You think you had a nice weekend?
Your nice weekend was like a school cafeteria skippy cup compared to my seven dollar pint of gourmet goodness. Really. I'm sorry, but it's true.
Yours got handed to you reluctantly by a surly, smocked, hair-netted bitter cafeteria lady with chin whiskers. They were out of chocolate, and you got vanilla. You unwrapped your splintery wooden spoon and pulled off your cardboard top, and found the ice cream, already iffy and cheap at best, had melted and re-frozen. You had trouble fishing the last miserable bits out of the grooves in the plastic cup, and didn't really want them anyway, but you wanted to get your money's worth. It went straight to your hips. That was your weekend compared to mine.
My weekend was a full pint of deluxe ice cream, paid for with a free coupon, eaten with an Art Nouveau period sterling silver spoon. It was brought to me promptly and with enthusiasm, cradled lovingly in the arms of a handsome gentleman who would rub my feet and flip the pages of Bust magazine for me while I reclined and had a good hair day in a super cute outfit; and he thought it was adorable that I could eat such large spoonfuls and finish the pint in one sitting. Scientific journals are going to write me up because I could do so and not gain an ounce, or bloat even one little bit. That was my weekend compared to yours.
If you are of the jealous kind, I advise you to back away from your computer, and go do something else, instead of reading my post.
This past weekend Steve, Josie and I headed to Southampton, which is on Lake Huron, to spend time with friends at a cottage. Until we did this for the first time last year, I never understood the appeal of "cottaging". Then, after a fun fun fun weekend, I got it. So this year, I looked forward to it with a longing that made my heart squinch with enthusiasm and arrived with unabashed glee. It helps that my friends are some of the best souls that walk the planet. They make your friends, in comparison, seem like the unwashed and slightly hostile strangers who mutter to themselves and rub up against you in an airless and crowded subway car during a record-breaking heat wave.
Now, the only thing that tainted the weekend was the long drive there. That was why I didn't add to the comparison, say, having an additional pint of Cherry Garcia ice cream waiting in an ice bucket on a pedestal next to me. I don't know how people are issued speeding tickets on the way to cottage country in Ontario, because if we broke 60 km, I'd get so excited I'd have to get out of the car and change my panties. So it took a long time to get there, but thankfully Josie slept a lot and parts of the ride were picturesque and enjoyable.
We stopped for dinner at a placed we'd noticed last year. With a sign like this, how could we not?
The inside was disappointing, as it always is when someone tries to inject class into a place that really should remain borderline tacky. Case in point? A plaque-mounted Van Gough print (or two, as was the case), does not quite lend an air of elegance. Not when it's next to a Say Anything poster, and not you can see whether the servers have pedicures, or, ew, not.
But the food was good, and nobody minded when Josie's rat family of stuffies broke into a song called "Shoop Shoop Booty Booty" and her burbling giggles were more bubbly and carbonated with delight than all the soda pop in the place.
The town of Shelbourne has its charm, and we passed through on the the weekend of the annual Fiddle Festival. Fiddles, fiddle window displays, and fiddle jokes everywhere; on top of the things that were unintentionally funny, such as how the musical instrument store also sells mattresses.
At my insistence, we three popped into an antique/junk shop, where, sans husband and child, I could have spent a good three hours. On top of having four rooms of assorted tsotchkes and some vintage clothing, on top of having an aquarium with an albino catfish (which would be an awesome blues name: "Ladies and Gentlemen, here is Albino Catfish playing his hit, "Bottom Feeder Blues"), on top of having a room with toys for kids to play in while parents choose videos to buy or rent -- there was a room full of paperback books (of the summer reading sort, because I will admit there are still some V.C. Andrews I haven't read since I got over my Flowers in the Attic kick that began the summer when I was fourteen). But, because it was also the kind of junk store where I had to lay on my stomach to look at the collection of $4 Fire King coffee cups (did I really want more, or am I happy with what I have?), it was the kind of place where moving one small thing could set off a chain reaction of crashing shelves and tinkling glass. So we had to get Josie out of there as soon as possible. I did manage to quickly buy a gift for a friend, though, and so my yen to shop was satisfied.
The rest of the ride went as well as could be expected, except that it's no fun to drive into the sunset. Steve, our hero, lent his sunglasses to Josie.
And I saw a Wind Turbine farm, and it was cool, but Steve wasn't with me on my need to take pictures of it. So the best thing I could do was hold the camera out the window and snap it as I drove by.
But once we got there, it was down to the rocky beach for some fun before bed.
And then Julia arrived, and we had to have some late-night spaghetti with her homemade pesto, and a bottle of wine, after the kids went to bed. With her and I as the last two standing, we somehow made it past the period where it seemed like a good idea to skinny dip at three-thirty in the morning and had a fitful sleep. Josephine slept in until 9:30. Yes, I saw it. You just got a shade greener.
Saturday morning meant coffee, that dark, beautiful and lovely elixir, while the kids looked for cool stuff on the beach.
The beach holds a combination of beautiful and disgusting. There are myriad rocks, strange plants and teensy shells - all worthy of attention from both kids and adults. Then there are the dead and rotting carcasses of fish and other creatures, there are things that are beautiful but have weird diseases or bugs that are fascinating too, but moreso to little children than grownups.
And fun with the puppy - because there is nothing like a puppy.
They are made out of rubber, and they smell like pee and cedar chips and their needley teeth and fluffy fur are the best combination of not nice and nice ever. Lucky, at almost eight weeks old, quickly earned the nickname "Wet Willie", because well, there's that other not-fun thing about little boy puppies.
D, the senior dog, was remarkable tolerant of the whole deal. Oh D, you aged and sweet beauty of a dog. You were the one that I snuck extra pats and bum scratches to at every opportunity.
She even cracked a grin now and then, once she realized how much shredded cheese hits the floor when toddlers are around. However, Steve noticed that her ears flickered back and forth at the sound of Josie's happy shrieks even at a few hundred foot distance.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #437: The sound of waves on the shore should lull you to sleep, along with the waves of too much wine.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #569: Skinny dipping should be proposed at least once.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #24: One should smell wet dog at least once.
Our friend Andrea, whose family owns the cottage, was such a wonderful hostess. Here is her bathing suit, because it was pretty damn cute. I think I have to spend more money on my bathing suit next year. Mine doesn't do much for me, and I think the investment in a little extra spandex would be a good thing.
And here is a sculpture her dad made from found rocks.
Both Josephine and I were adoring it, and it became my goal to search amongst the rocks on the beach for my own. The best I could do would be like comparing your weekend to my weekend, so I'm not going to show it to you.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #3: There shall be a hammock.
I would show you images of Josie in the hammock, but if I did, your eyes would be so dazzled you'd never see properly again and then your heart would liquify and all that you would find of it would be something like the type of rainbow-coloured oil slicks you find on a puddle in a K-Mart parking lot. Except it would be in shades of green.
The cottage, by the way, is so cottagey. It is exactly what a cottage should look and feel like.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #67A: Cottages shall have a flag, window boxes, shady trees, decks, and be private from neighbours. They shall have lots of bedrooms, room to set up tents outside, and communal places to eat and gather. They shall encourage drifting in and out, napping, snacking and enjoying beverages. There shall be outdated magazines to read, books ranging from Harlequin romances to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, and places and time to read, or not read them.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #51: There shall be a choice of sunlight and shade: dappled, strong, whatever. But you should be able to move between them and feel definite changes.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #67B: If possible, there shall be lots of wooden paneling.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #896: Attire shall range from pajamas, to bathing suits, to funny hats and layers of comfy clothing, sometimes all at once.
The rocky beach at the cottage was entrancing. For toddlers and little boys, algae covered rocks and crayfish and crickets and minnows and stuff are magical. For me, the opportunity to let beautiful rocks and shells drift through my fingers, choosing those that sparkle or feel smooth or have a colour that delights me - there is no better way to pass a few minutes, or if you are lucky like I was this past weekend - hours. Yes, hours. You are SO green! Look at you!
Some rocks were curved, and fit next to others like a couple spooning. Some had fantastic patterns whose origins I wondered about. A good portion of the time was spent just looking at stuff. Steve and I are thinking of installing a rocky beach in our back yard. They are really good for toddlers. And my sanity.
At one point, I was able to get this far away...
... and sit on a rock warmed by the sun, until the glint of sunlight off my fish belly white legs attracted the attention of Josephine, who then had to scramble over the rocks to join me. Then Steve left her there with me, and while my solitude was diminished, my joy grew, because well, she is magnificent and damp sandy toddlers with sun on their shoulders need to be held and nuzzled and inhaled in the way as teenagers we used to think that crappy fake coconut suntan oil smelled good.
And you know, there was the puppy.
He napped in laps, and did silly puppy things. A gamboling fluffball is a delight to have around. They're good to rest your eyes on - while a good old dog is a great place to rest your hand on.
Saturday afternoon, we all went to Sauble Beach - which is exactly what a beach should be.
Sandy, shallow for ages, and warm. They were having Sandfest on the Beach. Which, I imagine, is something like having a Grassfest on the Lawn. Or a Beerfest in a Bar. I shake my head at what reasonably intelligent people come up with sometimes, but I could not persuade Steve to take a picture. I trust that you'll believe me.
The bathrooms...there is nothing like using a public restroom at the beach. The need for shoes, the agonizing decision to take the bathing suit down or attempt to just pull it aside, the toilet paper sticking to wet everything...
There were also many, many people who looked worse in a bathing suit than I did. I apologize that something like that should make me happy, but in all honesty, I quit even sucking it in at one point.
Even if we're all not your typical model-esque specimens, man, we have STYLE, even more conspicuous on the beach. We could always find our party by Julia's hat and pearls or Steve's Cabana Suit. The yard of oilcloth I bought from Winkel was the perfect beach mat, picnic cloth, table cloth...I used it all weekend.
We came back for dinner. And, if, at this point, you are still reading this through your green lenses of jealousy and think that perhaps you might have had a meal that was maybe really good, think again. Your dinner on Saturday was like a pallid, under-ripe, flavourless and seedy, mushy, and thin-skinned tomato on top of a wilted and brown iceberg lettuce salad, garnished only with three strands of bitter unpeeled carrot and a lone, thin and small ring of plain white onion - and the hungover waitress forgot to bring you your plastic cup of bottled ranch dressing.
We'd all brought an assortment of groceries, and put our heads together to decide how best to combine them into a meal. The result? An awesome bean salad.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #765.3: There shall be beans served, at one, and possibly every meal. (I would really like to see a thermal imaging map of the area we were all in from this past weekend. 11 people X 6 or 7 meals with beans = thank goodness we are all really comforable um...relaxing around each other)
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #430: A good guest will bring a few rolls of toilet paper. A better guest will leave their toddler's Kandoo wipes for everyone to use.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #3: If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down.
Also, there was an incredible tomato and avocado salad. Some stunning chicken and steak kebabs. A lovely loaf of herbed bread, torn apart in hunks for swabbing the juices. A phenomenal dish of roasted vegetables, mixed in with spaghetti carbonara.
Oh, I would stop it, I would, if I didn't also have this pie to show you:
Julia made a delectable Blueberry pie, entirely from scratch, and as a pie-baker myself, I will tell you that this pie made my pies look like Phyllis Diller to her Candace Bergen. If you thought you heard angels singing and a beam of light in the area of Lake Huron, you did. It was as if a trio of fairy godmothers came down and wished for her pie to have a flaky sweet crust, that the blueberries should have the perfect combination of sweetness and spice, and that the whole thing would hold its shape and look beautiful, served with French Vanilla ice cream, as we had it on the small platform down by the water. Where, I must tell you, the stars twinkled just for us. One of the dippers was right there, so close I could use it to hold all of the simmering enjoyment of such a magical weekend that flooded my heart.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #381: If you can't see more stars than you've ever seen in your life, your cottage is in the wrong place. Find a better one.
And then it was time for the bonfire. Because, as we know, people who have imbibed a few alcoholic beverages and are full of good food need then to laze around a fire, warming themselves and getting all giggly.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #683: There must be a fire at some point, and nobody shall leave it alone. It must always be poked at, or things added to it, and at some point, each person shall zone out, staring at the flames or watching the embers rise and dance in the sky.
And what do people do in between? Why, discuss an assortment of matters. Such as, well, as we did throughout the weekend, polling everyone as to the type of bellybutton they've got (the folks at the cottage were all playing for Team Innie, for the record). Balance rocks (fun to find in the morning!)
Sing endless versions of "The Name Game", but using the names of dictators, members of Bush's cabinet, various Stooges and Marx brothers and Simpsons characters.
We wrote Haiku:
Embers in the sky
sneakers melting on my feet
beer and flames don't mix.
And fireworks. Spend at least as much on fireworks as you do on groceries, there's one bit of advice. And if you have Roman Candles, aim them over the water for even more beauty, and have everyone fall silent as the toddler counts the ten balls of sparks excitedly. And have everyone giggle like mad when one guy counts them off like Ronnie Hawkins naming members of the band. Remembering the sound of Ted bellowing "LEVON!" is something that just made me smile. I understand if you don't, because you weren't there, because you were having a weekend that wasn't as good as mine and you are just jealous.
Well, if you're still reading this, your green fingers scrolling down and your green tongue hanging out, green strings of saliva dribbling out the corners of your green lips, I'm going to just spare myself the typing and show you the rest in snippets, because I know that you are saturated with green to the soles of your feet at this point. You can imagine the other great meals we had, the pairings and groupings and conversations, the chances for solitude and togetherness, those who slept and those who talked into the wee hours...all of it magical.
D hiding out in front of the perfectly cottagey fireplace during the fireworks.
Josie's rat family had their own fire pit. There were countless games of "What's Your Name?"
There was a really cute puppy. I don't think you understand how cute.
We spent a good amount of time just throwing rocks into the water.
Steve and Josie watched this beautiful sunset together, standing apart from everyone and having a beautiful father and daughter moment.
Afterward, we realized that she was pinching a loaf in her new big-girl underwear. That was why she was so quiet.
Marshmallows must be roasted, and some people work out personal issues with their choice of roasting sticks.
But as our friend pointed out, he did not burn his fingers like others of us did.
There were so many ladybugs, everywhere. Those are nice bugs.
When Josie found rocks and shells she liked, she had to put them in her pocket, lifting up her shirt and showing her beautiful little toddler belly every time.
AWWWWWW! THE CUTENESS! YOU JUST GOT THREE SHADES GREENER, I SAW IT!
Everyone had a turn in the hammock.
Some time was spent constructing a parachute from a plastic grocery bag and twine, to send Mommy Rat down from the deck, to the delight of a little boy and to my charm at the amount of attention my dear Steve gave to it all.
It is wonderful that so many talented people were there, as music and laughter abounded.
At a cottage, multi-tasking means being able to drink your beer and pump your air mattress. That's as it should be.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #73: Most activities should be able to allow for a beer in hand, or at least nearby.
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #61: Feet shall be clean, but sandy. Otherwise, how will your sheets get properly gritty?
It as much fun for the adults to make Lord of the Flies jokes as it was for the young boy to make the fish spine tied to the spent firecracker with seaweed thingy and hang it on a pole.
It's nice when people bring their old cars for cruises along the roads that run around the lake. It's kind of not nice to be the person who has to take the '96 Cavalier with the child seat while everyone else gets to ride in or on the fun stuff. But hey - that's only the equivalent of dropping my spoon on the floor while eating my fantastic ice cream. A wee hitch, that's all.
And then, half the team headed out. Reality must be returned to, after all.
Left behind were the empties:
BY-LAW OF COTTAGES #43: The deposit returned on the empties from a cottage weekend shall be enough to cover a minor utility bill.
We headed to Sauble Beach one more time in order to tire Josie out, as we knew that her sleeping on the car ride home would make the trip exponentially more pleasant. On the way down, the refrain of "Josie, please talk in a LOUD CLEAR VOICE, because it's hard to hear you with the windows open and traffic noises!" became tiresome for all of us.
But it seems, enough is enough. The day was windier, the sand was wetter, the waves harsher. It was time to head home. It wasn't as much fun as before. The weekend was petering out.
One more goodbye to the ladybugs and rocks on the beach by the cottage. The nervous check around to see if we left anything.
Then a ride home through the side roads, passing Mennonites in buggies and driving through towns with one main street, and then down Yonge Street toward home, the city in sight before too long. Its shadows and height were a dense and gloomy prospect in exchange for that open sky and the aquamarine blue of Lake Huron.
If you are still reading this, your green eyelashes closing to dream of such a wondrous weekend for yourself. I will give you this, to lighten your hue from a deep and bluish emerald green to a paler, perhaps more chartreuse green.
I am, as I write this, feeding the toddler her second ice cream cone. She is naked and the chips from the mint chip ice cream are melting, leaving her flecked and smeared from shoulders to knees. She has shoes on though, because I put them on her so she doesn't slip on what she spilled rather than wipe up the melted drops of what she didn't get in her hair. There are poopies in her potty that I don't want to get up and dump and clean right now. And can I say how cute it is that when we call Steve to tell him that she made those poopies on the potty, that she holds the phone up to it to "show him"? There are still a few bags to be unpacked, and uneaten non-perishable groceries to put away. In my strainer are some rocks and shells, held hostage from the beach. They are no longer warm and sparkly. On my porch are three pieces of driftwood, no longer silver and curiously formed, and I wonder now why I was so compelled to rescue them from the bonfire. What was I seeing then in what are now merely grayish, lumpen and ghostly things I have to put somewhere?
I have showered and washed my hair. It's no longer clumped and sandy from the lake water, and there is no grit in and behind my ears. My feet have been imprisoned in dry black converse - no wet canvas slip-ons to leave on a railing to dry today while I pad around barefoot. My toenail polish, chipped by the pebbles on the beach as I dug my toes in is now merely tacky, not beachy. I shaved with the expensive and luxurious razor, rather than scraping away with the disposable. I have fresh contact lenses in, and see the house needs cleaning and that the daddy long legs spiders here are not friendly cottage creatures but a reminder that I'm lax about cleaning behind the chair in the corner of the dining area. The contact lenses that felt like they were either curled from the heat during bonfire gazing and embedded with grains of sand and wrinkled from squinting in the sun are gone, and I miss them for all their discomfort. My slight sunburn, which made my shoulder blades feel all warm and glowy all weekend now just feels irritated by my bra straps. The weekend is ebbing away, and soon this one will seem far away and it'll be next year's annual cottage beach bash that will feel close.
I'm calling it Vacation Relaxation Evaporation. I'm sure there's a rate at which one can calculate how long it takes for the relaxation and enjoyment of a great vacation to disappear upon the arrival home, but I'm too depressed to do it right now.
I can say, however, that the bliss begins wafting away the moment you have to run downstairs for the Oxi-clean because the cat peed on the couch when you got back home.