In Which, I Know Nothing About The Voting Habits Of America

Well, well, well. Last week’s So You Think You Can Dance was pretty darn shocking – at least for poor little me, who apparently knows nothing about the voting habits of America. Rudy is out, people, RUDY IS OUT. Seriously thought he was on track to win this thing.

Does this mean that having ballroom on any given week is a kiss of death, no matter who you are? I have to admit, I always thought that the American dance-loving public voted based purely on popularity, like some sort of high school presidential election, rather than on the individual merits of each dance week-to-week. But perhaps they are more fickle than I thought, and the dances each week actually do make a difference. In that case, Valerie better watch her back this week.

Last week I suggested that Dance Show was possibly played out, in that I don’t obsess over it like I used to, and it has been a good long time since my mind was literally blown away (last time I can recall – Melanie’s huge leap into Neil’s arms in the Mandy Moore number – what was that, four seasons ago?). But then something like Rudy getting voted out happens, and suddenly I’m sucked back in. Not sure I’ll feel compelled to blog about it next year but I know I’ll be watching.

Before we talk dancers, just wanted to say: Jenna Dewan Tatum!! SQUEE. I’m sure this comes as no surprise but I am a fanatical fan of all the Step Up movies, including the first one (“FOR SKINNY!”). Thought she was pretty good – usually I don’t like it when a judge is gushingly positive about every number, but every number last night really WAS good, so I give her a pass.

Dancers!

Ricky. Probably jinxing him by putting him at the top (the last two weeks, my top pick has gone out), but he is really the best overall, and also was so good last week with Jaimie. They were so well matched and their dance was just lovely and although not exactly ground breaking, did include some movements I’d never seen before. Would love to see that one again in the finale. Poor Ricky is with Anya next week – ballroom AND the tiger lady – so fingers crossed he’ll survive.

Jessica. Also shining last week with Will (who, I must admit, I have no memory of whatsoever – anyone else?). Once again Mandy Moore confirms her spot as my favourite choreographer. I thought Jessica and Will had fantastic chemistry and they balanced each other just perfectly – a great performance. Still don’t believe she can win the whole thing, though, unless she has a really amazing dance with Ade next week (could actually happen, though).

Casey. I think the voting public has clued in on Casey, and he was pretty good with Comfort this week – Comfort ROCKED IT, but Casey at least kept up, and their number was unique and memorable. He’s with Mackenzie next week which should mean yet another lovely but forgettable contemporary number but I think it will get him into the top 4.

Jacque. Man, if you told me two weeks ago I’d be calling Jacque for the top 4, I’d have said you were nuts. But the weird voting style of this season – where you are ranked based on your last performance – means she’s bought herself extra time somehow. I thought she was actually good with Twitch – which totally surprised me, I never thought she had it in her – so I think she is the one who will make top 4. She’s with Will this week for what I’m sure will be a very nice contemporary number. Also, getting gossipy: she didn’t seem particularly broken up when Rudy went home, did she? Didn’t even give him a hug. Guess that affair is over!

Zack. I loved his Broadway number with Mackenzie, but in general, I love all the Broadway stuff, while America is lukewarm on it. Zack, I thought, was absolutely bang on perfect, plus his solo last week was KICK ASS. He’s with Fikshun next week which is very, very interesting – hopefully it’s not his swan song.

Valerie. Once again, putting Valerie at the bottom although her personal popularity (she’s never been in danger before) seems to make her bulletproof. The judges praised the hell out of her Samba with Ryan, but I actually thought she was okay at best – Ryan totally outshone her and she looked quite stiff and uncomfortable, I thought. Guess we’ll see if ballroom really is the kiss of death. She’s with Twitch this week which should be fine and cute and charming, if not exactly badass.

I just realized something – nothing that happens in top 6 week actually matters. Does it? Tonight we find out who the top 4 are – based on their performances from last week. But then, the top 4 get to perform again next week in the top 4 show, and the votes from THAT week pick the winner. So is there even voting after tonight’s show? Or do they actually pick the winner based on tonight’s performances, and next week is just the greatest hits/announce the winner show? I am confused. Either way, it’s created an awkward voting pattern.

In any case, see you next week!

Summer of Awesome Mini Updates, Take Two

We’ve been busier in August with a lot of errands and obligations, as well as back to school shopping – already! I have mixed feelings about the end of summer – on one hand it will be good to have bickering-free time to myself again, on the other hand I dread lunches and homework and also I actually will miss the little people. At least Sir Monkeypants has the last two weeks of August off, so it will likely be quiet around the ol’ blog as we send summer out with a bang.

In the meantime, here’s a few more mini updates in case you’re still looking for something to do.

Rideau Hall. I love it at Rideau Hall, and the kids had a fairly good time. It certainly helped that I had to stop on Elgin Street on the way there for an errand, and the kids got to pick up a big bag of candy at rarely-visited Sugar Mountain. Once there we settled in for a picnic lunch (with candy dessert) and spent a LOT of time on their play structure (which is nice, but nothing super special, telling me the kids have not been to the park often enough this summer, doh).

I wouldn’t say the kids were crazy about Rideau Hall, but it was a lovely, quiet, calm day, with lots of room to run around if you want to burn off some steam. Highlights included crafts in the visitor centre (they designed their own coat of arms); watching the mini Changing of the Guard (much quicker than on Parliament Hill, and you can walk along the road with the soldiers which is fun); wishing in the two fountains; and running all over the grounds to find trees planted by famous people (leading to a discussion of both tree species and historical world leaders – the Captain was especially interested in both). Not as good: the tour of the building, which actually was fascinating and our guide was totally awesome at getting the kids involved, but at an hour long, it was just a smidgeon past their patience point and the last 10 minutes or so involved a lot of lecturing and eye rolling. Still worth it, though, in my opinion.

rideauhall1

rideauhall2

rideauhall3

Tips: It’s all street parking around Rideau Hall, so be prepared for a bit of a walk – strollers on the grounds are just fine. Definitely bring a picnic or snacks as there’s nowhere to buy food on site and you’re far from everything and anything else. If you head out on a Friday or Saturday, there’s storytime in the afternoons near the visitor centre. Big Tip: There’s a fall festival happening on September 8th that will allow you access to the lovely back gardens and greenhouses, which are not part of the regular tour.

Company of Fools. The Fools are a Shakespearean acting company that tour Ottawa area parks all summer long with outdoor performances. I’ve been wanting to go for years because I love me some Shakespeare but always backed out at the last minute because the kids seemed too small to handle the late night and weird language. We finally went this year and I was delighted that the kids actually really liked it. Our youngest, at age 7, was probably the littlest kid there that was actually able to sit through it and pay attention (there were a few younger kids who all toddled off mid-performance to use the play structure, also a totally valid option). It absolutely helped that we talked about the play a LOT before hand – As You Like It. I told them about the language, and most importantly, actually performed a simplified version of the whole play using Lego characters (I gave them a “cast list” and they had to go off and build all the characters and sets for me, and then I played all the parts in a Totes Hilarious manner, if I do say so myself).

I thought the play might be simplified for the masses – either the language changed or made shorter – but no, it was the full play with the full text, so if you’re thinking of going, definitely prepare your kids for that. Having them know the basics of the plot and characters in advance is essential, I’d say. That said, there were plenty of surprises and the kids laughed – THEY LAUGHED AT SHAKESPEARE – and we all had a good time. AT A PLAY. It was a minor miracle.

fools

Tips: Tickets are not required; you pay after the play in a pass-the-hat fashion. They recommend $15 per person but we decided to give $40 for our entire family of five. It’s up to you, but bring cash – although they do have a credit card machine with them, it’s just easier and faster when you’re trying to get the kids home to bed (the show ran until 8:45 so it’s a late night for a preschooler). Try to arrive early – if you’re with kids, an hour in advance is a good idea to get seats near the front – and respect the Outdoor Venue code of blankets up front, chairs in the back. A few early-arriving families had started the first row of chairs back far enough to allow for two or three blankets in front of them, then put down a blanket for their kids, too, so the little ones could see while parents sat in comfort. They also had brought coolers full of snacks which is pretty genius.

Note that the shows run rain or shine (only cancelled in the case of severe thunderstorms) so if it’s a drizzly night, throw on a raincoat and bring an umbrella and head out anyway. You can see their full (remaining) schedule on their website to find a park near you.

Funhaven. It was so cold and rainy last week that I had to abandon my plans for various outdoor activities and cave in to Funhaven. I usually avoid it because it’s pretty expensive, but as our only outing for the week I figured it was worth the splurge. The kids, predictably, had a fantastic time.

funhaven1

funhaven2

The Little Miss is finally tall enough to ride the bumper cars (the height minimum is 44 inches) and they had a great time on those, as well as in the jungle gym area (socks required!!), in the arcade, and playing laser tag. We were there for five hours and probably could have stayed longer.

I was afraid it would be packed due to the cold, rainy weather, but despite the presence of two day camps it was pretty quiet – we never had to wait for anything. It helped that it was a Thursday, and we got there shortly after the 10 a.m. opening. Things picked up a bit by 2 p.m. or so but we never felt over crowded.

Tips: Funhaven has a special promotion on where if you go Monday through Thursday, you can add unlimited laser tag to your entrance package for the same price as a single game – woot! But, even though it’s unlimited, you still need a ticket for each game you want to play – so plan ahead and pick up a ticket from the front desk well in advance of when you want to play (you might even want to pick up tickets for a few games in a row while you’re there). Also, there’s no outside food allowed at Funhaven (although I did see some mothers with toddlers handing out bottles/sippy cups) – I would recommend bringing a water bottle or two (there’s a handy refill station near the bathrooms).

Wear comfy shoes, as you’ll be on your feet the whole time, and if you don’t have a stroller with you, be sure to bring a backpack to hold prizes from the arcade, cast-off sweatshirts, water bottles, and souvenir cups from the snack stand. Don’t forget to wear or bring socks if you want to play in the jungle gym area – parents too, as you might find yourself crawling in to rescue a stuck kid. In fact, one great thing about Funhaven is that parents don’t have to pay an entry fee, but are given a lot of liberty to supervise their kids – you can go inside the laser tag arena, for example, if you have a small child and think they might need help or reassurance, even if you aren’t playing yourself (but, uh, consider playing yourself because TOTES FUN).

Another Funhaven plus is that they do try to accommodate a range of ages; I saw lots of babies and toddlers in their little people play area, preschoolers running around the jungle gym and bowling, while bigger kids played laser tag and rode the bumper cars. So if you have a wide age range of kids, it’s a great place for everyone to play.

Dance It Up, Fuzzball

So! As usual my predictions are way off, as my top pick – Bridget – went home last week. I have to say, it’s highly unlikely that her “Bollywood Disco” number would have saved her this week, anyway (HORRIFYING, do you not think? It is time to put both Bollywood and Disco to PASTURE). Emilio went home too, which makes me sad but I understand, leaving an odd situation where all the boys are contemporary (except Zack, although I’m unclear on his actual skills as he seems to be experienced at everything), and all of the girls are not-contemporary. Interesting…we’ll see how it all plays out.

Before we rank, just wanted to comment that I LOVED Jasmine in the hip hop number with Emilio last week. I wasn’t always her biggest fan, but she was so hypnotically good. I wonder if the experience and the confidence and lack of pressure of being an all star has made a difference – or maybe I’ve just loosened up.

Anyway, predictions for tonight!

Rudy. It is time for me to admit that Rudy is probably going to win this thing, and he’s good, so I should be happy, but ugh, he’s obnoxious. Still, he came through ballroom okay last week – not great, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be – and so he should sail through to next week and into the top 4. He’s with the flawless Allison this week and this is his chance to really impress me – don’t blow it, pretty boy.

Ricky. Oh my LANDS, how I loved his number with Lauren. Two fantastic dancers paired with my favourite choreographer (Mandy Moore!), doing my favourite style. LOVED LOVED LOVED. In fact, I’m going to go watch it again RIGHT NOW. Ricky’s with Jaimie this week (remember her from the Hummingbird number back in season 3) and she dazzles me with her physical skills, so they should dazzle. Fingers crossed for a Ricky win!

Jessica. The judges have skillfully planted a bug in the ear of America (Jessica for the win!) and I think it is paying off. She’s actually really good, and I like that she is finally getting her chance to shine. She rocked with Twitch last week – although I have to say, Twitch is the BEST all star to get, because he is always 100% focused on making his partner look good, and he’s genius at it. But still, I think she’ll easily get through this week, especially because she’ll be dancing in her style (modern jazz) with Will.

Tanisha. I’m finding the girls hard to call but I think Tanisha has the edge, at least for this week, because her tango with Ryan was as good as everything Miriam and Leonardo ever do (they manage to blow my mind every single time, despite doing the same style every time, and some other choreographers could learn something from this, SONIA). Tanisha has contemporary with Nick this week (NICK!! Season 1, REPRESENT) so I’m not sure that will be enough to propel her into the top 4…we’ll see.

Casey. I am really loving Casey these days. He’s a good dancer, and also has the humility that some other dancers (RUDY) lack. He actually managed to hold his own with Kathryn last week – no easy task – but this week has hip hop with Comfort which will likely be a disaster. EEP.

Zack. Sadly, I must put Zack as the lowest ranked boy because, for the past few seasons at least, America has stood by their voting history and the second-last person from the week before is the one to go this week. Thought he was great with Amy last week, and he’ll probably be good with Mackenzie this week (more contemporary though – can’t we show some versatility, dance show?), but likely he is out.

Jacque. Putting her as the second-to-bottom girl despite what I just said about previous voting patterns, because her ballet with Chehon was SO LOVELY. Seriously, one of my favourite things I’ve ever seen on this show, delicate and light and a beautiful melding of styles. (Can Travis Wall do no wrong? Discuss.) This week, she’s with Twitch and although Twitch makes the ladies shine, I doubt even he will be able to elevate Jacque into the top 4 with something so far outside her style.

Valerie. The judges made it clear last week that they think Valerie is the weakest girl left, and all but held up signs telling America not to vote for her. Did it work? We’ll find out tonight – but I predict yes. She’s pulled Latin Ballroom with Ryan tonight, which also will do nothing to showcase her charm or talents, so even if it’s not her this week – it probably will be next week.

Let’s close with an open topic of discussion: do you think Dance Show is played out? I notice that every year, the dancers get younger and younger, and some of the choreographers are cycling through the same ideas, and the association with iTunes means it’s all current hit music and the choreographers can’t pick things they really want to…and most of all, I don’t seem to feel the same passion about who will win, and who won’t, anymore. Do you?

Whitening Toothpaste

In a comment on my last post, Alison asked if the whitening toothpaste I mentioned actually worked.

Here is my story.

It all started when I decided to break up with my dentist. It’s sad, actually, because I really like the dentist (actually a married wife/husband dentist team, both of whom are absolutely delightful and skilled). The problem is my hygienist. We go to a large office where there are several hygienists and the first time we went, everyone was assigned one randomly, and I have a different one than the rest of the family. She’s a very nice lady and we always find plenty to chat about but after every single cleaning, my mouth is a total mess. Bleeding, soreness, awkward feelings when I chew. I have two crowns right next to each other in the back of my mouth and after every cleaning they kind of felt “shifted” – not sure that is even possible, but they always felt really oddly out of place, and I would keep getting all kinds of stuff caught in them, and they’d bleed all over, and it would take weeks before I felt like everything had settled down.

(Caveat: I have been through SEVERAL dentists and hygienists in the past 15 years, to the point where it MIGHT be me, and not her – either my over sensitive gums or my over sensitive heart. But WHATEVER.)

So all five of us had a cleaning coming up in August – today, actually – and as the day got closer and closer I found myself dreading it. And then I had a thought: what if I just cancelled it? But then: what if they want to know why? But then: I could say I just need a break! Or that the insurance is maxed out due to the root canal I had back in February! Or whatever!

So I called and cancelled, and they didn’t even blink an eye or ask me why, even though I am obviously not busy as I am bringing in all three children at the exact same time. Success!

But it was a bit of a scary thing for me, because I actually have not gone longer than six months between cleanings since I was a baby. My mom was passionate about our dental health, and I had an awesome dentist growing up who I loved (also: a pretty good hygienist), so regular cleanings were just part of the lifestyle, and I always totally bought into the idea that my teeth would turn black and fall out without the regular attention of a dentist.

So to counteract my daring act of rebellion, I bought myself some antiseptic mouthwash to use after brushing and flossing, and made it a pact to take better care of my teeth myself, in order to avoid the hygienist. I started nightly rinses with the stuff (Crest ProHealth if you want to know).

And then, after about three weeks of having a super clean mouth, I noticed that my bottom teeth had these weird brown marks on them, like really bad stains from a life time of smoking and drinking coffee, neither of which I do. I thought maybe they’d always been like that, and I just never noticed, but then I had a sudden flash of inspiration and I read the label of the mouth rinse, and it said this:

“Staining of teeth may occur with this product, but it can easily be removed with a professional cleaning.”

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS TRYING TO AVOID WITH THIS PRODUCT. GAH.

I immediately stopped use of the rinse and, in desperation, went out and bought some whitening toothpaste. (Sensodyne Whitening, if you want to know).

So I’ve been using the whitening toothpaste for about two weeks and LO, the stains are almost completely gone. And I even feel like my teeth in general are more glowy and shiny, without looking really fake-white. I’m not sure I will continue to use it once the stains are gone completely, but it has more than solved the problem.

So to sum up: yes, whitening toothpaste works.

Anti Aging

A list of things I swore I would never use, because I was going to “age gracefully” and “embrace my natural body” and “be who nature intended me to be,” but which I now use on a regular basis:

Hair Colour

Under Eye Concealer

Whitening Toothpaste

Oil of Olay products (remember how OLD the ladies used to seem in Oil of Olay commercials, when you were a kid?)

Jowl-concealing neck scarves

Facial Masks

Can a face lift and tummy tuck be far behind?

Dance! Show! Top! 10!

I am finding that although I am still passionately in love with dance show (So You Think You Can Dance, for the newcomers among us), it takes a lot more to “wow” me these days. I have been enjoying this season, but I remember back in seasons 3, 4, and 5, practically every week was just SO AMAZING I had to watch and rewatch and then talk about it and talk some more. So far, it’s been solid but not mind blowing, know what I mean? I think it’s really a factor of having seen a LOT of dance show, and that means all the contemporary stuff is starting to blur together.

That said – the two group routines from last week, featuring the top 7 girls and the top 7 guys, were SO GOOD, were they not? Awesome.

Also, while we’re complaining – I find the couples this year didn’t generate any memorable magic for me. I mean, we can’t all be Katie and Joshua, but I remember couplings like Sabra and Dominic, or Phillip CHBEEB (best surname ever) and Jeanine, or Amy and Fikshun from last year. When they showed up, you knew there was going to be some heat. This year – ugh, I could barely keep everyone straight, let alone remember who was dancing with whom. Does not bode well for big sparkling personalities to shine in the top 10, does it?

Speaking of which…we are down to the top 10! Let’s rank! And predict! And discuss! Ready?

Bridget. There were so many cute little contemporary girls this season that I never did keep them all straight. But now that Bridget is the last one standing – she’s standing out. In the top 7 girls’ routine last week, I picked her out easily as being the best. I really think she could win this thing. She’s paired with Brandon this week which means they will likely get disco and it will likely be a too-frantic, too-energetic festival of sequins. But if she makes it through this week I predict she will shine.

Ricky. Ricky is awesome. Ricky is amazing. Ricky is possibly my favourite male contemporary dancer since Jakob. Ricky is also a pretty small guy, which makes it harder for him to partner, and yet he has really made it work with Valerie (one of the few couples I felt had real chemistry). He could win if America votes based on skill and not cuteness factor. He’s with all-star Lauren tonight so that could mean jazz or Broadway or something like that, and I’m sure he’ll do great.

Rudy. Rudy annoys me, because he seems to have the cute guy vote, and I totally don’t see it. But on the other hand, he is really an incredible dancer. He has surprised me week after week with his skill and ability to get into character. I think he can do pretty much anything…if he gets the right partners, he could go all the way. Rudy’s with Jenna tonight, which means ballroom, which he’ll probably suck at but his personal popularity should easily help him weather the storm.

Jessica. The energizer bunny! Somehow she has survived the elimination of just about everyone she’s ever danced with – with good reason. She’s really growing on me, and I thought she was just amazing with Casey last week. I wanted them to save Carly until Jessica’s number – and her awesome solo – and now I’m totally converted. She’s with Twitch this week so that means hip hop, and I think this is a golden opportunity for her – if she rocks it and blows people away, she’ll make her mark in a big way.

Zack. Another guy who continues to surprise me, Zack seems so harmless and then, when he gets on stage, totally transforms into a man of power and charisma. Plus, he taps! I love Zack. He’s with Amy this week for contemporary, and if he makes the chemistry happen then he’ll maybe win some cute-guy votes away from Rudy. Fingers crossed.

Emilio. Emilio is one of the few dancers that I think has shown growth – each week I see him doing something totally outside his comfort zone, and doing it well. He obviously has worked very hard to be here and I like him for that – but he’ll need to really show off some surprising partnering skills if he wants to go farther. He’s with Jasmine this week which means hip hop, which should help him make top 8.

Tanisha. I’m a big fan of Tanisha, I think she doesn’t get enough credit on this show. She seems to meld into every style seamlessly, like she’s been doing it for years, and she has the best snap (meaning, when she dances, everything is exactly where she wanted it to be, and she’s solid and sure about it). I do find she had weak chemistry with Rudy – they often seemed like strangers with no connection at all. She’ll have to showcase some serious heat with her future partners if she’s going to change people’s minds – she’s with Ryan this week for ballroom so this is her big chance.

Casey. Cannot believe I am putting Casey as the bottommost boy, because he is ALSO amazing, and so good, and under appreciated, but it’s a very strong field for the boys this year. He’s with Kathryn this week, which is unfortunate, because I do not like Kathryn – she’s the worst all-star to get because a) the choreographers love her so much that they always choreograph for her, and the boy becomes just a background prop to hold her up and make her look pretty; and b) she seems totally incapable of forging a personal connection with any of her partners. They’ll likely do something lovely and beautiful, but Casey won’t be anywhere near the most memorable thing in it, and that’s bad for voting.

Valerie. You know I love a tapper, and Valerie is so cute and has such a great smile, and she’s my personal favourite girl. But she’s also one of the weaker dancers, and I find she doesn’t show a lot of emotional range on stage – she’s always happy and giggly and up, and given a tough, serious, emotional contemporary piece, I just don’t think she can sell it. She’s with Ade this week and that’s going to be a big, big challenge for her – she’ll have to really transform before my eyes for me to be impressed.

Jacque. Definitely the weakest of the girls, I find Jacque to be a bit of a blank slate – I always watched Zack when they were on stage together (in fact, I just had to go and look up who her partner was, because I couldn’t remember her in anything other than her first week ballet number). She’s just not as versatile or interesting. She has Chehon this week which should make for an AMAZING ballet number (plus: CHEHON, SQUEE), and that could easily carry her through for another week, but in general I don’t think she is top 4 material.

Just realizing, though, that neither Valerie nor Jacque have EVER been in the bottom 6, which usually means they have a massive and rabid fan base…so it’s probably Bridget that will be going home. It’s like I know NOTHING about Dance Show at all. SHEESH.

See you next week!

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.

rcmp

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).

mint

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.

CreaturesOfLight4-small

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.

historymuseum2

museumofhistory1

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.

uppercanadavillage4

uppercanadavillage3

uppercanadavillage2

uppercanadavillage1

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).

skyzone

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.

saundersfarm1

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:

raysreptiles

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:

raysreptiles2

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.

parliamenthill

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.

A Cautionary Tale About Summer Day Trips, In Three Acts

Act I

A mother lovingly packs a picnic lunch for herself and three children.

She places a large collection of small plastic containers in a pile near the front door, waiting to be packed into the World’s Heaviest Backpack ™.

On top of the pile she gently lays two bananas, one for herself, one for her son. They are the last two bananas in the house.

Act II

Three children begin a spirited game of soccer in the front hallway.

Act III

The middle child sidles up to the mother, who is in the kitchen filling water bottles.

Middle Child: Mom? Do you think we really need two bananas in the lunch today?

Mother: SIGH.

Fin.

Shared Experience

At Saunders Farm

A couple of years ago, my university friend Lisa came to town with her husband and two young sons for Canada Day. I headed downtown with the girls, determined to show our visitors what Canada Day in Ottawa is all about.

Unfortunately it was the year that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were visiting, and by the time we all got together and started to head over to Jacques Cartier Park for Super! Big! Fun!, we found ourselves trapped by barriers, closed streets, and massive crowds.

We ended up being stuck on a grassy knoll across from the Art Gallery for a couple of hours, just hanging out waiting for the royalty to pass and crowd to clear. By the time we were over at the park, the kids were hungry and hot and tired, so we laid out the picnic lunch. By the time they were done eating, it was almost nap time for the youngest ones and we all wanted some air conditioning. So we headed back across the bridge, which took a lot longer than expected due to crowds and now-cranky children, and by the time we were back in Ottawa, it was time to call it a day.

I was pretty disappointed because we’d basically done nothing and seen nothing. But Lisa – who, I may point out, is rather brilliant about Life, The Universe, And Everything – said it was still a good day. “It was a shared experience,” she said, “And that’s something.”

So I am trying to adopt Lisa’s zen-like attitude towards everything we do this summer. For me and the kids, it’s less a Summer of Awesome and more a Summer of Shared Experience. I am finding, as they age, that it grows ever more difficult to find activities that everyone will love. Someone is always hungry, or bored, or thinks that poking at all their siblings’ hot buttons is more interesting than the offered activity. We’re still getting out – heaven knows, staying cooped up in the house all day is worse – and we’re seeing new things, exploring the town, sometimes running errands. But it’s come to this: harmony is an elusive quality, and every outing is sure to end in either tears, a lecture, or both.

But that’s okay. Breathe deep.

I do miss those summer days when a daily trip to the park, followed by nap time, maybe a little colouring before BBQ dinner and bed, meant a delicious glow of warmth and sunlight over the entire household. When just loving summer was more than enough to keep us all busy and happy.

But that was then, and this is now. We’re all still spending our summers together, we’re all still happy for the good weather and break from routine, we’re all still pleased to see each other each morning (no matter what squabbles and squibbles happened the day before). We’re probably not getting enough time away from each other. But that’s part of the whole shared experience, the making of memories, the stuff that makes us a nuclear family, while we still have a quorum to make fusion happen.

So rather than wax nostalgic about the golden days of three toddlers piled into a wagon, coated in sand and sunscreen…and rather than fret about summer days to come when we will be off in five different directions, each sharing experiences with other groups…I’m trying to stay in the present.

Here. Now. This Summer of Shared Experience. Whatever we do or don’t do, whatever we see or don’t see, however much we bicker or not – it’s still all together, at least for today.