A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2022- Niagara Falls

It is time to start sharing all the details and history of this year big Summer Holiday. We had quite the adventures, seeing a full loop of the upper northeastern portion of the U.S. and the some of the lower portions of Ontario, CA. I already talked previously about the requirements to enter Canada (I believe I did in my Montreal post), but I’ll touch on them again. 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 ArriveCAN 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. 

A couple things to note before we get into these posts…in some places I’ll be sharing our hotel and food options, but in others I won’t. To be honest, I treat most hotels as a place to lay our head for the night and what I mean by that is, I don’t always have to be in the heart of downtown, best of the best, right in the action accommodation. Sometimes the best for us is valet parking, close to public transport, or best bed configuration. The same goes with food, though we are a bit pickier about that. However, with food I find that this is a personal varied choice. If a restaurant really stood out for me, I’ll share it, but otherwise I don’t have much in the way for either of those recommendations. 

Ok, so now on to the actual vacation (I’ll post the rules and restrictions once again when we enter back into Canada later on in the trip…). A brief overview of our route of sorts: Niagara Falls, Canada  Detroit, Michigan Mackinac/Upper Peninsula Region, Michigan Sudbury, Ontario  Toronto, Ontario Kingston, Ontario  Home. We took a total of 14 nights/15 days to hit everything, usually spending a minimum of 2 nights in each place, except Kingston which is close enough to our home (aka we can see it whenever) that we didn’t need to do more than a single night. Today kicks everything off with a post on Niagara Falls.

We started our time in Niagara on the American side at Old Fort Niagara. This fort is unique in several different ways; the oldest structure in North America between the Appalachian and Mississippi, was manned by three different countries, and expertly shows the way in which military life and conflict has changed over time. The region was originally occupied by the Seneca in the 17th century as a seasonal hunting and fishing spot. When the French took charge in 1679, it was a key access point for the Great Lakes. The fort passed from the French, who built the oldest building- the “French Castle”- in 1726, to the British in 1759. The British held it from 1759-1796, and again from 1813-1815. The Americans finally got a piece of the Fort (aside from that little loss 1813-1815) in 1796, and then permanently in 1815. While the War of 1812 was the last conflict at the Fort, it has been used in some shape or another through major conflicts in our history. In World War One it was used as an Officer Training Camp, In World War Two it was used Induction Center for troops and a POW Camp. In the Cold War it housed Anti-Aircraft troops. In 1929 & 1934 restoration projects went underway to fix the French Castle and other encampments and buildings within the fort. 

The fort itself is pretty cool if only to see the ways the natural resources and land were used to create an effective barrier. The French Castle also is a really great way of showing how they secured items and lived in an age that we can’t even fathom (wooden nails for example). They’ve also got the originally US colony flag that flew over the fort. If you are into war history, battle or forts, this is a really great stop. 

From the Old Fort we headed over the Niagara State Park and Goat Island. I’m not going to get in to too much of the history of the Falls as I feel like most of us know what Niagara Falls is (I feel like I say this and then go on and on and on), but I’ll give a couple fun little nuggets that I learned and found interesting. First off, Niagara Falls is over 12, 00 years old, but is considered “young”. The Falls are comprised of three separate falls: Bridal Veil, American, and Horseshoe falls. Together they produce 2.4 million kilowatts of electricity for the U.S. and Canada. 90% of the Great Lakes (that would be Superior, Michigan, Erie and Huron) drain into Niagara River, and then on to Niagara Falls, before hitting Lake Ontario. Two more facts and then I promise I’ll stop…maybe. Niagara Falls was the first state park in the U.S., designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (the same who designed Central Park). The water has only stopped once, in 1969 at the American Rapids so that scientists and Geologists could come in and study the effects of erosion. During the Winter Freeze and Spring Thaw a little bit more of the rock face is eroded away. 

Now, we started our trip to the Falls out on the American side, which is cool in its own way. We went to the overlook of the Bridal Veil and American Falls, where you can see above the falls and look down. We also visited the “Cave of the Winds”, which is located on Goat Island. This attraction originates back to the 1800’s when there was a cave of sorts just under Bridal Falls. Tours to this “cave” began in the 1840’s (though people visited prior to that) before rock fall forced it to close in the 1920’s. It reopened for a time in 1924 where visitors could visit the “front” of the falls and cave. However due to more rock falls and erosion, engineers decided that the cave was no longer a safe destination and dynamited a portion of the rock under the fall. The visiting area was then replaced by what we see today- a grouping of stairs and standing decks at the base/slightly in front of the falls.

This was easily the must do thing on the American Side. Not only from the observation deck you not only get a really neat view of the falls, and, on a sunny day, the rainbow, but you can also feel the full blast of the falls with hurricane force winds and water spray as it rushes down. 

From there we headed across the border and to our hotel for the evening to check in. We stayed at Old Stone Inn Boutique hotel and found that to actually be a really good option. It’s just outside the hustle and bustle of Clifton Hill and Niagara proper, but not far enough that you can’t walk. After checking in we headed back down the Falls, this time on the Canadian Side for the Illumination of the Falls and the Fireworks show. The Illumination is a year-round show, started in 1860 and utilized for a long time for royal and foreign dignitary visits before becoming a permanent attraction in the 1920’s. The fireworks are a summertime special and are every night in the Summer at 10PM. Both a worth seeing and we loved being able to experience it. I would, obviously, suggest getting there early, but if you show up about 15 minutes before 10, you’ll still get a good viewpoint to watch them. They lift off from the same area as the Voyage into the Falls on the Canada side, so closer to Horseshoe falls would not be a bad spot to pick. Likewise, a spot by Queen Elizabeth Gardens or in between the three falls is good too. 

The next day we were up and off for an early morning Voyage to the Falls. A little clarification before I get into the history, Maid of the Mist (of the U.S.) used to be the only operator on the boat tours to get up close to the falls. They initially launched in 1846 as a ferry between the U.S. and Canada but was swiftly closed down in the 1850’s when the suspension bridge was completed. The company then launched with tours in 1854, but was, once again, swiftly closed when the American Civil War started. It re opened in 1885, this time going closer to Horseshoe Falls than previous. The U.S. added boats in 1892, but those burned on the Canadian side in an accident in 1955. In 1960 during a voyage, the Maid of the Mist rescued and saved a young boy who later became the first to survive a jump over Horseshoe Falls only wearing a life jacket. Finally, in 2013 Maid of the Mist split in to two separate entities, Maid of the Mist on the U.S. side, Hornblower Niagara Cruises (later Niagara City Cruises) on the Canadian Side. These days the boats are electric powered with zero emissions- which is great! 

In my honest opinion, whether you choose to do Maid of the Mist or Niagara City Cruises does not matter. They both map roughly the same route and one does not do less than the other (and I can tell you that factually as I watched them sail day in and day out from above- it is the same). It’s really going to be whichever you choose. But you SHOULD do it. It’s truly just incredible and awe inspiring to be able to stand there…in this belly of the beast of sorts and just…revel in mother nature. Truly just incredible. 

In all honesty though, if I could tell you one thing about visiting Niagara Falls, it is to view it from the Canadian side. You are able to actually view the falls from the “front”, rather than above or beside. It is truly a stunning view and one I am so glad we got to see. Once we finished touring the falls from boat, from below, we decided to wander through the gardens and slowly over to where we could go under the falls. 

Journey Behind the Falls started as this…competition between two businessmen. Located at Horseshoe Falls, in the 19th century, the only way to get down to the bottom of these falls was to take a steep hike down, over a rocky path filled with boulders and questionable rope ladders. It was dangerous and other spots that were accessible were covered up by “entrepreneurs” trying to make a quick buck and charge to look through a small peep hole. In 1818, the first set of stairs down closer to the bottom were built, followed by a spiral staircase to go lower. This was great, however it kicked off a feud between two businessmen that led to staircases being purposely broken and people being injured (unintentionally). This lasted until 1855 when Niagara Falls Park Commission was formed and took control. Shortly after the first elevator was installed and then in 1889 the first tunnel was opened to give lucky tourists a chance to go under these legendary falls. The tunnel as they exist now were created in 1944 and the observation deck was added in 1951. 

While I found this to be really cool and gave us a chance to see below all three waterfalls, I don’t know if the tunnels are absolutely necessary. This could have just been an off moment when we visited, or maybe just shining a light on the society we’ve turned in to, BUT the lines to see the portal under the waterfall were awful. If I had to do it again, I would probably have just gone to one portal and then out on the observation deck. 

Our final day in Niagara we spent the day on Clifton Hill. Originally Clifton Hill was a sprawling mansion property lived in by both the “owner” of the city and then a U.S. Senator. However, as tourism grew, when Sir Harry Oakes purchased the land, he had business in mind. Before slowing turning Clifton Hill into the fun tourist spot it is now, he created a small quiet garden oasis in the parks, gardens, and outdoor theatre at the bottom of the hill. However, the Hill itself is now basically a carnival park. With Put-Put Golf, a racing speedway (of the go kart variety), arcades, bowling, and haunted houses, you can spend a full day just playing all the games. It was a good way for us to “treat” the boys and ourselves- we did a good amount of the games by purchasing a “FUN” pass- which gave us the Ferris wheel, put-put, and several “roller coaster” 3-D games (including a zombie apocalypse, ghost hunt, and outer space extravaganza). 

All in all, this was the perfect stop to kick start our trip! While Niagara Falls as a whole is very much do able in two whole days, having that half day to explore the American side before going into Canada was fun. If you didn’t want to do anything beyond the actual falls stuff (no fort, no Clifton hill, or if your kids were a bit older and able to withstand later nights better) I think you could easily just do two nights. For us though we’ve learned that sometimes taking the extra time, being able to travel a little bit slower is worth it. 

See you next time…in Detroit!

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – June 2022

Hello! Long time no post! Not really, only a couple weeks, but it was a good, very much needed break away. We had our annual summer holiday and, once again, had a really nice time! We traveled to seven different spots (so look forward to seven blog posts coming your way with all the details) and just really enjoyed the time together, away from work, phones, and computer screens. Somehow, I managed to read 8 books in the month of June, with an average rating of 3.85. A win of a month for sure! Let’s get into those- please keep in mind the reviews might be shorter as it’s been a minute since I’ve read/thought about them so things might slip through the cracks. 

Rivals by Katherine McGee 3 Stars This the third book in this series and I found it…fine. I always enjoy this American Royal reimagining, even if I feel like sometimes, it gets a little dragged out. It’s young adult and there will be a fourth book coming (that I will be purchasing and reading). An average to good book to start the month with!

Tokyo Dreaming by Emiko Jean 3 Stars This is another royal re-imagining, though if I had to pick, I might have enjoyed this one slightly more than Rivals. I think it’s a bit…fresher and the insight/view into a different culture is wonderful. 

Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert 4 Stars Another hit from Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series. This pushed the boundaries a bit and definitely re imagined Greek Mythology (in a sense, who knows though), but I really enjoyed it!

The Vanishing Type by Ellery Adams 4 Stars I was really in the mood this month for light and fun, so I read two Ellery Adams, this one being her Book, Tea & Scone Society series. I’m not quite sure which I really prefer- I love and relate to both so much. Anyways, another really enjoyable cozy mystery, plus a smattering of romance. 

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer NR I swung in the complete opposite direction with this one, a black out poetry collection designed to take “hate” or “negative” messages and turn them into a positive argument. And, once again, Kate Baer did an excellent job not only with the poetry, but with the collection as a whole. 

The Sprite and The Gardener by Rii Abrego 5 Stars This was a short, fun graphic novel about a Sprite trying to get back to her…roots of sorts. She’s new to town and she befriends and helps a human with a small garden. It was just quaint and fun to read. 

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody 4 Stars Ok, I was unsure about this one for a long while, but somewhere it hooked me and I really enjoyed it! We’re following “villains” (at least in their communities’ eyes) as they compete against each other for the final bit of magic left. It’s reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but if every victor trained like they lived in District 1. It was good and I’ll definitely be reading the next one (I think it’ll only be a duology). 

Murder in the Reading Room by Ellery Adams 4 Stars I ended the month on a high note with another Ellery Adams cozy mystery. I don’t have much to say about these, but they’re always just really nice to read in a day or two. 

All in all, it was a great reading month- especially for having traveled the last week or so of it! We are also at the halfway point in the year, so I might be posting a little…mid-yearbook freak out towards the end of this week, so keep an eye out for that bonus post before all the travel content begins!

A Weekend in the City

Before I get into this post, I want to put a little…not disclaimer, but a little word about the delay. We went on this long weekend over Memorial Weekend, which…is now like 3 weeks ago. But let me tell you…the NYC exhaustion is NEXT LEVEL. It took me a week to feel like I wasn’t…tired and then another week to process and write, and now you’re reading it a week later. Sorry, but that’s reality for you! Now, into the post…

So, New York City. One of those “iconic” cities from the U.S. I’ve been several times to the city, but my husband had only been once (though he’s driven through it) for a work trip. Since we live ~5 hours from the city, we figured we could take a long weekend and see all the…big touristy things. Let me say one {more} thing…I let my husband and kids take the lead on this trip. Since I’ve been to the city before, I’ve done most of the highlights…and some of the hidden gems. And…to be honest, New York City is big enough that you won’t see it all unless you live there and even then, you might not. So…we wanted to kind of hit some of the popular highlights of the city. If I go back, I plan on going as a girl’s trip and can do a couple of different things that may not have interested my husband or children (like a Broadway show, some of the neighborhoods, etc.). 

Two more things before I get into the weekend, we stayed very much outside the “city proper”. We stayed on the south end of Brooklyn, and, for us, it was worth it. The public transport in NYC is decent and it was very easy for us to just hop into the city when we wanted, but then be able to hop out for a breather. Second, we had really great weather for the trip! I know, weather?! BUT I feel like you never really know what you’re going to get in the city when it comes to weather, and we had one thunderstorm at the beginning and then blue skies and mild heat the rest of the weekend. 

So, to start off…

We started off our great City adventure by walking to the city across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve seen this bridge a million and a half times between photo’s, TV, and movies, but never actually walked across. Since we were staying on the Brooklyn side of things (like very much outside the city), I figured, this would be a great way to “meet” the city for the first time. The Brooklyn Bridge connects Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn Heights over the East River. When the bridge was initially completed in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It has been reconstructed several times to meet larger traffic demands, as well as to install specific bike lanes. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972. The views crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge are great- you can see just about the entire city, plus the Statue of Liberty. 

We grabbed dinner at a hole in the wall Italian joint and I finally got to have my fast-food pizza. After dinner, we just wandered around the Financial District into the evening. We got our first glimpse at the World Trade Center area, as well as a hint of the battery (looking down- not quite The Battery). 

The next morning, we had an early start as we booked an early security check in for our ferry and tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I think most of us know the history of the Statue of Liberty, so I won’t go too deep into all that history. Gifted to us by the French in 1886 to celebrate the friendship of France and the U.S., Lady Liberty is full of a lot of symbolism. Across the statue, from what she carries, to her stance, even the carved facial expression- everything has meaning. While France financed and created the statue, the U.S. had to supply the Pedestal on which she would stand. Originally it was a copper color, but by 1906 the copper oxidized and the gorgeous green that we see today had arrived. The statue has been renovated once but closed several times during her tenure. For many years following the September 11 attacks the crown was closed to visitors, once re opened it was a limited amount per day (240/day total). 

We spent about an hour and a half or so on Liberty Island, walking up to the pedestal, around the base, and then through the museum. From there, we hopped back on our ferry and headed to Ellis Island. Again, I won’t go through too much of the history as I feel like most of us (well in the U.S.) know the basics of Ellis Island. Built initially in 1892, due to the high volume of immigrants at the time, Ellis Island served as the first stop for any and all new immigrants for 60 years. Over 12 million immigrants walked through its’ doors, though not all got to stay, and some faced rigorous testing and inspections. Upon arrival if you were traveling on anything other than a first- or second-class ticket OR you were sick, you would be sent to Ellis Island. Upon arrival at the island, you would go through several rounds of testing, some just a health screening, others a full interview and evaluation. Around 2% of the immigrants would not be granted entry and would be sent back- reasons being either disease or work concerns. The Island was closed in 1954 after a slowdown in the need of extensive processing (this was when embassies, and more ports started coming in to play). Once closed, Ellis Island became a ghost town. It deteriorated into a group of abandoned buildings, even though it was a recognized landmark (1965). The Foundation, that restored the Statue of Liberty, worked tirelessly on restoring, combining, creating, and finally opening Ellis Island as well now know it. 

I will say, even if you aren’t the family of immigrants or if you know the history, it’s still a pretty incredible place to visit. Not only for the history of the immigrants that went through their (and to learn their history pre-Ellis, during Ellis, and post Ellis), but it’s also pretty incredibly to think about the restoration and rebuild that occurred at the Island. And to know that it’s funded by the public through donations and contributions. Again, it’s just a place to visit and learn about what was a big place for so many. So many of these immigrants have made incredible and everyday contributions to our country. 

Once we got the ferry back to Battery Park, we headed out, once again, to explore the Financial District. We stopped over at the New York Stock Exchange, which is always a bit…smaller than one would think in person. We saw the little girl standing up to the male corporations dreaming of being in their one day (I don’t know if that’s exactly it, but that’s how I see it), the bull of Wall Street (which was packed and I didn’t even bother to re-create any pictures from the past two visits to it), and then over to One Trade Center. Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial, One World Trade Center, and the rebuilt area was something that was important to me. The first time I had ever visited New York City, I had gotten to go inside the Twin Towers, my mother worked with folks who worked inside the Towers, I vividly (like many many others) remember September 11, my husband vividly remembers September 11, and it was important to us that our children know that space and history. So, we visited. It’s such a peaceful spot, somewhere that you can sit for a bite and remember those who died, were injured, or are forever missing from that day. We stopped by the name that my mother knew and rested a bit.

From there it only seemed fitting that we headed to the New York City Fire Museum (mostly for our firetruck crazed 4-year-old). The museum showed not only the history of the fire trucks, fire response, and fire departments, but it also had a spot dedicated to September 11. It was actually quite interesting to see how the city handled fires when it was horse and buggy (here’s a hint…the firemen would pull the buggies) and how it evolved to the modern trucks and water capacity we have now. 

From there we headed over to The Strand, one of only two spots that I requested to go to, and I promptly became incredibly overwhelmed. Dating back to 1927 on “Book Row”, it is a family run business and the only bookstore still open from that street of bookstores. Now The Strand carries well over 2.5 million new and used books and to be honest…as much as I absolutely loved walking through those doors and literally just seeing books from floor to ceiling…nothing can prepare you for that. I need like a full day by myself just to take a crack at what they had. So, needless to say I loved it…definitely need a second go round there. But it was also kind of the perfect way to end the first full day we spent in the city!

The second day we were there, we decided to do a little bit of an easier, slower day and spend some time in Central Park. We always try to seek out parks/nature trails/ anything along those lines wherever we go, and Central Park is so known, that it was a good stop. But before we went into the park, we headed to the second place that was on my personal list, Zabars. Zabars originally opened in 1934 offering a variety of niche high quality food. You can purchase standard fair (pasta, canned options, and the like), but also bringing in small brands and foods from around the world, and fresh made bakery items (the rugelach is incredible, coffee, and lox (and other fish). It is, in so many ways, a Jewish staple, but it also has some of the best bagels and lox and cream cheese there is. I’m obsessed. Initially I went in for bagels, but instead opted for some black and white cookies, wafers, and rugelach for us to eat as we wandered throughout Central Park. 

We wandered not too deep into central park, but enough to hit the high spots and the Zoo. We started at the Alice in Wonderland statue (a favorite of mine), then along the main walk, over to the Zoo, and dropped down to Gapstow Bridge from Home Alone. While it was incredibly peaceful and really cool to see the juxtaposition of the city architecture against this massive nature expanse, it was also frustrating at times. Bathrooms are few and far between and we found ourselves racing from place to place to find a spot for the kids. Just wanting to let other parents know (it’s a struggle if your kids are still learning how to use restrooms in the sense of adults). Regardless, we ended up spending almost the whole day within the park. The Zoo was a real highlight – it has enough to make it worthwhile to visit while you’re already in the park, but not too much that you spend your entire day just within the Zoo. The animals are also fairly active, so you actually get to see them out and about. A quick note- there are two tickets, general admission and a second, higher admission. The only real difference between these two tickets is the 4D movie experience. While we liked the movie, we didn’t NEED to see it.

From Central Park we made our way over to NBC Studios, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and finally Times Square. 

The next place we actually stopped at (unlike the studios, and Rockefeller, where we just walked and looked) on that list was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This historic cathedral came up almost side by side with the city itself. The cornerstone was laid in 1858 and the original doors opened about 20 years later for services. The construction was paid for both by immigrants AND the upper echelon of society at the time. The cathedral itself is incredible- very reminiscent of the European Cathedrals. I didn’t stay in too long, they were having a ceremony of some sort, so I felt like I was treading on something special and didn’t want to stay long. 

Our final “stop” of sorts was a quick moment in Times Square. Originally named Longacre squared, Times Square became Times Square in 1904 when the New York Times moved to One Times Square. One intersection within Times Square is also the beginning of the Lincoln Highway (on the Eastern side), which is the first road across the U.S.  To be honest, Times Square is probably one of my least favorite spots, but it was something that my family wanted to see…just to see, so we made it the last thing we did. It was…well Times Square. I don’t have too much to say about it to be honest. 

So, that wraps up our weekend in NYC! We had a lovely weekend, and it was a great kick off to our Spring/Summer/Autumn of travel. 

On Spring/Summer Style

You know, I wouldn’t call myself “stylish”. Or maybe I would (on a good day I would probably say that I have a sense of classic style, on a bad day…well who knows). Really though I wouldn’t say that I am a person that people look to for style advice, tips, or what is “trendy”. HOWEVER, what I will say is that I know what I’m comfortable in and I know what tends to look good on me- which, in my opinion is what style/personal style is actually about.  I never really thought I would right a post on style, but I seem to do just that every year (sometimes twice a year!). 

My style has evolved over the years, as I think everybody’s does over time. On the whole things have stayed the same- I love a good pair of jeans with a tee or sweater and that will never change. I love a dress in the spring/summer or when the occasion calls for it. I go on and off with screen print anything though- has to be the biggest thing that changes haha. However, I think I’ve settled into what I think works for me, between what looks good, what looks comfortable, and what fits my overall…personality/aesthetic for life. 

So…all that to say…I’m living my best cottage core/European Countryside dress life and I’ll never go back. 

It all started maybe a year or two ago when I purchased the above black and white polka dot dress from Old Navy (fun fact- most of these dresses are from Old Navy). It was so comfortable, I felt so good in it, and it flatters any shape, even my petite one. I’ve always loved the flowy dresses, but it’s hard to find ones that flatter, without adding. That dress was quickly followed by a black floral dress, and then a blue and white striped dress (which is a die hard favorite- will wear every chance I can). I still would purchase the short, cute dresses too, there was/is/always will be a variety to the dress game in my closet, but the main theme over all of it is English countryside/European Summer/Cottage Core. 

This year I’ve well and truly fleshed out my spring/summer wardrobe. It’s 80% dresses, 10% shorts/teas and 10% skirts. I wear the shorts the least (though mostly just because the shorts that look good on me personally tend to be the daisy duke style and as I get older/my kids get older I tend to feel less and less comfortable in that). The thing that I love the most about the dresses is that you can be flowy and soft, or short sweet (and sexy). I really can dress for my mood and all of them will work with the weather (aka all options for hot and sweaty days). 

This all shifts (obviously) come Autumn/Winter when I gravitate back to jeans, with scarves, sweaters, and other oversized long sleeved tops (you could say it’s an academia/dark academia style aesthetic), but we’ll talk about that come Autumn. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – May 2022

Another month has come to an end and it’s time to talk about the books that I’ve read! I kind of wandered all over the place in terms of stories and genres. Part of it was not really know what I wanted to read, part of it was just life throwing curve balls all over the place. I went from wanting comfort to needing expansive stories, to wanting simple romance. It was all over, but it was also great fun and full of some good reads. I read 9 books and gave an average rating of 3.75. So, let’s just get into those books, shall we?

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune 5 Stars Much like the first book of T.J. Klunes that I read, this is a feel good, life lesson in a soft cute way kind of book. We are following a man as he’s just died. In his path to “the final door” he learns about the meaning of life, love, and what really makes him happy. It was adorable and meaningful, and I definitely cried at the end. 

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim 5 Stars In a completely different direction, this is a court room murder thriller following the lives of several families after a massive tragedy. It is a unique look at parenthood with children who suffer from varying levels of disability as well as the immigrant experience in a small town. I found this to be incredible and I cried at the end. 

Book Lovers by Emily Henry 4 Stars This might have been the cutest, chinchiest book I’ve read this month. We follow to high powered editors who have one goal in mind for their lives, their careers. Of course, life never goes to plan, and they find themselves fighting against what they thought was impossible.  

Electric Idol by Katee Robert 3 Stars Look- I couldn’t help myself, especially after reading the first book in the series last month. This is the second book in the Dark Olympus series, which, at its core, follows four sisters as they live and fight in the city of Olympus. It’s a fun, smutty, reimagining of Greek g-ds that makes for light, but compelling reading. 

The Mayfair Bookshop by Eliza Knight 4 Stars My first proper historical fiction in a while, The Mayfair Bookshop follows two different women in different eras at crossroads in their lives. We see how a family, broken by different viewpoints in WW2 exists and leaves a legacy that intersects with our modern-day protagonist. I really enjoyed this one and would highly recommend it. 

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp 4 Stars, I’ll be honest, this book freaked me out in so many ways, but also left me a bit confused (in a good way) by the end. We are following 5-6 friends as they are closing a chapter of their lives. Things are changing and we are seeing how they fall apart, come together, and fall apart again. All this on the back of a haunting, thrilling, mystery that you (as a reader) never quite know what is real and what is not. I found this to be incredibly well done and atmospheric as all. 

The Palace Papers by Tina Brown NR Here’s another one that…well I just couldn’t help myself when I saw it on sale. I’m a royal fan, and am fascinated by all the scandal, intrigue, and the dynamic of the family and the firm. It’s important to know that the woman who wrote the book has a background of tabloid sensationalism, so that’s good to keep in mind regarding some of her criticism and praise, but still…just soaking all the dynamics and drama. 

Snow White with the Red Hair Volume 1 by Sorata Akiduki 4 Stars I ended the month with a couple Manga options. This is a genre that I dip my toes in to from time to time, just when I need something quick, but storytelling and easy. I found comfort in this selection- even though absolutely nothing happens. It’s very much a slice of life manga, and it’ll be good for when you just want to read something comforting, but easy.

Spy X Family Volume 1 by Tatsuya Endo, translated by Casey Loe 5 Stars Ok, I loved this. I get the “mainstream” hype around it. We are following a spy as he forms this unconventional family with two people, he thinks are normal. But, as with anything else, not all is what it seems and, in this family, everyone has secrets. This is great- it’s easy and approachable for people just getting into manga, but if you’ve read and loved manga before it’s also great. 

And that’s it! Quite the variety to offer and I have a good sense for what I want to read moving forward. Any stand outs for you this past month of reading? Let me know!  

From Our Front Porch

I feel like it’s only right to write this post from our front porch…so here I am sat just marveling at that Spring Morning Breeze, dazzled by the flowers and chimes and birds chirping all around me. I’ve always dreamed of having a front porch- almost exactly like this one ( I mean what I’d really like is a wrap around, but this will do for now). I’d pictured it to be a place to sit at any time of day and just take in the world around us. The boys would be able to play in the front yard and I would be able to read a book. And here we are, I’ve created what I’ve always dreamed of. Our front porch is utilized by almost everyone in our home, and visitors. It’s a true highlight, home to morning teas, afternoon teas, picnics, and everything in between. Once the weather warms, I spend at least 60% of my day on our porch. 

Last year I went a little tame. It was our first year of having this space to work with, and I was really focused much more heavily on our indoor plants if I’m being totally honest. Still, we had some hydrangeas, petunias, marigolds, and such. But this year, this year I had plans. I had a vision. Our last frost was Mother’s Day, so this year, for Mother’s Day, I went on a little shopping trip to pick out the flowers for our front porch. I was not prepared for just how far I would go to create what I dreamed of. I tend to do a combination of big box and garden centers/greenhouses to get what I’m looking for and this year has proven to be no different. 

I wanted to create a little oasis of sorts filled with flowers and cheer and I feel like I’ve done that within the constraints that I have. I am not able to hang anything really (which stinks) as we get the brunt of the winds on our little stretch of the street. I’ve set up some wind chimes and even those are taking a beating from the wind, but the sounds that come from it, combined with the birds chirping, are just a dream. Also, with the winds I have to be mindful of smaller plants. When we are supposed to see an increase of winds, I have to move several of the plants around to ensure that none really topple over or take a lot of wind, so I try to put some thought into where they go so I’m not moving them too much. Finally, I can’t plant anything in the actual ground- everything is potted. This limits quite a few of the plants that I dream of one day having in a full fledged garden (like the iris’s that I had to heartbreakingly pass up). 

However, I am fairly pleased with what I’ve done this year. It’s just about put together, with maybe at most only one or two more plants joining later in the spring into summer season (the fuschia that I had last year are a must get again this year). We’ve got a good variety of flower and color, and hopefully, once things start opening and growing in a bit more, we’ll have a lovely scent profile as well. 

We’ve got two hydrangea’s on either side of the door. Hydrangeas are one of my favorites as not only are they fairly hardy, but the blooms just keep coming. Last year my bloomed from May through to August/September and I was able to chop and bouquet them. I have daisies and petunias as well- always a hardy, easy grow with big payoff. This year I’ve added in some Dipladenia with these beautiful white blooms. Then, rounding out this front corner is an azalea and this little pot of snapdragon and garden grape hyacinth. 

Coming around here to my favorite area in the whole house (ok maybe that’s exaggerating- I really love our whole house) we’ve got quite the set up. The furniture is from Amazon from a couple years back, blanket from Etsy even further back, and the bee happy pillow is a Walmart find. You’ll see another little pot of the garden grape hyacinth and snapdragon, as well as more petunias, snapdragons, and Dipladenia. We’ve also got an Asiatic Lily and Poppy bush, as well as a large climbing rose bush in the very back. These three pots are what I’m hoping fills out and creates the ambiance- a big explosion of smell and color from these blooms. Finally on the table I’ve got a columbine and ornamental rose. I had ornamental roses last year and they really do well in this spot, so I’m hoping for success this year. 

And that really wraps it up for our front porch! I tried to go for simple, but pops a punch. You can follow my Instagram (@acuppacosy) to see how everything blooms, grows and changes over the season!

Romanticize Your Life

Yes, yes, I’ve fully jumped on this trend- though to be fair, I’ve always been a bit like this- treating my life as if it were a movie where I was the main character, we just have now named this trend. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here…

***This post is full of photos of small moments, little pockets of joy reframed in my mind with a softness, a contentment. It’s these little moments, little mundane parts of our day, such as opening the blinds, a walk to the school bus, a cup of tea in the afternoon, that can be reframed in our minds. This is where romanticizing your life can begin. It’s also the bigger moments, the bigger show- at the end of the post- as well.***

Romanticize Your Life.

I think some people hear that or see a post with that caption and think…it’s out of reach or not realistic or just adding extra time and effort to tasks. And while in some cases, yes it can be a bit of an extra effort, but it’s much easier than it maybe looks. 

That’s because the whole concept of “romanticizing your life” is more so a mindset than everything else. It’s about falling in love, being so content with the life you are currently leading (and when I say content- I don’t mean in a stagnant way- we should always grow and change). Life ebbs and flows, we go through highs and lows, but romanticizing your life is about loving your life as it’s lived, good and bad. It’s trying to view the everyday mundane things through a different lense, in a different sense. It’s taking those little moments and turning them into more, whether that’s simply by putting on some music, filming them, or turning them into a grandeur production (I’ll explain that- I promise). By romanticizing our lives, we are reminding ourselves just how special some of these mundane tasks/moments, the everyday everyday can still be special.

 

I want to be clear, for me, this DOES NOT mean that everything is sunshine, roses and daisies. It DOES NOT mean that life is simple and easy. It DOES NOT mean that I don’t have off days/off moments/deal with tough moments with the kids. It DOES NOT have to happen every second of every day. What is DOES mean for me, is that the simple act of making tea, of putting together a little fruit tray, taking care of the plants (heck even doing the dishes, folding laundry, etc.), of doing the little tasks is calming, is charming, is sweet. It gives me a better outlook- the idea that instead of HAVING to do something, I CAN do it in a way that will be better/happier for all of us. 

I do this year-round, no matter the season, but there is nothing like having these moments in the Spring or Autumn. It’s no secret that I love the transitional seasons, Autumn when the leaves start to turn and fall, and the air goes crisp and cool. Everything floods with the vibrant reds/oranges/and yellows, and big scarves, sweaters and light jackets become our attire. But also, Spring, when new life emerges, when we leave that den of Winter and step back out into the sunlight. When dresses come back into play, the air still crisp, but with a lightness of life coming back. You can romanticize your life year-round (think of those moments in Winter when the first snow hits, or the snow falls just right, OR those Summer thunderstorms, lazy days on the porch), but it’s definitely easier during the transitional seasons for me.  

So, at its basic- this is about setting a mood for yourself, your space, and your family. Some of the smaller examples of how I do this just everyday- opening the blinds when I wake up, picking particular clothing out, playing my mood setting playlists (this can be anything from a “day in the cottage” style playlist with instrumental and movie soundtracks OR hits from the early 2000’s, whatever my mood calls for). I set out certain tasks to be right away as it…” sets the scene” so to speak- so I wake up and immediately open up the blinds to let the light in. Then I pick out a playlist that meets my mood- honestly most of my morning music tends to be softer instrumental or movie soundtrack style music. Somewhere along the way I’ll switch…or not, it just depends. These two little things first thing already sets my brain into a “romantic” mood and lifts my mood and spirit. Then everything else starts to fall into place after that. When I go down to make my morning tea or coffee, I make a “production” out of choosing the perfect mug for the day, preparing my tea, and pouring the water from the kettle. When you first start doing this, if you choose to, it may feel silly, BUT as time goes on you start to find joy in these little moments and then it clicks. 

You can also bring this concept into your own living space with plants or flowers, add books and little things that make you happy to the spaces of your home. In the Spring/Summer I usually like to have some fresh flowers on our counter tops, we also have plants (obviously), and then I’ll style the coffee table genre books in our home to fill some of the “first look” spaces. Light some candles throughout your space. These can be real burning candles or the electronic ones if for some reason you can’t burn candles. Not only will the scent fill you with that same joy and peace, but the candlelight will shift your mood as well. 

I’ll give an example of one of my most frequent “bigger” ways of doing this in the spring/summer…this is something super easy but makes a world of difference. Everyday my kids want a snack in the afternoon (which is totally normal) and I usually want to join them. So, we will make a full picnic out of this little snack. Yes, it takes a fraction more effort, usually in terms of cutting, BUT it’s only a fraction and the simple joy (and excited good happy behavior as a result) that comes from this is well beyond that small effort. I’ll usually cut a couple different fruit options, some cheese/cracker/meat combination, place it all on our charcuterie tray and, weather permitting, we will head outside. I would say we do this 2-3 times a week in the summer, and it’s always met with such excitement and joy (from everyone involved) that it ends up feeling like a movie. Something about creating this little picnic just completely changes our entire day. 

Ultimately, it doesn’t take a lot to “romanticize your life”. Find the ways that you feel content, peace, and joy and implement those into your everyday. Maybe that’s the simple act of opening the blinds first thing in the morning, maybe it’s morning coffee/tea on the porch, maybe it’s an afternoon spent at the park with a picnic. Maybe it’s being more intentional with your clothing or your space. Whatever it may be, I promise you there is just such a joy and peace that comes with being so content with life as it’s lived. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – April 2022

It is once again time for another reading wrap up! Where is the year going? It feels odd to say that we’ve reached the end of April, it feels like it’s flown by but also gone so slowly. April was…a month for us. We were basically out of the game for two weeks- between catching the Flu, family visiting, and then traveling it definitely hampered some of my reading. I feel like the month started off…average but got a bit better reading wise by the end. I read a total of 7 books and gave an average rating of 3.25. 

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper 3.5 Stars In The Wolf Den we are following a group of girls as they navigate a hard life of slave prostitution in Pompeii. Highs and lows and fighting for their own freedom, it’s a mix of a story. I have to say- I did enjoy this book partly because it’s very “day in the life” of an era we don’t get to see much from, and partly because we don’t like any single character. These girls live a hard life and make seemingly impossible choices just to move forward. 

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley 3 Stars In this third novel by Lucy Foley we are following a young girl who is trying to escape her own life and by doing so, stumbles into a mystery her brother has been investigating. I’ve got to say, while Lucy Foley can write a very well done “locked room” mystery/thriller…it’s become almost formulaic in a sense. I wasn’t too impressed with this one, much preferring her other two. I don’t know if I’ll continue on with her books or not. 

Neon Gods by Katee Robert 3 Stars I finally jumped on this craze (from last year, I think? Not sure) and while it didn’t disappoint, it also didn’t overwhelm. A Greek G-d retelling, this modern take on mythology delivers it all, including quite a bit of smut. However, it also didn’t provide or add anything new, just an easy going easy to read smutty novel. Which isn’t a bad thing every once in a while. 

Eternal Life by Dara Horn 3 Stars After reading and loving (and highly recommending) People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn, I decided to go back and read some of her backlist novels. Eternal Life follows a young woman who makes an obvious, but impossible choice and, because of it, will never die. Full of heart, life, and death, this book is short but powerful. Some truly incredible thoughtful moments that I really enjoyed. 

Wahala by Nikki May 3 Stars Wahala follows a group of friends at various stages of life as they come together, fall apart, and what happens when a newcomer who may not have the best intentions joins the group. Another easy-to-read thriller of sorts that I enjoyed but wasn’t overwhelmed by. 

The City of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 4 Stars Imagine my extreme joy when I found out that my all-time favorite author had a new book posthumously published. No words. This is a collection of short stories that are much darker and more sinister than anything I’ve read of his previously. All the stories run along the same current as his famous Shadow of the Wind quartet, taking place in Barcelona and are written in that beautifully descriptive way. 

Nazis Knew My Name by Magda Hellinger and Maya Lee No Rating This was my final read of April and what a way to end the month. Magda arrived on the second transport to Auschwitz and survived not only being a prisoner in the camp, but also serving as a functionary- a leader of sorts, a go between with the prisoners and the SS. She saw it all, the move from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II- Birkenau, the creation of the crematoria, the medical experiments, the death marches, and through it all she somehow kept her spirit, kept moving forward, and used her spirit, position and network to save countless lives. It was truly incredible to read.

And that wraps up April in reading! I already feel like May is off to a better start, after doing a little library run, and evaluating what I want to read right now. How was your reading month? Any new favorites?

A Weekend in Montreal

Over the Easter Holiday Weekend we decided to get out of town and head up north across the border to Montreal. We’ve been to Canada several times, but never Montreal. This comes on the heels of Andrew and I heading up north with a friend when the border re opened without testing for those who are vaccinated. We went up for a day to Kingston, shopping in a little district area (including an independent bookstore- finally!) grabbing some lunch and enjoying the beautiful waterfront that Kingston offers. After that little day trip, our plans for a longer weekend were solidified. We’ve always loved Canada and wanted to see more, and it’s gotten a bit easier for us to do that. 

First off, for full transparency, Covid protocols…you’ll want to check the Canada website HERE for a full breakdown of the most up to date rules. When we headed across the border by car, there were no testing requirements for fully vaccinated. The rules apply to all those age 5+, but there is some verbiage for families traveling together with young children who may not be fully vaccinated, but the adults are (it involves testing). Regardless of the protocol at the time, you will need to have downloaded and filled out the ArriveCan documentation, which is super simple and straightforward. You’ll input your passport info, vaccination or testing info, and travel info.  Specific requirements will also vary depending on what province you travel to. For instance, when we went to Kingston (in Ontario) masks were not required to be worn inside, but in Montreal (which is Quebec) they were mandatory. You’ll need to check the specific province and city you are heading to as with any other travel. Beyond those two items, traveling to Canada was much the same as it was when we went three or four years ago. 

So, our weekend in Montreal. Where do I begin?

We arrived around dinner time on Friday evening and immediately got settled in our hotel. We stayed at the Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel Montreal which was every bit of incredible. Located right behind the Notre-Dame Basilica Montreal it is located almost in the heart of the Old District of Montreal. It is also conveniently located right near the river, with the Rue St. Paul (the pedestrian shopping street of Montreal) just a 30 second walk away. We had a “ground floor” room with a window looking out on the street below. 

Once settled we decided to just take a quick walk around the district to get some of the road trip energy out for the boys before dinner. I will say that reservations are very much a thing in the city. Most restaurants will still be able to seat you, but if you have something in mind, I would definitely get on their books ahead of time. This was something we ran in to twice, once with a restaurant and once with the Biodome and Botanical Gardens. So, reserve, reserve, reserve. This is something that we normally do, but the lead up to this trip was a bit hectic between sickness and family visits. Anyways…

We didn’t have any definite plans while we were in Montreal, just a few general ideas. A spot we really wanted to see was the Biodome, botanical Gardens, and Olympic Complex, but we were not able to get the reservations in time (good thing Montreal is only a few hours away, so we could go back if we really wanted to). Instead, we decided to just sort of walk/wander the city- which is one of our favorite ways to see new cities. Our first stop was breakfast, and we really wanted some crepes to start our day. A quick stop at Chez Suzette for some truly delicious crepes and mimosa’s and we were set for the day. We started at the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. 

This church dates back to 1672 when a small stone church was built. The church was quickly outgrown and the church as we see it started in 1824 after a long period for approval of the plans. As many cathedrals, it took quite a while to be built into the massive church we see today. In 1982 it was declared a minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II and in 1989 it was recognized as a national historic site. The crowning interior was designed and created by Victor Bourgeau and features a variety of pieces, including 4 scenes from the Old Testament at the altarpiece. The organ is a feature piece of the church currently featuring 7,000 pipes. There is also an incredible Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur Chapel in the back of the cathedral which features a bronze altarpiece. The altarpiece is said to represent humankinds overcoming life’s hardships in the march to the Holy Trinity. It was incredible to see. 

From the Basilica, I made a quick stop to Le Petit Dep, which is a small marche with several locations. Known for its bright green storefront, delicious coffees, and wide selection of local artisanal goods it was a nice little spot to grab a coffee or tea. Quick word of advice though- go during the “off” time of day unless you are prepared to wait. I grabbed a tea and a mug and was set to go- it was truly a charming little stop. 

Then we headed off on the Metro to Mont Royal Parc. The Mont Royal is first mentioned in our history by Jacques Cartier, but it was occupied, hunted, and used by Indigenous People (the Hochelaga are who showed Cartier the way) for long before that. However, it was Jacques Cartier, in 1535, who gave it the name Mont Royal. The mountain has been home/location for many things, the site of several cemeteries (which are still in existence- 1852), a religious site, a hospital (1861), a college (1821), and finally, a park. In 1872, after many discussions of what to do with the Mount, the city purchased the land to officially turn it into a park. Frederik Law Olmsted (of Central Park) was brought in to design the park with the goal of it being a refuge from the city at large. In 1876 the park was inaugurated with great fanfare. In 2005 the park gained heritage status and the land itself will be protected from further development. 

We hiked up the park using the stair option, which was not only quite a workout, but provided several spots to look out at the city and a peaceful refuge from the city. We stopped at the lookout spot in front of the Mount Royal Chalet. This chalet was built in the 1930’s as part of the Make-Work project during the Great Depression. It hosts historic works of arts, chandeliers, and such and is used today as not only a reception hall, but also a gift shop and restaurant. It was a really pretty spot to stop- not quite the summit of Mont Royal, but still a beautiful view. 

From the Chalet we ended up catching the bus over to Saint Joseph’s Oratory. Originally a small chapel built by Brother Andre in 1904 in honor of Saint Joseph. It very, very, quickly grew in both size and worship. In 1914 new plans were approved for what would become the current basilica. The Crypt church dates back to 1917, with the basilica construction starting in 1926. Brother Andre died in 1937, with over a million people visiting his coffin. In 1946 construction of the votive chapel and Brother Andre’s tomb alcove begin, with completion and blessing in 1950. In 1955 the Oratory is marked as a Minor Basilica and it was officially opened in 1956 with construction on the interior being completed in 1967. Fun fact, in 2010 Brother Andre was officially declared a Saint. There is currently construction taking place to make the Basilica easier to access by visitors, but that didn’t stop it from being incredible. 

My first thought upon seeing the exterior of the Oratory is that it is Montreal’s very own Sacre-Coeur. It is very reminiscent (though I don’t know which came first…ok just researched-the timelines ever so slightly overlap with Sacre-Coeur be finished as the design plans for the Oratory are released), though they say that they leaned towards the Italian Renaissance when designing. The interior of the Basilica is incredibly modern (even by today’s standards, let alone when it was actually built) and vast- seating 2028 people. There is also the Crypt Church which is located right off the Votive Chapel (we’re getting there). This church features a statue of the Saint Joseph, where Brother Andre would pray right at the heart of the sanctuary. Then there is the Votive Chapel. This is a space that wasn’t included in the original design, but rather added as a space between the Crypt Church (to connect it to the Basilica) and to provide a space for Brother Andre’s tomb. Opened in 1949, one of the unique features of this space is the cane’s/crutches that are hung between the pillars, left behind by pilgrims who visited during Brother Andre’s time. The central lampstand in front of the tomb features 3500 candles, and his tomb (located through a tunnel underneath) is made of black marble. Following a path behind the lampstand and tomb, you are able to see a statue of the Virgin Mary, between the chapel and the mount rock. 

It was an incredible site to see and history to learn, to know how this man impacted so many in his life. Once we finished at the Oratory, we caught the metro back to the Old District to find a spot for dinner. While walking through town, we headed in to the Bonsecours Market. This is a two-story domed public market. Located on Rue St. Paul, the market originally opened in 1847. This has not only been used as a marketplace, but also a banquet hall and at one point, hosting the Canadian Parliament for a session. It reached historic site status in 1984 and was a really neat space to walk through and see some local treasures. 

We ended the day with dinner at 3 Brasseurs, which features its own brewery and beers. The food and drinks were delicious, and everyone loved their meal. A final wander through Rue St. Paul as we headed back to our hotel and our time in Montreal ended. 

Overall, I would say that Montreal is a great, culturally driven city. It’s a great spot to stop for a night or two and just enjoy the “city” life while also knowing some of the history of the area. There’s plenty to do and see AND if you’re an art and culture lover- there is an abundance of galleries to explore. 

Pesach 5782

***A little aside here at the outset- I don’t really know what this post is going to be, what it’s going to say, or anything really, I’m just putting some thoughts to paper (as it were) and sharing. I do this from time to time when it feels right and right now, I’m clinging to my culture and me Jewish-ness.***

We are currently, as of the time that you are reading this, right smack dab in the middle of Pesach. And it has struck me that while Pesach has always had a big role in my childhood/early adolescence, I’ve never really spoken about it. More so in a passing “oh it’s the holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people and we don’t eat bread”- which is more for others benefit than actual statement of what the holiday represents. It’s the basic phrase that I’ve answered for more years than I care to admit, the easy way to please someone without overloading them with information and leaving them confused or not caring. 

And in truth, it’s a basic answer. It details what the holiday celebrates and how we honor that celebration. But in reality, Pesach is so much more than that and its meaning and importance from ALL of my childhood Jewishness is much deeper than a simple sentence can convey. So, let’s unpack all of that.

First off, what is Pesach? And I’m going to call it Pesach, even though the English is a word much more familiar- Passover. At its core, Pesach tells the story of the Jews liberation from slavery and Pharoah in Ancient Egypt. It is a celebration of our freedom. As ridiculous as it is, I always like to point to the movie The Prince of Egypt because this movie tells the most basic, easy to understand story of Pesach. The Jews were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt, building his temples, his homes, doing back breaking labor for nothing. Pharoah was a truly horrible leader to his slaves, killing sons so that the population was controlled. The story of Moses birth, then upbringing in Pharaoh’s home is one told again and again. His eye-opening experience finding out he is one of the Chosen, a Jew. His task given to him by Hashem, to free the Jews. 

Moses goes to Pharoah and asks him to “Let his people go”, however Pharoah refuses (whatever will he do without all that free labor to build his grand temples and homes?). Of course, his refusal then leads to the 10 Plagues, with the final plague being the death of the first-born son of every non-Jew. At this, Pharoah tells Moses to get the Jews and get out. The Jews leave quickly, not even allowing enough time for their bread to rise (this is important) and make their way out of Pharoah’s Egypt. But of course, Pharaoh, in his grief, chases after them, cueing Moses parting the sea and the Jews escaping to safety. They then wander the desert of Egypt for 40 years before finding their way to Canaan, Israel. 

So, how do we celebrate this joyous event? Well by not eating any Chametz, or leavened bread, and by hosting a Seder. First, the foregoing of the leavened bread. We abstain from eating any form of gluten (this includes bread, pasta, flour tortillas, ANYTHING that expands when contacted with water) for 7-8 days (depending on how you practice). You are supposed to cleanse your house of all Chametz and do a full cleaning so not even a crumb is left. It’s important to note that there are varying levels of practice, as with anything else in Judaism, and how one practices does not reflect how Jewish one is.  However, no matter how you practice, the tradition of the ridding of Chametz, the eating of Matzah, is to ritualize and remember the breaking away from slavery. The idea of cleansing the house of Chametz, then going forward to 7-8 days with only Matzah (or unleavened crackers) is to symbolize our effective breaking of ties to Egypt. Eating the Matzah (while not always fun) is a symbol of our journey as Jews in the desert. 

As with any other Jewish holiday, Pesach is steeped in ritual. Aside from the cleansing of Chametz and eating Matzah, we also have a Seder. The seder is a very orderly, ritual reading of the Haggadah, telling the story of the freedom of the Jews, feast. This feast has a strict and precise order and details out everything from how many glasses of wine will be consumed during the formal portion (it’s 4), to the washing of hands, to the game of finding the Afikomen. It is a joyous, happy occasion and often times one full of laughter and a true sense of community. As part of the seder we invite both those we know and those we don’t know to join our table as a way of honoring that we were all strangers at one point. Typically, there is a Night One Seder and a Night Two seder as we celebrate the first two nights of the weeklong holiday. 

Starting the second night of Pesach, Jews typically “Count the Omer”, in which we count and pray on the days between Pesach to Shavuot (the next holiday). This is a 50-day period that links the freedom of Pesach and the handing down of the Laws at Shavuot. There is also Yom HaShoah, falling 5 days after Pesach, which is the Day of the Holocaust. This is a day of mourning for the Jewish people to commemorate the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. 

Pesach for me is a holiday that I have the fullest, fondest memories of. Of course, giving up gluten for a week is…well torture, it is also one of the few very physical ways to honor that struggle that our ancestors went through to gain our freedom. A freedom that cannot be taken away, no matter how much struggle we have been through since as a people. But I also have some of the best memories of family seders as a child. We always did a night one Pesach Seder with some really close family friends and their extended family. It was a loud raucous night full of singing, laughing, and some great readings of the Haggadah. There was always a spirited hunt for the Afikomen, and the evening ALWAYS ended with a second, third, whatever round of Dayenu. I always loved the holiday of Pesach as it is not only a story of freedom, but also a celebration of finding home. Of having community in each other. Of struggling and triumphing together as a people.