The Mother of Adventure

A heat wave, a road trip and a cabin in the woods

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Cheryl and I exploring the banks of the Potomac River.

Hello and happy August!!

Geez – I can hardly believe it’s August already – I haven’t posted in ages, but being busy with family vacation is a good excuse, right?!?

Our little family recently got back from a 10-day road trip to Virginia – to visit my husband’s parents, who live just outside of Washington, DC. We had a fantastic trip – but man, it was HOT!

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It’s tough to get into a car with black leather interior when it’s above 45C.

Now, Ottawa can get pretty toasty in the summer, and the humidex can make things pretty intense at times (it took this Alberta girl a while to get used to it here). But Washington – and really all of the eastern seaboard in the US – just takes it to a whole new level. We’re talking 28 C before 8 a.m…and then a steady climb to the mid-40s from there. Of course, in the US everyone talks in Fahrenheit which is confusing for us Canadians. Take a look at the pic on the left to see what our dashboard thermometer read most days we got in the car; 114F = 45.5C (and hey – stop judging me for my satellite radio choice; the 90s had some great tunes, OK??).

Despite the high heat and humidity, we had a ton of fun catching up with family. My husband’s aunt, uncle and their two kids – along with their spouses and little ones – came down from Toronto, and my sister-in-law and my niece flew all the way from Vancouver. So we rented a big ol’ cabin in the woods – on the banks of the Potomac River. It was the perfect blend of nature right outside our door, with civilization just a short drive away.

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The fish were too smart – or too hot and sleepy – to show themselves to us.

On our second day at the cabin, my husband’s uncle took all of the kids fishing. It was the first time for most of them, which meant Uncle Conrad spent the morning running back and forth – giving lessons and trouble-shooting. I think the man has the patience of a saint, because we were a very large and unskilled group – and it was suuuuper hot and sticky that morning! I guess the old adage of the early bird getting the worm must be true, because we didn’t get so much as a nibble! We should have gotten up at dawn instead of sauntering to the river around 10 a.m., I suppose.

The rest of the trip was a pleasant blur of outdoor pool time, mini golf and outlet shopping (back-to-school shopping is DONE – hooray!). Oh – and there *might* have been one decadent trip to the Cheesecake Factory; unfortunately, no photographic evidence as the dessert was devoured too quickly.

Every evening, we listened to the prominent “singing” of the cicadas in the trees as we hung out on the deck by the river. A little research taught me that this high-pitched song is actually a mating call belted out by males; each species has its own distinctive song that only attracts females of its own kind. Cicadas are the only insects capable of producing such a unique and loud sound. Some larger species can produce a call in excess of 120 decibels at close range – which is approaching the pain threshold of the human ear.

So there’s your science lesson for the day…and I hope you’re having a most fabulous summer, too! Let me know how you’re keeping busy – and what cool vacation spots you’ve discovered.

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Keeping warm with Norm

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Ian gets cozy with northern New Brunswick’s “Warm Norm.”

It seems the people of northern New Brunswick really know how to have fun – and stay warm – on a cold winter’s night in Ottawa.

Actually, a lot of it involves thinking ahead to warmer weather – and dreaming of all the fun things it will bring with it. Throw in some tasty drinks and traditional New Brunswick cuisine, and you’ve got yourself a party…Warm Norm style!

“Warm Norm” is northern New Brunswick’s tourism ambassador. A friendly lumberjack who sports a Paul Bunyan-style beard, Warm Norm (otherwise known as Beresford-born actor Nathan Dimitroff), recreated a little bit of northern New Brunswick at Union Local 613 – an Ottawa restaurant and pub – last month.

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French Acadian flatbread, known as “ploye”, comes hot off the griddle.

My husband and I kicked off the evening by tasting some foods from the region, including beef tortiere and “ploye” – a French Acadian flatbread served warm, often with butter and sugar or maple syrup.

Warm Norm’s down-to-earth, friendly entourage gave us some great travel ideas for New Brunswick destinations like Edmundston, Bathurst, Campbellton and the Acadian Peninsula. I learned that the area is truly a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts – boasting 400 acres of some of the best fresh-air trails in Atlantic Canada. Tourists who are avid cyclists love exploring the 45 kilometers of International Mountain Bike Association approved trails.

The City of Bathurst grabbed my attention, too. It’s situated on Chaleur Bay, and looks absolutely breathtaking. The area is known for its natural saltwater beach, and the nearby Daly Point Nature Reserve.

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Ian and I dreaming of the saltwater beaches of northern New Brunswick.

I grew up in Alberta, and didn’t get the opportunity to go “out east” until 2010. That was when our young family took one of our best-ever road trips – to PEI. While we did drive through New Brunswick en route from Ottawa, we didn’t take the time to stop and explore.

The northern New Brunswick tourism evening left me feeling inspired to explore a new part of the country. And if everyone there is as laid back and warm as Norm and his friends, I’m sure it would be a trip to remember.

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The seashell motto

Birthday with KimThe other day, while digging in one of the many pockets of my purse, my hand closed around a seashell.

Surprised, I pulled it out – and was flooded with a wave of nostalgia. The shell came from the ocean shores of Vancouver, where we spent a blissful few days with my sister-in-law and her family at the tail end of our family vacation in western Canada. I was also blessed to celebrate my 40th birthday there, surrounded by friends and family – including an incredible surprise visit from my dear friend, Kim – who flew all the way up from Phoenix just to spend the day with me. The Vancouver harbour, fresh seafood and delicious Thai food (and obviously, a few cocktails), and a circle of my most favourite people…amazing memories.

I’ve always found transitions to be tough. I anticipated the arrival of the big “four-oh!” with low-level dread, then had such a great time celebrating it that it was hard to come home. After settling back in, I definitely felt the letdown of a much-anticipated holiday – now over and in the past. The end of August felt like sand slipping through my fingers – I was reluctant to let go of the long, sun-kissed days – unharnessed from the routine of full-time work for me and my husband, and school and activities for the kids.

Elissa at the beachBut the benefit of life experience (and I swear I’m not just saying this to sweeten the fact that I have a whole 40 years of it!) is that we learn from every stage. Bittersweet though it may be to change chapters or seasons, we take along what we’ve learned – and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some pretty incredible people.

Leading up to the fall issue of Parenting Times Magazine, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Shimi Kang, the author of the book, The Dolphin Parent: A Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Self-Motivated Kids. One of her book’s key messages is that parents shouldn’t feel the need to hyperschedule their kids – and at the same time, themselves – in order to ensure their success. She argues that constantly filling our children’s time with formal instruction – when a tutor, coach or parent is telling the child what to do – results in rigidity and sleep-deprived, fragile kids (she calls them “crispies”). You can read the full Q&A in the magazine for full details.

I think this particularly resonated with me after my experience of returning to work full-time last January. Part of what made the transition so hard was that my kids’ extra-curricular schedule was so busy; the girls had activities four out of five evenings a week. When I was freelance writing from home, it worked. But in the new scenario, it meant that after a full work day and my hour-long commute home, I had to rush to pick up the kids from daycare, make dinner and get them back out the door in record time for activities. It’s a bad feeling to come in the front door – arms loaded with backpacks – and realize you have approximately 22 minutes to prepare and serve supper if you’re going to have any hope of getting to the prescheduled activity on time.

This season, I’m taking a page from Dr. Kang’s book (quite literally) and reassessing our priorities. That means picking and choosing our commitments carefully, and, if necessary, dropping a few things – or signing up for weekend activities, when we’re not being pulled 100 directions.

Check the viewBy dialing back a bit on the structure, I’m also aiming to build in more unstructured time. I’m always amazed at the creative games our girls come up with – particularly when we drag them away from TV and video screens. Suddenly, the “Cat Olympics” will be set up in the basement, or an elaborate series of forts created. Outdoor time and fresh air is critical, too. It can be so easy to drop onto the couch after work, but I really find that getting out the door for a bike ride with the kids – or a walk on a nearby nature trail – is so rewarding.

So maybe we don’t have to give up every iota of unstructured time just because September is here again. Perhaps making room for even little pockets of freedom will keep that sweet, summertime feeling alive just a bit longer. In the meantime, I’ll put the seashell back in my pocket – so I don’t forget.

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The Turkey Coma

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My post-turkey-coma salad, which – if you look very carefully – actually has some tiny bits of turkey in it (the addict must withdraw slowly).

It’s almost noon, and I just awoke from what can only be described as a profound turkey coma.

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? Turkey coma can be contracted by innocently participating in a traditional, family meal, such as that held over Thanksgiving weekend. Those affected – like me – may have a deep passion for roasted turkey dinners (and mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing…), to the point that their perspective on what constitutes “a healthy serving” may become a tad distorted.

Your chances of contracting turkey coma can be raised by returning to the aforementioned turkey and trimmings only hours later…to take yet another portion and re-heat it in the microwave. The consumption of alcohol alongside said meal can also be indicative of the onset of turkey coma.

Then…WHAM-O, turkey coma hits, and it hits hard. Symptoms include profound sleepiness, severe lethargy and a general sense of well being. Be warned, however, that turkey coma is not always resolved after a good night’s sleep. This morning – after waking up and even having a cup of coffee – my turkey coma resumed – along with a slight, nagging headache – and I was overwhelmed with the urge to go back to bed.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why. Thankfully, I have a very wise husband, with extensive experience with turkey. Slowly and seriously, he offered up his simple diagnosis, “You have a case of turkey coma.”

His remedy was to unplug the phone, then leave me curled up on the couch with a fleecy blanket while he took the kids out to a Disney movie (Isn’t he great? He happens to be pretty easy on the eyes, too…but I digress).

To be honest, I had to resist the urge to get up and be productive, and shut out the laundry list of things the logical side of my brain was telling me I should be doing…go for a run! Clean up after your guests! Respond to those emails!

When I was able to (mostly) shut out that irritatingly chipper voice of productivity, what followed was something highly unusual…there were a couple of hours that I really can’t account for because I was in somewhat of a vegetative state. I finally arose feeling an overwhelming sense of relaxation, with my headache and turkey coma seemingly gone.

But most of all, I just feel thankful…thankful to live in such a blessed part of the world that overindulgent dinners are possible, and thankful that I have a family who will gracefully step aside while my turkey coma runs its course.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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The shrieking shrew sends her love

Bug window clingsValentine’s Day seems to have gotten a lot more complicated since having kids.

Tonight, at approximately 6:33 p.m., I was at my neighbourhood drugstore – along with 86 other last-minute Valentine shoppers – perusing the boxes of kids’ cards (you know, the kind you buy in a pack of 30). I was picking up some little cards for the boys in my six-year-old daughter’s class, because the two packages that I’d bought from Wal-Mart earlier in the day were deemed “too girly.”

Fair enough, and an easy enough problem to fix. But first, I just have to say wow…kiddie Valentine offerings have totally gone off the rails these days. It seems it’s not enough to give just a simple, little card to your classmate; there is now a vast array of Valentines with “special features” like temporary tattoos, scratch-and-sniff pictures, window cling-ons and hologram pictures. I have to admit I was a bit bedazzled by a package of bug-themed gel clings – I figured those would get the boy-stamp-of-approval.

Now, if buying an assortment of little Valentine cards – and helping the kids to organize and address them – was all that constituted my Valentine prep, I would be laughing. But as this Valentine’s Day approached, our two daughters have been charged up about a school fund-raising dance. In fact, my nine-year-old was so concerned about wearing something theme and colour-appropriate that I set out last week to find her a new outfit.

I need to preface this by saying that this is something pretty new; until recently, Elissa was pretty thrilled with whatever clothing I chose and put in front of her. So to have her request something special – and for her to be so concerned about looking nice – is different and admittedly a little bit scary; it’s a poignant reminder that she’s growing up.

After hitting several kids’ stores last week – and coming back with the wrong sized shirt (darn it – there’s that growing up thing again!), I finally came home with an outfit for her that was a hit. Of course, I couldn’t buy for one daughter and not the other – so they both have cute, new threads in red, pink and white colours.

Valentine bagsI also put together some Valentine treat bags for them – finding some inexpensive, little items like heart straws, heart-themed Kleenex and some mild-scented body mist. I love doing this type of thing – it’s fun for me to hunt for special stuff, and it’s a thrill to see their little faces light up when they receive it.

While there has been a lot of fun moments planning different Valentine surprises for the family, I got a sharp reminder today that parenting is not just fun and games.

It was while I was bustling both girls out of the house – for evening activities which start at 6 p.m. – that Elissa made some sharp comments to me. While I was starting the car and preparing to back out of the driveway, she yelled, “Hey, WOMAN! Don’t start driving yet – I’m still buckling up!” Hmm…being called “woman” doesn’t sit so well with me, especially coming from my own sharp-tongued nine-year-old. I quickly warned her not to call me that – and not to speak to me in that tone.

After picking up her friend en route to their activity, I got back in the car to hear another comment. “You took too long – I’m going to be late! You spent too much time talking at the door.” OK, let’s back it up here, kid…in fact, I put the car back in park and suggested that she could walk to her activity. “I’d probably get there faster,” came her too-quick, brazen reply. “OK, great,” I snapped. “Feel free to get out and walk then.” Suddenly, it didn’t seem like such a good idea and Elissa got quiet.

After dropping them off, I drove home feeling irritable that I had done so much for the kids today (albeit a lot of it being surprises they don’t yet know about) and not feeling appreciated for it. I felt like I was the big, mean mom – even though I knew I was in the right. Of course, that also took away a bit of the lustre of all the fun things I’d planned for Valentine’s Day.

Later that evening, after talking to her about what happened, she burst into tears, apologized and gave me a big hug. In a heartbeat, the snarky “tween” was gone and my gentle little girl was back.

I suppose my lesson tonight was that I’ve got to love my kids hard enough to teach them the tough lessons; for it’s only then that we can enjoy our sweet rewards together.

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Paradise Found

SunriseWalking out the doors of the San Jose Del Cabo airport, the heat and humidity hit us like a wall.

This was nothing new – it felt nearly identical to the weather we had recently left at home in the suburbs of Ottawa, Ontario. The main difference was the setting we would call home for a week; the cab ride through the scorched and barren desert of the Baja California peninsula ended in the most visually stunning and relaxing travel destination I have ever experienced.

Beach funI had questioned travelling to Mexico in the summer – Canadians tend to try to time out their beach escapes for the cold months – but it was the only time of year that it worked out for my husband and his entire family to meet from various sides of the continent. It also coincided perfectly with the 40th wedding anniversary of my parents-in-law, which was the impetus for our celebratory trip.

And let’s face it; if you’re going to be stuck with a solid week of high temperatures and humidity, you might as well have a pina colada in hand and a gorgeous pool within a hop, skip and a jump – not to mention a heavenly view of the ocean waves crashing against the beach.

I have to credit a huge portion of our idyllic stay to our amazing hotel – we were at the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort. With breath-taking views from virtually every angle, each guest room in the hotel offers an oceanfront view. Our good fortune for staying at such an incredible place was due solely to the incredible generosity of my in-laws – who treated the whole family in honour of their landmark anniversary.

Balcony view2My husband and I literally spent the first couple of days struggling to absorb the calibre of the holiday we had been given. Our room was beautiful, every single meal was outstanding, even the temperature of the pool was perfect – a tepid bath that disposed of that awkward, easing-into-the-cold-water feeling.

While the adults were transitioning, our kids jumped right in – literally. Our nine-year-old and five-year-old daughters were thrilled to spend their days splashing in the huge hotel pools and jumping waves in the ocean with their younger cousin. In fact, it turned out to be a challenge to get them to take breaks – for meals and sunscreen reapplication – during their many hours in the water.

Daddy & girlsLos Cabos is the perfect place to go to relax; there is really not a whole lot to do beyond sitting by the pool and jumping waves in the ocean (there were some good surfing opportunities for the ambitious and athletically inclined; our group stayed closer to the shoreline and watched). When we bored of lying in the sun with our novels and enjoying margaritas and freshly-made guacamole at the swim-up bar, we took excursions to the local towns on either side of the resort – Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

Historically a fishing port, Cabo San Lucas was revitalized in the 80s and 90s to become a tourist destination for nightlife – something comparable to the party atmosphere of Cancun. For university students it might be appealing, but our daytime family visit revealed a lot of garish nightclubs and tacky souvenir shops. For us, the highlight was definitely an hour-long boat tour which took us past the gorgeous, rocky arch called El Arco de Cabo San Lucas and a number of other well-known rocky structures and beaches in the area.

La Panga2San Jose del Cabo was a study in contrast, offering more history, art and culture than Cabo San Lucas. The buildings and the Parroquia San José church gave a sense of old Mexican charm to the town, which was officially founded as a mission in 1730. We browsed a few of the many galleries and ceramic gift stores, and enjoyed an excellent seafood dinner at La Panga Antigua.

The worst part about our family vacation was leaving our new-found paradise; after the initial disbelief, I must say I had transitioned quite nicely to the pampered life. Although I love our life in Ottawa, coming back to reality – complete with laundry, yard and meal duties – was a bitter-sweet pill to swallow. But I can always dig my toes in the kids’ sandbox, crack open a Corona and dream that I’m back in paradise.

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Riddle me this

A homemade puzzle - my kids will follow clues to locate each puzzle piece and find their Valentine treats.

A homemade puzzle – my kids will follow clues to locate each puzzle piece and find their Valentine treats.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

Puzzles are fun

For kids to do!

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I’ve been trying to think up something creative to do for our girls. Then I realized that the winning idea has been babbling – loudly and incoherently – in my ear since Christmas. It’s Furby; my kids are simply obsessed with Furby.

While my husband and I are not big Furby fans – and were quite reluctant to give in to this particular Christmas wish – in the end we did. I mean, when your kid makes a Christmas wish list where every single numbered item from one to 10 reads “Furby!” you don’t really have that much choice, do you? So, they each got one for Christmas…and the love affair has been raging ever since.

I spent a bit of time online one evening, searching for some Furby-related items that might make for a fun little Valentine’s gift. But I came up short…unless you live in the U.S. and/or have a lot of disposable income, it’s hard to get your hands on Furby accessories like sunglasses or chairs (yes, I know…welcome to my life). My next thought was a Furby t-shirt, but those are also hard to come by unless you special-order one online (for a pretty penny).

Custom t-shirts are easy to make up using blank t-shirt transfers and a colour printer.

Custom t-shirts are easy to make up using blank t-shirt transfers and a colour printer.

So I was forced to get creative…and that’s when the fun started. I found a couple of decently high-res Furby images online, then purchased a box of blank t-shirt transfers from Staples. Using my colour printer, I printed a reverse image of each Furby design onto a t-shirt transfer and then ironed them on to my girls’ t-shirts. Voilà! Custom-made Furby shirts, on the cheap!

Now that I was in Furby mode – and doing tons of Google searches for images – I found a decent number of black-and-white images. I printed two of each image, for the girls to use as colouring pages, and put them in red paper folders, customized with their names.

A plate of homemade sugar cookies to sweeten the deal.

A plate of homemade sugar cookies to sweeten the deal.

After all this effort, I feel like I can’t just hand them their presents; I want them to work for it a little bit! So the final step in my master plan is a treasure hunt – the girls must follow a trail of clues around the house to find their Valentine’s Day loot.

I’m looking forward to presenting our girls with a series of surprises tomorrow morning, and don’t worry – I definitely didn’t forget about the chocolates and other sugary treats. After all, it is the sweetest day of the year.

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