Riding the Ghost Train

I have been invited to visit the Ghost Train in Stanley Park, here in Vancouver, for a number of years. But I didn’t take anyone up on the invitation because (1) I often had a time conflict, and (2) my kids are super afraid of spooky Halloween stuff.

I feel the need to defend my offspring at this point. They are actually quite brave. They will try new things, push themselves, ride roller coasters and jump off of diving boards. But people in scary costumes? Not their thing. Which is fair, because I am the biggest scaredy cat in the world when it comes to horror movies and haunted houses.

This year, I was free and so was my friend, so we decided to go together. It gave me a chance to scout it out and decide if my kids would enjoy it. Plus, the 2016 theme is “Day of the Dead”, which is right up my alley. I especially enjoyed the mariachi band playing on the train plaza.

stanley park ghost train mariachi day of the dead halloween 2016

So, what did I find? When you enter there is a pumpkin patch, which is totally not terrifying. Ditto on the folks collecting for the food bank. The decorations are on theme and non-terrifying. There was a man in a devil costume roaming the train waiting area. He was being pretty respectful of the children there, which made him only slightly scary but not particularly overwhelming. So far, so good.

The train ride itself got off to a spooky start because a rider behind me was scared that something would jump out at her and she was giving vent to her fears. After a couple of minutes, though, it was clear that nothing particularly startling would happen. There were live performers who did look at the train, but nobody jumped or ran at me. Much like the guy in the devil costume, it was only mildly scary.

After the train ride, which took about 15 minutes and was enjoyable, we headed to the Spooky Barn. It featured Shakespearean dioramas that you can view through little holes in the wall. It was cute, and it was dry and warm. I wouldn’t recommend it for preschoolers mostly because I don’t think it would be all that engaging for them, but older kids would probably enjoy it.


My friend and I skipped the activities and maze, because we weren’t there with kids. But all in all it was not nearly as scary as I had feared. I would totally bring my very cautious eight-year-old along. And for younger kids, or those who can’t stay up late, there is a matinee train during daylight hours that doesn’t include live performers.

If you’re local and want to know more about the Ghost Train, visit www.ghosttrain.ca.

What’s my conclusion? Sometimes things aren’t as scary as they seem. And also, it’s good to have friends to come along for the ride once in a while.

Happy Halloween!


I’ve written here about finishing school and starting my teaching career. It feels like I’ve mentioned that I’ve completed my education more than once, but here I am going to go and mention it again. It’s a little bit confusing so here’s a rundown of how it all works:

  • In April I finished my student teaching practicum
  • In May I was hired by two districts to be a substitute teacher – pending receipt of my teaching certificate
  • In early August I submitted my final assignment for my teaching degree
  • In late August I had received all my grades and fulfilled the requirements for my degree
  • On September 7 I worked one half-day as a substitute teacher before the district changed its requirements and said I needed to be officially certified to teach
  • On September 12 the university Senate formally approved grades and awarded degrees, including mine – this means the university acknowledged that I had completed the requirements to become a teacher
  • On September 19 my teaching certificate arrived in the mail – this means the government licensed me to teach
  • On September 20 I started working more or less full-time as a substitute teacher
  • On October 7 the university held its convocation ceremony and I received the actual paper copy of my degree

It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s formally over. As of October 7 I had all of the paperwork. I’m a teacher, and I have a B.Ed. in addition to the engineering degree I received 16 years ago.

The convocation ceremony, for me, was a real celebration of what I have achieved. The best part was having my kids there. When we processed in and I saw Hannah and Jacob waving at me the tears welled up in my eyes. I paused to give Jacob a high five and felt full of emotion. I didn’t do this by myself. My family was with me the whole way. My kids had to put up with a tired, stressed-out mother with not much time for them. They rarely complained. Instead they cheered me on. I hope that they learned something about setting goals and working hard. I think mostly, though, that I learned something about love from them.

It’s funny how it always happens that way, isn’t it?

But enough navel-gazing though – let’s look at pictures! Here’s what my graduation day looked like, at least in part.

Free! Evenings!

So, I’m officially a substitute teacher. My teaching certificate arrived a week and a half ago and since then I have taught everything from kindergarten to precalculus 11. It’s interesting. I’m learning a lot. I’m sort of getting my feet under me. Sort of. I will write a lot more about it later.

For right now, the pertinent thing is that there is a big upside to being a substitute teacher. Specifically, as a substitute I don’t do all the things like plan units and mark projects and write report cards and meet with parents that take up a teacher’s time outside of school hours. I show up about 40 minutes before school starts and leave about 45 minutes after it ends, give or take. And then when I’m home, I’m home.

This is novel for me because before I was a teacher I worked from home for years. There are a lot of great things about working from home. However, the downside is that you’re always at work and you rarely have set working hours. It’s very easy to find yourself spending your evenings trying to finish an article or writing invoices or trying to stay on top of your email. The same thing was largely true for me as a student teacher, as I tried to stay on top of both schoolwork and teaching at the same time. I was always working. It was good. I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining how liberating it feels to have my evenings to myself.

This evening, for instance, I found myself home alone with my son Jacob. My husband was working late and my daughter was at a performance of the community theatre production she’s a part of. Jacob and I had a couple of hours to kill while we waited for Hannah to finish. He got to stay up until nine o’clock on a school night (!!!). I got to enjoy some mother-son bonding. We decided to settle in for some Netflix.

mother-son bonding

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a whole TV show or movie with my kids. That work from home thing meant that I mostly used screen time as work time. Movies and TV shows were my electronic babysitters. This evening, though, I was free. So Jacob put on his pajamas and we each chose a beverage to accompany our viewing. For him, it was milk. For me it was Trader Joe’s Sweet Tea, which my husband kindly brought back for me when he made a recent trip to the US.

Once we were ready we pulled up Netflix and had some deep discussions about what to watch. We started with a couple episodes of Teen Titans, which is one of Jacob’s favourite shows. Then we had a disagreement. I wanted to re-watch The Force Awakens, but Jacob wasn’t into it. In the end I deferred to him and we watching the beginning of Zootopia. Jacob has already seen the movie, but I haven’t. So far, it’s good. I enjoyed it.

Jacob milk netflix

A lot of things are changing for my family now that I’m finished with school and working as a teacher. We’re still figuring it out, but so far it’s been really positive. I’m excited by this new chapter, and I’m enjoying the chance to spend more time with my children again now that I’m not a full-time student. It’s pretty sweet!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

I Will not Take Your Trash

If you are a parent you have probably experienced this scenario.

You are out somewhere in public. A grocery store. A park. Church. A festival of some sort. Your kid puts something in their mouth and then promptly decides that they do not like it. They hate it so much, in fact, that they indicate they simply must spit it out. Right! Now!

So what do you do? Without thinking, you hold out your hand for that child to spit into. Sexy? No. But at least it keeps the partially chewed food off the ground where other people will be grossed out by it and/or slip on it.

trashThis happens less and less as kids get older, thank heavens. But the habit, once established, asserts itself in new ways. Kids give you their trash. Their apple cores. Their friend’s trash. They have learned that if they have something that they want to get rid of, you will take it from them. And without thinking you usually do.

What happens once you have this half-chewed food / gross apple core / used tissue in your hand? Inevitably you look around and realize that there are no signs of a garbage can in the vicinity. As in, you could walk for three fricking days and not find a garbage can. Or a compost bin. Or any sort of likely place to leave the crud you’re holding.

Unless you’re at Disneyland. There are trash cans everywhere at Disneyland. But really, how likely is it that you’re at Disneyland?

This is why my purse contains old cheese string wrappers and wadded-up napkins and popsicle sticks that have been licked clean and sometimes even chewed on. I usually persist long enough to find an appropriate receptacle for things that will rot or very sticky things, but the rest has a way of ending up stashed somewhere for the moment and then of course I immediately forget about it because I’m in public with kids and my mind is sort of occupied.

This summer while visiting the PNE, which is the annual summer fair in Vancouver, I experienced this scenario when my daughter attempted to hand me her empty snow cone cup. Without thinking I started to reach my hand towards her to collect her trash. And then mid-stride I had a moment of clarity.

Amber! the voice in my head spoke, you do not have to carry your children’s trash around. You can just say no.

And so I did. My daughter looked puzzled. She asked where to put it. I told her that, in fact, I didn’t know. I do not have magical garbage disposal abilities. But she could look for a trash can. And she did. And then we continued our day.

It’s funny how you get into these parenting habits when you have two-year-olds and then just carry on for years without a second thought. Of course you’re going to deal with gross stuff when you have a two-year-old. Toddlers are gross. And loud. You’ll go a long way to avoid exposing others to their grossness and loudness. If they’re melting down because their tongue touched cheddar when they were expecting mozza you’ll hold out your hand just to avoid the stares of passing strangers.

But then, one day, you realize you’re taking your 11-year-old’s trash for no good reason. Or tying your eight-year-old’s shoes for him. And single-handedly doing all the cleaning and meal preparation and so on. Because you’re used to it. Your kids are used to it. And it’s just easier. With each realization, you have a decision to make. Are you ready to take a stand? Are you ready to go through the effort to change things?

On the trash collection front, I am ready. I am taking a stand. From here on in, my kids can throw out their own trash. And maybe the next time I rifle around in my purse for my keys, I won’t pull out a half eaten cereal bar and three empty food sample cups in the process.

A mom can dream, right?

Poem for September: Goal Setting

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but others are for sharing. And so, a blog series is born.

And now, here is a poem I wrote over a year ago. It actually feels pretty apt for my life right now. I just finished my teaching degree and I’m working as a teacher on call – or a substitute teacher, as you prefer. I’m waiting around for dispatch calls to come in and it’s hard for a planner like me. I’ve had one dispatch so far and it went well. But because the paperwork from my degree is still working its way through the system I can expect things to be slow for the next month or so. Even so, I need to be ready just in case. It’s a strange sort of limbo and I’m not as zen about it as I would like to be.

And so, this poem, which is about handling anxiety and chaos, seems perfect. Here’s to embracing the unknown!

substitute teacher student teacher poetry

Goal Setting

I’ve always thought my goal was to remove
Every anxiety, until I just felt perfectly
Calm – All. The. Time.
In my imagination I am serene, silent, strong,
My vision focused and my discipline absolute.

I realize, now, I could never be this person
And I doubt any such person really exists
(Although I do allow that my experience
Of people is hardly complete)
I’ve discarded my old goals and I’m lost.

I am tired of meditating and exercising
Getting enough sleep, eating right
Eschewing alcohol and caffeine
Good behaviour sucks all the sparkle
Out of life when it’s not freely chosen.

My new goal: learn to accept chaos
It’s going to insist on creeping in
Fraying the corners of my mind
Upending furniture, ripping up schedules
Bring every messy thing on.

This is real strength:
To dwell in the land of the lost
Without losing yourself.
To make plans in hope even as you
Know it won’t turn out as you expect.

All You Need is Love…Thankfully

We have reached that part of summer where everyone’s a little tired of being on vacation. It’s the most ridiculously first-world problem ever, I know, but I’m out of patience, my kids are bored and we’re all ready to get back into a semi-regular routine. To cap things off my husband is out of town right now, which really isn’t helping with my utter lack of motivation.

The one thing that is helping to see us through all of this is music. No matter what else is going on, some good tunes can really be a pick-me-up. My playlist is a bit eclectic. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” motivates me when I’m washing the dishes. My children have learned how to “Vogue” thanks to Madonna. Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” was a personal favourite of my son right up until he turned 8 a couple of weeks ago. And when all else fails, I’ve got the Beatles.

I’m hoping that love really is all I need, because sometimes it feels like it’s all I’ve got. I’m just keeping it real, people.

love beatles beat bugs netflix

The Beatles are a slightly controversial topic around my house. I am a fan. When I was in my early 20s I bought a massive CD boxed set (remember when those were a thing?) with all the band’s greatest hits. I listened to it constantly, blown away by the breadth and scope of the music. They were amazingly prolific and their music really holds up.

My husband, on the other hand, is not such a Beatles fan. His father loves the Beatles, so I suspect that my husband’s dislike may stem from some youthful rebellion he never outgrew. Or maybe he just can’t hear what I hear. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that I have overruled him and shared the Beatles with my kids.

If you’d like to share the Beatles with your kids the new Netflix series Beat Bugs can help. Watch this video to hear my kids and I attempt to cover “All You Need is Love”, and find out how you can win a 3-month subscription to Netflix Canada.

So, get singing or share your favourite Beatles song covered by the Beat Bugs in the comments!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

Finish Line

student teacher sfu pdp

My last official day on campus as a student teacher

Almost three years ago now, in October 2013, I sat in a classroom in the Education Building at Simon Fraser University. I was there because I was starting to seriously think about going back to school to become a teacher and they were having an info session. I sat in a room with a bunch of people, most (but not all) of them much younger than me. As I listened I sketched out a plan of what would be required and how long it would take and I realized it would be almost three years. Three! Years! That felt like a really, really long time. That alone almost put me off the idea.

But it didn’t.

It didn’t put me off because of that little voice in my brain that has been there for as long as I can remember. The voice I have been ignoring since I was 15 years old. The voice I suppressed through the end of high school and engineering school and years of work and family. The voice I ignored because I wanted a solid, well-paying, prestigious career. The voice that said I was meant to be a teacher.

Oh, sure, there were moments along the way. Moments when I was discouraged and disaffected and starting surfing the Internet reading about prerequisites for my teaching degree. But always those moments passed and I sucked it up and moved on. Until one day, when my son was in kindergarten and I knew I needed more. As I spent more and more time thinking about it, I got more and more serious. I attended the info session. I talked to my husband. I ran the budget numbers. And then, finally, I made the leap and applied to go back to school.

Along the way I committed to taking things slowly. Embarking on a new career as a mom with two kids and a mortgage and all that stuff is a much different proposition than embarking on a new career as a twentysomething with no responsibilities. I had to be sure. I had to really know.

And so I took classes to get all the prerequisites I needed to apply. I volunteered in a local middle school. I spent time in the Faculty of Education. And then, once I applied and actually started I considered and re-considered at every step along the way. After all, spending a semester in school and then dropping out might feel like a waste oftime and energy and money, but it’s much less of a waste of time and energy and money than spending a year and finishing and maybe even working for a bit and discovering that you really hate teaching.

Fortunately throughout the journey one thing has rung true: I love teaching. School was stressful and difficult and time-consuming. I was occasionally extremely discouraged. I wasn’t sure I would make it through. But even on my worst day that faded when I was actually in the classroom with my students. When I was teaching I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. I finally really fit.

I didn’t get here alone. My professors, my sponsor teachers, my fellow student teachers, my friends, my husband and my children all supported me. I am immensely grateful. I am especially grateful to my kids who had to put up with the fact I had very little time and energy for them, and that I was often not at my best. My hope is that by watching me go through this they have learned something themselves, about setting goals and following through and not being afraid to try new things.

All of my classes are finished now, and all of my marks are in. I’m officially done. Pending approval from the University Senate and the Teacher Regulation Branch, I am a teacher. I have been hired as a substitute teacher in two school districts, and I am looking forward to being in the classroom this fall. It feels great to be here.

Three years ago this moment felt impossibly far away. But now that I’m here, I can’t believe it’s already over. I guess time flies when you’re doing what you were always meant to do.

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