Friday, November 2, 2007

There’s something about Mount Mary.


For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mount Mary is the retreat where, for more than 30 years, the OHCG School has taken place every fall. It is a magical place. From the moment you drive through the front gates, you know you are somewhere very special.

The retreat is housed on hundreds of acres in the beautiful town of Ancaster. Stands of majestic evergreens, punctuated by charming stucco buildings paint a serene picture that is echoed throughout the entire weekend. It’s a quiet place that inspires reflection in even the chronically stressed.

All sorts of wildlife can be seen scampering around the grounds, along with locals who hike through the property with or without their dogs. The lawns are perfectly manicured and the foliage on the deciduous trees on this fall weekend provides a spectacular palette of colours.

This was my first time at the OHCG School, despite having heard nothing but positive things about it. For many reasons, it is the perfect school for me. I need only take one day off work versus a whole week, and it’s less than an hour’s drive from home. I’m not sure why I hadn’t been before. But I am here to sing the praises of this fabulous experience, which I will definitely repeat.

The school itself is wonderful. There is an excellent selection of class topics, which the students get to vote on each year for the next. The classrooms are large, clean and uncluttered with lots of room to hook. My class had just two students at each large table, with lots of space in between.

There is something quietly captivating about the main building. It has a distinct personality all its own. The old wood is in incredible shape, and the building doesn’t have that tired look shared by so many of the same vintage. The floors are the cleanest I have ever seen. I guess the “inside shoes” policy truly makes the difference.

Accommodations are a mix of single and double rooms in the Manor and Villa which are a lovely walk from where the classes are held. They have more than ample shower facilities and my single room even had its own sink and vanity. Linens and towels are provided, along with extra blankets and pillows.

There is a large common room in the Villa where people gather for coffee in the morning and then again after class to share their day. Very comfortable chairs are in abundance for those who just can’t stop hooking. And the evenings' social activities take place in this welcoming space as well.

The food is lovingly prepared by the nuns and other staff - and more than meets my criteria for the ideal meal - one that is made for you, served to you and cleaned up after by someone other than you. There are three hot meals a day, including a variety of breakfast options and a homemade dessert with each lunch and dinner. And cookies and/or muffins at coffee break. Yum.

There are multiple vendors on site, who seemed to be doing a brisk business every time I took a student down there. Everything you could wish for in a “hooking store” is there for the choosing.

One of the finest knitting shops ever, The Needle Emporium is right across the street from the front gates of the retreat. Since many of us are chronic knitters as well as hookers, there is lots of inspiration to be found in that other passion. You can spend your money on the way in, or wait until Friday or Saturday after class.

So, with all this going for it, I was a little surprised by the attendance. This year there were only 63 students. Some branches of the OHCG were extremely well represented - Georgetown had 18 people there. Ottawa had a good number as well as Kingston. There were many first-timers there, but there were also a number of people who have been coming since the beginning.

I think that maybe amid all the others, this “little school that can” is getting lost among the bigger ones. And that is very unfortunate indeed. It’s the perfect 3-day school for each and every OHCG member, and the word “retreat” keeps coming back as the most apt descriptor. It’s so easy to get to - so easy to enjoy - and doesn’t need as big a commitment as some of the others.

I will personally go back to my branch and talk it up for next year. I will become an evangelist for the OHCG School and for Mount Mary. There’s definitely something about both that shouldn’t be missed.

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