Naughty or Nice?

My husband Rob and I were out for our nightly walk along the water’s edge 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.

 

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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

Family Pelee Pic

 

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

 

Waiting to Rewind

We own a cassette player on Pelee Island, a record player too. It’s old school I know, but it suits our place. It suits Pelee.

While cleaning out the crawlspace of our mainland home recently, I came across our old collection of tapes housed neatly in a miniature storage chest made specifically for such a purpose. Tiny pull out drawers holding all our favourites from the 80’s and 90’s – Manteca, Pat Metheny, Pink Floyd, Gypsy Kings, David Sanborn, Sade, Level 42, even a little Madonna – all preserved in their plastic cases, standing at attention in their dedicated slots. We brought the assortment, and compartmentalized box, promptly to Pelee.

I know most young people won’t know what the heck I’m talking about, and probably can’t even get a visual of what I’ve just described, but my kids can. Our dinner hours on Pelee usually start with my husband Rob heading to the old tape player and choosing a retro tune to play while we all sit eating supper. At some point during the meal, the music will stop and Rob will stand and make his way over to the cassette player to turn the tape over. This practice still stuns our children. It seems like a lot of work to them. Their instant, fast-paced lives leave little time for waiting around for a tape to rewind or a vinyl record to be flipped. But that’s just what we love about it, and about Pelee Island. It forces our kids to stop, slow down, wait and listen.

So this past weekend, when my daughter Megan came upon her dad just sitting on the floor in front of the stereo cabinet gazing idly out the window, she asked,

“What are you doing dad?”

His response shouldn’t have surprised her.

“Just waiting for the tape to rewind.”

Seems it has the same affect on us adults too.

Meg on Beach

A Spring in My Step

Ah, spring. Clocks moved forward, smoke alarms tested, and our first voyages of the upcoming 2017 season reserved.

Getting to Pelee Island isn’t always convenient. Between work, the kids’ calendars, the ferry schedule and the weather, I’m sometimes surprised we get there at all. And yet, we persist. We couldn’t imagine not going. The planning has become as natural as a spring rain, and just as the first Robin sighting signals the return of the season, so too does booking our first ferry crossing to the Island. The anticipation of warm weather and carefree days fills me as I pick up the phone and dial the toll-free number to a little bit of bliss…I can feel the sun on my face already…

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Harrison aboard the M.V. Pelee Islander, during one of our first voyages of seasons past.

Family Day Fiasco

It was winter 2008 and the Family Day weekend was fast approaching. My husband Rob and I decided taking a road trip with our two young children was a good idea. I’m not sure which one of us suggested it, but after weighing our options of feasible cities, we soon settled on Cleveland. I guess our decision was based loosely in part to our perceived connection to Ohio. You see, Pelee Island has a long-standing relationship with Americans, especially from Michigan and Ohio. Many have owned property on the Island for generations and the smaller ferry, the Pelee Islander, still makes voyages back and forth to Sandusky.

So with this new-found connection to our neighbours to the South, we thought, Why not? There seemed to be plenty to do for a family of four over the course of a three day long weekend; The Christmas Story House, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and of course, a hotel with a pool to entertain the kids. We did our research. Things should have gone smoothly.

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After a five hour drive and promising our kids a dip in the pool when we get there, we parked the car, unloaded our luggage and proceeded to stand in line at the counter with the other patrons. Sweating in our winter wear we waited amongst the throng of families all waiting to check in, the sound of crying babies and screaming children grating on our travel weary nerves. Why are there so many people visiting Cleveland in February? we wondered, not realizing until much later that our Family Day coincided with the American Presidents’ Day.

We were almost at the front of the line when Rob leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Uh-oh – that’s not good!”

I looked in the direction he was gesturing. There, upon an easel, a sign indicated the pool’s closure due to scheduled maintenance.

“Oh no, the kids aren’t going to be happy about that.” I whispered back.

We inched our way up to the counter, where the hotel employees were trying to placate all the disgruntled visitors.

“Let me handle this.” I said to my husband as our turn at the counter quickly approached.

We were greeted by a young attendant, smiling stiffly, a line of perspiration above her lip.

“Name?” she asked, in a business as usual voice.

Once the formalities were dispensed with, I proceeded to voice my displeasure at having no access to a pool.

“It was clearly noted on our website.” she justified.

“I didn’t book through your website.” I answered. “I actually picked up a phone and spoke with a real live person who failed to mention anything about scheduled maintenance on the pool.” I could hear my voice rising.

“I’ll get the manager.”

“Good.”

We waited until the kindly manager made her way over to us. She explained they were offering a shuttle bus over to a neighbouring hotel to use their facilities.Yeah, just what we wanted; to be shuttled, on a crowded bus, to use a pool, in the dead of winter.

“Go have dinner on us” she offered “and when you’re ready, head on over.”

We were soon soothed into reluctant acceptance. Funny what no other options and a free steak dinner will do.

“Watch, we’ll probably get there and find THAT pool is closed too.” my husband predicted as we packed up our bathing suits and flip flops, water wings and goggles, and made our way out to the shuttle bus at -12 degrees.

After a short drive in the hotel’s packed mini-bus, we made our way into the surrogate hotel and onto the mirror paneled elevator. As the doors opened we let the smell of chlorine guide us down the long corridor, our young children tired but in tow. We stood before the pool entrance, Rob’s hand on the door handle. We were almost there! Suddenly, a long and steady stream of people began to exit the pool and file past us.

“What’s going on?” Rob asked no one in particular.

“Someone just pooped in the pool.” a small boy answered matter of fact as he pushed past us, bare foot and still dripping wet from his hasty exit.

Disheartened, we reversed our steps down the hall and into the elevator to the ground floor to catch the shuttle bus back to our hotel. The four of us stood outside the hotel lobby shivering, waiting for its return.

“This is crazy!” I lamented. “I can see our hotel from here. I’m walking back!” And with that definitive statement I marched off. Rob and the kids followed.

Later, Rob would tell me he had worried for our safety. It was dark and he’d heard the stats on Cleveland’s crime rate. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t pass any other people on the downtown streets or perhaps everyone had the good sense to stay indoors on such a frigid night.

The hotel manager happened to be standing in the lobby, as if there to greet us, just as we pushed through the revolving door, huffing and puffing from our chilly walk. Our eyes met and in an instant her smile flattened out.

“Your stay’s on the house.” she generously offered before I could express my frustration. Satisfied with that at least, we rented a movie back in our room and called it a night.

“I just want to put my head down and have a good night’s sleep.” I expressed to my husband, pulling back the sheets and climbing into bed.

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Early the next morning we were awoken by banging down the hall. Bang, bang, bang a furious fist pounded on a neighbouring hotel room door.Rob and I jumped out of bed and raced to the door. We took turns pressing an eye to the peephole to see if we could witness the commotion down the hall but the fracas was out of viewing range.That’s when the shouting started.

“Are you bleeping kidding me?! Are you bleeping kidding me?!” A woman’s shrill voice screamed at the occupant of the room who had presumably opened the door and was now face to face with the irate woman.

“Are you bleeping kidding me?! Are you bleeping kidding me?!” she repeated.

The response came in hushed tones so we could only hear one side of the argument. But we were able to piece together, with very little dialogue and absolutely no visuals, the reason for the spat. We surmised a woman had found her significant other cheating on her with another woman.

Rob and I looked at each other and I’m sure he saw that look in my eye because the next words out of his mouth were,“Don’t open that door Rose.”

I looked at him. I so wanted to see those responsible for waking us at such an ungodly hour, and he knew it. This weekend was supposed to be a fun get-away, and so far it had only been one annoyance after another. I wanted to open that door, shake my fist and yell,“Are you bleeping kidding ME?!”

It was at that point we decided to find another hotel for our second night in Cleveland. We waited until the commotion down the hall cleared before vacating our room and heading downstairs to check out. There, a new frontline of hotel workers lined the lobby desk. We were greeted by a young, fresh faced blonde.

“Good morning,” she chirped. “Did you enjoy your stay?”

I looked up at Rob. He squeezed my hand.

Are you bleeping kidding me?!

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And yes, if you were wondering, we did get to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and The Christmas Story House!

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