The past few weekends have been fun-filled–so fun-filled in fact that we neglected to take many photos! In brief, we were lucky enough to have Jeremy’s parents visit for 10 days, during which time we made excursions to favourite places like Spanish Banks, Lighthouse Park, Granville Island, etc.

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The Tankards left last Saturday, and their place was immediately usurped by my dad and stepmum in town for only one day. They arrived literally minutes (about 50 of them) after the other parents drove away: they even managed to snag the parking spot right in front of our house that the previous parents had vacated for them. With Vern and Elaine, we enjoyed a day of biking out to Jericho Beach, a long ride for Hermajesty, but well worth the effort. Next time we’ll leave a little earlier in the day so we have longer to play on the beach!

This weekend has been comparatively less busy, but only slightly so. Yesterday, we ventured out on our bikes once again, this time to explore East Van. The motive was a visit with an old high school/ choir friend, Phoebe, who was in town for the week for work. We met up at a park near her sister’s house, after an epic bike ride with MANY more hills than we had imagined (I felt them all twice as much as I was pulling the trailer containing one hefty Pasta), just in time to invite ourselves to lunch at Caitlin’s house. Hermajesty enjoyed the visit very much: she even stayed behind when we went back to the park after lunch to finish a game she was playing with Caitlin’s daughter. The Pasta enjoyed the visit less (too many babies and not enough parental attention!). But whiny 4-year-olds notwithstanding, it was great re-connecting with someone connected to so many different points in my past life. And it was good to see such a different part of Vancouver. It would never work for us to move to that part of town, but we enjoyed seeing it anyway!

Today, the weather was awful enough to discourage anyone from setting foot outside. But torrential downpour or no torrential downpour, we had promised ourselves that we would take part in the historic Reconciliation Walk that concluded the week of Truth and Reconciliation events this week in Vancouver (for those unfamiliar with Canada’s sordid history with its first peoples, this is a useful primer).

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Clearly we were not the only ones determined to come out, rain or shine. Our plan to meet with some co-workers of mine near the site of the gathering proved impossible: the closest we could get was a full city block away. We arrived just in time to hear an inspiring speech by Dr. Bernice King,  daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. This was then followed by several other speeches of varying levels of inspiration; the Pasta in particular did not enjoy this: he kept shouting “let’s walk!!”

The walk finally began, 45 minutes late, with music and dignitaries, all of which were really too far away for us to see or hear. But we enjoyed the energy of the crowd from our comfortable place on the sidelines. Here is some news coverage of the event for those interested: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/thousands-walk-for-reconciliation-in-vancouver-1.1864051

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We then joined the sea of umbrellas (see below) on a long, very slow walk. We had originally intended to stay for the full 4km walk: but 2 hours after we arrived, we were still less than 2km along the route. And we were wet to the skin and freezing: it’s hard to work up much heat when you are shuffling along trying not to run into the group in front of you! So we graciously peeled away from the crowd when the walk reached Main St. and managed a much faster, warmer walk up the hill to our house.

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But it was very uplifting to see such a huge turnout in spite of such awful weather. People were so happy that you almost didn’t mind the rain. And as one Aboriginal man said to me as we waited to join the crowd of walkers, even the rain felt appropriate, like it was cleansing us all of this awful past and giving us the chance to start something fresh tomorrow.

The day ended with some cookie-baking and puddle-jumping, which felt like the best fresh start we could make.Image

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As promised, some photos of an outing Jeremy and the kids made on Saturday while I enjoyed some silence. I don’t feel up writing much (and I wasn’t there in any case), so I’ll let the photos do the work this week.

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As some of you already know, the last couple of weeks have been tough for the FitzTankards. On our return from our trip to Toronto, we learned that our dear friend Altaire, whose family has been so good to us since we moved to Vancouver, had taken a turn for the worse healthwise. She had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009, but surgery and chemo seemed to have allowed her to live a relatively healthy and normal life. This Spring, however, the tumour started growing again and no drugs seemed able to stop it. In just a few weeks, she went from tired but relatively healthy to a bed in palliative care. We watched from the sidelines, trying to help as we could, mostly by having their 10-year-old daughter over to visit Hermajesty. And on Sunday, this dear sweet woman who I’ve known since I was 18 (and who, more recently, gave us a home to spend Easter and Thanksgiving at) passed away, leaving two young kids and a devastated husband. So it was a sad weekend for us. I will also post some pictures of an outing Jeremy and the kids took, but I didn’t feel up to that until I had marked this event in some way. What a heartbreaking end to the summer.

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My favourite memory of Altaire with the Pasta: she was the first person in Vancouver that he really loved.

 

…or in a public park.

Today’s post will be short as it’s after 11pm already. And really there is not much to report. This was one of those boring but utterly necessary weekends where housecleaning, laundry, baking and errands took up most of the available time.

Until this afternoon that is. Hermajesty has just completed a 2-week “Young Shakespeareans” camp through Bard on the Beach here in Vancouver. Today, we had the chance to watch the fruits of her labours (and those of her fellow thespians-in-training). The cast was performing The Tempest. We thought that was fitting given the “tempest” that her 4-year-old brother decided to create in the middle of Act II!

So I didn’t see much beyond the first act, but luckily Hermajesty’s role was that of Miranda, and Miranda does little beyond Act I save sleep (on command) and marry (also on command). Hermajesty has recently decided that women’s roles in Shakespeare aren’t as interesting as others (the drunken butler, say).

But her performance was, as always, spectacular. She was one of only a handful of kids who we could hear and understand. Someone afterward commented that she has “amazing presence” on stage, and another parent remarked that she looks like Cate Blanchett (not a resemblance I’ve ever noticed, but hey, if you have to look like a celebrity….)

She did look lovely. Check out the fancy hair in particular and then be even more amazed to discover her very own mother did it!! Now we’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story, such as it is! Happy week all.

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I’ll keep this brief, as Hermajesty is waiting patiently for me before she watches the end of the movie we started last night.

Today our outing also started late, thanks to a very welcome visit from two friends from Toronto days, John and Norma Cowan. Though more properly known as the parents of our friend Mairi, we now claim them as friends in their own right! We enjoyed a couple of hours of conversation, tea and fresh-baked muffins with them this morning.

But when they had left to rejoin their family in Burnaby, we hastily made a plan to bike the seawall to Stanley Park. It was somewhat ill-conceived, this plan of ours, but it all worked out in the end. First, Stanley Park is a lot further away from us by bike than it is by bus–at least if you ride, as we did, only on bike paths. Doing this took us quite a bit out of our way, but was so pleasant and unstressful that we repeated the detour on our return trip.

All in all, we rode about 26km with our very novice cyclist, Hermajesty, and the Pasta being towed in a trailer by his dad. Phew. We were all pretty grateful to sit on nice soft cushions this evening! It was a long ride, but an easy gentle one, made only slightly stressful by the great crowds of people (pedestrians and other cyclists) that cluster around some parts of the seawall. I’ll let the photos (and videos, if we can figure out how to link to it!)  speak for themselves, but I was pretty proud of all of us.

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Our destination was the water park in Stanley Park, which we successfully reached about an hour after we left home.

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Because we had left home so late, we treated ourselves to fish and chips and corn on the cob for dinner in the park before attempting the ride home.

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As we were preparing to leave at 6:30pm, many many families were arriving with picnic blankets and BBQs in tow. The whole experience made me absolutely love this city.

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Some goofy self-pics, this one taken by the Pasta!

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Many of you many not have realized that we were gone, but we have been. For 4 long weeks we were not in Vancouver much at all, though we have been home for more than a week now. Last weekend was just spent doing laundry and acclimatizing to Vancouver weather (sunny, hot, glorious… but no air conditioning!), so it wasn’t worth blogging about.

I do still intend to write some posts about our trip (1 week on Vancouver Island with family, 3 weeks in Toronto with friends), but first things first: August in Vancouver.

We’ve had one of those amazing weekends where not only did we manage to get all the chores done (laundry, baking, some light housework) but we also had a couple of visit with old friends and two spectacular outings. This is the kind of weekend that makes me feel incredibly lazy when all we manage to do is clean a bathroom or two and make a trip to the local park.

So, we’ll start with yesterday. For one reason or another (see above re. 4 loads of laundry etc.) we didn’t get our act together to leave the house yesterday until almost 2pm. But I had a clear and decisive plan, and I prevailed even over the Pasta’s protests. We ventured into new territory (for us) and headed out to the beach at Spanish Banks. This is one of the westernmost beaches along Vancouver’s  Point Grey (the point of land where UBC and Pacific Spirit Park also sit). Because we’ve been to places so close to Spanish Banks, we felt like we’d already been there. Until we got there, that is. Spanish Banks is a beach like no other I’ve seen in Vancouver.

We arrived at low tide and the beach itself stretched out a kilometre before us, smooth, almost creamy sand rippled with small ‘creeks’ and pools of water left behind by the tide.

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The Pasta was a little trepidatious about the long walk through the “mushy” sand, but I was wild to get my socks and shoes off and wade in. So I carried him under one arm–protesting as only the Pasta can–until we had reached the slightly less silty sand. When I put him down, an expression of pure delight came over his face, and Hermajesty heard him saying as we walked, “My feet are getting all mushy.”Family 8203Family 8205

The beach itself was very fun. The light skin of water over some of the patches of sand was the perfect conditions for skimboarding, a sport I have only seen in Australia. But I guess it’s pretty popular here, since every second person at Spanish Banks had a board. It looks like skateboarding on water, only the falls look a lot more fun (and muddier).

The beach was also perfect for clamdigging. Hermjaesty had her first ever successes digging for clams and made quite a collection over about 45 minutes, collecting 15 clams in all (all of which she re-buried before we left).

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The Pasta just enjoyed sitting in the water, pouring the water, catching trains through the water, jumping over waves in the water, etc.

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But even better than the beach itself was the water. Because the water is so shallow for such a long long way out, it’s incredibly warm well up past your waist. I have never, except on the very hottest days here, felt any desire to plunge myself into the very cold Pacific Ocean. But at Spanish Banks, I could have spent the whole afternoon submerged, and many people did just that.

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Best of all, though, is the view from the beach. All the views in Vancouver are great, but the view from Spanish Banks is unparalleled, in my opinion. Because the beach is so far west, the view of the mountains is unobscured by the city itself. In fact, you feel ringed by mountains, with the widest part of Burrard Inlet before you, and the open ocean just a little to your left. Far in the distance to your right are views of the city and Stanley Park, small enough to seem almost inconsequential in comparison to the mountains. It was stunning.

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To end the day, we took a weird and circuitous bus route up to UBC on a bus we had never heard of (one of the small “community shuttles”), which made the Pasta very happy. Actually, it made all of us pretty happy, given the very steep hill it enabled us to avoid climbing. All in all, a pretty fantastic outing for only leaving the house at 2pm.

After our ridiculous stroller debacle last weekend, I was determined to go for a hike this weekend that didn’t require a stroller. I had also promised the Pasta that we would take a bus to go hiking rather than renting/borrowing a car. So we woke up Saturday morning determined to make both of these things happen. As luck would have it, however, Hermajesty woke up with other plans. Or rather her body did: the poor girl woke up with an unsettled tummy and a low-grade fever. So we did some hasty re-planning and instead of a family outing, the Pasta and I headed out to find our way to Rice Lake on our own.

I was fairly sure that the transit was straightforward, but without Jeremy and his trusty iPhone, I had to take a plethora of maps / contact numbers just to be safe. It’s one thing to take transit to a (relatively distant) hike with a stroller or other adult to mitigate 4-year-old disasters; it’s another to tackle those challenges solo and with no stroller to resort to if you get lost and have to walk 5km out of your way!

As it turned out, our transit karma was amazing all day. We arrived at Waterfront station (after a brief SkyTrain ride) with a leisurely 8 minutes to make it to the Seabus. And, what’s more, as we crossed the pedestrian walkway, we saw a freight train arriving in the yards. How many hours have I spent at those windows seeing absolutely nothing moving, and yesterday, we enjoyed 3 minutes of trainspotting before continuing on to the Seabus.

This was my first trip on a Seabus: I think this is the neatest part of Vancouver’s transportation system: in a city of bridges, there is this one commuter ferry that connects downtown Vancouver and the SkyTrain to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver (itself a “town centre” of sorts). So I was very excited to see how it all worked. It’s quite efficient really: you board the ferry on one side while the passengers from the previous crossing disembark on the other. The boats therefore load and unload very quickly, probably necessary in the height of rush hour. But on a Saturday morning, we felt very unrushed. We even scored a seat by the front window.

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Once we reached the North Shore, our good luck continued, with the bus our hiking guide had suggested waiting for us in the bus bay. It was, however, a very crowded bus. I had forgotten that there is a tourist attraction also on this route: the Lynn canyon suspension bridge. The Pasta took it all well though, even though we couldn’t sit in his very favourite bus seats in the back row. The ride was also reasonably short, shorter than I had imagined actually, so we almost missed our stop. Thankfully I had mentioned our destination to the driver, so he patiently waited at the stop until I realized that we needed to get off.

Once off the bus, my directions were a bit fuzzier. The last time we came to Rice Lake, we did so by car and accessed it through the parking lot at Lynn Headwaters Park (where we went last weekend). From the bus stop, it was entirely different and a little less well signed. It’s lucky that I’m not shy: I didn’t hesitate to approach strangers (often repeatedly) to ask if we were headed in the right direction. One of these kind strangers directed us to this fantastic pedestrian bridge over Lynn Creek. I’m not sure why people suffer the crazy crowds of the suspension bridge when the view from this one is just as spectacular, only we had it all to ourselves (well, us and the group of Japanese students who wanted me to take their picture).

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From there, the walk around Rice Lake was pretty uneventful and just as lovely as I had remembered. The Pasta was a good sport about it all, posing for innumerable photographs with various rocks, trees, logs and lakes (or rather multiple views of one lake).

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He had a hearty picnic to sustain him mid-walk. This was fortunate since our transit karma (seemingly) ran out when we left the park 2.5 hours later: we saw our bus just pulling away from the stop as it came into view. This bus runs only every 30 minutes, so I was anticipating a long boring wait on the side of Lynn Valley Road. But the Pasta was in such good spirits and still happy to walk, so we walked down the hill until we reached a bus stop that was served by another route. At this stop, we only had to wait 3 minutes!! Our good luck had returned. And it stayed with us for the rest of the trip.

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Even better, we arrived home to find a clean house (thanks, house elf Jeremy!) and a slightly improved Hermajesty. All in all, a good “family” outing, even if the family was half its usual size!

All week, I had been planning to go hiking on the North Shore in Vancouver if the weather was amenable on Saturday. So when Saturday morning arrived with high bright clouds and the promise of sunshine later in the day, I studiously ignored the dust bunnies in the corner of every room and the two baskets of clean but unfolded laundry, and instead set to work packing picnic lunches. We had set our sights on hiking in Lynn Valley in North Vancouver, and I wasn’t letting some dirt and a few wrinkled clothes stand in my way.

We had been to the headwaters of Lynn Canyon Park once before, when we did a family walk around Rice Lake last August. That hike had been labelled EASY so when I found the only slightly longer (5km vs. 3km) hike called “Lynn Loop” also labelled EASY, our choice was, well, easy. We brought the jogging stroller along just in case 4-year-old legs got tired, but we were pretty confident that we wouldn’t need it.

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Hermajesty on the easy part of the trail!

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The Pasta showing off his new haircut.

The hiking guide had warned us that the walk started with a climb for 10 minutes or so. Maybe 10 minutes at adult jogging speed, but more like 25 minutes at 4-year-old speed. But we were very proud of the Pasta: he only asked to sit in his stroller for the final few minutes or so. By then, we were all wishing we had someone to push us up the rest of the hill too. At that point, the trail branched off from a fairly wide “service road” type of trail to a more narrow, windy and forested trail that looked something like this:

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We ejected the Pasta from his stroller to navigate the roots and rocks. We didn’t realize until about 10 minutes later what we had got ourselves into. Another hiker, this one wearing a toddler on her back, made a comment on how “brave” we were bringing a stroller onto this trail. A little while later, another pair of hikers gave us an “it gets a lot worse before it gets better” warning. We came to realize that a trail marking of EASY doesn’t necessarily mean stroller-friendly. Hermajesty also pointed out that EASY must be a fairly broad interpretation of that trail: easy compared to climbing Mount Everest perhaps. After 1.5 hours of half-bouncing, half-carrying the stroller through the forest, we all agreed that Lynn Loop was not quite the Rice Lake / Pacific Spirit Park variety of easy.

But it was breathtakingly beautiful. It’s the kind of hike that lets you imagine what this country must have looked like before colonization/urbanization. Trees were so densely woven together above us that we were cool, though we knew the sun was shining somewhere far above us. Water was everywhere here: there were little boardwalks created all along the trail to take hikers over the muddiest sections. And the air just smelled so incredibly alive.

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The Pasta and Hermajesty were both stellar hikers that day, Hermajesty often helping her brother navigate the tricky trail, much of it running along narrow cliff edges or over little creeklets that crossed the path, while I helped Jeremy with the stroller.

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We kept up morale with promises of food: first, our picnic lunch–which we ate with some alacrity as we had chosen a rather boggy spot that proved popular with midges and mosquitos.

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Later, we got the Pasta down the 97 stairs (yes, he counted) and many fun, running hills with promises of cookies when we reached the bottom. Thankfully, the last 1.5 km of the hike ended on the same wide  trail that we had left earlier so the Pasta was able to rest his weary legs while the rest of us walked at adult speed to the river where our hike had started. There we enjoyed the long promised cookies and threw some rocks, big and small, into the dramatic river.

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All in all, we loved this hike. Next time though, I think we’ll leave the stroller at home. If the Pasta can walk that trail for 3.5km, there aren’t many “easy” trails that he couldn’t walk.

Well, I’m back from yet another void: this one caused by 7 consecutive (!!) days of conferencing, first in Victoria (5 days) and then in Vancouver (the last 2). But today we made up for our lost weekend with a full day of exploration, sunshine, water, fish and chips and ice cream. We journeyed to the small seaside village of Steveston, at the southern end of Richmond BC which is the municipality directly south of us.

We had been wanting to visit for several months, but we were given the perfect opportunity when one of Jeremy’s new friends, who has recently moved to Steveston, chose to have a housewarming open house today. So we rented a car (but later discovered that transit would have been fine) and headed down there as soon as picnics were packed and muffins were baked (muffins being essential to FitzTankard family picnics).

I had spent a little time researching Steveston so had a vague sense of where I wanted to go: we started our visit in Garry Point Park. Though out on a point that extends into the Pacific, this park is completely different from Vancouver beaches. For one thing, the land is utterly flat: most of the park is a flat and grassy with fields and fields of lupines.

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The only trees are occasional stands of oak (possibly Garry oak, given the park’s name, but I”m no expert). So there is very little shelter from the winds coming off the sea. Which makes it the ideal location for kite flying. We saw many kite fliers today, though I’m sure on a warmer, sunnier day there would have been 4 times as many. Some of them were obviously very serious: one of them had a kind of go-kart that he sat in, and the kite pulled him this way and that. The kite was actually attached to him via a harness, leaving his hands free, when necessary, to pull the brakes on the go-kart. He also seemed to be able to steer the cart with his feet. It was all very impressive. We saw another man decked out in a full jumpsuit, also harnessed to his kite. but all he did in the time we were there was lie on the ground with the massive kite floating above him. I wonder if it was like sleeping in a hammock? There were many other more amateur kite fliers too: the kids were amazed by how high some of the kites were flying. Next time we visit, we’ll be taking our kites.

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There are also a couple of beaches in the park, so we naturally spent lots of time playing in the sand and throwing sticks in the water.

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The Pasta’s number writing skills are improving!

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If you look closely, you can actually see the stick in motion!

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After a brief walk around the point (it’s only about 2km), we found our way to the other big park in Steveston, this one boasting all kinds of play equipment and a waterpark. En route, though, we stumbled across a small museum dedicated to preserving the history of the “Interurban tram” which apparently connected Steveston to Vancouver transit from the early 1900s to the 1950s. It was really quite marvellous, especially considering that there’s no rapid transit linking Steveston to Vancouver today. There are, however, many buses, all of which the Pasta noticed and commented on for our 7-hour stay. We now know that there are 4 different buses serving Steveston, in case you ever want to know.

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In the smoking section of the old tram.

The playground was a big hit with both kids. It’s not often that we find a playground that is fun for big and small kids in equal measure, but this one certainly was. We were happy to see many bigger kids playing when we arrived, including a lovely group of young teenage girls playing restaurant in the toy train. (Jeremy later pointed out that one of them seemed to be looking after a mentally disabled teen which might explain it, but I was happy to believe that it was just that kind of playground.) By the time we made it to the playground, the sun had finally decided that it was here to stay, so after an hour or so on the crazy variety of equipment, we were all ready for ice cream. We were happy to find a place that offered both gelato and sorbetto, so even the non-dairy-eating among us could enjoy a cold treat.

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After that, we walked past the Cannery museum (unfortunately closed for a private function) and eventually on to Jeremy’s friend’s new apartment. We had a nice, if shortish visit with James and some of his guests, before returning to Garry Point park for some of the fish and chips that we had been eyeing earlier in the day.

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It was delicious, and such a treat to be eating outside on a lovely evening watching the fishing boats going out in one direction, kites flying in another, and children playing on a beach in still another. Way in the distance, we even spotted a BC ferry that must have been en route to Nanaimo from Tsawwassen. It was a wonderful end to a pretty perfect day of exploring. The Pasta was especially happy that the round-trip car ride was long enough for him to listen to his entire new Beatles CD.

I wasn’t actually home last weekend, so I don’t exactly have family news to report. But Jeremy just forwarded me these photos from his trip with the kids to Confederation Park and the sweet Burnaby Central Railway attraction. So I thought I’d post those in lieu of a post for last week. Was there ever a better big sister? Apparently Hermajesty shepherded her brother on every ride and through every interaction of the day. I wish I’d been there to enjoy it.

Tomorrow, I’ll post about our adventures today!

How is it the 2nd week of June already?

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Check out this grumpy engineer!

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