Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Trip Update #5

Since more time has passed since our trip than the actual length of our entire trip, I will wrap things up today. Here are some of the things we did besides go to the pool or beach.

You may remember that Neve got an American Girl doll for her birthday. Everything involving these dolls is slightly over the top, so it only makes sense that there are American Girl stores in certain cities where you can take your doll to eat, shop and go to the salon. Lucky for (some of) us, there happens to be a store in Miami. However, Miami is a big city and the store was far away. Dale’s sister Jean was a saint and drove the girls (Chloe, Sarah and Neve) and me one hour each way through heavy traffic so we could go worship at the American Girl temple. We went for afternoon tea and I have to admit it was actually pretty cute. The dolls sat at the table in their own seats while we had tea, along with a 3-tiered assortment of finger foods and sweets. Neve was pretty pleased with it all and the rest of us had fun too, so it was worth it. Especially since I wasn’t the one driving in crazy traffic.

During this time, Dale and Spencer went to the Everglades. They saw a few alligators, but not as close-up as Shannon did.

We also spent a day at a waterpark. It was a big place with a whole bunch of cool slides we’d never seen before. Neve is more of a cautious type, so she struggled a bit with some of the more dramatic slides. That’s a diplomatic way of saying that she whimpered and pouted and had a dark cloud over her head whenever we went on slides without her (there were many that she didn’t want to go on). But she lightened up as the day went on and left her tiny comfort zone and ended up having a lot of fun. We stayed all day until they basically pushed us and our Dippin Dots out the gates at closing time.

The main reason for our trip was to see Dale’s sister and her family. We stayed at their house a couple of nights and went over to visit almost every evening when we stayed at the condo. They are very gracious and generous hosts and served us delicious meals and key lime pies and lots of wine. Hanging out with them on their beautiful deck every night, surrounded by patio lights and tropical trees, was definitely a highlight. The kids loved spending time with their cousins. As I mentioned before, Chloe and Sarah were together every possible second and even though Amy had classes during the day, we usually saw her in the evenings.

It was sad to leave, but we told ourselves we wouldn’t wait four years to come visit again. But with Sarah off to college in the fall and Chloe not far behind, it won’t be as simple. I’m so glad we went while it was still relatively uncomplicated. I can’t remember if I mentioned this in a previous post, but we weren’t even planning to go this year. A couple of months ago, I went for lunch with my boss and was telling her Dale and I had talked about a spring break trip to Florida but had come to a firm decision to just stay home and save money. My boss has young-adult children who don’t live at home anymore and by the end of our lunch, she had convinced me that we couldn’t pass up the chance to take a family trip while the kids were still all at home. So I texted Dale, “Let’s book Miami!” And he texted right back, “Sure.” He doesn’t need much convincing when it comes to travel. I like that about him.

Jax Beach

On the way home we stopped in Jacksonville, where Chloe went on a youth trip last summer. She showed us around and met up with someone she knew. We also stopped in Savannah for a couple of hours. I’d love to go back and spend more time there, but we'll have to save that for another time. 


Dale is shocked and awestruck by what he sees. What is it?!

oh, a giant container ship floating down the river.

It's hard to get the full scale effect here, but that ship was ENORMOUS. Think of each of those containers as a train box car. We were very worried it wouldn't fit under the bridge but it seems this isn't the first ship of its size ever to come into port.

Spencer's birthday, Good Friday and Easter all happened on the drive home, so the celebrations were very low key. It didn't help that Spencer wasn't feeling great (in fact, he missed four days of school the week we got back) but he managed to eat a nice heavy birthday meal at Cracker Barrel. 

The new van served us well. It was so nice to have everything in working order. It was especially awesome not having to guess when we needed gas. The built-in video screens were great, but for some crazy reason, the children only watched two movies the entire trip. That's mostly because they could never agree on a movie and we had a tough time figuring out how to play two different movies and get the headphones working for the right movie. First world problems, I know. But before this, we had a portable DVD player that was super awkward to set up and of course they always wanted to watch movies then. They probably just liked seeing me struggle. Instead of watching movies, they read, listened to music, played games, and were obsessive about finding North American license plates (Rhode Island and New Mexico were the only US states we didn't see).
We're  already planning our next couple of trips. In the meantime, I can finally get back to blogging about everyday things like broken toes, new babies, and anniversaries.

not our best family picture

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Two years

I’m taking a break from the trip updates to mark the second anniversary of Teresa’s death. I’ve been going through a box of old papers and letters and photos recently and have pulled out a stack of letters that Teresa wrote to me when Dale and I were living in PEI and Toronto. It pays to be a pack rat sometimes. I read every one and it felt so good to hear her “voice” again. The letters were so typical Teresa; they made me laugh out loud so many times. I would share them but they possibly contain gossip about you.

The thing about losing someone you’ve known your whole life is that there are so many things to mourn: the past, present and the future. Since going through the letters, I’m definitely in the “past” phase. Also in the box were some old diaries. I was always scared someone would find my diary and read it, so I avoided writing anything remotely personal. Instead I listed the things I had done that day: got 82% on my math test, went to volleyball practice, practiced piano, watched TV. If I had ever been accused of a crime on a specific day, I could have flipped open my diary and had a good solid alibi. Unless the crime was committed at volleyball practice; then I guess I’d have some explaining to do. Anyway, it’s not the most riveting diary ever but one pattern that was obvious was how much time Teresa and I spent together. Every single weekend and sometimes during the week were entries like: Went to Teresa’s and watched two movies. Went shopping at St. Vital with Teresa. Teresa called. Teresa came over. There is very little mention of what we actually did when we were together, but whatever it was, we did a lot of it. That didn’t even include seeing each other at school all day. Besides my immediate family and my cousin Rob, there is no one else that was such a constant presence in my life while growing up. After two years, it still hits me hard to realize everything that’s been lost. I know the experiences and memories are not lost but the good feelings I used to associate with those experiences are now overshadowed by sadness.

There is no "present" with Teresa now and I rarely let myself think about the future without her, so here’s to the past. We had some crazy (undocumented) times, lots of fun, lots of laughter, lots of memories. You will always be close to my heart. I have faith that we’ll see each other again someday and we’ll pick up where we left off. I love you and miss you every single day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trip Update #4

I took a lot of pictures on the trip, but not nearly as many as I usually do. I'm losing a bit of interest in "capturing images," mostly because the quality of a lot of my pictures suck. They're not focused properly, the angle is wrong, or they're just not composed well. I'm thinking there are some things that just can't be taught, to me at least. I'm okay with that for now and I'm sure there will come a time when I'm interested again. But I like the picture above, even if it is a little enhanced. 

I really love the contrast of the ocean and the tall buildings. There's something about apartment buildings and high density housing that has always appealed to me. I love the idea of so many people living so close together and I love seeing lights on at night and imagining the lives of the people who live there. It's the opposite of where I grew up in the country, and while I loved the wide open spaces and many other things about that, I was always fascinated by city life. I'm also pretty crazy about the ocean, so the combination of those two things could be added to my list of favourite things from yesterday.

Dale and I got up early one morning and walked to the end of this pier, but the pelican ruined the moment:

I blurred out part of the girls in the background above but now it looks like they're naked. They almost were and it seemed to stand out in the photo but I'm not sure if I made it better or worse. Probably worse since I'm now drawing attention to it.

This is us hanging out at Jean's favourite beach in Miami. The colour of the water there was amazing and so clear (below). We saw lot of fish underwater, even without the snorkels that we dragged 3000 km across the country. The coolest thing we saw was a whole bunch of fish jumping out of the water in an arc just like you'd see in a cartoon.

This is one of my favourite pictures of the whole trip. This guy was trying to take a selfie with the blimp in the background. We saw a LOT of selfie sticks and they still look silly but he really could have used one. Of course I could have gotten up and offered to take a picture for him, but this was more fun.

We met up with Neve's friend from school and her family on South Beach one afternoon. The girls were delighted to hang out in Florida together and the adults had a pretty great time too. After the beach, we went for drinks on Ocean Drive then for dinner on Lincoln Road, which is a cool stretch of shops and outdoor restaurants (the street names will mean nothing if you're not familiar with Miami, but I'm just adding details for my future interest). The kids drank giant (virgin) pina coladas and dared each other to eat hot crushed peppers (with bad results) and ran back and forth to a nearby jewellery store while we waited for our dinner. Great memories for all of us.

Up next: Things we did that didn't involve water

Monday, April 20, 2015

Trip Update #3

It’s cold today. After decent weather last week and an especially beautiful day on Saturday, it’s a shock to the system. No matter how often I tell myself that any nice days in April are pure bonus days, I’m still disappointed. We had a staff meeting at Fort Whyte Alive today and let me tell you that walking around the lake in the icy wind and flurries while encountering giant geese sitting on the road did not make me love that place more. I’m not exactly sure what it would take for me to love that place more; maybe a spa? A teepee full of cash I could help myself to? A place where you could go and hold sleeping babies that look and smell exactly like my babies did? Those are the three best things I could think of apparently. None of them involve geese.

Anyway, a day like today has got me pining for Miami. So here’s the next installment.

We stayed in a condo near the ocean for a week. The condo itself was awesome but the building complex had some issues. It was a new-ish complex consisting of three buildings and I’m not sure what the architect was thinking. Or maybe the architect had an awesome plan but the client pinched pennies resulting in a less-than-perfect outcome (right Dan?). The pool area was on the fifth floor in the middle building and to get there, we had to take the elevator from our 14th floor condo down to the fourth floor. Then we had to find our way through a labyrinth of hallways and the parking garage (!) to the next building, where we had to choose between a lengthy wait for the elevator or a stinky dirty stairwell to go up to the next floor. So that was fun. I’m sure there was a really good reason for not making a walkway from our building on the same level as the pool but I can’t imagine what. The parkade was another maze; we were pretty surprised every time we actually found our way back to our parking spot. Leaving the building on foot to walk to the beach or shops was also tricky. There was no sidewalk from the front door to the street (a fair distance), so we had to dodge all the traffic coming and going from our complex. 

Okay, I know that’s a lot of complaining, but I wanted to document it in case we’re tempted to rent a condo here again. Don’t do it! You can do better! 

Seriously, other than that, it was awesome. The kids (including Sarah when she slept over) all fit easily into the big master bedroom with its own bathroom and walk-in closet. Dale and I took the smaller bedroom. We loved hanging out by the pool, swimming and reading and sleeping on the loungers. We also spent lots of time on the balcony. We didn’t have an ocean view but we faced the bay which had a pretty nice view. It was cool seeing the boats and watching the drawbridge go up when necessary.

Night view from our balcony

Playing Dutch Blitz

Spencer preferred reading on the balcony to being by the pool

And Dale prefers wide angle shots.

Tomorrow (maybe): the beach! I'm sorry. I can't believe this is stretching out so long. You'd think we were gone six months. If I'm not done by Friday, I will give up. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Easter / Trip Update #2

I better get a move on and get this trip documented while it’s still fresh in my mind and while things are relatively calm around here. The two younger children are now on antibiotics and feeling better, but the oldest one is not feeling great. Some muggy, tropical air sure would be nice … (my Florida relatives will be laughing at that – it wasn’t muggy for them at all compared to summer time).

But first, here is the annual Easter pictures with my children and nieces and nephews (my mom is in the picture too with her Easter flowers). The Easter baskets with real grass are always a big hit.

We were missing my oldest nephew and his family but they're expecting their third baby any day now, so next year there should be a few more little heads in this picture. It was the first Easter without my sister-in-law Joan and we missed her. Last Easter was the first family get-together after she was diagnosed with cancer. She wasn’t feeling great but she still managed to show up for a while, bringing gold Lindt Easter bunnies for the kids and helping her grandchildren find their hidden candy. I remember some of us sitting in the living room and as I listened to Joan talk and laugh just like usual, I felt so relieved and just knew she was going to be okay. So much for my intuition. This year Sabrina brought the Lindt bunnies, but Joan's spirit lives on.
Okay, back to the trip. On the way to Miami, we dropped in to see my parents who spend their winters in a village near Orlando. It was a quick 24-hour visit because they were heading home later that week and we wanted to get to Miami while my niece Sarah was still on spring break. It’s always good to get a glimpse into my parents’ life there so we can see how they spend one-third of their year. We shook up their peaceful existence with some exuberant pool activity and wild golf cart driving.

I look forward to growing older if it means this is what I would see every morning.

Chloe's birthday started here. My mom served up some cake while we clapped.

Neve is apparently in her happy place
Goodbye, Grandma & Grandpa!

Then we got back into the trusty Town & Country and headed south for a few more hours. This was a happy reunion:

Sarah is in her last year of high school so we felt pretty lucky to be spending her last high school spring break with her. These girls were together literally every minute until Sarah went back to school the next week.

Dale's lovely sister made us delicious shrimp burritos for dinner (Chloe's request), followed by a chocolate masterpiece that Sarah made for dessert. Spencer also had his birthday while we were away so Jean had her hands full making my kids' birthdays special. I got off easy this year.

More clapping ensued.

If being in Florida and seeing your grandparents and your cousins and aunt and uncle all on the same day isn't an awesome birthday, I don't know what is. I've got to say she's a pretty delightful 17-year-old; I'll expand on that another day.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Florida Vacation - Part 1

Time is a freaky thing. It’s been a week since we left Miami; in some ways it seems like five minutes ago and in other ways it seems like it never even happened. At any rate, we jumped back into regular life way too quickly. First there was the hot water tank situation, and then illness came for a visit and has long overstayed its welcome.

Spencer started feeling sick-ish on the drive home and is still not back to normal. He stayed home from school on Monday, rallied on Tuesday but came home exhausted and hasn’t been back since. I don’t think he’ll go tomorrow either. We went to the doctor on Wednesday and he said to come back on Friday if Spencer wasn’t better. He’s always a little better in the mornings and then feels worse as the day goes on, so I’m not sure what to make of it.

And Neve has been coughing for three weeks. It got better on our trip but now it’s back, worse than ever. Maybe the heat was good for her. We should probably go back. After listening to her hack all night, I took her to the doctor today. He said it sounded like pneumonia but she wasn’t sick enough. He gave her pills to take for two weeks and then we have to go back.

But between doctor visits, work, school stuff and activities, I found myself in a seven-hour slice of paradise on Tuesday. My sister and I spent all afternoon and most of the evening at Thermea Spa. We had massages and then spent the rest of the time doing the hot-cold-relax cycles, with an emphasis on relax. As much as I dislike snow in spring, I have to say it was pretty magical when snowflakes started falling. It felt like we were at a ski resort in the mountains, sitting in the hot tub watching the steam rise from the surface and smelling the wood fire … ahhh … it was a pretty sweet boost to the post-holiday transition.  As an added bonus, thanks to my aunt and decent health insurance, it cost us nothing.

So here’s the first installment of my vacation report, consisting mostly of photos. I can’t say yet how many installments there will be, but I promise it will be less than 50. We’ll start in Memphis. Despite knowing very little about Elvis, Spencer expressed great interest in visiting Graceland. That’s the joy of road trips; we can do whatever we want.

We all enjoyed the tour even though we’re not big Elvis fans. It’s always fun to snoop around someone’s house when they’re not home, especially if it’s someone iconic. It was a self-guided audio/iPad tour, which was kind of cumbersome but kind of cool. The shuttle bus system from the Visitor’s Centre to Graceland right across the street was lengthy and awkward, but I will trust that after 33 years, they have determined this is the most efficient method.
It was a weird feeling to walk through the house. I wouldn't say I'm a star-struck kind of person, but you could feel a presence. Some rooms were relatively plain, like the living room:

And the kitchen, where the décor has been left exactly as it was when Elvis was alive:
Some rooms were less plain:

And some were downright weird, like the jungle room (not shown) and the pool room with its fabric-covered walls and ceiling:

The former racquetball court now houses memorabilia and jumpsuits:

The graves of Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother:

There was a lot more including stables and horses, and private planes and cars on the extended tour. The second floor of his house is off limits out of respect for his personal living space and the place he died. They say no one is allowed upstairs except Priscilla, Lisa Marie and the curator of Graceland.
So Graceland was Spencer's request, and Chloe had one too. She had read about this old diner in Memphis and really wanted to go. It wasn't too far from Graceland, so with the help of our Nav system, we headed to Arcade Restaurant. It's been open since 1919 and is apparently Memphis' oldest café.  

It was super cool. It was authentically retro, not just fake wanna-be retro. The food and the milkshakes were delicious, but all the history is even better. It's survived through many decades, even when many places in the neighbourhood went out of business and were boarded up. Elvis was a regular here and there's a long list of movies that have filmed here. I wish we'd had more time to explore the area because there were a lot of neat shops around, as well as a trolley that goes right by the restaurant.

I'm starting to sound like a low-budget travel writer, so I'll stop there. Oh, I should mention, I changed the comment settings so you have to use a verification word. Some comments were going missing so I thought I'd try this. I hope it's not so inconvenient that you won't bother commenting because I am very fond of comments. I've never used the word "comments" so many times in one paragraph.