How’d that summer bucket list turn out?

Being home for my first full week since early July made me realize how crazy our summer has been. I’m famous for taking too much on, but this year I had to cram in more than usual (I’ll disclose why in a few weeks). I was dreading opening up my journal and looking at my summer bucket list. I know haven’t been around enough to even make a dent in the list, so I was somewhat pleased to see I didn’t set unreasonably high expectations on myself (three cheers for progress!). Here’s my review. 

2015 Bucket List Review

Mission #1: Lounge poolside at Hotel Arts

Did it happen? No, kinda, it might…..

The verdict: I did take one of my adorable nieces out for a celebration lunch at Hotel Arts. We didn’t don bikinis, but it was a lovely experience nevertheless. I’ve been bugging their marketing team for the past year to set up a writer in residence program. This year they’re doing it and I will finally get to lounge poolside September 14 (while working on cutting edge articles, of course). Join me?

Mission #2: Swim with beluga whales

Did it happen? Yes!

The verdict: This might very well have been the highlight of my summer. While it was super murky the day I was snorkeling with the belugas in Hudson Bay, I was able to hear their underwater calls and feel those bubbles as they swam underneath me. Best was kayaking alongside them. They’re such curious creatures, and they loved nudging our kayaks and popping up to say hello. Get yourself to Churchill, folks! #worthit

kayaking with whales

Mission #3: Camp

Did it happen? Totes

The verdict: Two days after school was out, we tried our hand at lazy camping in Banff National Park. If you don’t have your own tent or can’t figure out where your gear is, this is the way to go. No fuss, no muss, simply roll up and settle into your pre-made campsite. This is a definite do-over, but next time I’d like to book an oTENTik.

Mission #4: Make homemade ice cream

Did it happen? Yes

The verdict: The July cover of Chatelaine had me hooked. It promised three-ingredient ice cream and it delivered. The only bummer was when Hippy-Martha Stewart thought it necessary to divulge how many calories are in sweetened condensed milk. Total buzz kill, but it was pure bliss before I knew the calorie count (70 per tablespoon!).

Mission #5: Bike more

Did it happen? Nope

The verdict: If I hadn’t looked at my bucket list last weekend, I wouldn’t have realized there’s only a few more decent weather weekends in which to cycle the Legacy Trail between Banff and Canmore. It was going to be our big Sunday adventure, but by the time we got to the trailhead, the skies unleashed and we were caught in rain that didn’t look like it was going away anytime soon. So like good little weekenders, we skedaddled off to Crazyweed and had a beautiful lunch instead. Fingers crossed for this upcoming weekend.

Mission #6: Swim with the IBMer

Did it happen? Did it ever!

The verdict: The problem with having a friend with the best backyard ever is you never want to leave it. I almost didn’t. The night before I was to fly home, my wallet was stolen. (Hey universe: enough with the stealing already, I get your message!). Worse case scenario, I would’ve had to lounge in her outdoor oasis until the huz FedExed another piece of picture ID. Sadly, it didn’t come to that, but our families spent three blissful weekends together, lazily moving from the pool to the patio to the hot tub. When I think of summer 2015, I know I’ll immediately flashback to their hot tub (and too much Grey Goose).

dog on boogie board

Mission #7: Eat lobster

Did it happen? Yes

The verdict: Eve and I spent a delightful 10-days in Nova Scotia in July. While we certainly tucked into lobster, I ended up changing my tune towards the end of the trip. The reason? Fried clams! Digby clams are plump, juicy morsels that are so delectable, I often opted for these instead of my customary lunchtime lobster roll. Should you ever find yourself in the Maritimes, you ought to try them for yourself. Just don’t get suckered into ordering clam strips. So not the same!

lobster halls harbour

After picking out your lobster at Hall’s Harbour, you have to take it to the cook shack.

Even though I didn’t nail this bucket list, I suppose it’s to be expected. Summer is too short, after all.

Have you ever made a summer or seasonal bucket list? Did you manage to make a dent in all you wanted to accomplish this summer?

Family Fun on Toronto Islands

As we pull away from the cluster of concrete high rises and into the glistening greeny-blue water, I can’t help but relax. It’s not as though I’m super stressed, we’re on vacation after all, but something about being whisked by boat out the downtown core makes you feel like you’re being transported to another world. And if you’re headed to the Toronto Islands, you certainly are.

family fun toronto islands

A refreshing respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city, the Toronto Islands are an archipelago of 15 islands in Lake Ontario located a mere 1.6 km south of the downtown core. Flush with both rugged and groomed green space, the islands are a sweet sanctuary laced with miles of park land, sandy beaches and arguably the best views of Toronto’s skyline.

boats toronto island

Centreville

If you’ve got kids, your first stop will likely be Centreville, a 14-acre amusement park designed to look like a turn of the century Ontario village. With over 30 rides and attractions, you can bet wee-ones will not want to leave this perfectly proportioned park. The old fashioned rides are a hoot and it’s especially nice to see a midway that suits the ability level of the smallest guest. There’s a “light” roller coaster and one of those log fume water rides that splashes everyone at the end, but with a drop that isn’t terrifyingly steep. Those bursting for independence will want to roam along an antique car track in their own mini-vehicle and break out the hand santizer, there’s a petting farm with over 40 different species of farmyard animals and exotic birds.

Centreville

Photo credit: Centreville

Tip: Centreville is best suited for children under 8-years-old. If your kid is still into bouncy castles, they’ll love it. If they’ve outgrown that stage, they might find it too babyish.

Become a Pirate

Got a buccaneer in your brood? If so, take your scallywag on an adventure they won’t soon forget. Pirate Life is an interactive family theater and adventure cruise. Mates of all ages get decked out à la Captain Jack Sparrow and sail aboard a pirate ship as they search for sunken treasure. But first you’ll have to complete pirate school, so your crew knows the ins and outs of rogue seafaring life.

pirate dress up

Photo credit: Pirate Life

Peaceful Pedal

Step away from the action by renting bikes and cruising along little trails that weave their way through the island. There are playgrounds to stop at, art installations to suss out and several restaurants to try. Tip: Avoid the tourist traps near the ferry harbour and head to Rectory Cafe for a delightful meal.

dad and daughter bicycle

art on toronto island

If you’re somewhat of a real estate voyeur, you’ll enjoy cycling through the island’s small residential area to get a glimpse of the lives of the island’s 700 or so permanent residents. Expect a few daydreams to be prompted by the sight of these adorable cottages with picket fences and beautifully manicured lawns bursting with vibrant flowers. Become even more jealous as you cruise over wooden bridges connecting the islands together, while spotting a school and artist studios, all flanked by Lake Ontario.

toronto island house

Be sure to stop at one of the leafy green spaces for a play or pack a frisbee and try your hand at the disc golf course. Tip: be sure to pack a bathing suit and towel as there is a splash park and several beaches.

man biking toronto island

Beach Babes

While there are a few beaches to choose from, we hit up Chelsea beach. This life guard patrolled beach also boasts several picnic tables, a swing set and has large boulders making a natural boundary for swimmers. What’s most notable, however, is this beach has a blue flag rating – an international eco-label awarded to beaches for excellence in water quality.

toronto island beaches

Photo credit: Eaton Chelsea Hotel

Head’s up, there is a clothing optional beach, but it’s tucked away on the west end of Centre island, so there’s little chance you’ll run into a show.

family toronto island

I thought we’d spend an hour or two at most on the islands, but we ended up whiling away the better part of a day. It can get crowded, especially in summertime, so plan to visit early and pack lots of provisions (food, bathing suit, frisbee), so you’re able to make the most of your visit.

Have you ever been to the Toronto Islands or visited another city island? What did you like best about it?

Want to read more? Like me on Facebook and Tweet me: @Jody_Robbins

P.S. You also may like: 5 Family adventures not to miss in Nova Scotia and What to do when you lose your ID travelling.

Thermea: Scandinavia spa secrets revealed

Stepping into Thermea is like shedding a second skin. The seductive scent of wood smoke wafts through the air, as an outdoor fire cracks and steam rises off the outdoor pools begging you to take a dip. Nestled at the edge of an expansive park, you’ll forget all your cares once you step foot into this nature oasis.

outdoor spa

Who would think that within Winnipeg lies a little slice of Scandinavia? And yet, here it is, newly opened this year. What makes Thermea (by Nordik Spa-Nature) special is that it’s a true nature spa. Meaning: the outdoors and wellness treatments derived from nature are infused within the experience.

scandinavian outdoor spa

A series of outdoor pools and wooden buildings containing an assortment of saunas and are your path to wellness. Here, you’ll be privy to scandinavia spa rituals, as you alternate between intensely hot and freezing temperature fluctuations. All in the name of health and wellness, of course.

Step 1 – Hot

According to the pamphlet you’ll be given upon arrival, your first order of business is to warm up for 10-15 minutes. Instinctively, I head for the aromatic steam sauna, praying the pungent scent of eucalyptus will wake me up. It does. Inhaling the zesty steam, I feel rather like Gwyneth about to embark on a sacred detox (minus the vajayjay steam).

finnish sauna

Barrels of ice are set outside the Vapor Room doors, but it’s the infused salt scrubs in the exfoliation chamber that really get your skin tingling. After my steam, I layer on menthol and eucalyptus salts, whisking away dead skin like nobody business. My skin is zinging. The pungent scent of eucalyptus has got my senses firing. I’m awake and ready to tackle the next challenge.

traditional finnish sauna

Step 2 – Cold

After sweating it out, you’re to pass under a waterfall or take a quick dip in the cool plunge pools to bring your body temperature down. Why go from hot to cold? Apparently, this transition releases adrenalin (this is a good thing?) and increases your heart rate.

spa waterfall

I’m not hot or brave enough to attend to the cold, so I cheat and melt into the Geyser pool. Hearing only the wind rush through the leaves and the pummeling of the waterfall, I float while wondering if aqua-meditation is a thing. My chatty mind has slowed down and thoughts that enter and leave just as quickly. Again, I’m too chicken to go full on cold, so I sneak back into the sauna area and give the dry Finnish sauna a whirl. It does the trick and within minutes I leave the cedar infused chamber and barrel into the bracing water of the PolarBer pool. It’s actually not that bad, even refreshing some might say. I’ve got my bravado on so I race through the waterfall and spend a few minutes taking my polar dip.

ice bucket overhead

Since I’ve ignored the recommended circuit cycle thus far, I return to the inhalation sauna, before rushing back outside and pulling a menacing looking cord so a bucket of icy water dumps on my head. Now my friends, it’s time to relax.

Step 3 – Relax

Apparently the reason this cold stage was necessary is so during the rest phase that adrenalin turns into endorphins. After your “thermal transition” you’re encouraged to find a spot and chill as a deep sense of peace sweeps through your body.

spa day beds

Cocoon yourself in a hammocks swaying under leafy trees or head indoors to the relaxation chamber. One resting lodge looks like an upscale camp dorm with thick mats set bunk-style in a secluded room. I make a beeline for the curvy tile loungers heated up to 39°C and zen out while gazing over greenery. If you’re feeling tribal, you can hang around the outdoor fire pit on wooden adirondack chairs, watching the smoke trail up to the dusk coloured sky.

spa relaxation area

It is the perfect place to cozy up with a book, listen to smoothing music on the headphones provided or let your thoughts come and go. Just be sure to budget plenty of time for a nap, as you’ll most definitely drift away during your stay.

spa outdoor fire

To get the most benefit from your spa experience, you’re to do this thermal cycle three times. Hot, cold, rest, hot,cold, rest, rinse and repeat. If you really want to do it up right, book yourself in for a massage halfway through your cycle.

woman in bathroom drinking tea

Thermea struck me as a fantastic girlfriend getaway destination except for one crucial element – Silence! signs. Guests are strongly encouraged to whisper, which makes sense, but you know how we gals get when we’re having a good time. Still, if you manage to keep a lid on it, you’re sure to have a blissful experience.

Good to Know

  • Spa goers must be over must be over 16-years-old
  • BYOF – flip flops
  • A licensed (!) on-site restaurant dishes out attractive meals. There’s a lot more to the menu than salads and you’ll spot several chocolate dessert options. Eating in your robe is encouraged. Can it get any better?

Have you ever been to a nature spa? Would you be able to get into the experience with no loud talking or cell phones permitted?

Want to read more? Like me on Facebook and Tweet me: @Jody_Robbins

5 Family adventures not to miss in Nova Scotia

You know those vacations where after a night feasting on fresh lobster, you awake to the sound of the pounding surf, before venturing out to brave the waves of the steely grey Atlantic? When you’re surrounded by so much history, you’re just not sure how to take it all in, so you opt to step back in time and enlist your children in military adventure at a new world fort? No? Consider skedaddling over to Nova Scotia, where action and adventure await curious families. Here are 5 not to miss family experiences.

White Point Beach Resort

City bike tour of Halifax

bike tour halifax

You’re likely going to land in Halifax and this pretty port city rich in history and culture is a worthy stop for several days. Get your bearings by gliding past historic monuments and leafy green parks on an I Heart Bikes tour. We opted for the city tour that showcases the best of Halifax within two hours. Our guide spun us around the Halifax Harbour pointing out the best fish and chippy and other local tips to make your stay more interesting. Cruise by the Titanic House, historic forts in Point Pleasant Park and meander your way into the inner city, where a swish new library butts up against the historic university. You can rent bikes without a tour, too!

twisted street lights

You’ll cruise past lots of cool public art and will learn their meaning.

A Soldier’s Life

You can’t miss the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. Standing imposingly atop of hill, this majestic fort has overlooked the harbour since 1856. While it’s cool to suss out the Citadel’s star-shaped architecture, it’s even better to immerse your kids into life as a Red Coat (that’s a British solider, yo). During A Solider’s Life, kids are transported back to 1869, where they’ll be taught the skills needed to defend this strategic port. Kids learn some fancy foot drills, hammer out a diddy a field drum and raise the flag to send a coded message, all while getting an in-depth tour of the Citadel.

A Soldier's life

Surfing 

About a half hour’s drive from Halifax lies Lawrencetown Beach, home to some of the best surfing in North America. (And if you don’t surf, this lifeguard patrolled beach is tops for swimming, too.) There are plenty of surf schools to choose from, but we went with East Coast Surf School because when you have the opportunity to be taught by an Olympian, you take it. Olympic snowboarder Sarah Conrad taught Eve and I how to ride the waves (and more importantly, how to fall off our board properly). I won’t lie to you, the ocean here is colder than what you’ll find in say, California (about 17°C/63°F), but with the complimentary wetsuit, it felt surprisingly warm. The lesson included the surfboard rental for the day, which makes up for them not offering a children’s rate.

surfing in Canada

(Photo credit: Wally Hayes)

Motorcycle Sidecar Tour

Not many parents would let their children hop on a motorcycle, but when they’re safely stowed away in a sidecar, well that’s another story. Breezy tours with Bluenose Sidecar Tours take tots older than five (and their parents) around the city and Southern Shore. We opted for the Lighthouse Route which stops at the infamous Peggy’s Cove. It was beautiful and all, but Peggy’s Cove wasn’t the best part. Eating at a local’s favourite fish shack, meeting a true Maritime character (Ivan Fraser from Peggy of the Cove Gallery in Glen Margaret) and stopping by less touristy, but equally stunning bays along the way made this tour a must do!

motorcycle sidecar tour

Tidal Bore Rafting

Don’t go on this adventure unless you really like to have fun. Over 100 billion tonnes of seawater surges in and out of the Bay of Fundy with each tide cycle, producing some of the highest tides in the world. There’s no better way to experience these tides then by riding them, so when the tide’s in hit up River Runners for a serious adrenaline rush. At first your raft goes head on gently with the waves and then the intensity really ramps up.

tidal bore rafting

Again and again the chocolate-coloured waves crash into your craft and often over your head. It might feel like you’re on an episode of Cold Water Cowboys. You’ll get completely soaked and will love every minute of it. After the topsy turvy wavey action, you’re encouraged to jump off the boat and take a swim. Yes that’s right, swimming in chocolate milk. In your clothes. In full rain gear. And don’t forget the rubber boots. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Have you ever visited Nova Scotia? What are your favourite activities to do there?

Why August is such a bummer

August, the Sunday night of summer is such a buzz kill. I won’t go so far to say that August is our most depressing month, but it certainly is one of the saddest. With August comes the knowledge that summer is almost over. This is particularly harsh, since summer just started a mere four days weeks ago.

Where did July go, you wonder? It seemed to stretch out endlessly on those summer nights you weren’t taking advantage of the late evening sun. Suddenly, here’s August looming over you, like the night before a deadline you haven’t even began to think about. Well, sure, you’ve thought about it, but that didn’t mean you did anything about it. And now, here it is. Bam!

Right in front of your face, August taunts you with all that you haven’t done. You know: camping, hiking, lazy lake days, patio lunches with the girls, running 10K, attempting landscaping, going to all those free performances in the park. The only thing you can do now is rush out and buy school supplies. You may even be too late for that.

If you’re the optimistic sort, August can spur you off the couch and out the door to conquer those last remaining remnants of summer.  And if you’re smart, you’ve booked off some vacation time, so you don’t have to think about all that’s about to expire.

Yet, as the month wears on, I find myself becoming cautiously optimistic again. So I haven’t nailed my summer bucket list (do I ever?), it’ll keep for next year. It’s the whiff of fall in the air that shakes my reverie. Summer may be drawing to a close, but September is one marvelous month. If you’re living in Canada, it’s the kaleidoscope of colour that gives one pause. Our reward for living in this heavily forested country is the blaze of yellows, oranges and reds that butt up against the intense blue sky.

kayaking in autumn

Fog on a September morning pretty much guarantees one glorious afternoon. With the kids back in school, you’ve got time to breathe during the day and energy to play (ideally outdoors) at night. It kind of feels like cheating. You ignored summer while she was around. You knew she was there, but did you pay any attention to her? Nah, you were too busy binge watching Netflix. Now that she’s gone, guess what? You want her back! So you dabble, out of season with your new mistress – fall.

Around mid-August, I try to forget about the ending of one season and look forward to the next. Like the anticipation felt in the weeks before Christmas, August can make me excited about all that’s too come – so long as I don’t dwell too much on all that I’ve lost.

What about you? Does the coming of August make you feel sad? Did you get what you wanted out of summer?

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