Just in the Nick of Time


I snagged a great parking spot yesterday. Do you know that wonderful feeling when you enter a parking lot that looks full, you turn the corner, and there, in front of you is a fabulous parking spot? That was me yesterday. I drove into the parking lot at the absolute perfect time, just after someone had left but before another car pulled in 30 seconds after me.

I firmly believe that much is determined in my life, or life in general, by doing something just in the nick of time. This idea came to me last month, during my trip to Scotland. Over a period of about 5 days, David and I road tripped all over central and northern Scotland. We zig zagged and crisscrossed this beautiful country and drove some big distances. Even though we were on vacation and were relaxed, we had to always keep track of time to ensure we arrived at each location when it was open or not over crowded.

There was one day of our trip, as we traveled from the sweet village of Braemar, deep in the Highlands in the Cairngorms National Park, all the way down to Edinburgh. I had packed a lot into our itinerary that day and was nervous that my plans could fall apart and topple over like dominos if the timing wasn’t right.

We woke up early and enjoyed a tasty homemade breakfast of fruit, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes at our bed and breakfast. We packed up the car and were on the road just after 9:00 am. This was day four of our trip, so by now we had figured out that roads don’t go straight in Scotland and that distances are much further than they look on a map. Put together windy twisty roads, driving on the other side of said roads, in a manual car and we definitely had some challenges. But with enough time, we knew it could all work.

We drove directly south from Braemar, through thick forests and mountains.  As the road continued to curve, we left forests and made our way through what I had always visualized was the true Scottish Highlands. We saw bare rocky mountainsides, with sheep grazing. The sun was shining and the sky was blue (okay not typical Scottish but it worked for me!). We even drove past a ski resort. I looked at my watch to check the time and told David to pull over so that I could take a photo of a chairlift, in the middle of Scotland.

Packing up early that morning in front of our B&B
I had to stop and take a photo.


I jumped back in the car and we made our way to Edradour, a small, unique single malt Scottish whiskey distillery. We parked and walked into the visitor’s centre to enquire about joining a tour. The lady at the info desk said, “You arrived at the perfect time. Our next tour starts in about 10 minutes.” We bought our tickets and had just enough time to make our way leisurely to the tour meeting point.

After our tour, led by a most entertaining, plump and friendly guide who is definitely a bit of a lush (and a sample or two of the product), we got back in our car and continued south. We were heading into an area in central Scotland with so many sights to see that I knew we had to choose carefully. By now it was about noon and I knew that many attractions closed between 4-6 pm.

Selfie with our whiskey before we left Edradour


We decided to make our way to Doune Castle, a fortress built in the 14th century by Robert Stuart, the Duke of Albany. I had read good reviews and also knew that Monty Python’s famous Holy Grail was filmed there. We entered the main courtyard just as a pair of “historic comedians” had begun a live action tale of the castle’s history. They were funny, witty and very entertaining. I learned a lot about 14th and 15th century Scotland and about the castle where I stood. We then toured the buildings and grounds and were back on our way again.

We took a moment to get a photo of David outside Doune Castle
These two were just hysterical and made our visit to Doune Castle very memorable.


Our next stop, only 15 minutes down the road, was Stirling Castle. This famous, and enormous fortress, was the home of Scottish royalty for much of the 15th and 16th centuries and has a major historical significance because of its location along the River Forth. I didn’t know exactly what time it closed or when the last guided tour would be and was nervous as we pulled up in a busy parking lot around 3:45 pm. We found our way through the maze of people and asked about guided tours at the info desk. The friendly lady at the counter smiled at me and said, “You arrived at the perfect time. Our final tour of the day begins at the well at 4:00 pm. You have just enough time to make it there.”

And so we did. Our colourful guide started the just as we walked up to the meeting point at 4:00 pm and gave us a thorough behind-the-scenes tour of this spectacular castle. And just as our tour was coming to an end, as we stood beside the medieval chapel, we heard bagpipes blaring as a wedding was set to begin. Our tour group looked like the local paparazzi as they pulled out their smartphones to record the event.

This is the entrance to Stirling Castle. Does your house look like that?

At this point it was 5:00 pm. We picked up a little snack and I felt great that we had toured three important places in central Scotland. We had more than enough time to make our way to Glasgow for the evening to have dinner with a new-found distant cousin. But David wasn’t ready for Glasgow. First, he wanted to drive over, just an 8 km drive, to the William Wallace Monument, to pick up a specific souvenir.

The Morning Star

I freaked out. I figured for sure it was already closed and we had visited this place a few days before when we first arrived. This monument is situated high up on the top of a hill that is accessed by foot or a rare shuttle bus that is inconsistent. David had seen his dream souvenir, an actual replica Morning Star, at the monument’s gift shop three days earlier and suddenly decided he had to have it. All my timing had gone well all day and it was about to fall apart.

I finally gave in and we drove the short distance to the monument’s base. I figured it would be closed and we could be on our way quickly. We arrived in the parking lot at about 5:45 pm and learned that it was open until 6:00. But there was no way we could hike back up to the monument in time. Oh, no problem, said the person at the info desk. She called the shuttle driver, and a moment later we had a private vehicle taking us up the mountain to the monument.

We got out of the vehicle at 5:55 pm and our driver said he’d be right back to bring us down the mountain. We walked into the gift shop and there it was, David’s Morning Star. Fifty Pounds later David had his precious souvenir, just as they were locking the doors. We walked outside and there was our driver, ready to take us back down. Talk about just in the nick of time.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner in Glasgow that night with our new-found Richler cousins, got a tour of the University of Glasgow then drove to the airport to return our car. Then we hopped on the last tram of the night to the city at 10:30 pm and pulled up to our hotel in Edinburgh around 11:00 pm.

A photo with my Richler cousins, Sam and Emma, in Glasgow

We were exhausted and fell over soon after into a deep sleep. David and I had traveled a huge distance that day, with an ambitious itinerary, and we did it. We did it all, because time was on our side. Whether it’s arriving at an attraction, joining a tour or snagging that special parking spot, doing it in the nick of time feels great.

Music with Guitars and Fiddles and so Much More


Some say that music can heal the soul. It has a special power to get the body moving but also keep it still. It makes our emotions come alive. I am lucky that music has been part of my life since I was child, from Creating Together toddler classes to piano lessons through my adolescence. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur at all but can keep a tune, have decent pitch and can easily sight read almost any piece on the piano.

There are so many ways that music impacts our lives. My children have participated in classes, Making Music Together in particular, since infancy. The instructors remind us often how early exposure to music in children creates stronger neural connections in the brain and helps set them up for success later in life.  Learning an instrument is not only good for hand-eye coordination but it gives a person another way to express him or herself.

While I know many people who jump at every opportunity to attend a concert or download the latest hit song (or dare I say, buy a CD?), I am more of a fair-weather fan of musical events and recordings in general. I have attended my fair share of concerts and my iTunes account has a nice mix of downloads. A large percentage of my iTunes account is filled with Classical music, which has always helped get my kids to sleep or just calm me down.

Once in a while I grab the opportunity to hear live music, which is what I did this past weekend. Celebrating its 43rd year, the annual Summerfolk event in Owen Sound, Ontario is one to note on the calendar. For various reasons I was not able to attend for a number of years, but the stars aligned this year and I bought a ticket.

Founded in 1975 by a group of local artists on the shores of Georgian Bay, this festival has seen some of the most talented musicians from around the globe perform. But what draws me to this event are not the major performances but the whole atmosphere of the love of music and joy it brings to people of all ages.

My parents have been attending this annual summer festival since the early 1990’s. They have always embraced music of all genres and instilled in their children an appreciation of the art. This year I brought along my two daughters and my nephew, and the group of six of us, ranging in age from 2 to 70, took it all in together.

Music aside, what better way to spend a beautiful summer’s day than in a giant park, that’s covered in lush green grass, on the shores of one of Canada’s Great Lakes? While Summerfolk, at its core, is about music, it also celebrates artistic expression in general and the joy of summer.

And Julia shows off another
Nessa shows off one way to get the groove on
Tons of visual arts as well for the kids.
She’s always good for a smile, anywhere, anytime

Loaded up with our wagon that was filled with a dozen folding chairs, snacks and different changes of clothes (I really should have taken a photo of my father lugging it around), we wandered the grounds for almost 12 hours checking out all the event had to offer.

My favourite part of the day was when I sat on the grass at the main amphitheater stage with my girls, taking in a concert with well-known children’s performer, Fred Penner. When asked to sing a note, Nessa did. When the musicians clapped their hands, Julia joined in. While they were a bit antsy here and there, I could see that the music calmed them. They were focused on the tunes and the words and were taken in by the beautiful sounds all around them.

It has Paw Patrol on it and it’s mini, but Julia found a way to play our ukulele.
Nessa actively participated at Fred Penner’s concert
Thanks Fred Penner for the photo. At how many concerts can a kid do this?

In the evening most of us crowded into the limestone amphitheater to listen to one set after another of music from Juno Award-winning musicians. Would my kids sit still? Would they cry or scream? I was ready to jump and leave at a moment’s notice. But when the music began to play and seemed to envelop us, everyone, from the two-year-old to the seventy-year-old, was mesmerized.

Of course we had to take a selfie

We could feel the music, almost smell and taste it too. We watched people expertly play guitars, fiddles, harmonicas, drums, the piano and so much more. It was uplifting and calming. It definitely reached the depths of the soul. Music, especially good music, is wonderful.

Cute or Terrifying? Watching a Disney Movie


I am not writing about a very original thought today, but this one has been nagging at my brain lately and I can’t get it out of my head. We have a large collection of Disney DVD’s in our house, with favourites ranging from classics like Snow White to eighties and nineties hits like The Little Mermaid to more recent blockbusters like Frozen. These movies have been viewed hundreds of times in our home and in some cases I probably could silently mouth the whole script.

In recent weeks, as most people dive deeper into the digital age and watch movies online or download from iTunes, we have revitalized our Blue Ray and DVD player and pulled out our collection of films. The first up was Aladdin. This movie, about the “street rat” turned prince thanks to a loveable genie, is classic Disney, and even though I’d seen it dozens of times I happily joined the family to watch it once more.

I forgot how utterly terrifying this movie is! Oh my gosh. So it all starts with the cute and entertaining narrator sequence. But soon we see Jafar, the sultan’s most trusted advisor but also an evil sorcerer, who is scheming about how he will take over Agrabah. Jump forward a few minutes to the Cave of Wonders when an innocent no-name character is swallowed up by a pile of sand that has seemingly come alive as a giant talking monster. Then our hero, Aladdin, is introduced, as he sings about living life on the street and stealing in order to eat. He’s definitely likeable and sweet, but he is called a street rat. That’s not so sweet.

Aladdin has all the Disney fairytale flare: one poor or unlucky person who dreams of having it all, and he (or she) falls in love with the one who does, in this case, a princess. They change it up a bit each time, but definitely this movie sticks to the formula. I smiled and enjoyed the magic carpet ride and every line that came out of the genie’s mouth. But between the people-eating sand-monster cave and Jafar’s antics near the end as he went from sorcerer to sultan to sorcerer to genie, that may give me nightmares, never mind my children.

And yet this movie, like all other Disney movies, is intoxicating. You want to watch it again and again, even though there are some scary parts that could put a horror movie to shame. My two-year-old wanted to watch Aladdin over and over again last week, and I always knew that a scary part was on the screen when I felt a little person tugging at my legs. It was too much for her.

You will find a number of terrifying sequences in basically every Disney movie. Bambi’s mother is killed. Snow White takes an apple (and eats it!) from that horrifying looking old lady who is really the queen. The Sea Witch in Little Mermaid? Anytime she is on the screen I cringe. Mustafa unceremoniously lets go of his brother’s hand. The Lion King falls down a cliff and dies following a stampede of antelope. How revolting.

But how can any of us resist those oh so cute sequences in those same Disney movies, like meeting the seven dwarfs or the ceremonial introduction of a new lion cub? And the songs. I can’t get “Never had a Friend Like you” or “Part of Your World” out of my head.

Besides the scary scenes and sequences of scenes, as I alluded to already, there are some mighty scary characters. Is a movie (or even a TV show) ever complete without a good villain? I will give Disney credit that it’s subtle in Frozen. But it’s rather obvious in early films like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Jungle Book. I’d argue that it goes beyond Disney and that it’s not too hard to find what may be considered an evil character in almost every children’s show.

My two-year-old loves to watch Dora the Explorer, but again, there she is, clinging onto my leg every time Swiper the fox dances onto the screen. Supposedly my own husband was terrified of Sesame Street’s character, The Count. The character is a take-off on Dracula, so I can see how this seemingly cute Muppet was a source of agonizing fear for a three-year-old. David was obsessed with Sesame Street and didn’t miss an episode each day. But my mother-in-law recalls how in fewer than five seconds her little boy would tiptoe towards her, with that sheepish look on his face of, “Mommy, I’m scared,” every time the crazy character appeared on the screen and started to yell, “1, 2, 3….”

Swiper the Fox
Count von Count

So what’s the verdict? Cute? Terrifying? Something in between? No matter what, I will keep watching those Disney movies, over and over again, with my kids, or I will admit, even on my own.

My Brother and his Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day


Have you ever had a terrible horrible no good very bad day? My brother had one of those on Saturday. I know I have had a day like that, when it feels like everything goes wrong. No matter what you do, how hard you try, you just can’t succeed. And it provides great content for my blog.

My brother, Neil, can best be described as a good person. He is kind, generous, friendly to everyone and well-loved. Whether a person is two years-old or ninety-nine, they adore him (except maybe my youngest child who cries when she looks at him). He deserves only good things. But some days that just doesn’t happen, even for Neil.

I believe that much of my early life was shaped by a book by Judith Viorst called Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.

Nothing goes right all day for the main character, Alexander. His mother forgot to put dessert in his lunch, the shoe store didn’t have the style he wanted, his night light burnt out and so much more. His answer to making things better: a move to Australia. It’s the reason for my fascination with Australia for so many years. Everything must be better in Australia, don’t you think?

So, if anyone in my family is having a bad day, it is a terrible horrible no good very bad day. I am reminded of the day a couple of years ago when I dropped my car keys into a sewer grate outside my children’s school during morning drop-off. The day went downhill from there.

So back to my brother. He had a terrible horrible no good very bad on Saturday. Here are three reasons why:

Neck Pain

Have you ever fallen asleep at night in a slightly strange angle and woken up with pain in your neck? You try to turn your head but the pain is awful and then you walk around feeling so stiff that you kind of look like Frankenstein’s cousin. Neil woke up on Saturday with THAT pain in his neck and only with a couple of applications of my parents’ “special” salve did he have some relief. But it was a rough start to his day.

Broken Glass

After a visit to the local country market and a few stops along the way home, we all sat down to a delicious lunch at our country house. We are a good-sized group up here this weekend, of ten people, and it was a feat just to get all ten of us around the table for lunch. My sister-in-law put out quite a spread and my mother brewed some fresh iced tea. Neil grabbed a large glass, filled it with ice and tea and took a sip. First some drops of liquid appeared at the bottom of the glass then the bottom fell out, literally. The actual bottom of the glass, full of cold liquid, fell off. The iced tea spilled all over Neil and of course the table. Who drinks from a glass that does that? My brother.

It’s upside down, but here is the glass whose bottom fell off.

Ticked Off

The icing on the cake happened in the afternoon. It was a hot day, and we are lucky enough to have a pool at our country house. What better thing to do on a hot day than lounge in the pool? Note that this is not a city pool. We are in the countryside, surrounded by fields and a forest. That means critters large and small. We are often joined in the pool by mosquitos, horse flies and wasps. A new visitor joined us this summer, the tick.

Neil has a unique high-pitched yelp he lets out when he stubs his toe, walks into a sharp corner of a table or, as we know now, is bitten by a tick. While the children splashed in the pool and the adults relaxed on noodles, suddenly Neil began to thrash and scream. He leapt out of the pool and grabbed his upper leg. We saw some blood coming out and a distinct bulls eye marking. We found the culprit (the bug) in the water and scooped it out, still alive. It was a tick.

No one wants to be bitten by a tick. It hurts and this nasty bug can sometimes carry Lyme Disease. We all pulled out our iPhones and read about what to do. We saved the tick in a bag and decided that Neil’s best course of action was a visit to the local walk-in clinic. The tick is now at a lab being tested and my brother just took one heavy dose of antibiotics to ensure that he won’t be sick (though the side effects of this heavy-duty dose may give him a second terrible horrible no good very bad day).

Some people say that good, and bad, things come in threes. So, Neil had his three experiences that came together to give him his terrible horrible no good very bad day.

Some days are like that.

Even in Australia.

Do I Live in the Wrong Century?


I believe that we are often wistful of times gone by. We bring up memories of past experiences and think longingly and lovingly of wonderful trips and family celebrations. Babies grow up too fast and grey hairs appear on our heads too early. We consider the future and try our best to live for today, but we never leave the past behind. I was born and grew up in the late 20th century and am raising my children in the early 21st century. Over my 42 years I have seen tremendous changes in the world and an exponential growth in innovation and technology. I live a good life, often live for the day and dream about tomorrow. But with all the comforts and conveniences around me I often ask myself the question, do I live in the wrong century?

Ever since I was quite young I have had a great passion to soak up knowledge about the second half of the 19th century. It is a period in history that fascinates me, in particular Victorian England and the time of the American Civil War. If I can pinpoint a specific decade it would be the 1860’s. So much happened in the world at that time. I often wonder what life may have been like if I lived in London in 1862 or Washington DC in 1865. Or a city or town in Eastern Canada in 1867.

This thought often crosses my mind and I considered it quite a bit this week after I saw a revival of the play The King and I. Originally produced in 1951, the play was based on a book called Anna and the King of Siam, written in 1944. It is based on the true story of Anna Leonowens, who traveled to Siam in 1862 to teach the 39 wives and 82 children of King Mongkut. The play covers Anna’s time in Siam, from 1862 to 1868, when King Monkgut died.

As I watched the play and later that night, I thought about what the world was like and what happened between 1862 and 1868. Queen Victoria celebrated 25 years on the throne in 1862. The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 and its President, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated. Confederation in Canada happened in 1867.  European countries, Great Britain and France in particular, signed treaties and formed various alliances in countries across Asia and changed the landscape of that continent. The Industrial Revolution continued to change the world, with new kinds of automation and inventions.

I am fascinated by the way of life during this era. I don’t doubt that for the lower classes life was hard. For many people it was a long exhausting work week, and they often lived in very harsh conditions. Slaves in the southern United States were finally granted their freedom, but with that freedom came new challenges and still a hard life. Women around the globe, whether it be Europe, the Americas or Asia, were all considered second-class citizens. They did not have a voice or the vote. For poor women who had to work, they earned significantly less than the men.

I don’t know if Anna, from the King and I, really spoke so directly to the King of Siam like she did in the play. She looked him straight in the eyes and told him to respect women and to listen to them. She showed him how the women in his life could guide him and advise him. Which she did. So, whether Anna actually did this or not, I am sure there were strong brave women around the world in the 1860’s who did speak up and let their voices be heard during what was a tumultuous time in history.

I also like to fantasize about the world of the upper classes during the 1860’s. Those giant hoop skirts probably were not too comfortable, but I adore them. The fabrics, the colours of the clothing are spectacular. And some would say it gave women a comfortable one metre distance away from anyone else. No crowding or claustrophobia if you are wearing one of those magnificent gowns!

Then there’s the stately homes and unique architecture of the late 19thcentury. The grandeur of design and splendid style that went along with it. I don’t think that I am that lavish a person, but I think I could have handled it. I can read book after book and watch an endless stream of movies from this time period. I just can’t get enough of it.

I will admit that while I am fascinated by life in the late 19th century, I do enjoy my modern conveniences. Running water and a flushable toilet in my home would be the first to come to mind. My washing machine. Electricity everywhere. Air conditioning. I could go on and on forever about the joys of the modern conveniences we have in the 21st century that could never have even been imagined in 1862. So maybe I am living in the right century or maybe not. But with my imagination I can live anywhere, in any century.