Music with Guitars and Fiddles and so Much More

music

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.

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And Julia shows off another
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Nessa shows off one way to get the groove on
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Tons of visual arts as well for the kids.
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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.

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It has Paw Patrol on it and it’s mini, but Julia found a way to play our ukulele.
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Nessa actively participated at Fred Penner’s concert
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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.

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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

Disney

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….”

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Swiper the Fox
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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

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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.

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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?

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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.

Halifax is my Home away from Home

Halifax

I have had a bit of a whirlwind summer and have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit. As I have written many times, travel is the greatest gift I can give myself. Sometimes it is exhausting and frustrating but the stress and fatigue that come with travel are worth it. This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit and enjoy one of my favourite cities, Halifax. I have visited this city so many times that it has almost become my home away from home.

This summer I have spent every weekend in a different place. It all began with my trip to Scotland. The second weekend was spent at my family’s country home, near the southern shores of Georgian Bay. Then I had a weekend in Toronto, as we hosted family from abroad. And this past weekend I was in Halifax, the city I love so much.

The reason I traveled, with my family, to Halifax, was for the annual visit to our beloved Camp Kadimah, where my children go to overnight camp. Yes, I put my children on an airplane each summer and send them hundreds of kilometers away to Nova Scotia to go to camp. Besides the fact that Camp Kadimah is the greatest place for my children to spend a summer, it gives me the chance to visit Halifax in late July.

What is so special about Halifax, you ask?

First of all, it has all the amenities, history and culture that you get in a big city but in miniature. It’s not to say that Halifax is tiny, but it is a small city. It’s easy to get around, with polite drivers and friendly pedestrians. Fellow cars let you in when you change lanes and gently stop at crosswalks to allow you to walk across the road.

Then there is the waterfront, or as the signs say, the “Harbourwalk.” The heart of downtown, by the water, is a sprawling, clean boardwalk. It goes on and on, from the historic seaport where new immigrants docked in Canada for decades, all the way into the harbour to the casino. Along the boardwalk are restaurants, cafes, a couple museums, benches, stores and even a small playground. It’s adult and child-friendly, and during the summer it is populated by locals and tourists alike. We walked up and down this fabulous stretch in the morning, afternoon and even late at night and always felt welcome and safe.

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Nessa kind of enjoyed our first afternoon on the Harbourwalk with her grandmother and cousin
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This was my view from dinner on Friday evening
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This is the boardwalk, where everyone can be silly.
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Nessa invented a new kind of pole dancing at the Seaport.

Do I sound like a paid advertisement for the city of Halifax? Eek, that’s not the intention here. There is just this warm feeling I get when I am driving around, walking the streets or even checking into my hotel. And sometimes I wonder, when I bite into a fresh piece of halibut, tuna or haddock, if the reason I eat fish today is because of this city. I didn’t like fish of any kind until I tasted the real, fresh kind. I ate more fish this past weekend than I eat all year.

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We found a new Japanese restaurant and loved the tuna tataki in particular
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Enjoying a snack downtown with roadside food.

Every time I visit Halifax (and I have visited too many times to count) it draws me in and I begin to imagine what my life would be like if I lived there. No, I’m not selling my house tomorrow and moving to Nova Scotia. But the thought, the feeling, the question, jumps into my head over and over. People seem happier, more at ease and more full of life in this east coast city.

They are a stone’s throw away from beautiful maritime towns like Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. You can smell the fresh saltwater air even on a hot day downtown. It is not just okay but it’s encouraged to paint your house bright red or pale yellow. There seems to be a bar at every corner, if you like that kind of thing. When Waze tells me it will take ten minutes to drive across town, it actually takes ten minutes. There is a new unique central public library and also a Discover Centre. And Camp Kadimah is only a 90-minute drive.

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Need I say more? BEST ice cream.
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Selfie at COWS. Enough said.

Maybe I am just coming down from a high after an exhilarating four-day weekend away when I didn’t have to cook and clean. Maybe I am suffering from a bit of heat stroke after I walked the city for hours in what felt like forty-degree heat. Or maybe Halifax really is as great a city as I have hyped it up to be and there is a good reason why I consider it to be my home away from home. For now, I will keep visiting, and we will see where life takes me.

Ahhhh the Wedding

wedding

I don’t attend too many weddings. Maybe I don’t know enough people. Or maybe I’m at an age when most of my friends and I guess family too, are either married or not old enough yet to tie the knot. No matter how good, or bad, the wedding is, it is nice to attend them.

So many people lead very busy lives, with little free or unprogrammed time in the schedule. Children go to school, activities, camp or play with friends. As adults, we spend much of our time working, cooking, cleaning, shopping or if we have kids, chauffeuring them too. Sometimes it seems that one day just flows into the next, with a hectic schedule from dawn to dusk.

I will admit that I don’t put aside nearly enough time for myself, to relax or do stuff that I love. And I mean stuff for me and only me. My recent trip to Scotland was definitely for me (ya I guess David too), and it gave me the chance to recharge my battery. But I will say that I definitely make time for family and for family celebrations, like a wedding.

In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, we often turn down invitations to celebrations or events because it’s too expensive to attend, too hard to travel or we just don’t have time.  We say, “Oh I can’t come this time but I will try to make it next time.” And we continue on with our busy day. We see the photos and hear the stories and we think wistfully of the next event, when we will attend.

David and I try to attend as many family celebrations as we can. I will admit that we can’t make it to everything, but we try our best. With family and friends who live all over the world, and with our love of travel, we have participated in a fair number of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, milestone birthdays and weddings. It can be a financial strain sometimes and the timing can be a challenge, but really, it’s worth it.

On Monday we celebrated the wedding of our nephew, Joseph, to his wonderful new wife, Hadas. I will not do a rundown of all the details of the day, from the elegant but simple flowers to the dinner’s main course (oh my gosh they served roast beef and it was cooked perfectly!). If anyone wants a full detailed analysis, you know how to find me.

It was a small, intimate wedding, with family and a number of their close friends. David’s sister, Linda, lives in London, Ontario, and we traveled the easy two hours down the highway on Sunday afternoon to join the festivities. A wedding is not just the short ceremony and party. It also includes the days leading up to the big event, day before, day-of activities and even breakfast the next day. It’s a bit of a package deal, if you want to get the full benefit. Sometimes the best part of a wedding can be a BBQ in the backyard the night before or running around the following morning to the liquor store to secure the right kosher liqueurs!

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Having fun the night before
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Last minute liquor purchase, phew.
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Nessa enjoyed some entertainment from her cousins before the wedding, at Walmart, of course.

The faces of the bride and groom as they walk down the aisle or how they look at each other during the ceremony are special moments. And will he break the glass on his first try? Family photos – who won’t smile and who will blink when the camera flashes? Which child will throw a tantrum? What was the best appetizer passed around during cocktails? Which dessert was the tastiest?

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The moment they walked down the aisle
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They kept eye contact for much of the ceremony.
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He got it the first try.
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She didn’t sit still and had a wonderful time.
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It’s not a wedding without a big family photo

You have to be there to experience it. I know it’s not always so easy and I’m so glad every time we make the effort. A wedding is fun and it creates such wonderful memories for not only the bride and groom but for all the guests. We have another family wedding, for a cousin, in a few weeks, so who’s next?

A Letter from Camp is Worth More than a Picture’s Thousand Words

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How often do you receive a hand-written letter in the mail? Do you ever wait by your mailbox anymore, hoping the postman (or woman) shows up soon to deliver your mail? Do you even receive mail anymore? Letter writing, for the most part, is a lost art. We spend a good percentage of the day connected to the world with our smartphones, sending texts, posting to social media and crafting emails. But how often do you pick up a pen or pencil and write a letter to someone? I would say most of you are quickly answering my question – never.

I rarely hand write letters anymore. My laptop’s keyboard is one of my best friends, as I swiftly send communications to colleagues, friends and family every day. The world wide web has made communication instantaneous. When we send a text we often panic if the person doesn’t respond in 30 seconds. We expect a response to an email within 24 hours, at most.

But then there is summer camp. While so much has stayed the same, so much has changed since I went to overnight camp a couple of decades ago. No matter what camp a child chooses, there will always be swimming, dancing, singing, boating and campfires. The kids will make new friends, eat some strange food and compete in all kinds of activities. The heart and soul of what is summer overnight camp hasn’t changed.

But the way parents and their children communicate has changed. Instead of waiting for the mail or looking at old photo albums as a reminder of what the children look like, parents (and grandparents) hit refresh throughout the day on the camp’s website, waiting for pictures of their children to be uploaded. Parents can write an email, press send and camp will print and deliver the message to the child within 24 hours. Some camps even scan the children’s handwritten letters and email them home to the parents.

My children’s camp, Camp Kadimah, for the most part, is technology-free. The photographer and videographer roam the camp and capture every moment of the children’s day. The administrative staff check their email and cell phones often and are available at a moment’s notice if a parent needs something. Emails from home are printed and handed to the children.

But the child’s experience of camp is basically technology-free. That means all communication from the camper to the outside world is accomplished the old-fashioned way – a written letter, affixed with a postage stamp and dropped in the mail. So that means for about six weeks each year I do something that feels slightly anachronistic – I check my mailbox throughout the day.

The letters are few and far between, contain very little information and are basically illegible. And yet I long for them. There is something so sweet in seeing my child’s handwriting on a page, written from a bunk bed or picnic bench in central Nova Scotia.  I see dozens of photos of my kids posted to the camp website, but I will take a letter any day over a photo. There is something so personal and so human about a hand-written letter (even if I can’t read or understand most of what’s on the page).

My kids have been away at camp for just over two weeks. So far, we have received one postcard and three letters from my daughter and one letter from my son. Supposedly each child is required to write one postcard home in the first few days of camp in order to receive a treat from the tuck shop, and yet Matthew has managed to get away with enjoying tuck each year and not writing a postcard home. I figure I only got my token letter last week from him because it was my birthday and he did acknowledge it.

His one letter, fully handwritten of course, arrived last week when I was having a bad day. Hey, we all have bad days, so no big deal. A career opportunity I thought might come through fell apart and I was feeling down. We’ve all been there. So, I checked my mailbox, and there it was, a letter from my child from camp. My mood changed in an instant, as I made out the words that he is having “the best summer ever.” His cousin, and close buddy, Max, is in his cabin. His other cousin, Elia, from Israel, is his counselor. The weather is great. What could be better?

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My birthday letter from Matthew. I learned that he can chew gum at camp.

I will keep hitting refresh on the photo stream, check Instagram and read email updates from the Director. The pictures may be worth a thousand words, but a personal, handwritten letter from camp, well that is worth so much more.

Sports are to be watched in a Social Setting

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I love to watch sports. And I like to read about my favourite athletes and look at the scores from the night before. But I don’t like to do it alone. For me, sports is something social and really much less enjoyable on my own. While my son, Matthew, is away at camp, the joy of sports is not there quite as much for me.

I don’t live in a house with big sports fans. How did a big sports fan like me find one of the few males in Canada who doesn’t just dislike sports but basically resents them? I think David enjoys some of the snacking associated with viewing big sporting events, but that’s where it ends. I remember at our wedding, my brother said in his speech that he could see far into the future. He thought of the day that the Jays were back in the World Series or a certain Toronto hockey team dared make the Stanley Cup finals. I would be sitting on the couch with the guys and David would provide us with great snacks!

My brother alluded to something key in his speech – sitting with a group enjoying the game. A social environment. It’s hard to watch baseball in the summer by myself. If I turn the Jays game on in the evening I feel the wrath of an angry toddler who gives me the evil eye and says one word to me, “Dora” She’s not interested in watching baseball with me.

But sports is not just about watching the game in a social setting. It’s also about talking about it, for hours or sometimes days. You need someone to discuss that great play or missed called strike. When Kevin Pillar makes one of his incredible “Superman” catches it’s not enough to see it on my TV from all angles. I have to share my thoughts with someone else.

There is a reason why Superbowl parties are so popular, and it’s not just because of the good food that is typically served. It’s about the social setting, of friends getting together to enjoy the event together. Even if you know nothing about football (how many downs was that?) you can’t help but be with the crowd and get excited by great plays. Your team may not have made the playoffs, but you have to watch that final game of the season with your best buddies.

So while the baseball season is in full swing and the soccer World Cup is about to reach its crescendo, I am feeling a bit of sports withdrawal. Is it sad that I’m a bit lonely? I’m not a bar or pub-loving type, so that’s out. But hey, there’s a reason why Toronto bars are packed in the morning lately as patrons catch a World Cup playoff match and of course want to do so in a social setting (or maybe they don’t have cable and it’s the only way to watch the game).

People come together over sports. Strangers stand side by side and cheer together for their team. Huge crowds packed Maple Leaf Square and Jurassic Park in downtown Toronto when the Leafs and Raptors were on their short playoff runs. Sports is inherently social, and I like it that way. How many more days until Matthew returns from camp?

I Climbed Another Mountain and many Steps too

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Scotland is not a flat country. It doesn’t have huge mountains like the Rockies or Alps, but it’s hilly and curvy. In the middle of rolling hills, you may find a few small mountains. As you drive north, you pass through the Grumpian Mountains and into the beauty of the Highlands. In a car you climb and go down over and over again. On foot it’s the same thing. How many stone steps did I go up and down this past week? And I even climbed another mountain.

I wouldn’t say I am the most fit person in the world. I’m not in bad shape and I do eat well. I am short and slim and happy about that. Running is not my thing nor is hiking up a very steep path. But, I do enjoy moderate exercise, and I’m always happy to walk a fair distance, especially to see something interesting.

Over the past week I climbed and climbed. Most people would say that the best view is at the top. In an old castle there is only one way up: the stairs. Our week began with a visit to the Wallace National Monument, which stands on the edge of the town of Stirling. It commemorates the great William Wallace, and the monument is a massive tower, on the top of a hill. First, we climbed up an easy snaking path then we went into the monument and climbed 246 steps up a winding stairwell to the top. We learned about the Scottish-English battles of the 13thand 14thcenturies, enjoyed the views, then climbed back down. If I really wanted, I could have bought a t-shirt that said I had climbed the 246 steps. I didn’t.

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Photo from the top – 246 steps
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That’s the Wallace Monument. I climbed that.

We spent our first night in Inverness, which is the capital of the Highlands, and to get there, our little car had to work hard and climb through those mountains. On our second day we visited Loch Ness and Urquhart castle. At this castle, on the edge of the loch, we climbed down first from the road then up again to experience the spectacular views (and look out for the monster!). There is a reason why Kings, Queens, Dukes, Earls and Barons always had a bed chamber high up in the castle – it’s where you get the best view!

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Selfie from the top of Urquhart Castle, overlooking Loch Ness.

On our third day in Scotland we toured three very different castles. The first one, Dunnottar, on the edge of the North Sea and its famous cliffs, was all about the climbing. I didn’t count the number of steps we climbed to first go down to the castle and then go up, but I’m sure it was similar to that 246 we climbed at the Wallace Monument.

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Can you believe someone built a castle there?

Crathes and Craigievar castles were built in the 16thcentury by noble families, and they are both big and tall. What does that mean? A lot of stairs. Craigievar’s pink granite, seven floors and soaring turrets makes it look like it is straight out of a fairy tale. Some say it may even have been the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle.  Whatever the inspiration, you need to have your climbing shoes on to visit its many floors and learn about the history of its many owners, including “Red” Sir John Forbes who found his daughter in the arms of his enemy’s son. He gave the guy two options: a duel or jump from the fourth-floor window. The kid chose to jump. Bad idea.

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This is Crathes Castle. Tall and slim.
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It’s hard to tell in this photo I took, but that stone is pink and oh the turrets.
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Selfie from the upper deck, seven floors up, at Craigievar.
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We passed a ski resort in the highlands. Really

The city of Edinburgh has some steep hills and it also has some extinct volcanoes in the heart of downtown. Really, I’m serious. Google it. The incredible and imposing castle in the centre of town sits atop one of them and behind a famous palace, called Holyrood Palace, down the Royal Mile, sits another. We toured the castle and hiked up the other mountain. I wouldn’t say climbed is even the correct word as it was a true hike, with very steep inclines, boulders, pebbles and cliffs. Unlike my winter icy mountain climb, I easily scaled this one and enjoyed the 360 degree view from the top (spot known as Arthur’s Seat) tremendously. And then I climbed down.

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This is Edinburgh Castle. Good luck climbing that mountain and storming this fortress.
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We had to take a selfie after we climbed this mountain in the city.
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The view from the top really is spectacular.

Traveling through Scotland I sat in a moving car a lot so that we could cover so much of the land. I also ate some scrumptious food (I tried vegetarian haggis, sorry I’m not adventurous enough to try the real thing). And I climbed. A lot. This country is not for the faint of heart. Bring your quality walking shoes and get ready to explore some amazing places.

The Answer to Everything in Life is 42

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Today I learned that the answer to everything in life is 42. Don’t worry, I will never abandon number 17, which will forever be my favourite. But today I learned why number 42 is so significant. Could it be that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything really is 42? Or is this number only significant to me now because today is my birthday and today I turned 42?

I guess 42 is a nice, even, solid number. It is divisible in so many ways (practice your math… 21 x 2, 14 x 3 or 6 x7). It shows you have definitely reached the age of some maturity, but you are still considered relatively young. I like that. I think 42 works for me.

And on my 42nd birthday I woke up in the beautiful Scottish Highlands city of Inverness and made my way across the country to the bustling city of Aberdeen. And I saw so much in between.

As I wrote about last week, my husband, David, and I just celebrated our 20th anniversary. We gave each other the gift of a trip, just us, to mark the important milestone. And we booked the trip to coincide with my birthday soon after. On Tuesday evening, with two kids at camp, and number three safely in the hands of my parents, we flew to Scotland for a short trip to a place I have wanted to see for so many years.

Why Scotland, so many people asked me. Aren’t there great places to visit closer to home or across Canada? Weren’t you just in London a few months ago? The answer to all of these questions is, yes. I love to travel in Canada and have been lucky to see so much of the country. And I will be traveling out to Nova Scotia in a few weeks to visit my kids at camp. But Scotland is a place I have dreamed about for over twenty years. It’s historic cities, ancient castles, lakes (or lochs as they call them here) and scenic countryside intrigued me. The rich history of its people, clans, kings, queens, warfare and dedication to its freedom drew me to it.

I’m finally here. And I love it.

I woke up this morning, on the day I turned 42, in the northern part of Scotland. Inverness is small but mighty and I loved my short stay there. Our first stop was a short drive south to the famous Loch Ness and a ruined castle on the shores of this mysterious lake.

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Meir this photo is for you. Yes this place is great.
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Selfie on a bridge over River Ness in Inverness

Urquhart castle changed hands many times (different groups liked to invade it and plunder it until it was finally burnt down, intentionally, in the late 17thcentury). As I stood atop the castle’s tower, I could see why everyone wanted this place. I was mesmerized by the scenery and beauty of the lake. I don’t know if a little monster lives in those deep waters or not (but wow do the locals ever play that one up and sell every kind of merchandise imaginable), but that is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen.

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Isn’t this a great spot to celebrate a birthday?
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I could have stood and stared all day
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Which one should I buy? My daughter’s name is Nessa…

Back in our little rental we went (I could write a whole blog post about David driving a manual shift car on the left side of the road) and drove northeast to the town of Findhorn, on the North Sea. We had booked a two-hour nature and wildlife boat tour on the North Sea, and I’m so glad we did. We had blue skies and sunshine, gentle waters and warm temperatures.

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Don’t worry the car was in park here.

The only problem was that the wildlife, for the most part, decided to take an afternoon nap. The seals were cute and there were hundreds of birds. But the dolphins and whales were in hiding. No problem. The boat and water were pleasant, our guide was friendly and knowledgeable and the other passengers were friendly. David and I were the only non-Scots in the group, so maybe we seemed exotic to them.

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A selfie just before we left the dock.
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Do you see the seal’s head popping out of the water?
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Thousands of birds live in nests on this cliff

We took the long, rather indirect route along the coast all afternoon, on our way to our day’s final destination of Aberdeen. We drove through adorable beach towns like Cullen and Banff (the original one, not in Alberta) and stopped in the fishing town of Peterhead for dinner.

Thanks to too many Google searches, I discovered that Peterhead is one of, if not the largest fishing port in the UK and that there was a local restaurant in its fish market that was highly recommended. There was no mention of how hard it was to find. There are few things more frustrating, after a long day of driving, when you are hungry, then searching for a restaurant that doesn’t want to be found. After 30 minutes of going in circles we found the Dolphin Café, 25 minutes before it closed for the day. But it was worth it. Those may be one of the best fish and chips I have ever had.

We continued on our way south down the coast to today’s final destination of Aberdeen. I don’t know much about this city other than it is the hub of the oil and gas industry in the UK and it’s a popular location for my TV show House Hunters. I am sitting here in my hotel room right now, in the heart of downtown with a view over the city and even the water, and the city seems nice. We had to circle for a long time to find our hotel, and I won’t go into the details of that meltdown (as in my meltdown).

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I took this photo of the North Sea from the car. I just love it.

My birthday was topped off this evening at a local café, where I finally got my piece of birthday cake. What’s a birthday, especially birthday number 42, without cake. Sticky toffee pudding and toffee cheesecake. You can’t go wrong.

Our road trip through Scotland continues for a few more days, as we head into Cairngorms National Park to see some castles then down to Edinburgh for some city fun. I am loving every minute of my anniversary and birthday tour. The big question now is, where will we go next?