Blue Skies over Ohio: Fourth of July celebrations with Willie Nelson at Gratefulfest

The first instalment of Time Travel Tuesday is a flashback to a camping trip I took from July 1-4th, 2016.  It can also be grouped in the Get Out of Town category as we road tripped it 5 hours out of Toronto to Garrettsville, Ohio for a weekend festival. Gratefulfest is an unreal camping and music experience that takes place at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park.  For a detailed history of the park and events it’s best to consult We came for Willie Nelson (and Kris Kristofferson) but music aside we were not prepared for the immensity of the Quarry grounds and adjoining Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park.


The town of Garrettsville is in Northeastern Ohio, just 30 minutes from Kent (a city infamous for the Kent State University student shootings of 1970)



Dead heads have been devotees of Gratefulfest for decades.  We met some of the friendliest people, basked in sunshine and greenery and saw incredibly talented musicians perform day and night at the weekend long festival.



A Jerry Garcia doll propped on the front dash of one of the many Grateful Dead adorned RV’s and campsites


One of the few vacant campsites at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park



Hiking the cliffs and admiring the plant life at Nelson-Kennedy State Park


A blurry Willie Nelson performs at the beach side stage to an adoring crowd

The photos capture only a small portion of natural beauty of Nelson Ledges and an unforgettable camping experience in a remote area of Ohio.  In honour of the legend, below is a Willie Nelson playlist to remind you that your heroes should always be cowboys.

Over 1 hour of Willie Nelson and friends music:


Niagara on the Lake: Buddhas, Cinnamon Buns, Ghosts…oh and the Lake!


Welcome map posted outside of Walker’s Country Market

Niagara-on-the-Lake. It isn’t an exaggeration to refer it it as “The Prettiest Town In Canada”.  I may have taken its beauty for granted as my grandmother lives in Niagara and I’ve always visited the area regularly.  Wineries and fancy inns aside, there is much to marvel at in this tiny picturesque village with a population of just over 15,000.

img_1133While many of my summer visits are normally consumed with stops at various fruit stands selecting the freshest peaches and concord grapes, late fall is a time when produce stands pack it in for the season. Fruitless, I start my afternoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake with a mandatory stop at The Living Water Wayside Chapel.


Living Water Wayside Chapel

Measuring just about 10×10 feet this chapel is the smallest (and most adorable) in the world.  There are often line ups of tourists waiting to snap a shot of themselves in front of the tiny church (or inside, if they can fit).  The Living Water Wayside Chapel has recently been relocated from it’s original spot on the Niagara Parkway to a neighbouring location just next to Walker’s Food Market.


A particularly windy afternoon on Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Without a plan for the afternoon, I decide to consult some shop owners for tips on their “essential” Niagara-on-the-Lake. A sucker for amber stones and buddha statues, I begin my search at new age shop The Shiny Company located on Queen Street (the main drag). Stuart, proprietor of The Shiny Shop, is looking at me kinda funny. For good reason – he’s recovering from retina reattachment surgery. While selling spiritual stones at his booth in the CNE, his retinas detached. Recovery time is longer than you might expect as it’s been about 8 weeks already. At least he can finally see.  A great conversationalist and story teller, Stuart makes some interesting recommendations for touring the town.



What is essential Niagara on The Lake visiting according to Stuart? Why the lake itself, of course. Sounds like an obvious starting point, but you’d be amazed at how many visitors never actually make it to the water.

img_1182On this gusty and grey day, waves crash into gigantic granite rocks along the shore. The rocks themselves are impressive. Large enough to stand on and tall enough that you’ve gotta watch your balance while stepping (jumping) from rock to rock.img_1191

img_1192A short ways down Lakeshore brings me to another sweet spot along the waterfront. This area used to be a beach. My mother tells me she swam and picnicked here as a girl. Increasing water quality issues render this beach less desirable for swimming and more of a viewpoint across the river to Youngstown, New York.

img_1199A group of French couples sit and converse on a nearby bench.  The smell of one of their pipes fills the humid air as I envision the historic battle of 1812 which took place along these very shores.

img_1197River watching induces a craving for sweets and I opt for a carriage ride to the homey Niagara Bake Shop.



img_1174Shopkeeper Erin lets me take her photo as she sweeps the pesky autumn leaves from the entrance of the shop. She has already been photographed twice today by paparazzi like me.

img_1177What’s their specialty? Cinnamon Buns (after devouring, I concur). They’ve been baking ’em for 80 years.

img_1180Do I want to take a photo of the old soda machine? Yes, Erin, thank you for the suggestion. Although the soda fountain isn’t in operation, some of the more mature ladies who work at the bake shop can recall sipping sodas when they were young gals. I envision a scene from Grease or Pleasantville. I wonder if their favourite flavours were Sasparilla and Nectar.

img_1147With sticky cinnamon bun frosted hands I visit the Angel Inn. This inn is of particular interest because it’s rumoured to be haunted.


The Angel Inn was established in 1789 and rebuilt in 1815 after the war of 1812.

When spooked out guests hear noises in the middle of the night they call down to the front desk. The concierge assures them “Oh not to worry, Mrs. Brown, it’s only the resident ghost”. Charmed and armed with a ghost story, they enjoy the remainder of their stay. How would this same response go over at a Best Western?

img_1170While sitting in the pub I overhear a grandfather asking a wee one whether she’d like to leave her leftover chips for the ghost. The fabled ghost is thought to be Canadian soldier Swayze, killed at the Inn in 1813. Instead of joining his fellow soldiers in battle the story goes that romantic Swayze stayed behind to meet his beloved for a tryst at the inn. If his first name was Patrick and he communicates with his lover through a psychic and/or assists her in pottery making then we know where the screenplay for Ghost originated.

img_1156Over in the captain’s room I lie in wait for a spooky visit.  Is this the room where Swayze and his lover had their pre-murder rendezvous?  If it is, they aren’t ready to chat about it just yet.  Disappointed the ghosts haven’t communicated with me, I fall into a dreamless slumber.


Sacred Swedish Glogg


Inspired by a recent visit to the Swedish Christmas Fair, here is a blessed recipe for Glogg. The mulled wine often includes an array of spices, fruits and seasonings so feel free to get creative.  This particular recipe is Swedish Chef approved.


1 bottle of dry red wine (Italian, French, whatever you’ve got lying around)

1 bottle of port

Zest of 1 orange (bonus points for peeling it all in one go)

Half a cup of brown sugar (adjust quantity to taste for sweeter or less sweet)

5-10 cardamom pods

5 star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

1 handful of cloves

Freshly grated nutmeg

Raisins and slivered almonds (to add to each cup as it’s served or to the mixture)


Combine Wine, Port, Zest, Sugar, Cardamom, Anise, Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmeg in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Use a sieve to pour into mugs (or just ladle into the mug, zest and spices included). Add the raisins and almonds. Get cozy and sip by a warm fire with friends and family.


*Select a full bodied and fruity wine to stand up to the heat of cooking and to complement the flavours of the fruit and spices.

*Get creative with fruits – try clementine, lemon, cranberries, cherries, apples, pears.  Whatever you think works!

*Place spices and zest in a cheesecloth and tie into a bundle to make a spice bag if you prefer to avoid floaters.

*Add a touch of cherry brandy, Cointreau, calvados or other fruit based spirit of your choosing.  This will add a punch and some extra fruity flavour.



The Sounds of Stars Hollow: 5 Songs for Winter-Gilmore Girls Revival


Remember when Lorelai and Rory entered the Stars Hollow snowman contest with their Bjork snow woman? Now 15 years later, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life finds itself in winter in Stars Hollow yet again. Stars Hollow is the quaintest of towns. Leading lady Lorelai Gilmore puts it best when she describes the town as being “built in a huge snow globe”. It is a magical and utopian village with more than just a festive air. Stars Hollow is a winter wonderland worthy of Santa’s relocation from the North Pole. The revival episode opens with Lorelei’s intimate relationship with snow “I. Smell. Snow”. Devoted fans will immediately recall this line (and Lorelai’s ability to predict snow more accurately than Al Roker, merely by acute sense of smell) from the original series. Riddled with obscure pop cultural references and cameos, music has always played a significant role in the series and music of substance continues to be included in the soundtrack. To celebrate the return of Gilmore Girls and Stars Hollow, here are 5 chansons that really capture the mood of the characters and the tiny Connecticut town they live in.

  1. Leonard Cohen – “Hallelujah”

When they meet at Doose’s market, Lane fills Rory in on husband Zak’s promotion to supervisor of Roots, which has him begrudgingly wearing a tie.  To comfort Zak, Lane tells him that “…he looks like a young Leonard Cohen (but really he just looks like his dad)”. Truthfully, who he really looks like is Matthew Modine’s character Dr. Brenner on Stranger Things.  But, back to Leonard Cohen.  Although a Leonard Cohen song isn’t actually played in the episode, we honour our dearly departed with a live version of “Hallelujah”.

2. The Carpenters – “Top Of The World”

In his newest harebrained scheme, Kirk (Stars Hollow’s favourite town weirdo) becomes an Ooober driver (no, not Uber, but his own entrepreneurial car service). On an Ooober ride to Hartford, Lorelai asks Kirk to turn on the radio.  Unsurprisingly it has been stolen and Kirk offers to sing a Carpenters song instead.  While Kirk’s version is endearing, here is a live version of “Top Of The World” performed by The Carpenters.

3. Tom Waits – “Time”

The mood changes from glad to sadness with this gritty Tom Waits song. Played during a moving flashback of Richard Gilmore’s funeral, the ever poetic Tom Waits evokes pure emotion with his melancholic song “Time”.  The sad lyrics, tragic crooning and mournful accordion capture the sombre mood of the scene and pays touching tribute to the late Edward Herrmann both on and off-screen.

4. Peggy Lee – “Bye Bye Blackbird”

This classic jazz song is also played in memory of Edward Herrmann. While recounting their memories of Richard Gilmore post-funeral, one of the guests utters “A classic for a classic” – well put old dude at the larger than life husband, father and grandfather’s wake. Although the song has been covered by Dean Martin, Nina Simone, Paul McCartney and countless others, it’s Peggy Lee’s 1955 version of “Bye Bye Blackbird” that would most have been appreciated by Richard Gilmore.

5. Dolly Parton – “Here You Come Again”

As Luke and Lorelai sip glogg in Stars Hollow Square, Paul Anka (Lorelai’s dog, not the singer of “Diana”) chases ice skaters and various cast members gather for winter festivities. The cheery and unmistakable Dolly Parton sings “Here You Come Again”. It’s one of the few songs Dolly didn’t pen herself although it did win her a 1978 Grammy Award. An ideal song to end the winter episode, it plays over the closing credits leaving us with a hopeful feeling and anticipation for the binge watching that will undoubtedly follow!

God Jul From the Swedish Christmas Fair


Running 34 years, The Swedish Women’s Educational Association (SWEA) continues the tradition of a Swedish Christmas Fair at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.


The first snowfall of the season is a welcome backdrop for this wintry and warm holiday festival. It is a festive escape from the busy malls and even the Distillery Christmas Market, which is also heartwarming yet overly crowded.

Sifting through Swedish books and albums. This is the first year they’ve received Vinyl Record donations



A Pippi Longstocking marathon screens at Harbourfront Theatre. It’s one of the many cheeky and cheerful events included in the weekend festival. I purchase some records and hurry to the theatre. The usher senses my excitement “Are you old enough to see Pippi, young lady?” he says playfully. I manage to catch most of Pippi on the Run. The brazen daredevil looks after little friends, Tommy and Annika in this overwhelmingly satisfying adventure. Released in November of 1970, the Swedish film is one of many in the Pippi Longstocking collection of films based on the imaginative children’s books by Astrid Lindgren.

Pippi rides an imaginary bike through a Swedish town.  This is one of Pippi’s many skills – along with train jumping, barrel rapid riding and tight rope walking.

Over in the marketplace there are tables of wonderful Swedish Products for sale

Adorable handmade ornaments lovingly crafted by Swedish women in Toronto


Traditional Swedish Crisp Bread made in Leksands, Sweden

I sample some Glogg/Christmas in a cup. The traditional mulled wine is strong, sweet and spicy. It warms the heart (and body). This glow juice is boozy and delicious and now I need to remove my coat. The best $4 I’ve spent in a while.


Dressed in traditional costume this lovely duo welcomes a photo and a chat

While the fair is appealing to all of my senses it is educational as well. I learn that Fika isn’t just the name of a cozy coffee shop in Kensington Market – it also means “coffee/tea break”. Apparently the Swedes drink more coffee than any other country in the world (so says the infographic on the wall of the cafeteria). No time for coffee though, I’m basking in the Glogg afterglow…

The annual Lucia Pageant is spectacular.  Little ones dressed all in white sing carols with angelic voices for a packed auditorium. The crowd is delighted by the choir of angels. When the concert ends, a Swedish sailor announces that there will be children’s dancing in the loft.  I remind myself of my age and make my way outdoors.


Just outside the concert hall a Zamboni driver prepares the ice for skating season.  The Harbourfront rink is set against the scenic backdrop of Lake Ontario.  Here ends my trip to the Swedish Christmas Fair.  I leave feeling warm and fuzzy and with just enough time to take in the exhibits at the adjacent  Power Plant Gallery.

5 hours in Peterborough


12pm- 1pm: LIFT LOCK

Pulling into Peterborough, my first reaction is worry. Rows of big box stores occupy vast expanses of land along the main road like awkward slabs. We drive past double sets of Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Walmart, etc. Have we come too late? Has tacky commercialism swallowed up all of the quaint from this city? Gladly, we discover it has not!

img_1232Finally finding ourselves in the downtown district, we make our first stop at the Trent-Severn Waterway. Specifically, Peterborough Lift Lock (lock #21 of 45 along the waterway) – The Highest Lift Lock In The World!


Completed in 1904, this engineering marvel uses no energy outside of itself (hydraulic) and gravitational pull to lift boats up to 65 ft in the air.  The lock isn’t actually in operation at this point in the season (only from May – Oct). Nonetheless, we explore every nook and cranny.


We play with the light and shadows in the caverns.


We climb the stairs and stop to take in the view from each platform. Finally our tired legs reach the top where an abandoned cruise ship rests on stilts on the dry canal. There’s a clear view of the Westclox Tower. It sits uncomfortably close to this Heritage Site.



We descend after an out of focus attempt to capture this shot of a girl walking her pet pig. Notice the Westclox tower in the background.

1:30 – 2:45  PLANET OF STUFF

We spend over an hour in Planet of Stuff. This is retro heaven.  Childhood flashbacks come rushing in. TV theme songs play in the background as we trove through shelves of nostalgia. Indiana Jones, Pac Man, Star Wars, Star Trek, Muppets….So much great stuff! The owner lives upstairs and has been in business for 2 years. It is extremely organized and everything is so well preserved. Beautiful junk. No junky junk….


A wall of retro lunch boxes reminds me of 80’s school lunches.  It also brings to mind an episode of Mystery Podcast. In this history meets mystery podcast (Case #6: Kotter), the host helps her friend, a Welcome Back Kotter fan extraordinaire, get to the bottom of the mystery behind an illustration on a vintage Kotter lunchpail (pictured above).  Find answers to big questions like: What is jacket sleeve knotting? And exactly how big of a craze was it in the 70’s?

I too was a huge fan of the show. Along with I Dream of Jeanne, it stands out as one the main attractions of sick days spent at my grandmother’s house. Ah the pervasiveness of denim….

3 – 4pm: THE ONLY CAFÉ


As recommended by the staff at Planet of Stuff, we stop for a late lunch at The Only Café. You may recognize the name is the same as a Toronto bar on The Danforth. So named because “it was the only place like it”. In 1990, after a chance encounter with some Trent University students, owner Jerome Ackhurst sold that same bar in Toronto and moved to Peterborough to start up a new version of The Only.


The atmosphere is cool but inviting. Craft beer and home made cookies are served against high ceilings and walls completely covered with French impressionist paintings and iconic music, historical and pop cultural photographs. The decor is a reflection of the owner’s personality the server tells us as she recounts some of the history behind the 26 year old establishment.  In addition to being a server and bartender she also prepares all the food in the tiny open kitchen.


The large wooden patio is empty on this warm November day.  A cozy deck overlooks Jackson Creek – a tributary of the Otonabee River which flows into the Trent River. It’s all connected!  Peterborough’s location along the Otonabee was central to its development as a manufacturing city.


Complete with a creepy crawl space full of toys,  The Only is the type of bar where you can feel comfortable bringing your toddler along. Seeing a baby resting near the shuffleboard table isn’t the least bit out of the ordinary – one of the great things about The Only is that it’s so inclusive.


Full on hearty house made salads and local Publican House Ale, we take a sunset stroll through downtown Peterborough.  The architecture is sometimes breathtaking. Many of the 150 year old buildings remain intact while we notice that some are bannered with realtor ads for proposed lofts.  Let’s hope the trend of facadism (when the “face” of a building is preserved while new structures are erected above or around the existing historical structure) doesn’t claim too much of the integrity of these gorgeous buildings. Facadism is a term I first came across in the comment section of a blogto article  reporting a clever art installation meant to bring focus to the alarming rate at which Toronto buildings are being compromised to make room for condo development.


Peterborough Bell Telephone Exchange, Hunter Street


Sad that we missed the booty contest at the White House Hotel (not quite the quaint inn it looks to be but a nightclub/male revue), we make our way to the car for the 90 minute ride home.  Charming and authentic best describe this city. Moving to Peterborough wouldn’t be half bad…

Can You Sign my Yearbook? (preferably with blood or radium)


While it isn’t necessarily a small town and I did not actually travel to Peterborough to record firsthand the interesting happenings included in this post, it captures the theme of eerie, rural nostalgia. Let’s call this a prelude to a future visit to Peterborough and the Kawarthas.


In spirit, the setting of this entry is the city of Peterborough in 1937, although the following has been recorded while booth sitting for Critical Distance Gallery at the first annual Edition Toronto. At this inaugural book fair-running in conjunction with Art Toronto– I find myself gazing across at the neighbouring booth featuring a table of Halloween novelties.  My curiosity builds as I wonder, ‘What is this all about?’


Impatient with trying to make sense of the display from my seat, I mosey on over to the table to get a closer look. The collection of orange and black pennants, artisan Ouija board and various other ‘ween themed paraphernalia turn out to be artist submissions to H.A.M.S. (Holiday Arts Mail Order School). ‘What the hallows is that?’ you ask…


What began in 2008 as collaboration between artist Ian Phillips and writer Derek McCormack, The Holiday Mail Order Arts School found its first home as an exhibit in the window of FLY gallery in Peterborough.  The map above hung in their conceptual classroom, showcased at Art Toronto in 2011.  Take note of the Westclox Tower Building which is a central location in the story.  All of this is best explained by the novelist and artist behind H.A.M.S. in an audio clip below.

Derek and Ian engagingly recount the history of H.A.M.S in 3 and half minutes.

Students of the haunted school have toiled and troubled for years, painfully working toward a Ph.D. (Professional Hallowe’en Degree). The graduation finale is a yearbook – The Jack ‘o Lantern, named for the radium poisoned clock painted by the professor’s mother. Fact, fiction, art, humour and heartbreak are combined in a caldron which bubbles to create an intriguing story and conceptual art piece.


Original newspaper clipping from February 27, 1938, follows the case of the ‘ghost girls’ or ‘radium girls’ (source: The History Bomb)


Access a clip of the story of one of the last of “The Radium Girls” on the NPR podcast All Things Considered  


Discover more magical and haunted literature at



Stay tuned for my next post for a visit to Peterborough where I stumble on an original Wetsclox 1970’s Minicube Alarm Clock




Northern Spies Scope Out Albion Hills

crateIt’s prime apple picking season and we are hungry for a wholesome trip out of the city. We enter Caledon and take Innis Lake Road to arrive at Albion Orchards.  The orchard has been around since 1967 and includes a quaint county store for purchasing pies and preserves.


Picking times are until 5pm. It is now 4:45pm. Our options are a 10lb or 20lb bag. Considering the time, it’s gotta be the smaller of the two. We’re tempted to bring a hand held radio into the orchard to listen to what is one of the final Jays games of the season. But,  there’s some serious apple picking ahead.


Through the rows we pass a family of seven carrying what seems to be 50 lbs of apples. Whoa! One of the kids turns to say, “How do you like them apples?” We laugh and feel motivated to fill our bag.


While the focus is on picking and eating, we manage to take in some of nature’s art along the way.  Johnny Appleseed may not have selected this apple but Andy Warhol might have considered it. A bad apple never looked so good.


These Golden Delicious apples are best when sliced and dipped in peanut butter.  The Ida Red, Granny Smith and Spy varieties will make for a scrumptious Apple Betty. We plan to make our way back to the home front after a quick stop for a box of french vanilla ice cream.  Upon hopping in the car and clicking on the radio we catch the tail end of the baseball game.






Rockin’ up to Rockton

rockton-ferris-wheelIt’s late morning on a brilliantly sunny Thanksgiving Day.  We’re traveling along Old Highway 8, through rural Hamilton to the World Famous Rockton Fair.  What began as a smallish gathering first put on by the Rockton Agricultural Society on October 20, 1852 is now host to approximately 50,000 people.


Bessie welcomes us along with shuttle buses of folks coming in from Hamilton.  She is pretty relaxed in comparison with the flamboyantly flag waving parking attendants who usher in the long train of cars forming down the county road. Energy is building as we enter the fair grounds.


Some people love the thrill of high adrenaline rides like the Gravitron but we enjoy the slow turn of the merry-go-round as we make our way from the live animals in the agricultural barn to the still carousel horses.


It’s noisy and crowded but I’m ok with the midway. The rides are fun and the food is fair grade delicious! Who doesn’t want to ride in a giant spinning strawberry after chowing down on steaming thick cut fries smothered in ketchup and malt vinegar?


We’re tuckered out from a full day in the country.  We ride out of this small town with fierce appetites. Mmmmm…Thanksgiving Dinner awaits us.


Yours to discover


Cygnet Coffee, Toronto

Maybe it was that elementary school field trip to Black Creek Pioneer Village where I first developed an appreciation for the simple life. The shearing of sheep, churning of butter, stoking of the fire, lighting of kerosene lanterns – it’s such a rich memory of the way people lived before all of the busyness and superficiality of modern times. This memory along with excursions to Kortright Centre to collect maple syrup, retreats to Arts Camp in Haliburton and maybe even watching Angela Landsbury solve mysteries in her cozy but deadly New England town of Cabot Cove have all had an influence on this blog.

Relaxed, genuine, warm, charming, big-hearted – these are some common romantic descriptions of small town life.  While not every town or village with a population half that of a metropolis is going to live up to this romanticized vision of itself, there remains a certain freedom in venturing off to somewhere less documented. I explore the under appreciated, odd, interesting, historical, quirky, nostalgic, wholesome, simple, substantial, ordinary and extraordinary aspects of the fringes.

We watch enviously as travel show hosts tango in Buenos Aires, visit temples in Tibet, safari in Tanzania and we dream of being world travellers.  Pangs of jealousy abound when we see Instagram photos of friends and strangers posing in exotic locations. We long to be there, far removed from the hustle and bustle. With the speed at which the city moves and media flies there is an increasing urge to escape. We just want to slow it all down, stop all the rushing.  But is it necessary to buy a ticket around the world in order to remove ourselves from the grind? What if we found satisfaction in exploring our home and native land? Why not celebrate the good things that grow, take notice of the trees and rivers and lakes.

Here is a tribute to small town life. Stories and photos are collected on trips to various destinations in Ontario, Canada and at times through exploration of rural areas on the big screen and maybe even the semblance of small town charm within the big smoke.