Monday, December 30, 2013

Gifts After Christmas

From a look out along our trek, the trees show the weight of the previous week's ice storm.
Today was one of those great days.  Its Sunday so we started at church.  There was a baptism and my son decided he wanted to take  in the whole service, including communion.  He is 8years old and he seemed genuinely interested in the service which made me truly proud.  I was even more proud when someone commented on how well behaved he was.  Then as I picked my daughter up from Sunday school she was very excited to tell me she sang a song.  She shared a bit of it with me and I was happy to hear her sing a gospel song.

My father and my son made excellent companions for a great snow shoe trek.
After church it was time to take on an adventure.  My father, my son, and I went for a snowshoe.  We trekked over familiar terrain.  Some of it steep, all of it deeply snow covered.  The recent ice storms have left a thick layer of frozen snow.  My son could walk on top of this layer and so didn't need snowshoes, my father and I on the other hand were thankful for the snowshoes.  Once again my son made me proud as he hung right with us for the two and a half hour hike over some very tough terrain.  I had to laugh as he continually found ways to have fun and created the motto "When all else fails, follow the dogs."  When the spruce thickets were really thick he would drop to all fours and follow the dogs, while I had to beat my way through the thicket.  It was fun to watch him find adventure.  From the ice caves we explored to the ice covered logs he would slide down, he found a game in it all.
The kids watched intently as the choir sang and people acted out Christ's birth.

As dark settled in, we arrived home in time to meet with the rest of the family to go out and take in the "Living Manger" at the St. Mark's Anglican church in Sussex Corner.  The original show date was postponed due to the ice storms so we listened to the story of Jesus birth a few days late.  The feeling was a bit different and it lacked something but the actors in the show deserve a ton of credit for giving it all.  The missing element was my own sense of anticipation of Christmas.  With Christmas over it was anti-climatic but still very enjoyable and the kids still loved it.  They sat wide eyed as the shepherds brought in the sheep and the wise men presented their gifts.
The acting baby Jesus was very well behaved, even in the cold, but the heat lamp likely helped, I know it helps this photo.

As I sat down in the evening and recounted this day I was humbled.  The snow was falling hard and the weatherman was calling for yet another storm.  It was a great day and I have so much to be thankful for. 

I want to share some of the photos from today so I hope you enjoy.  Keep in mind, I'm not a professional photographer.

Snow mobile tracks helped our progress on the first part of our trek.

This small cave provided my son with a great exploration opportunity.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Whalens

December 24, 2013.  Christmas Eve.  I've been busy wrapping presents and shoveling my driveway.  The weather is putting a great deal of stress on people who are traveling over the Christmas holiday.  For us even getting downtown is a chore.  I pray for all those who want to travel to see family this wonderful holiday.  I know the urge that possesses someone to see family.  Christmas is about family and traditions and to be alone is no fun.  You will brave snowstorms and icy roads just to see that familiar smile.

Personally I am so blessed to have my family all here in the same county as I am.  We all live less than 15 minutes apart and it truly is a blessing.  My wife sacrifices a great deal over the holidays as her family, though not terribly far, are farther away and we struggle to make time to see them.  I hope she knows that this sacrifice doesn't go unnoticed.   This year we are hoping to see most of them barring the weather.

The Christmas songs are playing loud, the wrapping paper is crumpling, and the ice pellets are still lightly hitting the windows.  The kids are laughing, they have delivered baked goods to the neighbors, and are getting more excited by the minute.  With my wrapping almost done, I'm getting more and more into the Christmas spirit.  It is very unlikely that I'll get another chance to write a post so from the Whalens to all of you we wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Wandering Christmas Checklist

 Just a note, this is a column that appeared in the Kings County Record back on December 17, 2013.  Since then, I think, Poley has received lots more snow.  Unfortunately the Living Manger was cancelled for the first time in 22yrs due to an ice storm, and my shopping...well...I'm just about there ;)

So, as I write this there is a layer of snow on the ground.  Bill, and his crew at Poley, have their fingers crossed, hoping that the temperatures stay cool enough to keep it that way.  If they get their way, as you read this, skiers should be gliding down the slopes in picturesque Waterford.  Snow, check.

It seemed to go on forever.  On Saturday, December 7th, the lights were shining bright and the floats just seemed to keep coming.  Honestly I think this might have been one of my most memorable Christmas parades that I've seen.  My son rode on the 4-H float and, as he went by us, had a smile on his face that might top the one he'll have on Christmas morning.  The Kingswood University float was boisterous and the bands marched proudly and the entire procession was one the entire region could be proud of.  Parade, check.

Streets seem brighter in the evening recently.  The light poles shine a little brighter thanks to the various Christmas decorations that line the street and help spread the Christmas cheer.  The kids at Sussex Corner Elementary School are getting excited and get more so every morning they walk into the school.  They can't help it since they took time to hang festive lights on the trees out front of their school.  It looks great and since I can see it as I write this, I too am feeling more Christmassy (that's a word right?) Lights, check.

The intersection of Main, Needle, and Post Road has a new structure starting to take place.  It looks a little old fashioned but seems to remind me of something.  Oh yeah, the "Living Manger" will be set up soon.  One of my favourite Christmas traditions is set to go on December 22nd.  The St. Marks Church is once again going to tell the story of Jesus birth through a living manger scene, complete with real animals.  I've written about this event in the past and in my mind Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it.  You should get out and check it out this season.  Manger, check.

A number of locations around town suddenly became much greener the past week.  Christmas tree lots are sprouting up and the seasonal business is booming.  I'm a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas so we have a real tree in our home.  The first tree my kids knew was the Christmas tree, even before the maple tree.  I love the smell of a fir tree in the house over the holidays.  When you mix the smell of a Christmas tree with that of a turkey roasting overnight, you have Christmas.  Tree, check.

I'm a social guy.  I enjoy getting out and talking to people.  I don't really like shopping but during the Christmas season, when I can socialize while shopping, I don't mind it.  This time of year you seem to run into people that you haven't seen in awhile.  Everyone has more patience, even when lines are long.  Instead of getting frustrated, people turn to the person behind them in line and chat.  The purpose of shopping is to get gifts but maybe the biggest gift you can give over the holidays is chatting with someone you might not normally talk to.  Presents, ok, so I still have some work to do here.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone, my family sends prayers and blessings for good things to all.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Lights and Snowballs

Not long ago I talked about how I was able to help spread some Christmas cheer. I promised that I would share some pictures of the Sussex Corner Elementary School's lighted trees.  I had been hoping for snow and now with the heavy snow over the weekend I was given a chance to take some photos.  As the snow started to subside I had to take the dog out for a walk.  We made our way over to the school with the temperature hovering just below zero which made the walk really enjoyable.  I admired the lights for a some time and tried my best to get some good photos.  Obviously taking photos at night is not one of my strengths.  I then turned my attention to the dog, who kept stepping into my photo frames and threw some more snowballs for her.  It amazes me how she will chase a snowball and search for it until I whistle and show her another one.

Hope you enjoy the pictures and have a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Karate Kids

Seth and Shaylee stand outside Hampton High showing off their medals.
Wow, what a weekend!  We had a lot going on but there is one thing that I wanted to write about.  Earlier this year my family made a tough decision to take a year away from hockey.  It was hardest on me, as hockey has long been a way that my father and I bonded, and I thought my son and I would do the same.  We've adjusted okay I think and this weekend helped.

Our kids have been going to karate twice a week for a little more than a month now.  This past weekend they took part in their first tournament.  Before I go any further I have to apologize to any karate officionados out there.  I'm new to the sport and I have no idea about the lingo.  Trust me the hockey lingo is easy compared to karate.  At least hockey lingo is in English.

We drove to Hampton for a 10:00am start.  I was surprised by the number of people at the high school gym.  We got both, Seth and Shaylee, registered and waited for their portion of the competition to start.  It was a bit of a wait but we watched as older competitors took part in "kata" and it was impressive how well these kids know the moves.
Shaylee was all smiles about getting her first karate medal.
Before long Shaylee was called to a ring to compete.  There were three kids in her age group, including her, and she knew all of them. This would prove to be very entertaining as who can help but find 4-5 year olds cute when in friendly competition. Shaylee fought hard and with a big smile on her face the whole time and thought it was great she finished with a bronze medal.  We were proud of her and maybe her brother most of all.
Seth proudly stood on the podium showing off his medal.

Next it was Seth's turn and now the competition was a bit more tense.  There were about 20 kids who competed in this age class ranging in age from 7-9.  Seth was one of the last competitors to have his first fight and I thought he might get nervous but it didn't show.  He had a hard won battle against a young girl that took him to overtime, where he won 3-2.  This put him into the round of 10 where he faced a young boy who looked capable but again Seth came out on top, winning 4-0.  Now I was into it and saw that Seth too was getting into it.  In his final round Seth faced a girl much taller than him and he had a hard time blocking her attacks when he would make his.  Her hands were a bit quicker and she grabbed his belt a number of times with the same move.  He graciously took the defeat, which I gotta say, made me as proud as the fact that he finished in third place in his first tournament.

I'm not sure I'm ready to say so long to hockey but I think Seth might be and as long as he is happy and staying active, that makes me happy. Check out some more photos below.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Spreading the Cheer with Pride

Yesterday I was able to help spread some Christmas cheer.  I was over to the Sussex Corner Elementary School and helped kids decorate the trees outside the front of the school.  I was able to do this thanks in part to my municipal seat and the Village of Sussex Corner council all took part.  It was a great way to demonstrate to kids that municipal council seats can be fun and exciting while also helping get the community into the Christmas mood.

I was also confronted with some parenting reality.  Your kids grow up to fast...but my oldest isn't too old to hang out with his Dad :)  When I showed up at the school I was able to go to his class and bring them out to the tree we were putting lights on.  When I showed up in a Santa hat, which I have to admit, I thought might embarass him, he still ran up to me excitedly and gave me a big hug.  I was all to happy to hug him back and holler at his classmates to get their boots and coats on.  As I walked and chatted with him on the way outside, it hit me, "I don't have many of these moments left."

As his class mates slowly got bored of twisting bulbs, testing light sets, and passing lights up the ladder, they moved off to play in the playground.  Seth though kept with it until the end.  He worked with the adults and I was proud of him for wanting to hang with us silly hatted adults.

It was a good morning and I hope the kids had as much fun as I did.  I encourage you to take a drive by SCES and take a look.  It sure looks like Christmas at that school.  Mrs. Demerchant and Mrs. Cummings and their staff deserve a big pat on the back for making it all happen

Merry Christmas to everyone over at SCES, kids, staff, and parents of all the students too.

I'll be going over some evening soon to snap a photo or two and I'll post them here when I do.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Dirt Road Anthem

Note: This is a column I had published in the November 26th edition of the Kings County Record.  I fits rather nice with my previous post about country music. Dirt Road Anthem is a country song that I would often turn up when going on a fishing trip with my son.  Somewhere in my blog roll I have even talked about that.  The roads I discuss in this blog are just a small sampling of what the area in and around Kings County, New Brunswick have to offer.  Hope you enjoy this small taste.
This photo was taken a few years ago on a dirt road near Marrtown NB.  This was taken in late spring after a late season snowfall.  My brother and I were supposed to be fishing that weekend.
Have you ever been out through Jordan Mountain?  Have you ever taken the Mount Hebron Road the whole way through?  I mean the whole way you didn't just stop at the horse farm at the top and turn around.  Recently through my work I took a drive over some of the great back roads between Millstream and Knightville.  It was a truly enjoyable drive mixed with some scenic walking.

This time of year the weather is often cold, wet, and windy.  This is not great hiking, biking, or paddling weather, so driving is a great way to see the country side and we have lots to see.  The drive I talked about above provides some great vistas over farm fields and forests.  The ridges possess rocky outcrops and tall trees while the valleys house clear brooks and fertile farm fields.  There are some great dirt road drives that show off many of the natural surroundings.  I want to lay out my top three for you.

The first drive starts in Norton and isn't truly a dirt road drive but still has some great highlights.  From Norton take Route 124 towards Midland but take a left hand turn on the Dickie Mountain Road.  Make sure to drive slow and look around and if the rivers are high make sure to peek at Almshouse Brook where the falls will be wild.  Cross Dickie Mountain to Route 855 where you take another left until you drive to Route 121 where you take a right and the take another right onto Bloomfield Station Road, then find your way to the Bloomfield Ridge Road.  When you reach the Saltsprings Road take a left and make your way back towards Norton.

Dickie Mountain is tough to top but I think if you take a drive towards Waterford you might be rewarded again.  Waterford in its own right is a jewel.  Keep going though, out the Creek Road, until you can take a left onto Pleasant Lake Road.  You might need a truck for this drive, so drive slow and take in the awe inspiring brook that cascades down this steep valley.  When you reach the top of the ridge take a left onto the Philamunroe Road back Chambers Settlement.  At the Chambers Settlement Road take a right and follow it around to the Cedar Camp Road.  You'll pass by some high rock faces owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.  As you take the left turn to stay on Cedar Camp Road you can make your way back to Waterford but be sure to stop at the bridge over Trout Creek and get some great photos.

Now for the drive I introduced in the beginning you'll need to be resourceful as I don't have the space to tell you all the details.  You'll need to know where the Carsonville Road is, once you find it, start your drive at its northern end, say at the Hayes Road, near Millstream.  Then find your way to the Mount Hebron Road being careful on the sharp turns before you get there.  The start of the Mount Hebron Road feels like your driving up someone's driveway, watch out for fences across the road, but don't worry the farmer has had someone drive through it before.  Push to the top of the hill but be sure to look behind you.  From there just drive and explore the ridges in this area.  The Mount Hebron Cross Road, the Jordan Mountain Road, Whites Mountain Road, and the Mine Road are all worth exploring. 

Take a lunch, a spare tire and jack, maybe some extra gas, and simply enjoy.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

How Did Music Move You

Music!  It fills you.  It soothes you.  It moves you.  Today was a tough day and tonight I sat and watched the Garth Brooks special and wow.  The day brightened and my mood has changed drastically in the couple of hours the show was on.  Why?  I spent my teen years listening to Garth and his songs have been in the background of many memorable moments.  Heck there are country songs that sing about just that thing and ironically I love songs that focus on that theme whether they were songs by Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, or whoever.

I saw Garth Brooks perform live once and there is something about the guy that draws you in.  He can perform and he can make you feel the music with him.  I think he might be a bit crazy too but his fans seem to even relate to that...I know I do.  He gets giddy performing and you start laughing with him, maybe even at him a little, but he doesn't seem to care as long as you're enjoying the song.

Lately I've been going through some of my older music and listening to that 80's and 90's country and remembering how I got to where I am today.  Garth talked about his musical journey and it got me thinking about what mine might look like.  What would yours look like.  Would it have Ray Charles, Alabama, Keith Whitley, the Statler Brothers (that's true harmony and I loved trying to sing bass), Kenny Rogers, Beatles, Alan Jackson, and my all time favorite George Strait (a man's man if there is one in my opinion)?  Maybe it would be Twisted Sister, Haywire (do you remember them?), Harem Scarem, Warrant, Motley Crue, or AC/DC.  The Canadian boy I am, I would have to include some Hank Snow (thanks Nan), Blue Rodeo, Paul Brandt, the Rankins, Great Big Sea, and Chris Cummings oh and don't forget Terri Clarke (I loved Terri's attitude).   I think my show, not that I'd ever have one, would have to be a marathon.  There is no way I could narrow it down to even just 20 songs.

All the good moments have songs and the bad moments simply became good ones because of the music.  Friends bond over music, whether through a mutual love of a song or through teasing someone about their taste.  It's no different than a Habs fan tormenting a Leafs fan but let's not go there.  Go pull out some old CDs or 45's even and let 'em blast. "Ooohh I got friends in low places...."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When to Celebrate

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here.  My wife is winning the battle over whether we should turn on the lights yet or not.  She's had the Christmas music playing, the eggnog running, and has been wrapping gifts for two weeks already.  With all that going on around you it's hard not to get into the spirit.

Personally I always seem to fight a moral battle over when it is proper to celebrate Christmas.  Why does it have to be a battle?  Christmas is all about Christ and in my mind, we should celebrate him everyday.  Oddly though, because of the commercial side of Christmas, we tend to forget what its about and then we tend to think, "Wow is it bad to celebrate Christmas before Remembrance Day is past?" 

I am going to try from this point forward not to worry about when I start to celebrate Christmas and instead try to make every day a celebration where I thank God for the gifts he continually gives me, especially my wife and kids who help me celebrate no matter what time it is. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Misty Mountain Madness

Blogger's Note:  This is a copy of the column I had published in the November 12, 2013 Kings County Record.  I have performed a clean up, on the waterfall site referred to, in the past.  I have also cleaned up sections of  the road that leads up to Misty Mountain.  It is maddening that people continue to dump garbage in various locations along the Millbrook Road.

There is a place near where I grew up that has long been a destination for partiers, hunting, and outdoor enthusiasts.  Parties were held there, first time camping trips have also been a part of the landscape there, bike trips often rest there, and water will always be its signature.  Misty Mountain is a local landscape legend.  It has a long history that includes farming, forestry, and spring water. 

Topographically, it is not overly impressive, its rounded mass and height though make it stand out amongst its nearby counterparts.    Two steep valleys surround the mainly forested mountain and the valleys provide some beautiful scenery, no matter the time of year or the weather conditions.  The Cotter Hollow stream wraps its way around the hill flowing from its source on the high southeast shoulder, moving first to the east for a short time, then an uninterrupted run north before turning west towards the Mill Brook.  The Mill Brook runs the other way, clock wise, around Misty Mountain.  It starts in dramatic fashion with a high waterfall at the source and I often love to visit its look off which you can drive up to.

I use the term "drive up to" rather loosely.  You'll need a four wheel drive vehicle with modest clearance to get there.  The roads aren't fully mapped so that gives you an indication to how rugged it might be.  Approaching from what locals call the Misty Mountain Road it is a steep ascent up the southwest portion of the mountain.  Deep gullies fill the road and you need to choose your path carefully or you could end up hung up.  As you near the top clear cuts currently become noticeable to your right and you get a great view towards Sussex and beyond that to the hills around Springfield.  It is a great view and an almost noble location that will always speak to those who know its greatness.

On my latest trip up there I had my kids and I was hoping to show them the waterfall and sharing with them the Mountains modest nobility.  Not everyone knows about its nobility though and I was frustrated to see that a great deal of garbage was thrown into the small stream at the top of the falls.  I couldn't believe it and I loaded my kids back into the truck without walking down to the look out.  Instead I drove a little further on where a large stump provides a great seat as you look back down the Valley. 

Many people gripe about clear cuts but at this point I was more frustrated with the illegal dumping than with the large clear cut swaths that now dominate this area.  The mountain is no stranger to clear cuts as it was likely cut over about 60 years ago.  The trees that replaced the ones cut back then were ready to be cut again and so, they were cut.  The steep slopes mean that not all the trees are cut and the streams still appear healthy when viewed from the channel.  Litter and trash though scar the landscape for years and don't regenerate like the trees.  Dump sites actually grow because when someone sees a dump site they think it is ok for them to dump too. Clear cuts provide vistas to see beyond the trees and stumps to sit on while you take in the view.  Dump sites simply stink and detract from the scenery both near and far.  Before you dump trash along a back road, no matter how far back, keep that in mind.  With waste management systems today it is easy to get rid of trash.  Heck you pay for the system through your taxes, so why would you pay for the fuel in your truck to dump it illegally.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day 2013

Like many people this morning, I awoke with a bit of a heavy heart.  It is Remembrance Day and it is a day where we take time to solemnly think about our freedom.  It is a day where we thank those who bravely serve in our forces and other protective services, those who run towards the danger while many of us run away.  So why is my heart heavy on this day?  Why do I not celebrate those great people?  Their loss is felt not just locally but across the globe.  They leave us wishing we could all be a bit more like them, or at least that is the way I feel.

In Sussex the cenotaph stands tall in the middle of Town and today many people stood around it to Remember.  It was one of the best attended Remembrance Day services I can remember.  Even with the skies threatening snow flurries, people withstood the cold to take off their hats during the prayers and national anthem.  It is a pale suffering given what the soldiers have suffered in the past.  The many kids, not certain why they are there, look up at their parents with inquisitive eyes as their parents try to explain what is going on.  This next generation will hopefully only have to remember and not have to fight.

The day is also a time for me to acknowledge some of those great elderly people who have helped form my life and have had positive influences on the man I have become.  It is great to chat with a couple of them and introduce them to my kids and see a light in their eye as they see it was not in vain.  To all those who serve, thanks so much for giving me a chance to raise a family I hope will do us all proud.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Trying Tir Na Nog

This post has been a while in the making.  It was a topic that came to me a while back but for some reason I just kept putting it off.  I often talk about the joy of youth and of interacting with kids while outdoors.  Over a month ago now I was invited to talk to a number of 4 year old kids.  These weren't the run of your mill preschoolers.  These kids were already committed to being outdoors two days a week while at preschool.  The Tir Na Nog Forest School  is offering a new approach to learning and man do I ever wish I could have learned this way.

I arrived at the school on a drizzly morning but from the commotion I could hear down in the woods, it hadn't dampened the kids spirits. I immediately noticed a number of chickadees and realized I was in for a special morning when one perched right beside me for a moment and looked me straight in the eyes.  I found the majority of the group huddled around a cold fire pit and many were doodling on slate boards or stacking wood, or playing tag through the woods.  I had to fight off the urge to go play tag with them and instead I got comfortable with my surroundings and planned my approach for the lesson I was going to provide to the kids that day.

After introducing my self to the kids, who listened incredibly well when the teacher called them to the fire circle, I briefly discussed the importance of water to us as humans and to our ecosystem.  I was there on behalf of the Kennebecasis Watershed Restoration Committee and I was hoping to take them for a walk along the MacGregor Brook and maybe get their feet a little wet.

There was a trail down to the brook and the kids scurried excitedly through the trees and forest as the chickadees continued to flit through the white and yellow birches, the cedars and spruce.  I pointed out some deer and coyote tracks and the kids stood patiently in the mud wanting desperately to feel it squish under the feet.  Once I said "let's move on." the kids jumped and squished in the gooey mud.
This time I let the kid in me shine a little too as I stomped through the mud as I continued to make my way to the streamside.  A broad smile creeped across my face as I did.

One of the little girls asked to hold my hand and at first I was a bit reluctant.  I had the "If I hold your hand then I have to hold everyone's hand" feeling.  She left me no choice though and before long we were chatting away about everything under the sun.  All the kids were huddled around me and I did my best to make a connection with each of them.  Surprisingly, I thought I was pretty good at it.

When we reached the brook the teachers provided all the kids with snacks and I took the opportunity to show the kids some flowers from the nearby field.  I also show them some stinging nettle and insisted they stay away from that one.  After a nice snack the kids were eager to get their feet wet.  I didn't have a script or anything to work off of so I was willing to let the kids and nature lead me through the learning.  It was easy to find things to show them and simple to find ways to engage them and get their hands wet too.

As my time with the kids wound down, I couldn't help but feel down as well.  I was really enjoying myself and I thought "wow, I could do this for a living.". It was an indescribable feeling.  I felt positive about my interactions with the kids and I felt positive about teaching the kids outdoors.  The combination of the teaching and outdoors is a concept I really believe in and I think the younger we implant this process in our kids the more comfortable they will be outdoors.  

Thanks to the kids and the teachers for giving me the opportunity to explore this side of my personality.  I only hope that you all received as much from me that I received from you.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Some October Fun

During the Thanksgiving Weekend my brother and his wife hosted us for a family dinner.  We took an opportunity afterwards to enjoy a hike and some photo ops.  
That same day we took a picture that would make any dad proud.  Love my kids.
On October 19th we had a busy day which started with "Halloween at the Mall"  Here the kids chow down on some worms in dirt.  Seth had to remove his costume to eat.
After all those worms the kids needed to expend some energy so we hiked to the Bluff.  This is just one of the photos.  I'm not sure they really liked it up in the tree.
My sister has never had a fear of heights and casually walked to the ledge to get some photos of the rest of us.  I took a second to snap one of her with the wonderful background.
I managed to get one of Seth too but it wasn't easy.  Unfortunately, Shaylee wouldn't stop long enough to get her photo taken.
On Sunday October 20th, after a great weekend we were once again blessed with a wonderful scene.  I managed to take this photo from my front yard.

Lucky Dad

There are days that when its over you simply say "Wow am I ever lucky to be me."  Others might say "Am I ever lucky to live where I do."  Some even say "My family is incredibly fun to be with."  Well for me, today, I could say all of those things.  It was an incredible day where I spent the entire day with my kids having fun and enjoying our great community.

Like most good days, this one had great people that helped build it.  Communities are built around its people, even more so it's volunteers.  The kids and I woke up and they were already anticipating the day despite the fact that their Mom was away on a shopping trip.  They knew there were a couple of Halloween events and they couldn't finish breakfwast fast enough.  I kept stalling our departure and it was killing them, but if I didn't then we would have been there much to early.  I had some chores to do thankfully, so stalling was not a problem.  When I stated that I had to fold a load of laundry I thought Seth was going to throw it down the stairs.  When I said I needed to sweep the floor I thought Shaylee was going to toss the freshly folded laundry onto it in protest.  I have to admit I was having a bit of fun with it, and they knew that and we're giggling along with me.

We finally left the house a little after 10:00 and none to soon if you asked the kids.  We killed a bit more time by stopping at the coffee shop and they were fine with that at least for a few minutes.  By the time we reached the Gateway Mall the kids were bouncing.  They we're so excited I didn't know if their costumes would stay on.  At the back corner of the mall a large group of kids and frazzled parents were getting busy with the various crafts and activities.  The PACK group, organized by Heidi Stephens, did another great job with their "Halloween at the Mall" this year.  It is because of great organizations like this that we have such a great community.  The kids paraded around the mall and afterwards were able to trick or treat from store to store.  It was a great way to spend a morning.

After some lunch we headed out again for another Halloween event.  This time Joan Babineau and Beth Johnston and the rest of the volunteers from the Sussex Corner Elementary School's "Truck or Treat" event need to be thanked.  This event has quickly grown into a big success and the proceeds
will go to maintaining the school playgrounds.  See what I mean about bring in a great community?  
My kids scurried from truck to truck, sitting in every seat, honking every horn, and even jumping on
some beds.  Sorry to the truckers who now have Shaylee's foot prints on their pillow of their sleeper.  When I asked her to stop jumping on the bunk, her response was "I'm just so excited!" after judging a chili contest and escorting the kids around to each truck it was time to go exercise the dog for a while.

Earlier in the day I had arranged with my sister to possibly meet up with her and her boys again to hike the bluff.  We were able to make this happen after only a minor hiccup with my car.  For those who don't know about the Bluff, it is a modest hiking trail in our community that has a fantastic destination, especially in the fall of the year.  Two of my sisters friends joined us for the hike and I was surprised to find out one of them was making the hike for the first time.  

At the trail head it was easy to see we were not alone in our desire to enjoy the great day.  There were a number of vehicles there, including one from North Carolina.  We passed many people on our hike and everyone had smiles on their faces and it was easy to see they were enjoying the day God had made.  When we reached the summit of the Bluff the sun was shining right and we all sat and tried to take it all in.  The scenery was spectacular and you could take it in but the gift of the day was so large my mind is still struggling to comprehend it.  It sounds weird to put it like that, but it's true.  As I sat on the rock face looking out over the Trout Creek valley, my thoughts were not about the physical realm but of the emotional and spiritual influences that I had experienced to that point in the afternoon.

Challenges with my car.  Frustration with getting the kids out the door. Pride, in the way Seth handled not winning a prize at the "Halloween at the Mall"  by simply looking at me with a smile and shrugging his shoulders.  Joy, as I watched Shaylee smile and laugh as her brother helped into another truck.  To often I think I have let many days like today go by unnoticed.  To often I think I let my own stress and anxiety get in the way.  Today I had the patience I needed and the attitude I needed to see it all and recognize it for the gift it was.  So this is sort of a "Lesson Learned." One I hope not soon to forget.  I'm a lucky Dad and I'm glad I can have these days with my kids.  

Sorry I have no pictures to post but I only had my phone and they all seemed to turn out blurry today or the people in the photos had funny faces and likely wouldn't appreciate me posting those on here.  Hopefully you get the sense of the day by my writing anyways :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thanksgiving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Truly I think this is one of my favorite holidays.  Not because of the food, not because of the long weekend, but because of the fall setting and family.  The crisp fall air seems more honest somehow and it encourages you to be closer to the ones you love, if for no other reason the warmth.

My life, as you might see through my blog, is great.  God has given me so many blessings to be thankful for.  By far the biggest is my family whom give me love, inspiration, comfort, and security.  Another blessing that I think gets overlooked a great deal is this great place we live.  A stable environment that is expansive, relatively healthy, and provides us with all we need.

I'm guilty of sometimes wishing I had more but maybe one other thing that I should be thankful for is God's patience with me as I relearn to be grateful and content with what I have and His guidance as I remember that everything I have is through him.  My community, my church, my job, my all comes from him.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fall Fun at Poley Mountain

I have seen the post on-line a number of times "Cousins are our first friends."  Looks so true here.
What a beautiful fall day!  Wow.  The kids and I made the best of it while my wife visited family in Saint John today.  Poley Mountain is typically considered a winter destination but from what I saw this afternoon, they should expand their marketing strategy.  The view from the chair lift and from the trails was astounding.  I met my sister and her two boys in the parking lot and at that time was uncertain what to expect.  I didn't need to worry, we were outdoors and the weather was sunny with a light breeze.  What more did we need?

After exploring the facilities a little, including a brief stop at the cozy "Fireside Lounge" we purchased a lift ticket for a reasonable $5 fee.  I know I have paid $5 for a lot worse experiences.  We then made our way to the chair lift.  Now might be a good time to mention that I haven't been to Poley Mountain since I was a kid about 8 years old, so I guess about 20 years ago (wink, wink.)  I was a bit nervous about getting on the chair lift as the last time I was there, I struggled riding the t-bar to the top.  The chair lift is much easier.
Getting on the chair lift was easier than I anticipated and the kids loved the leisurely ride.

The kids and I sat nicely into a chair, pulled the security bar down, and enjoyed the slow pace ride to the top of the hill.  Numerous times we would crank our necks around to see the view back down the hill and across the Trout Creek Valley.  The Bluff, which is usually a dominate land feature from the valley floor looked tiny from our perch high up on the mountain and in the chair.  The various shades of yellows, oranges, and reds, expanded your imagination as you would never have guessed how many shades there were.  As we got about half way up the hill the drone of the lift turned silently and the ride became very peaceful and even the kids were able to enjoy the whole situation.

When we got to the top we excitedly jumped off the chair and before I could say a word the kids were running back down the hill.  I'm not kidding, the boys ran off, leaving Shaylee, my sister Becki, and I behind.  When they realized we weren't running to catch up they slowed down.  We finally convinced them to come back to us so we could snap a photo.
The view from the top of the "Mountain" was impressive and full of fall color.

The whole way down the hill the kids laughed while I let my eyes explore the surroundings.  I noticed a mountain bike trail that would add another great activity to the hill.  I had a fantastic time throughout the day but I was left wondering...why don't they open the hill up more often for this type of event?  They could even have hike in tent sites available there through the summer months.  Since I may have some time this winter to partake in new events, maybe we'll have to try skiing.  Regardless, I hope to visit the slopes again sometime, even without snow.

Thanks to my sister for sharing the pictures she managed to take on her phone.  I have been terrible lately at taking my camera along.  Thanks too Becki for sharing our fun adventure.  Love you.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tough Decisions: Do I Pass or Shoot?

Sometimes in life you have to take a step back and look at the whole picture.  You need to pause and think about what is truly important.  Recently my family has had to take that step back and re-evaluate what our long term priorities are and what is truly important to us.  Our community, like many others in New Brunswick, has been embroiled in a controversy over ice user fees at the local arena.  I won't get into all the details because really they don't matter a great deal.  The end result was that our minor hockey organization needed to raise it's registration rates for the upcoming hockey season.

Now before I go much further I should explain that I'm a true Canadian and hockey has long been a large component of my life.  That will now change but not without long discussions between my wife and I and at times our kids.  It has been a tough decision and now that we've made it, I'm afraid that people might misconstrue the reason's for the decision, and worse that decision might have a long term impact on our son.  As an 8 year old he really improved his game last year and started to develop a love for the game that might now fade.

The decision to pull him from hockey this year was not simply due to the increase in registration fees and I wanted to make that clear.  We are a family of four with a modest household income, restricted mainly by our personal choices, my wife to be home with our kids as much as possible (love you so much for that Michelle) and me because I wanted to "make a difference" with a non-profit organization.  We are fine with those choices and have managed our funds well.  Hockey however, is an expensive sport.  It doesn't just include registration fees but equipment and travel as well. 

When I was a kid travel wasn't necessary to play hockey.  You could play house league and simply play for fun and not to compete.  What ever happened to house league anyways?  Why do 7 & 8 year old kids need to travel an hour every other week to play?  Is it because hockey has priced itself so high that participation numbers are dropping?  I really don't know.  I do know that if the whole model of minor hockey was restructured, my son might still be playing.  If we just had to pay registration and the needed equipment then maybe he could still play.

When we looked at what was important for our family, we felt being a family was important.  You see our daughter also wanted to skate this year and we definitely couldn't say no to her and yes to our son.  Also I haven't had any recreation outside of my hiking and fishing and trust me, I could use a gym membership.  As a family we can all enjoy the local civic center for roughly the same price both kids could register for hockey.  Thus, we've decided to spend more time together and diversify our interests.

Hockey is still a sport and I'm sure, like last winter, I can find a pond somewhere this winter and scrape it off when we have the urge to slap a puck around.  Since there is no strict structure to the pond hockey we'll all be able to play that together too.  If you're looking for a game of shinny this winter, look us up.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Magic of Youth

I'm no spring chicken and I'm okay with that.  It is great for the soul and the body to act like a child from time to time.  I recently had an opportunity to act like a kid and I took full advantage of it.  Friends of ours provided us with some free passes to Magic Mountain in Moncton, NB. Our traveling partners for the day would be the Burke family whom we often hang out with at other sporting events.  Our kids are relatively the same age and get along really well and all were excited to spend time together at this great water park.

We left early on Saturday morning and the weather was very promising.  We had no worries heading into the day and our moods were light and fun.  We got our passes and made our way into the park and instantly applied sun screen.  See, I bet you thought I was going to say ran up to the top of the slides.  Don't worry, while I went to the washroom the three other guys raced to the top of the "Tornado."  When I made it back to our chairs I saw Seth come down with Connor with a big smile on his face.  He was hooked and I could easily see a building excitement in his eyes and an eagerness to do it again.  I was in for a great day.

I didn't hesitate to grab him and take him up for another ride down.  We did the "Tornado" again and I was surprised at how much of a rush it was.  We then tried a couple of the other intermediate slides but I could tell, and I was slightly scared, that Seth wanted a greater rush.  "Dad, let's go over to the taller slide." he hollered without knowing he was hollering.  I looked at Terry and I could tell that he and Connor likely wouldn't be joining us on that slide.  I truly thought that Seth would chicken out when he got to the top.  I was sadly mistaken.  He first tried the "Turbo Tunnel."  He listened to the attendants instructions and then stepped up and away he went.  When he got to the bottom I seen him hop up and give Terry a high five.  Terry had to restrain him and tell him to wait for me before he could rush back up to the top.  It took me less than 5 seconds probably to get to the bottom and out of the slide.  Seth was eagerly waiting and likely saw that I too had a big grin on my face when he said "Ok let's try the other one!"  His voice now an octave higher than it had been earlier which indicated a growing sense of excitement.

Next we went to the "Torpedo."  On this slide they put you in an upright tube, close you in, and then yank the floor out from under you.  I have to be honest, I wasn't sure I could make myself do it.  Seth on the other hand showed no hesitation and was at the bottom in 2 seconds.  I stepped up and as they counted me down I was thinking "Heck just push the button before I change my mind."  Before that thought processed however, I was at the bottom.  I instantly realized that there was no way I could do the "Kamikaze" if Seth asked.  The torque on my aging and often aching, lower back would be to much.  I quickly informed Seth before he could ask that if he wanted to do the "Kamikaze" I would walk him to the top but he would be on his own from there.  This was enough to keep him from pushing it any further. 

We did go up and do the "Racer" and I gave him a big head start but at about 2/3rds of the way down I
passed him.  He loudly hollered "Hey! No fair.  You weigh more than me!!"  At 8 years old I was surprised he knew about the physics of gravity and I was further impressed by his ability to voice this while racing down the water slide.  We took a couple more runs down the intermediate slides before taking a break.  I think if I would have stayed with him he'd of kept going all day.  Honestly I was grinning as well and if not for my parental and partner responsibilities I could have hung out with him all day.

We found Michelle and Shaylee and they wanted to try one of the intermediate slides and were waiting in line.  This gave Seth a chance to make another run as well while I waited at the bottom for Shaylee to reach the bottom.  Her introduction to the intermediate slides was not nearly as joyous as Seth's.  When she hit the pool at the bottom she briefly went under and when she came up she was just out of my reach and turned away from me.  Scared, she started to cry, and vowed she wouldn't do that again.

It was off to the wave pool next, then the "Lazy River" which Seth and Connor turned into Bristol Motor Speedway.  If, indeed, it was a race, Terry and I were definitely off the pace.  From Bristol we then went to the splash pad to find the girls again.  Seth tried every slide there as well.   He was like a pin ball bouncing from one obstacle to the next.

I asked Michelle if she wanted to try the "Tornado" and she agreed before fully understanding maybe what she was getting into.  We waited in line with our double tube and the whole time she asked if it was scary.  I stated that I didn't think it was scary, not entirely a lie.  As we got to the front she realized it was a tunnel and she started getting nervous.  That is the best thing about adrenaline rides, the way it messes with your head.  We boarded our tube and as we floated through the slight waterfall at the entry of the slide Michelle let out a little scream.  The rest of the way down she screamed louder with every tight turn and drop.  I had to focus on keeping my mouth closed while laughing.  When we got to the bottom, like Shaylee, Michelle said she'd never do that again.  God bless her for trying.  Did I mention Michelle is not an adrenaline junkie whatsoever.

The lines started getting really long and so we decided we'd call it a day.  A bit earlier than I thought and I know Seth was disappointed but he didn't make a fuss.  It was a great day and I felt like a kid the whole day through.  I'm not kidding I think that one day made me feel about two years younger.  Letting loose and acting like a kid has that psychological effect on your mind which I think reflects positively on your body as well.

I love this photo because you can see Seth already wanting off to go again.
I have to send out a big thanks to Terry, Amanda, Connor, and Ava for providing us with the chance to act like kids for a day.  I also have to thank Amanda and Terry for the photos in this post.  They take some great photos and have started their own photography business.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Whalen Getaway

Earlier this summer the Whalen family all got together and took a family trip to the western shores of Nova Scotia.  We were fortunate enough to know some fine folks with a cabin along the Northumberland Strait just outside of Trenton.  When I say this was a family trip, I mean multiple generations of Whalens all heading to the same location; three generations to be exact.  Even though there would be a cottage, some of us would end up sleeping outside and likely be all the better off for it.

No vacation can start without first reaching your destination and the drive to Chance Harbor, our planned paradise, would take about 3.5hours.  Since the kids, the dog, and enough bedding, clothing, toys, and games for 5 days were all in the car with us, it was going to be a long drive, or at least I thought it would be.  We made stops in Salisbury, Sackville, and Tatamagouche but the time seemed to fly for us.  The kids were incredibly patient and even the dog traveled well.  We only got turned around on one occasion just before we arrived and only because I missed the private road sign to our cottage.

The cottage was a small two bedroom, one bath cottage nestled on a point overlooking Chance Harbor.  We didn't actually have a view of the harbor, but then again, it isn't really a harbor as it is a small river that is backed up behind a sandy isthmus.  In the end it wasn't going to matter as we'd spend most of the time at the mouth of "The Harbor." The weather was almost too hot but trust me we were not complaining.  We soaked up the sun, the sand, and the waves.

Our first night was spent exploring our new surroundings and getting comfortable in our home for the week.  For me that meant setting up a tent and spreading out sleeping bags for five.  My son and daughter, my two nephews, and my father would all be sleeping in the tent the first night.  We enjoyed a brief bonfire that first night but everyone was tired and bedrolls and bedrooms called. The dog would sleep with my wife in the cottage along with my sister and my mother.  It would later prove advantageous to be sleeping outside as the cottage was extremely warm through the night.  The dog added a further frustration to those in the cottage as she paced back and forth wanting to check on those outside.

The next morning we lazed around and knew we had no where to be and relished in that reality.  When I say we lazed, I mean we didn't eat breakfast until close to 10am, we walked a slow pace to the beach where we tanned and used as little effort as possible to entertain the kids.  Just a note, hermit crabs will entertain 7-16 year old boys for well over 2 hours.  The beach was expansive with the river coming in on our left and the beach head on the other side a large isthmus of sand.  We couldn't resist crossing the river and exploring the beach there.  The water on that beach was now the Northumberland Strait and we could wade out a long ways but had to be wary of the currents and under tow.  We kept a close eye on the kids here and after a short time and swim we moved back to the other side of the river again and started building sand castles and chasing crabs again.

That night we gathered around the camp and told stories and laughed.  We let the kids sit and listen in and I'm sure this will sit in their memory banks for a long time.  I still have memories of such times with my parents and they have had a large influence on how I've developed, whether positively or negatively.  Oddly this type of gathering, away from home, is rare for our family.  Moments like this are usually had at the Whalen homestead.  I'd like to have more of this type.

The room in the tent for night two was a little greater as Shaylee slept with her Mom.  This was quickly compensated for when it was decided the dog might sleep better outside.  The dog quickly found a spot next to Seth and was asleep in no time and stayed that way the whole night.  Before the rest of us were asleep my youngest nephew also decided to move inside to sleep closer to his mom.

Hot is the best word to describe the next day.  There was no way of sleeping in as the temperature in the tent was stifling and sticky.  It was only an indication of what was to come.  The temperature rose to over 30 degrees celsius and all we could do was sit in the shade of the maple tree next to the cottage.  It was too hot to do anything.  It was even too hot on the beach as the sand instantly burned the bottom of your feet, even with sandals on.

Weather was a key factor in the rest of the trip and I think the sweat in my eyes made it all a bit of a blur.  Washer toss, bonfires, smores, more beach time, and an enjoyable drive home.  It was a great way to spend a week and I felt truly blessed to have the chance to spend such quality time with my family.  I also felt very blessed in the way the kids all behaved throughout the week.  My own kids in particular bless me every day.  I love watching them grow and over this week I could witness that growth literally.

I want to thank everyone who made that trip so great.  You are all a blessing to me.  Thanks to Lindsay Thorne for the photos.