Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Drive that changed my Day.

    There are times that I think that this role of "Mother" is too much to bear.  On those days that the kids all pick fights with each other, the days that my patience is no where near where it should be, the days that Christopher has been called out to work, and I am a single parent for long stretches of time, it is at those times that I wonder if I am in over my head, if I am failing.  There are those times I would sell my soul for just five minutes of solitude.  If we were to be honest, as mothers we all have those moments.  The test, the real test is do those times outweigh the times that Motherhood is a gift?
    Yesterday I felt like Motherhood is a gift.  I put a lot of effort into "making memories" for the kids.  I lay awake some nights wondering if "I have done enough", if I have measured up to my own impossibly high, sometimes unrealistic self expectations.  That all sounds very over dramatic, but no one ever said that I wasn't.  I sometimes need to just stop, just stop and breath.  Stop all of the planning, all of the thinking, and allow myself to be in the precise moment that I am in.  Stop living "for" tomorrow and love today.  Yesterday reminded me of that simple lesson.
    The day started off as nothing overly special.  At no point did I ever guess the joy that the simpleness of the day would bring to me.  The plan had been to get together with my friends and their children and meet at the movies for cheap Tuesday.  We would then head over to the splash pad.  Riley invited a friend to come with us.  It fell through.  My friends were not able to get together, and I had already promised the kids that we would go.  It was no big deal.  At some point in the morning I had a genius idea... Christopher could take them!  I have sat through endless mind numbing children's movies,  the movies that the kids love, and I leave thinking that I would have rather poured rubbing alcohol onto open sores than have sat through that movie (ie. all of the Alvin and the Chipmunks).  Let Christopher suffer through a stupid movie for once spend some quality time with the kids.  Besides Christopher suffering bonding with the kids, I had a meeting last night, a meeting that I was hosting.  Christopher taking the kids to the movies would not only get me out of it, but it would get them out of the house.  It was a win win!  The matinee started at 3:00.  At 2:30 Christopher called to say that he would be unable to take the kids to the movies because his boss was going out of town for the night and Christopher had to be around incase of any new calls.  I had to break the bad news to the kids that they were not going to the theatre to see Turbo.
    My kids are actually very good at dealing with disappointment.  Sometimes I think that I feel worse about letting them down, than they feel let down.  They were disappointed that we were not going, but they took it really well.  Riley's friend Karina asked if she could still stay at our house until 9:00.  I told her she could, and that was all she really needed to take the sharp edge off of the blow.  I sat trying to think what I could do with them that would be fun, but cost effective and time effective.  We decided to take a trip to the local cheese factory.  The Ivanhoe Cheese Factory is a real favourite of ours.
There is a huge window that looks into the cheese factory and allows the kids to see how cheese is made, it even has a little step for them to stand on.
    We pulled into the cheese factory and the kids all spilled out of the car.  The first thing that they all went for was the big plate glass window.  The four of them (Grace was away at a friend's trailer) stood up on that bench, their little faces smushed up against the glass ( I wonder how often they have to clean that window).  "Awww they're not doing anything" Karina said, and then "oh look over there".  It was like they were playing a game of eye spy in the cheese factory.  After a long time peering through the window they descended upon the free cheese samples like a pack of hungry dogs.  I looked at them and their faces were alive with complete joy.  I purchased my feta cheese, my asiago cheese and my parmesan cheese.  I lined up to pay while the kids all squealed and compared notes about their favourite cheese samples.  As I got closer to the cash I only saw great big bags of cheese curd for sale.  I asked if they were todays, and the lady behind the counter told me that they were yesterday's curds and that was all they had left.  I decided against buying the cheese curd.  If it's not freshly made that morning, it does not have that amazing squeak that I love.  No squeak, no love.  I paid and then rounded them all up, and then loaded them all into the van.
   As we were driving into Tweed it occurred to me to ask if they wanted to go to Maple Dale Cheese to see if they had any curds the back seat roared back at me "YEAH".  We turned onto highway 37 and headed over to Maple Dale Cheese.
They only had cheese curd samples.  The kids were not disappointed, but again threw themselves into curd testing.  They each wanted a different kind.  In the end I purchased a bag of regular curds and dill curds.  The kids piled into the van and I wandered over to the vegetable truck parked in the Maple Dale Parking Lot.  I LOVE fresh veggies and fruit that you can buy from local farmers at this time of year.  I came away with some beautiful large red tomatoes and some tiny new potatoes.  Life was good.
    As we drove home I took my head out of my own thoughts and began to listen to the conversation in the back seat.  I feel very blessed right now because at this moment in time the kids all have really nice friends.  Many of their friends have been their friends since nursery school, and I know their parents extremely well.  I have known Karina since she was just two and her parents moved to Tweed from Toronto.  We became friends, and the girls have been friends ever since.  Right now the kid's friends blend beautifully with our family.  I don't have to pretend with them, I can just be my goofy self and they are o.k. with that, and more than that even my kids are not embarrassed.  As I drove, the kids were all passing back and forth the bags of cheese curd.  "Oh Tristan you are right!  These curds are so good with the squeak".  I smiled.  The four kids all began to talk together.  Karina is Riley's friend, and yet she plays with all of them, she is like an adopted member of our family.  I am not sure how they got onto the subject of boyfriends and girlfriends but Elly began to tell them about how "Drake really wants her to be his girlfriend".  I shot a look back at her, her little cheeks red and an extremely self important look on her face (she's 4).  Karina the voice of reason "Do you like him Elly?"  "Yeah, he's adorable" says Elly looking bashful.  "Then I think that you should be his girlfriend!"  It was all I could do to hold back the hysterical laugher that was bubbling in my chest.  They then got onto talking about "Honey Boo Boo."  My kids love to watch Honey Boo Boo.  It is not educational (although it does always make feel very high class when I watch it, much as hoarders makes me feel like a great housekeeper), it is pretty much trash, but it is pretty entertaining.  Karina had never seen the show, so the kids began to explain it to her, with back stories and most hilarious impressions.  Riley tucked her chin right into her neck and then squinted her eyes "I make sghetti.  My family loves it.  It's a family recipe."  Riley then recalled how "June Bug" makes sghetti.  Her face is revolted as she tells Karina "She mixes margarine which she calls butter with ketchup, and then puts it on their spaghetti noodles".  Karina of course provided the correct response with hysterical laugher and "Oh that is gross".  There was a point in the impressions that I laughing so hard that I thought that I may have to pull over at the side of the road and wait it out.
    I walked into the house after that drive feeling lighter than air.  My life is a blessing.  Motherhood is a gift.  I not only get to watch my own children grow up, but I get to watch their friends grow and change too.  It really is a gift.  A gift that I would not have received if I had not be open to living in the moment.  Yesterday I allowed myself to just relax, the day was not as I had planned it to be, but it turned out better than anything I could have ever tried to plan.  I am not going to pretend that it's all easy from here, because it's not.  This life lesson will not change the way I look at the world from here on out.  I will have those days of self doubt and wishing I could hit rewind and do the day differently.  I would like to think that that pure joy that I felt will however pave the way for me to just let life flow more often and sit back and enjoy the ride more often.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Gracie Back In the Saddle / JMT Performance Horses

    Horses are in my blood.  I come from a long line of horse people (I think that's what you would call them).  For generations the men in my father's family were blacksmiths.  When my Dad was a boy he would go to Harrowsmith, Ontario for the summer and help his grandfather at his blacksmith shop.  My father in his early years exercised / trained race horses.  He had to give up his great love when I made my arrival.  It was time for him to stop what he loved to support his new family.  My Dad gets this wistful look about his face when he looks at horses.  It's funny that although I come from a long long line of horse people, it is only in the last 6 years that I have discovered that I myself love horses.  Until 6 years ago I had never so much as touched a horse.  I still have not gotten the courage to ride (mainly for the fear of breaking the poor horse's back if the truth be told), but I would groom them forever.  There is something almost religious about being near horses I have discovered late in life.
    My first introduction to horses was through my friend Laura.  Laura was starting a small business teaching English riding lessons.  Grace had voiced a desire to ride.  At the time she seemed like such a big girl, but as I look at the picture below I realize that she was just little.  The love of horses ran deep through Grace's veins.  She LOVED it!  For Christmas we got her a pink riding helmet, and her own pink grooming kit.    Santa brought her a giant horse, and small play horses.  She was delighted.  
    All along we had warned her that part of riding is falling.  It was easy for me to say.  Horses are so big and it was not me that would fall.  It seemed in theory to her to be an acceptable risk.  Her love of riding never wavered.  Each week Laura would teach Grace new techniques, and Gracie sat there poised like this is what she had been meant for.  My Dad kept trying to prepare her, "you will fall" he would tell her "but when you fall, you just get right back up".  My dad's body tells the tales of falls and dances with horses feet and mouthes.  Gracie would just nod, it was an acceptable risk.  Eventually her run came to an end, and she fell.  It was not as much a "fall" so much as a graceful slide right off the side, and thump to the ground.  She was devastated, her pride as much as her back and bum hurt.  We made her go back the next week for one more ride.  She did not want to, now she knew that fear of falling.  She rode, but her heart was not in it.  The fall broke her love.  I felt sad that chapter was now over for her.  I kept thinking that time would heal that fear, but it didn't.  Soon after Laura stopped teaching, not because of loosing Grace as a student, but because her life had become too busy to teach.

    Last year Grace's friend Taylor began taking riding lessons again.  Taylor had also been one of Laura's students.  The love of horses was something that Grace and Taylor shared.  Taylor's Mom posted pictures of Taylor riding, a big grin spread across her face.  "Do you ever think that you would like to start riding again?" I asked Grace.  "Nah" she replied.  At that point she was in love with music. She was in the local band and taking piano lessons.  I felt sad that that part of her life seemed to be over, but then I had to really think who I was sad for.  Part of me was living through Grace.  It was her life.

   This year Taylor got Gracie hooked on the Canadian program Heartland.  Heartland is the story of two girls who go to live with their grandfather on a horse ranch in cattle country.  Shortly after Grace became hooked on Heartland, she got Riley hooked too.  The girls would snuggle into Grace's bed and watch boxed sets of the past seasons (loaned by Taylor).  Soon Amy, Tye, Lou, Grandpa Jack, and Peter became spoken of like they were friends.  Grace and Riley would discuss what had happened in each episode in great detail.  It was also around this time that Taylor and her Mom began sharing posts about JMT Performance Horses.  This was where Taylor took her lessons.  They teach western riding.  About once a month there is a draw on Facebook to win a free riding lesson.  I was very surprised to see that Grace had entered her name.

    A few weeks ago we received some very exciting news, Grace's name had been selected to win a free riding lesson!  She was so excited.  I was excited too, because it meant that her love of riding was not dead, it had just been lying dormant.  Excitedly Grace exchanged emails with Jade Tracey, the owner of JMT Performance Horses.  It was decided that the free lesson would be Saturday, July 27 at 11:00.  

    Yesterday was the big day, the day had finally come.  We dropped the other kids off at my parents and set off to JMT Performance Horses.  The 911 numbers flashed along the side of the highway, we were looking for the right one ...1559.  We drove past it, then turned around.  We walked up to the barn where we met Sarah.  Sarah is this tiny little woman dressed in pink cowboy boots and cowboy hat, who could not have been nicer if she tried.  She told Gracie that she would be teaching her today.  

    Sarah introduced Grace to Meg, the pony that she would be riding.  I wanted to run over and pat and hug and basically make a nuisance of myself to the poor pony.  Grace gave her a pat and went to business.  Sarah showed her how to put the blanket on, and how to adjust the saddle.  She then got Grace suited up with a helmet and they were on their way.

    I stood there amazed with this stupid grin on my face on the verge of tears watching her.  She had not ridden in two years, and yet her body remembered.  As soon as she was atop the pony, her shoulders went back, her back straightened just like Laura had taught her.  I told this to my Dad later, and he just smiled, "your body doesn't forget."

    She went around the path, smile on her face.  She did some obstacles, smile still there.  It was that smile that she wore to ride before the fall.  It was that smile that said she was doing what she loved, what was in her blood.  When her time was up she looked disappointed, and yet renewed.  

    On the car ride home Gracie was quiet in the back.  Both Christopher and I asked her if she wanted to take lessons.  Her answer was calm and almost introspective "yes".  Short and sweet.  Now for the test, I told her "We will pay for your lessons, but you have to buy either your own boots or your helmet." She did not like this deal.  There was more silence and then "O.K."  After a two year hiatus it seems that our little girl is back in the saddle and I am very happy about this.

    I would really like to thank Jade Tracey for the opportunity, and to thank Sarah for her gentle manner which she approached Grace's first lesson.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Rowan and the Stanley Cup and Andrew Shaw

    For me parenting is an amazing process.  There are times when I throw my hands up in the air and wonder what in God's name I have gotten myself into.  For the most part I think of it as an amazing process that I am blessed to be a part of.  It is an amazing process to watch childhood unfold.  You watch this tiny little baby who is so helpless and is completely dependent upon you.  You watch them grow and change, and develop into these little people in something that feels like a blink of an eye.  Sometimes it feels like watching a rosebud begin so small and delicate and as it blooms it becomes bigger, more showy.  I love to sit back and watch the kids become their very own people.  
    Rowan has always been more of Mommy's boy.  Do not confuse this with "A Momma's Boy".  He was my little man, he loved his Daddy, but he was mine.  The girls have always been drawn to their Daddy like moths to a light (flames are so much more violent and dangerous than the steady warm glow of a light bulb).  They would look at Daddy with this look of something akin to hero worship.  They worshiped their Daddy, but they emulated me.  Rowan was always just his own little person.  He loved his Dad, but really there was no emulation.  All of this changed this year.  This year Rowan has begun to really see his Dad.  They now share common interests, and I see him beginning to want to "be like Dad".
    Up until this past year Rowan never really had any interest in either playing or watching hockey.  It just was not his thing.  This year he began very slowly to take an interest in the hockey games that Christopher would watch (I think that snacks might have been part of the hockey allure).  As the season progressed Rowan could be seen more often planted on the couch beside his Dad, his voice echoed with his fathers during bad calls made by the ref and when the Hawks scored.  Christopher is a rabid Chicago Black Hawks fan, and has been for as long as I have known him.  There could be no greater gift that a son could give to his father, than for Rowan to route for Christopher's team.  The day after the game Rowan and Christopher and my Dad would talk about the key points in the game.  Rowan was now part of a manly club.  During the playoff season my house was nearly unbearable.  The two of them would start screaming out that stupid "Duh duh duh duh duh duh duh du" song that the Blackhawks play for their goals.  Each time the Blackhawks would win another game, I would groan.  How long do play off games last?  I would just pray that the Blackhawks would be eliminated so that my could return to normal, each night at like 1 in the morning Christopher would do his little dance into the bedroom singing that stupid song with a big grin on his face.  On playoff nights we would let Rowan stay up until 9:30 to watch the games, but as you can see from the picture above, there were nights that he just couldn't make it. 

    During this whole time the player "Andrew Shaw"'s name was used around our house a lot.  Andrew Shaw is a member of the Blackhawks who just happens to be from Belleville.  That made him extra special because he was not only a Blackhawk, but a local boy!
   There was a lot of excitement at our house when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.  For Christopher it felt like a dream.  It was a dream for me too, because it meant that I would not have to listen to stupid hockey again for a whole dreamy year!  Christopher told Rowan a few times that when Andrew Shaw brought the cup Belleville, they would have to go and see it.  Apparently it is a tradition for each member of the winning Stanley Cup team to bring the cup to their hometown for a day.  It doesn't really turn my crank, but guess that I can see how that would be exciting.

    We had just come home from our vacation, and I was in Belleville doing some shopping to replenish our empty cupboards.  I was listening to the radio when the announcer made mention to the fact that Andrew Shaw was in Trenton with "The Cup".  I frantically pulled over into the first parking lot that I could see and called home.  "ANDREW SHAW HAS THE CUP IN TRENTON!!!!  HE'LL BE IN BELLEVILLE AT THE MEMORIAL AREANA THIS AFTERNOON!!!!!!!   I will finish up here as quickly I can, so that you and Rowan can come back here!  Clean him up and get ready!"  I did very terrible shopping,  and only hit two stores.  I raced home and felt like I should be handing a baton to Christopher and Rowan.  Then they were off.

    Christopher and Rowan came home several hours later, very hot but very excited.  Rowan kept saying that "Saturday is Andrew Shaw's birthday".  They had an amazing opportunity, an opportunity that not many have the privilege of having.  How many rabid hockey fans have the opportunity to not only see a player, but to touch the Stanley Cup?  What an amazing bonding opportunity!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Our Trip To Santa's Village in Bracebridge, Ontario

   Waves of sadness filled us all as we drove away from our yurt.  It just stood there, pretending like we had never been there, but we knew that we had ... we had the bug bites and layers of dirt to prove it!  Our trip to Algonquin felt so short.  It was too short, but as much as we would have like stay longer, we had booked the only available time there was at the Mew Lake, Algonquin site.  Our sadness was all the more greatly lessoned after our stop at Henrietta's Pine Bakery in Dwight.  The kids all added a layer of chocolate to their existing layer of camp dirt.  
    It was with a great sense of relief and delight that I looked upon the beautiful Holiday Inn Express in Huntsville.  It stood there a beacon of civilization with the flush toilets and oh the glorious hot shower!  Christopher and I both felt more than a little self conscious about our filth (by self-conscious what I really mean is face burning with embarrassment) as we checked into our spotless room.  While the kids were jumping on the hotel bed (our hotel tradition, don't tell the manager) I was ignoring tradition and luxuriating in the hot shower, while the pounds of dirt rolled off.  When I had finished I felt like a million dollars and the floor of the shower looked like a sand pit.  I then showered all of the kids, and I am pretty sure that we took all of the dirt in Algonquin Park with us.

    The next morning after an exceptionally good sleep (and feeling like a princess after camping).  We braved the heat wave and drove down the road to Bracebridge's Santa's Village.  The kids were super excited.  We had not been to Santa's Village since the twins were tiny.  This was Elly's very first visit.  Originally this visit was to be a surprise for my Mom's 65th birthday.  I had planned it for months, but apparently my plans fell the wayside.  I had arranged for the birthday party package (which is so extremely reasonable).  Honestly the birthday party rate is the best way to go for larger groups.  The only drawback was that we had to pay for 10 people, even though there were only 6 of us.  In the end it still worked out to save us bundles of money.  (I stole the below information to share with you from

A Santa’s Village Party

Package #1 Santa‘s Basic Birthday Bash Includes unlimited use of all rides, attractions and shows all day long plus a group photo with Santa for the birthday child.  The birthday child also gets a free Santa’s Village birthday button.  All ages $15.00 per person, tax included
Package #2 Prancer’s Premium Birthday Party Package Includes unlimited use of all rides, attractions and shows all day long plus lunch, gingerbread cookie decorating and a group photo with Santa for the birthday child. The birthday child also gets a free Santa’s Village birthday button.  All Ages $25.00 per person, tax included
Lunch Option #1 Pepperoni Pizza, Chips, Soft Drink & Gingerbread cookie.
Lunch Option #2 Hot Dog, Chips, Soft Drink & Gingerbread cookie.
Add…..Facepainting for $3.00 or Loot Bags for $5.00
Email for more group sales information.

    The other amazing offer that I took advantage of is "Explorer's Edge". 
This great website lists all of the amazing things that you can do in the Algonquin / Muskoka area.  In addition to educating about all the amazing things that there are to do in "The Explorer's Edge", it also offers $50.00 worth of vouchers that are accepted at participating retailers, which lucky for me included Santa's Village!

    Santa's Village is for me a special place.  I came to Santa's Village as a teen on our first real family vacation.  Although my sister Mandy and I were technically too old to enjoy Santa's Village, we didn't realize it.  We loved every single second of it, and it became ingrained as a beautiful childhood memory.  When Gabe was three,  Christopher and I took him to Santa's Village.  Gabe LOVED it.  His little face just glowed with excitement.  Santa's Village really does hold a special place in my heart, a place that I was really excited to share with the rest of the kids.

     We were greeted like family by the woman at the gate, it was really nice.  I came to find out that Santa's Village, unlike most summer attractions does not exclusively hire high school / college kids.  Most summer attractions that you visit are employed almost exclusively by kids.  I have nothing against the hiring of high school / college kids, heaven knows I needed employment during my summers when I was that age.  The problem is that it is a "summer job".  They may or may not be coming back next year, they owe no loyalty to their company, a lot of times they just don't care.  I was surprised and delighted to notice that at least half of the employees appeared to be seniors... seniors who LOVED kids!  Their love of children permeated the entire park.  There was extra attention to the kids, which is really what it's all about.  They were there not because they had to be, they wanted to be there, and were happy to be there.

    Throughout the park there are lots of fun wooden cutouts for the kids to stick their heads though, and Moms and Dad's can snap pictures.  My kids LOVE the cut outs, I'll be honest I have yet to meet a child that did not race to put their face through cut outs.  I was surprised at how uncrowded the park was.  Granted we did come on the hottest day of the heat wave, but it was gloriously uncrowded.

    The kids seemed to be oblivious to the heat, they were excited and raring to go!  They could not wait to race to the rides.  They loved the airplanes.  Each time they would make their circuit around I would catch sight of their little beautiful faces, full of joy.  They were so proud of themselves as they made their little red planes dip and drop, then fly right back up.  It was one of those rare opportunities where I was able to observe the kids, really "see" them.  It was truly beautiful.

   Hands down the most unanimously favourite ride was "Jumping Stars".  I was honestly unsure how Elly and Rowan would do on this ride.  I loved their surprised looks as the ride suddenly dropped them.  They were unsure if they should be afraid or delighted, in the end... delighted won out.

    After riding the airplanes, the Jumping Stars and the carousels we headed toward the boat ride (we had to stop a few times at bouncy reindeers along the way).  The boat is Christopher and my favourite thing about Santa's Village (other than Santa).  Every time I have ever been there I saw Captain Ricky.  Captain Ricky has driven that boat for the last 32 years.  This year Captain Ricky is retiring, that makes me sad.  As we boarded the boat, there was Captain Ricky's big smile and an individual greeting for every single passenger, both big and small.  The water was glorious and offered a little reprieve from the oppressive heat.   We traveled along the Muskoka River.  Christopher and I played a very mature game called "oh there's my cottage".  The kids soon joined in.  We looked enviously at the beautiful cottages along the river, and we would select the perfect cottage for us, often changing our picks the further we traveled along.  As we reluctantly left the sleigh/ ship, Christopher walked up to Captain Ricky and gave him a pat on the shoulder "Thanks, enjoy your retirement, we'll miss you".  I am pretty sure that I caught a little tear in the corner of that big guy I call husband's eye.

    After our boat ride we enjoyed a new addition to the attractions, it was a little 3D theatre.  The kids sat on colourful beanbag chairs while we adults enjoyed the air-conditioning from the bright red benches.  The kids put on their fancy 3D glasses end enjoyed the show.  I wanted to stay and watch several shows, but that was more for the air-conditioning.  

    As we headed to see Santa, Riley took me aside "Mom, is this the real Santa?"  I looked her in the eye "I don't know Riley.  Your heart will tell you.  It may just be a really nice man pretending to be Santa, or it could be the real deal.  Santa and Mrs. Clause do spend their summers here".  She was satisfied with that answer.
   There was only a small line up to see Santa.  The little girl in front of us was there with her mother.  She really had a bone to pick with her brother, and had barely said hello to Santa before she began her list of complaints against her brother, and an arm length list of all of the bad things that he had done.  Santa looked at the Mom "Where is her brother today?"  The Mom explained that he was at home with his Dad because he had misbehaved.  Santa then took the little girl and embraced her, "We all make mistakes, and we don't always do what we should.  It's important that when we make our mistakes that we apologize to our Moms and Dads for them."  The little girl looked disappointed that Santa hadn't told her that her brother was going on the lifetime naughty list.  As they were leaving Santa called them back.  "Could you please tell your brother that I love him".  It was beautiful.  It was exactly what Santa should say.  Santa for me is about love, not toys.  I had a little tear in my eye.
    When it was our turn to see Santa, he looked at my kids with love.  "I know it's early, but do you know what you might like for Christmas?'  Riley piped right up "I want two wrestling tickets".  That's my girl.  Santa took a little taken back, he then asked Riley who her favourite wrestler was.  He then told her who his favourite wrestler was.  "Santa, you watch wrestling?" It was now Riley's turn to be taken aback.  "I never miss it" he told her.  Riley was all smiles.  As we left Riley looked like she had seen real magic "I can't believe that Santa likes wrestling.  I did not expect that!"  A few steps farther she stopped "Mom, that was the real Santa... my heart told me so." Her hand was clutched to her heart, a smile on her face.

  The oppressive heat was getting to us, and we decided that it was finally time to go to the splash pad.  The kids ran in with all of their clothes on.  The kids ran in, and so did Christopher and I.  I didn't care by that point how stupid I looked, I was hot.  The splash pad cooled us almost immediately.   Thank you Santa for thinking of a splash pad!

    We saved the roller coaster for last.  Christopher and Riley went first.  Rowan was desperate to go, but unsure.  Riley and Christopher came back with a buzz.  "How was it?" I asked "GREAT".  Our turn.  Rowan and I climbed the huge hill.  I hate heights, and the fact that I was doing this should attest to my great love of my son.  The guy brought down the metal bar that locked us in.  "I can't do this" I uttered, but he was gone, and the roller coaster was starting.  Oh God, what had I agreed to?  We plunged and dove.  I looked over at Rowan who looked like he might cry.  I myself kept imagining the roller coaster flying off of the impossibly small track.   Oh no.  By the time we were nearing the end of the ride Rowan had conquered his fear and won.  He was ecstatic.  He jumped and was like a little live wire as he made his way down that big hill.  He kept uttering little screams of delight.  He was hooked, that made a roller coaster lover of Rowan.  In the end I guess it was worth pooping my pants.

    It was a long drive home, and so we had to leave.  The kids were not happy about that.  We wedged them into the car with their newly won inflated animals.  They were exhausted but happy.  They were chirping in the back about their favourite part of the day.  It was decided that we need to come back.

    Santa's Village is an amazing family destination.  It is affordable and lovely.  It harkens back to times gone by when attractions were not just about how much money they could make, but about families.  Although it feels old school, it does not lack for fun, and meticulously clean.  For me the old school feel brings more.  I want to be with my children, to really imprint beautiful memories onto them.  Santa's Village is the perfect place to do that!  If you haven't been, you owe it to yourself and your kids to make a trip!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Henrietta's Pine Bakery In Dwight, Ontario

     The little metal posts at the side of the road counted down the kilometers until we left Algonquin Park.  From the back seat there was a chorus of "But we don't want to go!"  I didn't want to go either, but there were only two days available for the yurt, besides it wasn't really all that sad we were headed to Bracebridge for an early morning start at Santa's Village.  I told them this, but my words rang a little hollow because I was just putting on my brave Mom face ... I didn't want to leave either.

    To our left was the looming great building with the oversized flag, the building was the West Gate of Algonquin Provincial Park, and it signaled the end of our Algonquin adventure.  It stung a little, it was so final.  We drove out of the park.  On either side of the highway were little stores and places boasting to be "Algonquin Outfitters".  There were canoes and kayaks for sale and rent.  There were cottages available for rent and little gift stores lining the highway.  We had driven for ten minutes or so when we came upon an oasis among the cottage kitsch.  There it was the place of my dreams .... Henrietta's Pine Bakery.

    Henrietta's isn't just a delicious bakery, it is a precious memory from my childhood.  When we were in our teens (by we, I mean my sister and myself) our family took a trip to Arrowhead Provincial Park near Huntsville.  We drove through Algonquin Park, and found ourselves at Henrietta's.  I remember that the baking tasted extra delicious, as they often do in treasured memories.  Henrietta's became cemented into my brain as a beautiful place on that day.  Years later Christopher and I visited Henrietta's on our honeymoon (well really it wasn't much of a honeymoon, but that's another story).  The baking tasted just as delicious as I remember it.  Sometimes in cherished memory, we alter the facts.  Something what may have been mediocre in reality, becomes thrust into greatness because of the specialness that surrounds it.  That was not the case with Henrietta's.  Any trip that took us through the park, was celebrated with a visit to our favourite bakery in the woods.  

    Five years ago or so we took a family trip to North Bay.  It was in April.  We drove through Algonquin, but everything was closed up tight.  The visitors centre had a big sign on the door indicating that they were only open on week-ends.  We drove further, right through the park.  There it was standing like an alpine dream, a dream beckoning me forward to it's greatness.  "I think it's closed."  Christopher announced.  I wanted to karate chop him in the back of the head!  "Let's just look" I said, barely keeping the hostility out of my voice.  On the door was a little sign, a dream killing sign "Closed for Winter.  Open in May.  HA HA TRISTAN!".  O.K. it didn't say that exactly, that was more kind of the gist of it.  It was a BIG disappointment, to say the least.

    So now travel back to the future, well the past, but the very recent past.  My children were crammed into our mini-van looking a little like sardines, sad, crabby little sardines.  Through the forrest there it was.  I felt like there should be angel choirs and a heavenly beam shining on top of it.  We parked and spilled out of the car.  The heat was oppressive (we were in a heat wave at that time).  We trudged into the bakery through the exaggerated smells that the heat brings, sweat already clinging to our every single nook and cranny.  Christopher opened the bakery door, and the smell drifted out of door to embrace me.  If heaven has a smell, I am pretty sure that is it!  Inside it was cool and looked like site that awaited Hansel and Gretel (without the evil witch who wanted to eat them).  The kids all descended upon the glass cases, their dirty little faces pressed tightly against the pristine glass.  How could you choose just one thing?

    For Grace there was no indecision.  She knew exactly what she wanted before she even left the car.  "One moose hoof please."  Riley and Rowan took a little longer to decide, but eventually they both decided on eclairs, they were not disappointed in their decisions.  Elly is going through an extremely indecisive phase right now, oh I pray to God that it is a phase.  She just stood there looking into the glass case.  We made a number of suggestions, all were met with an aggressive shake of her little Hitler like head.  Finally her eyes traveled to the other glass case, as if she had no idea it was even there.  There it was... bellowing to her, a moose cookie.  A moose with chocolate feet and antlers.  She was happy and we were relieved to discover that there would not be one of Elly's famous scenes.  I chose a snow ball, but once it was already packed into that white box I began to doubt myself.  Christopher settled upon a cheese croissant (there might be something wrong with him).

    Once we entered the crammed privacy of our own van, we attacked that pristine white box with the perfectly tied white string like a pack of ravenous wolves.  I looked in the back and the children looked like they had had a fight with a chocolate monster and had lost badly.  I pulled out the canister of wipes and began to distribute them with a giggle.  My biggest laugh came when I gave Christopher a taste of my snowball.  The snowball, how would I describe that?  It was like a round eclair topped with powdered sugar.  In the middle it was crammed with whipped cream and the big surprise?  There was a jam centre... oh so good.  Christopher was driving and I gave him a bite of my snowball.  I wasn't really paying attention to what I was doing, I was watching the road to make sure that Christopher was paying attention to the road (me a control freak... how dare you).  I looked over at Christopher's face.  He looked like a young Santa, if young Santa's beard and mustache were made of whip cream and jam.  I laughed and laughed and laughed until I was literally gasping for breath.

    If you find yourself near Algonquin you really need to do yourself a favour and visit Henrietta's Pine Bakery.  There is so much beautiful baking that it is near impossible to pick just on thing.  They also have a whole room filled just with different types of bread.  Even if you are not in the Algonquin area it is so worth a drive just to visit Henrietta's.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Food Prep For Our Culinary Camping

    This year's family vacation was camping.  It has been a few years since we've camped, and the kids really wanted to, and so camping it was.  I do like camping for a few reasons.  Camping really makes you focus, and relax.  It also requires a lot of prep work and packing!

    Normally when we camp every meal is pretty much boring... don't get me wrong everything always tastes better in the great outdoors, but I never really put a lot of thought into our meals.  That was then and this is now!  This year I really got organized, and that included our camping food.  Why should we have to eat boring food?  We don't!
    I sat a week or so before our departure date, pen and paper in hand, and planned.  Here is what my list looked like....

Lunch- muffins, boiled eggs, cheese, veggies and dip.
Dinner- Greek pork chops, salads, veggies and potatoes, veggies and dip.
Snacks-  Cookies, chips, marshmallows and hot dogs

Breakfast -Bacon, eggs and beans with bread and butter
Lunch - Hot dogs, veggies and dip and a brownie
Dinner- Tacos
Snacks- Chips, marshmallow, and hot dogs, Smores

Breakfast -Bacon, eggs, bread and butter, bananas
Lunch - Alphaghetti, veggies and dip 

    I didn't say that it was an ultra healthy meal plan, I said it was less boring, oh and delicious.  After I had put together my meal plan, I put together a grocery list.

    Saturday morning I began my day with preparations for Sunday.  The very first thing that I did was to fill an old ice-cream tub, a RubberMaid cereal saver, and two small ice-cream tubs with water and put them in the freezer.  Block ice keeps food colder for longer, but is hard to find, and it adds up quickly, especially since we were taking two coolers (one for meals, one for drinks).
    After the water in it's containers was safely into the freezer I began my meal prepping.  We rented a yurt which is really the only way to camp in my opinion.  The Yurts at the provincial parks come with a barbecue, this makes life so much easier.  Because we had a barbecue we did not need to pack our camps stove, and that allowed me to really specialize our foods toward the barbecue.  I love to cook food in foil packages on the barbecue, it's cleaner and it really seals in the flavours.
    Our first night's dinner was Greek pork chops, and veggies and potatoes.  I pre-boiled my mini-potatoes for five minutes, then I added the baby carrots and let them cook for five more minutes.  While the last five minutes were on the timer, I placed a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil down and put an extremely generous pat of butter on it.  I added salt and pepper, and chives from the herb box in on my deck. 

    After the timer went I strained the potatoes and carrots, let them cool for a few minutes, then put about 2 cups of carrots and potatoes onto the centre of the foil, on top of the butter pat.  I added chopped broccoli to the top of the pile.  I then put another generous pat of butter on the top and more salt and pepper.

    Next I folded the centre together, then rolled it and scrunched it tightly.  I did the same at the ends.  I did not want any of the delicious butter and juices to escape and cause third degree burns on my legs (trust me when I tell you I know from experience that you do not want this).  I repeated the whole process three more times.  I then packed them into Ziplock bags.

    A few years ago we went to Christopher's cousins Ted and Heather's cottage with his sister Shannon, her boys and Christopher's Mom.  We had an amazing time.  When we arrived I began to unload from the cooler.  I had put all of our food into Ziplock bags.  It looked not unlike when the magician has that scarf that just won't stop coming out of his pocket, or when those clowns start climbing out of that tiny car.   Ziplock bags take up less room and allow things stack better, which means that you can pack so much more in your cooler.  It was on this trip that Shannon dubbed me the "Ziplock Queen".   Every time I pack things into large Ziplock bags I smile a little thinking about my title of "Ziplock Queen", it really is a good fit. 
    After I had done the veggies pouches, I boiled my bowtie noodles for the tuna salad, and cut up potatoes and boiled them.  I mixed together my greek marinade right in the Ziplock bag (if you want the recipe, it works great not just for pork, but also chicken breasts, here's the link to the recipe).
I mixed the marinade right in the bag, threw in the chops, and they marinated right there in the fridge and cooler, it was great.  I know that I am sounding like a broken record, and what I am proposing is not necessarily ecologically sound in terms of recycling the plastic, but I really LOVE Ziplocks.  It cuts down on so much mess.  It creates it's own serving dish (although not classy), it eliminates dirty dishes, and it really does allow you to fit so much more into the cooler/ fridge because it bends and adjusts to the space. 

    After I had prepared the first night's dinner, I began work on Monday night's dinner... Tacos.  I fried all the meat with the seasoning.  It would be so much easier and faster to just reheat it Monday night.  I chopped up my lettuce, and put it into a yes ... wait for it... wait for it... a Ziplock bag with a damp paper towel.  By putting the damp paper towel into the ziplock with the lettuce it keeps it crisp and stops the browning.  I use this technique when I have left over lettuce salad, because it really does keep it just as crisp, if not more crisp than when you made it.  I did not pre-cut my tomatoes because no matter what I have tried I just can't prevent cut tomatoes from getting that gross mushy thing they do from happening.  I grated cheese, and also cut it into bite size squares.
    Several hours later my back hurt, but I was done.  My downstairs fridge was full of Ziplocks of potato salad, tuna salad, chopped lettuce, grated cheddar cheese, boiled eggs, chopped veggies, marinating pork chops, cooked taco meat and cheese cubes.  I was ready, well no I still had to pack the
rest of our supplies, but the food was ready.

Do you see my Ziplocks filled with salads?
    I have to say that we ate like kings.  As usual I packed way too much food, and lots went to waste, but honestly I would rather waste than do without, and we never ever do without.  The food tasted amazing, not because of my mad cooking skills, but because everything always tastes so much better when you are camping.  I'm not sure why that is.  I think that somehow getting back to nature heightens all of your senses.  The colours are more vivid, the smells so much richer, and your taste buds are more alive.  
    By preparing my food before we left it allowed us to eat better, and play longer.  It was really a win win, and I will most definitely do it that way any time that we go camping!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's Camping adventures.....