Stay tuned this Friday when I make a major announcement regarding the direction of JackFlacco.com.
I have to admit something. I’ve been thinking a lot about Utopia. I don’t find it a difficult thought to think about. All I have to do is to think of what would make me happy and I’m there. Given today is a holiday here in my province, I thought instead of writing a dark Monday Mayhem post filled with zombies, the undead and creatures from the abyss, I would concentrate on something light—Family Day.
Every year, the third Monday in February is when we Ontarians dedicate time toward the family.
Our household celebrates the day off big with board games, a special meal and perhaps some other things that we’ve wanted to do but never seem to have the time to accomplish—like tobogganing.
Casa Flacco loves board games. Over the holidays, we played a fierce battle of Monopoly while gorging on snacks. This year’s version of Monopoly featured characters from cartoons. Have I told you how much I love animated movies? The game went well and we negotiated Park Place, something my younger child was adamant to not bargain away. In the end, I lost to said younger child and it reminded me of when I was young to decline deals from my relatives ultimately winning the game.
I’m not sure what we’ll be playing today, but I’m sure whatever it is we’ll have a lot of fun doing it.
As of the time of this writing, a week ago, I had yet to decide what I wanted to make for our special meal today. In reality, I’ve been preparing the same meal every year. What meal is it? you might ask. Sushi, of course. Would you expect anything less?
I learned how to make sushi a long time ago when a friend introduced me to the delicacy during a long trip from home. I eventually loved it so much that when I returned, I scoured Google to find recipes to satisfy my palate.
If you’re interested in how I make sushi, you can find it in this Freedom Friday post I had published several years ago. The entire process does take time, but it is well worth the effort.
Okay, we spend the day playing games, eating food—basically, having fun. This year is different in that I planned to take the entire weekend off. To me it means not doing any writing whatsoever. You have to understand what that means. I take pride writing every day except Saturdays. Therefore, taking yesterday and today off to spend time with the family is a huge bonus. It means no committed deadlines. Nothing looming to review. But more importantly, it means…
There was a time I never used to be able to sleep in. Having suffered from severe bouts of insomnia, it prevented me from functioning like a normal human being. That was then. Nowadays, I live for my bed. It’s cozy. It’s comfy. It’s quiet. Gosh, I love weekends.
All right, I had better stop. I think I’ve deviated from the Family Day theme, but somehow you might not think that.
Anyway, to all those who have today off here in Ontario, Happy Family Day!
Canada Day has always held a special meaning for my family and I. Given we live in a small town an hour north of Toronto, our celebrations are not as low-key as one might expect. We have crowds from the surrounding towns. We have lots of food to consume. And we have fireworks.
This year was no different.
For those not familiar with the holiday, Canada Day is equivalent to the American Fourth of July. Instead of red, white and blue washing the crowds with color, we dawn our own colors to create a sea of red and white. It really is an awesome experience when traveling through Main Street to the lake in the middle of our town where all the festivities take place.
This year, my family and I took advantage of the silence on our street to sleep in until late in the morning before we decided to head to the lake. I can’t say how wonderful it feels to actually sleep in again after years of battling with insomnia. You can read about it from my previous articles I’d written about the subject.
We left home just before noon and drove five minutes to where the town had cordoned off the area to foot traffic. In this case, timing was everything. We found one of the last parking spots available. You can imagine how happy we all were when that happened.
Our leisurely walk began with a live band playing Celtic music on Main Street. While some of the crowd negotiated their way around the platform, we stayed and listened. I don’t know how anyone else feels about Celtic music, but I love the emotion behind the genre. Given my wife is also from Nova Scotia, when listening to the guitars and vocals, I’m right at home stomping and clapping along.
Booths and specialty tables outlined the street featuring various services available to the locals. One such booth was giving away free popcorn while another highlighted produce from the local farms in the area. I’ll have to write an article specifically for the farmers in our region dedicated to producing quality foods at low prices. I’m telling you, the fruits and vegetables are delicious.
The other part I enjoyed about our celebratory activities is that they are kids-friendly. Event participants had brought in blowup castles where the children could jump to their heart’s desire without hurting anyone. This was a great way for the little ones to expend all their energy before heading home. What parent does not like that?
We then headed to the lake where the activities shifted to a more grownup theme. There still were the face-painting tables and the free food samplers given to all visitors, but added was the live band that played modern music. More than any other place, the teens and young adults centered their attention here. It was great nonetheless to see everyone have a great time.
One of the most interesting parts of the journey was the cheerleading school that put on a show for everyone. Funny thing about it was how we found it. Actually—I found it. I heard the thump of a bass. I heard the clips of music strung together with a beat. I turned to my wife and said, “That’s cheerleading music.” Seriously. I ran to the where the sound was coming from and there I saw them, tossing each other in the air and making others believe they could fly. For a moment, I believed they could fly. I wasn’t sure how long the school had opened in town, but I’m looking forward to what these kids have planned in the future.
Our walk ended with having a treat from one of the ice cream trucks parked nearby and a few photos of the town’s historical society. I once explained our town was a colonial settlement back in the 1800’s that eventually grew into a bustling commercial center for weary travelers. The historical society preserves the artifacts of that bygone era and our family had the privilege to appreciate them during these Canada Day celebrations.
And if you haven’t guessed, it didn’t end there. Like every special occasion, we went out to eat. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you’ll probably know what type of food we had. I won’t describe it, but when we came back home, we were not only tired but stuffed!
I have yet to remember a winter as brutal as the one we had. It’s still holding on with its last dying breath. The east coast has had it rough, too. Many experienced leaky roofs, flooded basements and broken eaves troughs. I know our roof had a one-foot ice accumulation that took forever to melt. Thankfully, from now on, any storms coming our way will have the sun to deal with, which is a perfect introduction to my Freedom Friday post—summer vacation planning.
Last year, my family and I took to the highway to visit our country’s capital, Ottawa. I must say, we had a great time. We stayed at a well-known hotel, took in the museums, the restaurants, planned activities for the kids, and made it a point to have some much-needed downtime, something my wife and I always appreciate during a vacation.
This year, we’re not sure where we want to go. We talked about hopping in the car to head north where the resort communities lie. However, we haven’t made definite arrangements. Most of our travel plans involve extensive packing and unpacking. My natural inclination is to stay home, but where would the fun be in that? Although years ago, we did set up a gazebo in our backyard, plenty of deck chairs and enjoyed our virtual paradise all summer with BBQs and pool activities. Boy, we had fun.
Nova Scotia has been kind to us in past years, too. We traveled there in 2011 and in 2012. I wrote about the 2012 trip in my Nova Scotia post a year ago. We went twice because in 2011 the whole vacation was a washout. Rained the whole time we were there. I figured, the same thing couldn’t happen again the following year, so we took a chance and tried a second time. Sure enough, the sun apologized for the previous year’s misstep and obliged us with gorgeous sunny days.
I think what we’ll do this year is take a few weekend jaunts throughout the summer to various destinations throughout our province. We haven’t been to Algonquin Park, and I know many of my friends have raved about it from past conversations with them. Maybe we’ll take it as it comes and travel by the seat of our pants. After all, that’s how I write on occasion, so why not travel the same way?
Perhaps it’s time to toss our planning and go with the wind to see where it carries us. I know we’ve done it before. Who’s to say we can’t do it again? The most fun we had has always involved no GPS, plenty of time on our hands and an open itinerary.
During these dark days of winter, nothing quite beats the freedom we have to enjoy our indoor activities. In Ontario, Canada, we have a statutory holiday called Family Day, which is the third Monday in February. Yes, it is this Monday, in fact. My family’s typical use of the day goes something like this: I make a bucketful of sushi, we pig out, then we play board games until dusk. I have to admit, I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve always tried to make Freedom Friday to revolve around things that make me who I am in an effort for you, the audience, to understand that not all authors who write about zombies are half-crazed loons with a bone to pick on a society gone mad. Some of us, if you can believe it, walk on the right side of normal—depending on what normal is.
As I was saying, here in Ontario we have this awesome long weekend called Family Day. What do I have to do to convince you we don’t only eat, and play board games all day? Some of us—me—wake up at an incredibly late hour and lay in bed doing absolutely nothing other than enjoy the warm comfort of our bed. When I say wake up late, I mean eight or nine in the morning. Remember, I’m a parent whose kids have no concept of what sleeping in is all about.
That day is also when I can dedicate a large chunk of my time on productive activities. Like, chess. Have I ever mentioned I once won Second Place in the Eighth Grade Ontario Regional chess tournament? I say it in passing because I think it’s the most perfect game on the planet. I mean, here’s a game with the potential to provide countless hours of fun yet only a handful of folks know how to play. Most of my play nowadays is either on my iPod or on my Nexus 7. I have two different apps to satisfy my craving. Let’s not forget the other apps on my laptop. Needless to say, I get my fill of chess whenever I can.
Not any different from any other weekend other than for nostalgia, but Family Day also includes a movie. I say nostalgia because I’ll usually whip out a title I haven’t seen in a long time that would remind me of when I was growing up. A title like Raiders of the Lost Ark brings me right back to 1981 watching the movie in one of those big screen/big sound theaters. It may also entail my watching something like Terminator 2: Judgment Day where the film brings me right back to the cusp of my youth. Am I allowed to say, those were the days?
This last Family Day bit has to be my favorite. I’m talking about spending time with the family. The sushi, the board games mean nothing without someone to share. And share I do, with those I love the most—my family. Without a doubt, no matter how bad things may get, family makes things all better. Nothing quite compares to having them around to boost ego and morale. What would Family Day be without family?
Living near the Canadian/U.S. border affords my family the perfect strategic point of departure for our vacations. Two hours away is the U.S. A couple of days’ journey we’re on the East Coast. Freedom Friday provides me the opportunity to share some of the vacation destinations we’re thinking about traveling to this summer.
In the past few years, our vacations consisted of visiting my wife’s family in Nova Scotia. If you’ve never been there, I suggest you hightail it over and enjoy some East Coast hospitality. When I went there for the first time to meet my future in-laws, I barely had enough time to see the splendor that Dartmouth and Halifax had to offer. It wasn’t until later years that I’d fallen to appreciate Citadel Hill, Peggy’s Cove, and the incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean.
We wanted to try something different this year, something closer to home, in fact. We didn’t want to take away from our weekend getaway destinations (Barrie, Ontario in the spring and Niagara Falls in the autumn), but we didn’t want to trek far either. Ah, the joys of travel, eh?
Two locations came to mind: Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa, Ontario. From our numerous journeys passing through these cities on our way to the East Coast, the idea grabbed hold of wanting to visit there one day.
Montreal is an amazing city I would recommend to anyone who is looking to enhance their cultural experience. The majority of its residence speaks French. I can get by ordering dinner, taking care of our accommodations, and asking for directions. It’s with the complicated matters I slip back into English, hoping the person I’m talking to will feel that I tried my best communicating with them in their own language. I’ve never had a problem. They’re great and a very warm people.
The hospitality in Montreal is equally amazing. One year, staying overnight, the hotel we’d chosen was reminiscent of an old-style ship. The hallways had portholes painted on the walls, railings affixed underneath. I felt as if I was on the Titanic, which incidentally was the top grossing movie of all time the year before. Coincidence? I think not. Nonetheless, the rooms had plush pillows, a spacious bathroom, generous closet space, and all the frills anyone could ask of a room. The hotel staff was superb with all our requests.
Which leaves Ottawa, our nation’s capital. We’ve never been. Not even overnight as we’ve done with Montreal. So, this may actually be where we’ll end up this summer. Having a peek at the vacation packages available online, I see a few attractions we may benefit from such as Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa River Parkway, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Notre Dame Basilica, National Gallery of Canada, National War Memorial, Peace Tower, Changing of the Guard, Laurier House, Rideau Hall, National Arts Centre, etc.
I’m excited already! This trip is a homeschooler’s delight, and I can’t wait!
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 include the trip for my Freedom Friday series.
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is located in the heart of Toronto (100 Queens Park). Since I’ve been there numerous times with my wife, the kids needed a refresher of our good ol’ fashioned Canadiana history. Besides, I wanted to see the dinosaurs.
We live in a small town, an hour’s drive north of Toronto. We opted to take the car halfway then take public transit the remainder. Public transit in Toronto goes by the name of the TTC (a.k.a. Toronto Transit Commission). Some studious young folk affectionately know it as “Take the Car” or “The Red Rocket”, on account the buses and street cars are red. I’ve always loved the TTC and there might be issues, as with any public transit system, I still trust the system to carry my family from point A to point B.
When we arrived at the ROM, the first thing we did was hit the dinosaur exhibit. I mentioned I like dinosaurs, didn’t I? The kids get a kick out of it as well. It was a special exhibit only open for spring break, and we wanted to take advantage of it. It was an extra cost to admission, but the entire exhibit was worth seeing.
Something new the organizers did this time around was introduce colored lighting to its exhibits. I don’t remember seeing that with any of the exhibits of the past. Nevertheless, it made the displays pop. Also included were creative backdrops set in the correct period. I especially had fun viewing the volcanic settings for the dinosaurs; they made the tour all the more enjoyable.
Next up, we ventured from the dinosaur exhibit to the food court in the building. Surprise overtook me when I realized they had gluten-free items available for my wife to eat. It made me a happy man. Happy wife, happy life. I went for a large salad while the kids had burgers and fries.
Once we finished our meals, we headed over to the Gallery of Chinese Architecture. We stayed for a bit, examining the beautiful clay pottery and ornaments. It was great seeing how history has been kind to these wonderful pieces.
Our last stop was upstairs in the Canadian section. This has always been one of my favorite sections of the museum. I guess I’ve never been afraid to admit I’m Canadian, and am proud to know our history is rich with culture. But this time, we skipped the cultural section of the exhibit and browsed through Canadian wildlife instead.
Did you know Canada has about 200 species of mammals, 630 species of birds and that Canada’s beaver is the second largest rodent in the world weighing up to 60 pounds (South America’s capybara’s up to 100 pounds)? Fascinating, really.
With all that information in our heads, we decided to call it a night and head back. It was still raining, dark and gray, but I like those days and it made the evening all the more enjoyable when we got back to our nice, cozy home.
Have you ever been to the museum? What is the most fascinating thing you’ve seen?
For my summer vacation last year, my family and I had the opportunity to take a road trip to Canada’s East Coast. As part of my Freedom Friday series, this is how it all went down.
Every few years, my wife and I take the kids, load the car, and head to the rich culture of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. My wife has family there, so we make it a point to visit as often as we can. Most of our trip involves hauling a trunk full of luggage across four provinces on a twenty-hour trek. Our trip starts in Toronto and ends in Halifax, home to the tall ships, the International Buskers Festival and Peggy’s Cove. We went there in 2011 but because the weather had been so dark and gloomy, and rain had ruined much of our plans, we decided to try again in 2012 under sunnier circumstances.
Our usual route consists of passing through Ottawa, Montreal and on through The Maritimes. Last year we decided to allow the GPS to take us through Maine instead. That’s where the adventure began. As soon as we passed the Canadian/U.S. border, we wanted to hit Bangor before dusk. Since I’d already driven close to twelve hours, I thought it would have been great to grab a leisurely meal and dip in the pool at an inn. The GPS, however, had other ideas. I’d programmed it to take us to Halifax via the fastest route. Well, that fastest route had nothing to do with Bangor. In fact, it had nothing to do with civilization at all. We found ourselves in Moose Country, home to vast forests and rural lanes. And when the sun began to set, things looked creepier than The Blair Witch Project.
My wife peeked at the GPS, “We’re lost.”
“Oh, we’re fine. We only have an hour or two before we hit a hotel.”
“Jack, I don’t see anything on that thing that suggests we’re even near a hotel.”
“This must be a beautiful place when all the leaves change color in the autumn.”
“Did you hear me? We’re lost!”
“I did hear, but I’ve chosen to march onward and upward.”
She rolled her eyes, shook her head and said something under her breath that I didn’t quite catch.
My son then interrupts, “I have to pee.”
That first day, I drove right through Maine and into New Brunswick for a grand total of sixteen hours. We stayed at a Best Western that evening. The next day, the hotel served a massive continental breakfast for their guests. We took advantage of it, knowing we only had a few hours of driving left.
Once we arrived in Dartmouth, Halifax’s sister city across the bridge, we stayed at my in-laws for a few days. While we were there, they took us to Lawrencetown Beach where rocks covered the entire coast. I’ve never seen anything like it. Walking along the shoreline proved painful. Although smooth from years of water erosion, the rocks had a bite when stepped on with bare feet. We had fun, nonetheless. We played in the water and watched the tide roll in.
A few days later, we packed and headed to my sister-in-law’s place in Sheet Harbour. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive along the Eastern Shore. What a beautiful place to live. With streams and shoreline all around town, I took some time away from the family to indulge in some heavy scenic photography. I’m glad I did because the weather was phenomenal and since we had an open schedule, all of a sudden it became full with BBQ’s and family gatherings.
Now, before I go on, the biggest surprise of the trip was our visit to Taylor Head Beach near Sheet Harbour. We had to drive a bit before getting there, cutting through a patch of wilderness off the main highway on to a gravel road. After parking the cars, we walked a ways on planks covered by white sand. Yes, white sand. The kind of white sand one would expect from the Caribbean where I visited some years ago. Oh, when I feasted my eyes on the sand meeting the blue, crisp water, my jaw hung so low I’d almost swallowed the Eastern seaboard. To me, that beach became a highlight of 2012.
Several days later, we said goodbye to everyone and headed back to the Halifax area. There, we stayed for the remainder of the trip at my nephew’s house in the suburbs of Lower Sackville. I have to say, my nephew and his wife didn’t have to, but they opened their doors and gave us their home while they stayed at his in-laws for a week. So here we were, a home away from home, with a pool, big-screen TV, come and go as we pleased, all in the heart of one of the most beautiful places in the world—Nova Scotia.
The highlight of that week was our visit to Peggy’s Cove, a historic community located on the edge of Saint Margaret’s Bay. This time, the sun blessed us with its warmth and goodness. No rain. I went camera happy taking shots of everything, including rocks. Some may say the beauty of Peggy’s Cove lies in the familiar lighthouse standing erect as the symbol of this Maritime province. But I say, the beauty of the area is the serenity of the ocean, the salt air, and the feeling I get when I sit on those rocks overlooking the bay. I can only describe the feeling as—a blessing.
A day before heading back home to Ontario, we took our time and spent the entire day in the pool. I don’t think I’ve ever spent a whole day in water before. And I don’t think we’d ever gone to Nova Scotia where the sun had beaten down on us every day either. In 2012, however, we lucked out. We had sunny days, good food, awesome family time and plenty of stories to bring back home for years to come.
Nowadays, in the quietness of the night in my bed, I still think of those afternoons in the pool. I remember the sun splashing its rays over my body as I lay floating on the water. I think, “If only every day was like this.” Then I fall asleep.
Do you have a memorable vacation you’d like to share? What’s the most unforgettable experience you’ve had while on holiday?