Archive for the ‘time fillers / activities’ Category

The Canadian Canoe Museum – The Gem You May Not Have Met

The big excitement over at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough Ontario this past weekend was a celebration of National Canoe Day, small craft rendezvous and a visit and Q&A from Nick Offerman of the television show Parks and Recreation.  It looks like it was a great day.  Nick Offerman seems to be a sweet guy and there is no denying that he is a fine actor and carpenter.  I saw him recently on a talk show and he was incredibly quick and witty and he told some really good stories.  However, you’ve missed out on the best story teller at the museum if you didn’t get a chance to talk with long time employee and museum curator, Jeremy Ward.

Jeremy tellin' tales

Jeremy tellin’ tales

Bill Mason's canoe

Bill Mason’s canoe

My family had the distinct pleasure to spend some one on one time with Jeremy a couple of weeks ago on our visit to the museum.  Warm and friendly and instantly disarming, Jeremy had us riveted with his stories of the boats and their provenance.  We were allowed into the big warehouse located across the parking lot from the museum itself to visit with some of the vessels not currently on display.  It was simply magical to canoe lovers like ourselves to see row upon row of ancient, modern, worldly, pristine, decimated and decorated specimens and Jeremy had a story for each and every one of them.

We later popped into the museum itself and visited with the canoes once belonging to legendary paddlers Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Bill Mason.  With more than 100 canoes and kayaks on display, you need to give yourself time to enjoy this special place.  It is super kid friendly with interactive displays and hands-on exhibits.  I warn you though, it’s hard to leave without having developed a minor obsession with canoes and canoes are not an easy item to collect (believe me, I know).  But don’t worry, the gift shop has smaller items that will keep you inspired.  In the past I’ve brought home t-shirts, jewelery, stickers and a book on how to build my own canoe.  Just as soon as I get Fraser to build me a garage big enough for that project, I’m totally gonna start my own fleet!

I loooove me a good gift shop!

I loooove me a good gift shop!

So help support this unique national heritage centre by visiting, donating or even “adopting” a canoe for a loved one (makes a great gift).  Hang out and chat with the wonderful and dedicated volunteers (who were dressed in voyageur costume on our visit).   And if you see Jeremy while you’re there, ask him for a story…I don’t think he’ll be at a loss for words.

This Moment Contains All Moments

snowball fightIt occurred to me that I never reported on our attempt to get away skiing last month.  Rest assured snack breakthat it all came together. The boys skipped school and we took the day off so that we could hit the beautiful Kolapore ski trails. Stolen moments are sometimes the sweetest. Spur of the moment delectable bites of life help remind you why you get up and put on your work pants the rest of the days.

After a hectic holiday season where days off seemed to turn into marathon drives followed by endless meet and greets, we succeeded in stealing ourselves a perfect moment of family time. We also managed to squeeze it in just before a forecast of rain that managed to decimate the snow base.

For our mini break, conditions were perfect. There was a healthy amount of snow but the air temperature hovered just above zero pile upmaking our time super comfy and required minimal layering in the garment department. Like riding a bike, nordic skiing is something that you never forget. The first half-k is always hilarious and slapstick as we find our collective groove, but it’s not long before we look like an ad for good old-fashioned Canadian fun.

It doesn’t really matter how you choose to spend your family time. My message here is this…there are only so many moments allotted to each of us in this life. This moment contains all moments (C.S. Lewis). Don’t spend them on the bus to work or on the couch in front of the t.v. wishing that you were skiing. Just ski.

Purls of Wisdom

I know that I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but I’m going to go into a bit more detail now. Something that I love to do to pass the time on trip is knitting. If you can knit, than this is the perfect project to take with you. Books are great, but they’re heavy and you can burn through one in a couple of days. Knitting is better and you get something cool at the end! I name each of my pieces after the parks that they were created in.

My suggestion to save space and weight is to choose a project that uses either lace weight or fingering weight yarn. A full 400yd ball of yarn easily fits in the palm of my freakishly small hand and even if you are knitting a flat piece, circular needles take up far less room than straights and I’ve never bent a set in my pack. So, fine yarn and small needles…check!

I tend to choose accessories rather than sweaters to knit because after the initial set-up, you rarely have to count stitches or keep close track of rows. While knitting a sweater or a large scarf can take an equal amount of time, keeping track of shaping is a pain when you’ve got no pen, project book, or even a chair! Yes you can easily bring these things on a car camping trip, but our backcountry adventures require us to leave anything superfluous at home.

This time around, I’m going to be knitting a shawl. I love shawls. I rarely wear them, but I appreciate the fine work, the drape of the finished fabric and the complexity of the patterns. Of course I’ve chosen a very simple pattern for this shawl because I really don’t want to be trying to do a complicated lace pattern balanced on a log and counting on my fingers and toes!

I’ve been trolling my favourite knitting site, Ravelry and came up with a great one. It’s called the Crocus Shawlette. Even though it’s a small shawl, I will be using lace weight yarn and will need about 800yds of it to finish…that ought to keep me plenty busy. It has a garter stitch edge, stocking stitch body and simple lace border.

So the next time you are planning and packing for a trip, make a stop at your local yarn shop and stock up on 100g of backcountry entertainment! And maybe you can name that next project after me 😉


The Unabashed Tourist

In less than two weeks our family is headed out on another BIG trip.  Almost as much as the trip itself, I love the looong drive to our destination.  Some people hate it and I suppose that if you simply jump in your vehicle and go from point A to point B, it would be pretty awful.

I however love to play the tourist.  I eat fast food and drink gallons of roadside coffee.  There is always a camera in hand and a pocketful of coin just waiting to be spent on the tackiest souvenirs that I can find.  My family teases me about my t-shirt collection, but I love every loud and obnoxious one of them.

I also have a fondness for diners.  They always seem to know how to make the best all-day breakfasts.  This was never more true than our stop at the Continental Motel and Dining Lounge in White River.  We were on our way back from Pukaskwa National Park and couldn’t wait to dive into some bacon and eggs.  Sure enough they served up the BEST diner breakfast we had ever eaten.  We ate every scrap including the orange garnishes and the little packets of peanut butter and jam.  Only as we were pulling away from the restaurant did Fraser mention that he had seen trucker hats for sale with the diners logo on them!  Nooooo!  That’s one souvenir that got away.

The key to enjoying a road trip is knowing that you will likely never see anyone that you meet again.  Not only do you get to see new things and visit new places, you get to check your ego at the car door and find your fun-loving side.  No need to play tough or cool like you do at home if you live in a gritty city.

Here is my road-tripping advice; be silly, have fun and take pictures… lots and lots of pictures.  May I also suggest buying souvenirs and participating in all of the local goofy traditions whether they were designed for the tourist trade or are actually authentic to the region?  I mean, who cares if eating a giant pickle from the barrel at Young’s General Store in Wawa, Ontario is something that a local would never do?  It’s fun and kinda gross, it made the kids and I laugh and of course I bought a t-shirt to commemorate the occasion!

I’ve goosed the Big Goose in Wawa and admired the Big Nickel in Sudbury.  I’ve  visited all kinds of “biggest” and “first” attractions.  I’ve sampled jams and pies and pickles and world-famous summer sausage.  It’s all added to the charm of tripping.  And we get our chance again in just over a week. I’m packing an extra camera battery and saving my pennies…it’s road tripping time!

A Bucket List For Kids…

I’ve been making reference to the National Trust’s list of “50 Things to do Before You’re 11 3/4” kid’s bucket list a lot lately. Everyone wants to know what’s on the list, but to see it you have to sign-up on their website and quite frankly it’s a bit of a hassle. So here is the list for quick reference. Try to check off as many things with your kids as you can before the warm weather is gone again. Enjoy!

1. Climb a tree

2. Roll down a really big hill

3. Camp out in the wild

4. Build a den

5. Skim a stone

6. Run around in the rain

7. Fly a kite

8. Catch a fish with a net

9. Eat an apple straight from a tree

10. Play conkers

11. Throw some snow

12. Hunt for treasure on the beach

13. Make a mud pie

14. Dam a stream

15. Go sledging

16. Bury someone in the sand

17. Set up a snail race

18. Balance on a fallen tree

19. Swing on a rope swing

20. Make a mud slide

21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild

22. Take a look inside a tree

23. Visit an island

24. Feel like you’re flying in the wind

25. Make a grass trumpet

26. Hunt for fossils and bones

27. Watch the sun wake up

28. Climb a huge hill

29. Get behind a waterfall

30. Feed a bird from your hand

31. Hunt for bugs

32. Find some frogspawn

33. Catch a butterfly in a net

34. Track wild animals

35. Discover what’s in a pond

36. Call an owl

37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool

38. Bring up a butterfly

39. Catch a crab

40. Go on a nature walk at night

41. Plant it, grow it, eat it

42. Go wild swimming

43. Go rafting

44. Light a fire without matches

45. Find your way with a map and a compass

46. Try bouldering

47. Cook on a campfire

48. Try abseiling

49. Find a geocache

50. Canoe down a river

A Fairy Good Idea!

Apparently there is a fairy housing boom happening. Who knew? Fairy dwellings are popping up all over the place and the construction workers on these precious projects are plentiful.

While urban fairy house development is on the rise, backcountry fairies could sure use some quaint cottages of their own. What better time than now to provide shelter from the cooler weather for our winged friends.

photo courtesy of

I am always looking for new forest friendly activities for the kids…and myself.  I was happy to find an article in the Toronto Metro news publication that brought the practice of building fairy gardens to my attention.  This is definitely not a girl’s only activity. Building miniature houses with natural found materials is a fun activity for the whole family.  Dad’s can really get into the planning and construction and it brings out the creativity in everyone. Don’t think your boys are gonna go for it?  Why not make the diminutive dwellings for action figures or LEGO minifig’s instead?

photo courtesy of

So how does one build a fairy house?  Think Lincoln Logs.  Sticks stacked up to make miniature log homes with bark or evergreen roofs.  Tiny furniture, mud huts, pine cones, rocks…the sky is the limit.  For even more ideas, visit the website  The best part is hiding these little houses in out-of-the-way spots, to be found by unsuspecting future visitors.  Wouldn’t it bring a smile to your face to stumble on a little fairy house deep in the wilds of your favourite park?

Take Me Outside

Take me outside. Our response to these three words are what will make the difference between a generation of sedentary, obese and uninvolved youth, or happy, healthy and socially engaged ones. As adults we have a responsibility to make the right choice.

There exists an organization, aptly named Take Me Outside, that is working towards getting our kids into the great outdoors. The mission statement on their website says it all.

We believe in the power of outdoor experiential learning. We believe in the countless benefits that having a relationship with nature brings. We believe in getting youth outside and active and hope to promote this message through various means of advocacy, including an apparel initiative to get students outside of the classroom. Take Me Outside is a non profit organization whose next project is to run across Canada, encouraging youth to get outside, be active and reconnect with nature.

The “next project” is well under way and Colin Harris is making amazing strides. Colin launched his run across Canada 251 days ago in Newfoundland and crossed into Alberta on September 17th. He is running to raise awareness and is making stops along the way to speak at schools and to community groups (over 75 already) about the benefits of getting outside. I have been told that he recently lost his support vehicle driver when they had to unexpectedly drop out. Colin was faced with making the decision to call it quits or keep on going. His strong belief in the cause wouldn’t let him quit. He’s on his own now and will be arriving in Calgary soon (likely Monday September 26th). It would be great if he could receive a warm reception and some words of encouragement from anyone in the area. Don’t live in Calgary? Jump on the website and send him a message and while you’re there, be sure to buy an “Ask your teacher to take you outside” t-shirt (also available at Mountain Equipment Co-op) and connect on Facebook.

setting a good example...outdoor play is fun!

If you are a parent that wants to help further the cause, here are the three biggest ways that you can make a difference to your own family, and your community.

  • Outdoor Play – Spend some time outdoors being active rather than cooped up inside. Anything that is going to get your family moving…ride a bike, take a walk, play at the park, go CAMPING!
  • Outdoor Learning – Time spent outdoors during school hours. Lesson plans that include time outside for projects and to reinforce concepts and curriculum engage the students and can improve participation and academic performance. Become an outdoor advocate by ensuring that your school as well as the school board know you believe that outdoor learning is an important component of your children’s education and encourage them to make including it a goal.
  • Active Transportation – An excellent way to guarantee that you and your children achieve at least the minimum amount of daily exercise required for optimum health is to walk or ride your bike to school or work.

playing at our local school - everyday outdoor play

Give your family the greatest gifts there are… health, confidence and time spent together. Get outside.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

I’m afraid that I’m going to incur the wrath of some with this next statement… I’m so glad that the summer has come to a close.

A gorgeous drive home from Algonquin

Summers can be hectic times.  Schedules are all thrown out of whack.  The kids are off from school and the house becomes a giant clubhouse filled with stinky boys and all of their toys.  And the heat! My god I hate the heat.  My time of year is Fall.  I’m in my element in the Fall.  It must come as no surprise then, that my favourite time of the year for tripping is upon us.  Cozy fleece jackets and bug free nights around a warm fire.  Hot chocolate and frosty mornings.  I’ve been checking out the Fall leaf report for Algonquin, and the leaves they are a changin’.  Break out the calendar, it’s time to start counting down the days to our annual September trip to Algonquin, ye ha!

The view from our canoe access site September 2010 – Algonquin

Next weekend we are heading up for a fun-filled get-away in the park.  We are going to canoe in to a site on Rock Lake for a night and then paddle over to the other side of the lake the next day to meet up with some of Fraser’s family including his folks.  It couldn’t be more convenient.  Rock Lake has both canoe access and car access so visitors of all skill levels and interest can enjoy it together.  It’s become a tradition.  It’s a nice laid back affair with some solitude to launch the trip and family and friends to wrap it up.  Fraser’s mom and dad always cook up a storm and I’m looking forward to bacon and eggs and fried mushrooms and steaks and homemade jam and pies and I’m bringing s’more fixings.  It’s going to be a blast.

Even Lambie needs a sweater in September – Algonquin

So what makes “shoulder” season tripping different from summer trips?  The weather of course.  The thermometer may say 10c but it feels much cooler when it was 30c just last week.  Bring warm clothes, a warm sleeping bag and if possible, plan for cooked meals and hot drinks.  Once a chill sets in, it’s hard to warm up your body and you want to be comfortable.  Also, only the bravest of souls will be

swimming for entertainment, so plan to spend your days participating in other activities.  How about hiking, leaf collecting, art projects, photo shoots, reading…eating?  Personally, I like to take up some yarn and knit up a small project.  I’ve already got a bunch of lovely knitted items named for the parks that they were made in.  I plan on making an Algonquin leaf scarf on this trip.  I swear I’m a lot cooler than I come off in this post!

The Saroyan Scarf – photo and pattern by Liz Abinante

My point is this… Don’t put away your paddles just yet.  Canoeing season isn’t over until the ice is on the lake.  In fact, we have plans to squeeze in another trip to the park before it’s time to trade in our pfd’s for skis.  Stay tuned.

Silver Peak or Bust

I can smell it.  I can taste it.  The air is thick with anticipation.  The calendar conspicuously hangs on the kitchen wall taunting me

beautiful clear lakes

with its highlighter scars.  Monday creeps ever closer with its promise of peaceful moments and fretful challenges.  The boats are ready, the Jeep is ready, we are ready, but is Killarney ready for us?

classic killarney

The family is taking over Killarney Provincial Park all next week.  If you’re there too, chances are good that you are going to see us.  We’ll be on the lakes, on the portages and hopefully at the top of Silver Peak.  At 539 meters, Silver Peak is the third highest “mountain” in Ontario and is almost as tall as the CN Tower.  Interior access is from Bell Lake along the aptly named Silver Peak Trail and the hike to the top is about 6km.  I’m hoping that the beauty of the place and natural features like the waterfalls near the last section, will be enough of a distraction that the kids won’t balk at the distance or the elevation.

As long as the weather cooperates, I’m determined to take some beautiful pictures.  Beautiful pictures and even more beautiful memories.

a storm rolling in

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

zach and luke entertained by the scenery in algonquin (ages 2 and 5)

So you wanna take your kids on a canoe trip?  I’m talking about a real trip

look at our paddles

here, not just a day paddle.  Day paddles are pretty straight forward.  You can take whatever you want, including your time.  But what if you’ve packed for a multi-day trip and can’t afford the space to bring juniors collection of beach toys?  As a general rule, Luke and Zach are only permitted to bring a couple of toys on trip at all, but even these stay packed tightly away while in the boat.  The last thing you want is to lose any favourites overboard.  This will result in whining and tears for the duration of your trip.  Not fun.  If there is one special something that MUST come and it absolutely isn’t up for debate (I’m referring to Lambie here), you can tie said object of affection to the thwart.  My suggestion would be to use those multi-coloured plastic baby chain links.  Something about having a cord that little ones can get tangled up in, in the unlikely event of a dump makes me nervous.  It makes me think of why manufacturers

stopped putting drawcords in kids hoods.  They are a choking hazard.  If you insist on using cord, at least make it short.

first trip with kiddie paddles (ages 7 and 4)

You are going to want to set out some in-boat rules, and they must be laid out days in advance of your departure.   They will need to be firmly deposited in your little ones memory bank.  Examples?  There will be no toys in the boat.  There will be no electronic devices including but not limited to cell phones, iPods, portable DVD players and handheld game devices.  Sunhats and sunscreen are a must.  For safety, children must respond to all instruction immediately and without fail.  I realize this sounds strict and like a bummer of a trip, but it makes the time more relaxing in the end.  If you’ve laid down the law well in advance, it heads off most arguments.  I get it.  You’re thinking to yourself, “This chick’s crazy.  What kids will agree to, let alone follow, these rules?”.  Or maybe you think your little one is, well, too little.  This harkens back to an earlier post about how toddlers are tricky.    You can reinforce how one of their jobs is to stay in the middle of the boat.  It’s their job to help keep the family safe.  If they veer over to the edge, they can feel the boat listing to that side.  This tippy feeling can in and of itself spook them into staying put.   Cause and effect.  “Oops.  Help Mommy keep us safe by staying in the middle”.  I honestly never had a problem with my boys in the boat.  Never a complaint, never a restless moment, never a fight.  And my boys are normally quite crazy.  For older kids that can’t be finessed into compliance, it’s simple.  Don’t make me turn this boat around.  No cooperation, no trip.

Let’s talk kids and paddles.  You can buy amazing quality paddles in kids sizes, and they

zach opts to sit in the bow

make for such cute photo ops, but also make for pain in the butt boat companions.  I thought that these would make my kid’s early trips more special and they would feel like they were contributing.  In reality, they were too small to reach over the edge and touch the water, so they leaned out further and further  to make contact.  Ahhhh!  This was a disaster waiting to happen and it made steering awful.  I put the kibosh on kids paddles until they were big enough to actually help out.  In fact Zach still doesn’t paddle during the actual trip, just during day outings.  Even then, with four of us in one boat, there is never enough room, or dexterity, to coordinate paddling in unison.  I have found myself sitting in the bow with teeth clenched tightly, trying not to freak out at the unsteady rhythm and the constant jostling.  That is something that I’m not going to miss.

zach and lambie take a turn (massasauga 2010)

So what do you do to entertain the kids if they don’t have paddles or toys?  My answer is simple.  Nothing.  How did you entertain YOURSELF before you ventured into the realm of family tripping?  You listen to the sweet sounds of paddles dipping and loons calling.  You keep a keen eye on shore in hopes of spotting a moose or maybe even a bear.  You laugh and talk

a bear seen from our boat in killarney

and dream.  Don’t rob your kids of a true wilderness experience by bringing home along with you.  With our over-scheduled lives filled with classes and lessons and late-night meetings, canoe tripping is an opportunity to connect

a deer seen from our boat in algonquin (pondweed lake)

with your kids.  Slow it down a bit and enjoy the time with each other.

%d bloggers like this: