Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Waking Up In Prison

Today, we woke up in our prison dorm room.

I failed to mention that other people staying in the prison actually occupied the small prison cells, in the long hallways below us, behind bars. It was the size of two of these cells put together. Yes, all three children are crunched into that cell. The width of it could only fit a cot.

As I walked down to the bathroom this morning, I overheard the following conversation: Lady one said, "Wow, it's small in here! How did you sleep?". Lady number two respond, "Not too well. It was pretty creepy.". Another thing I failed to mention is that this prison is supposedly haunted. Of course, we didn't want to freak out our kids, so we forgot to tell them.

After a cold bowl of cereal in our room and a couple more shots of the jail from the outside, we said goodbye to Ottawa and steered our van for Algonquin.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Two Moose, a Ninja, and the destruction of the Death Star

So, we spent the better half of our day in the car driving to Algonquin. When we finally arrived, we went in to check out their beautiful information center. To our surprise, we found a lot of information here about how the land had been discovered by it's current inhabitants of Canada, and very little at all about the Algonquin Nation. Not even one mention of them in any written brochures or information about the park. Kinda sad. They did, however, have lots of old pictures... These are my two favorites:

They also had a splendid display of stuffed Moose, which I'm glad I took a photo of, because the following morning, we actually saw two on the road in front of us as we were leaving our campsite. Of course, it was one of those moments when I got out the camera and was ready to hit the button, and "recharge the battery" flashed up. AAAAHHHHH!!!! NO! Those Moose don't have time to pose for us and meander off into the woods, while I curse and stomp my feet. So, here are the STUFFED Moose.

Lakeside (Coon Lake, Provincial Park, Ontario) entertainment included a nice apple crisp and a beach side display of Ninja arts - self taught, so he has that backup plan for success. As an added bonus we were treated to the destruction of the Death Star.

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

Steckart Family In The Slammer

This is what the kids do to the driver when they've had enough...

Our diggs tonight is a family dorm room at the renovated Ottawa Prison, now a Youth Hostel.

Here the kids are standing in an actual cell. It was one cot wide.

A renovated stairwell that used to be wooden. I'm shooting this photo down the stairwell. Notice the grate? That was for suicide/murder prevention.

Should we leave them here?

Nah, they're hungry. We went into town, only about 4 blocks away and had some fabulous pizza. We walked through the open market. Hanging baskets for 5 bucks!

Gelato was yummy. Of course, kids always pick the messiest flavor, don't they? Notice the "No Loitering" sign?

Did I mention that this place sold Pez? I'm no Pez Geek, but this is the most Pez dispensers I have ever seen in one place!

Let's go back and have a drink in the basement bar.


Happy Canada Day! It's Crazy in Ottawa!!!

We thought we got here early for the Nature Museum, only to find no parking. Crazy when you don't know the town. Really cool museum, even though it was massively crowded. First of all, I must say, I'm a sucker for a pretty stained glass window.

They had a whole floor just for the birds!

Rocks and minerals were our inspiration for coming...

I don't know what it was, but it was damn cool.

Dinosaur bones. Need I say more?

Me Love Mucky!!!

After our 3 day conference in Albany, we changed gears... Gotta keep those kids on their toes! We made our way for the Adirondack Mountains, which to us seem like a forgotten gem. When you think mountains, do they have to be 14ers? These are old beauties. It was a gorgeous drive!

Our first night was a classic stormy downpour. But we made through the night and were all dry. On our second day we knew the chances of rain were pretty positive, but we wouldn't let that stop us. And who wants to spend the whole day in a tent with kids? We did the Bear Mountain Hike, which, after a couple of rainy days, was a mucky mess. Jamie did carry Piper for part of the way, but we are guessing she hiked 2 of the 4 miles of muck. She and Jamie even came up with a song to make her more appreciative of the mud and muck that turned her socks and shoes black to her ankles. Something along the lines of "me love mucky" over and over again.

At times, Jamie resorted to the "under the arm method" carry.
Some very happy hikers that made it to the top of Bear Mountain...

We made it to the bottom!

The stormy skies made for a very beautiful sunset and pictures of the kids enjoying the beach by our campsite.

New York Science Museum

Just a hop, skip and a jump. Cool architecture on the way. They call this structure "The Egg."

Just getting there in the rain was the most fun, and trying to find the entrance...

Charlotte is our rock hound. We could not tear her away from these magnificent beauties...

In our house, we can't wait for a bird to hit the window. That sounds bad. but they love to look at them up close, count feathers, measure them. Just open our freezer and we have many preserved. Here was a display of bird bones...

All good times come to an end. Had a great walk back to the Hotel, past the Free School, which we will do next year if we go back. Dinner out and a swim when we got back. Here is a photo of THE MOST POPULAR BOOTH at the conference. It ALWAYS had adults and kids at it. Puzzles and more puzzles!

For Jamie's Dad

Another road side attraction that we found amusing. From the Adirondacks to Ottowa... We could not resist.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

AERO Conference Is Very Kid Friendly

For anyone who may not know, the whole point of our trip out East was to attend the 7th Annual AERO Conference. (Alternative Education Resource Organization at It is the perfect conference for this alternative educating family - we homeschool, and dad is the director of a very cool Charter School. There is something for everyone here! We can opt to use the free daycare provided, which we did utilize a little with Finn and Piper today. Jamie was able to network while I attended two sessions with my buddy, Charlotte.

The first workshop was about how children learn math, and even though this was a workshop about children and how they learn, Charlotte was the only child there. She made a great natural "prop" for the presenter. He loved asking Charlotte questions, and of course, Charlotte loved to be in the spotlight. The second workshop about the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching and learning really resonated with me. It is an artistic approach that seems to fit so well with homeschooling and Project Based Learning. Again, a workshop about children and how they learn was appropriate for my daughter. An arts and craft table was set up, and Charlotte was free to sit and create while the workshop went forward.

Here she is creating a crown out of sparkly wires while Leslie Siegrist presents "A Narrative Journey Through the Landscape of Reggio Emilia: A Landscape of Possibilities." The whole point of Reggio is to let the child guide their own learning. Children can learn through play, through art, through their senses, and creativity. Adults have to trust our little learners - to follow their lead and catch the spark when it ignites and then fan that flame. This is when the true learning occurs. When the inspiration comes from within.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bye Bye Miss Mousie

Yesterday, our morning started off bright and cheery in St. Claire, Ontario where we awoke to find that one of our rodent stowaways was caught in a sticky trap under the rear wheel of our van. We think it was the momma mouse. She was rather plump and still alive. The scene was not pretty. While I took the kids to the Jon, Jamie disposed of the carcass. This is quite comical since I was just reading the kids a book the night before about mice going on a field trip to Niagra Falls. Why do children's authors try to make mice cute, like Stewart Little, or Desperaux?

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The Las Vegas of Canada, aka Niagara Falls

Legend has it that a maiden princess, dresses in a beautiful white doeskin outfit, rode over the falls in a birch bark canoe as a sacrifice to the river god to save her tribe from dying. She now lives under the waterfall, in the mist.
It is interesting to see the juxtaposition of the incredible natural wonder of Niagara Falls and the commercialization of modern society. It's like having an amusement park and casino at the rim of the grand canyon. We had mixed emotions. It was breath taking to ride into the mist and walk beneath the falls. It was also nice to be on the 48th floor of the Hilton, with a breathtaking view of both falls. However, everywhere we went, it seemed the goal was to wring out as much money from the tourist as possible. From the forced running of the gauntlet of the gift stores to the mandatory photo taking sessions at each event. They do it front of a green screen so you can customize your experience, much like ordering your burger at McDonalds. You can have it your way. For us and the kids, the most memorable experience was our direct contact with the water of Niagara Falls, from getting drenched on the boat ride to capturing the rainbow at the bottom of the Horse Shoe Falls. We made it through without buying any chach, just some postcards and photos.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Crossing the border

Crossed the border from Port Huron, USA into Sarnia, Canada around 4 PM EST. Made it through with out mishap, I guess our 1993 Dodge Caravan with our fully loaded rear end doesn't meet any profiles. Used the kids' passports for the first time.

Getting their passports was a very interesting story. Did you know that when applying for your child's passport, both parents must be physically present during the application? Angie and I had to coordinate meeting up at an agency to accomplish this task. Well the closest passport office to both of us is in Duluth (up the hill for those that know Duluth.) The place closes by 5 PM. I left Coon Rapids, MN at 2 PM and drove up Interstate 35. As I approached Cloquet I called Angie and she left Cornucopia to meet me there. Well she arrived at 4:00 PM and I was still stuck on the HWY. I35 is under construction at the hill and I had to take a secondary route to the passport agency. Meanwhile Angie, has gotten the lady to take the photos of the kids while I frantically drove to the mall where the St. Louis County office is located.

I arrived with 15 minutes to spare and the counter lady gives me one of those looks, the kind of non-verbal message equivalent to "who does this bozo think he is?" She verbally states that passport applications take at least 15 minutes to process EACH. I smile and say thank goodness I made it in the door by 5. At 6 PM we leave the counter, relieved that we got it done, counter lady really not happy with us.

Now the clock ticks. We applied for the passports with four weeks to spare, cutting it pretty close. You can check online for your status, which I did frequently. Angie and I got our renewed passports with 7 days to spare. On June 14 we got a notice that they had mailed the kids' passports. Checked the PO Box a number of times that week. Anxiety, what would we do without the passports? They said that kids can enter the country with their parents with a birth certificate, but I was uneasy about that prospect. Finally we got the passports on Thursday. Angie and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Fast forward to today, with visions of them stripping down our van only to find our family of mice as extra undocumented visitors to Canada, and the ordeal to obtain these precious documents, the Canadian agent (through no fault of his own) was rather indifferent to our crossing the border. I mean I didn't expect a fan fare or a party, but an acknowledgment of our effort would have been appreciated. And appreciation is really the only thing that dads care about. Happy Father's Day, to all those dads, I appreciate you!

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Hartwick Pines State Park

Our first day on the road was really not so bad, considering what it used to be like when I was a kid. We drove out west in the back of a station wagon with all our books, crayons, pads of papers and snacks to eat. No electronics for entertainment. No movies or even head phones to listen to. All gear was packed into the pop-up camper trailing behind us. We had plenty of room to spread out, and even lay down for a nap when we were tired.

459 miles in 9.5 hours in car seats. Not too bad. We opted to stay away from video entertainment. We packed two cd players and lots of audio books, along with pads of paper and colored pencils. The running joke between Jamie and me is the air-conditioner. It blows either arctic cold, or humid warm air. There is no in-between, and it changes at will.

Getting the long drive done in the beginning and ending up at such a lovely, camping cabin made it all worth it. We pulled in to this little gem, The Bright Lake Cabin, took out our dinner supplies and had an easy first night. No tents to set up, just eat by a campfire, play a board game, s'mores and then bed.

Breakfast, fill them up and out on the road. Might be a couple days until our next post. Heading into Canada, no 3G network.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Michigan Drive 9 hours.

Left at 7:45 am. Later than we wanted to, but we had to feed the kids before leaving or they would have eaten each other in the car. Crossed the Mackinaw bridge at 4:25 pm. Lake michigan looks like the waters of Greece. Pictures to follow. Only a couple of hours to our first campsite at Hartwick State Park.

Rest area on HWY 2.

View from the Mackinaw Bridge

Another road side attraction

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