The Saigon Nails Story

I can count the number of times I have had my nails done on one hand.

That was before moving to Saigon and the lure of the nail salon called my hands in for a visit… not just once this month, but twice! So to paint a picture, I am a beginner at this kind of thing.

So it is Saturday morning and fresh from cleaning my apartment, Jade and I decide to hang a right at the nail salon on the way to groceries. Forgetting I resemble a sweaty sloth, I walk in, only to see about 10 perfectly coiffed and perfectly manicured women waiting to attend to me.

For some women, this is ideal. For me, this is anxiety producing. As they buzzed around and got in closer to inspect said nails, I could feel my stress level rising. I can barely cope with the attention of one beautifier in Canada at a time,  never mind 4 at one time.

As I am ranked a novice, my daughter, who has a higher ranking, chooses my nail colour this time. She did not approve of last month’s choice of hot pink, contrasting with my white skin in my oh so lovely, orthopedic sandals to boot!

So all is going according to plan… Jade has successfully chosen a more suitable colour this time… one that will better blend my over aged toes into the world of Saigon’s well pedicured feet!


The owner of the salon hones in on me and mistakenly reads my anxious look as one that is keen to try new things in the world of nails! Before I know it, she has pulled out a slew of colours to design my nails… one that involves flowers and the colour gold. All this for the price of free!

Jade looks on as I refuse to watch out of fear. An eternity later, I look down. I am now the proud owner of a multiple of designs now etched onto my finger and toe nails, complete with a bedazzling of gold dust.

As I gaze at these nails, I want to swap my hands with Jade’s!  How come she got the neutral matchy tiny flower and I ended up with the blinding butterfly twinkling in gold?!

Oh well…maybe next time, I will get it right!



Why Go? Some Family Facts On Halifax

Head to Halifax. It is a hit! In fact, a home run at that 🙂

Not only is Halifax a beautiful city with tons of character set in a harbour but outside its city limits, awaits the eastern coastline of Canada, a trip to die for or at least to drive for.

Beaches, ocean, parks, fishing villages, crafts galore, and seafood make this area of the world a must see destination if you are Canadian and even if you are not.

Our kids love Halifax and these are just a few of the simple reasons why.

1. The Wave

Halifax rises to the top; each and every time. Kids, teens, and even adults try to climb the wave at the water front (and with lots of practice, do climb it) and then if they are like ours, sit at the top in glory for a looooooong time.

Sitting on the wave and loving it.

Sitting on the wave and loving it.

Then at some point you need to bribe your kids to come off.

Finally coming down the wave.

Finally coming down the wave.

Then there is another park close by (this can be part of your bribing to get off the wave) where they can pretend to be on a ship.

Abby the captain.

Abby the captain.

2.The Discovery Centre

A hands-on science museum that will even appeal to tweens and even teens. We know. We have spent a lot of time there, particularly in the bubble area where you stand and a bubble encloses you. It doesn’t get much better than that.

3. The Ferry

Then you can get on the ferry and go across the water to Dartmouth for very little money and very little time but lots of fun. Yes, bang for your buck.

Riding the ferry between Halifax and Dartmouth over and over.

Riding the ferry between Halifax and Dartmouth over and over.

4.The Beaches

After, if there is sunshine (we can always hope), there are beaches right in the city limits.

Playing at the beach in Dartmouth.

Playing at the beach in Dartmouth.

5. Hungry?

If you are hungry and like diners with lots of character and personality, head to John’s Lunch for a cheap entertaining meal of fish and chips (just received best fish and chips award from a national Canadian magazine) or be like us, and go for breakfast. Either way, it is a win win for you and your kids.

Old style diner which is great for all.

Old style diner which is great for all.

They loved eating by themselves at the counter and watching all the cooking action.

They loved eating by themselves at the counter and watching all the cooking action.

6. The Halifax Public Gardens

This is an enclosed park downtown that has birds galore, ducks galore, geese galore. All this galore is heaven for kids who love to watch them and yes, sometimes even chase them.

Jade, when she is not chasing the animals.

Jade, when she is not chasing the animals.

7. Point Pleasant Park

Oh my goodness, this is a phenomenal park that has trails, ruins, water, beaches and a zillion other things kids can find to play with. If not, they can run and run forever here. And when they finish running, bring a blanket and find a place to picnic and watch the sailboats go by.

Then if you are from or going to Prince Edward Island after, you drive and hop onto another ferry and the fun continues.

old 820

The ferry bonus if you are then headed to Prince Edward Island.


How Pumpkins Can Blend Families

Family traditions are always important; especially for kids. And maybe even more so for kids of blended families. Trying to establish routines, comfort and a sense of togetherness when you live in different provinces can be challenging. It takes a lot of scheduling, patience and effort to make it work. It just doesn’t happen on its own. But I wouldn’t ask for it any other way because what we have, in my humble opinion, works and works well. Our girls have grown up together and despite, not always being together, “feel” together.

Sometimes apart, always together at heart.

Early on, we noticed that certain traditions stood out from the rest. One was the pumpkin, apple and sometimes corn maze weekend. The girls loved this and so did we. In fact, it may be strange, but I tend to prefer the lead up to certain holidays even more than the holidays themselves. I am not a huge Halloween person but I do like getting the pumpkins and carving them together.

This year, we moved from PEI to Ontario which made us much further from New Brunswick; hence weekends and time together have been a tad more challenging to organize. The pumpkin weekend didn’t happen this year; in fact, sadly Jade and I purchased ours at the local grocery store in the end. It just didn’t feel the same without some or all of the girls together. As the girls get older and branch off into work and university, I reflect on the memories even more.

My father used to say that the only thing consistent in life is change. I am trying to embrace that change but during pumpkin, apple and corn maze time, it is a little harder.

Go Jump Off A Bridge!

As a family, what do we miss about Prince Edward Island in Canada?

The Beaches – but not just any old beach – this island has tons of them so lslanders in the know, can afford to be picky. Basin Head Provincial Park or known locally as Singing Sands (yes the sands sing so to speak but that is not theeee reason to come) instead it is theeeeeee place to jump off of a bridge or the side, if you are a beginner, into the water  (yes, my brother-in-law was a beginner at first (see pic above). It is a kind of “a rite of passage” place… first to know about it and then to do it.… of those things. Oh yah, ignore all the signs that say you can’t do it. Everyone does. And the lifeguards watch…

Tea Hill Park – close to Charlottetown and fascinating for its tides. Think very muddy but perfect for younger kids. We have lost many flip flops and crocs in our adventures there.

Splendid Essence Restaurant – Allyson and I used to describe this place like eating at a spa but not the price of a spa. We would arrive all stressed out and leave totally chilled. And yes… the food is awesome and if it suits our family’s eating needs, it will suit yours and so far I haven’t found anything close to it even in Toronto. I want those dumplings and iced green tea NOW!

Cows Everything – its ice cream and its cheese. Jade looked at me in fear this year as she realized that Santa wouldn’t be bringing Cows cheese.  Apparently the Dutch cheese substitute was fine but it was no Cows.

The Chip Shack – We just discovered this before we moved 😦 The lady who runs it has major personality, likes to travel (BONUS) so she will chat about Guatemala which of course is thumbs up in our book. Oh… and the fries are frigging awesome as one of my girls would put it.

Oh.. I see a certain theme developing as food takes over. I also miss Twin Shores Camping but since everyone and their dog knows about it and loves it too (especially if you have kids) you have to book so faaaarrrrr in advance, that reserving a spot nowadays is tough for a blended family who schedules for a living.

The Dunes – a favourite store/restaurant that specializes in arts and crafts (local) and those from Bali. What makes it so extra special is its design (think museum like for adults, shopping for teens, and a Balinese backyard for kids to explore). This is a must stop for anyone coming to PEI. Google it and go.

PEI is no secret; it is known as a great spot to visit as a family and rightly so. However, the pot holes suck so rent a car instead or bring one you don’t care about 🙂

The Most Fun We Ever Have Had On A Bike

Ok, the planning changed once we knew that Noah was coming to Peru with us. What thrills us old people and our younger girls might be a big snooze for an active 17year old teen. What to do? Head straight to Ollyantambo, reserve through KB Tambo, head up Abra Malaga mountain pass (14, 500 feet above sea level), put helmet and gear on, get on bike and go down 5 000 feet to the jungle, passing waterfalls, llamas, quaint villages and a lot of other stuff that I didn’t see since you are usually going fast!

In the middle of it, I say to Chris, this is the funnest thing I have ever done. He agrees. The kids agree. Until of course, they go sand boarding down sand dunes. That is teens for you.

Check it out at:

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.

guatemala 210

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!

guatemala 313

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.

guatemala 319

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.

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.

You Can’t Plan These Memorable Moments

We were returning from San Pedro to Santiago Atitlan by boat on Lake Atitlan. Jade had her camera (or was it an Ipod… who knows?) and the girl beside her was checking it out. Before you know it, they were communicating via technology, pictures and hand gestures. Neither spoke each other’s language but it was one of those moments that for Jade stood out.

A similar experience just happened this summer in Peru when Noah, Jade and Abby went to the local soccer field with a ball and ended up playing with and against some local kids. This again stands out from the rest of the planned activities… learning a little about others as you travel makes meaningful moments.

The Top Thing To Do in Peru – Teens Give Thumbs Up

Okay, so we drag ourselves to Huacachina, Peru for our kids!

You do these things as parents… the desire to stay in a little oasis surrounded by sand dunes where they can pop from the swimming pool to the dunes in seconds was high. So they diligently dragged these old sandboards up the dunes in the heat to come down again.

And did they love it… yes!

There was a lot of laughing, some screaming, some frustration but overall the consensus was that it was worth the time to get there. They even went out in a sand buggy over the dunes which I am sure was terrifying, but in their eyes tons of fun.

Definitely a must do if you are under 48 years old!

Chris and I enjoyed reading by the pool, watching them in the dunes, and finding great pizza to eat.