Family Travel

Not long ago, my daughter persuaded me to try surfing. I don’t mean internet surfing (on that I am a pro thanks to my highly evolved procrastination skills), I mean the real shaka bra water sport surfing (on which I am most definitely not a pro).  Not that it mattered to my daughter, but Mai Tai and I were perfectly happy enjoying my first visit to the Hawaiian Islands without this sharp turn outside my comfort wake.  Nevertheless she begged for an exciting and inimitable mother-daughter day – and 12 year olds are good beggars (until they turn 16 and can then drive themselves). “What the heck?”I thought, “When in Hawaii …” Well, I can now tell you the correct answer here is, ‘drink a Mai Tai’.

Despite a profound lack of experience and misguided sense of athleticism, I relented.  I was counting on my strong Canadian running legs to carry me over these waves, forgetting that my strong Canadian running legs were old and not at all that strong. I then carefully chose a surfing company that specialized in Beginners and Cowards because I am both (I kid you not; it’s right there on their website), and guaranteed their students to be surfing by the end of the lesson (though no reference was made to exactly how and the word ‘gracefully’ was omitted from their pledge). I was relieved to be paired with a father-son duo who, like me, had no previous surfing experience.

First wave.  Paddle. Kneel. Stand. Surf. After this unsuccessful first attempt at shredding the nar the other youngster in our grouping asked me excitedly, “Hey Lady, was that you who did that amazing face plant out there?”  Three words I do not ever wish to see, hear or experience together again: amazing and face and plant.  After making sure my bathing suit still covered the significant – I mean appropriate – parts of my body, I quickly wiped the salt water out of my eyes (sea water not tears, thank you) and made my way back to the waves’ breaking point for round two.

Next wave, please. “You’re lovin’ it, right Mama?” Our native Hawaiian instructor, Kihe, had taken to calling me Mama during our land lesson and I carried this nickname into the water.  “Oooooohhh Mama,” he continued, “Here comes a 40-footer!” I don’t think Kihe was aware that I firmly believe that ‘here comes a 40-footer’ is only good news when referring to yachts, not waves.  Noting the panic in my eye, he assured me with a twinkle in his, that he meant the next wave was 40 feet wide not 40 feet high. Funny guy. I smiled nervously and paddled furiously as Kihe instructed me to do.

Paddle. Kneel. Stand. Surf. “Get out of my way!” shouted another novice surfer who erroneously assumed I actually knew how to get out of his way. “Addictive my eye” I muttered to myself, as we collided.  “Deadly is more like it.” There was water in parts of my body where water should not be. My instructor, Kihe, reminded me at my next turn that I need to keep my eye on where I want to go.  “If you look at other people, you’re bound to hit them.  It’s the same in skiing right Mama?  You look at a tree; you’re going to hit the tree!”  Oh my God, how did he know about me and the tree?

Paddle. Kneel. Stand. Surf. Contrary to my wildest dreams but true to the surfing company’s guarantee, I managed to catch a ride on the next wave. There is no doubt in my mind that those 60 seconds of adrenaline were definitely worth the ensuing two hours of work trying to recreate that experience.  For the love of Job, surfers are the most patient people on the planet. And strong.  In case you’re ever wondering why there are so few printed manuals on surfing out there it’s because video would make the following instructions come to life much more effortlessly:  Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, kneel, stand, surf, kneel, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle,.  Repeat. So where was the part where you just lay down on your surf board and just … well … lay there? That would be a good part; definitely part of my comfort zone.

My daughter stayed behind for a few more rides as I let my surf board and the tide carry me to shore. So endeth the surfing lesson and my retreat to my comfort zone.

Soon thereafter, my son suggested we visit Black Rock for some ‘totally sick cliff jumping’.

‘Yeah.’ I thought, as I mixed another Mai Tai. ‘Send me a post card.’

 

Maui Wave Riders

Author’s note:  to the professional photographer capturing all these wonderful memories on film, I respectfully request to destroy all evidence.  Thank you.  The entire world thanks you.

Have you ventured outside your comfort zone lately?

I recently read a posting on the Hockey Mom in Canada Facebook fanpage asking her readership (all hockey moms) how they recuperate from a busy hockey tournament weekend. Perfect timing since my daughter and I just returned from a hockey tournament weekend. The responses varied somewhat but for the most part focused on selfless motherhood tasks: getting the laundry done, heading out for groceries, making sure they and their family members got caught up on personal hygiene and sleep and – the best one yet – immediately heading back out to an arena for a hockey game of one of their other children.

Holy sweet mothers of Jesus.

After 12 years as a hockey mom, I sure could stand to learn a few things from these candidates for sainthood who put their own exhaustion aside and continue to perform miracles.  I was about to add a few of my post-tournament weekend activities and they just did not seem to complement those that had been posted. In fact, my post-tournament “To-Do” list suggests that I’m on a fast track straight to Hell rather than the pearly gates Heaven.

Boston pizzaOkay, so maybe I don’t run right out and do the groceries. What’s wrong eating eating the leftovers from 4 consecutive Boston Pizza meals and leftover coffee? It’s tough to buy groceries when you know your entire next paycheque is going to the detox program at the Rideauwood Addiction Centre, not to mention paying for at least one speeding ticket on the 401.

Okay, so maybe the kids won’t have clean clothes for school on Monday, but I’ll get to it. First, I have got to talk to my lawyer about my chances for getting off on that Drunk and Disorderly charge from Saturday night’s team dinner. Not sure why the server took offense to my suggesting she was a big pain in my Jack Astor when she wouldn’t serve me my sixth glass of wine. Puhlease, like she’s never heard that before!

Yes, my daughter and I will catch up on some much needed sleep for this past weekend, but not until she helps craft my letter of apology letter to the housekeeping department of the Courtyard Marriott. It’s half her fault the room looked like that anyway, right? And we all know an apology letter from a minor scores more brownie points with head office (and The Jerry Springer Show).

wine bottle binAs for heading right out to another hockey game, well, that’s actually pretty believable, considering that on the way I can return all my empty wine bottles to the recycling centre before my husband counts them. Plus, it will give me just enough time to delete some photos from my camera. Bonus.

And this, People, is why I will never be on The Ellen DeGeneres Show (but for some reason, Jerry Springer won’t leave me alone).

I am seriously out of wine, now.jerry springer

I recently visited the Museum of Science in Boston with my family and discovered something rather distressing.  We went to the Hayden Planetarium’s presentation of  Undiscovered Worlds: The Search Beyond our Sun which revealed to me in dramatic fashion and great astronomical detail by Harvard and MIT PhDs that I am, against all superior judgment, NOT the centre of the universe.  Okay, that was a bit of a cosmic shock, if I may say so, but I guess I had it coming.

For some people, it’s important to be one leap for mankind closer to answering the almighty question, “are we alone?”, but for me the answer to that question now points to more species slowing my high-speed internet and clogging my satellite TV.  Sad face.

In the two and a half decades since I have graduated from university, astronomers have discovered the existence of exoplanets – planets that are outside our solar system.  An unbelievable 800 or so such planets have been discovered. As astronomers find more of these exoplanets, like HD 142 b in the constellation of Phoenix (yes, that’s far, far, FAR away – farther away than Pluto), I am not only closer to realization that I am not a dominant force in this universe, I now also have to get used to the fact that I am really rather insignificant.  If  our sun is nothing more than a pinhead on a vast sandy beach in the cosmos, what does that make Earth?  More to the pinhead, what does that make me?  A tiny speck?  A speckle of a speck?  A “pinhead” used to be a bit of a derogatory term, but now I find out that being a pinhead at least has some significance in our cosmos … while I have none … barely even a speck of dust! This, on a Monday morning.

During the presentation, I found myself thinking Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who, clearly providing some explanation why I am not an astronomer from MIT or Harvard.  Horton said, “There’s a tiny person on that speck that needs my help!”

In the vast cosmos, I am not even a tiny person on a speck.  I’m not even a speck.  I slowly started to feel invisible, like I do at BestBuy on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas.  Or when asking for technical assistance from my internet provider.  Or while waiting 45 minutes for my scheduled doctor’s appointment.  Or when having to wait for my kids down the street around the corner from their teen party.  Come to think of it, apparently I have a great deal of experience being inconsequential!  Horton, I just want you to know that I aspire to be more than just a pinhead.  I’m working hard to be the best terrestrial speck possible!  In the immortal words of Horton, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.

If there was a bright star in this cosmic disappointing discovery it was in reminding my family that THEY are not the centre of the universe either.  And that my star-gazing friends, made my starry, starry night.  Nananabooboo!

Do you wonder if we are not alone?  Or like me, would you rather be left alone?

Car chats – Part I

On the road again...

I spend a lot of time in my car. 

Not just because I drive to and from work, but also because I drive to and from hockey – A LOT of hockey.  These days, these car rides provide an opportunity for peace and quiet as my teenagers plug in and tune out (a fine legacy of Steve Jobs, I might add).  My two teenage boys are generally a quiet pair these days anyway as convo with their mother is not a cool way to spend their time. No matter, I think to myself, I got my coffee, I got my own own music, don’t worry be happy, right? My 11-year old daughter is still the chatty Cathy (and her name’s not Cathy by the way, I think it’s Linda Blair or something like that).

Anywho, once in a blue moon I am enlightened by my kids.  Here’s what I mean:

On a 4-hour trip from Ottawa to Toronto for a tournament, my oldest son spoke precisely six words to me.  And what were those six words? “That was a really good book!”  I know! I couldn’t believe it either, since I was convinced the only thing he could read started with the words , “In sports news today …” Ah, hope springs eternal with a sprinkle of creativity: I had secretly downloaded S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” audiobook onto his iPod before leaving on our epicly quiet hockey road trip .  He actually noticed it there and listened to it. Not being a particularly avid readers, I am constantly looking for sneaky little ways to talk book talk with my boys.  He loved it. What I didn’t even realize, however, was they were studying this book at school and he was a little behind in his reading. The audiobook had saved his hide for English class on Monday.  Hope they have one of these for Twelfth Night…

I prefer to live with PonyBoy tuff talk for a while.

Upon being eliminated from an entirely different Toronto tournament, I took my middle guy downtown to see the King Tutankhamun on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario a while back.  I had somehow missed his transition from dinosaur boy to full-blown Egyptologist, and instead of listening to Eminem or Skrillex all the way home, I got 4 hours of the life and times of Howard Carter and the various conspiracy theories surrounding King Tut’s death. Not sure which is worse. He didn’t even laugh at my Steve Martin version, either. Sheesh!

But I can live with an Egyptologist for a while.

More recently, on our car ride home from our Cornwall tournament, my daughter and I were blasting out Adele, Katy Perry (a little slack here please; her team nickname is The Fireworks, after all), and even the Bieb. Shortly after belting out a Carrie Underwood favourite, I asked her, “So, if a boy ever cheats on you, you’re totally dumping him, right?” She still young, so I am still privy to some of her innermost secrets (aka, the latest crush).

“Totally!” was her response, “and I’d also send him a harshly worded letter too”.   

A harshly worded letter? What the ….?!!!

Who says that about a rotten boyfriend, anyway … Jane Austen? Kate Middleton?

I’m not sure I could live with this.  I invited her to consider taking a more assertive approach and maybe ‘take a Louisville slugger to both headlights’ or some other form of public ridicule but she said “Wouldn’t I get in trouble  for that?” Anti-bullying week and all, y’know.

I told her perhaps that just this once it would be worth it. 

What pivotal or riveting car conversations have you had recently?

Teenagers are a different species.  How do I know this?  I was once a teenager myself (a genealogical fact evidently dismiised by my two teenagers).  Have teenagers evolved since I was once one?  Is it just mine or have all teenagers decided not to be at all concerned about the consequences of their behaviour?

When I was a teenager, at least I had the decency to be scared shitless of my parents enough to be home in time for curfew.  As rebellious as I may have been as a teenager, until the time I went away to university my curfew was 1am, except on those evenings when I worked until 11pm, then my curfew was generously extended until 2am.   This victorious curfew extension was not granted without a considerable less- than- peaceful protest.

Recently while cruising through the Caribbean, we granted our two teenagers basically carte blanche until 1am (but they had to join us showered and appropriately dressed for dinner each evening).  Fairly liberal for a 13- and almost 15-year old,  n’est-ce pas?  We also knew the ship had strict rules about serving alcohol to minors under 21 (stricter than my own, I would add), and they were in our company during shore excursions (where the drinking age in St. Maarten is apparently 3$ as we were told by our guide) so we felt confident that they were safe and that they were mature enough to handle this added privilege.  This 1am curfew was also in keeping with the ship’s rule that all minors had to be in the company of their parents if out after 1am. 

It would appear my teenagers took this rule to mean that as long as we, The Parents, were still on the ship (i.e. had not jumped or been thrown overboard and hence, lost at sea), we were technically still in their company, and therefore, they The Teenagers were free to party on and return to the stateroom whenever they chose.   After the first misdemeanour, and appropriate parental guidance (aka, lots of yelling and swearing) our oldest was given a choice of a 1030p curfew (would have been tough to enforce since we were not back in our stateroom at 1030p!) the very next night or midnight the next 2 nights (which included our last night aboard).  He chose no Facebook for his first week home.  I tried to tell him that having no access to FB would actually be harder with all these new Friends left Pending but…. what can you do?  I am but one lowly mother.  By 2am our last night aboard, neither teenager was anywhere to be found.  Our lack of parenting skills aside, the 13-year old decided no harm no foul – or rather in this case – foul yes no harm.  Thankfully, not many took notice of the demented  and distraught women wandering Deck 15 in her pyjamas muttering profanities.

So indeed it is very strange, now, to have full, leisurely access to the computer and my own Facebook without having to share it with them.  Though I am no fool:   I know they executed Operation Facebook and swindled their little sister into changing their profile pictures!  However, she now has their passwords so not an entirely risk-free scheme to say the least.

What is a mother to do?

 I am reminded of this famous quote about teenagers….

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
–  Plato in 4th century BC

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

I am seriously thinking of becoming a travel writer.  That is, as long as I get to pick and choose where I go and with whom I go!  I would so love to write, travel and eat.  No wait a minute, that’s travel, eat and write.  Hold on.  Eat, travel, and write.  That’s better.

***

 The Taste of the Seas gives us a taste of St. Maarten… 

We were all happy enough to be finally out of the cold Canadian hockey arenas to which we were accustomed, but our day aboard the Taste of the Seas in St. Maarten just got better and better.  We were eleven aboard that day in March … this travel writer along with 5 other adults and 5 children ages 10-14.  No one wanted the day to end.

 Our spirits were initially dampened as we were drizzled with rain showers during our 15-minute walk from our cruise ship to Bobby’s Marina.  Waiting 30 minutes for our scheduled vessel, Reel Play, to arrive to the marina didn’t help and it took some time and our own inquiring to confirm that Reel Play, was reely not coming and another boat had been organized.  This travel writer was taking some serious notes about lack of service and the skeptics among us started to worry that our day’s excursion was in jeopardy.  While our departure was delayed a full hour as a result of this miscommunication, the rain ceased and our hosts, Captain Myles and First Mate Mike (aka Jack Sparrow) ensured our spirits and souls were immediately revived with a delicious and potent rum punch.  As the song goes, changes in latitude mean changes in attitude.  Yes indeed, 10am never felt so good in a hockey arena. Of course, we knew we were in great hands since Captain Myles was a transplanted Canadian himself.  I never did get to meet Bobby.

Cruising for about 45 minutes to our first snorkeling destination, first mate Mike (originally from Yorkshire England but more recently from no fixed address) recounted some first rate local lore, geography and economy along with fascinating personal tales of his cross-Atlantic solo sails.  I seriously doubt if any of the stories were true but was not going to risk his spitting in my rum punch.  We were well equipped with snorkel gear and noodles which helped me considerably since I jumped in without fins.  Hey, no one told me a travel writer also has to be good at snorkeling.  In any event, we did not have the cove Captain Myles chose entirely to ourselves, as some scuba divers swam beneath us, but the crowds of other snorkeling destinations we passed along the way were no where to be found, attesting to Myles knowledge of the island and its secrets.  So this is where my career as a travel writer really sinks:  I know nothing about fish or coral, but they were sure pretty and sure colouful.  A warm fresh water shower off the back of the boat relieved us of any salt water discomfort and we were quickly back on the sun deck recounting our underwater adventures…and more rum punch (hic!)

We then cruised back along the coast to the very secluded Mullet’s Bay where Myles anchored as we swam ashore for lunch.  No where in the brochure did we read “our guests will enjoy a delightful swim ashore for lunch”, or we probably would have thought twice about booking, but in the end, this turned out to be the highlight of the excursion!  Seriously, what’s the opposite of ‘all aboard’?  Is it ‘walk the plank’? Or ‘heave-ho’? Maybe that last one is reserved just for me.  The crystal clear blue waters and gentle rolling waves were a perfect sequel to our snorkeling adventure and we enjoyed a shaded cabana lunch (paying no attention to the little vermin we thought we saw in the floorboards) alongside stunning sea and sand.

 Most reluctantly, we all swam back to our boat, where Mike plied us [adults] with some more rum punch and allowed our teenagers to spend 20 minutes doing spectacular jumps and dives off the boat’s deck followed by sunbathing on the boat’s deck while I drank more rum punch and perfected my pirate snarl. 

One in our group seriously hoped to do some fishing while aboard so I seriously hid any fishing rods I came across (just kidding).  Nevertheless, St. Maarten aboard the Taste of the Seas is a highly recommended excursion – as is the highly recommended crew.  When you go, please say ‘hi’ from the Canucks from Ottawa!

 ***

Honestly, someone please hire me to be a travel writer!  If you do, I’ll even brush up on my fishes – or fish’s – names.  If you send me to Tuktoyaktuk, however, I might have to take a leave of absence.  Location. Location. Location.

The away – hockey tournament is always all things excessive:  too much food, too much driving, too much cheering, too much alcohol, too much noise, too much this and too much that but waaaaayyyyy too little sleep.  Hockey tournaments usually start on a Friday requiring one parent to take a day off work, leading me to my first side note:  my husband and I are fortunate to have generous vacation policies.  Between our 3 kids we need to take 10 days off work for hockey tournament attendance alone never mind medical, dental and teacher appointments or PD Days! 

This tournament was my turn and I was actually trying to schedule in a little R&R and time with my daughter.  Side note #2:  never expect R&R or quality time with your child on a hockey tournament weekend.  As with any road trip, I am up late Thursday night packing, cleaning and making sure there is enough food in the refrigerator to last my weekend bachelors who will call me three times a day to ask where something is or how to make it.  Our trip to the first game unbelievably did not involve a roadside restaurant stop – it was relatively close by.  Even more fortunate was the fact that the mother and I that were carpooling had the foresight to pack the hockey equipment last since our first stop was, in fact, the hockey arena, and not the hotel.  Usually I neglect the all-important car-loading schematic and am unloading all my luggage, coolers, and personal trappings bury us as they come tumbling out of the car in front of all the team, in order to get to the hockey equipment.  Goal scored by the moms on this one.

Checking into the hotel is a feat as well.  As I  overhear someone mention that the hotel is fully booked, I am reminded that I seem to have a knack for checking in just behind the masses, making any special requests to be near other parents or amenities like asking for the clerk’s first born – or more!  As my hockey mom friend and I wait and wait and wait and wait to check in, we send our girls off to locate the trolley for our luggage (a hotel with bell staff on duty during a hockey tournament check in would be like a glass of water in a desert – both are in fact mirages, right?).  Twenty minute later, we’re checked in our girls are nowhere to be seen, nor is a trolley.  Our pint-sized veterans of the girls’ hockey tournament weekend have already had quite the little reunion with present and past team mates and snagging our trolley was not even close to one of their priorities.

With no sherpas in sight, we begin the trek to our rooms with our gear on our shoulders and backs.  Sweating like true athletes we finally coming across our daughters, to whom we pant, “Did you find one?” and the response from four blinking blue innocent little eyes and two mouths saying in unison,  “Find what?”

Maintaining a steady march we haul all this stuff from the hotel lobby (stuff being luggage, coolers, craft boxes, food and snacks and possibly some hockey equipment, jersey bags and goalie pads for good measure) when we come across another mom about to return her trolley to the lobby.  We pounce upon her like two senior citizens at a two-for-one – we literally drop our “stuff’ and pounce on this trolley.  She was grateful not to have to walk it all the way back to the lobby not realizing that we were willing to pay her $50 for the privilege!  Now to organize our stuff on the trolley while dripping in perspiration.  Forget for a moment that both this mother and I are highly educated women – she in fact an engineer – that under normal circumstances would likely be able to marshal the resources required to stock the hotel let along organize this trolley to travel from the lobby to our hotel rooms, which yes, side note #3, are about as close together as Russia and Alaska (which evidently one can be seen from the other).  We unload half the trolley in one room and my daughter and I depart to our room in another wing… only to encounter the worst possible enemy of a body laden with gear:  a set of stairs.  God help us.  We finally get to our room and I immediately set my daughter to task2 which is finding the closest ice machine (my wine needs to chill after all), praying it isn’t broken.

More later because now it’s back out the door to the next hockey game.  No rest for these weekend warriors.

I am in need of a serious good ol’ fashion road trip!

I love road trips!  My love of road trips began when I was 1 month old and travelled from Iroquois Falls to Toronto for Christmas1.    In fact, most of my formative years’ road trips involved leaving from somewhere and going to Toronto to visit family.  Somehow I (or rather “we” as there were usually 6 of us in the car at the time!) managed to survive all those family road trips without a portable DVD player, iPod or Nintendo.  Back then, if the stars and planets aligned we lucked out with some car bingo books!  Unfortunately, I learned early in life that I did not possess the ability to read, write or colour in the car.  Road trips would sure have been improved if I didn’t feel like throwing up every time I turned a page!  My parents certainly took us on some pretty spectacular “Sunday drives”.  Family member visiting from overseas were treated to (or subjected to, depending on who you ask and who you had to sit next to in the car) treated to more than just a touristy day trip to Ottawa and Montreal.   “Hell no!  Let’s go to Stowe!”, we all chimed.  Off we drove in our industrial-size Ford van (long before vans were chic and popular) looking more like the Clampetts than suburban daytrippers. 

Beyond my primary years, I actually did have some road trips of ‘Animal House’ proportions while at university or visiting siblings and friends at university but my budget and debt load never permitted an epic trip to Fort Lauderdale or Miami Beach (sadly my parents stopped going to Miami for March Break right about the time I really needed a lift!).  Several non-disclosure agreements forbid my discussion of those epic road trips, however.  Really, a true road trip does not involve someone plugging in the “estimated time of arrival” via GPS because a true road trip should probably include 2 bathroom breaks, 1 overprices greasy meal (that may or may not increase the number of bathroom breaks), at least one crisis involving relationships with family/significant other, one car repair or gas replenishment and – if all goes well – only one run-in with the law.

Since becoming a parent, we’ve taken some impressive family road trips as well, though at the beginning of parenthood they were skillfully planned to coincide with afternoon naps [of toddlers] so I too could enjoy the scenery facing forward!  Some I would rather forgot like the time (when my own daughter was only 2 months old) it took us 8 hours one Christmas to go a distance that should have only taken 4 hours.  We were en route from Ottawa to Collingwood and winter weather wreaked its wrath and we ended up having to stop in Toronto over night before continuing on to Collingwood the next day.  The spontenaety of PK trips (pre-kids) has suffered some and now adolescent and teenage social / sport schedules rule our weekends.  I am ever so mournful of the long months (ok, years) that seem to span from one road trip to the next.  

It is rather fitting though, that my next road trip next weekend is to Cornwall – the genesis of so many of my most memorable road trips!  Though only an hour and a half drive, my daughter is really looking forward this mother-daughter journey to her first hockey tournament of the season.  She is her mother’s daughter, planning the car trip and the snacks with precision and care (ok, junk food in a shopping bag)!  Today’s big chore together involves creating the perfect music playlist (for iPod of course) for both the car ride there and girls’ dressing room at the arena.  No family road trip begins offocially until I sing a couple of bars from Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again”.  C’mon, who’s with me? Let’s hit the road! 

1.  I’m not actually sure if this is true but let’s go with it for now.

Those of you with children know the age-old travel game of counting cars on the highway.  In my younger days, I counted purple corvettes.  Volkswagon’s reintroduction of the VW Bug saw the return of Punch-Buggy –No-Punch-Backs.

While in Tuscany recently with my family, our days typically involved at least an hour of car travel to and from our destination of the day. Each day, my three kids, along with whichever cousin was along for the ride, would count the yellow cars.  Any type of motorized vehicle counted, but they had to be yellow.  Not amber, not flax, not mustard and certainly not golden.  Yellow.  While Italy may be known for its colourful people and amazing food, their cars are disappointingly grey, black or white.  So the counting yellow cars game proved to be more of a challenge than usual, and I found myself helping them out by being on the lookout.

On our last day in Italy, we were traveling to Florence, about 45 minutes north of our resting spot, La Fattoria Romignano.  Our road trip the day before had yielded a banner crop of yellow cars.  The count was high, so there were equally high expectations for today counting the yellow cars en route to Florence.

My son was up to about 24 yellow cars by the time we reached the outskirts of the old town.  Then it happened.  I could hear the guttural noises emanating from my husband’s throat.  He excitedly began started the play-by-play:  “Coming up on our left hand side!  Wait…wait…wait. Now!  Look!” 

Strapped to the back of a flat bed trailer truck was the supreme trophy of the yellow car counting game.  We were witness to the mermaid of the deep, the unicorn of the forest, the elf of the North Pole.  We saw a yellow Ferrari.  After the ooos and ahhhhs, one of them said, “That’s just gotta count for extra!” This sighting was of particular importance, for we did not see another yellow car for the rest of the tri – or perhaps they just faded from our view!

If you know me, you know that lasagna is my absolute favourite food.  A dish I affectionately referred to as “plop-plop” from as long ago as I can remember (because of the curving edges of its pasta), I can eat lasagna hot or cold.  No store-bought version has ever satisfied my refined plop-plop palate and the time that must be devoted to making it from scratch means it’s only an occasional feast for me.  This is probably a good thing, too, as its rich ingredients of beef, ricotta, mozzarella are probably best consumed in moderation.

The concept of “everything in moderation”, was one with which I had some difficulty while in Italy recently with my family.  In fact, “consumed with gusto” is probably more accurate.  Staying at a working fattoria (in this case a working vineyard and olive grove), we were able to cook our own meals for the most part and pack picnics for our Tuscan countryside day trips.   We did, however, indulge in two traditional Tuscan meals at the on site restaurant prepared and served by the owners.  As expected, an antipasto was first served, followed by the primo piatto, and then the secondi served with a simple salad.  Dessert was also not neglected served alongsise the customary espresso (whose stovetop preparation I never quite mastered and must return to Italy to properly apprentice).

A lover of pasta, it does not quite sit right with me that pasta is given second billing to the meat course (though the term primo does give it an aura of superiority to secondi) being the precursor to the main event.  In both cases the main event was pretty incredible but I totally savoured the pasta.  In fact, during our Last Supper in Tuscany, it was announced that lasagna would be served as the primo piatto.  Insert the emoticon 😮 here as I’m sure that’s how I reacted.

The dish I was served bore no resemblance to the homestyle lasagna for which I had developed such an affection.  Yes, there was tomato sauce, pasta, cheese and beef but its combination achieved resulted in nothing short of a culinary masterpiece, a sonata of salivating, an opus of yum-yum.  Its rich, creamy, béchamel-like texture, fresh pasta, simmered sauce and sparing use of ground beef totally defies an appropriate expression.  Its consumption was not a messy, peeling of layers but a smooth, luscious bond of ingredients that all held on my fork and lingered on my palate… still… to this day….

Repeated mmmmm’s and ooooo’s emanated from our group as fully articulated accolades proved impossible, except for the one person in our family who spoke flawless Italian.  His linguistic talent resulted in the gift of a second serving of this indulgent lasagna.  I instantly vowed to learn Italian.

I doubt I can recreate this exceptional dish as its ingredients are probably not known to North American but I will try!  Furthmore, I’ve been home for a week now and have yet to step on my bathroom scales for fear of its reply.  Best use that device “in moderation” for another few weeks.

Ciao Italia, alla prossima!

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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