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It was all just a Bloor: our trip to Toronto.

Miss me?

We’re all back now safe and sound from our summer vacation: a trip “down east” to visit my wife’s relatives. We made it! I knew there was an excellent chance we’d forget something along the way, and sure enough…

There are two kinds of vacations out there: those where you sit around and just relax and unwind, and those where you run around and see a bunch of things. I like both kinds. Last summer was definitely a “sit around and do nothing” kind of vacation, and I loved it. We spent a couple of weeks at my wife’s parent’s cottage and it was perfect. For the most part, I prefer the “run around and sightsee” kind of holiday, especially if it is some place I haven’t been before. I’m a city mouse, not a country mouse, I guess.

This holiday was a weird kind of hybrid where we raced around but didn’t really see much of anything. It was as if Marla’s relatives were hell-bent on us having a “nice relaxing time” and wouldn’t rest until we had gone everywhere we could have possibly gone to rest and visit, only to pick ourselves up again and be off to the next place. We’ve been to Toronto many times before, so there wasn’t alot of new sightseeing to be done, and with a three year old your priorities shift. No trip to Kleinburg, no Blue Jays games. Next time!

I didn’t mind, really. I knew it would be this kind of holiday before we left. Our three-year old daughter has two cousins who were born six months on either side of her, and they’ll never be this age again, so it was important to do this trip now. I could make a ton of arguments about saving this money or putting into the much talked about basement renovations, but the truth of the matter is, we won’t get this chance to visit with that side of family in quite this way again. Also, Marla’s Uncle Richard, who is almost 80, and Aunt Lynn, who just turned 70, are not getting any younger too. Uncle Richard once told me, years ago, that in all the years that he worked for a living, the only things he remembers are the summer vacations he took with his family. That stuck with me.

Originally, this was going to be a road trip. Aside from having a slight aversion to flying, I just like the idea of road trips. Flying somewhere seems like you’re cheating a little bit. When you’ve gone somewhere on a road trip, you feel like you’ve earned it. You see highway signs for your destination (TORONTO 396 km) and you find memorable stops along the way. Also, psychologically it feels cheaper, although when you factor in gas, accommodations, and meals I don’t know how much you’re actually saving vs. airfare and car rental.

But the thought of actually spending three long days in our car with our daughter didn’t seem fair to anyone, and the icing on the cake was when my wife, casually over supper one night, announced that her Mom was coming with us.

“What? I mean….great.”

That tipped the scales towards flight.

We have friends who fly routinely for work. To them, it’s just a slightly different commute and has become second nature for them. For us, it took a bit more out of us. You’re allowed one piece of checked luggage each, plus two carry-ons, but if you’re a child, you also get to take one piece of “child equipment” along with you. This can be either a car-seat or a pack ‘n play thing. We opted to bring the car seat because on a previous trip we relied on the kindness of the strangeness of a  car rental place and we went with the “house model”.

Big mistake.

The car seat looked like it had been dropped or maybe even been in an accident. The fasteners didn’t seem to want to work with the hooks in the backseat of the rental, and the only way we really secured it was by pushing the passenger seat back as far as it would go so that we kind of wedged it in there. It was totally unsafe and I’m really surprised my wife went for it. Also, the car was total shit, but that’s another story. The accelerator vibrated your entire leg when you pressed down and the cruise control didn’t work.

So we decided to bring our own car seat. I was convinced that we were going to leave it somewhere. I mean, how often do you think about your car seat? Bringing it with you when you park your car makes about as much sense as bringing the seatbelts or steering wheel. It becomes a fixture, and sure enough, when my Mom dropped us off at the airport in our car at 4:00 am (don’t ask) we were halfway to the check in counter before we realized the car seat was still in the back. We raced back just as my Mom was about to pull away. Close one.

The flight went surprisingly well. I think it had to do with the early hour, but our daughter sat quietly and watched a little tv and then read a couple of books, sat up when cookies and apple juice were offered and snuggled in for a little rest. It was only the last little bit of the flight that she got a little restless, but you can’t ask for much more from a three-year old.

The only real snag was when we went to collect our luggage and headed off to the car rental place. We were almost out of the luggage area when we realized….”Car Seat!”. We had to go track down the oversized luggage area and collect it. Another close one!

Actually fastening it into our rental took more energy than I was prepared to exert. These rental places in airports always seem to be in the gloomiest, shadowy dungeons of parking garages. And do you think I could get the car seat in? Imagine the scenario. My wife, my mother-in-law, and my daughter are all standing around a pile of luggage in this dimly lit hell as I fight and swear and stretch to make it work. The most maddeningly thing of all was that I got one clasp attached almost immediately, so I knew it was supposed to work. There was the well dressed, all smiles, car rental guy who was trying to up sell me a GPS, roadside assistance and additional insurance, not to mention a larger model of car, but he was nowhere to be found, of course, even though his parting words to me were “If you have any questions or need any help, I’ll be here.” He wasn’t, of course.

“You sure you can fit all that luggage in that car?” he said to me a few minutes before. “Even that stroller?” “You sure you don’t want an SUV? It’s only $10 more per day.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll fit.”

It would fit all right, as long as I could get this FUCKING car seat latched properly. My hands were shaking, I hadn’t had any breakfast, I was working on three hours sleep the night before and my entire shirt was drenched with sweat AND I was trying to keep my cool in front of my mother-in-law. I collapsed in exhaustion the backseat after about 10 minutes of futility.

“Are you okay? What’s the hold up?” was the helpful comment from my wife at this point.

“I, can’t, get, this, FUCKING, seat, in, right.” was all I could manage.

“Or for God’s sake let me have a go.”

And so I did. She didn’t have any more luck than I did, and for one crazy moment I debated about whether I could actually drive safely with only one latch on. I actually voiced this aloud, and the wordless look I got from my wife gave me my answer. At the very least, the few minutes of her struggle gave me a chance to recover a bit.

Now we were both sweaty.

And still only one latch on.

I climbed back in and worked at it some more. It seemed like this car never had a car seat in it, which is probably true, so the latches were all super tight and hard to get to, not to mention there was ZERO light to work by, but after another five minutes of wrangling I heard that magic “snap” and all was well.

“That car seat stays in until we return this car next week”. No one disagreed.

Amazingly, when it was time to return the car ten days later, it came out in two seconds. Once we were home we remembered to go to the oversized luggage first and collect the car seat. My Mom met us and we thought we were all doing so well when got out to her vehicle and tossed the car seat in the back. Home again! It was not until we got home from the airport and were about to settle in for the night when I spoke up. “Um, where’s the stroller?”

You guessed it! Despite all the diligence we showed in making sure the car seat made its way home, we somehow forgot the stroller at the airport!

I drove back with my Mom and asked the security guy if there was a lost and found.

“Are you the stroller guy?” Great, so now I’m famous.

The security guy continued, “We made an announcement a while ago, we figured you got the kid but left the stroller. You wouldn’t believe the kind of stuff that gets left behind. Somebody even left a car seat once. Those things are expensive! Your stroller should be over in luggage services.”

And so it was.

“I wish the world was flat like the old days
Then I could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways
There’d be no distance that could hold us back.” Death Cab for Cutie

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The World is Quiet Here

My brilliant daughter. Okay, you can't PROVE that she didn't build this sandcastle, can you?

Well, we’ve just had two delightful weeks vacationing up at my in-law’s cottage. Their cottage is located on beautiful Lake Winnipeg about 40 minutes north of the city. Rather than attempt a road trip this year, as is our usual goal for the summer, we instead opted for a stationary holiday. Some of the time we spent with friends, some of it was just my wife and daughter and me, and the rest of the time was spent with the in-laws in attendance. I wasn’t sure how I would like two solid weeks of doing basically nothing. Usually, I get the itch to get on the road to somewhere, anywhere in the spirit of Jack Kerouac or Paul Theroux, but this year Kerouac’s “Big Sur” and Theroux’s “Tao of Travel” had to be travel surrogates for me. As it turned out, this type of holiday was the perfect tonic for me, and as I return to work tomorrow, I feel refreshed, rested, and better than I have in months.

This beats work, doesn't it?

Even though I’ve been up there for two weeks, and I’ve been going to this cottage for over a decade, there are a few lingering things about the place that I don’t quite get:

I think I’ve finally figured out the local political structure of this particular cottage country. Their cottage is in the Village of Dunnottar. They even have a website. But there is actually no place called Dunnottar. It’s actually made up of three smaller communities. What’s smaller than a village? A hamlet? A macbeth? Anyway, there are three smaller communities called Matlock, Whytewold, and Ponemah and I believe that all three together make up the Village of Dunnottar.

But I’m not entirely sure.

I’m even not entirely sure which of the communities my in-law’s cottage is in. I’m pretty sure its not Ponemah, and I’m quite sure it’s not Whytewold, but I’m not convinced its actually in Matlock either. If there’s such a thing as a no-man’s land between Matlock and Whytewold, then I suppose that’s where the cottage is.

One other bit of uncertainty is how you pronounce the damn place. Is it “Done Otter”, like the sea creature, or Done ‘OTar, like the stuff you put on roofs and roads? My in-laws don’t seem to know and will argue about this for quite some time.

One thing I do like is that every garbage can in the area is labeled V.O.D. for Village of Dunnottar, I suppose. Two things strike me about this. First, who’s going to steal a garbage can? and Secondly, I always misread this as V.F.D. and I imagine that we are inside Lemony Snicket’s world at the cottage. Part of me likes the possibility of bumping into the Beaudelaire orphans on the beach or maybe spotting Count Olaf or Esme Squalor hiding in the bushes.

The World Is Quiet Here

Another thing that is unique to this part of the lake is the number of piers that jut out into the water at regular intervals. I suppose the idea is that the shore can be quite rocky, so if you walk out over the water a bit, then you’ll hit lovely sand for your daily splash. There are private piers and public piers, but no one I’ve talked to really understands where they come from, who assembles them in the spring, and who takes them away in the fall. Our friend, Karl, who happens to be a civil engineer was appalled at their shoddy construction and had his wife convinced that they could collapse at any moment, effectively keeping her shore-bound for the afternoon they spent with us. I’m no engineer, but they seem pretty sturdy to me. I may not be able to handle 3D movies, but when it comes to Lake Winnipeg piers, I’m no cupcake.

Looks sturdy enough...

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