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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Give Thanks for all our family and friends

I have been putting off writing this blog as I just couldn’t work out where to start of how to put everything down onto “paper”. So many feelings and thoughts to work through and try and make some sense of them.

Jarlath and I used to love doing road trips in the car and particularly in America. On several occasions we would fly into the US with no plans other than having a hire car waiting at the airport for us. We had a couple of our best holidays just jumping into the car, buying a road map and then taking off to wherever the road led us. A tour around Florida away from all the usual tourist haunts was one of the best. We have become slightly lazy (and used to luxury) over the past few years and have not done one of our road trips for a while. So when we knew we were going to spend Thanksgiving in Rochester, NY we thought we would try and combine it with a mini version of our road trips. The only difference being we did have a couple of specified destinations to work to.

We started off from Washington DC on the Friday afternoon of the 20th of November and headed north. The only remit we had was that we wanted to be in Toronto in Canada by about early afternoon on the Saturday. We had a great sunny day for a drive and set off North on highway 15 which would take us directly north towards Buffalo NY. I started out driving to allow Jarlath to continue working on emails and phone calls for a few hours. I always find this part of the driving rather boring as I can neither chat or have the radio on while Jarlath is working on the phone but I am a day dreamer so I manage to while away a couple of hours just day dreaming happily about everything and nothing. Once Jarlath finished work for the day we had checked an audio book out of the library to help us pass some of our journey. We had chosen it together – Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeffry Lindsay. It is the book that the tv series Dexter is based on. It was a good choice at it was a combination of a serious crime drama and comedy rolled into one and being 7 discs long it was going to cover a lot of our journey there and back again.

After driving for 6 hours (me having done 5 of those) we thought we would find a place to stop for the night so we could get some dinner and have a couple of beers. We came across a small town called Geneseo which was about 20 miles south of Rochester in NY state. It was a small college town so had a few bars and restaurants although nothing fancy but this suited us as we only wanted to go out for a couple of hours as we knew we wanted to get up sharp in the morning to continue our drive. We had a pleasant evening and a good night’s sleep in the Quality Inn there before continuing our journey to Toronto on the Saturday morning.

Saturday again turned out to be a lovely sunny day and the temperatures were very moderate for that time of year that far north (in the mid fifties Fahrenheit). We continued our drive and crossed the border in Buffalo into Canada before driving across Toronto to the suburb of Whitby.

Whitby is where the Tipping family is from. They are sort of relatives of Jarlath’s. It is too complicated to go into the family history but I class John and Kate (mom and dad) as Aunt and Uncle and their four daughters as cousins of Jarlath’s. We were mainly going to visit their oldest daughter Sonia as she had just had a baby girl one month previously but also she was the one we have always been most friendly with.

I remember the first time I met Sonia and her dad, John. Jarlath and I were staying at the family house in Achill in County Mayo, Ireland. It was a dreary, typical, wet and misty Irish day on the West coast so Jarlath and I had decided just to stay in for the day. We had a fire lit and I was doing a jigsaw while Jarlath was putting together an airfix model he had found around the house but generally just cosying up and enjoying a quiet afternoon. Then there was a knock on the door and in the typical Irish fashion it opened and in came John and Sonia. After introductions, Jarlath remembered Sonia from when he was a young teenager and she was a younger girl so we all packed up and walked around to the local pub (The Strand) and caught up on the last 20 years (or in my case met them for the first time) and had a lovely afternoon which stretched into the evening. From that fateful afternoon we both built up a nice friendship with Sonia and would meet in Ireland most summers when we were all over visiting family. I got on really well with Sonia at the time and we always had lots to talk about and laugh over every time we met. After several years, life and careers took over a bit and we never saw or spoke to each other (except the very occasional hello email or facebook message) for at least 4 years. In this time Jarlath and I got married (Sonia couldn’t make the wedding) and Sonia married Dale (we couldn’t make her wedding even though it was in Ireland) and Sonia became stepmom to Dales son Carson as well. We did bump into each other again in Ireland but our schedules just never seemed to click correctly. So anyway, when they had their first daughter, Ciara Grace, I thought that we should definitely make the effort to go and visit and re-establish our friendship.

We arrived at their house early on Saturday afternoon and were immediately at ease with each other like old friends. We just spent the afternoon chatting and then Katherine and Marie (two of Sonia’s sisters) came over to visit and then Mom and Dad came over for dinner and we spent a lovely evening with the family having some drinks and a lovely dinner of steaks (done outside on the BBQ even in November).
On Sunday we all decided to head to downtown Toronto to visit the CN tower. Jarlath and I had both been there before at separate times before we met each other but surprisingly Dale and Carson had never been up it despite living around Toronto for all of their lives. It was the perfect time for them to go up for the first time with their visitors. We left baby Ciara with grandparents for the afternoon and headed off.

The CN tower is a well known site and most people will have seen photos of the structure from the outside. There is not much inside except the view and a restaurant. The restaurant is a bit overpriced so we decided just to look at the view and have lunch somewhere else.

CN Tower is the tallest free-standing structure on land. It is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and was erected as a communications and tourist tower. The CN Tower consists of a main hexagonal hollow pillar of concrete containing the elevators, stairwells and power and plumbing connections. To the main pillar are attached the broadcast antenna and the two main visitors area: lower down is a seven-storey Main Level at 330 m (1,100ft) while higher up, the Sky Pod (formerly called the Space Deck) at 447 m (1,465ft), just below the antenna. (Confusingly SkyPod was the name given to the seven-storey Main Level, but now refers to the Space Deck.) The main pillar has three supporting legs giving it the appearance of a camera tripod.

Some floors of the Main Level is open to the public. At 342 m (1,122ft) is the Glass Floor and Outdoor Observation Deck. The Glass Floor consists of thermal glass units that are 64mm (2 1/2in) thick. The floor has an area of 24sq metre and can withstand a pressure of 600psi. At 346m (1,136ft) is the Horizons Cafe and Look Out level. There is a rotating restaurant at 351m (1,150ft) called the 360 Restaurant. It makes a full rotation every 72 minutes. Below the Main Level is the tower's microwave receiver shaped like a big white donut.

The Sky Pod is presently the highest observation deck in the world. From here, you can see 100-120 km (60-75mi) away, to the city of Rochester across Lake Ontario in the US, and see the mist rising from Niagara Falls.

The CN Tower has the tallest metal staircase in thw world. At the 1776th step, the staircase reaches the Main Level. It reaches the Sky Pod at the 2,579th step. The staircase is intended only for emergency use, and is not open to the public outside three times a year during the charity stair-climbing events.

The CN Tower was built by the Canadian National Railway Company, and the CN originally refers to "Canadian National". It was built on former railway land which the railway company had planned for a development called Metro Centre. Two years into construction of the tower however, the Metro Centre development was scrapped, so when CN Tower was completed, it stood isolated. A few decades would pass before the "wasteland" below the tower was developed. Today new additions including the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the SkyDome (called the Rogers Centre since 2005). In 1995, the railway company sold off the tower before going public. Since it is no longer owned by the railway company, the CN abbreviation is now expanded to mean Canada's National Tower, a name not commonly used. Nevertheless, the locals as well as foreign visitors popularly call it the CN Tower.

The CN Tower was constructed when Toronto was experiencing an economic boom. Indeed the Canadian National Railway had planned it to demonstrate the strength of Canadian industries, and CN in particular. The late 1960s and early 1970s was a particularly prosperous time for Toronto, which see a sprout of large skyscrapers. This caused some difficulties in broadcasting to the downtown area, due to reflections from these tall buildings. The solution is to raise the antenna above all these buildings. At that time, most data communications use point-to-point microwave links that require line-of-sight links. The new skyscrapers obstruct such communications. By constructing this super tall tower, the CN Railway company can rent "hub" space for microwave links, as it will be visible from almost any building in the Toronto area.

Construction of the CN Tower began on 6 February, 1973. It topped off on 2 April, 1975, after 26 months of construction. It was opened to the public on 26 June, 1976, and had its official opening ceremony on 1 October, 1975.

We decided to go to the highest level of the Sky pod and luckily had great views as the weather was quite clear. The best part was when a cloud passed by. As we were so high up we were actually in the clouds so would suddenly be surrounded by it for a short time.
We then moved down to the main observation deck where the best part for me was the glass floors. It is freaky to be standing and looking down to see yourself so high in the air with “nothing” underneath you. Some people would not even walk on the glass but I am sure it is very tough and well tested to ensure that there is no risk of cracking or falling through.

We were all quite tired after our afternoon out so just went back to the house where everyone came over again and Mom and Dad brought over lasagna and we just all had dinner and chatted for the rest of the evening. Dale in, typical Canadian fashion, is into Ice hockey and plays in a team so he had to go out late on the Sunday night as he had a game booked at 10.45p.m.! He must have been shattered when he was finished.

It was lovely to catch up with everyone again and we will need to make sure that we don’t leave it so long next time. I loved being able to hold the baby and I always like rocking them to sleep and even got a chance to feed her. It always makes me a bit broody when I get to hold a baby, particularly when they are friends or family, and does even make me sad that I will never have one.

Monday came and we said our goodbyes and set off for the next leg of our road trip. We were heading for Niagara Falls. Again we had both been before we met each other with different friends but fancied having another look and experiencing the lovely tacky side of the falls on Clifton Hill. It was only a three hour drive so we arrived early afternoon, had a short drive around to see the area and then booked ourselves into a Days Inn on Clifton Hill. We originally were joking about trying to get a lovely, tacky room with a heart shaped, vibrating bed but even in Niagara Falls these were not apparent. So we vouched for the Jacuzzi room instead which was a lovely big room with two Queen size beds and a huge Jacuzzi (that could have fitted 8 people comfortably if you were so inclined) right in the bedroom. As it was another lovely afternoon we didn’t waste any time in the room and headed out for a walk towards the falls. They are an amazing sight and I would recommend a visit to anyone who is travelling to that part of Canada. We decided to try and get a bit closer so tried to sneek down an access road that was closed to the public and did manage to get closer than we should have to the bottom of the falls.
We also walked around to the Horseshoe falls on the Canadian side where we got soaked from the spray as the wind was in the wrong direction and brought all the spray back over the sidewalk.

That evening we fancied getting a bit dressed out and having a wee fun night out so we headed out to one of the famous casinos. We only gamble about once every 5 years on these such occasions so it is actually quite fun. We set ourselves a budget of $100 canadian each and once we lost that we would walk away. The only game we know how to play is regular blackjack so we found a table with a low minimum bet, got a couple of drinks and sat down to gamble. It was fun because I love trying to count the cards in a “Rainman” fashion (but without the brain to succeed). I bet for a couple of hours until I eventually lost all my stake money but I was happy to just sit and watch Jarlath continue to play. He was very lucky (or skillful!) and he managed to use his $100 stake money and came away with $225. So he made my losses back plus kept his own stake money and made $25 on top which paid for the drinks. So all in all a thoroughly enjoyable night. We had lost track of time and realized it was now 1.30 in the morning and we had not eaten all evening so headed out of the casino to see if anywhere was still open for something to eat. No luck so we had to go to bed hungry. When we woke up we were both so ravenous that we just threw on some clothes and headed out to the nearest diner for some breakfast.

Here are some photos from this part of our trip:


Again we packed up and decided to set off on our road trip. We decide to drive to Niagara on the Lake and spend the afternoon there as it is supposed to be rather elegant and tranquil.
Besides having the reputation as one of the prettiest towns in Canada, Niagara-on-the-Lake is also one of the most fascinating historically.

The Town has retained its 19th century charm and is a wonderful place to explore with its forts, grand mansions, colourful gardens and parks, and pot-pourri of arts and crafts."
Strategically situated at the mouth of the mighty Niagara River, Niagara-on-the-Lake played a key role in much of the early government, the War of 1812, commerce, and most recently as a centre for tourism and the arts.
In fact, it is said that to understand the history of Niagara-on-the-Lake is to understand the history of early Ontario.

There were lots of lovely little, very British, shops. My favourite being the Scottish Loft where I stocked up on four cans of Diet Irn Bru and was very excited for a while. We just had a stroll around the lake and then some tea and scones in a lovely wee Irish tearoom. We found a plaque with the celtic history of the name Keating and bought it for our house. We also bought a couple of little Christmas decorations for the Christmas tree - I got a Canadian Mountie that moves its arms and legs up and down and Jarlath got Homer Simpson as santa being stuck in the chimney. It was a lovely relaxing afternoon and again lots of fresh air in the cold but sunny weather.

That evening we were originally supposed to be heading to Rochester to stay with Martin and Lisa and their kids but we got a call to say that the workmen they had in were running behind so could we arrive a day later on the Wednesday. No problem, so we took the opportunity to visit Buffalo NY for the night. We found a hotel and went out for a couple of drinks and a lovely Italian Dinner but as we were both quite tired we had a fairly early night to save our strength for thanksgiving. I wasn’t that impressed with Buffalo as it seemed rather poor and rundown but perhaps we just stayed in the wrong area and if we had a local guide we would have a different opinion of it, I certainly would not rush back for another visit though.


Wednesday morning and we drove into Rochester. As we were not expected until after 3.00p.m. we decided to drive straight the Eastman House.

George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film combines the world’s leading collections of photography and film with the stately pleasures of the landmark Colonial Revival mansion and gardens that George Eastman called home from 1905 to 1932. The Museum is a National Historic Landmark. Mr. Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, is heralded as the father of modern photography and the inventor of motion picture film.

The Eastman House, the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the world’s oldest film archives, opened to the public in 1949. World-renowned for its photograph and motion picture archives, the Museum is also a leader in film preservation and photograph conservation, educating the top archivists and conservators from around the world.

Mr. Eastman (1854–1932) built his home at 900 East Avenue between 1902 and 1905. He created a unique urban estate complete with 10.5 acres of working farm land, formal gardens, greenhouses, stables, barns, pastures, and a 35,000-square-foot, 50-room Colonial Revival mansion with a fireproof structure made of reinforced concrete.

Mr. Eastman’s house presented a classical facade of decorative craftsmanship. Beneath this exterior were such modern conveniences as an electrical generator, an internal telephone system with 21 stations, a built-in vacuum cleaning system, a central clock network, an elevator, and a great pipe organ, which made the home itself an instrument, a center of the city’s rich musical life from 1905 until Eastman’s death in 1932.

Mr. Eastman’s will bequeathed his estate to the University of Rochester for 10 years. His close friend Rush Rhees, then president of the university, resided here until 1935, succeeded by the Valentine family. Following World War II, the university transferred the estate to a board of trustees, which formed to establish a museum of photography, attracting precious artifacts from around the world to a center of study, care, and exhibition.
The George Eastman House Museum of Photography was chartered in 1947. Today the Museum’s full name is George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. The Museum’s mission from the outset was to collect, preserve, and present the history of photography and film. The Museum opened its doors to a diverse public audience in 1949, displaying its core collections in the former public rooms of Eastman’s house.

It was a quite interesting place to visit although the one display that Jarlath remember from a previous visit was no longer there. It showed Niagara Falls at their original full power before some of the water was redirected to create power and given our recent visit we both wanted to see them. It was still an interesting couple of hours.

We headed off to the house for 3.00p.m. but in true Martin fashion no-one was there so we “forced” ourselves to go to the local pub and have a beer while we waited for our friends. Martin joined us after 40 minutes and we all headed back to his house and waited for Lisa and the kids to come home. Liam, Erin and Cate are such lovely kids and after about 5 seconds of shyness they just treat us like they see us every day. Cate is just 6 months old and I grabbed her the moment they arrived and barely let her go the whole time I was there. Again it was lovely to be around the kids - it makes me realize how much I miss my nephews and nieces in the UK.

Thursday was Thanksgiving day and we were all headed out late afternoon (after a lovely trip to the lake) for dinner at Lisa’s Mom and Dad’s house (Beth and Don). A number of her family were there – her aunts Phyllis and Dar, Dar’s husband Fred and daughter Kate and Lisa’s Nana who is 92 years old but ever so fit and sprightly for her age. It was a lovely time being welcomed into the family home for my first Thanksgiving (along with baby Cate as well). It was just a full turkey dinner, lots of wine and loads of chatting. We got on really well with aunt Dar and Fred and have been invited up to their house for Christmas as they only live a few hours away in Pennsylvania. We won’t be able to make it this year but will certainly take a trip up to them at some point.

The next couple of days we just all hung out together and caught up and had a great time.
I adore Martin and Lisa and their kids and wish that we lived a lot closer so I could get to see them a lot more. I hope to go and visit myself next year to help out with the kids and to catch up.
So much love and happiness was shared over Thanksgiving and it really gave me a warm feeling to be welcomed into such a loving family. I did get a bit emotional on the Friday evening. I was sitting through in the living room on my own with Cate, trying to get her to sleep. I could hear Christmas carols coming through the speakers from the kitchen and lots of lively chatter as well. I am not really sure what I was thinking but got overwhelmed for a moment and shed a small tear but it was a happy sadness – don’t tell anyone though as I don’t want them to think I am going soft or something! I was also slightly teary when Beth and Don and the rest of the family were leaving as it just made me realize what I don’t have with not having any family around me any more.

Well another wonderful trip ended with an uneventful car journey home on the Saturday to prepare for getting back to reality on the Monday. Lots of beautiful memories and time with my husband.


Love to everyone and just spend a moment giving thanks for your friends and family. Xx

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