Getting our Bearings (Orientation)

Monday March 10 by D’Arcy.

Today was our first day at the school where our homestay brothers and sisters attend. Escola Crescimento is a private school located in the city of Sao Luis, Brazil ( Our schedule today provides us with an orientation to escola Crescimento and its neighbouring Maple Bear School. Maple Bear is a global school that has students from Toddler Level (age 2) to grade 6 and operates using a Canadian based curriculum ( We will have another opportunity to visit with Maple Bear on Friday morning when we will come back for Story Telling.


Mullen, Hanna, Baileigh and Kristen awaiting the start of the presentation.

Kids awaiting the start of the presentation.

Emma, MacKenzie, Hanna, Mullen, Jimmy and Alex awaiting the start of the presentation.

Kids awaiting the start of the presentation.

Juliana Camarao, a director at escola Crescimento, greeted us in the auditorium and gave us a presentation about the school and its history. During this presentation, we had a group of character actors come into the auditorium and dance for us. These actors were dressed in traditional costumes representing the cultures and Carnivale characters that are familiar to Sao Luis. It was quite interesting to watch. We were not the only Nova Scotian students in attendance. There is a school group from Middleton Regional High School who are also on a school to school exchange with Crescimento. When the presentation was finished, there were snacks and some “Jesus” before leaving the auditorium. Not to worry, “Jesus” is a soft drink that is only made in Sao Luis. We sometimes drink it religiously.

Juliana Camarao

Juliana Camarao

Look at all the technology.

Look at all the technology.

The whole group with the dancers.

The whole group with the dancers.

Afterwards, we were taken on tour through the school. Each classroom has a full glass door so it was very easy to look in to every class we passed. Likewise, it was very easy for students to look out and see all these strange Canadians walking through their school. Escola Crescimento is a very nice school which uses technology very well. Classrooms are equipped with Apple TV and each student has an iPad assigned by the school.

Touring Crescimento.

Touring Crescimento.

After touring escola Crescimento, we then had a tour of the Maple Bear Canadian School. We were invited into classes and given an opportunity to speak with students and see the work they were doing.

Maple Bear School

Maple Bear School

Waiting in lower floor of Maple Bear.

Waiting in lower floor of Maple Bear.

After touring Maple Bear, it was break time and the Crescimento students were very curious about the Canadian students and their impressions of their school and of Brazil. Lots of sign language was being used to help communicate.



Waiting for rides.

Waiting for rides.

Homework getting completed.

Our girls, working on homework.

In the afternoon, we had a orientation session with via Mundo, the educational tour group coordinator. Via Mundo operates as the liaison between escola Crescimento and the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board. During this orientation session, Selina Sell, one of the representatives from via Mundo, talked to us about the different cultural perspectives that exist in a school to school exchange. She also gave us a brief Portuguese lesson and a back pack for us to carry our supplies around. In the back pack was our class schedule, a can of “Jesus”, chocolate candies, cashews, a book with the story of Maranhao (the state which Sao Luis is part of), and a yellow via Mundo shirt which will be our school uniform while attending classes. After Selina’s presentation there were even more snacks for us. It will be hard to go hungry while we are here.

The via Mundo Back Pack.

The via Mundo Back Pack.

Tomorrow, we will get to go to classes and we also have a Portuguese lesson in the afternoon.

Traveling in threes

Update by D’Arcy…

They say that things happen in threes and the start of our Brazil exchange would prove to be the same.  To start, we met at Stanfield International airport at 3:00 pm to begin the check in process for our journey to Sao Luiz, Brazil. Not only will our journey take place over three calendar days but we will have been in three time zones, landed in three Brazilian cities – Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Sao Luis – and travelled on three different planes. Finally, we are scheduled to arrive in Sao Luis just after 3:00 am on March 9, which is the third group of three days in the third month of the year.

Before passing through security.

Before passing through security.

Stanfield International (HFX)

Waiting to board flight to Toronto.

On our way to Toronto.

On our way to Toronto.

Our first stop was Toronto, on flight AC 619, departing Halifax from gate 20 at 5:05 pm.  We arrived in Toronto at 6:40 pm, local time, and made our way to gate E80 where we would board our second flight with Sao Paulo, Brazil, as our destination.  We had a wait time of approximately 4.5  hours, which was lengthened to 5.5 hours as our flight was delayed due to a late connecting flight from Vancouver. We passed the time playing cards and exploring Pearson International Airport.

Penguin Wall Colouring (Pearson International)

Alex and Georgia colouring Penguins in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

The second flight was aboard a Boeing 767 and was a smooth ride throughout.  We departed from the gate at approximately 12:25 am and arrived in Sao Paulo at 12:25 pm, Sao Paulo time. On this flight we were served a meal at approximately 1:00 am and breakfast at around 9:00 am  There were no issues and everyone fared well. After passing through Immigration, we picked up our luggage and proceeded through Customs and made our way to the TAM check in desk where we re-checked our luggage for the third leg of our trip from Sao Paulo to Sao Luis.  Now began our 10 hour layover in Sao Paulo International Airport.

Kristen and friend 2

Kristen helping a little boy colour a picture.

Boeing 767

Inside view of the plane to Sao Paulo.


The view out the window.

The final leg of our trip was aboard an AirBus 320. TAM airlines flight 3180 was scheduled to depart at 10:00 pm but did not leave the gate until approximately 10:25 pm. This was probably the shakiest flight of our journey as we experienced a little bit of turbulence on our way to stopping in Brasilia. We arrived in Sao Luis at 3:10 am and were greeted by friendly faces with beautiful smiles waving Canadian and Brazilian flags.  Our journey to Sao Luis was complete and now we look forward to the experience that awaits.

AirBus A320

Finally in Sao Luis, Brazil.

First Brazil Update from Alex

First of all, if you have helped me get to Brazil in any way, such as: letting me collect your recyclables, buying things from my fundraisers, or any thing else that you can think of… I can’t thank you enough! Brazil has been a blast already and today is only our second full day here! I can’t wait to see what will else will happen over the rest of this wonderful adventure.

The total travel time was somewhere around 17 hours. Which was kind of boring but at the same time was also really fun! The first thought in my head while landing in Brazil was, “WOW!” Because the city that we landed in (São Paulo) is the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere!!

After ten hours in the São Paulo airport we finally made our way to São Luíz with one quick stop in Brasilia. It was a great feeling to know that this would be the last plane that we would be on before starting our wondrous adventure!

So far we’ve gone to a barbecue, toured the school, and had an orientation at Viamundo which is the travel agency that is helping with our trip.

Once again thank you (Obrigado) to all that have helped me over the past few months to get me where I am now. I can’t wait to update you more as the trip goes.







Bon Voyage!

Since we got home from our epic Christmas vacation, our lives have gone non-stop. We got home after 9pm on Saturday, January 4, and picked up our exchange student and exchange teacher just after noon on Sunday, January 5. We had a fun two+ weeks with Gabriel & Fabiana, introducing them to curling and snow; snowshoeing, lobster, snow angels, and building snow men. They were a perfect fit for our household!

The whole family, saying goodbye for now at the closing dinner

The whole family, saying goodbye for now at the closing dinner


An unusually warm winter’s day at Peggy’s Cove


Lunch at the pub in Mahone Bay


Visiting a Canadian icon – The Bluenose II.


Digby Scallops – first time and they were a hit! ( So much so we served them again the following weekend…)

Gabriel shells lobster.

Gabriel shells lobster.


The gang with Frosty the Snowman

We had a wonderful time and were sad to see them go home, despite the fact we knew that D’Arcy & Alex would be visiting them in just two months.

Like Evan two years ago, we were happy to encourage Alex to travel, but as part of a family with four children, we told him he would have to raise the cost of his trip himself. He has worked so hard over the past year: babysitting, mowing lawns, raking leaves, collecting recyclables, selling tickets on a raffle basket & cow patty bingo, and doing paperwork; he designed cards and sold them at the Christmas Craft Fair; we made and sold 49 litres of baked beans and loaves of brown bread. Last weekend, we made and sold 33 litres of corn chowder and 54 loaves of brown bread. He peeled all the veggies, helped cut onions, and prepped the front steps and driveway for delivery.  Amidst all of this, he has curled seven times per week, plays saxophone and clarinet in two different bands, and had a report card that shows he’s at the top of his class.

Selling his self-designed cards at the craft fair.

Selling his self-designed cards at the craft fair.

Who says teenagers are lazy?

On Wednesday of this past week, he made the final payment on his $3,000 trip to Brazil.

So. Proud.

During this process, D’Arcy was asked to take over as male chaperone. As I write this, the two of them are in the air, on their way to an adventure of a lifetime.

All three of us will be posting over the next two weeks, keeping each other and Alex’s supporters up to date on all adventures…

They will land in Sao Paulo around 12:30 on Saturday, March 8, (just as Sarah & Olivia hit the ice at home at their first curling bonspiel). In Sao Paulo, they have a ten hour layover before a five hour flight to Sao Luis, on the Northern coast of Brazil. They are scheduled to arrive at their final destination at 3am. With the time change tonight, we will be in the same time zone, so luckily won’t need to worry about adjusting to that.

The Brazil 2014 group

The Brazil 2014 group before going through security at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.


Father & son embark on the adventure of a lifetime together


Somebody is going to miss her dad…

There are ten teens from four different schools participating in this exchange, along with D’Arcy and a female chaperone. They are a fantastic group of teenagers, and Alex (only student from the Truro area) fits in with them well. When we arrived at the airport, he was immediately embraced and we might as well not have been there… (That’s what we want, right?)

We are so happy for them and wish them safe travels and many happy memories.


Bringing the Tourism Industry Together

At the end of last week, I represented the Nova Scotia Bed & Breakfast Association (NSBBA) at the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) annual general meeting (AGM). Each year the AGM is held at different locations around the province, and last year it was held in Truro. In fact, five of the B&B’s in Truro – including Belgravia – made breakfast for the 120 participants. 🙂  This year, the AGM was held at White Point Beach Resort in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

In November of 2011, the main lodge at White Point was destroyed by fire. The owners decided to rebuild, using as many local trades, crafts people, and supplies as possible. They consulted with their long-time guests regarding design, and let the world watch the rebuild through Nova Scotia webcams. The result is spectacular! They did an excellent job of maintaining the “feel” of the old lodge, yet were able to improve on many things. And with a setting like this, how can you go wrong?

View from the front porch of the cabin.

View from the front porch of the cabin.

We met for two days of meetings and socialization, trying to determine as an industry how we can improve our product for our guests. We are working on issues such as lobbying the government for an “open skies” agreement which would make airline access more plentiful, easier to access, and most importantly –  more affordable! Another important issue we’re working on is to have a ferry link between New England and Nova Scotia restored – the sooner the better! We also are continuously working towards improved signage and roads. What makes meetings like the TIANS AGM critical, is that we have all sectors of the tourism industry from B&B’s to large hotels to festival and event coordinators to tour operators to restaurant owners to winery owners, to the Regional Tourism Industry Associations, all working together with government. The new Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, Graham Steele, was present and was listening. Pat Sullivan, CEO of the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency was doing the same. There is a real feeling of camaraderie as we all work together.

It wasn’t all work though – we shared some wonderful meals together courtesy of White Point. After dinner, we roasted s’mores (Graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate melted together) over the fire in the main lodge. Since the rain held off, there was also a bonfire outside on the beach after dark.

As part of the business meeting, we said welcome to three new board members: Sheri MacKillop, Dean of the School of Business at NSCC, Carl Sparkes, owner of Jost and Gaspereau Wineries, and Andrew Alkenback, general Manager of Cabot Links Resort. Unfortunately, this also meant we had to say goodbye to board members who are finished their terms. Last year, when our terms were finished, Danny Morton of White Point and I were made “Tourism Senators” (that title seemed much more illustrious at this time last year!) and were each given an article of clothing made from Dress Nova Scotia tartan. This year, Danny & I were able to do the same for our three retiring board members: Earlene Busch, Chanterelle Country Inn, Grant MacDonald, Events Nova Scotia, and Tom Ruth, Halifax International Airport Authority.

Wearing our "Tourism Senate" attire.

Wearing our “Tourism Senate” attire.

It’s always refreshing and enriching to get together with members of the Nova Scotia tourism industry as a whole, and I was especially excited to get to experience the new and improved White Point. I am looking forward to going back with the family soon on our own Nova Scotia travel adventure!

The more things stay the same, the more they change?

D’Arcy & I are both teachers. He teaches in the public school system and I am faculty in the School of Business at the Nova Scotia Community College. When we began our B&B ten years ago (I can’t believe we’re at the beginning of our 11th season!!) D’Arcy commuted to Halifax during the school year as a permanent teacher with the Halifax School Board. I was a “work-at-home” mom, and running the B&B was my full time job. Back in 2003, my dad had just retired from his career with Lafarge, and my mother was still teaching primary. My dad has been involved with our B&B from the very beginning, as has Lori, who helps out on Mondays and Thursdays.

D’Arcy made the leap in 2006 and started working at a school in our local school board that was half the distance of his commute to Halifax. (One hour drive from Truro – Halifax.) He worked at that same school for five years, and earned a permanent position in the local school board. Wanting to be rid of the daily commute all together, two years ago he was able to secure a position at a school just a five minute drive from home. At the time, I was working at the Truro campus of the college, which is located just 1km from our home; an easy walk.

Last year at this time, my term position at Truro Campus ended and he got caught up in the cuts that the local school board were forced to make. Because he has a permanent contract, he is guaranteed a job, we just weren’t sure where in the Board which runs from Amherst to Pictou, and as far South as Elmsdale. As it turned out, he was placed in a position at a school in Pictou County, about a 45 minute drive from our home. Shortly after, a continuing full-time position came available that I was qualified for at Pictou campus, and since I knew D’Arcy was driving that way anyway, I applied for it and won the competition.

So, long story short, we have both been teaching in Pictou County this year and have loved it. We hired our neighbour, Ruthanne, this Fall to help out with breakfasts and cleaning on school days, and my dad still loves to come and welcome guests at arrival and chat over breakfast, helping to plan itineraries. D’Arcy & I enjoy making the 45-minute commute together daily; (“Best carpool ever!”) having the time in the car together to talk without any other distractions, and we are both really happy at our respective schools.

We weren’t sure what this year’s round of hiring in the public school system would bring, but on Friday we received the wonderful news that D’Arcy has been hired for next year in a position at his same school and will now be attached to that school. For the first time in ten years, we know where we’ll both be for the foreseeable future. The school where he works is actually a school that is growing in numbers (many of our rural schools have declining populations) so his position should be secure even if there are future cuts.

Stability – a new concept in the McDonah household!

People have been asking if we will sell our home & business and relocate to Pictou County. The answer is no. We love our home and our business and love the community we have in Truro. I grew up here. My parents still live here. Our children are settled in great schools, involved in so many activities, and have wonderful friends. D’Arcy’s brother and his family live on the other corner of our street. Although it is expensive to drive, at least we are commuting together and can remain a one-vehicle family for now.

Will we still operate our B&B? Absolutely! A reason our bed & breakfast has been so successful is because we love what we do. We really love welcoming guests from around the world into our home and getting to know them. We love to show-off our beautiful province to people, whether it is the first or tenth time they’ve been here. We love discovering connections and making relationships with people. Most of all, we’re proud to be a local business that supports the local economy in our community.

We will have to look at how things might change. We have already stopped hosting events such as weddings and parties, and no longer cater private lunches and dinners. Perhaps we’ll eventually turn into a more seasonal operation… These changes remain to be seen after we have some discussion this summer.

What we do know for now is that we are open for business and in full swing for the 2013 tourist season already. Our weekends in May are  filling up and summer reservations are coming in steadily. It’s shaping up to be a great year and our whole team – myself, D’Arcy, Dave, Deanna, Lori, Ruthanne, and the kids –  looks forward to welcoming many familiar faces, and meeting new friends this summer!

Belgravia Bed and Breakfast website.

Orca gives Whale Watchers Unusual Thrill in Bay of Fundy

 The following article was originally published in The Chronicle Herald, the Nova Scotia Provincial newspaper on Thursday, September 20th. Written by Staff Reporter, Clare Mellor, please click here to link to the original article. Special thanks to Penny, of Mariner Cruises Whale and Seabird Tours, located in Briar Island, Nova Scotia, for the fantastic photo!

Photo credit: Penny, of Mariner Cruises Whale and Seabird Tours, Briar Island, Nova Scotia

“Orca Gives Watchers Thrills
It was like hitting the whale-watching jackpot.

An orca, or killer whale, not commonly seen in Nova Scotia waters, put on an hour-long show Tuesday for a whale-watching tour boat off Brier Island.

“It was a pretty amazing sight to see,” Roy Small, who captains the Island Link for Welcome Aboard Whale Watching Tours on Brier Island, said Wednesday.

“Everybody was just ecstatic, including (the crew). It was a very, very, good day.”

The last reported orca sighting in the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia was about two years ago, Small said.

“This is the very first time I’ve seen one,” he said.

Small, his crew and roughly 10 passengers had been on the water for three hours Tuesday and had already been treated to sightings of several humpbacks, a fin whale that was surface-feeding, a minke whale, dolphins and porpoises.

The boat was about 12 kilometres northwest of Brier Island watching a group of about six humpbacks when a passenger spotted an unusual fin nearby.

Crew member Tania Campbell was up on the bow when she heard Small shout.

“All I heard was, ‘Holy smokes. I think it’s an orca!’” Campbell said Wednesday.

Small said an orca’s dorsal fin is very distinctive.

“It is about three feet high,” he said. “There is no mistaking it.”

He said the male orca measured 7.5 to nine metres and was travelling alone.

Small, who has also been a lobster fisherman for 22 years, said he has not done much reading on orcas and wasn’t sure what to expect.

“He was really friendly. I was really surprised,”

he said.

“He came right to us. He made a close approach to us a couple of times. We watched him from a distance and he’d come over and check us out, go around the boat and underneath. He’d roll up on his side and look at us.”

Hal Whitehead, a biology professor at Dalhousie University who specializes in the study of whales, said orcas are not often spotted in Nova Scotia waters but are more frequently seen off Newfoundland and Labrador.

“They are pretty rare around the Maritimes in general, but they are seen from time to time,” he said.

“They come by from time to time. We don’t know quite why or what they are up to.”

Campbell said she felt a little shaky when the orca made such a close approach.

“It was a slightly different feeling, just that really tall dorsal fin,” she said. “It is just a different sort of presence — I think, I guess, maybe because it is a toothed whale.”

The orca breached, or leaped out of, the water three times, and Campbell was happy that she managed to snap a photo of the unusual sight.

Small radioed another whale-watching boat nearby so its passengers could also have a chance to see the killer whale.

“I think the other boat got a pretty good show too,” Campbell said.

Small said it seemed a shame to finally have to call it a day.

“Nobody wanted to go in. We all wanted to stay and keep watching it.

“The weather was starting to deteriorate so we had to go.””


The Belgravia Bed & Breakfast Website

Surf’s Up in Nova Scotia!

Last  March, when our son Evan went on a school exchange to Brazil, one of his favourite, most memorable activities, was the surfing lessons he took. Proclaimed “a natural”, he was anxious to continue surfing in Nova Scotia. We warned him that surfing in Nova Scotia would probably be much different than surfing in Brazil, but he was keen to try.

His 14th birthday coincided with back-to-school for D’Arcy and me, so we promised him that we would treat both him & his brother, Alex, to surfing lessons before the end of the season. Last weekend, with Hurricane Leslie approaching up the Atlantic Seaboard, the waves had been churned up and conditions would have been too wild for our beginners.

This weekend, Saturday dawned bright and beautiful and calm. I made a call to Nico at the East Coast Surf School to see if there might be a possibility of lessons for the boys at the last minute. We had a full-house on Friday, so arranged the lessons for 2 p.m. which would give us enough time to get the rooms changed over. We called my parents and they were happy to come over to welcome guests until we returned. D’Arcy, who is very comfortable in the water, growing up sailing and being a certified scuba diver, was slightly disappointed I hadn’t booked him into lessons as well!

The weather was beautiful and the tide was coming in.As it turns out, the water on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia is warmer now than it is in the summer – we’re spoiled by spending most of our summer water time in the warm waters of the Northumberland Straight on Nova Scotia’s northern coast. The boys were provided with wet suits and Sam took them out for their lessons while we played with the girls on the beach. Sam also declared that the boys were both “naturals” but Evan was frustrated that it was not as easy to surf in Nova Scotia than it was in Brazil – the waves were more powerful…

They had a great afternoon, trying to master the art of “hanging ten”. The best part was that when their lesson was over, they had the use of the boards & wetsuits for the rest of the afternoon. D’Arcy even tried to surf a couple of times while Evan was taking a breather…  I can see that we’ll definitely be trying this again next year!

It’s only a 1 hour and 22 minute drive from Truro to Lawrencetown Beach where there is year-round surfing – an easy day trip from the Belgravia Bed & Breakfast.

Heading into the water at Lawrencetown Beach

The girls kept themselves occupied while their brothers were at their lessons by playing in the surf.


So much fun to watch – even more fun to do (from what I’ve been told)!


Alex is trying to get up…

Wipe out!

Sam shows Evan and Alex how it’s done…

The girls have fun burying Dad in the sand.

‘Return to the Belgravia Bed & Breakfast website

Flooding in Truro

Many people who follow the news have heard that yesterday in Truro, we had the “perfect storm” which created massive flooding in our town. Hurricane Leslie, which hit Newfoundland today, was feeding a low pressure system which stalled over our area. The heavy rain (145 mm+) combined with high tide in an already swollen Salmon River, caused the dykes to be breached and the water to flow into town.

Luckily, at the Belgravia Bed & Breakfast, our guests were warm, cozy & dry and our home was not affected – which seemed amazing because streets very close to us, and the golf course in our neighbourhood were closed. We’ve heard stories about one friend who was rescued from her home by a canoe, other friends who were rescued from their homes in the bucket of a front end loader, and another friend’s son, who was wakeboarding in the flood water in their backyard!

I am happy to report that although this amount of water was a huge inconvenience to many, I have not heard of any injuries or worse – fatalities as a result.

Thank you to past guests, friends & family from away who have contacted us to inquire about our safety – I’m happy to report we’re all just fine!

The Joe Howe Falls in Victoria Park, Truro. Photo Credit: Truro Parks & Recreation

Fletcher’s Restaurant, located just down the street from us. Photo credit: Robb Scott

A lake at the Truro Golf Club – located on the other end of our block. Photo credit: Truro Golf Club

The first time I’ve ever seen so much flooding at the Truro Golf Club – located at the opposite end of our block. Photo credit: Truro Golf Club

Lorne Street looking South. Stanfield’s Factory on the left, the Stadium and High School on the right. Needless to say, all were evacuated! Photo credit: Tim Roland

The parking lot of the mall on Robie Street last night; this is the main artery in and out of Truro. Photo credit: Bobby Harroun

A friend’s son, wakeboarding in their backyard. Notice the water is as deep as the trampoline is high. Photo credit: Susan MacQuarrie