Recently got back from a trip with my brother, Tony, and his family to stay in a lodge in the Madawaska area. What an amazing experience. Tony has been going for years.
A group of families get together and share the lodge and grounds. This year, there were over 60 people staying. The cooking and cleaning chores are well organized: a few families are responsible for the cooking for everyone for the entire day. So they cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for everyone. Dishwashing duties are rotated amongst everyone. (If it’s your turn to cook for the day, you don’t have to do dishes!)
I hate long car trips (anything more than 3 hours is a long car trip for me) and this was a long car trip. But this time, it was well worth the drive. I learned that this is a private property, very large: about 50 square miles. It had been owned by the Westins, who donated it to the Salvation Army. I was awed by the silence. The shores were not dotted with cottages, there were no motor boats racing about. The lake and forest were breathtaking. And the lodge itself, as well as the other buildings on the site, were very old and beautiful.
The kids wasted no time in exploring the area. Since they didn’t know any of the other kids, they followed their cousins everywhere. I spent much of my time trying, in vain, to keep an eye on them. Still used to the city, I suppose.
Tony took Ronnie and I out for a canoe trip to the “swamp” at dusk. We saw 3 beaver dams, and actually caught a glimpse of a beaver swimming.
Went fishing off a nearby bridge with the boys and Tony. The fish were so plentiful! Michael had already caught a couple before we could get Ronnie’s line ready. Ronnie’s face lit up in pure joy after he caught a fish after only a short wait. Michael caught five and Ronnie three. They were somewhat small and we threw them all back. We think they were rock bass.
In the afternoon, Tony took us out to explore the lake (Lake Victoria) and for more fishing. The lake is stunning, and the beautiful granite cliffs were phenomenal.
The rest of the day was a blur. We used kayaks and paddleboats. Tony played horseshoes with his favourite opponent (a friendly rivalry between them going way back). Campfire with plenty of kids and adults putting on skits or telling stories. And I learned to give up trying to track Michael’s whereabouts. In fact, Ronnie and I headed off to bed at 10pm and left Michael on his own. He had a fantastic time playing Manhunt in the dark with flashlights. I have no idea when he eventually went to bed. He was sleeping in a room with his cousin Eric, and 2 other boys.
Vowed not to go fishing. I couldn’t get the smell of fish off my hands. On Friday, my hands had been covered in worm guts, fish blood and fish poo. So Michael had to manage on his own.
Saturday was a blur, too. I went kayaking, played bocce balls, and went hiking.
We hiked along a trail on Westin Island, having gotten there by canoe. (I’m not very experienced with canoes. Tony and Valerie, my sister-in-law, took charge while I lamely tried to help paddle while sitting in the middle. I left the kids back at camp with Lisa in charge of Ronnie.) The trail brought us to the top of a granite cliff — the cliff I had spotted while exploring the lake with Tony on the previous day.
Later in the day, I went on another hike with Norm and Nellie, the couple who organized the lodge stay. I didn’t bring my camera this time, and Norm was right when he told me I’d regret it. We reached the top of a high hill at sunset and the view was stunning. We could see the lake and the river winding through the forest. The hike itself was wonderful because the trail was so narrow, and it seemed as though the forest enveloped you.
Our cooking day! Up at 6:30, started cooking breakfast at 7am so that it would be ready for 8:30. So now I know what it’s like to cook for 60 people. I was very glad to have Tony and Val there to help since they’re now experienced at cooking for so many. Another couple, Greg and Paula, helped as well. Since we all had children, we had lots of helpers!
Breakfast featured scrambled eggs, bacon and banana bread. We also made oatmeal and put out cereal: part of every breakfast. After breakfast, we joined a service/mass out in the woods. It was lovely being outside amid the trees, facing the lake, and hearing everyone singing.
Then it was time to prepare lunch: Choice of meatball or tuna subs, veggies with dip, and fudgesickles for dessert. Lisa, my niece, works at Subway, so she showed us a few tricks. Like how to cut the bun like a little boat so that the sauce doesn’t fall out.
After lunch, I had a quick nap, and then we started peeling potatoes. Dinner was roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas, corn and carrots. Blackforest / carrot cake for dessert.
The kids and adults put on another little show with a play, skits and songs. Then we had to prepare the evening snack… cheese, crackers, leftover desserts and hot chocolate!
After cleaning up the snack dishes (the only dishes we had to do all day, whew!) and washing the kitchen floor, I was totally exhausted!! I took Ronnie to our room and collapsed.
Although it was a tiring day, it was well worth it. It’s a great idea: having a few families responsible for cooking for one whole day, free from cooking the rest of the time. I could only stay a few days, but most everyone else was there for about 8-9 days. So one grueling day of work and the rest of the days are free (except for the occasional dish washing duties).
Of course, the worst part for me was the fact that I could not eat most of the yummy food everyone prepared. I had to bring my own breakfasts, lunches and dinners because of the ulcerative colitis and the diet I’m on.
After breakfast, it was time to pack up and leave. I was bringing Valerie, Lisa and a friend of Eric’s back to the city. Michael decided he wanted to stay, so as I write this, he’s still there with Tony and Eric. I’m sure there are times he misses me or being home… but I’m sure he’s having a blast with all the other kids.
I should say that I was impressed with how welcoming all the ‘regular’ Madawaska lodge goers were. Very sweet, caring people. Many of them only see each other once a year while at the lodge. It’s clear they’ve become a very close knit group. It was indeed a lovely place, and a lovely group of people.