Walk into my kitchen right this moment and you might think you smell coffee, freshly brewed and filling the room with it’s cozy aroma.
And you would be wrong.
Sure, there is a pot of coffee waiting to be served, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a portal to the past. A glimpse into the summers of yesteryear.
On a summer evening with the windows open and the coffee on, I am transported to my childhood. To summer evenings as the sun slips away and the busyness of the day settles into contented quiet.
I hear the laughter of my extended family as we wrap up our annual holiday weekend barbeque. I detect voices of unseen passers-by taking in an evening stroll behind our house. If you’re still, there’s the sound of the tree frogs, the crickets, a motorcycle far off in the distance, the unique squeak of our backyard gate.
Walk back inside and there’s the aroma again and immediately I’m ten years old, rushing into the house for a drink between rounds of “Ghost in the Graveyard” or “Hide-and-Seek”. I can almost taste the Rice Krispie square I grabbed on my way outside to join in again.
Cousins, friends, family.
It’s not just coffee, it’s the backdrop to hospitality, gathering together, shared moments.
Few things have this power for me. There is a magical force when open windows let in a summer evening breeze and waft that dark elixir into the air.
It’s been a long, cold winter here. So cold that as we left the house for our most recent road trip I was asked, “if your penis falls off from frostbite, can you grow a new one?”
Yes, it was that cold.
What is a good, hearty-ish Canadian family to do (on a budget) to get a break from the constant indoor recesses and mad dashes to and from the van? Any more long days stuck together enjoying each other’s company could start to turn ugly.
A short trip out of town to an indoor waterpark is just what the meteorologist / Travel Bureau of Ontario ordered. And so we did.
Destination: Americana, Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls has several indoor waterpark resorts from which to choose. They vary in accommodations, amenities, and price range. A few years ago we took our then six and four-year-old sons to the Americana Resort. We were expecting our fourth son and wanted to get away for some special time with the oldest two. Do not feel badly for the third-born, he had Grandma and Grandpa exclusively to himself all weekend.
We had a great time back then, so when we decided to take the whole family, the choice to return there was easy. It is a great entry-level park. They have a variety of features including a wave pool, four slides, splash pad for water play, and a wading pool spot for the younger family members. There’s a hot tub, but unfortunately I did not get to try it out because the first visit I was pregnant and this time there were too many kids to track. Towels and lifejackets are readily available, so no need to pack those extras.
More Than Just a Pool
Our room had two queen-size beds and a pull-out couch so all six of us could sleep in comfort. The boys pleaded their cases as to why Mom and Dad should get the couch but we pulled rank, so at least four of us were happy (my apologies to the youngest two, but they were the least likely to appreciate a comfy bed, and yes, they slept just fine. Mostly).
Standard in every room are the usual coffee maker, mini-fridge, hair dryer, etc. The fridge and microwave came in handy since we brought food for a lunch, breakfast, and snacks. This also helped us with our bottom line (kids eat a lot).
The entrance to the waterpark is through the arcade. Yes, it is very much like Las Vegas for kids. The trick it to never start putting the coins in the machines.
Anticipation, Amenities, and TV Angst
Everyone had a great time, and as usual, the excitement began well before we even left the driveway. The boys all had their bags packed two days prior to departure. When he spotted juice boxes in the cooler, the five-year-old cried out, “this is the best day EVER!” We all agreed it was going to be one of our favourite experiences, that is until the same five-year-old began reading all the house numbers out loud. After we shut that down, he thought we’d all appreciate a constant update on the speedometer, “120…117…121…”
As we pulled into Niagara Falls, the oldest two read aloud various signs: “Oh, heart-shaped jacuzzies,” “heeeey, efficiency sweeties,” “are we staying in a sweetie?” “It’s pronounced “suite” and no, we’re not millionaires.
The hotel TV did not function like Netflix which caused much angst for our youngest son, “WHY CAN’T YOU SKIP THIS? SKIP. IT.” He also couldn’t understand why the TV didn’t cater to his personal viewing needs, “I said I want to watch ’Sponge Bob’”. Once he realized he had to deal with commercials or we would turn it to the French-only channel, he simmered down.
But Wait, There’s More
Staying overnight in a hotel is very educational. Did you know there is no escaping a fart in a hotel room? Truth. Also, no one will own up to it, but many a finger will be pointed.
Fun fact: if a five-year-old says he packed extra underwear, he’s lying. Related note: hotel room heaters dry clothing remarkably quick. And yes, your mom is a genius.
Maybe not all hotels have this feature, but apparently the dresser in our room smelled exactly like Grandma and Grandpa. It remains unclear if they meant that my parents smell like a bureau or their house does, I was too busy trying to brew a tiny pot of coffee to seek clarification.
A word of advice if you stay at the Americana in Niagara Falls: take the roll pillows and hide them before you even let your kids in the room. I spent approximately 1/3 of our time there uttering threats through clenched teeth for them to “stooooop iiiiiiit” because:
Anything can be a weapon if you just try hard enough
Bottom line: this was better than camping and I almost have all the chlorine rinsed out of my hair.
Another year has come and gone – can you believe it?
What a year it has been – it’s hard to sum it all up in three pages single spaced, but I’ll do my best (wink, wink).
I tried to get writing this earlier than other years, but with raising and sheering our own sheep to knit personalized mittens for our neighbours, I just ran out of time. Silly me, I should have known that I’d be stretched for spare time since taking on writing, choreographing, and directing the school musical this year, too. Something had to give, so instead of carving chocolate busts for my parents this year, we went with painted portraits – good thing our youngest has been taking “Painting for the Young and Gifted” every Tuesday. He did a bang up job.
The family is all doing well. In addition to excelling at school, the kids are thrilled with their many extracurriculars. Not to brag, but this proud mom can’t help but share some of their achievements. This year they took home first place in Competitive Pairs Floral Arranging, and are already planning next year’s submission. They also decided to give back and created a puppet troupe that performs at the senior centre on Wednesdays. Sometimes they move it to Thursdays if they are behind in making their own soap. Those crazy kids love to try different scents and can get so carried away with new recipes!
We apologize for not including our traditional Christmas popcorn balls with this letter. Unfortunately, this summer was unseasonably dry so our corn didn’t turn out as well as usual and you know the hubs – he didn’t want to sacrifice quality with store-bought kernels. Not to worry, though! We are trying our hand making cinnamon body lotion so fingers crossed it turns out
and some will arrive on your doorstep soon.
Speaking of the hubs – what a guy! He works full time, coaches the enrichment mini-golf team and still finds time to felt hats. Yes! The hats our family is wearing in our Christmas photo are all made by him! Don’t they look great with our matching boots? (I couldn’t resist trying out boot-making and I’m so tickled with the result).
Of course, no year is complete without some bout of illness. Thankfully, we avoided anything serious, but some of the family did develop a bad reaction. We narrowed it down to a bad batch of honey that we had jarred in the basement. Live and learn, right? Next time we won’t let the neighbour kids watch the hive while we run the daycamp for fetch-challenged dogs.
Well, friends, I’d love to write more, but making pasta from scratch takes more time than you’d think. Multi-tasking helps – I usually get a batch done in between dying fabric for the homemade jammies I sew each year for the kids. We are hosting the extended family this year so I’m also drywalling the basement. So glad I finished teaching my rug-hooking class last month – not sure how I’d fit it all in.
Be well, friends. Until next year!
Dedicated to my partner in crime since 1978, Andreeeeeee.
It was just a car, but it was my first one. After many a misadventure in good old Gold Turismo, I had a teaching contract and new wheels. The goal was to have a reliable car that I would not be afraid to drive on the highway, preferably with a working radio – tape deck was optional, I’m no princess. This little beauty delivered.
It was just a car – a 1999 Honda Civic Special Edition. The “special” part being automatic, keyless entry and air conditioning which YES, I realize is pretty much standard now, but this was 1999. I was living the dream.
It was just a car, but it drove me safely as I garage-saled for toys and games for my very first classroom. It’s AM/FM radio helped me stay alert on the short, but at times tedious commute to school. It was the sole witness to countless laughs and serious debriefs with my carpool friends.
It was just a car, but it drove me to our wedding, on our road trip honeymoon, and across Canada one summer. With Bearded Husband behind the wheel, the Civic delivered me to the hospital when our firstborn decided to arrive one month early. Three days after, it brought home our family of three. Twenty-one months later, we made the same trip and came home with our second son.
It was just a car, but it transported our babies to my childhood home where we relived the magic of Grandma and Grandpa’s house. There they played with my favourite old toys, swam in the “best” pool, and explored the creek where just moments before I was climbing trees and throwing pebbles in the water.
In the beginning, I hand washed that silver beauty every weekend. I scrubbed the car mats to maintain the “new” smell. With time, it was cleaned less and less. Eventually, carseats replaced space for shopping bags and Cheerios littered the floor. In 1999 I never imagined that I would have spare clothes and diapers in the trunk or that I would wash down the dashboard with baby wipes. As with everything, the Civic’s time came to an end.
Confession: I am not that attached to “things”. I don’t really care about cars or electronics or having everything new and shiny. But friends, I actually cried when we decided not to repair the car and let it go to its final resting place. Real tears. And yes, Bearded Husband laughed at me. A lot. He still brings it up.
Here’s the good news, we bought a slightly used Mazda 5 and for a girl who doesn’t “really care about cars”, I LOVE that thing. So much has changed in the auto industry since 1999, I can’t even tell you. I don’t like driving much, but I make excuses to get out at night and “run some errands” (most days I have the oh-so-exciting-van) just so I can zip around. The sight lines! The seat warmers! The working rear wiper!
Can the Mazda hold as many memories and milestones as my sweet Civic did? Well, just last week I was strapping Little into his carseat and as I pulled on the tether strap, BH whipped open the driver door and clipped me RIGHT ON THE FOREHEAD. I didn’t cry, but I wanted to. Only kidney stones and labour have hurt more than that did. It’s possible that this car is enchanted, because even though my head developed a sizeable goose egg, it never bruised. Thus, I have dubbed November 30, “Mazda Miracle Day”.
No one is in trouble, we’re not angry, Mommy and Daddy just really need to know where the remote is. Think hard, boys. It’s the tiny, lightweight, easily lost clicker.
Ok, close your eyes and concentrate. You were all sitting on the couch, remember? Then I came in and said it was time to pause the movie. Who got off the couch first and where was the clicker? You think you had it in your hand? Left or right? How certain are you? And then you walked where? And what were the rest of you boys doing exactly?
So no one can remember for certain that the clicker left the coffee table yet it isn’t there now. Let’s play a fun game I like to call “Everyone Empty Your Pockets.”
Alright, alright, *deep, calming breath* if it’s not anywhere we can see it, it must be in or under something. Everybody up, I’ll check the couch, you boys check the toy bins.
Thus began The Great Clicker Hunt of 2014.
Toy baskets were overturned and the contents sorted. Repeatedly, you know, in case we overlooked something. We found an incredible selection of old elastics, Happy Meal Toy components, and random bits of Lego, but no clicker.
Next we launched Operation Couch Query. After reaching into the cracks and crevices and discovering enough cereal and pretzels to make lunches for the next day for the entire family, no clicker turned up. We decided to be more thorough. Bearded Husband stepped on the springs while I bravely reached even farther into the depths of the chesterfield. This time I came upon eight Hot Wheels cars, more snack food, two allen keys (what?), and a small piece of my sanity. Since we were being thorough and still clicker-less, I took a few moments to vacuum up the shame-filled couch.
Our hopes would rise and fall in rapid succession as our offspring discovered treasure they’d long forgotten resulted in me saying through gritted teeth, “No more saying ‘look what I found!’ unless it’s that clicker. I don’t care how excited you are that you found Gary from the Guess Who game, my heart can’t take it.”
It was there one minute and gone the next. Everyone was perplexed. We reviewed our search grid looking for oversights. The only thing to do was double check. And bribe the children. We offered a $5 reward to the son who had any information leading the safe return of the clicker and ice cream for the whole family to celebrate its return. This infused the search with a new energy and children scattered throughout the house and hunted with gusto.
We had narrowed down the possible locations based on the testimony of our eldest son. He was “pretty sure” he had the clicker in his hand when he stood up to move his army men. But his memory is fuzzy after that. Where else could it be except the couch.
Despite our thorough ferreting around we concluded it must be there, we just needed to look deeper. Brace yourselves, dear reader, this is where things get real.
We turned the couch on its side and shook it. Yes! I hear that rattle, too. Out came the crowbar, screwdriver and flashlight. We took the cover off the bottom and delved into the underbelly of the sofa. Nothing.
I reconsidered the nine-year-old’s testimony and expanded the search grid. No possibility was dismissed. I pawed through the kitchen garbage and touched raw chicken with MY BARE HANDS, but I would not give up! Sure, now we had the tools to assemble a desk from IKEA, but I had shows to watch – THIS WAS TOP PRIORITY.
“Let’s go over this one more time and remember, no one is in trouble here, we just want to find it. Full immunity to any party involved in this devastating disappearance.”
As I descended the stairs after a fruitless search of the bedrooms, our oldest son gleefully announced “I FOUND IT”. Then that little darling turned his spiteful little face and announced, “it was on the counter under the lunch bag that MOMput there.”
Gathering together to enjoy a meal is a powerful pastime. It brings people closer, allowing us to pause from busyness and share stories or solve problems as a family. If not for Family Mealtime how would we know that a classmate at school can burp the entire alphabet? If we didn’t eat dinner together we’d never know about the time our seven-year-old’s class put a whoopee cushion on the music teacher’s chair. I still don’t know who broke my hairband, but we did find out who keeps forgetting to flush. But most importantly, how would we teach the boys about passive aggression?
Allow me to explain.
After a lovely meal that everyone enjoyed (as always) and praised their doting mother (me) for cooking from scratch, the light-hearted banter transitioned into Family Devotion time. It began with a simple question: How can we show God we love Him? and the answers were as follows (I wrote them down as soon as I could for the sake of accuracy).
What’s for dessert?
We’re having Halloween treats, remember?
Let me try that again, “How can we show God we love Him?”
By not saying “shut up or stupid”.
By not hitting.
Asking before you take someone’s Lego that they were only putting down for a minute to go use the washroom.
This line of response was deteriorating quickly into a laundry list of sibling infractions – they started throwing everyone under the bus.
Stop waking up so early.
Not arguing about sleeping later.
Not arguing about having no clock in your room. Ahem.
Not whining about taking off your shoes by yourself. (that was mine, I confess)
Not poking people.
Not peeking at your birthday presents.
Not breaking toys and then they are broke.
They were volleying their thinly veiled digs back and forth at a rapid pace. I tried to change the tone of responses and frame it more positively.
Maybe say ‘sorry’ if you break something?
Yeah, and not staring at people when we’re at the table.
Keeping your feet off someone else’s leg. (that was Bearded Husband, he really likes his personal space)
Not pitching a fit when it’s time to get in the van. (me again)
Letting me someone else empty the top rack of the dishwasher instead of always calling it first because it has less dishes.
Or how about not always taking the seat closest to the TV every time?
I’m sure God appreciated the many specific examples we generated. And that we followed it up by holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” like we do every mealtime. Scouts honour.
Growing up, our family of six always had two cars – one big enough to for the entire crew all at once, and the second, a smaller one (typically a hatchback) to supplement our transportation needs.
The first cars I remember were the wood-panelled station wagon with vinyl seats and optional seat belts, and one of several “second” cars, an orange and white Mercury Capri. Both cars were AWESOME. The Capri resembled the “General Lee” a bit, and you honked the horn by pressing the handle of the turn signal. What kind of engineering magic was that?! Forget getting my license, I just wanted to honk that horn.
Sadly, the Capri gave up the ghost before I was able to drive. But it was replaced by an even better hatchback: a Chrysler Turismo. And guys, it was gold. Gold. GOLD. It was painted gold with matching beige interior. That little gem was a demo car for the dealership our cousin worked at so we got this fully-loaded two door for a great deal.
When I say “fully-loaded” I mean it. This 1985 Turismo came with the following features:
– AM/FM radio with tapedeck
– Swivel light for map reading (or lipgloss application, whichever need arose)
– Air conditioning
– Hydraulic action hatch
This beauty even had a hidden perk that I did not discover until I drove it myself: in a small town, a gold hatchback really stands out. My parents did not need GPS to know where I’d been or what I’d been up to – I was my own one-car parade. I drove around and people waved even before they saw who was behind the wheel, because it was A GOLD TURISMO. I may as well have been driving the Pope-mobile for all the camouflage that car provided.
Although we treated old Goldie with respect and care, it did not take long for things to start going wonky. And my parents, being financially responsible and never having to drive that car, decided it was best to avoid most repairs and just live with it.
First to go was the driver’s seat tilt option. If you were foolish enough to adjust that from the leisurely position my too-tall brother had set it at, your loss. It took a lot of prayer and tears to get it to stay in the upright position again. I spent many hours sitting up perfectly straight and clutching the steering wheel for leverage.
Next we lost the eject function on the tape deck. But it turns out I was a bit of a MacGyver – all we had to do was press eject and yank the cassette out with a pair of tweezers that became a permanent fixture in the ash tray. (Do not attempt that manoeuvre in a moving vehicle).
The air conditioning went next. And since “you only drive it in hot weather for really a few weeks, we aren’t going to spend the money to fix it”, we learned to live without it. A decision I support now as a parent of four on a budget, but COME ON – it was so hot.
Apparently the Turismo didn’t like the AC decision either and started to really act out. The clutch had always been a bit finicky, but now it took things to a whole new level. If you adjusted it one way, it would stall at every intersection or slow-down. If adjusted the other, it would run on after you turned off the ignition (hard to roll into the driveway or school parking lot incognito when followed by ca-klunk, ca-klunk). We opted to go with the “stall” option and learned to pop it into neutral regularly, earning Goldie the title of “Automatic Car that wants to be a Standard”.
This temperamental car didn’t stop there, though. Next it went on to overheat – the vehicular equivalent of holding one’s breath. Any time it was in stop-and-go traffic the engine temp would rise at an alarming rate. This was both scary and embarrassing. BUT WAIT – we figured out how to deal with that, too. All you had to do was crank the heat at maximum power to offset the heat from the engine. And good news, it only overheated in the summer so you were already dressed for the temps and had the windows down anyways (remember, no AC).
The hatchback feature was perhaps the most amazing part of this car. If you folded down the back seat you could move the contents of your entire university bedroom in one trip. The demon that possessed the Turismo decided to thwart that, too and within a few years, the hydraulic doo-dad that held the hatch open stopped working. BUT WAIT. We dealt with that, too – it was nothing a hockey stick couldn’t fix.
The university years were hard on our relationship, but we wouldn’t give up on old Goldie. The passenger side door no longer opened from the outside, so the driver would get in, then lean across to open it for the others. That was fine except for my sister with whom I shared the Turismo insisted on locking that door anyways. So that meant one lunge across to open, realize it was locked, lunge across to unlock, and a third to open the door. We did not agree on this method. Also, no one would want to steal that car.
Once winter hit, the fun really began – all the quirks of the Turismo came together. The doors froze shut so the only way to get inside was through the hatch, but remember, it wouldn’t stay open without the hockey stick technique which was precarious at best. So you always had to travel with a buddy who could hold the hatch open for you and then pull on the outside handle of the door while you body checked it from inside. Thankfully, living in student housing, there was always someone around willing to help out for a free ride to campus.
Winter was also the Turismo’s time to shine. Perhaps it was the overheating engine, or the over-running clutch, but that car would start in the coldest of weather. The Polar Vortex would have been no match for Goldie.
The attempted sabotage this car tried to inflict on me only managed to give me wizard status. As the car aged, it became more finicky and eventually only two people on the entire planet were able to get it to start and stay running. I wore that title with more pride that I probably should have.
Eventually the Turismo’s time here on earth came to an end. It was on a dark and slick highway one evening in March. The interior lights started to fade, the radio grew faint, and I barely managed to coast into a gas station to call the Clean Shaven boyfriend (who later became Bearded Husband) to come rescue me. We all had to agree that sinking any more money into Goldie was a fruitless endeavour. We had her towed to a wrecking yard and I think I received enough cash to cover the last tankful of gas I’d put in.
Oh, sweet Turismo. You never ceased to cause anxiety levels to rise. You always kept things interesting. I’ll never forget some of the phrases often spoken in that car:
It makes that smell all the time.
It’s okay, it’s when you don’t hear that noise that you need to worry.
We’ll make it, just give it a minute.
That noise is completely normal.
Hold on tight.
Open your window, we just need to crank the heat for a few minutes, then it’ll be as good as new.
Hold the steering wheel, I want to change the tape.
Gone, but not forgotten. Gold Turismo, the worst car I ever had.
Worst car experience? Could have been in the Turismo with me, it’s okay to share that, too.
We planned to go skating, tobogganing (American translation: sledding) and play some shinny (street hockey) with the neighbours. But what do you do when it’s too cold outside even for hearty Canadians like ourselves? After multiple races on the Wii, a game of “Apples to Apples” that got a little too physical, and some heated debates about various pronunciation of words, we moved things to the basement. I never know how these games get started, but I was quickly roped into playing another game of “Eyes-Closed Tag”.
To play this extremely safe game, one person is It and closes his/her eyes while attempting to find other people in a sectioned-off area of the basement. If you are tagged, you are then It. Pretty simple, but we needed a few ground rules.
My Five Rules for Eyes-Closed Tag
1. Protective gear is not mandatory, but do move slowly to avoid serious injury (this applies primarily to the one who is It).
2. You can’t hide directly behind someone. Ok, you can, but not behind me. I refuse to be a human shield.
3. Throwing small toys to create a diversion is acceptable and at times encouraged, but try to avoid hitting fellow players.
4. No peeking.
5. No, really – no peeking.
A few extra bits of advice….
According to BH, if you don’t cheat and really keep your eyes closed then “your other senses will be even stronger” (I think he has watched “Daredevil” too many times). The truth is, we all know when you don’t – subtlety is not your strong suit. Plus, only peekers completely avoid bumping into things for the entire game – you are not that skilled.
It’s okay if you prefer to watch, but if you’re going to give hints to your brother keep in mind that “he’s right there. Right there. RIGHT. THERE.” while frantically pointing, really tells nothing (please see Rule #5). Also, consider learning your Left and Right.
Your turn – what questionable games did you devise as a kid? Was a helmet required?
As the adults in the lives of young children we seem to spend so much of our time teaching them. And we do. By our words, our actions, our inaction, by how we spend our time with them. But the small children in my life have taught me a lot. Before I became a parent, I did not know so much.
I never knew how selfish I could be.
I never fully grasped how much my parents love me.
I never knew how much I would appreciate those teachers who really get to know their students and meet them where they are. Thank you.
I never knew how outraged I would be when another kid hurt one of my boys.
I also never knew how upset I would feel when my toddler hit a non-family member (but he certainly found out in a hurry).
I never knew how selfish I could be.
I never knew how much my attitude and response impacts those around me.
I did not realize that sometimes a hug and a kiss really can make it all better.
I never knew the true power of the words, “I don’t know – what do you think?”
I never knew that milk does taste different depending on the colour of the cup you use.
I never knew that I could enjoy buying clothes for small children even more than for myself. Or that shopping for new socks could be an outing on its own.
I never knew how selfish I could be.
I never knew my heart could grow so big and yet always be so full.
I never knew the truth behind the phrase, “I might not likeyou right now, but I will always loveyou.”
I never knew that raising our family together would make me love and appreciate my husband even more.
I never knew how amazing giggles sound.
I never fully grasped how much my parents love me.
I never knew how flawed and imperfect I am.
I never knew, really and truly knew, how selfish I could be and yet how much I would be willing to give up for the sake of the four boys I call my own.
I never knew that having children would give me a clearer glimpse of just how much God loves me. Selfish, flawed, imperfect me.