Watermelon Roses

A collection of random thoughts, commentaries, and journaling. There is a lot to explore here, including links to other sites of mine. These are mostly for my own benefit, but guests are welcome to browse and explore as much or as little as they like.

Tuesday, July 31, 2001

K and I had a rare night out without the kids in downtown Ann Arbor. We tried Ethiopian cuisine at The Blue Nile for dinner. Our menu choices were: vegetarian or non-vegetarian. If you know me at all, you know I'm about as far from vegetarian as one can get. So they brought us a tray layered with a thin, spongy bread (you use this to scoop up the food instead of a fork) and covered with small servings of every dish they make. The Ethiopian spiced tea was amazing. They have no cane sugar in their diet, but the tea is sweetened with cinnamon, rose hips, orange peel and lemon peel. We browsed at Border's Books and Music for a while after dinner, then went across the street to the Michigan Theater to see an independent film called Songcatcher. The theater was so beautiful, and for those of you from my hometown in Texas, it reminded me of the old Carnegie Theater in Cleburne, only ten times as elaborate and gilded with gold. The acting bug bit me hard while I was in there, and made me miss the stage so much. As for the movie, I loved it. Poor K keeps finding himself dragged to movies drowning in bluegrass music. I'm in danger now though of being dragged to a Japanese mafia movie ... help!

Sunday, July 29, 2001

Niagara Falls

We went to Niagara Falls this weekend. The most important thing I learned on this trip was that putting a 2 year old, a 4 year old, and a 12 year old in the backseat of a car for 5 hours is a recipe for disaster, or at least a recipe for a lot of screaming and fighting. We also vowed never to go to Niagara Falls during high season again. All of our previous visits were in the late spring, and were much more pleasant. Anyone who knows me knows I have little patience with crowds, and these crowds were worse than last minute Christmas shoppers ... I didn't even know it got worse than that.

So, into Canada we went, stopping at Tim Horton's for breakfast, of course, since it would cause extreme emotional distress to K to be in Canada and not stop at Tim Horton's (a coffee shop chain, in case you've never had the pleasure.) Justin was properly awed by the size of Lake Ontario as we drove across the western end. Looking east, you would think it was an ocean rather than a lake because it extends all the way past the horizon, no end and no land in sight. I think the most excitement we had on the drive, though, was when we saw a car that had apparently just flipped onto its side on the highway. Traffic was just starting to back up, and there was only one pedestrian stopped trying to direct traffic around the car. What they couldn't see, but we could, since we were coming from the opposite direction, was that the bottom of the car was on fire. I had so many thoughts at once, that the gas tank would be exploding soon, that the cars shouldn't be driving past that, that we should stop and help since K was a doctor and we couldn't see that anyone had gotten out of the car yet. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, depending on how you look at it (my mother will undoubtedly be glad we didn't try to be heroes,) while I was thinking, K was driving, and before we could react, we had gone too far and there was no way we could have gotten back to the scene through that traffic, so we just prayed for the best. Miles before we actually got to Niagara Falls (Agua Falls, according to Mina,) we ran into the traffic that was a precursor of the crowds we would be facing.

Worried that there would be no tickets left for the Maid of the Mist (the boat that takes you right into the center of the Horseshoe Falls, which are the falls you always see in pictures of Niagara Falls,) K pulled over near the ticket office to get in line for tickets while I moved to the driver's seat to go find parking with the kids. Within 10 seconds of pulling over, the police descended on us with their little pads of parking tickets. Begging their mercy, I jumped into the car and took off, realizing too late that K had the Canadian currency that I needed for parking in his pocket. Parking was actually remarkably easy to find, once you were resigned to parking miles away and taking a shuttle back to the falls. We bought all-day bus passes so we wouldn't have to walk through those crowds, then waited impatiently for the bus for about 10 minutes, then decided to walk to save time. Justin would have you know it was not put to a democratic vote, but that I dragged them all down the length of the Niagara River. The wind kindly deposited the bulk of the mist from the falls right on top of us, so we were soaked within 2 minutes. Justin decided that the falls looked fake, by which I think he meant man-made. The walk was slow, as I had to turn around constantly to be sure Mina was still with us (she wouldn't hold hands,) and Layla decided she was too sleepy to walk.

Two hours after K got out of the car to buy tickets, we were reunited with him near the Maid of the Mist. After prying the few Canadian coins we had out of 6 little hands, we were able to get a few cans of soda from the soft drink machine before heading down the ramp to join the line to get on the boat. Halfway down the ramp, and about halfway through the line, Layla decided she wanted MORE soda, and took off running back toward the end of the crowded line. The great thing about having 10 years between your oldest and your youngest children is that you can send your oldest running after your youngest when she does that. After knocking over a few people and yelling for someone to "Stop that girl!" Justin recovered Layla and brought her back to us.

Finally getting down to the boat, we donned the traditional blue Maid of the Mist souvenir raincoats, remarked on how shameful the pollution in the water was (brown icky foam everywhere,) and boarded the boat. I was on the boat during the low season last year with a friend who was visiting us from England, and I can tell you that it's much more enjoyable during low season when you can actually see where the boat is going and you aren't stuck behind tons of people. If you do make it onto the boat during low season, it's overwhelming to be down there, surrounded by the falls, and feeling the power of that water as the boat rocks beneath your feet. I think they said the river below us was 180 feet deep, and we got to read lots of stories about the people who intentionally and unintentionally went over those falls. Count me out, there, I think ...

We had the great idea that we would skip lunch to save enough that we could afford to eat at the rotating restaurant at the top of the Skylon Tower with a great view of the falls for dinner. So, after getting off the boat, we hiked up Clifton Hill where all the great touristy things are ... it's like a giant midway or boardwalk there. Neon everywhere, enticing aromas from every direction, the kids saying, "I want that!" or, "I want to go there!" every 30 seconds. K and Justin were ever doubtful that this long climb was actually taking us to the tower, but I persisted ... until they pointed to the south (we were going west) and there on the horizon stood the tower. We all know how rarely I'm wrong, so there was a small amount of gloating on their part before we changed course and headed for the tower. This was actually a nice detour, and Layla did us the favor of requiring a diaper change, which forced us to find a shady spot in an unexpected green space away from the crowds in which to change her. The quiet grassy area was so nice, we continued our trek through there, rather than returning to the road, and were rewarded with the company of several black squirrels and a groundhog.

We finally made it to the tower, and since we were starving by now, we were greatly looking forward to our ride to the restaurant at the top. Unfortunately, once there, we discovered that it would cost us about $150 to get to the top and have dinner ... and skipping lunch at Dairy Queen didn't save us quite that much. Dejected, tired, and hungry, not to mention far, far away from any other place that would feed us, we wandered half-heartedly through the gift shop, noted that the raccoon-tail caps were actually rabbit-fur caps with raccoon tails attached, and sat on the floor eating saltwater taffy until we could think of something better to do. Nothing much better ever came up, but we decided we had to at least trudge back down the hill. By this time the sun, hunger, and fighting children had combined to give me one of my more severe migraines and of course, I had left my medicine in the car.

We got to the bottom of the hill, settled for dinner at the Golden Griddle, and were pleasantly surprised by the meal. We then traipsed down to the bus stop, waited 25 minutes for the bus, squeezed into an overcrowded bus with standing room only ... I confess to thinking less-than-charitable thoughts about the full-grown men who wouldn't offer their seats to a couple of little girls. We got to the stop at the falls where we had to catch a different bus back to the distant parking lot, sat in the mist of the falls (much like sitting in a light rain) for about 20 more minutes, and watched helplessly from the back of the crowd as the bus filled up without us once it finally arrived. Fortunately, a second bus came almost immediately, and this time, we were at the front of the pushy crowd, so we even got seats.

Due to the high season, the hotel that was $60 in the spring was $160 this weekend, so we had reserved a room in Cambridge, which was supposedly about an hour and a half away. I say supposedly because I don't think that whoever said an hour and a half took into account that the main road there would be closed, or that we would have no map, or that someone (not me!) would refuse to buy one since I already had one at home that I had failed to bring. To make a long story short, (wait, too late, isn't it?) I had to rely on Paul Simon to keep me company while everyone else in the car slept as I drove down the completely dark back-country roads of Ontario looking for Cambridge. What should have been the perfect opportunity to admire the starry sky was clouded by, well, clouds. They did at least break enough to show me a gloriously spooky red moon, and on the bright side, I didn't collide with any deer (or any other animals for that matter,) which is always my fear on unlit country roads.

We finally found the Travelodge around 1am, and were very excited about getting the "Sleepy Bear's Den." This is a room designed especially for children with a "Sleepy Bear" decor throughout, even in the bathroom! Of course, at 1am, the children hardly noticed the room. They enjoyed it much more the next morning. We played Sorry, then packed up and headed to Guelph (I love that name, Guelph ... I think I need a fish named Guelph) for breakfast at the Golden Griddle. We had enjoyed dinner so much the night before, we thought we'd go for breakfast too, and we weren't disappointed. Layla ate three plates of scrambled eggs as well as nibbling off everyone else's plates. We let the kids go off to a children's play area after they finished, and K and I had a rare opportunity to talk in peace. That is, until Justin got bored and dragged the girls back to us kicking and screaming. Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating and stared as I ran to them, trying unsuccessfully to console them. I think most people were more sympathetic than annoyed, but needless to say, we lingered no longer. I was so embarrassed!

K is so loyal to Sony and Ikea, that he would completely furnish the house with them given half a chance, so of course, we couldn't drive by Ikea without stopping (the nearest Ikea to our house is about four and a half hours away.) After arguing inexorably that our bed could not possibly exist without Ikea sheets, he then tried to persuade me that the sheets had to be blue because our bedroom is blue ... the only thing blue in our entire bedroom is ... the sheets! Anything I picked was either too floral, too much like my mother's sheets, too pink, or just not blue enough. So, no sheets. I did get a new cheese grater, though. It's very easy to persuade him that we need something if it's in a sale bin at Ikea.

We backtracked to Confederation Park at Lake Ontario where our friend Shahid and I had taken the girls last year. We very nearly turned around when we saw the massive crowds and overflow parking lots filled with old hot-rods and antique cars. Fortunately, the show had just ended and everyone was leaving. We played at the playground for a while, then wandered down to the beach. This lake has crashing waves nearly as good as those on the east coast, so the kids thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked. We went back to the playground to dry off, and bribed them with ice cream to get them off of the playground when we were about ready to go. One of the perks of being a mommy is getting to lick all the ice cream cones when they are looking too melty, just to keep them from dripping, of course.

I changed the girls into dry clothes and at last, we headed home. Nothing exciting about the trip home except that crossing the border took longer than usual. Customs looked like a scene out of Traffic. That's probably the last we'll see of Niagara Falls unless anyone else comes to visit before we leave Michigan next year.