Tuesday, August 30

Family Fun in Ottawa, Ontario

Disclosure: This post was generously sponsored by IHG. Opinions are, as always, my own.

I’ve always loved a good road trip, which is not surprising since I started travelling at such an early age. At only a few weeks old, my parents buckled me up (or, probably not – it was 1977!) and took me to Ottawa. 

Only two years later, here I am again in front of the Parliament Buildings with my baby brother, Ed. Do you see a road trip theme here?

Yes, my family has always loved spending time in Ottawa, Canada’s fourth largest city – with a rich history and so much to see and do. For visitors, there’s a huge variety of IHG hotels in Ottawa as well.

Of course as teachers, my parents were always big on educational fun, and the museum selection in Ottawa is fantastic. Here’s an amusing shot from our 1989 visit to the then brand-new Canadian Museum of Civilization (now called the Canadian Museum of History). I say amusing, of course, because of my XXL eyeglasses (yep, those were real.). Hey, this was before I was old enough for contact lenses and well before LASIK!

You can also visit the Canadian War Museum, which tells inspiring wartime anecdotes through exclusive photos, art, tours and presentations, or the Royal Canadian Mint (which is on my list for our next trip to Ottawa).

The outdoor scenery in the city is beautiful, too. Many visitors and residents enjoy walking alongside the Rideau Canal with a cup of cocoa in the colder months. Skating is also very popular when the Canal is frozen.

Of course, there’s a place for sports fans in Ottawa as well. In fact, a few years ago when our beloved Montreal Canadiens were in a playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, my husband, father and I went wild and crazy and got same-day tickets (on a workday, no less – if you know how much I love my sleep you must be totally shocked by this) and hit the highway for Ottawa, driving back straight after the game. Who won the game, you ask? Oh, it doesn’t matter.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great shopping in Ottawa. The Byward Market is extremely popular, and for mall-lovers, the Rideau Centre is a popular choice with 20 million visitors each year.

Since Ottawa is the capital of our beautiful country, you can also find the Parliament Buildings here of course – a huge tourist attraction for my family, obviously!

Just this past spring, our ten-year-old Olivia made it to the Provincials for Lions’ Club Effective Public Speaking (her topic was “Careers of the Future” – let me know if you need any tips!), which was held in Ottawa. We took advantage of our family time in this beautiful city to introduce the girls to the Parliament Buildings, which they had never seen.

I love these next photos, taken at the same spot where the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament address the media outside the House of Commons. You never know, my girls could be back there someday!

There are seasonal events to consider in Ottawa, too. Thinking of visiting this fall? Note that the Ottawa Food and Wine Festival takes place in October.Who doesn’t love food and/or wine?

While we have done a couple of same-day Ottawa trips (over three hours each way…that seems crazy as I type it!), we usually try to take advantage of all of the great Ottawa hotels. By joining the IHG® Rewards Club, the world’s first and largest hotel loyalty program with more than 92 million members worldwide, you can get points for your hotel stay at IHG hotels. IHG is a global organization of hotel brands including Intercontinental® Hotels and Resorts, Kimpton® Hotels and Restaurants, HUALUXETM Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels and Resorts, Hotel Indigo®, EVEN® hotels, Holiday Inn® Hotels and Resorts, Holiday Inn Express®, Staybridge Suites® and Candlewood Suites®.

Ottawa certainly has something for everyone, and I would highly recommend it for your next family trip.

I started this post with a 1977 Ottawa family photo, so what better way to end than with one from 2016? This time, it’s a selfie!

Monday, August 29

My Segment on THE SOCIAL: Tips for Back-To-School Success!

I was thrilled to be invited back for my fourth (can you believe it?) appearance on CTV's THE SOCIAL, this time sharing insider back-to-school tips for parents.

The video is below, but first: the fashion!

Thanks to Le Château for providing the dress, shoes, bracelet and earrings - based on the compliments, the look was a hit, and apparently brocade is very "in" for fall! Hair was by Andrea Zarlenga, makeup by Caitlin Cullimore.

My segment was with Melissa Grelo and Marci Ien, and as always the ladies were incredibly friendly and supportive.

Jess Allen made a point of popping into the green room with kind words after the segment, so we squeezed in a selfie (also shown: my date for the day, my 'cousin-in-law' Lauren, who was great at navigating, role-playing, and keeping me distracted to help with my pre-show nerves!)

Now, here's the video for anyone who missed it!

If you can't see the video, it's also on the website:

As well, if you've missed any of my other segments on THE SOCIAL, you can catch up on them here:

Tips For School Success
Homework Help
Ask the Teacher

Thanks to THE SOCIAL for inviting me back again, and to everyone for their kindness and support, whether in person or on social media. It is truly appreciated.

Now, back to my classroom preparations! Happy back-to-school, everyone!

Thursday, August 25

What to Expect During William and Kate's Canadian Visit

I've taken a recent interest in the Duchess of Cambridge (as my Instagram followers certainly know) and in fact have joined the many women who have fun "RepliKating" her clothing and accessories. I was very interested to hear that the Duke and Duchess would soon be visiting Canada, and curious about a lot of the protocols and details surrounding William and Kate's Canadian Tour. 

For information, I turned to Amanda Effie, editor at What Would Kate Do? (one of my new favourite sites!) who also happens to be a resident of British Columbia, where the royal couple (perhaps entire family) will soon visit.

Amanda graciously answered all of my burning questions about the impending royal tour.

Would Prime Minister Trudeau's invitation have been sent and accepted privately before we heard about it, or were we really getting those details in real time? 

It would have been discussed privately well ahead of time between the offices of the Cambridges at Kensington Palace and the UK in Canada program, unfortunately not by Justin Trudeau calling up the Cambridges and asking them to come over for a visit (although isn’t that more fun to think about?)

When Canadians show up at royal appearances as spectators, is there any special protocol to keep in mind? What about anyone who has the honour of meeting the Duke or Duchess (how to address them, etc.)? 

As Canada is a commonwealth nation, curtsying would be proper protocol if meeting them in a formal capacity. We wrote an article a few years ago about the etiquette of meeting the Queen - and since William and Kate will be here representing Her Majesty, those rules would be very helpful. Since very few Canadians will likely have that honour, it is more likely that they will see Will and Kate as spectators during walkabouts or when they are en route somewhere. Given that distinction, there are several other “rules” which are also extremely helpful when meeting a Royal such as never touching them and always being respectful of both their roles as Ambassadors for the UK as well as the fact that they are human beings. We’ll also throw in a modern situation we see so often with people meeting the Duke and Duchess on walkabouts -  put your phone away! 

What fashion items do you predict we will see from Kate? 

Kate and her stylist team do significant research before all tours and often pay homage to the host country through fashion choices. The last time Kate was in Canada in 2011, for example, she wore a now iconic Erdem (Canadian designer) lace dress for one event and paired a gorgeous Maple Leaf brooch with several of her ensembles. For this Tour, we absolutely expect to continue to see her wearing Canadian brands or brands with Canadian designers at the helm such as Pink Tartan or Smythe. Also since Canada’s new “First Lady” is such a proponent and fan of Canadian fashion, it’s possible that Kate will step up her Made-In-Canada game for events when she is seen with Sophie Trudeau. Perhaps we will also see her break out the Lululemon we saw her buying in London a few months ago for casual events and I’d put good money on the Smythe blazer (that one of our team members desperately wants to borrow from Kate’s closet) making an appearance!

I know some critics have questioned the fact that royals often wear traditional clothing items from the cultures of the countries they visit - saying that it's "cultural appropriation". What do you think of this? Do you believe it's insulting or a compliment to the host countries? 

This is a tough question. Like we mentioned before, Kate and her team do extensive research on the country they are visiting and the traditions of the people in that country in order to pay respect to them, definitely not to insult or diminish their cultural values. Think of the cape that Kate wore whilst visiting Bhutan on the last tour - was absolutely a nod to the country’s rich heritage. With Will and Kate spending time on the West Coast on this particular tour, I think it could be very likely to see them spend time with members of Canada’s Aboriginal communities who have such rich and powerful histories and stories, so there could be clothing or items chosen to honour that part of Canadian history. 

When the royals visit other countries, how much input do you think they have in the itinerary? I know for example that being a "selective" eater would make some such events awkward for me! Do you think personal preferences and comfort levels are taken into account?

In all honesty, it is probably very little - it usually follows in line with their official patronages. To be fair though, the patronages are chosen by the Royals themselves. In Will and Kate's case, this includes wildlife preserves, children’s hospice care, the arts and mental health initiatives. I think we will see engagements entering around those things that the couple are passionate about… But I think there will also be some downtime on the trip given that they are traveling with their children - William was quoted as saying he wanted to take George fishing! 

Photo: Kensington Palace

Knowing they will be visiting British Columbia and Yukon, do you have any predictions for specific destinations? 

My house (just kidding!) It’s hard to guess without seeing their full itinerary, but since we are now hearing that Vancouver will be their first destination, I can imagine that whilst in Vancouver they could visit Stanley Park (perhaps if it can be arranged with security concerns take George and Charlotte to the Aquarium?), spend some time on Granville Island (there is an amazing non-profit community Arts studio there that I could see Kate loving) or perhaps a visit to one of our amazing gardens - perhaps either the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden or Van Duesen Gardens for an event. The couple will absolutely be making a stop in Whistler and I could also see them making a trip out to the Island.

I imagine William and Kate will have to balance the children's privacy with the public's desire to see the little prince and princess. How much should we expect to see the children during the visit? 

Unfortunately for us, it is likely very little. We saw George only a handful of times on the Australia trip. We will probably only see them upon arrivals and maybe 1-2 events which have been specifically designed with them in mind. 

There are some in Canada who wish to abolish the monarchy. Do you think this visit could have a strategic angle - getting younger Canadians to feel good about the monarchy again?

This is also a tough question seeing as everyone has such different political views on the matter. I think that no matter your view on Canada remaining or ceasing to be a member of the Commonwealth, you can agree that William, Kate, George and Charlotte’s visit will do a couple of things. One, it will direct the international spotlight on our gorgeous country which I think can never be a bad idea. And second, it will allow the media to focus on charitable patronages in Canada which the Cambridge family will shine a light on with their visit. No one can dispute that Kate has emerged as an international celebrity in her own right. What we’ve noticed in writing the blog for the last almost 5 years is that people are often initially attracted to Kate for her style, but then also learn that she supports mental health initiatives, for example. Then those girls and women take more active roles in their communities supporting charities that align with Kate’s patronages. Those two things can’t be all bad, no matter your position on the Royal Family overall!


Thank you so much to Amanda from What Would Kate Do? for sharing her expertise on the Cambridges with us, and we are counting on full coverage of the royal visit from you! (Fingers crossed you get to see the royal couple!)

Tuesday, August 23

Our Tour of Corus Entertainment (Plus My Girls' Interviewing Debuts!)

While in the big city recently, the girls and I were invited to tour the Toronto waterfront headquarters of Corus Entertainment...and had so much fun!

Since we arrived early (shocker, right?) we spent some time on Sugar Beach (adjacent to the Redpath Sugar Factory) right outside the building. No swimming allowed, but what fun to get our toes in the sand in the middle of such an urban environment!

Once in the building, the first stop was the radio studios - something the girls had never seen before. We caught the tail end of Fred and Mel with Rick Campanelli's morning show on 102.1 The Edge (one of several stations housed at this location) before Olivia and Eva turned reporters and fired some questions at the hosts! (Videos below)

Liv chats with Mel about forging a career in broadcasting, the pros and cons of doing a morning show, and what Toronto attractions she looks forward to visiting with baby-to-be!

Eva asks Rick about kids on social media, whether he prefers hosting on TV or radio, and what it was like to interview one of her favourite stars.

Liv throws Fred some hard-hitting questions about comic books, the appeal of radio, and back-to-school. He is particularly passionate about one school supply...

The hosts were so kind and accommodating - what a great experience for my girls! (Thanks Fred, Mel and Rick!)

While I had some idea about the wide variety of Corus brands (including radio and television), Eva was hooked when she heard that YTV was in the building, along with the Disney Channel. (My favourites would have to be W, HGTV and of course CHEX Television in Peterborough, the first station to let me on live TV!)

As the tour continued, we saw your usual run-of-the-mill workplace fixtures, like the two-storey slide...wait, what?? (I was the official photographer, but I did take a turn myself!)

I thought this double-sided 6-storey indoor living wall was pretty cool too.

Oh, just checking out the screening room.

Taking in the view from one of the decks

Liv's first (time standing beside an) Emmy! "Above all, I'd like to thank my mother..."  
(I can dream, right?)

As always, PR pro Hayley was prepared with fantastic brand swag for the kids...including some timely YTV collapsible lunch kits with sporks, perfect for back to school, and supersoft Disney Channel blankets. Maybe now they won't pull every comforter out of the closet when they're cuddled on the couch watching their favourite shows! 

Thanks for inviting us in, Corus...we had a blast!

Monday, August 22

Family Fun at Casa Loma, Toronto

"North America's only full-sized castle and Toronto's premier historic attraction" - how could we resist the opportunity to take the girls to Casa Loma?

Photo courtesy Casa Loma

We started our self-guided tour on the lower level (full disclosure: because we were hungry and that's where the cafe is!) and worked our way up. The photos really tell the story...

800 feet of underground tunnels connecting two parts of the property - 
so no one back then had to go outside and cross the street!

Downstairs you can also find a display of posters from movies that were shot on location at 
Casa Loma (one of my favourites: Chicago!)

I asked Eva to pick her favourite old car - she went with the Model T!

I wanted to call out, "Rapunzel! Rapunzel!" but I'm on the borderline of becoming an embarrassing mom (because of their ages, not because of anything I've done, of course) so I restrained myself.

Even the gardens are impressive

Of course Liv's favourite place would be the library! This is only a fraction of the books.

A popular event venue - we got a sneak peek at some wedding photography

The fireplace is always my favourite spot in a home - 
and this one has secret passageways on either side! (The kids love that!)

Casa Loma provides a fascinating look at history, and makes a worthwhile class trip destination as well, with school programs running from Kindergarten right through secondary school.

A visit can also spark some interesting discussions about financial decisions. Sir Henry Pellatt had the castle built beginning in 1911 (it took 300 men almost three years to complete) at a cost of $3.5 million. He and his wife Lady Mary only enjoyed Casa Loma for less than ten years before financial misfortune forced them to move. Some of his visions (e.g., the indoor swimming pool) never even reached fruition. (We've decided to be satisfied with our beautiful home - with one percent of the square footage of Casa Loma!)

If you've never visited Casa Loma, it's definitely something to add to your must-see list!

Note: Because there was a wedding taking place, on-site parking was limited when we arrived, but we found a spot just a few minutes away in the George Brown College lot on MacPherson.

Disclosure: We were provided free admission to Casa Loma for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Friday, August 19

Reflections on Running (My Kids' Running, That Is)

Once the first of August arrives, we take the girls out almost daily to practise their cross country running, ahead of the family of schools meet that usually takes place at the end of September.

We start at the high school track for the first few days, so they can get a true sense of the exact distance they'll be required to run (Eva's age group is still at 1 km; Liv moves up to 2 km this year) and then move to the road or local trails.

As I watch them run, I'm often overcome with emotions.

I feel pride in my daughters for their hard work and determination. Rarely (I didn't say never) do they complain, and they're constantly striving to improve their performance. I have to admit I also have a twinge of good-mom-moment pride ("Look at me - modeling and encouraging healthy, active living! Mom points for that!")

However I'm also overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude: first, for my two healthy, happy little blessings who have the ability to get out there and run. When I say prayers of gratitude, I feel like God's response to me (note I said "feel", I'm not hearing voices or anything), is "Yes, your girls are healthy right now...which gives you time, energy and money to spare that you can use to help other kids." So I spend every school year trying to do that.

I'm also thankful for where we live - not only do we have access to a great track, but nice quiet country roads and more beautiful trails than we could possibly hit in one summer.

Plus, I'm even grateful for the holiday time that I have to get out and do things like this with my kids. (Though I'll be honest: I love the movies, plays, restaurants and shopping trips just as much as the sporty stuff. What, you're not shocked?) The free time will change when September comes, which is one of the craziest months around our house...so it's a good thing their coach will be running them at school! (Yes, that's also me.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm no Pollyanna - there are several things I'm worried and stressed about at the moment, but why dwell on those in a blog post? For today, I'm counting my blessings...and I'm not sure I can count high enough.

Thursday, August 18

Kindergarten Advice from Parents and Teachers

With the new school year right around the corner, there are many parents getting ready to send their little ones to school for the very first time.

To help make that big step easier, I hit up my social media friends and gathered words of wisdom from the trenches: from educators, parents and educator/parents...including some faces you just may recognize! (Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section!)


Michele Harrison (mom and Early Childhood Educator)

"Create an environment at home that is conducive to oral language development. Children benefit from being able to take part in a conversation, ask and answer questions, share personal stories and retell stories."


Corrie Bell (mom and teacher)

"My biggest thing was realizing that my little one was more ready than I imagined. The amazing Kindergarten teachers "take it away" and really smoothed all my fears. Have faith in your little one, they will (most likely) exceed your expectations and are in good hands!"


Tracy Moore (mom and host of Cityline)

The fall line of Tracy Moore Designed by Freda's launches on The Shopping Channel on September 10th. Find them on Instagram @tracymoorexfredas!

"We had two different types of kindergarten kids. The eldest walked in shy and reluctant while the little one said, 'Later!' and immediately made 7 friends.

Regardless of the type you have, trust that they are ready to take this step. It's going to be fun, they're going to love it and every transition takes time. The daycare transition was much harder for me and my eldest. He cried so much during drop-offs I got my husband and mom to do it for me. Yes I'm a coward and my heart couldn't take it. But kindergarten was a breeze so just hang on and enjoy the ride!"



Natalie (mom, via Twitter)

"Don't take it so seriously. Don't be upset if your kids don't do what they're 'supposed' to do (read, write, etc.). Don't let the teacher or kindergarten stress you or your child out. I have three kids, and now that they're older I wonder why I stressed when I was told they couldn't use scissors properly or took too long putting their shoes on...they have no problem doing it now!"


Cheryl Hickey (mom and host of ET Canada, also founder of natural, family-safe product company Ours by Cheryl Hickey)

"Well, truth: I am really not looking forward to my daughter starting preschool! So selfish, I know. This means I have to accept she is growing up. That said, this is not about me!
So for her, we will read some books about first days of school to get her excited. I went and got her her first big girl backpack, just like her brother's but in her favourite colour. Then before the school year ended I took her for a play date at the preschool so she will have a good memory of the place on the day. Other than that I will be like every other parent choking back tears...and maybe a G and T that evening!"

Photo credit: @kittyholland


Michelle Green (mom and teacher)

"1. Encourage your child's independence by letting him carry his own school bag and enter the school/yard/classroom on his own, etc. Make him feel proud to be so big and grown up!

2. Send an extra set of clothes for the classroom if the teachers ask for one, no matter how neat and tidy your child is – and keep another set in his/her backpack if there's room (but make sure he/his teachers know it's there). And be sure to replace items as they get used!

3. Talk with your child about asking for help when he needs it. That's what teachers are for!

4. Don't expect your child to come home and tell you everything about his day, or to be able to answer a big open-ended question like "What did you do today?". Instead work on some specific, easy-to-answer questions to get a discussion going and break his day into smaller chunks, and be sure to model for your child by telling him a little about your own day. 

4. Label everything!!"


"In Kindergarten it's many children's first time fending for themselves, so we focused on assertiveness. We asked our kids to tell us ways they can be kind and helpful to the teacher and to kids who are struggling and what to do if other kids are being mean or bossy - we actually role played bullying them to prepare our kids to react in the situation, even giving them a shove and grabbing things out of their hands. It was hilarious and we all ended up laughing but it did come in handy for them as every class has a few out of control kids. Our teachers described our kids as being very helpful in class, and that was a big source of pride for me." 


Kristen Steinberg (mom and teacher)

"Independence skills are valuable as they help the child build confidence in their own abilities. Examples: opening lunch food containers and baggies, wrappers etc., putting on footwear and coats, washing hands (using soap and paper towel). Also social knowledge: listening, following directions, using manners, treating others with kindness, sharing, taking turns, etc."


Monica Lacy (mom and actress)

Monica will next be seen starring as a lead in the upcoming Amazon series "The Kicks", as quirky, idealistic soccer mom Sharon Burke - Watch Episode 1 for free on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Kicks-Season-1/dp/B00Z89OR0W)

"When your little one starts kindergarten, we moms can be overwhelmed with surprising emotions. We're so excited for our child to begin school and all the wonder that it brings, but we're also torn about saying 'goodbye' at the school gates for the very first time.  You're not alone if you feel a mix of thrill, sadness and pride all mixed together.  

1) Remember to project confidence in your child's new teacher and school.  Your child is looking to you for reassurance they are safe and that you are wholeheartedly behind this wonderful place called school.  For nervous kids, you might make a special book or calendar to illustrate how many things are NOT changing, even as one new thing called 'school' is added. The repetition of reading this book together can be very comforting.  For instance, illustrate that you will still be making pancakes in the morning and you'll still be cuddling with their teddy bear, and you will still have bath time and bed time routines every day.  Also illustrate general things that school will entail, like story time and snack time. My son especially needed these reassuring reminders about his day.

2) Expect your kid to come home exhausted for the first few weeks and months.  He/she may even save all their crankiness for you when they get home (mine did!). The many new expectations and challenges take their toll.  Don't schedule any big activities in the first month or so, and give them plenty of time to unwind when they get home each day. It looks easy to us, but being a kindergartner is hard work that challenges them emotionally and physically. Learning to control their bodies, wait turns, and follow directions as well as scholastic pursuits is hard work.

3)  Go easy on yourself too, mom.  There is a reason so many of my friends get puppies when their last child starts kindergarten! We have lots of mothering left in us still, and you are still an indispensable person in your child's life.  Enjoy the journey together."

Photos by Lesley Bryce

While you can find an abundance of school books based on licensed characters (Dora, Franklin and the Berenstain Bears all go to school!), there are many other great books out there to help your child get ready for this transition. Here are some of my personal favourites!

For even more ideas, check out this great article written by a mom and Registered Early Childhood Educator:

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Child Started Full-Day Kindergarten

If there's anything we've missed here that you think could help new kindergarten parents, please leave a comment below!

(P.S. My apologies for the gender imbalance in this post, but no dads replied to me!)