Sunday, September 29, 2013

Erie Canal

We spent a few lovely days visiting a cousin of Erik's mom, Carol, and her husband Dick in northern New York state. We enjoyed their hospitality and the serenity of their lakeside home, and also did some exploring while we were in the area. One day Carol took us to see the historic Erie Canal at Chittenango Landing. We really enjoyed the restored buildings and interactive exhibits while learning about this little slice of American history. I remembered nothing about the Erie Canal from my long ago schooling, so it was fun to see it firsthand and learn together with the kids.

The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and connected the Hudson River to Lake Erie, opening up a means of trade between the Atlantic states and the Great Lakes. Overland travel was slow and the land was wild, making commerce very difficult. The Canal opened the west of the country to trade and settlement, and contributed significantly to the expansion of the country. Chittenango Landing was built in 1855 as a dry dock where canal boats where built and repaired and could take on fresh supplies for their journey. The canal was only open from May to November, and there were thousands of boats running its length. We have been reading a fascinating book about United States history as we travel, and it's so neat to see all these little glimpses into the past.

The museum has done a great job of restoring and rebuilding. This is some of the machinery in the saw mill and woodshop. 
The kids tried their hand, or foot, at turning a grindstone. There were many hands on exhibits for the kids (and adults) to interact with, bringing history alive for our family.
Timber! Poppy had fun felling a tree and seeing how the endless screw worked to pull stumps and fell trees.
We had fun in the blacksmith shop.
This was one of three dry docks where canal boats could be brought in for repairs. 

A pitching kettle heated a type of resin from evergreen trees . This was applied to the bottom of the canal boats,  which effectively sealed them.
There's nothing like something from another era to spark the imagination.
Inside the store warehouse, a game made of corncobs sat cozily near the pot bellied stove.  It was easy to imagine what a gathering place this would have been.
This was where boatmen, as well as local residents, came to buy everything from lumber and building supplies to dry goods, produce, and milk. Poppy had fun making a pretend cake in the wash basin and chamber pot!
I was intrigued by this dough bucket, which must have been the equivalent to owning a Kitchenaid mixer! Instructions on the lid read: 
Put in all liquids first, then flour. Turn 3 minutes. Raise in pail.
After raising, turn until dough forms ball.
Take off cross piece. Turn out dough with kneader.
Canal boats were pulled by a team of horses or mules that walked alongside the canal on a towpath. Here an elderly gentlemen explained to the kids the protocol for boats passing in opposite directions.
The boats were 96 feet long, with a large central compartment for cargo, a stable on one end, and the family/crew quarters on the other. Each boat would have two sets of mules that would trade off every six hours around the clock. Apparently sometimes children would sleep in the stable too!
This was a canal boat that was constructed in three sections so it could be explored. 

It was common for a family to live on the boat together. The mother cooked, washed, cared for and taught her children in this small room, approximately 13 x 13 feet! You can see the sleeping quarters on the back wall.
Simple rope beds could be raised or lowered. Occasionally the ropes would need to be tightened, and that's where the expression "sleep tight" comes from!
These are the remaining walls of a cannery that stood next to the canal.
Nearby we visited Chittenango Falls, which was beautiful! The leaves were just beginning to turn, and  we enjoyed a little hike down to see the falls from below. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
   I have wanted to see Niagara Falls for as long as I can remember. When we were on our way back to the US from Canada, we stopped to see it from the Canadian side. We'd left London in a torrential downpour that morning, and gray skies followed us as we traveled. Shortly before reaching Niagara, the sun broke through, and the afternoon was warm and balmy. Pulling our trailer through the streets, we figured we might have a hard time finding a place to park. The lots near the falls wanted $18 just for a car, and we would certainly have had to pay twice that. Instead, we found free parking a mile away and walked. It was well worth it, and the Falls didn't disappoint! 

We parked about a mile south of the falls, and so we got to walk along and see the rapids.  There is an old rusted barge out in the river, where it came to rest nearly 100 years ago. The story is that it was engaged in a dredging project about a mile upriver when it broke loose from its tug line. With two men aboard, it raced downstream. At this place, the roar of the falls can be heard clearly and the mist from them rises dramatically as the river widens and plunges 170 feet down. Some stories say the two men opened the bottom doors on the barge, causing it to get stuck on the rocks, and other versions say it caught on its own. Either way, I'm sure the men were relieved and anxious as they waited, not knowing whether or not it would hold. Because of its close proximity to the falls, sending out a rescue boat was out of the question. It was 17 hours before the US Coast Guard arrived with a grappling gun, with which they shot a line over to the barge and rescued the men using a breeches buoy. 
This is a corner of the Toronto Power House, constructed in 1906. It was the first Canadian owned power generation project on the Niagara River, which flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It is a beautiful building, and was intended to compliment the surroundings.
The enormous size and horseshoe shape of the falls makes it difficult to view it all from one place. The Canadian falls are 2,200 feet wide and curved, and the American falls across the canyon are 850 feet wide.  
I almost felt dizzy standing above with such an immense volume of water flowing right beside me.
The sun came out, and we got to see the famous rainbow in the mist. It was truly spectacular! I would love to have had more time to explore and soak in its beauty, but we had to keep moving on. I'm so thankful to have gotten to see it! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ontario: Family

One of the main reasons we came on this trip was to spend time with Erik's sister Stephanie, her husband Neil, and their daughter, Claire. We hadn't seen them since I was pregnant with Pearl, almost four years ago, so it was very special to have nearly a week to be together. We drove up into Canada to visit them and had a wonderful time.

We had some beautiful days of warm sunshine, as well as some rain and storms. One afternoon we went apple picking. We're still enjoying those apples, and lots of yummy treats made with them.
Uncle Neil introduced Raphael to the wonder of Kraft Mac n' Cheese. "What's that orange powder?" Thanks for contributing to his education, Neil! Haha! Raphi thinks Kraft and Uncle Neil are a pretty awesome team now.
One evening Neil and Stephanie offered to watch the kids so Erik and I could go out. Alone. We enjoyed a walk and Vietnamese food and a nice, long talk with no interruptions. We came back to find a sushi festival underway. Here's Peregrine's masterpiece!
He slices! He dices! 
Claire helped Raphael make his own tiny roll of sushi.
One afternoon we met Stephanie at Compassion Canada. She gave us a tour of the building and shared more about what she does, as well as about the work that Compassion is doing to help children worldwide. 
Thank you, Auntie Stephanie!
We visited Covent Garden Market, which was a fun place with produce, delis, and other neat little shops and cafes.
They took us out of town to where Neil keeps his ultralight plane. The kids took turns sitting in it and they all really enjoyed that.
Neil took it up for a short flight. 
There he goes... up, up, up, and away!
He did a couple flyovers for the kids.
On our last night we drove out to Lake Huron. The kids were amazed at the size of it! We arrived in time to play for a while and watch the sun sinking into the clouds on the horizon. It was beautiful. We just finished reading Paddle to the Sea, which was a fun read as it takes place on the Great Lakes.
The kids had fun on the pier and around the little lighthouse.
The beautiful, bright moon rose over Grand Bend as we got ready to drive back. The picture doesn't begin to do it justice, but it was very special to see the sun set and the moon rise, both so brilliant and orange.
We had a great time with you all.... Neil, Stephanie, and Claire! Thank you so much for your kind hospitality, your generosity and thoughtfulness. It was very special to be with you and we will always treasure the memories! We love you! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

"The badlands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly to properly belong to this earth."    - Theodore Roosevelt

   As we made our way west from Yellowstone, I expected Montana to flatten out into the gently rolling prairies I remember from my childhood in Alberta, Canada. I have crossed this section of the country by train a few times, many years ago, and somehow I'd forgotten how beautiful it was! Surely by the time we reached North Dakota, I thought, the landscape would be less interesting, right? Wrong! I was surprised and amazed at the stunning scenery, and delighted to come upon Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. We didn't have much extra time, but we took a few hours to drive around the park and do a little exploring. 

    Theodore Roosevelt first arrived in North Dakota's badlands in 1883. He came to hunt buffalo, and by the time he left he'd acquired primary rights in the Maltese Cross Ranch, where he ranched and lived as a cowboy. He actively ranched in the area for several years and maintained interests there for many more. He later said that had it not been for his experience in North Dakota that he wouldn't have become president. It was during this time he formed many of the ideas that later led him to develop a strong conservation program to protect America's natural resources and wild lands. It was neat to get a glimpse of this place that inspired him, and I'm so thankful it has been kept wild and free, the way God created it.

This is the Maltese Cross Cabin that was originally on Theodore Roosevelt's ranch, which was about seven miles from where it now stands in Medora, North Dakota, at one of the entrances to the National Park. With three separate rooms and sleeping quarters upstairs for ranch hands, it was considered somewhat of a "mansion" in its day!

This desk was in another cabin owned by Roosevelt, and he spent many hours recording his experiences in the badlands. It would be interesting to read them someday.
The small bedroom was simply furnished, and the leather trunk with T.R. on it was the actual one he used when he traveled between New York and Medora by train. I suspect that's a buffalo hide on the bed.
We stopped to see a prairie dog town, and the kids were delighted to see the little critters standing guard over their burrows. We had picked up Junior Ranger booklets which had some information and activities about prairie dogs, so of course they were excited to fill out their pages. We also borrowed a family explorer backpack that contained field guides, books, binoculars, magnifying glasses, and other resources to use during our visit. It's well worth checking the National Park websites ahead of time to find out what is available. Many of them also have printable lesson plans and online activities kids can do to learn more about the park and enrich their visits.
Poppy and Raphi peered down a prairie dog hole!
We took a little hike to Wind Canyon, and stopped to watch this big spider catch a cricket and spin it up to save for later. Yum, yum!
Wind Canyon
We hiked along a ridge line trail high over the river valley. We could see a herd of buffalo in the distance.
And speaking of buffalo, we ran into another herd of them down the road! Well, thankfully we didn't actually run into them, but had to stop and wait while they slowly made way for us. This is clearly their park, and we were the guests.
It was wonderful to be so close to them!
It was a perfectly gorgeous day, with billowy clouds floating in an endless sky of brilliant blue. The badlands stretched on as far as the eye could see, layers of color stacked and wrinkled and draped over the earth. 
And the kids were sworn in as Junior Rangers of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, under the watchful eye of the  bison on the wall. I'm so glad we stopped to explore and play, and that I was so wrong about North Dakota!