Saturday, 31 March 2012

My Disney Wisdom

    I am writing this post from Palm Coast, Florida.  We are on to the next leg of our adventure.  We loved Disney, but it was a lot.  Apparently there really is too much of a good thing.  We ended our stay at Epcot, and the kids kept asking when we could go back to the hotel.  They just wanted to play in the pool.  It re-affirms that we are not a go- go family.  We are quite slow paced and the kids were longing for this, who knew?
    I am going to now share my disney wisdom....

  #1  Don't wait until you think you can afford to go to Disney.  For years the kids have begged to go to Disney, and we would tell them "When we win the lottery" followed by ha ha ha.  Then a friend of ours went and told me what it cost for her family of five to go, I could not believe it.  For our family of 6 to stay at the resort for 4 nights, have park tickets for 5 days, and have dinner, lunch/ breakfast and a snack for 4 days, unlimited pop at the resort it cost us $3100.00.  You can book it a year in advance, and make payments all year.  You can lay away for your vacation! 

#2  Stay at the Disney Resort.  No it is not as cheap as staying off site.  The convenience is invaluable.  The attention to detail at the resort is amazing.  Every morning the housekeeper would arrrange the kids toys in a fun way, or make a Mickey Mouse with towels. It was all of the little touches. One morning Elly had a sore eye and was crying, one of the employees ran up with a balloon for her.  In other words they cater to children.  That is a rare thing.  Every day there are tons of activities at the resort for the kids.  In the evenings they showed movies at the pool.  There was no shortage of activities for them to do.
    The other plus is that Disney has it's own transportation system.  There are bus stops in front of the hotel that go to every park, as well as Downtown Disney.  The buses leave every twenty minutes.  You just park your car, and they take care of everything else!

 #3 Purchase the dining plan.  Sure you could save money and bring in your meals, but why would you pack lunches, when for a fraction more you can eat your meals there and not have to cook or clean?  It cost us $300.00 for our dining plan for 6 of us.  That includes one quick serve, and one sit down dining, plus one snack each day.  The sit down meals are the Character meals or nice restaurants.  We found that with the sit down dining, places were reserved, and because of that the restaurant was not as busy as the quick serve places.  Our first sit down meal was at The Crystal Palace.  It was a buffet charater meal.  Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore,and Piglette walked around the restaurant.  At one point there was a parade around the restaurant and the kids were invited to join in.  My kids sooooo loved it.  The buffet line had grown up height and kids size so that the food was at a child's height allowing them to select their own meals.  At the end of the meal they brought us a bill, the total, $200.00.  Our dining plan in one day had paid for it's self.

  #4 Book ahead!  I thought that they were being overly dramatic when they told me that you should reserve 6 months ahead for dining and experiences, they were not.  Rowan had really wanted to take part in the pirate experience, but we could not fit him in.  Elly decided that she would really like to have a tea party with one of the princesses, I called three weeks before we left... completely booked solid.   I booked our sit down dining in November, it was really smart of me.  I booked the other hotels I knew we were going to stay at, and consiequently saved us a lot of money.  I discovered that in Orlando their rates change daily.  I booked our hotel stay at the Four Point Sheridan for the first Sunday of our vacation, I booked it two months ago for $100.00.  That same room cost $150.00 for the Friday of the same week when we inquired Sunday.

   #5  Plan Plan Plan!!!!  We booked our trip last October.  I have been compiling a trip bible that has been invaluable.  I put mapquest directions, important phone numbers, confirmation numbers.  It has been invaluable.

    I really enjoyed Disney and I did not think that I would.  The crowds were terrible, and yet the experience was great.  It is not a cheap vacation, but it was worth every single penny.  I was amazed at every single detail that they look after.  Everyone is super friendly.  The staff all call the little girls "Princess" and the boys "Prince".  There is not a speck of garbage to be seen anywhere.  They have crews out cleaning all the time.  The bathrooms have sinks at little children's heights.  Everything is geared toward children.  It truly is magical.  I have already started planning our vacation back to Disney in two years.  I asked the staff, and they say come in February, not as busy.  I think I will!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Day One of Disney - The Magic Kingdom

    All of the months of scrimping and saving and planning and counting down were here.  Day one of our Disney vacaction was here at last.  We arrived Monday night to our hotel at the Disney All Star Music Resort.  Let me just say that Disney is like it's own city.  I have never seen anything quite like it.  They have their own transportation system for heaven's sake!  This place is HUGE!!!!!  Of course we got lost several times and asked for directions from at least three park staff before we found our hotel.
    The resort is amazing.  Our room is like a little apartment.  The kids were so excited.  There were all kinds of neat little touches.  The kid's let out a squeal when they saw the Mickey head made from towels on the bed.
    We began our day on Tueday morning by heading to the food court.  I felt pretty spoiled just telling someone what I would like for breakfast.  I had nothing to do.  No cooking, no cleaning, just ordering.

    We boarded our bus outside the resort and headed for the Magic Kingdom.  The crowds were horrendous.  Who knew when we booked our vacation all of those months ago that we were booking at the time when many of the states have their spring break.  I had that sinking feeling of deja vu, were we going to have a repeat of the day before?  We had spent so much money, and now we would be unable to enjoy any of this.  I got more and more irritated as the day went on.  It was two hour waits t o go on the rides.  You had to push to make your way everywhere.  I was hot, my feet hurt, I was not happy.  I decided then and there to just endure it, and pretend that I did not want to take a flame thrower to everyone that got in my way.
    We decided to find a spot early and watch the Main Street Parade.  At least I could find somewhere to sit and rest my feet.  It took forever for the parade to get to us.  How much more of this could I take?  Then the parade started.  A funny thing happened when the parade started, my heart got ten times larger.  I felt like the Grinch when he discovered Christmas.  I looked at my kids.  Their little faces were alive with pure joy.  I looked over and saw Gracie, she had her hand out to shake hands wit hthe characters as they passed her.  She is entering that age soon where she will be too cool to embrace joy.  I looked at little Elly perched on her daddy shoulders waving her little hand off to everyone who passed.  Riley and Rowan's face's showed that wonder.  How could I have been so selfish?  So what if it was crowded, this was the Magic Kingdom.  I think that it might truly be magic.

    After the parade I left my bad attitude on Main Street.  I enjoyed myself.  I saw the world through my children's eyes, and then cried a little.  In the end they are only little for the blink of an eye.  They will remember this vacation for the rest of their lives.  Every single penny we had to save away for this vacation was worth it.

Our Not So Awesome Adventure At Univeral Studios

    Sorry for the delay, I had a heck of a time finding a wi fi connection at our hotel, but I have now, and here we go.  So when I last wrote we had a wonderful time in Georgia and were headed into Orlando.  We stayed at the Four Season's at the Universal gates.  The hotel was wonderful, and we thought that we were off to a flying start.  That was until the next day when we entered Universal.
    I hate crowds.  If I were a billionare, I would just rent a whole amusement park for myself, but alas, we are poor folk, and had to endure the stinking crowds.  So we entered Univeral Studios Islands of Adventure Park.  It looked great.  As we got futher into the park, the crowds got thicker and thicker. The sole reason for our visiting Universal was to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  I mentioned before that we are huge Harry Potter fans.  How could we go to Orlando, but not go?  I was going to try Butter Beer, and Pumpkin Juice.  I was going to explore Hogworts, it was going to be awesome.  At no point when I was planning out how awesome The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was going to be, at no point did I ever fantasize about people elbowing me in the throat.  There was no room to even breath.  People had no respect and were pushing the kids.  I thought that I would loose my mind.  I could enjoy nothing!  The line to buy Butter Beer was an hour long.  In the end I could not take the heat, could not take the crowds, nor the complete lack of humanity.  We had to leave that part of the park.
    We took the kids to the Dr. Seuss park.  They had fun, but my feet hurt, and I was cranky, and I was ready to go (I sound like one of my kids).  After I had endured the Lorax retelling by a crazing sounding old woman, I asked Christopher if he thought we had our money's worth of the park.  He had that crazed look in his eyes that mirrored my own, "Oh I think we can leave".
    We set off for the car.  Someone had parked so close to the back of the van that there was no way we could open the back hatch.  For that matter I am surprised that their license plate was not imprinted into our back bumper.  I packed the kids into the van and let Christopher put the stroller in the car.  We got half way out of the parking garage when I asked Christopher if he had packed the stroller.  He then replied, "No, I thought you had."  I then checked to count the kids and make sure that we had not forgotten one of them.  So he walked off to get the stroller because we could not figure out how to retrace our steps in the car.  Off my exhausted husband trucked, returning with at red face and a stroller.  The stroller was whipped into the already full to the brim hatch.  Off we drove.  "Where are my sunglasses?" Christopher asked.  I had no idea.  He stopped the car, put his hand on the roof, took his glasses off the roof and drove off.  That was the kind of day it was!
    Moral of the story, Universal Studios, is not for us.  It's more of a teenagers park.  I guess if there's an upside to this story.... hmmmm let me get back to you on that one.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Day Two - Our Savannah Adventure

    Today we woke up in Savannah Georgia.  I have always wanted to visit Savannah, and this was a perfect opportunity.  It was hard to know where to even begin our exploration.  We began by visiting the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.  The visitor's center was closed, but we were still able to drive through part of the reserve.  It was so beautiful.  The spanish moss was everywhere.  The best part for us was seeing the aligators sunning themselves.  There were parts of the refuge that looked like before time began.  Even the air smelled better.  The kids were transfixed, and Christopher and I kept looking at each other and sighing.

     With great hesitation we headed back into Savannah.  We decided that we should get something for dinner before heading into Orlando.  We are sooooooo smart!  We went on Bay Street, and then down this beautiful set of stairs down to the bay.  It was breath taking.  We wandered down the street, marveling at everything around us.  We decided to go to "Fiddlers Crab Shack".  Oh my goodness.  I had crab legs (my standard).  Christopher who is much more adventurous than me ordered steamed oysters and mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce.  I was very brave and tried one of his mussels.  Once you get past the appearance, they were quite tastey.  I of cource made an ass of myself by asking the poor man at the bar a million questions about what he was doing.  He was really nice and friendly guy and answered all of my questions, and did not even roll his eyes at me once.  He was opening up the oysters.  Who knew it was such a process.  We really do meet the nicet people on our travels.

    After we had finished our dinner we walked down to the River Street Sweets Candy Store.  I thought that I may have died and gone to heaven.  Christopher's Mom and Dad had/ have a time share in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  On frequent visits we have gone to Barefoot Landing and enjoyed this very same store that apparently has two sites.  The store was really large.  As we walked through the doors a girl offered us warm samples of pralines.  Did I mention that they were still warm?  If heaven has a taste, that is what it is.  We just looked in the glass display, trying to decide which of the many delicious treats we would buy.  I wanted to press my face up to the glass, but thought people might look at me a little funny.  In the end Christopher and I decided on "Bear Claws".  For those of you not in the know, a "bear claw" is giant turtle, the size of the palm of my hand (see above oh so very tastey picture).  It is pecans, gooey carmel, topped with milk chocolate.  It may be for the best that we don't get to come to this wonderful shop too often.  Oh so very good, but not that cheap!

So this ends today's chapter.  It took us four and a half hours to get from Savannah to Orlando with four kids shouting every two freaking minutes, "are we in Orlando yet?", and a little blonde girl shouting up "Can we go home?"  No children were injured on the trip (injured by me), and we are set to take on our next adventure, Universal Studios tomorrow.  I think I might need my rest for this one.

Day One Of Our Adventure

    After months and months of planning the day finally came, we were ready to leave for our trip to Florida / Disney.  I spent most of the morning packing the car so that everyone could travel in comfort, and it was undone before we even got over the American border in New York.
    Our plan was to take naps during the day and drive all night long while the kids slept.  It was great plan that has done us right on many family vacations.  As you may have already guessed, our plan did not quite go according to plan.  My procrastination ate up quite a bit of my nap time, then I got a call from the school at 12:00, Riley was having chest pains, could I come and get her? Riley has a heart defect and I could hear the paniced tone in her lovely teacher.  She has a Pulmenary Stenosis which is completely stable.  She could be an athelete and be fine her cardioligist told me at our last visit.  Having said that, we still worry.  Well it turns out she had indigestion and was fine withing minutes of taking a Tums.  She did however succeed in destroying my nap.
  We did still head out at 4:00.  Mom and Dad came over to drop off Elly (they were kind enough to watch her so that we could nap) and send us off.  Christopher had squeezed in an hour nap, and we werere hoping that it would help. 
    Off we road on our adventure.  We all cheered as we passed through the border into New York.  Everyone was so anxious to get on with our adventure.  The kids however were frustrated with our progress when it took us four hours to get to the Pennsylania border which none of them were even awake to see.  Maryland went by in minutes, as did West Virginia, but Virginia I am sure is the largest state that there is (I know it isn't really).  It's funny, but after Pennsylania and Maryland they all somehow woke out of their sleeps at the borders and were ready for their pictures to be taken. 
    As per plan, we drove all night.  We took turns napping while the other drove, and made it to Savannah, Georgia where I sit and type this as we speak.  Here is what I have learned so far...
I love an adventure.  I do not mean the adventure where we go parchuting or hang gliding, or something that might get me killed or maimed for life.  I like to explore the unknown.  I love seeing plants that we don't have at home.  I love seeing new things, and meeting new people along the way.
    I was most taken with the wild wisteria that was growing along the sides of the interstate in North Carolina and South Carolina.  I made my poor husband pull over at the side of the road so that I could take a picture of it.  I love the rest stops and grabbing brochures for new places.
I love pretty much everything about travel.

    I also learned something in my teachable moment yesterday when we were checking into our hotel.  Christopher had run in to check rates, and see if there was a room available.  As we sat in the car waiting, the kids noticed this little hunched old couple.  Riley asked why some old people have hunched over backs.  I explained to her (as best as I could with my limited medical knowledge) that our spines look like tiny frisbees that are held in the middle by a post.  In between these frisbees are gel.  As you get older the gel starts to go away sometimes.  She was satisfied with my answer.  Then the inevitable, will Popa get a hunched back?  Will you?  Will we?  Finally Riley asked if Daddy would get one.  I told her I didn't know.  "Would you still love Daddy if he had a hunched over back Mommy?"  "Oh heaven's no!" I laughed.  This is where the teacher was taught.  "You know Mommy,  it might be o.k. if Daddy got a hunch when he got old.  Then when you always kiss, Daddy wouldn't have to bend so much, and you wouldn't have to reach."  My husband is six foot four and I am five foot five.  It stuck me in two ways, Riley's comment.  The first was that I was glad she had noticed that her father and I still kiss and are affectionate.  I think that will help them find good marriages when they come from a home where their parents love each other.  The second thing that struck me was a child's view.  To her it was not tragic that the old people would have hunched backs, it was a blessing to help them more easily kiss.

       I'm sure that you have noticed my dreadful spelling.  Forgive me, the laptop does not seem to have spell check and I am lost without it!  Ill fix it when I get home.  Well that's all folks, we're off on our next leg of the adventure!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Off We Go!!!!!!!!!

   After nearly a year, the day has finally come.  We are ready to leave on our trip... Florida!!!!!   I wonder if we should call ahead and warn the state that the Lindsay's are on their way.  The car is packed, snacks are ready, and inevitably I will have forgotten something.  You will be glad to know that I double checked that I packed everyone underwear!  I had these great plans, but as usual, I did not do any of them.  Christopher and I were going to take naps before we left, but when you procrastinate, there is not time for things like sleep.

    Part of the trip preparation is decorating the car.  I go to the Dollar Store and buy window clings for everyone's windows.  The kid's love it.  They think of it as part of trip.  So here we go.  I wonder how long it will take me to yell at someone in the car?( I bet Christopher's fingers are crossed that it's not him).  The next blog I write will be in the USA.  Wish us luck.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Great Underwear Fiasco of 2012

    One more day until we leave for Florida.  With the way I've been talking about it, you would think that I would have had everything all packed and ready to go... silly you.  I am the procrastination Queen.  Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?  This motto bites me in the butt every time.  A smart person would learn, but I am apparently not that smart.  As I type this I have a laundry basket on my bed, and an empty suitcase ready to be filled.  I have to separate everyone's clothes into piles, make sure that everyone has full outfits.  I have added a new check to my check list.  This new check comes about because of the week-end's underwear fiasco.
    We were to leave last Sunday morning for our trip to Toronto.  Saturday night Christopher asked me if I had packed everyone's bags.  "Oh I'll just throw it together tomorrow morning, it's just one night."  He gave me that "that's a big mistake, but I'm too afraid you will bite my head off if I suggest your mistake" look.  True to my word I got up super early Sunday and packed three bags, one for us, one for the big kids and one for Elly.  We were on the road by 10:00 a.m. as planned.  I secretly congratulated myself on a job well done.  We dropped Elly at Nana and Popa's in Tweed, Grace, Riley and Rowan at Grandma's in Acton, and headed to the Royal York.  We had just come back from Canada Blooms, and were lying on the bed watching t.v., enjoying doing nothing.  Christopher turned to me and said "You know hon, I have to hand it to you, you really had it together.  When you told me that you weren't going to pack Saturday night I thought it was a mistake, but good for you, you did it".  The words were barely out of his mouth when Christopher received a text from Grace (who knew you could send a text from an ipod).  "Did you know that mom packed Riley four pair of underpants and me none?  One of Riley's pair of underpants are dirty."  We laughed and laughed.  " I guess I spoke to soon!" he laughed.  I gave him a smack and we laughed again.
    That night I called to check in with the kids.  I called Mom and Dad's first.  "Did you know that you forgot to pack Elly underpants, or pull-ups?" my mother asked.  At this point I shook my head and peeled into hysterical laughter.  I then shared the first underpants story with mom.  When Christopher called his mom, each of the kids on their turn to talk told Christopher how mommy had packed Riley 4 pair of underpants and Grace none.
    The next morning I got up and showered.  I then pulled out my clean clothes for the next day, only to discover I had packed Grace's underpants in my bag, and none for myself.  Again, peels of laughter.  I took quite a bit of good natured ribbing from my husband for most of the day.  When we picked the kids up and were in the van on the way home the kids again brought up the fact that I had packed Riley four pair of underpants and Grace none.  I then told Grace that she was mistaken, I had packed her underpants, I had packed them in my own bag.  More laughter.  After that a small voice from the back, "Hey Mom, I'm commando, you didn't pack me any underwear either." shouted up Rowan.  I was 2 out of 6 on the underwear.

    So today when I mentioned to Christopher that I planned to pack tonight, Grace said
"Hey Dad, you might want to double check that Mom packs us all underwear."  Nice real nice.

Canada Blooms - aka My New Wish List

    As I shared yesterday (and the day before) my wonderful husband whisked me off to the Royal York and to Canada Blooms Sunday.  I LOVE Canada Blooms.  I walk around and wistfully dream of having that for my garden.  We have been once before, I think two years ago when it was at the convention centre  I think.  It was in two separate spaces.  One space had the landscaped gardens.  I am not sure how it is that the landscape artists can pull this together in such a short time.  I can't even pull something small together in my yard in the entire summer.  The other separate space was a market.  There were hundred of vendors.  It was like eye candy.

    This year Canada Blooms was held at the Direct Energy Centre at The Exhibition Place downtown.  They combined it with the National Home Show, so that you got two shows for one price.  I thought this was marvelous until I went.  I was so disappointed in this year's show.  Granted some of that was because it was so very busy.  This one poor woman was pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair.  She tried to push this elderly lady, but no one would move, everyone kept refilling the space where other's had just been.  I know this because I stood to the side to let them pass, and was shocked at people's complete rudeness.  By the time the poor woman was able to push the wheelchair through she was so harassed that you know she would be hard pressed to enjoy the rest of the show.  I was so glad that it was just Christopher and I, and not only because it was alone time.  I cannot imagine trying to walk the children around that space with such terrible people.  In crowd like that someone inevitably hits one of my children in the face with their huge purse, and does not even stop to notice.  The other thing that I did not like was the Canada Blooms part was a hodge podge.  The show gardens were all mingled in with the vendors.  I do not like this flow!  Having said all of this criticism, I did find some beautiful gardens to fantasize about.

    I believe the star plant of the show was the Medinilla from the Philippines.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Every second person you saw was carrying one.  I was disappointed that for all of it's beauty it had not smell.  As beautiful as it is, I know that this is not the plant for me.  It's a tropical plant, which means that when I leave it out and the frost gets it (which inevitably it will), it will die.  I can barely keep hardy plants alive, never mind something that might be sensitive.

    This Canada flag garden really caught my attention.  Here is the back story to it...
Every summer the Belleville Garden Club (I'm sorry if any of you are a part of this group and I have screwed up the name of your group), plant a huge Canada flag garden on the big hill that faces the 401.  Growing up, every time I would pass that garden I would beg mom and dad to plant a Canada flag garden on our big hill.  That never happened.  I then vowed to my 10 year old self that when I grew up I would plant myself a Canada flag garden.  That 10 year old former self tapped me on the shoulder at Canada Blooms and reminded me of that promise.  Christopher and I turned to each other and wondered if we could pull it off.  We do really love Canada Day...

    This garden inspired me.  I saw it and could only think of the wonderful possibilities.  I could grow this on my deck.  For salads I would just have to go onto the deck and pick the ingredients.  I'm not sure if Christopher knows about his building plans this summer yet.

    I loved this water feature.  It is so whimsical.  This I would install under my beloved Manitoba Maple in the back yard.  I think I would also include the adorable lighted trees that were in this garden.  Maybe this fantasy will have to wait until I am a rich grown up, I looked at the price.

    This garden inspires me to think of what could be.  My back yard could really use some sprucing up...   That is the beauty of Canada Blooms.  It inspires you.  No it is not as good as the last time we went, but it was still good.  If you find yourself downtown Toronto with a couple of hours to spare the show runs from March 16 - March 25.  There really are lots of beautiful gardens to inspire you and make you dream about the summer, the weather is already doing it's part for the fantasy.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Royal York - Recharging My Batteries

    I have discovered the most amazing thing... my shoulders are not actually anatomically attached to my ears, who knew?  I have been going so long with them at my ears I had forgotten what it felt like for them to be relaxed.  Here is the problem.  I spend my life looking after everyone else, and I always put myself last.  I understand that may of us mother's suffer from this insidious disease.  I work a 24 / 7 day.  Tell me who else would work a 24/ 7 job for zero dollars!
    Lately I had been finding myself a little less patient than I would like to be.  The calm mommy left the building very quickly to be replaced with her crazy evil twin.  Part of the problem is that I have been working on very little sleep.  You would think that when you had a 10 year old, two seven year olds and a three year old, everyone would sleep through the night.  There have been many nights that we have had all three of them up, God bless you Grace!  I'm pretty sure that sleep deprivation has been a contributing factor.  The main contributor is the stress involved with being me, and never having 5 minutes to myself.  I can't even go to the bathroom in peace.  I completely acknowledge what you all already know, I can't cry too hard about this, because I have pretty much created the situation that I am in.  I really do need to demand some personal time... but I don't.
    Enter my wonderful husband.  He had heard a radio program about the Royal York, and a promotion that they were running.  Essentially the promotion consisted of an insanely cheap rate and tickets to Canada Blooms.  Did I mention that my husband and I have been married for 18 years, and of the 17 years that we have been parents we have been away from the kids for a grand total of 3 times?  We were due.  We sent the big kids off to Grandma's in Acton, and Elly stayed with Nana and Popa.  Sadly the thing that I was most looking forward to about the trip was a full night's sleep.
    The other sad part of this story is that the mini-vacation came about because about two years ago Elly head bunted me and broke my nose.  I could not even go to the hospital, because at the time my husband was in agony with his stomach, which we discovered shortly after was appendicitis that nearly ended with a ruptured appendix (if we did not have bad luck we'd have no luck at all).  As a consequence of the broken nose I can no longer properly breath through my nose, and my nose looks a little like the letter "C".  I was refereed to a really nice ear nose and throat doctor in Peterborough, who took one look and knew it was beyond him.  He then refereed me to a really nice nose specialist (I'm pretty sure that is not his official title) who also happens to be a plastic surgeon. I saw him a few months back and it was decided that surgery was in order.  I had to come back March 19 to make the final surgical arrangements before the actual surgery in May.  Long story short, this wonderful, magical mini-vacation came into existence because Elly broke my nose.
    So Sunday afternoon we found ourselves in the BIG city.  I love Toronto.  Everything is so BIG, and so energetic.  I feel completely alive when I visit.  We registered, and went up to our room.  I would like to say that my fantasies about the Royal York did not steer me wrong.  As a York University student all those years ago, traveling to Union Station to catch my train back home to Tweed, I would look over at that grand structure that is the Royal York.  It harkened back to times when people cared about workmanship.  It was so elegant.  I would imagine myself as a rich woman walking through the revolving doors with the gold handles.  My dreams came true, well not the rich woman part.

    The best word to describe the Royal York is opulent.  It is stunning.  Here's a little something for your history books, The Royal York began construction in 1927, and opened it's doors in 1929.  At that time it was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth.  It's hard to look at that majestic building that is stunted by the huge buildings surrounding it, not to mention the CN Tower, and think that it was once the largest.  It has been visited by celebrities and most notably Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

    We dumped our things in our beautiful room, and then caught a taxi to Canada Blooms (I'll share that tomorrow).  When we had seen everything at Canada Blooms, we caught a street car back to the hotel.  We explored the hotel a little and just vegged in our room until we were bored and hungry.  We  walked down to The Old Spaghetti Factory.  It is one of my favourite restaurants.  We sat and carried on an entire conversation, interrupted only by our waiter.  I ate a hot meal, so hot in fact that I burned my mouth.  I can't remember the last hot meal prior to this that I ate.   We smiled, we laughed.  It was at that point that I notice my shoulders.  I notice that they felt, relaxed.  I also notice that my forehead was not furrowed.  I was de-stressing.  We walked back up to the hotel, hand in hand.  The night was beautiful, the city at night was breath taking.  It was as if we left a little bit of stress behind us with each step we took.

    The moral of this story is ... to be a good mother and wife, you need to be a little selfish sometimes.  On the way home from picking up the three big kids I was able to recognize the extra patience.  There were times that they were fighting with each other that I would have screamed at them two days before.  This time I calmly reminded them to play nicely.  Maybe it's not really selfish to recharge your batteries.


Monday, 19 March 2012

The Akropolis And The Lost Art Of Hospitality

       Last week Riley asked me a very insightful question.  She asked me "why are people so nice to us every where we go?  They all smile at us."  I was a little taken off guard by this question.  Being the nerd that I am I answered her truthfully, but this was a teachable moment.  "People treat us nicely and smile at us because we are polite, and nice to them.  When you treat people the way that you would like to be treated, they usually do the same."  She was satisfied with my answer and ran off to play.  It amazed me how insightful this little 7 year old girl was.  I mention this story because it really rang true again for me today.
   Today I had a doctor's appointment with a specialist regarding my nose that Elly broke two years ago.  I climbed into the van and told Christopher how nice and how pleasant and my doctor was.  It felt like I was in better hands with a nice doctor.  I left the office feeling prepared for my surgery in May, and like all of my questions had been answered to my satisfaction.
    My doctor's office is on Coxwell Avenue in Toronto.  This is very close to Danforth Avenue.  Christopher informed me that this area of Toronto was called "Greek-town".  Indeed many of the signs had english and greek writing.  "I would love some baklava, what do you think?" he asked me.  We were childless and had the whole afternoon so I said "lets".  We parked the car and walked hand in hand up the street.  It felt like we were dating again.  The day was unseasonably warm and beautiful and we were in the City that I love to visit.
    We looked in windows, and debated where we should eat lunch.  We walked past this adorable little bakery and I told Christopher that we need to stop there on our way back to the car to grab our baklava.    We then walked past the cutest little kitchen store.  We went in to explore.  There were the most amazing gadgets, and gizmos.  Christopher asked the woman at the cash if she could recommend a good Greek restaurant to eat.  She recommended the little bakery we had just passed.
    As we walked in the restaurant/ bakery I could not believe how adorable it was.  We pressed our faces to the glass and tried to decide what to try.  So we asked the young man behind the counter what he would recommend.  He gave us a few suggestions.  He was so friendly and helpful.  We decided on spinach pie and greek salad.  Oh my goodness it was sooooooo good.  If we had not been out in public I think I would have groaned while eating it (o.k. I may have groaned a little).  We came to find out that this bakery/ restaurant was owned by the nicest Greek family.  The mom and he son came to ask us how our meal was.  We could not say enough positive words.  I just sat through my whole meal smiling.  It felt like we were in our family's home (only much much quieter).  As  I slid the rest of my spinach pie that I could not finish onto my husband's plate, I declared that I could not possibly eat another bite.  Had I been struck dead at that second, I would have died a happy woman!  As we were just conferring as to how full we each were, the nice son came to our table to ask if had room for dessert.  We both let out a moan, and told him we could not eat one more bit, but would indeed be purchasing baklava to take home.  He disappeared for a minute and then came back with a bowl full of these tasty little pastry bites that looked a little like Tim Bits.  When we bit into them an explosion of sweetness happened in our mouthes.
    We then waddled up to the front to pay.  We stood like kids in a candy store picking out our treats to take home.  It was like putting together our christmas wish lists.  The nice young man kept giving us more things to try.  We paid for our purchase and assured the nice family that we WOULD BE BACK.  We happily waddled to the car singing the praises of "Akropolis".  "You just don't get service like that anywhere!" we both exclaimed.  "I want to tell everyone I know that they have to go there."  On and on we talked.  We climbed into the van.  Before he started the car, Christopher suggested that I should blog about that amazing restaurant.  I thought he was a genius.  I would need a picture for my blog.  I took a pictures of the outside of the restaurant.  I then went in and asked if it would be alright if I took their pictures and posted them on my blog.  They were very agreeable.  They might very well be the nicest family I have ever met!  They invited me behind the counter to watch the\ mom make authentic Greek coffee, and to take any pictures that I would like, all the while offering me more food.

The nice Mom making authentic Greek Coffee (I will be trying this the next time).

The nice son warming up a spinach pie.

Father and Son.

    If you find yourself downtown Toronto near Danforth Avenue, you need to go the Akropolis at 708 Danforth Avenue.  You will have the best food with the nicest hosts.  I guess that it just goes back to the golden rule, "treat others the way that you would like to be treated!"

This picture does not do the food justice.

Read tomorrow's blog for more of our Toronto adventure...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Dinner for 6, for $10.00 - Angel Hair Primavera

     Angel Hair Primavera;

    In sharing my favourite budget stretching recipes,  I have come to realize that a lot of them are pasta recipes.  I think in a past life I must have been Italian.  This recipe is a real favourite, and really easy.  This dish is inspired by my favourite dish at East Side Mario's.  The funny thing is that they charge more for a plate full of it than it costs to make enough to feed 8 easily!

you will need...
1 package of capelleni pasta (or angel hair if you are lucky enough to find some)
approximately 1/4 of olive oil
2 garlic cloves (you can adjust this to your own tastes)
salt pepper
1 chopped onion (or more or less, depending on what you like)
any vegetables that you like.

The first thing I do is to take a mason jar and fill it with 1/4 of olive oil.  I then smash a clove of garlic and let it sit.  It's better the longer you let it sit.  How long I let it sit depends on how much time I allow myself.

Next, I take out my wok, a frying pan also works really well.  I throw in olive oil into my wok, then I fry up the onion.  The smell at this point is like heaven.  I then salt and pepper it up.  At this point you want to put your salted water on to boil for your noodles.  Next I throw in celery, thinly sliced carrots, I love this stuff that they sell at the store called "broccoli slaw" it is excellent for this and costs about $2.00.  I like to pre-cook the broccoli, and then throw it in last so that it does not molt.  I have found that if I put it in too early the broccoli looses it's "branches".  I like to give the veggies and nice browning.

I at this point have water on to boil for my noodles and also for my shrimp.  You can top this with anything you like.  It's also nice with left over grilled chicken.  I always buy "raw" shrimp.  They taste so much better!  On a visit to Myrtle Beach we learned how to cook shrimp properly.  You want to salt your water and when it boils throw the shrimp in.  We were told that you don't want to cook them for over 2 minutes, otherwise you will overcook them.  I use the bag of frozen and am way to disorganized to predefrost, so I cook mine for 3 and a half minutes.  I have a bowl of cold water on stand by.  After 3 and a half minutes I drain them and throw them into the cold water to stop them cooking.  I then peel and put them aside.

When the big pot of water has boiled for the noodles, I toss half a bag in.  The key to capelleni noodles is to cook them for no more than 2 and a half minutes.  I have learned the hard way that more than 2 and a half minutes results in unusable mush.

When I have cooked the pasta, I rinse it in cold water to get rid of the starch and stop it from clumping. I empty my veggies into a big bowl and set it aside.  I then put a pit more olive oil into the pan and dump the noodles.  I like to crisp them up a little. You only want to do a few seconds.  Put it back into it's pot and mix in the 1/4 of olive oil.  Put a lid on it to keep the heat in.  Now toss the shrimp into the wok with a little olive oil and grated garlic clove.  You just want to brown them.  Shrimp are very easy to over cook, so you need to be careful.

Now it's time for plating.  Put your pasta on the plate, then top it with the veggies and shrimp.  I like to top it with a little grated parmesan cheese, but that's me.

There you have it, Angel Hair Primavera, enjoy!  (The kids say that if I had a restaurant, this would have to be on the menu).

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Maple Sugar Bush

    Today was an absolutely beautiful day.  It was unseasonably warm, and the sun was shining, in other words, life is good.  It was also a perfect day for a road trip.  Christopher had to work to day, so I loaded up the kids, and then picked up my mom and dad, and we headed off to Madoc.  We traveled up a muddy dirt road and made our way to O'Hara Sugar Maples.  This sugar bush is owned by friends of ours, Heather and Steve Needham.  It has been many years since we've been there.  What a change!
    When you think about maple sugar you think of the old tin buckets hanging from the trees.  The poor farmer would have to walk out to every tree, remove the bucket, dump the bucket into a larger receptacle, and then rehang the tin bucket.  I can only imagine the pain they went to bed with that night.
The old method is gone, well at least for the "big boys".  As we drove up the long, long drive to the sugar shack we saw hundreds of metres of blue tubing.  It was like some insane spider.

    All of the tubes fed eventually to the sugar shack.  It is an amazing set up.  Inside the shack is a holding tank that looks like it is full of water, but it is not water, it's sap.
This is sap! This was not even all the sap, there was another holding tank!

  Heather showed the kids every part of the maple syrup operation.  I personally was most interested in how they determine the syrup's grade, very interesting.  Who knew syrup had to be graded?
Heather held the syrup up to the light.

    The kid's favourite part of the whole visit... samples.  We sampled maple syrup, and maple butter (we bought both).  Thanks to Heather's sampling, Elly thinks that maple butter should be eaten like pudding and insisted on having a bowl of it, and further insisted in using the popsickle stick that she had saved.

    We had a really fun afternoon.  The lovely maple syrup inspired tonight's dinner.

Pancakes from scratch, breakfast sausage and of course the star of the show...
O'Hara Sugar Maples Maple Syrup, YUM!

If you would like to find out more information about O'Hara Sugar Maples, 
go to facebook and look them up.