10 Not to miss Stampede experiences

(Credit: Calgary Stampede)

When you’re a Calgarian, you’ve got your Stampede routine down pat. When you’re a travel writer and get to go behind the scenes at the Calgary Stampede, you tend to be quite selective about the activities and events you participate in during the 10-day cowboy extravaganza. I’ll be on Canada AM this morning sharing my favourite Stampede moments. Stampede is kind of like Disneyland, there’s so much to see and do, you really have to plan your schedule out. If you can’t tune in, here’s a look at the must dos on my list.

mini donut popsicle

(Credit: Calgary Stampede)

My Stampede Favourites

  1. Breakfast. Official Stampede Caravan Breakfasts serve up pancakes and sausages, in addition to live entertainment, a petting zoo and pony rides. It’s easy to get pancaked out, so I recommend Jelly Modern Doughnut’s breakfast on July 8 and Cafe Beano dishes out Christmas Morning Wifesaver on July 12.
  2. Cirque Eloize. Nobody seems to know the Enmax Corral Show is free and really good. This year it’s a circus troop that’s as jaw-droppingly fantastic as Cirque du Soleil.
  3. Throw back a cocktail at the Stoli Lounge. Inside Nashville North is a new private VIP area. Infused with leather couches and flavoured vodka, it’s an intoxicating way to while away your afternoon (sans children).
  4. Barrel racing. The rodeo might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but lady’s barrel racing is an adrenaline rush like no other. The open ceremonies for the rodeo is pretty cool, too.
  5. Sample new midway foods. I’m hankering for a mini-donut popsicle and if I’m brave enough, a slice of coakroach pizza.
  6. Hang out in the ag area (because I have a kid who’s crazy about horses).
  7. Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo (because I have a kid…).
  8. Cowboy Up Challenge. Bet you didn’t know one of the world’s best extreme cowboy races (yes, this is a thing!) takes place on Stampede Park. Rest your feet as horse and rider move through a series of obstacles. (Trust me, it’s way more interesting than it sounds.)
  9. Catch a band. Little known fact: the Stampede is one of Canada’s largest music festivals. I’ll be catching Miranda Lambert during the Virgin Mobile Stampede Concert Series, then it’s Journey and Sheryl Crow at Fort Calgary during Stampede Round Up and the Oxford Stomp.
  10. River Forth Dining Car. If I need to escape the crowds I head to Calaway Park and Heritage Park, as both are relatively quiet during Stampede. A vintage dining car now chugs along the historical village at Heritage Park giving diners a taste of luxe travel life from a century ago.

What are your favourite Stampede experiences? What are some activities visitors must do while in Calgary?

Everyone should have a friend like Misty. I’d been dying to hang out with her and Fab and they invited me to join them at Nordstrom last Friday. I expected they’d rip apart what I was wearing (in a kind way) and shove me towards more appropriate clothing, but no. Misty is a total wheel in the make up department and had lined up several free treatments. Get this, anyone can do the same! My gift to you, dear reader, is the DL on how to score yourself some freebies and expert advice in this luxe department store.

Freebies at Nordstrom

It begins with skin

Mona at the Clarins counter is boss. She’s got the most gorgeous skin and I definitely wanted to learn her secrets. Saddle up to this counter and if they have time, they’ll give you a mini-facial. And not just a tone and cleanse, but a full on facial in condensed time.

Clarins facial

The thing with Clarins is this brand thinks water isn’t the best for hydrating skin. Many of their cleansers you just wipe off, same with the mask. This totally surprised me, but I gotta admit, I was totally glowing after I left. So radiant was I, a mom I met for wine later on that evening asked me if I’d just had sex!

While it’s not organic, Clarins products are all about plant-based beauty. One whiff of their Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil and you’ll be hooked. Anyway, my facial began with a cleanse, which was wiped off with toner on cotton pads. Then this intriguing exfoliator was applied. You leave Gently Peeling on for a few minutes and then you rub it off with your hands. It’s kind of like the sensation and look when you peel glue off your hands. Natural clay drew out my impurities (here’s hoping) and these grey pellets flew off my face. For real, my skin looked super healthy after this.

facial at clarins

That’s Mona, my new BFF on the left.

Then I got a mask, I forget which one, but Mona will select the one that’s best for your skin (and she’ll probably amp it up with a luxe facial oil, too). The best part was the facial massage. Mona’s fingers worked their magic and I was in an utter state of bliss. Then it’s a on to moisturizing and if you’re lucky (and they have time), a fresh application of make up. Did I mention this is all free?

Clarins women

Viola! The finished product.

FYI, I was really impressed with the Clarins’ FAQ section on their site. Want to know if you have oily skin, when’s the best time to moisturize or which foundation is best for your skin type? Simply click here.

Treat yourself!

Be sure to get yourself to Nordstrom on July 18 for their anniversary event. They’re giving away tote bags with beauty purchases and you can get a free, longer facial (30 minutes) from Clarins in the treatment room. Be sure to call and book in at 587-291-2000 extension 1055.

P.S. This isn’t a sponsored post, I’m just keen to share what I think is rad.

(Credit: Tranquility Cove Adventures)

(Credit: Tranquility Cove Adventures)

Standing waist-deep in the Atlantic searching for belly buttons in the sand isn’t how I envisioned spending a summer’s day. Then again, I never thought I’d be throwing back giant bar clams for breakfast, either. But when you’ve gone clamming with Tranquility Cove Adventures, you listen to their advice on how to best reap the bounty of the sea.

Eve, my nine-year-old daughter and I are on an adventurous half-day clamming expedition on the southern shores of Prince Edward Island. We think the best way to experience local culture is through our stomachs. When you’re on an Atlantic Canadian island, might as well do as the Maritimers do and dig for your dinner (or breakfast, as the case may be).

Clamming on Prince Edward Island

We wake to grey clouds hanging low on the horizon. They’ve brought with them the occasional shower, but once we spot Tranquility Cove’s dry covered boat, we put aside our fears of braving the elements like Cold Water Cowboys. Any apprehension we may have felt before stepping on board (did I mention Eve hates boat rides?) are quashed once we’re under the command of Skipper Perry. 

Skipper Perry

Best buds: Skipper Perry and Eve.

A third generation fisherman with 30-years of seafaring experience under his wetsuit, this dude is the real deal. Not only is he a contender for being the friendliest guy in the Maritimes (which is saying something, when everybody is super friendly out here), his twinkling blue eyes and Maritime-cum-Irish accent would make anybody melt, not just middle aged mothers.

We settle in on padded wicker furniture, as the boat chugs out of harbour, past ice cream coloured summer homes and long stretches of desolate beach. After half an hour we shimmy into wetsuits, water socks and snorkel masks provided by the crew. Soon after that, we reach our destination – Cardigan Bay.

(Credit: Tourism PEI)

(Credit: Tourism PEI)

Before plunging waist-deep into the ocean, we’re handed what the crew calls a hack, but looks to me like a garden rake. There are jelly fish floating about, but if you steer clear of them, they’ll likely steer clear of you. Ever the gentlemen, Perry scoops jellys out of the sea with his bare hands and flings them to the side for us women and children. The gents are on their own.

The hunt is on

“What we’re looking for is belly buttons in the sand,” instructs Perry in his delicious lilt. Once we spot these markers, we’re to rake the soft sand and if we feel something hard beneath the surface, put a bit of muscle into it and hopefully land a hefty-sized bar clam.

girl clamming

It gets a bit confusing for landlubbers like me, when it becomes apparent we shouldn’t waste our effort on perfectly round belly buttons. Symmetrical spheres are the mark of razor clams. “You won’t catch the razors,” Perry warns. “They’ll dig right down. You want a gentle, imperfect imprint in the sand.”

I rake away, but after several attempts have come up with nothing, so I switch into journalist mode.

Me: Hey Perry, because razor clams are so popular, do you ever dig specifically for them?

Perry: What? They are? No! They’re a pain for us to get. People out West want those?

Me: Oh, yeah. And not just in Alberta, they’re in lots of Canada’s top restaurants.

Perry shakes his head and mutters something I’m quite sure isn’t a compliment to those who pay top dollar for razors at such establishments.

Me: This hack thing, do you use it only for digging clams?

Perry: No, lass. It’s also good for pulling up weeds in the garden.

Plunging my beet red face into the ocean, I get down to business. A ha, spotted one! It takes two or three strong pulls before I uncover what feels like a rock. Little did I know, pulling a mollusk out of the ocean floor is immensely gratifying.

Perry patiently helps Eve spot the indentations in the sand, but I didn’t need to worry about her. She’s cleaned house – or ocean as the case may be, netting double the number of clams as me. “She’s a natural, she is. I expect to see her out here helping me in a few years,” exclaims Perry. Eve blushes and looks proud, though does her best not to show it.

red beaches PEI

After an hour of foraging, we have enough bar clams to fill a large steamer pot. Satisfied with our spoils, we wade onto a deserted island, where the crew has set out a spread for our clam roast against dramatic red sandstone cliffs.

Beach cook out

Though it’s only 10 a.m., it’s the perfect time for a clam bake. Who knew clamming could be such a ravenous activity? The clams are thrown into a large pot of boiling sea water. After approximately 18-minutes, the shells hinge open, releasing their own juices and the pot is taken off the propane burner.

giant bar clams

We’re ready to dive in, but you can’t just throw back a clam as you would an oyster. First we learn how to pop off the membrane and pull out its innards. Once we’re left with the scallop and tongue, we dip these meaty morsels into the warm clam juice they were boiled in. Our clams are savoury and buttery, not at all briny and we gorge ourselves to the point of bursting.

Clam meat in shell

Post feast

There’s still enough time for exploring and Eve wastes no time beach combing, netting periwinkles, sampling fresh off the rock dulse and gleefully plunging sticks into the fattest of jellyfish. Then it’s back on the boat for the return journey, as the crew haul in lobster and crab traps for an interactive fishing lesson.

holding a male and female crab

Can you tell which crab is male or female? Male’s underbelly resembles a lighthouse.

We cruise past Panmure Island Provincial Park, where the island’s most famous lighthouse (the one you see on all the P.E.I. postcards) stands guard. It’s near there we spot seals bobbing in the water and a pair of eagles soaring in sky. “This area is good for storytelling, it’s not always about the fishing,” admits Perry. He’s right. Even if we didn’t get up close and personal with the diverse marine life, this trip still would’ve been worth it. Doesn’t everyone yearn to dig for belly buttons on their vacation?

Good to know

  • Clamming season runs each year from May to November
  • Tranquility Cove Adventures runs clamming and other seafaring excursions from June to October. For more information visit: www.tcapei.com
  • Children aged 10 years and up are welcome
  • You can score 100 clams per person per day without a license
  • Both WestJet and Air Canada offer connecting flights to Charlottetown from both Calgary and Edmonton

Have you ever gone clamming? Would you like to?

British beach

How did it happen? How is it summer is here already? I’m making good on my summer bucket list and managed to nail off making homemade ice cream and hanging poolside at Hotel Arts this week! I also had a chance to sample Market’s new summer menu. In a word: go! There’s been so many new resto openings in Calgary I often forget about my old faves. If you do get to Market, be sure to order the gnocchi romano, duck taco and foie gras cookie!

This weekend I’m looking forward to relaxing in Canmore and going camping with Eve in Banff National Park. Hoping I’ll get a chance to paddle around in my kayak, too. Here’s some fun links I found on the web recently. Hope you enjoy!

Finally, someone has explained it to me. Why fermented foods matter

I knew it! Why overpraising children does more harm than good

This! How to say no without burning bridges

Bailey’s dipped toasted marshmallow? Hello! Genius Camping Hacks

Food for thought. Should you stay at home with your teen, not your toddler

15 Boozy popsicles to cool down with this summer

Stuck in a dinner party rut? How to turn a giant melty cookie into dessert

Did you know you can take in free summer concerts every Wednesday night in summer at Heritage Park? Music in the Plaza.

Calling all creative types. Behomm is a home exchange for designers and artists only. 

Hilarious! (Thanks, Lori!) And that’s why you should learn to pick your battles

How to recognize the artists of paintings

How to craft a sensational summer

Would you like to chill with your family at Sandpearl Resort? (Photos: Gary Bogdon)

Do your summers start off with a bang, then fizzle out? Do you long to spend lazy days at the beach or curl up inside a cabin with a great book? With summer being such a short season, we really ought to make the most of it. That my friends, means being prepared. If you want to craft a successful summer, you’ve got to first figure out what it is you want to get out of it.

How to craft a sensational summer

I love making lists and each summer I make a mean list of what I hope to experience. The list is a mix of lofty goals (sail around the Adriatic!) and small actions (climb a tree!) to remind me to slow down appreciate life’s little pleasures. I like to look at it when planning summer vacations and lazy weekends, then I tick off the item after doing it. September long weekend I put the list away until next summer. And no, I usually don’t come close to accomplishing every item on the bucket list. But that doesn’t matter, because I tried! Here’s a look at my goals for this summer. 

Lounge poolside at Hotel Arts

outdoor pool


Every year I say I’m going to do this, and I feel like a failure for not diving in. Sure, I’ve taken poolside yoga classes at Hotel Arts, but kicking back with a cocktail beside their swish outdoor pool is something I’m dying to do. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to plunge into this refreshing oasis. So long as you’re dining at their outdoor restaurant (think it’s Raw Bar, but it could also be Yellow Door), you can pack your suit and take a dip. Cannon ball!

Swim with beluga whales

kayaking with beluga whales

I’m headed to Churchill, Manitoba in August while kiddo is away at her first overnight camp. While I’m curious about seeing polar bears outside of a zoo, I’m most stoked to get up close and personal with these socialable creatures that patrol the Arctic. I plan on kayaking beside the belugas and snorkeling with them, too. Can’t wait!!

Camp – sort of 


We used to camp a lot. Then we camped a little. Now we camp not at all. Fortunately, Parks Canada has made camping super easy for slackers like me. I’m keen to check out their oTENTiks and equipped camp sites. Finger’s crossed it’s an easier experience than camping with a toddler.

Make homemade ice cream

vanilla ice cream scoop

Last year in the Maritimes we had the most amazing ice cream. The brand was Scotsburn and the major bummer is that it’s only sold in Atlantic Canada. This year I’m determined to replicate some of their flavours. The July issue of Chatelaine has a super easy, 3 ingredient ice cream recipe kiddo and I are keen to sample.

Bike more!

woman with fixie

I have a few specific bike rides I really want us to tackle. They’re not major or impressive, but I’m always disappointed when I don’t get around to fun things that are so easy to do. I want to take a leisurely ride around the Glenmore Resevoir, bike to Village Ice Cream and into Calgary’s revitalized East Village. Most importantly, I want take a family peddle along the Legacy Trail between Canmore and Banff.

Swim with the IBMer

woman relaxing at pool bar

My good friend the IBMer, has moved to Toronto. That sucks, but the upside is that she has a pool! We’ll be visiting her family in August and I can’t wait to take a dip in her backyard. They also live a short walk away from one of those beaches along Lake Ontario. I know it may be polluted, but I’m determined to go in anyway.

Eat lobster

lobster bowl

I like to think I’m a Maritimer, since I was born in New Brunswick. Lobster didn’t used to be posh. I recall polishing off four at a time when I was a kid! Lobster is pricey out West, but in Atlantic Canada, it’s reasonably priced. Eve and I are headed to Nova Scotia in July and my goal is to throw back as much lobster and strawberry shortcake as possible. Wish me luck.

What do you hope to get out of summer 2015? Do you make seasonal bucket lists?

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