The Mother of Adventure

Spread the curd: It’s poutine mania in Ottawa

It seems spring is synonymous with poutine in Ottawa, and I for one am not complaining.

Last Saturday, my family headed downtown to check out the ‘Great Canadian Fork Off’ on Sparks Street. Poutine affectionados were out in full force – and didn’t seem to mind waiting in long lines to taste traditional and exotic variations of one of Canada’s most iconic foods.

I decided to try ‘Beef Souvlaki’ poutine, which was your classic poutine topped with some slices of Greek-style beef. It was pretty yummy – though I found the beef portion to be a bit skimpy!

Our kids, ages 11 and eight, opted for the tried-and-true classic poutine. You really can’t go wrong with freshly-cut fries topped with cheese curds and gooey, gravy goodness…it definitely got the thumbs up.

If you’re moaning that you inadvertently missed the Sparks Street festivities, fear not – more gravy-drenched deliciousness will hit Ottawa this coming weekend with the second-annual Ottawa PoutineFest, taking place May 5 to 8 at Ottawa City Hall. Our family took this one in last year – with my husband, Ian, acting as a judge, and it was a ton of fun.

This year, the festival is advertising 30 Poutiners and food vendors. One of the festival highlights is sure to be a world record attempt for the biggest poutine. And if you pride yourself on being a big eater, here’s a challenge for you – Ottawa PoutineFest is accepting names via Facebook and Twitter for a poutine-eating contest!

So this may not be the weekend for healthy eating, but it does promise to be a whole lot of tasty fun. And remember – Ottawa Race Weekend is right around the corner, so just consider this a pre-race carb-loading session.



Ticket giveaway – Ottawa Parent & Child Expo

Dora the Explorer“Maybe watch one Dora?”

Many moons ago, this was one of my daughter Elissa’s first phrases. Now that she’s 11 (going on 15!), it seems a lifetime away; but from time to time, my husband and I jokingly bring up that phrase; gently teasing her about her early obsession with Dora the Explorer. As a toddler, she actually bore a striking resemblance to Dora – she had the same bobbed hair and chubby cheeks. In retrospect, we totally should have dressed her up as Dora for Halloween while we had the chance!

These days, the mass appeal of Dora rages on, and if you have a little fan (or two) at your house, you won’t want to miss the chance to say “Hola!” next weekend at the Ottawa Parent and Child Expo. In fact, I have some free passes to give away for admission this Saturday, April 16.

RobotSponsored by Parenting Times – Ottawa’s most read parenting magazine – the expo promises to have something to appeal to kids (and parents!) of all ages. If your children have long outgrown the Dora stage, they might be enticed by hearing a performance from the Mini Pops, watching a magic show performed by Ottawa magician Ian Quick, or even test-driving a VEX IQ robot from ProBots (heck, even I would like to try that…out of the way, kids!).

For parents, the expo features about 100 different exhibitors, offering all sorts of parenting information from toddlers through to the teenage years. Talk with area experts about education, French immersion and tutoring options. Find out about summer camps and child care choices for the upcoming summer – or consider sport and music registration options. Find tips on family health and wellness, and shop new products and gifts.

Want to snag a free pass – valid for one parent and one child this Saturday, April 16? Just comment on this post – and let me know your favourite thing about Parenting Times magazine. You’ll be entered in a random draw (winners to be announced Tuesday, April 12). Good luck!

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Mermaid 101


Lily gives her best mermaid smile.

It was a scene that would have made Ariel proud – a pool full of little girls, learning how to swim like a mermaid. Think of it as “Mermaid 101.”

My eight-year-old daughter, Lily, was over the moon (or would it be “over the corral” in this case??) when I told her about the introductory class with AquaMermaid, which took place at the University of Ottawa pool last weekend.

While mermaids have always captured the imagination of young kids, I’ve watched them climb in popularity over the past few years as “mermaid tails” have hit the market. These water toys allow you to learn how to swim like a fish – using both legs as a fish tail and your core muscles to propel forward.

Lily was very excited for her hour-long, introductory session – which included a tail rental. Right away, I could tell she was thrilled to pick out a mermaid tail in her (current) favourite colour – teal. The tails are made of a stretchy, Spandex-type material and go up to the swimmer’s waist.

Putting on the tail

The girls receive instructions for putting on their mermaid tails.

The first step was learning to put the tail on. A plastic compartment inside the tail – called a monfin – holds both of the swimmer’s feet in place with an adjustable strap. Lily’s feet are tiny, which meant that they slipped out a couple of times – but the instructors were very patient with helping her get them adjusted properly.

With tails on, the girls were ready to get into the water and try swimming (basic swimming skills are a prerequisite for the class). The kids started out gliding on their sides, with one arm extended, and then added the dolphin kick.

Although Lily is a solid swimmer, there was a lot to learn. The class put a unique spin on regular swimming – teaching the kids how to swim like a fish. The instructors demonstrated how, with multiples arms placement variations, you can perform a variety of swimming activities, including swimming through hoops underwater.


An instructor gives Lily some tips on her technique.

A new Canadian mermaid school, AquaMermaid operates out of Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. Founder Marielle Chartier Hénault fused her own mermaid dream with a passion for swimming to create the school, which brings a high-energy alternative to traditional swimming clubs. And it’s not just for little girls – AquaMermaid draws a diverse group of members of all ages and swimming levels.

The atmosphere was fun and incorporated games for the kids; Lily loved diving for different-coloured pool toys from the bottom of the pool. Her one complaint was the the water was colder than she’s used to – as the University of Ottawa pool is a competitive facility. But once she got moving around in the water she was having too much fun to complain.

If you have a young mermaid fan at home, keep AquaMermaid in mind for lessons – or even a kid’s birthday party. Letting your little one spend the day as a mermaid is sure to make a splash – and some great memories.




Keeping warm with Norm

Warm Norm

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.

Warm Norm 2

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.

Warm Norm

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.


Evolution of the school tutor


Tutor imageAs parents, we sometimes have a tendency to look back at how things were done when we were kids.

I admit that I’ve definitely pulled out the old, “you know, back in my day…” with my girls (who are always quick to remind me that the 80s are long past). And while there are many things worth preserving about my upbringing, other approaches have shifted.

As a parent of two school-aged kids, I’ve realized that the path to academic success has changed – along with the curriculum and teaching methods themselves. The notion of the school tutor – once reserved for those kids needing “remedial help” – has evolved into a resource that can help virtually all of our children maximize their full potential.

Recently, I had the chance to connect with Julie Diamond – the dynamic force behind Teachers to Go, a cross-Canada tutoring service that recently expanded into the Ottawa area. She shared some really interesting insights with me about the evolution of the tutor.

Q – In the past, tutoring services were associated with kids who had learning issues and were far behind their peers. How has that changed? 

A – Even just five years ago – when I founded Teachers to Go in 2011 – there was a huge stigma around tutors; it was looked upon as something that you had to hide. Today, tutoring has become less of a stigma and more of a need – to the point that now tutors are looked upon as almost cool. I think a lot of that has to do with the influx of international students in Canada’s big cities – Toronto, Vancouver and even Ottawa, which has introduced cultures that typically embrace tutoring as an integral part of their education. It’s become increasingly competitive to get into universities, so parents are placing more emphasis on education. We’re also seeing change in the way certain subjects are taught. Math concepts like multiplication, for example, are being taught with discovery learning – the approach is for kids to understand it and be able to explain it instead of just memorizing it.

Q: What was your inspiration to start Teachers to Go?

A: After I became a certified teacher – I graduated from the University of Toronto in 2009 – I was waiting to find a traditional teaching job. I was tutoring for other companies and independently, and I really fell in love with working one-on-one with kids. At the same time, I felt like my abilities weren’t being maximized – like when I was assigned to teach subjects that weren’t my passion. I was working alongside tutors who weren’t certified teachers and didn’t know the curriculum – and I knew there could be a better way, so I founded Teachers to Go in 2011.

Q – What makes Teachers to Go different than other tutoring services?

A – We only staff provincially-certified teachers, so parents know they’re getting professionals in education. But our approach is different, too – it’s more than just knowing the subject and the curriculum. Our teachers are skilled at honing in on a student’s needs, strengths and learning style. We collaborate with the in-school teachers – and can then tailor a program for that student’s unique educational needs. One other bonus is the convenience factor – Teachers to Go comes to you, offering tutoring services in your home.

Q – I know that one of the pillars to your teaching approach is the importance of setting learning goals. How does that contribute to academic success?

A – It’s really critical to have a set focus around the sessions. We use a process of backward mapping, where we take a look at where the student wants to be and then work back to set realistic goals. Having that sense of focus really sets the tone for each session, because the student can see themselves as being able to achieve their goal. It also puts the onus on the child to become an independent learner – they know where they’re going and can take the initiative to look ahead.

Teachers to Go offers full-service tutoring to students in Ottawa and surrounding regions, the GTA and surrounding regions, Calgary, Victoria and the greater Vancouver region. You can reach Julie Diamond at: or by calling toll-free: 1-800-428-8164.


Coming this spring…the Ottawa Parent & Child Expo

mini-pop-jojoDo you remember the Mini-Pops?? OK, I’m dating myself here, but I totally remember listening to the Mini-Pops record with friends when I was a kid in the 80s! Flashback!

Guess what? They’re still around (the songs have been, um, slightly updated, of course!) and they’re coming to Ottawa. Now, if you’re like me, you already have your eyes on the horizon for fun things to do this spring. What if I told you that you could check out the Mini-Pops and MORE (I know, I know…hard to imagine more, right??) at the 2016 Ottawa Parent & Child Expo?

In all seriousness, the Ottawa Parent and Child Expo is a fun event for parents and the kids, and a nice way to kick off the spring. When the snow melts, everyone seems to come out of hibernation. With kids – especially very young kids – it gets exponentially easier to get outside, get active and take in fun events around Ottawa. The expo is taking place at the Nepean Sportsplex from April 16-17.

For parents, the expo features about 100 different exhibitors, offering all sorts of parenting information from toddlers through to the teenage years. Talk with area experts about education, French immersion and tutoring options. Find out about summer camps and child care choices for the upcoming summer – or consider sport and music registration options. Find tips on family health and wellness, and shop new products and gifts.

Expo_Banner_2x6inKids can explore the Gymnastics Try-It Playzone and other fun, interactive areas. Create something silly at the Play-Doh Play Centre – and they’ll want to get their faces painted, too (what kid doesn’t??). For little ones, there will be a meet-and-greet with Dora the Explorer and Diego*. If you’ve already survived the Dora stage and your kids are older, they might want to check out the Mini-Pop Kids LIVE on the mainstage.

For $12 for a family of four, it’s bound to provide some fun and entertainment for the day. Plus – visit – and you’ll find a coupon for $2 off. Hopefully, this year’s expo will put a little “pop” – or a Mini-Pop – into your family’s spring schedule.

* Note: A limited number of tickets to go on stage with Dora or Diego will be distributed daily, free with price of admission to the Expo, on a first come, first served basis!


Ticket giveaway – Norm of the North

Norm of the NorthIf you’re looking to get the kids out of the Ottawa cold this weekend, then I’ve got just the ticket…literally!

I’m pleased to announce that I have a limited number of passes to an advanced screening of ‘Norm of the North.’

If you’re interested, please comment on this post and let me know your favourite pick-me-up for getting through the Ottawa winter! (Please email your contact info. to me at so I can contact you if you are randomly selected.)


Screening Date: Saturday, January 9 at 10 a.m.

Location: Cineplex Cinemas Ottawa (Formerly Coliseum Ottawa)


Cast: Rob Schneider, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Loretta Divine, Bill Nighy, Gabriel Iglesias, Colm Meany, Michael McElhatton

Synopsis: Displaced from their Arctic home, a polar bear named Norm and his three lemming friends wind up in New York City, where Norm becomes the mascot of a corporation he soon learns is tied to the fate of his homeland.


The playtime pledge

Don't stop playingHappy New Year!

I think I’ve had equal parts broccoli and Ferraro Rocher this weekend; I’ve been straddling the fence between the lingering indulgence of the holidays and looking towards stronger, healthier habits.

The first week of a fresh, unwritten year is upon us. What are you anticipating for the year ahead? Are you making any New Year’s resolutions?

Leading up to Christmas, I found myself in a bit of a rut. As someone who has periodic arm-wrestling matches with anxiety, especially during the dreary winter months, I didn’t feel quite like myself. Taking a break from the day-to-day routine of office life, home and family commitments was great – our family spent an awesome week in Washington, DC with my in-laws. They spoiled us rotten with home-cooked meals and babysitting services – which allowed my husband and I to get out a few times alone. We went to see Star Wars, spent an evening at an awesome wine bar and finished up our Christmas shopping (as best we could with the brutal exchange rate!).

Our time away reminded me of the importance of playtime. Nope – not for the kids this time, although they are a great reminder of how to do it and can be just the catalyst we need to embrace general silliness. But as working parents, we need to find time for our own fun. For me, that can take a lot of different forms, from cooking a tasty new recipe from scratch, trying a new yoga class at the gym or brainstorming my next creative writing project. Sometimes it’s as simple as an impromptu dance performance to the tune of a favourite song, catching up with a friend over a pint or following up a serving of veggies with a big, rich, indulgent chunk of chocolate.

Life is about balance, after all, and if we can’t savour the flavours of our favourite parts it can get pretty stale. So I’m pledging to add more playtime to my 2016.

What about you? What’s on your to-do list of fun this year?



Winter reading (Parenting Times)

Shopping with a conscienceIf you’re looking for some upbeat, holiday reading material over the next few days, pick up the winter issue of Parenting Times magazine – available free at community centres, libraries and coffee shops across Ottawa (or read the full issue online).

The issue features 20 free (or crazy cheap) fun things to do this winter – which might just be your saving grace for keeping the kids entertained till Monday!

As a regular contributor to Parenting Times, I had the chance to write a couple of interesting feature pieces. In “Shopping with a Conscience” I spoke to some adorable Brownies and Girl Guides about their introduction to fair trade at the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale in Ottawa – and the beautiful, handcrafted items they purchased as Christmas gifts.

Kyram storyI also had the honour of speaking with an inspirational dad – Myles Dear – and his challenge to raise funds for his severely disabled son, Kyram. I wrote about this Richmond father-son duo in “A desperate dad’s plea for help.” Dear is campaigning for changes to provincial support for families like his, who must struggle to finance the demands of supporting a disabled child. The family is still in need of financial help for the upcoming year – pledges can be made through their online crowdfunding campaign to help improve life for this vibrant little boy.

Enjoy the rest of the holidays – and happy reading!

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Shop with a conscience this season

If you’ve ever wondered about the ethics behind big-name clothing and jewelry manufacturers and wanted to help make a difference, this is your chance.

This Friday, fair trade retailers Ten Thousand Villages and Adorit Boutique will be joining forces for their third-annual Fair Trade Fashion Show in Ottawa – and admission is FREE!

Celebrity emcee Melissa Lamb (from CTV Ottawa) will join us to show you how to “shop with a conscience” – and look great doing it.

WHEN: Friday, November 27, 2015 from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Ottawa Mennonite Church, located at 1830 Kilborn Avenue (free parking!)

WHY: Come see original, organic and fairly-traded clothing from Adorit Boutique, a funky clothing store based in the Byward Market. Adorit’s clothing will be paired with beautiful, handcrafted and fairly-traded accessories (scarves, necklaces, handbags) from Ten Thousand Villages, an organization which gives a livelihood to underprivileged artisans in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

*PLUS! Get a jump-start on your Christmas shopping by browsing our global marketplace at the church – the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale is running alongside the fashion show! Beautiful, handcrafted Christmas decorations, dishes, cards, toys and home décor items will be available for purchase (*Note: Festival sale is open from 3 to 8 p.m.).
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