A Cuppa Cosy Reads – October 2022

We have reached the end of another month, one that seems like a blur…at least to me. I’ve felt all the emotions and read a wide variety of books. I wish I had a lot of insight to add to this introductory paragraph, but to be honest, I’d like to just put October to bed- literally. I’m done with that month- nothing super bad, but when life is just…a lot I want to be done with that time. So, let’s just get into the books that I read. 

Lore Olympus Vol 1 by Rachel Smythe 4 Stars – Look- I’ve been on a Hades/Persephone, modern era Greek myth retelling, and this fit that mold perfectly. A graphic novel/comic style story, it’s a great quick read. 

The True Love Bookshop by Annie Rains 3 Stars – This was fine. I feel like every once in a while, it’s nice to just read a hallmark esque style story and that’s basically what this was. 

The It Girl by Ruth Ware 4.5 Stars – I think this was probably one of my top reads of the month. I really enjoyed this slow unfolding story, with a shocking culmination that did get me. I was very one the fence about picking up another Ruth Ware, but this one was just different enough and she does a great job at leading and misleading the reader throughout the story.

A Shadow in the Ember by Jennifer L. Armentrout 3.5 Stars – I was really craving some more books along the fantasy romance genre- something I notice I gravitate towards when things are rough in the real world, so I dived back in to Armentrout’s world. This is the prequel to the Blood and Ash series and while it took me a bit to get into the story, once I did, I was in. The only detriment, realistically, for me is that we go through the same thing as the other series- where I want to shake the main characters. 

A Touch of Malice by Scarlett St. Clair 4 Stars – This is the third book in this series and all I could think of was FINALLY (which is something even the author acknowledges). The second book had a lot of moments of self-doubt, whereas this third book is a lot more plot and action. I feel like this might be my favorite, depending on how the next book goes. 

Silver by Chris Wooding 3.5 Stars – This was a book that I just picked up off the shelf at the library. It’s a YA Thriller about a virus outbreak at a boarding school. I’m not going to give too many details, but I found it to be quite the ride- even for YA readers. It was well done, though the ending left me a little…downtrodden. He created such tension and such fear, but there wasn’t any like final to the final fight. 

Lore Olympus Vol 2 by Rachel Smythe 4 Stars – This is the second volume of the same series and, once again, I really enjoyed it. I can’t say that this is one of my favorites, but I am enjoying reading this series. 

You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood by Eric LaRocca My final read of the month, and it was Halloween weekend and I wanted something disturbing. This definitely filled that spot; however, I don’t know if it filled it in a satisfactory way. I feel like this book maybe tried to do too much in too short of a time frame or if it was just supposed to feel disjointed and not fully formed. If that was the case, it definitely did that, but I feel like a lot of attention was given to the book inside the book and that book was interesting, and then the rest just…wasn’t much? I don’t know- but it was definitely disturbing.

And that’s it for October! It was actually a good reading month- I did overall love everything that I read

A Run on Jewish Literature

I want to start by saying just how apt that title is- the…double entendre of it all. These posts will probably be a bit of a…run on, but I also hope they create a “run on” in terms of shopping. But that’s all aside…

I’ve talked about Jew Hatred before on this blog (HERE) and this post isn’t necessarily about that, BUT I think it’s important to touch on quickly and it ties into a project I want to work on. If you haven’t seen the latest attack on Jews by Kanye West, well consider yourself lucky. He said some truly horrifying things and the response has been both disheartening and heartening. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum from condemnation, to trying to write him off. However, he has spurned folks to take very real action in the real world (displays in Los Angeles over the weekend) which once again proves that words are real, no matter the source they come from. Now, Jew Hatred is not a new thing, it’s a thousand-year-old thing that ebbs and flows in intensity and presentation but always remains. However, the Jewish people are working not only to call out all levels of Jew Hatred – both shady and subtle as well as overt- but also to educate folks about Judaism. 

I’ve always personally felt like the best way to learn about the Jewish people and Judaism and our history is by speaking to people, learning or reading their experiences and stories. Judaism is unique as every single Jewish person has a completely different story to tell. A completely different life experience. You could talk to me and to my Jewish relatives and we will have very different experiences, different views, different levels to our Jewish-ness. Sure, there are some things that may be similar, but in terms of life and experience- every single one of us is different. Which means that listening and learning is so important. 

In this attempt to listen and learn, we will often turn to literature…or at least I will. And boy is there quite a bit of it out there, mostly centered on The Holocaust. 

I want to interject really fast and say- there is nothing wrong with reading literature regarding The Holocaust. This was the most horrifying, devastating thing to occur to the Jewish People in modern times and a truly horrifying act for all humanity. It’s also something regularly referenced and used as a tool to try and stop it from happening again. Which I have conflicting thoughts about, but that’s a thought for another day. 

So, so much literature around one of the most devastating things in our Modern Jewish History. And it’s not wrong to read books about it. In fact, I encourage you to read survivor testimony, to listen to the stories and understand why any level of Jew Hatred is terrifying to Jews around the world. It’s a hard subject, but it is so important to read. 

HOWEVER, you have to be careful when consuming Holocaust literature. You have to be careful when consuming any level of Jewish Literature. And that’s what I want to do with a new project. There is a lot of good Jewish literature out there, A LOT, but there is also a lot of harmful Jewish literature that is DANGEROUS and could contain some level of Jew Hatred that you don’t even realize when reading. 

What brought this idea on is the news (that I’m not sure how new this is- I think it’s been talked about before, but we might only just now be getting new publishing news?) that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is going to be getting a sequel of sorts. Now, a lot of us have read the book or seen the movie. A lot of us would probably think- great it’s shining a light on the Holocaust- and the story of this Nazi family experiencing the torture and loss of their son, killed in the same manner as all the Jews. BUT what you’re actually reading is a Nazi excusing book. A book that’s saying this Nazi family (outside of the commandant) had no idea of what was happening in the camps, that this little Nazi boy befriended and helped this little kid, and it HUMANIZED him. The whole book is about HUMANIZING this Nazi family, when at the same time the dad in the family was continually torturing, starving, and killing Jews in the camp that he was in charge of. 

But we don’t pick up on that when reading. Especially if we are not reading critically and we don’t have the history or the trauma in our lineage or in our people. This is often times one of those books that is recommended to young children as an introduction to The Holocaust, but how can we expect our children to understand the magnanimity of the Holocaust if, from the start, they are looking at the Nazi’s through a sympathetic or humanized lens?

And that’s just Holocaust literature. Do you know that there is more to the Jews than just being murdered? 

During this project I am going to be reading a wide variety of Jewish stories, both Holocaust and not Holocaust related. I am going to be reading fiction and nonfiction, trying to cover a variety of genres. And then I’m going to come here and I’m going to talk about it. I’m going to talk about the representation, I’m going to talk about the level of Jewish-ness in the book, how it fits with our history, how it fits with my own story, and more. I’m going to take each apart and dissect them. It’s going to be more in depth than my monthly wrap ups because I really want to get to the meat and potatoes of Jewish Literature. 

I want to be able to recommend books that I feel are worthy of your time to read, to give you some insight on Jewish life (both the highs and the lows) and Jewish history. This is how I learn, how I take in knowledge, and I know that it is for others, so I hope this helps. This is going to a long-term project, though I have no idea on posting schedules for these. I have already read several books that I will be diving into first, but if you have heard of any, know any that you would like my take on, please let me know what they are, and I’ll add them in (same goes for if you hear of any in the future). 

A Weekend in The Adirondacks – 2022

It is that time of year again- the time when the world reminds us just how stunning mother nature can be. That’s right, it’s Autumn foliage time and this year really solidified to me that nowhere truly does it like The Adirondacks. Seriously- it’s got everything, the foliage, the small towns, the outdoor activities, but also plenty to do if you’re not into that- EVERYTHING. Last year we rv’d to Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain, and we would have RV’d to this year’s location, but our schedules just didn’t really permit that to happen. So, instead we took two nights to go the North Creek/Gore Mountain area. To compare a bit between the two (you can read about our Lake Placid trip HERE) …

Geographically Lake Placid is in the more Northeastern section of the Adirondacks, whereas North Creek/Gore Mountain is in the Southeastern section. We live on the middle Western section of The Adirondacks- just outside of the region. 

In terms of peak foliage, we were in the region for the Peak Colors of the season this year. Peak can last anywhere from a day to a week- there are so many factors at play. Last year we missed the full-on peak by maybe a few days. Once the leaves start to fall, they all tend to come down fairly fast. Last year was a much rainier season, so they fell earlier, whereas this year it’s been a bit dryer, they’ve stayed a bit longer, even if they started popping color earlier. 

I will say, I still think RV’ing or renting a small cabin in a wooded spot or along the lakes is the way to go. You can fully immerse in all the Autumnal Glory that way in a way that staying in a hotel doesn’t quite provide. 

Now, on to our actually trip. Like I said, this year we headed to the Gore Mountain/North Creek area. We really booked this location to go rail biking with Revolution Rail. This is something I’ve wanted to do since finding out we were going to be living in Upstate NY. They’ve got fantastic locations out here, and the rides are great. You can find their website HERE. However, we booked an afternoon ride on Saturday, so we had all Saturday morning to enjoy the area.

Saturday morning my husband decided to surprise us with a gondola ride and morning at Gore Mountain. Gore Mountain is home to New York’s largest ski resort. It boasts 4 Unique Peaks with a large, varied number of trails down the mountains. Dating back to 1934 (with development in 1964) and the only still operating Gondola in New York State, Gore Mountain is constantly updating, upgrading, and adjusting both its trails and the operating systems and lodges to meet the future. And- if you’re truly an expert skier, Gore Mountain has a trail that is a 70% pitch, one of the steepest in the East.  

We took a lift up to the top of one of the peaks to take in the beauty of Autumn in The Adirondacks. Honestly, I think the best time to see the actual sea of colors is while you are on the lift (I thought this with Whiteface too- the drive up is where you’ll get the best opportunity to capture that “sea” effect), but the view from the top is pretty incredible too. Plus, there was snow on the top! So, we got to experience that as well! If you’re interested, most of the ski mountains offer both mountain biking and hiking throughout the summer and fall season, something to keep in mind!

While we were at Gore Mountain, they were having their Harvest Festival, so we were able to enjoy live music, vendors from a wide variety of businesses, and some fun games. It made for a fun kick off morning. 

From there we headed down to North Creek NY for the event that we really came to this area for- Rail Biking along the Hudson River. When I had first learned that we were getting stationed in Upstate NY (after I got over all the feelings of leaving Germany) I knew that I wanted to go rail biking. It really just seemed like a fun and unique experience. Now, there are a couple different companies and locations for rail biking, but we decided to go with Revolution Rail. They offered a rail biking experience right in the “heart” of The Adirondacks and would give us a new way to experience the autumn foliage. I recognize that this is one of those things that is…very “us” as a family, but we actually really loved it. 

So, Revolution Rail was started in 2016 in North Creek NY. They launched in 2017 with 6 railbikes. The general idea is to turn the unused old railroad tracks into an opportunity. The railbike is either two or four seats and sits comfortably on the track. The ride itself is actually relatively easy- more comfortable than biking (because you’re on an actual seat) and any time it gets difficult- which is none- all you have to do is marvel at the world around you and it gets easy again. The railbikes are able to accommodate just about anyone- we had a wide variety of ages and skill level (you’re in a group of 10-20 bikes) and they are able to allow babies in strapped on carriers (like an ergo or bjorn). Revolution Rail is not only in New York, they offer trails in Colorado and New Jersey (and I think I might have seen one other location coming soon).  Both the Colorado and New York locations offer special combined experiences- usually involving the rail biking and a water experience. 

We did the South River Run ride which was a little over 2 hours (I would say about 2.5). We rode about 3.5 miles, stopped for a break and history chat, then biked the 3.5 miles back. It was incredibly beautiful and an experience that I honestly would repeat again and again. The boys weren’t able to pedal (they could barely reach- so we told them to relax and enjoy the ride) and Robert and I didn’t have any issues leisurely pedaling. I just can’t say enough fun good things about this little adventure, I highly recommend it. 

From there we wandered through the main street of North Creek, checking out the glassblowing- super cool- and other little shops. We stopped for dinner and headed back to the motel for the evening. 

The next morning, we packed up and headed out to make our way back home. We stopped at one more place though before reaching our home- The Adirondack Experience. The Adirondack Experience is a museum spread across a tract of land that walks visitors through the history, the use, and the relationship between the people and the wilderness of the Adirondacks. The land was originally purchased in 1867 by a Connecticut Farmer who used the land for a logging and lumbering operations. When The Adirondacks started to become a popular tourist spot, Tyler Merwin (the son of Miles Merwin who originally purchased the land) allowed for overnight guests. In 1880 he built a hotel on the location with the hotel growing to house 100 guests in 1907. While visiting the Experience, you are actually able to see and walk in the Log Hotel, originally of 1876 and named on the National Register of Historic Places. The Blue Mountain House continued in operations until the twentieth century- though it switched owners. In 1948 the hotels new owner, William Wessels, teamed up with Harold K Hochschild, a business exec and amateur historian, to form the Adirondack Historical Association. The original Adirondack Museum opened in August 1957 with the goal of showing the relationship between humans and the wilderness of the Adirondacks. The Experience features not only several buildings of exhibits, but also a steamboat, a railroad engine and passenger car, a stagecoach, canoe, and several other horse drawn vehicles. 

So, we actually spent a good 3-4 hours just exploring the grounds and learning all about the Adirondack region as a whole. The experience is very self-guided, with tour guides within exhibits from time to time. We started with the Boats & boating and learned about the evolution of the boating industry as it related to the Adirondacks (boats used to be the only way to get around!). We wandered over to the kids cabin and schoolhouse, where the boys got to experience not only what the schoolhouse offered, but also the various responsibilities kids had back in the early 1900’s. We wandered through Sunset Cottage, and the exterior of Log Hotel, which was closed at the time, as well as the Artist’s Cottage. The Life in the Adirondacks talked a lot about how man tried to work with the land, as well as the Indigenous Peoples of the regions. I would say this was one of the more interesting buildings of the group. We stopped at the river pavilion, which is where the steamboat and train are housed, headed up to bull Cottage, which aside from maybe being a bit small for us, is really our dream location. Finally, we stopped at the Work in the Woods, which talks about the logging industry, in both good and bad terms. It was well worth the stop, and they have a good number of hands on and hands off options. 

All in all- Leaf-Stravaganza 2022 was a big success (that’s what I’m calling this moving forward…). I truly don’t know if there is anything out there that can compare to Autumn in Upstate New York- it’s magical. I’m sharing every bit of the excitement and beauty over on Instagram- @acuppacosy, so follow there for the day-to-day beauty (even though we are past peak). 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – September 2022

Oh man- that September slump was real! I didn’t really want to read, I didn’t really want to write, I didn’t really want to do much of anything! To be fair- it was my first month with both kids away at school, and I managed to fill my days quite quickly! I’ve undertaken several different things and between those, the non-desire to really read, and life- I didn’t read near as much as I normally would. I’m hoping that things calm down a bit as I really missed reading and I think it affected my mood from time to time.   

Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare 4 Stars I started by dipping my toes back in to Cassandra Clare and ended up falling face first all the way. I’m now anxiously awaiting the next in this (I think) trilogy!

The Minders by John Marrs 5 Stars Another John Marrs for the win over here- this book builds off of both The One and The Passengers and I LOVE how interconnected they all are. It’s not necessary to read them in any sort of order, but I would start with The One, then The Passengers, and finally The Minders. It’s wonderful to see him connect so many threads and I cannot wait to read another of his!

By The Book by Jasmine Guillory 3 Stars Hmmm…I enjoyed this- it was a good beauty and the beast retelling, but I don’t know if I would say it was amazing. I enjoyed my time reading it, felt satisfied in the end, and moved on. 

Ink and Shadows by Ellery Adams 4 Stars Yet again, a cozy Ellery Adams to grace my eyes and brain. Continuing to love this series and a lot of what Ellery is putting out. It’s a perfect balance of believable reader, mystery, romance, and small-town politics/comedy. 

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare 3.5 Stars I may have stumbled ever so slightly in my Cassandra Clare read- I wasn’t as big a fan of this one as I was in the past. She got me on that last page though- oh did she get me good. I think my biggest issue was just timing and location- reading this so soon after a Victorian England setting, this is modern California, just threw me off. 

Accomplished by Amanda Owain 3 Stars I’ll be honest- I know this book, I know I enjoyed this book, but I’m struggling to remember this book fully. It’s a modern Darcy’s sister viewpoint (set when Darcy is still just meeting Jane if you’re tracking the viewpoints during the Pride and Prejudice story), but more than that? I would say it’s well done- it translated well into a new viewpoint, while still giving you enough of the established Pride & Prejudice characters, but its, obviously, not super memorable either. 

And that was it! Not too much to really share. I’m hoping that my October goes better, but we’re looking iffy at this point in time…

Rosh Hashanah 5783

Shanah Tovah U’metukah! Happy Jewish New Year! As Rosh Hashanah comes to a close this evening, the Ten Days of Teschuvah begin (actually they start with Rosh Hashanah and then end at Yom Kippur). This period of time is a starting off point to reflection, growth, and returning to being the best that we can be. It’s a chance to jump start your growth and goodness for the year ahead. It’s a process that is meant to be continued year-round, but specifically these ten days are spent making right with relationships and our community. 

Last year’s post is really detailed about Rosh Hashanah and what we do, how we celebrate and what my thoughts were going into the past year- all of which you can read HERE. I’ll just add a little fun fact for this year. On Rosh Hashanah we wish each other a GOOD new year, whereas in the English New Year, you with a HAPPY New Year. This can serve as a reminder that by doing good, being “good”, happiness will follow. 

I normally post my Rosh Hashanah post prior to the holiday beginning, having spent the month of Elul (the last month on the Jewish Calendar, meant as a time of deep reflection and introspection) reflecting on the year, however this year I delayed. It’s been a bit of a weird time. Nothing truly major, nothing truly bad, just a forced time of reflection that had me…not really wanting to share things. I wanted to do some deep inner work and make things right in and with myself before I felt comfortable looking forward and turning outward. 

5782 was a year full of so many highs, a few lows, and a lot of…meh. Not meh necessarily, just a lot of stressful situations that, to be honest, I could have easily avoided or saw my way out of. And I should have. I let a lot of “out of my control” things affect my own self and that is not something that I really liked about myself. It’s not something that is directly in my nature, until I’ve been pushed to a point, and there were a couple of times that I was pushed to that point (and I shouldn’t have been). 

But I’m a deep believer in something higher than us, guiding our way, and placing things in/out of our lives to continue to guide and show us the way forward. And, while 5782 held both good and bad, I feel like I really deepened my own feelings and truths about my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about relationships. And that is how I spent my month of Elul- deep in introspection over the prior year. I’m not going to be sharing too many of those thoughts, mostly because they are private and not something I want to put out into the world. 

All that being said, I was thinking and reflecting all the way up until Erev Rosh Hashanah. I was trying to figure out where I wanted this year to take me, it’s a year of change for us after all in so many ways, and I what I felt would be best for me, my family, and our community. And when I heard that Shofar Blast, that awakening to a new year, I felt those familiar shivers and goose bumps, and something locked into place for me. It’s a new year, a Shanah Tovah (a good year), and I’m READY. 

So, what does all this really mean???

Well, I’ve got a new…word for the year- really a new mindset. I’ve always been a “find the good” kind of person, but I found that in 5782 I struggled with it a bit more than I have in the past. That may not actually be fair to say…I’ll change that thought. I focused more of my time and intentions and energy on the negative, on the toxic, than I should have, than I normally would have. That’s more accurate. 

So, in 5783 I’m choosing הַכָּרַת הַטּוֹב (Hakarat ha’tov) or quite literally “recognize the good”. I’m also choosing שִׂמְחָה (simcha) or joy. It’s simple- there is no place in my life for the toxic, for the negative, for the bad energy. I recently read a quote that really just…resonated with me and fed into this feeling of needing this to lead my year- “At this big age, I’m only interested in progress and peace. Anything that costs either has to go”- We the Urban. If it does not serve my families progress or peace, if it does not feed our joy, our lives, then it has no place. 

Now, that does not mean that bad days do not come. It does not mean that we do not struggle. In fact, this year (5783) is going to be full of challenges for our family, but it means that either I will toss out of the negativity- treat it with a light laughter, turn it into something humorous, OR I will cling to the good moments when the bad come. 

None of this is really new to me- I’ve always been someone who tries to find the good, find the happiness, in fact this is something I touched on last year when my word was “mechaye” – something that gives great joy or life. This has always been who I am, but sometimes it can get a little lost in the everyday and this is my way of bringing it back to the forefront a little more. 

Beyond that – my goals for 5783 are in flux right now. I have things that I want to accomplish, as I do every year, and I feel like this year could really be a big year for those goals. Both boys are in school, so I have a bit more free time- though I’m rapidly filling it with commitments. However, I’m trying to keep an open mind to really welcome any new opportunities that knock on our day and find new ways that I can help those around me and in my community. 

So, with all those words said…I really just want to with everyone a Shana Tovah U’metukah- I hope 5783 is everything and more. 

A Weekend in A Camper

Over Labor Day weekend we decided it was time to take another camper trip. To be honest, I’ve been kind of itching to get back into a camper, get out into nature, and take some massive steps back from the world. There’s just something about being in a camper, disconnected, in nature that really just works for me. It gives me that much needed “silence the world” feeling. 

Now, last year when we did our camper trip it was in October to the Lake Placid area, and it was glorious- the beauty of Autumn in the Adirondacks is unparalleled and unreal. You can read that HERE. It was our first time in a camper, and we fell in love (if you can’t tell). 

This time we decided to go to another famed region of New York- Letchworth State Park. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” it is known to be one of the most “scenically magnificent areas” of the eastern part of the country. It is home to a lot of hiking, horseback riding, white water rafting and kayaking, hot air balloon rides, as well as a variety of lodging right within the park. 

We decided to stay outside of the park, mostly because most of the spots were already reserved when we looked (these spots, both, book up FAST). We chose a KOA campground on the southern end of the park and we’re actually very pleased with it! I know that in some instances KOA’s can get a bit of a bad rep, and sure being as close to neighbors isn’t like…great, but our experiences thus far have been great. We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and spent the first few hours getting settled in, unpacking, letting the kids run free and wild. 

The next morning dawned bright and clear so after breakfast we headed out to Letchworth State Park. Letchworth State Park follows the course of the Genesee River for about 17 miles as the river goes over a total of 3 waterfalls and cuts a gorge through the landscape. It crosses two counties as well as 5 cities. The park dates back to 1859 when William Pryor Letchworth started purchasing the land. He started with the land nearest to the Middle Falls, built his home and then started to look beyond. In the end by 1906 he had 1,000 acre’s that he bequeathed to the state of New York. The park contains three waterfalls, Upper, Middle, and Lower. Each are unique, each are located within the southern section of the park (yes there is a southern/northern line, and it is marked within the park-it is THAT big). Upper Falls has an active Railway arch bridge above it, creating quite the photo backdrop, but also historic as that railroad bridge path dates back to 1875. Middle Falls is the highest of the three waterfalls at 107-foot drop and is just the powerhouse you expect it to be. Lower Falls is exactly what you would think from the name, a lower “calmer” fall over several levels, with a stone bridge just below. There is one smaller, ribbon waterfall, however most of the time you are not able to truly see it. 

My initial thought was to hike the distance between the three waterfalls; HOWEVER, this is a 7-mile hike and is listed as a “moderate” level hike but has a steep incline/decline that we didn’t know about until we overheard some hikers speak about it. We decided at the middle falls that hiking the full way was not feasible with two little kids on an 80 something degree day. This is fine as not only can you drive the entire park, but you are also able to stop at more than enough spots to get out, take in the gorge, the river, and the falls. There are two parking lots for the falls, one located in between upper and middle, and then one close to lower falls. (To be honest- I was also ok with not hiking as most of the hike is above the river, rather than within the gorge.)

I think that the park itself is incredible and definitely worth a visit, and the amenities for camping or staying within the park are great, but if you are looking for river/waterfall/gorge hiking, I would recommend Watkins Glen State Park. Obviously, these are two VERY different parks and I hate to even put the comparison there, but I would definitely say I preferred that one to Letchworth if we are talking about water adjacent hikes/locations. 

We basically spent all day within the state park, as planned, and just decided that when we were done, we would head back to the campsite. The KOA campground had live music both nights right near our site, so we had an enjoyable evening next to the fire. 

We slept in a bit the next morning and it was a bit more overcast than Saturday. We knew there was a possibility of rain later in the day (hence the State Park on Saturday), so we decided to choose things a bit more…low key. We gave the kids an option of two activities, both geared towards their interests (but we would enjoy too). The first was a train ride that would span the countryside, the second being an animal safari. It was a tough decision, but they ultimately chose the animal safari. 

Now, let me say this first- I am always wary of the animal sanctuary/roadside zoo style places. I tend to…avoid or research the practices prior to visiting. I just wanted to share that before getting into this. I think, like anything else, there are good places and bad and it’s up to us to look into each place before we visit. 

So, we decided to spend a couple hours at Hidden Valley Animal Adventure. We opted to do the safari they offered, in their vehicles with a tour guide, rather than our own. We did a more mid-day tour time and our tour guide ended up being one of the animal care takers. So, we not only learned what the park was like, but the specifics in how they care for the animals and how they manage heards, relationships, and the like. Not to mention how they…simply maintain and provide the best for the animals. We were able to see quite a variety of animals, but I never felt like they were animals that were…inappropriate or overly exotic for the location. We did get to feed them which was cool, and the guide was incredible in passing along knowledge and letting us know when to step away. After the safari you are able to walk up to the petting zoo and feed the goats or down to the Koi Pond and feed the fish (or both really). It was a great couple hours.

Thankfully the rain held off until after we got back to camp and didn’t properly start coming down until later in the evening. We started up the fire to try and enjoy one last one, cooked up some dinner, and just relaxed. When it started to rain, the pitter patter created quite the perfect ambiance for us and the live band for the evening were great! 

That really wraps up our weekend. It was a much needed, very relaxed, leisurely weekend unplugged and away. One of my goals in the coming years is to make these Camper trips more than a once-a-year occasion. We really enjoy them and, eventually, want to get a camper of our own. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2022 – Kingston, Ontario

I went back and forth as to whether to write this final post on our summer trip. Kingston is incredibly close to where we live, we didn’t do much while we were there (except one really cool tour, which is why I decided to write this) and we were definitely at the end of our…travel excitement. However, I decided to write it to not only share the cool spot we toured, but also just a little insight into what our final day or two was like in Canada- because boy did things happen that made me think. 

As always, let’s start with a little history of the area. 

Kingston was originally named Cataraqui and inhabited by the Five Nations Iroquois (though the Wyandot People – of Huron origins- were the first occupants). The French arrived in 1615 and established Fort Cataraqui in 1673 to serve as a military and trade base. The fort itself was occupied on and off, would be destroyed and rebuilt several times over, until finally the British took possession in 1783. The renamed it Tete-de-Pont Barracks in 1787, then turned over to the Canadian military in 1870. It is still in use today; however, it is now named Fort Frontenac. 

Kingston played a bit of a role in the American Revolutionary War as a home location for Loyalists (those who were loyal to the British Crown and wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom). In order to make “space” for the Loyalists the British worked with the Mississaugas to purchase land. The Loyalists gave the settlement the name of “King’s Town” – which would eventually turn in to Kingston. 

One of the bigger military times for Kingston was the War of 1812. Kingston became a major military town and engaged in an arms race with the American Fleet stationed in Sackets Harbor. The base of Fort Henry, later known at Point Henry, was built to help protect the Canadian Fleet and garrisoned until 1871. It’s now a World Heritage Site. 

Once incorporated as a town, it held the largest population in Upper Canada until the 1840’s (it became a city in 1846). From what I can see- Kingston is really known in terms of cultural hot spots. They host several film festivals, music festivals, writer retreats, as well as Busker events (we’ll get in to that last one). A lot of musician and actors name Kingston as their birthplace, most notable being Dan Aykroyd (there are many more musicians that I could name as well). A final notable fact, the first high school in the province was established in Kingston in 1792 by a Loyalist! 

I’ve been to Kingston now twice, the first being a fun girlie day out where we wandered the streets of downtown, stopped in a local independent bookstore (spent some money…), and grabbed lunch at a great Tex-Mex spot, Lone Star Grill. The second time was this trip with both boys and my husband. 

We headed to Kingston from Toronto on the day where half the nation of Canada was crippled by a software glitch. The communication servers for about half of the country simply went down. This was horrifying on so many levels- people weren’t able to work, weren’t able to pay for products (it affected the banking lines, so no debit or electronic means of payments, BUT they could accept credit cards, not debit as credit, but actual credit cards), but people were not able to communicate via phones, the hospitals were impacted, emergency services. It really crippled that portion of the country for the entire day- I believe it started sometime in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t get fully restored until well past midnight. Thankfully it did get restored and everything returned to “normal”, but it did make you think…about a) how reliant we are on technology, and b) just how…dominating our technology/processing world is by very few companies that so much went down. 

Once we arrived in Kingston and we immediately went off to our single scheduled event- a tour of the Kingston Penitentiary. Kingston Penitentiary was a maximum-security prison that has only recently closed in 2013- actually at the time of closing it was one of the oldest prisons in continuous use in the world. Originally opened in 1835 as a provincial penitentiary, it was one of nine prisons in the area. The building site was selected due mostly to the ready access to water and abundant fine limestone. It first housed six inmates, though it could hold 564 inmates total by the time it closed (this does not include the treatment center within the prison I don’t believe). Across the street to the north is the Kingston Prison for Women which operated from 1934-2000 to allow for more space- women had previously simply been segregated in the main facility. 

This penitentiary has seen two riots, one in 1954 and another in 1971. In 1954 there was a two-hour riot (which at that point was the worst in history) involving almost 900 inmates. A breakout was attempted coinciding with the riot, however, was not successful. This particular riot started in the exercise yard, led to several fires in different buildings, 50 ringleaders going to solitary confinement, $2 million in damages, and the involvement of both the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The second riot was much worse. 

In 1971 there was a four-day riot within the prison that led to two inmates dying, six guards being held hostage, and much of the prison destroyed. The riot was instigated by concerns about future conditions at a separate prison transfer, lack of work/recreational time and other prisoner issues. Once the riot was quelled, an investigation was opened, and it found that the prisoners were not wrong in their complaints. A number of issues were noted, least of which being overcrowding and shortage of staff, but also prisoners who did not require maximum security, a lack of channels to deal with prisoner complaints and requests, as well as aged physical facilities. This riot led to committees being form and new jobs being created to help deal with these complaints and issues within the prison. 

There have been three escapes recorded from this maximum-security prison: 1923, 1947, and 1999. The first was Norman “Red” Ryan, who was an Irish Catholic Gangster. He escaped with several other inmates in September 1923 by setting a fire as a distraction, going over the wall, and stealing a car. However, he was caught again in Minnesota and brought back. Once back in prison he became a “model prisoner” and the poster child for prison/parole reform. He was released, went on to denounce his prior criminal activities and be a model citizen in public…all while going on an armed robbery spree. During one of these armed robberies the little gang he had formed ended up in a shootout of sorts. While Norman continued to present himself as the model citizen, even offering to help police and detectives figure out what happened, he was found out a few months later and died in a shootout with police at a liquor store. The second escape was fairly straightforward, 3 inmates went over the wall, 2 came back, 1 was never found. 

The third escape was by Ty Conn in 1999. Ty Conn was the first to evade capture for weeks and weeks since the last “successful” escape in 1958 (this is after 26+ attempts by inmates since 1836). Abandoned by both his parents, put up for adoption by his maternal grandparents he was adopted by a psychiatrist and his, alleged/described, mentally unstable wife. That only lasted about eight years before he was “returned” and placed in and out of foster and group homes, and youth detention facilities. As a young child in his adoptive family, he started stealing – first food then cars in his teenage years. By the time of his death, he was only “legally at large” (free) for 69 days (this is from age 13-death). After notifying prison guards at Millhaven Prison that several inmates were planning to escape, he was placed in protective custody and transferred to Kingston Penitentiary. His own escape utilized not only a rope ladder and grappling hook (that he made himself), but also cayenne pepper to throw the scent off to the dogs. He was found two weeks later in Toronto where he committed suicide, rather than go back to prison. 

I have to interject my personal opinion here for a moment because in listening to the tour guide speak about Ty Conn and the brief history I’ve learned about him- he really is one of those…cases for prison reform and slip through the crack’s instances. There is a book currently out by Theresa Burke and Linden MacIntyre, both have met and had interaction with Ty Conn, titled Who Killed Ty Conn. Together they paint a different picture and one that is worth understanding and knowing. It’s a book that I’ve added to my list to read at some point. 

From 1971-1981 Kingston Penitentiary also served as the Regions Reception Center. Every inmate in the prison system would come to Kingston Penitentiary first. It also held a Regional Treatment Centre within the prison which allowed up to 120 inmates who were in recovery. In 1990 Kingston Penitentiary was designated a National Historic Site and it was officially closed on September 30, 2013. A month or so later it was opened for tours- all of which are given by former guards and employees of the prison. 

 Kingston Penitentiary has seen it all and boy, if walls could talk. The tour was, quite honestly, incredible. Not only do you get to see how the prison changed throughout the long years it was used, but you also get to hear real experiences from employees and guards. It gives you a real insight in to not only these prisoners live within the prison, but also insight in to how the prison structure works/operates/could improve. The tour guides were not able to talk about the actual prisoners as it’s against Canadian privacy laws, but a quick search gives you an idea of some of the infamous prisoners housed in those walls. 

We stopped for a bite to eat after the tour (and a gas up- thankfully we found a station that was able to take credit cards!) at Montana’s BBQ & Bar- which was delicious and supplied quite the Long Island Iced Tea ;). 

The next morning, we headed more towards downtown to walk along the river and the store fronts. We were pleasantly greeted by a Busker Festival. If you don’t know, a busker is a street performer. So, the folks that you walk past that are performing on sidewalks or subway stations for donations and your enjoyment? Buskers. And Kingston had an entire weekend full of entertainment lined up. The streets were blocked off to allow several performers, with a good distance between, there was a stage set up at the water, as well as food, face paint, and a sidewalk chalk competition. 

Coinciding with that event, it was also the weekend of a boat race, so while we were walking along the water, we were treated with the site of these souped-up boats, with wonderful sounding engines pull in to dock for lunch. 

We did just a little walking and then, finally, headed back across the border to the states and back home. And that wraps up our Summer Holiday (finally!). Which was your favorite to hear about? NIAGARA, DETROIT, UPPER PENINSULA, SUDBURY, TORONTO, or Kingston? Have you added any to your to visit list? And if you haven’t- you HAVE to add Mackinac Island/Upper Peninsula straight away. Let me know!

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – August 2022

It’s September? Talk about a month flying by- I don’t even know if I truly know where the time went…truly, I’m not just saying that. I feel like we were all just excited about August and here we are school starting, leaves changing, crisp mornings (maybe, we’re still lagging a bit in that department). My reading was really good for the month of August- a total of 10 books and an average rating of 4.16. A great month! Lots to talk about, so I’m just going to jump right in…

The Tea Dragon Festival by Kay O’Neil 5 Stars Much like the first, these next two graphic novels are just the most feel good, quaint ones of the bunch. I just loved seeing our characters change and grow and learn more about the different tea dragons. 

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Kay O’Neill 5 Stars In this one we found one of our characters really grow into who she is now, rather than living in the past of who she was and that was really special. 

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes 5 Stars This is easily one of those books that I could recommend to anyone (and everyone). It may be a science fiction thriller, but it doesn’t feel like science fiction. It is set in space, but atmospheric enough that the fact that it is set in space simply fades to the background. It’s definitely just one of those books that I love. 

Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay 3 Stars I’ll be honest…I’m drawing a blank with this book. I think it was just a standard cozy mystery.  

This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede 4 Stars Now this book I remember. I found the premise interesting, the execution well done, but a smidge predictable. It’s a good book and one that I enjoyed reading as you get to see characters fight against what they truly want, only to get it and it’s maybe not what they expected or needed. 

Break Your Glass Slippers by Amanda Lovelace NR This is a poetry collection, the first in a series that I enjoyed, but didn’t find groundbreaking. I’ll continue on though.

A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair 4 Stars Ah another Hades and Persephone retelling. I don’t know where this obsession has come from, but oooo do I love a good Hades and Persephone dark re-imagining. I’m definitely excited to see what comes next…

Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare 3.5 Stars I started this on a whim after seeing someone do a “outfits inspired by”. I haven’t read a Cassandra Clare since ages ago when she was still doing the Infernal Devices series and I…petered out from those. However, this one I enjoyed. Something about it really struck a chord, whether it was the time period or the location I’m not sure, but I definitely preferred it. Might dip my toe back in to the world. 

The Game by Linsey Miller 4 Stars This is a, basically, novella about a game that high school seniors play at a prestigious school that turns deadly one year. Fast paced, good action, and just enough suspense to keep you on your toes, but short enough you won’t stop- this had it all. 

Jade War by Fonda Lee 4 Stars The second of three novels in this trilogy and while it was a bit slow to start (it started off veeeerrrrrryyyyy middle book in a trilogy), it quickly shed that and went to work on destroying my heart. I want to read the third…but I don’t want to read the third (in a good way).

And that is it! I’m about 2/3rds of the way through my current read as I’m typing this (8/31/2022) and it’s a good one too. What was a big hit for you in August?

As Summer Fades Into Autumn

Alternatively titled: Life Lately…

For me, Autumn starts on September 1. I’m not sure when/why I’ve picked this date, but it’s just always been there. It might have something to do with school schedules (and being on the East Coast where school does not start until after Labor Day has only solidified this) or it might be because no matter where we have lived, August has always been the worst with heat/humidity/bugs. Whatever the reason, for me “Autumn” begins tomorrow. And wow am I ready for Autumn. 

This Autumn marks a time of change, most notably that both my boys will be in school all day every day. I’ll have an empty house during the day for the first time in 6 years. It seems a bit surreal to me to be honest. Definitely a little bittersweet. As ready as we all are (and believe me, we are READY), it’s still a bit sad to think that my baby-est of boys, my little mama’s boy, is off to school. Luckily, I am volunteering within the PTO and school again so he won’t be far and the chances of me seeing him throughout the year and during the school day are high. He also attended the KinderCamp prior to school getting started and he did so well, loved every minute, and it very much added to his excitement of the start of school. 

In reality, there are a lot of other changes coming down the pipeline as Summer turns to Autumn, most of which I won’t be talking about, but it just feels like such a transition period- more so than in the past. 

I started out Summer with big plans- I wanted to journal with the kids every morning, we had an idea to our days, I had plans to only be here and there for little bits, while taking most of the time to really be present with the boys. And yet, while some of that happened, a lot of it didn’t. We went on our Summer Holiday, which was great and loved every minute, but then once we came back it was a rush to get back settled again, to get self imposed deadlines down, to re create those perfect day to days that I had dreamed, to then only throw them out the window- create playdates out of nowhere, and then strive to balance all the things I wanted to accomplish. It felt very…un summer like and definitely not like previous summers. I’m not sure what was so different, maybe it’s because this Autumn will be so different, but it just felt very short, very rushed, and very…unsatisfactory. But that’s life sometimes. 

Like Summer (you would think I would have learned, but no), I have big plans for Autumn and Winter. I’ve created a sort of overview of dates and timelines (again mostly self-imposed) that I’d like to meet and I feel like I’ll actually be able to do it. The big things are continuing regular blog posts (maybe some exciting new ones- anything you’d like to see more of?), starting up the podcast, and editing my book.

How was your Summer? What big plans do you have for the changing season?

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2022 – Toronto, Ontario

Ok, another preface to another travel blog post…actually two. So, first up, our time in Toronto was not utilized very well. We got late starts every morning we were there, and we didn’t really do any planning for our time there. What I’m going to do is talk about what we actually did, and then share a couple of the spots that I wish that we had gone to. 

A second preface regarding the Covid crossing. A basic reiteration as to what I said in my first post (and apologies for not including it in my Sudbury post- I forgot and it worked out as that post went a lot longer than I thought it would). These may or may not be up to date when you are reading this post (as they still change day to day), so I would recommend checking the Canada travel site HERE for the most up to date information. To enter Canada as an adult you must be fully vaccinated and fill out the Arrive CAN app on the phone (you can do this via we browser and print the certificate as well if that is easier for you, I believe). Kids aged 5 & up are required to be vaccinated unless they are traveling with fully vaccinated adults. For the vast majority of Ontario, we were not required to wear masks.

So, on to Toronto…

Toronto is the most populous city in Canada, the fourth most populous in the North America Region (it’s also the fastest growing city, and second fastest growing metro region in the North America’s). It’s location at the entrance of a route to the NW (one of the oldest there is) has been inhabited and used since the 1600’s by the Huron, Iroquois, and Ojibwe. In the 1660’s the Iroquois created two towns, but then they left the area after the Beaver Wars. In 1701 the Mississaugas took over the region and were there until 1750 when the French established Fort Rouille (they were still in the region, but the French started to cultivate the region). Once the Seven Years War ended the French left and the region became part of British Quebec. The American Revolution saw an influx in Loyalists escaping America and in 1787 Toronto officially became a British Territory with the Toronto Purchase. Toronto wasn’t always known as Toronto, in fact in 1793 it was the Town of York, and it became the capital of Upper Canada the same year. When slavery was banned in 1834, the newly renamed city of Toronto, became a refuge for former slaves and all people of color. Toronto has had two “Great Fires”, the Cathedral fire in 1849 which destroyed most of the Market district as well as St. James Cathedral, and the Great Fire in 1902 which destroyed more than 100 buildings and killed one person. A final fun fact for you: Toronto was once the largest alcohol distribution center- it specialized in spirits, and in the 1860’s Gooderham and Worts Distillery was the largest whisky factory in the world. 

The first night in Toronto we simply did a little walking, did a little eating, and settled into our hotel. We stayed in the Chelsea Hotel (the largest in Canada), and it was both a good hotel as well as a good local spot. We started at Old City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, then over to Toronto Eaton Centre, which is a massive, covered shopping mall. We then walked down to Yonge- Dundas Square, which is similar (but a bit smaller) to Times Square. Opened in 2002 it is central to Downtown Yonge’s entertainment and shopping. 

The next morning, we set out for our first “must see” of Toronto, the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is credited to James T. Sutherland who was involved in the sport. He believed the Hall of Fame should be located in Kingston as he saw that as the birthplace of Hockey. However, there were quite a few funding issues trying to create a permanent building (even after inductions began in 1945), and, in 1961, it was moved to Toronto. Initially the Hockey Hall of Fame shared space with the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, but in 1986 they ran out of space and in 1993 they moved to the current location inside Brookfield Place/Bank of Montreal Building. Within the museum you’ll find not only history pieces, trophies and rings, team memorabilia, and the like, but also an entire interactive zone where you can practice shooting pucks against a goalie, being a goalie, as well as learn how television broadcasting works. It was quite a way to spend the morning and we loved getting this deep dive into Hockey History. 

From there we wandered over to St. Lawrence Market. In the early 1800’s the governor recognized that the town needed to have a central market location, with specific dates and times that it would be operational. And so, St. Lawrence Market was opened. This heart of the town was not only a market, but also served as an auction space, a place of public punishment, and for a time, was the seat of the city council. A temporary structure was first introduced in 1814, with a permanent structure built in 1820. This led to a long road of construction, remodeling, destruction (it went down during the Cathedral Fire), and re building. The present St. Lawrence Market South Building dates back to 1845 (rebuilt in 1850 and remodeled in 1972). Originally there was two buildings, however the North building was demolished in 2015. It is full of just about any vendor you could think of, from food, to jewelry, stationary, clothes and beyond. It is a hectic, but fun stop to see. We wandered up and down the aisles of two floors and admired all the goodies being sold.  

From the market we wandered over to the “old district” which didn’t have much that we could see- we actually got a little bit confused over the whole thing. We did see Toronto’s First Post Office, the De La Salle Institute, and St. Andrew’s Church. We ended our day on the docks, watching the water.

The next morning, we headed out once again, this time over to Allan Gardens Conservatory. This was a stop mostly for me, as I wanted to see all the plants. The area dates back to 1858 when George Allan donated a small plot of land to the Horticultural Society. The city then approached him to purchase the surrounding land to expand, which George agreed to as long as they kept it publicly accessible free of charge. It originally opened in 1879 before a fire damaged it in 1902. The present gardens opened in 1910 with the domed Palm House, which were quickly added to in both the 1920’s as well as late 1950. It’s not large, and to be honest not entirely necessary to see, but it was nice to pop in to somewhere to be surrounded by plants for an hour. The boys stopped and played at the nearby playground for a little bit while we tried to figure out what else we wanted to do. At this point we only had half a day left in Toronto, which cut out a lot of things that we wanted to do (like I said- we didn’t plan this stop well at all). 

We decided to head over to Ripley’s Aquarium as the boys have never been to one and it would be a fun stop for everyone that was also nearby. The Aquarium is really known for its Sharks and Sting Rays (in my opinion), and they are also the most active of all the fish. We were able to see not only those, but also a very active octopus, sea turtles, and jelly fish. It was a decent stop and a good way to cool off. 

From there we headed across the street to the Roundhouse Park & Toronto Railway Museum. I’ll be honest…I don’t think this is really worth the stop, even if your kids are massively into trains. The roundhouse park is really cool, first built in 1929 and the last in downtown Toronto, it’s a 32-stall house featuring, at that time, the most modern of technology. It closed operations in 1982 and became a Canadian National Historic Site in 1990. The museum opened in 2010 and features quite a lot of history on the Canadian Pacific Railway, artifacts from bygone times, as well as the ability to drive a simulated train. The boys liked to drive the simulation, but beyond that they didn’t care about any of the rest of it. You are able to see all the 10 train cars featured in the museum on the outside (without going into the museum) as well as take the mini railway. I don’t normally say that a museum isn’t worth going to because I believe in history, in museums, and in learning about the past, but this is one that I don’t think you need to go to. 

And that really wraps up our time in Toronto…

Now, some of the things I actually wished we did were:

Spend a day on Toronto Islands. The Toronto Islands consist of 15 small islands just south of the mainland. You are able to take a boat ferry from Toronto over to the Island Park and, like Mackinac Island, the Islands are car-free. We could have biked through Toronto Island Park, the Centreville Amusement Park, as well as walked and relax on the beach. We actually thought about maybe going for half the day but didn’t think it wise to try and beat the rush at the amusement park and get back to the mainland. I didn’t want to be rushed. 

We thought about going over to Casa Loma, however it was a bit out of the way of the other ideas we had and to take a tour within the castle was a bit pricey. It’s one of those- we saw so many real, old, historic castles in Europe that we haven’t found one here in North America that “measures up” to what we’ve come to expect (yes, I really said that and cringed every word through). I do think it still would have been nice to experience though. 

And, finally, I think that going to the Toronto Botanical Gardens would have been nice. I would have probably preferred them to the Allen Garden Conservatory, but it just didn’t fit in to our schedule or route in any way. 

I do think the Hockey Hall of Fame and St. Lawrence Market are must visits during your time in Toronto. I would say most of the rest, if you walk past or through on a route is fine, but not necessarily worth going out of your way to see. 

So, there you have it. Our 3 nights in Toronto. Up next is our final stop on our Summer Holiday…