Natalie MacMaster

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Note: This interview has been condensed.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Celtic fiddling and step-dancing sensation, Natalie MacMaster.  She’ll be performing a sold-out Christmas show in Ottawa this week along with her husband, musician Donnell Leahy.  Not only do they tour roughly 100 days a year but they also maintain a family beef farm and raise six young children.

A common misconception of homeschooling is that it is done by two-parent, single-income families. My experience is that a high percentage of families are dual income and a surprising number are single-parent.  The MacMaster/Leahy team are a visible example of how people work homeschooling into the existing life they have, whatever that is.

SWMBO: What is your homeschooling style? Do you adopt an unschooling approach to maintain your sanity?

NM: We’ve only ever homeschooled our family.  Mary Francis was 3 1/2-ish and I thought I better try this if we’re going to be touring.  I had hoped I would never have to homeschool.  But I have a teaching degree from teachers’ college and I thought I better be open to it because look at what we’re doing.  How can our kids ever go to school?

I thought I’ll just order a couple of books and see what it’s all about.  I found it very difficult at first.  I think I started her too young.  I think I was overly eager.  Too much for too young an age but I kept it up and here we are with 5 in school.

Now I split the homeschooling with a retired teacher of 30 years.  She does two days and I do two days a week.  And then when I’m on tour I do the schooling solely or if we have a project of some sort like a recording project, she can take on more if I need.

I follow a bit of a curriculum with the Seyton program and then we have Saxon Math.  Now that I’m on tour, I brought with me science, journal-writing, religion and math.  And we try to do that four days a week.

SWMBO: On the road, do you run into other performing artists homeschooling their kids? Is it more prevalent than people might think?

NM: NO!  No. No. No.  Not a lot of people in this industry have children.

SWMBO:  What is the typical reaction you get when people find out that your kids are on the road with you, performing and homeschooling?

NM: Well, I don’t really know.  I don’t think they really tell me.  They must think something.  I don’t make it [homeschooling] public knowledge.  If someone asks me, I tell them.  Some people say, “Oh wow.”  Or “How do you do it?

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Y2K: Natalie MacMaster in 2000 at the Kingston Celtic Festival with young fans Chelsea and Aric McPherson. Photo credit: Ingrid McPherson

Hacking Update – November 14, 2016

GOAL: 7 Free one-way tickets from Ontario to Japan by September 2017. It’s an ambitious goal and an experiment in travel hacking for large families. ATTAINED!

METHOD: Mainly reward miles earned through credit card sign-up bonuses. Also credit card purchases and miles earned on flights.

COST PER TICKET: roughly $520 Cdn to purchase OR 37 500 Aeroplan points OR 5 580 blue Airmiles (low season)

BASELINE AT JAN 1, 2016:

SUMMARY – 1 free flight (Ontario – Japan)

FAHBIO – 67 326 Aeroplan points
SWMBO – 0 Aeroplan points, 4719 blue Airmiles points

Keeping organized with my credit card hacking is important. I have to make sure to meet the minimum first 3 month spend and to remember to cancel cards before the first year is up if I decide the annual fee is not worth it.

Beginning May 1, 2016, I will post a monthly update on where we’re at. When you see a big jump from last month, you can bet a credit card sign-up bonus is involved. To get the details, please see my frequently updated credit card tracker.

NOVEMBER 14, 2016

SUMMARY

7 free flights (Ontario – Japan) GOAL ATTAINED IN 11 MONTHS!

FAHBIO

114 556 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 979 Aeroplan points
8 380 blue Airmiles points
171 563 AMEX reward points* (75 000 of these points cost $700, the price of a Platinum Amex card. Since I am opposed to paying for points, I’m not counting these towards my free flights. Technically, they just mean that the Platinum card was free since they are worth $750 and the card cost $699.) 171 563 – 75 000 = 100 563

SEPTEMBER 12, 2016

SUMMARY

6 free flights (Ontario – Japan) but so close to having 7 free flights

FAHBIO

106 173 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 979 Aeroplan points
8 244 blue Airmiles points
167 587 AMEX reward points* (75 000 of these points cost $700, the price of a Platinum Amex card. Since I am opposed to paying for points, I’m not counting these towards my free flights. Technically, they just mean that the Platinum card was free since they are worth $750 and the card cost $699.) 167 587 – 75 000 = 92 587

AUGUST 1, 2016

SUMMARY

4 free flights (Ontario – Japan) but so close to having 6 free flights

FAHBIO

103 874 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 609 Aeroplan points
8 145 blue Airmiles points
122 119 AMEX reward points* (75 000 of these points cost $700, the price of a Platinum Amex card. Since I am opposed to paying for points, I’m not counting these towards my free flights. Technically, they just mean that the Platinum card was free since they are worth $750 and the card cost $699.) 122 119 – 75 000 = 47 119

JULY 1, 2016

SUMMARY

4 free flights (Ontario – Japan)

FAHBIO

100 557 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 609 Aeroplan points
8 034 blue Airmiles points
40 443 AMEX reward points*

JUNE 1, 2016

SUMMARY

4 free flights (Ontario – Japan), almost 1 free flight earned per month

FAHBIO

96 433 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 609 Aeroplan points
7 889 blue Airmiles points
37 743 AMEX reward points*

MAY 1, 2016

SUMMARY

4 free flights (Ontario – Japan), almost 1 free flight earned per month

FAHBIO

90 133 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 609 Aeroplan points
7 679 blue Airmiles points
32 614 AMEX reward points*

*AMEX points can be used as a travel credit (100 points = $1) or transferred to Avios (British Airways) or Aeroplan (Air Canada) 1:1.

Morse Museum

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Until I visited the Chicago Cultural Center , my image of Tiffany glass was of tired lamps found at The Old Spaghetti Factory.  It wasn’t until I saw the massive glass dome in the cultural centre and learned about Tiffany’s ground-breaking techniques that I became interested in the man and his innovations.

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Where’s my lasagna and garlic bread?

In October, we travelled to Orlando and I learned of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art .  The museum name is misleading because the museum is all about Tiffany and houses the largest collection of his glass in the world.  It is located in Winter Park, a stately suburb of Orlando.  The museum is world class and covers all aspects of Tiffany’s life and innovations including: this massive wealth; his influence at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (his entire World’s Fair chapel is housed in the museum); his estate (partially moved and rebuilt in the museum after a fire); his influence as an interior designer; his family life; his father’s Tiffany jewelry company; his interest in Eastern art and architecture; and his women’s glass cutting department.

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Window from Tiffany’s chapel in 1893 World’s Fair

Each room in the museum has a pile of well-written, informative pamphlets of background information related to the objects in that room.  These pamphlets alone, are worth the price of admission as, together, they form an easy to read, full account of the the man and why he was trailblazer in the day.

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Daffodil column from Tiffany’s estate

A visit to this museum is recommended if: you have an interest in art nouveau glass/jewelry/pottery; you like world-class, excellent value museums; you want to learn more about a fabulously rich family of the Rockefeller era; are fascinated by the 1893 World Columbian Exposition; enjoy beauty.

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Dragonfly lamp is one of Tiffany’s most famous pieces but was actually designed by Clara Driscoll, head of the Women’s Glass Cutting Department.  She was the true creator of many of his most iconic pieces and was the person who oversaw the team that produced the Chicago Cultural Center dome.

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Eight of us spent an afternoon in the dim coolness of the Morse Museum and it cost us a total of $19 US!  What a deal.

Adults – $6

Seniors 60+ – $5

Students – $1

Kids 12 and under – FREE

Free on Fridays from 4-8 pm, Free Parking all the time

Tuesday-Saturday: 9:30 – 4:00 (8:00 on Fridays)

Sunday: 1-4, closed Mondays

Carousel of Progress

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I’m going to leave it to other bloggers to write about mainstream Disney World.  I’m focusing on one of the most outdated, tame and overlooked “rides”.  The Carousel of Progress is the only item that was created by Walt Disney.  Other iconic, old timey rides like It’s A Small World are vintage but they’re copies of the original rides Walt worked on in California.

Walt worked on this carousel tirelessly to ready it for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  He loved it, was obsessed with it, actually touched it and sat in the audience seats.  I doubt you’ll ever have to wait more a few minutes to experience the carousel but I recommend watching the short documentary film shown during the wait.  It succinctly explains the Carousel of Progress.

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Photo Credit: disneyworld.disney.go.com

The carousel features a central stage divided into six pie pieces.  Each piece shows an American family in a certain period of time and highlights the home innovations of that era.  Probably because General Electric was a partner in those days.  The audience is seated and rotates around the stage.

Although the carousel was described to me by a Disney staff member as “pretty boring”, my kids loved it.  That staff member also bucked up once he realized I was interested anyways at which point he became a font of knowledge on the subject.  It’s one of the few things I remember from Disney when I came back in Grade 6.  My suspicion is that it’s one of his favourite rides but he’s been burned before recommending it.  He was a carousel nerd.

The ride was cheesy and outdated, yet cutting edge at the same time.  That much was clear.  It has been updated but don’t expect it to be up to date.  The last section will make you think of Back to the Future.  Also, and this is my favourite part, we experienced technical difficulties twice.  Boo ya!  The first time, the soundtrack started before our rotation so we missed the beginning of the narration.  The second time, something went wrong, we were told to remain seated and then we had to redo the whole 3 minute story before we could finally rotate out.

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Photo Credit: themickeywiki.com

I recommend this ride if you:  are nostalgic from when you went there as a child; don’t want to line up for another ride; are a nerd; need a break from the sun; love the progression of technology; have a thing for Walt Disney.