A Magic Kingdom?

I’m not a huge Disney fan and I’ve just spent a week in Disneyland.  I’ve got some thoughts.  I know, shocking isn’t it?

I don’t dislike all things Disney, but I’m not squealing with joy every time I see Mickey, if you know what I mean.

My daughter was involved in a dance program that included a couple of days of dance camps and then the opportunity to dance in two parades.  One in Disneyland and the other in California Adventure.  It was something that she will probably never forget and my husband and I will never forget the smile on her face as she danced her way down Main Street with her friends.

parade

(On a side note I now know that I can do a high curly ponytail and full stage makeup at 6:30 am and then sprint for the monorail all without breaking a sweat.)

elevator

Putting that aside…..there were a few things to dislike about our time in the magic kingdom.

We’ll start with the whopper of a visa bill we will get in a few weeks.  The US dollar is not our friend right now.  And Disney is not a cheap day out.  Tickets, food and “stuff” can add up very quickly.  And if you think you can do it without the “stuff” by all means message me with your ideas.

Then there are the people.  Thousands of people.  No, hundreds of thousand of people.  Lineups everywhere you look.  For security, for food, for rides.  Seriously people,  have you not heard of the fast pass?

crowds

Add in sore feet and a mild sunburn and a “staycation” in Vancouver is looking very appealing.

But there were also some positive moments that I will never forget and hopefully my daughter will remember too.

Just as we arrived at Big Thunder Mountain with our fast passes the ride closed due to mechanical problems.  It’s sucks, but it does happen and really, when you are hurtling along at lightning speed in a tiny open cart you are grateful for checks and measures in the safety department.  But it did leave us with three very hot, very disappointed kids and a limited amount of time.  We headed to the Matterhorn with fingers crossed.  Forty minute wait.  Crap.  Disney, however, showed its true colors and the line attendant honored our Big Thunder Mountain fast passes.  I almost kissed him.  But that wouldn’t have been appropriate.  Right?

On my list of things to get down during the week was to get my daughters silhouette done.  I had mine done when I was a bit older than her.  There’s a tiny store on Main Street where a man named Stephen cuts them.  With a pair of razor sharp surgical scissors he cut a perfect silhouette of my daughter in less than two minutes.  Not only that, he gave us a history lesson.  The term silhouette originated in France from Etienne de Silhouette.  Look it up.  We were the only ones in the store and it just felt like a few moments of time away from the crowds to reconnect and create a unique momento.

silhouette

And lastly, the poolside margaritas at the Grand Californian Resort.  Best enjoyed with friends on a hot afternoon while the kids play in the pool.  I would highly recommend this for anybody planning an evening visit to the parks.  It seems to make everything just a bit more magical.

pool

I would have to say that Best Thing in Life at Disneyland is taking the good with the bad and making your own magic.

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Happiness is Welcoming Friends to My ‘Hood

mexico and canada

Immigration is a hot topic these days no matter where you live.  It’s been a point of contention in the current U.S. election and here, in Canada, the influx of Syrian immigrants has caused many heated debates.  I personally don’t have to look much further than the end of my cul de sac to find a great (and happy) immigration story.

My friend Veronica arrived in Vancouver in August of 2000 from a small town just outside of Monterey, Mexico.

She came to Vancouver with her best friend.  They had sat in a restaurant in their hometown and added up their savings on a paper napkin to see if they had enough money for two plane tickets.  She was twenty five years old and wanted a change of pace from her small town life.  They moved into an apartment on the west side of Vancouver with four other young girls, also from Mexico.  Even though she was going to school to learn English she has to admit that they didn’t speak much English at all.  They lived with and went out with other Mexicans.

But she loved her new city.  The mountains, the ocean, the trees and parks.

Things she remembers from that time?  The weather wasn’t always good.  No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t get her hair straightened with a flat iron. Since she’s a bit on the short side, on rainy days she kept hitting people in the face with her umbrella.  Basically she remembers that the weather was a huge change from sunny Mexico.

For the next two years she would stay in Vancouver. Only returning to Mexico every six months to renew her visa.  During that time she met her husband Jorge.  I have always known that Veronica and her husband, Jorge, were one of the sweetest, most loving couples I’ve ever met but I didn’t know the lengths that they had gone to in order to be together.

In 2003 Veronica decided to return to Mexico for good.  She missed her family and it was too expensive to keep going back and forth.  What she didn’t know was that Jorge had followed her back with an engagement ring in his pocket.  He gave her that ring and they got married the very next day.

Even though they were married, the process of getting her papers to allow her to permanently return to Vancouver took over a year.  Devoted Jorge continued to fly back and forth to Mexico as often as he could.  Eventually Veronica moved to Bellingham, WA and stayed at the YWCA.  Just to be that much closer to her husband.

The process was long and the immigration interviews in Mexico City were intense.  They asked her questions like.

“Tell me again.  On the evening you met Jorge, did he drive you home or did you take a taxi?”  Just to make sure her story was consistent.

“What brand of toothpaste does Jorge have in his bathroom?”

Seriously?  Who pays attention to that stuff?  Or remembers it three years later.  Anyway, bottom line, she got her permanent resident card and is now a Canadian citizen.

They best part of living here?

The people.  She finds Canadians to be incredibly friendly.  In Mexico, she says, people are sometimes only friendly to you if they know you.  If you come from a wealthy family you do not acknowledge people who are less fortunate.  In fact you don’t even talk to them.  The division is very clear.

She also enjoys the safety of living in an area with good schools and parks that she can send her kids to without worrying about them.  Over the past fifteen years Mexico has changed and she doesn’t always feel comfortable taking her kids out when they visit.

Would she move back?  Probably not. Obviously, the Mexico of today is very different from the Mexico she grew up in.

So now Veronica and her lovely family live at the end of my street.  Her kids play with my daughter at the park and I get to enjoy the fresh produce they grow in the summer.  Their tomatillos are amazing.  Great friends and fresh veggies.  That’s a Best Thing in Life for sure.

P.S.  Although I’ve never managed to stay up late enough to go, I’ve heard that they have killer parties.

 

 

Gung Hay Fat Choy

Gung-Hay-Fat-Choy-symbols

The West Coast is experiencing a magnificent February this year and with an empty calendar for today I decided to get out and make the most of it. I hadn’t been downtown in ages and with tomorrow being Chinese New Year I thought that Chinatown would make a great morning excursion. Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the largest historic Chinatowns in North America and although over the years it has declined as members of Vancouver’s Cantonese Chinese community have dispersed to other areas, it still holds a lot of charm.

lantern

I love the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, particularly the day before a huge celebration. The ladies pulling their shopping carts behind them and haggling over the price of live fish. The crazy old lady at the produce stand yelling at passers-by to, I’m assuming, come and check out her fresh fruits and veggies. One day I will ask one of the little old ladies at the markets what the hell all those things are. Basket after basket of dehydrated somethings. Some are fish but others are, well I don’t know what they are, but they look so interesting and I can only imagine the flavor they would add to a stir fry. Chinatown is always loud for some reason. Everyone seems to know each other and yells across the street if they see a friend. Most shoppers are chattering away as they make their way from store to store.

Chinese candydried fish

My first stop was the Ten Ren tea store at the corner of Pender and Main. I love their ginger black tea. Everything you would need for a traditional tea ceremony you can buy in this store. It’s all I can do not to buy one of their fabulous black and red lacquer tea sets. Really the last thing I need is another tea-pot. Next up is the corner store for red lucky money envelopes. Traditionally lucky money is given at celebrations like weddings, births, funerals and Chinese New Years. Apparently you are supposed to give money that ends in an even digit and should not have the number four in it as that number is associated with death. The money should also be in the form of a bill so that the recipient can’t guess the amount in the envelope.

When I was little my family used to go to a restaurant in Chinatown called the Ho Inn. It was just off the corner of Pender and Columbia. Old style diner style dining. The booth tables had huge lazy Susan’s in the middle of the table for easy access to every dish. My dad and brother always ordered the garlic cod for the sole purpose of daring each other to eat the eye balls. Ewwww. Unfortunately the restaurant burnt down many years ago and a new fusion bistro stand in its place. The store next door was almost as big a part of the dining experience as the restaurant. A typical Chinatown trading market with incense, delicate China soup bowls and spoons, red and gold tasselled figurines and bags of brightly coloured candies. The white rabbit ones where my favorite. I loved going there after dinner to look at the curios while the lady behind the counter gave me the stink eye. I’m pretty sure she thought I was going to break something.

Chinatown street signs

I think that the Dollar Market still has the best barbecued pork and the line up of people waiting outside the store is significant. I was the only Caucasian person in the line up today. I would guess there were twenty people waiting patiently to buy cooked meat. The window is full of whole roasted chickens, barbecue pork loins and whole sides of pork that is sold by the rib. The men behind the counter wield huge sharp cleavers and chop the meat up so quickly I’m surprised they all still have ten fingers. Once I get to the front of the line I order a half a pound of barbecued pork. Chopped and wrapped in brown wax paper it is moist, fragrant and delicious. I rarely make it home without sneaking a bite or two. The meat store can be a bit off putting to some who are used the sterility of a Safeway meat department but that’s part of the charm for me.

dollar market

In the Chinese calendar the coming year is the year of the sheep. The Chinese regard sheep as an auspicious animal, so the Year of the Sheep should be a year of promise and prosperity. I myself am a dragon. Interestingly, all of the men in my life are rats. My dad, my ex-husband, my current husband and my son. Wonder if that means anything?  So as I head home with my tea, barbecued park and lucky money envelopes, I look forward to a great year and enjoying all The Best Things in Life.  Get out and enjoy somewhere you haven’t been in a while.  It’s worth it!

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.

Life Lessons

bag lady

My daughter and three of her friends had an opportunity to be involved in an event at BC Place this past week. Four excited six year olds and I piled into my truck and headed downtown from North Vancouver. They sang songs, played clapping games and talked about meeting their favorite soccer players. As we approached the East Side, my daughter asked if we were getting close to the homeless people. We had driven this route before and had had some discussions about people living on the streets. For some reason it was a source of fascination and tonight was no different as the four of them had some interesting questions.

I’ve never been bothered by East Hastings St. Yes, you need to keep your head down and avoid eye contact but really these people are, for the most part, harmless. I’m not a big person but I’ve never felt threatened on the odd occasion I’ve had to walk through the Main and Hastings area. There are parts of Surrey that scare me more. During the Olympics in 2010, everyone was concerned about how it would look to the rest of the world but honestly, it’s just another part of what makes this city what it is. No, it’s not as pretty as Stanley Park or Grouse Mountain. It’s not an area you might want to take people to on a city tour. But, it’s a part of Vancouver that has always been there and will probably never change.

So as we stop at every red light between Clarke and Carrall my six year old tells me that one of her friends has never seen a homeless person and could I please explain it to her. At this point I am bombarded with questions from all four of them. Why are they homeless? Where do they sleep? Why are they selling stuff on the street? If they don’t have any stuff why are they selling what they have? What do they need money for? What do they eat? Why is that man waving his hands in the air like he’s swatting a bee? That man doesn’t have a shirt on. Can’t he afford clothes? Are they ALL homeless? I did my best to answer them and I would like to apologize to their parents if they now have a few new words in their vocabulary.

I know they are young, but it does reminded me that we live in a bubble out here in Deep Cove. It’s a lovely bubble, but it is just that. We drop off our unwanted clothes at the charity box near Safeway and many of the girls collect money for charity at their birthdays parties instead of gifts, but the reality is that they have no idea why somebody would even need our charity. They all have comfortable homes, clothes and never miss a meal (or a snack for that matter). It’s a hard thing for them to understand at this point in their lives and just driving through the East Side once or twice doesn’t go far enough in explaining it.

So as we turn the corner at Hastings and Carrall Street and the scenery changes, the questions come to an end and the topic turns to what they will eat at the soccer game. Can we have a hot dog and popcorn? Do they have ice cream at the stadium? These questions I can answer. The girls may have moved on, but their questions, and my realization of how little they know of the world outside of our neighborhood, have me thinking. Is there more that I could be doing to educate my young daughter? I’m doing my best to show her The Best Things in Life, but should I be doing more to show her the other side of life?

Michele

whistlerbiking26sep0808-0[1]

A few years back I was part of a group of women who would head out onto the cross county biking trails of the North Shore mountains as often as we could. We were all moms of varying cycling and fitness abilities but we enjoyed each other’s company, the exercise and the time away from our angelic children. Typically Sunday morning we would meet at about 8:00am and ride for a couple of hours or until the need for coffee kicked in. It was on one of these Sunday morning rides that I met Michele. Michele is a police officer.

Recently Michele and I got together for a drink with the purpose of talking about divorce for a piece I’m writing. We did talk about divorce, but we also talked a lot about her career, relationships and parenting teenage boys. What I took away from our conversation are some great additions to my piece on divorce, some excellent parenting tips, but more importantly, I learnt about the life of a female police officer and how her career has been instrumental in her personal growth.

When Michele and I first met, she had just recently moved to the Vancouver area and was looking to get hired by a local police force . She was going through a separation (potential divorce) but totally seemed to have it together. Having been through a divorce, I admired how rational she seemed to be when it came to talking about her soon to be ex and their relationship. Was I assuming that as a police officer she was probably pretty tough and could handle herself in any situation? I guess I was, because I know now that in her own words she was a mess. Living in a new city, no job and a failing marriage. Yipee!

Things did turn around pretty quickly for her career though. She was hired by the Vancouver Police Department and started to settle in. When I asked her about harassment on the job she said that it has never been an issue, mostly because of the way she has handled it. She told me a story about how, as a new member of the VPD, a fellow officer had made a sexual comment to her after a drunken Christmas party. The next day when she figured out who had said what, she didn’t get mad, she got even. She walked into the morning briefing with a sealed envelope in her hand. Looked the guilty culprit in the eye and told him that she didn’t take these things lightly. She put the envelope down in front of him and said. “You’ve been served” implying that she would sue him. Inside the envelope was a picture of a huge set of hooters with the caption “Next time you want to look at a set of boobs, look at these.” Classic.

Dealing with the end of her marriage proved to be more difficult. She was seeing a therapist but still struggled with feelings of failure and self-doubt. At this time Michele was working with the domestic abuse unit of the VPD. While on a follow up call to a battered woman’s home she suddenly realized that she was saying all the same things to this woman, that her therapist was saying to her. It’s not your fault, you are a strong person who can do anything and do it on your own. The lightbulb not only went on for her, but it made her realize what these women were dealing with and how best she could help them. I’m pretty sure that this is what Oprah refers to as an “ah ha” moment. As she continued her work, not only did she get stronger herself but her ability to empathize and help the women she worked with grew immensely.

After a few years Michele moved out of the domestic abuse unit and into homicide. How cool is that? She is confident and knows that whatever life has to throw at her she can deal with it. Her sons are in university now and she is venturing into a new relationship. She is grateful for the time she spent with the domestic abuse team and knows how much it taught her about life and handling adversity.

I truly have a new respect for police officers and how they approach their work. Michele became a police officer to help people and ended up helping herself. How is that not one of The Best Things in Life?