Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

Leah and Maria have taken the kids out for breakfast this morning to their new found favourite breakfast place, Stacks, who have delicious breakfast potatoes that all the kids love.  So here goes, I’ll try to catch up on some blogging.

We’ve read some fantastic books on our travels.  Bede has devoured the Artemis Fowl and Wimpy Kid series earlier in the trip, followed by the Percy Jackson series more recently.   We’ve tried to read books relevant to each place we travel as our bedtime books.  In Africa we listened to Born Free, Living Free and Forever Free by Joy Adamson.  I loved these stories about Elsa the lion as a kid and the boys really enjoyed them.  We were thrilled to discover that our new friend Maggie was born in Kenya and knew the Adamsons and had even met Elsa.

We didn’t find books about Cambodia that were suitable for the kids to read but we’ll keep a look out when we are home from our trip.  We were able to find lots of books about Italy and had read plenty before embarking on our trip, which allowed Bede and Emmett to “recognise” some of the famous features at Pompeii and in Rome.  I had not expected to find that we learnt even more about the Romans in England but this certainly did happen when we visited Arbeia Fort, where we picked up this little book.

It follows the story of an 11 year old captured by the Romans in Northern England.  We read about the process of building a Roman road, the one in the book eventually becomes Hadrian’s wall.  Emmett was fascinated by the descriptions of Roman and Celtic armour and weaponry.

In between chapters of other books we’ve also been reading these:

My only complaint is that they are LONG fairy tales, with no chapters, so I find myself reading for hours, to Emmett’s great pleasure but to the detriment of sleep and my blogging!  It’s good to meet the characters of Irish mythology though and imagine them in the places we traveled in Ireland.

We have also been finding about about Robert the Bruce in this story:

Bruce spent many years on the Islands on the west coast of Scotland, where we traveled, so we could imagine the bleak terrain described in the book very well.   I also liked the way this book began by discussing the differences between fact and myth and mentioned through the book which parts of Bruce’s life were certain to be true and which were likely to have been embellished over time.  Being six, Emmett was also fascinated by the ways myths can be “lies” or “not true” and yet can be true in our imaginations.

Meanwhile, both Leah and Bede have been reading books with labyrinth in the title, which I found amusing, but Leah says hers is not as good as Bede’s.  Bede had just finished this Rick Riordan when I took the photo and managed to convince me to buy the fifth book in the series by paying me the difference between hardcover and softcover price (it’s not out in softcover yet).  He then read it overnight the night we left Vancouver and left it in our room along with the other books photographed which we’d finished with.

I’ve had more reading time this year than during most of the last ten years when I’ve been combining rural general practice with heavy on call commitment with parenting little kids and often studying for post graduate qualifications, which has meant most of my books have been rather dry medical tomes.  Unlike all the other house officers in my first year of medicine I was parenting a teeny prem baby and so was even more sleep deprived than the average new doctor and never quite fitted in reading “House of God” the 30 year old American story of the intern year of medicine.

It’s a pretty macabre book, but doctors can develop fairly warped senses of humour and I certainly recognised many of my colleagues in this book.  The list of medical specialties graded by lack of interaction with the actual patient was hysterical.  I happen to prefer the kind of medicine where one does know one’s patients but I may still need to copy the list to refer to on challenging days in general practice!

I also read the “Life of Pi” which linked into our travel quite well as Pi explores three major religions: Christianity, Hindu and Islam and we have spent time in countries shaped by each and all of these this year.

I also have my suspicions that surviving and even thriving after six months on the world highway with 3 kids may be almost as much of an odyssey as surviving alone in a liferaft with a Bengal tiger….

Vancouver Aquarium


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The Sylvia Hotel and Vancouver

We are staying in the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver on the recommendation of online friends (thanks Jen).  What a wonderful base for exploring Vancouver!  The hotel was built in 1910 for the original Sylvia, it has since been home to a famous cat called Mr Got to Go who inspired two children’s books.  It is right on the waterfront in English Bay, which I was fascinated to see was covered in forest until the 1860s so this area was settled by the English about the same time as New Zealand.  On arriving at the airport the only car we all fit in was a limo – to the boys’ delight!

A limo!

We are loving having a full kitchen and to our amusement find the small hallway joining our bedroom and kitchn an amazingly useful extra space after living in a tiny van for 10 weeks!


Emmett loves this place.  He wanders along the seawall picking blackberries, is fascinated by the raccoons, squirrels and skunks and is enthralled by the possibility of seeing a coyote.  He manages to end up in the waves whether we’re intending to swim or not.



Contented boy (and geese)

We had a lovely day cycling through Stanley Park, even up the hill to Beaver Lake, the kids were so happy to be on bikes again after many months and Florence was rather chuffed with her trailer!  To my amazement no one came off on the shingle and we surely slept well that night!  We cycled around 30km and there wasn’t a whisper of complaint from either Bede or Emmett.

Cycling, Bede has a turn towing!

Cycling, Stanley Park

Yesterday I found an idyllic children’s book shop and spent several hours there all on my own, pity our bags can only fit a few lovely books inside.  Bede has already nearly devoured the next Percy Jackson and wants to go back to the bookshop with me to see what the staff think he should be reading next.

Granville Island was also a lovely day trip for us.  We caught the tiny ferry across False Creek and the kids were delighted by the Children’s Market – a whole market of shops only selling things for children!  Florence is sporting new dotty shoes, Bede was given a magic tricks budget that appears to have been spent on things I’d define more as pranks… electric shock pen, vampire teeth and itch powder…  Emmett bought balsa planes that are still going strong after a few days unlike the usual polystyrene ones we mostly find.  He also bought a very complicated catapult model which we are hoping to convince him not to assemble till we’re in NZ!  We met up with Jen, Sam, Noah and Juliet on the Island, it was fun to meet a family who we’ve followed by blog from far away!

We’ve also very much enjoyed meeting Rachel and Isabelle and their family, our kids have been making movies with 11 yr old Ben and 7 yr old Gaby and are all set to return for filming on Monday too!  Meanwhile Florence, Thomas and Elizabeth’s Isaac have enjoyed the trampoline and tea set.

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“To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old” Yann Martel Life of Pi

It’s two years since my brother Ben died today.  We remembered him by sending origami kayaks into the waves at the beach and making apple pie to eat with far too much cream for lunch.


Kayaks for Ben

Kayak in the waves

Apple Pie

When Ben died I felt his loss as if I had had an amputation.  We grew up as a pair, my childhood memories include him as if he was a part of myself.  Together we were Moonface and Silky in the Magic Far Away Tree in our front yard.  We ran away to behind Grandma Skinner’s hydrangeas together, took Ed and Greg on adventures to the park around the corner and performed live magical and dramatic performance to enthralled audiences at Christmas from our bedroom wardrobe theatre!  Sometimes there was intra-family dispute about an event in the past.  Ben and I always had the same versions of events!

In all our adventures Ben was the courageous one, while I toed the line and tried to please everyone, he dared me to go higher up the tree, faster on our bikes.  In adulthood he was our house and garden advisor, with ideas that were unconventional but perfect and practical.

When Bede got his first 8 year old sized mountain bike, Uncle Ben came over with kid-sized cycling gloves and took him straight down to jump the traffic islands in the hospital car park (because it was empty, not because it was the hospital…).  One of Bede’s lasting memories is of being asked “Did you learn anything?” if he took a tumble on a bike or anywhere else.  Bede’s sleeping bag and the tiny backpack Ben gave him to carry it is still a treasured family possession – the backpack now sports NZ stickers is carried by Emmett and it’s been to see the world with us this year!

For a year a cried as I cycled round the bay to and from work in Ceduna as the sun rose and set on another day Ben wouldn’t see.  As we planned out the “Skinner-Vennell Family Round the World Trip” over those months I discovered that I have been left a legacy I didn’t recognize at first.  My courageous brother no longer walks beside me but I wear his courage like that comfy green jersey of his, when I step outside my comfort zone.  Standing in a visa line in Kenya, in a taxi on Bangkok roads, on a ropes course 40m in the air with my 10 year old (who says just like Ben would have “Just run, don’t look down, for goodness sake, you’re tied on, the risk is all an illusion you know”), camping on a peninsula surrounded by hippos and crocodiles, sitting in the middle of an English roundabout in a camper with a dead clutch!

Again and again my grief takes me to a beach, no wonder, we shared many, Oreti, Riverton, Kaka Point, Kakanui, St Claire and St Kilda, Himatangi, Foxton, Porangahau, the East Cape, Mahanga.  This year I’ve walked with your courage at Tunnel Beach, Wexford, Calgary, Aberdyfi, English Bay.  Today the waves whipped themselves into peaks just for you after a week of calm seas.

Waves August 2010

There are many people who have given the precious gift of listening when I talk about Ben, acknowledging our family’s pain and loss.  There are three children in my family who let us smile even when we feel most bereft. There is my beloved Leah who held me up in my grief although she lost not just a brother in law that day, but a special friend who shared her creative streak and taste in music.

To grow old is a gift, I wear my grey hair and bung knee with pleasure, I make sure to learn something every time things don’t quite go to plan!

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We hired bikes.  We went to beaver lake.  I am playing Poptropica.  It is fun.  I am watching TV.  We are right beside Stanley park

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I saw a skunk.  I saw a raccoon. Flo saw a turtle.  I fed a squirrel.  We are going to hire bikes.  There is no enthusiasm in this blog if you want some ask Anna to put Emmett’s diary on here

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