Happy International Happiness Day From The C Family

Happy International Happiness Day 🙂

To celebrate happiness, I want to share a few pics that show what happy can look like in a normal (well mostly normal) Canadian family and a blended one to boot.

Collecting shells at the beach in Florida.

Collecting shells at the beach in Florida.

Picking apples in Prince Edward Island, Canada

Picking apples in Prince Edward Island, Canada

Celebrating Canada Day with grammie in Nova Scotia.

Celebrating Canada Day with grammie in Nova Scotia.

Eating hamburgers at Mr. Bartley's in Boston.

Eating hamburgers at Mr. Bartley’s in Boston.

Our family is usually happy on or near the water. (on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala)

Our family is usually happy on or near the water. (on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala)

Mom and dad are happy when the Red Sox win and the kids can eat for free at The 99 Restaurant in New England.

Mom and dad are happy when the Red Sox win and the kids can eat for free at The 99 Restaurant in New England.

Disney = happiness

Disney = happiness

The happiest day in Jade's school career for both Jade and mom was finishing that bridge made of popsicle sticks (read: popsicle nightmare)

The happiest day in Jade’s school career for both Jade and mom was finishing that bridge made of popsicle sticks (read: popsicle nightmare)

I would like to thank Caitlin from Teen Daydreamer who brought this special day to my attention today.

What makes you the happiest? I would love to hear from you.

Disney – Magic, Mickey, and the “Missing” Orange Stroller

A family trip of 11? More like a tour group and one that better have a tour leader, or otherwise known as mom.

In order to pull off this holiday, I did so much research that if there was a Masters in Disney, I earned it.

I knew my stuff; which day to go where; how the fast passes worked; how to get the most bang for your buck, Disney style. And yes, Disney is very expensive so you want every minute to count. No pressure eh? Can you sense the relaxation of it all?

So all is going according to plan. The kids are happy, the teens are happy and yes, even the parents and nana are happy. What more could you want? Well… autographs, lots of rides, more of said rides, and the odd swim thrown in here and there.

So here we are being happy at Disney.

But if you are like us, Disney is a “happy place” as long as you have the stuff you need like money to pay for everything, water as it is scorching hot, snacks and more snacks to feed as you go, fast passes that someone actually understands and knows how to effectively use, and oh yes… an infamous orange stroller (at least in our family) to keep Abby, the smallest one (in every sense of the word) going.

Well the moment… when Disney lost some of its magic, was when we returned to the stroller parking lot and the orange stroller was no longer there. We searched high and low, far and wide, and that little itty bitty orange stroller had vanished like pixie dust.

Now if you know us, which you might not 🙂 and you know Abby, which you might not 🙂 the C family does not go anywhere (other than a drive through) without the orange stroller. It is a need; not a want.

Allyson begins to lose it; who would steal this orange stroller, one of the bargain basement variety? One that under other circumstances, you couldn’t probably give away for free.

I can feel the magic, the dreamy feel of Disney slipping away as we grasp; as we clutch to our old memories of the stroller. I know,  I know, live in the present and be happy. We are at Disney, we can afford to do so, enjoy it, even without said stroller.

You know how kids don’t want to give up their blankies, their sippy cups; their stuffies? Well that stroller was our family blankie, sippy cup and stuffie; all rolled up into one. We had to let it go.

Moving on (more physically than mentally), we continue on with our day. Until…

Allyson spots an orange stroller outside a restaurant. She proceeds. She investigates. She reports back. It is ours. It has our family markings ( true but strange) and we know, without a doubt, that the magic has returned.

So after a small family discussion (or more like a large family fight… feel that magic) the results are tallied and the stroller is back on Abby’s butt. And off we go… glancing around… hoping the stroller gods are working this time in our favour.

So did we end up in jail?

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No, thankfully not.

Instead we ended up like we started.. a family, a little too dependent on a stroller, but happy and content with the magic of Disney.

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Abby Wants To Go To Nepal

I remember when I went to Nepal. I was in Bangkok and looking at flights. There was a cheap one to Kathmandu and off I went, not knowing much about it, but wanting to go.


Certain countries have an allure to them, a certain mystique that is hard is to describe.

Nepal did not disappoint.

Walking the streets of Kathmandu I loved everything about it. It was chaotic, colourful, that kind of perfectly imperfect place that I tend to love. I hadn’t been to India yet so it held that extra special place in my heart as I watched the ghats and the cremations from afar, met saddhus around temples and simply just wandered around.

Pokhara was special as I read Into Thin Air looking out my hotel window at Mt. Everest, the place where it all happened.

Lately, in response to Abby’s announcement, I have looked into Nepal again. A lot has changed over the years. Kathmandu is described less fondly; more traffic, more pollution.

Oh well… I doubt those minor details will stop Abby on her quest.

A holy man (sadhu) in Nepal.

A holy man (sadhu) in Nepal.

Anonymous In India – NOT!!!

I wasn’t sporting great clothes… I wasn’t sporting a great hair cut (as Jade just pointed out). In fact I looked pretty bad. I was just plain old tired and extremely hot. This is India after all; tired and hot go hand in hand. I just needed to rest. But sit quietly for a moment by myself… rest and relax for a bit…I THINK NOT. This is India. I am not a sitting person, I am a sitting duck.

And so it began.

The man comes over and before I know it, I have a coloured mark on my forehead.

I am confused but that is no real surprise. To understand would have really been the surprise. Culture in India is no basket weaving course. The mark on my forehead is not red, the colour often used in temples. And I am not even in a temple.

So who is to know?

I smile, I say I am from Canada, and before I know it, I have an audience. Anonymous in India… an impossible feat.. but then if it was… it wouldn’t be India.

A Confession of An Unconventional Travel Obsessed Mom

I realize that it gets worse every January… it just rolls around… spitting at first, then pouring, and then soon I am drenched as there is a full-blown thunder-storm of monsoon proportions. The urge to travel…I can’t quite quiet it down. As we are more of the “once a year we take a big trip” kind of families (although I could change that up in a second if a jackpot came our way), January is the middle of my travel road. The memories of that last trip are beginning to fade and the NEED to do it all over again begins to BUILD! I am sure some of you can relate.

So when it comes to our girls, is it wrong that I don’t:

  • revel in the dream of their weddings
  • get glassy-eyed thinking of grandchildren
  • dream of their graduations (in fact I have been known to say that once they hit a certain age, they need to go backwards… like when you reach 15, then you turn 14 until you hit 10 and then you can work your way up again)
  • dream of their first jobs (unless of course it leads to travel 🙂

I care about those things…really I do… BUT I really dream of them travelling. You know when you have that “scare”, that kind of “scare” that rocks you to your core, keeps you up at night, and makes you re-evaluate your life. I had one of those last year (fortunately it was all fine) but during that scare and post-scare, this is what came to mind.

Nothing can happen to me until I know my girls have travelled to Cambodia (my first love) and to India (my second love). I realize that this is not normal… well for many of us… but I will sleep much easier once I know they have experienced these two special countries.



According to Jade, Guatemala Was Better Than Disney World

Are you thinking about a first trip (or a second) to a very special place that is close to North America that is family friendly, wallet friendly, and provides major bang for your buck?

We strongly think Guatemala is that place. This is our trip report from ThornTree (Lonely Planet on-line resource).

We went on an amazing three-week trip to Guatemala with our 12-year-old daughter. It was her first time outside of Canada/US and she has now fallen in love with Guatemala, as we have as well. Although it was my second time there (last time was 18 years ago) it felt just as wonderful as many years ago.

We arrived late in Guatemala City and had made earlier arrangements with our hotel (Dos Lunas) to have their driver pick us up at the airport (included in hotel price). Victor was a wonderful sight to see as we tiredly left the airport feeling very secure and safe with him. We arrived at a gated community 5 min from the airport to meet the amazing couple, Lorena and Henk. They made us feel at home right away. I can’t recommend this hotel enough as a great start and end to a trip. The next morning Lorena made arrangements for a shuttle to take us to Panajachel.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

My daughter’s eyes were wide open as we drove on the road to Lake Atitlan (her sitting in the middle front seat of the shuttle). We arrived in time to eat at the Sunset Cafe ( beautiful location at the end of Santander Calle) and despite no sunset, it was still ideal and worthwhile. Jade really enjoyed Panajachel as she found it an easy place to shop without a lot of the hustle/bustle of a busy market.

We then took the public boat to Santiago Atitlan where we stayed at Posada Santiago. Our decision to stay at the posada was a difficult one (I had been thinking of many including Casa del Mundo) but it turned out to be the best choice for our family. I loved having the convenience of staying at the Posada which was a short walk down the road from a community where we could walk around and enjoy everyday life. The food/lodgings at the Posada are amazing but what was most amazing was its pool/jacuzzi set right by the lake. I spent a lot of time in the pool/jacuzzi watching the lake activities and men fishing in their cayucos. We would wake up early in the morning and walk down the road (2 min) to watch the women washing their clothes in the lake and gather water. While sitting in the restaurant in the Posada, we could observe men carrying large bundles of wood walking between the villages. Women and men in typical clothing for their area were everywhere and my daughter’s eyes were wide open all the time.

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While at the Posada, we visited Solola market and had been warned that many pickpockets (women and children mostly) would be around. Both my daughter and my husband had their pockets searched which did worry my daughter a bit. It is a very busy and at times, tight market which can become a bit claustrophobic. My daughter needed to take a few breaks from all the activity which was easy to do a block or so away from the market. Overall it was a positive experience and I enjoyed it much more than I had Chichi 18 years ago – just don’t take a day bag and wear a money belt under clothes. The chicken bus up the twisty and winding road to Solola was an adventure in itself but both my daughter and husband enjoyed it.

Solola Market

Solola Market

We also spent one day in San Pedro where my husband got his hair cut. Our daughter enjoyed watching it as this has become a bit of a tradition when we travel. Each haircut experience is always different. We enjoyed San Pedro and liked the feel of the village up the hill. On the way down the hill, we saw a white church (not Catholic) and we were given permission to climb up to the top of it where we got amazing photos of the surrounding area.

We then went to Antigua where we stayed at Posada Juma Ocag. Although it says in the LP that you can’t book ahead, we did through its website. It was a friendly, cheap and secure place to stay right across from the market. We loved it there! My only note to mention about Antigua is not to use El Barco Travel Agency. I always follow posters’ advice and my guidebook but this time did not and we paid for it. We were tired and hungry and just stepped foot into the first agency (thinking that all Volcana Pacaya trips must be the same). They scammed us twice (yes… not good) and we ended up going a day later than we wanted in a 12 person van filled with 20 adults. On the way back, a tire blew going down a large hill and so we were happy to finally return to Antigua. So a word of warning… avoid El Barco at all costs.



One of the best things we did on our trip for our daughter was to do a tour with the NGO, Safe Passage (Camino Seguro). We arrived at their office in Antigua and they drove us to their work in Guatemala City. I had found out about the NGO on a family blog site and this NGO has strongly impacted my daughter’s life and her vision for her future. They took us to the Guatemala City garbage dump where we learned about the families who live around the dump and try to make a living off of it. We learned what the NGO does for the families encouraging kids to stay in schools and participate in before/after school activities. Watching the vultures fly over the dump and witness the women and men running along side the garbage trucks vying for a great position to sort through the garbage is something we won’t forget.

We then flew to Flores ( in the evening) and stayed one night at Hotel Santana which is beautifully located on the lake. We took a shuttle to Tikal the next morning where we stayed at the Jungle Lodge. I would recommend the Jungle Lodge for one main reason… each day at 4 or 5pm. the spider monkeys come out and you can swim in the pool and watch them as they play in the trees hanging over the pool. My daughter was in heaven. Our favourite thing on our trip was the sunrise tour (an absolute not to miss event) of Tikal which I remembered clearly from 18 years ago. We went with our guide Carlos (thru Jungle Lodge) and he was amazing. He is a very educated man who made Tikal come to life for our family. As Carlos can’t walk well (moto accident) we took a truck into the jungle at 4:30 am. Standing in the back of the truck holding on for dear life, listening to the howler monkeys wake up… was “better than Disney World” said my daughter.

Even the trees are spectacular at Tikal

Even the trees are spectacular at Tikal

After we went to Finca Ixobel in Poptun. This is the only time that it rained during the day in our 3 weeks which put a damper on the Finca for us a bit. There is not a lot to do there when it is raining. Despite the rain, my daughter and husband decided to trek to the Ixobel cave... a major up and down hike in the jungle for an hour. I am happy they did not do the longer trek to the river cave as this would have been too long to go in the high humid and wet jungle. Although they enjoyed the cave experience (seeing bats, spiders while holding flashlights and candles – with no holders!) my daughter said she wouldn’t have done it again. They were beyond wet and muddy when they returned. Initially my husband wanted to wear his sneakers but luckily they convinced him to wear rubber boots as his sneakers or hiking boots would have been totally wrecked if they had been worn in mud up to their knees. Finca Ixobel does have amazing food but we felt a bit out of place there (staff was so so friendly and not many other tourists around except American “military” maybe). What I dislike the most was their mosquito nets which were covered in large patches of blood!

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We then went onto Rio Dulce where we had arranged through Hotelito Perdido to pick us up and take us to their jungle bungalows. They were very well-organized and met us at the exact time/place they said they would be there. Aska the owner ( whom we had made the arrangements with) no longer lives at the Hotelito but she does have hosts who manage it for her. Daniel and Margid were excellent hosts. We were the only ones staying there… it is the rainforest and it is isolated. My husband found it a bit claustrophobic so our 3 nite stay changed to a 2 nite stay. It was extremely humid and hot in July (like nothing I have experienced before and I have lived in the jungle in Cambodia and Suriname before). There were a lot of creepy crawlers around including a spider much larger than my husband’s hand in the shower. Our daughter staked out her place in a hammock while she read (it was safe from the creepy crawlers there ) and loved the Hotelito… while my husband went around removing insects that would worry her 🙂 An army of red fire ants moved us out of one bungalow to another. The bungalows are beautiful but are very much open concept. They are not completely screened in at all so many insects do find their way in. Overall, we enjoyed our time there despite the high humidity. The food was amazing… Candy the cook can cook many fantastic vegan options! Dining together at nite by candlelight with the sounds of the rainforest is truly memorable.

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We spent one night at Posada Delphin in Livingston which surprisingly was a real highlight. The pool was situated right on the water and it was very refreshing to have the breeze while swimming and watching boats coming and going. The best thing about the hotel were the hammocks at the end of the pier where we hung out at night watching the lightning show. (every night in Peten and in Rio Dulce area we had rain, thunder and lightning).

Jade hanging out like she always loves to do when we travel.

Jade hanging out like she always loves to do when we travel.

We took the first boat out of Livingston to catch the early Litegua bus from Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City.. was a double decker deluxe bus and therefore a relaxing 6 hr trip back.

We had a wonderful memorable trip to Guatemala – a perfect choice for a family with a tween/teen looking to experience a different culture and way of life.

How To Create A Hip Family Trip

I don’t even want to admit how many times I have googled – best family trips. meaningful family travel, where you must travel with kids etc. etc. etc. I have tried them all. It is pretty bad when you see that you have visited the same website over and over and you are still seeking that one stand out place, that maybe someone else knows of; that I don’t. I have stopped (well.. mostly). I have learned a few things since we started this blended family travel stuff. This is my new go to criteria.

  • a different language – my kids love trying out new words, succeeding in buying a toothbrush on their own, ordering their own food, negotiating with numbers, saying hello and goodbye to strangers in their own language
  • a different experience from previous – Jade had been to Guatemala so I wanted to mix it up for her next trip and chose Morocco (different language, customs, tradition, clothing etc. from Guatemala).
  • markets... lots of them… (Jade will disagree) but the other kids will agree, everything is more interesting in a market
  • activities – trekking, hiking, biking, swimming, sandboarding, boating, fishing, anything that involves moving
  • a meaningful activity – in Guatemala we visited a NGO that supports children and families who previously have lived off of the Guatemala City garbage dump – we saw the dump, the neighborhood, and the kids and their school; it was simply the most memorable activity we did in Guatemala (Safe Passage)
  • museums maybe – check with the kids first as it depends on their tastes – we usually don’t spend much time inside on our trips but a museum such as Anne Frank’s or The Hiding Place in Holland are very interesting for kids
  • change up the transportation options – tuk tuks, bikes, motos, trains, chickenbuses- travel like the local people do
  • vary the accommodation options through out the trip – we like a range of places from super budget to homestay to a bit more costly (medium range) so the kids meet many other travellers, get to meet local people, get to eat with others, make their own food in their own kitchens, and overall… it never gets dull

And when all of the above fails, you will still discover that a trip to anywhere new is usually wonderful but remember to expect the unexpected!

Chris Chooses Boston!

What? After all the places you have now been, you still said Boston was your favourite destination. How could that be? Well, it often is the memories of trips we had when we were younger that stand out so maybe that is why? I like the city but would still pick New York or San Francisco over Boston as a favourite American city but each to their own. However…we have had a lot of great family memories in Boston and so here are some visuals that clearly resonate with Chris and me as to why this city is so special.