Monday, August 31, 2015

Day 16- Resting in the middle of Quebec

We were all ready for a rest day... a little laundry, a lot of swimming in the empty pool (all the kids went back to school this morning!) and a nice run in the morning with Elizabeth. Daddy and Peter made breakfast for us when we came home. 

Tonight we are having an early fire and hopefully an early bedtime.  The kids are enjoying a rousing game of truth-or-dare (oh the revelations that come out under the influence of fresh air and marshmallows!). The grownups are busy trying to plan our next stop. 

  We are just north of Trois-Rivieres where I stayed in university for 6 weeks as part of a government sponsored exchange.  It's a lovely area- lush with rolling hills, fields of corn and beans, and the St. Lawrence river.

The closer we get to Quebec city, the closer we get to parting ways with our friends.  They are going to visit family and tour along the eastern United States to brush up on some of the history they studied last year, and we are heading further east to the Maritimes where we will visit Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick.  It has been such a fun time travelling with them. They are the perfect companions: easy-going, a great sense-of humor, and great friends to the children.  We will definitely miss our buddies!! Maybe next summer we can travel somewhere for another adventure with them.

Day 15- L’Oratoire St. Joseph du Mont-Royal

MaryJo just before mass at the very holy St. Joseph's Oratory
Once we crossed over the Quebec border everyone was excited to try out their new French skills. After being in Ottawa and hearing all of the people greet us with Bonjours, we couldn’t wait to get into Quebec itself! So far we have been treated to many friendly French-speaking people who remark on our large family size and how cute the kids are.  My rusty French from university is helping un petit peu, but for the most part we just smile and nod our heads.  I did learn how to say twin though: jumeau and we have all perfected Excusez, Pardon, and Desole (sorry).  They come in very handy when travelling with four rowdy boys.

Driving into Montreal with an RV and only a GPS that lacks common-sense is quite the adventure.  What a big city!- and what busy, twisty roads! Our trusty GPS led us up into a very expensive looking community with steep hills and skinny roads, straight to the back door of the Oratory.  Oh dear! I’m sure many of the people in the neighborhood were wondering why this huge RV was rumbling through their pretty lanes…. Though we probably weren’t the first to make this mistake as we were surprised to find Dana and Kevin in the same spot after their GPS led them there as well. Someone should write to google and ask them to change their information! 
After the traffic and crazy roads, I’m not sure my husband will ever go to Montreal again, though it seems like it could be a fun city to get around in without kids and the help of a few cabs and walking shoes. Definitely not the best place to drive a long trailer through.  We missed a few interesting places in our desire to leave the craziness of the city, but we did manage to make a stop at St. Joseph’s Oratory. 

beautiful organ that was played during mass
Brother Andre
This church is a must-see. It was the inspiration of a little Quebec man named Brother Andre Bessette, a lay brother (like a monk) of the congregation of the Holy Cross.  He only died less than a hundred years ago in 1937, shortly before my parents were born and he was made a saint in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.  He was a doorman in the original church on the site and was credited with thousands of healings. People would come from all over to see him and ask for his prayers.  His vision was to have a magnificent church built to honor st. Joseph (the foster-father of Jesus). 

While the main sanctuary is splendid with its vaulted ceilings and great pipe-organ, I found the rest of the shrine lifted my spirit even more.  In the bottom, which houses his tomb (so cool to be able to touch the tomb of a real saint), there is a room that is filled with over 10,000 votive candle which you can light and say a prayer for a special intention. It was so beautiful and peaceful.  There is also a crypt church in the basement which has the most beautiful statue of st. Joseph (the patron saint of Canada) at the altar.

I was surprised by how many people were visiting the shrine that day. It was very full, which helped our noisy crew to blend in a bit.  We did make it in time for Sunday mass in the Basillica – in French! What a great experience for the kids, though I think they found that mass in French is just as long, if not longer, than mass in French. Joey and Zach have taken to timing the length of the homilies where we go and this one clocked in at 11 min.  :) There was this lovely old French Catholic woman sitting across the aisle from us who kept telling us how blessed we were and what a good example we were as a family coming to mass with so many little children. We have been having similar receptions wherever we go.  It’s a very friendly province here in Quebec. 

Day 14- Wars and Walmart

Walmart nights

Late mornings and even later evening seem to be our style on this trip… today this led us to sleeping in the charming campground of the Vaudriel Walmart parking lot.  This particular lot came complete with blaring music from the nearby bar (open until 3:30 am), and some imposing French signs which we couldn’t read but could be inferred by the picture of the tow truck on it.    Let’s just say that Sean won’t be allowing anymore Walmart nights for the Blairs, although it was convenient in the morning to get a quick shopping trip in.  Even in French, all Walmarts are the same old place.

Earlier in the day, after a short run to keep up our 10Km training program, we drove our RVs into Ottawa to the Canadian War museum.  It was quite the adventure to find suitable parking but thanks to Dana’s quick navigation, we found a good spot just in time for an expensive lunch at the museum.
The boys loved this place. It had a touring exhibit on the gladiators with lots of hands-on artifacts to explore, and then another whole room with exhibits on all the wars that Canada has fought in from the Plains of Abraham all the way up to the modern wars.

Trying on gladiator clothes, building pontoons
The amount of history we have been immersed in for this trip has been outstanding. We have covered more than a whole year of social studies and we are only on the second week!  I especially enjoyed the information about the French and English fighting for Canada- it makes the whole Quebec/Canada issue so much more understandable. I’m enjoying the history so much and I’m glad to have these pegs to hang our future schooling on -- when learning about things in the next years, we can remember when we were in Ottawa, and Quebec city and the east coast. 

The rest of the museum was a bit of a blur for me, because I was busy chasing after 3 giggly girls who were running from room to room.  The content was a little over their heads, but  Heather and Lucy had a great time trying on some gladiator clothing (one girls in each leg) and I kept getting lost in the maze of exhibits trying to keep track of Lucy and MaryJo. I’m just glad Dana was keeping her eyes on the boys!  I know they loved seeing the big tanks in the last room, and everyone loved the gift shop. They must have spent 45 min choosing the perfect souvenir to take home.

  By the time we left the museum it was well past 6, and we were anxious to get on the road again.  We  tried to stop in a campsite just on the edge of the Ontario/Quebec border, forgetting that it was a weekend, but we discovered the only sites left were a little small for our monster truck/RV so seeing as how it was already dark and we didn’t want to spend $40 to sleep for one night just to get up again and leave, we decided to find a Walmart.  Quebec- Here we come!!

Day 13- Canada's Capital

Sammy found this statue: "mommy! there's that guy with the metal leg!"
Gluten free goodies
The best part of Ottawa was the Gluten-Free restaurant we stumbled upon in the Byward Market.  It was this trendy cafe on the corner with this french couple outside beckoning people to come in and try their delights.  We were in GF heaven!! Everything in the store was safe to eat for my daughter and myself who both have Celiac disease. They had fries and pizza and salmon and sandwiches and paninni,... and the bakery counter.. .oh my!  We basically took over the restaurant and $165 later we left the store with a full tummy and a full bag of goodies for later. Good thing we have a very generous budget for this trip! If we run out of grocery money on the way home I will fondly remember my delicious lunch in Ottawa while I'm eating PB&J sandwiches for the last week.

The rest of Ottawa pales in comparison to my mocha opera chocolate layer cake, though it was a wonderful day.  We visited the Rideau Canal and saw a boat going through the Locks (so interesting... though without any guard-rails I was a bit nervous with the kids so close to the edge of the canal). Just walking among the historical buildings made us realize how truly young our own city is.  Even the kids remarked that Calgary has boring buildings.
Watching the boat go down the locks

Tomb of the unknown soldier at the National War Monument
One of the things we made time for was to walk by the National War Memorial to pay our respects to the soldiers who have fought and died for our country as well as the soldier who died there only a year ago, guarding the same monument.  There was a very helpful info person there who took a long time to answer the kids questions and teach them a bit too, and we were able to speak with one of the soldiers who was with the two guarding it.  He said it was a great honour for them to take a turn guarding the memorial.

We noticed a large security presence in Ottawa. Everywhere around the Parliament buildings there were pairs of police officers visibly armed.  Just to get into the parliament buildings required a 20 min wait through security which was just as thorough as an airport check.  Inside the building there were also many armed officers in every room and corridor we went down.  It definitely changed the ambiance of the place - and it was odd the way the tour guide didn't mention the shooting last year, or even entertain my godson's question about it.  She just brushed him off and moved on.
Library in the Parliament buildings- only part of the original building left after a fire in the early 1900s.

House of Commons under renovation
It was a beautiful building though. The library is the most lovely round room with books from floor to ceiling up to a pretty domed roof.  The House of Commons is under construction so everything was covered with plastic.  The guide explained that Elections Canada reviews the boundaries of the ridings  every 5 years and this is the year they were doing a review- This election there will be 30 extra MPs elected for the extra ridings so they needed to rearrange things to make room for the extra seats.  I don't even know what riding we are in, but we will be paying a lot more attention to the election this year because we have been to the actual place where the government meets. It makes it seem so much more real.

The evening light show on the Parliament buildings was even better than the tour. I have never seen anything quite like it. It was a cross between a movie, fireworks, and a museum - with the architecture of the building being the screen. If you've ever seen a disney light show it was similar to that, but better.
 The narrator took us on a voyage through Canadian history including the great accomplishments of Canadians and all that make us a great nation.  For the finale, they played O Canada with the buildings lit up like a huge waving flag and we all stood up and sang along in French and English together. It was quite touching.
Light show didn't start until 9:30 so it was a late bedtime for all, but one we will remember for a long time!

One of the more annoying, but amusing parts of the day was trying to acquire the tickets to go on the free tour of the parliament buildings.  If there's one thing I have to complain about this country, it's the complete disregard for families who are larger than the usual 2 parents/2 kids.  They would not allow any group over 9 people onto the tours, even though there was room for 35 people.  Dana and Kevin tried to explain to them that we would like 15 tickets but they would not allow them to do it, even if Dana ordered 9 and Kevin ordered 6.   It was quite the secret spy operation for us to figure out a way to let our 15 person group onto the same tour. Sean and I had to go in to ticket line pretending we didn't know each other and stall long enough to see which tour time the other was selecting.  It was a close one, but we did it!!

All in all, it was a full but enjoyable day.  We left feeling proud to be Canadian and anxious to continue east, exploring  more of our great country.

Day 12- navigating to Ottawa

Still headed East
If you've been following my posts in Instagram you might have seen a glimpse of day 12's navigating problems. When I look back at it, I laugh but only some of us were laughing at the time :)

We got up in good time in Midland and intended to drive to Ottawa that morning so we could  settle into a campsite nice and way and enjoy the evening instead of the usual rushing around in the dark to set up and get kids to bed. However we to decide which road to take because now that we are out of northern Ontario there

However, we needed to decide which road to take because now that we are out of northern Ontario there is more than one road to choose from! We didn’t want to drive down the infamous 401 which is a very busy highway that goes through Toronto – and we didn’t really want to go through any more forests and provincial parks, so we chose the nice rural route along highway 7.  Sounds like a good plan, although I forgot to navigate us through it – too busy being the social media coordinator, I guess.  

So a short detour into the lovely town of Orillia (oops) led us right to a big sign that read ROAD CLOSED.  Sean had to turn our large 30 foot trailer around in front of this old folks home with a little old lady glaring at us from her walker, probably wondering if we were going to knock over any of their flowerpots. (not that we have ever done that before, right sean?  Don’t ask LOL)
After we got back on the highway, Dana texted me that they had accidentally taken a wrong turn and had been heading towards Toronto before they noticed and turned around.  This is when I should have looked at our own map, but I was too busy laughing hysterically at the antics in the back seat and taking videos of the crazy noisy group that we are.  Sammy was writing in his journal and wanted someone to spell museum for him, but no one was listening, so he started yelling in his big boy voice “HOW DO YOU SPELL MUSEUM?” and Zach would reply “I DON’T KNOW!” but before he finished, Sammy would repeat his yell even louder, “HOW DO YOU SPELL MUUUUUSSSSSEEEEEEEEEEUUUMMM?”, and Zach would try to tell him even louder, “I DON’T KNNNOOOOOOWWW!!”

Now Sammy is normally a mild sweet little boy, complete with a mop of dirty blond hair and a pair of dimples in his full cheeks, and so when he gets his grumpy face on it’s hard not to laugh.  Sean and I were so busy holding our stomachs from laughing so hard, that we didn’t notice that we too were headed toward Toronto until it was too late and we were on the other side of a big lake from our travelling companions.  We were going in circles! And the road we were stuck on was getting busier and busier as we went south, so we made the decision to cut overland and try to meet up with our friends on the other side of Lake Simcoe.
Poor daddy- needs a glass of wine and a good nap, I think

 It made for a very long day – but we did indeed find the Wiens, and managed to stop in a beautiful little town called Madoc for a dip in their public swimming pool for a break.  It turned out to be the town that my great great grandparents were from before they moved to Alberta.  It was fun to imagine Grandpa Pete’s grandparents walking down the same roads. 

We ended up in Ottawa just before dark (again) at a lovely little campground inside the city limits called Wesley Clover Parks.  I had enough time to strap on my headlamp from the Night Race and stretch my aching legs out by running around the campground for half an hour with Dana chasing me down on her bike.  It felt good to move again after being stuck in the car for so long.  Tomorrow we will head into the Capital and take in the sights of a big city.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Day 11- Canadian martyrs

Day 10 wasn't much to write home about - we spent the day driving the rest of the way to Midland to meet up with dana's hubby. We thought we might stop in at the Big Nickle and mining museum (Dynamic Earth)...

My dad worked in the old mine there as a summer student waaay back when. However, the museum was closed unexpectedly so we had a short lunch and snapped our souvenir pics and moved on through our last leg of northern Ontario. A great big party happened when the hubby arrived at last. 

The following morning we wandered down to the Canadian Martyr's Shrine in time for mass. The whole place was a treat. Beautiful statues and stained glass- gorgeous grounds to wander around on, a gift shop, and some sweet priests who were happy to have is visit all the way from Alberta. We got another family blessing- and spent a good deal of time praying in the church and looking at the various relics they have. 

I was so happy to be there, as the twins are born on the feast day of the Canadian Martyrs, and Sammy is born on the their American feast day. After mass, the priest ( a Jesuit, like Pope Francis) invited everyone to come up one at a time and receive a special blessing with the relics. 

The Canadian martyrs were very brave priests from the 1600s who came to New France (canada) to help minister to the settlers and the native people here. They got along very well with (most of) the Hurons, but were often attacked and tortured or captured by the Iroquios (the enemies of the French and Hurons.  They chose to stay here despite the dangers and were martyred for their faith. 

After the Shrine, which we would love to visit again some day, we went across the highway to Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons. It's the site where the actual Jesuit Mission had been. 

Similar to Heritage Park back in Calgary- this was a great place for the children to explore. It was very authentic and we were supposed there were no guard rails anywhere stopping us from exploring. In fact, there were open fires in the longhouses- flint and steel lying out on the tables, tall platforms to climb on and cows and pigs in the pens without warning signs :) Us city-folk couldn't believe they trusted us with so much freedom! It was a wonderful way to immerse ourselves in the history of both the early settlers and the Hurons. 

One of the more unexpected sites in this touristy village was the actual gravesite of St. John de Brebeuf. It was like wandering around Heritage Park in the old area by the fort, turning a corner and coming across the real grave of a saint.  Very strange- but I guess they didn't discover it until the 1950s after they had already built the shrine and maybe wanted to leave his remains where they had been for 300 years. Right beside his grave was a little graveyard of the unnamed Huron Martyrs as well. Even if it was in the middle of a tourist attraction, it was touching and I made the sign of the cross as we went by to honour them. 
The museum on site was also very educational. It took us on a journey from 17th century France, to the exploration of the New World, early settlements in Canada and the native's traditions and beliefs. There was even bible from the 1600s and other interesting artifacts to view. I was very impressed with the little place. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Day 9 - ugh

Today we drove.lots. Lake Superior is immense  It almost looks like an ocean... and according to a tourist brochure I had picked up along the way, it actually contains 10% of the worlds fresh water.  It is taking forever to get around.  The views are incredible, when we can actually see it, but for most of the drive there are trees on either side of the road and we are going up and down very large hills.  Hello Canadian Shield!

We didn't make very good time because we are still having a hard time adjusting to the time zones, and I had this brilliant idea last night to go into the local laudromat and wash all of our clothes in one go.  Unfortunately, I didn't get back to the trailer until after midnight local time and all the kids were just settling into bed when I arrived. Yawn! We didn't wake up until almost nine in the morning and barely pulled out of the little town by noon.  Dana was having a morning that matched the rainy weather, so we stopped at the grocery store to fortify her with some chocolate mini-eggs, and my sweet hubby replaced her wind shield wipers.  She was motivated to press on though, because in only one more sleep her hubby would be coming!! What an amazing woman! One of the bravest, and strongest women I have ever known.

We started listening to The Hobbit and it seemed very fitting to hear Bilbo complaining about how long the trip was taking, and his descriptions of the land he was travelling through. I started a free trial with Audible, and downloaded two free books (Winne-The-Pooh and The Hobbit) and I also stumbled on a free 3 month preview of which is like the netflix of books so we have been enjoying other stories like Pinkalicious, Peter Rabbit, Jim Weiss, etc.  I love listening to audio books in the car, because it makes the trip pass a little faster, and the kids are a captive audience so it's a great time to get those classics in. Last summer in our travels, we listened to the complete narnia series.

One thing that happened yesterday that I forgot to mention, is the amazing coincidence of Sean meeting one of his employees in the little camp ground of Marathon! They are on their own cross-Canada trip, but are on their way home now- west from Newfoundland.  What are the odds of us meeting up with them in the middle of nowhere Ontario? I was truly amazed, because if there's one thing this trip has shown me- it's how vast and relatively uninhabited our country really is.

When we are in the car for these longer drives, there are a few things we have done to make it easier.  For one, we don't do movies, or video games or any electronic device.  Even though you think it will help pass the time, it tends to make the kids isolated from each other and breeds a bit of selfishness and entitlement among everyone.  Once you get past the first bit of complaining, the kids settle in and get used to it.  I love all the opportunities for them to talk to each other, listen to good audio books as a family, look at the interesting scenery, and color in their journals.  Everyone has their own bag with a journal, box of pencil crayons, scissors, glue, pencil and eraser.  Every day they write or draw a bit about what we did.  I also have a stash of activity and sticker books from Costco that I hand out when kids start to get restless. I have a few clipboards that I will pass back with coloring pages as well.  One of the fun finds was those grown-up coloring books that have lots of intricate designs to color. 

The thing they look forward to the most is the various snacks we bring along, however.  I have a box of ziplock bags in the front and portion out food in individual bags to throw back to the kids.

Doesn't that sound idyllic?  Well, at least that is the ideal in my mind.  Siblings getting along happily, maybe reciting geography facts as we drive by interesting viewpoints, and everyone eating healthy, portioned snacks by the calm and collected mother in the front.   Ok, in reality, there is a lot of people having to go pee about every 15 min, and everyone is demanding more snacks (which I just throw at them and hope they catch it), and lots of people fighting over stickers and pencil crayons.  The van is a mess (though we have managed to keep the garbage at bay by cleaning it out at each gas station), and I have no where to put my feet because there is more and more stuff piled up in the front.  But that is pretty much what life is like at home too.. this is just a smaller space. :) We do have a lot of fun though... so much laughter, so many silly jokes, funny signs and place names to laugh at, and a sweet toddler to brighten all our days.

I almost forgot! We also found the place where the bear that inspired the Winnie-The-Pooh stories was from! Apparently, there was an army guy passing through town and bought a little bear cub who eneded up being the mascot of his group of soldiers, but when they went overseas he donated it to the London zoo where A.A. Milne visited often with his son Christopher Robin.  How cool is that? Of course we had to stop and take a picture :)

Day 7 – Stars and blessings

I never questioned that the earth is round… but it still feels pretty flat when you are just a tiny human walking around on the surface… but let me tell you: the earth is actually round. I knew this in theory from school, but it is sort of getting in the way of my travelling. It’s like this irritating jetlag that you can’t shake every day because we keep driving slowly east without really adjusting our internal clocks.  Some days this means we haven’t really got on the road until well after lunchtime and then end up eating supper in the dark.  
Today this worked in our favor as the campground we ended up in was right beside the David Thompson Astronomical Observatory.  They host Star Walks from 10pm-midnight on the weekends and excepting the toddler and maybe Dana who is counting the days until her husband joins us, everyone was still wide awake  enough to walk down.  The kids took turns looking through high-powered telescopes to view the moon and some planets, and then watched an interesting tour of the solar system in their program room.  What fun to be up so late and watch the stars with your siblings and friends!
The earlier part of our day was also full of adventure.  We were headed for Thunder Bay and it was our second day in the land of northern Ontario, which consists mostly of windy roads with lots of rocks and trees… and a few glimpses of lakes.  We discovered that Ontario is a very big province… but we press on because, as we keep promising the kids, after we get around Lake Superior there are more things to see and they are much closer together.  These 90km/hr speed limits and windy roads are testing our perseverance but as Dana keeps reminding me, it’s a pilgrimage, not a vacation.  
Speaking of a pilgrimage, we arrived in Thunder Bay on the weekend, and that meant we had to find somewhere to go to mass. As Catholics, we take our weekend mass obligation very seriously, and did not want to miss a chance to receive communion to fortify us on our long journey.  However, we were racing against the clock and those rotten time zones that keep messing us up, so by the time we made it to Thunder Bay mass was already going on. 
Dana picked the beautiful downtown church St. Andrew’s as our destination, but being downtown it wasn’t exactly RV friendly.  We parked in a questionable spot and ran to the church. Ask Dana sometime about how they ended up in the service elevator – not sure what went on there :) At least we were seated before the gospel reading started.  We snuck in the back and thought we could make it through mass without disrupting the quiet church which was sparsely filled with older folks. 
Halfway through the mass, however, a man from the front walked walk straight to the back where we were sitting (uh-oh) and whispered in my ear that the priest wanted us to come up to the front at the Our Father to bless us.  Well- I guess we didn’t come in unnoticed, and since we had the only children in the entire church (11 of them in total) I suppose we didn’t look exactly like locals.  The kids felt like superstars walking up to the front. Everyone smiled at how cute they all were, the adults felt a little disheveled and camp-worn, but all in all it was a boost to have the whole congregation raise their hands to pray for us and our travels.  Thank you St. Andrews!

Day 6- Crystal Lake

Last night it seemed like we drove FOREVER.  The kids were waging an epic Cheesie war in the back (don’t ask), momma was starting to feel under the weather, and we kept going and going, never any closer to our destination.  The beautifully flat and predictable prairies turned into windy roads with trees and more tress.  Little lakes popped up on either side of the highway everywhere we looked and it got closer and closer to sundown. 

Kenora was beautiful and we stopped for directions at the tourist Discovery Centre, but along the way, we abandoned our provincial park destination in favor of a little campground outside Vermillion Bay called Crystal Lake.  It only had 14 sites listed on their website and it was nearing 9pm so we were sending up prayers with our 14 guardian angels accompanying us that there would be room.

When we pulled in, it was like a vision of heaven: a beautiful lake, freshly mowed grass, large even spaces to camp on and even a pile of toys and bikes for the kids to play with.  We decided within the first 30 min that we should change our plans and stay there for two nights to enjoy our good luck and relax a bit before we attempted the crazy drive around Lake Superior. 
The kids spent the day in the little lake going for canoe rides with Sean, floating on big tubes, and playing in the sand.  Dana and I went for a leisurely 7Km run, and Sean explored the hiking trail around the lake.  It was a perfectly wonderful day – especially considering all the complaints of snowy weather from back home. 

Besides the fact that their washer was broken, it was a nice vacation within a vacation.  Now to find someplace up ahead to wash the growing mountain of dirty clothes in my shower.