Summer! Of! Awesome! 2017!

Summer is, believe it or not, just around the corner. I know, I know, it’s still barely in the double digits for temperature in Ottawa and I have forgotten what the sun looks like and I still haven’t washed and put away the winter hats and mitts because we might still need them. Sigh.

But soon school will be out, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll still be working, but reduced hours, and this year I’m hoping we’ll have a good time. It’s Captain Jelly Belly’s last year before high school, so time for a big blowout, I’m thinking. Enter: The Summer Of Awesome.

Every year I make a little softcover photo book of our summer adventures. My kids spend hours going over these – both at the end of summer, to review their memories, and at the beginning of next summer, when they’ll go through them all and pick out places they want to revisit. (I use Shutterfly for this but I’m open to suggestions if you know of a better place – they do good work but are pretty expensive, especially with the American shipping rates.) This week we’ve been going through the bookperms and the kids – who are already pretty mentally checked out of school – are getting excited about the break.

This summer I’m hoping to go back to some Greatest Hits but also to explore some new places. It’s Canada’s 150 celebration year and there’s tons of special activities on in Ottawa, so there’s never been a better year to staycation.

(Side note: isn’t it crazy that the Canada 150 celebrations are here? I remember when I first saw the Ottawa 150 logo and Ottawa started mentioning it – it was THREE YEARS AGO. At the time I was all like, Super Early Prepared Much? That’s forever away! And then I blinked and here we are. I take it all back, City of Ottawa, I do indeed.)

Here are a few things that are on our list for this summer. What’s on yours?

Red Bull Rallycross Races – at the Museum of Aviation, June 17/18. Uh, that’s next week! Memo to self: GET TICKETS. Hopefully they are still available.

National Gallery – I usually drag the kids to the National Gallery under duress each summer, but then they have a surprisingly good time thanks to their awesome Artissimo program that sends kids on treasure hunts, has them trying on costumes, and encourages them to create their own art. This year, they have a totally revamped Canadian gallery featuring tons of Indiginous art, opening June 15.

RCMP Musical Ride – June 23 to 25

Museum of Nature – new permanent exhibit on the Arctic opens June 21

Museum of History – their completely revamped Canada Hall opens July 11

Bank of Canada – they’ve been remodelling their building for like, three years, and the new foyer and currency museum reopen July 1

We Day Canada – This is so un-Ottawan of me, but I cannot stand the Hill on Canada Day – even though they are pulling out all the stops this year with Serena Ryder, Alessia Cara, Ruth B, Gordon Lightfoot (!!), and the Cirque du Soleil. But We Day is having a secondary concert – it runs most of the afternoon and evening of July 2 on Parliament Hill, featuring Alanis Morrisette, Hedley, Lily Singh, and about a thousand other people. I’ve been to We Day a few times and it’s oddly inspirational, and usually you have to register and do acts of charity to get a ticket but this one is free to all. Still not sure we will trek downtown for the inevitably gross Parliament Hill crowd, but we might.

Inspiration Village in the Market – I’ve heard this is kind of lame but of course, we have to go take a picture in front of the giant Ottawa sign. And it’s always nice to go to the market for treats – perhaps we will combine this with a trip to the National Gallery or The Mint, both popular places around here.

Mosiacanada – a weird, funky garden installation in Jacques Cartier Park that opens July 1 and runs until September (free access!)

Kontinuum – This is some sort of futuristic display/experience set up in the new, as-yet-unopened, Lyon transitway stop. It’s supposed to open in late June and run all summer.

Kingdom of Osgoode – medieval festival running July 8/9 in Osgoode. We recently watched all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix with the kids, and one of their favourite things to quote is how Ted’s character insists that it is pronounced “RenNAYsance Fair”, so I figure, let’s take them to one because that joke seriously does NOT get old.

Northern Lights Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill – same show as last year, but we’ve never taken the kids – I feel like their bedtimes are finally late enough that we could see this in 2017 (runs July 11 through September 16)

La Machine – These are giant robots? that will be walking around downtown? And telling a whole story over the course of four days of impromptu live robot theatre? It’s all very mysterious but let me just say this: giant dragon fighting giant spider. YES. (Runs July 27 through 30)

Cirque Du Soleil Volta – apparently there are roller skates involved. So YES. (August 3 to 27 in Gatineau)

The Canada 150 Train – CP is taking a heritage train, pulling a series of restored historical cars, across Canada this summer in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. They’ll be stopping in Ottawa on August 20 for a concert and a chance to check out the train. I have a kid here who LOVES trains so this is a must-do.

Ottawa Welcomes the World – these are the country-specific celebrations held weekly (approximately) at Landsdowne throughout the year. We have our eye on Macedonia (August 6) and of course, India (September 29).

Company of Fools – Shakespeare in the Park – this has become a beloved event for us and I could not be happier about it. It’s mostly due to my pre-show Lego recreation of the plot (so they can follow along, despite the difficult language) but the show itself is always hilarious and fun. This year it’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Runs at a variety of parks from July 3 through August 19, check their website for the full schedule)

Fortissimo – We’ve never been to this outdoor military concert, hoping I can convince the kids this year. (Runs July 20 to 22)

Casino Du Lac Leamy Sound and Light Show – this has been on our list for a couple of years now, hopefully we’ll make it out to the fireworks show in 2017 – running August 6 to 17.

Also on the list:

  • Saunders Farm (every year, at least once, sometimes twice)
  • Westboro Beach
  • Pink Lake hike or Carbide Willson ruins hike in Gatineau Park
  • Classic Car Night at Hazeldean Mall (our middle daughter is SUPER INTO cars right now)
  • 1000 Islands Boat Cruise (maybe an overnighter?)
  • Mont Cascades water park
  • Upper Canada Village
  • The Pottery Playhouse – one of those paint-your-own ceramics places, I might take the youngest here one day when the older two are being cranky

…and swimming as much as possible at Ottawa indoor and outdoor pools, going to the library often, and going to see ALL the movies (Wonder Woman, Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, Spiderman: Homecoming, Son of Bigfoot, and I will probably get dragged to The Emoji Movie, lord help me).

What are you up to?

Approaching the Summer of Awesome

I can hardly believe that this is the last week of school. Teacher gifts went out this week – I was talking to my sister about how teacher gifts were not a thing when we were a kid, but now they are a MUST, not that I mind, because I think teaching is a tough job and you have to be some sort of saint to want to spend hours a day with other people’s children, but it’s interesting how times have changed, isn’t it?

Starting Friday I will have three children in the house full time, and also for the first time ever, I am going to be trying to work (albeit at reduced hours, but still). I’m kind of in denial about the whole thing, choosing to focus on the fact that I don’t have to make lunches (WHEE) rather than I will shortly have no personal space for quiet contemplation or creativity, and instead will have three squeaky voices at my elbow at all times, begging for more video games and/or narc-ing on the others for sneaking video games.

It’s going to be an INTERESTING summer, to say the least.

I am still planning (hoping?) to do a couple of day trips a week, even though I now have two teen/tweens who are much more interested in having a video screen in their face than doing anything with their lame-old mom. To counteract this, I have already decided that there will be a daily limit of screen time (three hours, in case you are curious, I always want to know what other parents consider reasonable, so I’ll open the conversation here), and they can decide for themselves how to spend it, and whether to binge all at once or parcel it out. I’m hoping this will eliminate a lot of the whining and begging and mental effort it takes to be the Video Game Jailer, but we’ll see. Considering bickering and fighting and whining about being bored is likely to drive me around the bend when I’m trying to get some work done, I may turn out to be a bit of a marshmallow when it comes to enforcement. I have no Illusions of Backbone here.

In any case, I still went ahead and optimistically made two lists this year – one of places to go and visit, and one of “no-screen” activities that I’m hoping I can point to when they are going into video game withdrawal (although most of these require my personal supervision so I may have shot myself in the foot here). Here’s our plans:

Places to Go / Day Trips

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb
Karter’s Korner (likely more than once, they are in prime go-kart age)
Saunders Farm
Art Gallery
Rock Balancing at Remic Rapids
Westboro Beach
Petrie Island Beach
Puppets Up! Festival (August 6/7)
Rideau Hall/Changing of the Guard
Parliament Hill
Pink Lake Hike/Carbide Willson Ruins
Laurier House
Byward Market shop tour
Company of Fools Shakespeare in the Park – my kids love this, mostly for the pre-show Lego recreation I give them so they will know what’s going on. It’s Pericles this year, a tragedy – wonder how that will play.
Mini Golf Gardens
Museum of Nature – ultimate dinosaurs, nature swap
Casino/Museum of History Fireworks show – August 6, 10, 13, 17, 20
Museum of History – CINE+ movie
Tuesdays – classic car night at Hazeldean Mall
The Capital Fair – Aug 19 to 28
Splash Pad Park
Upper Canada Village
Mont Cascades/Calypso
1000 Islands boat cruise (maybe, this one is a long shot considering I will have to actually organise something in advance)
Movies: Finding Dory, The BFG, The Legend of Tarzan, The Secret Life of Pets, Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond, Pete’s Dragon

No-Screen Activities

Bike Ride (to the corner store for a slushie or just around the neighbourhood)
Lego Build Challenge (where I give them an assignment and they must create it)
Board Game/Card Game
Make cookies – or just eat the dough
Sing It/Rock Band/Just Dance (doesn’t count as screen time as it’s a family activity)
Storytime with Picture Books
Hot Wheels challenge
BeyBlade Challenge
Read a book
Visit the Library
Go out for a treat
Swim at the pool
Croquet at the park
Splash Pad Park
Go fly a kite
Remote control car driving challenge
Target practice – with bow and arrow, nerf guns
Hide and Seek – with stuffies or action figures
Make ice cream or slushies
Set up the tent in the backyard
Make PlayDoh
Scavenger Hunt – inside or outside
Write a Letter
Dance Party
PJ Party
Lunch picnic
Science Experiments
Throw a disc around at the park
Trip to Sugar Mountain, a candy store
Trip to PlayValue, a Lego/Playmobil mecca

What are you doing this summer? Any suggestions for us?

Summertime, And The Livin’ Is Easy

Just 10 more days of school left here, not counting today, and the kids are getting pretty wound up. Report card marks are in already, the two girls both have one more project due Monday but the Captain hasn’t seen any homework for weeks. Freedom is so close now, we can taste it.

So that means it’s time to start thinking about: Summer of Awesome plans!


We have an exciting new development on the Summer of Awesome front: the Captain is now 12. He’s been left at home alone for short periods of time now with success, and that means I can now take the girls to smaller locations like the park without him complaining. Which is AWESOME. Although to be fair, his past crankiness about family participation seems to be fading – MyFriendJen says it’s an age 11 thing and that does seem to fit, as Gal Smiley (age 10 3/4) has crankiness on the rise. Sigh.

The Captain has also, by the way, and I can’t believe I’m even typing this, expressed interest in babysitting his sisters or otherwise taking responsibility for them for short periods of time during the day, and that’s just WOW. WOW. A level of freedom I cannot even imagine. We’ll see what happens there.

Anyway! Summer plans! Of course, our major setpiece this summer is our trip out to Calgary/Banff/Jasper. I’ve been planning up a storm, packing lists, grocery lists, addresses of everywhere under the sun. I’ve been prebooking tours and tickets and such and I think we are almost ready to go. It’s weird, a few years ago when we went out to PEI it seemed like everyone we knew was also going, other kids from school and neighbours and bloggers. And now that we’re off to Alberta, seems everyone we know will be joining us there, too. We are trendsetters! Or follow-the-crowd sheep! One or the other.

We have fewer weeks in town this year to explore, but there’s still a lot of stuff on our list. I’m planning a lot of outdoor stuff this year, and I’m worried it won’t compare with the majesty of the Rockies, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Here’s what’s on our hit list:

  • National Art Gallery – to see the Chagall and Coville exhibits
  • Mooney’s Bay beach, plus a side trip to Hog’s Back Falls – we have actually never been here before!
  • Karter’s Korner – my middle child swears she’s tall enough to ride the go karts on her own this year…we’ll see.
  • Museum of Aviation – all three of my kids went there for a field trip this Spring, and want to go back. I have to say, the Science Museum being out of commission has really been a boon to the Aviation Museum, which picked up a lot of their programming and publicity.
  • War Museum – we’ve never been before and I have passes I picked up at a Silent Auction this winter.
  • Mont Cascades water park – an annual favourite
  • xTreme Trampoline Park – oh, how my children beg and beg to go there every weekend. I’m sure we’ll go more than once.
  • Bate Island – best in the late summer when the water levels go down – or perhaps we will combine this with the Remic Rapids rock balancing event, which is usually on the August long weekend.
  • Gatineau Park – here I am ashamed, ASHAMED, to admit that we have never, ever been to the park. It’s practically criminal. I intend to remedy that this summer with at least two visits – one up to the lookout for a little hike, and one to the Mackenzie King estate to have a poke around.
  • Puppets Up! festival in Almonte – I SAY we’ll go every year, and we never seem to make it. Putting it on the list again this year.
  • Company of Fools Shakespeare in the Park performance – we took the kids last year and it was, surprisingly, a huge hit. This year it’s the Comedy of Errors, always a guaranteed laugh.
  • Upper Canada Village – my kids loved it there last year and although we spent the day we didn’t even get to see it all, so we plan to head back…although I have also heard amazing things about the Cumberland Village Museum in the east end, which is about the same distance drive for us…so I’ll call it between the two when we get to that point on the calendar.
  • Eco Odysee – this is a nature reserve out in Wakefield where you can take a paddle boat around a maze and learn fun facts about nature. I wrote about it for SavvyMom just last week. Bonus – the Wakefield covered bridge is along the way, you’ll go right by it, so stop by for a quick poke around.
  • Parc Omega – have never been. I know, CRIMINAL.
  • Bowling – sometimes the old favourites are favourites for a reason – the kids have been asking and this is a great activity for a rainy day when I don’t have much energy for a big adventure.
  • Park tour – I keep hearing amazing things about the play structures and greenhouse in Brewer Park, so we might go out of our way to check it out; I’m also curious about Strathcona Park which I hear has a nice wading pool. This is likely something I’ll just do with the girls.
  • Statue Tour – Of sketchy appeal to children, I know, but I looooove statues, and I’ve been collecting a cool list of awesome ones in Ottawa, and I’d love nothing better than to spend the day on an Amazing Race style tour of the city looking at them all. I’d have to really sell it, though – we’ll see.

It’s going to be AWESOME.

Want to make your own list? Check my epic list of What To Do In Summer In Ottawa and plan your own Summer of Awesome – and you can also sign up for my weekly newsletter to hear about special events happening that week in town. Here’s this week’s newsletter if you’d like to see what you’d be signing up for.

Summer of Awesome Mini Updates

I remember the days when I used to write charming little reports on each Summer of Awesome activity we did, complete with insider tips, photos, and all my recommendations. I don’t know if life has gotten busier, or I’ve gotten lazier, or if I’m just too distracted by Dance! Show! (more on that coming soon), but I find I can never make space these days for the full details.

So I bring you: Summer of Awesome mini updates!

RCMP Musical Ride: Finally made it this year! It was a pretty good show, with lots of different components – it’s not just the musical ride, but also some riding skills demonstrations, a pipe band, and some “humorous” clowns. The ride itself was definitely the best part, though – be sure to stay until the very end as you have a chance to approach the ring and visit with the Mounties and their horses up close and personal. Also, if you stay after the show ends, you can watch them cooling down the horses – they walk in a small paved ring at the far east end of the stadium for about a half hour after the show. The kids enjoyed this part the most.


Tips: Arrive EARLY, OH SO EARLY – we got there a more than an hour in advance and we were able to get seating, but by the time there was only a half hour to go, it was standing room only (recommended: sit at the west end so the sun is at your back, and you’re not facing into huge glare). There are displays on site to entertain you and the kids while you’re waiting for the show to start – some interactive crafts and things. Bring chairs (or a blanket, but I recommend chairs), hats, and sunglasses (there’s no shade, or shelter if it is rainy); you may also want some pocket cash to buy drinks/cotton candy/pizza from the various food trucks on site, and cash donations are also welcomed.

The Mint: So, The Mint is not for everyone. There’s no interactive displays or things to touch and do, and you can’t even take pictures inside. There’s the shop, and there’s a guided tour of the facility (featuring the Vancouver Olympic Medals, behind glass), and that’s it. I wouldn’t recommend it for toddlers or preschoolers, but for the right audience of older school-age kids it works. We went because my son, who is 11, has recently become a bit of a coin collecting fanatic, and he wanted to buy himself a real collector coin (which he did). The girls thought it was okay – the best part by far was getting to hold/lift a real, solid gold bar in the gift shop (constantly monitored by a security guard, in case you were thinking of running with the 28 pounder).


Tips: Most of the market roads near the Mint have complex parking rules and signs, so be careful or you’ll get a ticket. The tours cost a little bit, but they offer free or discounted tours on some days of the year so check the website if you’re looking for a deal. You will be amazed at how beautiful and tempting the collector coins are, so make sure you discuss up front what the budget will be for any purchases, or else you may find yourself sucked into getting your kid a $100 sterling silver keepsake.

Museum of Nature: We saw their current special exhibit, Creatures of Light, and it was lovely although a little scary in places for the very young (it’s twilight-type dark in there, there’s giant fireflies and a few scary looking deep sea fish sculptures). Worth it alone, however, for the flashlight fish – black fish with light-up eyes (they look kind of like aquatic Toothless from the How To Train Your Dragon movies). We also caught their newest 3D movie, on surfing in Tahiti, which was cool and make all my kids want to immediately learn how to surf.


Museum of History: Turns out the Children’s Museum is still a huge hit at age 7, huge hit at age 8 (we were there with friends), sort-of hit with age 9, and totally over it by age 10. So while my youngest stayed in the passport stamp getting area, I took my bigger two to see their special exhibits on Snow and the Empress of Ireland. The Snow exhibit is interesting but not very interactive, although the kids enjoyed watching snippets of Canadian films. The Empress of Ireland exhibit is amazing, totally immersive and fascinating and very, very sad. My older two learned a lot and were really interested, but it’s also not a place for small kids as we had a lot of deep conversations in there about death and disasters.

Our real purpose for going to the museum was to see Pandas 3D, as I have one very, very serious panda lover here (Gal Smiley), and it did not disappoint – adorable, and also informative and inspirational. Recommended for all ages that can keep the 3D glasses on.



Upper Canada Village: Totally lived up to its reputation as a kick-ass day trip. We spent the whole day there and could easily have stayed longer – we’ll have to go back to see everything. I was afraid the kids would see it as an “educational” trip but they were immediately fascinated with the workings of the various mills, the farm animals, the carriage rides, and the variety show. The schoolhouse was a hit, too – they wanted to stay there all day hoping to get into trouble and have to stand with their face to the blackboard (well, they were hoping their siblings would have to do it, anyway). We added the miniature train ride to go and tour the field where the Battle of Crysler Farm took place, and the kids had a zillion questions about the war of 1812, and then they INSISTED on going through the little museum there on that topic, and then later I caught them PLAYING “War of 1812” with their Legos, and if that isn’t the very definition of Successful Summer Road Trip, I don’t know what is.





Tips: It’s about an hour and a quarter drive from the west end of Ottawa, so be prepared. There’s little shelter or shade there, so bring sunscreen and hats and sunglasses, and lots and lots of water. We actually went on a drizzly kind of day and it was perfect as it wasn’t too hot or sunny, and it was practically deserted as well. The Harvest Barn is a great place to have lunch (you can buy food, or bring in your own). Be sure to wear very comfortable walking shoes as you’ll be on your feet all day – as long as it’s dry you can easily bring in a stroller or wagon. Try to arrive as early as you can as you’ll want to maximize your time there.

SkyZone: This place is like, an hour’s drive for me, but my kids would live there if they could, so it’s worth it. We bought the 90 minute package and they still whined when we had to leave. Basically it’s a place where you jump, then jump, then jump some more. Parents don’t have to jump (and if you have had babies, I would not recommend it, if you know what I’m saying); you can still come up into the main area to supervise your kids, or if your children are a little older, you can just sit on a comfy couch at the entrance with a magazine while they jump away inside. Non-jumping parents need to wear socks; jumping kids must wear special non-slip socks that you buy there for (I think) around $2 a pair (remember to bring them back next time).


Tips: I would definitely recommend buying your tickets online in advance from their website – tickets are for a specific start time and duration. You can just buy them the morning that you are going, then print them out and bring them with you. Otherwise, when you arrive you might find yourself twiddling your thumbs for a half hour or more while you wait for the next available jump time. Also: if you already have SkyZone socks, don’t forget them!

Saunders Farm: I always think my kids are going to get tired of Saunders Farm someday, but they never do. We had as good a time here as always. Special shout out to Jonathen, who was working the jumping pillows, and who spent a lot of his time good-naturedly bouncing my children around. My kids could jump on the pillows literally FOREVER, but I do drag them away for the pedal cars, giant slide, mazes, climbing structures, and wagon rides, and it’s all awesome.


At Saunders Farm

Tips: Saunders Farm gets a LOT of day camps. The day we were there, there were 10 day camps on site. The farm is really super organized and the camps are all on a tour schedule so no one area or facility is overrun with people at any given time, so it’s really not so bad, and we certainly never had to wait for anything. But if you are really afraid of crowds, try going on a Monday or Friday (fewer day camps), or call in advance to ask how many camps will be there, or go on a weekend.

Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo: We have been there dozens of times, and there’s always something new to see. This time we went specifically to see these little guys:


Two baby foxes they have just received, named Crimson and Clover. They bring them out regularly for the “visit with animals” show and we actually got to touch them both – so, so cool.

They also currently have a nocturnal animals exhibit, featuring this little guy:


He’s a hedgehog named Sonic (of course!). Usually Sonic is inside his aquarium and is sometimes pretty sleepy. But we happened to get lucky, and managed to catch him outside for his daily run and explore time. If you specifically want to see Sonic out and about, ask when you get there what time he’ll be exercised. He’s adorable, and the kids LOVED him. Kind of surprised I don’t own a hedgehog by now.

Parliament Hill: Of course we have been to the hill many times, but I actually have never taken the kids for the inside tour because I thought they’d be bored. And they were…sort of bored. The Captain learned a lot about the government in school this year so he was by far the most interested, but the girls (age 9 and 7) were bored at times (but surprised me at other times – they loved the library and looking at all the portraits on the walls).

We all actually enjoyed the outdoor tour more, I think – looking at all the statues and reading in the guide (available at a kiosk near the Centennial Flame) about all the various immortialized people. The best statue is the one of Lafontaine and Baldwin. The wall they stand on is curved, and it is a “whispering wall” – stand at the end facing the flat part, and whisper, and someone at the opposite end of the curve can hear you clear as day. It’s AMAZING. Super cool.


Tips: Remember that going up the Peace Tower is separate, and you don’t need a ticket for that – in the past we have only done the Peace Tower part and it was a bigger hit with the kids. Do yourself a favour, though, and ask upon entering how long the wait is – we did not realize how long the line up was and ended up waiting over an hour to get up the tower, which did push the kids’ limits of patience. On weekends, arrive early in the day and get your tour tickets immediately from the Information building across the road on Wellington, because they go quickly and once the day is “sold out” (tickets are free, but limited), that’s it until tomorrow.

Well, that was a MUCH longer post than I intended…but now I won’t have to blog for a month! Hope you’re having a Summer of Awesome, too.

Summer of Awesome 2014

It’s shocking to me that June starts on Sunday, and we are, as of today, officially one month away from the last day of school. This has been my first year with all three kids in full-time school, and I had plans, big plans, oh such plans for how I was going to spend all my oodles of free time.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Needless to say, we are ending the year with the house and my hobbies and my personal fitness level in much the same state as it was when we began. SIGH.

In more positive news, however, it’s Summer of Awesome time, and that is AWESOME. (Also: it is Dance! Show! season time, starting on Wednesday, and that is SUPER AWESOME.) It amazes me that this is like, my fifth summer of trying to be tourists in our own city, of trying to explore every square inch of Ottawa, and yet, there are still plenty of things on our list that we have never done before. Just how big is this place, anyway?

So I have a full and comprehensive list of summer activities in Ottawa for you to check out, if you are planning your own Summer of Awesome. Here’s the sublist of things I’m hoping to get to this year with my own kids (who are aged nearly 7, 9 1/2, and 11).

(Links to all these are on the main page linked above – I am too lazy to copy them over here. I guess that means summer has already begun!)

RCMP Musical Ride – Still have never been. It’s like I don’t even DESERVE to live in Ottawa. This runs the last week of June.

The Mint – My oldest has a sudden, deep, passionate interest in coins. We actually took him there (after much begging) on Mother’s Day so he could spend some of his birthday money on a solid silver collectors coin. I’m sure we’ll be back again over the summer though.

Pandas 3D IMAX movie at the Museum of History – For my panda-loving middle child.

Museum of Nature – Of course we have been here dozens of times, but we’re interested in their new Creatures of Light exhibit, plus the winners of the annual nature photography competition are on display now and we make it a point to check that out every year.

Diefenbunker – Have never actually taken the kids here before. Ottawa FAIL.

Mud Lake or Gatineau Park hike – Because it’s good for me to force myself to go outside in the few weeks of the year when we can actually do that without wearing three layers of coat. Also, have never been to either of these before, and I hear they’re lovely.

Rideau Hall – Never been here with the kids before either. What HAVE I been doing with my time?

Parliament Hill – Due for a visit as it’s been a couple of years since we were there, and the kids love it. We have never taken them for the full inside tour, just up the tower, so will try that this year, and will likely hit the market while we’re in the area.

Upper Canada Village – We’ve been for Alight at Night and Pumpkinferno, but never in the summer. I put this one on the list every single year and yet we never make it so let’s give this one a 50% chance of actually happening.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb – We went once and the kids have been begging to go back ever since.

Saunder’s Farm – Because it’s not summer until we’ve been to Saunder’s Farm.

Ray’s Reptiles – So far winning the “what will we do for the Little Miss’ birthday party” discussion.

Skyzone – Perfect for a rainy summer day – my youngest has never been so that’ll be fun.

Puppets Up Festival in Almonte – Happening on the August long weekend. I’m curious and we’ve never been so hope to convince Sir Monkeypants to go this year.

Fletcher Wildlife Garden – A lovely little garden showcasing different wildlife environments, near the Museum of Agriculture and Food.

Thimble Cafe – They make dairy-free coconut milk ice cream that is wicked expensive and wicked good. Our summertime treat destination.

Outdoor Pools and Splash Pads – We usually do summer swimming lessons but this year I’m going to skip them. But I hope to make up for it by going to one of the local outdoor pools or a splash pad park any day we’re not doing anything else. Swim it up!

What are you planning on doing this summer?

Canada Day in Ottawa

I’d usually put this info up on my Facebook page, so I apologize to those of you reading from outside Ottawa. It’s just overwhelming, though, the amount of stuff that goes on in this city for Canada Day – it was so much that it was just easier for me to put it all into one blog post.

And bonus: if you’re not from Ottawa, maybe this list will convince you to plan a visit. It’s a long weekend this year! And again in three years, if you need more time to get it together! Call me, we’ll hang out.

Anyway, here’s what’s up this year.

The Big One

149_ParliamentHill (Small)Parliament Hill – The Official Celebration. Most people in Ottawa avoid the hill, actually, because GAH, the crowds. However, I’m heading down there this year because CHRIS FREAKING HADFIELD. Oh yeah. The full Parliament Hill schedule is here, including a midday concert from noon to 1:30, and then an evening show starting at 7:30 pm and ending at 10 with fireworks. You can see the full concert lineup here, which includes Carly Rae Jepsen, Metric, and oh, I may have mentioned it already, CHRIS FREAKING HADFIELD (all of which will appear at both the noon and evening shows).

Remember that OC Transpo buses are free all day, running on a holiday schedule. It’s the best way to get downtown – most of the streets north of Laurier are closed, anyway – and it’s pretty much the only way to get OUT of downtown, especially if you’ve stayed into the evening.

Although the action is centred on the hill itself, there’s also tons of activities in Majors Hill Park, and (even better for kids) across the river at Jacques Cartier Park. Lots of food, music, buskers, crafts, and kids’ games and activities to explore – just wander around the two parks and you’ll never be short of things to do. There is a free shuttle bus that runs between the two parks, although if you’re energetic it’s just as fast to walk, especially if you have a stroller you’d have to unpack and fold up.

There’s also live jazz music going on in Confederation Park and at Marion Dewar Plaza, courtesy of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and if you’re looking for lunch or dinner, consider the PC Eat Fleet Tour, which will be on the Plaza Bridge.

If you do decide to stay for the fireworks, first of all, you are made of much stronger stuff than I am. But I salute you hardier types, and remind you that in addition to the hill, you can also see the fireworks from Majors Hill Park, Victoria Island, Jacques Cartier Park, and the Museum of Civilization. Just don’t get caught on the wrong side of the river – the Alexandra Bridge is closed to pedestrians after 6 p.m.

Other Municipal Celebrations

Canada Day in Kanata will feature jumpy castles, a full midway, puppet shows, face painting, and concerts all day, including headliners Trooper.
Canada Day in Stittsville will feature bouncy castles, Ray’s Reptiles, crafts, and concerts all day including headliners Amos The Transparent.
Canada Day in Barrhaven will feature a midway, kids’ zone, a battle of the bands, fireworks, and music all day including headliners Alter Ego.
The Greater Orleans Canada Day Celebration will feature bouncy castles, magic shows, beach volleyball, appearances by Disney princesses, Radical Science, and musical acts including headliners Off The Menu.
Riverside South is having a kid-centred celebration in Claudette Cain Park between 10am and 2pm, featuring a BBQ, bouncers, a petting zoo, face painting, performances by Junkyard Symphony, and OMG FREE COTTON CANDY. DROOL.

National Museums

The Canadian Museum of Agriculture and Food has free admission on July 1, as well as activities all day including ice cream making, “patriotic” muffin making, and a chance to pet bunnies and lambs (aaaawwww). There’s also horse and wagon rides for an extra fee.
The Currency Museum is doing a whole crazy circus theme and is free from 10:30 onwards. Pop by for magicians, balloon animals, and free ice cream.
The Museum of Civilization has free admission on Canada Day, and has a few special activities going on. Also, it’s a great place to stay out of the heat all day, and then catch the fireworks across the river that night.
The Museum of Science and Tech has free admission on Canada Day. They don’t seem to have any specific Canada Day stuff going on, but July 1 is the first day of their summer programming, which includes tours of the artifacts storage building, rides on a real life steam locomotive, tours of the lighthouse, and outdoor experiments (seriously, SO FUN).
The Museum of Aviation is free on Canada Day has has a ton of fun stuff going on, including rocketing experiments, crafts, visits from the Canadian Forces Military Police, and a flyover by the Snowbirds at 3 p.m.
The War Museum is free on Canada Day and is also open later than usual, until 9 p.m. There are three special Canada Day exhibits running all Canada Day long weekend, including one on battlefield medicine, one on the typical First World War soldier’s kit, and one on the typical Second World War soldier’s kit. Plus, it’s a nice cool place to duck into if you’re overheating in the downtown crowds.
The National Gallery of Canada is free on Canada Day and although I couldn’t find any special stuff going on, it’s a cool and quiet place to take a break and maybe explore some really amazing Canadian art.
The National Arts Centre (NAC) has tons of free stuff going on all day, including free concerts, crafts for kids, a beer garden (not free, sadly) and a BBQ from 11 to 2 (also not free, also sadly).
The Museum of Nature doesn’t seem to have any special programming on, but they are opening a few ant-themed activities, workshops, and a scavenger hunt this weekend (to run all summer). Admission is free on July 1 to the permanent galleries (special exhibits and 3D movies still cost extra).
The Royal Canadian Mint also doesn’t have any special programming, but tours are free on Canada Day, and with its prime downtown location (320 Sussex), it’s a great opportunity to just pop in (and cool off), and see what they’re all about.

City Museums

The Diefenbunker has free admission and tours on Canada Day. There’s also face painting, a postcard craft, live music, and yummy treats.
The Bytown Museum has free admission to their regular exhibits on the main floor (it’s $2 to see the special exhibits on the upper floor). Their cafe serves lemonade and ice cream (for a fee) to help get through the hot afternoon.
Billings Estate is a great place for a quiet Canada Day picnic, and they’ll be doing a make-your-own-flag craft as well ($16 family, $10 couple, $6 person).
Cumberland Heritage Village Museum is doing a really cool thing, where they recreate the Government’s official recommendations for Dominion Day celebrations in 1927. Bring a picnic and celebrate with traditional games, crafts, and fun ($18 family, $7 adults, $5 students).
Pinhey’s Point is doing a traditional picnic and BBQ, featuring classic games like three-legged races and tug-o-war ($16 family, $10 couple, $6 person).

And More…

Believe it or not, there’s actually even more to do. The Escapade Music Festival is going all weekend, and will be putting together electronic music performances in ByWard Market. There’s free parking at most beaches, parks, and the Mackenzie King Estate. There’s Aboriginal Experiences going on at Victoria Island. And there’s smaller community celebrations in Greely, Almonte, Carleton Place, North Grenville, and Oxford Mills – info on all these can be found at OttawaStart’s fabulously comprehensive Canada Day page.

Summer of Awesome – Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

The Altitude Gym is a rock climbing gym over in Hull for serious rock climbers. Athletes in training can get out the chalk and the fancy sock-shoes and climb a variety of walls that are intensely challenging.

Not too kid friendly.

But! They have a totally awesome, one-of-a-kind, kick-ass back room: the Clip and Climb.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

A mecca for little climbers everywhere. WHOO WHEE!

It’s several funky, offbeat, fun climbing walls and structures meant for amateurs and kids. You climb just in comfy clothes and regular running shoes.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

You climb, and you climb, and you climb.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

There’s easier walls and more challenging walls. Walls with lights, walls with doorknobs, walls that are made of velcro that you climb with velcro gloves.

There’s glow-in-the-dark walls, lego-themed walls, and timed walls for racing purposes. There’s also a series of pillars you can climb and those ones near the top are HIGH, OMG. Also wobbly. O. M. G.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb towers of terror

The Clip and Climb is meant for families and it’s especially great for a single parent with several kids in tow. That’s because the kids are able to clip themselves in, and once they are checked by a staff member, they’re free to climb. They don’t need anyone to hold the rope (“belay” is what the cool kids call it) at the bottom.

Why is that? Each wall in the Clip and Climb room has a giant retractable pulley thing at the top that holds the rope you are clipped to. As you climb, the rope coils up and stays taut, giving you a bit of support.

When you hit the top, you just let go, and the pulley thing provides counter weight, lowering you slowly to the ground. You tether the climbing rope to the ground, unclip your harness, and you’re free to run off to the next wall and climb away.

Now, some caveats: my kids were quite tentative at first, and even though they were allowed to climb on their own, they felt much more comfortable with a parent at hand. The Clip and Climb is not cheap, and Sir Monkeypants and I did not do a whole lot of climbing on our own, so if you are coming in with a lot of kids, it’s probably worth it not to climb yourself, and just act in a supervisory/supportive role. On the other hand, it did encourage our kids a lot to see us climbing ourselves, so that was worth it for inspiration purposes.

Another warning: the pulley system will definitely catch you when you let go…but, there’s a couple of feet of free fall before it kicks in. You really have to find the heart to trust the system and it can be a little scary the first time. The free fall thing actually did not seem to bother my kids at all, they were soon climbing then swinging away from the wall in a carefree manner. I personally, however, found it a bit alarming and every time I hit the top of a wall, I had to spend a minute or two talking myself into letting go. I am a HUGE WUSS. It was good for me, though.

Last tip: there are two structures in the Clip and Climb that cost extra. One is a giant slide – they pull you up on a hand hold to the top, then you let go and literally fall straight down before sliding out the curved end. It’s SUPER FUN – all three of our kids LOVED it – but a tad expensive at an extra $4 per slide. Then there’s the Leap of Faith – a tower with a crane where you can climb up to a platform, then leap out into space and try to catch the swing on the end of the crane. Again, it costs an extra $4 to try this stunt and it’s a real test of your mettle – we saw a few smaller kids back out.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb Giant Slide
This is the giant slide – I was too gutless to try it, but the kids loved it.

Now, let’s talk details. First, you need to reserve a spot for the Clip and Climb; your reservation covers 15 minutes of safety instruction and then an hour of climbing. You can usually call one or two days in advance and have your choice of time slots; I should mention that the Clip and Climb is only open on weekday evenings from 5 to 9, and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Your one hour of climbing isn’t cheap; the cost is $13.95 per person (regardless of age), and don’t forget the giant slide and Leap of Faith are extra. All in all, we spent close to $100 for our family-of-five Clip and Climb experience, so it’s not the kind of thing we’ll do every week; still, it was a unique experience, we loved the fact that our kids got to do something new and something physical. Since it’s indoors, it’s a great place to take antsy kids on a rainy or snowy day to blow off some steam, and it’s great if you’ve got a wide range of ages, since older kids and teens can have the run of the place on their own while you’re helping any youngsters.

Children under 5 require a one-to-one parent supervisor; however, I’m not sure I’d go much younger than five for this activity. Precocious four-year-olds who really love to climb and have a lot of energy would have a good time; younger than that will likely find the walls too tough and maybe too scary.

Our own five-year-old is a tentative little girl, and she required quite a bit of coaxing just to go three or four feet up in the air on a handful of walls. She’s still quite anxious to go back, though. OF COURSE.

Overall, we all give the Clip and Climb a Summer of Awesome Must Do.

Hey look, that's me!
Hey, that’s me!

Summer of Awesome – Pinto Valley Ranch

So my girls are still heavily into horses, and the Olympics did not help matters any. So to (hopefully) further dissuade them against the whole idea, I took them out to Pinto Valley Ranch.

The ranch is located in Fitzroy Harbour, which makes it a bit of a hike – it’s about 1/2 hour north of Kanata. What makes it worth it, though, is that it’s one of the few places around where amateurs can have a go at horseback riding.

Pony Riding at Pinto Valley Ranch

They have several ponies on hand for younger kids. You can pick out a pony, then take a 10 minute or 20 minute ride around the paddock – your pony will be guided on the ground by an experienced rider, and your child will just be able to get the feel of a gentle walk and enjoy visiting with the horses.

Once you hit 11 years old, you’re old enough to qualify for their trail rides. The trail rides are for all levels of riders – their horses are seriously so gentle and easy that even total beginners will be safe and sound. The horses and riders travel as a group along a pretty trail for about an hour, so you and your child can get a good feel for what it means to be on horseback.

Ponyboy at Pinto Valley Ranch
Dotcom at Pinto Valley Ranch
Horses at Pinto Valley Ranch

The ranch is a quiet, laid back kind of place. It’s not like other in-town attractions, where you’re running from one high-octane activity to the next. Besides the horse riding, there’s nothing “to do,” per se.

But just being out on the farm was a surprisingly fun experience for the kids. There are plenty of animals about – llamas and goats, funny loud roosters in a pen, pigs that are allowed to roam free (my kids LOVED them), kittens in the barn. If you’re lucky, you might bump into a free-running peacock or two. You’re free to walk up and down the stalls in the barn, too, visiting quietly with the horses, stroking then on the nose, imagining you own one and it sleeps in your bedroom and you ride it to school every day and Mommy, can I please please please have a horse???


Cats in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch
Pigs in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch
Roosters in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch

There’s a small tuck shop where you can sit inside and have a snack, and buy treats or drinks. There’s plenty of outdoor toys for little ones to explore. It’s quite pleasant to just sit and enjoy the barn smells and sounds. A slow-going afternoon in the country, if you will.

We were there for about 2 1/2 hours total – enough time for a pony ride, a snack, a visit with the other animals…and then another pony ride. I am a sucker.

If you are at all interested in the ranch, now is the time to go, and I mean like now, today. The ranch is facing some hard times right now – first of all, the drought this summer has caused a massive hay shortage in the area, and the ranch is looking at selling up to half its horses to make ends meet. Secondly, the owners’ kids are all in full day school now, so they’re starting to wonder when (or if) it’s time to hang up the saddles. It’s too bad, as it’s the perfect place to introduce a possible horse-loving child to these kind, gentle animals.

Also I should mention, they have day camps all summer long where your child can spend a week learning basic horse handling skills in the summer; and in the winter, you can head on out for a sleigh ride (advanced booking required).

So go, now, today, while you still have a chance to support this great local business.

Some important details: The day camps run in the mornings, so the rides are only open to the public from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the afternoons. You can show up any time for a pony ride; trail rides run in the summer on this schedule. IMPORTANT NOTE: if the temperature is above 30 degrees, rides for that day are cancelled due to the weather being too dangerous for the animals. They’re open every day in the summer, then Thursdays through Sundays for September and October.

The pony rides are $10 for 10 minutes, $20 for 20 minutes; trail rides are $40 per rider (no double riders allowed). A wee bit expensive, but it’s the only expense you’ll have there, and it was SO worth it to my girls.

Shout out to Ponyboy and DotCom – best horses ever. You’ll live forever in my daughters’ dreams.

Love you, Ponyboy!

Summer of Awesome – Mini Golf Gardens

It took me years, years to admit that I have a secret love: mini golf. Oh, I try to play it cool, act like it’s no big thing, it’s “for the kids.” But I have to admit that it’s me who loves the putt putt. It’s not even about the competition or the personal challenge of achieving par or the thrill of the hole-in-one. It’s just about the mental challenge of calculating the angles. And also, the little coloured balls.

I’m a junkie.

So I took the kids to check out Mini Golf Gardens, which is an outdoor mini putt place at the corner of Merivale and Colonnade, that’s only open in the summer months (April through October). It’s straight up mini golf here; two courses, each 18 holes, and nothing else. Just you, the putter, and open expanses of fake green grass.


Mini Golf Gardens

Both courses are really pretty, with waterfalls and streams and trees, and also well thought out. It’s not the kind of place with giant windmills and or loop-the-loops for the balls. Instead, the course relies more on wacky bumps, bridges, and barriers to make it interesting. I personally found the two courses to be the perfect combination of challenging and fun. The kids were well able to handle it – my nine-year-old and seven-year-old were able to get par a few times, and finished the courses in about 65 strokes, which is not too shabby.

Mini Golf Gardens

The five-year-old did a lot of stick-handling moves with her putter. We were down with that, too. Meanwhile, I got three holes-in-one. I ROCKED it.

Mini Golf Gardens

It’s a lovely little course, a nice place to spend a morning or afternoon outside, and a good challenge for both kids and adults. It will take you about an hour and a half to do both courses. Plus, I’d recommend stopping halfway through for a visit to the tuck shop, which features ultra-rare banana slushies, along with other drinks and treats. It’s a little exposed in spots, so be sure to wear sunscreen and bring hats.

Mini Golf Gardens is probably not the cheapest miniputt in town – $9 adults, $7.50 for kids under 12. But for a junkie like me, it was well worth it – definitely my favourite of all the courses we’ve done in Ottawa.

We’ll be back. I have like, five other ball colours to get through!

Summer of Awesome – Paul’s Boat Lines

A few weeks ago, some friends of mine from high school had a reunion here in town. One of the events was a tour of the Ottawa River on Paul’s Boat Lines.

At first I wasn’t going to bring the kids, because I thought they’d be bored. But when they got wind of the fact that Mommy was going Boating, they were IN. I have no idea what they were picturing, but apparently the concept of a boat ride is romantic and exotic and SUPER FUN – and actually, it turned out to be pretty much just that.

The tour lasts for about an hour and a half, and leaves from the dock right at the tip of the Rideau Canal. Just getting there was half the fun – you have to take the stairs down from the bridge that’s beside the Chateau Laurier, then walk all along the locks to the very tip. If it’s a weekend, you’re likely to see the locks in action, with dozens of pleasure boats travelling through; if you’re not in a rush, you can also check out the Bytown Museum, which is along the path. We were lucky enough to be heading out on the Civic Holiday Weekend, which is the weekend of the Rideau Canal Festival, so the entire path to the boat was paved with musicians, artists, crafts, and activities – bonus!

Once you reach the dock, it’s time to board, and the tour begins right away. There’s an upper and lower level on the boat – the upper level is cooler (it’s shaded), and a better place to sit to see the sights and hear the (charming and funny) tour guide. The lower level has booths, so it’s a good place to relax with a drink (the boat is licensed) or strike up a card game with antsy children.

We sat up top and were dazzled by amazing views and fascinating trivia.

Parliament Buildings from the Ottawa River
The best view of the Parliament Buildings ever.

Rideau Falls
Up close and personal with the Rideau Falls – I am ashamed to admit I did not know these existed.

24 Sussex Drive
The Prime Minister’s house – SLIGHTLY larger than mine.

Paul's Boat Lines
My youngest having a King Of The World moment.

This is just a fraction of the cool places we saw. Did you know that the statue on Nepean Peak by the Art Gallery is of Samuel de Champlain, and that he is holding his astrolabe upside down? Did you know that the Ottawa River used to be called the Mighty Kitchississippi? Did you know that SO MANY foreign ambassadors live in PALACES (OMG). Did you know that Gatineau is the prettiest little town ever?

Our kids actually enjoyed seeing the sights – my middle daughter in particular can’t stop talking about the “big house with five chimneys” (that’s 24 Sussex). They also just loved being out front on the boat, feeling the breeze from the river and comparing all the bridges. It was just a really pleasant, quiet way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

There’s a small tuck shop on the lower level, so warning: there will be pressure to purchase chips. Chips on a boat taste better, don’t you know?

Paul’s isn’t the only boat tour company downtown (there’s a few fancier ones, and there’s also Lady Dive, the bus that turns into a boat), but Paul’s tour of the Ottawa River was the perfect size and duration for our kids. There were several of us on board who were actually from Ottawa, and we all learned stuff we never knew and saw stuff we’d never seen, which boggles my mind.

Paul’s Boat Lines also offers a slightly shorter tour of the Rideau Canal – that one is going on our next year’s Summer of Awesome list.

Tours run from June 28 through September 2; the daily schedule is here. Tickets are $23 adults, $14 for children aged 6-12 (five and under are free), and group rates are available. You can buy tickets at the kiosk downtown which is right across the street from the Chateau Laurier; unless it’s a holiday weekend, you can likely just head downtown on the day-of and get tickets for the next boat.

Ahoy, mateys!