Milling day at Morningstar Mill

Up until recently, Morningstar Mill has best been known to me as the place to park to get to Decew Falls. Sure, we have stopped in and checked out the mill quickly before or after our hike, and found it quite adorable, but I had no idea that they still operated the mill. And I certainly didn’t know that it was open to the public and that you could receive your very own fresh milled flour for a small donation to the mill.

Most people who come to Niagara Falls come for, well, the Falls. And I understand why. I love to ride my bike down during the off season when the crowds have gone home. It’s beautiful. But the problem with coming for the Falls is getting trapped in the tourist areas and never venturing out to see what the Niagara region truly has to offer. Niagara is a great place to visit by car: an original honeymoon road trip destination. And a car gives you the freedom to escape and appreciate the scenery. Places like Morningstar Mill.

Milling was posted to start at 11am, and we arrived just after, not certain what to expect or how long it would last. The parking lot was full but many were parking on the street- just be sure to look for no parking signs! The parking lot is on the small side so it’s always good to go early or expect to walk — even when it’s not milling day.


The grist mill was rebuilt in 1872 and houses all of its original machinery. A fun fact that we learned while touring is that while the original sifter is up in the attic on display, they had to encase a new one (which looks to be much like the original, just that it’s encased) because flour dust is explosive! If you start on the main floor, you can see the grain coming down the shoot from the attic before you head downstairs to watch it come out of the sifter.

The original sifting equipment housed in the attic

It was especially neat to see the turbine turning in the attached shed. The mill still uses the moving water to grind the flour, which my kiddo found fascinating.

On milling days the home of the Morningstar family is also open to tour. The house was completely restored, the only thing that was changed during restoration were the walls to accommodate the electrical work and sprinkler system. K and I had fun glimpsing historic versions of modern items.

The blacksmith shop was also open. I have to admit we spent the least amount of time there…. I think K was afraid he would get put to work making nails!

Before we left we had to come home with some freshly milled flour and bran! We were given a brochure with a few of their recipes to try out with our flour. K helped me double the bran muffin recipe and decided to add peaches, blueberries, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg to it while subbing half the sugar for maple syrup – talk about delicious! We made over 3 dozen, enough to share and freeze for another day.

The next milling date is September 23, 2017. Be sure to check their Facebook page as it is dependent on water levels. I suggest bringing cash so that you can leave a donation; $4 a bag of flour is their suggested donation.

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Yes, I’m homeschooling my kid. No, he’s not going to be a weirdo.

I get it. You love my kid and you want what’s best for him. Or hey, you’re a complete stranger who just likes sticking their nose in other people’s business. And yes, it’s one or the other, there never seems to be an in between.

It’s like a weird word association game where when I say “homeschool” you blurt out “Socialization!” “Homeschool.” “Socialization!” “Homeschool.” “Socialization!” You go on and on with word vomit about how important proper socialization is to a child as though it’s second only to the air he breathes. Do you want to ask me about that too?

Maybe you’ve never known anyone who homeschooled their kids before. Or you remember that one kid who started off homeschooled and then came to public school and they were a little bit odd. You know the one. It was totally because of the homeschooling too because I mean, absolutely none of the other kids who went to school their entire lives were ever a little odd, and definitely never you, you were never odd. You, you were totally normal all the time. No awkward stages. Not ever.

And I mean, maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’m not being explicit enough. Maybe I need to start saying, “We’re homeschooling. But-don’t-worry-it’s-not-like-I-keep-him-locked-in-a-closet-all-day-we-sometimes-leave-the-house-like-go-to-the-museum-and-library-and-science-centre-and- we-love-to-hike-and-here’s-a-list-of-his-extra-curricululars.” Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m answering your question wrong.

If I seem sensitive, it’s because I am. From the second that stupid little pee stick announces that you’re carrying a little bundle of joy, the judgements start rolling in. “You can’t do that when you’re pregnant!” “Breast is best!” “It’s really selfish that you won’t give your baby a bottle so someone else can bond with him.” “You gave him WHAT as his first solid?!” “Those shoes aren’t nearly supportive enough.” “Where is your mother why isn’t she hovering over you? You shouldn’t be climbing the playground yourself!” “Stop being so overprotective, a little sugar won’t kill him.”


And quite honestly, up to this point, my son hasn’t been cognizant of your concerns, so maybe that’s why it has stung, but not quite made me so rage-y. But your criticisms, sorry, “helpful advice” concerning my parenting choices are being heard and internalized by my child on this one. My child, who already feels he is missing out on a part of the collective culture that involves bells and desks and assemblies and after school activities, is going to grow up hearing how “weird” he’s going to be because he’s not experiencing such things.

(And no, those experiences are not worth the anguish that public school was, so please don’t go there.)

The mama guilt is bad enough without your help, thank you.

We chose homeschooling because it’s right for our family. It’s difficult. And exhausting. And quite frankly, if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t have chosen it if I didn’t feel that I had to do it. But you know what? I am so happy that it’s the road we’re on. I get to choose books and subjects that I know my kiddo will love. I get to help him learn the way that he learns best. I get to incorporate things like baking and an obscene amount of field trips. We talk about everything from politics and current events to money and household management to technological advances to a really silly joke that we just can’t stop laughing about. The possibilities are endless.

And that socialization you’re so worried about? It’s not like he’s homeschooled in a closet. Really, I promise. Have you seen how small the closets are in a 1960s side split? He’s in a number of activities with kids his age. We visit with family and friends of all ages. We go to parks and he makes friends with museum docents who are happy to answer his stream of questions for a few minutes to his complete delight. There are even homeschool programs. Heck, he spent two weeks in Europe! Not a day of school was missed. Homeschool is where you are.

And yes, maybe my kid might turn out weird despite my best efforts to normalize him.  Any kid that isn’t forced to conform to norms is probably going to have a few quirks. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. And honestly, at the end of the day, I’m his mom. I went to public school my whole life and while I can do a pretty good impersonation of a normal person once in a while, deep down I’m a big ol’ weirdo. Aren’t we all?? I’d rather him be able to own who he is then spend years trying to pretend, only to grow up and realize it’s the weirdos who end up happier because they don’t try to hide who they are on the inside.

So yes, I’m homeschooling my kid. No, socialization is not an issue. In fact, I’d argue he comes into contact with a wider range of people by getting out into the world than he ever would sitting in a classroom. And if he does turn out to be a weirdo, trust me, it’s not because of the homeschool. That’s 100% genetic right there.

Let’s be honest, homeschooling is not going to make my kid a weirdo. I’m his mom. He was doomed from the start. @lifeattiffanys

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Visiting Fort George

After complaining last week about how difficult of a time we were having getting back into the homeschooling groove, this week has been a dream! We’re back to breezing through Beast Academy (our math curriculum), we printed out this awesome puzzle of Canada from CBC Parents, and today we took homeschool out of the house to Fort George!

My favourite kind of homeschool is the kind that doesn’t take place at home. Grandma took K out for lunch, and then we all headed to the Fort together. This year, all of Canada’s National Parks are free for Canada 150, so if you haven’t gotten your pass yet, get it here! At Fort George you present the pass at the visitor’s centre and receive replica British shillings as your tickets to present to the sentry.

Kids can receive a special Parks Canada Xplorers booklet. It is full of fun and engaging activities to help keep them interested while visiting. I absolutely love when museums and parks have these sorts of things, because they really do work wonders!

On one page of the explorer's guide, kids can follow along with the musket shooting demonstration to order all 11 steps.

They even get a certificate and a prize at the end!

The interpreters are all so knowledgeable and friendly. I am the annoying nerdy person who strikes up conversations with them but seriously, you are missing out if you don’t. I have learned so much more from talking with actual people than I have from reading the plaques on the walls. I mean, still do that too, but take advantage of the humans!

K absolutely loved the tunnel at the back of the Fort. He also challenged an interpreter to a game of checkers and lost admirably. We tried cookies baked in their authentic kitchen from their authentic recipe. And he even found the musket demonstration entertaining! I was afraid he would be too overwhelmed from fear and the loud noises, but he loved it.

After our trip to the Fort we headed to the Niagara on the Lake SupperMarket. The SupperMarket is every Wednesday from 4:30-9:00pm throughout the summer season. There are food trucks and tents from local restauraunts, wineries, bakeries, breweries and even different local businesses. There is always entertainment and tonight there was even a bounce castle for the kiddos. It is a great way to get a taste of Niagara all in one spot if you’re visiting, and a great way to find your new favourite haunt if you’re local.

If you’re planning on visiting Niagara, I can’t recommend a day in Niagara on the Lake enough! And with National Parks being completely free this year, you cannot afford to miss a trip to Fort George.


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Making movies and media literacy

I love movies. Whether I’m in a dark movie theatre, crammed in my car at the drive in, or sitting on my couch in my pjs, I love them. I think they teach empathy and love and freaking life skills, guys. Like how many of us know not to run up the stairs if a killer knocks on your door thanks to horror films? Main floor and out the door ya’ll.

But screen time and all that crap. I really do believe kids need to be up and moving and playing and pretending and outside as much as possible. But I also do believe everything in moderation. And I really try not to vilify stuff because that only makes it cooler. Plus, I really love stories in all capacities, and movies are such a great way to tell stories.

So a few weeks ago when K asked if Dogman was a movie, I told him it wasn’t but that he could make it one. We have played around in iMovie before, but I don’t know if it would have occurred to him that he can create his own movie. I think it’s important for kids to see the people behind the scenes: the authors, the scientists, the musicians, the actors… just today we were talking about how radios work and how there’s a DJ in a room playing the music we were listening to. He’s been writing stories for over a year now, we make art, we build legos, so making movies just seems like a great addition to our creative endeavours.

The first thing we had to talk about was logistics. Dogman has some pretty far fetched cartoon humour. So I suggested we try to do some animation as he enjoys the drawing tutorials in the back of the book. He decided that was way too much work. Thank goodness because there would have been so many tantrums I don’t think I would have survived. The other two options were claymation – but that required making clay or play dough and I really, really didn’t feel up to that; and good ol’ live action. He wanted to bust out my sewing machine for costumes but I mean, I’m a good mom, not a crazy one, and told him we could make do with much less work. Of course, doing live action meant we had to talk about our limitations of what we could actually pull off.

So we made him a costume and created our set. And then he learned patience like only a film set can teach. He is not one to do things more than once, so I think it was good for him to learn that mistakes happen, and practice never killed anyone. Even if you thought it was perfect, there’s always the possibility that the next take will be better.

We then sat and played with editing. We added voice overs, music, and sound effects. We added credits because you always have to give credit where credit is due. And he learned that all of this takes a long freaking time, even if your movie is only a minute and a half long. Luckily, iMovie is pretty straight forward. He was able to help a lot, and we were able to sit on the couch with the iPad for the afternoon while we edited.

I think in this day and age especially, media literacy is so important. Movies, books, music, art, the internet… everything is a construct that someone created. It’s been manipulated. It’s one person’s take on something. It’s our job to understand that not everything we read or see or hear is true or representative of reality. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for fairy tales and make believe, but I think it’s good for kids to be able to sort fact from fiction in some ways. Unless they’re questioning the authenticity of characters in Disney World in which case STFU that is Mickey Mouse.

I think this is the type of learning that is really starting to catch on. It’s interdisciplinary and fun. He read a book, enjoyed it, and wanted to create something from it. We had to do some problem solving to figure out how we could get our version of the story, or a piece of the story, out with what we had on hand. And now he has a better understanding of what he sees on the TV and internet. That my friends, is priceless.

I am so in love with homeschooling because we have the freedom to do these sorts of projects. There are so many ways to learn, and so many things to learn, and we’re lucky because we can pick and choose which ways and things work best for us. Some days that’s sitting down with a math book. Some days it’s a nature walk or a visit to a museum. Other days it’s just fooling around. And then sometimes we take on projects like this.

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It’s never too cold to be outside

I was born in Florida. I’ve lived in sunny SoCal. I remember living in North Carolina and school being delayed over 2 hours because of a centimetre of snow. I am pretty sure I was permanently cold for a good 5 years when my family moved to Canada. So I get it when people are hesitant about kids being outside when the weather drops below zero. Especially because, truth be told, I hate being cold.

But this comes at a head with my personal requirement that I take my kid outside every day. I am the type of person who opens the windows for a few minutes everyday just to let the fresh air in. I need to be surrounded by trees. I blame our walks on the dog needing them, but truthfully, I need them just as much as he does.

I owe my love of the outdoors that persists even in the cold to our time spent living in the mountains. We lived in the most amazing town where everyone was outdoorsy and fit and just this side of hippy. When we first moved there I was a little hesitant, telling my husband to never let me become a granola mom, but surprise! I make my own granola now and it’s delicious.

Photo of mountains and the Bow River

So when we were visiting Disney World last month on what I’m pretty sure was the coldest day in Florida history (or at least my coldest day in Florida in history), my sister and I were laughing at the conversations we were overhearing. She heard a kid whining about the cold and the mom snapping in turn, “You’re from Michigan!” Everyone had smiles plastered on their faces like “I paid so much money I am not letting the cold get to me, damnit!” And you know what, we all lived and have a funny Disney story to tell now. We made the best of it. Now imagine me standing in line at the airport Starbucks and overhearing a conversation about how selfish parents were for bringing their kids to Disney on such a cold day. THIS IS WHY PARENTING SUCKS. Take your kid to Disney and you are still going to get judged.

Never mind the money spent getting to Florida or that it is a once in a lifetime trip for many. That not everyone has the luxury of saying, “Oh you know, the weather is going to be less than perfect that day, so we should really just wait for another day.” It’s not like people had their babies in bathing suits and were sending them down Splash Mountain in the middle of a snow storm. If your kid is appropriately dressed, weather is not a barrier to fun. In fact, a good mud puddle can only enhance the fun!

I live in Canada. If I let weather get in my way of going outside I would be a recluse. My kid would be a pasty ghost of a person who hisses at the sun. Do you know how bouncy kids get if they’re trapped inside all day? My couch can’t handle that kind of abuse. But outside, he can climb and jump and run and get dirty and it doesn’t matter. Not to mention being outside is actually a safeguard against depression. Don’t take my word for it: one chapter of Last Child in the Woods and you’ll be bundling your kid up in every kind of weather.

In fact, my kid went for his first walk less than 48 hours after he was born. It probably would have been sooner had the hospital let us out the day he was born.

I was terrified bringing him out in subzero temperatures. But I couldn’t stay inside all day when the fresh mountain air was calling my name! If that sounds selfish, I am totally okay with that. But hilariously, I couldn’t figure out why he would scream bloody murder about ten minutes into our walks. I had been overdressing the poor kid and he was roasting! Turns out, babies are pretty resilient. You know the whole “dress baby with one layer more than you’re wearing” thing? Total myth in our case. My kid is frequently running around naked while I am wearing slippers and a hoodie. Not only is he still alive, he’s pretty damn healthy.

Just because I am a stickler about getting outside doesn’t mean it’s always easy. We have our days when the dog doesn’t get a walk. We have days where we sit on the couch with the blinds shut and play board games and watch movies. Because everything in moderation right? Taking the dog for a walk can take over an hour just due to the screaming fest that is putting on shoes. Oh yeah, did I mention my son actually hates being outside? I have to bribe him with books and turn nature walks into science lessons in order to entice him. Lately he has been enjoying riding his strider bike, but unfortunately it’s not always easy to ride a bike in Canada in February.

It isn’t perfect. It isn’t always. But I do think getting outside is part of being healthy, right up there with diet and exercise, so I try to prioritize it. I try not to let the weather be a barrier. In the summer we wear hats and sunscreen, in the winter we have snowsuits and wool and layers, and we have rain gear and rain boots and sweaters and shorts for everything in between. I have always hated the idea of driving to go for a walk, but sometimes it’s necessary to get out of the neighbourhood and into nature. Unfortunately we don’t all live in nature anymore. But we can make do with what we have.

So yup, that’s probably us with the park to ourselves when it’s -10. I’m sorry if I let my kid play in the mud puddle you’re trying to get yours to avoid. Yes, he has a hat and that shirt is SPF 50. I’m trying to grow a happy well adjusted human that appreciates nature and takes care of the world we live in. I’m probably failing miserably, but hey, I still have a few years of denial ahead of me. Yes, I spend more time cleaning up the mess from going outside than actually being outside somedays. But it’s worth it.

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Homeschooling outdoors

small child looks out window of ruins of an old mill

One of my favourite things about homeschooling is how much more time my son and I have to spend together doing things we love. He only went a full day for a week, and half days for little more than two months, but even that impacted our lifestyle. Bedtime had to be on the dot because he needed to be rested in the morning. (Not an easy feat as he rarely sleeps through the night, and is up and reading a stack of books before I’m even awake in the mornings.) He needed to unwind after school, aka yell at me for two hours. Then it was time for me to make dinner and time for lessons. Not to mention his rage learning. And then it was bedtime again. There just wasn’t time for much else.

I think my best friend was the most excited when she found out that homeschooling is very different from what it suggests. Our nature walks are learning opportunities. Homeschool isn’t just in the home, it’s anywhere you are. It’s pretty much just parenting with essay questions. So today we bundled up the kids and braved the mud. With everything going on right now, we needed some nature therapy.

I hadn’t been to Balls Falls in a good 5 years at least, but if I’m being honest I think it’s been closer to a decade. There’s a huge welcome centre! And you have to pay to get in. I was skeptical, I mean, the heritage buildings weren’t even open. But it was totally worth it.

My son hates walking with a passion. He generally hates the act of going outdoors, but is usually okay for small periods of time once we’re actually out there. I’m slowly learning that I can make anything fun for him as long as I make it intellectually stimulating. He likes to find sticks when we walk and pretend they’re a compass pointing us in the right direction, and I’ve made at least a hundred mental notes to pick him up an inexpensive one, but mom brain. So last night I was plotting today and I googled, not very hopeful I must say, “how to make a compass.”

What do you know? I asked and Google answered. I found a great article on Scientific American and before we left the house Kaleb had his very own compass.

It did not work amazingly. We’ll need to try again with a stronger magnet to magnetize the needle, and I’d like to try Steve Spangler Science‘s idea of wax paper versus the cork. The Scientific American article was a bit more in depth for K’s liking though as he likes big words and technical science.

It’s difficult to see as he was not going to be slowed down, but we enclosed our compass in a mason jar filled with water and turned it upside down. I think I get bonus points for this thought however when we got home I realized the metal kid might have interfered more than a tad… I tried okay!

No worries. I had more tricks up my sleeve. My grandpa gave K some binoculars when we were visiting and I thought they would be an excellent addition to our hike. We found a huge bird’s nest that I’m not entirely certain Kaleb actually saw, but again, we’re trying here. I quite enjoyed their craftsmanship however.

One highlight was climbing down and looking out the old Woollen Mill ruins. Learning about textiles and clothing? Check. Learning about hydro? Check. Learning about brick and mortar construction? Check. And we even hypothesized about the white mineral residue on the walls and lamented that we didn’t have anything to attempt to capture tardigrades with. Oh, and sliding down a mud hill on your bum? Check!

My friend and I started our walk with expectations of lasting 20 minutes before someone getting cold or someone’s legs hurting. To our amazement though, the trees sheltered us from the breeze making the walk quite pleasant and K was actually excited to keep exploring! We made it through the entire trail, from the upper falls down to the lower ones.

We talked about so many topics I don’t even know if I can list them all. Early settler life, erosion, layering of rock and different minerals, different bridge constructions, water levels, cloud types… all with the degree of talking completely out of our asses. K knows to take whatever I tell him with a grain of salt though, and we googled a few choice subjects when we got home.

You would think after all that walking and learning he would be right tuckered out. But you’d be wrong because we came home and filled our afternoon with Periodic Table cards. Oh, and then we played element Go Fish and he begged to do Beast Academy while we ate dinner. I have to admit, I am absolutely loving this homeschooling stuff.

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Learning on the road

I am always surprised when I hear about how controversial it is to pull kids out of school for a family vacation. I understand the importance of good school attendance, and maybe my view of school is a little different from someone who had to work hard to succeed (a challenge I wish I had been given!), but I feel like family vacations are just so necessary on so many levels.

Life today is so fast paced and full of stress. It isn’t unusual for parents to work more than 8 hours, and then come home and have emails and phone calls to catch up on. Kids even have their own busy little lives, with lessons and practices and all sorts of extracurriculars that have become almost a requirement of childhood. So for a family to be able to get away and enjoy some quality time together is, in my opinion, invaluable.

And here’s the thing, while kids may not be sitting in a desk and learning the required curriculum, they are definitely still learning. There are so many new experiences that ask young brains to adapt, and quickly. They meet new people, gain new social skills, and learn how to adapt to a new environment. It makes them malleable. Kids’ brains need novelty and fun, and what’s a better to way to get those things than a vacation?

And the thing is, we do so much learning when we’re not at home. But it’s natural learning, which I think sticks in children’s brains much better than rote learning or learning something abstractly. Time and money always come up while travelling, and it’s easy to involve kids with keeping to a schedule and budget. When you visit a new locale, discussions about geography and climate and even the animals come up. For instance, we’re seeing lots of lizards that we just don’t find back home. And, we had a visit from some bird friends which fascinated K.

He sat and watched them until they were out of sight, and noticed that they seemed to be eating. “They’re probably going to look for a little lizard,” he concluded as they walked away. Just having that momentary relationship with a creature he wouldn’t normally see is so great. He very rarely watches the birds at home, but because these birds were different from the cardinals and doves and blue jays he’s used to seeing, they held his attention and he experienced a connection with the natural world he wouldn’t have had ordinarily.

My son has been in swimming lessons since he was 2, and we do make an effort to go to the pool often, but there is a big difference between a half hour trip to a pool and a day spent going in and out of it. He has always been confident in water, but there’s something about being able to get a full day in the pool in that really pushes swimming skills along! He was diving in the 4 ft water for his dive sticks! I am a huge believer in kids needing to know how to swim and how to be safe around water, and there is no better way than just being around it.

And then, if you have a child like mine, you just may bust out the homework. When we found out that we’d be homeschooling K I ordered Beast Academy for him after hearing amazing things about it. It came the day before we left for vacation and he was so excited because, “Mom, we can bring it with us!!” So we did. Bringing it out meant a few more minutes of sunshine and relative relaxation for me, so hey, do what you have to do, right?

‘Cause I mean, if you’re going to do math, why not do it by a pool surrounded by palm trees? And, when you’re in a fun atmosphere, it makes learning so much more fun! We were learning about angles, and since we didn’t have much to work with, decided we could make angles with our bodies. Hello, physical education!

Kids may not remember the vacations you bring them on when they’re young, but it sets a foundation for them for the rest of their lives. And the more often kids get brought places, the easier it is to bring them places. K even received so many compliments on his behaviour. He just can’t be cranky when there’s so much novel fun around!

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