Sunday, 26 August 2012

The end of August

Let’s start this blog off with some really good news. Some really, really, really good news. I have kept this news tucked in my heart for a couple weeks, notifying all the appropriate personal parties before shouting to the world, and now it is time. Time to stand on the edge and shout across the distance. Time to alert the media and call Peter Mansbridge. Time to send it to the masses, write it across the sky, put it in the history books, and make it front page news. I am coming home! For good! You may remember when I was home for my friends wedding a couple weeks ago well I also had a job interview that week at the Benmiller Inn & Spa in Goderich for the pastry cook position. After a fantastic interview on a gorgeous Mid-Western Ontario day I was offered the job. Elated and stunned I accepted. After a week of sharing the good news with family and friends and talking it over with my boss at Anne of Green Gables I have decided to come home in October. Yes, I am coming home. It feels so refreshing to say those words and to mean them. Knowing that I can come home, I will come home. I am no longer in a, “I will see where God takes me” limbo, because I can see that He is taking me home!

However, with the promise of coming home that means I have to leave the Island and that makes me sad. What if I don’t want to leave? What if no matter how great it is to be home, nothing will be as great as red sand, lobster, and sea breezes? I don’t want to leave! Oh my lanta, there I go again, being all emotional and dramatic, some say it is one of my more charming qualities, but I think it’s a pain to be this flamboyant. It’s understandable that I have reservations about leaving and I have to keep in mind that I still have an entire month and a bit to still enjoy the Island. I have a month to bike out the country, stroll the beaches, and watch the fiery red sunsets. I’m not done with the Island yet, and it isn’t done with me, it still has a few secrets it wants to share with me.

So I began this week with the endless to do list of packing, organizing, and important tasks. All the while managing to steal a few vacation like moments to soak up my beloved Charlottetown. Before I move home to Ontario I have to move into a new apartment for a month. I am moving into a beautiful home on the edge of Charlottetown, however that means I am no longer within walking distance of all my favourite haunts. If I want to stroll to the Governors garden I need to bike ten minutes into town when before it was a ten minute walk. Cordelia’s and the Basilica are no longer four blocks away. And when I sit in my living room and look out the window I won’t see the stir fry of colourful, inventive, multi-cultural, multi-aged, and multi-demographic of people strolling by. Instead I will have suburban folk to watch and imagine what kind of story they have. I realize I am judging my neighbourhood before I am there and that is rude, it’s just that I don’t want to leave my down town apartment. It was my first Island home. I had so many adventures here. I got hit by a car 100 feet from my front door. I watched as men in hazmat suits invaded the apartment building beside ours and fumed it for bed bugs. I watched as police surrounded that same building and carried out a dead body. I’m not really painting my neighbourhood with the best colour am I? No worries mom, I am still safe and sound. I will miss watching the children in the apartment behind ours play in their back yard. I will miss watching the elderly man walk his dog every morning at 7:00 around the block. I have become so attached to this little place.

However, I need to look at all the good things my new neighbourhood will have. For one I am living in the basement which means I will be nice and cool and curl up in piles of blankets every night, instead of stripping off layers and fighting with the heat of sleeping in a third story apartment. I will live in a quiet neighbourhood, void of the noisy college students partying at all hours of the night. The streets will be safer so there is less chance of getting hit by a car again. And I will have a big back yard to sprawl out in and nap Saturday afternoons away. To top it all off my new roommates are friends from church and they have a dog! Yipee!! Maybe this new place won’t be so bad after all.

With the pressure of moving into a new apartment by the end of this week on my shoulders and realizing I had plenty of things to use up to make packing easier I embarked on several creative adventures on Monday. With the day off work I woke up at my usual time, you would think that having the day off would encourage me to sleep in but I love waking up early on my days off, there is more opportunity to accomplish all the things you need if you wake up.

I took over the kitchen table and spread out sheets of colourful paper, my box of rubber stamps, lined my markers at one edge of the table, and tucked a pencil behind my ear. I set out making as many cards as I could make in a 24 hour span. With the living room windows open allowing a constant flow of sweet air to flow through I kept my head down and dove into the curious world of my creativity. Paper was cut, folded, stamped, and glued. Cards were written and tucked into envelopes and rushed to the mail box. After burning my brain out with coloured paper palettes and glue I turned my creativity to the culinary side of things and made homemade pizza. I doubled the recipe and made a mountainous Mama Jo Approved deep dish pizza! It had two cans of pizza sauce, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and Italian sausage. Ohhh, Italian sausage, my life would not be complete without you.

Despite all the packing and stress I managed to escape the confines of my mid-packing shambled apartment and get out and enjoy the rich down town. On Friday night I attended an art show for Kim Nuamann, my favourite local Island artist. Her art is inventive, playful, and vibrant. When you look at a piece of her art you look into a world that is so playful and inviting. If life were a Disney movie we could step through the canvas and sing and dance across the brush strokes. Her range of brush strokes, detailed houses, and objective eye landscapes are captivating. For me personally they warm my heart and make me smile. I stood in awe at her interpretation of the world around her, how she uses playful brush strokes, doilies, antique paper for collages, and a pin for more detail. I wandered around the gallery space for a good hour filling my eyes with her work and studying it, noting the intensity of the colour, the thickness of the collage, and the bulk of the subjects. She has a dream like Disney quality to the characters she paints. Painting curious looking chickens, languid cats, happy pigs, and cuddly horses. I love her work, all of her pieces, I loved her work so much in fact that I purchased one of them. Now I will have a very special piece of the Island to take home with me.

The weekend went on with the rhythm of packing, packing, packing, and just for good measure, packing. I was sad to leave my first Island home on Sunday afternoon, and after loading up my new roommates car I gave one last glance and let out a sad sigh and I left my room exactly as I had found it one year ago.

To beat off the sadness and calamity of moving into a new place my roommates and I went out to dinner at Brits Fish n’ Chips, the best fish n’ chips in town! As I sat there sinking my teeth into a delicious forkful of battered haddock a memory popped into my head. The first time I moved to the Island I went out to dinner at Brits Fish n’ Chips, and now that I am moving into a place on the Island I am again dinning out at Brits, huh, isn’t that funny. Brits seems to be the place to celebrate change, however a better place to celebrate such things I have not found.

I am happy to report that I am half way settled into my new place, cozily tucked into the basement of a beautiful home. I am exhausted from a day of lifting and organizing and will sleep well tonight.

Some odd looking rock statues I found while strolling down by the water. 

Taking a stretch through the governor's garden.

Mama Jo's deep dish pizza

Creativity over load!

Kim Naumann's Curiouser and Curiouser art exhibit. 

My favourite painting of hers. 

One last sunset from the comfort of my first Island home. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Funny looking chickens

This week in roaring Charlottetown I joined in the celebration of Old Home Week. It is a time where we celebrate the Island and all the people, establishments, and history that make the Island such a unique and magical place to live. I have been looking forward to this week all summer long actually. It has been ages since I have been on a ferris wheel or had sinfully fluffy and delicious cotton candy fill my mouth. My ears have been aching for carnival music, crowds of giddy half whit teenagers screaming on rides, and the bright clink and clang of games. I even miss being badgered by carnies trying to lure you to their games so you can win a stuffed animal. Oh the carnival, dripping with August sunshine, reeking of sticky cotton candy and cheese dogs, and intoxicated with enough teenage summer love romance to write a novel. 

I went to the carnival on a delicious Monday evening with my gal pal Lindsay, you may remember her from the jelly fish poking episode. We gingerly strolled up to the carnival gates paid our shiny dime to get in and plunged into the magical world of colours, lights, sounds, and fragrances. We walked the grounds several times breathing in the thickness of it all. Several carnies shouted sweet nothings at Lindsay and I like, “Hey pretty ladies, come play, winner every time!” or “Hey princess! Come here gorgeous! Want to play? Big prizes every time!” or my personal favourite, “Hey hot dog, come here!” Lindsay was eating a hot dog at the time. One carnie badgered and lured us in with the promise of a free throw in his dart game. We each got a chance to send a dart whistling through the air to pop a balloon. After our throws he then laid out how the game works and the price. But Lindsay and I only had sights for the ferris wheel and cotton candy and we wanted to save our pennies for such treasures. Defused and frustrated he told us to scram, and we did. It was no sweat off our back he didn’t need to get all feisty at us. 

Lindsay and I sought refuge in the showing pens and meandered through the rows of cows, sheep, turkeys, geese, pigs, and exceptionally fluffy chickens. These animals looked cleaner than me and probably smelled better to. I have never seen so many well groomed farm animals in my life, several of the chickens had blue ribbons tied on their cages and they seemed to know they were a prized chicken as they strutted around their cages. 

As the sun melted into the perfect hue of tangerine and a sky full of thick thunder clouds began to accumulate over the east side of the Island, Lindsay and I took our turn on the ferris wheel. We climbed into the precarious cage and were wheeled up to the sky and back again. Around and around we went, each time we crested the wheel our breath was stolen by the gorgeous landscape below us. We could see the harbour, Hillsborough bridge, the Basilica, all of the fair grounds, and lush trees. The air was sweeter up there at the top of the ferris wheel. The air was sweet with the tingly scents of evening air, the world slowly shutting its eyes, the flowers getting in one last exhale before nodding off to bed, and that ever constant ribbon of ocean fragrance telling time. 

After the ferris wheel groaned to a stop and the gentlemanly carnies assisted Lindsay and I off we made a stop at the food stand and each bought a cotton candy. Oh cotton candy, what a curious candy you are. Light and fluffy like so many clouds at sunset I have seen and yet with flavour and sweetness of such density you make my lips pucker. We walked home under the glow of the setting sun and watched with great anticipation the eastern storm clouds gathering more and more steam. To our disappointment thunder and lightning did not grace Charlottetown, I suppose it is for the best though, the ferris wheel would be a most unfortunate lightning rod, especially if it was full of passengers. 

The following evening my friend Claudia invited me out to a baseball game. Her husband and son play on an “old boys” league and I spent another particularly gorgeous August evening out in the sweet summer air inhaling as much as my lungs could hold. I’ve heard it said that baseball is the best metaphor for life. I didn’t really pick up on that truth while sitting on the bleachers getting eaten by bugs whilst watching a smash up of 20 to 50 year old men run around. But if I were to draw out some nugget of wisdom it would be this: sometimes you have to wait a long time before someone else hits a home run and you can cross the plate. I hope that stirs up something deep and enlightening in your life, in all honesty I’m just throwing some words down and hoping they have enough charm to make you pause. 

After a long work day on Thursday Claudia and I again escaped into the depths of evening and spent an hour or so at the beach. Thick rain clouds threatened to spill on us and as we splashed and floated in the ocean I could feel the ocean growing angry with anticipation of a storm. The current rushed around my feet, waves heaved their chests in thick sighs, and white caps crashed noisily into the shore. As we sat on the beach drying off I suddenly felt a kiss of rain on my cheek, and then another and then another, and suddenly Claudia and I were caught in a delicious fresh rain. We dashed to the car quickly and avoided getting soaked. 

On Friday morning while gazing out my window and sipping my morning coffee I saw a curious sight. A sporadic exodus of couples, young families, elderly loves, and the odd bachelor walk down the sidewalk carrying lawn chairs. It dawned on me that the Old Home Week parade was about to start and who doesn’t like a good parade? I rushed out the door with my camera in hand and joined the masses of people lining University, Grafton, and Water street. I hadn’t been there five minutes when someone shouted, “Here they come!” 

A 1950’s police cruiser rolled down the street in sleek style followed by tractors, fire engines, carriages, marching bands, Highland pipers, baton twirlers, hockey players, and a three story high Larry the Cucumber from Veggie Tales! It was a most impressive sight that wove its way through Charlottetown for 2 hours. While the parade was colourful, inventive, and energetic the real site to see was the hoards of people that came. I have never seen Charlottetown so thick with onlookers. If you didn’t bring a lawn chair you were subject to stand unless you were nimble enough to climb up the side of the Scotia Bank and take a seat on the window ledge as one pair of teenagers did. It’s true what they say that everyone and their dog comes out for the Old Home Week Parade. It was a wonderful parade and after the hullaballoo was over I went home and took refuge from the crowds and heat in my apartment with a generous scoop of ice cream. 

I learned a lot this week. I learned that sometimes life is like a baseball game in that there is a lot of standing and waiting for a good hit, but in the end we all want to cross home plate. I learned that ferris wheels are best enjoyed in the month of August, and that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or hold you are everyone loves a parade.  

The fair grounds.  

A sand castle artist making a master piece out of our red soil. 

A really fluffy chicken!

Another odd looking farm fowl with fluffy feet. 

The horse race getting warmed up. 

The ferris wheel!!

Lindsay and I and our cotton candy!

Look at all the people!!

An old fire engine

Highland piping bands. 


Milk and cream truck, my favourite truck!

Here comes Bob the Tomato of Veggie Tales.

And here's Larry. Look at how tall Larry is!!

Baby Smurf coming down the street. 

Baby Smurf had an issue making the corner, he almost fell over and ended up dragging a piece of the gate with him.

Snazzy looking car. 

A marching band!

A truck carrying apples. 

Monday, 13 August 2012

Ducks, Door Knobs, and Dancing!

After another few hours on the road I safely arrived on the Ritsema Homestead on Monday afternoon. To celebrate the long awaited return of the favourite Ritsema offspring my mother invited the whole family over for dinner on the deck with barbequed pork chops, pasta salad, corn on the cob and for dessert cheese cake and ice cream. Mmmm. It was a short and sweet visit with my family but there was a promise that hung in there that I would see them again soon.

After a few days of rest on the Homestead I traveled on to Sauble Beach where the wedding of all weddings took place. Roll out the red carpet, lock up the children, and release the ducks, my beloved friend and old roommate, Andrew Stroud, got married! I arrived at his house on Wednesday night three days before the wedding ready for any task I could help out with. The first order of business was to embrace the groom to be in the biggest hug I could squeeze out and wish him all the blessing in the world. We gathered around the kitchen table and together with his parents and sister we fell into conversation, mostly about the wedding of course but we tossed in the odd story about days passed. Andrew and I were itching to get at the piano and sing together like we did in our university days and after the conversation died off we did just that. We sang for what seemed like hours going through all our favourites and trying our hand at some new ones. Sitting with Andrew on the piano bench singing and laughing is what I was looking forward to the most, one last sing along with Andrew before he becomes married.

Thursday was a hell of day. We all woke up at the crack of dawn and before I knew it I was thrown into the kitchen with Andrews sister Shannon as her and I put the finishing touches on the wedding cake. Shannon made an amazing lemon buttercream wedding cake that mirrored Andrew and his bride Alysha perfectly. It was s single tiered cake with four duck ponds all connected with hop-a-long rocks, reeds, water lilies and a pair of ducks. As Shannon and I slaved away in the kitchen elbow deep in butter, fondant, icing, sugar and lemon juice Andrew and his best man Ben took frequent naps, cleaned the house, ran around with door mats around their shoulders as capes, mulled over wedding details and tux arrivals. As Shannon put the last perfectly molded fondant rock in the duck pond we all jumped into the car, loaded up the cake and went to town to deliver the cake, pick up tuxes and one of the groomsmen Cabes. After a few more errands around town involving a stop at Tim Hortons for some much needed Tim Bits and coffee we returned the house to take care of more wedding details and to enjoy each others company and throw ourselves into frequent fits of laughter.

As the evening slowly turned into night and the house grew quiet Cabes, Ben, Andrew, and myself sprawled out on the living room couches talking about the good old days, chatting about our summers, and sharing plans for the near future. It felt so familiar to be with the boys again, having fellowship and growing in friendship with one another. It wasn’t long until the clock chimed bedtime and we sluggishly made our way to the basement. Like one big slumber party we sprawled out on the basement floor and furniture and after a few giggles we fell asleep.

Friday. The day before the wedding. We were woken up by the thick and joyful anticipation of the events that would unfold the following day and with the realization that Andrews wedding was 30 hours away and there was still plenty to do! I leaped out of bed and busied myself in the kitchen making pancakes for the family. I even caramelized some banana’s for an added pastry chef flair. After breakfast the boys and I sat out on the front porch watching the down pour of rain love on the trees and rich green growth surrounding the Stroud Family Homestead. We didn’t say anything to each other. We sat and absorbed the gentle whispers of rain on birch leaves and breathed in the sweet fresh wet air. Humming birds bravely darted between rain drops and drank from the feeder giving us some amusement. Andrew tapped away at the dance list, Ben was engulfed in a devotional, Cabes plunked away at his ukulele, and I scribbled in my journal. With the falling of rain so did the temperature and I scooted inside to make us all a round of hot chocolate. We all took a break and went inside to warm up and gather more to do lists for the day to come. Andrew and I rehearsed the song I was going to sing at the wedding a few times and as we all gathered out onto the front porch once again a bouncing and joyful car pulled up the driveway. More friends!! Kristen flew out of the car and ran up the walk way and jumped into our arms. Caleb quickly followed and we soon found ourselves in a bouncy, screaming, laughing, group hug. After getting our newest visitors settled into the basement we sat around the kitchen table telling stories, eating lunch, and laughing!

The rehearsal dinner was a rude slap in the face to all of us that Andrews wedding was really happening. How could this be? How could my dear friend Andrew be getting married? It didn’t seem real. We did a dry run of the wedding twice and helped decorate the church and then it was off to dinner at a quaint little restaurant called “The Kitchen.” The parents and aged folks sat at one long table and us young whipper snippers sat at another. We told embarrassing stories of Andrew and Alysha and ourselves and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Trying to catch a wink of sleep the night before the wedding was almost impossible. We were all happily tucked into our sleeping bags when Andrew got up and sat in the middle of the floor on a ten foot squared throw rug, wide awake, heart pounding excitedly. If the groom can’t sleep then none of us will. We all hopped out of our sleeping bags and huddled on the rug together whispering loudly and giggling trying to think of ways to relax. I decided to lead the group in a few yoga exercises to reverse the blood flow and energy. It was going very well and we all seemed to be relaxing until I led them into ‘table’ position, which is just standing on your hands and knees. Keep in mind there were eight adults on a ten foot squared throw rug trying to do yoga at 1:00am. It wasn’t long until the giggles turned into chuckles and then full out laughter as yoga hour turned into a silly game of Twister. Confident that my soothing voice and natural maternal authority would put everyone to sleep I continued to instruct my silly friends into the ways of yoga. As we all stretched into the center of the rug the yoga circle became a rugby scrum and somehow I ended up on the bottom. We became hopelessly entangled and burst out laughing. Suddenly the gruff and annoyed voice of Shannon sounded from the top of the stairs and said, “Some of us are trying to sleep, can you keep it down?” That sharp warning shattered our laughter and we quickly untangled ourselves from the scrum and sat on the rug with our hands over our mouths muffling the remaining giggles. Before we all rolled back into our sleeping bags we laid hands on Andrew and prayed over him wishing him peace, sleep, strength, joy, and an eternal foot hold in love with God and Alysha. As the Holy Spirit hovered over us we folded into our sleeping bags and finally fell asleep.

Saturday, August 11 2012. It’s here! It’s finally here! Andrews Wedding Day!!!! Everyone was awake at the crack of dawn and we gathered up stairs for breakfast. We started the day off right by huddling on the couches and breaking out into song. We sang through half of the Sister Act 2 soundtrack and danced around the kitchen. It was a hoot and was a chance for us to shake out most of our wedding jitters. Andrews parents, Bob and Gina, made us a feast of omelets, orange juice, and coffee and we fueled up on a hearty breakfast. After we were all dressed in our Sunday best and the vehicles were packed with gifts, groomsmen, guests, and a cello we made our way to the church.

If rain on a wedding day is good luck then continuous rain 3 days prior to the wedding and on the wedding day must be really lucky! Andrews favourite animal is the duck and it was a perfect day for a duck. It was as if all the ducks in Grey Bruce county were giving their blessing on Andrews wedding.

However, on the way to church a cop pulled us over! I was so mad. The road to the church is a 4 lane highway and the flow of traffic was a robust 85 to 90 km speed. Bob legally and carefully passed the cop cruiser at 88km which was a much slower speed than the yahoos that were flying by at 100km and Mr. Cop flicked on his lights and dragged us to the side of the road. How dare he pull us over, on Andrews wedding day! Doesn’t he know how important this day is? Doesn’t he know that I am Mama Jo!? As the cop talked to us it was clear he was just bored and was acting like a door knob just because he had the authority to. He let us go with a warning and we cautiously got back on the road. Mr. Cop had now made us late and I told Bob, “Step on it Bob and get us to the church on time. If that cop flicks on his lights again we will race him to the church and I will let him have it! I’m Mama Jo and no one messes with Andrews wedding day!” Thankfully Mr. Cop ignored us and found another poor soul to pull over. We got to the church on time and so did everyone else and after going over a few last minute details the celebration began.

The bridesmaids and groomsmen floated down the aisle in a vision of dapper blue. Andrew stood at the front of the sanctuary giddy as a goat on top of a mountain. Alysha walked elegantly down the aisle in long graceful strides escorted by her father. She looked stunning! Beaming with joy and love and blushing a little. As she came down the aisle I thought to myself, ‘This is a great day!’ This is a great day! A special day! A day of unhindered celebration, joy, and love! The ceremony was simple, elegant, short, sweet and to the point. After the minister announced Andrew and Alysha as husband and wife the crowd erupted into applause and I took my place on stage to sing them a blessing as they left the church. I was so honoured to be apart of the wedding and to witness such a wonderful occasion.

With the hard part out of the way it was time to party! The rain cleared just in time for pictures and we all went down to Georgian Bay to take advantage of the photo op. While the wedding party did their pictures the rest of us silly guests had our own photo shoot. We found a break wall of boulders and without thinking twice I kicked off my shoes and nimbly made my way across it. It was such fun! The evening followed with a delicious meal, fantastic conversation, lots of laughs, mild embarrassment to the new married couple, and dancing, LOTS of dancing!

When Andrew and Alysha left the rest of us stayed behind to take down and clear out. Exhausted we arrived back at the Stroud Family Homestead and collapsed on couches, chairs, and spare room on the floor. Bob made me an exceptional double rum and coke and the boys shared a bottle of whiskey. We relaxed and leaned heavily into the night reflecting on the day and smiling proudly at our Andrew. He’s all grown up now.

It was a fantastic day, full of life and thick with the presence of God. I am so happy for Andrew and Alysha. May they be blessed with many, many, many years of marriage filled with happiness, tears, challenges, triumphs and the energy and wisdom to keep up with it all.

Andrew, the groom, vacuuming . . .

 . . . Ben, the best man using a mat as a cape . . .

. . . Shannon, sister and bridesmaid, working hard on her cake . . .

. . . Me, friend and vocalist, making pancakes. 

Ben, Andrew, and Cabes (another groomsman) chillaxing on the porch. 

Kristen arrives! Hugs and giggles all around! 

Yes, that is a tent in the basement. A couple of the boys slept in here. 

Caleb and Kristen having a pillow fight. 

Silly photo shoots after the wedding by Georgian Bay. 

Kristen and I

Katy and I

Kristen, Katy, and I acting silly. 

Here comes the rest of the hooligans: Debra, the other Andrew, Caleb, Josh, and Dylan. 

Dylan and I

The Red Ritsema and Valiant One. 

Best man and groomsman acting silly, in all honesty it isn't a hard for them to do. 

Best man speech. "May you grow more quackers for each other and may your ducks always line up in a row."

The Cohesive Adhesives! These are all the men I lived with in my third year of university: Andrew, Caleb, Caleb (Cabes), Myself, and Andrew. 
I love my boys!

More silliness with Josh, Cabes and Kristen. 
"Cabes you need to commit to the jump!" 

Debra and myself. 

More silliness!!

A pair of Island girls. 

The bride and the groom and their first dance. 

Cutting the duck pond. 

Silliness . . .

. . . silliness . . .

. . . silliness . . .

. . .  silliness . . 

Andrew and the Quackers singing a du-op for Alysha.