Category Archives: Activities

Awesome autumn daytrip

Pssst! Got kids? Then you won’t want to miss out on this awesome autumn roadtrip. It’s an easy daytrip — or an overnighter, if you please — so pack up some roadtrip snacks and get the kids ready!

Pick up a copy of this Saturday’s Ottawa Citizen (Travel section) to get the details.


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I blame Dora

Although I like to blame Dora the Explorer for my daughter’s pinata fascination, the truth is that it’s become a bit of a cherished tradition around here.

The 'Rough Dog' Pinata

The 'Rough Dog' Pinata

It all started on her fourth birthday (yes, that time when all children exposed to a shouting girl in a jungle become madly infatuated and start learning Spanish at amazing speed). We were in Australia at the time and the only thing that Stella requested for her birthday celebration was a pinata. Her grandmother and I set out with her to a party-supply store to hunt one down. We found some, but the pickings were slim. Stella examined each choice carefully and decided upon what she called a “rough dog.” The rough dog was actually a bull, so it’s no wonder it didn’t look like a “cute dog” to her! (To this day, she doesn’t know that it was actually a bull and not a dog. She really likes dogs, so I don’t want to stomp on this nice memory.)

You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that pinatas, like Dora, are of Mexican descent. Instead, China is said to have been the original creator of this paper mache treat.

It goes like this:  On his travels, Marco Polo came across pinatas in 13th century Orient. The Mandarin people would celebrate holidays with animal effigies made of paper and ribbon. These effigies would be filled with seeds and hung from a tree branch. And just like today, sticks were used then to beat open the pinata and release the seeds. When Marco Polo returned to Italy, he brought this pinata tradition back with him. From Italy, the fun was spread to Spain, and then from Spain to the ‘New World’ of North America.

Of course, these days, you’d never find something as healthy as a seed inside a pinata. But that’s the New World for ya.

The Making of the Dino Pinata

The Making of the Dino Pinata

Speaking of the New World … when her fifth birthday hit and we were back in Canada, no simple ‘rough dog’ was going to suffice when my husband came on task. He took it upon himself to create a pinata from scratch in whatever particular vision Stella had in mind. Dinosaurs were a bit of an obsession by this point. (And I’m not exaggerating when I use the word ‘obsession.’ She insisted that we, and everyone at her daycare, call her Yellow Dinosaur and not Stella. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen the dino exhibit at the Museum of Nature.) 

I really couldn’t tell you how many hours went into making this dinosaur pinata. It was clearly a labour of love (although my husband would probably claim money-saving advantages).

Completed Dinosaur Pinata

Completed Dinosaur Pinata

The irony of spending hours and hours on something only to smash it to smithereens is not lost on me. Personally, if I had made this masterpiece of a pinata, I’d probably have thrown my body on top of it as soon as the stick and blindfold were brought out.

But no, this didn’t happen. Instead, we all eagerly took turns whacking it with a stick until its insides released sugar-laden goodies all over the grass.
We’ve just celebrated another birthday here. A 7th birthday. Stella, although still somewhat enamoured by dinosaurs has transferred her obsession to Pokemons. And yes, we’re in obsession territory here again. Anyhow, she picked a Pokemon by the name of Chancy to be the lucky effigy.
Chancy the Pokemon Pinata

Chancy the Pokemon Pinata

I tried to find an image of Chancy to share with you because, honestly, this pinata is a work of art! But alas, I could not. (However, if you have Pokemon fans in your home, a Pokedex is surely close at hand!) 

We spent the special day at Cosmic Adventures with a friend and then welcomed our family to our home for a BBQ. All this was nice, sure, and even the Pokemon cake was good. But the big highlight of any birthday for Stella is pinata time. When the big moment arrived, each child lined up to have their turn smashing Chancy three times. And I tell ya, this Chancy is cute and all, but man, is he tough! Each child had several turns before the goods started to seep out of Chancy’s belly. And then finally – bang! – every toy and goodie flew out. Chancy’s days were over.
After the party died down and we were tidying up, Stella told me she felt a bit sad about Chancy. She said she really didn’t like him get wrecked. This, I could understand. She and her father had invested a great deal of time in creating this Pokemon pinata. I gave her a hug and wondered if our family pinata tradition had shreeched to a halt.
Chancy doesn't stand a chance!

Chancy doesn't stand a chance!

Then I shook myself back to reality. I remembered in vivid detail how she clearly cherished her time pummeling poor Chancy to an untimely death.

So I’m hoping that our little pinata tradition is safe and sound until next year.
It’s hard to resist traditions — even the most illogical —  isn’t it?


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Robson Rambling: A Recap


Berg Lake

Berg Lake

My “baby” brother Adam (he’s 26) saved me from some expensive life insurance after I posted “His Next Great Adventure.” The four of them were not, in fact, climbing Mount Robson, but instead were hiking Berg Lake Trail. They are all back safe & sound now, and thrilled with their adventure-filled time together. Even though Adam is supposed to be sweating it out on some kind of graduate computer-y thesis-y thing, I badgered him into sharing his trip with us. He also takes amazing photos. Enjoy this guest post! Here goes …


Well Julie’s hubbie, our brother and father and I recently returned from an epic 6 day camping trip on the Berg Lake trail. The last time we were able to do this all together was years ago in Frontenac Park in Ontario. This was back when Dad and I were total backcountry newbies, believing that sporting ridiculous 6 inch hunting knives was obligatory (Dad still does by the way), that it was always necessary to hang a tarp rain or shine, and that a different t-shirt for every day on the trail is a suitable use of backpack space and weight.

Approach to Hargraeves Glacier

Approach to Hargraeves Glacier

I like to think we’re leaner and meaner now. For instance, on this trip I only brought one t-shirt! However, I don’t think the weight saved from this innovative thinking exactly offset the 30 pounds of salami, 4 litres of wine, and 1 decanter of whiskey we decided to hump up. Our brother and I estimated that we were each carrying 65 pounds. If that didn’t clue us in that we were perhaps carrying too much, the occasional query and incredulous looks from other backpackers certainly did.

Reef Icefield

Reef Icefield

But Veni, Vidi, Vici, as some backpacker from the ancient times liked to say. And what a trip it was! Starting on the Southern side of Mount Robson, the Berg Lake trail takes its travellers on a 20km route around the mountain, gaining 1650m along the way, and deposits them facing the Northern side of the mount, replete with the stunning Berg glacier and its frigid lake. Along the way, travellers are treated to the breathtaking scenery of the Valley of a Thousand Falls (some amazing falls, but less than a thousand in my opinion).

A Marmot in Alpine Meadow

A Marmot in Alpine Meadow

And that’s not all! Once reaching Berg Lake, the traveller is offered the choice of some incredible day trips. I think for all of us, the highlight was a jaunt up Snowbird pass. What’s to see?? Well for one you walk along the Robson glacier moraine (whose core is actually ice itself!!), and drink in the glorious site of Robson glacier and the torrential melt water gushing away from its toe. After that, you climb out of those harsh environs into an almost fantastical alpine meadow, complete with frolicking marmots, who I must assume have built up some form of utopian society. Finally, you lug yourself up yet another climb, get to the top, and stop. Stop because you’re confronted with an unforgettable site below you – The Reef Icefields. Ice and snow and desolation stretching away as far as you can see. Nothing moves out there, except the ice, in its achingly slow trek across the earth.

Alpine Meadow

Alpine Meadow

Oh oh, I’m beginning to wax poetic, never a good sign from someone who’s literary inspiration lately draws directly from computer science papers. But for me, the scenery was only partner to the main draw of the trip – meeting a challenge with those closest to you, laughing on the way, eating together, and laughing again afterwards about all of our follies. Despite walking close to 90km, I ended the trip completely recharged and refreshed. Or maybe it was the 10 inch pizza, New York steak dinner, and ice cream I ate immediately afterwards?

Robson Glacier (isn't my baby bro cute?)

Robson Glacier (isn't my baby bro cute?)


Filed under Activities, Adventure, Family, Family, Guest Posts, Travel

His next great adventure

robsonPeople who meet us now, after 12 years of marriage, invariably like to say, “Opposites attract!” But it wasn’t always this way.

When we first met, we both shared a love of nature. Not a love from afar, a love that compelled us to trek deep into its midst. As far as we could go, to places where you really felt no other human had ever stepped before. The peace. The quiet. The conquest.

My husband’s thirst for adventure has only continued to deepen over the years. Whereas, mine? Well, let’s just say that while he’s grown more heavily into a hard-core outdoorsman, I’ve gotten soft — both in mind and body. I like to blame it on having children, but the truth is that I can’t really explain my radical shift. I just no longer do insects and pit toilets.

Yet, the excitement bubbling in our house lately is palable. My husband is like a kid waiting for Christmas. And that can only mean one thing: his next great adventure is on the horizon.

I’ll admit that I’ve taken a sort of “uh, huh, yeah, that’s great honey,” sort of interest as of late to these adventures. I don’t feel bad about this though, I consider it a basic survival mechanism. Much the same way he responds to hearing about scrapbooking or even blogging for that matter. And we are undoubtedly both guilty of doing this with my daughter’s non-stop chatter about Pokemons and DS games.

This morning, though, I found an article on the breakfast table. It was an opinion piece authored by Backpacks Premier. Hubby, my father and my two brothers are heading out to climb Mt. Robson. And here is how the area is described in this article:

“It’s the stick that stirs the drink: so high it creates its own weather. It’s the loftiest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towering 528 m (1732 ft) above its nearest challenger. And it looms more than 3000 m (9840 ft) above the trailhead, which is in one of the lowest valleys in the entire range. It’s 3954-m (12,970-ft) Mt. Robson, a preposterously vertical, staggeringly atmospheric summit. If not veiled by swirling mist or shrouded by sodden clouds, its gleaming white, glacier-laden immensity is a jaw-dropping spectacle.” 

Um, do you think it’s too late for me to increase his life insurance coverage?

Photo byKent Gulliford.

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Staycation? Um, no thanks.

I keep hearing about the popularity of the “staycation.” The idea is that because of tightened family budgets, we’re choosing to stay home instead of travel on our vacation time.

I don’t know about you, but if I have to sit around my house and look at the do-it-yourself projects we have yet to do and the growing clutter caused by two growing children, well, I’d rather stay at work, thank you very much. Plus, I do work from home so the allure of being at home instead of the office is completely lost on me.

But naturally, I do want to create those special warm-and-fuzzy summer vacation memories for my children, so here are my Top 3 recommendations for a, let’s call it, a “mini-cation.” It’s not staying home per se, but it’s also not hitting an all-inclusive 5-star resort in Cuba. And if you can manage to do one mini-cation each month of the summer, I think you’ve done your fair share of memory-making.

The criteria is:
(1) Must be kid-friendly. This means no fancy carpets or precious antiques in the room, and preferably child-specific activities available for at least some of the time.
(2) Must be budget-friendly. This means that Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara, which classifies a “great deal” as $255/night is not on my list.
(3) Must not involve insect bites. Nope, camping is not on the list.
(4) Must not be more than 3 hours drive. Car sickness does not equal fun family vacation memories in my book.

Okay, so here’s my three mini-cations. I hope it’s helpful to you … to spark ideas, to save time thinking of something to do … all that stuff. If you have other ideas — please add them in the comments sections for us all to take advantage of.

Where to stay: go to, enter Montreal and your dates. You’ll be able to pick a room at a downtown 4-star for under $100 but you won’t know the hotel name until you pay for it. (Don’t worry, it’s totally legit — I’ve used this system countless times and never been disappointed.)
What to do: The Montreal Insectarium is the largest insect museum in North America. There is plenty to see and do and you could easily spend an entire day here. There is a free shuttle service between the Insectarium, Botanical Garden (also interesting for the whole family), Olympic Park, Biodôme (a must for the nature lover) and Viau metro station. The cost for a 3-day pass to all of Montreal’s museums is $35 and a single entry fare into the Insectarium is $16/adult, $8.00/child, $2.50/infant.

Mont Tremblant
Where to stay:
Summer deals are to be had here. For example, you can click on the “Last Minute Lodging Deals” section of the Tremblant Resort site and book into a 5-star unit for as cheap as $105/night.
What to do: Besides just hiking, swimming and eating ice cream, the resort offers countless ways to spend your time. There are lots of family-oriented activites and the price is great: free! For a fee, you can also go to the indoor water park which never fails to please and is a nice Plan B for a rainy day.

Where to stay:
Fairmont’s Le Chateau Montebello sounds super fancy, and well, it kind of is. But it’s not that bad for price. It’s website advertises that rates start at $199/night and that a 20% discount is also available in the summer. I tested this out by inputting dates for next weekend into the reservation booker and I did find a room for four priced at $211/night.
What to do: You don’t have to step foot off the property to experience it all — swimming, tennis, golf, horseback riding, spa treatments. And yes, you can partake in these adult activities because the hotel offers an excellent children’s program that includes 3 hours of supervision a day, dinner, evening films and special activities and crafts. The cost is $29 for 6-12 years of age, and $15 for  4-5 years of age.

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I Am Canadian


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The Teacher’s Gift

In past years I’ve struggled with the obligatory thank-you gift for my daughter’s teachers. I say “obligatory” not because I don’t feel genuine gratitude for the work and passion that my daughter’s teachers bring to the classroom every day, but rather because of the sense that a gift is a form of standard etiquette. And I don’t want to be the set of parents (i.e. the mother) who hasn’t followed etiquette. (Why I even care about etiquette is a deeper issue in and of itself!)

Further, if I am going to give a gift, I really like to make sure that it’s one that will be appreciated by the receiver and not just a dust-collector. (Or am I wrong in thinking that all teachers must have a space in their cupboard with dusty “world’s best teacher” mugs?)

This year I’ve opted for a simpler response to this dilemma.


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