What began as an unexpected invitation from Molly and Charlie for Mars and Juddy to go and see them for Christmas, in the middle of November, materialised into another and probably our last trip to Canada!
Sunday 17 December The Journey
We usually report that the trip went smoothly and according to plan and this was nearly the case with the connection though tightish made successfully and the usual drug induced few hours’ sleep on the 13 hour leg from Auckland to Vancouver. Watching movies helps a little, but there is nothing pleasant about the lack of leg room, the hand luggage making our space even smaller and the this time unappetising Hindu meals – our choice because it usually means we get our meals first. Mixed with this is a sense of excitement as we look forward to seeing Rachel and Pete and the kids, a year after we farewelled them in Auckland as we headed for Myanmar.
Air Canada is certainly a no-frills airline, their organisation slightly chaotic and meals that required payment and which bore little resemblance to the photoshopped menu, if they had your choice at all! And the fight attendants weren’t that attractive either! But then we are accustomed to Air New Zealand’s smooth operation.
It was three quarters of the way through the flight to Toronto that the call every medic dreads came over the intercom. “Could any medical doctors (i.e. not the PhD kind I presume) make themselves known to the flight attendants.” After waiting a discreet few minutes and not seeing a stampede of medical doctors “making themselves known” Greg did so and spent the next hour or so assessing and treating with the help of an obstetrician, an orthopaedic surgeon, a heart nurse and a reasonably comprehensive airline medical kit, an elderly diabetic man with a blood sugar of 1’ish i.e hypoglycaemic who was thrashing around in his seat, clearly out of it. An attempt was made to give him some sugar orally but the IM and then IV dextrose did the trick and he was then able to eat something and the medical incident was over. The plane was met by paramedics and he was carted off on a stretcher. The airline provided a disclaimer form for Greg to complete to protect him in case of any subsequent medico-legal issues.
By chance Pete was a scheduled to fly in to Pearson airport at the same time, 9.30 pm’ish and though both arrivals were a little late we were happy to see Pete waiting for us…..wearing his hat at my request. That was short lived as he hates it! We caught a bus to the TTC subway station and home to 267 Glebeholme Boulevard, about a block away from their previous home on Wolverleigh Blvd and Rachel in her spotty onesie! It was bracingly cold. So it was off to bed on the fold out couch and the delicious feeling of stretching the legs.
Fortunately everyone was off the next day – the kids given an extra day off, and predictably at what seemed like an ungodly hour, Molly and Charlie leapt on top of us, and the sleep opportunity was over!
We spent a lovely day together initially playing in the somewhat kompti snow in the back yard and then taking the TTC (Molly delightfully observes that to mean “Take the Car” which does the very efficient and cheap public transport a disservice) – one moves seamlessly between the slower buses and streetcars (trams) and rapid subway trains. Auckland ‘Take heed’! First stop was “The Bay” ex Hudson Bay, a Canadian icon, a cross between Smith and Caugheys and Farmers, all decked out with Christmas decorations and humming with Christmas shoppers. Molly acquired a new jacket and we then caught a bus to a favourite pizza restaurant for a treat lunch – meatballs for me followed by samples of everyone else’s delicious desserts! Then home and Pete cooked and Rachel went out to a staff party.
Bleak and icy wind (but no more snow) meant we didn’t stay outside longer than needed when we took Molly and Charlie to and from school, then explored the arty-crafty-designer distillery district where we lunched and coffee’d and then drooled our way around the gourmet food St Lawrence market. Pete had another day off and officiated with dinner and processing the kids.
Neither of us could quite believe our lack of energy for any adventures today, and we both had morning sleeps! NZ is 6 hours behind and one day ahead. Did the school runs in the still very bleak conditions and I had instructions to cook a b&e pie for dinner and Greg concocted a chick pea, cabbage and spinach dish for diners with more mature tastes.
Theree was no justification for more morning sleep and we dismantled the sofa bed just in case! After the school run we caught the subway and walked through Kensington Markets and Chinatown, retreating into a rather fancy restaurant, the Peter Pan for coffees and a pumpkin themed dessert …..for the journey! Greg and I then split, Greg spending the next few hours at the Ontario Science Centre and no surprises, me ‘doing the Eton Centre’ a large shopping mall with the usual chain stores – the Gap, Victoria’s Secret (chunder chunder) etc and coming away relatively unscathed – just two check sale shirts made in VietNam, from, I’m ashamed to admit American Eagle outfitter…..to commemorate Canada’s being the check shirt capital of the world. Less wind today temperature could be described as ‘balmy’ at about 4 degrees! We met again at the school gate after for me slow bus and tram trips and some long walks for Greg. Homework, baths, dinner were all completed before Emma, and Huntington and Clinton and then Rachel arrived for dinner – Uber Eats Thai takeaways. Hunt is a beautiful baby.
This is a very busy time of the year especially for Rachel who arrives home tired and hungry at about 6.30 on normal days, but with the extra preparations for Christmas, packing for the cottage and the different dress themes for this last week before the holidays. I remember well the extreme stress of everything happening at once.
What a marvel and a wonder it is to wake up to a fresh coating of snow on everything – we guess about 3 needed inches after the snow that we played in on Monday had all but melted. The in between stage was pretty horrid – piles of dirt mixed with snow. And the weather was no nicer either.
Children trudging to school today in the snow, all muffled up in colourful cold weather gear like Michelin men is certainly a memorable image – kids in overtrousers, boots, mittens, school bags slung on backs, hats with pom-poms kicking through the pristine snow piles. It looks magical but I can imagine, though it is the way of life here, that the novelty soon wears off!
It doesn’t seem to have yet neither for the kids, nor us as we dug out our tramping boots – our best imitation of snow boots, mine with corroded eyelets from the salt from our last foray into such snow in Ottawa 3 or 4 years ago, and shovelled the snow off the drive and footpath and squeegeed the accumulation off the car. It continued to snow all day. The trip to school was quite unpleasant with the combination of the icy wind and snow.
Rachel got off work early and packed the car to the gunnels while we collected Molly and Charlie from school. A note had been sent home indicating that they would be collected early and we signed them out all trudged home, loaded ourselves, favourite toys, food etc into the car and left at about 2.30pm, Greg in the front seat holding a pile of Christmas presents and peering over the top and me jammed between Molly and Charlie in their booster seats. The journey took some time – usually 3 hours with no traffic but as expected like Auckland at the beginning of a long weekend, the going out of Greater Toronto was slow, though moving, and we came across the odd snow plough clearing the roads. We invented counting games to while away the time, stopped for cupsatea and Timbits (like donuts flavoured with sugar and chocolate or cinnamon.) The last leg along more deserted snowy, icy and potentially slippery roads was exciting but Rachel’s driving and car’s snow tyres were up to the task and I uttered an expletive only once when we skidded slightly. It continued to snow.
We had phoned ahead and Matt was waiting for us with the ‘gator’ – a John Deere machine with a tray and we and our paraphernalia were transported down to the cottage after the 5 hour journey. It was great to see Mickey, Matt and Scotty the dog, and Pete and Bill showed up shortly afterwards from Kingston. The cottage was as we remembered it but the winter vista wonderfully new. After a quick catchup and Matt-created pasta we all turned in. The various accommodation options provided keeping warm challenges especially Rachel and Pete et al in the cabin where Greg and I froze in September at the time of our very first visit. We were snug in the cottage itself with the fire and electric heating. The hourly chime of Bill’s antique clock kept us appraised of the time throughout the night.
Saturday 23 December
“The more it snows, tiddlypom the more it goes tiddlypom , the more it goes tiddlypom …..on snowing. And nobody knows tiddlypom,how cold my nose tiddlypom , how cold my nose tiddlypom is growing……” An apt AA Milne quote for today as we ventured out for a ramble through the woods, Rachel and the kids in their snow shoes and Greg and I improvising with sox to prevent snow from going into our boots. I was reminded of one of the traditional snow activities – standing under a small snow laden tree and shaking it. The snow rains upon you creating a brief whiteout….and snow down your neck. I did a reasonable impression of a Canadian patriot of O Canada standing under the flag with hand on heart. It’s always great to retreat from the elements into a warm environment inside especially the open fire simultaneously warming us up and drying our damp gear. Mickey and I did a foray to nearby Seeley Bay with Matt for essential supplies – tonic and cream! And the boys partook in manly activities like felling a tree for firewood.
The Carscallens beat the Juddies at a game using an early Genus American edition of Triv. Not too much crowing!
Sunday 24 December Christmas Eve
The sun came out for the first time in the week we have been here, a lovely change. There was plenty of snow based activity today including riding the Gator, looking for Molly and Charlie and the dog who are free to roam in the woods, and actually sitting outside on deck chairs. Even more magical today! Some snow melted but the sun made little impression on the foot deep accumulations of snow on exposed structures. I have a great image of a foot of snow on the barbecue! Blobs fell off the trees from time to time. The lake is covered in snow but is supposedly not safe to walk on….yet. There are dire consequences if you walk on it before it is the requisite metres thick.
We are getting plenty of games played, Jenga piles created, elderly but still working Fisher Price toys unearthed, books read, alcohol consumed ++ and repartee and weak jokes! Greg has been labouring through Great Expectations all week. Mickey has Alzheimer’s but seems content, observing all the activities around her but unable to read or really participate much.
The children are beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of Santa’s arrival. And the pavlova is in the oven and the Carscallens are all off to church in deference to Mickey’s wishes. Great enjoyment at the latter activity was expressed by all with varying degrees of truth.
Monday 25 December Christmas Day
It gets light quite late here in winter near the Arctic Circle so Molly and Charlie did not surface and start creating havoc until after 7 am. We all found stockings with yummy edibles and over the course of the morning opened most of the huge stack of presents under the tree. Everybody was delighted with their haul particularly Pete who received a large jar of Vegemite from Mars and Juddy. He is not a lover of Vegemite and had realised that this was a joke present even before he opened it. Molly and Charlie gave him a brew labelled ‘Stout’ made up of a mixture of soya sauce and goodness knows what else. He has no intention of indulging them by even a pretence of drinking it.
The process of Christmas dinner preparation was the responsibility of the Carscallens with two Y chromosomes and the process was a marvellous thing to behold. Cooking goose and ham is not meant to be a competitive exercise but Bill and particularly Matt and Pete made it so. Even the time of Christmas dinner was up for debate! The result was a 4 pm feast of goose cooked to within an inch of its life and a little like beef, a trophy of Matt, ham – not Huntington Almon McFadden, the newest Carscallen grandchild, and Maple Syrup infused Brussel sprouts followed by the never fail pavlova which lived up to its moniker, lashings of cream and berries. Molly and Charlie were by this stage somewhat hangry and probably tired with the excitement of the day and eating Brussel sprouts, a step too far. But they appear to have enjoyed the day with Molly playing with a fairy inspired cutout ‘game’ and Charlie practising and playing magic tricks using his new set of devices with varying success of his sleight of hand!
Martha, Matt’s current girlfriend arrived after a 6 hour drive from Halifax. And the highlight of the day….Rachel and I streaked around the perimeter of the cottage in knee deep snow, with only cold feet to show for it, much to the bemusement but no comments by the audience. It was minus something degrees. Don’t try this at home.
26 December Boxing Day
Today was departure day from the family and cottage and after a pancake breakfast and genuinely fond farewells, Rachel drove us to Kingston with no sign of any snow thawing and we caught our Via Rail train, running half an hour late to Union Station in Toronto where we caught an airport train to Pearson airport. It’s very economical being ‘seniors’!
Making our flight to Los Angeles on American Airlines was tight and we were the last passengers to be allocated seat numbers at the gate so sat separately. Manoeuvring four long queues to fulfil US entry requirements was an ordeal and I have decided I hate America and never want to grace this fu’ed country with my presence again! Travelling takes its toll on ones tolerance.
Anyway we did make it and also our connection at LAX to Auckland was uneventful and we arrived at Auckland at about 9.30 am on 28th having missed Michelle’s birthday, the 27th, altogether! We expected to be struck by the warmth, but alas it was only 20 degrees with a biting wind and we occupied ourselves with the usual process of laundry, making it to and appropriate bedtime with time zone confusion which was helped by eating dinner and opening Canadian Christmas gifts with the Barkins. Feeling awful but we both had a surprisingly good sleep.
Now it’s all over and we reflect on our wonderful if demanding but totally worthwhile trip. It is excellent to reestablish relationships with the Mouldy Lot, and also the wider Carscallen family although we may not get back to Canada as Rachel and Pete are planning to come back to NZ in the next year or so.