Monday, July 27, 2009

Thank you Taz...

I live in the city with the biggest annual mosquito-fighting budget in the country. I know, I know... something to be envious of, no?? And five years ago, we hired a new entomologist, Taz Stuart, to lead our annual battle to kill the little buggers before they kill our summer. It was quite the score to get him here - we snatched him right out from under the nose of the capital city of our neighboring province, in fact.

And regardless of those who can't live if they're not complaining, I'd have to say he's done a stand up job. Sitting in our back yard, despite the odd surviving pest, it's easy to forget that our ancestors settled on a flood plain... a flood plain with extensive marshlands scattered around to boot.

You really have to leave the city once in a while to truly appreciate what Taz does.

I got my chance this past weekend at the cottage. While it IS possible to marinate in enough mosquito spray to survive relatively unscathed, the number of mosquitoes in the "pristine" wilderness areas of the province are mind-blowing.

My husband and I were sitting down on the beach Saturday - watching the tail end of the sunset across the smooth surface of the water. It was a beautiful and serene moment, enjoying a little casual conversation, soaking up the end of the day.... kids already settled in the cabin.

Until we stopped talking. And in the silence that should have been, we heard a low, vibrating hum from the forest at our backs.

And realized, that if you sat still enough, you could actually FEEL the buzz of the millions of mosquitoes all around us.


So back in the city last night, in the back yard with the dog - sans mosquito spray even! All I could think was "Thank you Taz!"

(and I wonder how many mosquito-eaters we could fill per hour at the cottage.... do you think there's a Guinness record for that yet?)

Spreading his Wings

Since taking the leap and finally mastering TWO wheels on our recent vacation, my youngest boy has been itching to join his big brother... to have the freedom, and trust, to be able to ride to school (well, daycare right now) in the mornings.

And his grin says it all - he's THRILLED.

And I know you can't see my face.... if you could, you'd know I'm every bit as terrified as he is excited!
But how could I say no? We've told him all along that the only reason he can't ride to school (and his brother can) was that he hadn't ditched the training wheels yet. Now I'm wishing we'd said it was because he wasn't 10 yet or something....
He's my baby boy.... and, to me, so much younger than the 17 months separating him from his older brother. My oldest has been riding to school, as often as weather permits, since the snow melted away for good. I'm his mom too... so yeah, I have a little fear inside me for him as well.... that inner maternal voice that whispers of all the scary things (like maniac drivers) that could harm our babies when they're out of our protective sight - but I trust him to be aware of his surroundings at least and make the journey across a couple of larger streets, safely.

My little man though? No so aware.

He's always been really good at focusing on what's got his attention.... but it's also always been an all-consuming thing for him. He focuses on things to exclusion of all else around him.

I remember him as a toddler.... enthralled by something on the television.... and my husband and I, and my parents, yelling and stomping and TRYING to get his attention to move to us - even for a second.

We couldn't.

It was so bad that we actually took him to have his hearing tested because we were afraid he might be deaf! (They insist he isn't deaf....apparently his ABILITY to hear is perfect - he just doesn't see or hear when he's focused on something else!).

That's just a mildly frustrating thing for us and his teachers to deal with on a daily basis.... but it could be a very dangerous thing for him if he's concentrating on staying upright or focusing on the feel of riding and doesn't see or hear an approaching vehicle.... or notice an upcoming cross street in time to stop and look before cruising across.

So it scares me. But I couldn't break his heart - so, under the protection of his big brother, I let him go. TOGETHER (only together).

And he's beyond thrilled with his taste of finally being "big enough".

(I just need to control my urge to follow along behind in the van - it would kinda squelch the joy for him, no? Bad enough I can't help but drive the route 20 minutes behind them and pass the school just to see the two bikes safely locked in place!)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spruce Woods, Spirit Sands

So here it is: A snap-shot of our vacation.

When I actually sat down to go through the pictures, I found that I'd only taken 146. One hundred & forty-six?? That's a good 300 or so less than Mexico... and only half of what I took on the way to Marineland. I can't believe all the things I have NO pictures of.... like pictures of our campsite - we had such a great site and set-up.... and it shows up in hardly a picture.

I AT LEAST should have taken photographic evidence of the raccoons' night time raids to our dining tent... how will the charges ever hold up when the rangers finally catch up to them with no photographic evidence?? Let's see.... 3 bananas, 6 apples, 6 ears of corn.... and the oranges - well they didn't actually EAT the oranges but they rolled them around like bowling balls and bruised them all up. We should charge them with the bag of marshmallows.... but since my husband caught them red-handed during a DAYTIME raid... dragging them away from our site into the bush.... and actually managed to take back the bag from one very annoyed raccoon, I suppose no harm no foul.... but still - no pictures?

I didn't get any of us bike-riding.... and we did a TON of riding around the campground - my youngest boy FINALLY mastered a two-wheeler during the trip! Way to go my boy!! And I have none of the kids on the camp play-ground, or us mini-golfing or canoeing (I'd MEANT to take pictures of canoeing... our camera was safely tucked in a plastic bag to come along... but stayed on the seat of the van where I forgot it when we left). And the water park!! I didn't get a single picture of the water park??

I'll call the missing photos a direct testament to how much fun I was having.... too involved to stop and take pictures. That sounds so much better than I forgot the camera in the tent - or was reading a book.... or taking a nap and didn't bother ;)

But you know what the most glaringly obvious omission is among the pictures I DID take?? Me. There's not a single picture of ME. I'm the ghost behind the camera... missing from my family's vacation memories. As much as I HATE having my picture taken, I NEED to hand off the camera once in a while so that I can be IN the memories too... I don't want to be missing from my children's scrap-books when they're older because I never bothered to make sure I was on the other side of the lens once in a while! And I forget who I was reading the other day... but they made a comment (on the subject of hating having their picture taken) to the tune of "if I'd known what I would look like now, I would have treasured more having my pictures taken when I was 40!". So really, if it's only going to get worse as the calendar advances, I should LOVE having my picture taken now - right??

Any how, enjoy the pictures - I'll try to be "present" next time!

Life's a Beach

Our camp ground had such a great beach for kids.... the water was cool, but shallow enough to pick up heat from the sun during the day - and the most beautiful sandy bottom! I've never been to an ox-bow lake before.... those old river bottoms are great!

We spent time there pretty much every day... it was great to do a day trip (or sweaty hike) in the morning, and then cool off and chill at the beach in the afternoons.

For the boys, it was all about the swimming, the water guns and the water wars they could get into with other like-minded kids..... we could watch them - but they wouldn't come out for hours at a time.

And for my girl, it was all about making "mud puddles" on the beach to jump in. She liked building sand castles with Daddy... and said she liked swimming with Mommy - but she'd turn into a Popsicle less than 5 minutes after hitting the water - so my job was pretty easy... 5 minutes of "swimming" and then she'd beg to be wrapped up in a towel (which would end up being all 5 of our towels) so she could lay in the sun, on the grassy area where we set up, to get warm. Once "warming" in the sun, she'd fall asleep for her 2+ hours of afternoon nap, and then it was time to enjoy a book on the beach... or, if you're my husband, fall asleep right beside her. She was so easy.... cute when she was awake enjoying it all - but a lovely break for us when she slept!

We loved our regular "beach time" too ;)

How to Hike in Style... toddler edition.

We saved our actual hike through the desert for our second last day. It was a gruelling 3 kms of trail (on the path we chose) that worked out to (or felt like!) at least 5 due to the deep sand and huge hills & dips along the route.

Shwooo! We took along a dozen bottles of water and finished our last drops as we were coming back out.... exhausted.... and with enough sand in our shoes to open our own beach. I remember my little man moaning at me during the last 1/2 km: "Mom, I have 2 things to say to you; first, what is your problem? and second, why are you trying to KILL me?!?".

The only one not completely DEAD by the end of it was the girl. I guess life's alot easier when you're the baby and you only weigh 30-odd pounds. Without the benefits of a REAL back-pack for kids (like the ones Backpacking Dad & others sport)... and knowing there was no way we could piggy-back her all the way through, we emptied out our sturdy, framed and padded day-pack and made it available to her. She could snuggle-down right inside it easily, but turns out she loved the view from standing in it and hanging on to the loops of the shoulder straps much better. Daddy became her very own pack-mule for the day! Although she wanted out for the "fun" parts, she did precious little walking of her own.

We met so many other people at view points and along the trails.... and there were more than a few chuckles from them over-hearing her "cheering him on" (especially up steep embankments). "Go Daddy! You're almost there Daddy.... up, up! Daddy! You DID it! Good Job Daddy!" (OMG, she was a riot to listen to.... as he was panting and sweating to make it to the top of yet another rise.)

Still, despite the effort, the views were absolutely worth it. I had no idea we had a place like this so close to "home". Amazing. No wonder the natives held these "Spirit Sands" as a sacred place.

Magic Fire

Camping wouldn't be complete without campfires... and thanks to my hard-working husband we had one going almost constantly during our trip. We cooked over it regularly (which was precipitated by the untimely death of our travel BBQ, sure.... but worked out just fine and turned out to be a pretty cool way to go) and roasted marshmallows on it more nights than not, but the coolest thing we came across on our trip were these little packets of "magic fire" that were sold at the camp store.

For $2.50 you could have at least 45 min of super-cool magic flames! They came up in green, blue, purple, white and pink... as well as the standard orange & yellow fare. The kids got such a kick out of it (us too)! And as relaxing as it is to just drop your tired body into a chair and stare at the dancing flames of a camp fire at the end of a day, the pretty colors add a real element of fun to it.

Good times!

Meet Bruce

Another day trip had us travelling to the provincial fossil museum.... "Bruce" is the largest and most complete Mosasaur skeleton found and is pretty impressive. This trip was right up my oldest's alley.... he loved all the displays*. And it was cool to see a pre-history exhibit that focused on OUR home.... we were under-water around here at the time of the dinosaurs, so all the local fossil beds are full of marine life - including some pretty scary "swimming sharp-tooths".

Since we figured an actual trip out to some live digs and a chance to do some excavating would be a bit much for our youngest, we topped of this day with a pic-nic lunch at another park along the way and spent the afternoon at a local water-park instead. No complaints from any of the kids on that one.

*(I KNOW how excited my boy was to be here... and I'm trying to reconcile that with the expression on his face in the picture with Bruce. WHY do kids think they're only "cool" if they're looking grumpy in a picture? Or maybe that's his attempt at serious/cool? Sheesh...)

Saddle up!

Here we go again on the horse-back riding.... since it's a favorite activity for 4 of 5 us (my oldest can take it or leave it - preferably leave it), a family vacation in a scenic local wouldn't be complete without it.

The outfitters closest to our campground were an awesome choice.... although kids under 10 weren't allowed out on the trails, they were happy to keep the kids and give them pony rides around the extensive yard while the parents went out riding. How cool is that? Free childcare while you get away and go riding?? Umm, heck ya! We had a great time - and they had a blast.

And talk about a small world.... My SIL's sister worked at the campground where we were staying - we got a morning visit from her each day on her rounds.... and when we returned to the yard from our horse-back ride, she was there chatting with our kiddos - turns out the lady who owns the ranch is a close friend of hers. Love those little surprises.... small, small world.

I'm annoyed with myself that I only brought home a few pictures of the kids riding.... trying to figure out why I bothered to ride for an hour with a camera in my back pocket if I wasn't going to bother to pull it out and use it! Ah well, we'll chalk it up to being too busy enjoying myself to remember to capture it....

Devil's Punchbowl

On one of our earlier days, we took a covered wagon ride out into the protected habitat along the edge of the Spirit Sands desert. It was a much more comfortable way to finally catch a glimpse of the REAL DESERT we'd assured the kids REALLY WAS next door to our campground. The guide (driver) was awesome and very informative about all the local flora, fauna and environment. The tour included a stop with fairly easy access to climb up and over-look the dunes, and also a stop at the "Devil's Punchbowl" ... which is a really weird-colored pocket of water that was formed by some strange geological circumstance to do with a river running through a desert.... or something.... I was on vacation and didn't pay attention.

Horsing Around

With no real agenda and plenty of time to spend, we took the opportunity to stop at playgrounds that the kids spotted along the way. It was a real treat for them to have us say "SURE!" instead of "no, we can't right now" every time they spotted a playground out the window (like we have to do at home on a regular basis).

I didn't get pictures from every place we stopped, but this one had some cool little features.... like this 3-seater gliding horse (that my 10 year old may, or may not, forgive me for making him pose on with his younger siblings, lol).

It was just nice to stop and play... and let everyone get some "hang time" ;)

Swingin' It!

Visiting the Swinging Bridge in Souris was pretty cool.... I had no idea that the longest historic swinging bridge in Canada was in our own backyard! The kids got such a kick out of it.... they kept asking if we could go back and see it again in the following days.

It was kind of scary if you ask me! The thing totally bounces with every step you take and sways with the breeze a little above the river below. The bouncing and swaying are compounded by jerk husbands who run across and encourage their children to jump up and down and try to scare the hell out of Mom*.

*avoid bringing if at all possible (the jerk husband I mean)

**someone remind me later that I still owe him for this.

Rock Hounding

One of our day trips took us to a rock quarry just south of a nearby town. The rock shop associated with it had quite the display of unusual and semi-precious stones that could be found there.... including fossils.

My kids managed to find alot of ROCKS. Well, maybe one that *could* be a plant fossil... and my husband scored a piece of fossilized wood.... but mostly it was just a fun day climbing a huge pile of stones and collecting 30 lbs of new rocks to add to the kids' collections. Yay.

Nice way to spend a cloudy day though.... kept everyone busy for a while and the kids loved thinking they were finding priceless treasures!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kudos to ME!

Well, having decided to skip the summer fair pictures (because really, how exciting is it for you all to see mundane pics of other people's kids riding standard carnival rides anyway?), I've now posted updates from this acutal month that I'm in.

Granted, they're Canada Day posts.... which are probably already relegated to page 3 on the blogs of my fellow Canuks who actually POST on a regular basis - but what the heck, at least I'm in July now!

Points for me, right?

(although I know I won't have my mother off my back until the vacation posts are up!)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Canada Day at the Races

My Grandmother joined us for Canada Day.... something for her to do and an extra pair of eyes for us as we invariably end up losing at least one kid, at least for part of the time, as they race off on their own agendas - typically in 3 completely different directions.

She's sitting, appropriately, in one of our Canada chairs... watching my kids go nuts in the bouncers that they had set up for a family fun day at the local horse racing track.

This is her - but that's not her hat. Just in case you think my Grandma's always stylin' like that (I though I'd let you know - she'd appreciate it!). That's my daughter's hat.... the hat she didn't need on her own head because she was too busy inside the bouncers.

Family Fun days at the races ROCK. They set up bouncers, pony rides, a petting zoo and face painting.... plus the structure and play ground that are always there - and it's all FREE!! You can't get a more fun afternoon on that dime!

*You'll see by the stunning number of pictures involving actual race horses, that we spent quite a bit of time watching the actual races.... and not tied up indefinitely in play area.

Bouncin' Good Times

We LOVE family fun days at the races.... and the fact that they were holding one on our National Holiday was a no-brainer for our family to attend.

My kids love all the activities (as much as their parents love the FREE aspect!)... especially the bouncers.

They could stay in there all day.

I don't blame them ;)