Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Our Toronto Digs

When we booked our trip to Toronto, I knew I wanted to stay downtown so that we'd have the option to walk wherever we wanted or hop on the transit system if we were feeling adventurous.  (Yes, that counts as adventurous for us.)  After perusing Expedia, I found the hotel in our price range and location sweet spot in the Financial District which is close to all of the other artsy districts but typically less busy at night, The Intercontinental Toronto Centre.  For three nights at that time of year, it cost $512 total with taxes.

We were in room 2020 which is a two queen room.

We booked a king room but were thankfully informed when we were checking in that it was by the elevator.  This was the only other room they had available* since they were apparently booked due to several conventions so we took it.  One for play, one for sleep.  HA!

There's a nice sized TV in the room when you're ready to kick back for the night.

There is a nice work area if business is your purpose with lots of USB ports and plugs at the desk so you can plug in all of your chargers and gadgets.

We loved the little settee by the window so we could city watch at night.  I know...creepers.

In between the beds was the main night stand that had a working (!) iPod dock with really good sound, your phone to call down with any questions and of course your obligatory pad, pen and remote.  Also a plug for chargers or whatever there in the middle.

The bathroom was standard and it has a scale if you'd like to curse your food choices of the day.

The shower thankfully looked good.  We've stayed in some high end hotels and the showers look like a before shot for a mold and mildew spray commercial or caulk peeling away.

It comes with a nice little coffee/tea station for your morning cuppa as well as the Bible in case you need to cleanse any sins you may have committed in the room.

They "thoughtfully" provide you with evil temptations in the form of a snack bar tray.  Would you like a Kit Kat Chunky that you would've paid $.99 for at Rexall?  That'll be $5 please!  It promptly went onto the upper shelf in the closet never to be seen again until our departure.

They did have two recycle bins next to it though and heavily encourage recycling which is nice to see and we were more than happy to oblige.

They do have a mini fridge stocked with the usual suspects.

They provide you with one robe and one pair of slippers.  I just can't.  I don't know whose been in those before me but nice that they do it for those who aren't easily skeeved.  Plus, let's get real.  Those robes usually fit someone half my size so I would've gotten a real ego boost trying it to see 1/3 of my body hanging out.

But thankfully a nice iron this time and an ironing board.  There's also a safe and few drawers if you want to put your laptop out of sight.

I must admit, I did love waking up to this view every day!

Oh yeah, so here's our view looking left out the window...

...and here's our view looking right.

You can see by the arrow how close Union Station is in case you're coming in by rail.  For those who may be worried about noise being so close to the train station, we didn't hear a thing the entire time!

Now we'll get to the other stuff.

While I appreciate the nice toiletries and abundance of extras, we were missing a glass.  It wasn't a big deal and not really worth calling about but this was hint one of the rush job done on the bathroom.

The second hint was the myriad of hairs both on the counter top and in the shower.  I didn't take a picture of those because I was doing good not to dry heave and didn't need the reminder.  I'm skeevy about hair especially other peoples and from unidentified parts of the body.  Oh and a tip...ALWAYS wash your drinking glasses at hotels!  Article after article confirms they often get a rinse and then tipped upside down.  Gross.  I'm not saying that happened here, I don't think it did but I washed it anyway because I'm not risking it.

The full length mirror that takes up a nice chunk of real estate had very obviously not been cleaned in a long time.  (In order to see the spots, look at the backpack.  The spots and drips are all on the mirror.)

I know that seems small in the scheme of things but it's all over the mirror and really, it takes 30 seconds to go top to bottom.  If you're not cleaning the bathroom to its full potential then at least clean the mirror.

Here's a peek at the price list if you'd like room service.

$21 for oatmeal!?!?  $23 for pancakes!?  Um, no thanks.  Oh and that was before the other fees on top of it to deliver it and stuff.  Thank God, I brought our Hot Logic Mini and we were able to have both on two separate mornings for about $7 for both of us compared to $100 if we'd eaten the above mentioned two days in a row.

I was on the floor doing PT and wished I'd put down a towel.  When you're down that close to carpet, you see a lot of hair that has become woven into the fibers.  There isn't much that can be done about this obviously but be aware if you're going to be on the floor of any hotel.

The beds.  Holy hell.  If you need a medium to plush experience like I do, this room is not for you. Both beds were like concrete and I felt like Zelda from Pet Sematary every morning.  Firm as firm can be.

Parking is $45 per night at the time of writing plus tax and some other fee so it was $51 per night for valet.  This included in and out privileges so you just call down like 10 minutes before you need the car and for us it was worth it.  You can do self park for $30 but that's if you plan to walk the city or take transit because there are no in and out privileges on that one.

Internet is not free unless you're a rewards member which is free to join so we did prior to going. Even though we booked through Expedia, we called the hotel and linked up our reward number and verified the free internet perk.  These rewards are part of other hotel chains like Holiday Inn, Kimpton boutique hotels and Candlewood Suites so it's probably a good idea to sign up if you stay at any of those places regularly.  Now the free internet is basically for surfing.  We were able to stream our workouts but not a great quality.  You have to pay I think $10/day for the good stuff.

*- Speaking of booking through Expedia.  I have used them and to save some dough and let me tell you while it is nice to save money, I have a pretty good feeling that they save the less desirous rooms for those customers whether it's this or any other hotel chain.  Any time we've not booked through the hotel, the rooms we get are always interesting.  Like the original booked room being by an elevator (and the front desk dude being nice enough to inform us of that) but this room had it's quirks as well.  While we were thankful we were not connected to other rooms due to a utility room on one side and room housing the smoke damper on the other, those rooms made their share of pipe clanging noises that were irritating at first but easy to get used to.  Especially when you consider taking that over the sound of screaming kids or couples or couples in the throes of God knows what, God knows when.  At 7am during the weekdays, some noise that sounded like a train barreling through the room would happen for about a full minute.  We suspect it was the damper room since that's where the noise came from.  Though we did have fun making up stories of what it could be between trains and an industrial sized smoothie machine.

All in all, we really enjoyed our stay here.  We've certainly stayed in worse at high end hotels so I'm not complaining about the few annoyances.  We would stay here again if we came back.  There are so many things that are walkable from the hotel including great restaurants, markets and shopping.

If you want to see how we spent our time in Toronto, click here to see our adventures.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Side Trippin': Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada

Niagara-on-the-Lake is an adorable little Canadian town located in Southern Ontario where Lake Ontario meets the Niagara River.  We went there back in 2010 and I've been getting the itch to go back ever since.  When I saw we'd be passing right by there on our way back from Toronto, you can bet I put it on the itinerary!

In the center of town is this statue of playwright George Bernard Shaw.

ShawFest runs every April through October showing plays, talks from guest speakers, ghost tours and a host of other activities.  I'm not sure what the connection is with this town but they seem to immerse themselves in all things Shaw over the sunnier months and if it gives you an excuse to visit, go for it!

The town is quaint with all kinds of specialty stores, restaurants and B&B's if you'd like an extended stay.

As you can see it had rained when we went there but thankfully stopped when we got there so the streets weren't crowded at all and it was a Saturday.

If you have some showers, consider yourself lucky since it seems to keep the people at bay.  Just grab an may be sweet but you ain't made of sugah, you won't melt!  ;-)

Some of the stores are a little funky but memorable.

It's a town to get your fill of their amazing wines and pay the premium for the Icewine or at least do a tasting while you're there!  We both loathe wine but love Icewine.  SO good but it's also when my inner cheapskate tends to win out.

They also do a great job hitting the sweet tooth.  We parked in front of Maple Leaf Fudge and when I saw they had Penuche (brown sugar) Fudge, we HAD to get a slice.

Oh my Lord.  We were trying to justify a way to get the buy three get one free deal in our heads but given we already had the sugar sweats after a 1/4 of a slice, we thought better of it.  SOOO good!  (I just wish they kept it wrapped though because the outside at any fudge place like this is always harder and makes you feel a little gypped.)

Down the street was a retro candy store called Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe.  They had new candy of course but also some great favorites from childhood and Jelly Belly even manufactures Icewine jelly beans for the area!

I seriously regret not getting some of those to try but probably better I didn't because if they were really good, I would've walked out with 1/2 lb and would've been 20 minutes away from turning into the Great Cornholio on a sugar rant.

We went across the street to The Scottish Loft which has food imports from England, Wales and of course Scotland.  In case you're a Curly Wurly (aka Marathon Bar) fan from back in the day like the Mr, they had the best price on them.  Also, because I'm a petulant 7 year old boy at heart...

I was so happy to see my favorite store was still there, Cecile's Home & Gifts.

It's a cute shop but I think the first time I saw it, the big French provincial decorating craze was just about to hit.  Now that it's been a little overdone, I was only slightly less impressed this time.  They do have a ton of soaps and skin care products and after a sales pitch on several different kinds of soap, the Mr purchased some teak wood soap for his shaving ritual and it smells so good I want to attack him.  (In a good way, of course.)

We had fun poking around Victoria Teas and Coffee.

Lots of tea testers to sniff and the prices seemed to be pretty decent for the bags.  They had some cute accessories to make the coffee or tea lover in your life over the moon.

Should you find yourself needing a grocery store to pick up a few necessities like better prices on more common candy to the region, there's a Valu-Mart.

There is a pretty nice 9 hole golf course there but since it was cold and we're not golfer so we drove by it.  There are places to sit and watch the water or even driving the neighborhood to ogle the gorgeous homes is a fun activity.

Whether you're picking up a bite to eat or touring a winery, Niagara on the Lake is a cute little side trip if you find yourself in the Niagara Falls or Toronto area.

[A side note: parking is limited and they make their money on parking tickets.  We should know, we got one in 2010.  They have one of those central parking permit kiosks you have to buy through and not meters.  Here's a map of the streets and parking times so you don't have to learn the hard way.]

Have you ever been to Niagara on the Lake? 

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Monday, May 22, 2017

48 Hours in Toronto

When we booked a trip to go see a show in Toronto, we added an extra day so that we would have a full 48 hours to explore a bit.    I know we didn't hit everything there was to see but we feel like we hit the things that were most important to us and I'll try to give links to things that will help you if you're planning a trip there as well.

We stumbled upon this Toronto sign in the middle of the city.

The sign was actually made as part of the City of Toronto's Host City Showcase Program to celebrate the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.  It's in Nathan Phillips Square at the time of writing. Here's a good article giving a little more info about the sign.

This was taken as we drove into the city around the lake from the Niagara area.  The skyline has changed quite a bit since the opening shot of our favorite Toronto based show Forever Knight was filmed 25 years ago.  Oy.

We've been to a few Chinatown's including San Francisco.  While Toronto's isn't quite as flashy, it did have its own unique flavor.  This page can help you properly explore this area.

There are a few shopping meccas in the city including CF Toronto Eaton Centre and Yonge Dundas Square which is kind of like their version of NYC's Times Square.  If you're into shopping and hustle and bustle, this area is for you!

It's kind of crazy, there are murals everywhere, which I love, but there is also a massive graffiti problem covering every square inch.  I'm not talking art or tagging but what in our area would be perceived as gang turf wars ruining beautiful buildings or over top of murals.  It appears they don't try to cover it up or remove it either  I know there are a few readers from there if you can comment on it.  Maybe it's just more accepted there or the cost is too high to remove it?

This pic isn't even a good example of it as murals and graffiti seem to coexist here but I didn't get pics of defaced buildings
If you're looking to park your car and take the streetcars throughout the city, here's the website you'll need for schedules, fares, etc.

We were there to see Gene Kelly: The Legacy at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.  It was a nice, mid sized venue that looks like it has some good performances coming up.  I will say if you are tall, position yourself on an end if you can because the seats are pretty close and it's been recently remodeled so that's not changing anytime soon.  Parking was $12 at the time.

When we came out from the show, we had a beautiful shot of downtown showing off.

We explored the city by foot but the Mr wanted to see Union Station since there was a picture of it in our hotel room from the 1930's.  The outside was really beautiful.

Unfortunately, at the time, they were undergoing serious remodeling and it literally looked like a warehouse in there.  If you're taking VIA Rail Canada over to Toronto, here's the website you'll need to plan your ride.  (Our hotel in this Wednesday's post was about 2-3 blocks from here so it'd be a good place to stay!)

Toronto is home to the Hockey Hall of Fame.  We're not fans (ducking pucks) but I had to take a pic for the friends of mine who are.

I really enjoyed our visit to St. Lawrence Market which was a nice walkable distance from our hotel. It wasn't in our calorie allowance to have a "peameal bacon sandwich" which is touted quite heavily here but apparently this is the place to grab one.  Lots of great fresh meat and produce vendors.

The Gooderham Building is a beautiful bit of history in the big city.

The Canada Walk of Fame is something we just stumbled on and were glad we looked down when we did.

To see the star map and search for your favorites, click here.

We needed a bit of a breather from the city and knowing us like I do, I planned for that.

The Scarborough Bluffs area is just stunning.  It was the perfect place for a chilly picnic as there were lots of picnic tables and we got to see some beautiful scenery.  It was just what we needed to renew our city weary souls at that point in the trip.

I'm gonna be honest, I don't know what the hell this big ass bird is by the convention centre and the internet isn't much help to me on that.  If you know what it is, chime in or run screaming in case it comes to life.

The CN Tower was close to us and of course we had to at least strain our necks to gawk at it.  We really went back and forth on whether or not to go up in it but we were on the 20th floor of our hotel and figured for the price the view might not be too much different.

It might be right up your alley though especially if you're a daredevil and want to do the EdgeWalk. Peruse the website and see if you've got the nads to do it.  (I thought about it...then I didn't.)

If you've followed me for any length of time, you know our vacations involve trying to work movie locations into the mix.  A lot of movies were filmed in Toronto including one of our 80's faves, Police Academy where the Blue Oyster Bar and the police academy were.

Bring lots of money.  Don't get excited, this price is per liter, not gallon at the time.  What would've cost us $30 in the US cost us $50 there.

Obligatory Hard Rock Cafe for those of you who still collect the shirts/merch.

This was the view from our final night in the hotel.  We did love just sitting at the settee by the window and city watch.  I don't know what we thought was going to happen but we do the same thing in Chicago when we stay on Michigan Ave.

Some places I wanted to go but we didn't have the time or the weather on our side were:

Casa Loma
Toronto Islands
Toronto Botanical Gardens

Things that may be of interest to you:

Toronto Zoo  (This is where the scene with the polar bear was filmed in The Santa Clause)
Ripley's Aquarium Of Canada
Kensington Market
The Path (in case you need something to do when it's raining)

This should give you a good array of things to see and do when in Toronto should you decide to go. I hope you enjoyed tagging along!

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Friday, May 19, 2017

My experience at Gene Kelly: The Legacy

(My program cover)
As some of you know, I have been on a quest since the beginning of the year to watch classic movies before my time.  I felt like there was a huge portion of pop culture I was missing out on and I was right.  Xanadu was one of my favorite movies before it was cool to call it "cult."  Part of it was because I had a major girl crush on Olivia Newton John but the other was I fell in love with the older guy in the movie...some guy named Gene Kelly.  At the time, I didn't know his impressive history, hey, I was six.  All I knew is I loved how funny he was and how expressive he was with his eyes and smile.  When I watched Singing in the Rain for the first time a few months ago (I know, I know), I recognized that adorable older man but as a young, virile man who was talented in basically every way someone could have talent.  The way he looked at a woman was like he was etching her every detail into his mind.  The way he held a woman with one arm as he twirled her showing off his athleticism.  That look of pure joy and happiness when he danced even if in reality he was working his tail off to make it appear so easy.   The smooth, velvety tones as he sang that induced a million swoons making every girl (and probably even some guys) wish he was singing to them.   What can I say?  I was hooked.

When I began trying to soak up any available info on him I could find, I stumbled upon Gene Kelly: The Legacy's page.  The page is run by his wife, Patricia Ward Kelly and the sweet stories and anecdotes I found truly warmed my heart.  I felt compelled to message her and tell her how much her husband meant to me both as a child and how I am discovering his true body of work as an adult.  I figured even if I never got a response, I just felt like I wanted to share what he meant to me and how much I appreciated the stories she shared.  Surprisingly, within the hour, I received a sweet response from her and she said she'd be in Toronto at the end of the month if I'd like to come to the show.  I checked with the Mr the next day and saw there were still some good seats available, it was for a worthy cause and since we rarely do anything spontaneous, we went for it.  I checked our credit card rewards and we had enough cashback to cover our hotel room, I used birthday money to buy the tickets because I was kind of dragging the Mr to something he had no clue what to expect so there wouldn't be much out of pocket for us.

We went to Queen Elizabeth Theatre downtown, got a program and sat in our seats.  The stage had some prop boxes on one side.

As the show began with a beautiful clip montage from some of the movies of his I have seen like Singing in the Rain, The Pirate, An American in Paris, For Me and My Gal, The Three Musketeers and ones I need to see like Brigadoon, It's Always Fair Weather and Words and Music.  I sat there with a big smile on my face.  There he was, larger than life.  Those eyes.  That smile.  The scar.  All of his glory on the only way that does him justice, the big screen to match his big personality and talent.  His wife Patricia came out and began talking about how they met including a funny story about how she schooled him as he was testing her knowledge on pretty much any subject out there.  It was presented in a way that had it been done to me, I probably would've had a few choice words for him.  But I love that she was able to answer his every question and wow him on an intellectual level.  It was the beginning of their love story including a vivid description of her outfit when she first met him that had me cracking up.

The first thing you realize about Patricia is not just how much she loved him and how much of her was tied to him but more importantly what a fabulous woman she is on her own.  With all sincerity, that dame is #goals for sure.  She is smart, funny, endearing, vulnerable in a way that touches every part of your heart and mind and just oozes this worldly way about her.  She and Gene fell in love over Etymology or the origin of words.  She related a story where someone asked Gene what they should study (they were referring to dance) and he said "everything!"  Dance, art, poetry and other subjects in the pursuit of being a well rounded person.  I have to say that really inspired me even as a middle aged woman.  Part of my quest to watch the classics was to be well rounded in pop culture but yes, it would behoove me to take Mr. Kelly's advice as well.

There were about 15 clips from his movies and each one came with an introduction by Patricia with some detail or story about what Gene experienced that was relayed in a way that felt like Gene was telling you himself.  It makes sense given they were married but she has an uncanny way of delivering these stories with such depth, emotion and ease that it's hard to remember that she wasn't actually the one that was there.  It was also interesting to gauge the audience reaction when certain clips came up.  You would think that Singing in the Rain or An American in Paris would be the big attention grabbers and they both did get applause when they appeared.  But you could tell the sentimental favorites of this particular crowd.  When she talked about how people run hot or cold with the movie The Pirate, I was actually relieved to hear that.  Because while I think his performance is amazing in the movie, that horrible hairdo they gave him really distracts me.  She shows a clip of one of my favorite songs from the movie, NiƱa.  (Sadly that is audio only so it takes away a lot of the charm of the number which is seeing his facial expressions and moves.  So I suggest you rent it, if you haven't seen it because he and Judy Garland have great chemistry in it.)  When that number came on, there was a collective sigh of happiness from all of us and a lot of laughter and hootin' and hollarin' at his pole dancing.  Another movie that got that happy sigh and laughter was just the mere mention of the film Summer Stock.  I haven't seen that one yet but have heard I need to because yet another great performance by he and Judy even though she was not in a good way personally during that time.  Just seeing the scene for "You Wonderful You" and the "Newspaper Dance" was enough to put it on my rent list.  The stories she tells regarding this film are a true testament to not only Gene's talent but his loyalty and empathy as a friend and human being.

Then comes the part where she shares what it was like the day he had a stroke.  Like many of us who have had a devastating event occur in our lives, she remembers dates and times.  She shares them with glassy eyes, a lump in her throat and a gratefulness of being able to have that last year with him. When she describes what it was like to lose him, my tears were simply too much to be stopped so I don't even attempt to wipe them away.  It was futile because for five minutes, I was not a woman watching a performance, I was a wife sharing in the unfathomable heartbreak of losing the person that you would do anything for.  As she rolled a clip, I felt compelled to keep my eye on her.  As she looked up at his image on the screen from her dark corner, she turned to the side and wiped her nose with a tissue.  If I didn't think I would've been dragged to jail, I would've gone up and put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her.  Her warm and funny personality instantly draws you in and her carefully crafted, loving tribute to a man everyone there loves and admires makes you feel a little protective of her for his sake.

Remember those boxes?  Well, she shares some personal props and mementos from his archives.  Some of you may remember the scene from Take Me Out to the Ball Game where he sang "The Hat My Father Wore" and she has the hat!  She also has some of his old Irish hats (or "dude hats" as I called them when I was a kid).  She shared a note he wrote on their wedding day as well as one of many Valentine's he'd shower her with on Valentine's Day.  (Cue swooning from all the ladies in the audience.)   A few other amazing things were shared but I don't want to give it all away. It was so kind of her to share these personal and professional effects to give us a little more of a peek into the man.

I know this sounds kind of weird but as someone who has dabbled in video and knows what it takes to write and produce a project, her thought and detail to not just the stories she tells but the props, lighting and delivery are perfection.  It not only honors her husband and his legacy but creates one of her own as a champion to keep his significant contributions to the arts in the forefront.  As the newest generation comes up on La La Land and gets inspired by the dancing and style, it is no doubt they will stumble upon Gene's name in their thirst to acquire more knowledge about something that inspires them so much.  If they only knew what they were in for once they do begin their path on discovering the facets of talent Gene had not just as a singer, actor and dancer but as a choreographer, director, trained acrobat, gymnast and athlete.  I know I'm pretty green on my knowledge about him but her show helped me understand so much more about him.  The Mr was humoring me by attending (as all good husbands should!) but came out with an immense respect for the renaissance man Gene was.  He was already impressed by the stuff in front of the camera but it was her showing the clip of him directing "Hello Dolly" that really sealed it for him.  So you don't have to be a huge fan in order to come away with an appreciation for the extraordinary person Gene was.

We both commented on how it seemed that maybe he wasn't convinced that he had left that big of a mark on the arts and what it said about his being humble.  Patricia commented that he didn't like to be called a perfectionist because he likened it for going to a don't want the sloppy guy, you want the best.  It's so true when you phrase it like that and it should inspire us all to put that kind of expectation on the things that represent who we are.  This show isn't just about the life of a great man but it's a love and life story on how we should strive to be as we make our own contributions in this world.

I was sad when I thought of how little time they got together but when I relate it to my own grandpa finding love with his third wife before cancer took him, they had 10 years together as well.  He was never happier than he was with her to hear him tell it and I get the feeling it was the same with Gene and Patricia.  Despite a 46 year age difference that became the focus of Hollywood scuttlebutt, but the press were missing the most important part of their  Because it is very clear, their love is here to stay.  (Sorry, I had to.)  Seriously...when she talks about him and the way he still makes her smile even today, that age difference means nothing and I mean nothing.  I've seen write ups where she's referred to as his widow and while it's technically true, I don't feel comfortable calling her that because it is very evident their love endures.  We should all be so lucky to experience a love story where two souls who were meant to find each other did and when you do, no amount of time is ever enough whether it is ten years or seventy years.  But the time they did have together, it is obvious they loved a lifetime's worth.

That night, I had a dream.  I dreamed I was on a movie star tour, got bored and hopped off to take pics and began wandering the neighborhood.  Off a side street, I saw an older gentleman retrieving his mail and a rolled paper fell out of his hand and into to the street.  I ran to pick it up and handed it to him...Gene.  I knew who he was but wasn't going to let on.  He said he hadn't seen me in the neighborhood before and I told him I deserted my tour to look at the beautiful architecture of the homes.  He began telling me stories about the homes in the area, the people who lived in them and how glad he was people were preserving them.  I mentioned how lovely his home looked from where I was standing and how beautiful he kept it.  He thanked me and asked my name and he said "I'm..." and I said "oh I know who you are!"  He smiled and said "oh, you do?" and I said "yes, you're Fred Astaire!"  He stopped for a moment shocked and I couldn't stop myself from smiling and he let out a huge laugh, put his arm around me and said "come on in kid, that was a good one, you're having lunch with me!"  I have a sneaking suspicion this wouldn't have been far from the truth having a little more insight into his personality thanks to Patricia's wonderful show!

You can go to and sign up for updates or the Facebook page to subscribe and get info on when Patricia Ward Kelly may be coming to your area with this outstanding production.  If it's within a day's drive, go on a little side trip, it's worth it to see this.  If you're unable to make it, she is very active on the Facebook page and shares some lovely stories there for fans to enjoy.

(This post contains affiliate links.  Should you choose to buy through them, I may receive a small commission  to help with blog expenses.)
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