From Friday, October 9 until Monday, October 12, intrepid explorers John Horn and Michelle Burtnyk – Team Bornk! is their official “adventure” name – braved BC Ferries, Northern Vancouver Island, 25 relatives, two turkeys, nearly 40 senior citizens, and a flip chart to bring you this amazing tale. What unfolds below is a breakdown of the weekend’s events. I encourage you to skim, because it’s pretty long. From shenanigans to tomfoolery to unconditional love of Grandmothers, we cover it all. What unfolds happened as told by John Horn with collaborative input from Michelle Burtnyk, and let’s get to it…
The road to The Compound during the "epitomy of autumn"
Friday, October 9, 2009
9:34am – 12:17pm: at work and the kids are alright. Better than alright, actually. The workshop on one-page resumes is actually nothing short of inspiring. It feels like a graduate seminar in which we’re discussing the literary turn and my main man, Dominick LaCapra. Can you take a post-structuralist approach to resumes? Yes we can! The students’ energy raised my energy and my fun level rises to maximum capacity.
2:55pm: I find myself on a Number 44 bus heading downtown jammed awkwardly between the window, a cushion/barricade and four people on one of the most crowded bus rides in the history of public transit; luckily, the passengers are mostly university students eager to get away for a weekend of real fun and real food, so the vibe is good and the energy is still of the enthusiastic sort.
3:44pm: arrive at corner of Georgia and Burrard to wait for the 257 Express and/or 250 “Slow Boat” busses to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. As I survey the swelling lineup and ever-stressing faces of the people within it, I realize that I am standing amongst folks who actually think they are going to make the 5pm sailing to Departure Bay. As I speak with Michelle on the phone, I say, “…and there are people here who are yelling incredulously at full buses because they are trying to make the 5pm sailing, which is pretty funn – no offense, people standing around me.”
3:52pm: the budging starts. Subtly, at first, with people feigning confusion and incompetence – “oh, sorry, I didn’t know there was a line” or “ohhhh, this is the front of the line, not the back?” With little time to get to Horseshoe Bay, when the next 250 bus pulls up, well, the serious budging and pushing begins. Surely there is a better way to live than this, people!
4:25-5:21pm: I’m on the bus next to a talker named Kate; we become friends and exchange numbers with the noble goal of one day practicing our French together.
5:23-5:33pm: madness ensues at the BC Ferries terminal (shocking, I know) when it is announced that “all Nanaimo passengers taking the 5pm ferry please move to the front of the line.” What?! Nanaimo?! 5pm?! But it’s 5:23!! Yes, it is well past 5pm; however, the ferry was nearly 40 minutes late, so here we are. Frantically, I grab my mobile device telephone twitterberry and call Michelle. She is 20 minutes away and the bus, in spite of her sweetest smile, will not go faster and/or miss stops to suit her personal needs. So, by the closest of calls, we miss the 5pm ferry. Just like we planned.
5:53-6:59pm: decent meal of sushi in a restaurant that, ironically enough, was not prepared for a pre-sailing-dinner-rush. To quote my new friend and fellow unraveling traveler, Lyle: “why is it that restaurant staff will always emerge at 9pm and say, ‘wow, we totally got slammed!‘ – of course you did, it’s dinner and you’re a restaurant!” So, we hustled into the lineup for the 7pm boat (where we meet Lyle).
7:29-9:03pm: “Welcome aboard BC Ferries!” Madness. Utter and complete madness. It is delightful, though. Together, Michelle and I encounter no fewer than seven people we knew, including my friend from high school, Carl, who just makes you feel like a million bucks when you talk to him, as he laughs at every single sentence like you’re Seinfeld delivering an amazing punchline. So that was the upside, the people. The downside was also the people. There were many of us, and there was still a lineup for the cafeteria as we chugged into Departure Bay.
9:17-10:31pm: my sister picks us up at the ferry and showers us with homemade granola bars, banana-nut bars and indy rock music. Amazing. Conversation topics include, but are not limited to, wedding planning, clashing of worlds (tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner would mark the meeting of Michelle’s parents and my mom’s entire side of the family, including Uncle John…), politics (all varieties), “hotness”, ninjas, why panda bears suck, South America, and love.
10:37pm-12:03am: we arrive in Merville and quickly collect ourselves around my parents outdoor fireplace and get caught up on life, the universe and everything. And then we spend a few minutes going over the game plan for tomorrow – when the reality of feeding and entertaining 24 people who span the age of 1 to 85 years old actually hits us, we decide to head to bed.
The Horn Family Garden, where so many of the Thanksgiving Goodness came from
Saturday, October 10, 2009
12:15-8:33am: dreams include, but are not limited to, eating turkey, being eaten by a turkey, giant plants, and dancing bears.
8:34am: arrive downstairs to see that my father has peeled and chopped nearly all the vegetables for dinner. So that’s what that sound at 5:31am was…
8:35-9:03am: put on gumboots, my Merville jacket, my Peruvian alpacca toque, grab a cup of amazing locally roasted coffee, and hit the deck with my dad to philosophize on life, the universe and everything.
9:07-11:32am: food prep! Highlights include Dad preparing brussel sprouts with garlic and parmesan cheese, Kim Horn stuffing two turkeys (while somehow making a delicious pumpkin cheesecake with Michelle), and Mama Horn supervising everything and everyone with humourously benevolent authority.
10:45-11:51am: emergency side-trip into town to pick up chicken feed, cream cheese and, most importantly, do some father-son bonding.
12:15pm: first turkey in the oven!
12:24pm: second turkey in the oven!
3:06pm: Michelle’s parents arrive. Fun fact about the parents known as “JED” – they will arrive to any social event within 15 minutes of the agreed upon time; for example, if you ask them to arrive at 3pm, they will role down the driveway between 2:54 and 3:06pm.
4:06-5:32pm: the rest of the Finnsson (my mom’s family) arrive in an epic, three-car entourage involving four kids, one teenager, snacks, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, special man friends, cousins, great cousins, one dog, and four amazing pumpkin pies. The worlds collide as my fiance’s parents meet my mom’s side of the family for the first time. Wine is poured, beers are opened and the conversations begin. As the families mingle in the living room, my dad and I simultaneously carve the two birds, dishes are whipped and mashed and heated, brussels are glazed, beets are de-skinned, and Uncle John stirs the gravy.
5:34-7:29pm: given that we have one prominent senior citizen in attendance (my Grandma, Betty), dinner, of course, starts well before 6pm. And away we go! About 24 of us (my littlest cousin, Nathan, might count for half-a-person) gather around an elongated table (two tables and an old door made into a table, actually) and proceed to indulge in perhaps the best meal that I’ve ever eaten. In fact, this theme – “the best meal I’ve ever eaten” – seems to resonate amongst the attendees of Thanksgiving 2009 for days to come. As I film a video, snap pictures and liberate cranberry sauce from the microwave, my sister assembles a heaping plate of culinary delight that takes me over an hour to devour. No worries, though, as I am surrounded by interesting, hilarious and thoughtful family members, who make the time fly by even if my mountain of mash potatoes (with home-canned green beens hiding underneath) doesn’t.
7:41-8:00pm: hilarious story. Guess who gets put in charge of the Supply Chain Management position between the pie-slicing station and the dinner table? My four year old cousin, Owen. As another cousin, Terri, and her Special Man Friend, Andrew, divide no fewer than 30 pieces of pie, Owen confidently picks them up and places them around the dinner table. Whenever anyone questions him he simply replies, “no, we need more; this one’s for my mom!”
8:10-9:17pm: a big theme of the entire weekend was helping. Everyone helped. And I mean everyone. My sister and future mom-in-law handle the dishes, Uncle John spearheads all clean-up duties that fell under the “other” category, Uncle Geoff (my dad, but all my cousins refer to him as such) herds the kids, and I do my part by eating all the pie that Owen distributed around the table. Within a matter of moments, there are no traces of a meal for 24 people or the things we used to make it.
9:43pm: everyone is gone and the key members of the culinary committee (mom, dad, sister, fiance, et moi) are chatting about the night’s frivolities in the living room.
9:57pm: I fall into a deep, deep sleep, burrowing into Michelle’s lap. The combination of turkey, chatter and about eight pieces of pie has taken its toll on my mind, body and soul in the best possible way.
9:57pm-9:01am: dreams include, but are not limited to, turkey, pie and a crazy, flying turkey pie.
Sunday, October 11, 2009 (Betty’s 85th Birthday)
Happy 85th Birthday, Betty!
9:08-10:45am: breakfast, coffee and reflections on the evening that passed. Did I really eat all that pie?! Yes, John. You did.
10:51am-12:02pm: Michelle and I embark on an emergency mission into town. Buns, juice, milk, and a saucy Argentine malbec (we chose Trapiche) make up our collection of supplies.
12:17-12:59pm: we arrive home to see my main man, Sid (my Grandma’s best friend and former cook-for-the-navy) overseeing all the helpers for a birthday lunch that makes the previous evening look like a quaint, romantic dinner for two. Sid has casseroles in the oven, fruit platters on the go and is brewing enough coffee for even more than the 40 senior citizens scheduled to arrive at one o’clock. Sid is a benevolent dictator who, somehow, makes me feel good while yelling at me because he felt I wasn’t whipping the cream the right way (“John, the beaters are turning the wrong way!”). But they only go one way, man…
1:00-2:10pm: on the dot, the seniors show up in droves (perhaps they took a bus). The family forms a reception line, and we greet all partygoers and show them to their seats. Promptly at 1:30 or so, Sid gives the order to begin eating and nobody fails to disappoint. The 40 or so guests dive into the plates of casserole, pickles, olives, salads, deviled eggs, and fruit leather (freshly made the day before by Papa Horn – it looks like barf, but tastes amazing).
2:15-3:00pm: my sister and I – in collaboration with the entire family – deliver one of our most epic family-event performances. Inspired by the great intellectual comedian, Demetri Martin, Betty: 85 Years of Data and Findings is quite the hit. I mean, if stripping down to a mumu in front of 40 seniors doesn’t get a laugh, what will. My mom also wrote a song, and it’s this performance, which includes the entire family and is complete with hilarious signs held up by ridiculously cute great grandchildren, that closes the show. After all, it wouldn’t be a family gathering if my mom didn’t write and perform a song or poem. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of love here for you, Betty.
3:30-6:59pm: so much relaxing. For a few hours, after everything is clean, my parents, sister, Michelle, my cousin Erik, and I chill out in the living room, reflecting on the day. My Uncle Gary walks his dog and then takes a nap in his truck and nobody asks why, because we love Gary.
7:00-9:52pm: the Canucks beat the Dallas Stars and this makes people happy. While this unlikely victory is taking place, Kim Horn and Michelle play their version of the game Guess Who? called “Profile Who?” And it goes like this: instead of asking question, each player gives a one sentence statement about their two characters and then the other player has to eliminate their options based on that sentence. For example, “okay, one of my guys is big and possibly eating the other guy; the big guy is pretty happy about it, but the other guy is really, really sad about being eaten.” Obviously we’re talking about Bill and Robert!
11:44pm: a day of entertaining, hosting and eating has made us all sleepy; this time, though, Michelle doesn’t have to carry me to bed.
11:55pm-10:03am: dreams include, but are not limited to, work (stupid cover letters!), wedding planning, and my friend Justin Rutka dancing with a giant turkey.
Monday, October 12, 2009
10:05am-1:07pm: finally, a bit of sleeping in! With coffee in hand and fresh-this-morning-eggs, the core-team of Thanksgiving and Betty’s Birthday eat breakfast and reflect on some of the highlights of the epic event. The deliciousness of the mostly local food (forget the 100 mile diet, most of the stuff came from 100 feet away in the Horn Family Garden) topped this list, with particular celebration being paid to the brussel sprouts, beets and melt-in-your-mouth turkey. How the whole household became a giant, gleeful, chatty, helpful, creative organism that seemed to move and organize and deliver ideas and information and food all on its own was another key highlight. Finally, we laugh at the hilariousness of how all the seniors left within eight minutes of the skit and song about Betty being over.
1:10-2:00pm: I spend some time walking the property and photographing what my dad calls “the epitomy of autumn.” My good friend, Theodora, once told me that I need to go to Merville every few months to find myself and re-charge my soul. She’s absolutely right, as this is the place where I am most centred and most understand the community that I want to help build elsewhere in the world. Obviously, it’s a community of family, food and hilarious senior citizens!
3-4:15pm: we stop in for a quick visit with Betty at the Seniors Palace of Fun and Adventure (clearly, there’s a little spin going on at this Old Folks Home!). She thanks us for the festivities and we thank her for, well, being her. Hugs are exchanged and I return the mumu, its purpose having been more than served.
4:17-5:22pm: Mom and dad drive us to the ferry. The ride – like the conversation – is simply delightful and we chat about how autumn in Eastern Canada is far superior to Fall on the West Coast. We then agree that the West Coast is superior in nearly every other way. Again, we reflect on how organic, delicious and community-oriented the weekend was. We also joke about how, to function properly, my Uncle John must have a task to accomplish during parties; any task.
5:30-7:29pm: we arrive at the Departure Bay terminal really, really early and meet about 200 people who missed the 5pm boat. While we wait, Michelle and I chat as well as send thank-you notes to everyone who made the weekend so darn great.
7:32-9:05pm: the ferry, again, is jammed. We carve out a space and read about education, epidemiology and relationship-building. We also cajole Michelle’s sister, Sarah, into picking us (and our heaping bags of squash, eggs, beets, carrots, leeks, potatoes, apples, and turkey sandwiches) up at Horseshoe Bay. All it costs us is a lude picture of her dog that she texts our way and some vegetables to be named later. Thanks for the memories, Sarah!
9:30-10:01pm: we get caught up on each others’ weekends and thank Sarah for the ride. We barter for passage by offering her a squash, two eggs, a carrot, a phallic beet, and two brussel sprouts.
10:06pm: happy and so, so relaxed, I push the key into the deadbolt of our apartment. It’s open. In fact, both locks aren’t locked at all. In disbelief, I inform Michelle of her Friday afternoon oversight and cautiously enter the apartment, all the while thinking of the thousands of photos saved on our computers. Of course, everything is just as we left it. And why wouldn’t it be? After all, it was just that kind of weekend…
So there it is. An epic journey catalogued with too many words. We shared a magical, community-centered weekend and, if you want to repeat some best practices in your life, here are some tips:
1. Plan ahead – whether it’s making a ferry or cooking for 40, this one is key.
2. Smile and relax – nothing – not busses nor overcooked food – is worth getting upset over.
3. Talk to people – it’s hard to build a community of friends, family and business partners if you say nothing; besides, seniors have amazing stories!
4. Local is better – it looks, feels and tastes better and is much, much healthier for our planet.
5. Help out – if you aren’t sure what to do to prepare, serve or clean-up, ask!
6. Don’t take yourself too seriously – listen to others’ ideas and directions, respect elders, laugh at yourself when you make a mistake, and, hey, don’t be afraid to put on a mumu for special occasions!
7. Commercial Drive is a safe place - man, at least this time the community (karma included) took care of us…
Thanks again to everyone who crossed our paths during our unraveling travels from Vancouver to Merville and back again. In your own special ways, you made it an unforgettable experience.