Sunday, July 11, 2010

Oh Toronto!

When we began planning the Canada 2010 trip, a highlight for me was going to be the Toronto Blue Jays game on Sunday June 27th. I was looking forward to taking my daughter and sons to their first MLB game! But then the G20 Summit came to town and the game got moved to Philadelphia. That was the bad news. The good news was that we got a full refund and then vouchers for a free game! This prompted some more planning, which resulted in a second trip to Canada the next week.

Wednesday morning of last week we headed out of town via Meijers. Tara came up with the ingenious plan of headphones for each kid so they could watch movies without having the parents ears go deaf. We needed one more pair for Eli. We headed through downtown Fort Wayne and promptly got lost on the east side of town trying to find 24. We ended up on 30.

Trying to cut across proved tricky. We began to get concerned about our ability to get across the border if we couldn't get out of our hometown. Eventually we found the old 24 which led us to the new 24, which took us to the old 24. We slowly made our way through the south side of Toledo and headed east for Cleveland. Once through the big Ohio industrial Lake Erie city, we headed towards Buffalo, the big New York industrial Lake Erie city. Next was the Rainbow Bridge and Niagara Falls!

We drove past the falls a couple of times, debating about whether to pay $20 to park. Next on our trip was the home of Jamie Mandigo and his wife Karen/Nate. We gave them a call and decided to just head over to their house for dinner and a swim. Good call! Karen's folks were there - it was her mum's birthday! We had fun meeting them, splashing in their wonderfully warm and oversize pool, and feasting  at the cookout.

It was well past sunset when we came inside to dry off and get ready for bed. It was fun to stay up late, the kids played and the grownups talked. Jamie and I reminisced when he stayed with us in Montgomery. On Canada Day he made a very pudgy Tim huff and puff (along with his squirrely brothers) around the village waving red and white leafy flags.

We smiled as we talked about the different sports regimens he put me through, the aerobic training, and the fun games. He was my inspiration to play sports and pursue athletic goals!

Tara and I said our goodbyes to Jamie that night, since he had to be out of the house by 8:30am, and it was doubtful whether anyone from our family would be up that early.

It was after 9am by the time we rolled into the kitchen for some breakfast. With 90 degree heat already in the morning, we swam some more. What a way to start a day!

After a light lunch on the shaded front porch, we got ready and headed over to the St. Catherines beach to ride the 5 cent carousel. It's a landmark in the region. Two rides around on it was fun stuff for the kids.

The beach had beautiful, scorching white sand. The water was cool and refreshing.  Lake Ontario was full of yachts and international cargo ships in the horizon. Quite the scene.

Karen mentioned that Jamie would be able to join us soon again if we stuck around. Which we did! Then our two families headed over to Niagara Falls to walk around and get a bit closer to the roar and mist.

Jamie found us $7 parking, much to our joy. We hoofed it across some parking lots and down Clifton Falls street. Tons of people were milling through the entertainment district - very commercialized. We didn't stick around to stare.

Once at the falls we oooed and ahhhed at the sight of the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. And then Eli said he had to go to the bathroom. Off we went to find something. Upon our return, everyone was getting overpriced ice-cream. It tasted good in the hot sun. And now the other two boys gotta go. Once we returned, the Mandigo family needed to head home.

We snapped some group shots and then said our farewells. We stuck around a bit longer, and then we started our long trek back to the van. The kids were dragging by this point. Emma whimpered and protested the last half of the trip up the hill. Poor girl.

Now it was time to head towards Toronto! We were staying at the Rennaisance, right there at Rogers Centre! It was an easy drive, the traffic wasn't too bad, all things considered.

We had about an hour to check in, park, unpack, change, get our tickets, find our seats. We made it just in time. Once the national anthems were finished, we made our way down the stairs to seats, the 17th row from the field! We were really close!

Great seats. About one inning into the game, our tummies began to growl. Soon we were munching on popcorn - we used the kids gloves to hold their share of the treat.

With a big Fred Lewis homerun, the kids waved their big fingers (one pink one, three blue ones) back and forth, cheering. Not long after that a camera showed up in front of Tara and the kids during an inning break. They were on the big screen! Pretty cool.

The Blue Jays defeated the Twins 8-1, hammering 5 homers! The game went quick, the kids had fun. But we were all getting pretty tired. We were glad that our hotel was so close! As we walked around the stadium we went by the CN Tower, all lit up in white and red. Very impressive.

Friday morning had big plans for walking along the harbor and seeing some sights. But it was raining. So the kids got to go swimming again. Probably their most favorite part of vacation! By the time we checked out of the hotel at noon, the rain had mostly stopped.

We decided to eat lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory and hope that by the time we finished feasting, the rain would be done. Our plan worked!

With full bellies we waddled off to the Queen's Quay and saw a gigantic cargo ship unloading sugar.

On we walked towards the boardwalk, seeing plane's land and gulls swoop down on garbage.

With just enough time to spare we got back to the van and drove up Yonge Street. What a long stretch of culture! Fascinating people and local businesses. And lots of Starbucks. We stopped at the seventeenth one to get some drinks for the 401.

It was an uneventful drive through southern Ontario. We zoomed through Kitchener, seeing some sights from the week before. In Windsor we dined at a Tim Horton's and got one last cup of coffee for the road through Detroit. We rolled into our garage around 12:30am.

A long day, but a good one. A short trip, but a great one! Thanks Jamie and Karen for hosting us - we had a wonderful time with your family! We shall return! And thanks Blue Jays for winning your game in dramatic fashion for my children. And thanks Toronto for an afternoon of rainless skies and long streets on which to stroll. And thanks to Tara for planning a wonderful vacation!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Oh Canada! Day Seven

Home! I'm feeling fat and sluggish and happy to be home. All that food we ate - ah, it tasted so good. But now I'm restricting myself to a diet of water. Maybe some vegetables and fruit. Possibly some cereal with skim milk. But I'm not sure what we'll do with the leftover Tim Horton donuts, the Coffee Crisp candybars, the homemade fudge and lemonbars, the Mr. Maple cookies, and the Ketchup chip crumbs? What to do, what to do...

Another late night led to sleeping in again this morning, which is appropriate for our last day on the road. We rushed to breakfast before it closed at 10am, just like the day before. However, now we only had an hour to pack up and checkout of our room. Fortunately Tara has a gift for that kind of stuff. And lucky for her, she has me to help! :) By 11:30am we had the van loaded up and we were ready to get a few more souvenirs in town. We said our goodbyes to Mum and Dad, Shirley and Faye in the hotel parking lot - they were heading back right away. Before the farewells, Dad presented the kids with a true Canadian gift: a soccer ball! It was orange with purple spots on it - Emma and Levi's favorite colors!

Jerm and Maria met us at the Mills Chocolate Factory (which was highly recommended by Jason Vanderklyen), where we purchased some tasty treats. This was after we had stopped by a shop to get my Port Elgin t-shirt, and after Tara took a picture of Emma posing by a streetsign with her name on it! We ate our chocolates at a picnic table next to the ice cream shop. We were waiting on Jerm's crew to get there so Levi and I could have one more scoop of that delicious Garbage Can ice cream. Once we had all cleaned up from our ice cream cones, we loaded up the vans once more, hit the McDonalds drive thru, and then headed out of town for the last time. Our last destination before we headed for the border was the Shiloh church in sparsely populated Bruce Township where Dad pastored. For a time, he had two churches he ministered to - North Bruce UB and Shiloh UB.

Jerm and I reminisced about the mimeograph machine in the basement, the big kitchen counter, and the infamous bathroom in the back of the church where I let out my famous cry during Dad's closing prayer: "I'm doooooooooooonnnnnnnnnne." Then it was off to Sarnia, via one last Tim Hortons! I could go for more coffee, but no more donuts for awhile... The trip to the bridge was uneventful, just a long, busy, slow highway through some beautiful towns and rolling farmland marked off by the imposing Lake Huron. After a long fifty minute wait on the bridge, the borderguard finally let us through with only a few questions. After a quick stop at the Michigan Welcome Center, Jerm led the way home. For dinner at a Michigan McDonalds we got out and stretched for a bit, then gassed up across the street. We said our goodbyes to Jerm and Maria, Eva and Lydia - they headed home ahead of us from there.

The last two hours went like the first six hours: the kids watched movies and Tara kept reading. Tara actually finished a book! And then she climbed to the back of the van, dug through the bottom of the luggage and dragged out another book to read - while I'm speeding down the highway. Crazy woman. But I love her - especially after she found my iPod. I had lost it on Tuesday; searching through luggage proved fruitless. Today I called the hotels in Kitchener where we had stayed, but they had not found it - but they would get back with me. Within a few minutes after I hung up with them, Tara found my iPod in a bag I hadn't searched yet! Whew! So while Tara read all the way home, I listened to some podcasts on that final leg of the trip through Michigan and Indiana. By 10pm we were rolling into the garage. Literally. I forgot we had the big storage container on top of the van, so when I drove up the driveway, I heard a huge crunch! It was then that Tara and I remembered.... So I backed out, and then backed the van up the driveway and stayed out of the garage. No damage to the storage container, but there are some nice gouges to the wood paneling of the garage entrance. Tara just smirked!

The van is unloaded, the kids are sleeping, some of the stuff is put away, but most of it is sitting in organized piles. We'll have lots of laundry tomorrow, and lots of junk food to store away for later. But now it is time to go to sleep and spend Saturday relaxing, watering flowers, mowing the grass, putting stuff away, and taking it easy. Thanks Dad and Mum for suggesting the Canada trip and taking care of the hotels! Thanks Shirley and Faye for souvenirs and ice cream money! The many pictures we have to sort through will remind us of the valuable moments we spent together remembering our family history. Thanks Dad and Shirley for reminding us where we came from.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Oh Canada! Day Six

I fully intended to run a few miles through town this morning. But me and the kids slept in until after 9am, and then Tara came back from the exercise room, and we all rolled out of bed and headed out for breakfast. Next thing I knew I was half-way through my syrup-soaked waffle and remembered I wanted to go for a long, leisurely jog. Oh well. Next time.

With plans for a cookout with Jamie Mandigo and his family at 1pm, me and the kids went swimming in the indoor pool while Tara and the Aunts went souvenir shopping. I wouldn't say that playing in the pool with the kids is relaxing, but it is always fun. They are using their goggles and masks alot, and they are swimming more without their life jackets. We had a good time waving to each other underwater. Levi and Emma let me launch them way up high into the air off of my shoulders. Eli showed us how to hang on to the railing leading down the stairs into the pool. And Isaac just wanted to make sure that whatever we did, his face didn't get splashed. He didn't have very good luck. :)

When they had finally wore me out, I headed over to the hot tub, which is right by the pool. They all four pleaded and begged me to let them in with me. They argued incessantly with me even after I let them dangle their feet and ankles in the tub. Eventually they all wandered away, except Levi. He was determined to get more of his body warmed up. After accidentally slipping in a few times, I made him leave. But then my time was up, so I got out. They then all swarmed the hot tub and accidentally dropped their watermasks in, even after I commanded them not to do it. The boys got in trouble and had to have a time out, so I let Emma get in and retrieve the masks. Eli was feeling ornery, so he jumped up from his timeout, plopped himself in the pool and started swimming quickly away from me. I'm sure my laughing undermined my stern instructions to him to return. I had to jump in the pool and drag him out. He wasn't too happy. And neither was I. But we got it all sorted out in the end. But by then I was ready for a nap!

Once we got all cleaned up, we headed over to Jamie and Karen's cottage for a Canada Day cookout with barbecue chicken, sausages, dogs and burgers, as well as special Dominion Day ice cream for dessert (and pie, and cookies!). There were baseballs flying around, a soccer ball bouncing back and forth, footballs getting flung, a frisbee flying this way and that, maybe even some Ninja Turtles getting chucked about. All this while some of the adults of grand-parent age sat around the edge of the property chatting and shielding their head. It was a good time to catch up some more with Jamie and Karen, as well as Shirley. Debbie Vanderklyen joined us again, hanging out and this time giving us some cool bouncy balls to add to the barrage of objects getting tossed about.

After a couple of hours of hobnobbing and feasting, we headed over to the beach. This time there was much less wind and a tad more warmth in the sunlight. Jerm and his girls got started right away on the poop castles by the shoreline. Tara and I headed back to the hotel real quick to get some different clothes for the sand and surf. Once at the beach, we had Jamie take a family photo of us - it was a bit breezy and we had to get a little squinty. We got changed, I stayed to chat with Ken and Linda Kelley while Tara took the kids to join Jerm on his poo castle project. Ken is a great story teller! He had fun telling us about his life as a van driver, which is a job of having fun telling stories while getting people to all sorts of destinations in the region. Come to find out he stops in Fort Wayne on his way home from Branson, which means he might be showing up in Anchor some Sunday. That would be fun!

By the time I made it down to the beach, Jerm's poo castle had reached grand proportions. Eli was engrossed by it all, he apprenticed himself to his uncle and learned the gentle touch of poo castling. Jerm was impressed with this careful side of his nephew, as were we! What is poo castles? The beautiful sand of Lake Huron, when wet, drips easily out of your finger tips and when it plops on the ground it forms a little blob, which when piled on top of each other, repeated hundreds of times, makes for a castle that looks like it's made from mounds of poo-pieces. Jerm is a master. We all had fun creating our own little castles, though they were all dwarfed by Jerm's great work of poo art. He had several of the kids working on his great castle - quite the scene of concentration and endurance.

Soon though, with all that hard work of poo castling, we had worked up an appetite for more Garbage Can ice cream. Levi had some, but everyone else finked out and got other inferior flavors. Still, it was fun to sit along the harbor in the evening sun, watching the sailboats and yachts bob in the still, deep waters. Amidst the enjoyableness of ice cream with friends is the paranoia of some kid licking their portion off the cone onto the ground. I'm not sure which is worse, the cries of the child or the melting treat on the sidewalk. Fortunately this time around there were no accidents. I should probably not care so much about it, eh?

We parted ways with Jamie and Karen, with plans to meet up at Gerry's in Southampton for the fireworks - today is Canada Day! On this sixth day of vacation, we had yet to partake of the region's most famous site for fries. Much to our delight, the delicacy lived up to the expectations - soaked with white vinegar, sprinkled with a little salt, and drizzled with ketchup! The kids froliced on the playground while we waited for our food to be prepped, and then after we ate we headed over to the beach to settle in for the fireworks show. I was a bit concerned with how I would fare as the night progressed, since Tara forgot to bring my sweatshirt. As we were leaving the room, she had it in her arms. And then when we get to the beach, no sweatshirt! Just me and my new black Canada shirt. Fortunately we had lots of beachtowels and a blanket, and four kids to keep warm with! We scoped out our spot, settled in, and then Jerm and I got the frisbee out for a bit. But the sun kept on sinking and the locals kept streaming in, so the frisbee got bagged. Soon Jamie and Karen and their kids showed up, which meant more chatting and laughing!

What a beautiful part of the world! Sunset along a long curved cove, a lighthouse on a southern island, a jutting peninsula to the distant north, kilometers of sandy white beaches and grass-strewn dunes. The orange-drenched horizon lingered and lingered, backdrop to a deep blue sky melting into the black eastern night and distant stars. Thousands of people came out to sit and talk and laugh and relax together, waving their little leafy flags and eating Gerry's fries! It got chilly waiting and watching, thankfully there was no snow. Everyone cleared out quickly after the brief but wonderful fireworks display. We hung out a bit, waiting for the crowds to clear and saying our goodbyes to the Mandigos. Once in the van we cranked up the heat! And then it was a long, long, long wait to get on the highway, a slow, slow drive out of Southampton, and very groggy kids we had to wash up, change and slip into their beds. Tomorrow we drive home, but tonight we'll sleep well.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Oh Canada! Day Five

Sleeping in on vacation is good. Having only breakfast and beach on the agenda is very good. Opening the curtains and seeing blue sky is very very good. Realizing that it is very windy and barely sixty degrees... well that's not so good. Though it's not like we were planning on soaking in the frigid waters of Lake Huron. We can still make sandcastles and play soccer without it being a heat-wave. Which is what we did.

Jeremy started digging a hole to China. He hit water while building a big wall. He called it a windbreak since it was so blustery there on the beach. The sand already had that special aroma that I had forgotten about, and the deeper he dug, the stronger the smell. He didn't seem to mind. While he and Eva and Lydia got busy with the cistern, me and my kiddos went for a little walk. We had gotten more than our feet wet when we went to the shore - big surging waves kept on splashing more than just their little toes. Before we joined Jerm in the sandwork, we headed towards the long breakwall and the harbor. Emma was walking just a little to close to the edge of the walkway, the harborwaters being about fifteen feet below. Eli wasn't happy about having to hold my hand. But they all got a thrill about the wicked waves smashing against the breakwall and rocks. They thought it was the coolest thing to get sprayed!

All the kids started helping Jerm dig deeper, finding water and stones was a fantastic discovery. I started on a second mound for the sandcastle. Lydia ended up sticking all the buckets and cups and shovels on it. She tried taking my shovel away from me to put on "her" sandcastle, but I coldheartedly turned her down so that I could start a third castle. Which Isaac ended up smashing. Tara, Shirley and Faye came back from a flea-market with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the boys and My Little Ponies for the girls. The new sandtoys were a great hit!

When Jamie Mandigo walked over with this two sons Ben and Nate, he must've smiled when he saw Mum, Shirley, Faye, Maria, and Tara all huddled under blankets, hoods up over their heads, crouching in their beach chairs, trying to stay warm from the gusting winds. Maybe his wife warned him - Karen and Lilly had stopped by earlier while coming back from a bike ride. While Jamie chatted with Jerm, Dad and I, his son Ben went and marked out in the sand a game field. He marked out goalie boxes, sidelines, a center field and circle, and even penalty boxes. It was kids against old people - me, Jerm and Jamie against Ben, Nate, Eva, Emma, Levi, Isaac and Eli. Evenutally Dad played goalie for the kids! Fun times!

Once we figured out where the Garbage Can ice cream was - thanks to Jamie's announcement - we all headed over there after the soccer match. The kids were jubilant in their victory! And I was pleased to see all four of my kids order and enjoy my favorite flavor in the world. What is it, you ask? Well, it's a mixture of all the left-over flavors all packed into one container. So in one scoop you get a little bit of chocolate, butter pecan, mint, cherry, strawberry, bubble-gum, walnut fudge, cookie dough and more! So delicious. It's been about thirteen years since I last tasted this dairy-wonder!

Debbie Vanderkleyn brought out a kite for Jerm to assemble. While some of us played more soccer, he got the kite launched and then let each of the kids take a turn flying it. He ended up sitting down with Eli on his lap - it took awhile to reel it back in! After saying goodbye to Jamie and his kiddos, we packed up the beachstuff and headed back to the hotel. Burger Trail was our supper destination, right  in front of the soccer fields where I used to play as a kid. After more fries and vinegar we headed out to North Bruce to Debbie's house. She was our next door neighbor while we lived there, and since someone we didn't know was in our old house, we parked at her place.

After so much time away, everything looks different, and yet the same. The front of the house was green, a recent residing project had been an improvement. Most of the trees were still there, objects for climbing as a kid, or for soccer posts. The cat house was still there - Dad's little workshop and storage barn where the kitties were born each spring. Me and the brothers would lay on our bellies outside that door (it had a little hole in the bottom) and we'd plead for the kitties to come out. Eventually they'd wander close enough for us to grab them and cuddle with them. The clubhouse where we played with our neighbors Jason, Jamie, and Elizabeth was gone, but not the memories. One of Dad's gardens was still there. The North Bruce Zion UB Church - right behind what used to be the parsonage - is now a beautiful home - lovingly and thoughtfully remodeled, and carefully landscaped.

Next stop was the Big Hill and Bare Bum Beach. I led us down the hill and then got us lost. Dad had to take us the rest of the way. Winding along the shoreroad, dotted with beautiful homes and rocky sand dunes, I was missing living here in undeveloped and tree-full Bruce County. We stopped for a moment at Bare Bum Beach where we used to camp out for the day and swim and eat and play. But the shoreline has changed so much that it's all gone. Sad. Oh well. Off we went back to Port Elgin via Jamie Mandigo's old house, a place of fun times and games. We ended the evening with another round of ice cream - Garbage Can for me and Isaac, Cotton Candy flavor for the other three, and Smarties for Tara. A final dip in the swimming pool until it closed at 10pm, and that wrapped up the day. A good day.