Canoeing on the French River (video)

We acquired a second-hand Go-Pro camera from my brother this year, and the kids have been having a lot of fun with it. When we went camping in Tatamagouche last week, we mounted it on the front of our canoe as we explored the tidal French River in Tatamagouche. At around 2:20, you will see footage of our bald eagle, “Joe”. Thank you to our son, Alex, for editing all the footage to make this five minute clip. Swansburgs, this one is for you!

A night away

Historically, bookings during the first week of July have always been slow. Earlier this week, we had a night without any reservations, so we closed out our online booking calendar, and packed up the van to spend the night at our property in Tatamagouche, on the Northumberland Strait.

What a wonderful getaway we had, spending time together as a family without distractions. Our property has a bunkhouse and an outhouse, with no power nor running water – unless you count the river! We chatted, played cards, went exploring the riverbed while the tide was out, had a bonfire, made s’mores, stargazed, canoed, swam, set off bottle-rockets, had a washer toss tournament, drove the van up & down the lane (a 14 year-old-boy’s rite-of-passage), skipped rocks, and laughed. We ate well – everything tastes better outside! We had risotto with asparagus, sausage, and cheese cooked on the campstove for supper. (Along with some local wine & beer for the parents.) Breakfast was bacon, fruit, yogurt, and homemade brown-bread toast made over the campfire with homemade jelly.

We have eagles – now named Joe & Josie – who were quite interested in what we were doing and circled around often. When we were canoeing, “Joe” was swooping down close to us and then perched on the treetops, watching the kids swim. I was hoping that he didn’t think Olivia was a fish!

We don’t have any more nights without bookings in the coming weeks, so we won’t get another overnight for awhile. However, we’ll try to get back for a few hours during the day again soon.

Summer fun, hanging out together

Summer fun, hanging out together

Playing cards and laughing together while catching some shade in the tent

Playing cards and laughing together while catching some shade in the tent

Exploring the river while the tide was out.

Exploring the river while the tide was out.



Sibling fun around the campfire at dusk

Sibling fun around the campfire at dusk

Alex's charred marshmallow

Alex’s charred marshmallow

Early morning washer toss tournament

Early morning washer toss tournament

Making toast on the fire

Making toast on the fire

All food tastes better outside!

All food tastes better outside!

Canoeing on the French River

Canoeing the French River

The 2015 McDonah Family canoe photo

The 2015 McDonah Family canoe photo – we’ll soon all be too big to travel together

A happy & relaxed dad, paddling in his handmade canoe

A happy & relaxed dad, paddling in his handmade cedar-strip canoe

Family Literacy Day 2015

Although Family Literacy Day is on Tuesday, January the 27th each year, we celebrated early. D’Arcy is scheduled to have surgery this year on the 27th and when Sarah heard, her first comment was, “Oh NO! He’ll miss Family Literacy Day!” We have been celebrating annually since 2007, the year Olivia was a baby. Each year we have a slightly different format, depending on what is going on at the time. We’ve celebrated at lunch, at dinner, on the weekend, on a week-night, at our house, or at my parents’ house. The constants are that we all attend along with my parents, share books/magazines/newspapers, stories, and food. Sometimes the books we receive are new, sometimes, they are new-to-us, and there have even been years when books were borrowed from the library.

Family Literacy Day has become an event as special and highly-anticipated as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter at our house!

This year, we combined our Family Literacy Day celebration with a celebration of Auntie Ruth’s 86th birthday, and included Mirelle, our guest from Brazil. As the children have gotten older, the day has evolved to include questions that you must answer before receiving your book. “What are your earliest memories of visiting the library?” (My first visit was to story-time at six days old, but I don’t have a memory of that! 😉 ) “Where is your favourite place to read?” “What was your favourite book as a child?”

We had many laughs as we ate munchies, then assembled sandwiches from a recipe. We celebrated Auntie Ruth’s birthday with “Mud Pie” and discussions about technology.


Mirelle’s new book about Nova Scotia. She can take it back to Brazil to show her friends and family.


Auntie Ruth answers her question before opening her book.


Some sister-love for Evan. “What’s the most awesome thing to ever happen to you?” “My siblings.” ❤


Olivia and Beanah


D’Arcy reads his book while Alex answers his question, “Is there a book that you’d like to, or feel you should read?”


Sarah answers her question, “What was the best thing to ever happen to you?”


Sarah took forever to open her book of trivia.


Auntie Ruth chose the book for Ginna


Some time to enjoy our books between courses.


Family Literacy Day 2015


Happy 86th birthday, Auntie Ruth!


Fun together


Happy Birthday!


The perfect gift!


The whole family 2015

Evan drove us home, much later than we had intended, and way past bedtime. However, nobody wanted the evening to end.

For me, I’ll be reading my book, “The Blue Tattoo” by Steven Laffoley, a novel about the Halifax Explosion, on the actual date of Family Literacy Day while D’Arcy is in surgery. I’ll be happy to have a story to occupy my thoughts and help me pass the time. He’ll be happy, I’m sure, to have some new books to read during his recovery.

We’d love to know about other people’s Family Literacy Day traditions. Please tell us in the comments!

Summertime in Nova Scotia

We had a bit of a whirlwind start to our summer vacation here at the Belgravia. The last day of school occurred on June 28, while I was still at Cornell. I arrived home late (2 am) on the night of June 30 and my cousins arrived from Portland, Oregon, a few hours later. Phil & Susan are the same cousins whom we spent this past Christmas with. His younger brother, Richard, arrived with his wife, Aletha, from Mobile, Alabama, the following day. They stayed with my parents, and on July 5, Phil’s daughter Lori, her husband Adam, and their four children arrived from Florida for a week. The next few blog posts I make will attempt to chronicle our travels around the province while they were here. Because we are usually working full-out at the B&B, we don’t often get the chance to explore our backyard at this time of year.

We started off on Canada Day with a trip to Pugwash, to the Festival of the Gathering of the Clans where our daughter, Sarah was competing in the highland dance competition. This is an interesting competition which takes place in a beautiful setting, on a wooden stage with the water in the background. There are street vendors, a midway, and a parade throughout the day. It was fun for me to run into a number of my childhood friends who were also visiting. Sarah danced well, winning a 1st place ribbon for her Highland Fling, and 2nd place for her sword dance.  Afterwards, they rode two rides on the midway and got some cotton candy before we left to drive along the Sunrise Trail to Tatamagouche.

The dancers line up, waiting for their turn on stage.

The dancers line up, waiting for their turn on stage.


Sarah, #201, awaits the music for the Sword Dance


Proud of her two medals and second stamp





My maiden name is Clark and the Clark family homestead is located in Tatamagouche, which is a beautiful little town on the Northumberland Strait, along the North Shore of Nova Scotia. Between the cousins, we still have somewhere close to 100 acres of farm and wooded property along the French River, which is the perfect place to picnic. One thing you should know while traveling in Nova Scotia is that certain parts can be buggy on certain days. If the wind is breezy, they usually aren’t too bad. On Canada Day, however, there was little breeze and we all had to use bug spray and put up a mosquito tent to avoid being bitten while we picnicked.


Playing in the French River


How many people does it take to set up a mosquito tent?


After we had a late lunch, we stopped in at the newly opened Tatamagouche Brewing Company and picked up a couple of growlers of their Hippy Dippy Pale Ale and Butcher Block Red to take back home. Phil and Susan had to be at the airport to pick up Richard & Aletha at suppertime, so we drove straight home.

We ordered pizzas for dinner, I got in the pool for the first time this year and everyone came back to join us around the fire for the evening. We climbed out onto the roof to watch the Canada Day fireworks – even my mom!


The Canadian “wannabe” from Oregon. 😉


Happy Canada Day!!


Roasting marshmallows while waiting for the fireworks


My parents, Dave & Deanna, enjoy their family


Our American cousins – Phil & Susan from Oregon and Richard & Aletha from Alabama



We were lucky to have our family in town for almost two weeks, and took the opportunity to travel around the province a bit with them while they were here. I will chronicle these travels in my next few posts.

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast website

Easter 2014

It’s been a wonderful mix of work and family this weekend.

This time of year is busy around this house, to say the least! It’s end-of-semester for me at school, and Music Festival for the kids. Throw in a couple of courses I’m taking, spring yard work, and the return of “guest season” and there’s never a quiet moment – we were happy for the forced slow-down that comes with the Easter holiday!

We’re lucky to have D’Arcy’s brother and his family live on our street; the cousins got together on Good Friday and spent some quality time playing outside in the Spring sunshine before we took dinner to D’Arcy’s parents in Halifax. Because all of our days seem to be scheduled with one activity or another, we don’t get there to visit as often as we’d like, so it was nice to be able to take our time and relax with them, having a really great visit. We took lasagna, salad, homemade brown bread and blueberry cobbler. Everything was a hit and we were even able to pack some leftovers in containers and store them in the freezer so that they can have a meal again another time.

The Truro McDonah cousins

The seven Truro McDonah cousins enjoy the Spring sunshine and greening grass

Saturday was a work day. Olivia had been invited to a birthday party at the movie theatre. We have to take some extra precautions at the movies because of her allergies, so we had prearranged with the birthday girl’s parents that one of us would go with her. Because I had a mountain of marking to do, D’Arcy took her and the two of them enjoyed Rio 2. (At least D’Arcy enjoyed the parts he stayed awake for!)

On Easter Sunday, the kids have to wait until all four are up and awake before they’re allowed to go hunt for eggs and that was close to 8:30 this year! Back when Olivia’s food allergy list was extensive (peanuts, treenuts, eggs, soy, dairy, and many fruits as a toddler) there wasn’t any safe candy for her, so the Easter Bunny started to hide loose change in plastic eggs; a tradition which continues. It always amazes me how close their totals end up being – this year the range was only $6.50 between the most and the least. Because we didn’t have any guests, the bunny also set the table in the dining room for brunch and left treats on each plate, as well as nine new fish in the fish tank. Unfortunately, four of them didn’t survive their journey…

About to unlock the door and begin the egg hunt!

About to unlock the door and begin the egg hunt!


Some eggs are easier to find than others


Reading the Easter Bunny’s note and learning about “new friends”


Sarah got a lucky egg – not too many have toonies!


The Easter Bunny set the table!


Some treats at each place – the first time Olivia has ever had a chocolate bunny!

After the hunt was over we had brunch of cinnamon rolls, yogurt, and casserole made from sausage, red pepper, onion, potato, cheese and egg (no egg for Olivia, of course!) before going to Easter Mass. At the church, the kids used some of their Easter money and lit candles for Uncle Dick and Mr. Mailloux, whom they are missing this year!

We spent the afternoon watching curling, playing outside, marking, etc. before going to my parents’ house for dinner. (I may have even had a short nap in a spring sunbeam…)

We had a yummy dinner of roast lamb with a mint/gin gravy (yum!), vegetable casserole, and a stewed tomato dish with lemon dessert.  My mother creates a scavenger hunt for the kids each year, and it was fun now that they can all read and are a little older that the hunt could be more involved. First they had to run all over the house and find magnets that spelled out “Happy Easter”, then they had to each complete a crossword puzzle. Next, they had to pair up into teams with an adult and we competed in a tossing game. That produced lots of laughs as we made up team handshakes. Eventually they each got a gift which they were able to trade with one another. They had little dollar store games in them and were a hit!

The boys share some laughs before dinner

The boys share some laughs before dinner


Ginna tries a new recipe for mint/gin gravy – it’s a keeper!


A beautiful table setting in the Spring sunshine


Easter 2014


Laughs before dinner with a Who Am I? game


A little massage out of the blue!


First task complete!


Reading the next clue




Alex is hard at work, completing his crossword puzzle


Finally they get to their gifts!

It was a wonderful evening and we feel fortunate that we were able to spend quality time with both sets of parents this weekend.

Happy Spring!


Christmas Adventure 2013

Driving from Truro, Nova Scotia, to Nashua, New Hampshire, in messy weather made the shortest day of the year feel like the longest day of the year.

This Christmas, rather than gathering more stuff, our family will be having adventures and creating lasting memories. We  are going on a trip that has been in the planning for six years. When our boys were seven and nine years old, we took them to Disney World in Florida during March Break, leaving their (then one and three year old) sisters at home with their grandparents. It was a magical trip; the boys were big enough that they had the stamina to explore the parks from open to close and master all the roller coasters, yet small enough to believe in all the magic. We promised the girls that we would take them to Disney when they were the same age.

Our family loves to travel and explore new places, so the decision was made that we would go to Disneyland this time, in California. Knowing we would need more than a week to go that far, and because we both teach and run a B&B in the summer, we realized Christmas gave us the most vacation time. My cousin Phil, and his wife Susan live in Portland, Oregon, so it was a no-brainer that while we are on the West Coast we have a visit with them as well!

Because Canada has some of the highest airport fees in the world, it saves us $3,500 to fly from the United States instead of Halifax. Being in tourism, I know we should be traveling from our own Country (for the good of our own economy), however,  we can do a lot of things while on vacation with that money!!  Our flights are booked out of Boston and we get the added bonus of visiting friends and family along the way.

We celebrated Christmas with my parents, brother Jon, and Auntie Ruth after school on the 20th, all the while wondering about the weather. We got up early in the morning on Saturday and got ourselves packed up and left the house at around 9:30, just slightly behind schedule. We had a couple of errands we had to do in town, and two trips back to the house for things we’d forgotten and hit the highway at ten.


Heading out in the fog, excited to be making new Christmas memories!

All was smooth sailing through New Brunswick with lots of fog, but little precipitation. Alex’s godmother Theresa texted us along the way and insisted we stop for a quick lunch at their house in Moncton. When we arrived, she had sandwiches, veggies, fruit, cheese, and juices all ready for us. We ate, had a bathroom break, quick hugs, and got back on the road.

We encountered some rain and texted with home to ask where the freezing rain and snow was. We made the decision to drive through Saint John to Saint Stephen. We got through the border with no issues and traded drivers. As soon as we started down Route 9, the freezing rain started. For those of you not familiar with Route 9, or “The Airline Route” it is a slower drive at the best of times: a secondary road with many hills, twists, and turns. About 20 minutes into our drive, we noticed that the trees were covered with ice. By this time, it was getting dark as well. Luckily, the kids were still excited about the start of vacation so the bickering was minimal, and we just kept driving. We eventually drove out of the freezing rain, and by the time we got to our destination in Nashua, NH, the sky was clear and the temperature was up to 11*C. What we thought was a nine hour drive took us eleven, with only the quick stop for lunch and a gas stop at the border.

We stayed overnight with D’Arcy’s cousin and his family and had a wonderful evening. We had a yummy meal of Chicken Picatta, rice, and green beans. And wine. We sat at the table and talked and laughed until far too late while the girls played with their cousins;  the drive was soon forgotten. What a delightful way to begin our holiday!


Cousins! Sarah, Caitlin & Olivia


A perfect Christmas setting – playing cards by the fire with Cathy.

A Special Celebration

Inviting strangers into our home each day, we have to be aware to remain neutral on some topics. Have you ever heard the adage, “don’t discuss politics, religion, or sex” with strangers? We try to live by that. We’re usually pretty good at avoiding these topics, although honestly? One of the most interesting breakfast conversations that’s ever taken place in our ten years of business was at breakfast in the summer of 2008 during the US election before Barak Obama was first elected. We had three couples staying with us and they all had breakfast at the same time. One couple were democrats from the East Coast of the US, one couple were republicans from the Southern US, and the third couple included a  Canadian doctor who had worked in both Canada and the US. Luckily, they were all very respectful of one another, and had some rich discussion.

Although this post’s reason for being has to do with religion, it is really about celebrating family, life, and traditions. I was at a teaching conference last week and the theme was “unity”.  In two days, the line  which resonated with me the most came from keynote speaker, Barry Lewis Greene. “To find unity, we need to celebrate our diversity.” (Paraphrased)

We are bringing our children up in two different churches with very different beliefs. Catholic vs. United Church of Canada. Confusing? Maybe. The “rules” of the two can’t get much further apart. However, we believe the church is the community we build around us; not a particular building, and not the particular “rules” which come from belonging to a certain faith. Both churches teach people to be kind to one another, and do what you can for others. That is how we try to live our lives everyday.

We celebrate diversity – even within our own family.

Yesterday, our daughter Sarah and her cousin Neil celebrated their First Communion at the Catholic Church. It was a special day for them – especially because they got to participate in the process together – and we were pleased to host all three sets of grandparents and both sets of godparents here for lunch afterward. When our boys had their first communion, it took place on a Saturday night and they were able to choose what they wanted us to serve for dinner. Alex chose ribs for his, and Evan (at the age of eight) chose bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin stuffed with scallops! 🙂

Sarah chose make-your-own sandwiches with salads for lunch, so we had ham and chicken, rolls and D’Arcy’s brown bread, and all the fixings: lettuce, cucumber, sweet bell peppers, tomato, black olives, banana peppers, dill pickles, cheese, etc. D’Arcy’s sister Erin brought grilled veggies, and we had a Greek couscous salad, Caprese salad, four bean salad, mango salad with shrimp & chicken (brought by Auntie K & Uncle Hug) and my mother’s famous orange jello salad which the kids request for every family meal! It was a feast!

It was a perfect afternoon. You’d never have known there were eleven kids in the house and outside, they all played nicely together with hardly a peep. The weather cooperated and temperature was just perfect. We had guests drop-in before we had finished the clean-up, but they didn’t seem to mind. After everyone left, we took advantage of the summery weather to run through the sprinkler, and enjoy the boys’ year-end band concert.

It’s all about diversity.

Some photos from our special family day:

Homemade egg, soy, and peanut/nut free cake.

Homemade egg, soy, and peanut/nut free cake.

Our beautiful Sarah, wearing a dress handed down from her cousin Erin, and the headpiece I wore at our wedding dance.

Our beautiful Sarah, wearing a dress handed down from her cousin Erin, and the headpiece I wore at our wedding dance.

Sarah with her godparents, Martha & Stephane. Trivia - Martha grew up in this home. We bought the house from her mother in 2002 and created our B&B.

Sarah with her godparents, Martha & Stephane. Trivia – Martha grew up in this home. We bought the house from her mother in 2002 and created our B&B.

Sarah & Neil, cousins and best friends.

Sarah & Neil, cousins and best friends.

Sarah with her proud parents.

Sarah with her proud parents.

Evan, Alex and Aunt Erin

Evan, Alex and Aunt Erin

The McDonahs

The McDonahs

Sarah and her godmother, Martha. (A much better photo of Martha!)

Sarah and her godmother, Martha. (A much better photo of Martha!)

Sarah and Neil with Grandma and Grandpa McDonah

Sarah and Neil with Grandma and Grandpa McDonah

Sarah with both sets of her grandparents.

Sarah with both sets of her grandparents – how lucky is she?!