Monday, 23 February 2015

The Lovely Bones - Living with the Death of a Child

    Do you ever read a book that changes the way you look at the world, or as you read a book you think "Man, that author really gets me, it's like he/ she peeked into my head".   I have had both experiences, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was the latter experience for me.
    The lovely Bones came to my book collection through the Tweed Public Library's semi- annual book sale.  I picked it up more on a whim.  A few years ago Christopher and I had rented the movie, and I would not rank it among my favourites.  I knew that it was a disturbing concept, the story of a girl who had been violently murdered, told by the dead girl.  I'm going to be honest the way it was envisioned for the film, I just didn't get it.  I'm not sure why I picked the book up.
    First let me share that the subject of the book is difficult to read, there are parts that as a mother and as a woman made me shudder.  To me the book wasn't about her gristly murder, it was about how her family dealt with her murder / death and how she dealt with it in "her heaven".  I am pretty sure that Ms. Sebold knows about the loss of a child.  Her words rang true to me.  It was as if she had snuck back into my history 10 years ago and wrote down everything that I was thinking, feeling.
    This was not the most beautifully written book I have ever read, but it really struck me, burrowed into my consciousness.  It was honest.  It brought so many things back for me, and not in a terrible way.  Alice Sebold spoke about the town members giving the family "that look".  I remember "that look".  I remember my community rallied around our family to give us meals, give us their love, but then a few weeks later many felt uncomfortable.  Many times people I knew saw me and walked across the street pretending they had not seen me.  I'm not sure if they thought that losing a child was contagious, or that I would see them and begin to scream in despair.  The truth was I became a bit of a recluse after we lost Gabe.  I did not want to look at little boys his age and feel that terrible feeling of "why do they get to live, but my child didn't".  I did not want to deal with the ghoulish people who would stop me and ask "Aren't you that woman who lost her child?"  They would then begin to ask awful questions about our accident.
    The Lovely Bones gave me a feeling of being seen.  That sounds like a crazy thing to say of a work of fiction, and particularly of a book.  The thing is, losing a child is a club that no one wants to be a part of.  Many of us locally have connected to give comfort and support to each other, but even so you still feel alone.  Parents who have never shared our horrific pain or loss may think they have an idea what we live with, but they don't.  This book, put my thoughts and feelings into words.  It spoke of my grief of my healing.  It suggested a heaven that I had never thought of, but was alright with.  When I say that the book made me feel "seen", what I mean by this is, is that it's words mirrored my experience, allowing me to remember that I am not alone (even after 10 years).

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Library Book Sale / I'm a Book Hoarder

    I love books!  I love the way they feel in my hands.  I love the books with the thick, elegant pages.  I love the way new books smell (old ones, not so much).  I love their weight in my hands as I snuggle into the covers on a cold night, fighting the heaviness of my tired eyes.  Did I mention that I love books?

    My husband is not a reader, he looks at me with my perpetual evening book in my hands with a mixture of envy and distain.  The envy is because he can manage about two pages before he either losses interest or falls asleep.  The distain is because books take up a lot of space in my tiny house.  Each of the kids has their own personal book collection.  I have three totes of books in the upstairs hall way, they are homeless poor little loves.  I have books on the small ledge of my upstairs landing.  I have a book case in the living room filled to overflowing.  In my bedroom I have a bookshelf of the books I have either just read or plan to read.  I feel a slight panic as my pile of "to be read" books begin to dwindle.  As I write this, I realize there is a really good possibility that I am a book hoarder.

    Traditionally I have a genre I read.  I really like historical fiction.  My favourite author is Bernard Cornwell  I find his writing to be mesmerizing.  His books are raw and violent and the way I imagine the times that he writes of to be.  When I read his books I feel like I have fallen through the proverbial rabbit hole and am a part of the story I am reading.  When I finish his books (which sadly I tend to read in a day or so) I feel both a sense of loss because I am finished reading, and also feel smarter.

    Recently one of my friends on facebook posted a book quiz.  It was something like "How literate are you?"  The gist of it was how many of the books labeled as "The Classics" have you read"?  I love books, how could I not ace this quiz... I didn't.  It turns out that the only "classics" that I have read were those I read more than two decades ago in high school.  I was completely taken a back.  From that moment on I began my quest.  I would read books outside of my interests.  I would re-read, and  the classics by my own free will!

    Lucky for me I have an AMAZING public library.  Our "Friends of Tweed Public Library" board put together two AMAZING, HUGE book sales every year, one in the summer and one just before Christmas.  The meeting room is filled to overflowing with beautiful, almost new books.  My girls and I nearly skipped through the hoards of people, gathering heavy armfuls of beautiful books.  I collected books that I would not normally read.  I gathered critically acclaimed books to read.  I gathered books to do me the six months between book sales.  It turns out I liked many of the critically acclaimed books.
    The feel good end of this story is that I could now ace that quiz if I took it today (of course I can't find that stupid quiz now that I'm so literate).  I have now read many critically acclaimed books, and can now sound like a smartie pants when I speak to people.  I now have a huge supply of books to read, and I helped support my AMAZING public library, yup I'm a hero.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Not So Great Attraction in Niagara Falls

    It is my goal through this blog to share with you.  I want to confide in you like I do my girlfriends.  I want to share the tricks that I have learned that save money or that create wonderful memories with my children.  The goal is to be positive.  I do not pretend that all of my blogs are positive and uplifting, oh heck let's be honest some of them aren't really even that good.  My point is, I try not to spread negativity.  The world is full of negativity and negative people, I'm a glass half full kind of a girl, and I look for that in the world around me.  I have had several people ask me to write a blog about their store, or them, and unless I have something that is positive to say, I just can't do it.  I don't like to hurt people's feelings, but more than that I don't want to lie to you.  How can I possible ask you to continue to read my blogs if they are full of lies... do you see where I am coming from?  

    Now that is all out of the way, here is my story about a not so money saving trip (hint there's a picture of it up top).

    Over the past two days I have shared with you what an amazing experience we had at The Great Wolf Lodge.  It was not an inexpensive trip, but honestly it was worth every single penny, and I can't think of to many places I could say that of.  We went to the Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls.  The weather forecast was not terribly favourable for driving on the Thursday we were to travel.  My husband came to the rescue by finding us an incredible deal through WagJag for a hotel in Niagara Falls for the Wednesday night.  This would allow us to make it to Niagara Falls before the storm, and add a little time to our mini vacation.  To top it all off, we got the room for.... get ready for this... $45.00 for the night!!!!!  Now ordinarily I would be a little wary of this kind of a deal.  I am a little like a princess when it comes to hotels.  I am not a great housekeeper (this is code for I am slovenly), BUT and this is a big BUT, it's our dirt.  I will not pay to stay somewhere that is not nicer than my own home.  Christopher and I have nearly gotten divorced when traveling when it comes to hotels.  There have been many times I have walked into the hotel that he has spent half an hour arranging, and then told him to get his money back because we aren't staying.  Luckily, we had stayed at this particular hotel before and it had my stamp of approval (which means that it was really nice and spotlessly clean).  
    We picked the kids up from school Wednesday night and headed for the Falls.  The kids were giddy with excitement.  The weather was great, the sun was shining, the roads clear.  We had made a very smart decision.  Not only would we avoid unpleasant weather by going up a day early, we could check into the Great Wolf Lodge earlier, and let the kids see Niagara Falls.  It occurred to Christopher and I that Elly had never seen the falls.  I'm going to be honest on this one, I felt a little like a bad parent when I realized this.  That night before we checked into the hotel we drove past the falls at night. The kids ooohhhed and awwwed.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  The spray from the falls had frozen onto everything that it touched creating natural sculptures and looked like something from Elly's favourite movie Frozen.  The lights bounced off of the majesty of the frozen falls, pushing through the ice.  The kids hopped back into the car flush with excitement.  You cannot see Niagara Falls and not feel amazed by it's size, it's beauty and it's majesty. 
    That night as we lay in our spotless, cozy, cheap hotel room I listened to the rhythmic hum of my children's breath as they slept.  I lay with an almost spiritual smile.  We were good parents.  That beautiful feeling of being a "good parent" is rare in my parenting world.  More often I lay awake at night beating myself up for what I didn't do, what I should have done, what I need to improve (sound familiar).  I lay there wrapped in a bubble of peace.  I turned over to Christopher and quietly asked what he thought of taking the kids to see one of the Niagara Falls attractions.  He gave me that scared look that says he is afraid to actually say what he is thinking.  "You know they are all kind of a waste of money, right honey?"  I was in my bubble of bliss, and so I smiled at my stupid husband, knowing that he was really thick.  "Oh I know honey"( said this to humor him.  I knew he was thick, but I didn't have to hurt him by pointing it out).  "The thing is, you know it's a waste of money because you've seen it, I've seen it.  I feel like we would be depriving them of an opportunity if we didn't take them to see at least one" (yup I said 'deprived', like Great Wolf Lodge was not quite enough).  He gave me that look, that look that said he though I was thick, but he knew better than to voice this thought.  "It's a big waste of money .... but if you really think the kids would like it ......" all of this he said in that tone that said, "this is what I am supposed to say so that you don't take that extra comfy pillow from the bed and hold it over my face whilst I am sleeping, but I think you are slow witted".

    The next morning we got up and headed for the tourist trap, I mean entertainment district of Niagara Falls.  Christopher and I had decided that maybe we should take them to the Guinness World Records Museum.  When I was a child and had come to Niagara Falls with my Grandparents we had gone to Ripley's.  It was full of side show type displays, two headed goats in bottles of fluid, wax figures with gross things, I was not sure I could take that again.

    I walked up to the little dirty window with the lone attendant.  "Do you have any specials for admission today?" I asked feeling hopeful.  "Sorry Mam, not today" (I sure hate being called Mam).  I paid the $70.00 and we walked in, not before noticing the eye roll from my husband and the "I told you so look".  The kids raced in.  We were the only people in the whole museum.  This would be great I thought.  We could look around at our leisure and the kids could have some freedom to explore without me worrying that some pervert might abduct them.

    We walked into the first room, only to discover that was the best that the museum had to offer.  There was the statue of the tallest man in the world.  At that point I still thought we were in for a treat.  I got Christopher, the tallest man I know (he's 6'4) to stand beside the statue of the worlds tallest man.  He was dwarfed in comparison, a sight I have never seen before.  At this point I was still all smiles, feeling like the best mother in the world, prepared to rub Christopher's face in the fact that I was so right and he was sooooo wrong.  The kids ran to the funny mirror that made them look distorted.  I looked at the sign that said "More upstairs".  In my head I was feeling very grateful for that sign because the one lame room was beginning to make it look like I would be the one having my face rubbed in it.

    We walked up the endless flight of red carpeted stairs.  On the wall was a huge sign that said you could have a "repeat same day visit for only $5".  We got to the top of the stairs and the walls were lined with framed articles.  We would have saved money if I had just bought a "Guinness Book of World Records book".  The kids still raced around excitedly.  I was determined to read every single stupid, boring fact from those stupid, boring framed articles... I WOULD GET MY MONEY'S WORTH!  It was shortly after we had gone upstairs that I wondered what idiot would pay $5 to see this crap again.  It turns out that the most exciting parts of the museum were the bright and colourful statues outside of the museum that you could get your picture taken with for free, yup they saw me coming.

    So, it does not feel great to be at the receiving end of an "I told you so", this I now know.  Christopher was gracious enough (that is code for smart enough) not to actually say "I Told You So", but he didn't have to give it words, his face said it for him.  I totally wasted $70.00, I have been trying to tell myself it wasn't a waste of money because now the kids can say that they have been to one of the Niagara Falls attractions, but we both know that's my pride talking.

     My parting advice to you .... see the falls for free, they are majestic and beautiful.  I have found the best time to come to Niagara Falls is in January and February.  The cold weather seems to keep the thousands of tourists away.  Go take funny pictures with the bright and colourful statues outside of The Guinness World Record Museum.  Stand beside the statue of the world's tallest man and his giant chair.  Giggle as you put your face through the spot for the world's fattest man.  Take your pictures, but keep your money in your purse... You're welcome.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Great Wolf Lodge Adventure - FINALLY

    Our much anticipated Great Wolf Lodge vacation in Niagara Falls had finally come.  The kids had a count down penciled on my big Mom calendar on the fridge.  We had counted how many sleeps and now that exciting day had finally arrived.  As we pulled up to the lodge we were shocked how busy it was.  Christopher and I are really not fans of crowds, and so we were trepidatious to say the least.  The kids on the other hand were vibrating with excitement in the back seat, desperate to rip off their seat belts and throw themselves head long into the chaos.

    After my brain had calmed down and I could see all of my children, all within arms reach, I began to take in my surroundings.  It was the stuff of children's dreams.  It looked like a little camping village, but all inside.  Dead ahead were animated animals, surrounded by awestruck little ones.  To the side was this inviting fireplace that begged to have me sit near it.  The very check in area looked like a rustic cabin.  In short it was nothing short of amazing!  Immediately I could see what everyone had been talking about for years.

    I mentioned yesterday that Vivian St. Onge, The Great Wolf Lodge's Group Sales coordinator was a hero.  She tried her very best to help me get the group rate package, but in the end we just didn't have enough people.  She was fantastic to deal with.  She tried to find us the best deal, and she did.  She was able to upgrade our room for us.  I had no idea just how amazing the upgrade was until we opened the door.

    Just inside the door of the room was a beautiful cheese basket with a card from Vivain, what did I tell you, the lady is amazing!!!!  It was too late for lunch but to early for dinner, but we were all hungry.  We set upon that gorgeous cheese basket like ants to a picnic.  It had glorious cheeses and artesian crackers.  I felt a little like royalty.  I had this big stupid smile on my face the whole time.

    It was becoming increasingly obvious that a genius had created the Great Wolf Lodge experience.  I could now see why people raved about it, why families made so many return visits.  They have thought of everything!  The very room keys are ingenious.  How many times have you been to a hotel with a pool?  You walk down to the pool, the kids are rangy with excitement.  You are about to jump into the pool, but wait, where do you put your room key?  Inevitably our room key gets put into the end of either Christopher or my stinky shoe.  That's all well and good for when you are putting the key in, taking the key out... now that's another thing.  The other thing about traditional hotel room keys is that someone always manages to loose at least one (I'm not naming names, but he's tall and wears glasses).  We usually find the keys somewhere stupid in our luggage when we get home, an unexpected souvenir of our trip.  The geniuses at Great Wolf Lodge have eliminated the traditional keys.  Your water park bracelet is your key.  You just line it up with this little spot on the door and viola it's open ... like magic.  The bracelets are attached to your wrist, so never misplace the room key again.

    Our cabin, I mean room, really did feel like a cozy upscale cabin.  There was a corner fireplace, that I couldn't wait to sit by with a glass of wine.  There was a huge patio door, that in nice weather would have been amazing to sit outside and have a coffee to start the day.  The decor was all rustic themed.

    There was even a Ripley's Believe it Or Not book waiting to be explored on the table.  My kid's loved it.  The couldn't wait to sit and read it.  Like I say, they have thought of everything!

    Arguably the best feature of our room if you were to ask our kids was the kid's cabin.  Right in our room was a little wooden cabin with a t.v. and bunk beds.  The kids were ecstatic.  They jumped up and down and squealed in delight.  

    They really have thought of everything possible to make this the world's greatest holiday.  They even have games to loan out.  After the water park closed (it closed at 8, it seems a too little early) the kids were already bored.  I went to the front desk and signed out Snakes and Ladders.  When the kids had finished playing that, the big girls went down and exchanged Snakes and Ladders for Jenga.  This is built into the cost of your room rental.

    For the kids and for ourselves the best possible part of the trip was the company.  I had tried to book a group of rooms, not just to save money (although that was a good part of the reason), but so that the kids could share this amazing adventure with their friends.  In the room right next door to us was Elly's friend and her family, and just down the hall were Grace's Friend and her family.  I saw another Mom and her family at the water park and in the lobby for story time.  We were away from home, but there was that familiarity.  It had worked out perfectly that the kids each had someone to play with out of the groups.  My guys loved the freedom of being able to run back and forth between the rooms and play with their friends / kids their age.  Christopher and I liked being able to have adult conversation with really nice adults that we really liked.

They really do have everything there, it's truly is like a little village.  There are restaurants, and to make your life easier you can purchase food plans for your visit (we are so doing that next time).  There is a place to purchase swimsuits in case you forgot yours.  There is a coffee shop, a little bakery, even a spa one for grown ups and one for kids!

    The water park was huge.  I really appreciated that it was broken up into different area for big kids and smaller kids, but they didn't have to stay within those particular areas.  Going with friends made it better for the kids in the water park.  Ordinarily the big kids get held back because what they want to do is not appropriate for Elly, and so we have to divide our time (which to them means that their time is wasted).  Having three sets of trusted adults allowed the kids to branch off and do their own thing, but still be supervised by a parent, even if it wasn't their own.

    So there you have it, our Great Wolf Lodge adventure.  I think waiting so long to do this trip actually made it all the better.  I can only speak highly of this resort.  They really have thought of everything to make this a magic and memorable vacation.  It is not an inexpensive trip, but if you are patient and sign up for their emails, sometimes they offer fantastic deals.  The thing to remember is that this is not your run of the mill hotel.  This is a vacation, and you have to expect to pay more.  It was worth every single penny, and we will go back again.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Great Wolf Lodge Part 1

    "Can we go to Great Wolf Lodge.... PLEASSSSSSSSSE?  So and So just went and said it was soooooo much fun?"
   "We'll see ... one day." ( in my head I'm saying 'must be nice to be rich like so and so's parents')
Does this conversation sound familiar?  It's a conversation that we have been having in this house for many years.  It always made me feel awful to have to say no, but we are a single income family of 6 and it just wasn't financially feasible.  I'm going to be honest it made me feel like a failure as a parent to deprive my children of this when most of their friends had already been dozens of times (there goes that  Snow Plow parenting again).   I would try to remind them about all the amazing family vacations we had taken, and all the wonderful experiences that they had been blessed to have.  Honestly I was trying to guilt them, a mother's last trick.  Even as I spoke the words it felt hollow, even to me.  I had looked into taking the kids many times, but it just wasn't possible financially.  I put it on my someday list.
     As you my faithful, beautiful readers already know, I am Mrs. stretch the dollar.  I want to live big but still pay my mortgage.  Recently I have discovered "group rates".  I have decided that from now on whenever possible I will attempt a group rate for everything possible ... that included "The Great Wolf Lodge".  Maybe I could be that awesome Mom after all ... no, I have pre-teens and a teen the best I will ever get is a pleasant face, but at this stage I'll take it as a "YOU ARE THE MOST AWESOME MOM IN THE WHOLE AND ENTIRE WORLD", delusional ... yes, but a Mom's got to do, what a Mom's got to do.
    This Christmas was the year that we finally did it, we became the awesome parents (o.k. only in our own minds).  This year's family Christmas gift was a trip to The Great Wolf Lodge. Two years ago Christopher and I began a new Christmas tradition.  We would scale back on "things" and beef up "memories / experiences" for Christmas.  Surprisingly my kids loved it.  They were more than happy to have less "things" and get to take a big family trip with the money that would go to toys and gadgets that would sit in their boxes or under their beds.  
     This is the part of the story when the Great Wolf Lodge hero emerges from the background, Vivian St. Onge.  Vivian is the Group Sales Co-ordinator for Great Wolf Lodge, she also quite amazing.  I began speaking to Vivian in November.  If we booked with 9 other families then we could secure a "group rate".  The group rate knocked $40.00 off our rate.  Paired with the fact that we were staying during a non-peak time, and we were staying on a Thursday night all meant a rate that we could afford.

    I began my recruiting.  I pitched the idea to my friends and to the kid's friend's parents.  Everyone could not believe the rate we could get.  There was a point when I wondered if I shouldn't try to increase the number of rooms in the group because everyone wanted to go, and not only that, they wanted to bring people with them.  I felt like the Christmas hero.  It's probably for the best that I did not go ahead and get a cape made.
    Through the whole process that beautiful lady, Vivian would call me and say "Tristan we don't have enough families booked yet" as our due date to book for the group rate began to approach.  I would then ask her if we could back the date up, and beautiful lady that she is, she did.  I emailed, called around trying to get those families who had seemed so eager weeks before to book.  Everyone had their reasons why they couldn't come after all, but in the end there were five of us.  Throughout the whole process I would get emails and phone calls from Vivian.  She was so nice, so helpful.  What I didn't know then was that Vivian was just the tip of the iceberg for the amazing experience that we had with the Lodge.  Although we could not get the group rate and ended up having to spend an extra $50.00, Vivian worked some magic and upgraded our room.  See I told you, a hero.

To be continued...