years with varying degrees of success.  Allan's tolerance for mess is lower than mine so he is often driven to the edge and launches into "clean up action" during which the rest of us stand back and watch ....... and pray our stuff survives! 

And I seem to have raised two messy kids.......sigh.......they have all manner of storage solutions from a giant blue and yellow store whose profits we prop up...... but somehow their rooms are messy and their bathroom....well....... I am going in there today.......with bleach.......

So while in the day to day hustle that is my life with 3 jobs and 2 kids and friends, life - having a day - a clear day - to tackle a bunch of fun satisfying and enjoyable!  So I am putting on some music to drown out the laundry, pouring a coffee and having a bagel for energy and going to it, cleaning, organising, filing and generally whipping this house into shape......

And when I slip between my newly washed sheets tonight I will sigh a deep sigh of contentment (and likely some degree of exhaustion.....).