Ontario Tourism, Day 9: Tobermory and Flowerpot Island

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Our second day camping at Cyprus Lake, part of the Bruce Peninsula National Park, we decided to head into the town of Tobermory to catch the ferry over to Flowerpot Island.  But first, we wanted coffee.

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Fresh air and sunshine sure wear one out, so our get up and go wasn’t quite there Wednesday morning when it needed to be.  We had a full day ahead of us, ferrying over to the island, hiking around it, and walking the Tobermory shops and town when we returned by ferry.  We needed our coffee.  I hadn’t brought the Bodum to make our own morning coffees, nor was there a general store in the campground.  Remember, this was halfway to real camping.  No showers, no nearby flush toilet, a bear on site, and no general store to get your morning coffee.

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We all decided coffee was the first thing we’d get upon entering Tobermory.  So how could I forget? I guess I was too set on finding the office to purchase ferry tickets.  The Blue Heron Cruise Lines office was the first thing we spotted as we entered Tobermory.  So we stopped in and purchased the over the top expensive boat tickets to the island (took me a while to actually decide on it while standing there in front of the young girl forming those syllables to mouth f-o-r-t-y-f-o-u-r dollars an adult, t-h-i-r-t-y-f-o-u-r dollars for youth.) Puppy dog eyes and a bit of whimpering to go along with them always help convince me we should just pay the gargantuan price for sweet youngest to have this once in a lifetime experience.  So I did.

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The cruise line office sits right on highway six on your left-hand side as you enter Tobermory.  After purchasing tickets in the office you park your vehicle at the back of the building where a super friendly shuttle bus driver awaits you, to drive you to the harbour area. Very organized, and very relaxing to know you don’t have to fight for parking in the town, particularly if it’s a busy time.

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There are several kinds of boat tours you can choose from:  the jet or glass bottom boat drop off to Flowerpot island, or the sunset cruise, or a stay aboard cruise around the perimeter of the island. For the price, I think it’s more worth it to get off and see the island itself.

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It was actually a fairly choppy ride over to the island that morning, with a few close to sea-sick patrons (myself and daughters among those).  But we got our sea legs by the end of the journey.

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The largest passenger and car vessel on the Great Lakes is called the Chi-Cheemaun (meaning, “big canoe” in Ojibway) holds 600 people and up to 150 vehicles, running May through October, offering a short cut to and from northern Ontario.  The trip takes one hour and forty-five minutes, and leaving Tobermory four times daily.  We were able to snap a shot of it as we passed by en route to Flowerpot Island.

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I don’t recall it being this busy twenty years ago, but maybe I’ve just got selective memory.  It sure was overpopulated with tourists that Wednesday July 6th.  They’re well equipped with organizing everyone for arriving and departing the island which makes for a smooth flow of people on and off the island.

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We started with a picnic lunch on the shoreline (I made sure I took the pic towards the water so you can’t see all the people to the left, right, and behind us), and trip to the washrooms (very close to the boat arrivals).  There were new washrooms in the works so I’m sure next summer’s visitors will not have near the line-ups.

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It’s not a long hike at all to reach the look-outs to the flower pots, nor to climb down to get close up to them.

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We were able to snap these two shots at just the right moment, between the entourage of tourists that await to do the same thing.

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Not so lucky with this shot, where everyone seemed to arrive at the base of the flowerpot right alongside us.

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And just like at the Royal Botanical Gardens, the same red adirondack chairs edged the trail, for a little rest for the weary (or those wearing complementary green tops) passing by.

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The hike included a little side tangent up to some caves.  Poor J was assigned the huge backpack for the day (did we actually assign it or just forget about you, J?), and never once complained, lugging that massive lump around in the heat.

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The lighthouse keeper’s rugged home was the end of the trail, with a cute little looksie through the rooms, my favourite being this front bedroom dreamily looking out over the water.

We walked a little further on to the lighthouse look-out point, and from there split up, our two American guests going more inland on a trail around the island, while I headed back to the main area with my two girls.

We took our time on the walk back, stopping at the look-outs, and spent a good while with our feet in the water, enjoying it’s coolness, and the passing boats.

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When we met up again, we were weary (remember, we had no coffee to perk us up for that hike) and fully ready for a rest, and coffee.  I think it’s what made our trip back on the boat so enjoyable and relaxing…the thought of near and dear to our hearts, coffee at the end of the trip when so deprived of it all day long.

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Going without it made it taste that much better.  The cute coffee shop, named just that, had delicious options, hot and cold, that we all pretty much gulped back.

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And you can see, the effect worked.

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And of course the Sweet Shop couldn’t be passed up for some tasty ice-cream (it’s a hugely popular place so be sure to stop by it).  The stores were the end of the day meander for us.

Just before we headed back to the campsite I decided we should all have some fish and chips since we were by water and that just seems the thing to do after a day on a boat.  This  is the real deal for fish and chips in Tobermory, and quite a popular place overlooking the marina.

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And there won’t be one of us who forgets the story behind our trip to this place (not even the owner).  I was very busy ordering and paying for our meal at the pick-up window, all the while talking.  Big no no.  Talking and paying at the same time, without having pulled out much needed eyeglasses, is a disaster, just so you know.  I believe I gave something like a 300% tip.  Yikes!  The owner came over and exclaimed, “WOW, you’re super generous!”  I’d love to say I was, and I really do love fish and chips.  After a little while we sorted it all out, along with a call home so hubby wouldn’t flip at seeing that transaction.

We had a final fire and some soothing tea before bed, and a restful last night at Cyprus Lake.

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Our next day didn’t seem as daunting of a drive since we decided to break it up by stopping at Sauble Beach on Lake Huron, an hour south, to spend the day.  Stay tuned for that Tourism Ontario Day 10!

 

 

Tourism Ontario Days 8-10: Cyprus Lake and The Grotto

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One week into our vacation with our American guests, we were headed to Cyprus Lake (above) and Tobermory.  Tobermory is located at the tip where Lake Huron spills into Georgian Bay, and where gorgeous, breath-taking, stunning, doesn’t even begin to describe the beauty of this landscape and body of water.

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Normally in Ontario one has to sit at their computer at 7 a.m. five months in advance of the date you’re wanting to book a site.  Because of this, I thought for certain I would not stand a chance booking a site a couple of weeks in advance.  The thought hadn’t occurred to me to take the girls this far north and west while vacationing here. But the bug got a hold of me just prior to their arriving, and so I just had to see if there were any sites left.  Lo and behold it was meant to be because when I searched, there were a few sites remaining, and obviously one with our name on it.

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Cyprus Lake (the campground is officially called Bruce Peninsula National Park) sits about 10-15 mins south of Tobermory, and holds 232 drive in non-serviceable campsites (and they also have Yurt sites).  If you like your showers, this is not the campsite for you.  It holds the basics as far as washrooms (which by that I mean outhouses), but there is one wheelchair accessible flush toilet at the main centre on the way into the campground where you check-in and buy firewood and ice.

This has been the quietest campground I’ve yet to encounter.  Maybe it was just that we had polite, quiet, introverted neighbours for that weekend.  They do hold to a rule of campfires being out by 11pm which greatly cuts down on noise.  I remember waking at night and being impressed with just how quiet it was all around us.

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Hubby and I spent the second week of our honeymoon here at Cyprus Lake 23 years ago.  Since then we visited twice more in our early years of marriage, so it’s been at least 20 years since then.  So this was a highlight for me to get back there again to the beauty of this part of Ontario, and to share it with some of my children.

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I may have said Cyprus Lake and the town of Tobermory were Ontario’s best kept secrets 20 years ago. But no more.  As a friend just pointed out, it was listed as Canada’s fourth best vacation destination!  Now, I’m not sure I should have said that since an overpopulation of people hiking this landscape and shouldering each other in the small town of Tobermory isn’t appealing to me.  So I guess advertising for it isn’t the best idea, yet here I am doing it. Who can’t not post pictures of this amazing place!

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We travelled from a Tuesday to a Thursday there, so I think we were probably among the numbers of regular summer visitors as opposed to the increased numbers who travel there on weekends, and heaven forbid, long weekends.

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We were somewhat excited to see the sign posted that a bear was in the area, because all of us were really wanting to spot one (from the van windows of course, not while hiking or sitting around the campfire.)

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After setting up our campsite, we headed through part of the Cyprus Lake Trail towards The Grotto.  We hadn’t enough time at Cyprus Lake to spend hiking the whole way around it, nor even the time to swim in it, with all there was to do while there.  So I’m already thinking I need to book there again next year.

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When we reached the opening to The Grotto, it once again took my breath away, just as it did 20 years ago.  It’s like something tropical and panoramically stunning.  Photos just don’t do it justice.

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The trail we took wasn’t wheelchair or stroller friendly, but I’ve read a review that there is a middle trail that is accessible for strollers and wheelchairs to reach The Grotto.  However, once, at The Grotto, it involves climbing down rocks to get to the water.

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The water was bitingly ice cold.  I had no problem putting my feet in for a dip, but to swim? Not for me!  However, I coaxed the girls on, that they really needed to be able to say to their family that they had swam in Georgian Bay.  They agreed, some braver than others, diving in!

I was happy enough to stay along the shoreline and observe.

After an amazing few hours at The Grotto, we headed back along the trail to our campsite, only littlest broke into tears, starting to feel unwell.  We wondered if the shock of the cold water did it to her.  She spent the night with a headache and throwing up, poor thing.

But as per usual, she bounced back quickly by the morning and was up chattering everyone’s ears off about what we were to do this day, and how excited she was to go on the boat from Tobermory over to Flowerpot Island.  And this, my friends, is the destination of our next post together.  See you then!

 

 

 

Ontario Tourism, Day 6: Royal Botanical Gardens

 

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Day six of the itinerary with our American company had us visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens in the city of Hamilton, Ontario.  The RBG is the largest of it’s kind in Canada with 2450 acres of nature sanctuaries.  Their mandate as they say on their main page is to “bring together people, plants, and nature.”

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We had a lovely stroll through the main centre gardens in the morning hours before the full heat of the day, enjoying the last of the roses in bloom.  I don’t remember looking at the name of these climbing roses but they look like American Pillar Roses. Am I right anyone?

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Black-eyed Susan’s are one of my favourites in a garden plot so I had to take a pic up close here.

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And I found an opportunity to snap a pic of my boy resting at the fountain, unbeknownst to him.

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We had a lovely stroll through the main centre building, complete with one of my favourite gift shops where the girls found good Canadian mugs to purchase as a souvenir, while I found myself breaking a good Canadian mug instead.  Granted, it was hanging off the edge grazing the rotating stand of tea towels I was looking through.

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From there we headed to the newly opened Rock Garden Centre, another garden of the RBG just down the road.  These gardens are just gorgeous.  I loved all the little rock avenues and stairs to climb up and down and wind through.  While those are my favourite parts about garden centres like this, full of rock, it’s limited for those with physical disabilities to enjoy quite the same views by taking these stairways and paths.

There is, however, an accessible walkway around the peripheral to either reach the look-out, glassed in area, or in the other direction, reaching the lower gardens via a wide side walk and gentle, smooth incline.

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Lavender is among my top picks for garden herbal plants.  We had a friend down south throw a lavender tea party for my eldest when she turned fourteen.  And I believe it was this friend who we shared our large lavender plant with before moving home to Canada.   I’m sure it’s thriving way better on their property than it did on ours, they being the ultimate green thumb family.

I still get confused over French lavandin and English lavender so I have visited Weir Lavender Farm website a few times to re-learn the facts.  But, not having written down (or remembered) what I was actually taking a picture of here, I still can’t tell you which one this is below!

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I did manage to get the name in the photo for this gorgeous plant that I breathtakingly sucked in lots of air over it’s beauty, and fully intend to find this for my own rock garden for next year.  Having looked it up online I’m almost certain I have this in a yellow version already, somewhere out in the back yard garden!

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Is this not a spot you just want to relax in the shade with a book, listening to that calming, steady flow of water?  What an enchanting garden this is!

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On our way home, we stopped at a look-out point over Hamilton harbour.

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And, of course, we couldn’t pass up the little coffee shop mission for cooling coffee drinks.  Eldest and I chose the raspberry white chocolate frappuccinos and they were out of this world amazing!

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We spent a restful late afternoon playing Splendor, our newest favourite in games.

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Almost a week into our vacation together, but still lots to do and see.  Next up, our trip to Cyprus Lake in Tobermory!

 

Crawford Lake Indian Village and Burlington Waterfront

Day five with our American visitors brought us to Crawford Lake Indian Village, a reconstructed Iroquois village on Guelph Line in Milton, Ontario.  I’m feeling a special attachment to this outing as it was the scene of my very first blogging post.

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It was fun to re-visit this site with tourists, exploring the long houses built right over top of the original ones, and having a fire demonstration inside one of them.  Did you know that mixing birch bark with milkweed floss will give you just what you need to start a flame as your fire starter?  Our demonstrator used a modern version of flint to strike it with, which one is able to purchase at the visitor centre (and most likely Canadian Tire as well).

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After the fire talk, we explored the longhouse artifacts, animal furs,  and one longhouse museum.  We walked over to the visitor centre where there is small gift shop as well as a 15 minute film on the discovery of the site with historical information on the Iroquois nation who lived in this area.

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There are 19 km of hiking trails at Crawford, and one very easily accessed boardwalk trail that strollers and wheelchairs can manoeuvre through well.  We have one child with a physical disability and we found this 1.4 km trail around the meromictic lake very easy and do-able for walking.

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Anyone aware of what meromictic means?  It’s when the lake depth is deeper than the surface area, which means there’s not a lot of oxygen at the bottom and therefore it remains very still and undisturbed.  Researchers came across corn pollen, thus discovering this was the site of an Iroquois village.

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During our walk we came across a few exciting finds.  One being a group of snapping turtles at the surface of the lake (I believe there were six of them in total).

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Another being a gorgeous butterfly.  I’ve been looking online and through my Ontario Butterfly Conservatory Guide, and the closest I can find to this butterfly looks like a Northern Crescent (phyciodes cacyta).  Anyone out there an expert on butterflies in southern Ontario and can confirm my guess, or identify the real name if I’m incorrect?

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And the last fun find being birch trees, one of our guest’s favourite, there hence the hug.

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From here we hurrahed the possibility of continuing our coffee house mission in downtown Burlington, along the shore of Lake Ontario.  Coffee Culture was our decision, and again, the girls weren’t disappointed.

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From here we walked to the pier for a good view of the lake.

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And view back at the city.

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They chose just the best colours to photograph against the blue lake and blue sky.

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Again, this was another easily accessible walking trip for those with strollers and wheelchairs.  A year after surgery, our lovely lady is amazing us with her strength and ability to trek good measures of distance with us without the assistance of a wheelchair.  Doctors orders were “movement is the key.”  And she has certainly taken his advice.

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We had perfect weather for our outing (as was most of our two weeks together) and perfect company! Missing you, friends!

 

July 1st and 4th

Our American company found themselves celebrating their very first Canada Day during their visit with us.  I must admit, because of the busy-ness of eldest’s graduation and just planning our time with company, I didn’t put a huge amount of effort into planning decorations or a cake for the July 1st celebrations as we’ve done before (see here).  But we managed to have a hugely fun party with some musical friends joining us for the night.

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We asked Rob to bring his guitar and violin since our American guests were also very musical and maybe we could make something of the musical talent among us for the evening.  Rob was thrilled to be able to sing some worship songs and play violin alongside our guests singing and playing piano.

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We then asked our singing star to perform “Time to Say Good-bye,” a piece she sang for us as a parting gift at the last costume ball we attended in Tennessee together three years ago.  What a moving and beautiful piece it is.  Though nervous at this request– since she had virtually no time for warming up her voice–she graciously agreed to sing for us.  So incredibly lovely! Thank you again, friend!

Although we were mesmerized by this beautiful voice, our attentions got seemingly diverted out the window toward fire trucks and ambulances arriving out front of the house.

The building across the road was on fire!

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After things were well under control, our spectating came to an end, and we promptly headed to the back yard to be taught some English country dancing, with our home made ingenious speaker to help project the music.

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We danced a mixer called the Patt-i-cake polka. We learned (or re-learned for some of us) the Virginia Reel.  And of course July 1st celebrations wouldn’t be complete without the Canadian Barn Dance.

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So, the eve of July 3rd had me (and hubby) thinking, we really should make sure we do something special for the girls’ big fourth of July celebration that they’ll be missing at home.  Having lived south of the border, we know how serious this celebration is.  We remember being able to see big time fireworks from any direction we sat outside our house.  It truly was amazing!

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So we shopped for a few red, white, and blue items to do up a fun breakfast table setting.  I went to work on a flag cake, which really was super easy, having used the same recipe we’ve been using for years for our Canada Day pound cake found here.

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And we couldn’t not have them sing their anthem for us, and capture it on video.  But I’ll not make everything public on you dear friends, so I’ll leave that one be.  But it sure was good!

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Part of what we wanted to do for the fourth of July celebration was hike to a waterfall that shared the same surname as our guests. Because I’m a bit of cheapskate, I didn’t want to pay the ridiculous parking fee and people fee, so we found a hiking trail further, (much further away), and hiked into the park on a 4.5 km (about 2.8 miles) walk, free of charge.  It was hot, but at least the trail was very shady for the majority of it.

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We found many reasons to stop along the way for either look-out points, our need for water, or in this case, a beautiful Mourning Cloak butterfly.

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It all certainly was worth the trek.

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At the second waterfall we came to on the same hike, there was a film crew with huge camera aimed at the bridge and waterfalls at the very location we wanted to look over for the best view toward the falls.  So, instead, we ventured down to the bottom.  Nearing the bridge, however,  we were stopped by some filming staff.

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Lo and behold, weren’t they filming right there on the bridge we wanted to cross.  We asked if it was okay to take some pics.  After asking what they were filming (the T.V. show about the young Mary Queen of Scots, called Reign), and nodding in enthusiasm on the subject of their show (all the while not having ever heard of it till that very moment…at least for me), we took our pics, and laughed that most likely people will exclaim to us later, “do you know who that was?!! He’s hugely famous!”  And there hence our reason for taking the pic.

Anyone know this lad?  Will we truly be sorry we didn’t ask for an autograph?

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Wow, there sure is a lot that goes into getting just the right shot for a scene of a few seconds.  It was hot out and that poor fellow, several times over, had to walk to the middle of the bridge, look over it, take off his gloves slowly, then look startled as if he’s heard something to the left of him.

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And I’m not sure if you can see the little speck of brown in the centre of the bridge, but if so, that’s our film star, Mr…Whoever, obviously enjoying the falls too, and taking some of his own pics on his cellphone to bring back home.

The girls were eyeing the camera that was in mid transport down to the bridge, and talking about how their sister would appreciate all this, being into videography.  One crew member overheard this and offered to take their pic for them in front of the camera.

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And after all the pictures and fun, there was still the 4.5 km hike back again!  Here we are at the trail’s starting and ending point, worn out.

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I’m sure my visitors were plenty done for the day, but my itinerary wasn’t done for them.  Sorry girls.  Now that I look back I see I’m a bit of a control freak with vacation time, aren’t I?!

Sweating and tired, we went home, only to have them dress up and get whisked back for tea on the town at our gorgeous tea house.  I left the girls off to do tea alone (who wants mama always following them around on vacation?!)

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When I got the call to pick them up again, I found the girls resting on a bench looking very ready to put their feet up and relax back at the ranch.  Perhaps next time I make you walk 9 km in a day, I’ll just serve homemade tea or lemonade and scones in the backyard so you can really put your feet up.

Up next is our trip to Crawford Lake Indian Village and Burlington waterfront on Lake Ontario to continue our tourism Ontario feature with our American guests!

 

The Monday Make: Tourism Ontario, Day 3, and some yummy Yolo’s

Day three with our Tennessee visitors, had us up early and out the door for a road trip to Midland, Ontario.  Midland is located in the Georgian Bay area, the backpack of Lake Huron.  Many farming families settled here in the 1840’s though it was officially founded in 1871 when the railway came to the area, bringing more settlers, and eventually became a hub for shipping and the lumber and grain trade.  For more history on Midland see this link.

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Numbers rise over the summer months when tourists flock to cottages, as well as day tripping it to do the gorgeous 30,000 Island boat cruise, as well as touring St Marie Among the Hurons, a living history outdoor museum, where the Jesuit missionaries lived among the Huron/Wendat people from 1639-1649. There is also the beautiful Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre for the outdoor enthusiasts, with many a great hiking trail to meander down.

We weren’t able to incorporate the latter two mentioned sites as part and parcel of our tour of Ontario since we only had one day in Midland, and a two hour (and a bit) trek each way to and from the house.  Maybe on another visit, wouldn’t you say, Tennessee friends?!

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But we were able to start our day with a picnic lunch at Midland harbour, and then a little walk up and down the main street, hitting the wonderful gem of an organic coffee shop, called Grounded Coffee.  Our only disappointment was not getting a pic outside (or inside) this shop, since it became, from then on, our mission to hit all the specialty coffee houses on our tourism Ontario trip for the next thirteen days.  This one was definitely a great beginning of that mission.

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After some caffe macchiotos (I hope I have the name right?), we were headed to the harbour for the 30,000 Island boat cruise.  I felt as part of our touring Ontario, we needed to get to big bodies of water as much as possible.  There are just so many gorgeous spots along the lakes and bays of Ontario that it’s hard to choose just what ones to hit for visitors.  But I think we weren’t wrong in choosing Midland as an ideal spot for a great Canadian experience.

The boat tour was a two and a half hour journey around some of the beautiful 30,000 islands of Georgian Bay.

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We had a stowaway seagull along for the ride with us, often coasting in the air for a bit directly behind the boat, then resting on the flag pole for part of the ride.

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We dreamed of owning some of the serene island cottages.

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Seeing the rock formations that make up what we call the Canadian Shield, was magnificent, no matter how many times one gets to see this up close (this was my third boat ride in Midland.)  Georgian Bay sits on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield.

Departing and returning to the harbour, passengers are able to see the beautiful mural by Fred Lenz depicting the time period of the Jesuit settlement and their work with the Wendat Huron people.

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Once on land again, we decided to head over to a neighbouring town, and popular tourist destination, Penetanguishene, or as we Ontarians shorten it to, Penetang.

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Again, a picturesque town, rolling downward toward the waterfront on a grand slope.

And in my opinion, I found this harbour even more picturesque than Midland’s (even though Midland is pretty, don’t get me wrong), especially with that wonderful view of St Ann’s Roman Catholic Church towering off in the distance.

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What a neat idea they had of crafting red canoes as flower pots along the water’s edge.

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And there were two replica gunboats from the War of 1812 on display in the harbour.

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Our one grand disappointment in this town was the fish and chip shop down at the harbour.  Picturesque and all, but if you’re wanting the real stuff, head up the street to the other fish and chip shop on the main road (though I didn’t try it so I’m only relaying what I’ve been told by friends). We opted for the scenery, looking out over the harbour, but with that came the sacrifice of prefabricated fish and chips.  But it sure was pretty sitting right by the harbour for it.

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Following this, we headed left out of the harbour onto Beck Street, followed it to Fox Street, turned left and headed to Broad Street, made a right, then another left onto Jury Drive, and voila, we were at Discovery Harbour.

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Discovery Harbour is the living history centre of the British Naval base built to protect Upper Canada after the war of 1812.  There are tours of the historic boats.  There’s also the King’s Wharf theatre on site here, with special movie features showing throughout the year.

One rah rah for Discovery Harbour is their commitment to serve people with physical disabilities, allowing their site to be fully accessible.  They offer assisted devices for persons with disabilities, accessible washrooms and ramps, free admission for a support person bringing a person with a disability, as well as welcoming service dogs in all their buildings.  For more information on traveling here with a person with a disability, click here.

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And wouldn’t you know,  it was like it was pre-arranged that this incredible street performer would strike up The Tennessee Waltz  just as we passed her.  What delight for our Tennessee guests to hear this gift just for them!

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After some pics and a little walk around this area, we decided to visit St. Ann’s Church in the heart of Penetang before our long drive home again.  The visit there was even more meaningful, having learned on our boat tour that the rock for this magnificent building was taken from some of these 30,000 islands and hauled by boat to the building site.  Amazing!

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We arrived home 10:30 that night, weary, sunburned (I thought we should have worn hats on board), and full of terrific memories of our Midland & Penetang excursion.

And because this is Monday and I’ve been so awful at keeping up with my Monday Make posts, I will do something I promised the girls, share my yummy Yolo recipe with them before too long.  The recipe comes from none other than The Oh She Glows Canadian Vegan Cookbook by Angela Liddon.

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Homemade Yolos:

For the caramel–1 C pitted soft Medjool dates (I would double this recipe to get more, or larger yolos out of it, so make that 2 C!)

1 1/2 tsp peanut butter or other nut butter or seed butter (again, double it)

pinch of fine-grain sea salt

For the chocolate coating— 1/4 C (1/2 C if you’re doubling) dark chocolate chips

1/2 tsp coconut oil (1 tsp if doubling)

Flaked sea salt or chia seeds (optional, though I’d say put on the sea salt since the sweet and salty taste together is amazing!)

Instructions:

Process the pitted dates until sticky.  Add the peanut butter and salt and process until combined.  The mixture is very sticky but that’s okay, it’s how it should be.

Put the sticky mixture into a bowl and freeze for 10 mins uncovered.  The reason for this is to make the caramel easier to form into balls.  Line some parchment paper on a plate and roll into small balls and place in the freezer again for 10 mins to firm them up.

Make the chocolate coating by melting chocolate chips and oil over very low heat. When most of the chips have melted, remove from the heat and stir until all of it is smooth.

Remove the caramel balls from the freezer and roll them in the melted chocolate using two forks.  Set the balls on the parchment, stick a toothpick in each one, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Freeze the balls for 20 mins or until the chocolate is set.  They taste best straight from the freezer.  I place mine in a ziplock, toothpicks and all, placing at the top of our deep freezer so they’re easily accessible and don’t get damaged or crushed.  It’s a good and bad thing to place them where they’re so easily accessible.  Just means you have to make them more often. You’ll not be disappointed with this scrumptious recipe of Angela’s!!

Happy Monday Make to y’all! Stay tuned for Day 4 with our Tennessee guests celebrating Canada Day with us.

 

 

Visitors and a graduation

I contemplated taking the summer off blogging since I’ve so enjoyed not being around the computer for the last few weeks while away at a cottage in northern Ontario, then hosting great friends from Tennessee the last two weeks, gallivanting here, there, and everywhere around Ontario.  But, alas, after looking at the great pics of our recent vacation with our visiting friends, I couldn’t not post about it all.

Our friends came bearing gifts, all of which were very special for each person, but one gift in particular was adored by all, and became a focus of celebration throughout the next fifteen days….coffee from  Muletown capital of the world!

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Our guests arrived on a Tuesday at the Buffalo airport, and since that’s right near Niagara Falls, hubby decided to take them on that tour before heading back to our place. Having been awake since 2 a.m. CST, the girls were likely exhausted, but happy to see Niagara Falls up close for the very first time.

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Day two allowed for some sleeping-in time, but we made sure the itinerary still had sites to see before the big graduation party for my eldest to be held that evening.  The girls hiked to two waterfalls nearby before I put them to work decorating for the party.

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I am happy for the minds of creative young people, as I would not have thought of some the inventive ways they decorated for our party.

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The prep was done that much quicker with a few extra, willing pairs of hands.  We even had time to sit down to tea outdoors before guests arrived.  My parents, my siblings and their families,  eldest’s godparents, and a few of her friends were present to celebrate her graduation from high school.

We had dinner first, followed by coffee and garden grown rhubarb crisp, ending the night indoors with a little program.  Alongside a slideshow, I prepared a video speech, knowing I couldn’t do it live, and allowing me much less stress because of that.  I still, however, blubbered and cried through the speech even alone on video. But I decided it was best left that way as it’s true to how I felt and what I wanted to share for her special night.

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It was all so very lovely for sweet eldest as she’s a very unassuming kind of gal who doesn’t like being the centre of attention.  The evening progressed in a gentle, close-knit way, and left her beaming and grateful and so very, very happy.  Hard to believe we have already graduated our very first from the world of home schooling.

And it was a special part of her graduation to have her friends from Tennessee present and able to tour Ontario with us for the following thirteen days.  It felt like a graduation gift for the teacher too!

Stay tuned for our adventures of trips around Ontario. Days three and four are next!

 

 

A Week Away, from cottage to house

We have just returned from a week away in cottage country Ontario.  Back in January, in the throes of mid-winter blahs and a good deal of sighs about how far off summer seemed, hubby ended up searching online for a get-away to boost our spirits.

He sure hit the mark with this one, and we’ve chalked it up as our best rented cottage (ahem, I mean house) yet.

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This is the joke now in our house (ahem, I mean cottage).  Our little abode earns the title “cottage” very naturally. And we’ve very much a cottage-y back yard with our fire pit, space for gardening, close to hiking trails, wildlife spotting and the list goes on.  All we lack is the lake at our doorstep.

But given the opportunity to go north to a lake, and given the chance to spread ourselves out in living space a bit more–not to mention accessing the privilege of a dishwasher for a week (okay, absolutely one of the highlights for me!!)–and finding time to just sit (instead of plan and clean and and plan and clean), or go canoeing or paddle boating, or out for a latte in a cute little town, or planted firmly on a deck chair on the dock, reading to my heart’s content, was absolutely out of this world fantastic!

 

The older I get, the more I’m into the slow-it-down kind of vacation, where we sit and veg together on a lake.  Last year’s vacation was very like this at Sauble Beach, and I worried at first whether we’d be able to fill a week just sitting on beach. We managed very easily.

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We spent this vacation about 15 minutes north of Hunstville, Ontario, on Bay Lake.  We were more than pleased to find the cottage so clean, so new, and so outfitted for family fun.  There was a canoe, a paddle boat, a bocce court, a separate games’ room off the living room, complete with a ping-pong table, foosball table, dart board, and table to play board games at (which we switched up and used for our colouring therapy table).

 

The fold out couch in the games’ room served as a good bedroom for our son, and rather like his own little apartment.

The fact that we were all spread out a bit more with rooms was a huge selling feature for the week.  As much as we are all endeared to one another, it was a welcome treat to find some alone space.  Our eldest was ecstatic to get her own room for the week, and rather amused by the indoor window in her room that opened over top the kitchen.  We kept calling her Heidi, as it seemed very much like she was in a mountain villa up there, looking very much like she would yodel at us any moment when we heard the latch going and her head popping out to say good morning.

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Being on the water was definitely a favourite, and we were in earnest from the moment we arrived.

First the canoe, and then the paddle boat.  The paddle boat was by far the favourite water transportation.  We all agreed our legs were stronger than our upper body, so we lasted far longer in the paddle boat, and it was just plain fun to steer.

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We took a driving trip to the Dorset Look-out Tower.  It has been fifteen years since I’ve been to the tower, when Violet was only three. I wish I could find the pic of us in the same spot (the difference being, I’m holding Violet in my arms).  And still, fifteen years later, I’m just as much a chicken to climb the tower.  To pour even more salt into this, the little gift shop at the bottom of the tower had oodles of t-shirts in oodles of colours declaring, “I climbed the Dorset Tower!” Well goody for all of you who have. One thing I’m not afraid of is to let y’all know how much I’m afraid of heights. My feet will stay firmly planted on the solid ground.

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We took another day to explore Arrowhead Provincial Park very nearby. We first picnicked and then walked along the trail to Stubb’s Falls.  The Canadian Shield offered a lovely resting ground to observe the Falls (though I daresay a mite dangerous if you’re hiking with little ones there as the Falls may easily suck you right in if you get too close…and there’s a sign saying as much that we’re all at our own risk.)

I’ve some short video footage of the falls here if you’re interested in seeing it.

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On our way back the loop hike from the Falls to the main road again, we came across this gem of a rock, painted for all passersby.  What a nice little reminder for me.  I must think on that rock (and open this blog page) when I do my wake and worry scenarios nightly around 3 a.m.

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In the town of Huntsville there’s a great statue of one of the famous Group of Seven painters, Tom Thomson.  The Group of Seven found much of their inspiration in and around the Lake of Bays in northern Ontario and Algonquin park area.  Over 90 mural replicas are on display for five years in and around Huntsville to commemorate one hundred years since the artist’s birth.

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And if you are ever visiting this area, be sure to stop in at the famous Kawartha Dairy for super-sized ice-cream cones.  We had no idea when we ordered “smalls” that we really should have been asking for kiddie cones.  Some of us couldn’t even finish the dripping mounds as good as they were.

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And right down at the harbour in the centre of town, there’s this cute little Gelato and specialty coffee house.  Oh my! Our chai lattes were the best I’ve ever tasted, as well as the brownie we chose to share.  If I’d had room I’d have tried some gelato.  That sure seemed to be the popular choice by passing patrons.

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Evenings were spent playing games with some or all of the family, reading, colouring, (watching the Home Network…the highlight for hubby since we don’t have cable at home), a fire night, and for me, sometimes just standing staring out the window at that gorgeous view as the sun went down.

Our poor little kitty (you’re laughing at the “little” part, aren’t you?) took sick while on vacation with us.  She’s been so well her entire life of 13 years so when she started going downhill fast, we knew a dreaded visit to the vet was in order.  Cha-ching is what you can imagine.  A needle, some meds, and she was back in the swing of things.

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We had wanted to spot a black bear and a moose on our trip north (since there were moose crossing signs, and lots of warnings at the provincial park about what to do when you encounter a black bear.) However, the most we got to see were two deer on the road side (which is kind of funny because we actually see more than that in one week at our own house), and the neighbourhood hare who came out nightly, eating his clover conveniently close to the house, peering in at us, which seemed more of a waiting to be fed stance. I’m guessing city slickers feeding the wild life must be happening.

Oh yes, and our family of ducks.  “Family of what?!” said Clancey.  “Ducks!”, yelled Michael. (My favourite line from Make Way for Ducklings.)  Making way for ducklings was certainly a part of our week as we watched mama duck and her three babies in tow, paddling back and forth between two properties. They, too, I suspect get fed by the cottagers, as they seemed to come awfully close, loitering around a good deal in our vicinity.

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The morning our poor kitty, Peppy, was ill, my son woke me up to share the kitty mishap in his room.  There are times I’m annoyed to be awoken early in the morning, but not this one.  After setting the machine to wash, I stood marvelling at the beauty of the outside world that the plethora of windows allowed.  It’s amazing how transformed the same scene can be, going from sunrise, to daylight hours, to sunset again.  The morning was stunning. I had the urge to slip into a canoe and paddle ever so quietly around the lake, hoping to hold the pink of the sky, and calm feeling of the lake as long as possible.  And so why didn’t I? I’m not quite sure. Tired eyes maybe. I’m glad I at least had the sense to creep into the yard to photograph the stillness and gift of a moment.

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I determined I’d get up and canoe at sunrise the next day, fully expecting the same knock at the door around 4:30.  Alas, my startle awake didn’t come, and when I woke at 6:09 that next morning, the sky just wasn’t the 5 a.m. sky I was going for, so I stayed in bed.

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We couldn’t have picked a more peaceful, serene, breath-taking hide-away for our beginning of summer vacation.  It came just at the right time for our family.  We are ever so thankful for the opportunity to sneak away together, get into nature, and relax.

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It wasn’t easy saying good-bye to our lake, and I’ll admit I even choked back tears as we headed out the driveway for home.  There’s something so sentimental in me about ending vacations, knowing we’ll never do the same thing again, and even if we did, we’d never re-create just the same magical moments we’ve experienced.

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But our memories will last, and these pics will help that.  What a beautiful time, and beautiful place.

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How to Host a History Party

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History is my absolute favourite subject to teach.  I would be lost in this home education experience if it weren’t for the opportunity to ignite minds to delve into the past.  And I suppose that’s why this year has been a bit of a let down for me, having left off history for the first year ever since starting to homeschool thirteen years ago.  And now that I’ve had my one year of angst, sorting out other academic necessities and special one-to-one plans, I’ve realized the absolute need to get back next year to what we’re all about in our homeschool world: HISTORY!

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Three years ago, before leaving the States for our home and native land again, I decided to throw an End of School History Party with some friends.

Normally I stuck with hosting our own little family history party where we dressed up together and did a little talk on the person we were dressed up as for daddy when he came home from work, as you can see below from one of our years (Quite obviously, Napolean, then a Cherokee Indian, Marie Antoinette with her hair of grey yarn, and littlest is Laura Secord.)

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But I knew this particular crew of friends would more than welcome the opportunity to gather together to share what they’ve all learned in history that year, and even more fun, dress up as one of the people they learned about.

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It was a stifling hot June day in TN (we’re talking 40 C!) but the children (and adults) were all good sports about it, even in some of those dreadfully warm clothes.

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We organized chairs on the back deck for the audience, and one by one took turns giving a short talk on one of many individuals we had learned about over the course of the year.

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I set our front stage with some of the topics we covered in our Ancients course, beginning with the Creation cycle.  The King Tut painting was actually painted by none other than my talented hubby in his college years so it was perfect to set out to represent our Egypt study.  And we even had a large print of the Parthenon done up as a back drop for the performers, our first one being sweet little Pochahontas.

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It’s a fantastic way to get your home school friends/group together to not only learn from each other, but to have the opportunity to get used to that dreaded one minute speech we were all expected to do growing up.  But nicer still, done with friends, it’s really not as dreadful as all that.  Here we have a famous French Canadian historical figure, Madeleine de Vercheres, known for holding her families’ fort against the Iroquois at age fourteen.  You can read all about her in the novel Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel Brill.

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Here we are as mother and daughter, portraying Boadicea the Brit, and one of her two daughters, giving an account of our fight against the Romans.

I suggest, for less outgoing ones, dressing up alongside them and giving the physical moral support on stage, as a huge help to calm the anxious mind.  I also found that for the younger children, adding pictorial flash cards of the characters we represented (some with words on the back for help remembering the rehearsed script) were  a helpful aid and memory tool.  And using an interview style method for presenting is also a great way to engage the younger participants since mum or dad can prompt the information with prepared questions.

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This fantastic costume had Squanto giving an account of his help to the pilgrims.

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One of our twins chose Queen Tiye, a Nubian who married the pharaoh Amenhotep III.

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Her twin brother opted for a wild character, Attila the Hun (if you can see him under all that crazy hair), the fierce barbarian known for descending upon both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire.

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We also learned that two of our families had studied Pocahontas that year.

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And a great lesson from Flora McDonald recounted how she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to safety during the Jacobite Rebellion.

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And oh how creative was this one, actually playing us a song from the Spanish classical guitarist and composer, Fernando Sor!

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The tale of Rhodopis, a Greek slave who married a king was retold here by our eldest.

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And finally, our last performer had us all guess who we thought she was.  I think there were a few guesses she was Queen Elizabeth.  Turns out, our already graduated performer, but gracious participant, came as none other than Mary from Downton Abbey.  Not exactly historical, but a good deal of fun nonetheless, and a wonderful gown to boot! No pun intended there. But since I’ve mentioned the boot, how do you like my boot display to the right of Lady Mary, representing having studied Ancient Italy?

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It’s honestly not a whole lot of work to throw something like this together.  Rummage through your clothes and dress up bins, your sheds and garages, or visit your local thrift store, and you’ll be amazed what you can create for costumes.  Find a few central themes with pictures or books, family artwork or projects, and items that can represent your topics. Then set these out on display as part of your stage and back drop, and voila, you’ve got a set to work with, and hopefully some willing participants to join in the fun!

Be sure to feed your crew, and provide gallons of lemonade or ice tea if you happen to host on the hottest day of the year like we did.

Thanks, my southern friends, for the fun we had that day, and for engaging in the joy of  history with us!

The Monday Make: Effortless Vegan Overnight Oats for a Practically Perfect in Every Way Day

Found yet another recipe in Angela Liddon’s, The Oh She Glows Cookbookthat not only looked great in the glass, but tasted delicious too.  The 1 C oats,  1 1/2 C almond milk, 1/4 C chia seeds, 1 large mashed banana, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon are mixed together the night before, and left to thicken in the fridge.

 

All that’s required in the a.m. is to stir it up, and layer in a glass for each person, first with the oat mixture, then some fresh berry medley, a layer of crunchy granola, hemp seeds, and drizzle on some pure maple syrup and possibly coconut flakes, then start all over again until you reach the top of the glass. This amount serves three, so our family doubled it to serve six. It looks stunning, and like you’ve gone to loads of work.  The whole family enjoyed this breakfast; a great one to put together quickly on a busy morning since the oats are already done, no cooking required.

 

And one such delightfully busy morning and afternoon out were spent with my youngest, first delivering my eldest to her science lab, where we read our own natural science book, Minn of the Mississippi together, then ambled slowly around the campus gardens, gleaning ideas for the home garden.

And second, in the afternoon we drove to a favourite quiet spot to picnic, continue our Minn turtle lesson, play our old fashioned Game of Graces, and take a wee walk over the bridge just for a different perspective from that side.

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And didn’t we spot a new educational sign with the very turtle on it–a snapping turtle–that we’re studying in our Minn of the Mississippi.  How perfect.

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From beginning to end, this day was impeccable.  One Mary Poppins would surely refer to as a practically perfect in every way day.

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Happy Monday Make to y’all!