The Mother of Adventure

Strike a pose for CHEO (Parenting Times)

fall-2014-community-profileWhat do you get when you cross a passion for fashion with a heart for helping sick kids?

The answer is Noémie Pound, the adorable, eight-year-old girl from Ottawa who is organizing ‘Happy Hearts’ – a fashion show dedicated to raising money for CHEO.

I had a chance to interview little Noémie last July – for a feature article in Parenting Times magazine. Inspired by her mom’s work at CHEO, Noémie hatched her very own plan to raise funds to help kids at CHEO and the CHEO Research Institute.

The event will take place on Friday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Visit the Eventbrite page for ticket information – and consider joining Noémie and a line-up of child models (including past and present CHEO patients) for a fun-filled night of children’s fashions and a silent auction.

 

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Sound of Light

Family shotThere’s something about bright, beautiful colours in the dark that just never gets old.

Last night, our family headed down to the grounds of the Canadian Museum of History (formerly called the Canadian Museum of Civilization – I’m still trying to get used to that name change!) to take in the Casino du Lac-Leamy Sound of Light show, which runs through August 16.

Now, some people say that “fireworks are fireworks,” but there were a few factors that made this show pretty cool:

The music: Last night’s show was the first of five “pyromusical” presentations – which means fireworks synchronized to an original soundtrack. Our show – which was presented by a group from Hong Kong – was based on popular show tunes – think Greased Lightning and Dancing Queen. Fun!

Museum of History groundsThe location: If you’ve never been behind the Canadian Museum of History, it’s worth a trip. Located right on the edge of the Ottawa River (on the Quebec side), you can look back at downtown Ottawa and see the back of Parliament Hill and the Peace Tower sitting on a high cliff.

The weather: Let’s face it, fireworks are just not any fun in the rain. We almost didn’t go to last night’s show – despite the fact that we had free passes – because there were thunderstorms in the forecast. We watched the radar, and finally grabbed a couple of umbrellas and decided to risk it. It turned out to be the *perfect* night – no rain, no humidity, no bugs – just calm and comfortable.

The drinks: You have to hand it to Quebec – they have alcohol available in situations where Ontario likely would not! After a hot day of landscaping our backyard, a fruit cooler and a lawn chair seemed like a lovely reward. If you’re heading to any of the upcoming shows, be sure to have a few dollars on hand as drinks and food are cash only.

Toy lightThe toys: Normally, I roll my eyes at having to dish out money for little plastic toys, but the light-up wands the girls wanted yesterday ($5 each) turned out to be really cool in the dark – I even captured our mini light show in a few photos (right).

If you decide to check out one of the upcoming shows – featuring presentations by Canada, Portugal and Switzerland (see schedule) – be sure to bring your lawn chairs, as you’ll be a lot more comfortable.

And if you don’t have a lawn chair, please don’t be the moron who stands (yes, STANDS) awkwardly in front of the people sitting in the lawn chairs – like the guy who partially blocked our view, despite my request that he sit down. You can see dummy’s silhouette on one of the fireworks shots below.

Idiots aside, I’d recommend you take a couple of hours to enjoy the Sound of Light fireworks show – it’s a lovely excuse for a relaxed evening outside with your family.

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The icing on the cake

I have learned to make my life easier by ordering ready-to-go loot bags online at www.openaparty.com.

I have learned to make my life easier by ordering ready-to-go loot bags online at Open a Party (www.openaparty.com).

I think planning kids’ birthday parties is a ton of fun. I love helping my two little daughters to come up with an original theme and venue, thinking up activities and planning for loot bags. While I don’t lack for enthusiasm, I do occasionally get tripped up in the execution of my (admittedly) sometimes-overly-elaborate plans.

Take yesterday morning, for example. I woke up early to decorate the cake I’d baked for Lily’s dinosaur-themed birthday party, feeling like I had all the time in the world. When I came down to the kitchen, however, I got a painful reminder of the yummy, late-night Mexican dinner I’d enjoyed with my husband – in the form of taco remains all over the counter and dishes piled in the sink. (In the moment, leaving the dishes for the next morning always seems like the ‘right’ thing to do, doesn’t it??)

Nothing like starting a very busy day by cleaning up from last night’s mess…good times. But I would not be easily discouraged; I scrubbed all the pots and pans and started the dishwasher. Then I pulled out my mixer and started whipping up some buttercream icing – in two colours – for my two-level dinosaur cake, which was looking like a work of art in my optimistic mind’s eye. After a week of perusing dozens of cake-decorating ideas online, visiting the Bulk Barn for supplies and raiding the kids’ miniature dinosaur collection, I was armed with the makings of a great cake.

Approximately two hours later, the kitchen was a total disaster yet again – this time with cake and icing-related dishes – and I had finally completed putting the coloured icing on both cakes. Things were going well, but I had forgotten how excruciatingly slow I am at decorating cakes. It’s something I do about twice a year – for each of my daughters’ birthdays – which is not quite often enough to gain speed and skill. Let’s just thank the good Lord that I’d made the two cakes (and frozen them) in advance, otherwise I would have been royally screwed.

After the icing was on, I started to get creative; I added a small, plastic volcano, some miniature dinos and some foliage to the surface of the cake. I had bought some tiny chocolates – in the shape of little rocks – from Bulk Barn, which were perfect for my prehistoric landscape. When my husband Ian walked in, I was starting to use an icing gel to make little footprints behind the dinosaur and to write, ‘Happy Birthday Lily!’ along the lower edge of the cake. The footprints looked OK, but the lettering looked like my Grade 1 kid had written it herself – letters in different sizes with the words slowly sagging down.

My final dino cake creation.

My final dino cake creation.

Between the questionable cake décor and the kids asking for breakfast, I was starting to get frustrated and tense when Ian announced he was going to the gym. Bad timing, in my opinion, and I told him as much. He shot me a look and said, “Remember, this is a party – not the SAT exams.”

Steamed as I was at the comment, it did ring true. Subconsciously, I think I’ve long been ruined for cake decorating by my good friend Cathy – an accomplished, professional baker who makes incredible creations through her own business, Catherine’s Cakery. Clearly, I don’t have her training, experience or natural-born gift for making exceptional creations.

The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter. Stressful though it can sometimes be, I love making my own cakes because it’s a sort of gift for my kids. Baking enables me to get carried away in whatever toy or theme they’re absorbed with – in this case, dinosaurs – and literally feed their sweet, childhood innocence back to them.

The birthday girl with her cake.

The birthday girl with her cake.

In the end, I scraped off the awkward, goopy lettering and opted to keep the design simple. Ian got home in time and redeemed himself by brining dinner for the slow cooker and a big bottle of post-party wine for the fridge.

By the time the party actually kicked off at the Museum of Nature, I had a whole new attitude. It helps that I totally love that museum and, thanks to raising two dinosaur lovers, I pretty much know the place like the back of my hand.

After watching a 3D dinosaur movie and touring three of the four levels of the museum, the kids piled into the party area for cake time. Looking back at the picture of Lily’s face when I presented her with the cake, I can see she looks pretty darn thrilled. And to me, that’s all that matters in the end.

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The Canadian Museum of Civilization (Ottawa, ON)

My sister and my nephews enjoy the sunshine outside of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Quebec.

Last month, we were thrilled to host my sister and her young family over Thanksgiving weekend. Since they had travelled from Edmonton to Ottawa – a cross-Canada trip they haven’t had the chance to take for several years – we packed in a lot of fun activities as we reaquainted them with the nation’s capital.

One of the highlights for the kids – both our two girls and their two boys – was a visit to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. While it wasn’t a new destination for my own kids, this visit had a different flavour to it.

A large part of our fun happened before we even set foot in the museum – while we were enjoying the grounds. Autumn is such a glorious time to visit Ottawa, and this museum definitely boasts one of the best views of the city’s splendour on a crisp-but-sunny fall day. After enjoying a picnic lunch (leftover turkey sandwiches, of course!), the little cousins had a blast running around the spacious green space behind the museum. The large, graduated rocks lining the Ottawa River also made for a fun climbing area. I couldn’t resist staging a bit of an impromptu photo shoot – using Parliament Hill as the scenic backdrop.

Elissa stops to stamp her “passport” outside the Egyptian pyramid inside the Children’s Museum.

After paying for our tickets, we started exploring inside the Children’s Museum. My girls simply can’t get enough of the place, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Designed to serve as a “trip around the world,” the Children’s Museum features tons of interactive areas that introduce kids to different cultures and countries.

Each child receives a paper “passport” that can be stamped at the various stations around the museum; the kids have a lot of fun finding the correct page for each ink stamp. Between exploring different modes of transportation, moving cargo on a full-sized ship and climbing on the back of a camel, this simulated adventure zone can keep most kids happy for close to two hours.

My nephew works on a craft themed after the ‘Day of the Dead.’

If jumping continents and criss-crossing oceans starts to lose its lustre, however, take the kids into the arts and crafts room inside the Children’s Museum. There is always at least one enthusiastic staff member ready and waiting to introduce newcomers to the featured craft, which fittingly tends to have a cultural spin to it. The day we were there, the artistic activities were centred around the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that focuses on praying for and remembering family members who have died. While it sounds creepy to the uninitiated, there is often a very festive and upbeat atmosphere to the holiday, so the kids were tasked with making colourful paper cut-outs that might be used as decoration. It was a fun activity for the older – and more dexterous – set of cousins, but a bit tedious for my kindergartener.

While the kids could have played on indefinitely in the Children’s Museum, my sister wanted to get a taste of the other exhibition galleries inside the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The museum’s Grand Hall – located on level one – is a must-see for first-time visitors. With its towering totem poles and Pacific Coast Indian house facades, it is equal parts impressive and informative. In fact, the museum is home to the world’s largest and finest collection of totem poles.

The kids check out a massive totem pole in the museum’s ‘Grand Hall.’

Soon after our visit, I learned that the Canadian Museum of Civilization is on the brink of some major changes. It was recently announced that the museum’s name will be changed to the Canadian Museum of History. Over the next five years, the institution will be transformed to reflect the national achievements and accomplishments that have shaped our country, including the “Last Spike” from the construction of the Canada Pacific Railway, Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s hockey jersey and items from Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. A massive renovation – scheduled to be completed before Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 – intends to provide the public with the opportunity to appreciate how Canada’s identity has been shaped over the course of our history.

Perhaps when my sister has collected enough Aeroplan miles for her family of four to fly out to Ottawa again, it will be time to check out the new collections at the soon-to-be Canadian Museum of History.

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Natural History Museum (London, UK)

The impressive exterior of the Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum is, in a word, incredible. This spot definitely needs to be added to your ‘must-see’ list when you’re visiting London, especially while travelling with kids.

First of all, be forewarned that this place is massive. We spent about three hours there and I would guess that we might have seen 20 per cent of the museum, if that. In fact, we may plan a second visit since we are lucky enough to be in London for several weeks. Try getting there in the morning while the kids’ energy level is high and the crowds are thin.

If you have the chance (and access to a computer), check out the museum’s excellent web site before your visit. It will give you a sense of the main areas of the museum – which are called ‘Zones’ and classified by colour for easy navigation. It also features a ‘Parents’ survival guide’ that lists some key activities that you’ll want to check out if visiting with kids.

Lily models the gear included in her ‘Explorer backpack.’

We started out by visiting the Central Hall, where the information desk supplies the under-seven-year-old set with ‘Explorer backpacks’ (yes, they are free!). These ridiculously cute exploration kits consist of a small, orange backpack, kid-friendly binoculars and a plastic explorer hat (reminiscent of Go, Diego, Go!). You have your choice of backpack themes – I requested the ‘Mammal’ edition for my four-year-old daughter, Lily. A bag containing three ‘specimens’ and a booklet of clues prompts kids to find a specific exhibit within their theme (spoiler alert: Lily had to find the polar bear display in the mammal hall).

Elissa discovers a tray of specimens in the hands-on kids’ laboratory.

For older children – ages seven to 14 – the lower level offers up an impressive hands-on science lab called ‘Investigate.’ Staffed with enthusiastic young volunteers, the large lab is home to hundreds of specimens – all of which can be pulled out in trays and examined with magnifying glasses and easy-to-operate microscopes. An adjoining courtyard garden (which was under renovation during our visit) allows kids to collect live bugs and pond samples.

Lily checks out a display in the ‘Creepy Crawlies’ area.

One area within the green zone on the main level is ‘Creepy Crawlies.’ Elissa and Lily enjoyed walking through the kitchen display, which features cupboards and a garbage can that can be opened to see pictures and read information about common household pests. Displays are organized according to four main groups: insects, crabs and related species, centipedes and millipedes, and spiders and related species.

Partway through our exploration of the Natural History Museum, we stopped for lunch at ‘The Restaurant,’ located on the main level. Featuring a children’s ‘Scoffasaurus menu,’ there were lots of kid-friendly choices. Food is freshly prepared on site; we had a tasty meal of burgers and pizza. For those with special dietary needs, they do offer vegetarian and dairy-free dishes and food with no gluten-containing ingredients.

All in all, a great place to keep the whole family entertained, especially on a cool, windy day in London.

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