Preschool Life Lessons

preschool

In my opinion the most overlooked job out there is that of a pre-school teacher. You will have grade school and high school teachers, college professors and bosses who will teach you a multitude of fascinating things. But really, pre-school teachers give you the basic tools to deal with all of that from day one. Pre-school teachers teach you how to share, keep your hands to yourself, speak kindly to others, not to push and not to stick your fingers in other people’s food. All important things to remember in the class room or the boardroom. It takes a special kind of person to teach our children these valuable life lessons while still nurturing their spirit and developing brains. Emma and Sarah, owners of Sunshine Cove Preschool, are two of those special people.

When I first met Emma and Sarah they both struck me as two of the warmest, kindest caregivers I had ever met. The first thing that I noticed about Sarah was her voice. Calm and soothing and kind. My mom would say that it was like butter. A true reflection of her character. Emma’s smile could light up even the dreariest of Deep Cove rainy days and even the most standoffish child would melt from one of her hugs. But don’t let those characteristics fool you. These ladies are not pushovers. They are both certified Early Childhood Educators from Capilano University and are firm on what is acceptable behavior in pre school (and life) and what is not. Smacking your buddy over the head with a book because you don’t like their opinion is not acceptable.  In preschool or in life apparently.

Emma and Sarah met a few years ago working for a daycare that my daughter attended. They discovered they had similar teaching styles and quickly became great friends. When the daycare closed they decided to take a huge leap and open their own preschool. Sunshine Cove Preschool was born. The decision to move from employee to business owner has been exciting, stressful and nerve racking all at the same time, they say. It was a tough start with neither of them having much business experience and balancing the work as a child care worker with the administration of the business side has been an eye opener. They both admit to being a bit naive when it came to the business side. They were lucky enough, however,  to have a great former employer who has guided them through the rough patches. Each credits the other with getting them through the last couple of years.

The school itself is amazing. It’s an older warehouse building that they have renovated. It is everything a preschool should be. Bright, colorful, warm, welcoming, fun. Nature is a huge part of their program and it is everywhere. Kids can create, paint, build and get messy or plop themselves down in a comfortable chair and look at any number of books and puzzles. Their program is a bit different from the other preschools in the area in that they offer a four hour session. This, they feel, gives the kids time to really settle in each day and allows Emma and Sarah time to establish good routines and structures and really teach rather than just watch. It also gives parents a decent stretch of time to work or relax. The toddler program runs Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30-11:00 and the preschool age kids can come Monday through Thursday for two to four days. Friday is a drop in day for registered students.

I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how good Sarah and Emma are with the kids they care for. They are constantly looking for interesting and new education techniques to use when dealing with hyperactivity and aggression – two behavioral traits they run in to quite often. The flip side of that is nurturing the kids who maybe don’t need as much direction. Emma told me about one little boy that would happily play at the light table for 45 minutes on his own. The challenge, she said, comes in recognizing him and his fascination and not always focusing our time and energy on kids who need our attention. It’s important to connect with him and say “Hey, you seem to really be enjoying that table. Tell me about it?”  Don’t you wish some of your past employers  had done this with your work?

Being new business owners has taken an emotional toll on both Emma and Sarah over the past two years, but they wouldn’t have it any other way and wouldn’t have done it with anybody else. Their passion for teaching and nurturing kids is so inspiring to me and to be able to take that passion and make it your life’s work must be so satisfying. I can think of no better place to send a preschooler than Sunshine Cove Preschool. It would give me comfort knowing that they are in Sarah and Emma’s care and that they will learn those valuable life lessons that will carry them in to the big world with confidence.  The Best Thing in Life is knowing how to behave.  And to not stick your fingers in other peoples food.

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Today I Am Fifty

fifty cake

When I was in my twenties I looked forward to birthdays every year. I have always looked young for my age and starting out in my career I never felt that people took me seriously because they thought I was younger than I was. I secretly hoped that some day I would actually look older. I know, a bit weird. So now I AM older ( not necessarily old) and I’m asking myself, as are other people oddly enough, how does it feel? Really it feels like just another day, but that doesn’t make for a very good blog post does it? So, as I sit in my cozy kitchen on this rainy October day and reflect, I have come to some realizations about what it feels like, and means to me, to be fifty.

Over the summer my husband and I were having dinner with some friends, one of whom had recently turned fifty. He told us about the party he had thrown for himself earlier in the year. It was a wild one from the sounds of it. A packed house party with loud music, lots of drinking and the mandatory requirement for any really good party, a visit from the police in the early morning hours. Sounded like one of the parties we had been to in our high school days. The next day he felt like hell, but it was all worth it for him. I am apparently not a party animal because just the thought of doing this makes me tired. I am a social person but I have never been a night owl (ask my college room mate) and am perfectly happy to be in my pajamas by 9:00pm most nights. My husband makes fun of me, but it makes me happy.

For others friends, the big 50 has been marked with a once in a lifetime trip, completing a marathon or overcoming a lifelong fear. When I quit my job last February I decided that this was the year I would train for a marathon. I even wrote a post about it. It took me about two months to decide that it wasn’t going to happen. It took me another month to come to terms with that and be okay with my decision. Now don’t get me wrong, I admire the people who have done these things immensely. I’ve just finally realized that it’s not who I am. I have always thought I needed to show people that I had accomplished some feat in order for them to be proud of me. Why it has taken me fifty years to realize this is not true, I am not sure. I still struggle a bit with who I am supposed to be, but I am getting closer to being happy just being me and realizing that I may not have a “mission” or a “thing”. I may just be…..me.

The past eighteen years of my life has been a bit of a roller coaster. Divorce and single parenthood at thirty three. I remember people asking me how I got through leaving my first husband with a three month old baby. You do what you have to do and you get up every day and move forward. When I did re marry, a few years later, my husband’s work took him 3000 miles away for four years. For anybody who hasn’t had one, long distance relationships/marriages really suck. Then at forty two another baby. Totally planned but nonetheless a challenge. I feel like it has only been in the past two years that things have finally felt settled down. I read a great quote the other day from, of all people, Nancy Reagan. “Women are like tea bags. You don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water”. It’s a good thing I like tea.

I’ve made some changes in my life over the past few months. I quit a job that I didn’t really like and am now able to be more present for my family. I overhauled the way that I eat and now physically feel better than I have in years. I have determine that killing myself trying to run up a mountain really has no benefit and have come to embrace yoga. I have come to terms with my relationship with my siblings and parents and am learning more about myself because of it. These things have made a huge difference in my life and I can say without a doubt that I am happier now than I have been in a very long time. I’m healthy, I have awesome friends, a loving, supportive husband and two great kids. Today, the Best Thing in Life is turning fifty.

In Appreciation of Growing Up

West Vancouver

Do you ever have those days when you are just at loose ends? That was me this morning. I didn’t have a lot of energy, didn’t have anything specific that I had to do and it was a wet drizzly day. I could easily have pulled on my jammies and gone back to bed, but I knew that wouldn’t really help. I didn’t have quite enough energy to muster up a run but knew I needed to get out and get some exercise. Closets are sorted and the yard is ready for the onslaught of November rains. What to do, what to do? And then I knew what I needed to do. I needed to go back to my roots.

Fortunately, my roots, or the area I grew up in, are only a 20 minute drive away. I was headed to Ambleside and a walk on the sea wall. There’s just something about going back to West Vancouver that calms me and in some ways, reconnects me. It’s familiar and holds so many memories and firsts. First school, first best friend, first kiss, first party, first driving lesson in a standard…..you get the picture. For me, going back to West Van and walking the seawall can clear my head and remind me about what is important. Family, friends and belonging.

West Vancouver is not necessarily the same place today that it was when I was growing up. The majority of the ranchers and cute little bungalows are gone. Replaced with huge, gated homes. Not many kids walk or ride their bikes to school anymore. Park Royal Shopping Centre has doubled in size and increased its profile. Bonnie Belle Makeup has been replaced by Sephora and Bootlegger by Banana Republic. Most people I knew have either moved away or, in the case of my parents friends, have passed away. But you know what, it’s okay. Times have changed everywhere and selfishly, West Vancouver gave me what I needed and I’m grateful for that. What did it give me? So many things.

An appreciation of nature. There are so many fabulous outdoor spots in West Vancouver that it’s sometimes hard to know where to go. Not just the sandy, park like beaches of Ambleside and Dundarave but also the rocky, often deserted, beaches between 29th and 31st streets. The trails and rocky bays of Lighthouse Park. For so many years I was convinced that the boogie man lived there. The mountains. A family friend had a cabin up Hollyburn Mt and we would hike up there in the summer and swim in the extraordinarily cold glacial lakes. Access to the island and Whistler were only minutes away. Believe it or not I did my first overnight Girl Guide camp out at the top of the British Properties. Somewhere up there amongst all those new homes is a trail leading up to beautiful wooded spot where we (gasp) lit fires and slept under the trees.

An appreciation of a good school. I still keep in touch with some of the people I went to West Bay Elementary School with (thanks to Facebook) and have such great memories of that school. Sports day three legged races, music class with Mr Rose, the annual track and field day at West Van High track, and of course those after school dances. It was such a simple time in my life but it was also a lot of life lessons. Like the time Katherine Taylor hit me over the head with her metal lunch box. Lesson learned? Don’t be friends with kids with metal lunch boxes. Walking to school, starting in Kindergarten, was not only accepted but pretty much mandatory. Lessons learned? Get over your fear of dogs, loud trucks and the weird kids who lived along the way.

An appreciation of community. May Day Parade 1974. I was one of the flower girls in the parade. Not only did I get to ride on the float but I got to dance around the maypole in my pretty pink dress. My daughter will be very jealous one day. If I ever tell her. West Van in the 70 was really just a small municipality. The ice rink on 22nd street is still there. I wonder if they still have Teen Night every Saturday? The aquatic centre didn’t exist then. If you wanted to take a swimming lessons, the rec centre assigned you an instructor and you went to somebody’s house and learnt to swim in their pool. If you wanted to hang out at a pool you went to the outdoor pool at Ambleside. Kids all took the bus. Everywhere. There were crazy people around then too but we all just accepted them and they lived their lives in their own way.

Really, I could go on forever. So many memories of people and places and events, all just a short drive away yet really so far away. I came home after my walk with a better outlook on my day. For me, The Best Thing in Life today is being able to just go home for a quick visit and a reminder of some of the important things in life.

It’s Just Pastry

lady baking

Yesterday my friend Jane and I made soba noodles. We had been complaining about the price of 100% buckwheat noodles so Jane had the brilliant idea that we could make them. We both had bags of buckwheat flour going unused in our cupboards so why not give it a try. As we mixed our dough and started to knead it into cones (why it needed to be a cone we are still not sure) Jane mentioned that I looked like I knew what I was doing and that I must be a good pasty maker. I laughed because pastry is the one item that I have never been able to master. I’ve had people offer up “no fail” recipes and yet still, I’ve failed. Maybe, June surmised, it’s because you are such a perfectionist. Wow, you know what, she couldn’t be right. Later in the day I was thinking about it and thought. Really? I can’t make pasty? Okay, tomorrow I am not going to be a perfectionist and I am going to make pastry.

So I pull out my somewhat ratty copy of Martha Stewart’s cook book that my dear friends Karen and Geoff gave to me twenty years ago. ( yes, she’s been around that long). Holy cow there are a LOT of different types of pastry. Once I figured out which one to use, I gathered the ingredients. Flour, salt, butter, lard and ice water. Five ingredients. How hard could this be? The instructions mentioned that for best results everything should be cold. Bowl in freezer, ice cubes in water, butter and lard, well chilled. Okay, ready to go. Am I really this nervous about making pastry? Given my past record of doing it, I think I’m just afraid or failing again. Come on. It’s just pastry right?

cookbook

Everything goes as planned. Sift flour and salt together. Cut in lard and butter and crumble together until it resembles a course meal. The next step is typically where things don’t work out for me. My expectation is that I will add the water and the dough will magically come together in my hands and form a lovely smooth ball. As I tip in the ice water I try to remember that it doesn’t need to be perfect and once it forms a ball I should just wrap it up and put it in the fridge. As Martha points out, you shouldn’t overhandle the dough. And then it happened. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway except instead of fire, I Had Made Pastry! Okay, so it was still just a ball of dough, but I had never felt this confident before that it actually might make it into the oven as a pie.

crumbleball of dough

I moved on to making the inside of the pie. This, for me, is the easy part. A bit of this and a bit of that. Sauté the onion and garlic, make a rue and pour in the chicken stock. Taste the gravy and throw in the chicken and the veggies. If it isn’t quite right, adjust and taste again. There is room for personalization. The insides can have lots of sage or just a little. Be spicy or slightly sweet. Be chunky or more refined. You get to pick the ingredients and season it to your taste. Lots of room for interpretation. Pastry seems so…..exact. Either it is or it isn’t. Not a lot of wiggle room.

And now the true test. Rolling the dough out and actually making a pie crust. Flour the board and turn the chilled dough out. It starts out a bit wobbly as I think it should be a bit less cracky and I start to knead it smooth. No wait, Martha said not to overhandle it. Let it go, let it be cracky. Let it be imperfect. And as I rolled and turned and flipped and rolled I realized, after all these years, that it really is “just pastry” and that the end product doesn’t need to be perfect ( see right side of top crust) it just needs to be pastry. I made pastry. Imperfect, buttery pastry. Watch out Martha Stewart, I’m on a roll here.  Yummy chicken pot pie for dinner. Not only have I made pastry, but I have made my family dinner.

pie

So, yes I am a perfectionist and over the years it has probably held me back from doing things and driven more than a couple of people (mostly my family) a bit crazy. The Best Thing in Life is that it is just another piece of who I am. A perfectly imperfect person who can now make pastry.