Category Archives: Family

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.

Ten awesome things about Fern Resort

Our family travels with a couple of other families to Fern Resort for a week every August, and we’ve done this for the past 11 years. We love our week at Fern, not only because the food is great and there’s lots to do, but also because we’re all so familiar with the place so the kids have a lot more freedom there than they generally do.

Other than the obvious “someone else making meals for you”, “you don’t need to clean up”, “lots of fun things to do” which are true for Fern and many other resorts, here are ten awesome things unique to Fern, in no particular order:

1. Peanut butter pie

A creamy peanut-butter-flavoured pie with a chocolate crust and whipped cream and chocolate syrup on top. Nothing else to say but OM NOM NOM.

2. Mike Stewart

Mike has been the sports director at Fern forever. If you have ever been to Fern, you have met Mike. If you’ve been a few times, he likely knows your name. He runs tennis, volleyball, basketball, badminton, bocce, shuffleboard, all the trivia games, and more. He is also the MC and one of the performers for the Show Time! show (see below). He’s friendly, he’s outgoing, he’s helpful, he’s LOUD, he’s always smiling, and he don’t take no crap from nobody. He’s got a lot of good stories – ask him about the time he bought the Zamboni. Another good one is when a guest and her husband asked him to join them for… well, he may not tell you all of that one.

3. The Bad Boys line, the Irie line, the No Problem line, the Go Get a T-Shirt line, and the O Canada line

You haven’t played bingo until you’ve played bingo called by an frenetic Jamaican dude with big mirrored sunglasses. Crazy D is the bingo king of Fern. Bingo can be a pretty boring game but when Crazy D is calling it, it’s always fun. He’s got more energy than half the Playvillage and always gets people pumped and excited about N34 and G49.

4. Four-way beach volleyball

This is an absolute must for me every year – Monday at 1:30. Standard beach volleyball except that there are four courts arranged in a square with nets between them in a cross. You can serve and return the ball to any of the other courts. Always a fun game even when there’s eleven or twelve people per team, all playing at the same time.

5. Rolls and honey

Putting honey on fresh squishy rolls is definitely a Fern thing. Every year we buy a dozen rolls and some honey to bring home.

6. The kids programs

If this list was in order of importance, this might be #1. Kids from 0 to 17 have programs specifically for them run by counsellors who are fun and friendly and outgoing. For kids 0-6, we have the Playvillage. There’s a nursery for babies, an area for toddlers with swings and stuff, a big climbing structure, a ball pit, diggers, a track for motorized jeeps, a couple of trampolines, a water play area, a little amphitheatre for shows, and the “craft caboose”, where they make all kinds of crafts. They have snacks, go for walks around the resort, and take a tractor ride called the Honey Bee Express. I have to say it’s awfully cute seeing a bunch of 3-6 year olds on the Honey Bee waving to everyone and singing their “mighty mighty Playvillage” song. The best part is that the Playvillage is open from 6-7:30pm, which is (not coincidentally) during dinner, so you can feed your kids from 5:30-6:00, take them to Playvillage, then enjoy a nice relaxing kid-free dinner, knowing that your kids are being cared for and are having fun.

There are also Junior programs (7-9), Youths (10-12), and Teens (13-17). They do lots of sports and other activities, crafts (tie-dye T-shirts are very popular), practice skits or songs for Show Time, and sometimes just hang out and chill. This year the Juniors and Youths began programs during dinner times so parents of kids that are too old for Playvillage can have a quiet kid-free dinner as well.

7. Chocolate monkeys

Invented by Lou, who’s been a bartender at Fern for 29 years. Creme de Cacao, Creme de Banane, ice cream, half a banana, and chocolate syrup. Yummy. The kids can get a virgin one that’s just as good.

8. The guest video and Show Time

There’s a photographer / videographer walking around the resort all day every day. On Thursday night they show a video with lots of pictures and video of volleyball games, water skiing, dancing on the pool deck, kids playing at Playvillage, pedal carts, swimming, rock wall climbing, golf, tennis, and all of the other Fern activities. It’s fun to look for people in your group, and of course the kids love looking for pictures of themselves. After the video is Show Time, a lip-sync show hosted by Mike Stewart and performed by the staff including sports, Playvillage, and kitchen people, the odd manager, and even the owner’s kids. Some of them are well-choreographed dance numbers while others are comedy songs that have everyone in stitches. Either way, it’s a lot of fun and the talent of the staff is evident.

9. Mushball

Baseball with a mushy mini-soccer ball rather than an actual baseball so no gloves are needed. The staff play on one team, the guests on the other, and I’ve seen guest teams with 40 people. This makes for a long ad-hoc batting order that frequently changes between innings. Despite being vastly outnumbered and intentionally “blowing” plays involving small children (“Oh look, he dropped the ball, Ashley! Run to first, quick!”), the staff wins every week… or so they tell us. The game was a little different this year since they introduced paintball which happens at the same time, so all the teens were out doing that. The guest team this year consisted of about 5 adults and 20-30 kids under 12.

10. The Downings

With most resorts, the owner is an invisible corporation but Fern is a family business. The Downing family have owned and operated Fern for over 100 years, and the current generation running the place consists of Mark Downing and his sister Laura. Mark, Laura, and their respective spouses and daughters are frequently seen around the resort, and a couple of the girls are old enough now to work there. Mark is as friendly a guy as you’ll ever meet, and both he and Laura host (and tend bar at) a cocktail party on Thursday nights specifically for alumni (i.e. guests who have been to Fern several times) where the drinks and snacks are free. Mark’s father Robert is retired but you still seem him around the resort, driving his golf cart labelled “Robbie’s Rocket”.

Halloween Pumpkins 2010

We had a good crop of pumpkins this year. Each of us did one and then I did a second one. Ryan actually stuck his hand inside the pumpkin and pulled the guts out! First time ever! Nicky was not so brave – he didn’t want to get his hands messy, so Gail had to clean his out. We do not have mud-pie kids.

Halloween was dead this year! I’ve written this entire blog entry without being interrupted once by kids at the door – and it’s currently 8:45. We bought a box of 95 mini chocolate bars and still have about 1/4 left – and I was giving two out to each kid. Didn’t even open the second box. Our first year in this house, we went through almost three boxes @ 1 per kid.


My Toronto Rock pumpkin. I printed out an image of the logo and Gail and I (mainly Gail) figured out how I could carve it into the pumpkin.
SmileyPumpkin Yes, I’m a geek. ;-)
GailsKitty Gail did the kitty cat from a template, but added the stars herself.
RyansWelcome Ryan carved this one himself from a template. Pretty tricky.
NickysSkull This was from a template as well, but once his pumpkin was cleaned out, Nicky carved it himself.

Ian McAdam

Last summer, our family travelled to England and Scotland and while in Scotland, we met up with a number of aunt, uncles, and cousins of mine. We spent a great evening with my cousin Ian and his wife Lesley at the racetrack in Hamilton – I wrote about it here (July 11). Last week, Ian passed away suddenly. He was only 45.

Ian was quite a character – charming and very outgoing with lots of personality, but not to the point of being obnoxious. Well, not usually, anyway. We didn’t really know each other very well since we lived on different continents our whole lives, but whenever I saw him, he always treated me like we were best friends. I was unaccustomed to this. I grew up in Canada, while all my aunts, uncles, and cousins live in Scotland and England. Whenever I did travel to Scotland or they travelled here, there was always some awkwardness because we were family but didn’t really know each other. Ian didn’t care about that – we were cousins, and so when we were together, we were going to have a good time. The night we went to the racetrack, I think Ian felt like the host – this was his country and his town (he saw a few friends of his while we were there), and so he was going to make absolutely sure we had a great time. And he succeeded.

We were visiting my Aunt Sandra in the morning when Ian called looking for us. He suggested we go to the racetrack while Aunt Sandra babysat his girls and our boys. When we arrived at the racetrack, there were hundreds of other people there as well, and the lines for food were very long. We were hungry, but we didn’t want to wait in the long lines, so we decided we’d get dinner later. We went and got our betting forms and some drinks, since the drink lines were much shorter. Ian and I got beer, Lesley got wine, and Gail just had water. Ian asked if she wanted wine or beer or something else instead but Gail said no because alcohol can affect the medication she takes for her diabetes. Gail has Type 2 diabetes and it’s completely controlled by the medication – she doesn’t need insulin shots, and she’s pretty much free to have whatever food (sugary or not) that she wants. Once Ian heard that Gail was diabetic, he got an idea. He asked what Gail wanted to eat and Gail said that the BBQ pork sandwich sounded pretty good. Ian said “I’ll be right back” and dashed off towards the food stand. He returned just a few minutes later with a couple of sandwiches and a couple of orders of fries chips. We asked how he got them so quickly with such a long lineup, and he just said “don’t ask”. We suspected that he had run up to the front of the line and shouted “I have a diabetic woman who needs food right now!”, which was technically true, if a bit misleading – it’s not like she was in danger of passing out if she didn’t eat right away. Gail and I felt a little guilty eating when others were still waiting in line, but we were pretty hungry and the food was good so the guilt didn’t last long.

My mother reminded me of a similar event that happened when Ian came to Canada as a teenager for a visit. We went on a day trip to Niagara Falls. While walking around Clifton Hill, Ian went into a candy shop, mainly because of the pretty girl behind the counter. He talked to her for a little while and managed to talk her into giving him free fudge, but not just a bite or two – he came out of the shop with fudge for all of us.

Ian was a big guy with a big personality and an even bigger heart. From our conversations that night, I know that Ian was very proud of his 20-year-old son Martin and adored his two little girls, Alexis (7) and Zarah (3). As I said we didn’t know each other well, and he had only met Gail twice, but there was no question in my mind that Ian would have moved heaven and Earth to help us if we needed it, because we were family and that’s all that mattered. I know he holds a special place in my sister’s heart as well. He will be very much missed by his Canadian cousins.