A Maritime Kentucky Derby Party

As much as I love the Maritimes, it’s always fun to see new places.  Travel expands our minds and enriches our lives.  Sometimes, though, you just can’t make the trip.  I say that when you can’t make the trip, bring the trip to you!

I’ve always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby.  When I was a kid, my friends and I were pretty horse crazy.  I got this book for Christmas one year and in the back it had a list of all the winners of the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown, up to the year of publication.  I poured over that list and practically had it memorized.  These animals absolutely amazed me, and still do.  Their speed and grace, their pure power.  I wonder, what must it be like to be the jockey on the back of one of these animals in the starting gate waiting for the start gun…the anticipation, the raw, tenuously contained energy.  Now that I’m an adult and know a little more about all the wonderful traditions involved in the event (The mint juleps! The hats! The infield party!), I want to go even more.

One day I may make it to the Kentucky Derby but for now, I decided to bring the Kentucky Derby to the Maritimes.  We turned it into a fundraiser for the local SPCA and had a donation bucket set up.  Five dollar fun bets were placed on the horses with the intention that if no one bet on the winning horse, all the money was to go to the SPCA.  In the end, favourite American Pharaoh managed to squeak out a win over Firing Line and several people got a little piece of the pot, some of who generously donated some of their winnings back to the SPCA.  It was a beautiful day and a great way to spend time with friends and raise a little money for a great cause.  As for American Pharaoh’s Triple Crown possibilities, only time will tell.  I’ll be watching and hoping for history to be made, for the first time in my lifetime.

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The TV and mantel was the centrepiece of the day.
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Remnants of my riding days.
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A mint julep station is a must.
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A little fun for a great cause.
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Yummy treats.
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Derby style.
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Cheering on our picks. Go, Dortmund, Go!

Why Your Opinion of Saint John Needs Updating

Those of us who call Saint John, NB home have heard them all: The Dirty John, The Big Flush, The Armpit of the Maritimes, etc.  While perhaps these names may have been warranted at one time, if you still think these terms apply, you’re not looking deep enough.  We may be a city of contrasts but we are a city of change as well.  To borrow a term from our illustrious mayor, we are a Renaissance City.  Here’s some reasons why:

1.  Incredible Hiking/Green Space – we’ve got not one amazing park within city limits but two: Rockwood Park on the city’s north side is a place where you can feel like you’ve completely escaped from civilization, when in fact you are practically a stone’s throw from Costco.  You can hike or bike in here for hours, sometimes without seeing anyone.  The Irving Nature Park on the city’s west side is a wonderland of beaches, wooded trails, marshland and stunning coastal views.

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Hiking in Rockwood Park

2.  Amazing Scenery – yeah, we’ve got our own Hollywood sign, and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re parked at the top of Fort Howe behind it in the evening summer light, watching the cruise ships drift lazily out of port or whether your standing on a cliff’s edge at Irving Nature Park, overlooking the Bay of Fundy.  Or maybe you’re watching the sky turn pink over the sailboats at one of my favorite spots in the city, the Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club (RKYC).  I dare you to stand in front of one of these views and not be moved.  And if you’re not moved then I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends.

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Sunset at RKYC

3.  Great Eats – Saint John’s restaurant scene is like, so hot right now.  What are you in the mood for: Local/organic? Maritime fare? Sushi? Thai? Indian? Middle Eastern? Italian?  I can name at least one fantastic restaurant in every one of these categories and more.  And now I’m hungry.

4.  Our Mayor is Cooler Than Your Mayor – he’s young, he’s hip, he’s social media savvy and he’s a total Star Wars geek.  Mayor Norton for the win.

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5.  Beach Access/Water Fun – no matter where you are in Saint John and surrounding areas, you are never far from beach access.  Whether bordering the mighty Bay of Fundy (enter at your own risk, it’s flippin’ cold!) or the stunning Kennebecasis River (marginally warmer), there’s always a place to cool off in the summer.  Not to mention all the great boating/canoeing/kayaking opportunities there are.

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Saints Rest Beach, Irving Nature Park

6.  Culture/History – Saint John is filled with history and beautiful architecture.  It is Canada’s oldest incorporated city, after all.  Just take a stroll around Uptown and you’ll see what I mean.  Wanna take in some theatre?  While we’re no Broadway, the Imperial Theatre at King’s Square is one of my absolute favourite places on Earth.  An evening spent here is always a good bet.

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7.  Friendly People – I’ve lived in each of the Maritime provinces at one point or another in my life so I know that Maritimers are the friendliest people you’ll find anywhere.  However, my husband is a native Saint Johner, so I might be a wee bit biased here.  Saint Johners are so polite and friendly, in fact, that when the Harbour Bridge construction was under way for weeks on end and commuters were backed up for kilometers, there was not one chainsaw-wielding road rage incident, that I’m aware of.  People calmly took turns and inched slowly homeward.

Despite all these wonderful reasons to love SJ, there are always drawbacks, no matter where you live.  If you are going to call Saint John home, there are a few things you’re going to have to accept:

1.  The Deer – make nice with them because they’re everywhere, even in the city centre.  Accept that they are going to eat your flowers and shit on your lawn.  It’s a little bit of country inside the city.  And for the love of God, please don’t feed them.

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A doe and a couple fawns in Millidgeville

2.  The Fog  – if you want to live Uptown (our Downtown, and yes, we do have Uptown Funk – thanks, Mark Ronson), you’re going to have to accept that it’s going to be about 8-10 degrees cooler in the summer than pretty much everywhere else.  The upside?  While everyone else in the Maritimes is sweating their butts off in August, you’ll be quite comfortable.

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A rare, non-foggy summer day in King’s Square

3.  Industry – yes, we are an industry town.  That means that the west side often smells like the Pulp and Paper Mill and the east side is dominated by the mini steel-city that is the Irving Oil Refinery.  While these industries may not be some of our most beautiful features, they provide employment for many New Brunswickers and they do a lot for our city and the province.  They really are an integral part of the fabric of this city.  They have helped shape it’s form and will help shape it’s future.  And that future is exciting, even if it is not without it’s challenges.

What are your reasons for loving Saint John?

Ode to the Rural Schoolhouse

I was born and raised in rural Nova Scotia.  In a tiny village you’d be hard pressed to find on any map.  I went to one of those rural schoolhouses, the kind from a Lucy Maud Montgomery novel.  The same one that both my maternal grandparents were taught in.  The same one that some of their parents were taught in.  Originally a one-room schoolhouse, a second room was later built, stacked on top of the first.  Grades primary, 1, 2 and 3 were taught downstairs; grades 4, 5 and 6 were taught upstairs.  We had two teachers for all seven grades and a music teacher who drove in from the next town a couple times a week to teach music class.  There was a little playground outside, with two swing sets, monkey bars, a slide and a couple of teeter-totters.  We had gym class outside when we could and when the weather was poor, we moved our desks to the side of the room so we could have gym inside.

The school was pretty busy at one time, but in my time there weren’t as many kids around.  Enrollment was down.  People weren’t having as many kids anymore and a lot of people were moving to larger towns and cities to find work.  Until grade 3, I was the only member of my class (I won all the year-end awards!).  After I graduated grade 4, they shut the school down to save money and bused us an hour into the next town to go to school.  It was hard for me to adjust to such a “big” school and a new curriculum with so many kids I didn’t know.  I struggled to find my place that school year.

Some of my favourite childhood memories are from my time at that little schoolhouse: epic King of the Mountain contests, making a lifelong friend with one trip around the schoolyard, reading challenges where each book represented a paper scoop on a paper cone on the wall, biking to and from school in the warm spring sun.  There is something so pure and idyllic about being taught within your community, with other kids from that same community, by members of the community.  I think it really fosters community spirit and pride, something that seems to be missing from the mega-schools so many of our kids are being educated in today.

It feels special to be a part of something that no longer exists.  People seem genuinely surprised when I tell them I was taught in a two-room schoolhouse.  As if I also used to ride unicorns across rainbows.  Our school is now used to train local firefighters but I know so many stand unused, doting the countryside like abandoned sentinels of our youth.  Someday ours may be gone, torn down because no one wants to pay for the upkeep of the building.  I hope to never see that day.

If you have a story about a rural schoolhouse you attended, I’d love to hear about it!

Record Setting Winter: One Last Look Back

Well, spring has officially arrived, even though it doesn’t much look like it with the feet of snow we still have.  But the temperatures are above zero today and the snow is melting here in Saint John so it feels like we might actually make it out of this alive.  We feel for those parts of the Maritimes recovering from another winter blast last night.  We swear it gets better.  This winter was certainly one to remember.  Saint John broke its record of 424cm from the 1962-1963 winter and Charlottetown broke its recently held record of 451.3cm from just last winter.  And there is no indication that the snow is finished yet, although the melting snow is promising.  While I think everyone want to see green grass, this historic winter warrants one last look back.  Here are some images Joel and I took from the winter that was 2014/2015.

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It started off dry and cold.
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And then the snow started…and didn’t stop.

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If you can’t see the Stop sign, does it still apply?

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That’s an interesting way to park at the movie theatre.
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Fort Kickass under construction.

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Fort Kickass at the height of its glory.

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Sunday Snowshoe to the Midland Ice Caves

The best way to survive a Maritime winter is to try to find some enjoyment in it.  That means getting outside and spending a (hopefully) not too cold day doing some winter activity.  This Sunday started out sunny and eventually went overcast but the temperature was comfortable at around -5 Celsius.  So we hopped in the car and headed for the Midland Ice Caves.

Joel and I usually try to make the hike into the Ice Caves at least once a winter and we decided that today was as good a day as any.  One of the truly wonderful things about living in the Maritimes, and New Brunswick in particular, is all the great hiking you can find close by.

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Making our way to Midland.

Apparently many others had the same idea.  When Joel first took me into the Ice Caves several years ago, there was hardly anyone else around and there was very little signage.  People have caught on now and the trail is heavily traveled and the way is well marked with signage.  I can’t blame them.  A trip to the Ice Caves is great family fun. Kids bring their crazy carpets and sometimes the family dog comes too.

The Caves are a good hike across a field, up a hill, and into the woods following a snowmobile trail.

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It’s a long climb all the way to the top of the tree line.
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Starting to regret all those hours binge watching Netflix instead of going to the gym.
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Getting closer!
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Last part of the hike into the caves.

Snowshoes are helpful but not really required, since the trail, at least from the top of the hill, is well groomed.

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Once there, it’s a steep climb down to the base of the caves, made easier by the use of a rope strung from tree to tree.

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The caves are not really caves at all, but are formed by water running over the edge of a cliff, creating a thick sheet of ice that walls in a small ledge.  Nevertheless, they’re quite impressive.

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Several entrances are usually hacked out so that you can get inside.  The ice glows greenly from the inside and is layered in sheets.  Careful walking inside as it’s a sheet of ice from top to bottom!

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Looks a bit otherworldly in here.
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View from the other side of the cave.

We set up a hammock at the top of the hill leading down to the caves and enjoyed a nice rest and a snack before starting the long hike back to the car.

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A place to relax with a great view.

We felt we earned a treat, so when we got home we had a delicious hot chocolate and a piece of cheesecake.  If I always get this kind of reward, I’ll make the hike to the Ice Caves every day!

IMG_0193UPDATE: As an update to this post, I would like to remind everyone that is heading out to the Midland Ice Caves to give the right of way to the snowmobilers while on the snowmobile trail.  The snowmobilers pay to maintain this trail so please move off the trail when you hear or see one coming through.  Be safe and have fun!