Monday 29 September 2014

End of Summer Wrap-Up

Overall I had a wonderful summer. Our European Trip took up a chunk of the summer but I managed to fit in some fun events/places before and after! A lot of my free time was spent at Nanny and Pappy’s house (at least on the good weather days) enjoying their pool. Amanda and I drove down often and we had a few family BBQs filled with swimming, games and yummy food. I had a pool from the age of 6-16 at our old house, so it’s definitely something I miss in the summertime and make use of my grandparents’ as much I can. We also finished the pizza kitchen this summer so we had a few family parties here as well experimenting with cooking temperatures, dough, sauce, and toppings. While I say “we” I really mean “dad” as he is the pizza chef of the household!  

Enjoying the Masks I brought back from Venice 

Pappy's games day - Water gun shooting

Potato Sack Races 

Amanda is an honorary Richards 

The Italian Guys of the Family  
Connor's Grade 8 grad 

Here is a brief overview of some of my summer activities!

The Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz MuseumJamestown, NY

When Mom, Aunt Honey and I went to Buffalo and Rolling Hills Asylum we also made a detour and drove out to Jamestown, NY to see the Lucy Desi Museum. It was my third trip to Jamestown which is the home of Lucille Ball. The first time we went as a family in 1999 – when I was in grade nine. I remember being a bit bored and annoyed as I would have rather been at home with my friends but it was still interesting. There was a lot to see and a ton of Lucille Ball stuff – the house she was born in, places she shopped/ate at, the museum, murals and much more. Mom and I went back in 2009 and the town had drastically changed. The economy in Western NY wasn’t great so many things had closed and shut down. Besides the museum there wasn’t much else in the town and we drove away wondering how much longer it would last. Lucille Ball was an amazing woman but would the museum continue to get visitors as the years continued to pass and newer generations came to be? Visiting it again was a spur of the moment idea, so instead of heading home we were making the almost two hour drive out. As soon as we drove into Jamestown Mom and I noticed changes. It was much more alive with new buildings and places and seemed much brighter and happier then it was five years ago. There are two buildings you can tour; 1. The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Musuem which gives information about Lucy and Desi, how they met, their family lives, costumes, photos, footage of them and the shows, Lucy’s car and more and 2. The Desilu studios which are devoted to “I Love Lucy” and has props, costumes, Emmy Awards, recreated sets like Lucy and Desi’s New York City living room, their hotel from the California episodes and their bedroom. 

The kitchen set

The living room set

The hotel room set
There was a lot to see and learn in both areas and it was really well laid out. I could see it being interesting for both fans of Lucille Ball/I Love Lucy and those who weren’t. We had fun taking photos of ourselves doing the Vitameatavegamin commercial and it was cool to see the recreated My Favorite Husband Radio Studio Set where we could listen to clips from the show. I personally loved seeing the costumes and dresses that were on display and I was amazed at how tiny Lucille Ball was! We walked a little bit into town and saw some of the murals of Lucy painted on the side walls of buildings. Unfortunately both mine and Aunt Honey’s cameras died at the asylum so I only had my cell phone camera which wasn’t the greatest. I was glad that we went, Mom and I enjoyed seeing it again and Aunt Honey liked it as well. If you are ever in Western NY I recommend checking it out because it is a great museum and a lot of fun.

The Cottage – Washago, Ontario

I had the opportunity to get away to a cottage twice this summer – once in June with Amanda and Amanda and then again in September with Brian. Both times it was a cottage up in Washago, a small town about 15 minutes away from Orillia. The cottage was built by Amanda. S’s grandparents in the 1950’s- 1960’s and was a perfect spot to get away from the city. The cottage has three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a combined kitchen/living room area – really all one needs. When I went up with the Amanda’s we spent the day swimming in the river, visiting with Amanda’s family (who live nearby), going into town where we had delicious pizza and pastries, and spending the evenings cooking hotdogs and s’mores over the fire. Amanda’s mom and step-dad took us on a boat ride of the area and we got to see some amazing cottages – many of which looked like they could be fancy hotels or restaurants. There was much more to do in the area – going into Orillia, a drive in, some beaches and the casino, but it was just nice to get away from it all. We had a great trip even with the nasty mosquitos that chose to feast on us! Apparently Adam (my brother who doesn’t seem to know me that well) had scared Amanda with tales of my “high-maintenance-ness” until she was worried and convinced I would hate it and not have any fun. It was so the opposite as I had a blast and was even the first one out of all of us to get into the freezing cold river!

Just before that cottage trip Andrew, Matt, Brian and I had been talking about renting a cottage for a weekend in September and after having such a great time there with the girls, I chose to rent that one. It was a great location – only an hour and a half away from both of us – and had more then enough room for the four of us. It was available the weekend we were looking at and Amanda’s mom gave us a great rate. Sadly, just before we were scheduled to go Andrew’s uncle passed away. Brian and still went up for the weekend and had a great time but it wasn’t the trip we had been planning. The weather was a bit chilly and rainy when we were there and one night we had a large storm pass through that spawned tornados only 30 minutes from us. We didn’t spend much time outside – so we never got to swim or use the paddle boat – and we only used the fire pit once.  We also went for pizza and into the town, and spent most of our time relaxing with books, movies, and games. We even watched two seasons of the BBC show Sherlock and got hooked on the series. It wasn’t a busy weekend with tons to see or do, but we had a great time.

Eganridge Inn – Bobcaygeon, ON

Just before Canada Day Brian and I drove up to Bobcaygeon for a night and stayed at the Eganridge Inn. It is part of the Ontario Inn’s network and had a special price/promotion going on for the Canadian Holiday. Brian had a few days off because of the weekend and then the holiday so it seemed like a great time to get away for the night. The Inn was off a country road and would have been hard to find without a GPS. It was attached to a golf course and you could see the lake in the distance from the Inn. It was a strange location and pretty empty but it was cute. The room was nice with a whirlpool tub and a gas fireplace as well as a walkout toward the lake. I guess we could have walked down to the lake but it was raining on and off and the lake didn’t seem easy to get to – something that was a little misleading from their website. Still the staff were friendly, the room was clean and the location very peaceful. One strange aspect was there was no night staff – everyone left at a certain time and there was a number to call in emergencies. I will be honest – the location and layout of the inn added to the fact that we were all on our own made the place slightly creepy!  One TripAdvisor review was from a woman who was the only guest at one point and she mentioned loving that aspect. If that were me – all alone with no staff - I would have opted to stay elsewhere. Maybe I watch too many shows like Criminal Minds!

Brian in between this two countries  

Bobcaygeon is an area I spent a lot of time in growing up as it is where my great-grandparents had their cottage and lived all year round. I haven’t been back sine Pa passed away a few years ago, but driving in everything was familiar. There was the legion that Pa belonged to and that we would always end up going to when we were in the area, sitting around a table listening to Pa and his friends share their stories of legion life and events and playing shuffleboard. There was the main street lined with shops and restaurants – places we visited every November and July when we came up to celebrate Pa’s and Aunt Bev’s birthday and of course the small graveyard where both Pa and Nan are buried. The plan was to head out to dinner early, visit the cemetery and then walk around the small, cottage town and have dinner at my favorite place up there – “Just for the Halibut” a delicious fish and chip place.  As it was a Monday and sort of the “holiday weekend” most shops and the restaurant were closed! I picked two other popular spots I enjoyed but one of them was packed and another closed for a private function. We ended up at a small Italian restaurant that was overpriced and unmemorable. Still we made the best of it and had a fun evening out. There wasn’t much to do at the Inn – something else that was misleading as we thought the on-site pub would be open – so we spent the rest of the night watching a marathon of “Undercover Boss”. Yup…. I think at that point we realized exactly why this deal was so cheap! Breakfast was included in the morning and wasn’t all that great… I think I only had toast. Don’t get me wrong, the deal was great and the room was great but it’s a place that could definitely use some work. If they added some more staff, some activities and changed some things it could easily become a really great Inn. As it stands right now, it isn’t a place I plan on returning to!

Girls Night

Recently I have begun hosting some Girl’s Night at my place and inviting a group of girls – both Amanda’s, my friend Natalia, Amanda. G’s sister-in-law, and my cousin Nicole. I got the idea once Brian and I finished turning my old third-floor bedroom into a living room. Before Brian and I got married we moved in with my parents – I was returning from living in Niagara and he had left Buffalo due to their being no opportunities there. Despite us planning on getting married and then getting engaged a few months later, my parents insisted on separate rooms. As Brian was in his early 30’s and had lived alone for over 15 years I figured he would want as much space as possible and gave him my bedroom. As Dad designed our house and had creative freedom and planning he put my brother and I on the third floor. Adam’s room took up the front half of the house and mine was the back half, each with their own washroom. Despite being purple and girly my room offered it’s own bathroom, privacy away from most people, a balcony and large desk for Brian’s computer. The guestroom however was on the second floor with my parent’s room and office and didn’t have an attached bathroom or much space. I was fine moving into it and using (or as my dad refers to it “taking over”) other spaces as needed, but knew Brian would be uncomfortable. The plan was to move back upstairs once we were married but that never happened. First, the guestroom bed was more comfortable! Secondly, Brian’s computer is insanely loud! Thirdly, I sort of took over the guestroom with all my stuff finding a nice home in the drawers and closet! So I didn’t want to move back up into a room which had sort of become a purple man cave. We decided we would eventually but that never happened. We would sleep in the guestroom and I had all my stuff and TV in there and Brian would use the upstairs for his stuff, computer and bathroom. Initially it annoyed my dad to no end, but he admitted defeat and we continued with our living arrangement. I always felt that the space up there was being wasted – a bed that was hardly used when there was so much potential for the space. It took a lot of convincing but over the course of a year I got everyone on board with removing the bedroom furniture and replacing it with my apartment’s living room set. One weekend we unassembled the bed and Brian lugged the furniture up from the basement and soon we had a cute living room. I also managed to fit in my desk in so the room became functional for both of us. Once we were done setting it up, and I finished putting on the last touches – artwork, throw pillows, etc – I wanted to show it off! So Girls Nights began.

They are pretty simple and fun. We get together, eat, drink, play games and stay up having fun and hanging out until the early hours of the morning. Then Brian drives everyone home! (Brian really is the best hubby out there!). Living with my parents is necessary at the moment but not exactly what we planned… thankfully there is a lot of space and adding this room which allows us to entertain and be our own space, helps make the whole situation easier to bare!

The CNE (Canadian National Exhibition)

The week after I got back from Europe, Nanny, Mom and I made our annual trip downtown for the Canadian National Exhibition. Nanny and I have been going for years and recently mom started joining us. The CNE takes place every summer for two full weeks of exhibits, rides, games, food, and vendors.  It’s pretty much the same thing each year – everything stays in the same place or building, the schedule remains similar and the vendors are mostly familiar faces/companies with a few new ones scattered in.  Actually the only thing that seems to change from year to year is what crazy new (and horribly bad for you) food items are going to be tested out. This year the top five were Chocolate Fried Chicken, Butter Coffee, S’more Bao (an Asian bun topped with S’more fixings), Elvis Grilled Cheese (a grilled cheese with peanut butter, banana, and bacon) and Thanksgiving Waffles. Usually there are thousands of people who come to the CNE just to try out those insane concoctions but this year I am not quite sure after last summer’s food poisoning fiasco. One of the popular food creations of 2013 was the cronut burger whose maple-bacon jam wasn’t refrigerated properly and sickened almost 100 people. That whole experience made me happy that I am not adventurous with fair foods and never got into that whole CNE food craze. This year however was an exception as Nanny really wanted to try the thanksgiving waffles. Basically it is a savory waffle topped with turkey, stuffing, cranberries and mashed potato’s and then covered in gravy – it was the hit of the 2014 CNE, top rated by all reviews including the Toronto Sun who gave it a “5 arteries clogged out of 5” rating.  Since it was massive and we were unsure about it, the three of us decided to share it. WOW. That creation was delicious! The turkey was perfectly cooked, the potato’s were yummy and the waffle was amazing. I was very impressed! It was super rich so I am glad that we shared it.

We always get airbrush tattoos 

Awesome sand sculpture 

Thanksgiving Waffle 

Our CNE day follows the same pattern each year. We take the 10:07 train, eat lunch when we arrive, walk around the Arts and Crafts building (looking at the handmade products, buying Christmas gifts, and Nanny buying her wooden roses), then take the tram to the other building where we would walk around, maybe see a show, and then end with wine and cheese in the wine garden. This year was the same except they had changed the wine garden so we passed on it. Usually there have been a great selection of wines and cheeses for a slightly-high but still reasonable price. This year the wine selection was crappy and overpriced and no cheeses were being offered. We decided to take the next train home and stop at the store where we could pick up our own wines and cheeses. This worked out nicely as Pappy got to join us for once.

While I enjoy the CNE and will keep going each year with Mom and Nanny, I think they need to make some changes. Just adding in some different shows or new areas would be bring in some much needed freshness to the entire event and would make a world of difference.

St. Anne’s Spa – Grafton, ON

I have the best mom in the world! No seriously I do. Every year for my birthday she takes me away for the night to St. Anne’s Spa – the most amazing spa in the area. It’s set out in the country, on a huge piece of property and has amazing amenities, treatments, accommodations, staff and food.  Every time we come back feeling relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated. I am a total spa girl. I love being pampered and trying new treatments and products. Sometimes mom will get a facial or massage, but often she will just come along to sit in the comfy chairs and read or hang out in whatever amazing room we are in with the luxurious linens and incredible bed. Because we did our mom/daughter cruise last October, we didn’t go to St. Anne’s for my birthday. It was too close to that trip and we wanted to go in the summer when the pool was open. While I was on my Europe trip and having a homesick day (Brian and Dad were both getting on my nerves) mom being the awesome mom she is, said she would look at booking St. Anne’s for when I got back. That way we had our own little thing to look forward to.

There was some availability for the end of the week that worked well with both our schedules so she booked it. We drove up on a Thursday morning and arrived at the spa just before 2:00pm. We checked in, went up to our amazing room (we try new ones each time) and changed into our bathrobes. This room was “The Cathedral Room” room and was on the top floor of the original building. It had a long hallway that led to the bathroom and down a few stairs into the main bedroom. There were two beds, a sitting area, a beautiful view of the grounds (on both sides) and a real fireplace. It was awesome! The only downfall was the 4 steps leading up to the hallway/bathroom were a bit slippery which wasn’t the easiest in the middle of the night when the room was dark. But still we loved it!

We had out afternoon tea which consisted of scones, pastries and savory treats – as always it was delicious. We both had booked facials so we went off and did those before meeting back at the room. We changed into our bathing suits and used the outdoor hot tub and the always incredible eucalyptus steam room, but weren’t brave enough to try the cold plunge pool! We rested a bit and then – still in our bathrobes – went downstairs for dinner. The following morning we ate breakfast, walked out to the outdoor pool, used the steam room again, had lunch and then got massages just before heading home. It was a wonderful mom and daughter trip. The only negative was that a close family friend was in the hospital and not doing well at the same time. Glo had been a friend of Pappy’s since childhood and she remained a close friend of both Nanny and Pappy for the next 60+ years. Mom grew up with her kids as the two families would take vacations together and see each other often, and when I moved to St. Catharines she was the only person I initially knew and made sure to know I could call her at any time. Sadly she passed away while we were there so that altered the mood of our trip.  Still it reinforced to me how important it is to spend family time together every chance you get!

Tease on the Seas

A friend of mine was getting married in the fall and had her Bachelorette party on a Burlesque River Cruise around the Toronto Harbor. It wasn’t something I would have chosen to go to myself, but it ended up being a lot of fun. It is put on by some professional Burlesque dancers and involved performances, dancing, and was sponsored by a cosmetics company that provided free samples and make-up applications. Amanda and I both went and we had a great time!