Happy in Beautiful BC

There’s a reason our westernmost province has “Beautiful BC” on its license plates.

Last week, I vacationed on Vancouver Island with my girlfriends. While this was my third trip West, this was the first time I spent the entire week on the island.

Stunning, spectacular scenery, sunny skies, and cool breezes set the stage for an amazing week. Here were a few of the things I loved about BC.

  • Ocean views around every turn; on our last night, we just sat and watched the sun set at Otter Point on the bottom tip of the island.
  • The wildlife—I saw more baby deer in one week on the island than I have in Ontario in the past ten years; on one hike at Stamp River Provincial Park, we saw ten bald eagles in the trees and soaring up the river—some so close you could hear the air whooshing as they flew overhead.
  • Hiking—my favourite hike was the West Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, an easy 4 km loop with incredible coastal views with a lighthouse. Point of clarification: this is not the West Coast Trail which is further south and one of the most difficult treks in North America—I’m pretty sure some of my Facebook friends thought that was the trail I was doing!
  • Native art and traditions—one of my favourite “town days” was exploring the murals in Chemainus and seeing all the native art in the region

But best of all, I loved the laid back attitude and lifestyle so typical of islanders, and the fact there are NO bugs and NO humidity.

Butchart gardens in Victoria

Travel tips: if you go

  • Charter fishing: the best fishing seemed to be off the coast of Tofino this summer
  • Whale watching: I highly recommend Adventures by H.I.P. in Sooke. It’s a family run business, and Mike takes his high-powered camera on the trip so you can sit back and relax and enjoy the wildlife viewing. They’ll send you pictures after the trip for that million dollar vacation memory. Here’s one shot Mike took of a humpback cresting out of the water, with an ocean freighter in the background.
  • Chemainus: If you’re wondering whether the $20 horse-drawn wagon tour of Chemainus to see and learn about all the murals is worth it, it is—the longer trip takes you into the old part of town which many tourists might miss altogether if they’re just stopping in for the day.
  • Butchart Gardens in Victoria: Did you know there are free concerts every night of the summer at 8 p.m. at the gardens on the lawn?
  • Sooke: Don’t miss Sooke pier and be sure to check out the new microbrewery in town, Sooke Brewing Company.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a breather this summer, and getaway, or plan a fun staycation. Happy vacationing!

whale with tale out of the water

Sooke brewing companytotem pole

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In quest of the ultimate tacky souvenir

Donald Trump bottle opener

This year for our family vacation, we spent a week in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina in April. As always, we had a great time exploring the area, hanging on the beach and enjoying some much needed sunshine after a long Canadian winter.

Just like most tourists, we scour the souvenir shops looking for the perfect souvenir to remember our trip.

This trip I SCORED BIG.

I found one of my favourite souvenirs of all time, and it didn’t cost me a dime. I ordered a Shark Bite, a refreshing mix of rum, blue curacao and grenadine, and it came in the most classic, Jaws-dropping, great white and blue shark mug.

And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I found a souvenir that scored 11 (1 better) on the tacky souvenir scale.

It’s a fridge magnet bottle opener of Trump with bright orange hair in a blue suit. The hole where you crack open your beer is Trump’s pie-hole flashing a ghastly teethy grin, like he’s hailing-to-the-chief expletives at Omarosa, Spence or Comey or defending himself at his impeachment hearing in Congress.

I will treasure it for always.

This week’s #HappyAct is to seek the ultimate tacky souvenir. I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. See if you can trump mine.

souvenir shark mug

Goodbye Rick Mercer and thanks for the memories

Like millions of other Canadians this week, I watched the final episode of the Rick Mercer Report Tuesday night.

For the past 15 years, Rick Mercer has been a staple in our household most Tuesday nights.

What struck me the most when I watched his final episode was how much his show personified what it means to be Canadian and the best about our country.

I’ve been lucky to see Rick in action twice over the years—once in Kingston when he did a segment on a national tree climbing competition in Lake Ontario Park, and last November at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Both times he was engaging, funny, genuinely happy to meet and learn about people, and clearly proud to showcase the best about our country.

On Tuesday’s show, Rick did a special tribute to all the para-athletes he’s interviewed over the years. While we still have a long way to go in making Canada accessible, I believe thanks to legislation and guys like Rick, who have illuminated the wit, grace, and determination of people with disabilities, we are more aware and understanding of the needs and unique talents of this segment of our population.

Another segment was dedicated to politicians. There were some clips I hadn’t seen before (how did I miss the show where he and Bob Rae jumped into a lake buck naked?) I couldn’t help but contrast the relationship between Canadian media and our politicians with the United States.

While there is still an appropriate level of adversarial criticism and oversight, necessary for the media to do their jobs, the Rick Mercer Report personified how accessible our politicians are to the media, and the deep-rooted respect Canadians have for those who devote their lives to public office.

Through the Rick Mercer Report, we were able to explore the best of our country. From showcasing schools raising funds for Spread the Net to end malaria in third world countries, to the weird, wacky and wonderful events and people from coast to coast, Rick was our own personal Sherpa each week, taking us to new places and adventures across the land.

In his “Go See Canada” rant, Rick urged us to explore Canada, saying “I know in my heart of hearts, we would be better, stronger, and more unified if more Canadians could make it their business to see more of Canada.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to go see Canada. Thanks for the memories Rick. All the best in your next adventure.

And in case you missed it, I almost fell off my chair laughing this week watching Rick’s Seven-Day Forecast, especially since we’re frozen in this never-ending winter. Here it is again for your viewing pleasure.

Ed. note: A political note, thank you CBC for bringing Rick into our homes each week. Shows like the Rick Mercer Report would never exist if we didn’t have a publicly funded broadcaster. Keep them coming, and for all of you who fear going into withdrawal each Tuesday night, there’s still This Hour Has 22 Minutes, one of the best on television.

Ten fun free things to do in Kingston this Canada Day weekend

Canada 150 sign
We made this birthday card to Canada from all our employees last week at work

Happy #Canada150! It’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of love and pride for our nation in our sesquicentennial year. No matter what your plans are this weekend, I hope it involves enjoying time with family and friends and doing something uniquely Canadian.

Like most communities, Kingston will be hopping. Here are ten fun free things to do in Kingston this Canada Day weekend. Enjoy!

  1. Take in any of the Canada Day celebrations. There’s live music Friday night, and all day Saturday in Confederation Basin with fireworks at 10 p.m.
  2. Get your arts on at Artsfest in City Park, Sat-Mon from 10-6. Ever since they moved the location from Confed Basin to City Park, this fantastic arts and craft fair has blossomed, featuring artisans from across Ontario and Quebec. Last year we bought this cool rummoli board there, but there’s no charge to browse.
  3. Tour the penitentiary museum. While the main Kingston Penn tours, which cost $35 are fantastic, this little free museum is still a great way to pass an hour and learn about Canada’s history in corrections.
  4. Enjoy a drink on an indoor courtyard patio. Kingston’s patios are the best! Some great indoor patios include Woodenheads, Amadeus, Kingston Brewing Company, the Toucan and Chez Piggy.
  5. Take a walk along the waterfront. Park at the Murney Tower at the foot of King and Barrie Streets, and walk towards the LaSalle causeway. Count the Martello towers, pay your respects at the Celtic Cross memorial in honour of the victims of the Irish Famine, stroll through Battery Park (my favourite lunch spot) and cross the LaSalle Causeway to see RMC and a view of Fort Henry.Chez piggy patio
  6. Tour Bellevue House, the home of Sir John A. Macdonald. Admission is free this year in honour of our 150th.
  7. Take the ferry across to Wolfe Island. The Wolfe Islander offers some of the best views of the city from the water, and it’s all free. Grab an ice cream in Marysville before the return trip and get a birds eye view of the windmills on the island.
  8. Take a walking tour of Cataraqui Cemetery. Visit Sir John A’s grave site, and the site of his purported mistress Eliza Grimason next to him, Rose Cherry, and Harry Traill, the first Kingston prison guard killed in the line of duty and son of author Catherine Parr-Traill. With 91 acres of gorgeous gardens to explore, you can easily spend an afternoon here.
  9. Visit the Tett Centre and its resident artists and studios.
  10. There’s no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Kingston and now you can be the “I” in Kingston by getting your picture taken in Kingston’s latest tourist attraction in Confederation Basin.

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore Canada’s first capital and have an absolutely spectacular Canada Day! Here is a tweet my friend Hollie Pratt-Campbell posted of her and her daughter with the new Kingston sign.

Rummoli board
Our rummoli board we bought at Artsfest last year

 

 

 

Challenge a steadfast belief

Women having lunch on a patioOne of my many faults is I tend to be a bit stubborn and steadfast in my beliefs. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to challenge a bias I’ve held for the past twenty years that Hamilton wasn’t a nice city on our annual spring girls’ weekend in Dundas, Ontario.

We arrived in Dundas at noon just in time for the start of the Dundas BuskerFest. The scenic main street of this little town, only a hop, skip and trapeze jump out of Hamilton was the perfect setting to watch street performers dazzle and amaze. We had a delicious lunch in one of the town’s outdoor patio courtyards and browsed the quaint shops on the main street.

Next, we headed to our bed and breakfast, SummitHaven a charming yellow brick church dating back to 1869, lovingly restored by its owners. Our lower level suite had three bedrooms, a full-service kitchen and lovely sitting area, the perfect base for touring the area.

Summit Haven bed and breakfastThe day was too spectacular so we set out to hike and discover Hamilton’s waterfalls. I’ve blogged about how much I love waterfalls before, and had been told Hamilton was the “city of waterfalls”. In the twenty years I’ve been visiting Hamilton, I’ve never gone to see a single waterfall. We visited three last weekend.

The first one was a small waterfall at the beginning of the main trail loop in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The 3 km trail was a perfect length for the end of a busy day, and featured a cascade, ruins, a meandering stream and gorgeous woods.

women standing in ruinsLeslie still wanted to see more, so we drove down to Sherman Falls, a stunning 17 metre waterfall tucked in the woods across from one of the best restaurants in the area, the Ancaster Old Mill. We ended the day back at BuskerFest, watching the fire show and grand finale of all the performers.

The next day, I dragged my besties to the historical reenactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek at Battlefield House and Museum. I have driven past this park many times, but never explored it before. It’s definitely worth the visit, but especially on this day when the park was transformed into an early 19th century encampment of military soldiers.

Sherman fallsWe met the Earl of Moira, learned how to load and shoot a musket rifle, and watched the 200+ reenactors play out the battle, which was a turning point in the War of 1812 between the British and the Americans.

Our last stop was another waterfall just up the mountain—the Devil’s punch bowl. Since we were running out of time, we just hiked the short path along the escarpment, but there is a 10 km hiking trail that looked very scenic.

The best part of the whole weekend, other than seeing Leslie and Danette of course, was everything was free.

This week’s #HappyAct is to challenge a steadfast belief. It might open up your mind and world to new adventures. Thanks Leslie and Danette for another great girls’ weekend!

Have a Zootastic experience

author at zoo entranceOn road trips, no matter how long the drive, we try to break up the trip by stopping somewhere interesting for a couple of hours. Recently, on our way home from South Carolina, we stopped at Zootastic Park near Lake Norman, north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

We love small zoos. You can get up close to the animals, the exhibits are closer together and you actually get to meet and talk to the zoo staff who are usually friendly and knowledgeable.

As soon as we arrived at Zootastic Park, we knew we had found a gem. As I was walking to the bathroom, one of the zoo staff passed me with a baby wolf in his arms. Next door, there was a birthday party in full swing with lemurs leaping around the room.

Parrots and peacocks greeted you at the entrance, and you could buy carrots and grains to feed the animals. Dave and I have been up close to giraffes in Africa, but we have never fed one before.

In the big cats area, I made a new enemy. Their lynx did not like me…one bit. Every time I talked to him he would growl and look at me menacingly with his luminous yellow eyes. It was very eerie. I’ve never seen an animal react like that at a zoo before, probably because you don’t get the opportunity to get so close to them.

Girl with parrot

The owner was an interesting guy. He had been in the animal trade for more than 30 years, worked on Wild Kingdom (google it kids), lived in South Africa, and was now making a go of this little zoo in North Carolina.

They even had an old fashioned carousel for the little ones. The owner told us he traded it for a camel, straight up.

Here are some of our favourite “little” zoos to visit this summer:

  • Jungle Cat World, in Orono, east of Toronto
  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg (50% admission for Moms on Mother’s Day!)
  • Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington—free 364 days of the year
  • Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, 45 minutes outside of Halifax where you can say hi to Shubenacadie Sam, their resident groundhog. We’ve visited Wiarton Willie in Wiarton too–the only North American groundhog we haven’t paid a visit to yet is Punxsutawney Phil.

I haven’t been there, but my friend Mary Beth tells me the zoo in Syracuse is good too. I was sad to find out one of our favourites, Reptile World in Drumheller, Alberta closed. The owner there loved snakes but was terrified of cattle, which we found hilarious considering he lived in Alberta.

Girl feeding giraffe

Many zoos offer summer camp programs for kids—what an awesome summer experience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to have a zootastic experience with the whole family. Go ape for the apes, wild for the big cats and batty for the bats.

Girls on a carousel

Planes, trains and automobiles

jeep on safari
Adventures by automobile…on safari

Planes, trains or automobile–it doesn’t matter, for me, it’s as much about the journey as the destination itself.

I’m writing this blog today on the train, my fingers skimming over the keys as the coach lurches back and forth. By the time it posts, I’ll have flown thousands of miles return to Salt Lake City, and spent two days in the car driving back from vacation from South Carolina with Dave and the kids.

Planes are still magical to me, now matter how many times Air Canada loses my luggage, how bad the food is, or how long I have to wait at the airport. As soon as the plane lifts into the air, I marvel at watching the clouds, the magnificent land formations and patterns below and the sun rise and set over the wings.

Trains take me back to my youth. I grew up beside train tracks. The trains were so close to our house, my bedroom windows rattled when the commuter and freight trains sped through our station. The train was our escape from suburbia to downtown Toronto.

I still love taking the train. You can work, gaze out the windows, chat with your neighbour, or have a coffee or glass of wine. On today’s trip, I saw a deer grazing in the sodden fields and swans gliding gracefully in an estuary near the Trent River .

And then there is the automobile. The love affair of North Americans with the automobile is well documented. For me, cars have always been more of a practical need, a way to get from point A to point B. That all changes on a road trip when you never know what adventure lies beyond the next bend and what new vista there is to explore.

This week’s #HappyAct is to channel your inner John Candy and Steve Martin and embark on a journey by plane, train or automobile—don’t worry about the destination, just have fun getting there.