I Took A Trip Without My Kids – And Didn’t Miss Them

106I’ve just come home from a four day/four night jaunt to New York City and had a great time.  I went without my children and although I thought about them sometimes, I didn’t miss them.  I even – wait for it – I even missed my son’s birthday to go on this trip.  This may be unthinkable for some people, but I did it, and here’s why and how.

1.  The kids were in good hands with their dad, spending the long weekend up at the cottage with cousins, uncles and grandparents.  It would be easier for my husband to take care of them with the village-style set-up of the cottage, and the children love it there.  I had no time to help pack the children’s things, and made a point to give no advice about this or anything else concerning the kids.  So what if they would be wearing each other’s clothes and not enough sunscreen and maybe brushing their teeth once a day.  I knew they would be well looked after and fine with their dad.  Better than fine.

2.  Before my trip, I talked to my son – on three separate occasions – about the prospect of me missing his birthday.  He was nonplussed.  We had two bigger birthday parties planned on other the weekends bookending my trip to celebrate his big day, and I would be there for these.  I was sorry to miss the actual day but it’s common for us to celebrate when we can get people together and that’s usually not on the same day.  My son asked me to call him on his birthday, which I did, and he heard a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday from the Big Apple – my mother hurried out of the bathroom to add her voice to our chorus.

3.  I wanted to do something special for the women in my family.  My sister turned 50 this year, which is the reason my sister-in-law suggested this trip.  When my mother joined in, I knew that as the sole remaining female adult of the family, I needed to go.  I am joyfully bound and committed to my immediate family, but my sense of kinship is broader than that, and I want to enjoy and support as much of my bigger family as I can.

4.  I left the guilties in the dust.  The truth is that New York City is not really my speed – I prefer slower, smaller settings – but while I was in the city that doesn’t sleep, I was determined to enjoy it.  Everything was lightweight on this trip, from my bags to my responsibilities to my desires, and it was a lovely breather.  I was not pining for home or my kids, and I knew that this was not because I felt untethered from home, but precisely because I feel so connected to my home base.  I know where I belong, and I knew to what and to whom I would soon be returning, and this made being away from home very easy.  It is exactly my wish for how my boys will feel as they increasingly have their adventures away from home, and this pleased me.

5.  I *loved* seeing my boys (and got some above average hugs) when I got back, just as I knew I would.   It was a great trip, and a great return.

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Yup, I am Old: 5 Signs You Know That You Are The “Mom” in Miami

GetAttachmentI just got back from a much needed mommy-weekend get-away to Miami.  As a stay-at-home mom, I chose to look at this as a “work conference” rather than a desperate attempt to finally pee in privacy.  We sat around the pool and chatted about our kids, struggles we are working through, and parenting strategies.  That covers off the conference part of the trip.

We also discussed very important topics such as classic printed fabrics like Pucci and Pulitzer, taming frizzy hair, the perfect white jeans and miracle face creams.

Add some sun, sand and delicious food, and it can only be described as glorious.  A much need respite from the every day.

However I did learn no matter how far I travel, that I can take the girl out of the mothering but I can’t take the mothering out of the girl.

Here are 5 reasons how I know that I am the Mom in Miami:

1:  I want to ask every other girl if she is aware that she has walked out of the house without her pants.
2:  Instead of coveting the sky-high heels worn by 20-something wanna-be reality starlets, I am tsking them.  Do they know the damage that they are causing to their backs?  Don’t get me started on cramped toe-boxes.  Say hello to bunions in ten years time.
3:  I care less about the alcohol percentage of a drink than I do of the SPF level of my sunscreen.
4:  I much prefer to enjoy my cocktails poolside in the afternoon than at the club where the clocks tick past midnight.  When I am awake at 1 am, I am usually cleaning vomit from bedsheets.
5:  I notice the squishy, doughy thighs of a toddler cruising the beach with her bathing suit tucked up her bum before the rippled, muscle chest of the GQ model jogging on the sand.

 

 

Toronto Staycation – A March Break Round-up

For those living in Ontario, next week marks the start of March Break and parents everywhere will scramble to entertain their children.  Some children will go to day camp or maybe a babysitter to while away the time before school resumes.  The lucky will escape the dreary winter weather and head for sunny skies. Everyone else will be passing off a “staycation” as the next best thing to Disneyland.

One of the greatest perks about living in Toronto is that it is an incredibly family friendly city.  Activities abound and cater to a variety of interests and more importantly price points!  Toronto is chock-full of things to do for free and on a limited budget.

If you live in Toronto bookmark this post and use it as your March Break go-to-guide and if you don’t, well, bookmark it anyway and be sure to refer to it when you visit the city.

For the Thespian

Toronto has a theatre community that rivals London and New York.  Children’s theatre is no exception.  Whether it is a show-stopping musical of the highest caliber (Mirvish’s The Wizard of Oz) or something lower key, you will not be disappointed.

The Cat in The Hat – Young People’s Theatre

Magnificent Munsch – The Solar Stage

Stinky Kids The Musical, Pinkalicious, Freckleface Strawberry The Musical – Lower Ossington Theatre

The Elves, A Shoemaker and His Wife – The Little Red Theatre

The Berenstain Bears Live!, Potted Potter – The Living Arts Centre

Scooby-Doo Live! – The Sony Centre

For the Screen Junky

Perhaps you have a Spielberg wannabe on your hands and only the silver screen will do.  While the Cineplex and Famous Players are sure to have crowd pleasers, why not try suggesting something on the indie side?  Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has all sorts for kids.  The weekend of March 16 & 17th, TIFF will offer FREE screenings of The Magicians, Lotte and the Moonstone Secret and Elenor’s Secret.

If video games and media is your child’s thing, consider a visit to digiPlayspace where kids get hands-on experience where technology and art meet.

For the Naturist

It’s time to harvest the maple syrup and surrounding the city there are many conversation areas that host demonstrations, wagon rides, and other family-friendly activities (especially for the littlest ones).  A word of caution, some of these wooded areas can be quite muddy so be sure to dress appropriately and if outerwear does get caked in mud, Carol has the easiest way to get those garments clean without even bringing them into the house!  Many of these areas are free or have a minimal cost making it the perfect way to spend a day outdoors.

Purple Woods

Kortright Centre

Bruce’s Mill

Riverdale Farm

Bronte Creek

Evergreen Brick Works (does not have a maple syrup shack)

For the Budding David Copperfield

While the hand may be quicker than the eye, these programs are guaranteed to keep little eyes (and bums!) captive.  Mark Lewis’s Magic Show can be seen at Lower Ossington Theatre while Casa Loma is hosting breakfast with Houdini March 14-16.  Get tickets fast – they are disappearing!

For the Hockey Fanatic

Skaters can enjoy the many FREE skating rinks around the city including the Natrel Rink at Harborfront, The Evergreen Brick Works and the kid-friendly loop at The Shops at Don Mills.  For deeper pockets, The Hockey Hall of Fame never fails to impress young Wickenheisers and Crosbys.

For the Lego-Junky

Indigo Kids has all sorts of activities running throughout the week at 11 a.m. but Wednesday’s Lego theme would be a hit with our boys.  Not every location is offering these activities so be sure to check before making any promises.

Vaughn Mills is home to the newest Legoland Discovery Centre and while tickets are $18 for those over 2, I can’t promise that you won’t need to dig a bit deeper at the gift shop.

Do you wonder how little pieces of plastic can be so expensive?

The Heavy Hitters

Toronto is also home to a variety of Internationally acclaimed museums and attractions, including (but not limited to):

The C.N. Tower

The Royal Ontario Museum

Art Gallery of Ontario

The Ontario Science Centre

References

Still stumped?  Check these tried, tested and true websites:

Savvy Mom

Toronto 4 Kids

Help We’ve Got Kids

After compiling this list, I have to say that I am looking forward to spending some time in the city.  What are your plans for March Break?

A Weekend Away

023It’s one thing to hear abstract statistics about how many marriages end in divorce.  Statistics include everybody, and lord knows what everybody is doing.  But it’s quite another to watch your friends, the normal people you’ve known for a long time, the ones who have stable relationships and tend to make good choices, go down.

My husband and I have been together long enough to have borne witness to this a few times, most recently over this past holiday.  When people ask me whether I did anything special for New Year’s, I can say yes.  I left the house and my husband close to 11pm, to drive across the city to make sure a friend who wasn’t answering the phone was hanging in there after receiving some particularly distressing news about her marriage, which had already burst into flame in a spectacular way a few weeks earlier.

This kind of thing invariably makes me appreciate my spouse a little more, the relative insignificance of our complaints.  Our friend’s trouble didn’t lead us to take a weekend away just for ourselves – we had planned to do it anyway – but it did form part of the background as we firmed up our plans to go.

We decided to go to a unique bed and breakfast, an urban homestead which practices some truly sustainable living practices that we find inspiring and would like to learn from.  It was just an hour and a half away, and we were gone just over 24 hours in total, but we had to pull out the stops for childcare, with my mother, my sister, and my in-laws all pitching in.  I did the planning and the packing and the shipping of children while my husband was at work (I picked him up there) and I confess that by the time we were starting our trip, I was tired.

But of course it was worth it.  Even the drive offered wide expanses of time to talk, uninterrupted.  The accommodation was simple and lovely, the hostess warm and informative, and we soaked up the tour she gave of her house and farm.  It was an unusually mild winter weekend, so my husband and  walked long into the night, and more during the day, taking in new surroundings, eating meals that were, again, uninterrupted.  We made some exciting plans.  It felt good.

Yet still I find myself thinking about my friend, the one whose marriage wouldn’t have been fortified by any number of weekend jaunts.  I know she will find her way through the mess.  But she’s no statistic, and until she comes out on the other end of this, I’m sending her whatever wishes of comfort and strength that I can.

Getaway: Amelia Island, Florida

It sounds somewhat juvenile to say, but my parents are the greatest parents and they have segued to being the greatest grandparents.   It’s because of them and that my husband and I are able to take regular getaways just the two of us.

This summer we took a 5-day trip to Amelia Island, Florida.  This tiny island with pristine water and sandy beaches has a rich and diverse history.  Hundreds of years ago, Fernandina Beach was an established seaport and evidence of the glory days can be found in the luxurious Victorian style homes that line the charming historic downtown.

Today shrimping boats can be seen dredging the ocean floor each morning and by dinner the fruits of the sea have made their way to your plate at one of the downtown’s quaint restaurants.

While an emphasis is on seafood, diners can find everything to eat on the island.  From the high-end boutique-style restaurants like The Ritz Carlton’s Salt to Sliders where the locals go for fresh grub and arguably the best ocean view.  Wherever you choose to eat you can be assured that the menu will give a nod to Amelia Island’s Spanish roots.

There is plenty to do on the island that will work up your appetite.  From chartered fishing expeditions, to scenic bike rides and miles of inviting sandy beaches, Amelia Island offers something for everyone.  On my to-do list when I return is a guided kayak or paddleboard tour through the scenic wetlands that is home to herons, egrets, turtles and many other native species.

Whether you want to pitch a tent on one of the numerous campsites in the area, be hosted by a bed and breakfast or patron one of the many motels, hotels and resorts, Amelia Island has got somewhere for you to lay your head at night.

For more information on Amelia Island that has been rated a favourite with Conde Nast and 1000 Places To See Before You Die, visit www.ameliaisland.com

Photo credit: http://www.ameliaislandliving.com

 

A Weekend Getaway: Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario

Looking for a summer weekend activity with the kids?  We recently took a road trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario to take in the scenery and spend a day at Marineland.

Marineland is an amusement park that features marine animals.  Visitors can view the aquatic shows, at no additional cost, that are scheduled throughout the day and visit whales and dolphins up close in viewing pens.

John Holer, a Slovenian immigrant who worked in circuses across Europe before coming to Canada, originally founded Marineland.  He opened Marineland in 1961 and continues to be heavily involved with seeing out his vision of creating an interactive environment for people to get up close with and learn about marine animals.

The live show did not disappoint and the opportunity to learn about the animals from the keepers was unique.  How many of us can say they were an arm’s length from an Orca?  The boys spent much of the day on the rides.  There are many rides for children and teenagers alike and the queues moved quickly and orderly.  The highlight of the park was the gift shop.  Despite the collection of standard issue, run of the mill, garbage toys (that cost a small fortune) the shop houses an impressive collection of books and art projects.

If you do make the trek to Marineland with your kids be aware that the signage is poor starting with the front gate.  The property is spread out which makes for a nice walk but if you have complainers or lolly-gaggers in your party be sure to bring a wagon or stroller with you (rentals are available).  The park has limited areas of shade thereby another reason for which you might want to consider a covered stroller for young children.  As is usually the case with theme parks, the food selection is limited to poorly prepared junk food but it is worth noting that Halaal chicken is available on the premise.  For those who choose to bring their own food, the park does have a generous area reserved for picnickers.

Marineland is located in Niagara Falls, Ontario (that’s on the Canadian side).

For up to date, ticket information check the official website but it is worth noting children under 4 years old are free and parking is free!

 

Curing the Nature Deficit

July 1, 2012: Milkman’s Lane, Yellow Creek Ravine, Mud Creek Ravine, Don Valley Brickworks.

In his book Accidental City, Robert Fulford wrote about Toronto’s ravines:

The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.

If you’re not familiar with Toronto’s ravine system, I recommend the blog, Toronto Ravines and Trails with Abbey. It’s the personal blog of a Toronto father who has chronicled his adventures exploring Toronto’s ravines with his five-year old daughter.  Of course, if you have a literary bent, there’s always Margaret Atwood‘s Cat’s Eye to read,  in which Toronto’s ravines figure prominently.

Walking in Toronto’s ravines has become a Canada Day ritual for us, those years when we can’t get out of the city (read: most years). There is nothing like an amble along a sun-dappled trail to get the imagination flowing. Not five steps on to Milkman’s Lane, and the boys had launched into a new game of their own devising, which continued, unabated, until they finally stopped to smell (or water) the roses at the Evergreen Brickworks, our destination of the day:

P.S.: We’re wishing our American readers, family and friends a very happy, relaxing and restorative Fourth of July.  Whether you spend the day in a ravine, at a beach, at a barbeque or just in the company of people you love, we hope today is a good one.

A Weekend Getaway to New Orleans

Now that the boys are older and we are lucky enough to have a generous, supportive team of family who are willing to help us out, my husband and I have made good on our promise to spend more time together and resume traveling.  Last year we spent five glorious days in Paris where we reconnected and a long weekend in Boston for my birthday.  This time, we opted for a weekend get-a-way to New Orleans.

I can safely say that Paris and New Orleans could not be more different, with the exception of one thing: both cities offer gastronomy experiences that leave you wishing you had worn your fat pants.

Good to know: In New Orleans, completely acceptable to wear fat pants in public.  In Paris, not so much.

Where We Ate:

Cochon

A trendy tapas-style restaurant away from the French Quarter that is a hotspot among locals.  The ambiance is similar to what’s being seen in many of Toronto’s newest restaurants: an eatery style, devoid of tablecloths, accouterments and friendly servers.  But for what it’s lacking in charm, it makes it up with the food.  The dishes are easy to share, favour local ingredients and focus on regional flavors.  True to its namesake, pork abounds on the menu but easily shares the spotlight with a variety of vegetable sides.  I couldn’t help myself and indulged in the mac and cheese casserole which after one bite I decided was not worthy of sharing….it was that good.

Image courtesy of kapper22.blogspot.ca (this gal knows where to eat!)

NOLA Restaurant

Bam!  How could we go to Nawlins and not dine at one of famed chef Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants?  NOLA did not disappoint.  Every attention to detail was made.  The service was top-notch, and the atmosphere undoubtably New Orleans without being kitschy but nothing could eclipse the food.  The fried chicken was bar none the best chicken dish that I have ever eaten.  The spiced buttermilk batter was crispy fried and protected the succulent juices from the chicken with perfection.  The side of sweet potato mash with a hint of brown sugar was a delicious companion to this main.

Image courtesy of Flavor-Junkie.

Sylvain

A hidden gem of a restaurant tucked in the French Quarter that offers everything from casual ambiance; spirited wait staff and unforgettable food.  The chef favour local ingredients and had a decidedly unique European twist on southern classics.  While everything we tried had us scraping our plates for more, my husband took the plunge and ordered a second serving of the shave brussel sprouts salad.  If you manage to get a reservation, ask for the table on their rear courtyard.

Image of the brussel sprouts salad courtesy of food blogger Appetites.

Image of the courtyard table courtesy of Domestic Chic, who has the most gorgeous photos of New Orleans on her blog.

What We Saw

The French Quarter

The French Quarter is the city’s oldest neighbourhoods dating back 200 years and is steeped in Creole history.  From voodoo to antiques and everything in between can be found among the protected historical buildings, which are adorned with elaborate ironwork and colourful walls.  While Bourbon Street is touted as a party hotspot, I can say that the partying going on didn’t interest me much.  Boozy patrons spill over onto the street from the clubs and barely clothed women take to dancing in doorways.  I much preferred the restaurant scene to the bar scene, but to each their own.

Devastation from Hurricane Katrina

It’s been seven years since the storm and the city is still facing the devastating task of rebuilding.  With the support of generous individuals, newly created foundations and celebrities like Brad Pitt and Harry Connick Jr., the city is slowly getting back on its feet.  I was not prepared to see such poverty and loss in a country as great as the USA.  It truly is heart wrenching to see many people, including young families, struggling to rebuild and re-establish their lives.

Jazzfest

We were lucky enough to spend a day at Jazzfest.  I had my first gospel experience and I soundly concluded that if my church were as much fun, I’d be certain to get myself into a pew each Sunday.  Take a listen to my favourite gospel performer, Kim Che’re, who had the crowd praisin’ Jesus!

Swamp Tour

Would a trip to New Orleans be complete without a visit to the swamp?  I swallowed my fear and held a baby alligator but was too chicken to even take a picture of the 3 footer that my husband held.  Not only did we learn a lot about alligators and swamp life on this 2 hour boat tour, we also saw first-hand just how beautiful a bayou can be.

What is a Weekend?

In the first season of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess famously asked, “What is a weekend?”

The weekend, dear lady, is over, but thank you for sending it out in such magnificent style.  It is so much easier to face the lunch boxes when I’ve had a dose of the upstairs downstairs drama. 

And when I face the lunch boxes in the morning, I can just ask, “What would Mrs. Patmore do?”

We’re Game

Traveling with your children this week? With the extra week off of school after New Year’s Day his holiday, undoubtedly some of you are packing your bags for (hopefully) warmer climes.

But, how to entertain them on long car and plane trips? Thank Jobs for Iphones and Ipads.

Yes, I know. We survived family vacations with nothing but a deck of cards, travel bingo and those magic mystery ink books. But really, wouldn’t you have preferred to play Fruit Ninja when you were stuck in the backseat of the station wagon?

Here are some of my family’s favourite Ipad game apps. These are in frequent use in our house, even when we’re not on the road.

image copyright itunes.com CarcassoneIdentical to the popular board game of the same name, play is   deceptively simple: build a medieval territory and garner the greatest number of “followers” by linking to other players’ roads, cloisters and and cities while preventing your opponents from doing the same.  Simple to learn, and quick to play. You can also play against others online.

Ipad Chess (Mastersoft Chess version): there are numerous chess apps available for the Ipad, but we like this one for its clean graphics and smooth play.

Scribblenauts Remix: You may already be familiar with Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS, but this game is even more fun to play on the larger Ipad screen. Maxwell, the game’s main character, needs to collect “starites” to complete each level.  You can use the objects on screen to achieve his goal, or you can summon random objects to help him. Type in a noun, add the required adjectives (my favourite so far, courtesy of Sebastian, has been “Big yellow knight shoes”) and see what happens. Educational (you have to spell the words correctly!) and imaginative, this game is fun even for grown-ups.

Of course, Angry Birds can eat up an afternoon, too. Not that I recommend that.

For younger kids, try out these apps:

AniMatch:  Littles will enjoy trying to match the animal faces. They can match animal sounds, too!

Pictureka!: Kind of like Where’s Waldo and I Spy, but with cooler graphics.  Note that the most recent version appears to be a bit buggy.

Helicopter Taxi:  Uses your Ipad camera to simulate a ride in a toy helicopter.Fly around the room and pick up more passengers as you go.

All of these apps work on your Iphone as well.

What are your favourite Ipad/Iphone apps? Any you think we should know about? Be sure to leave a comment.