Blog-o! Notes from latte.ca

Mon, 24 Sep 2012

I was looking at old posts and wow, I can't believe how much I used to post. And how much I love reading old posts about the girls when they were littler, and the things we used to do. I hate that I'm so busy I don't have time to blog any more.

I need to get less busy. I don't know how. That's my leitmotif these days.

But I wasn't too busy to have lots of fun with the girls this summer. This is what we did.

High School Reunion

The day after school ended we got on a plane to Saskatchewan. I have a Simplenote to myself called Summer Plans/Notes/Ideas that includes the line, "Don't leave the day after school ends", but this year I had to ignore my own advice because my twentieth high school reunion was the weekend immediately after the end of school, and Friday was the only sensible day to fly.

We rented a car (a Kia Soul, which drives exactly like the giant cardboard box it resembles although it's very comfy and spacious on the inside, as long as you're not transporting more than four cubic feet of stuff) and drove to Prince Albert, where we stayed with my friend Debbie.

Debbie was my best friend in grade nine and maybe grade ten (it's kind of a blur), and then I drifted into another group but we stayed on good terms. She's now basically the only person I still talk to from high school. (Oh, and she's also the person who introduced me to Guns n' Roses, with a cassette of Appetite for Destruction which she might have copied from her brother's copy.)

Debbie lives with her hot husband and her gorgeous kids in an adorable bungalow in a suburb-y division of Prince Albert. (There isn't much of Prince Albert that isn't suburb-y.) She has a lovely back yard with groomed lawn and tidy garden beds, a variation on the same play structure we have, and a back gate which opens on to a park with a playground. My kids get along with her kids (they are still talking about them) and they spent hours playing in their inflatable pool. Debbie and I still get along — good chemistry never fades — so it was a terrific visit. We'll definitely stay over at their place again.

Debbie didn't actually come to the reunion — they went to a cottage instead, but they let us use their house (and their babysitter!)

The reunion started with a tour of the high school. It was strange for me because most of the tour was to parts of the school I hadn't actually spent much time in: the pool, the gym, the art room, various technical shops and the music room. I took almost all academic classes — the only technical class I took was Electricity and Electronics, and the only arts class I took was choir. (I thought I recognized the music room from choir, but it turns out they moved it since I was at school, so I recognized it wrong.)

The girls thought the school was pretty awesome, especially all the shops. It's a comprehensive high school, so there is a wood shop, a welding shop, a mechanic shop, a pottery studio, a cosmetology classroom, and on and on. I kept on thinking, "I should have taken this in high school!", especially in the drafting and CAD studio. I missed so many opportunities because I was so fixed on a particular idea of myself and my future.

The next part of the reunion was a dinner and dance at the Prince Albert Golf (and Curling?) Club. There was only a handful of people there — we were a graduating class of three or four hundred, but apparently we mostly don't care to see each other any more. But I got to hang out with some people I thought were pretty cool in high school (still pretty cool) and some people I don't remember, didn't recognize, but liked anyway.

One of the guys I chatted with was pretty awesome in school — he got great grades and was a super athlete, on all the teams. Contrary to the athlete stereotype, he wasn't good-looking or popular but he was well-liked. But when we got to the cafeteria part of the school tour he said that he had never eaten in the cafeteria because he was afraid he wouldn't find anyone to sit with. We were all so stupid and neurotic in high school. (Some of us still are.)

Anyway, the food was good and the company was good. The next morning Blake and I and the girls enjoyed an incredibly comprehensive breakfast buffet (omelettes! sausages! pancakes! chicken! lasagna! pie!) at the same venue with a couple of reunion moms and their kids. (No other dads at that breakfast, not sure why.) Sadly the other kids were all boys — Delphine and Cordelia were quite unimpressed with their antics — but down at the grown-up end of the table we had some great conversation. (I observed that conversations about money in Prince Albert are exactly the same as conversations about money in Toronto, except the numbers are half or a quarter the size. "I can't afford $150 000 for a house!" "They're renting that place for $800!")

Big River

The rest of our stay in Saskatchewan was uneventful. My usual Big River fixer — my mum's friend who takes us fishing and arranges trips to farms — was sick, so we didn't have the usual adventures, but we did take lots of walks through a lovely new waterfront trail. (Big River is amping up their tourist attractions because they haven't had any industry there since the lumber mill shut down.) We found an old tree fort, and the girls figured out how to climb it. Debbie brought her kids up and we had lunch at the nice cafe. I read lots of books and watched all my mother's police procedurals. The girls were bored. We found a new beach and met some potential future playmates.

There was a bit of an adventure trying to work out how we would get back to Saskatoon to catch our plane home. It's a three-hour drive, and usually my mum's friend takes us. Since there is no public transport of any description up there we had no plan B. Nothing. (Well, my mum knows an older guy with a ponytail who lives in one of the trailers who she figured would probably take us. So, no plan B.) What ended up happening is that my mother drove us an hour south, and Debbie drove up from Prince Albert to pick us up, then all the way down to Saskatoon to drop us off, and then back home to PA. Saint Debbie! Thank goodness, and it was so much fun getting to visit with her on the way.

(Next time I'm renting a car and keeping it the whole visit.)

Camp

After we got home and caught up on Frappuccinos and playdates and family visits, the girls had two weeks of day camp at Harbourfront. Delphine did theater camp; they put on a short version of Disney's musical Alice in Wonderland. They also worked on vocal techniques, costumes, set design, headshots, and other theatrey things; Delphine loved it, and she got to play Alice. Well, she was one of four Alices. (She was the sweetest.)

Cordelia was in Canoe Camp for the first week. I like canoe camp because they learn some basic canoe skills, and because they canoe over to the island and get to explore some of the little bays and inlets. It seems like a very Toronto camp. For the second week Cordelia was in an unthemed day camp (also at Harbourfront) and she enjoyed it, too. They went to a park, and they went swimming (ironically they have to bus them to a pool because you can't swim at Harbourfront) and to a beach.

While the girls were at camp I did some work and ran some errands; I went to Ikea with my new neighbour Aimee, I got a dress fitted for Kat's wedding, I looked after my friend Tanya's cats, I got a massage.

On July 30, Delphine and I went to the mall to get her a dress for Kat's wedding while Cordelia spent the day with cousin Charlie for his birthday. Delphine and I love clothes, so we had fun (especially since Sears has formal dresses for $35). She tried on six dresses before picking her favourite (which of course wasn't my favourite). We also hit H&M for some entirely gratuitous accessories: shiny gold shoes for Cordelia and a black hat for Delphine.

My Birthday

On my birthday (I remember when my birthday used to get an entire post of its own) Blake took the day off to hang out with us. I went and got my toenails done in the morning while everyone baked me a cake, and then we went to the Windsor Arms for afternoon tea. It was lovely even though we had to sit outside. (Apparently you have to call weeks in advance to get a seating inside.) Afternoon tea was delicious. The food came on a tiered plate stand, of course. The bottom plate had big, fluffy scones with clotted cream and some slightly dubious homemade jam. (The strawberry jam was greyish. Tasted fine, though.) The middle plate had three kinds of sandwich, but I can't remember what they were. And on top there was, I think, a little chocolate cake and a little lemon tart and two other things. It was all tasty and we were stuffed. (I always mean to bring the scones home and then I forget and eat them first.)

After tea I made everyone walk down Bloor with me and window shop. We went into Pottery Barn Kids, and looked at incredibly overpriced tea towels at Williams-Sonoma. We went to The Body Shop and I got some much-needed makeup and some not-really-needed-at-all lip glosses.

Blake and the girls baked me a birthday cake, and we had KFC for dinner. In retrospect afternoon tea and KFC and birthday cake was probably overdoing it...

Kat's Wedding

Two days after my birthday was Kat's wedding, another event which deserves a blog post of its own. I've been friends with Kat for ten years and seen her go through a procession of boyfriends and quasi-boyfriends of varying levels of disappointingness. I was pleased when she finally found someone kind and good and patient and interesting. (Though not as pleased as she was, I'll wager.)

The wedding was fantastic, especially considering Kat just about whipped the whole thing together in a month. The ceremony was a quick city hall affair, well-attended by a large contingent of Kat's relatives and friends, as well as a few of Joel's family from Saskatchewan.

The reception was at Currie Hall, a beautiful old room with high ceilings and huge leaded windows. It's part of the National Ballet School and still has brass barres on the walls. The food was delicious and plentiful, as were the drinks and the speeches. My favourite part was Joel's trombone solo for Kat (instead of a speech). Apart from the fact that I'm generally in favour of music instead of speeches, it was a beautiful and touching performance.


The day after the wedding the girls went up to the cottage with Baba and Zaida for a few days. Blake and I were invited, but it's hard to say no to a few child-free days in the city. We had a nice time but spent a lot of money on movies and eating out and buying books. (When you don't like to be outside, there aren't a lot of free ways to have fun.)

Centreville

The day the girls got back from the cottage I took them down to Centreville. (It was the only day that Ursa was going to be able to go; I thought maybe they would be tired out from the cottage, but they were raring to go.) It was a watershed year for them: Ursa was exactly "tall enough" and also "short enough" to ride everything — she was the precise height which you have to be shorter than to ride the little-kid rides (like the bee ride), and taller than to ride the big-kid rides (like the bumper cars). So of course all the attendants let her go on their ride — she got to ride everything! That was very cool for Ursa and infuriating for Delphine because she's still too short for the "tall enough" rides. (She's shorter than everyone, apparently.)

We hope that Delphine will grow enough to ride the bumper cars next year.

At Centreville we also met up with Kat and Joel and their ridiculously adorable niece (and her mother). It was nice to hang out with Kat and Joel before they disappeared back to SK to do more wedding stuff.

Fort York and a Boat Ride

One of our summer traditions is a take a boat ride down at the harbourfront. Several different companies offer harbour tours on numerous boats, and this year I decided to take the girls on the Kajama, a sailboat.

I also wanted to go to Fort York, a site I had never visited despite having lived in Toronto for over fifteen years. Since Fort York is close to the harbour I figured we could visit it in the morning, then walk down to the harbour in time for our boat ride at 1:30.

Fort York is kind of hard to get to by transit — we took a bus down Bathurst and then walked past a lot of condo construction and a large parking lot to finally find the front gate. I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to see there; I figured it would be one of those rather dry historical sites with a few restored bits and pieces and a bench or two, but Fort York is staffed up the wazoo with tour guides and reenactors. There was a small group of high school and university students in full (wool) uniform who marched around playing fife and drum tunes and occasionally doing a specific thing. While we were there they raised the flag and did a musket firing demonstration. We took a tour of the officers' quarters and ate piece of period cake baked in the period kitchen by volunteers. (Apparently they're putting together a cookbook — I look forward to that.)

I had only allotted an hour for Fort York, but we could have spent another hour there and gone on another of the many tours. It was worth the trip.

Then we walked down to the harbour, unwittingly following in the footsteps of Isaac Brock. I don't think he stopped to play on the undulating sidewalk and have an iced coffee, though. When we got to the ship it turned out that we were half-an-hour early, due to my inability to read my own calendar, so we hung around the harbourfront a bit and played on more undulating sidewalks. (A baffled tourist: "What are they for?")

The Kajama was pretty nice. It's a beautiful ship, and also has a working kitchen so you can have lunch (and beer!) on board. I was sufficiently impressed by this that I decided we should eat lunch on the boat, but it detracted from the boat ride — we were so busy with our fries and chicken fingers that we didn't pay attention to the lake and the scenery.

There wasn't a tour guide yakking on the Kajama the way there is on all the other rides we've been on; I missed the chatter and the probably-apocryphal stories about the Canada Malting plant and the Redpath sugar factory and the Islands. I suppose it should have been a nice soothing ride but, I dunno, it didn't work for me.

They raised the sails partway into the ride, and lowered them toward the end, but it was a still day and I don't think they ever turned off the motor. That was disappointing, too.

After the boat ride I think we just headed home. Union Station is under construction in a big way, and they're also doing track work or something along Front Street so there's no streetcar from Union to Queen Quay and the Exhibition. Worse, the bus that's running in place of the streetcar drops you off in some weird spot halfway to King Station (except not, because then you could just walk to King) so you have to double back and cross Front and Bay at an intersection that's a mess of temporary barriers and pylons and confusion. We had to do that several times this summer and every time I thought one of my children would get run over for sure.

Distillery District

The day after the boat ride I had to meet with Greg Wilson about something. I thought it would be cool to meet with him at the new Underpass park. The park is in Greg's neighbourhood, it looks cool and it's got an undercover place for the girls to play. It had just opened to much media fanfare; I thought it would be awesome.

Then we couldn't find it. The website says it is between this street and that street, south of here or there — we went there and all we could find was a lot of construction. (We saw lots and lots of construction of various kinds this summer.) We wandered and wandered and finally gave up and decided to meet Greg at the Distillery District. (Apparently Kat knows how to find it, but we never did get a chance to go. Next summer...)

The Distillery District was fine and the girls seemed to enjoy it (I don't know why, it's not much fun for kids). We had some excessively sophisticated ice cream from Soma (should have gone to Greg's — Greg's Ice Cream, not Greg Wilson's) and then we got caught in the rain. There is no bus route that goes to the Distillery District (transit in this city is so stupid sometimes!) so we got wetter and wetter as we hunted for a functional bus or streetcar route.

We finally got on the King car, and then I dragged the girls down to Raindrops under the Royal York to get a proper umbrella. I've been meaning to buy a good umbrella, one that will last, for a while now and this seemed like a good opportunity. I was pleasantly surprised at the prices: I walked in ready to pay $125 for an umbrella and found the good ones were available for $60 or $70. So I bought the girls each a birdcage umbrella as well.

(Of course after I spent $100 on umbrellas the rain stopped and didn't return for two weeks. You're welcome.)

The Ex

The Ex is the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto's pompously named summer fair. It's mostly a giant midway, with a token gesture towards agriculture and crafts. I went when Delphine was fifteen months old and I could carry her in the BabyTrekker, and it sucked; it was hot and crowded and boring. I've avoided it ever since, instead taking the kids to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, which is about the same but without the midway, with way more agriculture, and in winter so it's not ridiculously hot.

But now Delphine is nine and Cordelia is six and they're not such a pain in the ass to take out places. They also talk to other six- and nine-year-olds and apparently everyone goes to The Ex. (However, apparently also everyone goes to Disney World and Montreal.) So I thought I would brave it one more time and see how it went.

We had Kat to guide us this time; she spends at lot of time at the Ex because her band marches in the "Mardi Gras Parade" that runs every day at 5:00. She gets free admission every day, so she is able to wander the grounds without the pressure of seeing everything in one visit. She pointed us in the direction of the kids' midway and the appalling food, which is really what I was there for.

It was actually okay. The kids' midway had lots of neat rides which were different from the rides at Centreville, but was still small enough to not overwhelm. We were there on a Wednesday towards the beginning of the fair (it goes on for weeks) and so it wasn't crowded at all.

Cordelia and Delphine ate a slushy and an entire funnel cake each, and I had a deep fried Jo Louis and bubble tea. It was excessive — I think we didn't eat dinner.

The Beach

Another adventure later that same week was a trip to the beach. Toronto boasts several beautiful, clean beaches and I like to have at least one day at the beach every summer. This time we went to Ashbridge's Bay. Once again we met up with Kat (it's great having a friend who's a teacher) and once again she acted as tour guide — she grew up in the Beaches. We spent some time on the beach and then dragged the reluctant children along the boardwalk to look at real estate. Then we doubled back along Queen Street where I bought straw hats for myself and the girls ($7 each!), got ice cream from Ed's Real Scoop (coffee toffee!) and visited the library.

Next year I'll plan to spend longer at the beach. The girls could basically spend the entire day on the beach, so I'll pack lots of reading matter and a large hat.

I think next year I might also separate the "Beaches neighbourhood" adventure from the "beach" adventure. There's a ravine called Glen Stewart just north of the Beaches which according to Adam Giambrone is pretty spectacular. So we can start at the north end of that, walk through, and then finish with ice cream and window shopping on Queen. And go to another beach another day.

ROM

Blake took a week off at the end of summer to get a taste of our fun. He wanted to see the dinosaur exhibit at the ROM, so we did that on his first day off. The exhibit was spectacular, and we had a nice time reacquainting ourselves with favourites in the museum. (We haven't had a membership for a while.) There's an indoor beehive in the children's section which has a little tunnel out a window so the bees can go in and out — the bees had also built themselves an outdoor hive on the window! And we spun the "what animal are you" wheel and everyone got "insect".

Painting

The other exciting thing we did while Blake was off was paint the house. When we moved in I picked out this tasteful putty colour for the walls, thinking it would be sophisticated and interesting. It turned out to be cruddy and depressing; it just looked like decades of nicotine stains. I gave it five years to stop sucking and it never did, so we painted over it with Benjamin Moore's Cloud White. (Yes, white! The problem with the putty colour is that it never looked like a colour, just like a dingy, dimly-lit white. Now the walls are actually white and I'm much happier. And our art looks excellent.)

That's Not All

We did lots of other things this summer: we went to the Tuesday farmers' market at Davisville Park, we met up with friends at Oriole Park, we shopped for ballet clothes, we had playdates (okay, mostly the girls had playdates), we went to the Science Centre, we decluttered the porch and tidied the girls' rooms, Cordelia learned how to ride a bike.

It's almost outrageous how much fun I have in summer. I love planning our adventures, hanging out with the girls, seeing new parts of the city, and the long idle days of exploring and watching them play.

Sometime in the middle of August I started to get anxious because I hadn't done as much work as I had hoped to in summer. Then I realized that in five years Delphine will be fourteen; she will be hanging out with friends or working or doing camps. She definitely won't want to spend the summer going to the beach and the island and the park with me. And when I look back at these last few years I won't wish I had spent more of my summers working. I have half a lifetime to work after my children are grown, but these long summer days are fleeting. I will enjoy every minute of them.

[Posted at 12:27 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 08 Sep 2012

Gold ring, halfling,
Man gone, but for song,
Wizard fell, into hell,
Mirror of elf, see the south,
Forest bent, met an Ent,
Isengard strong, soon to be gone.

Into the black land, they will stand.

Gold ring, halfling.

[Posted at 21:01 by Amy Brown] link