2017 Top 10 ~ Camping Trip to Ottawa (#3)

To start July I celebrated my 45th birthday, and shortly afterwards I had 10 days scheduled off from work for a nice long vacation.  One I felt was sorely overdue after the events of the previous 11 months and the experience of separating, selling my house and moving on with my life.  I spent a lot of my down time trying to plan the perfect road trip with my kids…

One of my biggest fears was seeing this trip turn into something from the movie Vacation, where is something can go wrong will go wrong.  I also feared extended hours in the car with two teenage girls and the potential issues that might arise.  I had talked to the girls about what they wanted to do and the things that they wanted to see, and to be honest I didn’t quite get the reaction that I was hoping for from them.  They didn’t seem super excited as I was for this trip…

That being said I have learned so much about me, and my relationship(s) with these girls that next summer the trip of a lifetime will happen and it will become an annual tradition.  I was a different person back then as opposed to the man that sits here today.  At some point I decided to break this road trip into two seperate ones… a trip with my buddies (as I was planning on draggin my daughters to some US ballparks) and one with Emily and Megan.

So upon returning from the States (more on that later) I unpacked, and then repacked the Jeep and we were off.  The plan was to head towards Ottawa as I had booked a KOA campground for several nights, on all the back roads to explore this great country that we have.  One of the things the boys and I had talked about just a few days before was saving turtles when you would see one trying to cross the road, Ryan was telling the story about he rescues turtles and turns to me and says, “I am sure your the same Ed?”  I nodded politely and the conversation carried on.  In my head I was thinking that one I’ve never rescued a turtle, and two I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a turtle crossing the road.

Well wouldn’t you know it after only a few hours on the road, there right in the middle was the poor little turtle trying to make it across the road.

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Hmmm, I love turtles.  Thanks for the rescue?  Nope I pee on you instead!

We immediately pulled over and ran out into the middle of the road to rescue the poor little guy, when I bent over to pick him up by the edges of his shell he did what all good turtles tend to do.  Pull his head inside of his shell and then proceeded to piss all over my left.  Thankfully my dexterity was up to the challenge and I was able to Tennessee two step my way out of the stream just in time.  We placed the turtle onto the side of the road, and facing in the same direction he was already headed, jumped back in the Jeep and we continued on the way.

Rescuing turtles will always be something that I will now be on the lookout for!

We continued to head North, stopping at not only the Candy Shoppe on the 400 North, we also hit up the Kawartha Dairy for a delicious ice cream cone and pulled over at several national parks to stretch our legs and have bathroom breaks as needed.

Once we got to our campsite in Ottawa and settled in, it was time for dinner.  Over the first few months of the this summer I learned how to cook over an open campfire.  Not the easiest thing to do as every single campfire will be different in terms of its intensity and distance from fire to food.  It requires constant supervision and adjustments throughout the cooking process as too not too burn anything.  Yes I’ve ruined a few hot dogs in my day but I pretty much have gotten the hang of it, and not once did I have to break out the Coleman stove that I bought as backup.

Nights around the campfire are my favorite.  Sitting there listening to good music, talking and sharing stories, roasting marshmallows and making smores.

My only disappointment with this trip was my inability to get Emily to re-engage with some family time each night.  She would retreat into the cabin with her headphones in, listening to her music and sending out an endless parade of SnapChats to her friends.  Megan was all in and I had just the best time with her playing frisbee, catch and other games around the campsite.  Emily was reluctant to join in on any of this family fun, she wouldn’t even go swimming with us at the pool and the lake.

The next day the weather was not the best and we did some shopping at the Tanger outlet mall in Ottawa and had some lunch while in town.  We did a lot of shopping over the summer, getting the girls some fun things along the way and I basically replaced my entire wardrobe and shoe collection this year.  I think this shopping trip was my last of this year in terms of clothing as my perception on money and how best to spend it was already starting to change… (more on the that in my #1 post for 2017.

I has asked the girls what they wanted to do while up in Ottawa and two common things come from this conversation, one was to go Zip Lining and the other was the chance to drive the Jeep.  Both of these were crossed off the list the next day!  I have a healthy respect for heights and was a little afraid of what the day might bring, but it was a beautiful drive over and across a large river dividing Ontario and Quebec that was a delight to see.

The zip lining course was at the top of a mountain and it was a long and winding road up to the top through some beautiful summer views.

We arrived on time, got all geared up and had the chance to watch the group ahead of us finish up with the final zipline back to the base camp.  We walked out into the woods, had our orientation and away we went.  My only other ziplining experience was in Jamaica and it was much different than what I experienced in Ottawa.  I figured it would be a guided tour through the trees with instructors in front and behind us, travelling in a large group.  Well that was not the case at all, we were pretty much on our own as the instructors kept watch from the safety of the ground.  Being the first three on the course we were able to go at our own pace, and with two adventurous girls leading the way we quickly were ahead of everyone else and having just the best time imaginable.

The course started off with several climbing in and around type obstacles to orientate one from being off the ground and to get more comfortable with the zipline to come.  It was actually a really fun time for me and I quickly got over my fear of heights to the point where it wasn’t even a factor.  Watching my girls hit each line ahead of me allowed me to see what I was in store for, how fast the line might move and to prepare for each landing.  The difference between an 80 lb girl and a 180 lb man are quite different in terms of speed and impact on each landing.  I was able to generate a lot more speed across the ziplines than either of the girls were able to do so.

We had so much fun this day, I was able to conquer some of my own fears and felt that I grew closer to each girl throughout the afternoon.

Up next on the agenda was some off road driving in the Jeep after searching for the right road to drive on.  With Emily turning 16 later in the year I knew that she would want to get some experience behind the wheel.  I didn’t want to just trespass in an open field or on private property so while drive around the water I simply followed a sign for an empty lot for sale.  The road turned from paved to gravel, and then eventually to no road at all and we ended up on an abandoned lot down on the Ottawa River.  It was perfect!

I drove the Jeep right up to the edge of the water and enjoyed a few minutes of sheer beauty and some peace and quiet.  Right up until the girls were attacked by a few wasps… hilarity ensued!

I was able to do some off roading across this lot and back up and down the “road” that led down to this cottage, and I even allowed the girls a chance to get behind the wheel of the Jeep for a trip themselves.  Both girls showed no fear and had a blast driving the Jeep with not another soul around.

After several trips up and down and back again we headed back to the campgrounds for another fire roasted dinner of deliciousness.  We would spend one more day in Ottawa before returning to the real world back here in Barrie.  I know personally I had a wonderful time and learned a lot about myself and what is truly important in life and spending time with my girls.  We would go camping several more times throughout the summer as I shared the wonderful world that is mother nature.

It was during this trip that I started to realize just what was important to me, the Summer of George has started with the idea of having the time of my life and doing a lot of crazy things that money could buy you.  Sitting in the best seats if you will, replacing a wardrobe, buying countless baseball jersey and matching ball caps, Star Wars battle drones, and many other things…  This extended road trip was the beginning of my understanding of what truly is important in life, my family, my friends.  Spending time with them, having fun, creating memories.  One that last a lifetime and are not easily forgotten or replaced, this thought process I would chase for the remainder of this year and wouldn’t fully understand until mid September.

2017 Top 10 ~ Jeep Wrangler “Willy’s” (#4)

abb60d4ef5_640I loved my 2005 Saturn Vue, a car line that was discontinued at some point when American motor sales were struggling and GM closed down this particular line of vehicles.  I drove two of them in a row, and would have continued to purchase this line of cars as I found them both fun to drive and very reliable.  My Saturn Vue was with me through my entire triathlon career, was driven down to Florida and back on more than one occasion and was my car when I went down to Kentucky and did my Ironman race in 2009.  I really wanted to see that car reach 300,000 km and it finally had to be retired at 296,000 km and change as it was looking at a costly repair bill.  That is when I got my 2013 Toyota Corolla as we needed a commutator car at the time and I was driving from Barrie to Vaughan and back on a regular basis.

The Toyota was okay, and during it’s time I racked up 135,000 km on it in no time, but I hated the sight lines on it.  I was used to driving up at a higher driving angle for over 8 years in my Vue, and now I was continually getting blasted my other cars right into my eyes.  One of the drawbacks to having laser eye surgery is slightly reduced night vision, and this became readily apparent when I started to drive the Toyota.  When the opportunity earlier this year presented itself to get a new car, I really started to think long and hard about what I really wanted.

I knew whatever this purchase was going to be, this car was going to be with me for a good long while.  I quickly dismissed the idea of a flashy sports car that screamed mid life crisis, and started thinking about a Jeep.  I’ve always wanted a Jeep as it represents to me a lifestyle choice and the freedom to go just about wherever you could possible want to go.

Driving is fun, pavement is optional.

So I began the shopping process and would endless build my dream Jeep on their website over and over again, never quite bringing myself to actually order it.  I believe initially I was waiting for the sale of my house to go through and perhaps the extreme cost of getting a brand new fully loaded Jeep Wrangler.

And for me the Wrangler was the only way to go, after all Jeep makes several different lines of Jeep but there is only one Wrangler.  The Wrangler, and its predecessor the YJ are the only Jeep that comes with the Jeep wave.  Yes there is such a thing as the Jeep wave, just look it up.  And it is only for those who drive the Wrangler model, we look down our collective noses at them other fake Jeeps as I like to call them.  All kidding aside, I wanted the Jeep that could drive through rivers, over mountains and go wherever I decided that I wanted to go.

I finally decided to do to visit a dealership, and with Austin along for the ride took one out for my first test drive and the first time that I had ever driven a car with that powerful of an engine.  To be honest I was a little scared, well very scared when I first got behind the wheel as it was powerful beyond imagination.  It was driving a tank at first, and seeing as there was still snow on the ground I engaged the 4 wheel drive and literally drove through snow banks, over snow piles and any other obstacle that I could find.  I was instantly sold and knew that I would be buying one in short order, so I started to search for the best deal that I could find.

I initially started at the Barrie Jeep dealership, and unfortunately for that salesman he didn’t think I was serious about purchasing a Jeep, wasn’t very knowledgeable about answering my questions and didn’t go out of his way to offer any kind of wow service.  Too bad as that guy ost out on a nice commision from me.  Next up was the Vaughan dealership as I had been in contact with a salesman there via email.

When I went in to meet him, I was forgotten about in the waiting area for almost an hour, and was literally about to leave in disgust when the head of the department asked if I had been helped, took me into his office and we started talking.  Small world as it turns out his wife’s brother was a manager at another Keg location and I immediately got the friends and family discount on my new Jeep. Win!

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My Jeep on the left after 1500 km road trip through Chicago and St. Louis.  Parked right next to the smaller model that looked like it just came off the assembly line.

I had already done my shopping on the website, and knew exactly what model, colour and features that I wanted.  Turns out that this combination didn’t exist anywhere currently in Canada, usually when you purchase a new car that is not on the lot they do a vehicle search and will have it shipped in from another dealer, etc… Mine as configured didn’t exist, so they needed to order it from the manufacturer.  I cannot tell you how cool I would this concept to be, while I did have to wait several weeks for me Jeep it was being custom built for me and no one else (other than the Jeep that loaded and unloaded it from the truck) would ever drive it.

It had 3 km on the odometer when I was finally able to pick it up in April of this year.  Talk about building anticipation for something, every week or so I would email for an update on how things were going.  I didn’t know it at the time but when I placed the order Air Conditioning was added to it at no cost to me.  My mindset was, hey this is a car where the roof and doors come off, who needs air conditioning?  Right?  Well it turns out to be a blessing, as with four kids they are not always up for the wind blowing at them while zipping down the highway.

In the few months since I’ve owned this amazing vehicle I have already taken to many amazing places and seen some amazing things.  It was officially broken in during July as I was on a 10 day road trip down to Chicago and St. Louis with a group of friends to see baseball games at Wrigley and Busch stadium.  We camped along the way, and this trip was so enjoyable that it will become an annual tradition and might even appear on this Top 10 list rather shortly…  And immediately afterwards my daughters and I headed north to Ottawa for another camping trip where both girls got the chance to drive the Jeep on some abandoned country roads for the first time.

Dad even got a chance to do some off roading in it as well.

Everything that you could think about to put into an SUV, Jeep had it covered.  I had ordered both the Hardtop and Soft Top for it, the doors are so easy to remove when wanted and the upgraded Alpine sound system with eight speakers and all weather subwoofer absolutely rocks.  It was roomy enough for four guys, all the camping gear on our trip to Chicago.  It is lengthy enough that I can slide my kayak into the back with the rear seats folded down, and with the trailer tow hitch I was actually able to move into my new house simply y renting the 12 foot U Haul trailer.

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I’ve been caught out in the rain with it before, which quickly turned into a monsoon and trying to put the doors back on when I get home was an effort in futility.  It actually collected several inches of water on the inside, and when the rain subsided I simply went out side and pulled out the plugs underneath the mats and quickly watched all the water quickly disappear.

I also had the misfortune of spilling an entire Jerry Can of gasoline into the backseat and floor one day while driving home not realizing the cap wasn’t screwed on properly.  The carpets were simple enough to pull right out, go through the washing machine a few times and simply placed back inside.  I have become that Jeep owner that will park his car wherever if no parking spots are available, case and point on December 23rd at the LCBO when the only spot left was the curb so I took it.

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I laugh to myself hysterically every time I do something in my Jeep the average car owner just cannot do based on ground clearance, off road capability or just being plain dumb.  After all it why I bought the Jeep in the first place.  Not taking advantage of ALL that it can do would be a waste of all it’s features. no?  I have also discovered an old road that leads into an abandoned field our near Hilton Falls in Milton that I have driven in and around a few times now which always tests out just what the Jeep in capable of doing.

Next summer I need to go to the Black Mountain Off Road adventure park in Kentucky which has 500 miles of trails for 4 by 4 owners all laid out by a trail rating system similar to ski hills.  And now that we have snow, and a lot of it here in Barrie my Jeep slices through the worst winter storm just like a hot knife through butter just like I knew it would.  I love my Jeep as much as one man can love an inanimate object.  The neighbours thought I had issues when I first got it as I would wash it almost daily!  My mindset was that I am only going to own a new car like this once in my lifetime and i wanted it to look the part for as long as possible.

So if you ever see me in passing on the roads, give me the Jeep wave and I promise to wave back!

2017 Top 10 ~ The Endless Summer of Golf (#5)

Last summer I rediscovered my love for the game of golf, and I had forgotten just how much fun it really was.  My parents introduced me to the game in my teen years, and I played a lot of golf in my twenties.  Golf in those days was and is much different than the game I played this past spring, summer and fall.  As a young man, these games would often get super competitive and would often also be for braggin rights and often money.  Rules were strictly enforced, and at times feeling got hurt.

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Golfing 10 years ago.

These afternoons in and around my Oakville Keg days were enjoyable, but were just a bit too aggressive for my tastes.  I will always be a player that will move their ball out of the woods, use the foot wedge if I am behind a tree and don’t really concern myself with every single rule that golf has to offer.  My goal this summer was to improve my game in all areas and to have fun, as much fun as possible.

Towards the end of my first marriage I had given up the game almost entirely, only playing once a year in the annual Keg manager’s golf tournament, and maybe another best ball tournament at some point in the year.  In other words, not much at all.  I discovered the sport of triathlon in my late 30’s and golf became something of the past, that once a year I would dust off my clubs, have a lot to drink and hope I didn’t end of crashing the cart somewhere along the way.

This spring I started playing at an executive course in Barrie called The Wilds.  It is a par 62 executive course with no hole longer than 250 yards, and no par 5’s in sight.  The price was also excellent, having a fall special of a round and cart for $30, and if you wanted to walk then $17 for the round.  There is a strong possibility of getting a membership there next summer, but perhaps it is time to graduate to a larger course…

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Always liked to be the first one on the course, just as the sun was rising.

This course also turned a blind eye if you wanted to have some extra fun while out of the course, and it was never busy at all.  A nice little family owned operation on the outskirts of Barrie, that if you didn’t know where the course was you might never know there is a golf course there at all as there is another public golf course right in front of it.

If I had to guess, I’d say I played between 40 and 50 rounds on that course over the last nine months and every single time was an adventure.  My golf partner of choice was my buddy Ryan, and over the summer we had some deep theological discussions about life, and the changes that we wanted to see happen in the future.  We played almost religiously every Wednesday afternoon and would often find ourselves back in my recreation room afterwards for several rounds of pool.

A few memorable rounds on the year included the time I challenged Ryan to a bowl a hole, back when I was stick smoking marijuana.  We made it to the 15th hole before we had run out but both of us managed to survive the round, and even played a little better on the last few holes.  The cab ride home that day was a lot of fun indeed!  It’s a shame that our pool games were quite off that night.

Another favorite round of the summer was actually two rounds I played back to back, you see I’ve learned this summer that Ryan keeps his own timetable.  I especially learned this lesson on this particular day, as I grew tired of waiting for Ryan and decided to head out for a round as I had gotten to the course early that day and after a few holes I ran into an elderly gentlemen we had met earlier in the summer.  He had offered us some tips during that meeting and suggested we play a round together at some point.

When I saw him that afternoon I skipped over a few holes and asked to join him.  We spent the next few hours talking about life and I learned a lot from Stu that afternoon.  He basically told me his life story, talked about his kids, his trouble with alcohol and overcoming his addictive and what his retirement plans where.  He played golf there almost everyday weather permitting and when the round was finished I said to myself if I could be in my 70’s still playing golf on a daily basis then I had done something right.

Ryan’s timing was excellent as just as I was finishing up he arrived for our round, and off we went.  We caught up to another old timer, Len in his 80’s at the 4th hole and we politely asked if we may play through, and he surprised us by asking if he could join us.  Ha ha, so for the second time today I played a round of golf with a complete stranger.  Len wasn’t as talkative as Stu had been but also shared his views on life and golf throughout the afternoon.  By the time I had finished my two rounds for the day I realized that I had been very blessed that day as it taught me a very valuable lesson.

I would always fear going to social events, and not having anyone to talk with.  These rounds of golf with two relative strangers taught me that I could do just that.  Both of their outlooks on life, and the fact they were still playing golf into their retirement years was great to see.  Both gentlemen had a great outlook on life, and generally nice positive men.  I felt very lucky that afternoon.

Another great thing I really enjoyed about The Wilds golf course was both the beauty of the course, especially first thing in the morning.  There was always flowers in bloom throughout the year and we were quite surprised to see Trilliums early in the season, and almost every round Ryan and I would go turtle hunting.  Often finding the little guys laying out on logs floating in the water warming themselves in the sun.  Above is perhaps the largest turtle we found on the course, and the picture doesn’t quite do it justice.

Towards the end of the summer and into the fall seasons, I didn’t have my younger kids on the weekends.  I started to play on Saturday and Sunday mornings as soon as the sun would rise making sure that I was the first one on the course and would generally end of playing two rounds in a row for several weeks.  My goal towards the end of the season was to break 70 on that course, and I was never quite able to do it.  I scored a 71 on three separate occasions and the goal will be to crack 70 at some point next year.

I believe that the recent mental clarity I’ve found will be the last piece of the puzzle to putting it all together.  Today marks 40 days since I last smoked marijuana and over the past few weeks I’ve have noticed a remarkable improvement in my pool game, and I suspect that I will find similar results the next time that I play golf.

Golf is a game that I look forward to introducing my children to, any of them that show any interest towards it.  I really hope that Austin becomes a fan as I can envision many great father and son games over the years.  I will take no mercy on him just like my own father would do when we played together.  It too many tries and many years to finally beat my Dad but that is a story for another time.

2017 Top 10 ~ Canada Day, My 45th Birthday (#6)

I have always been a very proud Canadian, especially due to the fact that my birthday falls on Canada Day, July 1st our National holiday.  The running joke in my family was always about all the fireworks and celebrations all for little ol me.  There is something very cool about always having fireworks to celebrate your birthday.  My favorite may have been my 39th or 40th birthday when I was still living on Autumnleaf Cres in Mississauga, as we backed right onto a park with tennis courts, soccer fields, and a playground.  That year some local fireworks companies pooled their resources and did a rather amazing fireworks display that we were able to watch from the comfort of our deck.

This past year Canada was celebrating its 150th birthday, I was celebrating my 45th birthday and with the Summer of George mentality still going strong something extra special needed to be done.   (Side Note: I am currently watching this game I PVR’d back in July for the 1st time).

Most years the Toronto Blue Jays play a home game on Canada Day and as a big of a baseball fan that I am, I’ve never actually been to that game.  Well this year was the year that I was going to go, and if I was going it was going to be in style.  There is sitting in the front row and then there is sitting right on the field.  I think you can guess where I was going to be sitting, I cannot with a clean conscience ever tell anyone how much those tickets cost but it was worth every penny.

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I decided to take my oldest daughter Emily with me, as she has been through one tough year herself.  My hope was that we would be able to reconnect during the afternoon and I could share my appreciation and knowledge of baseball with her.  I also had an longshot goal of acquiring foul ball number three that afternoon.

Toronto was playing division rival Boston Red Sox and strikeout machine Chris Sale was pitching for the enemy.  Final score of the game was Boston 15, Toronto 1 not even close… but that was just fine with me.  I had so much fun that afternoon with everything else going on around me, most of all spending the afternoon with Emily.  And yes we even got our foul ball # 3 not for lack of trying.

Early in the game Xander Bogaerts who plays for Boston and was a player on my fantasy team this year (I am a big fan of fantasy baseball) hit a grounder right off the wall, at the time I was busy eating a hot dog and totally unprepared to catch the ball as it rolled down the line foul into the outfield.  I immediately thought well there goes my chance for the day… later in the game Bogaerts was up again and hit another screamer down the line in the exact same spot, and this time I was ready.

With catlike reflexes and glove in hand I dove from my seat up and almost over the railing to nimbly snag the hot shot grounder screaming down the line.  Great story eh?  Well that’s not quite what happened… I actually dove a little too intensely and landing promptly on the field of play and had to scramble back to my seat.  Security doesn’t mess around with fans on the field and I was promptly ejected from the park for my error!  Well that didn’t quite happen either, but would have also made for a great story.

What actually happened was I made a swipe at the ball, felt it bounce off the tip of my glove and rolled down the line into the outfield.  I had my chance, I had two of them in fact but I didn’t come up with either ball.  I ended up being the recipient of a foul ball courtesy of the kind elderly lady who handed it to my daughter after it had been tossed to her from former Blue Jays manager John Butterfield, now a third base coach for Boston and actually talked to and interacted with the fans quite a bit.  Twice in fact tossing balls to the fans in the general area where we were sitting, the first time he came back after a half inning break and handed the ball personally to a young fan sitting right behind us.

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End of day, mission accomplished and everyone left happy despite the Blue Jays getting blown out of the place.

This was a great way to spend my birthday, and I know I most likely won’t ever get the chance to sit in these seats again so I made sure to enjoy every second of it.  The company was also great and may just have been the start of Emily and I’s improved relationship.  I hope that she appreciated the events going on around her that day as I know I did.  I have seen some magical things happen at the Skydome over the years, today ranked right up on my list of favorites.

2017 Top 10 ~ Baking, baking and more baking (#7)

Despite the occasional box cake mix, and lets get the joke out of the way right off the bat, I love to bake.  It comes from being my mother’s faithful kitchen assistant growing up and helping her in the kitchen, that love of baking has really blossomed over the past six months.  There was a run there for a few years when I was really into making cupcakes, and would often involve Emily and Megan in these projects.

It only makes sense to me to serve up my children delicious creations from my own kitchen as opposed to store bought delights filled with an endless number of preservatives.  Jennifer and Austin also love to help out in the kitchen everytime that we make cookies and it is another great way to spend time together as a family.

The one item I seem to make most these days is Banana Bread, and I’ve been slowly perfecting the recipe over the past few months.  Most weeks I make at least two, and a few times I’ve made as many as five in a single week.  The kids devour them (I give them to neighbors) and even as I type this Megan is asking when I am making another one as it is her favorite snack…

Beauty of a blog post, it can be paused and picked back up (banana bread made, and in the oven!)

Ahh now I can smell the deliciousness in the air of a banana bread baking away in the oven, amazing.  Always a great smell in the house when I have something cooking.  The other reason that I love baking so much is that I find it very relaxing and a chance to practice some mindfulness.

I can turn everything off and forget about the rest of the world for a few minutes when I am making a tasty treat.  The whole process can be equated down to Love vs Science , a post I have recently written about.  I have always been a very scientific baker as it helps sooth my OCD a bit, however I have recently been schooled in the ways of baking with love (not the love ingredient I previously mentioned) but actually LOVE and being slightly less concerned about perfect measurements across the board.

After some debate I had to agree that cookies made with love rather than pure science seemed to taste a bit better when eating them.

Some other items I have been working at perfecting are homemade pies and Sugar Cookies.  My favorite pie would be a good old fashioned Apple Pie with a slight taste of cinnamon.  Granny Smith apples seem to work best based on their texture and slight tart taste which plays great against all the sweetness of the sugar you would add.  I’ve also made my first Peach pie, Cherry pie, from scratch Pumpkin pie and even a Chocolate Pudding pie a few weeks ago.

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I am also in the process of working on getting an online baking company up and running with the help of Patrick and Kristi we have had a few orders and I look to dedicate a section of my blog site dedicated to this venture next week.  This has been focused around Sugar cookies and Kristi has taught me a tremendous amount about how to properly ice these cookies, as well as continuing to bust my chops about using a boxed cake mix.

 

2017 Top 10 ~ The Man Cave (#8)

Most guys would either have their man cave in the garage or perhaps down in the basement.  I would argue the conversation goes something like, “You want to do what?  Not in my house…”  I jokingly say that as when the idea struck me to build my own recreational room I knew I would have no limitations and could put it wherever I wanted.

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The storage area this room was to start with.

The first thing I needed to consider was the room dimensions as I knew the centerpiece of the room would be a brand new pool table.  Living in a four bedroom townhouse with four children, well I didn’t have many options.  Had I been living at my old house, which had the perfect Great Room that would have been a pool and ping pong heaven, alas the choice here were down to three.  The basement offered the most room, but no thanks.  That left either the front room or the family room attached to the kitchen.

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The front room offered a few more feet of space and was the winner.  Originally this room had turned into a kid storage area, with some toys but didn’t really get used all that much.  So in July construction begun!  I cleaned out my basement, which in all reality didn’t have much in t to begin with and that area was turned into a kids play palace and Dad workout area.  The large floor space is enough for them to run around, ride bikes and wiggly cars, and when they leave all their toys scattered about well no can see it!!

I scavaged all my pop culture items that I had for a while, and some I haven’t put up on walls in years.  Can someone explain to me why I can’t hang Star Wars posters in my house when they are a big part of defining who I am?  I had to look at two ladies playing the violin for years and was never explained what was important about that painting or why I had to stare at it for nine years…  I would much rather have had Darth Vader scowling at me instead.  My Star Wars posters are originals back from when the films first came out, I have had them for almost 35 years and have been hard mounted on wooden frames and are the centerpiece of the room.

Growing up a big sports fan, and having the extreme pleasure of meeting 4 players from the 1992 and 1993 World Champion Toronto Blue Jays and I have some autographed memorabilia as a result of those meetings.  I also went out shopping for additional pieces to the room, and added my own homemade items as well.  I knew the room would need a chalkboard and or a dry erase board to keep score, etc… I had able to turn one are eisle into two custom scoreboards and four home made lightsabers that act as picture holders and chalk holders along the wall.

I’ve added Canadian flags, and some DC Comics items as well focusing on Superman and a few other items as well.  Walking around just looking at the room, I can tell you where each piece comes from and why is it important to me, why it was an important part of my history.

The room will never really be finished, as I continue to add more bling for the wall every once in awhile.  A new R2-D2 wall bust being the latest boxing day purchase to be installed this weekend… this room has quickly become my favorite in the house and one where I am completely at peace.  The kids enjoy this room almost as much as I do… almost.

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Megan and I enjoy playing ping pong together, and she is quite good.  She has already beaten me a few times playing, and plays smart.  Always putting that ball where I am not, and requiring me to make super athletic feats just to return the ball.  Once she learns how to hit an overhead smash, I am completely toast.

Jennifer, Austin and I love to play pool together.  At the moment they use their hands to  roll the ball into the pockets and have so much fun.  It’s spending time with Dad that they love, but both will grow up being excellent pool players, and it’s also great for working on the hand eye coordination.

I’ve have my circle of friends over many times and we always end up playing pool or darts, during baseball season I move a TV into the room and would come home after work through on a Dodgers game and shoot a few racks.  You could call it my happy place.

I have also received many positive comments on the room when it is seen for the first time, I remember the time I had ordered Domino’s pizza for the first time and the delivery driver was so enthralled with what he saw I invited him in to take a look around.  Twenty minutes later a different driver showed up at my door with a 2L Cola (that I didn’t order) and I suspect when the first driver got back to the store he was sharing the story of the awesome room that he just saw and this second driver had to see it for himself.  Got me a free 2L cola out of it…

Two final thoughts on the rec room, as it has turned into my favorite place in the house.  It will be fully transportable when it is time to move to another house and can re replicated and enhanced at the new place.  More items can and will be added to the walls as time goes by, but much more than all that is the memories that have been creating in this room with my friends, but more importantly my children.  Boyfriends are starting to come around and the kids entertain in that room, I have family events in there all the time and my pool game has improved by 500% over the past six months.

I love my man cave, everyone should have one of their own!

2017 Top 10 ~ Survivor Series Dinner (#9)

I’ve had the idea of making a special meal all made with love for several years now, in fact I’ve dreamed about it on several occasions.  To every single detail I knew exactly how this meal would go.  And while it took several years, and the right timing to actually get around to making it I don’t believe it could have gone off any better.

It was actually perfect…

The preparation for the event started on Saturday with all the baking that needed to be done, first off it was two different types of cookies, a banana bread and my first all love Apple Pie.  My goal is always to make sure that items made with love, actually taste good, not to know that even love exists in the product.  Home runs were hit with this baking my friends.

On Sunday’s menu was a full Turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  Again never having made a turkey dinner filled with love before, I was slightly concerned about the deadly combination of tryptophan and love knocking out all my guests.  It turns out I would be partially correct with this assumption.

The stuffing was loaded with love butter, more crumbled on top and underneath the bacon layer.  As this would all melt into the turkey and help form the base of the gravy that was still to come.  This whole meal was done on the dreams and thoughts I had over the past few years, I didn’t consult a single recipe and just whatever felt natural to me.

The gravy came out perfect with the pan drippings of the turkey, plus a roux made of love and might have been the most potent item on the menu that evening.  The vegetables were sauteed in love oil, and the mashed potatoes turned out better than I could have imagined.  The whole meal from top to bottom was perfect…

We lost Corey early on, almost right after we finished dinner.  Patrick also needed a short winter’s nap and Ryan and I were the sole survivors.  There were a lot more friends that joined after they finished working to help with the leftovers and to enjoy the warm out of the oven Apple Pie and coffee sweetened with love honey to end the night.

I could feel the after effects of this meal for a few days afterwards, perhaps I was just basking in the glow of a job very well.  Ryan won the wrestling challenge that night as we always try and predict who wins each match and got to walk out with the ceremonial title belt.  I was able to cross something off my bucket list of things that I always wanted to do.  This meal also marked the last time that love was ever a part of my life, and it was a great way to close that chapter for ever.