Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Family Weekend 2015

It’s a good thing I like my family because we’ve been spending a lot of time with them. Dan’s visits always spur some good family time, including our annual weekend at my parents. On Friday, Dan, Janet, Sabrina and I went to the Quarry with the kids. It was a beautiful day, so we made the most of it. Then we rushed home and cleaned up before heading to the Whytewold Emporium for dinner. We were joined by the rest of my siblings and their partners, except for Jenn in Vancouver. We had wood-fired pizza with crepes for dessert. We hung out on the pier afterward; it was such a beautiful evening. It was a lot of fun and Dale and I got to cruise home in Jim’s caddy. Oh, and I got awesome new winter mitts but I don’t want to talk about them yet.

The ridiculous crepe Dale & I ordered for dessert

At the Quarry

Mermaid Bella

On Saturday morning, we all headed to my parents. It was cool and cloudy but the rain held off until around dinnertime, unlike Winnipeg which was hit with rain before noon. But once it started, the wind and rain stuck around most of the weekend. It was definitely the coolest, wettest family weekend on record but it was still better than last year’s weekend when Dan and Bailey weren’t there and it hadn’t quite sunk in that Joan really wasn’t coming. This year my brother’s new friend came for part of the time; she is lovely and fun in spite of dealing with grief of her own. We really like her. Here is the weekend in pictures:

The unofficial events committee planning some minute-to-win-it games

The games were a hit, proving that we can have fun without sun.

Baby snuggling with Vana. Such a doll!!

Vana's cool big brother Cruz 
The weekend wouldn't be complete without tractors

Neve, Chloe, Tia (who arrived home from a week in Tadoule lake late the night before) 
Cutie Nixi

Donkey fun

Bailey is a henna star

Ping pong tournament champs. Jimmy looks as proud as if he'd won the world championships instead of the middle-aged family rec tournament.
Donkey champs. The bronze winner is covetous.

Lexie and Uncle Dan

This doll was like another family member this weekend. He is slightly creepy and has an arm missing but he brings joy everywhere he goes. Even/especially when he causes fright.

Dan made pop-rock chocolate … mmm

Love it when the cousins hang out (there are some missing)

Because of the weather, there was no bonfire or fireworks, no archery, beanbag toss or digging potatoes. But my parents always work hard to provide good quality family time and they definitely succeeded again this year. It's a tradition we all love and I'm glad the kids get to make memories in the same house/yard where I grew up.

We returned home on Sunday to find that Neve’s pet fish Swimmy had moved on to the big ocean in the sky, just six days before his third birthday. Three years is pretty good for a Beta fish and we could see the writing on the wall for a few weeks (months?), but Neve was pretty sad. Through her tears she said, “Now we can’t call him Swimmy anymore. We have to call him Deady!” She couldn't bear to flush him so he lay dead in his fishbowl in the dining room until last night (when Spencer's fish Napoleon III was nearing the end a few years ago, we started carrying him to the bathroom to flush him several times but on the way there, he started swimming again. That was definitely not the case this time). When you think about it, Swimmy has been around for almost one-third of Neve's life. Even though he wasn't exactly an interactive pet, he was a constant presence. After a moving ceremony in the kitchen, the procession moved to the bathroom where some difficulties were experienced with dumping him out of his bowl. Not a very dignified ending, but he swims on in our hearts. To see how little the kids were when Swimmy joined our family, click here. (Actually, that was Swimmy the first. He died within days and Swimmy II arrived a week later).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Random summer happenings

As much as I love vacations, I also love being at home in the summer. It takes a little more convincing this year (and by convincing, I mean bribing and threatening) to get the kids to play outside and pretend they're still six. I'm exhausted by the end of the day; not from playing hard but by negotiating hard. I know the kids are all normal pre-teen/teenagers, but I get wistful for those busy days when they were buzzing around outside. Now I claim victory in the small things: a bike ride to Polo Park, Neve riding her bike beside me while I run, eating ice cream on the deck, and jumping on the trampoline with a sprinkler underneath. And if all else fails, I just throw hula hoops around the yard, put up our piece-of-junk new badminton net and pretend it's 2009.
Last week we had a birthday dinner for Dale's mom at my brother- and sister-in-law's house. Dale's sister and niece left the next morning, much to Chloe's sadness. Her cousin is off to college next week, living away from home for the first time. Crazy! Talk about wistful-ness! Chloe also left the next morning to lifeguard at a camp for a few days, which helped to distract her from missing Sarah.

I made the cake - it was pretty yummy. I can't take much credit since it was mostly ice cream.

My little nieces danced at the Portuguese Folklorama pavilion again this year which was as adorable as ever. My sister-in-law also danced this year for the first time in a long time. She used to dance when she was younger and now her daughters wear her costumes. It looks like so much fun that we all wish we were Portuguese, especially Neve. I’m still waiting for the Mennonite pavilion. The food part would be easy but the prospects for the entertainment component are grim. Watching someone quilt or play crokinole may not be a big draw. Maybe we could sing the Doxology in four-part harmony.

My brother Dan arrived from Vancouver on Wednesday. He got to see the girls dance, spent a few days at my parents’ and then a large percentage of my family spent the weekend at Bob & Janet’s cottage.

Friday and Saturday were super hot, although it started raining on and off late Saturday afternoon. It was still so, so hot though that I seriously worried that I would die of suffocation in the night, even with no blankets and two fans. And then suddenly in the morning, it was cool enough that I needed a sweater. Despite the cool, cloudy weather, Bob still took the kids for tube rides. Bob is such a good sport and tirelessly pulls the kids (and adults) around the lake. I surfed for the first time; it was pretty cool, but I was nowhere near letting go of the rope and just surfing in the boat’s wake like Bailey, Jan and Bob did.

It was a great weekend doing the usual cottage things like swimming and eating and playing silly games involving grizzly bear suits and yellow cake uranium, and some new things like making giant bubbles, thanks to Dan.

It's the end of the game and no one is sorry.

No one is sorry here either.

Here's a photo story of a typical tube ride. It took a bit of convincing for Dan to join Spencer because of the inevitable sore neck/shoulders/miscellaneous pain that follows. But he started out positive:

Cautiously optimistic … this isn't so bad ...

Okay, this is getting intense ...

Let me off!!

No really, LET ME OFF!

Dan was eventually flung into the water, which I unfortunately didn't capture. But Spencer was still smiling.

I bet it would be easier to convince the kids to play outside if we had a lake and boat in our backyard.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Exploring Winnipeg

Yesterday – August 17 - was our first normal day of summer vacation. Chloe’s been home for over a week but she spent almost every hour of the first five days with her cousin, followed by three days lifeguarding at camp, followed by the weekend at Bob & Janet’s cottage. So it was the first day that all three kids were home. I worked all morning and then we went to the exchange district after lunch. Spencer spent most of the time in a record shop while the girls and I browsed in little boutiques. We all sat in Old Market Square and ate ice cream sandwiches from Cakeology. They were delicious but they were HUGE! Not even Spencer could finish his, which is unheard of. So if you go (and you should), ask them to cut it into sharing-size pieces. I’ve been eating so poorly this summer; every day I try to start fresh and make healthy choices but every day I eat something ridiculous. Ah well, that’s what summer is for.
For some sad reason, this picture has a fall-like feel to it. But it's only mid-August!! It's still summer!
Today I wanted to go hang out with my sister and brother (in town from Vancouver) but work inconveniently got in the way. I hate it when that happens. I finally met up with Dan late in the afternoon at my aunt’s beautiful new condo. From there, we went to the Forks for a Splash & Dash river tour. It’s been a few years since I’ve done the tour so it was fun and informative. My brain struggles to retain even the most vital information, so 1791 blends into 1964 and I have no idea what building burned down when. I remembered two things from the tour:
1) There used to be drawbridges along the river for ships to sail under. The ships would go near the shore so the strong wind wouldn't blow them into the bridge. But since the water was pretty shallow near the shore, they hitched up horses to pull the ships. I feel like the tour guide made this up but I didn't argue because I know nothing about what horses are capable of.
2) If it weren’t for the Panama Canal, this city would be huge. That canal wrecked our future. It's just as well; I like our reasonable house prices and being able to get anywhere in 20 minutes. And we're big enough for an IKEA, which Panama doesn't even have. So we win.

I have a bunch of pictures to post from various recent happenings but I haven’t had a chance to import them to my computer yet. So I’ll be back tomorrow (maybe). In the meantime, here's a picture you're probably not going to see on the river tour brochure. Not sure why we look so serious.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Quebec Trip

The trip was awesome, but it was a whirlwind. I prefer trips where we have a specific destination where we stay for enough nights to make it worthwhile to unpack your suitcase. That was not the case this time. We were gone nine nights and slept in eight different hotels (Neve’s got proof; she collected key cards from each one). Six of the ten days were mainly spent driving.
But we knew that before we left. The timing of the trip wasn’t ideal; I was home from the lake for only three days before we left, and we didn’t want to be gone too long since Dale’s sister and her family arrived from Florida the day after we left.  We discussed cancelling the trip and getting Chloe to fly home instead, but in the end we decided to go. We accepted the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do everything we wanted and decided we’d make the best of the time we had. We’re all used to road trips and think nothing of driving 12+ hours a day. Sometimes I’m jealous of other families that are so good at singing or sailing or whatever else families do together. But then I remember how awesome we are at road trips. Dale is a boss at trip planning and navigating. He can find the shortest route to anywhere and has every road and highway memorized. Even in a totally unfamiliar city or area, he can find his way around (okay, the GPS helps too). The kids are very talented at entertaining themselves with books, playing DS, listening to music, or watching movies (a total of TWO movies were watched the entire trip … looks like the built-in entertainment system was a few years too late). They never ask “Are we there yet?” And I’m pretty good at reading aloud, sleeping in the van, starting a car game, and buying junk food at gas stations. Yeah, it’s not quite the same as being a singing family but it’s something. Sort of.
We set out Tuesday afternoon and stopped in Bemidji the first night to meet up with Dale's sister and her family, who were on their way to Winnipeg. We had a nice visit while Neve swam.

Little stop at Lake Superior

Anyway, we had a great little break. The drive was beautiful. I love it all – the small towns, the cities, and the many stretches of no-man’s-land of nothing but trees and hills and lakes and valleys (and the highway). We took the US route through Michigan on the way there and the Canadian route that goes northwest of Montreal, then hooks up with the #1 east of Thunder Bay on the way back. There was no shortage of gorgeous scenery on either route.

We got to Trois-Rivieres on Thursday around 6 pm. Chloe’s pick-up time wasn’t until the next morning. Trois-Rivieres is the second oldest city in Canada (a little history lesson for you) so the old part of the city has the same character as Quebec City, just on a smaller scale. The night we arrived, we ate on a patio on a busy, vibrant street full of shops and restaurants and patios. We were tired and starving and so happy to be out of the van that it felt like a magical evening. The atmosphere was amazing and food never tasted so good.

After we picked Chloe up the next morning, she took us to her favourite ice cream shop. They had huge soft ice cream cones with different dips to choose from like chocolate hazelnut, cookies and cream, dark chocolate raspberry, etc. The chocolate was so thick and so delicious.

Then we made our way to Quebec City. We were there three years ago on the way to PEI and fell in love with it then. I worried that it wouldn’t live up to our memories, but it did. We walked around the old city, we ate a breakfast of croissants and other bakery treats on the Plains of Abraham, Neve swam in the pool, and Spencer went record shopping. We toured the Citadel which was interesting. We met the commander; Dale greeted him with a hearty “Bon-Joor!” which we are still laughing about (but not as much as we laugh about the time he said “Gracias” to a cashier).

Our hotel. Not exactly a quaint boutique hotel, but it did the trick.

Breakfast on the Plains of Abraham

Not sure what's going on here, but I felt it warranted a photo. A photo of a photo of a photo?

My favourite street ever. There were a LOT of people in old Quebec. It was so crowded. Chloe bumped into three people she'd met in Trois-Rivieres.


oh Spencer


The children posed for many a photo. Even Spencer smiled for this one.

We wanted to stay in Quebec City two nights but because of our indecisiveness about going on the trip, by the time we tried to book a hotel we could only find one night available. That was too bad because it was a really nice hotel in a great location and we wanted to stay longer. With much difficulty, we eventually found a hotel in Thetford Mines, which is between Quebec City and Montreal, but a fair distance out of our way. Another history lesson: Thetford Mines is known for its asbestos mines. The mines shut down a few years ago, but there are still big piles of … something? … around the town. We tried not to inhale. We stayed at a Comfort Inn and the weird thing was that their key card system was down so they couldn’t program room keys. Every time you left and wanted to get back into your room, you had to go to the front desk and ask someone to let you into your room. And the system had been down for a week already. I’ve never heard of something like that. Blame it on the asbestos. Also, their continental breakfast was staffed by a Breakfast Nazi. She shouted at us in French, even after we said “I don’t speak French.” (My French is so poor that for all I know I may have said “I speak French.”)  She could speak perfect English when she wanted to, but she didn’t want to. When Chloe arrived, she spoke to the breakfast lady in French and the lady’s face softened and she may even have smiled. That’s the only time anyone was rude to us when we spoke English. And I think she was a surly person in either French or English, so it doesn’t really count.

Montreal was our next stop and we stayed there two nights. We toured Notre-Dame Basilica, which was amazing. It felt like I was in Europe. The detail and grandeur is stunning. The kids really enjoyed it, but we left when Spencer started splashing the holy water around. We also climbed Mount Royal for a scenic view of the city. We all loved that. Spencer was waiting for a turn at the public piano, but there was a group of people who hogged it the whole time. I wanted to walk through the Mont Royal Cemetery, so we took a different path back to the hotel. However, it was getting dark and raccoons were everywhere so we walked through the cemetery quickly, with bats swooping around our heads. Then we got lost in a residential area that was completely devoid of human life. It was getting darker and darker and we didn’t have a good map. After a LONG time, we came to a more substantial street and met a guy waiting at a bus stop. It turns out he was a city bus driver waiting for his bus and he told us his route went right near our hotel. But that would have been too easy. We wanted to take the subway. So we kept walking and walking until we finally found the metro station. We were all exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel after our four hour adventure. Also in Montreal, Chloe and I shopped on St. Catherine Street, we all walked around the old part of the city and along the seaway, and we went for Montreal smoked meat sandwiches (kind of horrifying, but Spencer says it was one of his best meals ever). Two days weren’t enough to see everything, but we did our best. We just missed Mike & Darla, who arrived in Montreal the day we left. This is the year of travelling east - I know at least six other people/families that went to Quebec or further east this summer. 

The pool deck, where we could look out over the wheat and see skyscrapers being constructed

Notre-Dame Basilica

The pulpit

The outside of the Basilica

Mount Royal

Dale looks the most excited about the subway

Vegetarians look away!

Then we headed home. The driving was uneventful and we spent our last night in Thunder Bay. We went to a wood-fired pizza restaurant for dinner, walked around the waterfront and swam in the pool. In the morning we ate Persians (a Thunder Bay donut thing) and stopped at Kakabeka Falls.

Too early in the morning for a decent photo
And now we're home for the rest of the summer. Dale's sister and her family were still here when we got back so Chloe spent every possible minute with her cousin Sarah. Jean and Sarah left this morning and my brother Daniel arrives this afternoon. So the fun has - and will - continue! (poorly worded sentence, sorry!)