Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Niagara Falls

Recently, my family and I took a trip to Port Colborne, a small town west of Fort Erie, half-an-hour away from Niagara Falls. Due to the nature of the trip, it was only for a couple of days, we traveled most of the time in and out of the car, and in and out of hotel. When we finally got back home, my mind drifted back into the rhythm of everyday life. I thought, oh how I wanted to write about Niagara. So I did. Here is my Freedom Friday post about past trips to Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

Before my wife and I got married, way before our engagement, we’d spent a lot of time in volunteer activities together for our church. Since we acted, sang and played in related theater troupes as well, our schedules were nearly identical. We didn’t have to wait long before we saw each other amid the hustle and bustle. There were always those in-between moments during a rehearsal, a gig or a run-through that we could chat. Of course, when you’re falling in love, every nanosecond of every day together just isn’t enough. One gorgeous May weekend we decided to take a daytrip to Niagara Falls. We played mini golf, watched an IMAX presentation of how The Falls came to be, and took goofy pictures of ourselves at one of those instant photo booths. We still have the pictures. And yes, we did dine, talk, hold hands, and all that other romantic stuff. It became our place where we discovered more existed between us than the performing arts.

View from the Penthouse
View from the Penthouse

Every few years after we got married, we’d return to Niagara Falls. Something good would always come from these trips. One time it was the decision to purchase a house. Another time we’d talked about how many kids we’d like to have. No matter when we took the trip, we’d come back refreshed and filled with hope for a planned future. If you’ve ever seen a couple in the back of a restaurant at The Falls writing on napkins—charts, graphs, timelines—that was us. We were the crazy folk who wanted to ensure our decisions were mutual. If one of us didn’t agree to an idea, we’d scrap it.

The latest trip took place a few autumns ago. With both kids in tow, we stayed in one of those incredible two-floor penthouse suites with a Fallsview and Jacuzzi. We managed to grab a deal on the room because off-season rates rule. Otherwise, no way we could have afforded it. The first thing, we walked to The Falls. Ever hear of that dark and stormy night? Well, we got caught in one of the worst storms to hit the Niagara region coming back. I don’t think we’ve gotten so soaked in all our lives. It was fun, though. When we arrived at the hotel, we changed, dried off and went for a warm meal at the restaurant downstairs. The place took me by surprise. The food was rather good at reasonable prices.

The remainder of our getaway consisted of taking in as many of the hundreds of attractions humanly possible. We enjoyed The Falls from the top of the SkyWheel, read the tombstones at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, played mini putt with aliens at Galaxy Golf, met the Joker and Michael Jackson at Louis Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember but know we had fun doing. My wife and I also made one of our major life decisions during that trip, which proved to be one of the best decisions in our lives.

We’re still reaping the rewards.

Have you ever been to Niagara Falls? If so, what did you like about it? Did you know it’s the Honeymoon Capital of the World?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Autumn in Niagara

As you may know, my book released this week and things have been rather surreal around Casa Flacco. My sleep cycle has left me and I’ve been functioning on pure adrenalin. It’s a good thing. At least, I think it is. Yes, it is a good thing.

Autumn in full bloom
Autumn in full bloom

Last weekend, three days before release, on impulse my wife and I packed, loaded the kids in the car, and scooted to Niagara Falls for a weekend away from it all. I’ve described in a previous post for Freedom Friday how Niagara Falls is one of those enchanting places on earth where my wife and I relax, let time stand still, and come back with new and exciting decisions about our life together. Last weekend was no different.

We’d left late Friday afternoon, arrived at the hotel just before sunset, quickly unpacked, and headed straight for a restaurant. The big thing here in Canada is Boston Pizza. And Niagara Falls has one we enjoy going to whenever we visit.

You know, sitting there in the lounge area as dusk settled, I thought of how wonderful a family I have that we’re able to enjoy each other’s company without worrying about tomorrow, of what is and what will be. The notion came and went, as if a fleeting thought that passes through the mind and makes a quick exit through the door.

Soon after devouring the chicken wrap, washing it down with a soda and lime twist, we took a walk on Clifton Hill. If you’ve never been to the Niagara Falls’ Clifton Hill strip, I highly recommend it. It’s one thing to see the area during the day, but the night is something to behold. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but the whole area lights up like fireworks on Canada DayFourth of July to my American friends.

The SkyWheel
The SkyWheel
One of the many sights on Clifton Hill
One of the many sights on Clifton Hill

The evening was ideal. Not too hot, not too cold. Perfect fall weather. During the whole time, I thought, oh, how our family’s changed. I have grown children ready to take on the world. How fast did it happen? What happened to those days when I’d purchased our first DVD player so we could watch Titanic in pristine digital? Oh my, how has time flown so fast?

The next day, Saturday morning, we headed to the continental breakfast table downstairs in the dining area. From there, we landed at the IMAX theater enjoying a tale about Niagara Falls’ myths and legends. I’d seen the movie before but had forgotten Rocky composer Bill Conti had written the score. Boy, talk about a step back in time. The music moved me to remember my youth and how I’d wanted to take on the world. Goodness, how things have changed.

We ate Mexican for lunch, then spent some time in our hotel room reading. The kids had brought a load of books to consume, and my wife and I had our tablets to keep us entertained. Here is where I have to tip my hat to the folks working in the tech department of our hotel who gave us access to the internet via free wi-fi. While some establishments implement pay-per-use, our hotel was kind enough to offer the service without spending a dime in fees.

When evening approached, our goal for the night consisted of having fun at the Guinness World Records Museum. Somehow, lists of who made more money posthumously, and of which spider had the longest leg span made us curious. I know the kids got a kick out of the freakish exhibits.

Guinness World Records Museum
Guinness World Records Museum

From there we enjoyed the nightlife, taking in some ice cream and walking in the rain. Trust me when I say, eating ice cream in the rain is something to experience first hand.

We didn’t leave Niagara until late Sunday afternoon, once we’d completed our tour of The Falls. In your lifetime, if you ever want to experience anything wondrous and exciting, Niagara Falls is the place to go. The sheer volume and magnitude of this watery beast is enough to send shivers throughout the body.

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

On our way back home, all I could hear are the rushing waves, the thundering crashes, and the surging currents of Niagara. The Falls certainly leave an impression.

Skylon Tower
Skylon Tower
Scenic fall photo
Scenic fall photo
Beautiful stream by Niagara Falls
Beautiful stream by Niagara Falls

Oh, which reminds me—our life decision this year has to do with helping our kids as much as we can. So, if you don’t see me around as much, I’m probably either helping my kids with their homework or spending some time with them in an effort to build a lasting relationship. Corny, yeah, I know. But it’s true.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Do you take any time away from it all? Any “unplanned” vacation heading your way?

Posted in My Journey

Answered Prayer

My family’s life is slowly getting back to a semblance of normalcy. We are learning more and more about autism, and learning more and more about our son each day. We have a predictable schedule set for him, a list of daily activities to go through with him, and lots and lots of prayer to carry us well into the week. Had it not been for all the prayer, I do not believe we could have had the miraculous turnaround that took place last month with him. Because, really, it was a miracle he woke up as he did from autistic shutdown.

This weekend was a breakthrough weekend for him. Finally, after months of growth, I was able to cut his hair and trim his beard. I say breakthrough, since after we had come back from Niagara Falls in October, he had not wanted anyone to touch him. Now, he is allowing hugs, kisses and me cutting his hair, which is a big deal for our family.

Again, much of the successes we are currently experiencing with our son are all due to prayer. I cannot see it being anything else. Naturally, patience and a lot of determination have made a difference with Luana and me. But, I would say, prayer is the key for us here.

I remember reading about Jesus and about how the night before he died on the cross he was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for his disciples while, at the same time, Judas was betraying him to the high priest. Throughout the whole thing, he knew what he had to do, he knew he had to give up his life for the sin of all, and with prayer, he confirmed his fate as the Lamb of God:

“Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done’” (Mat. 26: 42 ESV).

Sometimes there is no other solution than to rely on God, petitioning him in fervent prayer, not only us, but others on our behalf. He does listen. I can attest to that. Otherwise, we would not be seeing the progress with my son that we are seeing with him now.

My son dresses himself, washes his face, eliminates regularly again, speaks, answers questions and sits out in the backyard. He has come a long way from not speaking and only staring for the better part of the day.

All of it I attribute to prayer.

Therefore, if you feel there is nowhere to turn, turn to God in prayer. He will answer. My son is a living example of answered prayer.

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Driving

I love driving. I mean, I really do love driving. I once drove from my home, an hour north from Toronto all the way to New Brunswick in a day. I had stops along the way, but I had done it in one full day. That’s about 1,500 Km/900 miles, give or take. I can also negotiate my way through traffic in Montreal. If you’re familiar with Montreal, then you would know what a feat that is. The other side of it is that I also love country drives as much as anyone else who loves driving.

Driving
Driving

For Freedom Friday I would like to talk about my driving experiences, what I’ve enjoyed and perhaps, if I have time, talk a bit about what I would have wanted to do over.

The thing I most enjoy about driving is the freedom. Sitting behind a steering wheel and going somewhere really excites me. When no one else is in the car, I crank the tunes, open the windows and allow the wind to carry me where I want to go.

Sunset driving
Sunset driving

Night driving has to be my favorite part. I have one of those cars that sport a blue dashboard. In the evening, it makes me feel as if I’m part of a Star Wars movie. The middle scene in Attack of the Clones when Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi follow an assassin through the planetary cityscape comes to mind. The other reason I enjoy night driving is because driving through a town, a city or in the country, in my opinion, is much more beautiful at night than during the day. The lights make the journey something to behold. Whenever there’s an opportunity to pick up my kids from their activities, I’ll jump into the car without a problem. I love riding through town at night—especially during Christmas. The lights warm my spirit and renders my soul satisfied. That’s code for saying I always have a smile on my face whenever taking the car through town.

Anyway, enough about night driving. I told you it was my favorite.

The other part I enjoy about hopping behind the wheel of my car is the long trips to various places. Depending on the traffic, the trip to Niagara Falls from my home is a highlight. With attractions on either side of Clifton Hill, the main street where all the museums and activities take place, I can’t say enough how awesome a time it is going through there and experiencing the joy of adventure. Yes, it does feel like an adventure, but how many places can actually do that, besides Las Vegas, which is a place I’d like to visit one day?

Lastly, I would have to say that I also enjoy a country drive as well. I live out in the country, so, in that respect, I have to like it—otherwise, what would I be doing living here? Right? The relaxed pace, the farms and small towns is a regular occurrence as is the sight of cows, horses and other farm animals grazing in the fields. The other aspect about a country drive is the leisurely pace everyone drives getting somewhere. I can say the experience is relaxing and eases the mind into hibernation. Not good though if it’s at night, since you don’t want to fall asleep while taking a jaunt without the light standards paving the way to your ultimate destination.

And so that’s why I love driving. Some folks don’t enjoy it, but I’m one who looks forward to it.

Now, I’m just wondering if there is anyone else like me who loves driving.

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Do you like driving? What road trips have  you taken that made the drive special?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Experiencing the Moment

I love playing with my camera. My camera has served me well over the years. During the past eleven years, since the time I’d purchase my first digital camera, I’ve had the opportunity to photograph some of the most beautiful places I’ve had the privilege to visit. From Niagara Falls all the way to Nova Scotia, I have an archive full of memories I’d love to share with you this Freedom Friday.

To start—I’ve learned a lesson. The lesson I’ve learned is this: To enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it. What I mean by that has a lot more to do with experiencing the moment than it is to relive the moment. Photography has a way of capturing a photographer’s imagination to the point where the subject becomes just that—the subject. I had that happen to me where I did what I could to capture the subject that I’d forgotten to capture one thing. I’d forgotten to live the moment.

Nowadays, I’m careful to put my camera away and take a deep breath to look at what’s going on around me. It’s amazing what I see when I do that. Gone is the worry of thinking I’d miss a shot if I don’t have my camera readily available. Now I see an event for what it is—an experience. And because it’s an experience, I enjoy myself more knowing it’s there to capture not with the camera, but with my heart.

Pretty sentimental stuff, eh?

Okay, I have a whole lot of photos I want to share with you, so I think I’ll start with a few of my favorites from the East Coast. My wife’s family comes from Nova Scotia. Every time I’m there, I end up taking a gazillion photos of the area. One of my favorite places happens to be Citadel Hill in Halifax. The first time I’d visited there, the clouds hung low and gray, and my family and I were afraid of a thunderstorm catching us unaware. Luckily, subsequent years provided a different experience. Here, have a peek:

Path leading to Citadel Hill (Fort George), Halifax, Nova Scotia
Path leading to Citadel Hill (Fort George), Halifax, Nova Scotia
Soldiers march in Citadel Hill, Nova Scotia
Soldiers march in Citadel Hill, Nova Scotia
Rock beach somewhere in Nova Scotia
Rock beach somewhere in Nova Scotia
Fishing trawler near Dartmouth
Fishing trawler near Dartmouth
Marshes in Nova Scotia
Marshes in Nova Scotia

Next up, Niagara Falls. I love this place. It’s one of my favorite places on earth. Since it takes less than a couple of hours to get there from where we live, we end up going there quite often. You can read about some of our trips I’d written from past posts. Whenever we go to Niagara Falls it’s a mini vacation with lots to do and plenty of restaurants to visit during our stay.

Nightlife in Niagara Falls
Nightlife in Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls' Canadian Midway
Niagara Falls’ Canadian Midway
Attractions in Niagara
Attractions in Niagara
Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls, Canada
Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls, Canada
Niagara Falls, Canada
Niagara Falls, Canada

Lastly, here is a collection of some of my favorite photos I’ve had hanging around collecting dust (not really). Some are random shots I’d taken in the heat of the moment, and some I’ve planned. Try to guess which is which, ’cause honestly, I can’t remember.

My view on the train one day coming back from the city.
My view on the train one day coming back from the city.
On the set of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.
On the set of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.
First snow of the season.
First snow of the season.
Buried in snow.
Buried in snow.
My love for making sushi.
My love for making sushi.
A game of Mousetrap.
A game of Mousetrap.
The story of the stationary Canadian quarter. This actually happened.
The story of the stationary Canadian quarter. This actually happened.

I hope you enjoyed this little slideshow of memories. Granted, they are my memories, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them, too. Nevertheless, they are but a glimpse into my life and why I think experiences are special to have and to hold as captured moments of time to relive forever.

[Author’s note: In celebration of spring, I’ve changed the header color to reflect the season. I hope you like it!]

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Do you like photography? Have you taken many pictures that remind you of the memories?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Sweet Spots

As you know, I leave Freedom Friday to talk about things that may be on my mind, but don’t know where to fit them into the grand scheme of things. Sometimes I’ll pour it all out in a stream of consciousness, not really editing any of it in hopes what I capture will make sense later on. Sometimes I’ll write a story with a specific point in mind, with nothing but an idea to lead the way.

My family's trip to Niagara Falls.
My family’s trip to Niagara Falls.

Today’s a mix. I have something on my mind, which, at the same time, can constitute a stream of consciousness—yet I’m editing as I go along—so that sort of defeats the purpose of writing the first thought that hits the paper.

Anyway, I want to talk about sweet spots. Don’t worry. This is not about food again, although that would be cool to write about, too. The sweet spots I want to talk about have to do with times and places in my life that, for the lack of a better way to describe them, inspire me.

I’m talking about standing at the top of the stairs in my home overlooking the foyer from behind the railing. I’m not sure what it is that makes that spot so inspiring—it just is. The same goes for the window in our bedroom. I can stare outside all day, watching the leaves fall, the neighbors walking their dog, and kids going to school. It’s another sweet spot I can’t live without.

It's that time of year in our neighborhood.
It’s that time of year in our neighborhood.

Driving behind the wheel of my car also provides me with an incredible feeling. I suppose because I love to drive, it makes it all the more exciting, but that’s not it. I had a piece of crap car for a number of years before this one, and loved to drive it. However, I didn’t consider sitting behind the wheel a sweet spot. I think I like the car I have now because the display is blue. At night, the glow makes it exciting to drive.

Yet those are only things and places. My current seed of happiness is autumn. I shouldn’t talk about this subject again, you’re probably sick of hearing it. I can’t help it though. This time of year is my absolute favorite time. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s dark. And yes, some folks experience SAD, but who can say they hate the howling of the wind on a cold fall night? Who can deny the rain’s power to persuade with thunder and lightning to boot? Who dislikes raking leaves? I know I don’t. It’s my happiest time of year!

The best part? Winter’s right around the corner. Hats. Mits. Heavy coats. Ah, but let’s not forget the hot chocolate, the flannel PJs, and the warm open fire.

Who has time to waste hanging around online? Facebook can wait. Twitter will always be there.

Good books are waiting for a ravenous reader. Family time is the only time. And the joy of going out with good friends at the local tavern calls.

These are the sweets spots in my life, and I’m enjoying them. What are your sweets spots?

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Again, I ask, what are your sweets spots?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Anniversary Week—Part III

December 17th was the one-year anniversary when Jack Flacco: The Official Site went live. In celebration of this milestone, I will present the Top 5 Most Popular Freedom Friday posts of 2013.

But before anything else, allow me the gift of your attention to thank you for supporting me during 2013. This certainly has been a year of surprises, for sure. For instance, if you’re curious as to how many views and visitors I had this year, you can read this week’s Monday Mayhem post for site statistics. Also, in keeping with my wanting to express gratitude, I wouldn’t have thought my book would have been the success it is today without the help of my review team and all those who paid me kind words after its release. Thank you so very much, folks!

Onward. When choosing the Top 5 Most Popular Freedom Friday posts, I first wanted to present them based on amount of views. The more I thought of it though, more it didn’t make sense. For instance, a visitor may pop into the site and hit the same post several times within the day. I didn’t think it fair, considering there could have only been two visitors for that day and a hundred views.

Next, I thought I’d use comments as the benchmark. You know, the more comments a post has, the more popular it is. Again, I didn’t think it represented a good way to measure popularity given I can comment on my own post a dozen times and push it ahead on the popularity scale.

No, what I used is the number of “likes” a post has garnered throughout the year. It will not only present a fair representation of popularity for a post but also prevents users from gaming the system with multiple “likes”.

Okay, now for the list. You’ll notice that for third place we have a tie. Other than that, it’s straightforward. Are you ready? Here it is.

The Top 5 Most Popular Freedom Friday posts of 2013:

  1. Canada's Wonderland Water Fountains
    Canada’s Wonderland Water Fountains

    My Favorite Things“For a long time, photography has inspired me to travel great distances, survive sour weather and mangle my body into weird positions all in the expectation of capturing that perfect shot. Today, I hope you enjoy this edition of Freedom Friday because today, I’d like to give you a tour of my favorite subjects. As…” ~86 likes

  2. Dinosaur Paws
    Dinosaur Paws

    Royal Ontario Museum“During this year’s spring break, my family and I skipped the idea of going to the Ontario Science Centre and decided to hit the Royal Ontario Museum instead. It was a cold and dark morning, raining to no end, and we thought it great if we could be in among history. Besides, I wanted to…” ~79 likes

  3. A path to the foot of the woods
    A path to the foot of the woods

    Autumn Photography“Every autumn I go on safari. Not really. I treat it as a safari, though. I pack my camera in my satchel, slip on a warm jacket, and head for the woods. What am I hunting, you may ask? Trees, leaves, nature—anything really to depict this glorious season we call fall. And that’s my Freedom…” ~77 likes

    Niagara Falls
    Niagara Falls

    Niagara Falls“Recently, my family and I took a trip to Port Colborne, a small town west of Fort Erie, half-an-hour away from Niagara Falls. Due to the nature of the trip, it was only for a couple of days, we traveled most of the time in and out of the car, and in and out of…” ~77 likes

  4. Thunder and Lightning Storm
    Thunder and Lightning Storm

    My Dark Secret“I have a secret. A very deep and dark secret. It’s the kind of secret that would make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Yet throughout the past year, holding my tongue, I never thought it possible I could ever admit to having this secret. This is my Freedom Friday…” ~71 likes

  5. Avocado & Lemon
    Avocado & Lemon

    Avocados“Did you know avocados are a fruit? I didn’t know that for a long time. Much like tomatoes, they have a seed inside. According to science, that’s what makes it a fruit. In cooking, however, it’s a different matter. Served in delicious savory meals, chefs define it more as a vegetable. Avocados also provide an…” ~69 likes

That’s it! Thanks for a great first year here at JackFlacco.com. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be back next week with more posts for your reading pleasure. Have a great weekend!

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Do you have a favorite Freedom Friday post you’d recommend to your friends?