Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Things I Read in August (#10-11)

I haven't been reading as much as I would like this year. I have several books downloaded on my Kindle, but reading on an eletronic device continues to lack the appeal of a tangible book.

Before we left for our vacation, I managed to run by the library and pick up two books from my "to read" list. The first was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The second was Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Very different books, but both are worth reading. I will share my thoughts on Richard Louv's book tomorrow in my Outside 365 post.

I first heard of Paul Kalanithi's story on the blog A Cup of Jo. Paul was married to Jo's twin sister and the unexpected news of his brain tumor was gut wrenching. It was the beginning of 2014 and Paul had written an essay that had been published in The New York Times of what it was like to be a neurosurgeon diagnosed with a brain tumor. His essay was raw and personal. He was close to my age and the whole scenario had me weeping at my computer. For him. For his wife.

A little over a year later, Paul died. It was shocking and sad. He left behind his wife, child, parents, siblings.

A year after Paul's death his memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, was published. In the pages of this book, Paul outlines his journey to neurosurgery, his search for meaning, and his experience facing death on a very personal level – with the irony of dying by brain tumor.

Paul was certainly taken from this life too soon. He had a profound perspective that we can't understand, until we too face death. And even then his perspective is different due to his age and knowledge of impending death. I will leave you with some of the passages from the book that have stayed with me:
As I sat there, I realized that the questions intersecting life, death, and meaning, questions that all people face at some point, usually arise in the medical context.

Death comes for us all. For us, for our patients; it is our fate as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms.

Grand illnesses are supposed to be life clarifying. Instead I knew I was going to die – but I'd known that before. My state of knowledge was the same, but my ability to make lunch plans had been shot to hell.

Yet I returned to the central values of Christianity – sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness – because I found them so compelling. There is tension in the Bible between justice and mercy, between the Old Testament and the New Testament. And the New Testament says you can never be good enough: goodness is the thing, and you can never live up to it. The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time.

On a lighter note, here is a sampling of what I've been reading online lately:
No Food is Healthy, Not Even Kale via The Washington Post
How to Listen When You Disagree via Urban Confessional
Race, Truth and Our Two Realities via The New York Times
Why Calls for "Unity" in American Politics are Not Enough via Quartz
A Few Thoughts on Unity via Design for Mankind
Encouraging Everyone to Vote Is Like Telling Everyone... via Mike Rowe
Nine Ways Lazy Parenting Helps Grow Great Grown Ups via Anna Rosenblum Palmer
The Great School Diaspora via Discover Praxis
What Your Kids Need to Know Before Starting School via Babble

Monday, August 29, 2016

National Parks: Point Park on Lookout Mountain

Did you get the chance to take advantage of free admission to a National Park over the weekend?

We did.

We happen to live about 15 minutes from Point Park – a National Military Park located on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga.

Point Park is a ten-acre memorial park that overlooks the Lookout Mountain Battlefield and the city of Chattanooga.

Once inside, a paved path circles the park with views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River below.

In the center of the park is the New York Peace Memorial, which was erected by the state of New York as a tribute to peace and reconciliation between Union and Confederate veterans after the war.

At the actual point of the mountain, you can explore the Ochs Memorial Observatory.

We were able to pick out our mountain from the several vantage points on Point Park, which is fun to point out to Jack.

Also, from the point you can also choose to access several of the trails located on Lookout Mountain.

We had planned to do the hike from Lookout Point to Sunset Rock back in January, but the park was closed the day we visited. So we did the eighth of a mile hike to Sunset Rock from a parking area instead.

Thankfully the day we visited Point Park, it wasn't very crowded – which was nice. We were able to walk the grounds at our leisure and snap the photos we wanted.

Jack's favorite things were the cannons. He had to look at every single one.

I carried Isaac for this trip. I think he would have preferred to walk around, but sometimes it's just easier to hang on to little ones at this stage. 

We also had several talks with Jack about the importance of staying away from the edge and listening to us at all times.

It was really hot and humid on our afternoon visit, so we were excited to stop at Clumpies Ice Cream before making our way back to our car.

Jack informed us that his ice cream was Batman Good which means extra, super good. It's no secret that Isaac loves food and he was very demanding that we share our ice cream with him!

It was good to get outside and spend some time together as a family – we were couped up last week due to illness, so it was a much needed change of pace!

Normally admission to the park is $5/adult and children under the age of 15 are free. Parking can be found outside of the gate (I saw one free lot and the rest were metered parking). You can also ride the Incline Railway from St. Elmo to the top of the mountain and take a 5-minute walk to Point Park.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

National Parks Centennial Celebration

Did you know that the National Parks are celebrating their 100th birthday this year? If you follow along on my blog you know that my family loves spending time in the outdoors and I am so grateful that 100 years ago politicians had the foresight to set aside areas of our country for our enjoyment and preservation for future generations.

I wrote more extensively about my love of National Parks back in May, and that love has not diminished. With each passing moment that I spend outside with my kids, my love for creation and the natural world grows.

This summer we have had the chance to swim, paddle, hike and bike in places both new and old. And some days, my kids just dig in the dirt, climb trees or swing as high as they can in an effort to touch the clouds. Big or small, we are immersing ourselves in the great outdoors every chance we get.

I just finished reading the book, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (I will write a review soon), and I am determined to make sure that my kids do not miss out on opportunities to connect with nature.

The book got my wheels turning, thinking about the future, not just for my own children, but for all children and for generations to come.

If you have a chance, you should get outside this weekend. If you are close to a National Park, GO VISIT because all of the National Parks have FREE ADMISSION now through August 28th. There are 412 National Parks in the US, I bet you live close to one!

The last National Park I visited was Niagara Falls (a National Heritage Area as of 2008), and prior to that was a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains (the most visited National Park in the United States). I have a whole bucket list I could devote to the National Parks, I hope they are around for a long time!

Cotopaxi is celebrating the centennial by encouraging people to explore a park near their home. Check out the interesting park stats on their graphic below!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Start of Preschool 2016, Jack's 4s Class

Yesterday Jack started his last year of preschool. This mama was ready for him to go back, but I am also a little sad that this is his last year at preschool. We have been so blessed by the teachers and friends we have made here.

When I picked him up, I asked, "Did you have a good day?" 

And he said... "No."

Not what I was expecting. It turns out, he did have a great day, but he got a stomach ache at lunch. By the time I got him home, he had a low-grade fever. Poor guy.

Did I mention that I had walked to pick him up and he felt all puny. Thankfully a good family friend was able to take him home, while I jogged the half mile home with Isaac. Not exactly how we expected to kick off our school year.

Evidently strep is going around our little community. I had Jack checked today and it seems that he just had a fluke 24-hour bug. Tummy ache and fever. Check. He was negative for strep so he can resume school tomorrow.

The last few weeks have been hard. The week before our vacation, Isaac had a case of roseola. Vacation was a much needed break, and then this week Isaac developed hand, foot and mouth. Poor guy is getting hammered with these early childhood illnesses and this mama is tired from being stuck at home. Hopefully the HFM will clear up soon and we can resume life as normal. I am thankful that Jack already had both roseola and HFM, I'm praying Isaac doesn't pick up whatever bug Jack just had and that this school year is a good one and relatively sickness free!
Here is a little about Jack at the start of Preschool 2016, 4s Class:

My teachers this year are: Mrs. Shelby and Mrs. Sarah
I am: 4.5 years old
I am: 42.5 inches tall and weigh 40 pounds.
My best friend's name is: Sully and Wyatt, also Drew and Theo and Audrey. All the friends are my best friends.
My favorite thing to play is: Playing on the big playground. I mean snorkeling. The Pumpkin Patch, but we don't do it every day.
My favorite color is: Green
My favorite book is: Robot Zot
My favorite TV show is: Noodle McDoodle
My favorite food is: Pizza. Burrito. Spaghetti.
When I grow up, I want to be: Leonardo, the Ninja Turtle.
Something I really like: Snorkeling
Something I don't like: People taking my toys.
My favorite thing about myself is: My Hands. Cause I can use them to pick stuff up.
Something I want to do this year: I can't wait to start school.

A Look Back:
Start of Preschool 2014, 2s Class
Start of Preschool 2015, 3s Class

Monday, August 22, 2016

Niagara Falls, 2016

Ok, so I lied yesterday. This post will officially be my last vacation post. Niagara Falls gets its own category since it was on our way home after vacation was over and, well, it's Niagara Falls!

I have been visiting Niagara Falls since I was a little girl. It is kind of like Mecca for us, a pilgrimage of sorts, I suppose. We visit grandparents. We drive the 20-minutes to the Falls.

The only thing I can think to compare it to would be driving up to Newfound Gap if you are visiting Gatlinburg. The view beckons you, even if you have seen it many times before, you feel compelled to visit.

This was Jack's second visit to the Falls – on our last visit, it was freezing and we literally parked, ran out to the view, snapped a couple of photos, and ran back to our car. Teeth chattering all the way.

This visit was the exact opposite. It was Isaac's first time here and it was super hot and muggy. Normally a cool mist rises from the Falls, creating it's own cloud. On the day we visited, it felt more like a humid rain forest in the tropics. I have never been there when steam seemed to rise from the water.

After snapping our family photos, we took refuge in the air conditioned Table Rock visitor center. We had been driving since 6am, so we took the opportunity to get breakfast at Tim Horton's located inside. With food in hand, we went up to an observation area and watched the falls from inside.

With a little one, it was nice to be able to let him wander a bit without worrying about losing him in a crowd. We were early enough that we missed most of the tourists. Even though it was super hot and muggy, the tourists were filling up the parking lot as we left.

We crossed into New York state on the Rainbow Bridge, which offers a great view of both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. Some day we will come back and take our boys to ride Maid of the Mist* (a boat you can ride to the base of the falls), and take the tunnels behind the Canadian Falls and the walking tour on the American side. Oddly enough I have walked across the bridge to the American side and viewed from the Observation Tower but have never taken the stairs down to the American Falls.

Fifteen years ago, Daniel and I attended one of my cousin's weddings in Michigan and then visited my extended family in Ontario. As a part of that trip, I took Daniel to the Falls for the first time and we ate dinner at the Skylon Tower, overlooking the falls.

It was our most expensive date, possibly ever! We were not yet engaged, but it was such a fun experience. My sister was actually engaged at Niagara Falls the following summer. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of memories tied to Niagara Falls and I hope to have more in the years to come as we share new experiences with our boys.

*Maid of the Mist used to be a Canadian attraction, but I think now you have to do it from the States.

Visiting Niagara Falls as a young girl, fall circa 1990.

Taking Daniel to Niagara Falls for the first time, summer 2001.

Jack's first trip to Niagara Falls, winter 2012.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016 Canadian Vacation: Good Eats

This will be my final vacation post. Besides spending our time biking, paddling and visiting with family, Jack spent a lot of time swimming (more specifically snorkeling) and of course no vacation would be complete without checking out the best local restaurants.


On every trip, my favorite thing to do is find the best breakfast joints. So on our first day in Orillia, that is what we did. First up was Friend's Diner (ranked #6 on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Orillia) and it was my favorite breakfast place on this trip. Located in an old shopping center, it isn't much to look at, but man was it good!

Coffee comes with your meal and the huge plates of food satisfied all of us – even our growing boys! We arrived in the nick of time, because shortly after we were seated, the place filled up and had a 30-minute wait. The food was delicious, and served quickly. Jack's favorite part was the phone booth outside... Evidently these are still a thing in Canada. He quizzed us, "Why is there a phone in a box, outside?"


Our other diner to visit was Hasty Tasty (recommended by my aunt and rated #60 on TripAdvisor). I have to say I liked the food at Friend's better, but Hasty Tasty was unique in it's own way. Built in an old house and a true, old-time diner, harkening back to the 1950s, it's a special place. My aunt says a lot of old-timers eat here and it's a great place to people watch. You can squeeze into a booth or at the bar up front, or like us, you might end up at a table in the back.

Our experience would have been better if we had managed to get a booth up front – a regular came in and snagged the booth we were waiting for. I guess he didn't notice me sitting there with two kids (Daniel had run to a bank next door because the establishment only takes cash). The food was good and the name is fun to say!

The other days, we ate breakfast at our cottage and I always ran into town to grab a large triple-triple coffee at Tim Horton's – a mile from our house.

For our other meals, we tried to bike to dinner as often as we could. Of the four restaurants listed below, we biked to three of them. The fourth was a day that our kids were exhausted, so we chose to drive.

 {image via}

Our first bike-to-dinner option was Theo's Eatery (ranked #1 on TripAdvisor), located about 2 miles from our cottage. This was a nicer, sit-down type of restaurant, but still kid friendly.

The food was Mediterranean style and good, but a little pricey. This was not our favorite restaurant, but the food and service were both good. The boys split a huge plate of spaghetti, Daniel had lasagna and I tried a Shish Kabob.

Our experience at Theo's (and then most other restaurants) was that the kid's meal comes with dessert. Is this a Canadian thing? Jack LOVED getting a scoop of ice cream at the end of the meal, and it was a great way for us to bribe him to finish up his food.
Theos Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


The next day we biked to the Brewery Bay Food Co. in downtown Orillia (ranked #11 on TripAdvisor). Located 3 miles from our cottage, we were ready to eat when we arrived. We were able to get a table outside and had a friendly waiter.

The food was excellent, but we were all caught off guard when the power went out unexpectedly (I'm glad we were sitting outside instead of in). I don't know what was going on, but power on the whole street was out for about 20 minutes. We finished up our meal and the power came back on just in time for us to pay! Which was a good thing because I don't think we had been to a bank to get Canadian money yet and we were too far north to pay with American! Brewery Bay is definitely worth a visit – it has your typical Pub food. Jack had chicken fingers and a salad. I tried an amazing burger (that I shared with Isaac) and Daniel went light with a Greek salad.
Brewery Bay Food Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 


During the middle of the week, we grabbed lunch at Mariposa's Market Cafe (ranked #1 on TripAdvisor). We almost didn't go here because I thought it was strictly a bakery.

We ran by to order cakes for my parents and aunt and uncle's anniversary celebration (the cakes were amazing and fairly inexpensive!), and then we realized they also served lunch. So we knew we needed to go back.

This place is really cool. I wish we had had more time to explore. Besides making amazing cakes and cupcakes, they serve sandwiches, and a variety of hot lunch pastries, AND ALSO lots of specialty items and souvenirs.

Daniel and Jack both tried a turkey sandwich while Isaac and I split a spinach quiche and a meat pastry. It was all delicious. Jack also tried his first sip of coke (from a bottle). He loved it. We told him it is only for special occasions!
Mariposa Market Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 


Being in Canada, I knew we needed to grab fish and chips one night. This was our only dinner out that we didn't bike to. Our boys were wiped out from the busy week and both fell asleep on the 5-minute drive to Tor's Fish & Chips (ranked #29 on TripAdvisor).

We arrived 15 minutes before closing, and we asked the ladies if we were too late. They looked at our tired boys and told us to order and take a seat.

Jack was cracking them up because he literally laid across the chairs and slept until our food arrived. We decided to split the Haddock Fish and Halibut Fish. These plates were huge and between the four of us, we didn't come close to finishing the fries!
Tor's Fish & Chips Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

{image via}

We finished out our week by trying something a little bit different for us. The Shack Eatery (ranked #13 on TripAdvisor) is fairly new to Orillia and serves slow-cooked Portuguese style food. And it was delicious. The flavors were a little spicy, but really great.

We picked out two plates and the generous portions were way more than the four of us could eat. They also brought out mashed potatoes (not part of our order) for our boys because they thought the food might be too spicy. They were so considerate!

We enjoyed sitting outside and eating their fantastic food. The boys had fun climbing in the old firetruck parked outside. I hope The Shack had continued success in Orillia!

Family Hike at Fiery Gizzard

On Saturday we had originally planned to go on a group hike on the Fiery Gizzard Trail , but it was cancelled at the last minutes. So...