Epic Road Trip 2017

Epic Road Trip 2017

Monday evening we wearily rolled into our yard for the first time in a month. It was early morning July 7 when we piled into our SUV and started out on our cross country road trip covering 5 Canadian Provinces and 15 US States.

What wonderful experiences and memories we made. Spending so much time in tight quarters during the long drives, staying in hotel rooms, and a small AirBnB, I was afraid there would be fighting and us getting tired of each other. Thankfully it was the opposite, I believe we are closer as a family now. On the last night of our trip we stopped at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire for an evening walk on our favourite beach and gave some serious consideration to spontaneously extending our trip.

This type of trip just wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Jen and I both working for Automattic. While we did each take two weeks off of work throughout the month, that left two weeks while we worked from the road.

Originally we were only going to have a three week trip out to Alberta to visit my sister, her husband, and my new nephew. When Jen, Caile, and Ella, received tickets to the NKOTB concert in Boston the weekend before we were going to leave, and with Jen starting the new job, we changed plans and booked an extra week at an AirBnB in Philadelphia. During this week Jen and I both got up extra early and worked, then spent the afternoons exploring the area with the kids, to come home and do a bit more work at night.

Jen took the next week off and did all the driving so I could work from the passengers seat while we made our way our Alberta. Jen then did the same type of schedule from my sisters house working early and late, and I started two weeks vacation. For the first time since I started at Automattic I removed my email and slack from my phone and completely disconnected from work, I didn’t even blog about the adventures as we went.

Thought I’d take the time now to highlight some of the fun adventures we had, I also kept a map showing the rough path we took and some of the main places we visited.

Hampton Beach, NH

We both started and finished our trip at this amazing beach. On day 2 we spent the early afternoon there and on our way home on day 31 we went for an evening walk before coming home.

NKOTB Concert – Fenway Park, Boston

Jen, Caile and Ella went on the night of day 2 to Fenway park and in the rain watched Boyz II Men, Paula Abdul, and the New Kids On The Block.

The Liberty Bell – Philadelphia, PA

On day 4 we explored some of the downtown Philadelphia area. We went through Spruce Street Harbor Park, walked up to the Liberty Bell, and then took the kids to The Franklin Institute.

The Jersey Shore

Jen found us an amazing beach at Strathmere, it was huge, beautiful, free, and not busy at all. We spent hours there and ate a picnic on the beach. We then on our way home I surprised Jen by mapping her to Atlantic City where we could walk the board walk and explore.

Fairmount Park – Philadelphia, PA

We spent a few days visiting the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Legoland Philadelphia, and the Academy of Natural Science.

Then on day 9 we explored Fairmount Park. We started out by going to to a community pool but it was crowded and the water was pretty cold. Instead we found Wheel Fun Rentals and rented a bike which fit us all and peddled around the park that way some.

Letchworth State Park, NY

As we started our driving again we stopped at the amazing Letchworth State at the advice of my friend and co-worker Chrissie! We met up with her, her husband, her mother in law, and our other co-worker Sam for some visit and a pizza lunch picnic. I’d never heard of the park before but it’s called the Grand Canyon of the East. It had some amazing views and beautiful water falls.

Niagara Falls, ON

Before we headed to our hotel for the night we stopped to check out Niagara Falls. We had been here when the kids were little but before Noah was born. It was like a water falls day for us, first at Letchworth then these powerful falls.

Marineland – Niagara Falls, ON

We met up with Tiffany and her family, and our friends from New Brunswick on day 11 to go to Marineland! Our plan was to explore the sea life, but the kids ended up having the most fun on all the rides.

African Lion Safari – Cambridge, ON

One of our favourite things last time we were in this area was the African Lion Safari. So on day 12 we got together with Tiffany and her family again and took everyone here. Driving through so close to these animals is really neat. Monkeys climb all over cars, giraffes cross the road right in front of you, rhinos graze on the grass right beside you. This was one of the main highlights of the whole trip.

Air Zoo Aerospace Museum – Portage, MI

Day 13 was a mainly driving day but we stopped to break at the Air Zoo Aerospace Museum. We didn’t get to spend much time here but there were many different old aircraft on display and lots of interactive exhibits to explore. Caile and Ella took a ride in a flight simulator and ended upside down for most of their flight 🙂

Mall of America – Minneapolis, MN

What vacation wouldn’t be complete without some shopping. This I could have passed on but we did get to play some mini golf and had a good time doing that.

Worlds Largest Buffalo – Jamestown, ND

A quick stop on our driving day. I get a kick out of these Worlds Largest type roadside attractions. All I can picture is a town council meeting with a bunch of people sitting around. “What can we do to bring people to our town? I know”, one would exclaim, “let’s build the Worlds Largest Buffalo!”

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Sikome Lake – Calgary, AB

On our first full day with my sister Melissa and her family we headed to the lake in a part near their home. It was a warm day and was nice to get to spend some time in the water and just hang out with everyone.

Prince’s Island Park – Calgary, AB

By accident we ended up finding this park right downtown Calgary. We were going to head into the mountains this day but we ran behind and saw there was bad traffic on our way there which wouldn’t give us much time so we changed plans last minute looking for something to do closer. We made our way here and also walked around downtown for a bit to find a bit of an ice cream treat.

Telus Spark Science Center – Calgary, AB

On our way home we stopped in for a quick trip to this Science Center. It was close to closing time so we spent most of our time playing on a pretty impressive outdoor playground they had built.

Calgary Zoo – Calgary, AB

With Melissa and my nephew we spent the day at the zoo. So many cool animals to see. Zoo’s are one of our kids favourite things and counting the African Lion Safari this was our second of three zoos on the trip. The gorillas and penguins ended up being most everyones top pick from here.

Rotary Park – Whitecourt, AB

For day 20 and 21 we drove up north so we could meet with Jen’s Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin, along with her family. My mother in law had been visiting her brother in British Columbia and they drove over here to meet us. We spent a couple days in this park visiting with them with the kids playing on the playground and splash pad. This was the end of my mother in laws trip so we brought her back to Calgary with us and got her to the airport for her flight home.

Heritage Park – Calgary, AB

I had never heard of this place before this trip and Melissa and her family had never been. We could have spent a lot more time here as there was lots to see. It is like an old town with shops, a train, a farm, and even carnival rides which the kids loved. Our next visit out here this will be on the list for sure.

Parks – Calgary, AB

The last couple days we took it pretty easy. We did explore a couple parks, one huge off leash dog park where we could let my fur nephew run and cool off in the river. The other is the same park which had Sikome Lake in it which we went to early on in our visit. But this time we sent it walking along the river.

Worlds Largest Booming Prairie Chicken – Rothsay MN

We had some long drive days making our way back east and didn’t take much in the way of breaks. I had found this place on the map on the way to Alberta but we missed the exit, so we decided to indulge me and on day 26 we stopped here for a quick break to stretch our legs.

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Chicago White Sox – Chicago, IL

Noah has badly wanted to see a baseball game for some time. I started looking for our time in Ontario to see if I could find a Blue Jays game we could attend there. Tickets were pretty expensive and nothing really worked time wise. I tried a few other cities we were in along the way as well. As luck would have it though the Blue Jays were playing the White Sox on our first day in Chicago and we were able to get there!

Navy Pier – Chicago, IL

On day 28 we went down to Navy Pier and started out our day with an Architectural River Boat Tour of the city. It was a really great way to see a bit of it and learn some of the history in a very relaxed way. Once we were done with the tour we went to get a different view from the Centennial Wheel. From almost 200 feet in the air you do get a pretty good view!

For dinner we tried some Chicago Style pizza, and this was certainly some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. It certainly beats NYC style pizza with no contest in my books.

Brookfield Zoo – Chicago, IL

One last zoo visit for our trip. It was a pretty chilly day and some of the family even wore jackets and sweaters for the first time since we left home. It was pretty nice though as the animals were fairly active. The kids also all decided to have caricatures of themselves drawn as a souvenir.

Huntington Beach – Bay Village, OH

Making our way back home we broke up our drive on day 30 by stopping at a beach just outside Cleveland. Unfortunately the water was off limits the day we were there, but we still had fun walking the beach and seeing the Cleveland skyline in the background.

This was an amazing trip and I only touched on some of the main things we did or places we saw. The only part that I wish I could maybe skip was the drive days through Saskatchewan and some of North Dakota. The running joke was about all the hay bales which were about the only things we could see.

Honestly the best part of it for me was getting to spend so much time without the everyday things getting in the way. There was no dance class, basketball practice, or any of the other things which breaks us up in a regular week. We spent time together. We spent time with family. We spent time with friends. We made many memories and so I just wanted to document some of it here to help job my memory if I ever start to forget.

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Old Man Music

Old Man Music

When we bought our new vehicle we received a free trial of satellite radio. During that time we’ve listened to a lot of pop music when driving around with the family. For the most part I don’t mind it and even find myself signing and humming the songs through the day, but I don’t choose the music.

There have been a few times that I try to put on music that I enjoy, things like The Tragically Hip or one of the 90’s alternative stations. Usually it comes with complaining and I switch it off or to something else.

Last night we went to Caile’s middle school band concert. They did a great job on songs like We Will Rock You and George of the Jungle. When the jazz band came on one of the songs they played was Proud Mary.

Ella, Noah, and I left at intermission as Caile was done and they had some late nights so wanted to get them to bed. I thought I’d share with them the CCR version of Proud Mary as it was the last song we listened to and I like it. Ella was having none of it. She started complaining right away, covering her ears, and trying to switch songs on my phone.

Eventually she told me the band’s version was much better and turned the volume down until we couldn’t hear the old mans music anymore. This from the kid who is going to a NKOTB, Paula Abdul, and Boyz II Men concert with Jen next month.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Feeling Bummed

My dancing daughters are heading out to their last dance competition of the season. Last one I missed as I was traveling with work so was really looking forward to our weekend away and getting to see them dance again.

Plans changed quickly this morning when Noah woke up really early not feeling well. We were going to push through though as we figured he was mostly tired from lack of sleep. After breakfast though he was sick all over so that confirmed it. We’re going to have a father – son weekend, though not a fun one. 

I realized that I never wrote about our last one a few weeks ago when we went to see the Globe-trotters. It was an awesome show and we were able to hang out for the whole day. 

At the end Noah was getting some autographs on his basketball and we caught a couple pictures. Ace was our last person to see and he was excited to have her sign his ball. He then turned around so I could take a picture and I could see his face change. She thought he wanted his shirt signed and signed the back in sharpie! He was not super pleased about it. He was scared we were going to be mad about it because writing on our clothing isn’t a normal thing for us 🙂 I convinced him that it was cool but it wasn’t until Jen told him it was cool that he was really at ease.

All out in the open

All out in the open

Yesterday our home moved into a new era. One where none of the kids believe in things like the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy. Just a couple weeks ago Jen and I had been talking saying that it likely wouldn’t be very much longer before Noah was questioning about these things.

As it turns out our 7 year old came down stairs yesterday morning and was talking with Jen. He said you know who comes tomorrow night, the Easter Bunny. He then followed up immediately with, but he isn’t real right Mom? He quickly moved on to other things though and Jen waited until I was around and started the conversation back up with him.

He wasn’t shocked and took it in stride, as if he had always known. “Yeah it didn’t make much sense, I mean the doors are all locked, how would a bunny get in here?” This is the same for Santa too right? It’s just you and Dad.” “Who eats the things we leave out for them?” Later on Jen told me he took a turn with his new discovery telling her that he wanted his teeth back and that he knew she had them.

When I questioned him back about it asking if Jen and I were really that nice to do all the things the Easter Bunny, Santa, and the Tooth Fairy do he very casually said yeah, and reiterated that nothing else really made sense. He’s our youngest kid to ask and that didn’t surprise me a whole lot. He likes to know how things work and there are quite few holes in the stories.

Basketball

Saturday morning has becoming basketball morning for Noah and I. This is his second year signed up in the beginning levels of our local basketball program. He’s always excited to go, and I’m excited to go with him. He’s always enjoyed being active and has been involved in soccer, basketball, and now karate as well. He tells me basketball is his favourite sport though. This came without any real pressure from me but it does make me happy. Growing up I was never involved with sports much. I watched lots of hockey on TV and was into baseball during the early 90’s when the Bluejays were doing really well, but only really played basketball.

Basketball seemed like an unlikely sport for me to play too as when I was growing up I was always the shortest in my class for a long time. Memories also go back to early elementary school where we first started learning basketball in gym class. At first it wasn’t fun because I was terrible. My coordination was way off and I couldn’t even dribble the ball without losing control. I can still recall the frustration of looking around and seeing so much of my class appearing to do so much better. With these things in mind I never ended up trying out for basketball teams or playing in any sort of organized way, but I still played.

At home I turned a section of our yard into my own personal basketball court. It ended up being essentially a piece of plywood with a basketball rim attached. This was somehow connected to a tree in our yard. The lawn in front of it quickly turned into a large dirt patch, or mud depending on the weather. There were tree roots sticking out which made it even harder to dribble than just the packed dirt. Air balls were never any fun as they could roll into the backyard, down the bank, and into the river that was behind our home. It was a race to chase after the ball and catch it before it made it that far.

Our neighbours I’m certain hated me. The sound of a basketball bouncing from early morning to late at night. The sound of it hitting the plywood backboard and shaking against the tree. Though I don’t recall any direct complaints from them, I do remember scoldings from my mother to not be out there so early.

Later on as a teenager I didn’t play much at home anymore. But being out with friends we would often head to the neighbourhood court and play three on three half court games. Not sure how I’m not injured as most of the time I’d play in flat deck shoes, if you can remember them. We would play for hours at a time. In high school when we moved away it didn’t take me a long time to find friends and get us all playing at a near by schools basketball court most of the summers. Looking back it helped me make more friends and kept me busy  so I didn’t get myself into more trouble than I did anyway. It gave me an outlet to let out some of my teenage anger and frustrations.

There was one winter where we didn’t want to stop playing. We ended up making arrangements where a small group of us rented the gym at the town hall one night a week. There were times we ended up getting large groups of people showing up to play with us.

When I first moved and after feeling fairly confident in my skills from playing so much I thought maybe I’d stand a chance to join the high school team. It was a new school, no one knew me, I could break out and be different than the person I was at my last school. First day of try outs I walked into the gym, I didn’t even get my new shoes which were purchased for just this reason. Watching everyone play and run through drills who had obviously been doing it for years showed how little I really knew. Even though I felt comfortable with my skills on the neighbourhood courts, this was a different level and I didn’t fit. I left before even lacing up or talking to anyone.

It excites me now watching Noah play. Having him enjoying it and building the skills and techniques now so that if he does decide to continue on he won’t have the same barrier to entry I did when I finally decided I would give it a try. Who knows maybe he’ll get bored of it in the next while and never want to join his high school or any other team. But he’s having fun now and I want to try to make it something we can do together.

Our yard makes it difficult to find a place to put a net, but if I could find away to have one in our yard when I was a kid, I’m sure I can figure something out now. I can already picture summer time out shooting and practicing together, or looking out my office window and seeing him out there shooting over and over again.

Last Day of Christmas Break

Today is the last day of Christmas break before the kids head back to school. We decided to head to the beach for a little walk. It was pretty windy and cold, but still very nice.

The last big wind storm we had changed the layout of the land. The bridge in one of the pictures below used to take you from the parking lot area onto the shore with a stream running underneath it. The stream doesn’t go under it anymore and you can just walk onto the shore.

Fundraising Advent Calendar

This year my daughter Caile inspired me. Throughout the year at her middle school they do exploratory’s. You have a choice of fun extracurricular activities to choose from. Some of them are crafts, art related, sports, all things things above an beyond the normal school day work. They last for a few weeks at a time and you get to choose from a number of options which are being offered. In November she started a new one called Tree of Hope. It was a fundraising option to help raise funds for a couple of local non-profits.

One of the organizations was The Chrysalis House Association. They are a local women and children’s shelter and outreach provider. A more full description can be found on their website.

Chrysalis House is a non-profit grassroots organization that provides shelter, support, counseling, advocacy, and outreach for abused women and their children. Services are available for women who have been psychologically, emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abused. We work with individuals, organizations and businesses in our community to end violence against women. Chrysalis House is located in Kentville, Nova Scotia. We serve the communities of Kings, Annapolis, and Hants County. Public education and community development are also important elements of our Association.

They provide these services 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The work they do is incredibly hard and important. It is also near to my heart. Had it not been for welcoming friends who were willing and able to help us out, our family would have been seeking services from an organization like The Chrysalis House.

Last year I donated to a fun online campaign and the idea was one I knew I could do. After contacting the person who ran the one I had seen and getting some tips I went to work. The idea was an online advent calendar. Each day, from December 1st to December 24th, you reveal a prize which has been donated by a local business. Then by promoting on social media get people to donate. For every $5 they donate they receive an entry to win all 24 prizes at the end.

The idea started pretty late but thanks to WordPress, and it being open source, I was able to quickly get a site up an running to organize and run the fundraiser from. From WordPress.org I found the Hemingway theme to use and with the help of a few plugins and customization I was all set. Of course I installed Akismet and Jetpack which go on about every WordPress site I create, the other main one I used was The Event Calendar. It was probably overkill for what I needed, but it is so well documented I was pretty easily able to customize it up to do what I needed. Instead of displaying events I wanted to display a single post I publish, from a specific category, for each day of the fundraiser. This is truly the beauty of open source. I had access to the source code, could see how it worked, and was able to change things up to meet my needs. Most of the changes came by creating a custom month view for the calendar. If you want to check out the code you can see it here.

With the site ready I contacted a bunch of local businesses explaining the idea and showing them the site which was setup. One of the lessons I learned if I am to do this again is to not wait to so late to approach businesses. Things went really well and I had quite a few businesses commit to donating a prize so I started the campaign and started promoting it on Twitter and Facebook. It was pretty stressful though as when it first started I still didn’t have enough prizes for all the days. About a week in I reached out to some friends who have good connections to businesses and they were able to put me in touch with more people to get the final donations needed. It was stressful for a while thinking I may have to go out and buy some gift cards myself for some of the days. But our local community once again came through and we had over $1000 worth of prizes donated.

On Christmas Eve I closed donations. I had set a goal for $1000 to be raised and we came in at $1070! Once things were closed and I gathered up all the names I was able to go to the Chrysalis House and with their Executive Director and other staff members we choose our winner and sent them off an email notification. After fees from GoFundMe, who I used to take payments, we were left with $973.56. To make things a nice round number I wrote a cheque while there for $1000 even as a donation to the association. It was an awesome feeling and I felt very humble to have our local area help me run with this idea.

Shortly after I arrived home the winner contacted me back and I was able to go and deliver all 24 prizes to her. That was also a very rewarding part. Even though all the prizes and money were donated by others I had the privilege of feeling like Santa by delivering the money and prizes. What a whirlwind of a Christmas Eve! It made up for some of the stress involved not wondering if it would all come together in the end.

Though it is all over if you want to see the site and the list of prizes you can still see the site at https://calendar.ourvalley.ca

Day 10 Christmas Note

Ella had another note for me today! I get a kick out of these. The kids aren’t that messy really, but if they do clean up after themselves a little bit more it wouldn’t hurt my feelings that’s for sure.

Dad Thanks for helping us clean up when I clean with you I love doing it and thank you for helping me trick mom.

I love giving her pranks I know it’s not nice but I love doing it. I know me, Caile and Noah are pigs and I’m sorry for that but thank you for helping mom to clean it up I’ll try and remember to clean my messes up next time (remember the next two days are for you and mom so you and mom can open it together)

Day 10 Christmas Note