Why I love to solo parent…sometimes.

Why I love to solo parent…sometimes.

This past weekend, Super Dad took off on a long weekend in Louisiana for a bachelor party leaving me to solo parent the boys for four nights.  I’ll admit, my initial reaction to the idea of being on my own for 12 meals, 4 daycare drop offs and pick ups, 4 bedtimes and countless tantrums was a little overwhelming.  I reassured myself that I could invite my Mom to come stay with us and it would just like any other day of having one adult per child.  As plans came together for Adam’s trip, I never did extend the invitation for another set of hands and I think it’s because deep down, I knew that I could handle it on my own and the closer we got to the weekend, the more inclined I was to spread my wings as a solo parent.

The weekend came and went in a flash and as it turns out, it was a welcomed change of pace.

I enjoyed running my own show.  Super Dad and I are on the same page about all of the big things – bedtime routines, disciplinary tactics etc. but when it comes to going about our day, we operate a little differently.  Adam is a task-oriented, productive, punctual person that feels at his best when he has checked off a long list of ‘to-do’s’ on a Saturday.  I, on the other hand, will poke away at tidying here and there throughout the day, usually take on one or two new recipes but a Saturday well spent to me is in the sandbox or on the swings at the park with the boys.  On the weekends that we are home as a family, Super Dad and I compliment each other well and our time ends up being a combination of work and play but it was refreshing to spend my time with the boys doing puzzles, playing hide-and-go seek and running around outside without feeling the need to balance our day with house work or yard work.

We invited whoever to come whenever for however long they could!  Adam and I are both socialites.  We are true believers in ‘the more the merrier’ and are often inviting friends or family to join us for whatever we have on the go.  A ‘Mom and tot’ playdate however is not exactly high of Super Dad’s social calendar.  I took this opportunity to invite people over throughout the weekend and we loved our time hosting and playing a la toddler.

I stepped up my housewife game.  If you know me, this won’t come as a surprise to you but I’ll go ahead and set the stage here in saying that I am not the tidy one in our family.  In fact, I have endearingly nicknamed my husband ‘Danny Tanner’ because he is forever working to keep our house clean and organized.  I, on the other hand, earned the nickname ‘trailer’ as a child because I leave a trail of things I have done or touched throughout the day and I’m afraid to say the nickname has followed me into my married life.  It’s not that I don’t value having a clean house but it’s not priority one for me.  Being on my own this weekend was like a challenge to keep things in order like Danny would and I found myself dealing with what we call ‘trouble spots’ that had been sitting there for months.  Danny and his young protégér were back to it when he got home but I’m hoping to keep my game face on for a while longer.

I took some time for myself.  This might have been my favourite part of solo parenting.  At the end of the day, after the boys were in bed and the house was in order, I got to sit back and truly enjoy some alone time.  Being a spouse and a parent can be emotionally draining because there is almost a constant need to engage physically or emotionally with someone else.  As two working parents, Adam and I use this time in the evenings to catch up on one another’s day and get through any banking or admin things that we’re working through.  It’s valuable time for our marriage but for a weekend, it felt really decadent to have that time to myself…and if you’re wondering, I made the most of it by eating my weight in ice cream and watching Girl Boss or re-runs of Heartland!

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  When Adam left on Thursday morning, I wasn’t sure how often I would hear from him – if at all – over the weekend but we ended up talking more than we normally do.  It was fun to send him pictures and videos of what the boys were up to and to hear snippets of what New Orleans was like.  Super Dad even found ‘Little Blue Truck’ which Clyde didn’t actually think was all that impressive but Adam and I are considering it a parenting win!  Clyde went to bed on Sunday night so excited to wake up and come upstairs for a snuggle with Dad… I think it’s safe to say we were all ready for him to come home.

You may have noticed that I used the term ‘solo parent’ to describe my time alone with the boys this weekend.  While I enjoyed the experience for all of the reasons above, it crossed my mind a few times that it was a small insight into the world of a single parent and ladies and gents, my hat is off to you.  I was exhausted by the end of the day and so looking forward to Adam’s return on Monday.  There is no doubt that it takes a village!

One last thing that kept me going through the weekend was that my turn is coming in just a few weeks.  A friend and I are driving to Toronto for two nights shopping and the hotel life.  Is anyone else planning to visit the One of a Kind Show?!  Hopefully Super Dad enjoys solo parenting as much as I did!

The aftermath of Halloween

The aftermath of Halloween

Last week, I shared about our Halloween tradition with the Switch Witch and while I got mostly positive feedback, it invoked some questions and commentary that got me thinking a little deeper about moderation, self regulation and finding good uses for the ‘great candy haul.’

Towards the end of last week’s post I admitted that Adam and I would most likely throw away any and all of the Halloween candy that the boys collected.  I was hesitant to write it knowing that it wouldn’t be the popular opinion but I strive to present an honest reflection of our life on this blog and the honest truth was that we would do as we have done in past years and ‘can the candy.’  Within hours of publishing, I had people reaching out with suggestions of things we could do with our candy and it got me thinking about the options to donate it constructively – constructively meaning not putting it out at work for kids that have a haul of candy at home and colleagues that aspire to eat better and exercise more.  I did a Google search and came across some pretty neat opportunities across the country!

If you live on the West coast, you can drop off your candy with this Calgary dentist for it to be turned into biofuel feedstock!  Those of you in Halifax can bring your candy here and have it sent out to our troops!

Those of us in Ottawa with candy to spare can bring it to Citigate Dental this Saturday and they will be donating it to a shelter with children that didn’t get to go trick-or-treating.

Thank you to everyone that reached out to me with your suggestions.  We stuck with the ‘Switch Witch’ concept this year but when Clyde asked me where the Switch Witch takes all of his candy, I was left at a loss for words… Next year we will encourage the boys to choose a place they would like to donate their candy!

…and speaking of candy.  Can I just say that this was by far my favourite year of trick-or-treating?  Clyde, at nearly 3.5 years old, truly understood the concept for the first time and it was as if he had found his purpose in life.

We live in the country where kids trick-or-treat by driving from house to house so we asked the grandparents that live in town if we could meet at their house after work/daycare for a crockpot dinner and head out together to the densely populated neighborhood near them.  The streets seemed really quiet when we started so we walked down the street from their house, rounded the corner and found a trick-or-treaters haven.  The kids were literally running back and forth across the street and from house to house.   Without a moments hesitation, Clyde left my side in a full sprint to join the gaggle of kids in costume and made his way to the first door he could get to.  ‘Trick or treat!’  he said proudly.  Followed immediately by ‘Thank you!  Happy trick or treat…I mean, Happy Halloween!’ and he was off again to the next house.

Super Dad and Grandpa pushed Jude in the stroller while Grandma and I maintained a light jog to keep up with Clyde for the evening.  The small, foam bags from the dollar store were being filled up in record time and brought to the stroller to be dumped.  Note to self: next year, he will be ready for the pillow case.

My heart was bursting with pride to see him holding his own amongst the big kids and speaking confidently with the adults that answered the door when he knocked.

We were back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house by 7:30pm to dump and sort the candy then it was time for pajamas and home to bed.

I was grinning from ear to ear on the drive home thinking about how this year marks the first of the next 10+ years of trick-or-treating with that boys that will be so. much. fun.

On the topic of self regulation and treats in moderation, I want to clarify that we are not striving to raise ‘sugar free kids.’  Anyone that knows me or read my post about motivation knows that I have a bowl of ice cream every night and that I love treats.  The major difference being that I can choose to eat well throughout the day knowing that I will have a dessert in the evening.  Our kids are bombarded with opportunities to consume excessive amounts of sugar everyday via juice, cereal, flavoured yogurt, packaged snacks – the list goes on and on.  Our priority is to help them choose whole foods and opt for treats that are homemade or a recipe that we did together so we can use ingredients like whole wheat flours, oats and maple syrup instead of refined sugars, dye’s or ingredients we can’t pronounce.

Our desire to implement the ‘Switch Witch’ is not an attempt to eliminate the opportunity for our kids to eat candy but it is a way to emphasize the fun and joy of trick-or-treating instead of Halloween being all about the candy.  Trick-or-treating itself is a great concept, in my opinion.  It promotes creativity, stimulates conversations between neighbours and is a night spent with our kids walking outside with friends and family!  We all enjoyed sorting the candy at the end of the night and sharing a few treats together and then we reinforced our standard message that candies are yummy and fun for a treat but that they don’t help us to grow big and strong.  Clyde was happy to help package up all of the treats for the Switch Witch and the next day we all enjoyed sitting down to play with their new dump trucks and Hot Wheel cars!

I hope that you and your family had a fun and safe year of trick-or-treating!  We will be excited to run the streets of Kanata again next year!

Meet the [blogger]: 4 Financial tips from Erin!

Meet the [blogger]: 4 Financial tips from Erin!

Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are just waiting for your turn to talk?  Adam and I often get home from work with so much to say to each other that it’s as if we’re taking turns sharing information without ever truly ‘investing’ in what the other person is saying.  When it’s at its worst, we know that we’re overdue for a date night – a time to talk uninterrupted and without the looming timelines of dinner, bath, bedtime, clean up, sleep.

Amidst the chaos and patched together conversations, Adam works tirelessly to update me on our budget.  I am forever grateful for this quality in him because the other half of the patched together conversation is me taking my turn to tell him about the things I’m currently trying to purchase – anyone else in this boat?  Nevertheless, when we do finally sneak away for an evening of uninterrupted conversation, I am always so impressed by the time and energy that he puts into our financial plan and it’s reassuring to know that our family is moving ahead with clear goals.

One of the people that often acts as our soundboard for new financial ventures is a long time friend, fellow Mom and Certified Financial Planner, Erin Genderon.  Erin is currently off on maternity leave with her youngest but is working on some articles to post on their company blog when she returns to work.  In the meantime, she agreed to give us a sneak peek and I am so excited to be sharing some tips on ‘money mindfulness.’

Without further ado, 4 Financial tips for young families from Erin:

With the start of a new fall season and the end of care free summer days, the ‘responsible, let’s get organized’ side of me kicks into high gear.  Fall has always had a ‘fresh start’ feel about it for me – similar in a sense to New Year’s Eve; a time to reflect on what’s going well and what new opportunities lie ahead.

A constant source of review in our household is how we’re managing our money. How to plan, be smart and make the most of every dollar while juggling the multi-faceted financial priorities of an active household can be a daunting task.

As a financial planner by day and a wife and mom-to-two by night, the following are 4 of our essential tips that will help start you and your family down the path to money mindfulness.

1. Build your budget

Not unlike so many things in life, we need to know where we’re starting from in order to know where to go next. For this reason, I’m going to come right out and say it – the first unavoidable step is to prepare a budget.

A simple income vs. expenses (fixed & variable) = surplus or deficit as well as a basic idea of your family’s net worth (net worth = assets – liabilities).

This is the hardest, most time consuming part – and sometimes what stops us from even getting started. Let me assure you that it’s not so bad and well worth your time. Make use of great apps like mint.ca or get started with an Excel template. If all else fails, break out your trusty pen and paper; whatever you need to do.

2. Positive cash flow is key

Next up! Track your spending and understand where your money is going every month – in the financial world, this is called your cash flow.

Is your cash flow positive or negative every month?

Which direction are you trending?

An app, like mint.ca, links all of your bank accounts and credit cards into one spot and makes this process relatively painless.

3. Remember the bigger picture

The third step to rounding out a simple financial plan is to think about what your bigger, long term goals are – primarily, retirement and kids education. Other things to consider might include buying a recreation property or starting a business.

My husband and I had our kids in our mid-late 30’s – a reality for many Canadian families. This means that raising expensive kids, helping them pay for an education plus saving for our retirement become competing priorities over the next 20 years.

A big mistake is putting off retirement planning, simply because it’s the furthest away and the least in your face – waiting for a time when you can “afford it”.

The power of tax free compounding, dollar cost averaging, and good savings habits will have a bigger payoff the sooner you start.

Give some thought to what these goals look like and what time frame is involved. Allocate money in your family budget to these goals. Small steps you take now will have big impact later.

4. Insurance: What no one truly enjoys talking about it.

A last consideration that can’t be overlooked; insurance and wills.

Having put some hard work and thought into your family’s financial plan, it’s worth going the extra step to ensure it’s all protected.

Specifically when you have dependents, insurance and wills are non-negotiable as we don’t have the saving level to ‘self-fund’ in the event of a ‘worst case scenario.’ Some questions for you and your partner to consider…

  • Have we discussed and agreed on who would look after our child(ren) should something happen to both of us? How would this person cover the additional expenses?
  • If we were suddenly without one person’s income, would our family be able to maintain their standard of living? Most employees have life insurance which includes one or two times their salary but this is rarely enough.
  • Do we have a plan in place financially to carry on in the event of disability or critical illness?

The ability to earn an income is your biggest asset – especially during a time when kids are small, debts are high and savings are low. If this is taken away, even for a small amount of time, the financial impact to your family could be severe.   Although not a simple task, once the above items are analyzed thoughtfully, a real life plan can be put together. This will leave you with a feeling of confidence and peace of mind to meaningfully move forward with clear goals and purpose.  Remember to review your plan periodically. A financial plan is meant to evolve over time, to adapt with your families changing needs, wants and priorities as you grow.

 

Erin is a Certified Financial Planner CFP® in Ottawa and an active mother of 2; a curious, energetic 3 year old and an alert 4 month old. She is also a licensed Investment and Insurance Advisor. She loves working with young families to help them understand their unique situations and give them peace of mind to achieve their life goals.

 

Erin Gendron, CFP®, FMA®
Associate Investment Advisor & Financial Planner
HollisWealth®, a division of Industrial Alliance Securities Inc.
Vandermeer Wealth Management
www.vandermeerwealth.com | erin@vandermeerwealth.com 

Halloween with the Switch Witch

Halloween with the Switch Witch

Let me start by saying that I am one of ‘those’ parents that cares deeply about what their kids eat…so please, enter (or read on) if you dare.

I’m getting better as Clyde gets older but if someone hands him a juice box when I’m not around, it all but sends me into cardiac arrest when I eventually see him drinking from it.  I realize (deep down) that the occasional juice box won’t do him any harm but it has more to do with the overwhelming amount of opportunity that we (as a society) are offered and encouraged to reach for sugar.

With this in mind, you can imagine that I struggle with the way that we (again, as a society) choose to celebrate all special occasions with sugar but Halloween in particular is a doozie.  Maybe someone can fill me in on the history of trick-or-treating but at what point did it seem like a good idea to give our kids enough candy in one night to last them until Christmas – at which time they will get enough chocolate to last them until Valentine’s Day…and so on, and so forth.

I once heard this analogy about Halloween and I thought it was so true and funny:

We tell our kids not to talk to strangers and then one day, we send them door to door with a bag and everywhere they go, they get candy!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to rain on Halloween’s parade entirely.  I enjoy dressing up my kids in their costumes and watching them waddle up the driveway to shout out ‘TRICK OR TREAT!’  I have (mostly) fond memories of doing this myself many moons ago and getting home to dump my pillowcase and sort my candy.

Full disclosure:  I once dressed up as gum under a table and every year was the worst trick-or-treater – rarely lasting more than a few houses… but that’s neither here nor there now.

Super Dad and I fully intend to carry on the tradition of taking our boys trick out treating.  We will bring them home with pillow cases of candy and gladly ‘tax’ them a chocolate bar or two while helping sort their loot.  After that, the candy will disappear.  We have decided that the boys will each get to pick one piece of candy (or chocolate, or chips) per year of age to eat that night or save and eat at their leisure.  The rest will be left out on Halloween night and replaced with a toy from the Switch Witch!

The Switch Witch was a concept I heard about from a friend before we had our boys and I think it is genius.

I’m imagining as they get older, it will become increasingly difficult to entice them into trading their candy for a toy so we’re going to make an effort to make sure the Switch Witch leaves an something epic on Halloween night.

Last year, when Paw Patrol was all the rage, Clyde woke up to find a Marshall fire truck and was pretty stoked.  This year, I’m planning on a set of emergency vehicles or diggers that are loud and obnoxious or his first set of Hot Wheels.  He told me this week that he would like the Switch Witch to leave him puppets with a fox or raccoon head but I have no idea where that came from so we’ll see how his answer changes over the next 10 days.

As for the candy, we will probably throw it away to be perfectly honest because we’re boring like that but I’m open to suggestions as to what to do with it that has some value!

How do you handle the influx of treats at Halloween?

To work or not to work?

To work or not to work?

In the days leading up to my return to work, I had a friend make a joke that really resonated with me.  We were messaging back and forth about how I would make it through my first day and how my family would adjust to the change and then she wrote: “When was it that women fought for the right to work?”

I laughed but the thought has really stuck with me and changed my perspective entirely about going back to work.

In an instant, I went from wallowing about not staying home with my boys to feeling empowered about having the opportunity to hold a challenging and satisfying career of my own.

This isn’t by any means a knock against stay-at-home parents.

It’s simply a reminder of how fortunate we are to have the choice – to work, to stay home or to balance a bit of both.

This past Friday marked my first “month-a-versary” of having been back to work full-time.  Just like with everything else these days, the weeks flew by and I’m not sure I can say with full confidence that we have our feet under us yet – but we’re getting there!

This being my second time back to work from maternity leave, a few things felt a little easier.  Namely dropping Jude at daycare knowing he would be with his big brother all day was a breeze.

Otherwise, I am referring back to my own “survival guide” if you will.  So many of these tips remain true for me today as a working parent…

1. Love your job.  Coming back to work this fall, I had the opportunity to start in a new role at a new Community Centre.  The learning curve has been pretty steep – on top of adjusting to a new routine at home – but in less than one month, I got to bring my kiddos along to a weekend event in the community where I work and we all loved it!

2. Love your childcare arrangements.  If I can’t be with my boys all day, everyday, it’s important to me that they be in an environment that adds value to their day.  Our boys spend their time with the sweetest family at a French home daycare.  They bring home crafts and Clyde tells me stories about playing with his friends.  They are practicing a second language and spend much of their time playing outside.  When I told Clyde in September that Jude would be joining him at daycare, he was so excited and to see them run into the house together warms my heart.

3.  Make plans to socialize after bedtime.  In the last year, we have established a monthly ‘guys night’ and ‘ladies night’ with our friends.  We meet up once a month after bedtime on a weekday for drinks or a late dinner and catch up!  It’s become something that I really look forward to and takes the pressure off of getting together without the kids during precious weekend time.

4.  Let brunch be your best friend.  I have written many times about my love for breakfast outings with kids.  Whether we’re at a restaurant or making pancakes at home, it is one of my favourite times to socialize with the kiddos.

5. Quality over quantity.  I am a firm believe in the value of playing with your kids and when I get home from work, everything waits until after bedtime so I can make the most of every minute with the boys.

Perhaps step number 6 should be to remind myself, on the hard days, that having the choice to work was worth fighting for.

5 Tips for successful hiking with small kids

5 Tips for successful hiking with small kids

Hiking together is something that Super Dad and I have enjoyed doing since the very start of our relationship.  We often talked about how we would continue hiking and having an active lifestyle even with small kids.  Now three years into that time in our lives, we have learned a few key things to make for a successful outing for everyone.

In no particular order…

  1. Pack endless snacks and water: this is basically a rule of thumb for us anytime we leave the house but even more so when we’re taking off on an adventure.  Everyone is happier and willing to hike further with full bellies.  Typical snacks for us include crackers + veggies + hummus, apple slices, cheese slices, sandwiches, granola bars etc.
  2. Bring a well fitting carrier:  It’s no secret that I am a big fan of wearing my babies but I truly don’t know how we would have accomplished some of our adventures without a well fitting carrier.  By ‘well fitting’ I mean both for you and for baby.  Ottawa has an amazing babywearing community both online (Facebook: Ottawa Babywearing Group) and in person (Milkface and Belly Laughs).  My ‘go-to’ carriers for a hike is a standard Tula for Jude (13mo) and a toddler Tula for Clyde (3yrs) but it’s worth trying on a few options to find out what’s the best fit for your family.  Clyde always walks as much as he can manage and then goes up in the carrier for the home stretch if he needs it.
  3. Play games along the way: sometimes our greatest challenge is to maintain a decent pace when Clyde is walking.  He is either walking slowly or stopping to look at every. single. rock.  Games like ‘I Spy’ or scavenger hunts are a great way to get him moving in the right direction.  A walking stick (read: a big branch that we pick up on the trail) is also always a big success.
  4. Travel in packs:  we love to extend the invitation for others to join us on our hike.  I guess it’s like the ‘strength in number’ concept…it’s fun and the enthusiasm of hiking in a group always helps to go farther.
  5. Aim for the top and be ready to turn back at any time:  this is such a big one.  I had initially wrote ‘set realistic expectations’ but the more I thought about it, I realized that’s not at all what we do.  We always set out on our hike with the expectation of getting to the top (or the end) and we talk with Clyde about what we’ll see when we get there.  Often times we make it but sometimes, we can tell that his tank is running low and we decide to turn back early – with no hard feelings.  It’s important to aim high when you set out to do something with the kiddos because you never know but you might just make it farther than you had anticipated!  See below for two memorable hikes that we set out on with ambitious goals and made it!

Top of Cape Split (16km return hike)

Top of Luskville falls (5km return hike…40 weeks pregnant.  I went into labour on the drive home!  Read the rest of Jude’s birth story here)

Fast forward six weeks: life update!

Fast forward six weeks: life update!

hold.  the.  phone.  Has it really been over a month since I’ve last written?  I’ll admit I had to go back to the blog to see what my last entry was but it immediately felt like it was just last week that I was sitting on the back deck writing about our trip to the East coast.  In what feels like a blink of an eye, six weeks have gone by and we have been through so much change.

For starters, I cut my hair.  Like really, cut my hair.  Yikes!  A hair cut is always a shock but there’s something about a Mom bob that feels so good.  Who’s with me?

In more serious news…I’m back to work now!  I started back at my full-time job in recreation after the labour day weekend.  I was more ready than I realized to get up, get dressed and get out the door in the morning but we are all still adjusting to the transition.

Before getting back to a more ‘traditional’ routine, we were able to squeeze in a few more things into our unforgettable first summer as a family of four.

Just one week after getting home from Nova Scotia, we loaded up the truck once more with our camping gear for another 10-day tour – this time of Southern Ontario.

We joined my Dad and Step Mom for a visit in Welland, Ontario where my Dad grew up and my Aunt, Uncle and cousins live.  Clyde got to swim and ride bikes with his cousin – second cousin?  First cousin, once removed?  My cousin’s son…for anyone that understands how that works.  We drove into Niagara to see the falls and enjoyed some long overdue family time.

From there, we continued on with my Dad and Step Mom to join them in Toronto for a few days.  My Dad was staying in a hotel on business and made room for our family to tag along.  We lounged in the lobby for continental breakfasts, walked down the hall to the hotel pool and snuck back to the lobby once the kids were asleep for an ‘adults only’ Haagen Daaz.  We briefly left the comforts of hotel living to peruse the Yorkdale mall and to visit a friend from home and her two boys.  We made sure to enjoy our last sleep in the hotel knowing we were leaving the next morning for one more camping trip of the summer.

From Toronto, we carried on to Gateway Camping in Wasaga beach.  Super Dad’s sister and her family live just 20 minutes from Wasaga so the boys got to spend time with their cousins everyday.  I’m wishing this heat wave were in now had come through a month ago but we still made the best of our time by the beach.

We stopped in to see some more family in Whitby on the way home to Ottawa.  My Mom met us there and I stayed behind to join her at the Bruno Mars concert in Toronto!  We all made it back to Ottawa and this time with two of my older cousins in tow!

The last week of our summer flew by.  We unpacked, prepped meals, stained the deck, harvested the garden, shopped for fall clothes, planned Jude’s birthday party… oh yes, and bought a condo that required a full renovation…because, why not!  Honestly.

Super Dad is easily the handiest and most hard working person I know.  He, with the help of family and friends, built the house that we live in now.  Together, he and I are very interested in maintaining rental properties and stumbled on a great investment opportunity in a building we know and like!  Our hope was that it would close mid-August leaving us time to renovate before starting back to work but no such luck.  We closed on September 1st with an ambitious goal of renovating and renting by October 1st so needless to say, this month has been busy.

We are so incredibly fortunate to have grandparents nearby that are willing to help out in any capacity – whether it be childcare or building Ikea kitchen cabinets – and even family that will come from out of town with their work clothes to lay hard wood.  We are a tired family but so thrilled to be on track to meet our goal.  Before and after pictures of the condo to come!

Until then, I will leave you with these… some pictures from our sweet Jude’s first birthday party.  I’ve said it before and I will say it a thousand times over – it was the most wonderful year spent with this sweet boy.  He is gentle, funny, curious and so full of love.

Thank you for coming back to visit after six weeks of silence… I am slowly but surely getting my feet back under me and am thrilled to be back writing again.  See you all next week xo

O’Rourke’s go east: our trip to Nova Scotia and PEI!

O’Rourke’s go east: our trip to Nova Scotia and PEI!

My mom recently saved a clipping for me from the newspaper titled ‘The summer of adventure.’  While we always give her a hard time for cutting out an article and leaving it on the counter until the next time she sees me, this one hit the nail on the head.

We are only home a total of four weeks this summer with the rest of the sunny, warm (and rainy) days spent on the road.  Moving from guest rooms to hotels to campsites and spending days filled with friends, family and new parks suits our little quad of ‘movers’ and ‘doers’ perfectly.

This time last week I was writing from a friend’s house in Wolfville Nova Scotia on one of our last mornings spent on the east coast.  10 days prior, we journeyed out with close friends of ours on a two-week camping and road trip from Ottawa.  We had bins organized with ‘kitchen supplies’, ‘utilities’ and ‘campsite necessities’ and bags stuffed with clothes, bedding and beach attire.  It was all neatly jam packed in the back of our Tacoma like a jigsaw puzzle with the extras stuffed in the overhead Thule.

Our first stop was Henry’s house to hit the road in a convoy en route to Quebec City.  This is one of my favourite pictures of Henry and Clyde.

We had been planning and talking about and packing for this trip for some time now so the kids were all pretty excited to finally be climbing in to the trucks for take off.

We made it to Rigaud in time for lunch and found a great park just off the highway.  Well timed stops are crucial when travelling with small kids.  Our plan is always to get as far as we can and then start googling for park options at the next town when the kids are ready for a break.  (Tips: Search “outdoor park” or “community centre” or “play structure” or “recreation” all with reference to the town you’re coming up to and then Google Image to make sure it’s a good stop).

Our next stop was the Quebec City KOA where we pitched our tents for two nights of camping.  If you have never camped at a KOA before, it is lovely.  We had showers and bathrooms across the road from our side-by-side sites and a pool/park/jumping pillow was a short walk up a pathway.  We had beautiful weather and thoroughly enjoyed our first 48 hours of outdoor living.

We couldn’t miss the opportunity to walk the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec so one afternoon, we loaded up the gang and headed for the city.  We watched buskers, ate gelato, overlooked the water and toured the beautiful streets in search of a ‘family friendly’ restaurant (read: something relatively spacious and nothing upscale to accommodate five rambunctious boys…).  We got back to the trucks at nearly 10pm.  It took us a few minutes to escape the narrow parking garage but before long we were on our way back to the KOA with sleeping kids that transferred beautifully to their tents.  Success!

Side note: when we arrived, this talented man was serenading the streets with ‘Hey Jude.’  Naturally, we had to stop for a picture and make a contribution.

On Monday morning, we packed up all the gear and set out for Kouchibouguac National Park.  It was our longest day of driving with 7 hours of ground to cover.  The plan was to set up camp for one night, do some hikes in the morning then finish our journey to Prince Edward Island.

It all started well.  We were on the road by lunch and had changed around some car seats so the kids were content to play and sit next to new driving partners.  We stopped for ice cream and then at the New Brunswick sign for the adults to take a picture.  Eventually, the GPS led us off the main highway and towards a road with warning signs notifying drivers to fuel up before continuing 130kms until the next fuel station (read: sign of any civilization).  This is where things started to fall apart for this leg of our trip.  The road was windy and sections of it were full of pretty significant pot holes.  It poured rain for most of the drive and was getting darker by the minute.  We were grateful to make it out on the other side and headed to the local pizza shop for a late dinner.

We loaded the trucks again at 10pm with full bellies and kids now in jammies.  We picked up some last minute groceries for a cookless breakfast the next morning and set out to find Kouchibouguac Park.  It was only then that we noticed the confirmation e-mail didn’t provide an address.  Our GPS brought us in one direction and our friends GPS suggested another.  We tried both routes figuring at some point there would be signifiant signage for a National Park but no such luck.  It was now nearing 11pm and we had 4/5 sleeping kids in the car.  We quickly decided to forgo Kouchibouguac and start driving to PEI, calling hotels and motels along the way.  We made it about half an hour down the road before finding a hotel that would allow us to share a room and served continental breakfast – done and done!  By 1am, we had 5 kids arranged on the floor and each couple in a queen bed for whatever was left of the night.

Despite a short night sleep, we all woke excited to have Prince Edward Island in our sights.  We crossed the confederation bridge and thoroughly enjoyed looking out the window at the beautiful homes, the sprawling fields and the ocean views.  Our next campsite was Twin Shores Resort with sites that were just a short walk from one another. The ‘resort’ (I’m using quotations because it is still camping after all…) was beautiful and complete with three beaches, a park, a cafe and lots of space for the kids to play.

We spent our days swimming in the ocean, playing in the sand and exploring the red rocks.  One evening we walked along the oceanside boardwalk in Summerside and the next we sat around the campfire roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.  We found time for a water balloon fight, ball hockey, bunnock and the park.  The days were so much fun and we were all ready for a full night sleep by the end of each day.

We stopped in Charlottetown for the afternoon before boarding the ferry to Nova Scotia.  We walked Victoria Row, perused the gift shops, ate lunch by the ocean and overlooked the boats with a Cows ice cream cone in hand.  It was a brief but enjoyable stop!

We made it in time for the 6pm ferry and arrived at our friends’ house in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at 10pm.  It just so happened that other friends from home (who actually live in Hong Kong) were also visiting so we arrived to a full house of familiar faces.  We were a group of 11 kids and 8 adults bustling around enjoying one another’s company and catching up on each other’s travels so far. Eventually, we brought in just enough bags to get us through the night and called it a day.

The next four days continued at the same pace as before but this time with the benefit of a local host!  We spent our first full day enjoying the sites of Wolfville.  We started our day at the market, walked a small part of the town, toured the garden and shop at ‘Just Us’ coffee roastery then drove to Evangeline Beach at low tide.

Walking the muddy, snail covered ocean floor was not at all what we expected but we made it out to the ocean and most of us enjoyed the experience…sorry Jude (lol)!

We were fortunate to be spending time with our long time friend and wonderful host on her birthday!  We joined them for their annual trip to Mahone Bay for treats and then to the beach.  The weather was perfect and the ocean waves were crashing into the shore.  The kids built sandcastles, flew kites and ran around in the surf.  The beach was gorgeous and on the other side of a small hill was a fresh water lake with no waves and warmer water.  It was the perfect retreat for a break from the cold, strong ocean!  We enjoyed a picnic and lots of sandy snacks before finally heading back for another late dinner and bed.

Unlike our day at the beach, the next day called for endless rain in the forecast. We decided to head for Halifax and check out the new Science Centre!  It was busy but the kids enjoyed themselves and it was a pretty great indoor activity.  Our friends were taking off for Fredericton the next morning so it was unanimous amongst the adults that the next indoor activity include a cold drink. We picked up some snacks from the Seaport Market and kicked back on the couches at the Garrison Brewery to toast a memorable and successful trip together!

We had one more full day planned for Nova Scotia and with the sun back in the forecast, we set out to hike Cape Split.  Our host and her two kids joined us and while it’s not a ‘kid friendly’ distance, we had three carriers and were able to rotate the kids through along the way.  The hike itself is not challenging. It’s a well maintained path through a forest with a slight incline. There is a  bathroom about 1/3 of the way along but otherwise there’s very little change amongst the scenery.  With four little ones, it took us 2.5 hours to make our way to the end but it sure was worth it!  The view was stunning.  We enjoyed some well earned snacks then held our kids close for pictures near the edges.  Before long, we were rested and fueled up for the return trip.  With only a few bumps and bruises from our adventurous little hiker, we made it back to the car and headed to Henniger’s for ice cream.

After a long day of hiking, it was home to pack and rest up for the journey home.  Our plan was to take the Digby ferry across to St. John’s where we would have lunch, do some sight seeing and then drive as far as we could towards home.  Then we missed the ferry.  Let me tell you – there are few things more heart breaking than sitting in your vehicle with two crying kids and watching your next method of transportation sail away.  The Digby ferry only runs twice a day so we had no choice but to make the best of one last day in Nova Scotia!

We had lobster and scallops for lunch then searched out a local beach about 30 minutes from town.  It was gorgeous and you really can’t be upset for long when you’re lying in warm sand listening to the ocean waves rolling in. We stopped at a fresh fruit/veggie stand and made it back in plenty of time to board the evening ferry.

We had dinner on the ferry and loaded the boys in the truck in their jammies.  We drove to the other side of Edmonton and booked a hotel on the way for a quick stop over.  We were on the road by 8am the next morning and made it home in time for dinner.  It always feels good to get home, sleep in your own bed, cook in your own kitchen etc. but looking back at pictures from our trip has me daydreaming about all of the things left to do on the East coast.

In just two sleeps we set out again on a ten-day tour of Southern Ontario.  Knowing this, we only half unpacked to begin with so it should make for a smooth turnaround.  We are squeezing in visits with friends and family while we’re home but mostly getting excited to be in the Niagara region for prime peach season!

The more the merrier – our favourite way to travel!

The more the merrier – our favourite way to travel!

Hello from Canada’s east coast!

In case you missed this post… 10 days ago, Super Dad and I loaded up every square inch of our truck, put the boys in their car seats and took off on a two week camping and road trip to Canada’s beautiful east coast with some of our closest friends.  We left Ottawa on a Saturday morning with stops in Quebec City and New Brunswick en route to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

For a pair of socialites, the phrase ‘the more the merrier’ couldn’t be more true.  Whether it is sharing a meal, getting some exercise or seeing the world, we are always recruiting our friends and family to come along with us.  As far as we’re concerned, there is so much to be gained by doing things in groups: more ideas, more laughs and more helping hands.

Specifically, we are big fans of group travel.  Together with grandparents and friends, we have been to Mexico, Prince Edward County, Hong Kong, Vancouver, New York City, Montebello, Hawaii and more.

While travelling with others, it’s easier to share a lot of the burdens that being away from home can create and in most cases makes it more accessible and more enjoyable for everyone.

Share accommodations.  Whenever possible, we book an entire home through Airbnb for group travel.  This allows us to share the cost of accommodations and leads to lots of other group travel wins like only renting one car or not wasting time calling from room to room in a hotel.  Not to mention, temporarily living together in a foreign city is way more fun!

Share costs.  At the beginning of a group trip, we almost always start a running tab to account for all shared expenses.  Things like groceries, beer runs and group rates for excursions can easily be picked up by one person and have the costs split accordingly at the end of the trip.

Share tasks.  Living away from home can mean lots of extra work – especially when you’re trying to be frugal and doing things like setting up tents and/or making your own meals.  Travelling with others means you’re not always responsible for washing dishes and getting groceries or blowing up air mattresses.  As the saying goes, ‘many hands make light work!’

Free childcare.  If you’re travelling as a family, this might be my favourite perk to travelling with others.  I’m not even talking about leaving your kids behind so you can go out for dinner – let’s not get too crazy – but having someone to play catch with your toddler while you set up the tent or hold your baby while you pack the beach bag is a huge help.  On this trip, we are fortunate to be travelling with another family that has kids around the same age as ours and they are having so much fun playing together.

 

One thing to keep in mind when travelling with others is to make time for yourself and for your family. In the early days of group travel, I would often get home and say to Adam that it didn’t even feel like we had been away together.  Over the years we have learned to simply check in with one another throughout the trip and whenever possible, set aside some time to experience some part of our time away just the two of us.

Today is our last full day in Nova Scotia and we are spending it doing a hike with our host and then going out for locally made Gelato.  Tomorrow we start our journey back to Ottawa and while I’m looking forward to eating from our garden, seeing the grandparents and sleeping in my own bed, I’m already feeling nostalgic about this amazing trip coming to an end.  Which makes me wonder…

Where to next and with who?  Do you have any trips coming up?!

Meet the [blogger]: The Yellow Canoe

Meet the [blogger]: The Yellow Canoe

I don’t know about you, but I always wanted to be the kind of parent who’s stories were often met with a, “that’s crazy”or a stunned silence. Before having children, my husband and I were both avid travellers, and active in our recreational time. He grew up practicing kickboxing, I played rugby. He did a biking tour of Europe solo and I rode on my University Equestrian team. We both loved camping and hiking and he would soon introduce me to his passion, canoeing. We had both spent time working in different parts of the world and we spent our honeymoon travelling around Central America for 35 days. We knew that when we had children we wanted to add them to our lifestyle not change it to make them fit. As teachers we have the luxury of regular breaks and a long summer vacation which we fill with as many experiences as is humanly possible.

I started blogging after having my second child. We regularly shared stories of our adventures with friends and colleagues and a few friends started encouraging me to write our stories and share them online. I have always dreamed of being a writer but felt extremely nervous to take the plunge and invite other people, friends and strangers, to read my work. Writing has alway felt deeply personal to me and I wasn’t sure how I would handle negative feedback or worse, no feedback at all. But when my daughter was born and our family travel and adventure plans continued to grow I made myself start writing. I have always wanted to raise brave, compassionate, independent children and I knew I would have to lead the way. With a year of maternity leave to look forward to I had the time and the ability I just needed the nerve.

I gave myself time every Monday morning to write. I worked on my novel and when I got stuck I blogged. I wanted to share our family’s adventures with other families like ours. I wanted to swap stories with people who were already exploring the world and the wild with their little ones and encourage other people who were eager to try some adventuring with their kids but weren’t sure how to start or whether there would be support for their decision. I also wanted something to hold me accountable to my kids, something external to push me to say yes to crazy two week roadtrips to Alaska, or flying the entire family to Asia, or back-country canoeing with infants. Everytime I write an entry I am reminded why we choose to make travel and outdoor adventure a top priority.

The Yellow Canoe focusses mostly on our family adventures, from outdoor pursuits, to international travel, to resorts to stay-cations and local treasures. I try to share advice on safety, enjoyability and travel parenting tips through the narrative of our journeys. I believe so strongly in the power of travel of all sorts to strengthen children’s ability to think critically, creatively and compassionately, to be able to recognize problems and care enough to find solutions, to expand vocabulary and unite families through shared experiences. I was excited when Kelly, at “Reckies Raising Kids” asked me to guest blog. I feel honestly thrilled that my small readership is expanding and I am able to share our stories and maybe inspire another family to get out there and have epic family adventures, safely and most of the time sanely.

Visit me at ‘The Yellow Canoe’ for stories of an everyday family doing their best to fill their lives and lives of thier children with wonder!