Saturday, April 21, 2018

Japan


Sixteen days, seven airports, five hotels, three bullet trains, a camera full of pictures and a heart full of memories of an amazing country.

Dale and I got back early yesterday morning from a fantastic Chamber trip to Japan. I left Winnipeg three days before the rest of the group to give me time to go to Sapporo, the city where we taught English 24 years ago. My cousin lives there - he went up there a few months before we did back in 1993 and except for a couple of years back in Canada, he's been there ever since. I also have a friend there (you may remember her coming to visit me in 2013. Or maybe you have more important things to use your memory space for.). I stayed with her since she has a big empty house and hung out with my cousin whenever I could. I had such a great time; I'd go back in a second.

Then I flew back to Tokyo and met up with Dale and the group at the airport and the tour proceeded as planned. It was an awesome trip. There was jaw-dropping scenery and eye-popping craziness, lots of delicious food and some less so, there were tears and much laughter. We were a group of 40 people in total and with one or two exceptions, it was a really good bunch.

The bittersweet part is that this trip was initiated by one of our regular travellers (let's call him Jack), who kept bugging me to plan a Chamber trip to Japan. I resisted, thinking it would appeal to a limited number of people and would be very expensive. Finally I gave in and told him I'd give it a shot. Turns out I know nothing and the trip sold out super fast. Jack had a wish list of things he wanted to do in Japan and the travel agent and land operator incorporated most of these things into the itinerary. He was thrilled; he recruited a bunch of friends to come on the trip and started taking Japanese lessons. Sadly, a week before the trip, Jack told me he had to cancel due to medical reasons. This broke my heart; not only because it was his dream trip but also because he's such a wonderful, kind man. Everyone loves him and his passion for learning about other cultures is contagious and his presence creates a positive vibe. I kept in contact with him while we were away and tried to tread the fine line between expressing appreciation for the significant part he played in making this trip a success while not making him feel even sadder about what he was missing.

Due to a delayed flight out of Tokyo, we missed our connecting flight in Toronto and had to wait 4.5 hours for a flight to Winnipeg. I fell into bed at 2 a.m. Friday morning and woke up at 5:20 a.m. when I heard Chloe getting ready for work. After trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep again, I got ready for work and went to an all-day Leadership Winnipeg class. After dinner, Dale and I and the girls went to the Jets block party downtown. It was so full and crazy that we watched the big screen from the family section at the library for a bit and then headed home. We were there for the second period, which is the only period that involved no scoring so that was bad timing/luck on our part. I'm thrilled about the awesome weather we're having. We got used to the beautiful late-spring weather in Japan so not coming home to below zero temperatures was the best thing about coming home! Oh, and seeing the kids of course.

Speaking of the kids did well while we were away, as far as I know. We face-timed them a couple of times but they didn't seem particularly interested in talking to us. Chloe did mention that Spencer had asked if the school calls home if he skips classes. Obviously we weren't home to receive those phone calls if they did indeed happen, so we'll just leave that alone.

The house is still standing and I found this note in the garbage, so I'm calling it a success (and no, I didn't go through the garbage; it was sitting right on top!). I feel very lucky that they are independent and responsible enough that we can go away for weeks at a time without worrying about them.


I will write more Japan stuff in the coming days but for now I just wanted to post a quick update. I've been awake since 4:30 a.m. so we'll see how this days goes. I've left the weekend open for unpacking, cleaning and getting organized, so hopefully I'll be able to slip in a nap if I need it.





I hope you're all doing well and I look forward to getting back to regular life and catching up with you. And I'm excited that Siobhan's in town! See you soon!

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Seventeen


Since this week wasn't already crazy enough, Spencer had to go and decide to be born 17 years ago today. Admittedly, this was not his choice. None of my unborn children showed any sign of wanting to enter the world willingly and all needed a little help from a scalpel. So it's actually the fault of the doctor, who brought him into this world according to her schedule.

Whatever the timing, I'm pretty happy I've had this kid for seventeen years. I will say the transition from a busy, happy train-obsessed toddler to a 5'8" silent, serious teenager has been a bit jarring. He won't start a conversation unless absolutely necessary and runs away if there's the threat of him having to talk to someone. His room is a disaster and when we're out of forks or plates, we always know where to find them. He outgrows his jeans and shoes by the minute but keeps wearing things that are too small because he's worried I'll make him come shopping. His mind is usually too pre-occupied to focus on the practical details of life, like brushing his hair. I asked him to go to the library to pick up a book last week and it took three trips to the library in one day before that was successful (the final trip was by me).



But he's such a good kid. He does very well in school. He studies hard and reads math, history and psychology books for fun. He does any household chore that I ask him to without complaining (including reading the water meter when we get that postcard thing in the mail and phoning it in). He loves a wide variety of music. He plays the piano many times a day and heads straight for his drums whenever he's home alone. He loves to laugh ... at funny YouTube videos, memes, his IB group chat messages, and comic books. Apparently he's very funny at school although I am relying on second-hand information from a classmate. He's good at trivia and is a strong member of his school's Reach for the Top team. He's independent and figures things out on his own.

I've noticed a bit of a difference in Spencer since he got his drivers license and job earlier this winter. Ever since he was very young, he has expressed anxiety about his future and I think he's encouraged by the fact he is now a contributing member of society. There's definitely a little upswing in his confidence level which is so great to see. There's been a physical improvement as well; he and Dale started going to the gym regularly and once it gets nicer outside, Spencer wants to start running again. So things are on the right track and hopefully they continue that way. I'm excited to see how he will explore his passions and where his path will lead.



Spencer chose more muted celebrations than the girls did. We had the joint family party for him and Chloe a few weeks ago, so today it was just our family. I made scones for breakfast, Dale packed him a delicious lunch (Spencer always makes his own), and we made sushi for dinner. He requested a surprise for dessert so I made cookie dough served with ice cream, chocolate sauce, and toppings, although no one was very hungry after devouring all the sushi. There was more conversation than usual and after he opened his gifts (books, shoes, workout clothes), he didn't disappear to his room quite as quickly as he usually does. There were even hugs for everyone. It was a good day.


Happy birthday, Spencer! You make me a proud mama.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Spring Break


Last week was probably the most low-key spring break we've ever had. I usually feel a strong urge to do something or go somewhere but this year we just plugged on as usual. No one complained; Chloe had university classes all week, Neve had gymnastics two evenings plus a sleepover birthday party, and Spencer was in his glory reading, listening to music and going to the library and bookstore. Bella and Lexie spent a night and day with us, and then Good Friday cut into spring break and brought the week to an abrupt end.






Dale, Spencer and I went to see The Humans at MTC and really enjoyed it. In addition to Monday's Conservatory visit with Janet and Bailey, I went again later in the week with Chloe, Neve, Bella & Lexie. It was a lot more crowded this time with everyone and their grandma coming for their last nostalgic visit. I can't say my feelings for the Conservatory are particularly strong but feeling like you stepped into summer was kind of nice. Especially since real summer shows no sign of coming anytime soon.


One of the highlights was a visit from my cousin Ted. He's my age and even though he lived in BC basically his whole life, we are close. Well, I suppose that depends how you define "close" ... we go years sometimes without even an email, but it's the kind of relationship that you can pick up wherever you left off. The last time I saw him was at his wedding in Tofino about 7 years ago. Anyway, he's got a new seasonal gig as a flight attendant now and had an overnight stop in Winnipeg. He came for pizza and then basically spent the rest of the evening in the basement with Dale, Bob and Jim watching the Jets game. It was so great to see him and he told me he's going to try to get more stops in Winnipeg next year. We'll see if he really meant it.

Sabrina was there too; she didn't quite make the frame

And that brought us to Good Friday, when we went to Dale's mom's for dinner. We had a really good day even though Dale beat me two straight games of ping pong. It was a good turnout (except for Dave & Jean, Amy and Sarah - where were you guys?!) so it was nice to hang out and catch up with everyone. On Sunday, we went to church and did an Easter egg hunt with the kids, of which I took zero photos. I should've taken a picture of where my chocolate was hidden ... I didn't want to look for anything but Dale and the kids insisted on hiding it. I started hunting with a bad attitude and everyone was killing themselves laughing. It still took me way longer than it should have to find my bunny, which was perched on top of a hanging picture frame in plain sight.

My parents arrived home from Florida on Saturday so we popped in to visit them for a bit yesterday. They have a pretty sweet life, although next winter may look a little different for them.

I've been spending every spare minute trying to get ready for an upcoming trip ... working, shopping, laundry, packing, cleaning, and sorting out life in general. I'm at the point where I want to cancel the whole thing and curl into a ball on my bed.

But instead I'm blogging. It's kind of the same thing.

Anyway, I see from Instagram that some people had more exciting spring breaks than we did. Good for you. Maybe that will be us next year. Probably not.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Twenty


The last four days have been super busy: Thursday and Friday with work events and Saturday and Sunday with birthday celebrations. The birthday stuff is more fun to talk about so let's skip to those.

Chloe has now been on earth for two decades. Since I'm barely out of my 20s myself, this is hard to fathom. Fathoming things is sometimes overrated so I'll just blindly accept it and carry on.

This is the part where I say nice things about Chloe. She's pretty amazing: she's focused and organized, has clear goals, loves her family, and is fun to be with. She just finished up her in-school practicum with a glowing evaluation from the teacher (and the kids!). In addition to finishing up her second year of university, she's been working throughout the year and will have enough money saved up by the end of June to pay for next year's tuition as well as a trip to Europe this summer (I'm allowed to brag on her birthday!). I can't even take credit for raising a great kid - I feel like she kind of raised herself while we just sat back and watched. I'm excited to see what the next few years will bring for her and feel very lucky to be part of her life.

She kicked off the celebrations with her annual trip to the casino with her cousins. Jordan didn't join them this year but her second cousin Pierce came instead. No one came home a millionaire but it sounds like they still had fun.

On Saturday, Chloe went for a manicure. That was followed by crepes for brunch and then a massage.




 
 
Later we all went to Baked Expectations for dinner and cake and then we went home to watch Napoleon Dynamite. No one can tell me that's not a pretty great day.
 

 
 

 

 
Chloe's birthday gift this year was based more on necessity than luxury. I think she would have been a bit more excited about cash or clothes but at the ripe old age of 20, you have to start being more practical.
 
 
On Sunday, we had a bunch of family over to celebrate. Spencer's birthday is April 3 so we combined his birthday into the mix. We barbecued burgers and made salads, etc. The turnout was excellent; I took very few pictures with mediocre results. Too bad because all the kids were so cute playing Playmobil upstairs for hours, and the adults were so cute laughing in the living room.
 
 
I made each of the kids a cake of their choice: Chloe chose cheesecake with whipped cream and strawberries and Spencer wanted an Oreo ice cream cake.
 
 

That's a lot of cute heads!

So the party's over and now it's spring break. We've got nothing too exciting planned; I'm working this week so things are low key. Neve went to a friends' house today and I went to the Assinboine Park conservatory with Janet and Bailey. It's closing for good next week so we got in one last visit.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Things that bug me

It's been a while since I made a list of things that annoy me. So on this grey spring day, bear with me as I complain about random things and first-world problems.
  • The word curated. I've heard it used to describe gift boxes, decor, playlists, menus, clothing, and everything in between. I personally think it sounds pretentious unless you work in a museum or an art gallery. While we're at it, I also think "handcrafted" is overused and it annoys me.
  • Front doors that you can't use (Use Other Door). I understand this when homeowners do it; there's usually a reason for it like maybe the side door is more accessible for them to answer or something. But I'm talking about businesses with a nice storefront door that you can't use. I'm looking at you, Portage Place. Truth be told, I'm also looking at my own beloved workplace which closed off its nice front door a few years ago when we built extra offices. It still makes me sad. Now you have to go in through the front doors of the building and then into our offices. Again, I'm sure there are usually valid reasons for closing off front doors (in Portage Place's case, it's security/extra staffing). But it's not welcoming and doesn't promote sidewalk traffic and pedestrian-friendly communities.
  • Businesses that only care about money. Yeah, I know making money is the whole point of business but I wish more businesses would care about making people's lives better rather than just making money. I'm looking at you, big banks that close down all the nice little neighbourhood branches that everyone can walk to and build new buildings in commercial areas instead.
  • This phrase has been on every "Things That Bug Me" list I've ever made but it's still being said and it still bugs me: "I'd like to pick your brain." Yeah well I'd like to punch you in the head but we can't have everything we want. Wow, I'm cranky today. Am I scaring you?
  • Just sayin'.  Whatever preceded these words is usually something I didn't want to hear in the first place and by tacking on "just sayin'" at the end, it's definitely made it worse.
  • People that are loud at yoga class. Siobhan, I'm sure you've seen and heard it all and I commend you for not shouting at people or publicly shaming them. Well, maybe you do. I wouldn't blame you one bit and would in fact cheer you on. You  know the ones: the people who come crashing into the room, slam the door behind them, stomp across the room with footsteps that measure on the Richter scale and lay out their mat in the loudest possible way, with no regard for the other people who are trying to relax and breathe and clear their minds. The second the class is over, they jump up like they're on fire, rip their mat off the floor as hard as they can, somehow drop their blocks a few times, stomp to the door and slam it on their way out. WTF?
  • Charcuterie. Just call it a meat and cheese tray. This actually doesn't bug me that much but I wanted to make my list longer.
  • People at the grocery store. Good thing Dale does most of the grocery shopping because there are many, many things that bug me at the grocery store. Like when people in front of me are walking so slooooowly and I can't get around them. Or they stop their shopping cards in the middle of the aisle and they stand beside it (inside of in front or behind it) so they block the entire aisle. And when you say "excuse me" they take their sweet time to move to let you pass and act like they're doing you a favour. Today at the self-checkout at Sobey's, there were several people in line. A middle-aged lady finished checking out, then slowly - so slowly - shifted stuff from one grocery bag to another, took her receipt, fiddled with her bags some more, stood there for no reason until finally the next customer in line (who had a lot more patience than I did) just went up to the checkout. At that point, the slow lady finally stepped away from the checkout. As she did so, she smiled at the next customer. Why?!
  • Ford F150s. If you have one, I'm sure you're an excellent, courteous driver. I'm talking about the other Ford F150 drivers. Is there a standard feature that brainwashes drivers to believe that they are the only vehicle on the road that matters? I suspect the GPS says things like "Graze cyclist with your mirror" and "You have the right of way" and "Park diagonally across three parking spots." And apparently this vehicle does not come with turn signals.
  • Being in the kitchen from 4:00 until 8:30 tonight. I baked cookies and made soup and one-hour French bread for dinner. Then I cleaned the fridge like it hasn't been cleaned in years and cleaned out two drawers. During the cleaning process, Neve was unhappily washing dishes. The atmosphere was not pleasant. I was late picking her up from school for her orthodontist appointment and when we finally got there, she had to get rubber bands that connect her top and bottom teeth so she was not happy.
I feel like I better stop there. I'm getting mad just thinking about all of this. I should counter this with a list of everything that made me happy today but I'm not going to. Feel free to add your own annoyances in the comments (I changed the settings a couple of weeks ago so I think it should be easier to comment now). Let's be cranky together.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Neve gets a room upate

Somehow another weekend has passed me by and it's Monday again. It was a good weekend so I really can't complain. Friday was busy with a long, full Leadership Winnipeg day at the U of M, followed by a quick happy hour, and then a delicious dinner at Blake & Kristin's. Saturday was a gorgeous sunny day. I went to yoga and ran some errands and then I spent a good part of the afternoon chipping away ice on our sidewalk. I love doing that so much, especially when big chunks break off. It's like I'm chopping away winter. It was so warm and pleasant that Chloe and I walked to Starbucks for frappucinos. I didn't realize until I got there that I had enough rewards for a free drink. How could the day get any better?? Later we went to Neve's gymnastics competition in Selkirk, where she was got another silver medal. I feel like I've posted a lot of gymnastics pictures lately, so just look at those again if you want photos. Just imagine her wearing a different bodysuit. On Sunday I was feeling a hint of a head cold so except for hot yoga, I spent the day at home. I loom-knitted a hat, did some cleaning, got organized for the week and then all five of us had nachos and played Qwerkle in the evening. The girls and I also watched Nailed It! on Netflix. It's stupid but it made us laugh a lot. It was pretty much my ideal weekend.

And now it's time for Neve's room reveal. You may recall we worked on it after Christmas during the holidays.


After ten years, we finally got around to updating Neve's room. You can check out this link to see her new room in 2008. Very little had changed since then, except for the odd furniture re-arrangement. I remember painting those stripes like it was yesterday. Actually I can't even remember what I did yesterday, so you know I spent A LOT of time on those stripes.

Finally over the Christmas holidays, we got down to business. The painting and decorating came together quickly and easily but it was what had to happen before that point that was the worst part.

Neve likes things clean and organized. Her room is almost always tidy. She always puts away her clothes right away and usually makes her bed. However over the years, there was a mass accumulation of papers, trinkets, toys she no longer played with, clothes that no longer fit her, and did I mention the paper?? She always tidies up and keeps most of the clutter out of sight in her closet or under her bed, so I had no idea of the magnitude of stuff in her room. NO IDEA! And yes, that warrants all caps.

BEFORE:



 DURING:
In the midst of the purging process is the perfect time to rediscover Rainbow Loom (she kept that).

We removed many, many garbage bags and totes full of stuff from her room. I'd say about 12 garbage bags' worth was given away, sold on kijiji, recycled, repurposed or thrown away. Neve doesn't have a strong attachment to most things, which made this job much easier. I can't even imagine how hard it would be if she wanted to keep everything. I'm much more of a pack rat than she is; there were several times I had to convince her to keep something (that I felt was) special.

Her room has a big closet so we were able to organize it pretty well with the things she wants to keep like special toys, school stuff, and trinkets. There is still extra room on the shelves and nothing under her bed now.

So here's a look at Neve's minimalist, stream-lined room. The only new furniture she got is a secondhand desk and chair from Tia, which I painted white. We bought a new lamp, curtains, bedding, pillows and shelves. She chose a theme of gold, white and light pink. I feel like the pictures look too dark but I couldn't lighten them anymore on Mac Photos and I was too lazy to do it in Photoshop. It's whiter and brighter in real life, so you'll just have to come for a visit if you want to see it in its true glory.








This is on one of her closet doors and the necklace hanger is on the other:



Let us just pause for a moment while I tell you I made this jewellery hanger from scratch and hung it on her door with Velcro strips. Yay, Pinterest!





Lots of floor space to do gymnastics. This picture makes it look more spacious than it really is.

Which room would you sleep better in?



She's pretty happy about her new space and keeps it neat and tidy. We'll see if this look lasts another ten years. By then she'll be 23 and her room shouldn't be my problem any more. But maybe it will be - ten years isn't that far away. And I'll be floundering in my role as a mother of adults and will beg to spend time with her and redecorate her room together. Of course we'll be rich by then (at every single stage of my life, I've always thought money would be no object ten years down the road) and we can get her designer custom-made furniture and add French doors and a little balcony.

Or in ten years I could easily be a grandma and will re-do this room as a baby room. Who knows? That's what makes life exciting, right?!