Marcher à Montréal

When you cross into the province of Quebec, all signs change to French. This didn’t intimidate my husband nor myself because we both have some working French in our vocabulary. However, the road signs are still fairly obvious as my children pointed out. It was clear which were speed signs or stops signs. You may want to review your directions (north, south, east, west) but really, especially with a GPS, it’s very easy to navigate.

Note, it’s not just the U.S. that has massive summer construction season. It seemed to be alive and well in Canada, too. It did occur to us that their fix/build season is probably shorter than our own.

First on our list for Montreal was the Biodome/Space for Life which is the former 1976 Olympic park buildings. It is mini-ecospheres under one roof and it’s neat to travel from a North American forest to a tropical rainforest in a matter of moments. The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium (on the same grounds) has many options, too. The one show we attended had Adirondack style chairs around the periphery and bean bags in the middle. It was cool, and dark, and relaxing and some of us retained more content than others (since “others” might have fallen asleep… I’d pay for that nap again. Just sayin’).

We also went to the Montreal Tower which is a 45-degree angled tower that rises high above the city (take that Pisa, with your 5-degree tilt). It’s not as tall as the CN Tower, but still provides a very cool view of Montreal. 

From there we hopped on the Metro to visit the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum of Archaeology and History. This was pretty amazing. They’ve done a good job of bringing history to life. You are standing on ground that belonged to the Indigenous groups that lived there. In one room you are standing on a transparent floor and can see the old walls that were part of the first settlements. The demonstration there shows you where you are and what was there before the colonists arrived, and the changes that were made over time. It moved me. I felt like the historians and curators have tried to portray a real and balanced history of the place and that’s not something I’ve experienced in the U.S. We were not the first to inhabit this ground and our actions have a lasting impact, for worse and for better.

After that, we took the Metro back to the RV, made supper, and began driving to our next stop.

Penguin Dab?

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Biodome

KIDS THOUGHTS ON MONTREAL

A~ “I learned that the Tower has a world record for ‘tallest leaning tower’.”

D~ “The artifacts in the museum [Pointe-a-Calliere] were preserved very well and they had very small houses.”

Djr~ “I learned that the French and Native people weren’t always peaceful, but they did have peace for 60 years straight.”

Toronto, we’ll be CN you soon!

 

The afternoon we arrived in Toronto. We had two things on our minds. The CN Tower and the Nutella Café. There aren’t many Nutella Cafés in the world and our family always buys the big jar when we’re at home and made sure it was part of our travel pantry, so, for the kids and myself- it was a must.

The CN Tower feels overpriced for what you get ($36 adult/$26 child), but it’s a “must” if you’re visiting Toronto. There are more options for visitors now than there were a decade or so ago when I last visited. You can even pay the big bucks ($225) and do the Edge Walk where they hitch you up to rigging and you walk around the outside of the tower. I would have done it except for the price.

While in Toronto, we also explored the Toronto Railway Museum (we just nosed around the exterior stuff), which was pretty cool, and the free zoo at High Park. The free zoo feels like a free zoo but it’s still pretty cool in light of how long it’s been around. And we saw some R.O.U.S.es (a Princess Bride reference- Rodent Of Unusual Size, these were Capybaras).

We managed to park the RV by backing-in to a space at High Park. If you have a similarly-sized RV (27’) you’ll be okay, but it was tight for us. So, RV-driver beware.

After our supper in High Park (we cooked in the RV), we headed out for our next destination.

Toronto Skyline

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KID THOUGHTS ON THE CN TOWER

Djr~ “It surprised me that the CN Tower was a big lightning rod. I am curious if it could survive a tornado.”

D~ “One thing that I learned was that they poured cement 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 40 weeks, to build the tower.”

A~ “I learned you can jump off the CN Tower.” 

The Other Hamilton. Hamilton, Ontario.

One thing we want our children to experience, over this next year, is a diversity of churches within our own denomination (Mennonite) and that of other denominations and faiths. Both my husband and I have had the chance to do this and feel it helps both pop the bubble that we get trapped in when we only experience what we know, and it helps us understand how much people of faith have in common. Practically, I’m not sure how often we’ll get to do this along the way, but we had our first chance just a few days into our first adventure.

With an invitation from my friend Alissa Bender, the pastor at Hamilton Mennonite Church, we attended a service there. I am very glad we did. That morning a member of their congregation shared about a journey she’d recently taken, a Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights. It was thoughtful and heartfelt and I deeply appreciated it. It also seemed fitting that so much of the morning focused on journeys since we were at the beginning of our own. They fed us well and offered us tips and hints for our trip and then we were off again.

If you click on the link about the Pilgrimage, there is a 30-minute documentary worth watching. 

Falling for Niagara Falls

Day 1 was finally upon us. We pulled into Niagara Falls (Ontario) around noon. Parking was a bit of a trick. We didn’t do our homework and just figured we could park somewhere close to the Falls, but many of the closer parking lots are not open to RVs. We did eventually get redirected to Rapidsview Parking Lot. There we paid $10 and we made lunch in the parking lot before heading out. There is a free shuttle (the We-Go) from this lot to Table Rock. From there you could pay for the bus/shuttle but we chose to walk. A lot. We walked to Niagara Falls and took about a thousand photos with our children in the forefront and the Falls behind them.

We had purchased tickets for the Hornblower Cruise (Canada’s version of the Maid of the Mist) online before we arrived, but when we walked up to get in line, the ticket-holder line was wrapped so far back it would take over an hour to get through, so we opted to walk around a bit and come back to it later.

My husband had the genius idea to walk across the bridge to the U.S. and then walk back so we could finally get stamps for the children’s passports. My kids were excited and so was I. Ha-ha! We’d figured out a way to make it happen. We went through to the U.S. side. The Customs Officer was all smiles and welcomes and my children explained their earnest desire for stamps. She dug out her nearly dry ink pad and accommodated. We had stamps! Albeit, stamps to mark our arrival to the U.S.

We walked around a bit on the U.S. side but it was hot and we were feeling a bit foot-sore on our first real outing in this year of travel, and after an hour or so, we trekked back to Canada. This time the bridge was full of tourists, including the gentleman in front of us who comes down from Toronto to purchase can’t-finds (in Canada) cheaply. He was headed back to catch the bus that would take him back to Toronto.

We made it up to the Canadian Customs Officer and with eager grins explained how it was our children’s first time in Canada and how kind the U.S. agent had been. We were waved away. “We don’t do that. Next!” Alack, alas. We learned that even in Europe, the days of stamps in passports are coming to an end. It’s all electronically monitored and that our best bet is in more economically-deprived corners of the world where things are operating a bit more “old school”. Wah-wah.

On the way to our Hornblower Cruise, we stopped at the Secret Garden Restaurant and had our first real Canadian specialty, Poutine. If you’re unfamiliar, Poutine is a pile of French Fries covered in gravy and cheese. The type of cheese varies from place-to-place but it’s always cheese. This time it was shredded Cheddar but we saw it with cheese curds in some places.

At long last, we boarded the Hornblower with our complimentary ponchos (if you go, feel free to recycle these at the end, or, like we did, dry and stash them in your vehicle in case you need them later). From the bridge when you looked down at the tourists in line, you’d see scads of people in their own clothes going into a building and all coming out in red ponchos. It looked like a little factory.

I will admit I didn’t expect very much from the cruise. The Falls are breathtaking but I figured my kids would be more impressed than I was. When we got out there though, I was gobsmacked. You get as close as you safely can and there is no way to really grasp how massive Niagara Falls is without being at the bottom of them. I can’t fathom what the Indigenous groups must have thought of them when they first encountered them, or the colonists when they arrived. I can’t imagine being where I was in a smaller vessel. It was impressive and worth the cost ($26 adult/ $16 child).

After that we headed for our overnight spot. It’s worth checking with friends and family along the way if you’re RVing to see if there are spots you can park or park and plug-in overnight. It saves a bit of cash if you’re just heading from point-to-point and not staying more than a day.

Niagara Falls 1

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KID THOUGHTS ON NIAGARA FALLS

D~ “What surprised me the most was the diversity of cultures.”

Djr~ “What surprised me the most was the amount of mist!”

A~ “The thing that surprised me the most was the food at the Secret Garden. It was awesome. AWESOME!!” [she had a grilled cheese sandwich]

Without Further Ado, Canada, Here We Come!

The mail and paper service was on-hold, our RV was packed, and we were on our way. Later than expected, which tends to be our family norm, but we were on our way. In the early evening of July 7, 2017, we set out on our first family expedition in this year of travel that lies ahead.

Ambassador Bridge

Around midnight we were nearing the U.S. border into Canada (Ambassador Bridge) and were greeted by a fireworks finale and the traffic that follows. Gratefully, we were just slipping through a portion of that traffic and soon were at pace before the border checkpoint. I made a mental note to check for events along our points of travel in the future. (This becomes a theme.)

The border crossing was rather straightforward. First time in Canada? Where are you headed? Are you bringing any fireworks or weapons? The only slight inconvenience was having to wake the children so customs/border patrol could verify the children in our vehicle were the children presented on the passports. Pretty standard stuff. The only disappointment was a lack of a stamp in my children’s passports to mark their first trip to another country. (This becomes a theme too, thanks to the electronic tracking of movements and the redundancy created by the stamps.)

When asked where we were headed, we mentioned several things including going to Prince Edward Island to pay homage to the literary sites made famous by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The customs officer stared at us blankly. My husband shrugged his shoulders in that manly “I know, right?” way. The officer queried further, “you’re going to PEI because of a book?” I nodded enthusiastically. He shrugged like my middle schooler. I think at this point he decided we were both a non-threat and maybe a bit dim.

Moments later, I was trying to snap a photo of the bridge as we drove over it.

We settled for the night around Chatham-Kent. First new thing for me? The exits were all marked “On Route” and I liked that better than “exit”. It felt a bit more like enjoying the journey instead of just wishing you were at the end.

The only trouble this night was a bit of excessive snoring and a pesky mosquito. Small stuff.

2 Down, 34 Weeks To Go.

Photo Credit : https://morguefile.com/search/morguefile/1/marathon/pop

I’ve completed a half-marathon (walking), and I’ve watched my husband complete both marathons and other long-distance endurance events. At the start, the energy is high and you’re feeling strong.  I can SO do this! And then someone says, “ready, set, go” and you’re doing it. Your feet are moving forward, and if you’ve practiced at all, and tried to prepare at all, your subconscious is whispering things like, “stick to the pace, don’t rush it, save your energy.”

That’s where we are right now as a family. The challenge has begun and we’re moving, steadily, trying to be mindful that there is a long, long way to go yet.

We’re two weeks into school and the girls have already zipped to the end of their first “9 week” unit in math. They are on a fifth grade spelling list because fourth was too easy. My son is plugging along on-pace and that’s mighty fine with me because I’m not sure I can run too far ahead since I’m relearning as we go.

I am extremely glad to be able to take the time to balance the social studies and history we’re learning. We are focusing on African-American/Black History, Indigenous History, and what’s traditionally passed along as history, otherwise better described as Colonial/White History. It is shocking (though I know it shouldn’t be) to read how history is stated traditionally. Some king somewhere “giving” away land to the rich, the rich then subletting to a poorer group, and all the while doing this on land that was previously occupied, and indigenous groups “agreeing” to certain terms. Altogether, I’m hoping it gives my kids a broader understanding both of the real history of our own country and that history tends to be one group’s interpretation, and to ask the critical questions to help understand a place and people more broadly.

Our first trip is very soon. We have the RV prepped and ready. We have our itinerary set. All we needed were three new passports to arrive in the mail. The date the woman at the passport office gave us came and went and so I called the passport agency. With the dates of travel so near, I was beginning to wonder if I needed to re-route this trip to be all stateside and that we’d have to explore Canada another time.

When the representative answered, she didn’t give me a lot of hope. Yes, our passports were in-process and they were in the Chicago office, but there was no guarantee they’d be in our hands in time for the trip. She reminded me that the long side of 6-8 weeks was smack-dab in the middle of our trip. I felt stupid. She was right. If I’d been paying attention at the time we were submitting them, I’d have realized the agent there as giving us an optimistic delivery date. If I’d realized that, I would have expedited them from the start. So we were a bit stuck.

A friend reminded us that if we were desperate, we could go to the Chicago office and wait in line. If you’re there within 48 hours of travel (needs to be documented somehow, like a plane ticket) then they can rush through things that day. However, going by RV means that we wouldn’t necessarily have documentation of travel. No car rental, no hotel, no flight.

The next day, a set of letters arrived. Our application had included a notarized form that indicated the father of my children was indeed the father of my children and that he knew I was applying for their passports and not attempting to sneak my children out of the country. (This is a form DS-3053 which is used if both parents can’t be present at the time of application.) I called the number on the letter and spoke with a representative. He advised that we fill out a new form for each child, expedite it to the office in Chicago. He marked each application on his computer with a note about the urgency of the applications.

I’d forgotten the representative had said the Chicago office would call me, so at first, when unknown call rang, I ignored it. But in between the last trill and the voicemail chime- I realized what it was. I called back and hallelujah, he’d sorted out the trouble with the old forms and was sending the passports to our home. Woo-hoo! He even called a second time to let me know it’d cost me less than I thought it would.

So, hopefully, very soon we will be fully ready for the first trip. Our dog is heading home with her grand-dog-parents shortly and there will be nothing else to be done except leave.

I hope this is the last of the pre-adventure excitement but if there’s more, I’ll be sure to fill you in.

To all of you reading, cheering, commiserating, offering advice, sharing ideas, and finding creative solutions for us, thank you for being part of our moral support.  We couldn’t get here without you.

 

LET THE SCHOOL YEAR BEGIN!

ClipArt Credit: http://classroomclipart.com/clipart-view/Clipart/School/multicultural-children-around-the-globe-clipart-622_jpg.htm

We started late, but we started. Gratefully, the first few days were smooth and productive. I even managed to walk my son through the first section of his Algebra book (phew!). I am hoping that longer spells of independence lay ahead, or I will be woefully lacking for time to do my own work.

We have some systems in place (where to put work, how to know if you’re on-task, etc.), but we had to establish a new rule. Leave mom alone when she’s in the bathroom. I reasoned, you’d never walk in on your teacher if she/he were in the restroom to ask a non-emergency question, so let’s leave mom alone for this task, too. They agreed it would not be appropriate at school and fingers-crossed, the message was received and I will at least be able to have those moments to myself.

I also think I need to eat separately at lunch. If I can have a few pockets of quiet, we might just make it without me fizzling and sparking.

~Trip Update~

Our first adventure is planned. We will keep exact dates more hushed and won’t give you the play-by-play until after it’s over so that we can maintain a bit of privacy. But… we won’t leave you totally in the dark.

First up will be a trip up through Canada and down through the northeast region of the US. On the way up, we’ll catch Niagara Falls and do a tour of the capitals that dot the edge of Canada up from Ontario and through Quebec and over to New Brunswick and landing in a dream-come-true for me, Prince Edward Island. My kids and I are reading (rereading) Anne of Green Gables right now and I’m hoping it’ll ignite some desire in them to see Green Gables in real life. On the way south, we’ll do a zip-quick tour through as many New England states as we can and we’ll settle around Boston for a bit of a history tour there. Then we’ll scoot up through New York, stopping in to see the Harriet Tubman home and Seneca Falls. After that we might have a fun splurge at a certain amusement park on the north coast of Ohio and maybe a stop in Detroit (those are a bit dependent on how well the rest of the trip sticks to our plan).

The RV is in the shop getting spiffied-up and we’re getting ourselves ready, too. (The kids and I are taking longer & longer walks so it won’t seem like such a big deal when we’re out and about.)

The adventure posts are coming soon. I’m excited. Are you?

 

TIME WAITS FOR NO MOM

Photo Credit: matiasromero http://mrg.bz/5bd8c8

I thought I was doing fairly well with working ahead and the next thing I knew, there were only 7 weeks until our first week of homeschooling. If that doesn’t put the fear of chaos into you, I don’t know what would, it did me.

I’m taking a few nights this week to get the first month of lessons planned per subject so that we know what to tackle week-to-week for at least a month. Then I’ll set the next month up as we get toward the end of month one (and so on). I’ve read this is a smart way to plan since it allows a solid chunk of planned materials and also room to be flexible and rework things as needed. You know, in case someone comes down with the plague or a fierce case of procrastination.

I spent today setting up a page full of links for our kids to use when they’re hunting down online (mom-approved) resources for their work. And if you happen to need those links, you are welcome to them. I’m also setting up a page with locations we’re hoping to visit and how we plan to do it.

I’ll probably post another update in the next month before we officially start, that is, if my head hasn’t fallen off and I’m not running around the house flapping my wings in a tizzy.

LD

EARLY BIRD HOPES TO CATCH WORM

Photo Credit: AcrylicArtist http://mrg.bz/30fe1e

At this point, I am watching lots of videos and reading lots of blogs. I’m attempting to learn what I can about being a parent and teacher at the same time.

I’ve ordered our curriculum and our books and I’ve started converting our Family Room into a classroom.

It all seems so unreal. I have a long to-do list yet. I need to start researching flights and trip-costs for any in-US trips we want to make. I have to figure out which regions to visit when so that we don’t visit Mt. Rushmore when it’s -27 outside. Neither we, nor our RV, will tolerate that very well. I also don’t want to visit the Grand Canyon during one of those 100+ degree days. I also need to get passport applications submitted, research which vaccines (if any) are needed and when they need to be completed. I need to make sure the friends we want to visit internationally will actually be home when we visit. Lots and lots to do.

My husband keeps teasing me that I’ll have everything all done and ready to go by March, but he doesn’t realize how much there is still left to do. I don’t want it stacking up and having to juggle school & travel deadlines simultaneously. I am a cranky lady when it all hits at once, I have to use my organizing skills to keep my future-self sane. We’ll all be happier for it.

LD