Category Archives: Family

Our tubing nightmare

One of the more popular natural attractions in south central Ontario is the Elora Gorge. It’s a beautiful 2 kilometre long gorge that the Grand River has cut through 70-foot cliffs north of Guelph. The gorge is contained within the Elora Gorge Conservation Area, and they rent big inner tubes for people to ride down the river. There are sections of rapids as well as some more serene “lazy river” sections. We’ve now been camping there twice, and both times have certainly been eventful – once because we didn’t go tubing, and once because we did.

About a year ago (the summer of 2013), we went for a few days to Elora in the hopes of going tubing. But it had rained quite a bit over the previous week. It was OK the day we got there, but then it rained overnight and the next night too. The tubing run is closed when the river flow exceeds 8 cubic metres per second; the day we wanted to go tubing, it was measuring 98 cubic metres per second. That’s not a typo – the river flow was over twelve times higher than their safety limit. One of the two bridges over the gorge was closed entirely because water was flowing over it, to the point where you couldn’t see the bridge. There was no way we were going anywhere near the water. We had a fun camping trip (despite the rain), but we were disappointed that we didn’t get to go tubing.

Let’s try that again

So this year, we decided to go back and try again. We booked the same campsite as we had the previous year and this time Mother Nature played nice. Our first day we slept late and decided to have more of a lazy day, so we played some cards before lunch and did some geocaching in Elora after lunch. The second day was tubing day. Our plan was to do one run, then walk back to our campsite (about halfway up), have lunch, and then do more runs in the afternoon. If Gail or I got tired, one of us could wait at the bottom with the van and drive everyone back to the top. After getting ready, we drove to the rental place and walked with the tubes to the starting point. This was sometime around 11:00.

Here’s a Google map of the tubing run; I wanted to use the satellite view but it was cloudy the day the satellite took the picture so you can’t see much. I’ve marked approximately where the interesting events happened.

Note that this is not a water ride, it’s just a river. They rent you the tubes and they’ve built stairs to get you to the starting point, but the rest is up to you. There are no lifeguards or attendants at the start, end, or anywhere in between.

At the start, a friendly man was there taking pictures of his grandkids, and noticed our confusion as to where to go. He suggested walking a little further up the river and starting from there, so we did. We didn’t plan it this way (we didn’t really plan anything – more on that later) but Ryan went first, then Gail followed him. Nicky went next and I came last. Before I even started, I noticed that Ryan had flipped over going down the first set of “rapids”, but quickly recovered and gave us the thumbs up. As I was approaching the rapids, I managed to get spun around and didn’t see what happened to Gail or Nicky. When I hit the rapids, I flipped over backwards as well. I managed to stand up and grab my tube, and started to get back on it.

That’s when I noticed Gail sitting on a rock on the right bank. No tube.

Problem #1

Nicky was floating down the middle of the river and an empty tube was floating down in front of him. I hadn’t gotten back on my tube yet, so I managed to walk/swim over to the bank where Gail was. The water was still pretty fast here, so it took a fair bit of effort. It turned out that Gail had also flipped over, but while Ryan and I managed to grab our tubes, Gail did not. She got pounded by multiple waves which bounced her off of the rocky bottom a number of times. She was eventually able to grab some rocks on the bottom and pull herself to the side and get out of the river. Both of her knees were scraped up pretty good, as well as her ankles and the side of her right foot. She had lost her sunglasses and had thought for a minute that her contact lenses had also been washed away, though luckily they hadn’t. I stayed with her until we determined that she could stand and walk back to the start (she was shaking too much for the first couple of minutes). We decided that I would continue and once we were done, the boys and I would walk back to the van and then come and get her.

Elora GorgeThe whole time we were sitting there, we had to watch our children float further away from us, down a river that we hadn’t seen before, and that we had already found to be much more dangerous than any of us had realized. The boys are 14 and 12 and have been taking swimming lessons their whole lives; they’re probably better swimmers now than either me or Gail. That plus the fact that they were wearing helmets and life jackets were the only reasons we were nervous but not panicking.

After making sure that Gail could walk back to the start (maybe 30 metres back), I continued down the river in my tube. I had no watch on and so my sense of time is rather hazy, so I have no idea how long it was before I caught up with the boys, but it couldn’t have been more than about 5 or 10 minutes. They had reached an eddy in the river, so Ryan was essentially sitting in the middle of a big circle, not moving, while Nicky was slowly drifting around the circle, holding on to Gail’s tube which he had managed to grab. I grabbed Gail’s tube from Nicky, then we had to kick our feet for a while to get out of the eddy and start heading back downstream. Ryan had somehow managed to get out of it without kicking at all and was ahead of us again.

Just around the corner from the eddy, there was a shallow area that Nicky and I got caught up in. We had to push along the bottom to get free, and that led us to the second set of rapids. I told Nicky to go down first, then I sent Gail’s tube down by itself (since I figured I wouldn’t be able to hold onto it), and then I came last. I drifted to the right side of the rapids, near the canyon wall. Just as I expected to bounce off the wall, I heard a loud bang and immediately sank into the river.

Problem #2

The water wasn’t deep but the current was very strong. It pushed me through the rapids until I managed to grab another rock on the canyon wall with one hand, while holding onto my deflated tube with the other. Nicky saw this and wanted to know if he should stop or try to grab Gail’s tube, but he was still in some pretty fast-moving water. I told him to just keep going, figuring it was more dangerous for him to try to stop. I had no choice here but to walk down the river. Some parts had a rocky shoreline which was easy navigable, but for most of it I had to walk in the river holding on to the cliff face or trees sticking out. Some places were ankle deep and slippery, while others were deeper – the water came up to my shoulders in one place. There was one area where I had to swim about 30 feet and another where I had to climb through a fallen tree. There were a few areas with big rocks that I had to climb over, and I saw one rock with a big spider on it – must have been 3-4 inches across. I hate spiders, so that would have been the worst moment of most normal days, but it barely even registered. I slipped and fell once but luckily just landed on my butt, with nothing more than a bruise to show for it. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of it.

Eventually, the river got shallow enough that Nicky was able to grab Gail’s tube once again and get out of the water to wait for me. Again, I have no concept of how long it took for me to get to him – fifteen minutes? Forty five? I really don’t know but from the time my tube burst until the time I met up with Nicky again must have been at least 30 minutes. I stopped there for a rest and then we continued down the river, with me floating on Gail’s tube and carrying mine.

The rest of the way was relatively uneventful but frustratingly slow. Not only was I physically exhausted, but I was anxious to get back to make sure Gail was OK. Problem #2 had slowed us down significantly, so I was sure Gail was wondering where we were. I got caught in another eddy where I had to kick continually for several minutes to get through it. Then Nicky and I hit some more shallows where we had to push off the bottom to move. We eventually arrived at the end of the tubing run where we were finally reunited with Ryan who had finished ages before.

We got out of the river and walked back up to the parking area while I filled Ryan in on what had happened. After about a 10-15 minute walk, we got to the rental place, turned in the punctured tube (“No thanks, I don’t need a replacement”), and picked up our van keys. While tying tube #3 onto the top of the van, Gail’s phone (which was in the van) rang. By the time we found the phone, it had stopped ringing but I noticed that there were eleven missed calls from my phone. Gail had walked back to our campsite and was getting pretty worried that we hadn’t yet reached the van. We called her back and reassured her that everyone was OK. It was now 1:38pm. That one single run – that only three of us finished – had taken us about two and a half hours.

We drove back to the camp site and Gail hobbled over to meet us. She was also doing a little better though her left leg was pretty stiff and it was obvious she was going to have some pretty good bruises in a couple of days. I’m writing this a couple of days later and she does indeed have some bruising (see picture) and her legs are still stiff and achy, but it could certainly have been much worse.


The aftermathDuring lunch, we tried to decide what to do the rest of the day. Gail thought about trying again but skipping the first set of rapids (the subsequent rapids weren’t as bumpy as the first), but she decided her legs hurt too much. I wasn’t really in pain but was still nervous about the river because of my tube bursting. There were a couple of areas during my walk down the river where it had taken most of my strength to avoid getting pulled by the current – what if it had been Nicky’s tube that had burst? Would he have had the strength? Would the current have pulled him along, bouncing him off of rocks the whole way, or worse, dragging him under the surface?

I knew this was a pretty rare occurrence and the odds of it happening again were pretty low, but the tube bursting scared me enough that we decided that we were done tubing. The boys were disappointed but understood. We played some more cards and the boys and I kicked a soccer ball around for a while, and we eventually returned the tubes. The boys and I had one run for our $25 each, and Gail spent about $1 per metre of her tubing adventure.

Gail and I are pretty surprised at ourselves for just jumping in (pun intended) before really examining the river and the rapids and having a plan. We did say to the boys before we started that if we get separated, just keep going and we’ll meet up at the bottom, and maybe there really wasn’t much more we could have done. Hundreds of people do this every day and while I know they’ve had accidents, they’re pretty few and far between. I guess subconsciously we didn’t figure that we needed a “what if one of us gets beaten into the rocks?” plan or a “what if a tube bursts?” plan. Perhaps cancelling the rest of the day entirely rather than letting the boys keep going was a bit extreme, but the what-ifs crept into my brain and took over.

Perhaps we’ll stick to water parks from now on.

Bohemian rhapsody

We moved into our house in Waterdown on July 30, 1997, my 28th birthday. Gail and I had been married for a little over a year and a half, and had lived in a townhouse in Burlington for three years but we were getting ready to start our family and wanted a bigger place with a backyard. One of the things we loved about the house was the fact that it backed onto a banquet centre called The Bohemian. This meant that not only would we not be looking over our fence into someone else’s house, but we had a beautiful view of trees and green space from our kitchen window.

This is a picture we took after we bought the house but before we moved in. It’s is not the best view of the Bohemian grounds, but I was trying to take pictures of our new place, not the place next to it. This is probably sometime in April or May 1997. The building in the distance is the Bohemian itself, and the land to the right of it is maybe half of the whole property. You can see the other half of it in the second picture, below.

April 1997

For the first five years or so, the place was beautiful. The people who ran it kept it up very well. They were out cutting the grass and trimming the hedges and such every week. Whenever I went to cut our grass on weekends, I’d always check to see if there was a wedding going on – they had outdoor weddings there all summer long and I imagined they didn’t want the official screaming “Dearly beloved” over the sound of a lawn mower. There were squirrels everywhere and lots of birds including blue jays, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and the odd hummingbird. Occasionally we’d even see rabbits and one time an entire family of four raccoons walked along the top of our fence, one after the other. The road you see in the distance is Dundas St. (formerly Hwy 5) which is a fairly major road, but the trees blocked the sound (particularly in the summer) so we rarely ever heard traffic noise. We’d never actually met them, but couldn’t have been happier with our neighbours to the south.

A few years later, things changed a little when the owners sold the property. Soon thereafter they cut down a couple of trees and put in a bigger parking lot, but it was still far enough away that it didn’t really affect us. After a while it became evident that they weren’t as interested in appearances as the previous owners; the grass would sometimes go weeks without being cut, and the trees and bushes furthest away from the building started to look a little neglected. The outdoor weddings ceased. It was a little disappointing, but it really wasn’t a huge deal. We still had our green space and trees and wildlife.

Here’s a picture from about 13 years after the one above, April 21, 2010. This was taken from the kitchen window, basically looking out over top of the stairs to the deck you can see in the picture above.

April 2010

In the top left, you can see poles with lights strung between them that marked the edge of the “new” parking lot, which is to the right of the poles. I built the birdhouse in the foreground, and you can see two doves sitting on top of the fence just to the right of it.

And then we got the letter. I don’t know when it was exactly but sometime in 2012, we received a letter informing us that the Bohemian property had been purchased by a developer who was going to build townhouses there. I don’t believe they were required to inform us but they did anyway. They also notified us of a public meeting to give nearby residents more information about what was going to be happening as well as giving us the ability to ask the developer any questions we might have. We attended along with some of our neighbours and they showed us maps and artist’s renditions of what the property would look like. They told us that they’d be tearing down the existing fences and replacing them with new ones, and that some of the trees would have to be removed. We specifically asked how many trees, and they assured us that they’d make every effort to keep as many as they could. They seemed very accommodating and open and willing to answer all our questions.

On October 12, 2012, I tweeted “Sad day at our house. All the trees behind us are being ripped out” along with this picture:

October 2012

Over the next week or so, a whole bunch of trees were ripped out, including most of the ones you see in this picture. Shortly thereafter, the fence was taken down and replaced with a brand new cedar one. The new one looks much nicer than the old one, so some good has come from this. But over the next year, more and more trees were removed until finally in the fall of 2013 they took out the last ones. The property is currently a wasteland of mud and piles of dirt (note the fancy new fence):

April 2014

I’m very disappointed by this but in all honesty, I can’t say I’m angry. Who should I be angry to, and why? Nobody has any obligation to leave the property as it was. Nobody has any obligation to ensure that I have a lovely view from my kitchen. We live in a capitalist society and people and companies are out there to make money. Should a company be denied the right to make money because it would ruin my kitchen’s view? 66 families will be buying houses in this new development and will hopefully be happy living there – why is my happiness any more important than theirs?

I also can’t say I’m surprised. It’s a prime property for housing in a growing community, and the owner has the right to do with it what he wants. Trees are nice but we all know that if they get in the way of a project, they’re gone. If you were given the opportunity to build a house for a hundred thousand dollars and sell it for four hundred thousand, you’d likely drop a few trees to make that happen too. If you were a developer building 66 such houses (selling for $25+ million), you’d nuke every tree in sight to make sure it happened and I would too. Kinda sad but true.

It’s currently May 2014. The trailer in the last picture above has been removed. Now that the snow has gone, they’ve been out with the loaders bringing in more dirt and spreading it around. I imagine the construction will soon begin in earnest and a year from now there will be 66 townhouses behind us. We’ll be able to look out our kitchen window directly into someone else’s house, and the big picture window in our kitchen, which has never had blinds or curtains of any kind, will become a lens into our life. I guess we had beautiful greenspace behind our house for fifteen years, which is more than most suburban families can boast, so we can’t complain too much. But we will anyway.

No Shadow of a doubt

We have a new addition to our family, an adorable little kitten that we’ve named Shadow. Considering that both Ryan and I are allergic to cats, I never thought this would happen, but it did and it’s been great so far. The story of how little Shadow came into our lives is fairly similar to the story of how our old cat Figaro came into our lives, which is amusing because the two cats couldn’t look more different.

In November 1992, Gail found a pure white cat roaming around outside her apartment on Hamilton mountain. It was starting to get cold outside and this little guy looked all alone. Gail took him in and when nobody claimed him after a while, she named him Figaro (after Geppetto’s cat in Pinocchio). Fig was with us until he died of liver cancer just before our tenth wedding anniversary in 2005. The boys barely remember him, but Gail and I miss him. He was such a people cat – he always wanted to be near us.

It wasn’t long after he passed that we discovered that Ryan was allergic to both cats and dogs, and so the idea of getting a new cat was scuttled. I was also allergic, even to Fig, but it really only showed up if I was petting him or playing with him and then rubbed my eyes afterwards. Then they got itchy and I got stuffy, but once I washed my hands and face it was fine.

Fast forward 8½ years. It’s February 17, 2014, and we’re visiting my sister Trudy for her daughter’s 2nd birthday, as well as my mom’s birthday. We park the van and step out, and there he is. A tiny little completely black kitten. He came over to us right away, and started rubbing around Ryan’s ankles purring all the while. He even took a couple of glances into the open van and I swear I could almost hear him thinking “I GO HOME WIF YOU?”

There was no collar, and we looked around for anyone looking for him, but there was nobody. As we walked across the street to Trudy’s place, he followed and we didn’t discourage him. Trudy has two cats already so rather than bring him into the house, we brought him into the garage and gave him some food and water. Trudy put some litter into a cardboard box and he knew right away what to do with it. That fact, and the fact that he was in good physical shape told us that he did have a home, and recently. Considering our frigid winter, he was lucky he wasn’t outside during one of the –35°C days. That day and the previous couple were in the –5°C range.

ShadowTrudy quickly made up some posters and posted them around her neighbourhood. We looked online for local places where people might report lost pets, but no black cats were reported missing. This was also Family Day, so the Humane Society didn’t open until next morning.

For the rest of the day, we took turns checking on him in the garage. Gail specifically told me to go rub my face against him and see what happened, just in case we couldn’t find the owner. I had no allergic reaction at all, nor did Ryan. Nicky was smitten and spent most of the afternoon sitting on a concrete step in a cold garage with the kitten. When I told him later that he was in the garage for at least two hours, he said “I was?” Honestly though, it was hard not to be smitten. Not only was he so tiny and adorable (I’m talking about the cat here, not Nicky), but he was just so loving. He was purring almost constantly, rubbing around your legs if you were standing, and jumping in your lap if you were sitting. Trudy already lives with two cats, two parents, and a two-year-old daughter, so their place was already full. I don’t know what the boys thought, but Gail and I quickly had a pretty good idea where this kitty was going to end up living if nobody claimed him.

Trudy couldn’t bring herself to leave him in the cold garage overnight so she brought him inside and put him in a downstairs bathroom with some food, water, and litter. A little cramped but warmer than the garage, and no attacks from Trudy’s other cats. The next morning, she took him into the humane society and found he was not microchipped. Nobody had called her asking about him, and there were still no lost cat postings that matched this little guy. She did get a phone call a couple of days later, but the lady was quite far away and was looking for a cat that didn’t match this one.

Shadow on the prowlWe found him on Monday. On Wednesday evening, Gail and Nicky drove back to Trudy’s place, picked him up, and brought him to our place. We figured that even if someone did claim him, at least he’d have a bigger place to hang out for a couple of days than Trudy’s bathroom. And if nobody claimed him, well, he was already home. That night, he hung out with me and Gail, sitting right by (and sometimes on) our heads, purring away, and occasionally head-butting us to try and get us to play with him. Eventually we had to put him outside the room and close the door so we could get some sleep. That only lasted a couple of days though, and then he figured out that he should leave us alone at night. He’s been really good since then.

By Saturday we had bought him a litterbox, food dishes, and toys. At that point we decide to name him. He was our kitten now. If someone else had lost him, they’d done a crappy job of trying to find him, and the statute of limitations (that we had arbitrarily imposed) had expired. We each came up with a few names and wrote down all the ones we liked. From that list of about 10 names, we each chose our top three by secret ballot. One name appeared second on all four ballots – Shadow. Some names we did not choose: Ninja, Shade (also Nightshade), Phantom, and Sir Purrs-a-lot, which I added jokingly but Nicky actually voted for. We also decided against Snowy, which Trudy had suggested. On Monday, Gail brought him to the vet for a check-up and unlike Figaro (who, when we got him, had fleas, worms, and various other things that were expensive to remove), Shadow Perrow was clean and healthy.

Shadow has been part of our family for over a month now and already we can’t imagine life without him. He still purrs and meows all the time and rubs around our legs and jumps in our laps. He loves to play with the toys we bought him but also things like pencils, straws, and Q-tips he digs out of the bathroom garbage. He loves his treats and the wet food he gets in the morning, but isn’t so crazy about the dry food he gets in the evening. He also likes to sit on the toilet seat and dip his paws in the water, then leave little wet footprints around the bathroom, so we always keep the lids down now.

Shadow’s made his way into the garage a couple of times, and seems to really love it there. Who wouldn’t love a cold dirty concrete floor with a half-inch of water in the middle (where all the snow from the cars melts)? So now whenever we come home we park in the garage, then close the garage door (so he can’t get outside), then open the door into the house and catch him before he dives past us. Even when putting stuff in the blue boxes or green bin, we have to close the laundry room door, which had previously stayed open for the past 15 years.

We decided that if we were to go to the local pet shelter and a cat had behaved towards us the way this one did, we’d take him in a heartbeat. Just like Figaro, Shadow chose wisely when he found us.

Spending New Years with Harry, Captain Jack Sparrow, and the Hulk

For the sixth straight year, Gail, the boys, and I were homebodies on New Years Eve. And it was awesome.

Friends of ours have New Years parties every year and we’re always invited. We used to go and always had fun, but they all live over an hour from us. We ended up driving home after midnight and so the boys didn’t get to bed until 1:30-2:00am. They’re 11 and 14 now so that isn’t really a big deal anymore, but when they were 6 and 9 it threw their sleep patterns off for days.

Five years ago (this would have been 2008-2009), we decided to skip the party and have a Harry Potter movie marathon (all 5 of them at the time) instead – we’d start in the afternoon of New Years Eve, watch HP movies until bedtime, then continue the next morning. Part of the fun of this event for the boys was staying up until midnight, although Ryan was unsuccessful in that endeavour. This picture was taken December 31, 2009 at 11:59 pm:

Happy New Year!

On a bit of a whim, Gail decided to make Harry Potter-themed treats for the occasion. She made some kind of fruit punch and called it “pumpkin juice”, and cut up fruits into unusual shapes and called it a “herbology experiment”. She also made “cauldron cakes”, which were two-bite brownies covered in melted chocolate, a few mini-marshmallows, and a licorice handle:

Cauldron cakes

and the boys helped make magic wands – Twizzlers dipped in white chocolate and covered in star-shaped sprinkles:


The boys loved this, and the four of us had a lot of fun with it.

The next year, the boys asked weeks before New Years if we were going to do it again. We decided to make it a tradition, but pick a different movie series each time. The second time it was Star Trek, though we didn’t watch all of the movies. I think we started with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, then Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (with the whales), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, then Star Trek: Generations and finally the reboot of Star Trek (with Chris Pine). I would have added Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in there too, but Nicky was only 7 and Ryan 10, and I knew the scene with the bug-thing going into (and then coming out of) Chekov’s ear would freak them out. Our food selection that year included gagh (made from lo mein noodles), targ (chicken drumsticks), and Romulan ale (blue Gatorade). Inexplicably, we seem to have no pictures from this year.

For year 3 (Dec 31, 2010-Jan 1, 2011) we chose the Back to the Future series, and dined on burgers, fries, shakes, and sundaes (like in a 50’s diner), futuristic pancakes and fruit (the “food from the future” thing was tough, so Gail made pancakes in weird shapes and we bought some unusual fruits like starfruit and dragon fruit), and an old west lunch of wieners and beans.

Shakes and sundaes

The next year it was Pirates of the Carribbean, and Gail expanded things a little. Each of us had a name tag; we were Cap’n Dan Bloodbucket, “Sharkbait” Hubert Bones, Cap’n Isaac Slasher, and Eye-Gougin’ Alena Jones. We set up a scavenger hunt for the boys with pirate-themed clues, and their treasure at the end was a bag of “gold” (chocolate coins). We can’t remember the details of the food we prepared that year, but it definitely included some tropical fruits (pineapple and coconut), and apples for Captain Barbossa. I think we drank iced tea and called it rum. And once again, no pictures. I have no idea how that happened.

Last year (starting 2013) we picked the Indiana Jones series, though Gail thankfully skipped the eyeball soup and chilled monkey brains. Some of our food choices this year were Sallah’s salad (made with couscous), “snake on a stick” (chicken skewers), spicy cobra eyes (some kind of spicy chocolate covered cranberries), monkey toes (marshmallow candies), and to drink, the blood of Kali (pink lemonade). We all got name tags this year as well – I was Henry Jones Sr., Ryan was Mutt Williams, Nicky was Short Round, and Gail was Marion Ravenwood.

Snake on a stick Monkey toes Spicy cobra eyes

To welcome 2014, we picked a Superhero theme. The Avengers is one of our favourite movies, so we could easily have just chosen The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers, but Gail decided to mix things up a little. We started with The Incredibles. For dinner on New Year’s Eve we had super “hero” sandwiches, Elastigirl’s twisty salad (pasta salad made with rotini), Violet’s disappearing salad (Gail’s broccoli salad which we all love, hence “disappearing”), Cracker Jack-Jack (heh), and Underminer’s dirt cups (pudding with crushed Oreo “dirt” and gummy worms) for dessert.

Twisty salad and super heros

Our next screening was Man of Steel, which none of us had seen. Coincidentally, the movie ended around 11:50pm, so we watched Dick Clark some Times Square show (starring a bunch of people I didn’t know – what a drag it is getting old) until the ball dropped.

Have you ever tried shwarma? There's a shwarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it.The next morning, we continued our super-hero extravaganza with Spider Man (the one with Tobey Maguire), then had lunch with the Avengers. Gail had a lot of fun with this one. There was Iron Man’s chicken shwarma, Hulk’s spinach dip, Thor’s Hammer apps (cubes of cheese, pepperoni, and kielbasa with pretzel sticks as the handles), Black Widow’s spider bites (Oreos with four pieces of black licorice sticking out each side), Hawkeye wings, and Captain America’s power drink (cranberry juice, Sprite, and blue Gatorade layered in a glass).

I burned Hawkeye's wings a little.

Our final movie of the event was Green Lantern, and we went all green on this one. Green plates, cups, napkins, and cutlery, as well as green apples, grapes, and melon, and gummy frogs and sour green gummy… things.

If you know any of the four of us personally, you may wonder why we haven’t done the most obvious movie series for us to tackle: Star Wars. The answer is the food. What food do you see people eating in the Star Wars movies? There’s not much in the original trilogy (Aunt Beru’s blue milk is one possibility). Anakin, Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, and Shmi sit down to dinner in The Phantom Menace, but I don’t remember what they ate. We could always make stuff up though – a quick Google search shows things like Vader’s taters or Vader’s veggies, Yoda Soda and Qui-Gon Jinn-ger ale, Han Solo’s Rolos, light sabers (pretzel sticks with blue or red coloured icing), and Wookie’s cookies. Maybe we could revisit the chicken drumsticks from the Star Trek year and have “roasted Ewok” or something.

So what’s on the agenda for next year? We haven’t decided yet. Maybe it will be Star Wars, or maybe we’ll try Lord of the Rings. Maybe Twilight, though other than drinking “blood”, I’m not sure what we’d eat. Got any suggestions? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Horseshoe Adventure Park

Horseshoe Valley is one of the most popular skiing destinations in Ontario. But if you have a hotel that’s full all winter and empty all summer, what do you do? Easy – you set up some stuff to do in the summer, and that’s what the Horseshoe Valley people decided to do. They created Horseshoe Adventure Park and gave people a reason to come out in the summer as well. Last week, we spent my birthday there and had a fantastic day, even if the original reason we were going was not even available.

A few years ago, we started a new Christmas tradition. Each of the four of us would come up with something that we wanted to do (some sort of outing), and make up a poster about it. Then after Christmas, we’d schedule these outings throughout the year. The only rules were that it had to be less than $200 (or at least close), and it had to be close enough to make it a day trip. The first year we went snowboarding, to an aquarium in Niagara Falls, and canoeing on the Grand River near Paris. (We only did three because Gail and I coincidentally both chose canoeing.) Since then we’ve been to another aquarium, the HMCS Haida in Hamilton, a butterfly conservatory, and skating at Nathan Phillips Square.

This past Christmas, Nicky’s poster was for Horseshoe Adventure Park, which had a thing called Aqua Ogo which he was dying to do. In a nutshell, the Aqua Ogo is a big rubber ball with water in it. Two people get in the ball and then you are pushed down a hill. Here’s a video of Rick Mercer at the park riding motorbikes (which I don’t remember seeing) and the Aqua Ogo. Nicky thought this would be the greatest thing ever (and it does look like fun) and so we planned on going sometime over the summer. When Gail found a WagJag coupon to get us in at half-price, that made it even better. We ended up going on my birthday just because it was a convenient day rather than a birthday present for me.

But a couple of weeks before we went, Gail got an email from WagJag saying that the Aqua Ogo (which was included in the package we bought) had been shut down until further notice. No further details were given, but we assumed that someone had gotten injured and the ride was shut down until (a) any pending lawsuits were settled, and/or (b) the safety of the ride was improved. Nicky was pretty disappointed, but we decided to go to the park anyway.

The other major attraction was the zip line, billed as the fastest in Ontario. This was a blast. I’m not always Mr. Thrill Seeker, in that I’m too chicken nervous to bungee jump or skydive or things like that (I don’t even do tall roller coasters), and I have to admit I was a little concerned at the top of the tower that I would be terrified the whole way down. Some people find being terrified exhilarating. Not me. But no more than a few feet down the line, I realized that this was going to be fun. It went fast enough to make it fun but not so fast that I felt out of control – not that there were any brakes or any way to get control should I have needed to. Nicky and I went at the same time and as I pointed out to him at the end, I totally dusted him – without even trying. (Thanks, gravity.) Gail’s as much of a thrill seeker as I am, but she loved it as well. And thanks to the closure of the Aqua Ogo, three of us got to go a second time.

After the zip line, we wanted to try another thing called Treetop Trekking, which was basically a high ropes course through the trees. This looked fun as well, but after we filled in the waiver forms we found that reservations were strongly recommended, and we didn’t have one. Since they were fully booked for the rest of the day, we were out of luck. We had no idea that we needed to make reservations so we missed out entirely on this part of the park. Dear WagJag / Horseshoe Valley: you really should add that into the description of the attraction. The Horseshoe web site makes that clear, but the WagJag thing did not.

But this place had even more to do. There is a beautiful mini golf course built into the side of a hill. It was well-designed and well-built and had nice waterfalls and wooden fences and gardens throughout. There is a big rock-climbing wall though the boys didn’t have a chance to try it. There’s a “Euro Bungy” thing, with trampolines and bungee cords that bounce you 10+ feet in the air. There’s a big maze which is fairly easy once you figure out the secret (both boys timed themselves getting through it after they figured it out – 50 seconds for Ryan, 49 seconds for Nicky) but until then, it’s tougher than it looks and a lot of fun.

I mentioned earlier that three of us got to do the zip line twice. We each got a ticket as part of our package deal, and because the Aqua Ogo was closed, we all got the option of either a second zip line ticket or a “mining” bag, which was a bag of dirt containing small gem stones. Gail wasn’t sure she was going to want to go on the zip line twice and Nicky loves to collect rocks so Gail chose the dirt (and then Nicky walked around all day paraphrasing Captain Jack Sparrow – “I’ve got a bag o’ dirt!”). Turned out that she enjoyed the zip line enough that she could have gone again, but we had some fun using a sluice to filter out the rocks from the dirt and got a little collection of chunks of topaz, amethyst, and obsidian. The last thing we did before we had to leave was Archery Tag, which is just what it sounds like. You get a bow and some arrows, and you try to hit other people to knock them out of the game. This sounds like just about the least safe activity you can imagine, but everyone is wearing a helmet with a full face mask, and the arrows have a big cushiony thing at the point that looks like a marshmallow. This not only cushions the impact so it doesn’t hurt but it slows the arrow down significantly – enough that Ryan was able to catch one out of the air. For a while it was just me against Nicky and Ryan (with photographer Gail covering from the sidelines), and then another family joined so it was the three of us against the four of them. They were clearly more skilled at this sport than we were, since I was knocked out less than a minute into the game, and by the time the game had ended, they had knocked Nicky and finally Ryan out as well while we took out none of them. This was also a lot of fun, though I felt a little weird shooting arrows at my kids.

This isn’t the cheapest place around, but it’s not outrageous either. The package we bought would have cost us $25 each plus another $45 for three extra zip line rides. The WagJag was about $50 for the four of us and that included the extra zip line rides (and the bag o’ dirt) because of the Aqua Ogo closure. There was your standard snack bar / chip wagon, and I believe there’s a full restaurant in the hotel though we never went in there. There was even a big pavilion for some shade and lots of picnic tables around. We had a ton of fun and Gail will be scouring WagJag for a similar deal so we can go back next summer. Truth be told, we had enough fun that we’ll probably go even if we can’t find a deal, but don’t tell the Horseshoe people that.

More pictures:

Zip line View from the top of the zip line. You can just see Ryan on his way down.
Zip line - Ryan Ryan going hands-free
Zip line - Graeme Graeme going hands-free
Zip line - Nicky Nicky didn’t get the hands-free memo and is having more fun that it appears
Archery - Ryan Ryan showing fine form
Archery - Nicky Nicky prefers the crossbow stance
Maze The maze

Oh Canada! Ribfest 2013

Waterdown’s 4th Annual Oh Canada! Ribfest was a couple of weeks ago, and I almost forgot to write about it! This is hardly a disaster – probably the only person who’ll read it is me next year when we try to remember who we liked this year. Articles describing previous years are here: 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Anyway, I love this event and look forward to it all year. We had the same seven ribbers as last year, but my opinions of some were quite different. They were:

Kentucky Smokehouse – The ribs were pretty good, though the few at the very end of the rack were pretty tough. This is not unusual for ribs, but these ones were impossible to eat. The sauce had a bit of kick though, and we bought a bottle of it to take home. I believe these guys ended up second in the people’s choice awards.

Silver Bullet – These guys had our favourite sauce in previous years and this year it was still pretty good, but I found it sweeter than before. Their ribs were really good. For the third straight year, we bought a bottle of their sauce, and also bought a pound of pulled pork to take home.

Bone Daddy – My personal favourites this year. The sauce was nice and smoky and the ribs were great. I believe they won the judges voting this year.

Ribs Royale – Once again, we were somewhat disappointed with these guys. Their sauce wasn’t bad, but the ribs didn’t have much meat and were tough.

Tennessee Fatbacks – Wasn’t too impressed with them last year and no huge improvement this year. The ribs were juicy so that was good, but the sauce was kind of bland.

Camp 31 – Last year I said their sauce wasn’t as sweet as the year before, but this year it was sweeter again. The ribs weren’t great though – kind of chewy.

Boss Hog – The ribs were dry, but the sauce was good and spicy.

I just realized that I’ve written this article with the implicit assumption that sweeter sauce = bad, spicier sauce = good. That’s not always the case – some sweeter sauces are really good – and of course, it’s only my opinion, but I do tend to prefer smoky and spicy sauces over sweet ones.

We volunteered once again this year, but didn’t get off our butts to sign up until quite late, so there were only a handful of spots open that we could make. We ended up at one of the recycling tents again, and I have to say that these are a fantastic idea. There are no garbage cans in the park at all, just three or four recycling tents where people bring all of their waste. All the rib containers were made of cardboard and so they were compostable, along with all the food leftovers. All the plastic cutlery, beer cups, pop cans, and little plastic cups for sauce were recyclable, so there were blue bins for those. Even the coffee cup lids from Tim Horton’s (across the street) were recyclable and the cups themselves were compostable. Probably 95% of the time, we removed forks from the rib containers, threw the forks in the blue bin, and dropped the rest into the compost bag.

The only things that were thrown in the actual garbage were straws, plastic candy wrappers, and, ironically, the ties that held the bundles of empty compost bags together. Oh, and one used diaper. We stayed in the same tent for four hours and didn’t collect enough garbage to warrant changing the garbage bag at all. Meanwhile, I must have carried 20 four-foot-tall compost bags and 7 or 8 huge bags of recycling over to the collection area.

In previous articles, I wrote about the bands we saw playing during the day, but this year I only know of one for sure: Borrowed Time, which is my friend Ron’s band. We arrived shortly before they finished their set so I only saw a couple of songs, but they were good, especially considering they had only been together for several weeks. The oom-pah-pah band (with the great name of Subourbon Street) that’s there every year were there again, there was a guy that sang and played guitar by himself, and there was at least one band that played mostly Canadian classic rock (I distinctly remember hearing Trooper, Doug and the Slugs, and the Tragically Hip), so I enjoyed them.

It was a little cooler this year than in previous years. But that just means mid-20’s rather than mid-30’s, which was beautiful. Like I said, I look forward to this every year, and this year Waterdown is having a chili festival in September. That’s only one day rather than a whole weekend, but I’m already looking forward to that as well. Then maybe we’ll head to the Westfield ice cream festival and the Winona peach festival. You just can’t have too many festivals dedicated to food!

Lost one tree, gained another

Following are three short stories that seem quite unrelated, but they converge at the end in a wonderfully meaningful way. At least it’s meaningful for our family.

Purple-leaf sand cherryGail and I moved into our house in Waterdown in July of 1997 (the day before my 28th birthday), almost two years after we were married and two weeks before I started working at Sybase (where I still work). The next summer, we hired a landscaping designer to help us do something different with our front yard. We changed the shapes of some of the gardens and planted a bunch of new things including a euonymous bush, a standard pee gee hydrangea (which lasted about ten years before dying), a dwarf Japanese cedar that I loved (but it also died after only a year or two), and a purple-leaf sandcherry tree. The sandcherry wasn’t a sapling when we bought it – I don’t remember for sure but I have a feeling it was already 5-6 feet tall. It thrived in front of the house and we’ve loved the purple leaves and pink flowers ever since. But a couple of years ago we started to wonder if it was getting too big. Every year we had to trim off some branches and cut it back and eventually, the only branches left were huge and thick and not many actual leaves were growing on it. It was also maybe ten feet from the house, and we wondered if the roots could cause problems. By this point the top of the tree was up to the second-storey window, so it had grown quite a bit. This spring, it looked pretty sickly with mostly branches and very few leaves so we made the tough decision to take it down. Two weeks ago, Gail’s dad came down with his chain saw and we removed the tree.

In Ontario, public schools test all grade 4 students to see if they should be identified as “exceptional”, which includes things like autism, giftedness, speech impairments, as well as other physical or learning disabilities. We became familiar with this process when Ryan was identified as gifted three years ago. He continued at Allan A. Greenleaf public school (where he had been since kindergarten) for grade five, but we found he was “coasting” and not trying very hard. He just wasn’t that engaged. We decided to move him to a special class for gifted children (at a different school), and he’s been there for two years and doing pretty well.

Nicky just finished grade four at Greenleaf, and we received his test results about a month ago – he is also gifted. (Warning: proud daddy bragging ahead) In the Visual Comprehension test, the school VP said that Nicky’s score was in the 99.9th percentile “or even higher” across the entire Hamilton-Wentworth district school board. This means that on average, of every thousand kids that took the test, at most one of them scored higher than Nicky. (OK, bragging all done.) We talked to his teacher and the learning resource teacher, and they both thought the gifted class would be the best place for Nicky. We agreed, and requested that he be moved there. They offered him a spot and since Greenleaf doesn’t have a gifted class (which is why Ryan moved), Nicky will be attending Dundas Central public school in the fall. For the first time since 2003, we will have no children attending Greenleaf next year.

When Ryan started kindergarten at Greenleaf back in the fall of 2003, Gail decided she wanted to know more about the school and the community so she went out to a couple of school council meetings. You don’t need to join the council to attend the meetings so she didn’t actually join, just observed. The next year, she decided to join the council and at the first meeting agreed to be “co-chair”. The school had had co-chairs for several years and it seemed to be working fine, so they continued having two. She was co-chair the next year as well, and then in the third year, the guy who had been the other co-chair left because his kids had all moved on to high school. Someone else stepped up as co-chair for one year but after that Gail just did it herself, and has ever since. This past year was the eighth year that Gail has been chair or co-chair of the school council at Greenleaf. She knows all the teachers and staff on a first-name basis and is involved in just about every fundraiser and event that the school puts on.

The school has “free family movie night” once a month, where kids and their families and friends can come to the school on a Friday night and watch a movie. The school council sells popcorn and drinks and it’s a pretty popular event. That was Gail’s brainchild. Every February, the school holds a spaghetti dinner and silent auction, which is very popular and raises thousands of dollars for the school. Gail helped create that as well and until this past year when she was busy with her own studies, she co-ordinated the event every year. Make no mistake, Gail had lots of help from other parents and members of the council, and I’ve been volun-told myself on numerous occasions when she needed help, but nobody has done more for the Greenleaf community over the past eight years than Gail has. All the teachers love her, and if I had a nickel for every time one of them told me how great she was or how lucky I was, I’d be a wealthy man indeed.

In the words of Bill Cosby, I told you those stories to tell you this one.

On the second-last day of school this year, the librarian at Greenleaf (Nirogi) called Gail and asked her if she would come to the final assembly of the year the next morning. Gail knew that something was up, since parents don’t usually go to the end-of-school assembly. But we also knew that this would be the last day we had kids at Greenleaf, and they would likely be doing something to say goodbye to Gail. We were right. They did a little thing for each of the five or six teachers that were leaving, and then they brought Gail up. A grade eight girl who has been involved with the student council also got up and read some stuff about how much Gail has done for the school, how much they appreciate everything she’s done, and how the school won’t be the same without her. After much applause from the teachers and students, Gail got up and said a few unscripted thank-yous through tears.

But the best part is that in Gail’s honour, the school will be planting a purple-leaf sandcherry tree behind the school in the fall. Nirogi knew how much we like the sandcherry in front of our house, so that’s what she picked to plant for Gail. She didn’t even know that we had had to take ours down.

As much as we’re excited about the new opportunities awaiting Nicky next year in his new school, we’re very sad that we’re leaving the Greenleaf community. But the fact that for the next however-many years there will be a tree at the school that was planted for Gail is supremely cool. We may not have kids at the school anymore, and I don’t know if there’ll be a plaque or anything near the tree with her name on it, but we’ll know. And every now and again we’ll stop in at the school for no other reason than to see Gail’s tree.