20 years from Ontario

Two decades ago today, I did something immensely stupid: I left home. Literally and figuratively. Twenty years ago, I was still sleeping in my room on Gatestone Avenue in Oakville. While I had lived on my own at university, and while I was on my co-op work terms in Ottawa, staying at home was … comfortable. And as my parents didn’t object, it seemed like a good idea. Literally leaving home wasn’t the problem — I’d already done it a dozen times.
Figuratively leaving home — notably the familiarity of the Greater Toronto area, but Ontario in general — was another matter. I’d not really lived abroad, where going to my parents’ house was something I did in an afternoon. I decided to throw myself into the world without any plan whatsoever.
Twenty years on, it was the smartest move I ever made.
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Things I have missed about summer in Ontario

I’m currently in Ontario, taking the opportunity to visit with my family. It’s always a strange feeling to come back here: it’s where I was born and grew up, but I’ve been gone for over 15 years. A lot has changed. You really can’t go home again.
That’s not to say that I entirely like or dislike the way things currently are. I’m a bit indifferent, I guess. This is now some place for me to go to, to visit, but not where I feel particularly rooted. That’s what change does to you, I suppose.
That said, there are some things that I do miss.

In Hazy Burlington

Our last day in Calgary — yesterday — was filled mostly by me repacking all of our bags so we could fly out, and then the actual travel here to Burlington, Ontario. We’re here to visit with family (today is Alex’s family reunion) before we leave for Costa Rica.
Or face the long-distance wrath of scorned relations…
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Getting my Birth Certificate shouldn't be this hard

One part of moving to any other country is the act of applying for a work visa. It’s pretty much a requirement where treaties (e.g. the European Union) aren’t there to ease the situation. A necessary evil, if you will. Because in most cases, the process is not really well documented and you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what you need.
And believe me, we are far from actually getting this one sorted out. Jason’s been a massive force in getting us some iota closer to having it done, but the reality is that we’re going to be flying by the seats of our pants until documentation is actually done.
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A Middle Ontario wedding

My friend Kathryn got married this weekend. A truly wonderful event that forced my hand to leave the comfort of my familiar Cowtown (and miss the opening of the Calgary Stampede) to visit rural Ontario and experience the joyous event.
I gotta say, probably the most relaxful weekend I’ve had in … well, a really long time.
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Day of Visitation

Alex slept better in a king-size hotel bed. Not so much for myself. I was tired. Grumpy. Irritable.
That’s why I was particularly annoyed with the complete and utter disappearance of my deodorant (which I know I had with me) and two T-shirts. They’ve totally disappeared. I have no idea what the heck has happened to them.
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In Merry Old London (Ontario)

We arrived last night, around 20:00 local time. A quick run through the airport, and we were tracking through the back country out to Janice’s place in Kintore.
The house was cool (old farm houses tend to lack a lot of insulation or it mostly needs to be replaced) so Alex was a little chilly most of the time. We watched Bon Cop Bad Cop until around midnight or so (22:00 our time) before we were tired enough to go to sleep. I’d picked it up during what will be my last bout of Boxing Day sales. They’re hardly sales, since most of the prices (for the things I wanted) were still steep.
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Meeting my niece for the first time

I spent most of last week in Critical Mass’ Toronto office. I was there primarily to support our technical team, which hasn’t had the level of support from me that it’s been needing. So I went out to try and reestablish my presence other than “that guy in Calgary”.
The trip was successful, though I have yet to type up all my findings. That’s going to take a bit longer, as I’m sure to be put on the spot for a variety of must-do activities for this week. C’est la vie, though.
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Christmas in Oakville with Chris and Kaz, New Years with Alex

I had hoped to go some place warm for the Christmas holidays this year. I wanted to put Christmas lights on a palm tree. I wanted to make sandmen. I wanted nothing more to worry about than getting a sunburn on Boxing day.
So naturally, I ended up arriving at Pearson International Airport at 6:30 on the morning of 23 December, catching the end of a nasty two-day snowstorm. There’s poetic justice in this, somewhere.
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Flying home to Calgary

I woke earlier than usual — about 8:45 or so. Craig was still up, but not nearly as tired as when he’d scared the bejezesus out of me.
Turning down his offer of a beer (for Craig, this was still the end of the day), I got a glass of orange juice. Craig and I took the opportunity to have a chat about his career. I guess I forced the issue. I’m worried about him. I don’t know Craig as well as perhaps I could — he’d family, but aside from a few visits, I don’t know him even remotely as well as I should for a brother-in-law. For what I do know, though, Craig works too hard. I know the desire, though. I know what drives him, what pushes him forward. I had that drive once. It’s died off in recent months, mostly due to recognition of my own faults.
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Friends from university

Pretty much keep with the trend, I woke late again. When I walked out of the bedroom, though, I found the door to Craig and Cathy’s bedroom open. Given the time of the morning, I assumed Craig would be asleep. I peered in to see if perhaps he had simply not closed the door.
“Good morning, Geoff…” a voice from behind said. I damn near had a heart attack.
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Computer repairs and financial advisors

I woke late again. I could get used to this.
Mom came to pick me up after getting myself all cleaned up. We went down to her place, where I took the time to try and bring her computer up to snuff again. It seems that every time I’m out, I need to do something to her computer. Sometimes it’s something simple. Other times, I spend a couple of days trying to get it to cooperate with me. Such was the case this day.
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VIA Train from Montreal to Toronto

Morning came early. (When your hosts have to get up early to go to work, you get up early, too.)
The plan was simple: on their way to work, Therese and Stuart would drop me off at Central Station where, like when I arrived in Montreal, I would proceed to kill a couple of hours before my train boarded (around 11:00).
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I want to go home

I’ve been on the road far too long.
Last night was Thanksgiving dinner up at the cottage. Good food, family, friend (there was only one), and good times. Even better sleep, in my old bed (since co-opted for use in the loft).
Mom and Cathy drove me down to the airport. We made a side trip to see a rather uninteresting antique dealer in Gravenhurst. Aside from that and a couple of bathroom breaks, we made Pearson in a fairly good time.
We grabbed a late lunch at Swiss Chalet. I checked my luggage after eating, and we switched to the bar.
Even though I was at the airport, boarding pass to Calgary in hand, I didn’t really feel like I was going anywhere. I was in a bar with my family, as I’ve been (a few too) many times this year.
Mom and Cathy were soon off for Oakville, leaving me to wait for my flight. (We left early to beat the returning weekend traffic. We left perhaps a little too early.)
I waited at gate B20 for about an hour, reading Wired. Nothing out of the ordinary (at least for me, lately). Even when WestJet staff started yelling for passengers (the microphone to the PA system wasn’t working), there was no rush. For me, it’s all routine.
I think I’ve actually travelled too much this year.
But as I boarded the plane and took my seat, a feeling of reserved relief crept upon me. I’m going home. My month and a half abroad is ending in a few short hours. Tonight I will sleep in my own bed in my own home. I will see my cats. (Tomorrow, I’ll have to go back to my job — hey, it can’t all be roses.)
I’m tired. Take me home. Please.

Halifax to Huntsville

I hate alarms. Especially when they go off while you’ve still got an hour of darkness left of the night. I had an early flight to Toronto, though, and wasn’t keen on missing it.
I had packed the night before, so all I had to do was shave, shower, dress, and throw all my bags in the trunk of my rented car. Checking out was trivial, just the way I like it. Then it was off to the airport.
Now here’s where either my unbelievably good sense of direction, or my unbelievable stupidity, shows through. Most normal people would ask where the airport is and how to get there. Not me. I decided I could find it based on the solitary sign I’d seen on the Highway 102/103 interchange yesterday. Oh, I should mention that it was still dark when I entered the highway, and the radio was calling for dense patches of fog … about 10 seconds before I ran into one myself.
So I drove north. I wasn’t sure if I was even going to the correct airport. (I didn’t know how many airports were in the Halifax area.) For a short time, I considered turning off to get directions. But something kept me going. I found my way to the airport, though. The correct one, at that!
One of these days, this behaviour is going to get me into trouble. Big trouble.
Checking in was fast, as was picking up the seafood feast I was bringing back to Ontario. Five lobster, two pounds of mussels, and a pound of scallops. And so help me, none of it cooked in butter. (Not counting sautéing the onions and garlic for the white wine sauce.) The box the seafood came in, however, needed to be taken on the plane. Along with my two carry-on bags. This was over my limit, and a bit of worry. Luckily, the plane was only about three-quarters full. The staff didn’t stop me.
Toronto came quickly, and I was soon waiting in the baggage claim with my three carry-ons. My duffle bag was the first bag off. My knapsack was significantly later. As I exited baggage claim, my mother came in the main doors. Five minutes later mom, Cathy, and I were on our way north.
I was goaded into coming back to Ontario for Thanksgiving. I wanted to go home to Calgary. I’ve been away for a month and a half, and I want adjustment time. But somewhere in the back of my mind, staying for a couple of days in Huntsville seemed like a good idea. I gave into pressure and decided to come in. However, I’ll probably only see the airport, the highway, and the cottage. I doubt I’ll see anything else, or anyone else.
The ride north was uneventful, save for the Teeming Thousands who were similarly heading north. The traffic, according to Cathy, wasn’t too bad though. On long weekends during the summer, you simply just don’t go up on Saturday’s. It’s just shy of declaring insanity. When we hit the Highway 69/Highway 11 split, the traffic lightened. The rest of the trip wasn’t so bad.
At Orillia, I convinced Cathy that we needed to stop for lunch. I hadn’t eaten a thing since leaving Halifax, and it was now 3:00pm according to my stomach. This meant, of course, a stop at Weber’s — an institution in this part of Ontario. Virtually everyone who’s driven this stretch of highway more than once has eaten at Weber’s. And for good reason: it’s fast, fresh, and good.
We were in Huntsville about an hour later. After a quick stop for beer (I’m a picky drinker), we made the long trek out to the cottage. It’s a bit of a hike — a lot longer than I remembered from my last journey out here (see [[Visit to Ontario, Cottage in Huntsville, Thanksgiving Dinner, Algonquin Park]]). But the cottage was as I remembered it. The outside, anyway. Cathy and Craig (mostly Craig) have put in a huge amount of renovation. It’s not done yet, but one day it’s going to be the smartest-looking small cabin on Lake Vernon.
Craig was already there, having been doing yard work for most of the day. Bear and Kylie (both dogs) raced out of the woods to greet us. Within minutes of being inside, I started to feel a little more relaxed. I still wanted to go home to Calgary, though. I guess all this travel has just left me feeling a little tired.
The renovations were awesome. The kitchen was totally different, the floor all tiled, and the bathroom looked almost totally new. (Well,it practically is.) Still, some work was still needed, including the walls of the living room and dining room, and the downstairs. But one thing at a time.
Dave arrived not long after, Chuckie (Dave’s dog) in tow. Anne and Rebecca arrived not long after. We chatted and made fun of each other until it was time to get cooking. Which was when the lobster pot finally got to a boil — after being on the burners for about three hours.
Lobsters: about 10 minutes. Mussels: about 7 minutes. Scallops: about two minutes. Time to eat it all: about an hour and a half. But worth it, if for no other reason than it cleared out the memory of the scallops I had in Lunenburg. We had no room for dessert.
The fun continued after dinner as we resumed making fun of each other. I didn’t participate as much, being quite tired from everything (and the alcohol not helping much). It was a good time, but I didn’t really feel all that relaxed. I still wanted to go home. Maybe tomorrow, I won’t feel so uptight.

Cathy and Craig's Wedding

Somewhere, in a long-forgotten book in some dusty corner of a decrepit building in a burned out city, there is a sentence that says vacations are supposed to be restful. And someone is going to a lot of trouble to make sure I can’t find that sentence.
Last week, starting very early on 3 August, I flew to Ontario. As luck would have it, I was on the same red-eye flight with my cousin Pam and her beau, Sean. Normally, this would be reason for celebration, but flying red-eye basically means you sleep the whole way. And believe me, sleeping is far easier with leather seats.
Yes, leather. I don’t know what’s gotten into WestJet, but at least one of their planes has leather seats. Not just one. Not just a few. All of the seats. The only downer: The ones backing onto the emergency exit rows don’t recline. (I found out the hard way.)
You’re probably wondering what I was doing on a red-eye flight given my dislike for them (see [[Christmas with my Family in Oakville, Cathy Gets Engaged]]), but it came down to an issue of price. Red-eyes are cheap. And with leather seats, I might be doing more red-eyes in the future.
This was the first time I flew into Pearson on WestJet, and I reminded myself yet again why I hate that airport. It’s too slow. Cathy was circling for over 20 minutes before hearing from me. I told her to park — I was going to be a while longer.
Bags in hand, Cathy and I headed to Oakville. Pam and Sean disappeared to Stratford. We wouldn’t see them again until the following Friday. Arriving home, my mother welcomed me at the door, and I made a beeline for the bed.
Leather seats or not, I didn’t get enough sleep.
The Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were filled with various wedding-related tasks, not the least of which was picking things up, dropping things off, and getting things organized. (Yeah, real vague, I know, but I’d be writing an entire log entry just on that stuff alone.)
Oh, whose wedding, you ask? I’ll give you a hint: Not mine.
After a long wait, my sister’s beau, Craig, finally proposed to her on Christmas morning (see [[Christmas with my Family in Oakville, Cathy Gets Engaged]]), making not only Cathy very happy, but the rest of my family as well. And after almost eight long months of waiting, it was time for the happy day to arrive.
I had originally come out to Ontario a week in advance to help out with all the little last-minute details that I expected would crop up. But unbeknownst to me, events would transpire that would change the course of my week.
Details on that in a following log, of course.
Suffice to say, come Tuesday, I was no longer in Oakville. Instead, I spent a lot of time at the CBC head office on Front Street (see [[Working at CBC Headquarters in Toronto]]), working for my friend Brenda. That sucked up pretty much every spare second I had for four days, although I did manage to leave at a somewhat “respectable” hour on Thursday to return home for dinner (the family invasion formally began that evening) and early on Friday (for obvious reasons).
But even on Saturday morning, we didn’t get a chance to slow down. It was go-go-go from the moment my alarm went off at 8:00am. The first task for me was to get Craig and Dave (Craig’s best man) over to the barber so we could get our haircut. (Mine was looking something like a floor mop.)
Craig and Dave were the first ones up, disposing of their excess locks. Completed, they disappeared off to Craig and Cathy’s house to await orders. My turn. So in addition to looking respectable again (yeah, tough as that might sound), I also had a shave. A real one. With a straight razor. Luckily, Sandy is one of the best barbers in Ontario; certainly the best I’ve ever had. I had complete faith in him not to slice something off.
I should point out that I’ve never had a shave with anything but an electric razor. So my skin is quite sensitive. Sandy had to shave me twice to prevent slicing me open. But he did a good job — even by 11pm, I hadn’t grown much of a beard back, and I grow fast.
Following the shave was some chores around the house — mostly moving things. (Aunt Ruth was madly preparing flowers, which needed placing; Aunt Karen brought a light trellis that needed assembling; and flowers all over the place needed watering.) And somewhere in all that, I ran to the grocery store to stock up on almost $80 in Clamato and orange juice.
After a quick bolt through the shower, I rode over to pick up Craig and Dave. They were dressed in their finest, ready for the show. I piled them into the minivan, and hauled them back to the Sowrey homestead. People had started to arrive, though it was mostly family. But you could hear the Great Engine beginning to turn over…
Inside, people were officially going crazy. Mom was getting dressed, Cathy was talking with everyone, the caterers were running around … I almost felt like I was in a Keystone Cops short. But it was time for myself to get dressed. Unlike Craig and Dave, though, I would not be wearing a tux. Cathy had made one request: Wear Dad’s kilt.
When Dad had been diagnosed with brain cancer, he had been told he had a year to live. All he wanted to know was if he would live to see his daughter’s wedding. When he passed away in March, there was a hole that needed filling.
Instead of Dad, it would be I who would walk Cathy down the aisle. And she was only walking down it if there was someone next to her wearing Dad’s kilt. Luckily for me, it fit, albeit a little tight and very warm in that mid-August heat.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I did not wear it regimental style. (That means sans undergarments.) Why? Well, originally I was, but then I remembered all the troublemakers C&C had invited to the party, and suddenly I wasn’t really filled with a great deal of confidence about their abilities to remain mature. (I was right, too. Cathy’s boss shoved one of the disposable cameras under my kilt while we were engaged in group photos.)
The minister arrived and gave the “pep” talks with Craig and Cathy (independently — Cathy forbade Craig to see her prior to the ceremony). There was no practice ceremony — C&C (as we in the family refer to them) like flying by the seat of their pants.
After running around for about 20 minutes, Cathy finally pronounced she was ready. The minister pronounced he was ready. (I don’t think Craig had a choice.) It was time. The music was cued, and Cathy went out the front door.
The guests waited in the backyard. Cathy, Julie, and I walked to the side. Julie took a deep breath, and then walked through the gate to the snapping of shutters. We’d been told to give Julie lots of room before coming in. Dramatic pause, dawdling, psychological torture, call it what you will. Right up until we started walking in, arm in arm, Cathy had been cool and collected. The second we rounded that corner, she couldn’t stop shaking.
I felt a little guilty. This was Cathy’s big day, and I was sharing the limelight with her. At first, I was just walking my sister. But after a few moments, it suddenly became real. Like someone had wiped the fog from the bathroom mirror. To say the feeling was overwhelming is like suggesting a hurricane is a light breeze. It took everything I had not to cry.
Once Cathy was next to Craig, the ceremony started to take shape, and things went quickly. True to their word, it lasted only 20 minutes before the legalities were over, and the new Mr. and Mrs. were presented to the assembly. Many pictures ensued.
After they ceremoniously walked out as husband and wife (returning after a few photos on the front lawn), came the toast to the couple. Huntsville Dave would be the speaker, a neighbour of C&C at their cottage. He, like the rest of the ceremony, spoke without a script, and without a clue about what he was going to say before it was said.
(A note on Daves. C&C seem to know a lot of them. Too many, as a matter of fact. So many, that they all have qualifiers, usually denoting where they live: Huntsville, Scarborough, Ainsville, Oakville, and so forth.)
As the speech finished, I quickly ducked inside to take off the jacket to the kilt. Although I would later learn that it is customary to keep your jacket on until the groom removes his, I was wearing something designed for winter conditions. With all due deference to my new brother-in-law, I was dying in that thing.
Shortly after, we gathered the families, and went for the photographs. Cameras were everywhere. We were lucky that it was bright enough that most didn’t use flashes. I can only imagine the bright spots I would have seen.
While this was going on, the catering staff had opened the bar, and people not taking pictures (or being in them) had started to mingle. Hors d’oeurves were shortly followed, and quickly eaten. There was laughter, music, food, and drink. No-one, as far as I can tell, had a bad time.
The finger foods soon gave way to more “formal” foods: seafood (raw oysters, lox, shrimp), sushi, and roast beef on a bun. Yeah, doesn’t sound too fancy, but then the food should fit the couple. (I’m not saying C&C aren’t fancy, but they’re not pretentious.) And for the record, I’ve never had buffet-style roast beef that good before.
After a while, the speeches started. Cathy had hit upon the idea of using an old family gong to get people’s attention when words were to be said, and people to expect a kiss from the bride and groom. The first few were tame (even with a rather emotional speech from Cathy’s boss), but they got more interesting as the evening wore on.
The one that really surprised us was Julie’s husband, Dave. He’s a great guy, just not usually talkative. We were floored when he got up in front of 90-odd people to extol the virtues of his friends. (We were even more floored with his impassioned interpretation of the Village People’s “YMCA” later on.)
And somewhere in there, was my speech. But this wasn’t to C&C, it was on behalf of the family to everyone else. It was thanks for the effort and trouble people had to go through to come, some from as far as Anguilla and Vancouver. (Even Gerry and Sam dropped in for a while, who live in Bermuda. Although they were in the area for other reasons.) When it came time to end my speech, I needed a something interesting, funny, and appropriate. So naturally, I drew a blank.
I think that’s when Dad stepped in. Before I knew it, this is what I’d said:
“And if you should find that something is missing here tonight, please do not hesitate to let us know. We’ll make sure that you get so drunk that you won’t remember.”
Dad had definitely made it to the wedding.
It wasn’t long before it was time for the first dance. Craig used to teach dance at Arthur Murray, so we all expected quite a show. Unfortunately, he hadn’t had a chance to teach Cathy yet. But it was still something out of a fairy tale to watch.
Following the dance, it was time to dance with the parents. I was to fill in for Dad. However, we had a slight change in plans, when Don stepped instead. Don is virtually a surrogate father for Cathy and I — we’ve known him that long. I think Cathy was a little concerned that I felt pushed out in favour of Don, but I think there was no better person for the job.
Besides, I can’t dance.
Admittedly, the rest of the evening gets a little hazy from there. About 11:00 or so, I made the mistake of switching from beer to wine, although I don’t know why. So come about 2:00am, I was apparently incapable of independent vertical alignment, nor could annunciate baby gibberish, let alone a coherent sentence. And I would pay dearly for it the next morning.
Which began at about 10:00am. We had to get ready for the lunch with family, as many of them would be taking off for home again. This also gave C&C time to unwrap the presents they received the night before.
The barbecue billowed smoke from all the hamburgers, the pot boiled corn, and we ate to our hearts’ content. It was a good day, following a great night. And the hilarity around the presents made it even better.
The single best one, in my opinion, was from the Navis family, an old family friend. They gave C&C a poem, on which was a series of instructions on how to build a fence. Each step corresponded to a numbered envelope, which contained a series of gift certificates representative of that step (e.g. coffee, wood, beer, and dinner). And to top it off, his and her hammers and pint beer mugs.
That night, we sat in the back yard, and listened to the crickets, the wind through the trees, and the complete lack of any semblance of traffic or other noises. As Don, another old family friend remarked, it was the end of an era. His era was the end of comfortable backyards. Mine was different. It was the end of the neighbourhood as I knew it. It would be the last night for me next to the pool. The last meal was Chinese. The last swim had been with my cousin, Jen. It would be the last night I slept in the house that I was raised in.
But no amount of sombreness would diminish the happiness of the previous days’ events. The wedding had been more than Cathy could have dreamed for. She and Craig were now readying for a week at their cottage to spend some much needed time relaxing. We would all be happy with the way things went, and with the way things would go.
Even with the killer hangover that I think I’ve still got.