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.

img_2522img_2523

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!

Wonder

Why does a mother drag herself out of bed before 7:00am on a Saturday, and rush her groggy six-year-old through breakfast? Why does she pry her protesting three-year-old off of herself as she grabs her older child’s hand and runs out the door? The easy answer would be that she was invited to a media event at the local aquarium, which started before the doors opened to the public. The mother in question didn’t feel up to wrangling both children single-handedly, so she took the one who was least likely to dart off.

Origami jellyfish at the aquarium

All of this is true. But that’s only the superficial reason. After all, being invited to an event and actually attending the event are not the same thing. So why does one drive through the early-morning rain, while listening to an endless string of questions from the back seat, when one would really rather be sleeping? Why does a parent put on 3D glasses and stand in line for cookies they can’t eat (because of the gluten)? Why does a mother make an origami jellyfish, or spend far longer than she would like examining every single thing in the gift shop? You could say she’s doing it for her child, and that’s true, but it still wouldn’t uncover the true rationale.

Feeding the electric eel

I accepted the invitation to see Luminescence at the Vancouver Aquarium. I watched a 16-minute version of The Polar Express and learned that electric eels aren’t actually eels, they’re fish. I watched lights bounce off of paper jellyfish and added milk to my daughter’s hot chocolate until it was the perfect temperature. And I did all of this because, for just a moment, I could see pure wonder on my child’s face. And when I did, I felt that wonder myself. I lived vicariously through my daughter’s joy, and it reminded me of something inside myself.

Watching sea turtles

Moments like these are the real reason we have children. They’re the real reason we put up with the mess and the inconvenience. They’re the real reason that we go out of our way to accept invitations to events that we know our kids will enjoy, even if they require us to get out of bed early and endure a little bit of wetness. And they’re the real reason we tell stories about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. These moments are what make it all worthwhile, and we’re forever chasing them. Those moments of wonder, when we see the world through new eyes.

What lengths have you gone to, to see the wonder in your child’s eyes?

Scenes from an Amusement Park

Earlier this week Jon and I loaded up the kids and made the trip to the local amusement park. He had this week off of work, and I thought that visiting on a weekday would be a better bet than visiting on a weekend. I also knew that it would be lots of fun for Jacob and Hannah. My own family visited the same amusement park once a year or so when I was a kid, and it was always the highlight of my summer. I was excited to share it with my own children.

I saw lots of things during my day at the amusement park. And I thought I would share them with you, because that’s what I do on this blog. I share things with you.

Amusement park scene

Things You See at an Amusement Park

… a cleaning crew, mopping something off the stairs under the Wave Swinger (I just hope it wasn’t too gross).

… children who are so excited that they are literally bouncing up and down as they wait in line.

… your husband, having just as much fun on the train ride as the kids.

Jon on the kids' train

… teenagers making eyes at each other across a packed line-up.

… your toddler very seriously steering his “pirate ship”.

Riding the "pirate ships"

… teenagers riding the kids’ coaster ironically, and trying not to let anyone see how much fun they’re actually having.

… sticky faces covered in candy apple and candy floss and sugar from little bags of mini donuts.

… carnival game operators calling out to passersby along the midway, urging you to step right up and win a prize.

The midway

… little kids trying to stand as tall as possible while the ride operator holds up a measuring stick and passes judgment.

… parents waving over and over and over again as their child rides around and around and around on a ride.

… your children, having fun together – maybe even more fun than they’ve had together in their whole lives.

Going cruising

… bathroom line-ups that never seem to end.

… a toddler who is willing to wait patiently for his turn, because just this once the reward is worth all the effort to contain himself.

… much-needed sno kones to cap off a long day.

Capping off the day with sno kones

… world-weary parents, fishing their screaming children off of rides that somehow turned out to be all wrong.

… a child who falls asleep almost as soon as you buckle him in his car seat, because that much fun can tire a kid out.

… a lineup that makes you glad you arrived early, before all of these people showed up.

The lineup as we were leaving

Do you make an annual trip to a local amusement park with your kids? What are your favourite parts? Tell me all about it!

How to Snag a Parent Blogger

Yesterday, I got up on my high horse and explained why I wouldn’t use my platform to promote McDonald’s. I stand by what I said. The idea of aligning my personal brand with the McDonald’s corporate brand doesn’t work for me, so I’m not going to do it. I’m not even going to apply to do it. Although I do understand why people like my friend Karen are applying, and I hope they choose her.

The fact that I’m passing up this one campaign doesn’t mean I’m immune to PR pitches, though. Because I’m not. Do you want to know how to lure me in? It’s not by sending me a press release outlining how awesome your cleaning product is. It’s by offering me the chance to do something fun with my kids. Like, say, offering free tickets to the new show (cough Birds up Close cough) happening at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Because what parent can resist this?

The kids love the giant plush beluga

Or this?

Checking out the sea stars and anemones

If you can convince me that my kids will even be learning something by attending, well, you’ve really got me. It’s now my solemn parental duty to attend, especially when it supplements the unit my daughter’s class did on birds of prey this year. Just think of the enhanced education she’ll be receiving!

Bald eagle in flight

Up close with the turkey vulture

Throw in free food afterward, and let my 6-year-old go back for seconds of the chocolate mousse, and I will kiss the ground you walk on.

Jacob chows down on his hot dog

Hannah's face after 2 bowls of chocolate mousse

And to cap it all off, who could resist a freaking baby beluga? I am not made of stone, people.

The baby beluga and I share a moment

Here’s the point I’m getting at – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with brands connecting with bloggers, and hoping for a little bit of cross-promotion. We all just have to make our own decisions about what does and does not work for us. And if you throw in the chance to share a moment with a baby beluga, well, that never hurt anyone, either.

What do you think makes for a great evening out with your kids? Do you find baby belugas as irresistible as I do? And do you have a killer recipe for chocolate mousse? Please share!

PS – I’m still looking for your feedback. So please, take a moment to share the love and complete my reader survey. I’d really appreciate it!

Vancouver Birth Lounge

I have been talking about Crafting my Life pretty much non-stop around here. I’m working hard to set the example that self-promotion is OK, because it is. I’m borrowing inspiration from Danielle LaPorte’s fabulous “radiate and state the facts” philosophy. But, that’s not all I’m working on.

I still have a book dream! If you haven’t heard about this, or you’ve forgotten, my big book idea involves collecting stories from first-time parents who welcomed their baby while living in Canada. I’m looking for pregnancy stories, birth stories, adoption stories, breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding) stories and stories about adjusting to life with a newborn. I’m collecting these stories because I believe that stories are important, and because I believe that there are very few books or resources that speak to the Canadian experience.

Putting on my aspiring birthy-baby-author hat, I want to tell you about a local Vancouver event that’s sort of up my alley. It’s BirthFest 2011, presented by the fabulous Birth Lounge collective. The collective got together out of their desire to create a community of care for expectant and new families. There are midwives, childbirth educators, a mama-run cloth diaper shop, mom and baby fitness instructors and more. All the kinds of people who make my hippie mama soul sing.

Their website says:

We’ve all heard that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but how many of us know what our village really has to offer? Local families are invited to discover their village with the wonderful support offered by members of Vancouver’s Birth Lounge.

See? My people, creating a village.

I’ll be dropping by this free community festival, and if you’re local, you might want to check it out, too. Here are the details:

When: Saturday, February 26, 2011 from 11am – 4pm
Where: Britannia Community Centre, Gym D
What: Shopping and services from over 50 vendors and organizations

To community, and babies!

A Date with Hannah

On Saturday, I was invited* to check out The Pod, a new art studio for kids in Vancouver’s Commercial Drive neighbourhood. Which is a lovely, vibrant part of East Vancouver, and not really earthy at all (cough Annemarie cough). Since my 5-year-old daughter Hannah considers herself to be a great artist, I couldn’t turn it down. And so Hannah and I headed out of the suburbs and into the city for some quality one-on-one time. And of course, I crossed my fingers the whole way that I wouldn’t have to do any tricky parallel parking. Luckily, I did not. Crisis averted!

We managed to find the studio and arrived on time. And we discovered that on this beautiful fall Saturday, we had the whole place to ourselves. I suppose that all the other children were out enjoying the weather. Suckers.

Hannah arriving at The Pod
Hannah arriving at The Pod

We met Carlin Sandor, the creator of The Pod. She has a background in art, but worked for the government for years before she was laid off. While doing childcare to make ends meet, she was struck with idea of an art studio for kids. I love that she’s on her own Crafting my Life journey – I groove on people doing their Thing. And this is her Thing. She has dreams of expansion, and knitting circles, and sewing groups for teenagers, and a thriving centre for people of all ages to come and do art and handcrafts together. On so many levels, Carlin is singing my tune.

We made purses using bubble mailers and hockey tape. Before opening The Pod, Carlin did a bunch of focus groups with parents. There were two main themes that came out of those – make something useful, and don’t use glitter. I feel those parents – glitter is lovely, but evil.

Colouring before we get underway
Hannah colours before the class begins

Carlin shows Hannah what she'll be making
Carlin shows Hannah what she’ll be making

Hannah cutting some tape
Hannah cuts some tape, with a little help

Measuring Hannah for her bag strap
Measuring Hannah for her bag’s strap

Hannah loved the studio. She was really quite disappointed that we only got to do one project. She wanted to make a robot and paint a rock and use the fabric scraps she found. Put a 5-year-old into a crafting paradise, and they could go all day, I think. Carlin graciously let Hannah take a piece of styrofoam home to use in a project. This piece of styrofoam has become Hannah’s Most Precious Thing. When I later asked her what her favourite part of the day was, she mentioned the styrofoam. 5-year-olds are really very cool, and sometimes surprisingly easy to please.

Hannah tucks a treasure into her bag
Hannah tucking her Most Precious Styrofoam into her new purse

When we were done at The Pod, we couldn’t just head home. We made our way to Commercial Drive and found a lovely bakery café. I had a chocolate croissant and a cup of tea, and Hannah had a gigantic brownie and a cup of hot chocolate. She informed me I had chosen the wrong thing, because apparently the brownie was the best ever. She kept telling me how this was a great day, and how much fun she was having just the two of us. And I told her the same thing, because it was fun. Time alone with Hannah is tragically rare for me. Having a 2-year-old in tow nearly all the time has that effect. Just watching her enjoy herself was really pretty awesome.

Out for a treat on The Drive
Hannah and her chocolate

After we finished up at the café, we stopped in at the vintage shop next door and ogled melmac dishes, old suitcases and gorgeous teak sideboards. Hannah settled on a vintage Hello Kitty mug. I managed to restrain myself, but I still sort of regret not buying the set of pastel melmac egg cups. They were just so pretty. Bygones.

It was great to get out and do 5-year-old stuff with my 5-year-old. To make art and explore a very cool neighbourhood and discuss the politics of kindergarten. I’m glad I did it. I hope to do it again soon.

Do you get one-on-one time with each of your kids? How do you swing it? And what kinds of stuff do you do? Tell me all about it!

* To be clear, we did not pay to attend the class, although there was no requirement that I blog about the experience.

Buying Local in Vancouver

Before I gave my talk at the Bellies to Babies Celebration I had a chance to wander around and see the exhibitors. I met the fabulous Karen Randall from New and Green Baby in person, and got a hug from Allison of Stylekid. I also came across some super-cool baby gear from Snugglings, and even bought one of their T-shirts for my new little nephew who is expected to arrive in July.

While I was chatting with one of the owners of Snugglings, she filled me in on a great event happening in Vancouver for the month of May. From May 1 – 30 a whole bunch of local designers are getting together to create Pop-Up Vancouver. They will have a temporary retail location at 1-4421 West 10th Avenue [map] where you can drop in and shop. I hear there will be loads to see, like baby and kids’ stuff, handbags, jewelry and art.


A handmade doll of Hannah’s made by a local mama

I love the idea of Pop-Up Vancouver. There is something really cool about having things that are designed and made right in your own back yard. There is something really cool about meeting people who are doing their thing and making their art. And there is something really cool about local designers coming together to support each other and work together. It makes me want to join hands and sing “Kum Ba Yah” because working together is how great things happen, even if it does sound a little schmaltzy. Just because your kindergarten teacher said it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

This sense of community and shared purpose is the same sort of thing you also see at local craft shows. My father was a goldsmith and so I attended a lot of craft fairs as a kid. They have a unique vibe that I love. Vancouver’s biggest, Got Craft?, is happening this Sunday May 2. One of my local bloggy friends, and regular blog commenter, PoMo Mama will be there with her creations. Sadly, I won’t be able to make it this year, but I’ve been before and it’s definitely one-of-a-kind. A random stranger commented on 9-month-old Jacob’s aura. Do you see that at Wal-Mart? No, you do not.

seaglass wire collar
Photo credit – PoMo Mama on Flickr

A few years ago I didn’t know about all the ways to buy locally produced stuff from people who live where I do. My new awareness is at least partly due to the way that handmade and local is catching on. Etsy, anyone? But it’s also partly because I’m looking for it. It’s surprised me to see how many ways there are to buy things that don’t involve a trip to the mall. I love it, really.

How about you? Do you look for local or handmade when you’re buying things? Are you an Etsy fanatic? Tell me all about it!

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