Archive for the 'Holidays' Category

One Last Drop of Summer

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

The Sweetie and I decided to squeeze out a final summer road trip to Grand Bend last weekend. Along with having a glorious beach and beautiful sunsets it is one of those quintessential beach towns, lined with tacky shops selling straw hats with Corona emblazoned on them, cruising teenagers and bars blaring requisite Jimmy Buffet music. We decided it would be the perfect place for a final summer blowout.

I tried to ignore the turning leaves and the autumnal chill in the air. “It’s a summer road trip and it is going to feel like summer even if it kills us!” I declared, although my voice sounded forced and rang a little hollow. I secretly wondered if I was like the bearded, portly guys I see in March wearing shorts and sandals when there is still snow on the ground, or the young girls wearing mini skirts, oblivious to the fact that their legs are turning blue.

On our way into town we stopped at an antique market nestled in the woods. Unfortunately, instead of antiques  there  were more flea market type finds such as flags with cannabis leaves on them, belly button rings and dusty DVDs. The Sweetie pulled out a DVD called Roads Trips From Hell, a compilation of movies where road trips go horrifically wrong.

“Put it back!” I hissed, seeing bloodied bodies and a machete wielding masked killer on the cover. “We’re on a road trip, don’t even look at it!” I worried that it was a warning from the summer gods that I was pushing it and forcing the season past its prime.

As we left the dusty DVD section and bypassed moldy books we passed a vendor doling out samples of sausage. I politely declined saying, “Thank you, it looks delicious but I don’t eat meat.”

He turned to The Sweetie and muttered,“Lucky you,” with a disdainful toss of his head in my direction.

I pretended I didn’t hear him and hurried towards an old lady hunched by a stall with antique looking items. I spotted a pair of salt and pepper shakers shaped like turkeys and asked for a closer look. I have a cousin who collects tacky salt and pepper shakers for Thanksgiving and thought rainbow coloured turkeys would be a welcome addition. The old woman sighed and groaned until she finally managed to grab the shakers. When I turned them over I noticed they were cracked and one was missing a stopper.

“It’s an antique, of course it’s missing a stopper!” The old lady barked at me before I said a word.

I touched the intact stopper wondering if I could find a replacement somewhere.

“Well don”t push it in! You’re going to break it!” She chided. I gingerly handed them back to her. She snatched them from my hand and turned abruptly.

The treasure hunting adventure had taken on a darker tone. Instead of cheery banter and good-natured haggling, I seemed to be making everyone angry. I tried to cheer myself with some kettle corn and immediately started to choke on a kernel. Passersby gave me the stink eye and a little dog growled at me. As I sputtered and hacked, wondering if this was going to be my untimely and undignified end, I began to even annoy myself.

“Let’s get out of here and find a cozy little cottage for the night. Everybody is cranky here,” I whispered to The Sweetie.

The sausage guy gave me a final smirk as I passed and I think I swallowed a gnat as we trudged back to the car.

The cute looking cottages I had hoped to rent for the night were locked and empty, looking ghostly and forgotten. We went to the corner of the main strip and saw that the decidedly less romantic looking Rod & Gun hotel and lounge had rooms available.

The lively stores along the street fell silent as the sun started to set. I hurried to an ice cream stand and asked the girl, “What time do you close tonight?”

“Now!” She snapped and turned her back, quickly slamming the serving window shut.

I started to get cold, pulling my hoodie around me and wistfully reminiscing about those heat wave July days when it was almost too hot to breathe.

As we walked back to the Rod & Gun we stopped to peer in the darkened shop windows. Suddenly I felt an urge to look up. Dangling from the awnings were spiders. Huge dark thick legged full bodied spiders. The town was filled with them. There were menacing spiders dangling and crawling everywhere. Every hanging basket was a threat. Every neon light was a showcase for a spider colony. Maybe that is why everything shut down after dark. “It is a town of spiders!” I shrieked, my voice becoming more and more shrill. The Sweetie was equally disturbed, which heightened my panic. “What the hell?” he kept repeating over and over again as I left deep fingernail imprints on his arm. “Wouldn’t they have reported this is the news? Do you think they’ll have this on the internet? What if the spiders band together? There are enough of them and they are big enough that if they worked together as a team they could take us out!” I babbled until we got back to The Rod & Gun.

Everything was strangely desolate and still at the hotel. It felt a little spooky. The room and silent hallway felt oppressive. The Sweetie started getting sleepy, strangely so, almost like he was under a spell.

“So sleepy,” he murmured, as I lay next to him in the bed, thinking of giant spiders, crabby old ladies and growling dogs.  I remembered reading somewhere that the average person swallows eight spiders in their lifetime. As The Sweetie’s breath deepened I began to worry that maybe the old hotel was haunted. Perhaps there had been one too many drunken brawls at the Rod & Gun lounge and a disgruntled hunter had been shot over a glass of whiskey. His ghost could be wandering the halls in a bloodied flannel shirt looking for revenge. The spiders had been a warning and The Sweetie and I were like those dumb people in horror movies that ignore all the signs and are always the first ones to meet a grisly end. I felt myself drifting off and felt a pressure around my throat, realizing as I started awake that it was my own hand gripping the sheet closely around me.

As I lay in the dark listening for ghosts, I thought again of the bearded guys with their bare legs when the air is still icy cold, pushing the season, and how I scoff at them, my forehead furrowing in a mixture of concern and disgust at their pale hairy legs looking like plucked chicken flesh. As I drew the covers around  me, my own skin covered in goosebumps,  I thought about the planned outing to the beach the next day and realized that I am a bearded sandal wearing weirdo myself, foolish and touchingly optimistic, destined for icy toes and an early seasonal flu. Perhaps pushing the boundaries and insisting it is still summer in an abandoned beach town is not the best choice after all. Maybe there is something to be said for accepting things gracefully.

Cousin’s Cottage Weekend

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I am currently rehydrating after a boozy cousin’s cottage weekend. This was the third year that my cousin generously opened up her cottage to extended family for the long weekend. There were many bottles of wine, margaritas and slurred songs around the campfire. There were organized games including a high stakes game of capture the flag played around a wood chipper for an extra element of danger. The games usually end in controversy, ours being a family of type-A, competitive overachievers.

The first year I was apprehensive about a cousin’s weekend. I am the opposite of a type-A and far from an overachiever. Games involving teams and competition stress me out. I do everything in my power to avoid being seen in a bathing suit unless it is by strangers I will never meet again. I worry that I will revert back to my shy childhood self, complete with coke bottle glasses and dorky outfits.  Somehow though, through the skinny dipping, the booze and the lounging I managed to carve out my own place. I realized that I love these people who are all quirky, sweet and fun in their own way.

The weekend provided many opportunities for relentless teasing and future blackmail. My glamorous urban cousin nearly drowned herself and those within her splashing vicinity during a midnight swim. A few of us were having a starlit skinny dip when there was a blood curdling scream.

“Oh my God! What the hell is that?” she screamed.

She practically levitated from the lake in her haste to get away from whatever was attacking her.

From the horror in her voice I expected a bull shark (known to swim in fresh water, although never in Ontario) or at least a snapping turtle. It turns out is was The Sweetie, serenely floating on his back.

“Good God”, she panted as she tried to recover, ” Why are you so stealth? I thought you were a loon!”

Typically, a loon on a lake does not invoke shrieks of terror. It feels like a lucky thing to spot one, akin to seeing a peaceful deer in a meadow. Of course, as I teased her mercilessly I didn’t admit that I was nervous about going kayaking because I was afraid that spiders might crawl out of the kayak while I was in the middle of the lake. I would certainly drown in my desperation to get away from them. My squeamishness towards insects also resulted in attacking two relatives with bug spray that I was wielding like a can of mace. Enjoying the wilderness does not come without casualties.

Crazed loon attacks and deadly spiders aside, there is something magical and quintessentially Canadian about the cottage experience. It is in our collective blood. Seeing the water as still as glass early in the morning, plunging into a cold lake and sipping beer on a dock embodies a Canadian summer in all its glory. It felt extra special to share the experience with family members and feel truly connected. It is true that you can’t choose your family. Because families usually have a few duds we often create a tribe of our own. I’m lucky that my tribe includes family and I feel stronger for it.

Camping High Hopes

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

The Sweetie and I are making another attempt at camping. Hopefully this trip will not involve torrential rains and zombie teeth as it did last year.

I love the idea of being in nature, sleeping under the stars and cooking over a fire. It is only once I’m out in the woods that I remember that mosquitoes love me, I am afraid of bears and I have a nightly bubble bath habit.

As I am packing the cooler with tasty snacks and planning a cute camping outfit I am filled with delighted anticipation. I am looking forward to feeling like a brave, rugged frontier woman.

Manicured fingers crossed!

Poutine Overload, An Homage to Fromage

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Today is Canada Day so it seems appropriate that I come clean about my poutine obsession. For those unfamiliar with this Canadian bastion of caloric overload, poutine is a gooey masterpiece of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. It originated in Quebec and was one of my first discoveries when I moved to Montreal for university. Forget higher learning, I was educated in the school of french fry glory and was rapidly on my way to getting a doctorate. Poutine soon became a staple, along with caffeine, cigarettes and a steady diet of angst over the French boy in big sweaters who couldn’t decide if I enchanted or repelled him. Poutine was my constant and my comfort during those tormented pining-for-the-boy days.

I moved back to Toronto and eventually got over the oscillating, fickle French boy. I finally kicked my smoking and diet coke habit but the poutine addiction remained. Now that I am a vegetarian, I can’t indulge my addiction on a regular basis because vegetarian gravy isn’t always available. Intrepid seeker that I am, I have managed to find sources. Last week I went on a tear. I was with a fellow vegetarian who was raving about gourmet poutine. Gourmet and poutine in the same sentence is a bit of an oxymoron but I was intrigued. We decided to have a poutine-off, the old school poutine versus the newfangled gourmet version with goat cheese and mushrooms. Two baskets of poutine later I remained undecided.

A few days later I was out with girlfriends and again found poutine on the menu. I had planned on having salad, vowing that I was turning over a new healthy eating leaf. I thought that perhaps my binding summer clothes would fit by labour day if  I reintroduced vegetables into my diet. The appearance of vegetarian poutine was unexpected and immediately threw me off course. Rather than staying with my salad intentions, I began to worry that my trough of poutine wouldn’t be big enough.

I am a woman of obsessions and I can’t seem to do anything in moderation. I tried to be a social smoker years ago and immediately began filling my social calendar with nightly events in order to be able to smoke. You can’t give a girl like me a basket of poutine and then expect me to move on to healthier pursuits. The beast has been unleashed and the gravy laden monkey is on my back.

Patriotic as it may be to eat poutine on Canada Day, I must throw in the greasy towel. I’m sure tonight’s fireworks will look like sparkling cheese curds in the sky but I will stay strong and find another way to honour my Canadian roots. There is always beer.

Summer Road Trip

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

It is officially summer, which means I am already panicking that it will fly by too quickly. Rather than live in the moment I spend the winter wishing the dark days away, then when summer finally arrives I immediately begin to dread the return of itchy sweaters. Between bouts of winter anxiety I am determined to squeeze out every drop of summer until the first awful autumn leaf falls.

To kick off my summer campaign, The Sweetie and I are going on our first road trip of the season. We will drive with the windows open and the tunes blaring and I will force him to sing duets with me. Jacked up on sugar and caffeine, my car singing will be even more tuneless than usual. We will see a Hollywood blockbuster at the Mustang drive-in. It is owned by an old, hairy hippy who shares rambling peace and love soliloquies over the sound system before starting the movie. The next day we will swim in a sparkly lake that will be so cold that we won’t be able to feel our legs, but we’ll do it anyway, shrieking the entire time. I’ll get a stupid sunburn as I do every year because I will miss one patch of skin when applying sunscreen. We will eat tomato sandwiches on the beach and get gritty sand in our teeth. I will eat blueberries and have bright blue lips. I will read a trashy novel and smear the pages with greasy sunscreen fingerprints. The sound of the water and the sunshine warming my skin will lull me into a glorious, hazy stupor.

We’ll drive back into the city rejuvenated, greasy and relaxed. I feel very Buddha-like after a summer getaway, partly because of the bulging Buddha belly escaping from my bathing suit, but mainly because of my ability to feel mindful and present. It is easy to have a fresh perspective and to feel like all is right with the world when the sun shines. Summer is easy that way. If only it would last forever.

Father’s Day

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

The fantastic Dad’s are the Original Hipsters blog was featured in the Globe and Mail this week  just in time for Father’s Day. It shows dads rocking jaunty hats, drinking craft beers and using Leica cameras long before today’s hipsters decided to appropriate them. So much of what we think is cutting edge is just recycled in a new package. I should be more charitable but I often want to roll my eyes at cooler-than-thou hipsters that think they are edgy when they all look the same. Maybe I am irritated by hipsters because I am just not cool enough, or I am too old, or I missed the boat. I spent most of my life wearing nerdy glasses so the idea of wearing giant glasses to look ironic is lost on me. Maybe I am bitter because I have an abnormally large head so I would never be able to wear a Tribly hat.

But back to dads. My dad was and is a cool cat. A number of my girlfriends had, and still have, crushes on him. My dad can out-cool any of today’s hipsters prancing around in their big glasses and fedoras. He rocked the wide lapels, safari suits and artful facial hair like nobody’s business in the seventies. He rolled his own cigarettes, barbecued massive steaks and made kick-ass snowmen in the winter, perfecting them long after my sister and I had gone back inside. He used to mow the lawn in a Speedo, his chest hairs oiled up with Hawaiian Tropic, setting the neighbourhood ladies’ hearts aflutter. He is the king of inappropriate jokes, teases me mercilessly, and I love every minute of it. He is cool because he isn’t trying and that is always coolest of all.

In honour of him I will be barbequing steaks today. A giant hunk of meat sitting so close to my veggie burger on the grill scares me just a little but I am happy to do it. He will probably wear some over-sized shades and make gagging noises at my vegetarian options. I would have it no other way.