3 Ways You Too Can Survive Camping In Canada

Camping in Canada can be fun.

It also can suck.

After a successful weekend of camping, our family has finally succeeded in mastering the art of camping.

What You Need To Do

1. Simplify

For years I have made multiple lists of what to bring camping. By the time my lists were checked off, I had brought everything but the kitchen stove! It would have been easier to put the house on wheels and move it.

This time, no lists. Just a random walk through of the garage and a few items pulled from the dusty shelves. Repeat in kitchen, bedroom and bathroom and still 99% less stuff than previous camping trips. Already less anxiety and more smiles.

Okay, so when we arrived we didn’t have the fly swatter, the mesh protector for food, the cooler filled with food that we never end up cooking, the zillion ziplock bags but who cares? We had bug spray, a tent, some snacks (that we called dinner) and we could still call ourselves campers.

2. Stay Close To Home

There is no rule that camping means driving long distances. Arriving 10 minutes away from home, we had a campsite, trees, birds, picnic table, and a brook. We were camping within walking distance of our house so even if rule number 1 (simplify) massively failed, we could home and redo it. 🙂

3. Return Home When Redo Is Necessary

So after our first night in our tent without too much padding on the ground (remember we were simplifying) we returned home to grab our couch pillows so that the second night actually involved sleeping!

Camping without sleeping is highly overrated. Camping and sleeping make for happier families!

As we pulled out this morning from our site, both girls thanked us immediately for a terrific weekend of marshmallows, hot dogs, cards, swimming, fires and laughter.

What more could you want from a simple camping trip in Canada?

What kind of camping person are you? 

A Trip Down Rollerskating Lane

As I watch my kids grow up, I travel down memory lane.

Now although I enjoy this kind of trip, it has been made known to me (sighs, groans, protest, dead silence) that not all members of my family love this kind of travel as much as I do.

Sucked into their world of head phones, music, videos, photos, movies and anything that involves technology, stories of walking, running, swimming, biking can take a backseat.

It takes some creative engineering to break through the world of Minecraft!

Enter: the world of rollerskating.

As the kids looked at their roller skates like they were some foreign object dropped down from Mars, they questioned my sanity. Surely inline skates (the known) would be much better than roller skates (the unknown).

Nope! This was going to be a trip down memory lane. Roller skates or nothing!

After a few trips around the dark disco light floor listening to Michael Jackson, they had to agree.

This trip (at least this time) wasn’t too bad, actually!

Do you have any rollerskating memories? I was so happy when we found this rink as I thought that rollerskating had completely died! 

How To Be An Amazing Stepfather

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and Chris was off to bingo. He doesn’t play bingo; he doesn’t even like it.

He volunteers at bingo in order to support Jade’s musical theatre program. 8 hours of volunteering at bingo has provided us with a lot of funny stories.

And every family can use a bit of funny; especially one that develops a little later in life.

When our 2 families met, the blending of our daughters and ourselves was a piece of cake – chocolate for 4 of us and vanilla for 2 of us. Yes, we have 2 daughters who don’t like chocolate! I know… unbelievable really.

When Chris met Jade, he knew instinctively how to create a unique and personal relationship with her. She was in grade 1 and loved to write. Chris, also being a witty and talented writer; developed a strong bond with Jade through their love of writing, often leaving notes for her in random places and always putting one in her lunch box.

Writing led to shared jokes, shared songs, shared stories, and many shared activities. They have designed a world that is their’s together. Understanding who Jade was, they created a system of ” I hate you” which of course means “I love you” and special words that trigger positive happy memories.

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Chris can be a caring and understanding kind of goof ball and this is what Jade loves most. He has dressed up and played the role of a fortune teller for the Harry Potter birthday party, he has played a farmer for the Anne of Green Gables birthday party, he has run a blackjack table for the casino party, he has been the mummy at the Halloween party and he has even worn the pink underwear Jade made him. (The featured picture is of the Christmas they both gave each other underwear!)

Yes, she seems to have him tied around her little finger, the one he used to trim for her since she didn’t trust me to do it.

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They have travelled together, they have played and watched sports together, they have cooked together, together being the key word. Chris, a busy father of 4 girls who travels as part of his job, always makes time for Jade, his stepdaughter. A stepdaughter who is his daughter, no different than our other 3 daughters.

But of all the things they share in common that have created their special bond, ice cream plays the most important role. Both are obsessed with ice cream and Jade has even been known to lick the top of the ice cream in the carton, to prevent Chris from taking any! Yes, this is the kind of weird and wonderful relationship they have developed. They wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Lobster Crawl: The Hunt For The Best Island Lobster Roll

We are a blended family and we blend really well except for one thing.


On one side of the blend, there is a deep passion for all things that swim or crawl. At least once they are in an edible state that is. My husband and 3 of our daughters love lobster rolls. In fact they even have them on Christmas Eve. The other side of the blend, that being myself and Miss Jade, politely hold our noses and wait for it to be over.

So when Erin told me her plans for her latest adventure, I was not surprised. She and her boyfriend Aidan have that 20-something hard life of attending wine and beer festivals in eastern Canada. “Forced” to work and drink at the latest wine festival in Prince Edward Island and very familiar with pub crawls :), they decided to create the lobster crawl, a search for the best lobster roll the Island has to offer. This is Erin’s account on how it all rolled out.

1. Water and Prince Corner Shop (Charlottetown, PEI)

Least favorite roll on our crawl, great overall experience. This spot came recommended by a couple of our Island friends during our Friday night escapades at Gahan House. Served up on a steak-style bun, this baby was unfortunately not toasted.. or buttered. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat lobster in any way, shape, form but I like a little (ok a LOT) of butter on my roll. Perk to this roll; a big-ass scoop of grandma-style, paprika-topped potato salad on the side. Doesn’t get any more Maritime than this. The only sit down stop of the crawl, service was amazing and we even had meaningful conversation with our waitress who was thrilled to hear about our day ahead!

Roll 3.5/5
Experience 4/5

2. The Chip Shack (Charlottetown, PEI)

This stop, recommended by both Cheryl (the best step mother in the world – yes Cheryl did some editing) and other Islanders we ran into was a real treat. Outdoors. Prime spot downtown. Bright and Shiny. Eccentric ‘Chip’ lady running the whole show… Amazeballs. The downside? One frigid, windy pre-summer afternoon on the Charlottetown Waterfront. The goal here was eat the roll, and get out.

The price point was great at under ten dollars, but the most impressive part about this roll was the no-frills hotdog bun used to house the succulent lobster salad. Not only did the smaller bun better complement the amount of lobster salad, but the extra buttery toasted outside was to die for. This roll did not last long. Like I said, it was cold outside, and the roll was unreal! We crushed it and moved onto our next destination. (Side note – the fries or “chips” looked great, we’ll be back to try them out when we’re on a less aggressive eating venture – Cheryl can attest to their unbelievable yummy taste).

Roll 4.2/5
Experience 3.8/5

With full bellies, we hopped in the Jetta and took a lovely coastal drive to Brackley beach, through North Rustico and finally ending in Cavendish. The tourist focal-point of PEI.

3. Captain Sam’s (Cavendish, PEI)

The touristy price point was there, but so was the quality. By far our biggest roll of the day, also came along with a similar steak-style bun as the first stop, but this time with butter. Lots of it. The lobster salad was on point, and the meat-to-bun ratio..perfect. The cheerful lady at the cash looked thrilled to see us! Very well could have been the first customers of the day. When we turned down the accompanying french fries (let’s get real.. we were still too full to be even having another lobster roll), she happily offered us a different side and served us up each a dish of old-school creamy coleslaw.

Having travelled to Cavendish for summer vacation as a child and many weekend-getaways as a teen and early adolescent, I had never quite seen Cavendish like this. Quiet, deserted and slightly creepy? Enjoying our roll, we looked around amazed at our quiet surroundings in a place we’d only ever seen jam-packed with tourists. The only other souls around were Islanders dragging in merchandise to their stores as they clearly began to prepare for the summer months ahead.

Roll 4.5/5
Experience 4/5

Where was the best lobster roll you ever ate? Do you have a family like our’s – with polar opposites for food choices? 

The Perfect Town Fair: Canada Style

An apple blossom festival with no apple blossoms is like an apple pie without apples. A bit odd but then odd can be interesting. Or so we told ourselves as we wandered around the Colborne Apple Blossom Tyme Festival, east of Toronto.

With all the pickings of a perfect town fair, we decided to rename the festival and explore it with fresh eyes.

So what makes a perfect town fair in Canada?

Well first and foremost, you must have tractors, trucks, old cars and a few old men sitting in lawn chairs. You can’t call yourself a fair without these!

And what says fair more than fried mars bars, fried pickles, sausages, and fries. But cheesecake and wood oven pizza? Foodies are taking over, even at the fair!

Remember when kids used to play with hula hoops instead of app buttons? And pony rides cost a dollar?

And when was the last time you saw such a quaint, make you want to walk in kind of law office, ever?

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Of course, fairs have ducklings but laser tag? I guess this is a town fair trying to get some teen buy-in.

Every perfect town fair has to have buskers, a ferris wheel, trinkets to buy, and a fire truck on display. We refrained from riding the ferris wheel when Chris deemed it a “no go” zone. Apparently the rust features didn’t scream rideability. But then again, Chris does do not rides…ever.

And it could never be a perfect town fair without a strong man competition. For those trying this at home, these are the steps to success.

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2015-05-30 10.41.532015-05-30 10.42.03And then for some light reading after the fair, you can pick up a free bible.

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Or go to the quaintest church that reminded me of those in Mexico. And off my mind goes… dreaming of somewhere else.

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I have to admit that being from the prairies, I am used to fairs with livestock, horse shows, 4H sewing and baking competitions, cowboy hats and of course, belt buckles! But we have hit the big leagues here in Ontario, so our criteria for judging the perfect town fair has changed. And this one was a winner.

What is your favourite part of a fair? MIne is the candy apple minus the apple!

To Zoo or Not to Zoo? That is the Question.

I wish parenting came with a book; one that was always right or one that at least, always agreed with me!

Early on, before kids, I came across the most sad forlorn elephant in a Vietnamese zoo. Chained, on a cement platform, I took one look and vowed I would never reenter a zoo again.

Soon after, I had the luxury of watching wildlife in Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Etosha National Park (Namibia). To say the experience was amazing and eye-opening is an animal understatement. I proclaimed that this was the only way my kids would ever see wildlife.

That is until I had a child and then 3 more, thanks to our blended family. That is 4 kids, 2 adults, which equals 6 tickets to Africa which amounts to one big financial headache. At least for us it did.

So then I research. Surely not all zoos are as bad as that one in Vietnam. Right? Couldn’t there be one or two that are safe, healthy and protective of the animals and their well-being; somewhere where our kids could see animals and not be breaking any animal taboos?

I tell myself that the research points to yes. Not all zoos are equal. So we go to New York City and of course, fall in love with the animals in the Bronz Zoo. I look around. It looks like they have covered all the angles. They must have. Right? This is the States, after all. And those baboons are so darn cute. We can’t even bring ourselves to leave.

Despite the fact we visited, my zoo quandary remains. And I worry that I could slide down that slippery slope right into one ugly unethical animal mess. Maybe I already have. I simply don’t know what and whom to believe.

As travellers become more wary of participating in tours that feel like “human zoos” in areas such as Thailand, I wonder this. If a “human zoo” seems inappropriate than is an animal zoo any better?

Faced with summer, looming on the horizon and billboards of cute pandas at the Toronto Zoo everywhere I turn, I ask myself: to zoo or not to zoo?

In the meantime, I will check to see if there are any cheap deals to Africa.

What are your thoughts on zoos? 

New York City: The Best Kind of Apple for Families – Our Top 7 Must Sees

Thinking of New York City? Go…immediately… it is the perfect city vacation for families of all ages.

Here’s why.

1. Central Park

It is a playground for everyone; little kids, tweens, teens and adults. We spent literally hours there from roaming the pathways, to playing on the oldest carousel, to boulder climbing, to getting wet in water fountains, to hanging with famous Balto (read the book on Balto ahead of time), to getting lost and then rediscovering something new awaiting us. Central Park is a mystery for visitors; you never know what is around the corner and when you do, it never fails to delight the kids.

Free water fun in Central Park; perfect for families.

Free water fun in Central Park; perfect for families.

Then after you are wet, you run to the playground and hang out for a while.

Then after you are wet, you run to the playground and hang out for a while.

Then when your energy returns, you climb a few boulders and look out from the top.

Then when your energy returns, you climb a few boulders and look out from the top.

One of the largest carousels in the United States is fun for everyone.

One of the largest carousels in the United States is fun for everyone.

Read the true story of Balto and find the statue in Central Park.

Read the true story of Balto and find the statue in Central Park.

2. FAO Schwarz Toy Store

This is the most fun toy store our family has ever visited and yes, the adults loved it too. It has it all: they can dress up, they can play on the piano from the movie, Big, they can eat candy, they can ride escalators, they can spend hours in there! Think a ton of fun for as much money as you want to spend; in our case, very little – a few candy treats on the way out.

Even the entrance to the store is fun.

Even the entrance to the store is fun.

Yes, we all dressed up but we think this photo is the best.

Yes, we all dressed up but we think this photo is the best.

If there is a line up, wait, it is worth it.

If there is a line up, wait, it is worth it.

A sweet ending to a sweet store.

A sweet ending to a sweet store.

3.The Free Ferry Out to the Statue of Liberty

Kids of all ages love ferries and this one is free. It takes you out into the harbour where you can see the skyline of NYC and goes past the Statue of Liberty. For us, this is all we needed.

The free ferry to go past the Statue of Liberty.

The free ferry to go past the Statue of Liberty.

An easier Statue of Liberty to get close to.

An easier Statue of Liberty to get close to.

4.The Bronx Zoo

We took the subway out to the Bronx Zoo and that was half the fun, just getting there. I remember Jade asking me why a man was speaking to himself and another was wearing winter clothes in the heat of the summer. There is always something going on in NYC – the unplanned stuff just unfolds around every corner. We are not usually zoo kind of people and I remember researching this zoo before going to ensure it was as humane as a zoo could be. I guess it fit that bill, as we went and the kids loved it. The monkeys and chimpanzees were the biggest hit. We could have stayed there for hours (and we did) just watching them.

Entering the zoo our first time. We later went back a second time on another visit. Yes, it is that great.

Entering the zoo our first time. We later went back a second time on another visit. Yes, it is that great.

5.Eating in NYC

Eating at Lombardi’s, America’s first pizzeria, was a highlight and bonus, the pizza is great. We have to admit; we have been a few times.

Pizza at Lombardi's - an affordable family dining out option.

Pizza at Lombardi’s – an affordable family dining out option.

Jade loved this restaurant so much that we returned again when Allyson and Abby came with us to NYC. Mars 2112 is a restaurant geared for kids; particularly those obsessed with outer space and aliens. You get into a space shuttle to experience a space trip as you arrive to the restaurant. This could be kind of scary for little kids but ours fared well enough. Then inside the restaurant alien waiters serve the food. Yes, the kids died and went to alien heaven while the parents cringed a tad at the bill.

An alien at Mars restaurant with Abby.

An alien at Mars restaurant with Abby.

A little coconut water for some refreshment and something new to try. NYC’s streets are filled with food and this is a cheap and fun way to eat; we did a lot of ice cream, hot dogs and pretzels.

They tried coconut water; always fun to sample something new.

They tried coconut water; always fun to sample something new.

6.Times Squares (and M&Ms store)

Of course, you have to go to Times Square and experience the lights and the action. This was even more fun to do in the evening… although the kids are a bit tired at the end of the day. If tired, like ours, some sugar and excitement at the M&Ms store is sure to wake them up. I have to admit that it is a lot of fun and that even I wanted to know what colour of M&M personality I was.

Abby hanging out at M&Ms store and she doesn't even like chocolate!

Abby hanging out at M&Ms store and she doesn’t even like chocolate!

And Allyson is pink... not a surprise.

And Allyson is pink… not a surprise.

After a great day in NYC, we head for Times Square.

After a great day in NYC, we head for Times Square.

7.The Streets of NYC

Wandering around, a little aimlessly, is also fun, at least for a while. You never know what you will find but likely buskers, food, a few odd-looking characters, and even a random park might be around the next corner.

Determining strength.

Determining strength.

And at the end of your stay in NYC the kids will be a tad tired but filled with great memories. At least that is what you tell yourself. 🙂

Very tired girls as they wait for the shuttle to cross the bridge to go to New Jersey ( a cheaper alternative for accommodation).

Very tired girls as they wait for the shuttle to cross the bridge to go to New Jersey (a cheaper alternative for accommodation).

Home sweet home or hotel sweet hotel.

Home sweet home or hotel sweet hotel.

Prince Edward Island: From the Extraordinary to the Ordinary

When you live in PEI as we have for the last 15 years, you realize that you are very lucky. Surrounded by soft sumptuous sand everywhere you turn, you are never more than 10 minutes away from a wonderful escape; the beach. And of course, the beach is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment for any family; so a common destination for Island families in the summer and in fact, any time of year.

The girls enjoy the beach in any kind of weather. Rarely do they swim; choosing to hang on the sand instead.

The girls enjoy the beach in any kind of weather. Rarely do they swim; choosing to hang on the sand instead.

A family moment on a PEI beach. Always special :)

A family moment on a PEI beach. Always special 🙂

The beach at spring time; a long wait but happy to see it arrive.

The beach at spring time; a long wait but happy to see it arrive.

So when you have the Garden of Eden in your very backyard, you sometimes get used to it. And you search for other ways to wake up your senses… hence the invention of Girls Day Out.

Girls Day Out began a few years ago when I wanted to change things up as I am known to do on the odd occasion. I had done years of “summer surprises” and was looking for a new “shtick” so hence, GDO began.

Now the fun and interesting thing about a GDO is that it can be anything or everything.

To make it unique or special to the girl you are taking out (in this case Jade) it needs to look different.

For that reason alone, we decided to walk from our house to the downtown area as sadly, we tend to rely on our car a bit too much. The simple act of walking made this, in and of itself, exciting for a tween. And of course, the fact, that you never know what you will find on the way.

Jade’s and Cheryl’s Rules for a Great Girls Day Out

1. wear comfortable shoes (Jade learned the hard way the first time)

2. take a cell phone in case of back up needed (new shoes for Jade – see above)

3. carry a bag for all the treasures you might find

4. take water just in case it actually gets hot in Charlottetown

5. take money as a GDO always involves lots of food along the way

6. no other rules – because rules are not fun and spontaneity is the key to the best GDO

Now that we have moved from PEI, we fondly remember our GDO traditions and hopefully they will continue in new places in years to come.

So goodbye to PEI. We miss you.

We miss you PEI and its good potatoes.

We miss you PEI and its good potatoes.