Here’s a truck stop instead of Saint Peter’s…

So I went to Niagara Falls this weekend, and came home with a fairly wicked sunburn.

This — for those of the readership not au fait with So. Ontario springs — is, to put it mildly, odd. The wind- and rainstorm that’s now blowing up in the sun’s wake is more typical… assuming this were mid-July, that is.

That said, I had a pretty good time at the Falls. Not that I’m unfamiliar with the wet’n’wild marvels themselves; Shoemom is native to the area, meaning they were routine scenery on weekly Sunday family drives, and later a mandatory timekiller for the grandkids’ visits. 

The thing is, the surrounding area has… developed… a bit, since Shoemom was a little sneaker. She recalls Clifton Hill as a sedate collection of swank little shops, her mother’s trips to which required actual dressing up. Every commercial advancement past that has been met with curled lip, if not outright contempt. That most of these encounters happen in tourist-snarled traffic does not help any.

I myself, on the other hand, am a bit more ambivalent. In my lifetime the Hill has always been tacky, the concentrated essence of all those roadside attractions than used to flourish along American highways. ‘Come See the Amazing _____!’ the signs would blare, and even the most savvy kid would be at least uncertain, because if they did have what they claimed, it really would be incredibly amazing, and who’s to say that just this once…

This is the principle that Clifton Hill embraces with all the gaudy shamelessness of a particularly desperate Victorian tart. And I’m here to announce that it works… not as well as when I was little, but still, I couldn’t see the harm so much. Thus pleasure drives along the Niagara Parkway tended to be a trifle tense.

Never a dull moment, under the cut…

We leave for Florida next week.

Mom’s best friend and her daughter about my age, whom I likewise adore, have gone in with us on a ten-day luxury condo rental on Anna Maria Island. Leaving Dec 22nd, returning Jan5th. This, as you may imagine, has me no end excited.

We haven’t had a proper winter getaway vacation in years. The last two of those winters have been a relentless march of gray skies, and snow, and cold, sigh twice and repeat, ad nauseum. In the big city, this effect is magnified almost unbearably by the endless vistas of glass and concrete and steel.
I leave for work each morning in the cold and frozen dark, I come home in the cold and snowy dark, and there is no warm  welcoming surface anywhere. Indoors there is comfort, of course, but always shadowed with the knowledge that you’re marooned there. This becomes especially pertinent when you’re starving, surrounded by restaurants just a few too many cold minutes away, and all the caff has to offer is egg salad on white.

As you can see, it is imperative that I get away, for the sake of my prose if nothing else. What I really love about this trip is how adult it is. Not so much in terms of ‘retirement community’ as ‘no costumed mice within fifty miles.’ We are planning to drive down over the first weekend, and that’s about as structured as it gets. At least, it will be if we can stave off the best friend’s instinct to feed us every morning, noon, and night. She is Polish, so a firm line will be necessary. (Albeit we are not ruling out Shoemom’s favourite white borscht.)

I am so seriously anticipating this vacation, that I am currently living off a diet of rice cakes and water, the better a) to look half-decent in the new bathing suit – something else I haven’t given thought to in years! – and b) to take at least a little advantage of the truly astonishing array of American junk food. Specifically, those Dove chocolate-chip cookies I bought last time. Oh, and real key lime pie, can’t forget that. It is a good thing the Eucharist does not involve key lime, else we here @ Shoe Central would be seriously considering conversion.

Thing is, I tend to put on weight squarely in my stomach and hips, so these two goals will be locked in perpetual conflict…but where there’s a will, there’s a way. *munches BBQ-flavoured rice cake with renewed conviction*

Also, there will be long walks among other ‘quaint shops’, and shell-hunting on the beach, and lying flopped in a beach chair with a good book and/or my iPod. I’ve bought the latest Patrick McManus and Ladies’ No. 1 Detective Agency just for the occasion, not to mention the new Bob & Ray bonanza. Just think, two blissful weeks of nobody having to hear about those two, except the people trapped in the immediate car with me. The fun, she is spreading.

When that course is run/Then come to me…

So I’m typing this from my Granshoes’ ancient 256MB Random Small-Town Computer Store Build, which gets no further attention from year to year except when my preteen cousins are jonesing for the Jones Brothers.

It’s not that my grandfather is afraid of new technology; simply utterly, serenely conscious of having lived 85 years without it. A snappy young salesman managed to entice him with the prospect of on-demand photos of the grandkids, but repented in tears and ashes upon trying to explain the concept of ‘opening email attachments’ shortly thereafter.
At which point the [theoretically] adoring eldest grand-daughter was hauled in (‘[Shoe]’s so good with computers!’), apparently just because the Creator has a quirky sense of humour. The number of times I’ve tried to explain, say, Media Player to this man, only to be greeted with a stone wall of “Yes, dear…hmmm…why, that’s a good idea…hmmmm…” would surely make Bill Gates cry.

At any rate, as summer weekend retreats go, this isn’t such a bad prospect. More

This used to be my playground/This used to be my childhood dream…

I have always loved November. I love all the months of change, really; but there is something about November – the wind and the wild and the wet – that makes rising to the challenge of living a particularly gallant endeavour.

That said…I will concede that sometimes, after an especially tactless battle, there’s no shame in just sitting indoors and watching the challenge swirl past your window for awhile. After all, even the Knights of the Round Table must’ve paused on occasion to rest the horses.

So thusly here I sit. Cuddled contentedly into a living room that is mine-all-mine at last after last weekend’s switchover – Shoemom having finally decided, in the face of six more weeks of Monday Night Football, that retreating to a TV-less space is worth putting up with my stuffies scattered around the public areas. Computer desk over here, cable TV over there, books on the far wall, cats gamboling on the futon; I feel rather like a spoiled yuppie offspring in her playpen, it’s all about stimulating the growing mind.
(Meanwhile, I hasten to add, Shoemom is enjoying her own new, determinedly un-stimulating space hugely. For one thing, she hates the colour I chose for the walls, so this is Blank Slate Central for her, design-wise.)

In short, things are so cozy – and my ego purring so loudly – the only thing on my mind is sharing the photos from our last bliss-centric day. Return with me now to the much more tactful beguilements of an October Saturday in Niagara. Yes…we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun. But we didn’t, y’know, die or anything. More

Reprint: I’ve Got the One-More-Map Vacation Blues

–OK, OK, so I’m about to unleash the blogging equivalent of forcing the readership to watch the vacation slides. Just be grateful I’ve kept in the cute cat stories this far, yeah? Besides, I want a chance to test-drive the photo capabilities on this thing, and the opportunity is perfect.

Without further ado, then, let us return to a certain sunny Labor Day week of earlier this year. A tiny Kia, some Wet Wipes, and two middle-aged women riding the ragged edge of the Maritime highway…primarily because we kept missing the exits. Or, as the family insists on calling it, ‘Thelma & Louise, so when does Brad Pitt show up already?!’

(Helpful photo-ID note: I’m the one with the glasses. Unfortunately, neither of us photographs well [insert crack about fashion sense not helping here]) More

Digital memory

So Shoemom and I spent this gorgeous afternoon doing one of our favourite gorgeous-weekend-afternoon things: picking a direction and driving in it.

When we’re just feeling a little restless and want a change of scene this is usually north, via Aurora and Newmarket; when we merely want to coo over the wonders of nature and maybe pick a few berries, it’s east, through Burlington and Milton. When we really, truly feel the need to replenish our souls and sooth our savage breasts…we head out over the Escarpment, to the sprawling rural community of Pelham, where Shoemom was born and raised on a fruit farm.

As yours truly is fresh off experiencing the worst of modern civilization, in the shape of office superiors whose knowledge of what you actually do is in the direct obverse to how free they feel to criticize you…we opted this aft for c), without hesitation.

This isn’t, however, a paean to the glories of high autumn in Niagara, many and varied as those are. The seasons are just at that deliciously, delicately confused stage of change; colour and light playing over sombre decay, as if cheerfully refusing to believe it until absolutely necessary. A walk down country lanes in a northeastern October is somehow both an aid to contemplation and a spur to action.

Action in this case provided by the friends with whom we confided our plans over breakfast. One wanted a picture of a famously ancient maple; the other…offered her digital camera. Told me to take as many snaps as I wanted.

Well, of course I accepted. Was excited. Took about twenty-odd wonderful photos of lovely scenes and sights, enjoying the creative act of discovering and composing to the fullest extent (it’s easy to play Truffaut when you’re quite alone in dense woods: “Ah, but what if that leaf were to tremble at a different angle! Toujours gai, toujours gai!”). Shoemom is thrilled beyond measure to have a beautiful fall afternoon in her favourite places captured forever. Really, I thought to myself, why hadn’t I picked up one of these camera gadgets long since?

Answer: ‘Cause, everything else being equal, I’d rather go for a walk than take pictures of it. The technophobes were right: You simply can’t do both. It’s a subtle enough priority shift, but it’s there. No matter how accurately you strive to capture your environment with it, digital memory can’t store the…whatever you were there for in the first place. You do eventually have to think about that, to process it, consider it – and as a spur to thought, the 2D snapshot will always fall short of the full experience.

Thus endeth the sermon for this week. I will only add one more random observation that will ensure you never look at the hip new rock bands the same way again: Shoemom on fauxhawks. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. That’s how mothers used to comb their babies’ hair! Just like that, you’d wash it and then you’d take your fingers and pull it up in the middle. Everybody used to think it looked so cute – on the babies.”