Our annual family vacation is always a highlight for us. While we usually head south to the Carolinas, this year we spent a week in Costa Verde, Cuba with the girls at an all inclusive resort.
When you get back from vacation, people always ask, what was the highlight? It’s easy to give the obvious answer: palm trees swaying in the warm ocean breeze, spectacular sunsets over crystal blue waters, 30 degree temperatures and sipping on a pina colada before lunch at the swim up bar. But that’s not my answer. My answer would be family time.
We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner al fresco as a family each day. The girls played beach volleyball, we swam together, snorkeled, and swam with the dolphins at Bahia de Naranjo nature reserve.
Our last night, we gathered in the main square awaiting the nightly entertainment. We were playing one of our go-to family card games, Cheat, a favourite of Dave’s Mom. All the young kids at the resort were up on stage singing and dancing, the nightly “pre-show” entertainment to keep the little ones busy.
A French woman from Quebec struck up a conversation and asked us what we were playing. I tried to explain how the game worked. As we were chatting, the Spanish version of the Hokey Pokey “Chi Chi Wa” came on and all four of us put our cards down and started acting out the moves, which ends with you twirling around with your backside and tongue sticking out. I’ve never seen my girls so carefree and happy.
The French woman said to me, “Vous avez une belle famille”. It was one of those wonderful, sublime moments when I felt pure contentment and at peace with the world and so very grateful.
We are home now. Already we have migrated to our old habits, watching devices in different rooms, going our separate ways in our busy lives. But at least we have the memories of the past week. Here are a few pictures of our trip.
One of our true national treasures is the Rideau Canal Skateway. Since skating has always been a passion of mine and I lived in Ottawa for a year, skating on the canal always brings back a flood of memories.
When I was a student in Ottawa, I’d skate to school, skate to the movies, and skate downtown to the bars and back. One of my favourite memories was turning the corner near the Laurier bridge at night right at that serendipitous moment when fireworks were going off over the majestic spires of the Chateau Frontenac to honour the opening of Winterlude.
There’s no better time to skate on the canal than Winterlude, Ottawa’s outdoor winter festival, and yesterday, we spent a cold frigid February day on the canal. Since two sections were still closed—be sure to check the interactive ice conditions map on the NCC website if you go, but they were saying the full canal should be open today—we made our base Fifth Avenue and skated north and south as far as we could go.
We watched them film a Hallmark movie in the little park under the romantic stone bridge (Dave thinks he got in a scene). We watched a guy juggle hockey pucks and sticks—only in Canada! We ate beavertails, which is mandatory if you skate on the canal in case you didn’t know. And we skated, and skated, and skated, until my wool socks chafed at my ankles.
This year, under the Bank Street bridge, the NCC has erected a photo exhibit of 50 years on the skateway.
There was a picture of Douglas Fullerton, the chair of the National Capital Commission from 1969 to 1973 who came up with the idea to make it a skateway and helped the canal open in 1970. There were pictures of 7-year old Justin Trudeau on the canal as a boy, and the unsung heroes who flood the ice every night. Since I lived in Ottawa, and skated at night all the time, I would see the NCC workers, huddling out in the freezing cold digging holes in the ice and then using their long hoses to flood it so it would be in pristine condition the next day for the hordes of visitors.
After we could skate no more, we visited the ice sculptures and interactive outdoor installations on Sparks Street (very cool, pun intended!), and walked past the Parliament buildings, the war memorial and the Chateau.
I can’t imagine a better day or way to spend a winter’s day.
This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and embrace winter, ideally on the world’s longest skating rink. Happy skating!
The history of the museum is quite interesting and I found as I wandered around its circular exhibits, a strong connection to its history and contents.
The collection of canoes that now call the museum home was started by a guy by the name of Kirk Wipper. He was given a dugout canoe in the 1950s, which inspired his passion for collecting canoes. Kirk was the founder of Camp Kandalore, a well-known summer camp north of Minden. I spent many a summer near Camp Kandalore since my best friends’ cottages were just a few lakes away.
The collection became the foundation for the museum’s artefacts, and now the museum has more than 600 canoes.
There’s the iconic red canoe famously painted by Robert Bateman. Bateman by the way had a family cottage very close to Camp Kandalore. It just went up for sale a few years ago.
There’s Gordon Lightfoot’s canary yellow canoe, memorialized in song. The make was Old Town, still one of the best canoes made in Maine, and the same make as our trusty green canoe given to us by friends for a wedding gift.
One exhibit showcases the canoes given to members of the Royal family in Britain. Prince Andrew, of course, came to Canada to study at Lakefield cottage just north of Peterborough.
As you wander around the exhibits, you traverse the routes and passages of the early fur traders and voyageurs through Canadian culture and history. You pass Haida Gwaii canoes, masterful in their carvings and paintings, a canoe laden with thousands of pounds of blankets, food, and other goods fur traders would transport to Hudson Bay posts, and beautiful birch bark canoes used by Algonquin and Iroquois first nations peoples in the areas north of the Great Lakes.
One mural had this message on it. “In the Athapaskan languages, there is not word for wilderness. Wherever the Dene travelled, it was home. The land belonged to the Creator, and in the Dene expression, was only borrowed from their children’s children.”
Yes, on a wintry afternoon, this museum felt like home.
This week’s #HappyAct is to plan a trip to Peterborough and spend time in this unique little museum. The museum is trying to raise $65 million to move to a new location on the water near the Trent Lift Locks in a couple of years. What a wonderful time to visit. I plan to be there on opening day.
A few weeks ago, when I asked the kids what they wanted to do during their final week of summer, Grace said, “I want to go to the sunflower fields.”
So after spending the day at Sandbanks Provincial Park, we stopped at Sunflower Fields ice cream shop, just outside Picton. We filled up on Kawartha Dairy ice cream, then spent an hour wandering through acres of sunflower fields.
Our trip to heaven on earth was about two weeks too late. Most of the stalks had already lost their flowers, but it was still spectacular.
The fields of gold and green shimmered in the late day sun. Bees buzzed brimming with nectar and pollen and cicadas hummed their pleasure. The warm rays of the sun bent down to kiss the regal remaining stems that turned their round faces upward.
Author Corina Abdulahm-Negura once said, “A sunflower field is like a sky with a thousand suns.” This week’s #HappyAct is to find and visit a little piece of heaven on earth. It’s corn maze season. Why not get lost in one?
Here were some of my favourite photos we took that day.
Eastern Ontario is a hiker’s and biker’s paradise thanks to the miles of abandoned rail beds that have been converted into trails.
A couple of weeks ago, Clare and I hiked a new portion of the trail. We started in Harrowsmith, which is the junction of the K&P Trail and Cataraqui Trail. It was a windy spring day, and the fur of our great Pyrenees Bella shimmered and rippled in the breeze like the rushes in the neighbouring wetlands. It was a great day to get out, enjoy the spring sunshine, clear our heads and get some exercise.
The Kingston and Pembroke trail was an old railway that ran from Kingston Renfrew. It was abandoned by Canadian Pacific Railway between 1962 and 1986 before being taken over by the City of Kingston and Township of South Frontenac. Most of the trail is now complete up to Sharbot Lake, except for a small stretch near Tichborne.
The Cataraqui Trail is 104 kms long and was the rail line operated by Canadian National. The 78.2 km section from Smiths Falls to Harrowsmith is part of the Trans Canada Trail. Harrowsmith is an excellent starting point since the two trails connect there with four different routes to hike.
We watched ducks and geese in the marshes, saw baby cows in the farmer’s fields and ate lunch overlooking a beautiful vista.
I’m always surprised how many people in Kingston don’t venture north of the city. This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and discover the beautiful trails north of the city. And best of all, it’s free!
I came upon this sign last week on Broadway on the Beach in Myrtle. It said happiness comes in waves.
It was for some surf shop, but I thought it was very true. Happiness comes in waves. Some days the surf is calm, and you wade easily through the still waters. Other days moments of sadness or happiness wash over you like crests of a wave, all part of the normal ebb and flow of life.
When this happens, you just need to ride the wave.
My #HappyAct this week was literally riding the waves. The kids bought mini surf boards in Myrtle, so we spent the week body surfing—so much fun!
When the snow finally melts, my thoughts turn to the warm breezes of the Carolinas and just like James Taylor, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind.
For the past several years, the Carolinas have been our “go to” vacation destination in April. We’ve explored Kure and Carolina Beach, Kill Devil Hills, the Outer Banks, Beaufort and Savannah.
The Carolinas have a way of luring you into their rhythm. At first, it’s the palm trees, warm air and soft, sandy beaches that entrance you. But as each day passes, you succumb further to the beauty and relaxed vibe of beach life until you have officially become a beach bum. You pass the days watching dolphins and pelicans dart in the waves, letting the ocean sand and waters tickle your feet and eating fresh seafood al fresco at places with names like Bonzer Shack with surfboards on the wall.
Can’t you see the sunshine. Can’t you just feel the moonshine? I think I may have heard the highway call. Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind. Here are pictures from some of our last vacations.
Ed. Note. James Taylor, a native of North Carolina wrote Carolina on my mind more than 50 years ago in 1968 when he was overseas recording for the Beatles’ label Apple Records in London, England and was homesick. It has become the unofficial anthem of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is played at athletic events and pep rallies and sung by the graduating class at every university commencement.
Our British Heritage runs deep in this region. Kingston was, after all, the first capital of Canada and north of Kingston, in the area once known as Upper Canada, there are dozens of quaint villages that transform into magical towns hearkening back to the days of Charles Dickens at Christmas.
One of my favourites is the tiny village of Delta where thousands of visitors assemble each year to take an evening stroll through Lower Beverly Park to see the 90,000 lights, visit Santa’s workshop and take a wagon ride through the village. The local church hall serves hot meals, and in the centre of the village, the Delta Mill is open for tours.
The Old Stone Mill in Delta is a national historic site and treasure. It was built in 1810 and is still a working gristmill (they grind their own flour in the summer months). In December, antique candles light up the mill as they flicker in the six-foot window sills of each window.
Once inside, you are transported back to the days of Dickens. Caped carollers sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and the smells of hot cider fill the air. Local volunteers share their knowledge and history as they take you for a tour and explain how flour is ground. You almost expect to see the ghost of Christmas past or Ebenezer Scrooge emerge from the mill’s shadows.
This week’s #HappyAct is to transport yourself back in time with a visit to Delta. As Charles Dickens wrote, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
The mill and park are open every Friday and Saturday night until Christmas.
Some other great towns to visit during the holidays include Niagara-on-the-Lake, Merrickville and high on my wish list, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where they have a Father Christmas Festival and transform their picturesque seaside village into a winter wonderland.
One of my favourite seasons of the year to hike is fall.
Yesterday, my Ryerson Alumni Group hiked one of the most beautiful treks in Eastern Ontario, Rock Dunder, just south of Morton. This 230-acre property is owned by the Rideau Waterway Land Trust and rises 275 feet to a summit for a stunning view of the Rideau Canal and surrounding area. It was a former boy scout camp and has three log cabins on the trail.
We arrived just before 11 and started on the Summit Loop. The alumni magazine sent a professional photographer named Sarah Palmer to join us. A Ryerson grad, Sarah is a photo assignment editor for Macleans two weeks a month and freelances on the side. It was great getting to know her and hearing about her adventures and travels.
Even though it was unseasonably warm, the bottom part of the loop was wonderfully cool as we walked through the soft green canopy of the woods and explored the two worn log cabins used by the boy scout camp in the 80’s. Halfway to the top, we stopped for a swim and cliff jumping (well, Grace and my friend Mike cliff jumped—I chose to cheer them on from the cool water below).
The summit was spectacular—Rock Dunder definitely lives up to its reputation of being the best hike in Eastern Ontario.
At the top, we debated about taking the same trail back, or finishing the loop. We decided to complete the loop. My daughter Clare once said it’s always better to choose the path you haven’t been on before because it’s like taking two journeys in one.