Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Aventure Laflêche - extrêmement awesome

The weather here this summer has been fabulous (if you like weather of the scorching melting hot variety, which I actually don't, but I also don't love everyone moaning and wailing when they don't get it, so on balance....). However, it has also had a nasty habit of sensing when I'm planning to do something fun and unusual with the kids that we've never done before and dumping a bucket of crap on those plans. So we didn't get to Puppets Up in Almonte, or Saunders Farm (I know, I'm possibly the last person in Ottawa who hasn't been to Saunders Farm). Of course, the kids are usually already pumped up about doing something, because I'm - what's the word? - a moron, so we have to do SOMETHING, but it's raining, so the something almost invariably ends up being a movie. And kids movies this summer? SUCKED SUPER HARD. The Smurfs? Jayma Mays and the awesomeness that is Neil Patrick Harris, and Hank Azaria, plus little blue people? Actually it demonstrates a sort of impressive savant-like level of excelling at being lame to screw that up. Spy Kids 4? I was cautioning my daughter that we might have to go to some special theatre - IMAX or something- to get the SmelloVision, since I thought they'd be blowing bacon-flavoured mist out of the vents or something. Nope - just a darling little scratch-and-sniff card, with eight numbers on it that, when scratched, all smelled pretty much exactly the same. Ditto with the writing and acting.

So when we woke up on the day we were going to the Laflèche caves and it was threatening rain I said FUCK IT - we're still going (in my head, of course - I hardly ever say 'fuck' in front of my kids, and the one time I did Eve tolds me consolingly that we'd just pretend I was saying 'seal' in French).

We went with my friend Janet and her son and daughter (wasn't it brilliant how the whole group of us birthed boys first and girls second? Years of great parties where the boys play video games and shoot nerf darts at each other downstairs and the girls play mysterious games and shoot nerf darts at each other upstairs and the adults drink wine and shoot nerf darts at each other in the family room and on the patio) and took another 12-year-old boy with us. We did the children's course, because the girls weren't tall enough for the adult one (it's totally true, you can look it up, it had nothing to do with my morbid fear of heights and looking stupid, which I did anyway).

So they harness you in and you inch across ropes and ride on wooden swings and crawl through MOVING WOODEN TUNNELS, none more than 4 metres above the ground (which is really not that close to the ground when you're up there, trust me).

Both segments of the course end with a baby zipline ride. This was probably the thing that freaked me out the most and then surprised me with how much I liked it - once I committed myself to lurching off the platform in a most undignified manner, it was surprisingly comfortable and exhilarating. Until I crashed into the rocks.

(Picture of me? Yeah right).

As we were walking back down the path talking about how much fun the course was, Janet said "actually I'm a little surprised you did it all -- don't you have a phobia about this kind of thing?" I said "oh, I'm totally soaked in fear sweat right now, but you have to challenge yourself every now and then". Then I asked her to hold my hand in case my wobbly knees refused to carry me any further. Angus is keen to do the adult course, which is three and a half hours long with much longer and higher ziplines. I told him I have to train for six months and undergo extensive counselling first.

We had a picnic on the tables by the pond, where we could watch people sail overhead on the Adventure Course ziplines. The girls chanted DROP YOUR SHOE! DROP YOUR SHOE! every time - curiously, no one did.

Then we went on the cave tour. I thought this was going to be the easy part, and then I remembered how I'm mildly claustrophobic. It's kind of annoying the things I've scaled and squished through and the water slides I've gone down headfirst, all in the name of showing my kids that sometimes you have to feel the fear and do it anyway. It's not totally fair that they have to do it anyway without the promise of tequila afterwards, but still...

The caves are really cool. Well, all caves are, aren't they? It's a big mountain that you can walk inside - that's cool. Plus we got to wear headlamps!

We also had to climb up a small, clammy, endless ladder at one point, but let's not dwell on that.

There was one tiny tunnel we were supposed to crawl through. I was about to clamp down my burgeoning hysteria and proceed, and then I thought, wait, surely not everyone who does the tour would consent to this insanity. So I went around.

When we were doing the course, the rain couldn't even reach us through the trees. The minute we got out of the caves the skies opened up and we were drenched by the time we got back to the van. It was still a great day - with no little blue men, crass product placements or baby poop sight gags, just good, outdoor, mild-panic-attack-inducing fun.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Who's Afraid of Camping? I am, I am!

I'm off to not camp again, this year with son in tow - daughter decided she'd rather have some Daddy time (I believe it also had something to do with the fact that my sister is coming back to pick up her kids. Eve adores my sister. And my sister's sample case from her home jewelry selling business, which she only does to be able to write off her renovations, because she's a very well-employed pharmacist - yeah, no self-esteem-damaging comparisons there at all). Happy week-end, all.

Oh, and in the spirit of the mostly-defunct (at least here) Friday funny: Enjoy this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

1000 Islands of Awesomeness

I hadn't done the 1000 Islands Boat Cruise since I was about Eve's age and went with my parents. Our usual crew were camping/cottaging nearby so we headed up to Ganonoque on the Saturday morning to meet them. Eve was all for the idea after she verified that the boat was big - she had a nasty almost-getting-swamped experience in a smaller boat while cottaging last summer and was not at all interested in facing her fears on that count.

The tour of the 1000 islands and the various stories of people who have inhabited them (there was something about a self-styled 'pirate' who died ignominiously by slipping on some water on his dock or something) was actually fairly interesting. For the adults. The kids were mostly interested in finding the best places to ride...

...and eat two-bite brownies.

The tour we took stops at Boldt Castle.

This is just the boathouse:

It's knock-your-eye-out architecturally, with a very sad story attached to it, about a man who was building it for his wife who died before he could finish it, so he left it unfinished.

The kids enjoyed walking around the grounds

and exploring the castle,

This was Eve's favourite part:

There are also many rocks which obviously must be climbed. And the obligatory ice cream and cheesy souvenirs. My daughter is the proud owner of a necklace with a magnet on it, to which one affixes a beer bottle cap. So proud.

If you go, be advised that you need a valid passport for Boldt Castle (it's not strictly speaking in Canada), but not one that is more than six months from expiry (someone mentioned this figure to me at some point and it has caused me ALL MANNER of unnecessary anxiety). Also, if you want to sit on the top of the boat you need to arrive quite early, but on the return trip sitting on the top of the boat can be very hot. Also, the same trip that was new and exciting and required no additional distractions on the way there will now be four times as long and the slightest bit boring and may entail complaining about having to share a drink with certain other germy individuals, scaling of various marine structures and a wish that all electronic devices had not been banned and relegated to the cars left back in the parking lot. Just sayin'.

Also, not that I didn't appreciate him taking the picture, but he could have mentioned the bra strap.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Baseball Team of Awesome OR My Son is on the A-Team!

In our league, spring ball and summer ball are separate. Eve only plays spring ball, because the glory of adulation of usually being the only girl on the team (man, the Moms who only have boys LOVE her) only goes so far. In the spring all the players are sorted out equally onto teams. In the summer, there's a competitive team that you have to try out for - they call it the A team. I remember when my husband first mentioned the existence of this team. He said they practiced almost every day, sometimes twice a day, and I was rolling my eyes saying "Cripes, that would be the only thing you did all summer. Can you believe people actually do that? Can you....holy crap, you actually want him to do that, don't you?"

The first year that Angus was in Minor, he was 'playing up', i.e. playing in Minor when he was still technically supposed to be in Rookie, but his birthday was close enough to the cut-off and he was a good enough player that they let him in. We had decided that he wouldn't try out for the A team that year; we were going to go on a two-week vacation out east with three other families, in preparation for possibly not being able to take vacations in the summer once he was playing on the competitive team. He got invited to try out for the competitive team. My husband was in Japan and I told him this on the phone, and then I said 'they're supposed to show up at 11 to try out for the A team and 1 to sort out for the regular team. I'm taking him at 1." My husband agreed - because he was in freaking Japan, what were his options? Then the damned coaches let him try out at one for the A team anyway. Fortunately (depending on who you ask) he narrowly missed being selected for the team.

Last year he did make the team. There weren't many returning players because many of them had moved up to Major, and the pool of kids who tried out wasn't as big as it sometimes is, so they had to take some weaker players. It was a good team, but not a fantastic team.

This year? They're freaking unbelievable to watch. Angus is a good pitcher, and a good batter, but last year there were times when he almost had to carry the team, and in a playoff game if he struck out or faltered, the whole team seemed to freak out and lose it. This year if he throws a bad pitch or fumbles a ball, the rest of the team backs him up like a well-oiled machine. They were undefeated in regular league play going into the District tournament. They won the District tournament, which meant they played teams from all over Ontario in the Provincials. One day we opened the paper and saw this:

(That's my kid on the right). That was kind of neat. The coach saved Angus as a pitcher for the final game. He pitched five innings and they won 7-0. The next day this was in the paper:

Eagles win provincial Little League championship

Except in the actual paper, not only is most of the article about him, the HEADLINE reads: ADAMS DOES IT JUST LIKE DOC.

I said to my husband (who used to play all-star hockey), "do you you think he's peaked at 11?". My husband said, "I peaked at 12. It could happen."

It's still pretty cool though. For the entire Provincials tournament, they scored 64 runs and only had 2 scored against them. The day after we won, the parents who had the party sent out an email with a picture of a pile of beer cans saying "We actually managed to drink more beers than the team scored runs".

I love it when a plan comes together.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cottage Surfing - it's Awesome.

New record for me and Eve - three cottages in six days. Have GPS, will travel.

First, Lyndhurst. My husband's uncle and aunt and six-year-old cousin (which the kids find extremely amusing) had rented a cottage in Lyndhurst. The boys were in District playoffs, so we were the only available family representatives. The swimming wasn't great - I tried to push Eve out past the weeds in a tube, but it turned out there really was no 'past the weeds'. But the deck overlooking the water was beautiful. And there was beer.

And frogs.

Next up, our friends' place where they have people up every summer and this nice man deep fries a turkey.

Eve has never been able to jump into water. She has stood on the side of the pool or the edge of the dock for countless minutes, always getting really frustrated with herself for chickening out. Today, with a huge audience no less, she finally took the plunge.

...which was great, because then she could partake in the numerous cannonball contests.

There was also swinging, sliding, singing, bottle-drinking...

...and an upside-down baby.

Third, we visited the female half of a family we met through baseball - B. was on Eve's team, L. was on Angus's, and Matt and I really liked the Mom and Dad. Two years of bliss and merriment...then the stupid military made them move to Edmonton. They were in town at their cottage for a week, so Eve and I went out for the day. We went swimming, sat on the deck for a bit, and played a game of Trivial Pursuit.

We couldn't decide between the Younger Player questions and the Canadian version - the younger player ones gave us such masterpieces as: "What is Cookie Monster munching on in the video game Cookie Monster Munch?" Seriously? So we kept going back and forth, and we made the girls read all the questions. This led to B. asking a question about 'Austria's Nasty Party' (well, the Nazis were pretty nasty) and Eve reading something about the King of structures which confused the hell out of everybody until we figured out it was 'what KIND of structures'. Eve and I built up a nice lead early on, then W. and B. caught up and we eventually had to call the game on the grounds that W. and I were out of beer.

Did I mention that B. is only three months older than Eve, who is not short for her age? Yeesh.

Here's to travelling with vats of Southwest Pasta Salad, permanently damp bathing suits and the Wailin' Jennys as background music.

(no frogs were harmed in the photographing of this post).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dinner Party of Awesome

We have a dinner party with four other couples every couple of months, where everybody makes something fancy-ish, and we rotate who does the soup, salad, appetizers, main course and dessert. It's been a big success; I really enjoy the fact that everyone only does one course -- usually I wouldn't spend all day making a salad, but when I actually have the chance to it's quite satisfying. Over the past year we've had Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon, veal osso bucco, spit-roasted lamb and satsivi (a Georgian dish consisting of chicken bathed in walnut sauce); pear parsnip soup, smoked salmon chowder and lobster bisque; butternut squash ravioli, cauliflower fritters, seared duck and scallops on pesto. And that's just what I can remember. People have cured their own pork belly, aged their own steak and beheaded chickens in the back yard (I might be exaggerating on that last one).

For this party I was making grilled strawberry and fig salad.

I'd actually never eaten a fresh fig before -- I had to call one of my friends to ask if I was supposed to peel them. I bought an extra one to try eating and it took me a few minutes to bite into it, it looked so strange, but it was delicious - Eve liked it too.

I couldn't find pomegranate molasses, so I made some, which was easy. I used snow pea shoots instead of sunflower, and I have no idea what Hooks blue cheese is and no memory of what kind I used.

We grilled the fruit and got all the ingredients ready here, then assembled at the host's house.

Just as I was sprinkling the last spoonful of walnuts on the last plate, I remembered that Susanne's boyfriend Paul is allergic to shellfish and....OH FUCK. Considering I was the one who made the chicken in walnut sauce and that I made a separate chicken breast with a balsamic reduction for him, you'd think I might have remembered. In my defense, he is very quiet - in our blind guess-the-food game, he ate nectarine and it was Susanne who spoke up and said he was allergic to nectarine peel. I cleaned off the plate and made a new salad without walnuts and apologized to Susanne for trying to kill the father of her unborn child. Margot quietly occupied herself with removing the walnuts from the green beans for the main course plate. Later on someone asked Paul how he found out he was allergic to walnuts and he said 'eating walnuts'. See? He's gotta get more obnoxious, or he's not going to survive this group.

The salad was great, although the tradition is for everyone to praise everyone else's dish and denigrate their own, so I probably said I should have used arugula instead of swiss chard or something, for form's sake. Curiously, a good part of the conversation tonight revolved around things happening to people's fingers (if you recall, the conversation was toe-centered at my book club meeting). Also, the drunk woman beside my husband kept threatening alternately to stab him or perform oral sex on him (apparently she'd lost the distinction between fellate and fillet several drinks earlier). Somewhat inexplicably, a good part of the night was devoted to a discussion about Rick Springfield and Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings. However, no boyfriends were harmed (or molested) in the course of this dinner.

For those who asked, here is my book club list for next year:

The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill

You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready?, Lyndsay Green

Come Thou Tortoise, Jessica Grant

Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart

The Best Laid Plans, Terry Fallis

Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre

The Death of Grass, John Christopher

The other two months are a short story night and a manuscript by one of our members.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Club of Awesome

I think I can, I think I can...

Or maybe not.

I banned myself from reading blogs until I blogged again. So I stopped reading blogs.

Here's the thing - when you're living the Summer of Awesome, it's really hard to find the time and energy to blog about it, yanno?

Let's start at the end of June. My annual end-of-the-year dinner with my book club, wherein we eat, drink and compose the list for the coming year. People bring suggestions (one for the exceptionally self-confident, five for members like me - "only if nobody minds....don't want to force this on you....I thought maybe, possibly, if it's okay with everyone.... blah, I sometimes make myself vomit).

We sometimes meet at a restaurant, sometimes at someone's house. We met at Bella's twice - the food was good, but people complained that we were noisy -- which we were, but geez, it's a restaurant, not a church. And Survivor - Book Edition cannot be played quietly. We met at Biagio's but.... I can't remember what the but was. I think some people thought it was too expensive; I will say it's the only place I've ever liked the calamari. We met at The Cottage and a Kitchen for a few years, which was great, but the best place to eat was the patio and the group was always divided on whether or not patio dining was desirable. We thought we'd try something new this year, so we went to The Foolish Chicken on Holland, and dude, we always have to go there now, because almost everybody orders some form of chicken and ribs and the repetition of the term 'rack' (half-rack, quarter rack) is grounds for endless hilarity. Also, the ribs are really good. And the waitresses are sweet. And hot. And everybody upstairs was noisy, and we helped sing Happy Birthday to some guy in French.

Our meeting was the Friday in June when the heavens opened up and rained fury and wrath and a buttload of water down on Barrhaven and the surrounding area. We were dropping the kids off at my Mom and Dad's so my husband could drop me off at the restaurant so I could imbibe to my heart's content and then hitchhike home or something. It was like driving in Venice - there was water fanning up to the height of the car roof on either side. Angus said "is there a plan for evacuating the city?" I was a little annoyed - I know I don't go out on Friday nights that often, but I didn't think apocalyptic rainfall was called for.

My friend Carolyn has this wonderful curly red hair, which has been short for as long as I've known her, until the past year when she started growing it. When she walked in the restaurant it looked like this:

I tried to get The Razor's Edge on the list after rereading it recently, so we could discuss my crazy Irish former boss's opinion that it was the Best Book Ever Written, and also whether Somerset Maugham didn't seem to like women much more than Jonathan Franzen or if it was just me (me that got the feeling they didn't like women, not me they didn't like - I doubt that either of them has any opinion in particular about me, although in the unfortunate and extremely unlikely eventuality that they read this, that might change). Anyway, they didn't go for it. Which is okay, because I also want as many people as possible to be exposed to the glory that is Come, Thou Tortoise.

After dinner we went to The Royal Oak for a few beers. Okay, Carolyn actually ordered a decaf Irish coffee, whereupon we mocked her for the lamest drink order ever. The night was also marked by various assorted horrific and grotesque stories involving toes, but I think it's best if I don't go into that.

By the time I got home, it had stopped raining and the streets were passable. And very clean.