Lesson Learned

The past few months have marked many milestones for my youngest child, Megan: prom, high school graduation and leaving the nest to attend university. (Read my article Old School in Hamilton’s North End Breezes if you haven’t already.) Also included on the list was her very first visit to Pelee Island with a group of friends, without watchful parents in tow!

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“Can I take some friends to Pelee?” She’d been asking constantly in the months leading up to summer. Rob and I hesitated briefly. She was our book-smart child, straight As and good at following instructions, but could she put out a fire or unclog a toilet? Could she handle the unexpected? We quickly came to the realization that we couldn’t deny her the privilege we had extended to her older brother, even though Harrison had more hands on life skills and street smarts under pressure. She was old enough, responsible and a good kid. She had worked so hard at school. We wanted her to have this time between high school and university to make those memories with friends who would soon all be parting ways and heading off in various directions. So we sent the group of them off, Megan with her list of do’s and don’ts, most dealing with the mechanics of our old schoolhouse rather than any behavioural issues.

“Okay, so are you clear on what needs doing when you leave the cottage and close up?” we had drilled her prior to leaving.

“I think so.” she had responded.

Days passed with only a few text messages exchanged. All seemed to be going well but as she and her friends got ready to vacate the old schoolhouse she called for some clarification with regards to deciphering the markers on our electrical breaker panel.

“Leave on the breakers marked with green tape.” I instructed her.

“Okay, got it!” came her confident response. Later that day, she arrived home, tired but content.

A few hot weeks passed between Megan’s visit to the Island and our next. With busy summer schedules, Rob and I finally got a chance to escape to Pelee and boarded a late Sunday night ferry. We arrived in the dark, the flashlights on our phones leading us up the schoolhouse steps and into the house. While Rob fumbled in the dark with the breaker panel in the mudroom, I opened the main door into our open concept living space and was promptly hit in the face with the pungent smell of rot.

“WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!” my brain tried quickly to compute. I lifted the lid of the garbage can as I passed it knowing full well the offensive odor was far too great to simply be some leftover garbage in a trash bin. My nose pulled me forward, towards the fridge, where I knew I would find the smelly culprit. Rob entered the room just as I opened the freezer door.

“SHE TURNED OFF THE MAIN POWER BREAKER!” we both realized at the same time.

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The next hour was spent cleaning out rotting meat, sour milk, melted butter and contaminated condiments. Rob and I took turns holding open trash bags and gagging. We barely spoke. Doing so would have meant sucking in more of the putrid air. Finally cleaned out, Rob triple bagged the offensive mess and threw it outside. Glad to have it out of the house, I thought only briefly of the coyotes and turkey vultures that lived in the surrounding forest. I needn’t have worried though, as the food was spoiled beyond what any healthy turkey vulture would have found acceptable! Some bleach, baking soda and coffee grinds did much to mask any lingering odor before Rob and I could finally lay our heads down that night.

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The next morning we took a trip to the dump to deposit the decomposing remains of our refrigerator. We handed the heavy bag over to Mack who was working that day. We felt somewhat shifty and a little guilty. We thought the smell was suspicious and were afraid we’d be suspected of disposing of a dead body. But he didn’t flinch as he weighed our garbage and flung the bag down the chute and into the bin. Stinky mess dealt with, Rob and I were finally able to relax and enjoy the rest of our getaway.

We didn’t even mention the smelly disaster to Megan until we got home a few days later. By that time, we were able to laugh about it with her. Turns out, we had no green tape on the main power breaker. The fact that it was twice the size of the other breakers and said “MAIN” did not register with her, and since there was no green tape on it, our dear daughter, always good at following exact instructions, turned it off. Oh well, lesson learned. We know she won’t make that mistake again and neither will we.

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Some Things are Better Left Unsaid

The morning started off sunny and warm with humidity lingering from the day before. Happy to get a little alone time, I hastily threw on some clothes and left the schoolhouse while my kids slept, careful not to slam the screen door on my way out. The dew glistened in the first sun beams that patterned my lawn and I crossed the green grass leaving foot prints in my wake. As I escaped the confines of the forest that surrounded my property and turned right onto Stone Road, I could suddenly feel a slight breeze coming off the south shore. Ah, a hint of relief! I thought to myself as I walked briskly down the quiet, tree canopied road.

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I was enjoying the silence and solitude when the sky began to darken. I pushed forward, not ready for my walk to end. Only when the distant sound of rumbling thunder was followed by crackling lightening did I think of turning back. The first fat rain drops that fell hit me with a splat and I knew I was caught. I quickened my walking pace, sometimes jogging, but the down pour that followed had me drenched in seconds. I returned to the schoolhouse a soggy mess and changed out of my wet clothes while my children still slept. I texted Rob, who was on the mainland, a quick little message telling him of my aborted walk due to bad weather.

Somewhere in Southern Ontario my husband was driving when my text beeped on his bluetooth device. Fairly new technology at the time, he was excited to try it out. He hit accept, and listened to the automated woman’s voice read it aloud.

“Got caught in a downpour while walking Stone Road.” Her slightly sexy, slightly authoritarian voice said.

She then went on to describe the soaked state of my clothing, including under garments. Later, Rob would tell me of the amusement and surprise he felt as he listened to the robotic disembodied voice speak my thoughts. Luckily, he was alone when he played my message. But it did make me stop and reconsider before ever sending him another text like that again.

Sailing Off into the Sunset

Seagulls laughed as I walked along the shore of Lake Ontario yesterday. The ice that held fishing huts just two weeks ago had begun to melt and the westerly breeze created ripples across the patches of open water. I inhaled deeply and enjoyed the sun on my face.

This is the time of year I begin to get the Pelee Island itch. With spring just around the corner, my thoughts turn to booking our first ferry crossing of the season. And this year’s bookings are especially exciting. 2018 is finally the year that sees the little island in Lake Erie get a new ferry to replace the M.V. Pelee Islander. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sailing aboard the ship built in 1960 then you know this replacement is badly needed.

We’ve had some less than enjoyable moments aboard the Islander – like the time the waves were so big and the side to side motion so extreme, we could practically reach over the side of the boat and dip our hands into the lake. Or the time we sat below deck and watched as water poured in through the windows with ever wave we hit. Or the time the lake was so rough, we were tossed around like a salad. Fitting, since being aboard the Islander is like sailing in a big salad bowl.

I don’t mean to slam it. Looking back now, I can say we’ve also had some comical moments – like the time the waves were so big and the side to side motion so extreme, we could practically reach over the side of the boat and dip our hands into the lake. Or the time we sat below deck and watched as water poured in through the windows with ever wave we hit. Or the time the lake was so rough, we were tossed around like a salad…

It’s that kind of boat. Sturdy and strong, it gets the job done. But I think if you ask anyone, they’d all say the same thing; it’s tired and old. It’s time, time to be replaced by a younger, sleeker, bigger model; something faster and more reliable.

Will we miss it? Maybe a tiny bit…but probably not.

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The M.V. Pelee Islander (right) with the M.V. Jiimaan pulling in to dock.
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Smooth sailing?
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Preparing mentally…
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Burrrr, early season sail.
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Some things never change.

Naughty or Nice?

My husband Rob and I were out for our nightly walk along the water’s edge in our newfound neighbourhood when the little guy stopped abruptly in front of us, one foot scraping the pavement acting as a brake, the other planted firmly upon his scooter.

“I thought you were walking a goose!” he exclaimed.

Our dog Bailey stood by my side panting and I looked down at him and considered how he might be mistaken for a goose – the long legs and top-heavy body, perhaps?

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“No, just our dog.” I replied trying not to laugh.

I was struck immediately by the boy’s confidence and open inquisitiveness, his genuine curiosity and lack of fear. We were strangers to him after all. He had to be no older than seven years old and I looked around for a parent or older sibling as was normally the case in the suburbs from which I came.

“He’s not very friendly though.” I warned as he took a step closer.

“Why not?’ he questioned.

“I’m not really sure.” I answered.

“Maybe it’s the food. Or maybe it’s the family.” He offered, trying to make sense of what might make a dog unhappy and therefore unfriendly.

“Yeah, it’s probably the family…” I conceded, not really having given Bailey’s grumpiness much thought up until then. Motherly guilt was slowly setting in.

“We had a cat once that hated us” he shared. “Maybe he hates you.”

Well, that’s a punch to the gut. I looked down at my dog who appeared to be patiently waiting for this pointless exchange to end.

“Yeah, you might be right.”

“Yeah, it’s probably the family.” Were the last words the boy spoke to us before pushing off on one foot and scooting away.

Wait! I wanted to yell after him. We’re nice people! But it was too late. He’d obviously drawn his own conclusions.

For more of my North End Newcomer stories check out –

http://northendbreezes.com/

 

 

A Warm Welcome

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We moved recently, not from our Pelee place – we are far from ready to give up that – but from our mainland home. A home we had lived in for 22 years. When my husband and I moved into that home we owned a futon, a record player and a gold fish. Okay, maybe some dishes and other stuff too but let’s just say, moving in was a lot easier than moving out two decades later.

The city we have moved to is a perfect complement to my Pelee life. Where the Island is calm and quiet with very little to do in terms of mainstream commercial activities, Hamilton is loud and vibrant with nonstop action right outside my front door.

One thing they both have in common is the ability to inspire me. The sights and sounds might be starkly different but the encounters I make and the stories they form, are what motivate me to write and share my experiences. Hope you enjoy.

A Warm Welcome

Welcome to the North End, A Child & Family Friendly Neighbourhood the sign read. It was one of many that had been erected around the community. I looked at it and thought about what might have prompted the installation of these signs and when. They certainly weren’t around when I was growing up in the city. Who are they trying to convince? I wondered.

I grew up on East 43rd Street on the Hamilton Mountain in the 1970s and while most of my day to day experiences were limited to the confines of the Escarpment’s edge, we did go downtown from time to time, usually to see the Nativity Scene in Gore Park, visit family friends or shop for something special at Salvo’s. I remember assuming all cities were set up like Hamilton – with downtown being literally down town – and that the term naturally referred to a difference in elevation rather than the city’s core. But I was always happy to return to the 1 ½ story red brick house in my quiet little neighbourhood where as children we could run out onto the streets without the risk of getting hit by a bus, being abducted by bikers or having to search my pockets for loose change with every homeless man I passed. At least this is the way I saw it. What can I say? I was a sheltered Mountain girl. I was well into my twenties before I stopped locking the door on my side of the car every time we drove north of Barton Street. If you had told me thirty years ago that I’d be living in the north end of Hamilton, I would have called you crazy.

So what changed? The neighbourhood or my perception? Both of course, at least to some extent. With months and years of searching and through the process of elimination, my husband and I found it was the one neighbourhood we kept coming back to while looking for a new home.

“Why?!” our Burlington friends asked puzzled by what seemed to them I’m sure like a big unexpected change. What we told them was “this” wasn’t what we wanted anymore. We had stayed in the suburbs long enough. We wanted the excitement of city living, the sights, the sounds, the smells. We wanted restaurants, shops, entertainment and the water at our doorstep. We wanted Hamilton’s North End.

I thought back to the sign I had first noticed in the fall of 2016. Who was it trying to convince? Obviously, it had convinced me.

Thanks for the Memories

I wish I could say we spent every waking moment on Pelee Island this summer. Sadly, I cannot. But what I can say is the time we have spent has been memorable. That is what Pelee has been for us, a series of memory making moments. Countless hours on the beach, collecting beach glass, spotting herons. Parades, cook-offs and concerts. Friends and family and watching my children grow. So, if you haven’t done so already, please read a few of my favorite recollections…

My God…What Have We Done?
Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom
Making Waves
The Habanero Pepper Incident
No News is Good News
It’s All in How You Look at It

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Is That What You’re Planning on Wearing?

My husband Rob owns what I like to call, a Complete Pelee Island Wardrobe. Various pieces of clothing with Pelee Island stamped across them. Hats and T-shirts all packed and proudly worn each time we go across to the Island. Every year a new article of clothing gets added to the collection partly due to the fact his birthday is in August and we’re usually on the Island celebrating. A T-shirt always seems to be the perfect gift. He is, at any given time, a walking billboard for: the annual Music Festival, the Winery, the Community Artworks and the Heritage Centre, just to name a few. Really, my children and I only have ourselves to blame.

On the mainland occasionally people will, upon reading the text printed across his chest, stop and ask him about Pelee Island.

“There’s a winery there, isn’t there?” most people inquire knowing they’ve seen the Pelee brand somewhere.

At which point, Rob or myself (if I happen to be within ear-shot) will break out into our much rehearsed and often repeated, Pelee Island Promotional Speech. If you know us then you’ve heard it and your eyes are probably glazing over as you read this, so I’ll try to get back to my point. Which is –

Go to Pelee. Buy a T-shirt.

Rob