Posts tagged traditions

Stories from the campfire

 The 2010 Trefz Family Holiday is now on the books. Our stay at a 500 sq. ft. cottage in the beautiful Kawarthas did not disappoint. The cottage was comfortable and quaint, though on the scratchy side to be sure. Everything from the army blankets to the living room furniture to the curtains that graced each window was scratchy. It must be said though that it was a comfortable kind of scratchy. I caught more than one member of the family finding relief for a mosquito-bitten leg or back on the rough couch.

I do not intend to spend my time blogging about our holiday though. Our time away has stirred in me the desire to start talking about a topic that has long been ignored, much to the detriment of families with young children everywhere. It’s time to talk about marshmallows.

I realize it’s hard to take this topic seriously, given that, at first glance, everything about these things seems so benign and perfect for kids:

  1. They’re white and fluffy and too big to choke on (although someone has probably sued for that somewhere)
  2. They smell and taste sweet
  3. They’re the main ingredient in Rice Krispies Squares, for crying out loud. Is there anything that says childhood more than whipping up a batch of Rice Krispies Squares in the kitchen with Dad, and emerging 20 minutes later with flour on your nose? (Or was that childhood according to Kelloggs?)
  4. They never go bad

 

I submit though, that marshmallows and children are a terrible combination, at least when there’s a fire and some sticks involved. Allow me to explain.

In preparation for our stay at the cottage Oliver had purchased two bags of marshmallows, not because I was going to whip up a batch of Squares, but for roasting. I should mention, at this point, that I have no appreciation for roasted marshmallows, and I highly doubt anyone else does either, if they were honest. I’m convinced that the only reason the tradition has survived, is that there’s so much nostalgia involved that nobody ever had the guts to say, “hey, this stuff tastes (and looks) like melted Styrofoam. Let’s make some Banock instead.” In fact, I don’t even like buying them, because I just can’t believe that any additive that’s truly food-grade would have that consistency when it’s dry, and burn like that when it’s on fire. Furthermore, doesn’t it concern anyone that they never go bad? Anything that’s truly edible should rot, which marshmallows don’t. They probably have the half-life of disposable diapers.

With most processed foods one can at least guess at what the original was: hotdogs used to be sausages, which came from pigs. Freezies resemble juice, which comes from fruit. And even though there’s nothing nutritionally redemptive in Nutriwhip, it replaces cream, which comes from milk. But marshmallows? Where the heck did they come from? And who ever thought of putting them on a stick, watching them bubble in that chemical way, and decide, “ohhhh, that looks tasty. Let’s pass this on to our grandkids and their grandkids.”

Being the saintly mother that I am, however, I do not want to be guilty of robbing my children of the experience of skewering that fluffy little confection onto that perfect stick that they trekked through thistles and poison ivy to procure, roasting it to perfection, then savouring the work of their little hands as the warm marshmallow slips easily into their little mouths. So, much to their delight, we took marshmallows along to the cottage.

Maybe I’ve watched too many Tim Horton’s summer camp commercials (or maybe it was even a Molson ad, who knows) where true-blue Canadians are laughing together in the warm glow of the campfire, playfully trying to manage the sticky, gooey marshmallow as they pull it off of the stick. For whatever reason, neither Oli nor I were prepared for the real-life 3-kid version of this quintessential summer activity.

It goes without saying that no kid wants to wait for the fire to die down to start roasting marshmallows. That would amount to patience, which goes against what they were trained to do wherever they spent their time pre-natally. We would have probably insisted that they wait a bit longer had the whole family’s eyes not been in constant danger of being put out by out-of-control marshmallow roasting sticks and eager children. So I skewered up a marshmallow for 3-year-old Sam and began roasting it for him. There was no denying the fact that the fire was still much too large for proper roasting, so while I was moderately successful with my marshmallow, Teddy (who was roasting his own) was not as successful and managed to set fire to several marshmallows, once extinguishing it in the grass (which leaves a sticky residue that rivals tree sap), and another time shaking it wildly in an attempt to put out the fire, which only sent gobs of melted marshmallow flying all over the place. Between roasting Sam’s and trying to help Teddy with his, I was growing more and more frustrated all the time. It didn’t help that neither Teddy nor Sam like dirty hands, so our stress-levels rose as soon as they attempted to pull the roasted marshmallow off the stick and discovered that the melted version is way, way stickier than the dry kind.

I went inside to get the baby wipes, at which point I was juggling roasting Sam’s marshmallow, helping Teddy with his, and wiping both boys’ hands, mouths, and noses. Since we were sitting near the playground where the boys were running around barefoot all day, I was also scrambling to clean up the gobs of sticky marshmallow that had landed in the grass before anyone stepped on them. At this point the magic had totally gone out of the experience for everyone involved. The kids’ loud complaints of smoke stinging their eyes and ash blowing on their marshmallow served to seal the deal, and I was done roasting those blasted things. The kids began eating them cold – a treat to be sure, since we never eat marshmallows from the bag at home – and they were just as happy to enjoy them that way. I even offered one to Caleb who was sitting on a blanket, but he (after close inspection) rejected it as being a non-edible thing and didn’t even try to put it in his mouth. That’s saying a lot for a kid who will put even rocks into his mouth. Smart kid, that one.

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A True Taste of Canadiana

I guess with the Olympics in full swing I should be doing something to support our troops in Vancouver. I haven’t bought a mug, our children have no collectibles from McDonald’s, and we do not own any red and white mittens, scarves or hats. We missed the opening ceremonies (my husband wasn’t even aware that they were happening) and have yet to watch any coverage of the event at home. With this blog entry I will however, attempt to wave my little red and white flag, and identify with the millions who are – now more than ever – proud to be Canadian.

While the opening ceremonies were being held in Vancouver, we were in our minivan heading north with Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch audio books cranked up to drown out the noise of the van’s rusting muffler. The plan was to spend two days and two nights at my brother’s house in the Kawarthas. The reason? It had been almost a year since we’d last subjected ourselves to the joys of spending a weekend away from home. These delights include copious amounts of luggage, sleep deprivation, and a delightful cat named Widget who thinks she owns the house at night (As Wiarton Willy is my witness I swear that cat loudly and repeatedly meowed the word “help” in the middle of the night).

Truthfully though, these weekends at my brother’s are great, even with 9 people sharing one bathroom. The children entertain themselves for 48 hours with new toys and dearly missed cousins. The adults spend most of the time sitting drinking Yerba Mate and catching up on life. It’s good times.

Whether by coincidence or by plan, Saturday – the first full day of Olympic competition – was to be a quintessentially Canadian day. Friends of my brother and sister-in-law’s had invited us all to join them at their family’s cottage. In true Canadian form, we would strap on skates in sub-zero temperatures and glide across the frozen pond, perhaps shoot a puck around, and then warm up with steaming cups of coffee sipped in front of the hearth back at the cottage.

In preparation for this momentous occasion (the first ice skating party for our children) I had frantically arranged for skates for the family. The only family member who would require new/used skates was our eldest, so in the hour between supper and nursing the babe on Thursday evening he and I rushed to three different stores looking for used skates before finally shelling out $50 for new skates at Canadian Tire (for days like today, right?). My consolation is that the skates are adjustable and should fit him until at least Spring at the rate his feet are growing.

When we arrived on Saturday the conditions were close to perfect. It wasn’t too cold – only about -12 or so – and there was no danger of falling through the two-foot thick ice. Our hosts had set up a portable fire pit on the frozen lake, and there was even a wicker bench in a snow drift to make the task of lacing up easier. We had just arrived and made the acquaintance of our hosts when the first cries rang out from the direction of the lake. On his way down to the lake our 5-year-old had slipped on the ice and kissed a rock. Bloodied and screaming he came towards the cottage, expressing his doubts about whether skating was really all it was cracked up to be (pardon the pun). Let the games begin.

By the time we arrived at the lake he had settled down and I was in the process of explaining to him and his brother that they needed to be careful when they stepped onto the lake because it was sli… Crack.

Down went son #2, first onto his bottom, then onto the back of his head (who buys a helmet for a single skating excursion?). In less than 5 minutes both boys had learned one very important lesson: skating looks easier in cartoons.

After those initial bumps in the road (those puns are unavoidable) we did end up getting skates on their feet. I took our two-year-old for all of one spin on the ice, which involved absolutely no effort on his part. His legs went limp as soon as I tried to stand him upright and he realized he was wearing skates, not boots. He preferred being pulled around on a sled. Our eldest fared somewhat better, although he did comment that this was a lot easier on carpet. He spent most of his time on his knees.

Oddly enough, the child who enjoyed his time on the lake most was probably the baby, who, along with our hosts’ infant, enjoyed a nap on the frozen lake, all snug and warm in his car carrier. The sight of those two little car seats resting on a snow-covered lake should probably have been photographed for the Kawartha Lakes tourist pamphlet.

Despite the rocky start, our children relished their first taste of true Canadiana. The two youngest preferred the warmth of the cottage, while the eldest and Daddy slid around on the lake until our son’s cheeks were white. We did enjoy the promised coffee in front of a warm fire back at the pine-paneled cottage, as well as some fine hospitality by total strangers – another Canadianism for those who have never ventured outside our borders.

Today our son’s school has rented the arena and our little Canadian joins his classmates for his first-ever school skating trip. (I anticipate the boards will be full of future Olympians hanging on for dear life.) Initially there was great disappointment that the excursion would not include a trip in a school bus (a severe blow indeed), but our boy has recovered and is looking forward to trying on his new skates again. He’s quite confident that it’ll be easier this time because there are boards. I borrowed a good-quality helmet, just in case he’s wrong.

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