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Hockey implants

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My daughter and I were hockey implants this past weekend.

It’s not what you think.

Technically, she was the implant, I was the transplant.

She was invited by another team to a hockey tournament in Jay Peak, Vermont (uh huh, so skiing was also involved too!) as a pick-up player. Several players from a team in her association were unable to attend this tournament so they get to pick up players from another team, hence their invitation to us – I mean, my daughter. It was her job to play hockey for this team; it was my job to get her there (well, my husband’s. Given there was skiing involved, we made this a ski-hockey-waterpark weekend).

It seems a lot of parents of recreational hockey won’t travel to out-of-town tournaments. Cost, time, winter roads, whatever. But out-of-town hockey tournaments is what I love about being a hockey mom (in fact, they may even be why I tolerate minor hockey).

And I’m not the only one. When our hockey years are behind us, I can guarantee you that all three of my kids will look back on their minor hockey careers and the out-of-town tournaments as being the bomb dot com. (I learned that phrase from my daughter and I can’t stop using it.)

Out-of-town hockey tournaments offer an opportunity to play teams from other cities (heck, from other countries, as was the case this past weekend!) and is like a mini-vacation (despite a typically busy game schedule particularly if your team advances beyond round robin play). It offers a brief but reliable antidote to the ho-hum doldrums of the cold, Canadian winter. It offers families the chance to dispense with normal routine of school and work – and to travel and sleep in close quarters (the only form of winter camping I’ll agree to).  It offers the potential of a new town or city or food or folklore to explore and who can deny the enriched learning experience kids derive from hotel swimming pools, mini stick hockey in the lobby and terrorizing hotel security guards after quiet hour (despite me having signed numerous waivers over the years promising precisely not to do so!)??

Some of the teams my kids have been on have had six tournaments a season (when playing competitive hockey) and some of our teams have only been to two. Regardless of the number or the timing (except for maybe The Great Hockey Weekend of 2012, which we do not speak of in our household), I will never vote down a hockey tournament weekend.

I like hockey tournaments. I know my kids love hockey tournaments.

I liked being a hockey implant and I’m certain my daughter enjoyed being a hockey implant too.

And I think we make the perkiest of hockey implants out there!

ice haus

The Great Canadian Stand-Off

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Two guys run into each other in the doorway of a Tim Horton’s coffee shop; one leaving and one arriving. One guy says, “After you…” to which the first responds, “No, after you …”

And there ensues The Great Canadian Stand-Off where our national proclivity to politeness and addiction to Tim Horton’s coffee, collide.  You know this could go on long enough that the required twenty minutes sitting time of Timmies coffee would expire and I would have to wait for a fresh pot to brew. Someone would have to break the stalemate.

Might as well be me.

Between my thirst for a Double-Double Dark (not to mention my need to go pee after my last Double-Double Dark) and my son’s yearning for a maple dip (do you need Eh dictionary yet?), we were not above trampling Canadian ideals and pitching forth through these blocked doors.

We waited a respectable thirty seconds and one more round of “No, I insist …” and “No, really … you go first” before I barged in between them and scurried to the ladies room.

But not without voicing a quick, “’Scuse me! Sorry!” over my shoulder, of course!


What can you do, eh?

Outside my comfort zone…

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Not long ago, my daughter persuaded me to try surfing. I don’t mean internet surfing (on that I am a pro thanks to my highly evolved procrastination skills), I mean the real shaka bra water sport surfing (on which I am most definitely not a pro).  Not that it mattered to my daughter, but Mai Tai and I were perfectly happy enjoying my first visit to the Hawaiian Islands without this sharp turn outside my comfort wake.  Nevertheless she begged for an exciting and inimitable mother-daughter day – and 12 year olds are good beggars (until they turn 16 and can then drive themselves). “What the heck?”I thought, “When in Hawaii …” Well, I can now tell you the correct answer here is, ‘drink a Mai Tai’.

Despite a profound lack of experience and misguided sense of athleticism, I relented.  I was counting on my strong Canadian running legs to carry me over these waves, forgetting that my strong Canadian running legs were old and not at all that strong. I then carefully chose a surfing company that specialized in Beginners and Cowards because I am both (I kid you not; it’s right there on their website), and guaranteed their students to be surfing by the end of the lesson (though no reference was made to exactly how and the word ‘gracefully’ was omitted from their pledge). I was relieved to be paired with a father-son duo who, like me, had no previous surfing experience.

First wave.  Paddle. Kneel. Stand. Surf. After this unsuccessful first attempt at shredding the nar the other youngster in our grouping asked me excitedly, “Hey Lady, was that you who did that amazing face plant out there?”  Three words I do not ever wish to see, hear or experience together again: amazing and face and plant.  After making sure my bathing suit still covered the significant – I mean appropriate – parts of my body, I quickly wiped the salt water out of my eyes (sea water not tears, thank you) and made my way back to the waves’ breaking point for round two.

Next wave, please. “You’re lovin’ it, right Mama?” Our native Hawaiian instructor, Kihe, had taken to calling me Mama during our land lesson and I carried this nickname into the water.  “Oooooohhh Mama,” he continued, “Here comes a 40-footer!” I don’t think Kihe was aware that I firmly believe that ‘here comes a 40-footer’ is only good news when referring to yachts, not waves.  Noting the panic in my eye, he assured me with a twinkle in his, that he meant the next wave was 40 feet wide not 40 feet high. Funny guy. I smiled nervously and paddled furiously as Kihe instructed me to do.

Paddle. Kneel. Stand. Surf. “Get out of my way!” shouted another novice surfer who erroneously assumed I actually knew how to get out of his way. “Addictive my eye” I muttered to myself, as we collided.  “Deadly is more like it.” There was water in parts of my body where water should not be. My instructor, Kihe, reminded me at my next turn that I need to keep my eye on where I want to go.  “If you look at other people, you’re bound to hit them.  It’s the same in skiing right Mama?  You look at a tree; you’re going to hit the tree!”  Oh my God, how did he know about me and the tree?

Paddle. Kneel. Stand. Surf. Contrary to my wildest dreams but true to the surfing company’s guarantee, I managed to catch a ride on the next wave. There is no doubt in my mind that those 60 seconds of adrenaline were definitely worth the ensuing two hours of work trying to recreate that experience.  For the love of Job, surfers are the most patient people on the planet. And strong.  In case you’re ever wondering why there are so few printed manuals on surfing out there it’s because video would make the following instructions come to life much more effortlessly:  Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, kneel, stand, surf, kneel, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle,.  Repeat. So where was the part where you just lay down on your surf board and just … well … lay there? That would be a good part; definitely part of my comfort zone.

My daughter stayed behind for a few more rides as I let my surf board and the tide carry me to shore. So endeth the surfing lesson and my retreat to my comfort zone.

Soon thereafter, my son suggested we visit Black Rock for some ‘totally sick cliff jumping’.

‘Yeah.’ I thought, as I mixed another Mai Tai. ‘Send me a post card.’


Maui Wave Riders

Author’s note:  to the professional photographer capturing all these wonderful memories on film, I respectfully request to destroy all evidence.  Thank you.  The entire world thanks you.

Have you ventured outside your comfort zone lately?

Yakkety Yak – Please Talk Back!

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Car chats – Part I

On the road again...

I spend a lot of time in my car. 

Not just because I drive to and from work, but also because I drive to and from hockey – A LOT of hockey.  These days, these car rides provide an opportunity for peace and quiet as my teenagers plug in and tune out (a fine legacy of Steve Jobs, I might add).  My two teenage boys are generally a quiet pair these days anyway as convo with their mother is not a cool way to spend their time. No matter, I think to myself, I got my coffee, I got my own own music, don’t worry be happy, right? My 11-year old daughter is still the chatty Cathy (and her name’s not Cathy by the way, I think it’s Linda Blair or something like that).

Anywho, once in a blue moon I am enlightened by my kids.  Here’s what I mean:

On a 4-hour trip from Ottawa to Toronto for a tournament, my oldest son spoke precisely six words to me.  And what were those six words? “That was a really good book!”  I know! I couldn’t believe it either, since I was convinced the only thing he could read started with the words , “In sports news today …” Ah, hope springs eternal with a sprinkle of creativity: I had secretly downloaded S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” audiobook onto his iPod before leaving on our epicly quiet hockey road trip .  He actually noticed it there and listened to it. Not being a particularly avid readers, I am constantly looking for sneaky little ways to talk book talk with my boys.  He loved it. What I didn’t even realize, however, was they were studying this book at school and he was a little behind in his reading. The audiobook had saved his hide for English class on Monday.  Hope they have one of these for Twelfth Night…

I prefer to live with PonyBoy tuff talk for a while.

Upon being eliminated from an entirely different Toronto tournament, I took my middle guy downtown to see the King Tutankhamun on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario a while back.  I had somehow missed his transition from dinosaur boy to full-blown Egyptologist, and instead of listening to Eminem or Skrillex all the way home, I got 4 hours of the life and times of Howard Carter and the various conspiracy theories surrounding King Tut’s death. Not sure which is worse. He didn’t even laugh at my Steve Martin version, either. Sheesh!

But I can live with an Egyptologist for a while.

More recently, on our car ride home from our Cornwall tournament, my daughter and I were blasting out Adele, Katy Perry (a little slack here please; her team nickname is The Fireworks, after all), and even the Bieb. Shortly after belting out a Carrie Underwood favourite, I asked her, “So, if a boy ever cheats on you, you’re totally dumping him, right?” She still young, so I am still privy to some of her innermost secrets (aka, the latest crush).

“Totally!” was her response, “and I’d also send him a harshly worded letter too”.   

A harshly worded letter? What the ….?!!!

Who says that about a rotten boyfriend, anyway … Jane Austen? Kate Middleton?

I’m not sure I could live with this.  I invited her to consider taking a more assertive approach and maybe ‘take a Louisville slugger to both headlights’ or some other form of public ridicule but she said “Wouldn’t I get in trouble  for that?” Anti-bullying week and all, y’know.

I told her perhaps that just this once it would be worth it. 

What pivotal or riveting car conversations have you had recently?

Yellow cars…

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Those of you with children know the age-old travel game of counting cars on the highway.  In my younger days, I counted purple corvettes.  Volkswagon’s reintroduction of the VW Bug saw the return of Punch-Buggy –No-Punch-Backs.

While in Tuscany recently with my family, our days typically involved at least an hour of car travel to and from our destination of the day. Each day, my three kids, along with whichever cousin was along for the ride, would count the yellow cars.  Any type of motorized vehicle counted, but they had to be yellow.  Not amber, not flax, not mustard and certainly not golden.  Yellow.  While Italy may be known for its colourful people and amazing food, their cars are disappointingly grey, black or white.  So the counting yellow cars game proved to be more of a challenge than usual, and I found myself helping them out by being on the lookout.

On our last day in Italy, we were traveling to Florence, about 45 minutes north of our resting spot, La Fattoria Romignano.  Our road trip the day before had yielded a banner crop of yellow cars.  The count was high, so there were equally high expectations for today counting the yellow cars en route to Florence.

My son was up to about 24 yellow cars by the time we reached the outskirts of the old town.  Then it happened.  I could hear the guttural noises emanating from my husband’s throat.  He excitedly began started the play-by-play:  “Coming up on our left hand side!  Wait…wait…wait. Now!  Look!” 

Strapped to the back of a flat bed trailer truck was the supreme trophy of the yellow car counting game.  We were witness to the mermaid of the deep, the unicorn of the forest, the elf of the North Pole.  We saw a yellow Ferrari.  After the ooos and ahhhhs, one of them said, “That’s just gotta count for extra!” This sighting was of particular importance, for we did not see another yellow car for the rest of the tri – or perhaps they just faded from our view!

Plop-Plop: The original

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If you know me, you know that lasagna is my absolute favourite food.  A dish I affectionately referred to as “plop-plop” from as long ago as I can remember (because of the curving edges of its pasta), I can eat lasagna hot or cold.  No store-bought version has ever satisfied my refined plop-plop palate and the time that must be devoted to making it from scratch means it’s only an occasional feast for me.  This is probably a good thing, too, as its rich ingredients of beef, ricotta, mozzarella are probably best consumed in moderation.

The concept of “everything in moderation”, was one with which I had some difficulty while in Italy recently with my family.  In fact, “consumed with gusto” is probably more accurate.  Staying at a working fattoria (in this case a working vineyard and olive grove), we were able to cook our own meals for the most part and pack picnics for our Tuscan countryside day trips.   We did, however, indulge in two traditional Tuscan meals at the on site restaurant prepared and served by the owners.  As expected, an antipasto was first served, followed by the primo piatto, and then the secondi served with a simple salad.  Dessert was also not neglected served alongsise the customary espresso (whose stovetop preparation I never quite mastered and must return to Italy to properly apprentice).

A lover of pasta, it does not quite sit right with me that pasta is given second billing to the meat course (though the term primo does give it an aura of superiority to secondi) being the precursor to the main event.  In both cases the main event was pretty incredible but I totally savoured the pasta.  In fact, during our Last Supper in Tuscany, it was announced that lasagna would be served as the primo piatto.  Insert the emoticon 😮 here as I’m sure that’s how I reacted.

The dish I was served bore no resemblance to the homestyle lasagna for which I had developed such an affection.  Yes, there was tomato sauce, pasta, cheese and beef but its combination achieved resulted in nothing short of a culinary masterpiece, a sonata of salivating, an opus of yum-yum.  Its rich, creamy, béchamel-like texture, fresh pasta, simmered sauce and sparing use of ground beef totally defies an appropriate expression.  Its consumption was not a messy, peeling of layers but a smooth, luscious bond of ingredients that all held on my fork and lingered on my palate… still… to this day….

Repeated mmmmm’s and ooooo’s emanated from our group as fully articulated accolades proved impossible, except for the one person in our family who spoke flawless Italian.  His linguistic talent resulted in the gift of a second serving of this indulgent lasagna.  I instantly vowed to learn Italian.

I doubt I can recreate this exceptional dish as its ingredients are probably not known to North American but I will try!  Furthmore, I’ve been home for a week now and have yet to step on my bathroom scales for fear of its reply.  Best use that device “in moderation” for another few weeks.

Ciao Italia, alla prossima!

The Rug Rats and the Renaissance

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The Rug Rats and the Renaissance:  Our family’s voyage through Tuscany

Having just returned from our family’s week-long voyage through Tuscany, I feel compelled to note my memories of in words rather than just photos.   I now know three truths: 

  1. Everything you’ve heard about the food, wine and ice cream in Italy is entirely true;
  2. A family of five and an Alpha Romeo do not go together; and,
  3. It’s more than a shame to have only one week to explore Tuscany – it’s a cardinal sin. 

I am truly grateful to my Tante Daina who chose this location to celebrate her 65th birthday with a group of 18 family and friends.  After months of internet exploring, she chose La Fattoria Romignano, a wonderful tourist farm (in this case a working vineyard and olive grove) in the Tuscan countryside.  An hour south of the Florence airport, all the major relic Tuscan villages were an easy day trip away.  Think old-world charm (especially in the kitchen and bathroom), its two charming dwellings easily accommodated our famiglia with 11 roomy bedrooms, 8 bathrooms and 2 kitchens.  

Somewhat jet-lagged after their first transatlantic flight, our kids slept off and on their first day as my husband and I navigated the villages leading to our fattoria (most unhelpful directions from a young boy in Triaina – I thought you could still trust a kid on a donkey these days), shopped for groceries in the IperCoop (or was that the UberCoop? which is what we nicknamed this Walmart of Italy), tentatively planned our day trips and welcomed family as they arrived in dribble and drabs from 3 different countries.

Though cool temperatures, constant rain and Easter Sunday Mass parking woes hampered our first day excursion to Siena, we endured the wet cobblestone climb to the Piazza del Campo which is mercifully closed to all vehicular traffic.  Siena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rivals Florence as the most popular and picturesque tourist site in the province of Tuscany and the site of the famous medieval il Palio bare-back horse race (which is still run twice a year amid its cries of barbarity) and its magnificent 700 year-old cathedral.  Like the skyscraper building scrum of Manhattan in the early 1900’s, all Tuscan villages aimed to outdo each other in the height of their Towers and the Torre del Mangia sores over Sienna’s piazza. On the way back to the Fattoria, we couldn’t help a quick visit to Monteriggioni, a tiny but completely walled village 12k north of Siena, built in the 1200’s and seemingly well preserved to that period.

The vampire lovers in our group quickly clued me in to the fact that the Twilight series movie sequel, New Moon, was partially filmed in Montepulciano, and while not on my list of Tuscan ‘musts’, this became our second destination.  Seeing that it was also famous for its Vino Nobile, I didn’t put up a big fight.  We traced the footsteps – or flight pattern – of the vampire Edward through the Palazzo Communale and climbed to its top.  Montepulciano proved to be another medieval and Renaissance, car-free treasure in Tuscany.

Sun and warmth greeted us in Assisi, our only excursion outside Tuscany.  It seemed appropriate to bring my daughter, a lover of animals, to visit the tomb of St Francis in its magnificent Basilica di San Francesco.  Though still very much venerated, I couldn’t help-chucking over what St. Francis would think of these Franciscan clerics on cell phones and driving cars!  Modern monks aside, the breathless climb to the towering ancient Rocca Maggiore provided the most impressive view of Italian countryside for me and evoked powerful medieval spooky stories for my kids!

All tour buses head to San Gimignano and our Alpha Romeo joined the line.  Did we come to see, up close, the spendour of an ancient skyline of 14 medieval towers that can be seen from miles away? Were we intrigued by a village that lost 2/3rds of its population to the plague in the 1300’s?  Are you kidding?!  San Gimignano is home to Pluripremiata Gelateria, crowned World Champion of Gelato in 2006-07 and again in 2008-09 (not sure what happened in 2007-08 and 2009-10 but if quality was down, we didn’t notice).  The rest of San Gimignano was pretty awesome too.

Finally we could no longer fend off the pleas of our kids, and we pointed the little Alpha Romeo towards Pisa.  Not without a stop, however, in Lucca where the Italian poet, Dante spent some of his time in exile and the famous opera composer Puccini was born.  Our quadriceps and stomachs were now accustomed to navigating the winding and twisting passageways and streets in our other Tuscan stops, so we were immediately struck by the civilized and orderly pattern of the streets in Lucca. This is a Tuscan medieval village?  Actually, no, it was founded by the Romans in 180BC, hence the more organized street grid.  The high, walk-able wall which surrounds the historic part of town has got to be the most beautiful running trail I have ever seen.  Sure, I took a stride or two.

I know Pisa’s rich history has more to offer tourists than its Leaning Tower, but having arrived at 3p it was all we could manage to see before heading back to our fattoria to take a turn cooking dinner. Its flood of tourists, long lines and tawdry souvenirs were also heavy deterrents at this point in our day; but the kids got the tacky photo ops they came for!

This is where my story takes a sad turn:  leaving Florence to explore on our last single day in Tuscany is like – well – eating just one potato chip, or taking just one sip of wine – simply cannot be done.  Yet I knew its churches, museums and art galleries would wear out all but the most dedicated of our little tourists and after my husband quipped to my relatives, “She takes no prisoners”, I knew we would have to tone it down.  Upon arriving to La Piazza il Duomo, I realized I was wearing a skort, having forgotten about the European churches strict dress codes for its tourists (no bear legs).  I was mortified but wasn’t turned away from a single church nor was I even sneered at – a sure sign of changing times in the Roman Catholic church.  Having been warned of the long lines and high price admissions at L’accademia and L’Uffizi, we settled L’accademia – for we knew Michelangelo’s David would surely make an impression.  After my son asked if we’d ever had a “Ta-Da!” moment, because he’d just had one seeing David for the first time, I knew we’d made the right choice.  Then we hiked over to Basillica Santa Croce where my kids claimed they walk over 270 dead guys.  Actually they did not, but did enjoy seeing the tombs of Michelangelo, Gallileo and Machiavelli (who they now know is not their mother reincarnated).  The “really cool bridge” that my son posted later on Facebook was, of course, the Ponte Vecchio and we concluded our day trip in Firenze with a 45-minute (I know, another cardinal sin) visit to the San Lorenzo street market.

Getting back to my three truths, I would do anything to eat and drink my way through Italy once again.  I am sure my memory of the tiny Italian car and our big family will soften because having a vehicle and not being tied to train or bus schedules proved most liberating (easy for me to say as I did none of the driving).

So, ciao Italia!  Alla prossima!

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