countdown to cuba

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The Hubs and I are celebrating our 35th anniversary in November 2017. We make it a practice to celebrate The Big Ones all year long. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to start with a Cuba cruise in March!

Many people have asked: Why Cuba? Lots of reasons, actually. We’re always looking for new destinations in the Caribbean. This largest island has been tantalizingly close but yet too far until recently, when travel restrictions were lifted enough to become feasible for most U.S.travelers.

By all accounts, Cuba is an amazingly beautiful, warm, and friendly place. Everyone I know personally who has visited has loved their experience. I feel a strong urge to get there before large-scale American tourism gains a foot-hold on the island — or before US policies change and Cuba travel becomes more restrictive again. I especially wanted our spring anniversary trip to be an adventure and Cuba fits the bill!

An air of mystery and intrigue still surround this historically “off-limits” country. I remember well the Cold War era; the prospect of visiting a communist country fascinates me. Cuban people have suffered terribly under a long history of dictatorial regimes, foreign occupations and interventions, including our own. Tourist dollars are critical to an economy significantly impaired by the U.S. embargo. Most Cuban people are very poor and lack access to so many basics we take for granted, like over the counter medicine, vitamins,educational and art resources, or personal care products. This is an opportunity to give back as we stock supplies to distribute on our journey.

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We’re sailing with a small cruise company on a small, old ship with a checkered past (recently refurbished, thankfully!) reminiscent of our first big adventure abroad together in 1992. The entire itinerary is authentic Cuban, a program carefully aligned with U.S. government requirements for cultural exchange. This is not the typical tourist junket (forbidden for US citizens) yet suits me perfectly and the Hubs is game. The educational program on board — think Cuban cooking classes, mixology, dancing lessons, cigar history — and cultural tours on shore plus Cuban visa and other documentation included in the base price makes for very easy trip planning. I am comforted by the option to sleep on ship (as opposed to casa particulars) and thrilled to experience so much of this very large island within a short time.

At the time of booking, there were no direct flights to Havana from the U.S. Fortunately, Celestyal Cruises offers a convenient option to board in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We set sail on a Friday for Santiago de Cuba. After a day at sea, we’ll dock in Havana for an overnight stay to extend our time in the capitol city. We’ll complete our circumnavigation with another day at sea and visit to Cienfuegos before returning to Jamaica. That’s the plan, anyway. I’ll keep you posted on our adventure!

~ René Morley

P.S. The original itinerary included a stop at  Punta  Frances National Park on the south coast of the La Isla de la Juventud, now replaced by a day at sea. <sigh> The “Isle of Youth” was a very nice thought…

simple things

We walked the trail last weekend, early on a cloudy-gray Saturday. A few inches of fresh snow lay undisturbed except for animal tracks. Lots of deer, rabbit, perhaps fox, and several other small prints I couldn’t identify. There wasn’t another soul in sight. Just me and my sister.

As we approached a wetland I noticed an array of flat, wide tracks. Instinctively I knew, “That’s beaver.” My sister nudged me, “Do you see him?” Sure enough, he (or she) was perched on top of the lodge, chewing on a thin branch. A smaller beaver swam nearby. We’ve had an unseasonably warm stretch so there was plenty of open water. They’d been busy , these beavers! There were lots of tracks into the woods surrounding the pond on either side of the trail. We watched them for several moments, fascinated by their behaviors. Eventually the small one caught on to us and THWACK! Her tail hit the water in a splash of alarm and they were gone.

Monster flakes were falling from the sky by the time we rounded the last bend. We closed the loop on our own tracks laid at the beginning of our journey, still just the two of us in a white world silenced by the snow. I felt refreshed by an hour in the crisp cold air, walking and talking with my sister. It’s often the simplest of things that restore us.

~ René Morley

 

 

open house, open hearts

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On the first Saturday of December we hosted an open house with Santa. It was one of those stars -have-aligned sort of opportunities. First Christmas in our new home. So many people to thank and so many reasons to be thankful. Young grandchildren and great-nieces and wee friends from children’s church experiencing the magical wonder and holy awe of Christmas. New friends in the community. Lots of good reasons to plan a Christmas party.

Most importantly, this will be the first Christmas since our beloved Betty passed over. She loved the Christmas season more than anyone I’ve known. Christmas a la Betty was a sight to behold. She trimmed the tree, the house, the yard, until every nook and cranny was graced by Christmas spirit. She spent an entire year preparing, purchasing gifts well in advance and baking sweets and treats for weeks leading up to the big day.

By the time I entered the scene the family was so large that gifts were exchanged in family groupings over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. Even then, she always exceeded expectations with beautifully wrapped packages spilling into the dining room from under the front room tree. On Christmas Eve, the entire brood gathered at the farm before church services. Santa made an appearance to the delight of the children as adults battled over Betty’s famous dill pickles in a gift exchange. Christmas was a celebration of family as well faith.

On the days leading up to our open house, it was almost as if my mother-in-law was shadowing each step. She felt very near as I was baking spiral hams and dozens of rolls, trimming with lights and baubles and scents of the season, wrapping packages to fill the gap under the mammoth tree that the Hubs, a.k.a. Clark Griswold, couldn’t resist — he carries her Christmas torch. I knew she would be pleased with our preparations for sixty guests. My sisters-in-law and others showed up with helpful contributions just as I knew they would because they also know family matters. Betty’s example and joyful celebrations of family life and Christmas will serve us well in to the future.

In one important way, as the song below so beautifully illustrates, this is her first Christmas. Listen in… and if that doesn’t boost your Christmas spirit, then spend some time with my Christmas playlist!

And it was just (February) past 
She said goodbye, and breathed her last 
And the great-grandchildren miss her so 
But if she could she would let them know … 
This is my first Christmas 

First time to hear the angels sing 
Glory, hallelujah to the risen king 
And a holy night is what this is 
‘Cause this is my first Christmas 
This is my first Christmas

 

 

 

I’m pleased to report the open house with Santa a grand success and a ton of fun. The house was buzzing with conversation among family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty children leaned in one by one, wide-eyed and eager to bend Santa’s ear — except for our three grandgirls, who each preferred to keep their distance! Santa gifted each child with a Little Golden Book retelling the first Christmas story.

I crouched low on the carpet, observing each of the children up close in their moment of joy on Santa’s lap. They were just precious. One of the most memorable was in 3 year-old Henry’s Santa exchange. It was a very short conversation. “I want a bounce house” (trampoline), Henry proclaimed. I prompted him to continue on his sister’s behalf, just as he’d practiced, so Santa would know Anna Bea would like “something that squeaks.” Alas, he’d changed his mind about sharing this detail. “No, GiGi,” he said. “She’s fine. Beasy don’t need nothing.” Well, huh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t forget her!

Long into the eventing we ate, drank and were merry in the making of memories and start of a new Christmas tradition.

 

Merry Christmas!

~ René Morley

journey to bethlehem

We’ve had so much fun with children’s church this fall! The first quarter is drawing to a close with a Journey to Bethlehem. The curriculum was a free download, which is always appreciated. Unfortunately, it wasn’t age-appropriate for our mostly preschool-aged group. So we borrowed weekly themes and customized lessons and crafts for wee ones to follow the star and learn the story of the first Christmas.

Our journey is based on the Christmas story as told in Luke 2:1-20. In week 1, we explore the journey Joseph took in trusting God, a leap of faith that changed the world as he led his new wife to fulfill 500 years of prophecy in Bethlehem. In week 2, we drop in on the lowly shepherds, the first people to learn and act upon the good news of great joy available to everyone. In week 3, we consider the long and expensive journey of the magi, they who were wise in watching the signs and following the star that led them to worship the Christ child. In week 4, we learn about the long journey the baby Jesus took to Bethlehem, giving up heaven to become the ultimate Christmas gift.

The children are learning cute hand motions to familiar carols like Away in the Manger, Drummer Boy, and Silent Night. The favorite, by far, is newcomer, “Oh, What a Special Night.”  You can’t help but sing and move along! I invite you to share the wonder and joy of Christmas with the little ones you love through these fun activities.

TOP LEFT of CENTER and FAR RIGHT: Joseph and family of popsicle sticks and cloth (week 1) TOP FAR LEFT and RIGHT of CENTER: Baby Jesus in popsicle stick and paper manger  (week 4) CENTER: Soft sheep reminder of the shepherds (week 2) BOTTOM  Sparkly clay star; we used this recipe (week 3) Please use comments for craft assembly questions.

As always, Carolyn Arends inspires my advent preparation. Come and See, is a joyous accompaniment to our journey! I guarantee if you like that you won’t want to miss Story of StoriesLong Way to Go, and It Was a Holy Night. Listen in and be inspired by those and many other original, thought-provoking lyrics by launching her delightful Christmas Jukebox. Do you lack Christmas Spirit? Get it here!

 

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Bonus! A sweet reminder of the first Christmas with M&M candies. I wish I knew who to give credit for this clever poem. Please clue me in if you know the original author!

 

Happy happy and merry, merry! May your Christmas be especially blessed.

~ René Morley

happy birthday anna bea

On the last Saturday of October we celebrated Anna Beatrice, the cherub who turned one year old mid-week. Her party was the bookend on an amazing first year. Anna Bea’s family and extended family, including cousins/second-cousins, aunts/uncles, grandparents and greats all gathered to celebrate this sweet-as-honey girly-girl. The cousins donned costume in dress rehearsal for a big night of trick-or-treating just ahead.

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I cannot imagine our family without Anna Beasy. She always offers a bright smile, her beautiful blue eyes twinkling. She quickly settled in with brother Henry, mama, daddy and black cat, Bear Grylls in their new home — along with GiGi and Pops. We were one big happy family for several months. In April, our new house was livable and we parted in peace! Whew

That was eight months after launching a grand adventure in multigenerational habitation, selling / purchasing one home and building another (a.k.a the big dig); mama on maternity leave or working (either way with little sleep), GiGi working from home office, daddy on shift work and Pops working the farm … plus a newborn baby girl and a rambunctious two-year old boy. And a cat. That cat! Mixed, shaken or stirred, it could have been a recipe for conflict but instead it was pretty sweet. Whew! We did it. They did it!

Anna was blessed to meet her Great-Grandma Betty when she was only a few days old, a mere 87 years between them. G’ma nestled wee Anna under wing, true to form as grandmother hen. Anna didn’t have long with G’ma, to our great sadness, but she has been blessed by loving attention from the greatest generation, as Great-Grandma Alice and Great-Great-Aunt Beatrice so much enjoy her company.

img_3915I’m thankful Every. Single. Day. that all of our sweet grands live within a few miles. Anna Bea and her brother Henry are only a short walk across our yard, through a hole in the cedar split-rail (extracted from an ancient fence in our woodlot) lined with clumps of white birch and lilacs (birches transplanted from the back forty and lilacs from the Walker estate many years ago), and past the (brand new) shed where Anna’s daddy and brother build honey bee hives.

Yesterday I was sitting on my back porch, working on children’s church craft projects when a movement caught my eye. Near the periphery of our property, wee Anna was toddling around, bundled up for fall. Her daddy stood nearby, swooped in and scooped her up, put her down, and stepped back to watch as she turned again toward the rail fence. It was a beautiful fall day; I didn’t think much about it at the time. Later, her mama explained the scene: as soon as daddy set her down, Anna Bea made a beeline for GiGi and Pop’s house! At one year old, she already knows how we love her so and apparently also where to find us. Quite amazing, eh?

Life is sweet. Sweeter. Sweetness complete. Happy birthday, Anna Bea!

~ René Morley

deep and wide

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I love fall. It is a sentiment shared with nearly every North Country neighbor. You wouldn’t likely live here otherwise, knowing what is ahead!

Who doesn’t love breathing deeply of crisp air scented with sun-warmed apple, or looking long at forest and hedgerow ablaze in autumnal display? Paper birch, sugar maple, red maple, black cherry, black walnut, white oak, poplar and other hardwoods burn brightly interspersed with cooling conifers: white spruce, Norway spruce, blue spruce, balsam fir, scotch pine, red pine, white pine, and white cedar. No wonder the woods smell so good!

Nights are cool for sleeping. Days are bright, perfect temps by noon, and oh, so inviting. It’s a wonder I get anything at all done inside. Except that this is also an especially intense time of year at work, headlong into our busy season.

This month and next, my bandwidth is running thin, calendar clogged with compulsory appointments and meetings including some at a distance. I can hear our home calling for a thorough cleaning, which I continue to ignore. I missed my exercise class again. And again. Even as I was preparing a welcome meal for neighbors, an activity I thoroughly enjoy, I felt myself running low, lower. Kaput!

I truly thought I was out of steam but no, I rallied for the grands. It’s highly unusual to see them all in the same week, even in a weekend, much less on the same day. Yet for some reason, as the day unfolded, there they were, by one or two or three. It was the best kind of day, largely spontaneous and unplanned. An entire day pushing swings, pulling wagons, assembling puzzles, serving snacks, preparing meals, singing songs, reading books, building block towers, setting up train tracks, kissing and hugging, snuggling and comforting. In other words, full on GiGi. It doesn’t get any better. 

Then I awoke aching midway through the night, fumbling for ibuprofen. Ohhhh. I did not see that coming. On Monday morning, I was just plain tired but determined to start the week off right, prioritizing ‘quiet time’ before launching my workday. Which led me to a familiar passage in Ephesians. Still, somehow, if was fresh and new. Just like God’s daily mercies, eh?

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Oh! How wide, how long, how high, how deep his love! How unlimited his resources;  he never fails to bolster and support me. I close my eyes and breathe slowly, willing my roots deep, deeper, into this infinitely abundant place of love. Pressing in, my heart fills. My soul lifts. My spirit sings in gladness.

Meditating on this passage is like a drawing deep breath in autumn: rejuvenating, reinvigorating, refreshing! May God increase our understanding of his great love for us. I’m making Pauls’ prayer my prayer for October. How about you?

~ René Morley

 

art of neighborliness

We had a guest pastor in church this Sunday. I’d heard of the Reverend Juanita once and I liked what I heard. “She is a spitfire!” Pastor P commented. Sounds like my kind of girl! I was looking forward to hearing from her heart. Indeed, I knew from first glance of her awesome shoes — 4-inch heels in a jazzy pattern of gold, green, and blue — that she had something to teach me. Rev. Juanita inspires confidence in every step.

Rev. Juanita’s subject was the art of neighborliness. My thoughts turned immediately to  my mom; who, as I’ve mentioned, was an excellent teacher in this regard. Mom made it her practice to show neighborly love. Throughout my childhood it seemed she was always pedaling off with a gift of home made bread or cookies for a neighbor. But this week I was fascinated to hear from the pulpit: what does it mean for a congregation to practice the art of neighborliness?

Rev. Juanita’s message was terrific, rich with media and personal stories I can’t replicate. She imparted a history lesson of the 1938 reunion at Gettysburg, where veterans of the Blue and the Gray met again and embraced in brotherly love and amazing display of neighborliness. The essence of her message is one that settled in my heart long ago — I just didn’t know it by that name. The art of neighborliness is essential to building the kingdom of God.

As a Christian, neighborliness is putting people before ideology. It is throwing wide our doors and our arms to embrace and serve the other. It is loving and not judging. It is being the hands and feet of Jesus every day in the community. It is maintaining a focus on the Church rather than our church. Rev. Juanita reminded us that the kingdom of God (i.e. “Big C ” Church) is mentioned 121 times in the new testament, compared to less than a handful mentions of the church (i.e. “little c” church).

The art of neighborliness is exactly what Jesus was talking about in Luke 10. It is not complicated although it can be very difficult. Those who are generous in spirit are well equipped for this work. Not too long ago I shared my perspective on this basic truth.

The foundation of Christian faith is as simple as it is solid. There are a handful of basic tenets and nothing much to argue about. Jesus is God’s son, resurrected. God provided a way because He loves us. He wants to be in relationship with us. In accepting Him, we are adopted into his family. He sent his Holy Spirit to guide us until His return.

Beyond that, it doesn’t much matter. 

Although God provides the way, modern-day Pharisees continue to throw up gates, personally standing guard. But to what end? Christian faith isn’t a checklist of do’s and don’ts in order to be admitted. It’s about love. Seriously, it’s that simple.

‘LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, ALL YOUR SOUL, ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND ALL YOUR MIND.’ AND ‘LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’

That’s it, Jesus said. “Do this and you shall live!” And this is brilliant. Because when I do this — and when I trust that you will, too — everything else takes care of itself. 

[excerpted from March 2013 post, 40-watt Jesus]

Rev. Juanita’s secret to building a thriving local church in a small, remote community is embedded in her great love for God and consideration for the other. “I don’t need to tell them all that’s wrong with their lives; they know most of it anyway.” This is grace and a wonderful example of God’s graceful nature. She alluded to needs in the community that run deep, some of which may be generational or systemic. Neediness of this nature often overwhelms me.  Then she spoke of partnering — I love that term — with God, with church members, with others in the community to meet these needs. These are acts of mercy, just as God is merciful. In practicing the art of neighborliness, she and her church congregation are building the Church, investing in the kingdom of God.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” 

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” 

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  

[And here’s what Jesus had to say about that…]

Who is my neighbor? Who is yours?

~ René Morley

adirondack potato soup

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Have you ever heard of Adirondack red potatoes? Me, neither! Last week I received a few, passed along from my sister who’d visited my uncle who lives on the periphery of the Adirondack Park. Potatoes are just one of the cool things about this region.

The Adirondacks are gentle mountain range with 46 peaks reaching 4,000 feet or higher. The Park encompasses small towns and farmland, forest flush with timber, graceful foothills leading to what seems an endless array of small mountains rounded off by the ages. There are 6 million acres, both privately and publicly owned, harboring a gazillion rivers, streams, ponds and lakes rich with wildlife. Here’s a glimpse.

The Adk Park is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States, greater in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined! (apa.ny.gov) Scattered amidst “forever wild” public lands are charming small towns and villages. The most famous of these is the lovely Lake Placid, NY, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. In a word, awesome.

But, I digress. Back to the potatoes. Standing on the precipice of autumn, the potatoes spoke to me of soup. This is one of the Hubs’ favorite comfort foods and mine, too. The spuds cooked up to a pearly-pink, with delectable flavor and perfect texture. Hungry? My potato soup recipe is simple.

Part 1. Dice a large onion and fry with several half-slices of bacon in a large soup pot. While bacon and onion are cooking, peel (or not) and dice potatoes. When onion is soft and translucent, remove bacon and drain off bacon fat. Separate any additional fat from bacon and return bacon to pot. Add raw potatoes to onion and bacon. Add chicken broth to cover. Simmer until potatoes are soft.

Part 2. In separate sauce pan, prepare a simple white sauce. There are lots of recipes available online, for example this Betty Crocker version. I have a slap-dash method with 2-3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup flour, fresh ground pepper, and a brisk whisk while   adding in a cup of milk (give or take) at a slow simmer.

For the potato soup, I add to the white sauce 4 ounces of cheese and continue heating until melted. I’m not fussy about the cheese and use whatever I have on hand. If it is a softer cheese, like muenster, I also add some parmesan to give it some bite.

Part 3. Add white sauce to soup mixture. Stir gently. Enjoy at once or keep warm in crock pot until dinner.

Even better than making Adirondack potato soup, I hope you will learn more about the park  and plan your visit!

~ René Morley

bea happy

Labor Day is always bittersweet, as we are turning the corner on summer into autumn. At North Country latitudes, daylight hours are noticeably skittish this time of year. (It’s doggone near-dark at 7:45 p.m.) Evenings cool dramatically and most mornings are slow to warm. I know it’s only early September but something deep in me begins to brace, turning to face the long, cold winter ahead.

But this Labor Day was refreshingly different. In a word, it was a gift. I didn’t give a single thought to the  winter ahead — not one! I relished the toasty-warm weather — hot flashes be d@mned and turn up the AC! I took a few days off to spend time with my family and extended family. I did nothing by routine and everything by opportunity.  No regrets.

My sister, my cousin and I had a ball out and about in the No Co. But I must admit that the very best part of the past week was spending quality time with my Aunt Bea.  If you know me, then you know about my aunt. I will be forever grateful for her influence on me and my family. Time together is always sweet and always too short.

I don’t know anyone who has maintained a more genuinely contented outlook — despite the circumstances and this is key. I have no doubt that this is what draws so many people to my aunt: she is as happy as can be! She is quick to make an impact, wherever or whomever. She doesn’t wait for things to change. She doesn’t need someone to make her feel good about herself. She is always the first to embrace, welcome and affirm. She is outwardly focused and intentional in service to her family, church and community and has a lot of fun while she’s at it. I can learn a lot from her example.

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My cousin, Sally, said it best: “Mom, you’ve always been content.”  It’s true. My aunt has had her share of suffering and struggles but she doesn’t linger in that space. I believe her secret is in trusting fully in God — for yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is good. It’s all good. Every cloud on Aunt Bea’s horizon does have a silver lining yet she is not particularly focused on the clouds.

“I’m almost 81, you know!” my aunt has reminded us for the past 10 months. It has always been this way — no matter her age she reminds us repeatedly of how old she is going to be. But it has also always been the case that her age doesn’t matter. Nothing can stop her from fulfilling her destiny.

imageOur youngest grandchild and my mom’s ninth great-grandchild was Aunt Bea’s first namesake. Anna Beatrice was born one day in advance of my aunt’s 80th birthday in late October last year. This week we held an impromptu surprise party for the bee-some: Queen Bee, Baby Bee and Mama Beekeeper. What a year we’ve all had! What joy for our Beas to finally meet!  Sweetness complete. It was extra special that two of my aunt’s three siblings (my mom and her older brother) could join the celebration.

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When I was a very young child I knew beyond doubt that my Aunt Bea loved God with all of her heart. I also knew she loved and cared for me. Eventually, I understood that I was part of her destiny. Better yet, my family became part of her destiny. What a legacy. I only hope we do her proud.

~ René Morley

 

glimpses of summer

It’s almost inevitable when we get to this point in the cycle of seasons that I think, “Where did it go?” The past few months of sunshine have been jam-packed and I’ve enjoyed every spare moment. I’m thankful for time with the grandchids, catching up with family and friends, and explorations around and about the beautiful North Country. The nights are cooling now as we turn the corner into autumn. Summer is but a glimpse in the rearview mirror. But oh, what fun we had!

 

Smack dab in the middle of the summer I spent a wonderful day with a good friend explorin’. Among other things, we toured Great Camp Sagamore in Raquette Lake, NY — one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for such a long while. I’m so glad we did. 🙂 Great camps are an important part of a rich Adirondack heritage. See them while you can!

~ René Morley

gananoque

gananonqueOur final stop on the mini-getaway was a quaint St. Lawrence River town. “There’s not much there,” a Canadian forewarned. “A couple of blocks. Yeah, and a few shops.” Never you mind, I thought. I’d read that Gananoque was worth a visit and so it was!

We strolled up Gananoque’s main street, stopping in several shops with local character. The best was the ancient hardware store, Donevan’s; I couldn’t resist the window displays of items purchased decades ago. Inside we found two older gentleman at the helm. The younger appeared to be at least 75 and the elder was navigating by walker. His was the voice of authority when I had questions. Turns out Charlie is a local legend at 92 years old!

The store was a combination of genuine hardware (at the rear), household goods, trinkets and flea market fare (at the fore), some with an invitation to make an offer. I found a miniature tea set, Fiestaware style (for the grands) and a percolator knob (that didn’t fit, as it would turn out) but the real value was in the cultural and generational exchange.

The tea set was unmarked and the Hubs suggested we make an offer. “Well, you could do that,” the younger clerk said, “but make it fair.” I turned that over in my mind. ($10? $15? Surely no more that.) Before I could respond he tried to dissuade me, perhaps one of the other tea sets would do? (No, not really.)

Finally, he pulled his phone out of his pocket with a flourish to call Mary. “Hello, Mary, this is Gary.” For whatever reason, the proprietor’s daughter was not on front desk duty this day. (Is Gary her husband? Such mystery and intrigue!) These three must make for some sort of retail sales staff record.

It took only slightly less time to place the call and receive a return call and finally get a price ($15) than it did to make the actual transaction … but not by much. Gary preferred I pay in cash but our Canadian was in short supply and he had no American change. He agreed to process by credit card only after warning we’d pay taxes to do so. This led to commentary about local and national politics and other disturbances. I don’t know that we’ve ever spent $20 with more interest!

IMG_4681The Tuesday afternoon sun was brutal, beating down relentlessly, so we were thankful for a reprieve on the Lost Ships of the Islands St. Lawrence River boat tour. Despite our familiarity with the region and abundance of excursions from American shores, the Canadian perspective is unique.

We saw many more islands than we have on U.S.-based boat tours with much better narration and a much nicer boat than good ol’ Uncle Sam provides. My favorites were the historic island stop for American slaves escaping via the underground railroad and two islands linked by reputedly the world’s shortest international bridge, a small white structure connecting stony footprints in each country. This must be among the world’s friendliest borders. It seems that every island flies a flag but some fly flags for both the USA and Canada.

Most islands are independently owned and many are so small that a few trees and single family home consume them. This is typical of the region; only a few are large or lavish. There are nearly 2,000 islands; some are far too small to inhabit, others are state or provincial parks open to the public. We sailed past millionaire’s row which sparks our imagination for living the high life. The most famous among the rich and famous are Boldt and Singer castles on Heart and Dark Islands, respectively. We’ve toured each and were happy just to sail by on this trip.

What set this St Lawrence River boat tour apart was a rich media presentation as we passed over sunken ships. The turbulent Great Lakes and rocky shoals and shifting sandbars of the St Lawrence River have claimed far more than their share of ships and lives. It was intriguing to see below the surface through videos of divers as the story of each wreck was relayed. We sipped ice cold Canadian beer in comfortable shade as clouds rolled above and small skiffs, boats and ships of all sizes sailed past on either side.

We followed a large vessel for a while — whether saltie or laker I cannot say. The Great Lakes Seaway System is amazingly versatile and vital to both countries. As our northern border and “fourth coast” it is worth a visit, in and of itself. We locals tend to take it for granted. The large ship stayed true to the deepwater channel as we veered off under another span of the Thousand Islands International Bridge. It was a perfect day on the mighty St Lawrence.

 

Disembarking, we had just enough time to stop by the Gananoque Brewing Company for local libations before dinner.  Delicious! Our final stop was a perfect landing. I’d learned of the Maple Leaf Restaurant in a Lonely Planet guide book. With this inside scoop, we were determined to stop for a bite. Inside we found an impeccably clean and tidy restaurant with old world charm. The menu included several types of light and tender snitzel and delicately seasoned spatzel; top that off with strudel and you simply cannot go wrong.

I mentioned to our waitress how we’d landed there and the next thing we knew, Vlad, the proprietor, was at our table. He has been running this place for 28 years and is justifiably proud of the results. We left with a cool cloth bag filled with leftovers for dinner the next day. We will return, I am sure.

Thus we wrapped another modest but meaningful Canadian adventure. We never fail to find warm and welcoming people, fantastic food, and adventures midst our northerly neighbors. I hope I’ve inspired you to visit!

~ René Morley

 

kingston

IMG_4605Kingston is a small historic city with loud and proud loyalty to the crown, interesting architecture, and quaint English pubs. We got into town late in the day and drove directly to the hotel. We ate dinner at the Pilot House because it was an easy walk and we were exhausted from the dunes in the heat! They offer several varieties of their famous fish and chips.

Being farmers and all, we were up early to seize Monday. It was overcast and drippy, a sleepy morning where not much was happening. Martello Alley is currently the #1 thing to do in Kingston, so we headed there — unwittingly a full hour before they opened.

The proprietor is just that great that he flung wide the gates and welcomed us in. We spent the better part of an hour enjoying the place and his company. He was admittedly perplexed about the Trip Advisor rating. I think his winning personality plus innovative approach help explain this success.

It really is a great idea! He’s transformed a decrepit old alley into a year round art gallery that is owned and operated collectively. He quickly unlocked doors hanging on brick walls to reveal a sampling of artwork for sale, each door a different artist. An inner courtyard revealed more art, flowering plants and a cafe seating area. Even further into the alley, more valuable artwork was on display on walls and tables in the main gallery.

By then, Kingston was waking up but we weren’t sure how we wanted to spend the day.  We haven’t visited in years so we hit the reset button and joined the hop-on, hop-off trolley tour. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s also an easy and relatively cheap way to get the lay of the land. At times we had the trolley to ourselves. It is a thorough tour, which includes the Royal Military College of Canada, some government buildings, Fort Henry, and several museums, including the Canadian Penitentiary Museum.

This latter museum is free but unrelated to Kingston Penitentiary tours, which are among the hottest tickets in town. (Book in advance.) Who knew Kingston was the penitienary capital of Canada and had seven prisons in operation? The tour also passed through the Queens University campus. Near there we hopped off and found our way back to a glass artist before taking a delicious lunch at Chez Piggy.

As an aside, I will say that Fort Henry  is  among the best North American military forts I’ve ever visited. Interpreters dressed in period costume vividly portray fort life as it was back in the days of American and British conflict. I was tempted for a repeat visit but the Hubs wasn’t overly interested. It was hot and we were doing a lot of walking so it didn’t take much to convince me to stay on the trolley. I expect we will go back with the grands in tow someday. They will love it!

Later that afternoon, we took the Wolfe Island ferry. It’s a pleasant surprise to find ferries run free in Ontario as part of the highway system. This particular ferry is large but very busy; you must plan ahead to drive on. Locals queue early, park in place, and return when the ferry docks to board. The line of cars and trucks was much longer than the ferry’s capacity on this trip. We were walking on, so no worries! It’s a short sail across the St. Lawrence with lovely Kingston harbor vistas. I enjoyed chatting with several locals and lifelong islanders heading home from work.

On one lady’s advice, we walked off the ferry, hung a left, and landed at the Wolfe Island Grill. There we were greeted with friendly staff, a delightfully fresh and innovative menu (for example, a watermelon, feta and mint salad), waterfront patio and local brews. What more could we need?  After dinner, we caught the ferry back to Kingston. Easy peasy.

On Tuesday morning we had “The best breakfast in Kingston” at Peter’s Place because, well, the Hubs insisted. Breakfast is the meal he most often has to forgo due to his work schedule and so he doesn’t like to miss it on vacation. This  was classic diner food and just that, no apparent local specialties. It was my least favorite meal of the trip but he was happy!

About this time, I realized that we’d missed the annual military tattoo  at Fort Henry by one full day. Drats and double-drats! We won’t make that mistake again. I was suffering some regret as we wandered around town, strolling down Princess Street, browsing and shopping. There is lots of variety in Kingston retail therapy and local flavor in arts and antiques. It was a pleasant morning. The best part was a vibrant farmer’s market where I found unique preserves and pastry gifts to bring home.

My only real disappointment in Kingston was in our hotel, the Marriott Delta Waterfront. It’s a great location but a truly disappointing property and hardly worth two of the four star rating. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say we were satisfied only because we were staying for free. If you’re headed to Kinston, try the Sheraton?

~ René Morley

 

prince edward county

IMG_4685Last weekend, the Hubs and I struck out for Canadian adventures across the river. Our northerly neighbor is vast, second only to Russia in landmass and leading all in coastline. Fortunately for us, about 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. That means one of the best things about the North Country is Canada.

Toronto, Ottawa (tulips, tulips, more tulips!) Montreal, and Quebec City nearby in the east: what’s not to love? But there is so much more to Canada than her major population centers and for this birthday get-away, I wasn’t in a city frame of mind. We had less than three days and two nights. I developed an itinerary for modest hotel reward points and a few new explorations centered on the St Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. When the Hubs asked, “What should I pack?” I said, “Sand shoes and all kinds of casual.” We left home Sunday morning, headed to Prince Edward County. All he had to do was drive.

I recently read that Prince Edward County is emerging as a foodie mecca and assure you that is for good reason. The County is farm country; field after field of oats, corn, soybeans and other crops followed by acres of fruit and orchards and fields of vegetables. There were a few dairies, no Holsteins but other breeds in pasture. It is also wine country, with endless vines and plenty of wineries. We tasted a lovely range of sophisticated selections, from crispy-dry to appertifs; my favorite was the full bodied Sandbanks Cabernet Franc.

IMG_4599The Sandbanks Winery makes it easy to explore with $5 per glass and free tasting when you buy two bottles. And my, oh, my mercy, if you also have a thing for butter tarts, be sure to buy some there! You will never find a more delicate, melt-in-your-mouth crust or delicious filling. What’s your pleasure: the quilt trail, wine trail or butter tart trail? Yeah, it’s rough living in the County.

The gentle landscape is flecked with small towns, antique shops, fruit and vegetable stands, bed-and-breakfasts with “no vacancy” signs and cottages with lakeside views. There is no hotel on the peninsula currently but a forlorn structure in Picton has been leveled to make way for progress. I only hope the place doesn’t lose it’s sense of self in the process.

IMG_4580County roads are narrow, the scenery spectacular from nearly every vantage point –hilltop to furrow to lakeshore. I loved reading names of roads and establishments suggesting Scottish or Irish heritage but the County is foremost loyal to the crown; we’ve never seen so many Union Jacks!

We followed the progress of the combines as long, golden ripe fields of oats heavy with seed became brush-cut hollow stalks, the fields shaved close like an old man’s head, wagons piled high and tight with massive bales of straw. “Every farm has a combine,” the Hubs commented, “no matter the size.” Farming must pay here, I mused.

We delighted in dizzying dunes of silky-soft sand at Sandbanks Provincial Park — an anomaly on the Great Lake I happily credit to a Creator with infinite imagination. These dunes out-do the Outer Banks in their unique way. Seriously, get in your car right now and just drive because you do not want to miss out on this place. Entrance to the park is pricey ($17) but given the free ferry at Glenora, that was okay. We arrived fairly late in the day and there was no cut rate available which also explains why, when we left only an hour or so later, some rascals were scrounging passes from departing vehicles.

We savored refreshing craft brews accompanying an artful ploughman’s lunch and amazing views at Miller House at Lake on the Mountain. This lovely lake holds close her mystery, high above the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario. Spectacular views rival many we’ve relished abroad.

We’d go back just to repeat any one of these County experiences. At the end of a long day, tired and sand-dusted but fully satisfied, we ferried from Glenora to Adolphustown and continued on our way.

~ René Morley

 

 

sister vista

IMG_4505Over Independence Day weekend I visited my sister in Virginia who is 14 months younger than I. We have a lot in common — not the least of which is a rural upbringing, two sister siblings and our parents. We were both young mothers and then non-traditional students. We succeeded against considerable odds in attaining college degrees — and she even more than I. We took A. Big. Trip. to celebrate her success in 2012. We both love our chids and adore our grandchids with all of our hearts and are crazy proud of them. There are lots more characteristics we share, but you get the gist.

However our pathways diverged fairly early and dramatically. She’s lived in several states, from east to west coast, and abroad; I’ve never lived anywhere but the North Country. She completed her degree in a medical field; mine was in education. Her career is high stakes and pressurized (medical care to cancer patients); mine is in education (no life-or-death decisions, thankfully). She’d like to travel for work; I’d like to travel less for work! She’s been a city girl most of her adult life; I’m a country bumpkin.

We don’t look much alike and our personalities are also quite different; I love to remind her that she has mom’s spunk! But all that really matters now is how much we enjoy spending time together. My get-away to visit her in Virginia was embarrassingly long overdue. It was fun to just be together — in her adorable new home and picturesque neighborhood, visiting where she works and worshipping in her wonderful church.

Our long weekend was not long enough and jam packed with activities, including Busch Gardens fireworks, Hampton Harbor boat tour, antique shopping, delicious food and drink. We stumbled upon an excellent brunch at Mango Mangeaux, an ubercool bistro spun out of Shark Tank fame. (You know how I love orange!) Breakfast with Amanda at Food Craft was also amazing — both her friend and the food. We started with the Scotch eggs, which I’d never heard of but highly recommend.

One more thing we have in common, it’s safe to say, is that neither fancy ourself an artist. So what were we doing in the middle of our weekend in the middle of a Bob Ross paint night at a downtown Hampton block party?  Among other things, we were straining to hear the instructor lead us through the wet-on-wet technique made famous on PBS. (If you’ve ever heard of Bob, you know about his happy trees.) The instructor’s voice was barely audible over the Deloreans playing 80s tunes on the perimeter of park as the festival kicked into high gear all around.

Somehow, we both turned out reasonably respectable art — in two hours, no less. My sister was much better with shadows. I developed more distinctive light. They both look decent until you take a close look at the original we were trying to copy. It has so much more detail and definition — of course!

I left my masterpiece in Virginia to dry properly and brought only photos home. Then I had the “brilliant” idea to create a composite image of hers and mine. It wasn’t an original idea because yes, there is an app for that. I call the end result Sister Vista. It is an apt reflection of she and me: similar in so many ways, simultaneously unique in other ways, and even better together.

hs-srs-composite2017

~ René Morley