Puddicombe Farms...at long last.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I think Puddicombe Farms was supposed to be our second or third trip, but due to inclement weather, we put it off, figuring that another Friday in the summer would be nicer. Well, that Friday came, and we made a day in Winona of it, since the Peach Festival started Friday night.

The morning however was full of finishing off a VBS that the oldest three attended at Mountain Church of the Nazarene. SUCH as nice little church with VERY nice people there. I had had the thought weeks ago that it would be fun for the kids to go to a VBS [that wasn't at our church]. It wasn't until I was going to bed on Monday night that I remembered and figured that this would likely be the last week any church would be running a VBS. So I fired up my computer and took a look around Hamilton....kijiji did not reveal any...not many at all actually--only 2 or 3 from July. But then I went to the Hamilton Mountain News site and looked through there. Lo and behold, there was the Church of the Nazarene holding one this week. I was hoping to find a small one...with older ladies running it...you know, the kind you went to as a kid in someones backyard. I had a feeling it might be like that....

And it was. The kids had a great time, and more reassuringly, all those older ladies helping were not concerned in the least to have Jairus. You would have thought they'd known him his whole life the way they took to him, and rejoiced over every little thing he did independently. They seemed to know almost instinctively what was an accomplishment for him, whether going the whole morning without a toileting accident, or joining into the games and crafts.

So on Friday we had a little informal final program where the kids said their verses: The Ten Commandments, and sang their songs. It was a small group, about 25 kids, which was just how big I'd hoped it would be.

We came home and grabbed some lunch, and then left for Winona. The weather was overcast, cool and threatening, so I wasn't sure this was going to work, but the sun made just enough appearances to last us through until we were heading back home that night.

Puddicombe Farms was....nice....but not quite what we were thinking it would be. Well, not what James was expecting anyways. The whole time we were there, we saw only 2 other moms with a small handful of kids between them, and then one mom later on with her 2. When we arrived, we went into their gift/cafe shop and bought tickets for the train ride. Once we went through the gate into the main area, we discovered that the train ran at specific times and we were about 45 minutes away from the next one. So we kept ourselves and the kids amused with the little play section (which I'm afraid to say, could use a huge facelift) and the petting farm (which...didn't actually seem to have anything we could pet). They had an emu that kept snapping at us through the fence, a very friendly cow that licked Afton's face, some bunnies in cages that we weren't sure if we could take out to pet--so we didn't, a peacock that was molting, and a bunch of pygmy goats that were very cute, but again, we were unsure if petting was a good idea.
Despite its' state of dilapidation, the kids enjoyed the play area however, so we spent most of the time there until the train was ready to pull out.

The train ride was the most enjoyable part, in my opinion. They've got lots of acreage there with some ponds and huge weeping willows--my favourite kind of tree. The ride took about 20 minutes and then we took a closer look around the cafe/gift shop. We resisted the impulse to pick up some sparkling cider or square butter tarts, but couldn't resist the kids' pleas for lollipops...which I don't think any of them finished.

It was a nice trip, although the kids seemed a little disappointed that we didn't spend as long there as we had at our other destinations....but like I explained to them, we did everything there that there was to do. We made up for it however by promising to hit the Peach festival after supper....pics and story to come next!

Kent Family Summer of Fun: Earl Haig Family Fun Park

Monday, August 24, 2009

We used to live in Brantford, and a short drive down the road from us was the Earl Haig Family Fun Park. It's a nice little water park, not too flashy, not too expensive soooo, when I wanted to include one fun water park activity, I thought of Earl Haig. We were supposed to do Earl Haig on the last Friday of July, as you can see from our calendar, but we were up at Fair Havens instead. So when this past Friday looked like nice weather, and we had freed up a Friday from doubling up the week before, off we went to Brantford.

After spending a frustrating morning trying to apply for our passports however. A quick side story here. We're thinking about taking a cross-border trip on the Labour Day weekend, but suddenly realized that would require passports. So last week I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off to get my photos taken, find a guarantor, get all the paperwork filled out and find a place to drop it all off. Thought I could do it at a Canada Post outlet. Turns out that would take 4 weeks. Eeek...not enough time. So on Friday morning we went downtown to the actual government passport office.
We parked at a lot kiddy-corner from the building we needed to get into. James went to get a parking reciept to leave in the dash, but found that both the machines had OUT OF ORDER signs on them. So we shrugged and left. Mistake #1.
Up we went and got a number with an advised wait of about 1/2 an hour. We of course had all four kids and it took Afton about 7.5 seconds to insist on getting out of her stroller. It was a large room with many chairs, lots of people--maybe 30-40 waiting. All the Passport personel were behind partitions that went around two walls of the room. I followed Afton around as she toddled about. Soon my other three were hot on our trail.
They found a short ramped hallway in the back corner that led to some windows, a fire exit door and, with a quick turn to the left, ended with a steel door leading to the office area. I warned them all profusely about not touching the door and they were all very good about staying away and keeping Afton away too. I stood at the bottom of the gentle ramp and kept an eye on them all. Amazing what can keep kids occupied when there's absolutely nothing else to do.
Well after about 15-20 minutes, the security guard who had been so nice when we walked in and didn't know where to go first, comes over and asks me to keep the kids out of this hallway because "people were trying to work back there and the noise would bother them". Hhyeah.
Those steel doors are so darn flimsy, eh?
I rounded them all up and out, but Afton's attention was caught by a couple chrome posts standing in a nearby corner. You know, those kind that they string chains or belts inbetween to create a line, like at the bank? So she stops to investigate. Now, these things are heavy, weighted at the bottom and Afton was merely touching them.
The security guard was apparently not satisfied that he had rid the room of excess noise, so he heads toward her, speaking to her like you might a 10 year old, about how she shouldn't touch those and they might fall on her, etcetera.
I was so annoyed at that point that I scooped her up and said in a rather testy tone, "She's one. She doesn't understand you".

Shortly after our number came up and we had our paperwork processed.

Back down we went, having spent about 45 minutes at this task. And what should be awaiting us at our van? Of course...a ticket. A $19 parking ticket.

We were pretty much beyond frustrated at this point and I examined the ticket thoroughly as we got in the van. James tried to go back to the machines and get a picture, but of course, the signs were gone now. I noticed that the office for disputing tickets was not far, so even though it was lunchtime, we headed over to the address.

I went in, since the van is registered to me, and after filling out a form and waiting about 20-25 minutes, a woman called me into her office. I had stated on the form what the problem had been and so after clarifying it verbally, she called the manager for that lot. He told her in no uncertain terms that the machines were working fine. She gets off the phone and tells me this like she expected me to break down and admit we were totally trying to scam her. I just sat there and shook my head, suggesting that perhaps someone was playing some grand trick? I went over the story again, filling in as many details as I could. She called the manager back and tried again. Nope. Still nothing wrong. I could tell she was feeling the squeeze of the rock and the hard place. I wasn't giving anything though. Finally she scrawls a line across the ticket and says, "Ok, well, he's sending someone over to look (pointless, as I had told her the signs were gone), but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt".
I had thought I would feel triumphant and relieved, but instead I just felt....like a delinquent. I live in a world where people don't question my honesty and integrity. It's a real slap in the face when I encounter someone who is accustomed to assuming the worst about people.

All that washed away however, in the gentle current of the lazy river....here's the pics of our enjoyable afternoon at Earl Haig.

For a mere 7 dollars more, we got the Splash and Putt pass, so the kids all had their first experience with mini-golf. (I had to convince Honour that the mini-putt at Fair Havens DOESN'T COUNT).

Extra Kent Fun

There's this little park I've spotted many a time on my way down the Wellington Street mountain access. I've always wanted to stop and explore it but never could of course. I told myself at the beginning of the summer that one warm evening after supper we'd get in the car and go see it.
So we did just that last week, on Saturday night. We stopped at a variety store and got giant freezies for the kids...truthfully I wasn't sure they'd find this all that interesting so I was trying to add some perk to the evening. I needn't have worried.
So this is Sam Lawrence park. About three times at least, Honour exclaimed "This park is SOO beautiful mummy, thank you SOO much for bringing us here". Look at that. I get good ideas once in a while.

Another first for the Kents this summer was a wee cruise around Hamilton Harbour. Well, this time it was just for the grown-up Kents. I spotted the information for this cruise when I was planning the summer trips and thought it sounded like a nice date night. It turned out to be slightly more expensive than I first thought, but in the end, I think it was worth it. The weather was not so helpful, so my pics are a little dim, and....I gotta be honest, Hamilton Harbour is not so much a good looking waterfront what with the steel factories belching away, but I don't get much of a chance to get on a boat of any kind, not to mention much of a chance to do something just with James, so I can overlook belching smokestacks. It was good food too!

Hamilton Waterfront Trolley

Sunday, August 23, 2009

For last Friday's trip we went down to the waterfront here in Hamilton and took the trolley. It was nice, if a bit long for the kids, but overall they enjoyed it.

We decided to combine two trips on one day, because we realized that on their own, they wouldn't take very long or make for a satisfying day. So after the trolley ride, we headed a short ways down the waterfront to Bayfront Park where there's a Tugboat embedded in the ground and turned into a play structure for kids. Next to it is a nice splashpad and the usual climbing apparatuses (apparati?). There are picnic tables in the tugboat so we ate our lunches there and then found a wee bit of grass to lay out on while the kids frolicked nearby.

As you can see, Leslife is under construction. Alas, Isnaini, the designer of my old blog did not respond to my calls for help to restore my graphics, so I have moved on to grander templates. I'm still tweaking this one and possibly might replace it all together if I can't get it quite the way I want so hang on with me.

Another Kent Fun Week

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

As our tradition for about the last 30 years, we spent some time up at Fair Havens Bible Conference. Well, they've been calling it Fair Havens Ministries for a while now, but what can I say: I'm an old timer. They tried to change the Tuck shop to "Connexion Cafe" but you still hear many people calling it the Tuck. Including my 5 year old. Who's been listening to me. (rock on, girl).

I do love Fair Havens. My parents and Ryan and I started camping there when I was about 4. I have grand memories too numerous to go into here. We would borrow my Grandparent Wettlaufers trailer (a Prowler, I believe) and what a thrill it was to sleep on the fold out bunk. Somewhere along the line my other grandparents secured a permanent site and made a summer home there with their trailer. There was a certain security in knowing that Grandma and Papa were always there, at #511.

Then in 1990 I worked my first summer there, in the children's ministry. It was called Children's Chapel, as it had been for decades and we serviced about 80-100 kids aged 2-10 each week for a 3 hour morning and another hour and a half at night. We did songs, crafts, games: all the usual kid VBS/Sunday School type stuff. I did this for 6 summers. The last 3 I was the coordinator of the program. The last summer or two we started to see changes. Some parents were not happy that their 2 year olds were in the same group as the 10 year olds (we'd start the morning together before splitting into age appropriate classes and some evening activities (movie night) had all the kids together). So the segregation began. This splintering has continued so that now, there is a 'class' for babies, another for 2 and 3 year olds, another for 4 and 5 year olds, another group for grades 1-3 and then I'm not sure what happens after that. My kids aren't old enough yet.

To my knowledge and observation, it doesn't appear the children do anything terribly different than we did 15 years ago. They still sing. (the same songs. I know, because I hear them and I was the one who led the singing those 6 summers). They still do crafts. (The girls brought a couple things home from their week. Jairus didn't bring anything home I don't think). They still have 'pool' morning, although now for the girls' class, it was 'water' morning which didn't happen due to inclement weather. Jairus' class went to the splash pad and may have gone in the pool.
They still sing in big chapel on Friday night and say their memory verse. Jairus declined to participate. :-( They still have some form of dress-up night (still expecting parents to pull costumes out of their meager camping supplies) and pajama night. They still traipse all over the camp finding interesting spots to play their games and explore. They still call all the leaders Miss or Mr. [first name].
This generation of Children's Chapel workers don't even have to go an hour and a half or more at night. Adult chapel has been truncated recently and if it runs for an hour, that's generous. Another difference is the need to tag each kid and outfit each parent with a corresponding bracelet. Other than that....it would seem that no one's done any huge reinventing of the wheel.

I'm not complaining about this. I enjoyed attending Children's Chapel. I enjoyed teaching Children's Chapel. If someone along the line decided that what we were all doing was vastly inferior and instituted an overhaul, I'm not sure how I'd feel about that. The point of my jaunt down memory lane has to do with...well, the memories.

James was of course a big part of all this. I met him my first summer there. We started dating and did the long distance thing for the following year. We broke up the next summer upon returning to FH and spent the next two years apart. The summer of 1994 saw us get back together again, summer of 1995 we were engaged---at Fair Havens, and summer of 1996 we were married---at Fair Havens. Yup, that's right, out on the path in front of ol' Irwin Chapel.

Once James and I got married, that spelled the end of my working summers at FH. Naturally. We've made a point however, of getting up there at least once a summer, if even just for a long weekend. I recall we tried actual tent camping (I believe we gave up midweek and moved into my grandparents trailer that my aunt and uncle had just finished with).

Not long after we got married, my parents were able to buy their first trailer. For a few years they hauled it back and forth, or might have left it in storage there over the winter. Then my grandparents decided to pass their permanent site on, so my parents were the excited recipients. Now my kids can always remember their Nana and Papa at #511. Our habit the last 2-3 years is for me to bring up the kids for a week and James to join us on the weekend. To take a whole week of vacation and join my parents (and up to 4 siblings) in their trailer is...a bit crowded.

So with this short history of my affiliation with Fair Havens in mind, perhaps now I can explain why I find myself becoming increasingly annoyed with the place.

I was talking about it some with another staff alumnus whom I usually run into every year. Her parents also have a permanent site not far from my parents. She's a great friend whom I cherish and I feel I can talk to concerning just about anything. Her and I both gave many summers of our teenage lives to Fair Havens for a fairly pathetic financial remuneration. I don't think that was a huge deal to me at the time, although I do remember waiting and hoping to be old enough to join their college student program, so that I could work there during the summers in between years at university. I was pretty disappointed when they terminated that program before I could get to it.
Now as an adult with a better handle on the cost of wages, living and quality employees, it's pretty astounding to me how much they got away with paying us. I've worked it out, remembering how much I brought home at the end of the summer and how many hours I worked during the weeks there....yep, it was pretty 'poverty' as my sister would say.


And even if my memory is completely wrong, and I brought home twice as much....that's still only $3.00 an hour. Sure, they provided room and board. Still highway robbery I think. And consider the years I was coordinating. I spent untold hours planning and preparing for the summer....and I don't remember getting a significant amount more.

Again, I'm not complaining about that, particularly. When it seems to burn the most however, is when I return there with my family and can barely afford to stay with my parents.
Fair Havens doesn't have any kind of alumni recognition. That's probably not very common among conference/camping grounds anyway, but I just feel like there should be something. Like I've explained, I kept up my connection with FH because I love it. The place. Some of the people.
But when I show up to pay for the programs my children will attend while we're there, I can't help but shake my head to think I'm now paying no small amount for my kids to do exactly what I used to teach....and never charged a penny for. That's right, 15 years ago, there were no "program fees".
It didn't help that the woman registering me at the counter was an old time staffer whom I clearly remember from my time working there, and I'm willing to bet she was working there when I was a lowly camper too. She asks my name, which, ok, I probably couldn't have remembered her name either, but the kicker was when she couldn't find me in the computer and asks "Have you been here before?". Sigh.
When I found out how much it was going to be costing me, I seriously considered saying that, ok, I wouldn't be sending them to their programs. I actually stood there thinking about how I was going to tell the kids they weren't going to 'Kinder Kids' and 'The Rock'. I began a short list in my head of the stuff I could do with them instead, with an underlying current of disappointment running through the whole mess that I wouldn't be able to work on the scrapbooking I brought up.
But that wasn't an option. When she included Afton, I quickly told her that I wouldn't be sending Afton to the nursery, thinking I wouldn't have to pay the program fee for her. After all, she wouldn't be getting any program. But no....the fee is to cover "her use of the grounds". Like the pool and....the ground she walks on. "For a 14 month old?" I said incredulously. They were going to charge me $50 so Afton could get her feet wet in the pool?


So on top of my wounded pride that this lady had to ask if I'd ever BEEN there before, the exorbitant fee for my kids to do precisely what's been happening there for at least 30 years at no cost, now my one year old had to pay for me to push her in a stroller around the campgrounds.

Is it too much to ask for a little recognition? A small token of gratitude for sacrifices made to the growth and prosperity of Fair Havens Ministries? Apparently not.

Now, as I'm a person to tries to look at things from the other side's perspective, I can understand that since the new director came on board a few years ago, he's put in place huge changes in order to improve the place. And improvements have happened. The Tuck shop and offices have been completely redone since I was a staffer. The playground is much larger, with new play apparatuses. The children's program now has two large portable classrooms to extend their classes into, with accompanying playlot. There's a beautiful new splashpad (as you can see). There's a more impressive line-up of special musical guests and events like the showing of the "Fireproof" movie. Every Friday night there's fireworks (as you can see) and every Saturday night they hold a BBQ for all the campers. I've heard that financially, Fair Havens is doing much better, and all due to this new director.

But this year, as I paid my left arm for my kids to attend one week of program and for me and Afton to....be on the grounds, I started considering that sometime soon, arrangements will likely have to change. As my kids get bigger, they won't be able to share the table that turns into a bed, and we will quite simply run out of room. We'll either have to start coming up during a week when my family is not there (no fun), or we're going to have to start making our own arrangements (like....grown-ups would, I guess). We'd have to get our own site...and get our own tent or tent trailer or trailer or something. But quite honestly, since we've always been on the receiving end of the perks of my parents' season site, and not had to pay very much at all for our times at Fair Havens, the costs to do such a thing seem pretty outrageous. And that just burns me. That both James and I once gave so much of our time and energy to a place that now we can't even afford to bring our family to. Yes, I know they are a business. Yes, I know they need to make money to make the place better, to bring up the standard and be able to compete with the likes of MBC.

But really, is that their goal? What is their goal? It would be nice to know. Because I think it should be to provide a beautiful, restful place where families can come and recharge, spend time with friends and hear some good bible teaching, trusting that their children are receiving the same---at a price the average family can afford.

Perhaps Fair Havens needs to take a look at what the average family is pulling in.