St. Patrick’s story begins at Slemish

 

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Slemish Mountain, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

 

I have sat in St. Patrick’s chair. I have walked where the legendary patron saint of Ireland roamed for six years. And it is my happy place.

Today, as Irish descendants and not-so Irish progeny wear green, drink beer and sing Irish folk songs to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I mark the festive occasion with a video tribute to Slemish Mountain.

Legend has it that Slemish was St. Patrick’s first Irish home. It is where he is reputed to have roamed for six years as a shepherd boy before he found God and brought Christianity to Ireland.Slemish St Patricks chair_IMG_2286

I first heard tales of Slemish as a child from my paternal grandfather. Pop Pop lived with us from the time I was 12 until I was 24. I used to sit with him in his room at the front of the house and he would regale me with stories about growing up in Northern Ireland. Son of a stone mason, he lived near Buckna in County Antrim just outside Ballymena and near to the base of Slemish. As a boy he would climb the basalt plug that was the central core of an extinct volcano.

I made my first pilgrimage to Northern Ireland in 1981 with my sister Heather. Pop Pop’s youngest sister Aggie and her daughter Mae took us to Slemish for our first climb. My second trip to Slemish was in 1990 when I visited Aggie and Mae for Easter. Mae and I climbed Slemish with my young second cousin Stephen. Stephen was only 12 at the time and is the son of Mae’s brother Ivan.

It would be another 20 years before I was able to return to Slemish. In 2012, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by taking our girls to the U.K. While Hannah and Emmalyse had met Stephen on one of his visits to North America, they had never met Mae or Ivan. We stayed with Stephen and his family in Scotland where he lives now and then made the trek to Antrim to reunite with Mae and her husband John and Ivan and his wife Maureen.

Mae knows that Slemish is a rite of passage for me every time I visit the Emerald Isle. She and John toured us through the Glens of Antrim and brought me back to Slemish so I could make my tertiary climb.

My daughter Hannah was the first to reach the summit and to capture the panoramic views that have remained unaltered over time.

My husband and I weren’t too far behind.

Last year in 2016 I had the privilege to once again return to Slemish. Emmalyse was studying at university in Edinburgh. She and her friend Helena had spring break so Donald and I decided to visit. We met up at Mae’s in Antrim.

Once again, Mae and John chauffeured us around and gave us the royal tour and returned us to my happy place. Reaching the peak of Slemish we were able to amble on some of the same trails where St. Patrick had once tended sheep.

I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day to acknowledge my Irish roots and pay tribute to a family heritage. Pop Pop was the only grandfather I knew. He brought to life stories of Slemish and an unknown Irish family.

When I hike the rugged terrain of Slemish Mountain, I think not only  of that young shepherd boy from the 5th century who became a patron saint, I reflect on a man who immigrated to Canada when he was only 20 and who meant the world to me. I think about my Irish family  who I love and treasure, and I ponder a young girl’s childhood memories of her own personal happy place that she can share with her daughters and pass on to future generations.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2017.

If you want to see more of Slemish Mountain, here are a couple more videos from our 2016 visit.

And in the words of a traditional Irish poem:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

“To everything there is a season”

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Many folks will be familiar with the 1960s folk song, “Turn Turn Turn” by The Byrds that sang about a time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to plant, a time to reap. The lyrics for this song came straight from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3) and are meant to show that there’s a time and place for everything in life.

So what time is it now?

Here we are mid-March. Time to change seasons. Time to move onward.

Last week we turned the clocks forward for daylight saving and next week we welcome spring and say good-bye to winter.

It’s also time to take my storytelling to a new medium – Video.

Long has the spoken word ruled the art of passing family lore, legends and historical chronicles from one generation to the next. Ever since Gutenberg introduced the printing press and movable type, the printing revolution has dominated the act of conveying stories. And more recently the digital world has given the craft a new platform. Visual storytelling is increasingly dominating communications. For someone who has worked with words and perfected the knack of narration, it’s time for me to learn a new skill – Video!

Together with my group from my Digital Communications class we were challenged to tell a visual story in under two minutes. Inspired by the change in seasons we put together this light-hearted take on living in Canada: To everything there is a season.

Who we are in the darkness of winter differs with who we become in the warmth of summer.

Or does it?

Action Required:

If you enjoy this video or want to see more, please be sure to Like or Share to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

How my birth order got it right – sort of

I’m one of five. Youngest of the four girls but not the youngest of all the McCrory kids – my brother Jamie takes that honour.

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There’s a lot been written about birth order and how our personalities are shaped by the order in which we came into the world. They say that first borns will be the most responsible, ambitious and serious, the middle child feels overlooked but innovates and adapts to compensate developing strong social skills, and the youngest will be the happy-go-lucky baby of the family, a little bit risk-taking and definitely attention seeking .

It’s true that my sister Susan is responsible. In my mind, she’s always been a grown up. When I was small she was like a little mother, a little bit bossy, telling us what to do.

I remember coming home from school one cold December day boldly stating with dramatic effect that there was no Santa Claus. Earlier that day Andrew Walker and Linda Christiansen in my grade 3 class had delivered this startling revelation to me. I was devastated and testing the new theory. Rather than comfort me and assure me that my classmates were mistaken, she commanded, “Shhh – Don’t tell Jamie.” (I had just turned 8).

Susan is also very accomplished. She not only has an undergraduate degree in theology, she completed a post-grad in teaching while her daughters were young and is the only one in our family to have completed a Masters. And while she can be serious, she can also be extremely goofy. When I’m looking to dance or do something silly she’s the first I turn to. She will sing nonsense like me, stand on her head if you ask her, and laugh with you until you pee your pants.

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Janet is a typical second child who also happens to be a middle child. A little overshadowed by a clever older sister she had to carve her own path. She has highly developed social skills. In a crowd or in new situations she will be the first one to initiate conversations and ask questions. She will glean information from complete strangers and can uncover their life stories in a matter of minutes.

She’s also a gamer. When it comes to cards or board games she knows how to play the game. She can navigate a game of Risk or a hand of Euchre better than anyone. And when it comes to jigsaw puzzles she will tenaciously figure out where that elusive piece goes. If you want to win, you always want Janet on your team.

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Heather is the beauty of the family. She’s the only blond-haired, blue-eyed one among us. She’s also extremely capable, organized and generous. Even though we would have played together as children, I tell people I didn’t truly become aware of her until I was a teenager. The sister closest to me in age, she’s a full 3-and-a-bit years older than me. Those bit years really make a difference.

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When I was starting high school Heather was completing grade 13. To my 14, she was 17. She had a boyfriend, she was smart and hung out with the Math Club Geeks – you know, all the kids who had accelerated twice and who were most likely to be class valedictorian. She epitomized everything I knew to be #myteenagedream:

 

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GIF Source: Giphy

 

It’s fair to say that of all my siblings I’m probably closest to Heather. That doesn’t mean I love her more, it just means that I talk to her the most.

We have a lot of the same interests and we’ve spent the most time together. When she was at university in Waterloo, I would travel by bus once a semester to visit her. After she graduated, we traveled through Europe together. When we were starting families we both had two daughters who would become close cousins and friends.

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Heather is my inspiration and my muse. She’s my fitness guru who introduced me to running and yoga. She will always run faster than me and challenge me in a race. A talented cook and gifted gastronome, she makes a mean meal and will act as my consultant whenever I’m planning a party. She will also help me declutter my house and my mind whenever I’m overwhelmed.

Jamie is the baby of the family. He’s also the only boy. Mum loved him best. He was a preemie born two months before his due date. But that didn’t stop him from growing to more than 6 feet.

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There’s no denying he was pampered. One of the stories I’m best known for in my family is my personal lament that I never got a bike. Sure I rode one as a kid. It was a hand-me-down of Susan and Janet. My first and only bike is the one that I bought myself when I was 24. It still sits in my garage and comes out once or twice a year.

But Jamie? Oh no! He had a 10 speed bike when they were first becoming popular. AND he was given a banana seat when they were first introduced in the 1960s.  I got him back though. I conveniently forgot I had laid his bike in the driveway one day when he had deigned to let me ride it. My dad drove over it.

Jamie and I are also very close. Only 18 months apart we definitely played together as kids. I once told my neighbour we were nearly twins because I heard my mother say something along the lines that we were tied at the hip. He and I share a love of music together – and believe it or not, of cycling.

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Growing up, we were always sent as a pair to our grandparents or our cousins while our sisters and our parents were doing something else. His kids too are the same age as mine. Our families get together every Canada Day just to hang.

Heather always said that Jamie and I were our parents’ second family. Susan, Janet and Heather were the first family and then we came along and were the second family. As the younger two, we were given more leeway than the older three. We never had curfew, we were given more liberties, offered more experiences and we had the benefit of travel opportunities our sisters never got.

I once told my mother she loved me the least. She loved Susan because she was the eldest and had moved to another province in her early 20s, she loved Janet because she was a congenital amputee and needed her support, she loved Heather because she was beautiful and smart and she loved Jamie because he was her only boy and her baby.

My mother had the audacity to laugh at me. She told me that when you have  5 kids the one you love the most is the one who needs you most at any given moment. According to her, I never needed her.

Now of course that’s not true. What she was telling me is that I was always independent. I was always quietly confident. From the start, I was never afraid to try new things to meet new people. I was the risk-taker, the attention seeker. I would assuredly take the #roadlesstraveled and see things through my own imaginative lens.

These are the traits of a youngest born. While Jamie was the baby, because he was the only boy, studies will tell you that he also assumed the characteristics of a first born or an only child. He is responsible (most of the time), serious (except when he’s relentlessly teasing my youngest daughter) and quietly gentle. A man’s man and a woman’s man – the type of guy who was raised among women and understands how to see things from both POVs.

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My sisters will tell you that when I was a baby I was so ugly I was cute. I knew I was an accident of birth. Heather was right in that I was the start of family number  two. Jamie was planned because they didn’t want me to be raised alone. People would always assume that because I was the last of four girls and quickly followed in birth by my brother that my parents were holding out for a boy. “Not true,” said my parents.

My mother would always share with me the delight she and my father took in having a fourth daughter. While they had both hoped for Susan and Heather to be boys, for Janet and me, she said they wanted girls. They wanted same gender siblings. Pairs of daughters or pairs of sons. Two peas-in-a-pod, so to speak.

As you can no doubt tell, family means a lot to me. The legacy our parents left us is to be a close and loving family. We’ve had our fair share of family dramas. There have been rip-roaring fights and disagreements but we always settle them. That’s what family does.

I may go for weeks or months at a time from seeing one sibling or another but I know that each of them would be there for me at a drop of a hat. In fact each of them has.

I can relate umpteen instances where one or all of my siblings has rushed to help me when mini or major crisis has struck. Like the time they banned together to get me to the airport in time to make a family wedding. Or the time they rushed to be with my kids when my husband was taken to hospital and I was stranded in a snowstorm in Calgary. Or the time they were simply a sounding board when I was trying to figure life out.

My siblings are my rock. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re oldest, youngest or middlest. Whether they’re bossy, competitive, beautiful or smart. They are all kind, generous and compassionate. And reliable. And fun.

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Being among the youngest I could argue that my parents saved the best for last. Rather, I see it that I’m among the last of the best.

Last summer was the first time in a long while that we hadn’t all gotten together as a family. I’m looking forward to 2017 when we can reunite as our original Party of Five.

Hugs, kisses, tickles and an I love you. XOXOX

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born and bred in Victoria Village

I consider myself one of a rare breed. I am one of only a few people who can say they live in the same Toronto neighbourhood they were born. With a population where more than half its residents are immigrants, Toronto is a rich and vibrant city that is a mosaic of many different cultures. In a year that Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, Toronto celebrates its 183rd.

As a birthday gift to this fine city in which I have #LivedAndLovedAllMyLife, I want to tell my urban story and describe what this privilege means to me.

I grew up in the 60s. My first home was this ranch style bungalow my parents bought in Victoria Park Village in 1956.

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They were the first owners. They had been living on a street named Presley in Clairlea of Scarborough. Victoria Village as it’s more commonly known was a new neighbourhood north of Eglinton Ave and west of Victoria Park. It is in the south-eastern most quadrant of North York bordering with Scarborough and East York.

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Source: TorontoNeighbourhoods.net

For many years, our house was the last on the street. Sloane Avenue ended at Wigmore Drive and behind our house were farmers’ fields that spanned all the way to Lawrence Avenue until newer homes were built. At the time, the neighbourhood was touted as the new Leaside, or at least that’s what my father told me.

My father was a first generation Canadian. He was born in 1922 to Irish parents. They had immigrated to Canada from Northern Ireland in 1919 and eventually settled in the community of Riverdale whose development began to accelerate in 1918 after the Prince Edward Viaduct (Bloor Street Viaduct) was built to provide access from the main city to the other side of the Don River.

Construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct 1916:
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Dept. of Public Works City of Toronto Archives, listed under the archival citation Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 10, Item 768.

My father would cross that bridge every day as a boy to attend one of Canada’s oldest high schools, Jarvis Collegiate, which was built in 1807. The house on Hogarth where my father grew up was eventually sold to developers in the 1970s for the construction of some new apartment buildings.

Like me, my dad was someone who was born and bred in Toronto. He died at the hospital where my three sisters were born and where my mother trained to be a nurse – Toronto East General. I was born at Scarborough General and my brother was born at Toronto Western.

Together my parents raised their five children in the bungalow on Wigmore Drive. My siblings all moved away from the neighbourhood, and so did I for a brief time.

When we were newly married, my husband and I lived in a small town house up near Fairview Mall. It was supposed to be a three-year home but we ended up living there for nearly 10 years. When our first daughter was born in 1992 we started looking in earnest for a larger home. We considered moving out to Ajax where my brother lived or into one of the new housing developments that were growing north of Steeles. But our roots were further south.

While I had grown up in Victoria Village, my husband had grown up  in Parkwoods just north of Lawrence Avenue East. We had met in high school back in the 70s and eventually married in the late 80s. We both had worked downtown and knew we wanted to be closer to the city centre.

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We set new boundaries for our home search. We wanted to live east of Yonge and south of the 401. And because I consider myself a North Yorker, we had to be west of Victoria Park. Eventually we found the house we’ve called home for the last 22 years. It’s just around the corner from where I grew up and is the place our own girls grew up.

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Victoria Village is an established community and in 2017 is part of Urban Toronto’s Growth to Watch For Series 2017.

There’s something special about living in the same neighbourhood all your life. You’re familiar with all the parks and amenities, you recognize people you knew growing up and you’re familiar with the stories of days gone by.

Many of the original owners of these homes are still here or the house has passed down through the generations. My children played with children of friends I went to school with.

Across the street from where we live now is a family where the three daughters I knew as a kid come to visit their father every week and bring their own children. On the cul de sac behind my house live the parents of one of my best friends from elementary school. I sometimes see her when she comes to visit. I often run into classmates from school who have also returned to the ‘hood to live.

It’s often been said that Toronto is a city of many smaller communities. For me, I feel like a small-town girl who just happened to grow up in a big city. I think nothing of a jaunt to the beach or a trip across town. These are just extensions of my neighbourhood.

To mark Canada’s sesqui-centennial, Toronto is hosting a participatory public art project called My City My Six (#mycitymysix) where Torontonians are asked to tell their Toronto story in just six words.

For me, it’s #LivedAndLovedAllMyLife or #BornAndBredInVictoriaVillage. What are your six?

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Happy Birthday Toronto! #TOturns183.

How a luddite tames techno hurdles in 4 not-so-easy steps

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale. A tale of a fateful confession.

I am a luddite!

According to the Urban Dictionary a luddite is someone who is adverse to adapting to technology. It’s not that I oppose technology. It’s just that I’m inept at it. I am seemingly incapable of mastering something that should be easier than it is. I get flummoxed at what looks to be the simplest of tasks.

It’s not because I lack will power. Nor is it because I’m not putting in the time. It’s that I just don’t get it. My brain simply doesn’t think that way.

Let me give you some examples. For my digital communications class we’ve been asked to put together  a brief 2-minute video that we will shoot, edit and present in class later this month.

This is a group project. Ever the keeners, my group met earlier this week to discuss our theme, prepare our rationale and divvy up responsibilities. Eager to see what video production looked like, three of us thought we’d give it a whirl.

I grabbed my phone and began to interview one of my classmates about her eyelashes. An odd subject you’re probably thinking but not so odd when we had just been discussing fashion blogs. Regardless of the topic, I quickly realized I couldn’t interview her and shoot footage at the same time. Another classmate offered to videotape us while we chatted.

Success! Within just a few minutes we had some great footage to work with – albeit some in landscape format and the rest in portrait. No matter – I promised my team that I’d send them the full video the next day and we could all practice our editing skills.

Hurdle #1

The video was too big to email. I would have to send via the cloud. I’m familiar with DropBox but had never used it. After a few tries, I eventually managed to load DropBox on my computer and send the video. When I say a few tries, I mean a few hours. The challenge was that two things happened in the process – one, the DropBox account was opened in my daughter’s name and not mine, and two, I lost my email connectivity.

You see, our desktop at home is set up for four users. For some reason, I wasn’t able to override my daughter’s registration and replace it with mine, the primary user of our desktop. In the end, the video file got sent with her name.

The loss of email connectivity is another mystery. I think it’s because my phone is linked to a gmail account yet my main email address is a Hotmail account in Outlook. I had to register DropBox with gmail so it temporarily disabled my main email. Or at least I think that was the problem. I wasn’t able to send or receive for about an hour and a half. Perhaps it was something else. That’s just the thing. I don’t know what it was. And I hate that. I hate not understanding why. If I understand the why, I can accept the delay. I may not like it but I get it. It’s the not knowing that makes me crazy.

The Solution:

I walked the dog. After distancing myself from my frustration, I shut down and restarted my computer three times before it somehow magically righted itself. Then I sent the DropBox file under my daughter’s name and followed up with a separate email to my classmates telling them about the name change. I still don’t know why it wasn’t working but as Rafiki says, “It’s in the past.” Or to quote a more current Disney character, I simply had to “Let it Go.”

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GIF Source: Giphy

Hurdle #2

Finding a video editing tool I can use.

I have an Android phone. Using a widely accepted editing app like iMovie wasn’t going to work for me. I called Samsung to see which app they recommended for use with my phone. They suggested I go to Google Play and choose one that had the most stars. I find one that looks good but quickly realize the app gets loaded to my phone and not my desktop. I want to edit from my computer and not my phone. I can’t figure out how to download the app to my desktop. I go back to Google Play and download some other apps. The same thing. I just don’t get it.

The Solution:

Ask my good friend Google how to do video editing from a  desktop. Ever faithful, Google points me to something that will work with Windows 10 called Windows Movie Maker. I find a free app that downloads to my desktop and not my phone.

Hurdle #3

Figuring out how to edit my video using Windows Movie Maker.

The Solution:

Google to the rescue again! I watch three separate videos on YouTube and now feel confident to try out my editing chops.

Hurdle #4

I spend the next few hours playing with the program. I cut out extraneous content. I insert titles, captions and credits. I even learn to rotate the portrait and landscape shots so they can be viewed the same way. When I try to narrate over some of the footage I quickly discover my microphones don’t work.

After a few more attempts I finally remember the wise words of Rafiki and Queen Elsa and once again just try to, “Let it go.”  Recognizing I’m spending way too much time on something that was just meant to be practice, I decide to forego adding music.

Now the real hurdle – when I try to Save my Movie, I get a message that says that function is not supported because apparently I have downloaded a Trial Version. The only way to save my movie requires me upgrading to another version of Movie Maker and spending $50.

The Solution:

I call Microsoft support to see why a supposedly free download won’t let me save only to discover that the Movie Maker app from the Microsoft Store would normally cost $1.99.  Apparently I have downloaded a “Free” version from another retailer. After being transferred from telephone agent to telephone agent to see if I can get the right app and not lose all my work, I finally realize it’s time to fish or cut bait as the saying goes. I either walk away now and let it go or I cave.

Guess what? I caved. Or rather, my husband took pity on me. He spent the $50 to upgrade to the premium version of the app.

It was 10 pm on a Friday night. And after a long day facing hurdle after hurdle, confusion and frustration, I was feeling like the little girl below. Sadly, this gif is a fairly accurate representation of some of my behaviour too.

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GIF Source: Giphy

So what have I learned from all of this?

Keep at it. Eventually it will sink in. Ask for help if you need it. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. And finally, BREATHE – if all else fails, just let it go.

To sum up, and to paraphrase two 19th century poets – ours is not to reason why, ours is to DO or die (in the process) –Alfred Lord Tennyson.

And taking liberal license with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s nursery rhyme about a little girl with a curl right in the middle of her forehead:

When technology works it is very very good and when it doesn’t it is horrid!

For those of you who want to see the finished product, here’s the video on false eyelashes that finally came to fruition through a little blood, sweat, tears and a $50 upgrade.

What a leapling does in a non-leap year

Somewhere between midnight and daylight today the birthday fairies will sprinkle their dust and my baby girl will turn 25 – or rather, she will become 6 1/4 years old.

You see, Hannah is a leapling or what’s also sometimes known as a leaper. She’s one of those rare individuals who was born on February 29 – a leap year baby.

Less than five million people in the world can make this claim. The odds of being born on a leap day is 1 in 1461.

We always knew she was special. Now you do too.

Little did we know on that cold Saturday morning back in 1992 that she would be an exception. It was my sister Susan who lives in BC who first brought the oddity to our attention. Speaking over the phone shortly after Hannah was born she said to me, “It figures – if there is anyone in this family who could beat the odds and have a baby born on a Leap Year it would be you.”

I was surprised. I’m usually the one who takes the path less travelled. I seek the alternative, I choose the unpredictable. I like being different, a little right of ordinary. If I could have planned to achieve something fewer than .3 per cent of the population had achieved, I would have.

But the thought of having a Leap Year baby never even came on my radar. Perhaps that’s because Hannah wasn’t due until March 6. It never even occurred to me that I might have a February baby let alone a Leap Year baby.

There have been six leap years since Hannah was born but three times as many non-leap years.

So what does a leapling do in a non-leap year?

How were we to celebrate? We couldn’t let February pass without marking the occasion. Yet in any other year she would have been born on March 1st.

 

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GIF Source: Giphy

 

We quickly resolved to celebrate on both days. And as my family can attest, often we will celebrate over the span of a week. Parties have ranged from bowling to skating to volleyball. Last year we went axe-throwing!

This year is different. This year she went skiing in Kelowna with her friends. It’s the first year we haven’t been together to celebrate.

It makes sense that as she’s about to enter a new quarter century that we start some new traditions.

Her birthday celebrations may have begun on February 28th but they will continue well into March when she gets home.

25 years flew by quickly Hannah. Here’s a quick snapshot of the sweet girl who always was and always will be exceptional.  We love you.

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