Friday Two Cents: If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade


 

This past week in Ontario many elementary and high schools were out for the annual March/spring break. In previous years I have always worked during this week at various afterschool programs, yet this year I had the need to take the week off. I didn’t want to go somewhere far-flung or exotic, I just wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the students. Don’t get me wrong I adore the children but I was feeling a bit rundown and I needed sometime to be alone with my thoughts. To chill out, ironically speaking.

I decided to take a mini vacation to Niagara Falls and more importantly the Niagara Wine country. I live in the Toronto area and Niagara Falls is only a 1½-hour drive but I have never seen the falls in the winter. Besides I love visiting the wineries in the area for some wine tasting. It would also be a great opportunity to do some drawing and hopefully get inspired.
However Mother Nature had other plans this past week. I left for my vacation on Monday and of course that is the day when a winter storm just happens to blow into southern Ontario.   I am only few kilometers into the trip when the storm really picks up. With high winds and lake-effect snow traffic literally comes to a halt. I continue but the traffic is moving about 5 – 10 km/hr. The slowdown is mind numbing and it is all due to the weather. The truly amazing thing was that after I traveled past the city of Hamilton the weather clears up. It was eerie. On the east side of the highway, the lakeside, you can see the blowing snow and dark clouds yet on the west side of the highway the sun was setting and it was clear. It felt like I was driving through the eye of the storm or at least the edge of it. I arrived at the hotel safely yet the normally 1½-hour drive took 4½hrs!
I was stressed worst then before I left. So much for my relaxing vacation. However I was able to have a great meal at the casino and then soak in the hot tub after. I could feel the stress just melting away in the Jacuzzi. Especially since I could see that the storm had reached Niagara Falls and I was safe inside.
The next day the storm was in full force but that did not stop me. I was prepared with winter gear and I went for a walk to the Falls in the middle of the storm. I was able to get a few nice photos and I was able to talk to a few people who I met there. Yes just call me Mr. Sociable.  

Panoramic view of Niagara Falls during the Winter Storm.

Panoramic view of Niagara Falls after the Winter Storm.

Panoramic view of Niagara-on-the-lake after the Winter Storm.

I for one do not like the winter season. I do not like the cold or the lack of sunlight. Yet I made it a point to not let this winter storm ruin my vacation. The storm lasted about a day and a half but in that time I was able to do all that I wanted.   I was able to draw, read, write, explore and of course enjoy a couple of wine tastings. Call me Mr. Optimist but I simply adapted to the situation I still had a wonderful time. I would imagine that old saying is true…

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  

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Friday Two Cents: Québec Trip / Québec City


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Last week I did not have a chance to post because I was in the middle of my trip to the province of Québec. I had not been to Québec in a very long time and I was fortunate this time to go with a friend from Québec City.

The trip to Québec City was a long one made worse with it raining for more than two-thirds of the over 9 hours it took to get there. I decided to drive because 1) I enjoy driving and 2) I would be going to different places in Québec including Montréal. The journey is usually an eight and a half hour trip yet due to the weather conditions it took just over 9 hours.
As I said I was fortunate to have a friend with me who was from Québec City. I know their mother and she said that I would always have a room welcome for me if I decided to come to visit. Upon arrival at our destination we were warmly welcomed by their family and that is where my education into Québec culture began.
I stayed in the Québec City area for several days and my friend and their family took me around the area as they played tour guide. I soaked up the local culture as well as the sights. I cannot put everything I did into one post therefore I will have to spread out the trip over several posts.
The first place they took me was the old city of Québec. There I saw the narrow streets and buildings and it reminded me of Malta. Québec was built or founded in 1608 and many of the cities in Malta date back even earlier. Yet there was a distinct European feeling I felt in the old city. We walked around the city for a bit and then we went down to Saint Paul Street to see a few galleries and artisans. My friend knows I enjoy art and this was like the artist corner of the city. There was a vibrant francophone culture present and you can see the roots of many of the founding people within the city. You can also see many Irish roots in the names of the streets, shops and pubs. I was not surprised by this because I know Canadian history and Québec is the oldest city in North America, yet some how I could feel it being in that place.
That day was filled with sights and sounds of history coming alive. Even in front of the Château Frontenac where the statue of Samuel de Champlain is located I could just feel history coming alive within me.
I had always known that Québec was a distinct culture within Canada yet not until I was immersed in it did I realize the extent.   Wherever I went in Québec I felt this, this feeling of ‘Joie de vivre’, joy of living, enjoyment of life or love of life. All of these meanings were so true about the people I met there. It felt like everything you do was a gift and you need to enjoy it. I noticed that in Toronto we do not have this philosophy, that you work and then you have fun. You enjoy life at specific times, yet I felt that people in Québec enjoyed life all the time, in everything they did. Work or play, joyous times or sad times. Life was a gift and we must enjoy the moment for this moment will never come again.
This ‘Joie de vivre’ really stuck with me for the entire trip and I intend to continue now that I am back home. I have felt that if you wanted to enjoy life people here in Toronto looked at you odd. You have to be serious at all times and only when it was appropriate can you enjoy life. Well not anymore. I will not have other people dictate that to me. From now on I will enjoy life to develop my ‘Joie de vivre’.

Friday Two Cents: Vacationing In Ontario With George Part 1


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Schools out and summer vacation has begun. With it I can relax and enjoy the rest and solace that Ontario has to offer. I enjoy going away on vacation but experiencing what my home country of Canada and province of Ontario, has to offer is always number one on my list of things to do. This year I have a few local trips that I always go on and I never stop learning how great Ontario really is. Every week I will be, as the provinces slogan says, ‘Your’s to Discover’, exploring the different wonders that Ontario has to offer.

Yet I cannot help think about a few of the students in my classrooms and what they asked me. I usually teach kindergarten and this year an early primary class. In the classroom I used a puppet to help me teach the lesson. It is a purple monster with green horns that I named George. Now George sounds like Goofy and is a little silly but the students love him. He doesn’t teach the lesson, I usually have him introduce it to get their attention. I also use him as a reminder about manners and how to act in the classroom.

Every day I am with the students they always ask where is George or if he can come out and play with them. They ask me questions such as, “Are you George’s daddy? What does he like to eat? Why is he so silly?” you get the picture. But there is one question they do ask from time to time. “Do you take George on vacation with you?” I am bit surprised by this question but I guess that if they take their stuffed animals on vacation with them they may think I do too, so I say yes. But then they ask if I have any pictures of George on vacation and I have to admit to them that I do not.  

Hi Everyone!!! My Name is George!!!

Hi Everyone!!! My Name is George!!!

As they where asking me this question it made me think; maybe wherever I go this summer I should bring George and take some pictures of where he goes. Therefore this year as I go around Ontario I will bring George with me and document where he goes on vacation. This way if they ask again if I take him on vacation I can show them that he does get around. You are all probably thinking I’m crazy and acting like a kid, but I guess I am just a kid at heart. (Or I’m just in touch with my inner child.)

Well a good place to start is in my hometown of Toronto. This past week they held their annual Ribfest. For those of you who have not been to a ribfest before, you do not know what you are missing. They have rides for the kids, live shows and other entertainment. They also have food vendors that sell things like funnel cakes (deep-fried pancakes), ice cream and Bloomin’ Onions, a whole onion dipped in batter and deep-fried. It may not sound healthy but it tastes like onion rings and it is sooo good.

The best part is the rib trailers. They have these people who compete at other ribfests all over North America to see if their ribs are the best. There are vendors/competitors from across Canada of course but also from places in the United States such as Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, Ohio, Texas and New Mexico. There are no shortage of ribs places, the biggest problem is choosing which one you want to try. Or you can do what some told me while waiting in line. Many people buy a small amount of ribs from different venders to see which one has the best ribs.

They sell different amounts of ribs from a full rack (about 12 ribs) to half racks and a 1/3 rack. They also sell roast chicken and pulled pork, some places by the pound. I for one can eat about a half rack at best, especially if I get beans, coleslaw and cornbread with it. Even if you have a 1/3 of a rack from each vender, that is still a lot of ribs.

If you ever get a chance to go to a ribfest somewhere, I strongly recommend it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some ribs to finish off. Oh and so does George.

Friday Two Cents: Visiting Local Communities in Ontario Part 1


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    Many people have asked me what I will be doing over the summer when school is out. They would ask, “Are you going away on vacation?” I would answer mostly resting, working on some home renovations and traveling around Ontario. They would say, “What you are not going away on vacation?” I say yes, camping, visiting local communities in Ontario such as Stratford, Niagara on the Lake, Wine country, and other places on overnight trips. But many of the responses I got were, “Oh that’s not going away.”

    But I would beg to differ. Going to different places around your home like Niagara or camping in a campground is going away on vacation. If going away means leaving your home for a day or more to visit a different community than your own, then what is the difference between going to Florida, Europe or just an hour and a half drive out-of-town?

    There is so much to see and experience within driving distance from home (Toronto), many people fail to see it. This past week I went with friends to their trailer up north near Lafontaine, that is near the Midland area. The scenery and experience are very different from camping in a tent, yet it was very enjoyable. We still got to cook outside, go for walks and enjoy each other’s company around the fire. But we also went on an excursion to Port McNicoll outside of Midland Ontario. There we went for a tour of a grand old ship called the S.S. Keewatin. It is a steamship built-in Scotland in 1907 and then sailed the great lakes from 1907 until 1965. She was build 5 years before the launch of the Titanic yet she has the same design style as many passenger ships of her day similar to the Titanic. She carried passengers and freight during this time and she is now the last steam ship float and a great piece of Canadian history.

    Today she is a floating testament to those days a century ago. Volunteers are slowly restoring Keewatin to her former glory and I have to admit they are doing a great job. They are restoring the passenger accommodations to the time periods the ship would have sailed. They have the turn of the century, World War One, the 1920s, 30s, World War II, post war, 1950s and 60s.    Many may recognize the Keewatin in a Murdock Mysteries episode where she played herself. They still have a lot of work ahead of them but what they have done so far is truly inspirational.

    I took quite a number of photos of the Keewatin and there is a website http://www.sskeewatin.com/home/ , where you can get further information.

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