Mad Bulgar

Today was one of those days when planets magically line up, and everything is just perfect. Nothing shockingly spectacular happened today, but it was an absolutely perfect day. The morning spent with Kenan at the Color Run, then cleaning up and getting ready for our visitors who are coming on Monday (exciting!), and the evening at the North Shore Celtic Ensemble’s performance. It was a beautiful and shiny day; kids had friends over most of the day, and even though I was still recovering from being sick last week, I will remember the beautiful simplicity of this day for years – I just know it.

The highlight of the day was definitely Aliya’s violin performance. The kids have learned so much in just one year, and next fall, Aliya is moving to the Ensemble’s higher level. The song that I thought would have been too complicated for them just a couple of months ago, they performed with such ease and skill this evening, that it made my Gypsy soul sing and dance.

Here it is, Mad Bulgar performed by the Ensemble of super cute and serious (about music) North Shore kids:

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Zen Ties

Zen Ties

I am very pleased to say that Kenan has the best taste in books. Anything he picks at the school or public library is well written, well designed, and usually some sort of an award winner. He doesn’t care about award winners; he just goes for what interests him: subtle graphics, simple and amusing writing, gentle humour, and just a wide variety. It is a real pleasure to read to him before bed because the books he chooses are fresh, light and fun for me as well.

Today, he brought from school Zen Ties by Jon J Muth. I truly love anything Jon J. Muth has written, several of our family all-time favourites being The Three Questions, Stone Soup, and Zen Shorts. This book is just as lovely and insightful, and in addition, it makes children think and rethink their views on old age. Aliya has always had a strong connection with, and a great deal of respect and admiration for seniors, and she has expressed interest to join me during my work and volunteer work with seniors, but Kenan has been more reserved. His observations and comments are pure and innocent, and observantly focused on the physical changes he has noticed in seniors, and this book has helped us turn his thoughts into a meaningful dialogue.

The Author’s Note at the end of the book states the following: “Zen Ties is a fun play on words. For me it’s also a gentle reminder that we are all connected and interdependent whether we recognize our neighbour’s face or not. It is easy to believe we are each waves and forget we are also the ocean.” It is the note from the author of this children’s book that kept me thinking, long after Kenan was asleep, about everything and nothing, and in essence, how difficult the truth can be to grasp, and yet how simple it is once you just simply let it in.

Eight Fun Things to Do in and around Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta

I know Puerto Vallarta is one of top tourist destinations for North Americans, but even though both Rick and I have been to several different places in Mexico in the past, this was our first visit to Puerto Vallarta. We were fortunate to be invited by friends of ours (or more accurately, friends of Aliya’s as this was the family of Aliya’s best friend from school) to join them in Mexico over spring break. We could not pass on this great opportunity, and as they have been going to Puerto Vallarta for almost 30 years, they really know the area, and have been the most amazing hosts and tour guides to us. So, here come the recommendations on things to do from people who really do know what to do in and around Puerto Vallarta.

1. Rent a Beachfront Condo

In the past, we always stayed in all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, but after experiencing having our own place, I don’t think we will ever go back to all-inclusive resorts. Our friends have done this for years, and they definitely prefer this option, as it is less expensive, but also, it provides you with a whole new perspective on what it might be like to stay/live in Mexico. We had a beautiful, spacious place in a building that was right on the beach, but the building also had its own pool, deck chairs, and plenty of shade under breezy palm trees. When you cook your own meals, you are more likely to venture to local farmer’s markets, grocery stores, and even local restaurants, which is an experience in itself. When in an all-inclusive resort, there is really no reason to do any of this, and most people always eat and stay within their resort.

We could run down to the beach any time, go back to the condo any time, and could also have the children with one adult at the pool, while the rest of us either went shopping, made dinner, or did something completely different – like went for a bike ride.

2. Watch the Sunset and Dine at La Palapa

This is truly an amazing restaurant, and if I ever came to Puerto Vallarta again, this restaurant would be on my must-do list. It is a fine dining experience – in a beautiful restaurant, and a beautiful setting. While the parents could enjoy the sunset and a chat with a margarita or a glass of wine, the kids could run around freely and build sand castles on the beach. After dark, we purchased glow-in-the-dark parachutes for all the kids, and the fun continued. And it is guaranteed the whole family will enjoy anything you pick on the menu here – whether it be coconut shrimp, lobster taquitos, or the fish of the day. The food is delicious!

3. Swim to the Hidden Beach at Marietas Islands

Marietas Islands are a group of small volcanic islands located a short boat ride from Nuevo Vallarta, in Banderas Bay. In early 1900s, Mexican government supposedly used the islands as a military target because the islands were and still are uninhabited. At least one of the islands was hit during the bombings, and as a result, a perfectly round hole in the rock formation uncovered a beautiful and private white-sand beach underneath. Jacques Cousteau fought for the protection of the islands in the late 1960s as the islands are a home to a number of animal species, one of them being particularly unique – the blue-footed booby (a seabird with bright turquoise feet). The islands were designated a National Park in 2005, and Hidden Beach, the sandy beach inside the rock, is one of Vallarta’s main tourist attractions.

The beach is accessible only through a cave passage that has, according to some sources, been created over time by the sea, and once dropped off from a boat, you need to swim through the cave passage to get to the beach. This is a very unique experience, and we ventured on it with one of the best known Vallarta’s tour operators – Vallarta Adventures. This beach is one of those unique places that populate top 10 travel lists, and if you have an opportunity to go to Puerto Vallarta, we recommend you visit the islands. If you decide to do so, we also suggest that you wear a long-sleeve T-shirt in the water as the islands seem to be surrounded by hundreds of bright blue jellyfish, and one of our girls got badly stung. On the way to Marietas Islands, it is also guaranteed you will see some majestic whales and dolphins – splashing and roaming freely in their natural habitat – just the way these things should be.

The trip to and from Marietas is a one big party, and we got to meet many of the people that were on the boat with us. The team from Dream Trips was, coincidentally, on the same boat, and we got to meet them, learn all about Dream Trips and the company’s great concept, and they also lent us their “You Should Be Here” sign – as we obviously loved it. These people really know how to travel on a shoestring budget and have fun. Check out their website to see all the places their signs have visited!

4. Shop at the Sunday Farmer’s Market in La Cruz (de Huanacaxtle)

The variety and amount of fresh fish you will see here is simply spectacular. Go for the fish, but also enjoy the walk in the marina, the hustle and bustle of locals and foreigners browsing through fresh food or arts and crafts stands. I owed all the children prizes for a challenge they completed the previous day, so they had to search for a prize for themselves, and they took this task very seriously. They inspected each stand with great patience and attention. We also had freshly squeezed orange and papaya juice, and danced to the live music at the market. It was a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.

5. Explore Art Galleries in Bucerias

Bucerias is a lovely little town just north of Nuevo Vallarta. It has grown into an eclectic mix of locals, Canadians, Americans, and the diversity in interests and backgrounds here is reflected in the wide variety of stores, art galleries and restaurants sprinkled all over this little beach community. This is a great place to shop: you will find a great variety and high quality of product anywhere you turn – at the market jewellery or leather stores, the town’s character-packed galleries, and high-end furniture stores. Come for a visit, and never stop walking because if you do, you will surely miss something special around the corner.

If you are staying at Nuevo Vallarta, one of the best and most fun ways to reach Bucerias is by bike. The bike path is safe, shady and beautiful, and you can find great bikes for rent at Bici Bucerias (a bike store owned and run by a Canadian fellow).

6. Sneak into St. Regis Punta Mita Resort

Punta Mita is a private resort on an entire peninsula accessible only to the visitors staying at one of the hotels or residences within the resort. Our friends had stayed there in the past and as they got to know the Director of St. Regis, we were invited to visit and spend a day at the resort. Punta Mita Resort feels and very much is an exclusive world of lush greenery, beautiful white-sand beaches, golf courts, and tastefully designed hotels, homes, and beach clubs, separated from the rest of the everyday and common landscapes by a private gate attended by an inquisitive security guard, and then a maze of paths through the resort. One of the ways to see the Punta Mita Resort and St. Regis is to book a lunch at the St. Regis Sea Breeze Restaurant & Bar. We greatly enjoyed the lunch, and were looking forward to spending the day at the beach, but it rained so hard that day, that we decided to stay inside. It was still a great adventure – seeing this beautiful resort, St. Regis hotel, and spending the time at the Beach Club. A rainy day well spent.

One of the things I discovered at the St. Regis marketing office is that the Punta Mita Resort is also home to a restaurant called Sufi Beach Club. I thought that was quite interesting, and I had to look into it as soon as I got home. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with their description of sufism (despite the fact that the English translation needs some editing: “A Sufi is one who is aware that life is not necessarily what one perceives, or what one is told life is. But life is lived beyond the level of physical experience, level of thinking, and feeling, and above all, at a higher level of consciousness, where self is no longer the barrier between reality and illusion.” Next time, we will need to check it out.

7. Learn to Boogie Board

This was my first time boogie boarding ever, and it very quickly became one of the most fun things I had ever done! Aliya’s friends are serious boogie boarders, Aliya is close behind them, and Kenan and I tested it, got hooked on it, and perfected the skill, all at the same time. It takes a bit of practice to know how to time the perfect take-off in order to catch a rolling wave, but when you nail it once and go with a wave that can push you all the way to the beach, boogie boarding becomes an addiction! It was a great experience to have all eight of us playing in the waves on the last day of our stay, and this was definitely my most memorable experience – one of those all-sensory imprints that stays with you forever.

One thing you need to watch for when playing in the waves are sting rays. Baby sting rays also love boogie boarding waves, and if you step on them or run into them, they can unintentionally hurt you.

8. Save Baby Turtles

Finding baby turtles in the bushes on the beach is a common occurrence, and once they are found, their release needs to be carefully timed. They are sent back into the ocean at sunset as that is the time when they face less risk being eaten by birds or other bigger animals. One of the maintenance workers at our building found dozens of baby turtles in one of the bushes by the beach, and he was very happy to show them to us, let us hold them and observe them. The baby turtles were released into the ocean that same evening. They are such cuties!

We are now back at home, in rainy Vancouver, but the heat, sun and fun we have soaked up in Mexico are still with us, and will keep us energized until the sun makes its reappearance.

Time to Register for BCFFC!

On rainy February days in Vancouver, when it starts to feel like we will never, NEVER, see any sunshine again, it is nice to be reminded of our beautiful summers in British Columbia. The registration for British Columbia Family French Camp (BCFFC) is now open, and if you have children in French Immersion, and are not going to France or Quebec this summer, this is the next best thing for them.

So why do I think you should go to French Camp?

1. Three great options to choose from:

Shuswap Lake, Gwillim Lake, or Vancouver Island. All three are lovely and very different locations, with a very different feel. Shuswap Lake is in the interior and feels like a real vacation – it’s hot and dry, and with lots of opportunities to swim and enjoy the water; Gwillim Lake is in a small, remote community, and a smaller camp; and Vancouver Island is just gorgeous – located in a beautiful private campground with fantastic views of the ocean, and just outside of Nanaimo – a real BC gem! So, the only difficulty here is picking where to go, and the dates might help here as they are different for all three camps.

Shuswap Lake:
Week 1: July 4 — July 11
Week 2: July 11 — July 18

Gwillim Lake:
July 25 — August 1

Vancouver Island:
Week 1: August 8 — August 15
Week 2: August 15 — August 22

2. Your children will be speaking French the entire time you are there!

We usually consider ourselves to be a little ahead of the game in the languages department as we try to speak French at home as much as possible, and switch from language to language on a regular basis, but the kids that attend this camp are largely francophone, so French is the main mode of communication, and my kids had to work hard to keep up. Les moniteurs (or the Camp counsellors) are also from Quebec and some of them speak very little English. You know what I am getting at – this is an immersion experience par excellence, something that is so hard to experience for the children of British Columbia, so far away from any other places where anything but English is spoken.

3. C’est malade!

The moniteurs (or as kids learn to call them – “momos”) are insanely awesome! I am not sure where they get their energy, but they are on the go 24/7, they are extremely enthusiastic and energetic, and they will get even the most shy child or parent to participate. Supposedly, the French Camp in BC is a big deal for Quebec university students, so they every year receive tons of applications for momos, and these momos are hand-picked. And, this shows! Your kids will be surrounded by enthusiastic young people all day long, and may even catch some of that contagious enthusiasm. You might hear them chanting the camp slogans at the end of a long day, or months after the camp is over.

4. You will have time to chillax, all by yourself

What can I say?! That alone is a great reason to go to French camp as it is something that parents don’t experience very often. You will be on vacation with your children, but the kids are gone in the morning, they come back for lunch, and they are again gone in the afternoon. After the camp hours, they will be ripping through the campground on their bikes with their new best buddies, and after dinner, it’s family show-time. This means that you get plenty of opportunities to read a few chapters of that book that has been sitting on your bedside table for forever, go on a bike ride with your hubby, or just bask in the glorious sun. This is precious!

5. You will become a member of a great community of great people

Most French Camp families are in it for a long ride. They attend the camp every summer, and they form long-lasting friendships. No matter at what stage of your children’s lives you join this community, you will feel right at home – a part of something bigger and very special. On the ferry back to Vancouver, the children in tie-dyed shirts (which is one of the staples of the French Camp) could been seen from afar, and could easily spot each other. The children keep coming even once they start high school as the camp then gets even better – zip-lining, cliff diving, and kayaking to another island and camping outdoors – sans parents. These camps create long-lasting memories and connections, and children who will love French and understand the value of speaking a foreign language.

So, now go check out the BCFFC’s new slideshow (put together by Lisa, an inspiring mom and a committed Canadian Parents for French (CPF) representative), get all inspired, and register for a camp this weekend – as camp spots go fast. (Note: you might find some of us in the last part of the slideshow!)

#JesuisAhmed

#jesuisAhmed

Wednesday was a dreadful day. Another terrorist attack on the news, names of perpetrators sound Muslim, people are killed – many of them. The victims are Charlie Hebdo journalists – some satirists I have never heard of before, but supposedly they have been poking fun at Islam and Prophet Mohammed. Then I see the pictures of the cartoons – yes, a little too much; I guess they could have pissed someone off.

On a day like that, I absolutely dread going to work, facing social media, seeing and talking to anyone. I am swamped with my own work, and I wish I could just stick my head into it, and hide… Even though I try to stay out of discussions, the discussions find me. I am the only “sort of Muslim” many of my friends know, and the inquisitive looks are there, comments are there, and subtle requests for explanations are also there. I dread these because I feel I have nothing to say, nothing to defend; I absolutely don’t understand it, and don’t want to think about it. I have nothing in common with the perpetrators, and have absolutely nothing to add to the discussion. Yet, my silence is interpreted by people around me differently. More than once,  I have heard subtle insinuations that a Muslim’s silence means silent approval. The fact that I don’t condemn a terrorist by screaming the words of condemnation from the top of my lungs, means that I silently approve. I am in shock; I cannot believe that someone who knows me so well can think this. The only difference I see between myself and people around me is that I read one more book, or am interested in teachings of a couple of more people. That’s it.

Reza Aslan once said that Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace; Islam is just a religion. I agree with Mr. Aslan on many different points, but I can tell you that Reza, like me, probably doesn’t pray much. If he did, I think he would have a difficulty saying this. If he prayed three or five times a day – as it is recommended, after each cycle of prayer, he would turn his head to the right and as far as possible to the back, and call peace upon everything and everyone that extends to infinity, and then in a semi-circle extend his head to the left, and do the same thing – call peace upon everything and everyone that extends to infinity. After calling for peace so many times a day, one can’t even ponder of hurting another live being. One’s spirit and brain is completely programmed for peace.

So, I feel I have nothing to condemn, nothing to identify with, nothing to explain. Islamist terrorists might as well be aliens. The fact that they utter the same words I use in prayer irritates me, and I just wish they would stop. I wish they would say what they really stand for, what is really bugging them, who is funding them, and just leave Islam, and everything related to Islam alone. They are hijacking a path that has been beautiful and meaningful for so many people.

I unite with friends on Facebook to condemn the attacks in Paris, I want to use the #JesuisCharlie hashtag in my profile like so many of my French friends, but I just can’t. I am mourning the victims of the attack, and I would absolutely always stand for the freedom of speech, but I can’t identify with Charlie as I find their cartoons a little too much – not really my cup of tea. I find them unnecessarily inflammatory. Having gone through a war (in the Balkans) where I witnessed the frenzy of hateful worlds spiraling out of control, and causing unimaginable things like killings, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, I carefully choose my words; I want my words always to promote understanding, not animosity.

Seeing #JesuisAhmed trending on Twitter yesterday gave me some hope, and a better understanding of what has happened in Paris. Ahmed Merabet – the man with a sweet smile, who was also killed on Wednesday just doing his job as a committed police officer – did what any other person with integrity, Muslim or not would do. Symbolically, he has come to represent Muslims around the world who would give their lives for freedom of speech, order, and peace, even when that freedom of speech could be abused against them. I have heard concerns that positioning Ahmed against Charlie might be dangerous and divisive, but I don’t see it that way. I see Ahmed supporting Charlie’s work and ideas despite their provocative nature. That is definitely an idea I can stand for and identify with, hence the hashtag.

But, realistically, do I think Ahmed was really channeling Voltaire in the final moments of his life? Did he choose to die for a grandiose idea of freedom of speech? I don’t think so. He was probably just doing his job, looking forward to going home after work, trying to live a simple and peaceful life, and stay out of it all. Like so many of us.

Peace be with you, Ahmed.

Grateful for 2014

Happy Holidays

How is it possible that it has been seven months since my last post?! Pressing ideas for stories have come and gone, and as I either didn’t have time or energy to address them there and then, they have become less relevant, or less interesting. And here we go, it’s Christmas Eve again! It is a good time to look back and feel grateful because there is always so much to be grateful for.

Our little Aliya is not little anymore. She has turned 10, and with the new decade, her sense of humour has also reached a new age and changed in tone. Appreciated by some and less so by others in our family, I have to keep reminding myself that sarcasm is an important step in maturing and discovering one’s own personality traits. She is also an avid reader of Warriors series (read 39 books in the past six months), and a new member of the North Shore Celtic Ensemble – a group I can already see having an important formative influence on our girl in her preteen and teen years. These kids are so committed to living with music and are truly an inspiration.

Kenan’s successes have surpassed all of my expectations – he is loving and enjoying school, thriving in French, acting as a great role model for his peers, and has developed a tight bond with his teachers. It is all I could have wished for at the beginning of his school adventures as these are the moments that set precedents. He is also playing hockey and not complaining about it any more. That’s really important considering that his games start at 7 am, and a complaining child at that ungodly hour would be to too hard for his poor Dad to take.

I have started a job where I am engaged, interested, and challenged every single day. A job where I get to share offices, everyday challenges, and successes with one of my closest friends. It is special to be working with someone you know so well that words are not even necessary. Without saying a word, we just know when we need to work overtime, when we can take a break, when one of us is enjoying a project, and when we might need to step in and help each other out. We both know that our backs are always covered, and that we are both committed to every single project – more than 100%. I have so often heard that working with a friend is the best way to lose a friend, but in my case I have found that working with a close friend not only gives you a chance to see you friend every day, but also gives you a coworker that you really like. Sounds like a win-win to me!

And Rick, what about Rick? Well, he’s one handsome devil, and that’s the only thing that matters.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Cruel and Unusual

 

I think everyone by now knows that I am very proud of my brother-in-law’s accomplishment as a first-time feature director. I have bragged about his new film on all social media and other social channels, and have been reminding friends to join us for the release of the film. The film has already been to the Taipei Golden Horse Fantastic Festival, Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, and is soon leaving for Madrid, and Shanghai, but before the film and its director, Merlin Dervisevic, leave for Europe, we all have a chance to see them both in Vancouver. The premiere is in just one sleep – tomorrow, Saturday May 24th, and we too will be there. Join us for a fun evening starting at 8:30 pm to meet the director and the cast, and for the 10:15 pm screening, appropriately late for a film that’s been described in Vancouver Sun as a “Kafkaesque nightmare.” Eek! This is not a kid-friendly event, so engaging adult conversation with no interruptions is something to look forward to.

Laughs are guaranteed before and after, but not during the film! To secure your ticket before they all sell out, buy here. And if interested in reading a review of the film,  here is the one by the Shivers Film Society. See you all tomorrow!