Family Travel

Last weekend, my daughter and I attended the annual Cornwall Girls Hockey Association Fall Tournament – as we have done the first weekend of every November for the past nine years. It’s become another hallowed hockey tradition in our family and I’m not allowed to mess with it.

Only ‘mess with it’ I did.

This was our first tournament after my book, “Offside by a Mile – Confessions of a Hockey Mom” was published. Now that I am a famous author and all, I get to go on a luxurious book tour and jet set to exquisite book signings all over the world, and be interviewed by incredibly famous people. Except in my case, I jet set to cold hockey arenas all over eastern Ontario and get asked riveting author questions like, “Do you know where the washroom is?” That’s fame, people.

So Saturday morning, I left my daughter1 sleeping soundly at the hotel the morning after her first round robin game, and headed back to the arena to set up my book signing table amid all the hockey bags, coffee-sipping parents, and the typical hockey tournament vendors (hockey hoodies, sports equipment, sports photography, etc.) selling their wares. Since I wasn’t selling – or wearing – hockey hoodies emblazoned with “I’m a Cougar Mom” or “I’m a Wildcat!” it took a little while for people to wander over, and ask me about the book.

As it turns out, it wasn’t just my potential book buyers that were asking questions. I was asking a lot of questions. I met people from all walks of hockey life. I met people who had just as busy a hockey life as I have (ok, some even busier) and many more offering a completely different hockey perspective on which I had zero experience.

Have you heard about the one where a dad takes his son to hockey for the first time, then somehow becomes the volunteer hockey coach? Sure, you have. We all have that ‘dad’ either living in our house or right next door. Well, I met such a hockey dad who went on the coach at a pretty senior level and then ultimately became a hockey scout for the CHL. He opened my eyes to a fascinating side of hockey that I will never know anything about, but for the stories he told me last Saturday.

What about the one whose kids were going to the NHL? Have you heard that one? We all have. And then reality sets in and we realize our kids have a much more likely chance of dying while taking a selfie than playing in the NHL, so we refocus our efforts! I met a very interesting man who talked about his kids’ experiences with athletic scholarships to US schools. Good, bad and ugly … mostly ugly.

Have you ever bought an action photo of your child at a sports tournament? I made eye contact and small talk with the photographer traipsing back and forth between ice pads taking photos and he finally came over and talked to me for a bit. Seems his business got started when he was taking photos of his grandkids playing hockey. He quickly realized he was shooting more than just memories – he had a great business opportunity in his hands. He shared his woes of weekends spent in cold arenas at just a time when he should be finally warm. He too shared a perspective of hockey that I never knew about (and that all photographers focus on the younger age groups when parents are still innocent and beholden!)

I met a fascinating dairy farmer who, when he wasn’t in the barn or on the tractor, was in a hockey arena (or some other sport venue) with his four kids. He was sad that none of his kids was going to the NHL, but sadder still that none of his kids were going to be a farmer. I’ll say this about farmers: the most sincere handshake I’ve ever received.

Then, I ran into one of my daughter’s teachers at the tournament with her two young daughters. I was able to bring the usual parent-teacher awkwardness to a new level when I warned her to please not take the chapter about me being a prostitute and Hookin’ for Hockey too seriously.

And finally, as I expressed my gratitude for my little corner of the arena foyer to the tournament organizer, I discovered he doesn’t even have kids in hockey anymore. All day long, I had been telling people that I got to finally finish my book when my two boys retired from hockey and that, with only one child left in hockey, I can see the light at the end of my hockey tunnel. Yet, here was this hockey dad who continued his relationship with his kids’ hockey association, long after his kids did. I told him to go buy a condo in Florida already! For some, like him, there’s more to hockey than skates and sticks.

I told each and every one of them, “Hey! You too should write a book!” and they all laughed. I guess we each recap our hockey memories a different way.

My daughter has no more hockey tournaments planned until after Christmas. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t plan another hockey tournament for myself … and my book. Because …

It’s the people that you meet.

Cornwall book signing

~~

1 And just so you don’t go calling Children’s Aid on me and all that, she’s fifteen years old and her teammate mom’s and my friend were on it, ok?!

Canadian Thanksgiving

My family is made up of Canadians and Americans which is awesome. This past weekend, my American niece brought a friend to our Thanksgiving gathering . In celebrating her very first Canadian Thanksgiving she asked, “So how do Canadians do Thanksgiving?” It’s a fair question and a much more sophisticated one than “Canadians have their own Thanksgiving?” or “Why don’t you celebrate it at the end of November?” which are two questions I have also been asked. My American nephew has always provided the best possible answer when asked the difference between Canadian and American Thanksgiving: “Same food; different relatives.” There you go.

So while it’s awesome that my family is made up of Canadians and Americans, it is not awesome that they get two Thanksgivings and I only get one. That is for the birds (see what I did there?) and I want in on that!

I have an open invitation to US Thanksgiving from my American family but I have been unable to attend one because the US Thanksgiving does not fall on a Canadian holiday. See, Columbus Day often falls on Canadian Thanksgiving Monday. I must say I really appreciate that Christopher Columbus could coincide his landing in Central America with Canadian Thanksgiving so that so many of my US relatives can join us. While Columbus Day is not a national holiday in the US, it has for the most part been observed by most of the schools my American nieces and nephew attend, and by some US employers.

I now I am thinking that the only way for me to celebrate US Thanksgiving on a regular basis to have a Canadian national holiday coincide with the US one. (I’m a little surprised that no one asked this of our party leaders during the recent national debates but, whatever.)

The problem I’ve run into (which I am guessing the party leaders might already know) is that I cannot come up with a single important historical event that took place in our history at the end of November – one that Canadians can celebrate nationally and that would coincide with US Thanksgiving. This leads me to conclude that Canadians didn’t do much at the end of November other than put their winter tires on, pack their freezers with moose meat and lie dormant for the winter.

We seem to have our own Black Friday now, a spillover from the US tradition of the Friday after Thanksgiving being the busiest shopping day of the year. You can hardly designate Black Friday a holiday though can you? And then there’s Louis Riel’s hanging at the end of November for his part in the North-West Rebellion but that’s hardly a happy occasion to make a national holiday. It is a provincial holiday in Manitoba but in February. I just think it’s a little harsh to ask Americans to change their Thanksgiving holiday to February. Besides, it’s tough to find a live turkey to pardon in February in many parts of North America.

Still, it would be nice to celebrate another Thanksgiving. Plenty to be thankful for … on both sides of the border!

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and an early wish to all my American friends for a magnificent Thanksgiving … in November … when I’m out putting on my winter tires … and packing my freezer with moose meat.

 

TGiving Table 2015

My daughter and I were hockey implants this past weekend.

It’s not what you think.

Technically, she was the implant, I was the transplant.

She was invited by another team to a hockey tournament in Jay Peak, Vermont (uh huh, so skiing was also involved too!) as a pick-up player. Several players from a team in her association were unable to attend this tournament so they get to pick up players from another team, hence their invitation to us – I mean, my daughter. It was her job to play hockey for this team; it was my job to get her there (well, my husband’s. Given there was skiing involved, we made this a ski-hockey-waterpark weekend).

It seems a lot of parents of recreational hockey won’t travel to out-of-town tournaments. Cost, time, winter roads, whatever. But out-of-town hockey tournaments is what I love about being a hockey mom (in fact, they may even be why I tolerate minor hockey).

And I’m not the only one. When our hockey years are behind us, I can guarantee you that all three of my kids will look back on their minor hockey careers and the out-of-town tournaments as being the bomb dot com. (I learned that phrase from my daughter and I can’t stop using it.)

Out-of-town hockey tournaments offer an opportunity to play teams from other cities (heck, from other countries, as was the case this past weekend!) and is like a mini-vacation (despite a typically busy game schedule particularly if your team advances beyond round robin play). It offers a brief but reliable antidote to the ho-hum doldrums of the cold, Canadian winter. It offers families the chance to dispense with normal routine of school and work – and to travel and sleep in close quarters (the only form of winter camping I’ll agree to).  It offers the potential of a new town or city or food or folklore to explore and who can deny the enriched learning experience kids derive from hotel swimming pools, mini stick hockey in the lobby and terrorizing hotel security guards after quiet hour (despite me having signed numerous waivers over the years promising precisely not to do so!)??

Some of the teams my kids have been on have had six tournaments a season (when playing competitive hockey) and some of our teams have only been to two. Regardless of the number or the timing (except for maybe The Great Hockey Weekend of 2012, which we do not speak of in our household), I will never vote down a hockey tournament weekend.

I like hockey tournaments. I know my kids love hockey tournaments.

I liked being a hockey implant and I’m certain my daughter enjoyed being a hockey implant too.

And I think we make the perkiest of hockey implants out there!

ice haus

Two guys run into each other in the doorway of a Tim Horton’s coffee shop; one leaving and one arriving. One guy says, “After you…” to which the first responds, “No, after you …”

And there ensues The Great Canadian Stand-Off where our national proclivity to politeness and addiction to Tim Horton’s coffee, collide.  You know this could go on long enough that the required twenty minutes sitting time of Timmies coffee would expire and I would have to wait for a fresh pot to brew. Someone would have to break the stalemate.

Might as well be me.

Between my thirst for a Double-Double Dark (not to mention my need to go pee after my last Double-Double Dark) and my son’s yearning for a maple dip (do you need Eh dictionary yet?), we were not above trampling Canadian ideals and pitching forth through these blocked doors.

We waited a respectable thirty seconds and one more round of “No, I insist …” and “No, really … you go first” before I barged in between them and scurried to the ladies room.

But not without voicing a quick, “’Scuse me! Sorry!” over my shoulder, of course!

Canadians.

What can you do, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

airplane

 

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

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

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

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

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

I hope he took good notes!

 

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

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

Because I am a hockey mom.

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

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

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

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

And it’s only November …

Hockey parents have this reputation for excessive drinking which I believe is unwarranted.  The truth is, hockey parents do like to drink a lot but, come on, it’s not because we’re hockey parents, it’s because we’re parents. Period. I can assure you that I was drinking long before my kids strapped on their first pair of skates!  For some reason, that does not seem to surprise anyone.

So you know who I think started this nasty rumour about hockey parents and their drinking? I think it was that it was those crazy little hockey kids who drove us to drinking in the first place – they’re the work of the devil.

My daughter asks me stuff like, “Oh, do you really need alcohol to have fun?” I pondered that this weekend as I looked around what passed for a hotel room smaller than my university dorm room and I answered, “Yes.  Yes I do. It is way more fun to be stuck in a little run-down hotel in the middle of nowhere with a glass of chardonnay than being stuck in a little run-down hotel in the middle of nowhere without a glass of chardonnay. In fact, I think you’re having way more fun yourself when I’m here with my little glass of chardonnay, because you’re out there doing God knows what and I don’t even know where you are until I need another little glass of chardonnay and I find you in some random hallway with all your friends eating popcorn” and thankfully not my chardonnay (not yet anyway; I’ll give that a few more years).”  She should know that hockey weekend would be way less fun for the both of us if I was without chardonnay.

How about this one: “I don’t know how you drink that stuff … it tastes terrible!” I don’t believe  it has ever been – nor will it ever be – about the taste. Wait until you have kids – especially hockey kids – and I assure you that little glass of chardonnay will NOT taste terrible, it will be medicinal magic –so will the second glass. And so on …

And when she tells me that I don’t need my wine to have fun, I tell her she doesn’t need the $12 buffet to have fun either.  What’s so fun about paying $12 to witness a couple hundred screaming little girls waiting half an hour for the one single waffle iron that every single one of them seems to “need” at 9:00AM on a Sunday morning?

I’d say we’re even.

white wine

 

Note: This is not a sponsored post, meaning , I was not offered any free booze to write this post. I had to buy it myself. And for you hockey parents, please rink dresponsibly.

 

 

tuck3As the school year is quickly coming to an end, I am getting my three children ready for camp.  I never went to camp as a youngster but they’ve each been going since they were each 8 years old.  You can hear about my personal experience with ENST (empty-nest syndrome training) here and more fun with Summer Camp Math here, but what do I really know about their camp experience?

I don’t actually know a thing about my kids’ camp experiences beyond what I’ve gleaned from their Tuck Shop accounts.

tuck1The term ‘tuck shop’ originated in Britain, used in many Commonwealth countries, generally means a store that sells candy and sweets. It has taken a broader meaning at camps in Canada selling emergency sundry items, but still the primary vendor of candy at camp. As a result, the camp tuck shop is the mirage in the desert, the oasis of the seas; kind of like my Friday happy hour, I imagine. With my fee remittance, I am asked to include a sum to credit to their individual tuck accounts.

The camp my two boys attend annually charges me $70 each for their camp tuck shop account. They are charged $1 for each piece of ‘tuck’ (candy) and are only allowed 3 pieces a week.  It also carries emergency toiletry items like soap, toothpaste and deodorant, though I have no idea what these toiletry items cost since neither have ever touched the ones I pack and therefore has never has no need to ever purchase them. They also sell postage stamps.

DID YOU HEAR THAT, BOYS?  YOUR TUCK SHOP SELLS POSTAGE STAMPS!!!

Anyway, absent the cost of personal hygiene and letters home, the accounting is pretty easy:  At the end of 4 weeks I am refunded $58 ($70- ($3X4)) each.  I understand that “tuck” candy has become a heavily traded currency given its scarcity. I casually hear statements like, “I’ll give you two pieces of ‘tuck’ if your Mom’s brownies” and “trade you my three ‘tucks’ for your new bottle of Deep Woods Off” are covertly whispered during Visitor’s Day.  I can only imagine the tuck debt that is accumulated over flashlight poker games. I pray my boys’ have the discipline to trade their ‘tuck’ responsibly and in moderation only.

tuck2Compare this to my daughter’s camp that charges me $375 for her tuck account.  Clearly her camp tuck shop is a mini-Neiman Marcus with pine shelves. I was pretty curious what would necessitate a 500% difference in tuck shop credit, as I am sure anyone would.  Obviously, the purchases of camper note pads, waterproof notebooks, pens, stuffed animals, carves, toques, towels, song books, lip balm, necklaces, hoodies, charm bracelets, charms, sunglasses and flashlights really adds up.  Yes indeed, it really adds up. On the other hand, she avails herself of the laundry service and I am able to bail out some of her clothes from death by incineration, unlike the clothes of her brothers.

The good news is that the camp fun does not end when the ‘tuck’ account is depleted, otherwise they would not return year after year.  I guess the most important lesson I’ve learned about my kids’ camp experience can be summarized as follows:  What happens at camp, stays at camp, and parents are gone but not forgotten – because they pay the Tuck Shop bills.

Do you or your kids have a camp Tuck Shop story?

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the most dangerous jobs in Canada are in the construction, manufacturing and transportation sectors.  Surprisingly, no mention of mascots.

toufou1I was shocked when I discovered recently that Toufou, the beloved moose mascot of Tremblant Ski Resort in the beautiful Laurentians north of Montreal, now has security detail assigned to him. Evidently being a mascot is more of a high-risk occupation than I thought. Zut alors!

Everyone makes fun of mascots; it’s not just me, right? They’re obnoxious and kind of freaky but I don’t want to see them hurt. Except the one who knock over my beverage … him I want to hurt.

My daughter was a TouFou-stalker, but a I’m-a-cute-three-year-old kind of stalker. The minute we’d arrive at Tremblant, she’d look for that crazy moose everywhere and if she caught sight of him, she’d knock over everything in her path to get to him (including my beverage).  As a 12-year old, she now understands fully that TouFou is not a real moose, but it is still an annual tradition for her to have her picture taken with him.

So upon arrival to Tremblant over March Break, we strolled about the pedestrian village and it did not take too long for our first TouFou sighting. As my daughter posed for her annual photo with Moosey (as she still affectionately refers

IMG_1517

to her childhood friend), I joked with his security guard: “Mais voyons donc! TouFou’s making the big time now, eh? Needs security?” The security guard nodded but was not offering up any details about would not offer up any information as to his raison d’être.

As March Break lore goes, TouFou once got a little too personal with a few ladies who were dancing to the music in Place St. Bernard square. Seems the boyfriend of one of those ladies (probably after too many trips to the dépanneur) did not appreciate TouFou’s mingling with his lady and decided to teach that maudit TouFou a lesson toute de suite. Even worse, instead of telling simply telling their friend to manger de la marde, a whole group of his buddies joined in in giving TouFou an old-fashionable mascot thrashing.

I sure hope TouFou wasn’t seriously hurt but it certainly explains why he is now accompanied everywhere by someone whose vision is not impaired by a 2-foot wide head. But I also couldn’t help laughing at the stupidity of this obviously drunker-than-a skunk (or moose) reveller.

Just imagine the conversation with his girlfriend:

GF: “Seriously? C’est quoi ton problème?”

BF: “Well, he was – like – trying to grab your butt!”

GF: “Grab my butt. Really. With his paw. Uh-huh.”

BF: “I don’t like you dancing with other guys.”

GF: “Other guys? or just 7-foot tall biped moose?”

And what would a father say to his son after such a brawl?

Father: “Nice shiner, Son! What did the other guy look like?”

Son: “Uh, well gee Dad, I honestly didn’t get a good look at him”, which is probably safer than “he wasn’t wearing any pants but I’m pretty sure he had antlers”.

Franchement! But honestly don’t feel too bad for poor TouFou, he still gets all the girls!

As for the stupid idiot that prompted Tremblant to assign security to TouFou? Well, thanks to his girlfriend and father, he’ll be in therapy for years … once he’s out of juvie, that is.

tremblant

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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