Next to Normal: A play to be talked about

10 Apr

nexttonormalBy Diva Heather Boa

Next to Normal isn’t your normal community theatre production by a long shot.

You’d be hard-pressed to have a few laughs or find familiar lyrics in this production by Goderich Little Theatre, running until April 16. Rather, the rock musical that first hit Off-Broadway in 2008, is a relevant, weighty commentary on the effects of mental illness on a family, also touching on dysfunctional relationships and drug addiction – with no real upside.

It’s the story of a mother (played by Susan Carradine-Armstrong) who struggles with bipolar disorder while trying to hold together her small family, a father (played by Matthew Hussey) who is bound by a sense of duty and forever hopeful that the next treatment will bring a cure, a subtly manipulative son (played by Jordan Henry), and an angry, forgotten daughter (Liv Hussey) who turns to pharmaceuticals for solace. It is a wonderfully sad, raw story in which possibly any of us can find a little bit of ourselves.

In Saturday night’s performance, the cast of six embraces this big script, heavy in lines and music, with an energy and believability that could rival any number of professional theatre performances.

Director Jordan Henry, who also plays the son, delivers an inspiring interpretation of the play, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. His vision is clear and crisp, with well-defined characters that make the story easy for the audience to follow, even with a few surprises thrown in.

In particular, Carradine-Armstrong is spellbinding as the mother, equally believable manically making sandwiches on the kitchen floor as she is eloquently expressing love for her teenaged daughter. At times she is coy and playful, at other times regretful and lost. Always, she makes her character shine.

Two youths (Liv Hussey and Ben Hearn, as the daughter’s boyfriend) who hold their own on stage with veteran actors may be a testament to the strong drama classes in our local high schools.

Cara Stephenson has the challenge of playing various doctor characters that I didn’t find particularly well-written – an issue for the playwright rather than the local performers – but she has a bit of fun in her roles and has a bold singing voice that fits nicely with the rest of the cast.

The set design is intriguing, with broken, wide-set boards in the shape of a house at the back of the stage, a backdrop to the band on risers in full view of the audience. The remainder of the economy-sized stage is cluttered with furniture and props that are simply rearranged as required.

This is a play to be talked about. Mental illness is a topic we should be talking about. As the director says: “…we hope you enjoy this production as much as we have, and, more importantly, that this production will encourage you to feel, think and share.”


 

What: Next to Normal, a presentation of Goderich Little Theatre

Where: The Livery Theatre, 35 South St., Goderich

When: April 14-16 at 8 p.m.

How: Box Office open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Rush seats, if available, on sale 30 minutes before performance. Tickets online at www.livery.ca (may take up to three days to process). Members: $20 adults, $18 seniors, $15 youth under 18, $10 children under 12. Non-members: $25 adults, $22.50 seniors, $15 youth under 18, $10 children under 12.

How Sweet It Is!

22 Mar

maplecreek6By Diva Caroline Thuss

March Break…for those of us who did not escape the cold for much warmer weather to the south it is usually difficult to come up with activities that the kids will love to do while off from school. This Diva did not have to look too far to come up with a delicious and educational excursion that only meant a short drive to just outside of Blyth. The Blyth Creek Maple Farm was a big hit for kids of all ages (including mom and dad, and grandparents too).

maplecreek1When we first arrived we were greeted by the Bachert Family and told that the wagon would be leaving for the bush shortly. What great timing. After a short and bumpy drive back into the 30 acres of bush, we were taken back in time to see how the Aboriginal people discovered the sweet sap from the Maple tree and how to turn it into maple sugar.

maplecreek2After a chance to try our luck with a bow, we were off to the next camp area that showcased how pioneers worked with the knowledge of the Aboriginal people and developed their own method to make sweet maple syrup – a three-kettle process. Everyone got a chance to try out a two-man push saw – just like playing tug of war over a toy – and to play a traditional ring toss game that would have been used by early settlers.


maplecreek4maplecreek7Then we were off to see the modern vacuum system that the Becharts use. This helps them extract more sap from the maples, which increased their production. They still had several trees that had buckets on them as well but it is so impressive to see how technology is making this job easier.

maplecreek5After, we were back on the wagon and it was another short trip to the sugar shack where the magic happens. I am always amazed to hear how it takes 40 litres of sap to make one delicious litre of maple syrup. The modern day evaporator was not running yet that day but I could imagine the smell of the sweet sap boiling away working its way to be the best topping on so many things.

maplecreek8 maplecreek9 maplecreek10Next stop was to sample the finished product in the tasting room. This place is a great spot to finish off your visit. They had a fire going and a variety of games to keep everyone busy while the freshly made pancakes and sausages were getting ready for us to devour.

maplecreek11
maplecreek12 maplecreek14We opted for pancakes, sausages and baked maple beans – although the maple milkshake was tempting. These were topped with a hearty helping of the Becherts’ work that was lovingly enjoyed by everyone in my family.

Maple products are also available to take home with you as you will be wanting to keep enjoying this liquid gold treat in any way that you can think of.

maplecreek12Maple season runs well into April so I would make room on your calendar to check out Blyth Creek Maple Farm this spring. You should plan on spending at least two and a half hours there.


Blyth Creek Maple Farm

Where: 52232 Montcrieff Road, Blyth

What: Family Adventures

(during maple season)

Sugar Bush Tour

  • $5 + HST (children 2-14)
  • $6 + HST (adults 15+)
  • Family Pass $20 + HST (2 children & 2 adults)             

Meal Menu (prices vary)

  • Pancake & Breakfast Sausage
  • Eggs, Pancake, Sausage
  • Eggs, Pancake, Sausage, Maple Baked Beans
  • Waffles
  • Specialty pancake of the day
  • Hot and Cold Drinks available

(applicable taxes not included)

Website: http://www.blythcreekmaplefarm.com/

It’s a sure sign of Spring: Beach Street Station is open

21 Mar

beachstreetstation1By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – The main attraction at The Beach Street Station is a bit of a toss up. Is it the intriguing menu of fresh, local foods carefully crafted by Chef James Welsh or is it the spectacular, ever-changing view served up by Mother Nature?

A close third place might be simply to glimpse the inside of this former CPR station, which was moved from one location to another with painstaking precision that drew a crowd daily in the summer of 2013, with its hipped roof over the central portion and a cross-gable and lunette trackside. Original interior features include a true ceiling with three large medallions, wooden screens, interior doors, fixtures, trim and decorative plaster. Its kitchen lies beyond a glassed wall so that diners can see their meals in the works.

On August 3, 1988, the last train stopped on the bridge to blow its whistle for a final time.

mainNo matter the reason, it’s the first Saturday of a new season, and at 6:30 p.m. the main dining area at the Beach Street Station is packed, much to the satisfaction of owner Herb Marshall. He has picked out a table in the middle of the room for us, but offers to seat us elsewhere if the glorious light of the sun becomes too much. But those of us on the west side of the table bob and weave in order to block the setting sun for our dinner companions. It’s the price we gladly pay for a clear, sunny evening in late March.

IMG_0110IMG_0119IMG_0130Herb’s wife, Sherry, and his daughter, Brianna, are also on the floor this evening, serving and visiting with guests.

The menu is expanded this season, with familiar dishes such as Yellow Perch and Chips ($18), and Great Lakes Pickerel ($24), and then there’s Five Spice Duck ($24) and Chicken Milanaise ($19). Vegan and gluten-free items are indicated on the menu.

IMG_0131Our table starts with: The enormous Huron County Charcuterie ($18), a mix of local cheese, cured meat, bread, marinated vegetables and mango chutney all served on a butcher block; a Roasted Beet Salad ($9), that’s divine in its simplicity; and an old favourite, two Crab Cakes ($12), served with a fresh corn relish and cilantro oil.

IMG_0125As a main, I choose the Great Lakes Pickerel, with its perfectly pan-seared fillets resting atop a mixture of roasted red-skinned potatoes, cauliflower and asparagus. It’s colourfully finished with a cascade of fresh salsa and dots of green that I fail to identify.

The fellow beside me passes around pieces of pork back ribs, which fall off the bone as he proffers a forkful across the table. Others also choose the pickerel, something of a must-have in a restaurant on Lake Huron.

IMG_0134By 7:30 p.m., the restaurant is much quieter, and the sun is just giving its final show on the horizon. There’s now a flourless chocolate cake sprinkled with icing sugar and a crème caramel topped with a chewy cookie being shared at our table. Both are delicious, according to those who test them. And the coffee, although not local, is strong and hot.

A perfect end to the day and a promise of a long summer on the lake.


 

Beach Street Station

Location: Goderich’s Beachfront

Hours: Effective March 16, from Wednesday to Sunday from 11:30 to 9 p.m. Subject to change as the season gets busy. It’s always best to call ahead and ensure the kitchen is open later hours.

Reservations: 519-612-2212

Website: Check online for menus, history, photos and videos.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Morris.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Morris.

Bayfield’s rich history stored in one building

16 Mar

bayfieldarchives3By Diva Claire Carter

Huron County is full of amazing stories. As residents, we sometimes forget the contributions to culture and Canada’s history that have come from our own backyards.

I’d walked past the beautiful dollhouse-like building that houses the Bayfield Historical Society and Archives many times, but had never gone inside.

That changed on a quiet trip to Bayfield.

A visit begins with a warm welcome.  It is hard not to feel a spark of curiosity as you open the old door.  Walls are lined with artifacts, artwork and books. Visitors can purchase books about the area and prints by Bayfield artists. Locally produced videos can be viewed on a big screen. I watched the film about Maud Stirling, a nursing sister from Bayfield.

bayfieldarchives1Volunteers host historic walking tours each Saturday in July and August, starting at 1 p.m.  As the website says, “Learn about the history of the area, the ghosts, the fires and the fascinating characters who helped make the village the wonderful place it is today.” The $10 fee supports Archive initiatives.  If you can’t make it on a Saturday, self-guided tours are available at the Archives and a number of other local outlets for $5.

Located at 20 Main Street North, the Bayfield Historical Society and Archives is open May to November from 1-4 pm on Wednesday and Saturday.

bayfieldarchives2

 

Mini-vacation in Huron County – just in time for March Break

14 Mar

naftel3The following is the second in a series of winter day-tripping ideas from Diva Shari Parsons, who has a special passion for driving adventures, trail hiking and photo opportunities.

Recently, my hubby had a week’s holiday but since we couldn’t “get away” we decided to enjoy some of the local attractions.

There is the saying “a change is as good as a rest” and even one night away from home feels like a mini holiday. We decided to use some travel reward points to book a Jacuzzi King Suite at the Dreamz Inn on Hwy. 21 between Goderich and Bayfield. We had stayed there one night last winter and enjoyed the experience so we decided to do it again.

After checking in, I swam for an hour in their clean, saltwater pool while my hubby alternated between pool, dry sauna and hot tub. We ate a picnic style supper, which we had brought with us, while watching TV on their good-sized flat screen TV. We ended our evening by snacking on potato chips while sharing a romantic soak in the large Jacuzzi tub in the firelight of the electric fireplace. The King bed was comfy as were the downy soft sheets.

In the morning, my hubby skipped down to the breakfast room to grab some free breakfast munchies while I enjoyed another soak in the Jacuzzi tub. When he came back we enjoyed blueberry muffins, yogurt and tea.

The sun was shining and the temperature was mild so after checking out of the hotel, we decided to go for a hike at Naftel’s Creek Conservation Area on Hwy. 21., just south of the Dreamz Inn. The Conservation Area’s entrance is on the east side of the highway. It is not well marked so you need to be looking out for it. The parking lot has a fair amount of space. The trail is popular with people walking dogs and cross-country skiers in the winter.

naftel7The main trail is fairly flat and winds its way through evergreens, hardwoods and cedars in wetland areas so there is a nice mix of environments and eco systems. There is a pond and a couple of tinkling creeks.

The beginning of the trail runs through a conifer plantation. Recent windstorms have toppled a few of the trees and you can see how wide but shallow the root system is that anchors these tall trees. You can tell by the tracks in the snow that the uprooted tree bases make for great shelter for the forest creatures.

naftel2naftel6Boardwalks lead you through mini forests of cattails in the wetlands as well as over bubbling streams, the edges of which are marked by deer tracks coming to the creek for a drink.

There had been a snowfall the previous day so the woods were covered in a fresh blanket of puffy white. Some tree stumps sported puffy caps making them look like giant mushrooms.

naftel5In the cedar groves, the trees on either side of the trail reach up and lean towards each other over the trail forming a natural cathedral ceiling and make the hiker feel like they are walking through a woody tunnel.

naftel1A winter hike on this trail is very quiet and peaceful with only the sound of the occasional chickadee.

The weather was still sunny after our hike and we didn’t feel like ending our mini holiday by going home yet so we decided to go for a country drive. We once again headed north and did the Blyth Road to Auburn then Base Line Road route. This time we decided to explore Maitland Block, a loop that cuts off of the Base Line Road and catches a portion of the Maitland River. It ended up that we weren’t able to traverse the whole road as not all of it is maintained in the winter, but on the way down, we watched a half dozen crows heckling a large hawk and soon saw the hawk’s mate following behind. On the way back up the road, I was looking at the tree-line and spotted a bald eagle sitting in a tree snacking on something. We got to watch it for quite a while before it majestically flew away.

We pulled off the side of Base Line Road at Little Lakes Road and walked down the hill to the historic Ball’s Bridge as that end of the road is not winter maintained. Down at the bridge we noted another group of crows displaying incredible acrobatics as they were swooping and dive-bombing another hawk in a tree.

ballsbridge4The icy edges of the riverbanks were covered with the wide-toed tracks of snowshoe hares.

ballsbridge1 ballsbridge2After walking back to the car (watch for snowmobiles as this is part of their trail) we drove to Londesboro Road. And then turned onto River Line Road. On one side of the road is an old brick building surrounded by antique farm machinery – an interesting contrast of textures and colours. On the crest of the hill, there is a large home resembling a fairy-tale castle, complete with rounded tower. This home has an incredible view of rolling farmlands and woodlands to the east.

ballsbridge8River Line Road becomes Hills Road, (a good name for the location) which is dotted with Victorian farm houses. We then headed through Benmiller on our way home.

There is so much variety and beauty in Huron County that you don’t have to leave to enjoy a winter holiday.

ballsbridge7 ballsbridge6 ballsbridge5


 

dreamzinn

Dreamz Inn as Your Destination:

What:

A contemporary designer hotel with luxuriously appointed rooms, with attention to detail. Non-smoking family atmosphere, with saltwater pool, fitness centre, outdoor lounging areas & multi-purpose court. Complimentary breakfast.

Where:

79272 Hwy. 21, at the intersection of Union Road and Hwy. 21. Between Goderich and Bayfield.

When:

Open year round.

Contact:

Website – http://www.dreamzinn.ca

Email – reserve@dreamzinn.ca

Phone – 519.524.7396 or toll free 1.855.524.7396

Auburn Grill offers a hearty breakfast menu

28 Feb

auburnrestaurantexteriorBy Diva Heather Boa

It’s obligatory for a reviewer to order the signature dish at a restaurant. And the top breakfast menu item at the Auburn Grill & Family Restaurant sounded pretty tempting – a Belgian waffle topped with corned beef hash, eggs and a special cream sauce.

So I ignored the usual offerings of eggs, omelettes, pancakes and sandwiches and put in an order for the Breakfast Special ($8.50) and a cup of coffee, then took note of my surroundings. The Sunday morning patrons were the usual rural crowd of ball caps and plaid and fluorescent work jackets, which in my books means the breakfast will be hearty and traditional, and the coffee will be refilled regularly. The melamine tables and crown-backed chairs were arranged around the work area, where customers pay for gas from the pumps outside, frozen meals and other convenience items, or fresh pastries from the glass case. Behind a piece of wood lattice, the cook prepared food in the kitchen.

Outside the picture window, the occasional vehicle drove by on Cnty. Road 35 (Blyth Road)  and on the other side of the road a farmer’s barren field lay exposed, a row of orange-tipped sticks all that remained to mark the trail snowmobilers would travel to come for a meal.

I was surprised to hear rock music playing in the restaurant, a little heavier variety than one usually hears in public places. I liked it well enough.

Breakfast arrived – a prepared crispy waffle with a light inside, corned beef (but no potato to make it hash), nicely scrambled eggs, and a thick cheesy white sauce that would stick to your ribs on a cold morning.

auburnrestaurantBut I might have made a tactical error in ordering the Breakfast Special, and I’ve since learned that the restaurant is really known locally for its generous portions of standard breakfast fare – eggs, meat, homefries and toast. I’ll make a note of that for my next visit.

No matter what the meal, coffee is a deal breaker for me. Is it hot enough? Is it strong enough but not bitter? Is it refilled on a regular basis? And on all fronts, this coffee did indeed stack up.

The Auburn Grill and Family Restaurant also has a complete lunch and dinner menu, plus children’s menu, and is open seven days a week until 7 p.m.

 

Mini winter holiday in Huron County: Part I

28 Feb

hikinggoderich4The following is the first in a series of winter day-tripping ideas from Diva Shari Parsons, who has a special passion for driving adventures, trail hiking and photo opportunities.

What do you do when you need a “Winter Getaway” but you can’t actually “getaway”? That was the conundrum facing my hubby and me this past week. With a week’s holidays and only a beer budget, you have to get a little creative.

We decided to take advantage of some of our favourite activities in some of our favourite places right here in our own backyard of Huron County.

hikinggoderich3A sunny day with cold winds called for a road trip on country roads. We started down at the Goderich waterfront where I enjoyed looking at the fantastic ice mounds formed just offshore. The ice covering the one harbour entrance light made the building look like a frosted wedding cake. Snow and ice made for some interesting costumes for the dozens of Inuksuit (that is the plural form) still bravely standing along the ice-encrusted shoreline.

hikinggoderich2A stop at the north end of St. George’s Crescent in Goderich gives a fantastic view of the grain elevators, salt mine, and harbour, which on this particular day held three ships in an icy grasp. Puffy clouds on the horizon mimicked snow capped mountains in the distance. Turn around and you can enjoy the wonderful historical architecture of stately homes such as McDermott’s castle and the former home of lumber merchant Joseph Williams.

hikingauburn5We continued to drive north from Goderich on Hwy. 21 and turned onto Blyth Road (Cnty. Rd. 35) where we enjoyed the sight of rolling snow covered fields criss-crossed with sparkling creeks. After crossing the picturesque Maitland River in Auburn, we turned south onto the Base Line Road and pulled off at Manchester Park to take in the sights and sounds of the Maitland River on a sunny winter’s day. The sunlight made an interesting pattern of shadows on the snow from the long line of poplar trees along the lane. The snow was criss-crossed with the tracks of an adventurous field mouse.

hikingauburn6We continued south on Base Line Road, then turned west on the Londesboro Road and stopped at the former mill in Benmiller, which is now the Benmiller Inn. You can watch the Maitland River flow past the historic River Mills buildings. I took some photos of interesting architectural features frosted with snow. The blue sky, trees and historic building of Gledhill House were reflected in the water of Gledhill Pond.

hikingbenmiller8We returned home having enjoyed the bright winter sun, lovely scenery and some great photo ops.

Grab your favourite hot beverage, jump in the car and explore the beauty that surrounds us in Huron County!

hikinggoderich1hikingauburn7hikingbenmiller10hikingbenmiller9

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