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Category Archives: Travel

Adventures in Solo Travel

Kids today are so lucky.  They have fewer chores (because they’re so busy) and they get to go everywhere (because they’re parents feel guilty leaving them at home). Parents today are much more adventurous in travelling with their children. I realize I’m part of this culture, indulging my children in all sorts of travel adventures. In return, I hope my kids will look back upon our family travels and continue to be inspired by the world and long to see more of it … preferably on their own … soon.

So my daughter recently experienced the pinnacle of childhood adventures:  the solo voyage. As in sans parents. When family and summer scheduling conflicts prevented us from attending a much loved beach week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my daughter somehow managed to finagle an invite from her uncle to go to the beach with his family – complete with puppy dog eyes, curled lip and promises of ‘I won’t be any trouble at all …’, I have no doubt . Naturally he, being entirely defenceless to the puppy dog eyes and curled lip look, agreed.

us customsThe first significant hitch she encountered was US Customs.  I guess runaways are extremely clever these days, including those with an official consent to travel form notarized by a lawyer, signed by both parents AND carrying a return airline ticket. Evidently US customs officials are impervious to the puppy dog look and curled lip routine but good on her for trying. She fared much better with Canadian Border Services upon her return and the usual, “Are you bringing back any weapons, alcohol or tobacco?’ was replaced with “I bet you had a lot of fun! Welcome back.”

This solo adventure of hers took another unfortunate turn when Hurricane Arthur decided to take its own unfortunate turn towards the Outer Banks of North Carolina where she was staying with my brother. If anyone could turn a hurricane on its heels it would be my daughter, but alas, the Governor did not think know of her powers (primarily reserved for use at our family dinner table), and Dare County issued an evacuation order for Hatteras Island. While I am certain she had visions of a SWAT team lowering their ladders from helicopters evacuating stranded tourists such as herself, she soon found out what it really entailed: a day’s driving stuck in the worst traffic jam imaginable.

And now she is off to sleep over camp for two weeks (something she has done now for seven summers).  While there will certainly be someone there to feed her and do her laundry, I know she will return from camp grateful for a flushing toilet.

bluesfestMy sons are also on their own solo adventures this week. My 18-year old is at the national Canadian Big League Championships in Thunder Bay, Ontario (ten days of residence living at Lakehead University will be good training for his body to get used to dorm beds) and my 16-year old is experiencing Ottawa’s largest outdoor musical festival, Bluesfest 2014 (requiring him to master one of the biggest travel obstacles for today’s youth:  public transportation). Their adventures, however, will probably not be titled Adventures in Solo Travel but rather Travel in with Solo-Cup Adventures. Sigh.

So this house is just a little too quiet for me right now and I think it’s time to embark on some solo (or solo cup) travel adventures on my own. But I am a seasoned traveller, right? None of this Customs nonsense, lousy beds, public transportation woes or guilt can get in my way, right?

Stay tuned!

airplane

 

The rest of your life starts here …

campus tourA few months ago I wrote a post about my eldest son’s applications to post-secondary institutions. And now with a few offers in hand, my eldest son has some decisions to make.

Much to my son’s surprise (not mine), bit by bit those offers started trickling in and we carefully picked the ones we would go and visit. Unlike the parents of many university-bound kids, I chose not to take him on road trip visiting every single post-secondary school between infinity and beyond. Instead, I promised I would take him to visit those to which he received offers, and was most keen to attend. Never having been on a single university tour myself when I was applying, I did want him to make an informed choice.  Depending on the location of these choices, however, a campus tour can set you back the price of a school year’s tuition!

The campus tour is generally pretty standard: the major academic buildings, the library or libraries if the school is large enough, at least one dorm room, at least one dining hall or the dining halls, the sports complex, and all the major support services (academic, health, etc.). It is also possible to arrange more in-depth tours with various faculties and even arrange to meet faculty members or varsity coaches. I’ve quickly realized that a good university tour guide is more than someone who can walk backwards and talk at the same time – they can make or break a prospective student and their family’s first impression.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get the uber- energetic student or recent grad that could not imagine life without this university. As annoying as their enthusiasm and university loyalty can be, the tour will not end until you know everything about the school including the words of the favourite university drinking song or have the university’s motto emblazoned on your brain. Alternatively, you may get a less enthusiastic tour guide who appears to have better things to do than make converts of wide-eyed, naïve high schoolers, and who showcases themselves and their accomplishments inviting you to come the their university so you can truly be as impressive as they have become (doing university tours for a living).

So now begins my son’s decision-making crunch time. He has ultimately has about three weeks now, to make his decision and pay his deposit (as you can guess procrastination runs in our family!). In that time, he will reflect not only on the wisdom of all that he has learned about these respective universities, but also on the words of wisdom of the tour guides.

I hope he took good notes!

 

“Anything to declare?”

ErmaThat’s what he asked me.

“Anything to declare?” asked the Canada customs official.

Such a loaded question! They should really consider rephrasing that standard question asked by border services agents of all international travelers. You’re asking a woman if she has anything to declare?!

Oh, do I ever!  Let’s have a cup of coffee and talk about it! Indeed, I have something to declare!

I’ve taken a few days to reflect upon my experience and learning at a humour writers’ conference I recently attended. I now declare that I was deluged with new inspiration while at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop held bi-annually at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. By the way, you may not know this but the word deluge is a French term for being word-swarmed. But you know, there are advantages to being deluged, or word-swarmed – in addition to all the mind-blowing quotes I garnered from the speakers, I was able to pick up a few gems from the attendees too. For example:

Boom Boom Boys:
File this under “It’s Not What You Think …”. Please just know that I will be petitioning Drum Corps International to reschedule their 2016 competition not to coincide with the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.

Beta reader:
This is not the video player predecessor to VHS, but instead an indispensable trusted confidant who will read your work and provide you with much needed feedback before publishing (but not a professional editor, qually indispensable).

The FuckItBucket:*
I-am-so-done-tormenting-myself-over– useless -crap…

The Dayton Dribbler :
Not to be confused with the University of Dayton basketball team’s March Madness success, but rather the highly over-rated Marriott shower pressure.

The Quiet Zone :
Can we not all just agree that sleep is for sissies, retirees, and that man in 14C on UA4461? Also, is probably not the best gathering place for the Boom Boom Boys.

Ermatologist, Bombeckian, Bombie, Ermite, Bombette :
One of a massive throng of several hundred women (and eighteen men) ravishingly beautiful, startling witty and extraordinarily talented writers.

 

“Ma’am, anything to declare?” the customs official repeated.

I have words to declare, sir. Enough words to sustain me through many writing projects. 

And with that, my passport is stamped – a most noteworthy and emphatic endorsement of my efforts –  and I am on my way.

This post was brought to you by a deluge of words and inspired by an amazing coffee cup.

20140415-133632.jpg

* Okay, look. I know I don’t usually swear on my blog, and actually rarely swear at all, but when I heard this phrase, I fell in love with it and can’t seem to stop thinking about it. And since I am now over the age of fifty, I can put ‘restraint’ in my FuckItBucket.

Bring it (getting ready to be Bombecked)!

Very soon, I’ll be boarding a plane for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton Ohio.  My first experience with this workshop (and any writers workshop, really) was two years ago.  I would guess that eighty percent of the 350 attendees were woman like me, of a certain age like me.  Throw in a few punchlines and a little wine and you have a fermenting cocktail (which I will affectionately refer to as the Dayton Dazzler)! While in the company of so much comedic virtuosos (both the faculty and the attendees), not to mention the neighbouring drum corps competition, I was able to come away profoundly inspired but also a little intimated (and moderately deaf). I wrote about this anxiety in a post-workshop post about The Burdon of Bombeck (as in, “Hi my name is Astra and it’s been sixteen days since I last wrote something funny”).

There have been so many questions posted on the attendees’ Facebook site by newbies!  I feel I’d be doing my part as a veteran Ermatolgist (as coined by the ever wit-faced Amy Sherman) to address them so the freshman Ermatologists have as much fun as us upperclassmen!

Do people have wine in their hotel room?

You don’t get out much do you? People have wine in the hallways, in the bathrooms and occasionally even in the bar. Bring it.

Do I really need to bring business cards?

You must have some other mechanism by which to make yourself truly unforgettable.  Bring it on.

Is it okay to wear bathrobes and fuzzy slippers to the sessions?

Not many people can rock that look but if you can … I say bring it!.

Carry-on or checking a suitcase?

You can’t take liquids in a carry-on (unless three ounces is what you call a drink, in which case we likely won’t meet this weekend), so I say bring it (the suitcase that is)!

Will there be t-shirts?

There will be t-shirts, glowsticks and glow necklaces, Hang Ten foam fingers, sun-visors, ball caps, slotted sunglasses, and over-sized multi-coloured beach balls.

I’m actually not 100% sure about any of that but it will be an event worthy of such rockin’ stuff!

Do people change for dinner?

Absolutely; I’m a totally different person at dinner. Who isn’t?

What goes on Saturday night?

What happens in Dayton, stays in Dayton (that’s all I’m gonna say)!

What a difference two years makes!

Can’t wait to be Dayton Dazzled and Bombecked!

Erma

Texting the “Boys” Weekend

I don’t mind when my husband goes away on a boys’ weekend – really – I don’t. I have noticed, however, some fairly significant differences between a boys’ weekend and a girls’ weekend.

golf

For starters, men don’t know how to count.  A boys’ weekend is never forty-eight hours – it’s more like ninety-six hours.  Women have a different word for that – it’s a freakin’ vacation, is what that is. A girls’ weekend on the other hand, starts on Friday and ends on Sunday. It’s. A. Weekend. We’re gone for maybe forty-eight hours, but usually more like thirty-six hours.  That’s ok though, because by my counting, I can plan two girls’ weekends for every one boys’ weekend.

Planning a boys’ weekend is pretty easy too:  pick a date, pack your golf bags and head out the door.  Planning a girls’ weekend involves, um, more.

I’ve noticed most moms, myself included, are exhausted just getting out the door for a girls’ weekend given the Herculean effort involved in organizing a weekend away.  Yet, despite the effortlessness that seems to accompany planning a boys’ weekend, I have noticed that they don’t seem to come home very well rested at all.

During a girls’ weekend, I may text my husband that I arrived safely, ask if he found the casserole in the freezer, and remind him about our son’s baseball game. I would never text my husband asking him, “Can you check on our line of credit?” or better yet, “I talked to the police officer and it’s cool”. There’s not much to text from a girls weekend.  “I ate and I slept” isn’t all that exciting. I could ratchet it up a bit and say, “I laughed so hard that wine came out my nose” but am not sure if anyone at home would be interested in that one either. Or better yet, “spent four hours at the spaspa today – better than sex.” Yeah, I pressed cancel on that one too.

Returning from a boys’ weekend and walking into the house involves the onerous task of dumping the dirty laundry into the hamper and storing the golf clubs in the basement.  Returning from a girls’ weekend and walking into the house, well, it just brings tears to my eyes.

So despite their differences, what happens at a girls’ weekend, stays at a girls’ weekend and for sure, what happens at a boys’ weekend, stays at a boys’ weekend.  Maybe the texts should too.

Soul Sisters Weekend 2014 seems just a little too long away…

The snowstorm game…

There are two reasons I would travel in a snowstorm: I am in labour and need to get to the hospital, or one of my kids has a hockey game. “You’re crazy,” said my husband, “Who goes out in a weather like that to have a baby?”

blizzakThis past week, we have had the kind of winter weather that Bridgestone will use for its Blizzak tire commercials for years to come. Saturday, I drove two of my kids to their hockey games in near-zero visibility. “Really?” you ask. “Zero visibility? Well, then how did you get there?”

Because I am a hockey mom.

My vehicle and I instinctively know how to get to all the local arenas.

As I read the Saturday morning paper with my coffee I thought, “Humph! One centimetre of snow.  No big deal.”  My faith in the accuracy of meteorologists is about as high as my pile of pile of fresh, scented hockey equipment.  I dropped my speed by 10km per hour when I saw the first car in the ditch and another 10km when two fire trucks screamed by me clearly en route to another accident.  Mother Nature loves a smug winter driver (and so do tow truck drivers).

Yesterday, Ottawa was blanketed with 25cm of winter wonderland fun. The school boards called a snow day. The hockey associations did not. I helped push one car out of a snowbank and two hockey bags into the back of winter drivemy SUV. The car was a Toyota Yaris with no snow tires and had no business being out in this weather. The hockey bags? Well, they had a much easier time making it out of the parking lot.

For the better part of the last thirteen winters, I have driven my three hockey players through some crazy weather – the kind of weather that halts airport operations and sends emergency road crews into high gear. I guess snowplows and hockey moms have a lot in common.  My passengers are usually oblivious to the white-knuckle driving conditions that have often punctured the excitement of trips to practices, games and tournaments, but we hockey moms are not.  We are reminded that ‘the first goal of hockey is having fun’ yet there is nothing too fun about some of the winter drives I’ve had to and from the arena.  I don’t know why we do it. I tip my cup of Timmies to the snowplows and give them a wide berth.

And it’s only November …

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