The Mother of Adventure

Just “kitten” around…

Just for CatsMy name is Sonia and sometimes, when I’m hanging out with my kids, I watch cat videos.

There; I’ve put it out there! After all, they say that acknowledging the problem is the first step to finding a solution, right??

Then again – cat videos can have a positive effect on the world. How on earth is that, you might ask? Well, the Just for Cats Video Festival is coming to Ottawa tomorrow – and it supports a national initiative to increase the welfare of cats across the country.

Yeah, a cat video festival! It’s a real thing – and it’s actually pretty big! It’s happening across the country – so if you don’t live in Ottawa, be sure to check their web site for a festival taking place near you.

Just for Cats 2The event showcases a reel of the best internet cat videos on the planet. Ottawa’s festival takes place at Dundonald Park on Saturday, June 25, in partnership with Centretown Movies – so the screening will be outdoors under the stars.

They’ll be kicking everything off with family-friendly activities – such as cat-inspired yoga, face-painting, dance and story time at 6:30 p.m. Don’t forget your lawn chairs or a picnic blanket – you’ll want them to get comfy for the screening of the Just for Cats reel at dusk (approximately 9 p.m.).

There will also be a silent auction with some great items – including a family photo session with Jerome – Photographer; nine holes of golf for four people from Thunderbird Sports Centre; four tickets to an Ottawa Fury FC home game; a Yogatown gift basket and introductory pass; a three-month subscription to Meow Box; a pet basket worth $150 from Dayna’s Pet Sitting Incorporated; and a gift basket from the Lil Bub Store with a tee, stickers, a plushie that purrs and meows just like Lil BUB and a Bub tote bag.

Lil BUBWhile the event is free, please consider giving a $5 to $10 donation per person. All funds go to the Ottawa Humane Society and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.

Hope to see you tomorrow for a celebration of all things feline!

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An old-fashioned carnival & picnic at Lansdowne Park

Amusement park rideIf you’re looking for some fun with the kids tomorrow, head over to Lansdowne Park for the official “urban park” opening!

While the Ottawa REDBLACKS have already settled into their new digs, August 16th will mark the unveiling of the newest green space in downtown Ottawa.

What: There will be a number of family-friendly activities taking place, including:

  • An old-fashioned fair featuring amusement park rides
  • Face painting, arts & crafts – like kite building, button-making and balloon animals
  • Free cotton candy & popcorn
  • A picnic in the park – everyone is encouraged to pack a picnic basket and spread out a blanket on the ‘Great Lawn’
  • A Farmer’s Market & food trucks
  • An exhibit on Ottawa’s football history
  • The Grey Cup on display – get your photo taken with the Cup!
  • Local musicians, acrobats & jugglers
  • At Aberdeen Pavilion, visitors can step back in time and learn about the history of Lansdowne and Ottawa through interactive displays

When: Saturday, August 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Lansdowne Park, 1015 Bank Street, Ottawa, ON

*NOTE: There is no parking at Lansdowne, so to avoid parking frustrations, consider planning your trip via public transit, walking or cycling. For more information and an event map, visit the City of Ottawa website.

 

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Summer fun at Calypso

Entrance

Summer is a season that’s nearly synonymous with water fun. I’m pretty sure my girls would actually *live* in their bathing suits all summer, if I gave them the chance.

My best friend Cathy is in the same boat with her two girls. So where do you go when you have four little sea nymphs on your hands? The Calypso Waterpark turned out to be the perfect spot for us to spend a splash-filled day last week.

Canada’s largest theme waterpark, Calypso is located between Ottawa and Montreal. It was a good 45-minute drive from our place in Ottawa’s south end – with quite a number of “Are we there yet??” moments to contend with – but the kids definitely found it to be worth the wait.

Wave poolAfter stashing our stuff in lockers (be prepared to make a $10 deposit per locker – you’ll get $5 at the end of the day when you return the key), we set up camp next to ‘Calypso Palace’ – the park’s massive wave pool. This area is nicely set up with oodles of white lounge chairs, behind which is a grassy area with dozens of picnic tables (every table has an umbrella – bonus!). We left our towels, sunscreen and sandals at a picnic table; I noticed that many other families had brought in full-sized coolers, too.

The kids voted to kick off our water fun at ‘Zoo Lagoon’ – and it took us moms a few minutes to realize that this area is actually meant for toddlers. Our kids – who range from six to 10 years, collectively – could not have seemed to care less. After about half an hour, however, we coaxed them next door to ‘Pirate’s Aquaplay,’ which was a bit more age appropriate for our crew. My six-year-old daughter, Lily, couldn’t get enough of the massive bucket that slowly fills and then dumps a tidal wave of water on your head – I’m actually a bit surprised the surge didn’t knock her right off her feet, but she just kept going back for more!

SashaThe rest of the day passed by in a happy blur of slides and wave pool fun. Our kids especially liked the ‘Jungle Challenge’ and ‘Family Twisters’ – a series of four coiled waterslides that seemed to be sized just right for them. The three oldest girls also loved ‘Kongo Expedition,’ but Lily was too small to ride without a life jacket (we found out late in the day that life jackets can be borrowed free at the entrance – just leave your ID).

When it was time to break for lunch, Calypso’s ‘Main Street Restaurant’ had all the kid-friendly fare we could ask for – the cafeteria-style cheeseburgers, hot dogs and fries totally hit the spot. Cathy’s youngest daughter Sasha, however, needed a gluten-free meal as she’s celiac. The ‘Ulysses Bar & Grill’ had a number of options – we hit a home run with a personal-sized, gluten-free pizza for Sash.

Lunch time!Our last ride of the day was ‘Jungle Run’ – which was a fun, floaty ride through a simulated jungle river – complete with insect and animal noises all around you.

On the way out, we capped off our fun-filled day at the ‘Penguins’ Stop’ for an ice-cream cone. Cathy treated all of us using the park’s ‘Money at my fingertip’ payment method, which allows you to pre-load money for park services and do a finger swipe to pay – rather than carrying cash. Having never seen this biometric technology in action, I was rather fascinated watching Cathy do her “finger swipe” at the ice-cream shop!

We stayed at the park till it was nearly closing time – and Cathy and I basically had to drag the kids out. On the way home, Lily fell asleep in the car – a sure sign of a very happy, exhausted customer.

 

 

 

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A little slice of Canadiana

PerformersCanadians often brag about being able to not only withstand the cold, but embrace it.

On frosty winter mornings, while scraping the four-inch, icy coating off their windshields, neighbours can be heard making cheery quips like, “Cold enough for ya?” or, “That’s quite the dump of snow we got last night, eh?”

Since January, however, I have admittedly *not* been embracing winter. Ottawa’s bitter temperatures – which ranged between -25C and -40C for most of the month – were a tough pill to swallow, and frankly, I felt more like hibernating than pulling on a parka.

Ice SlidesBut the beauty of the cold stretch is how good it feels when you finally get a day like today – a beautiful, mild winter day that is perfect for outdoor family fun. Our family decided to take advantage of the perfect conditions, so we headed to Jacques-Cartier Park to play at the ‘Snowflake Kingdom’ as part of Winterlude, Ottawa’s massive, annual winter festival.

First up on the agenda were the ice slides, which were a blast for all of us. The glossy, polished ice is the perfect surface for sliding down right on your butt – no mat needed.

But this year we also tried out the ‘Chinook Run,’ which is a tubing adventure. The tubes are big enough for a parent to take a child in their lap, so you can choose to double up or go solo. Festival workers grab a handle at the end of a long cord – attached to your tube – and whip you down the start of the run, delivering a good rush of speed.

Several ice slides later, our frozen toes told us it was time to warm up and enjoy a the much-anticipated Winterlude treat – the Beavertail. These cinnamon-and-sugar sensations are worth the trek downtown in and of themselves, and if you come to Winterlude you just can’t leave without trying one.

DrummingAfter washing it down with a good dose of hot chocolate, we headed back to check out the Aboriginal displays and presentations. This year, the group was demonstrating traditional drumming, how to make snowshoes and how to throw a harpoon. Our nine-year-old, who has taken units in school about Aboriginal groups, always loves checking out these areas, although the animal lover in her shrinks away from the furs hanging on display.

We played away our whole morning at the Snowflake Kingdom, and suddenly we were hungry for more than just sugary snacks. After putting in my request for poutine, my husband had a brainwave. Back over the bridge to Ontario, we headed to the Market where we found the most perfect post-outdoor lunch spot: The Smoque Shack.

The Smoque ShackA vegetarian’s nightmare, this place offers the most delicious array of BBQ’d meats you can imagine; we ordered a sampling plate that included pulled pork, ribs and a tangy, Texas-style beef brisket.

The poutine – which was what brought us there in the first place – was outstanding. Perfectly dusted with spices and piled with cheese curds and chicken gravy, the platter was very generous – ideal for sharing amongst all of us.

Add in a pint of Mill Street Organic Lager – from a microbrewery right here in Ottawa – and the Olympics playing on the restaurant’s TV, and I’m pretty sure I found the perfect recipe for a day of Canadiana.

And you know what? Unlike those long, cold days in January, winter and I actually got along today. With a little help from great festivals and fine food establishments, maybe I can embrace it after all.

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Magic carpet ride

Sledding hillOne of the greatest perks of parenting young kids is having the occasional opportunity to act like a kid again yourself.

I had one of those moments today – when my husband and I took the kids sledding at Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa. Now, you might be thinking, “Big deal…we’ve all gone sledding. What makes this excursion so fun?” Well, today was outstanding for a few reasons:

  1. For the past several days, the weather has been cold. As in really, REALLY cold…like south of -35 C type cold. So, as you can imagine, we’ve been mostly hibernating in the house…and Mommy has been going slightly stir-crazy. Today, the cold spell broke – for a few magical hours before morphing into freezing rain.
  2. For over a week, all four of us have been taking turns coughing, sneezing and generally feeling sorry for ourselves. We draw straws as to who gets the humidifier in their bedroom each night. No huge illnesses, but just your run-of-the-mill, slight misery-inducing winter colds. Today, we all woke up feeling relatively well-rested and healthy.
  3. For the past nine years – since Elissa was born – our sledding excursions have been limited to the little pimple of a hill that’s around the corner from our house. But today, Ian and I decided that the girls had graduated to the BIG HILL!

E in the snowIt’s awesome to be able to participate in an activity with your kids that you truly enjoy, and the beauty of this hill was that you actually got a bit of a rush out of it. It probably had an elevation of about 60 feet, but with a nice, gradual slope so that each long trek to the top was rewarded with a good, long toboggan run.

On one run in particular, Lily and I hit a few good bumps and caught some air. We hung on tight and started screaming in startled delight. When we finally tumbled off the sled in a snowy, laughing heap at the bottom, I gave Lily a huge high-five; I was pretty proud of my gutsy six-year-old for doing that with me.

A set of parents smiled over at me as they pulled their own sled past. “I’m not sure who was having more fun there…you or your daughter,” the woman commented. “Based on the screaming, I’d say it might have been you!”

It reminds me a bit of a quote I’ve always loved:

“Growing old is compulsory; growing up is optional.”

– Bob Monkhouse 

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Forever Young

Birthday pic

My girls and I at SeaWorld; notice they both opted for their aquatic-themed t-shirts that day.

For me, SeaWorld is one of those magical places that allow you to tap into your inner child, no matter what your age. That’s probably what made it the perfect spot to spend my 38th birthday with my family this past summer; what better way to forget about 40’s impending approach than to act like a kid for a day??

SeaWorld was the first major attraction on our laundry list of parks, beaches and general merriment in California. Two years ago, we visited the SeaWorld located in Florida; so we were not totally new to it. I had fallen in love with SeaWord Orlando, and SeaWorld San Diego certainly did not disappoint either.

Although we arrived bright and early on a Monday morning, the entrance to SeaWorld San Diego was busy! In fact, it ended up being the longest admission process to any of the big parks that we visited. Not only was there a long, slow-moving line for tickets, there was also a hefty wait to pass through security (after getting your tickets). We decided to divide and conquer; my husband, Ian, stood in line for tickets while the kids and I waited in the security line. Ian secured the tickets and joined us at the front of the security line, effectively cutting our wait time in half.

SeaWorld Oscar ride

Ian (in stripes) and the girls on one of their many rides on ‘Oscar’s Rockin’ Eels.’

Once we were in, however, everything flowed smoothly and the park didn’t feel overly busy at all. We kicked off the day with a few amusement park-style rides for the kids (there are 10 to choose from). About half the rides have no minimum height requirement, meaning that even the little kids can ride. Our girls totally loved ‘Oscar’s Rockin’ Eels’ which was essentially a classic pirate ship ride with a sideways twisting motion thrown in.

Shamu show

The obligatory ‘Shamu shot’ from the stands.

After the girls had their fill of rides, we sat down in the stands to watch the ‘One Ocean’ show at Shamu Stadium. It was fun to see the quintessential Shamu and his posse, but the show lacked the diversity of the one I remembered from Orlando. Looking back, I realized that the real show-stopper was the ‘Blue Horizons’ show – which presents almost like Cirque du Soleil over water, with beautifully-costumed acrobats and a large variety of trained animals. SeaWorld San Diego does indeed offer the same show, but we didn’t have the chance to take it in this time around. If you’re just planning to see one of the aquatic shows during your visit, I would definitely recommend the Blue Horizons show over One Ocean.

SeaWorld lunch

Lily digs into chicken strips and fries – from a Shamu-shaped box, of course.

This was about the half-way point in our day, so we hit the ‘Shipwreck Reef Cafe’ for lunch (yes, the SeaWorld marketing team clearly had a hay day coming up with aquatic names for just about everything!). Since food places at theme parks tend to be way heavy on the grease and sugar, I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of fresh and healthy lunch offerings here; there were tons of salads, fruit and yogurt available. (Did we eat them?? Well, no…but the healthy options were there had we been disciplined enough to choose them!)

Our first destination after lunch was the ‘Shipwreck Rapids,’ which is a splashy family ride down a simulated river. This one was a bit of a wait (about half an hour) but it was worth it; the kids loved the ride and fellow park-goers took some good shots at our family from the riverside water cannons – leaving us good and soaked by the end of it. Clearly we were not the first ones to be saturated, as the adjoining gift shop was completely sold out of towels. We opted to spend $5 on a family-sized, walk-in dryer for a few minutes.

Another group heads down the "river" on the 'Shipwreck Rapids' ride. Don't forget your towel.

Another group heads down the “river” on the ‘Shipwreck Rapids’ ride. Don’t forget your towel.

Between handling live starfish, watching a trained animal show called ‘Pets Rule!’ and taking the kids to a massive play structure and enclosed bouncy area, the afternoon passed by in a total flash. Before we knew it, it was after 4 p.m. and we were slowly – but surely – starting to get hot and tired.

We found refuge from the heat in the lovely, air-conditioned theatre for ‘Madagascar Live: Operation Vacation,’ which is a live musical show with professional dancers and the whole fuzzy Madagascar crew. It was a well choreographed, high-energy presentation which was great to sit back and watch from the cushy theatre seats.

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A gorgeous view of the San Diego harbour from the gondola ride in the park.

Our final stop before exiting the park was the ‘BaySide SkyRide,’ a gorgeous gondola ride that takes you right over the San Diego harbour. It was fantastic to feel the breeze as we glided above the water, waving to friendly jet-skiers below us.

The beauty of being the birthday girl is that nobody can really say anything if you ask for treat after treat throughout the day – especially at a theme park like SeaWorld. So on the way out, I called for an ice-cream stop.

The girls enjoying their overpriced Shamu-shaped ice creams...right before Lily's fell off the stick and hit the pavement.

The girls enjoying their overpriced Shamu-shaped ice creams…right before Lily’s fell off the stick and hit the pavement.

It seemed only fitting that the girls choose Shamu-shaped, chocolate-covered ice cream before we hit the road, marking the end of an awesome day for the kids and a memorable birthday for this kid at heart.

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When you know your family is complete (Today’s Parent)

Chocolate WorldWith the 2012-2013 hockey season finally over, the girls and I are thrilled to have Ian back from his seemingly endless work travel. Even better, we officially kicked off our summer vacation with a trip for the whole family – to Hersheypark in Hershey, PA.

I snagged the fun job of blogging about it in Ian’s weekly spot for Today’s Parent – you can link to my post here.

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Meech Lake – Gatineau Park (QC)

A rare photo opportunity with my girls and their grandparents.

The old adage, “Less is more” has grown truer in my eyes with each passing year; it seems to apply to so many aspects of life. Parenting is a prime example – sometimes I try so hard to plan something special for my kids and for some reason it doesn’t seem to resonate. On the flip side, sometimes I hardly make plans at all and they have a grand old time.

With my parents visiting this week from Edmonton, we decided to take a leisurely trip to Gatineau Park. My folks have walked Gatineau’s Pink Lake trail with us numerous times, and we have also visited the Mackenzie King Estate. This time, we spontaneously decided to take them to Meech Lake. We grabbed our water bottles and a few hastily-prepared snacks and hit the trail.

The munchkins explore the shoreline.

A short walk from the parking lot (be warned: the parking fee is a hefty $10), my parents stopped under a massive tree. My dad noticed that something seemed to be raining down on us; upon further investigation we identified a hungry squirrel high above us – devouring acorns and throwing the shells down on our heads. My daughters thought this was absolutely hilarious, and stooped down to pick up the cast-off acorn shells for inspection (and collection in daddy’s backpack).

Further up the trail, we crossed over a small bridge that offered up some great inter-generational photo opps for our girls and their grandparents. My kids are not always keen to pose for pictures, but I find they are more likely to cooperate if they are having fun in an outdoor setting as opposed to sitting on a boring couch in the living room. My mom – who is an avid painter – also took a few scenic photos that may provide future artistic inspiration.

As we continued along, my parents pointed out an excellent climbing tree. I couldn’t fight my inner child; in no time I was shimmying my way up the tree trunk to the first large branch. Unfortunately, my husband took a Blackberry video of this procedure in progress and it would seem that I’m not nearly as graceful a climber as I had envisioned myself to be (I have forbidden him from making the footage public upon threat of a painful death). Nevertheless, I made it up to a branch about 12 feet off the ground. I enjoyed my vantage point momentarily before the panic set in that I didn’t know how to get down. Thankfully, my husband and my father were able to contain their laughter long enough to help me down. The kids, however, were quite fascinated to see their mom trapped in a tree.

 

The cover of Elissa’s book – all about her hiking adventure!

The final memorable spectacle for the girls was a striking millipede – black with red stripes. After spotting it on the trail, we took the time to observe it, touch it and photograph it.

Back at home, my budding eight-year-old scientist/writer decided – of her own ‘accord’ – to make a book about her adventure. While it’s still a work in progress, I was delighted at the effort she put into her book cover – which featured a leaf rubbing from one of her collected specimens. Clearly, our excursion had made a big impression on her.

An outing with minimal planning = huge excitement for the kids. Less is more!

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Brewer Park (Ottawa, ON)

Just one of the many large play structures at Brewer Park.

No matter how good a family trip is, there’s something so sweet about coming home to familiar surroundings. Today is Day #2 of being home after our month-long trip to London and Paris. The combination of slight jet lag and gorgeous, Sunday weather dictated that we do something relaxing outdoors – so we headed out to Brewer Park in Ottawa.

While this is not a new destination for us – we’ve been visiting on occasion for years – the lovely time we spent there as a family today left me feeling compelled to write about it. If you’re new to Ottawa – or perhaps visiting and looking for a public park where you can let the kids burn off some steam – this is an absolute gem.

Looking down from the second level of the splash pad; a waterslide connects the upper and lower levels.

First of all, Brewer Park in the summer is a playground paradise. There are multiple play areas spread over a huge green space, with structures that cater to both small and tall. A large toddler area features a play structure that’s shaped like a red fire engine, while the ‘big kid’ area has different types of swings, high monkey bars and a zipline for kids who have the height to reach it and the strength to hang on. Kids of all ages will find an area to keep them occupied for at least a couple of hours.

If the weather’s hot, don’t forget your swimsuit – or at least bring towels and a change of clothes (there are public washrooms on site). The dual-level splash pad – complete with a decent-sized waterslide and sprayers – is the perfect way for kids to cool down on a hot, humid summer’s day. As a parent, I was impressed to see several permanent wooden lounge-style chairs on the upper level near the waterslide – which would facilitate a few minutes of near-horizontal relaxation if the stars aligned.

The Ottawa Farmer’s Market is held at Brewer Park every Sunday from May through October.

Just this past May, the Ottawa Farmer’s Market moved to Brewer Park due to the redevelopment project taking place at Lansdowne Park. So every Sunday till the end of October – from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. – patrons of Brewer Park can also enjoy fresh produce, locally-farmed meats, baked goods, craft items and more. With hot food booths, it’s also the perfect place to buy an inexpensive lunch. We didn’t come as prepared as some families – who had picnic blankets and coolers with them – so we bought bratwurst and sauerkraut and found room at one of the picnic tables set up in the grass.

After lunch, we treated the girls to some delicious popsicles from a vendor called Karumba! specializing in snack products made with local, organic ingredients. Enjoying a natural snack that supports a local small business was a sweet way to end a relaxing, local excursion.

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