Camping With Kids

I have a very clear memory of my first camping trip. Neither of my parents had any previous experience, but they packed their enthusiasm and our brand new family tent, and away we went. 

We found a campground just outside town and pitched our tent.

Well, I guess we should go for a hike, my dad said. So we left for a trek, while my mom stayed behind to make dinner.

It wasn't long before my sister tripped on a root, grabbed the closest thing she could reach and ended up with a handful of stinging nettle. There was a lot of screaming and an early return to our site. That's where we came upon my mom, who was accustomed to cooking in a wok, struggling to put together a meal.

Camping didn't stick for our family. The tent became a backyard fort, and my parents bought a small trailer so my mom could have her much-needed stove top. Still, I have countless memories of bonfires, marshmallows, and starry nights. 


I went to a very granola-ish university and lived with a gaggle of roommates who knew their way around a campsite. We met up every summer until we started having our own families. Though I was happy to let others take the lead, when it came to setting up tents and cooking over fires, it's a tradition that gave me some of my greatest memories from my early 20s. 

When JB and I started dating, he joined me on some of those camping trips and proved himself to be quite an outdoor enthusiast, too.

In fact, his enthusiasm was so contagious that he convinced me to spend two weeks travelling across Canada with two sleeping bags and a tent—to celebrate our respective graduate school successes. I'll never forget waking up beside him on the stunning Cabot Trail to the sounds of the ocean filling our tiny tent. 


There was never a discussion about whether we would camp with our own kids. It was a given. 

But we weren't immediately confident we could pull it off (read: JB had to convince me). It wasn't until we had two kids that I was ready to give it a try. And despite some long nights with restless toddlers on air mattresses, it has become our all-time-favourite family tradition. 

I recently wrote a short piece for Today's Parent magazine, and heard it provided insipiration for some of my fellow parents.

Let's keep that inspiration flowing. Here's one of our easy-to-make-ahead camping favourites:

Chicken Souvlaki Under the Stars

Marinate (anywhere from one hour to overnight) 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

3/4 cup balsamic dressing

3 tbsps lemon juice

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp minced garlic 

We grill the chicken at home and store in an airtight container on ice until we are ready to prepare it. Then we re-heat over the fire or on the camp bbq. Slice and serve with pitas, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, feta cheese, and tzatziki. ***Veggie friends: substitute with meatless chicken or tofu*** 

So go for it.

S'mores, stars, sun and sand.

Roll out your sleeping bags and take it all in. 


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open door policy

Growing up, our winter breaks were spent hunkered down at home with family and friends. In fact, the only time we boarded a plane as kids was the summer my dad took us home to his beloved Ireland. 

I guess you could say we hibernated. And we never minded it; luckily, neither do my kids.

After a much-too-short road trip to Ottawa to visit family and friends, eat pancakes in the woods, and feed chickadees from our hands, we returned home and threw our door open. And open it stayed for the rest of the week. 


My parents had that kind of home—where everyone came and settled in for awhile. Our kitchen was always loaded with food and the front door was in constant motion. There was never a limit to the number of people or length of stay. We'd pile blankets on the family room floor and live there for days. If our friends had working parents, they came and stayed for the day, and sometimes the night, too. Visits from cousins added more chaos and lots of fun.

I'd like to tell you that growing up in such a house made it just as easy for me to do the same, but hoooo-boy I have my weaknesses. And letting kids be kids is a big one. I'm a worrier and that extends to other people's kids when they are here.

Opendoor#2In the earlier days of parenthood, I found the chaos of a full house very stressful. But I'm working on it. It's important for my kids, I know that. And it's getting easier now that I don't have an infant or wobbly toddler to chase. 

I love the sounds of laughter from every corner of the house and the sight of my children spending time with people other than us. It's those moments that give me perspective or show me a new side of their personalities. 

For five days, we filled our home with people and noise. We sat at overcrowded tables on unmatched chairs and stayed up way past our bedtimes. We drank a lot of wine (the grown ups) and ate SO MUCH dim sum. We played board games and went on walks that got us really, really muddy. 

The week was slow and long, but it was good. 

I'm already looking forward to next year. 

What about you? Do you stay close to home or fly far away?






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Music Was Everything


Outside Avening Hall, last Saturday, it was so cold and dark we could see our breath against the stars. 

We stood for a moment and took it in.

We didn't worry about anyone's hats or mittens.

We felt young and indulgent.

Inside we found 200 other revellers, creaky pine floors, and a warm yellow light coming from an alcove at the front of the room.

Everything was there to welcome Hayden back to the stage. 


Before I met JB, I was traveling the Top 40 highway on cruise control.

That's not to say I didn't appreciate other kinds of music.

There were the eclectic songs of my childhood; a hard core Depeche Mode phase in high school; and a lot of Indigo GirlsSkydiggers and CCR, thanks to my university roommates. 

But with mixed tapes on long car trips, JB led me down roads I would have driven past. 

The first Hayden song he played for me was Trees Lounge. I was drawn to the singer's voice, but it wasn't until I heard Between Us To Hold that I became a fan of the musician.

Hayden's lyrics are simple and relevant. His songs from the mid-90s told a piece of our story. They coloured the back drop of our lives at that time.

We listened while we studied; while we drove; while we sat cross-legged on the floor.

We both knew all the words to every song. 


I won't listen to a new album if I have tickets to the show. I prefer to hear the songs for the first time in a live setting. They resonate more when I can see how they move the musician who sings them. 

This was our third Hayden concert. We had seen him in our first year together, and then again when I was pregnant with our first child. He left the scene for awhile, but then so did we—life and kids, after all. It's only recently we've started to find our way back.

When this song happened, I knew why we were all there.


The year was 1994.

They were cross-legged on the floor...

 Oh those were the days.

When I recorded and I sang,

of the things I knew about back then...

At a time in our lives when

Music was everything.

It was everything.

~Almost Everything by Hayden ~ 


Us Alone will be one of my favourite albums—a new back drop to remind us who we were and how much we are still.

When Hayden played our song for his second encore, I felt the words more keenly than I ever had. I looked for the boy, who held his hand over mine on the strings of his guitar so many years ago, and found him right beside me.

And I knew this night would stay with us always—between us to hold.



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a post about a year


There's been a lot more quiet than I planned for this holiday season. 

The week before the Christmas—the week I was supposed to get EVERYTHING done—the little girls got the flu. And it was the worst I've seen in my 10 years of parenting. We couldn't leave the house. I got NOTHING done. 

And, at some point, I got the flu, too. 

Our Christmas, though still great, was stripped down; our kids were a little less themselves. 

I had high hopes for a festive new year's celebration. Then, JB and I were sucker punched with a his/hers stomach bug. We toasted the night with sparkling ginger ale and managed to stay up as late as the kids.

There isn't much that slows me down. I don't need a lot of sleep and I normally have a lot of energy. Or at least that's what I tell myself. Apparently, my body was trying to tell me something different. 

Quiet is good. I don't give myself enough of it.

This morning, I'm thinking about how I'd like to move forward.

And I'm starting by looking back. 



I wrote a post about lunch boxes and so began an unexpected journey of sharing ideas and photos. It's been a great year of filling the Bentos and being inspired to do better. 


When I read the posts from this month, I see two of my favourites. And I see that I evolved as a parent and writer. I found new perspective and understanding. Our boy taught us a lot this year; he made us better parents. 


Wow—what a thrill! I have the best cheerleaders...look what they did! A gratitude attitude, indeed! Thank you, Canadian Family. I hope to cross paths again this year. 


I wrote a post about the importance of friendship in motherhood and I thought it would be a good fit for BlogHer. They did, too. Let's keep our fingers crossed they'll want more.  


I don't realize that I'm getting too comfortable in my comfy zone, until I jump out of it. And jump I did (and grapevine and groove). What an exhilarating and memorable moment. I can't wait to do it again.


Music is such a balm for me. My itunes collection is a treasure. Since landing in the blogging world, I've discovered so many new artists (please keep posting) and it inspired me to start sharing. I launched a new category called REPEATER. Tune in and turn it up. 


After meeting this speaker, I absolutely knew I had to share his message with all of you. I approached Michael Reist, asked him to read some of my work, and then asked if he would help me give his newest book to you. He said yes (!). And so, this post was written and you received it with so much heart that it still brings me to tears. 


This month started with the discovery of my first strand of grey hair. But I didn't let that slow me down. We hit the road for another amazing road trip (we take them every single summer, no matter how many babies we have). I also partnered with Yummy Mummy Club for a project I could put my heart into—with three daughters to raise, strong female role models are essential. We are surrounded by many.


Back-to-school and back to Bentos. A time for new beginnings and a time to say good bye. I wrote about closing a chapter of babyhood and it was featured on The elation I felt at seeing my byline on their website definitely helped to soothe the sadness I felt about letting go. 


BLISSDOM! And, as expected, I learned and learned some more. Heck, I even took a picture beside a guy whose voice I would love to challenge to a voice-off (What, you don't know about my awesome radio voice? I'm putting a Vlog on my to-do list). I want this space to give: familiarity, comfort, perspective. I am working hard to make that happen and putting myself in a room filled with bloggers was wise.


A middle-of-the-night wake-up call. Somehow (thank the stars, the moon, the milky way), I am parenting with someone who makes the right decisions when I can't. And he did. I knew this night would stay with me always, but the story from Newtown weeks later burned it into my heart. 


On the 12th, I accepted a fun challenge from a fellow blogger. I documented one of our days in 12 photos. I posted it that night and 12 hours later, I heard the news from Sandy Hook Elementary. When I go back and look at those photos, I feel something I can't entirely describe. But there's gratitude. Definitely gratitude. 


I like to picture my 2013-self sitting at a decluttered desk, wearing a look of creative determination. I like to imagine the ways I might reach each of you and maybe cross your hearts. Thank you for looking back at my first year in this space; I hope you'll stay with me as I move ahead. 



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