The Mother of Adventure

A Taste of NYC

img_5246New York City is one of the best places in the world for foodies.

In the “city that never sleeps,” you can eat really eat whatever you want – whenever you want. And I was lucky enough to do just that – for three blissful days in October. My “birthday buddy” Cathy and I took a trip to celebrate our 40th birthdays; we were born on the same day, same year (cool, right??). Our birthdays actually happened last year, but then…life kindof got in the way. So a year and a bit later…happy 40th to us!! (Does that mean I’m still just 40?!?).

We had an absolutely fabulous time, and a big part of our enjoyment centred around the FOOD. We’re both busy, working moms of young kids, and it was a massive indulgence to not have to lift a finger to prepare or clean up a meal for three WHOLE days!

So instead of recounting everything we did, I thought I’d focus solely on the glorious meals we enjoyed. We found some stellar restaurants, including:

img_5126Eataly

Located in the Flatiron District (200 Fifth Avenue) this gem was actually a recommendation from a colleague of Cathy’s, who is a chef/professor at Algonquin College. For Ottawa/TO peeps, I would liken it to the Marché – on STEROIDS. Picture an enormous, incredibly funky space – which includes six different restaurants under one roof, as well as a huge marketplace of food products. We put our name in for the pizza & pasta restaurant, then sat at the wine bar while we waited. Since I was ready to eat my ARM out of hunger, we shared an order of ‘mozzarella di bufala’ imported from Italy, served with homemade pesto and fresh bread. Oh BABY, it was soooo good! If you’re a cheese lover like I am, this is a must try. The appetizer may have trumped the main for me; I had a meat-stuffed tortellini which, while hearty and satisfying, left something to be desired. I actually had a bad case of food envy; Cathy had a pasta with this lemon-pistachio sauce that was incredible…very unique flavour. Must try to replicate at home.

Friedman’s

img_5141If you seriously love brunch (and I do), this is the place to go. A hop, skip and a jump from our hotel, Friedman’s is in Herald Square at 132 W 31st Street (there are other locations, including the flagship Chelsea Market restaurant). Good things come to those who wait, and wait you will; be prepared for up to a 45-minute wait on a weekend. But it’s so worth it; this family-run business is no greasy spoon. As a huge eggs Benny fan, I literally swooned over their ‘Nova Benny’ with poached eggs, smoked salmon, potato hash and hollandaise. It was so good we went back on our last day – and I also loved the Mexican-inspired ‘Chilaquiles’ which featured sunny side eggs, shredded chicken, fried tortillas, tomatillo salsa, avocado, cotija cheese, red onion and crema.

Izakaya Mew

If you’re looking for a trendy Japanese restaurant in NYC, look no further. This place is so cool it’s actually hard to find – which only contributes to its mystique.

izakayamewWe walked up and down the street and had to ask a concierge at a nearby hotel before we finally found the discreet sign, and a blasé stairwell leading to the basement. It led to a funky, industrial-style spot packed with Asian millennials (clearly, I fit right in…).

I have no photographic evidence of the food, as we actually grabbed a take-out order and ate in our hotel room before rushing off to see Cirque de Soleil – but the sushi was amazing.

The highlight: a fried chicken sushi roll…so different!

img_5247Snack EOS

Our “last supper” of the trip was late on a Sunday night. It was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, so Monday was our travel day back. We were actually on the hunt for Thai that evening, but since it was late on a Sunday we found a lot of places were getting set to close their kitchens just when we wanted to sit down for our meal.

That’s when we stumbled ass-backwards onto Snack EOS, a tiny little Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of historic Hell’s Kitchen. The size of a modest family room, the interior had a very welcoming, warm glow.

Over cocktails, Cath and I enjoyed a series of delicious small plates. A sampler platter of pita and dips came with delectable tzatziki, muhammara and melitzanosalata. But my favourite had to be the melt-in-your-mouth lamb triangles, accented with capers and baked in flaky phyllo.

Oh New York…I miss you so much I can still taste you! And so much more wonderful food yet undiscovered. Until next time!

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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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Stargazing

Michael J. FoxI’ve never been a huge idolizer of celebrities.

As a kid, I distinctly remember a dear friend of mine, Jennie, was completely obsessed with Michael J. Fox. She had posters of him plastered all over her bedroom walls (and I think there was one in particular she used to kiss goodnight – ha!). I didn’t quite get it. I mean, I loved Back to the Future and I could see that he was a good-looking guy, but this obsession…these pictures…I couldn’t grasp it.

My mentality stayed relatively unchanged as a grew up. Don’t get me wrong – puberty kicked in and I had the odd, fleeting crush: Andrew McCarthy (remember Mannequin?), Antonio Banderas (yes, seriously!!), Matthew McConaughey (yes, yes…I’ve heard) and Arnold Schwartzenegger (my brief interest in muscle-y men) to name a few (and yes, I do realize that I have eclectic taste). But I’ve never cut out a photo or rushed to the tabloids to read the latest “news.” In fact, my friends have sometimes smirked at my lack of knowledge in the latest Hollywood happenings.

I guess I just can’t bring myself to care enough much about these overpaid, skin-deep personalities who live in a reality so far from my own. Brangelina is fighting again? Oh NO…but they’re supposed to be in looove! What happened??!? Selena Gomez didn’t wear the right dress? Oh, the HORROR!!

It’s all a bit annoying; the only time I peek at the tabloids is when I’m at the hairdresser, which is about four times a year (yep, I’m pretty lazy about my hair, too). Otherwise, I can pretty much always find a more productive use of my time.

Star mapConsidering I’m such a kill-joy, celebrity cynic, I was pretty surprised at how much fun it was to stake out the homes of the stars in Beverly Hills last summer. It was the first day of our 10-day trip, and we’d flown into Los Angeles the day before. After breakfast, my husband went around the corner from our hotel and picked up a ‘Map of the Stars’ from some overpriced souvenir shop, and off we went to Beverly Hills in our uber-cool Ford Fiesta (I’m pretty sure we blended right in!).

Following our over-sized, cartoon-ish map of Beverly Hills felt a bit like a star-studded scavenger hunt. As Ian cruised down Sunset Boulevard, I navigated the various milestones printed in bubbly text on the map. Every couple of minutes, I’d call out something like, “This intersection is where Lindsay Lohan crashed her $100k Mercedes over the curb, on the wrong side of the road!” or, “The restroom of THAT park was where George Michael was arrested for performing a lewd act!”

Ours girls, who are mostly (blissfully) immune to Hollywood gossip, were slightly bored with our driving adventure. But with their unique outlooks, they did notice a few interesting things. For instance, Lily noted that the fire hydrants in Beverly Hills were painted silver. That’s right, no unsightly red or yellow here…even the hydrants must sparkle in Tinseltown!

Stop signsWhen we stopped momentarily – to take a quick picture of a street that was home to several celebs – Elissa noticed an amusing contradiction in signage; located just a few feet from a regular stop sign was a sign that read, “No stopping any time.” She found that pretty funny. Clearly, we weren’t the first family in a poorly-constructed, domestic rental car who had stopped to gawk.

The problem was that you couldn’t really get anywhere close to the celeb’s homes. You could drive up their street (or what our map claimed to be their street), but every property was gated by a massive, 15-foot gate and an astounding amount of high shrubbery. So most of my photos ended up with captions like, “This is the gate to Danny Devito’s house!” or “This is a picture of the street that Ellen DeGeneres lives on!”

There is something a bit thrilling about the fact that it was possible that Danny DeVito could have stepped out of the gate, wearing a housecoat, to get the morning paper. (I’m kindof glad that didn’t happen, however, as I don’t think a lifetime would be enough to get that image out of my mind!)

When we’d had enough of looking at famous gates and shrubs, we headed to Rodeo Drive. While our bank account didn’t allow me to re-enact the spiteful shopping scene from Pretty Woman, it was fun to window-shop outside the stores of the rich and famous. The kids kept asking why we weren’t going in any of the stores.

“Sweetie, we can’t afford anything in any of these shops…and I have the feeling the clerks wouldn’t be very friendly to us,” I explained. But we did partake in some Hollywood ice cream – from a very lovely chocolatier located just off Rodeo Drive.

I bet Danny and Ellen go there all the time.

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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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The Gardner’s Great Escape

Mickey video

By Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger

Our family took a much needed mini-vacation right before Christmas this past year. We were spending too much time in closed quarters, listening to far too many Christmas carols and if I had to watch Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas one more time, I was going to lose it.

So, in preparation for this little getaway, I made sure all the Christmas shopping was finished and every present was wrapped. This way there would be no last minute rushing around when we returned.

We packed up the car with colouring books and crayons, favourite toys, and as many electronic gadgets as we could to keep our kids happy and entertained. And let’s be honest, to keep Mommy and Daddy’s sanity intact! We even made sure they each had their own set of headphones so Claire could watch her Tinker Bell movie on the tablet, Ryan could play his Nintendo 3DS and Dennis and I could actually talk to each other and listen to our own music for the drive.

The last trip we had made as a family of four was in February 2011, when we went to Kissimmee, Florida with my parents. Disneyworld is the quintessential choice for a kid-friendly vacation; it’s our destination of choice when time and money permits. But if you’re interested in a less expensive, water-filled fun adventure that’s much closer to home, The Great Escape Lodge is a place you should definitely visit.

So, once we left Ottawa and merged on to Highway 416 and headed south to Ogdensburg, we were in full vacation mode. We had a planned stop at McDonald’s for an early lunch once we crossed the Canada-US border. (Boy, did that get Mom and Dad some bonus points!) From that point on, our drive was a pretty beautiful one. The GPS took us on a lovely drive through snow-covered trees and hills in the Adirondacks and there were barely any other cars on the road. We passed through the quaint little towns of Colton, Tupper Lake, Long Lake and Warrensburg. And as we merged on to the large I87 highway, we were only a twenty minute drive away from our final destination.

The Great Escape Lodge is actually located inside the Six Flags Amusement Park resort in Lake George, New York. In the summer, it will be teeming with families taking advantage of the roller coasters and rides. Of course in the winter, the amusement park is closed, but the reason for going to this particular location had nothing to do with what was going on in the Six Flags outdoor park. It was all about what was waiting for us inside the lodge.

Lobby viewPulling in to the driveway of the lodge was an experience in itself: the outside of the lodge featured a larger than life Santa, sleigh and reindeer and lots of Christmas lights. And inside was more of the same. The atrium boasted a huge, fully decorated Christmas tree, and we later found out that in the evenings kids could sign up for special reading time with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The lodge also has a Kids Club where kids can make crafts; some at an additional cost. Ryan and Claire both enjoyed colouring their very own Great Escape Lodge souvenir t-shirt! My kids were squealing with excitement and trying to take it all in. But they hadn’t even seen the piece de resistance: the 38,000 square foot indoor waterpark! And believe me, this waterpark caters to children (and adults!) of all ages.

The Tall Timbers Tree House is a multi-story structure that has over 160 interactive water features and three twisting body slides suitable for children 40” and over. Claire, my fearless three year old, put on her life jacket, marched up to the top of the tree house, picked the biggest slide and jumped on without hesitation, screaming with glee until she splashed into the warm water pool at the bottom. The Lodge keeps the water heated to a comfortable 84 degrees – bonus!

Ryan preferred to start his adventure in the Tak-It-Eesi-Creek lazy river. With Daddy in tow, Ryan chose an inflatable two-person tube and once settled, the current carried them around the perimeter of the water park amid mini waterfalls and fountain sprays.

The four of us tackled Avalanche which proved to make my stomach queasy, but was an instant favourite for everyone else. Avalanche is a twisting, turning raft ride for up to four people (in the dark!) and is meant to simulate a white-water rafting experience, complete with a pretty shocking 41-foot drop at the end. And again, my two young children showed no fear – they loved it!

My brave boy, Ryan, who was barely six when we went to the lodge, was the only Gardner to attempt the Boogie Bear Surf ride. I’m sure Claire would have loved to have jumped on a surf board and experience “the wave” but unfortunately she was a few inches too short. Ryan on the other hand, was able to stand up on the board on his second attempt – even if it was for only an instant. Those waves were pretty intense!

The Gardner boys spent several hours having fun going down the 290-foot water slides in their personal inner tube. Glacier Run and Snow Shoe Falls were a little too big for Claire so she and I stuck to Tall Timbers, which was Claire’s – and Mommy’s! – favourite spot to hang out anyways.

The waterpark also caters to families with infants in tow. Tip-A-Kanu-Beach is a shallow beach-inspired pool area that has pint-sized waterslides, a baby swing and surprise fountains.

The lodge has several dining options, but I recommend eating at one of the many family friendly Lake George area restaurants such as Applebee’s or Olive Garden. The prices of the food were decent, there was more variety for children, and the overall quality of the food was great. If you stay in a room that has a kitchenette like we did, then you already have breakfast and lunch covered. The room comes with a fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. Dining in the suite will save time and money when all you want to do is jump into your bathing suit and head for the slides! Lake George has several grocery stores and a Wal-Mart so you can stock up on food and drink items to keep in your room.

An extended stay at a waterpark resort might not be for everyone. And if it isn’t, there are other area attractions that may peak your interest:

  • The Adirondack Mountains: The beauty of the Adirondacks simply can’t be missed. And what better way to see them then by boat? We went during the off season so unfortunately we couldn’t experience this unique boat tour. The Lake George Steamboat Company  offers a variety of cruises – one of them being an authentic Paddlewheeler! When we go back during the warmer months (because we will definitely be going back!) we will be adding this excursion to our itinerary.
  • Outlet shopping: If shopping is more your thing, less than a kilometre down the road from the lodge lies an extensive selection of outlet shops that include such name brands as: Gap, Coach, Gymboree, Banana Republic, Rockport and J.Crew.
  • Kid-friendly museum: In nearby Glen Falls, The World Awareness Children’s Museum allows children to explore different cultures using hands-on exhibits such as the Nigerian Marketplace and Japanese Washitsu.

We spent three nights at the lodge, in an impressive Three Queen Suite (with a separate bedroom for the kids!) and we contemplated extending it for a fourth.  The kids absolutely loved it, and still ask to go back.  And with it being only a four-hour drive from Ottawa, I know we will be planning a second visit in the very near future.  A vacation that the entire family can enjoy is a rare thing.  Dennis and I enjoyed it as much as the kids did!

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