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The Gateway to the North

Travel through time when you visit the gateway to the north; the beautiful community of Sault Ste Marie.

Bridge to the StatesSitting near the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, Sault Ste. Marie is a community with a rich local history steeped in the steel and shipping industries.  Opened in 1962, the three-arch Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge spans the St. Mary’s River, connecting the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The reason why my friend and I were here: to cross one of those adventures we’d wanted to do for years off our bucket list – The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is one of the great train trips in North America.

And what is not to like about trains, the look, the feel, the smells and sounds come together in a symphony of delight.  Our anticipation was soon to be sated.  We had arrived in the Soo (as affectionately known) on Tuesday evening after a 6 hour drive through some spectacular scenery of its own from Orillia.  We had allowed a day for rest and relaxation before heading out again only this time with an engineer driving.

Algoma Canyon Park

This one-day wilderness train tour takes you 183 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, over towering trestles and along pristine northern lakes and rivers, to the Agawa Canyon created more than 1.2 billion years ago.

 

Since we did not know the Soo that well, we decided to go into town the day before the trip to suss out where the train station was in order to arrive on time (we tend to get lost a lot, I don’t know why).  After two failed attempts (one at the hands of a tourism info guide), we found the station and confirmed we were indeed booked for the next day, would we like to have our tickets so that we could avoid the line-up the next morning and just wait on the platform.  Would we?? Yes! She also told us where to park the next morning as our compartment number boarded to the right of the station.  Fantastic!  See, sometimes it pays to scout ahead.

The next morning we were up before the sun to be at the station for an 8 o’clock departure.  It was a cloudy day but we were hoping the sun would burn off the clouds once we reached the Canyon floor.  Unfortunately, the train’s departure was delayed by an hour due to an electrical problem but this did not dampen our enthusiasm and when it appeared blowing it’s whistle, the crowd cheered and we were off.

We appreciated that everyone was given a guide so we knew where we were. Also, there was an audio guide that played intermittently throughout the train, giving useful information about the sights and some history of the Soo.  A few of the highlights included spectacular vistas of Lake Superior and a thrilling ride across a train trestle bridge.

CautionSoon enough, we were at the Agawa Canyon Park. We had an hour and a half to explore. We chose to do the Lookout stairs which is somewhat not for amateurs but we did it anyways.  High-fives all around.  The view was well worth it.  As we had some time left we decided to walk to the Black Beaver Falls.  We didn’t have enough time left to go to the Bridal Falls which we passed by on the way in. We spent the rest of our time slowly making our way back to the train and taking a few photos and taking in the scenery.  And yes, the sun did come out a bit to make our day.

We heard the woot of the train whistle and knew it was time to board again. The next few hours were spent with enjoyable conversation with our fellow travellers. We met a lovely couple from Wisconsin who were retired and had been married over 50 years, no small feat I assure you. We pulled into the station tired but content from our day’s journey and having crossed off another must do off the bucket list.

As a side note:  Group of Seven Painters came to the Algoma area from 1918–1923, including Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer. They rented a boxcar and outfitted it like a cabin which was shunted to sidings near choice painting locations. From there they would go along the track on foot and by canoe throughout the wilderness. Their paintings became famous, as did the area they painted.

Tallest sunflower on record – over 30 feet!

Do you ever sit in the afternoon sun and ponder about how many different species of sunflowers there are in the world.  The answer my friend is 70.  You can rest easy now knowing that fact but did you also know that each sunflower is actually made up of thousands of tiny individual flowers, up to 2000.   And they are not always yellow.

I write about these today because I see them all over the place at this time of year except of course in my own garden.  I hate to admit it but I cannot grow them there and I have tried, oh yes, I have tried.  Since my husband loves them, I have periodically through the years, bought different ones and planted them in different spots in the garden and they die.  I don’t know why!  Subsequently, now I just take pictures of them and then give him a card every once in awhile so he can enjoy them if not in the flesh so to speak then through a photograph.  Below are some facts regarding sunflowers for you.

Famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh did a series of paintings called Sunflowers. 

Kansas is often known as the Sunflower state and the flower is in fact Kansas’s state flower. The sunflower is also the national flower of Ukraine.

Sunflower was  an important source of food for Native Americans. They used yellow pigment from the flowers to paint their bodies during spiritual rituals and to make dyes for fabrics. Also, they used sunflowers in medical purposes and for the production of bread.

Another factor that has a big influence on the meaning of  sunflowers is the belief (in Chinese culture especially) that they bring good luck. It’s believed that sunflowers are the ideal bloom to fill a home with a sense of safety and good fortune.

Sunflowers have also gone to space – specifically the International Space Station with astronaut Don Pettit in 2012.

Baseball players now substitute chewing sunflower seeds for tobacco which I think is not only prudent (less danger of contracting cancer of the mouth for one) but healthy as they provide Vitamin D and minerals to give them more energy. Along with health concerns, the slow pace of baseball provides players an excellent opportunity to find something to keep them busy. Chewing gum and seeds are also an excellent way to cope with the nervous energy built up during a high tension game.

And for your musical treat of the day

Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Music from the Sixties

Feeling nostalgic today and thinking about the British Invasion when we finally heard music from outside North America and what a treat it was.  Now I realize that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are the best known of the groups back then but one of my favourite bands was the Dave Clark Five which I stenciled onto the back of a sweater to promote my love of them as a teenager.  Good times back then and still enjoyable today.

 

 

Though the Zombies are more likely known for their big single “She’s Not There” which is very much deserved I’ve always liked this song.  They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio this year.

Another great group with many songs that I like especially  “Don’t Let the Sun Catch you Crying” and “I’ll be There” but this one stands out for me.

 

While the Beatles kick-started the British Invasion causing mass hysteria in teenaged girls who cried and fainted and yelled and screamed sometimes drowning out their music, there were many bands who came after them like:

Herman’s Hermits – The Animals (also one of my favourite groups) – Yardbirds – The Hollies – The Kinks – Freddie and the Dreamers – The Searchers – The Who – Chad and Jeremy – The Small Faces – The Tremeloes – Procol Harum – and many more!

They helped shape my love of music – Motown, Rockabilly, the Blues, Rock and Roll, Jazz, World Music, alternative, Cajun and on and on.  What would this world be like without music – I shudder at the thought!  There are songs that I hear that take me right back to a certain place and time and feeling as if it just happened.  I hope you enjoy this small sample of the British Invasion!

 

 

Two great singers gone too soon!

From time to time I like to reflect on songs, books, movies, situations that had an impact on me.  I hope that you will benefit from the following female singer/songwriters as I did.

Lhasa de Sela  Related image

“For four days after she died, it snowed in Montreal, it was as if the sky were grieving” –posted by Denis Spichak on you tube comments! 

Born to an American mother and a Mexican father in Big Indian, upstate New York the singer-songwriter died in her home, after a 21-month battle with breast cancer. She was 37 years old.  Known professionally as Lhasa, she marked the world music scene with her dreamy and ethereal songs, written and recorded in Spanish, French and English.

Lhasa grew up on the road, travelling in a converted school bus with her nomadic family. She eventually followed her sisters to Montreal, where she settled at 19.

In 1997, Montreal-based singer Lhasa de Sela released her first album, La Llorona, (the crying woman, in Spanish) an album of emotion-drenched songs that drew on the traditions of Mexican balladeers, French chansonniers, and Quebecois poets. The album was a huge international hit, selling 400,000 copies in France alone, and in its wake Lhasa performed several times in Vancouver, BC gaining a strong local following. Then she disappeared completely from the radar–no touring, no albums, no nothing–leaving legions of fans wondering what became of the elfin singer with the smoky, impassioned voice.

Extensive touring with the Canadian all-female music festival Lilith Fair left Lhasa feeling burnt out, and in 1998 she stepped out of the spotlight and joined Pocheros, her sisters’ touring circus, in France.

Lhasa settled in the south of France to write songs for her second album, The Living Road, recorded in French, English and Spanish. The Times of London named her sophomore work as one of the 10 best world albums of the decade.

Her ultimate album, called Lhasa, a collection of English songs recorded live, was launched at Montreal’s Corona Theatre.  Lhasa cancelled her 2009 tour because of her illness.

I first saw her perform with her very tight band at the Vancouver Folk Festival in the late 90’s and was captivated by her voice and strong persona whilst performing.  I had no idea what she was singing but I identified with the raw, emotional context.  My husband and I also caught her at the River Run Centre in Guelph a few years before she died.

 

            Lhasa de Sela, singer-songwriter, born 27 September, 1972; died 1 January, 2010

 


Eva Cassidy  Image result for Eva Cassidy photo

“Whatever genre she is singing, she totally nails. Gospel, country, blues, jazz, r & b. She makes every song her own. She was a rare talent, gone way too soon.”

Don’t be surprised if you have never heard of the talented singer and musician Eva Cassidy. Most people in the United States are not familiar with her or her music. If you live in the United Kingdom, chances are you probably have listened to this amazing American songstress as she reached popularity there long before being known in her native country.  One of her songs ‘Songbird’ is in the 2003 Christmas movie “Love Actually”, her music was featured on the Sopranos and in a Madonna documentary.  For those fans of the Netflix show “Grace and Frankie” – Eva’s song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes from the Imagine album played at the end of the final episode (episode 13 “The Sign’) of Season 3 as Grace and Frankie are going up in the hot air balloon. 

After having a malignant mole removed from her back in 1993, the melanoma spread to other parts of her body. Despite treatment, she lost her battle with cancer in November, 1996. Sadly, Eva Cassidy was only 33 years old when she died. Her parents, Barbara and Hugh Cassidy live in Bowie, Md., in the house where Eva, the third of their four children, came to stay in her final months, so her mother could care for her. Barbara Cassidy worked for years in a flower nursery, as did her daughter. Hugh is a retired special-education teacher. Like Eva, he is both musical, playing the cello and bass, and artistic. He produces metal sculptures; she was a painter who created murals for local schools.

In 1998, Blix Records released “Songbird.” The collection featured some songs taken from Blues Alley, others were recorded by Biondo (from her band) at his studios.

The record had middling success in most of the United States. But Cassidy’s posthumous career took off when a BBC producer in London got a copy of “Songbird” and began playing a live version of “Fields of Gold” and a studio rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” The phones lit up. The U.K. was enthralled. An amateur video of Cassidy singing “Over the Rainbow” filmed at Blues Alley was played on BBC-TV’s “Top of the Pops” and quickly became the most-requested video in the program’s history, according to the show’s producers. A handful of gold record singles and millions of CD sales followed.

 

My husband loves the organ in the first song and I love the saxophone on this one!  A great talent gone too soon!  A shy, introvert who could be stubborn and didn’t want to be pigeonholed never got to enjoy her fame and fortune …but who will live on eternally in her music.

Eva Cassidy – born 2nd Feb, 1963 and died 2nd of Nov, 1996


 

Cleveland, Ohio … Not the armpit of the world

For some unknown reason, at least to me, Cleveland is a city in America that has been called the ‘armpit of the world’ by some poor bloke that probably has never visited the place.  This past May two four week-end which we lovingly call the Victoria Day week-end in Canada – and for many shaking off the shackles of a long, cold winter has come to mean the celebration of warm weather finally arriving – and of course…a case of beer or two!

So, my husband and I took off on the Saturday morning to spend three days, two nights in Cleveland which is about six hours drive plus the wait at the border to cross which can be long.  I believe, we were over in a half hour so all was good, plus we had great tunes on the drive.  Doesn’t take much to make us happy!  Since we hadn’t had breakfast we stopped near Erie, Pennsylvania for lunch.  Fortified, we were on our way again.  Two things I noticed – there were so many deer dead on the side of the road or in the meridian and I felt incredibly bad for them …although I’m sure it was no picnic for the poor bugger who ran into them.  Secondly, there was a lot of road construction, happily being a Saturday they weren’t working, but I made a mental note to prepare for those work slowdowns on the way back.

Cleveland Museum of Art atrium
The atrium at Cleveland Museum of Art

Having a limited amount of time to enjoy the city, we nonetheless managed to pack quite a bit into the next two days.  Early in the morning on Sunday, we visited the Cleveland Museum of Art which is stunning and right next to the Botanical Gardens.  It is closed on Mondays so our only option was Sunday.  Located at 11150 East Boulevard. www.ClevelandArt.org

View from our seats way out Unfortunately, we only had two hours to visit as we were attending the Cleveland Indian ballgame that afternoon with Baltimore (the Orioles were badly crushed).  Progressive Field is a great ballpark and after watching a few innings from our seats we walked around to the other side to get different viewpoints and talked to a number of fans about their ball club and life in general.

East 4th Street.JPGAfter the game we had a quick appetizer and cocktail at 4th Street which is a pedestrian friendly alley with twinkling patio lights all along the length of it.

Ralphies,We decided to go and visit Ralphie’s house from “A Christmas Story”  which is one of our favourite Christmas shows to watch every year about the young boy who wanted a BB gun for Christmas and everyone kept telling him “you’ll shoot your eye out”.  If you’ve never seen it, it will give you a good idea of how cold it can get in the winter.  Located at 3159 West 11th Street and open from 10 am – 5 pm.

Guardians of Traffic on Hope Memorial BridgeNaturally, I had to get some photos of the Guardians of Traffic which are art deco sculptures on each end of the Hope Memorial Bridge (formerly Lorain-Carnegie) behind Progressive Field and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The figures are carved from 43 foot tall local Berea sandstone.  I couldn’t believe how close everything was.  We walked for miles that day.  At the end of the evening we had a nice Italian meal at Carrabba’s in Westlake and fell into bed pleasantly exhausted.

Cleveland rocks.JPGMonday morning we headed back home but first we stopped off at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which I highly recommend if you enjoy music at all.  Long Live Rock and Roll. We did not see everything we would have liked so we will now have to go back and spend another couple of days sometime in the future.  Do you ever really get to see everything in one City?  All in all a very enjoyable few days away.


 

Toronto’s hidden jewel – highlighting the mundane but essential function that makes cities possible

One of Canada’s most spectacular public works and a tour de force of architecture lies at 2701 Queen St. E. in Scarborough, Ontario.  Providing the essence of survival to at least 35% of Torontonians, it is a marvel of engineering and produces drinking, bathing and cooking water to residents who don’t give its easy access a second thought.

What would happen if you couldn’t bathe, shave, have tea in the morning or flush your toilet….  Pandemonium, that’s what!  Something that we take for granted in our privileged lives…the simple act of having water!

Toronto’s main treatment plant, the R. C. Harris buildings produce around 35% of the city’s water.  Lake Ontario water is treated with a coagulant and pumped on top of several beds (water basins) which are covered in charcoal. The water filters down the charcoal and the successively coarser layers of rock underneath it, until it reaches an underground reservoir. Chemicals are added then, mainly fluoride and chlorine, the treated water sits in the basins for several hours allowing sediment to sink to the bottom, then it is treated with more filtering and presto bango bingo, water is delivered to almost a third of the citizens of Toronto.

  • Produces more than 120,000 million litres of water annually
  • Can produce 950 million litres daily

I would like to pay tribute to the man who built this ‘Palace of Purification’ for whom the building was named…Roland Caldwell Harris, Toronto’s commissioner of public works from 1912 until 1945. The water plant, and other Toronto landmarks such as the Bloor Street viaduct, were built during his tenure.  Architect Thomas Canfield Pomphrey designed the plant, that was built in phases throughout the 1930s in the art deco style opening in 1941.

The pumps in the low-lift room, seen from the gallery at the west end of the room, deliver raw water to the Filter Building for treatment.  Each pump is numbered; the elaborate limestone signal panel indicates which pumps are operating

The use of rich materials like marble and bronze in the interior (plus the extensive limestone carvings on the exterior helped earn the nickname “Palace of Purification”.

If you are ever in Toronto for an extended visit and have the time, you should definitely have a picnic on the grounds and inspect the many buildings comprising the plant.  It is incredible.

For a previous post on water, see the ‘essence of life’.  For a flash to the past, check out this video which really has nothing to do with the subject of this piece but I played it endlessly when travelling through Europe in 1986.

The advent of air travel

As my father-in-law who is 89 years young just returned from a tropical vacation and was complaining about the delay not only in leaving Toronto but arriving back a week later, and still quite irked by the lack of concern by the airline, I thought I’d take a moment and remind people that commercial flight has only been around just over 100 years — 105 to be precise as the first commercial flight for an airline was in 1914 with one paying passenger.

By the 1930’s air travel had exploded when the number of people using airplanes to travel shot from 6,000 annually in 1930 to over 1.2 million by 1938.  Today well over 3 billion people travel by plane on a daily basis.  What are the odds that there won’t be a delay somewhere with that amount of travelers.  I always write off the first day of the vacation and the return home and if everything goes well, then that is a bonus.

We can complain a lot about the cost of flying, the cost of fuel and the absence of meals on flights but if you were flying from London, England to Australia back then it would take 11 days to complete with 24 scheduled stops to refuel for the staggering amount of $20,000 dollars.  So more for the rich and famous then the average Joe.  Nowadays this flight would be about 22 hours for less than $2,000 return.  Mind you, you can fit a lot more people on a modern plane.

An average ticket for a flight could cost 1/2 the price of a brand new car (approx. $600-$800 dollars).  The price of a house meanwhile was about $4,000.00.  Passengers also had to worry about permanently losing their hearing due to the noise of the engines and their lunch with unexpected sharp drops of 100 feet or so throughout the flight.

KLM is the self-proclaimed oldest airline in the world. It is also the world’s oldest continually operating airline under the same name. Founded on October 7, 1919, KLM made its first scheduled flight between London and Amsterdam in 1920.

The first flight attendants were male stewards who loaded luggage, reassured nervous passengers and issued refunds or helped people around the cabin.  By the late 1920’s, Pan-American Airways, which flew over water, required extensive first aid and seamanship training for its steward trainees.  The first female attendants or stewardesses were introduced in May of 1930.

Next time you find yourself at the airport waiting an extra four or six hours to depart because the airline didn’t notify you of any delays when you phoned at 5:30 am to take the airporter there and you could have used the extra three hours sleep, stay cool, you can meet a lot of nice people at the airport and what good does it do getting your panties all in a bunch anyways (or knickers in a twist if you’re from England). Till the next time, happy trails!Panties in a bunch pink

FAMILY GAMES NIGHT

We are holding another Games Night this week-end in which our friends and family will participate in a card game, a quiz game and some form of physical competition which I have not figured out yet. No, it doesn’t seem like we have learned anything from our past attempts but as stated previously, it is sometimes the only way we get to see people that doesn’t involve a death – and these game nights can get quite heated but no one has died yet!  Please see link to for prior blog on this event.

REFLECTIONS OF A SWAMPER

family-games-night-clipart

To hold a family games night as a means to spending quality time with your children is an adorable premise – a Hallmark moment of polite entertainment interspersed with laughter and learning in a secure and nurturing period of time.  In reality, it can be utter and complete chaos.

Please read  for our version of family-games-night from long ago.

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My grammerly moment

Do you know what an idiom is?  Do you care?  Just for fun, I am going to give you your grammar lesson for the week, month, year?

Let me explain how this post came about.  My best friend uses the phrase “running around like a blue arsed fly”  sometimes in conversations we have where she is trying hard to get a lot accomplished in a short period of time and getting frustrated and/or overwhelmed by it all.  It makes me laugh every time.  I think this is because my mom used to use the phrase  “a blind man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice” when I’d point out the defects in our painting of the bedroom walls.  This causes me to chuckle every time I hear it which truthfully isn’t very often anymore.  This also makes me feel closer to them though my mom isn’t with me now.

Idioms exist in every language. They are words or phrases that aren’t meant to be taken literally. For example, if you say someone has “cold feet,” it doesn’t mean their toes are actually cold. Rather, it means they’re nervous about something. 

Idioms can’t be deduced merely by studying the words in the phrase. Idioms are phrases that have a meaning that is very different from its individual parts. Unlike most sentences that have a literal meaning, idioms have figurative meaning. A literal meaning is when each word in a sentence stays true to its actual meaning. Figurative meaning is when a combination of words mean something different than the individual words do.  Take the common idiom ”you let the cat out of the bag.” If you take the literal parts and add them up, you would assume that it meant that a person was opening up a bag and letting a cat out of it. But that is not even close to what it means. The idiom doesn’t even have anything to do with a cat or even a bag. Letting the cat out of the bag means to reveal a secret.

The phrase ‘When Pigs Fly’ refers to something that is highly unlikely to ever happen. Example of use: “I might wake up early tomorrow to go and work out”. “Yes, you’ll do that when pigs fly”.  “You must be pulling my leg” – playing a joke, having a laugh at your expense but definitely not physically pulling the leg.

“Get off my back!” is an idiom meaning “Stop bothering me!” The idiom “You hit the nail on the head” means “You’re exactly right.”  “You have a chip on your shoulder” is another example. The literal meaning of this phrase is to hold a grudge.   If someone said “you’ve bitten off more than you can chew”- they are saying that you have tried to do something that is too difficult for you.  “It’s raining cats and dogs” doesn’t mean cats and dogs are falling from the sky, it just means it is raining very hard.

“Like a chicken with their head cut off “- With great haste and in a careless and/or senseless manner is quite similar to the blue-arsed fly idiom which was credited to Prince Philip in England when he asked a photographer if he had enough shots because he was running about like a blue-arsed fly but this expression was used in Australia back in the 40’s and 50’s.

Lesson over for today though I could keep going till the cows came home but that’s a whole new can of worms!  For the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would have problems with the English language – it being so straightforward and all.

Have a great day and never take yourself to seriously!

Whitewater dreams in a marmalade river!

Years ago, actually more like decades ago; I had decided I wanted to try different adventures every September, and for a number of years I did.  You can read about some of these exploits in past posts such as Jump, go ahead and jump!

Then, of course there was Let’s Go Diving; It will be fun

Anyways, this was more involved as we had to camp overnight before we set out rafting the Ottawa River with a group called Wilderness Tours which is still doing a booming business though I think the camping part has been upgraded slightly.  After a good night’s sleep we met at 10:30 am for an extensive safety briefing and paddling practice led by our guide.

The Ottawa is like a roller coaster in that there are periods with calm water below the rapids where you can catch your breath and wonder why the hell you signed up for this before the next stretch of rapids hit you and the adrenaline and your heart are pumping while trying to remain in the boat and remembering to paddle – in other words no time for thinking, just reacting.  I have to admit I had a huge grin on my face the whole time even when we lost a few people overboard after a particularly big wave washed over the boat.

Rafting is a complete experience with time for body surfing (swimming rapids), cliff jumping or swimming off the floating island (your raft).  The scenery along the way is quite spectacular.  Each trip is about four to six hours in length with a hearty BBQ half way down the river…and you will think it is the best BBQ you have ever had because you are outdoors and have survived so far and you will need the sustenance for the next leg of the trip.

Some things to consider when deciding you would like to try whitewater rafting:

  • Choose a licensed and professional rafting tour outfitter. …
  • Always wear a life jacket
  • Be safety conscious and relaxed
  • Make sure you have the right outerwear for the day and are comfortable
  • Hold the paddle properly
  • Stay in the boat! This may not always be possible, I know but you will have been coached on what to do if you find yourself in the river unintentionally
  • Know the proper swimming techniques, this is not an adventure for non-swimmers
  • Never panic – easier said than done but panic will not help you
  • Listen to your guide/instructor in the classroom and on the boat and you will do well

I highly recommend this if you like the water, are in good shape and don’t mind being tossed around the boat like the proverbial yellow rubber ducky at times.

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