Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Family Travel is All About New Experiences in St. John's

I love to travel, and I wish I could do a whole lot more of it. Depending on your preferences, travel can bring rest and relaxation, adventure, learning, quiet time with family, or even some combination of all that. Whatever your inclination, travel is always a break from the every day and a chance to experience something new.

Because my parents and extended family live in Newfoundland, and my boys are being raised here in Ontario, we have made a lot of trips "back home." It's important to spend time with the grandparents and cousins for sure, but I also want my boys to have a feel for my home province, and to experience some of the things I knew growing up, that are important to me. I needed them to spend time on the North Atlantic, smell salty air, see whales breech, hear the music, and eat the food. When we go to Newfoundland, my kids have experiences most kids growing up here in Southern Ontario just don't get. I think great benefit of family travel is exposing our kids to special experiences and new ways of viewing the world.

Of course, it is funny to see their reactions to things I've taken for granted, like icebergs. If you haven't grown up with icebergs, the first time you see one in person is pretty spectacular. It’s true they are amazing and beautiful, but while growing up in St. John's, icebergs just mean a stretch of bitterly cold weather with the winds blowing in across them for weeks. Ugh.

This is a picture of the first iceberg our eldest ever saw. He and his dad went out on a whale tour from Bay Bulls. It was June and the ice was "in," as we say. I think this was a first for both of them actually, and they were thrilled to be out on the water and get close to it. Boo saw it from the shore. He was a little too young to appreciate the tour, so we stayed back. However, on that same trip, we were able to experience another truly Newfoundland event — capelin rolling in at Middle Cove Beach.

Ever heard of capelin? They are small fish that come ashore to spawn on the beach. And when the spawning time arrives, they come in huge numbers, rolling up on the beach in waves. This leads to huge numbers of people heading to the beach with nets, bags, and buckets to catch them. It's quite the scene, and there's always lots of excitement when the capelin start to roll, with updates shared widely on the news, and now on social media. Boo was thrilled with the fish all around him, squealing with delight as he held them while they squirmed and flipped.

Most years, it's just me and Boo heading home and we stay with my parents, but when we go as a family we stay in an IHG St. John's hotel. That's always fun for kids too, especially when there's a pool. If you’re travelling as a family, I recommend always picking a hotel with a pool and a good family-friendly restaurant. Boo's favourite restaurant is East Side Mario's, and with their location in St. John's at the Holiday Inn, it makes the hotel an even greater choice for us. The pool features an awesome water slide, plus there's a playground just down the road at Kenny's Pond Rotary Playground. Local playgrounds provide great, free fun when you are looking for a low-key day. Check out this online listing of St. John's playgrounds and skate parks to locate one near you.

Things to Do in St. John's

I could likely write a book on what to do with the kids in St. John's, but here are a few top choices that have been given the “Boo Stamp of Approval” after many years of visits.

Middle Cove Beach
Middle Cove Beach is Boo’s happy place. A pebble beach on the North Atlantic, just a few minutes outside St. John's, with lots of parking. There's a little stream to splash in, as well as the ocean, but no swimming is allowed because of the currents. There are lots of rocks to climb (his favourite!), and if you are lucky you might catch the capelin run. It's a well-used beach, so not great for beach combing, but we often find sea stars, urchins and jellyfish. It’s also a popular spot for bonfires at night. (FREE)

Ocean Sciences Centre
The Ocean Sciences Centre is a research facility of Memorial University. During the summer they run a public education program, with a touch tank set up outside the building. The touch tank is home to numerous local sea creatures, including crabs, urchins, sea cucumbers, sea stars, scallops, and more. You can touch and hold the creatures, and interpreters are present to answer questions and teach you and your children about these wonderful creatures. Be sure to visit the three harp seals that live here as well. (FREE)
Middle Cove Beach and the OSC - do these on the same day 
The Fluvarium provides insights into freshwater life. Located in Pippy Park, on Nagle's Hill Brook, this facility has 9 large viewing windows where you can watch brown trout in their natural habitat, underwater. There are also tanks with other freshwater fish and amphibians, plus an extensive display on the upper level where you can learn about water ecosystems and watersheds. (Admission fees apply)

Cape Spear
Just a short drive outside of St. John's, I consider Cape Spear a must-do. Cape Spear is the most easterly point in North America. Take a picture with the sign and explore the WWII bunkers and cannon. I also recommend hiking the trails and visiting the lighthouse. Humpback whales are known to frequent the waters off Cape Spear as well. (Site access is free, admission fees for lighthouse entry)
On Signal Hill

Signal Hill
Come see the spot where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message in 1901 (and then Instagram it to make a statement on advances in communications technology), hike the trails, climb to the top of Cabot Tower, and take in the stunning views of the city and the ocean. Signal Hill has a long military history of guarding St. John's Harbour, dating back to the 17th century. Be sure to walk out to the Queen's Battery and barracks and see where and how the soldiers lived in the 1800s. (Site access is free, admission fees apply at the Visitor's Centre)

Johnson GeoCentre
This is a geological interpretation centre, built into the 550 million year-old rocks of Signal Hill. It offers a fascinating look into the geological history of our planet, fossils, volcanoes, how earthquakes work, and more. There are permanent exhibits on the Titanic and the oil industry, a playroom, and film screenings. Boo has always loved the displays of geodes and semi-precious stones, as well as spraying water on the exposed rock wall to bring out the geological features. (Admission fees apply)

Where to Stay

The numerous hotels in St. John's include two with InterContinental Hotels Group. The Holiday Inn St. John's Conference Centre is located in the centre of town, close to bus routes, walking trails, and two ponds. Each room has a small fridge, which is excellent for families, plus they have a selection of suites with kitchenettes or a kids' area with bunk beds and an extra TV. The Holiday Inn Express & Suites is located right next to the airport (still a short drive from downtown — everything is close in St. John's). Again you'll find a mini fridge in your room, and both locations have free wi-fi and a pool.

About IHG
IHG is a global organization of hotel brands including Intercontinental® Hotels & Resorts, Kimpton® Hotels & Restaurants, HUALUXETM Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels and Resorts, Hotel Indigo®, EVEN® hotels, Holiday Inn® Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Express®, Staybridge Suites® and Candlewood Suites®. IHG also manages IHG® Rewards Club, the world’s first and largest hotel loyalty program with more than 92 million members worldwide.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own or those of my family. I love my home town :)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Get Back to School with Giant Tiger #GTBack2School #foryouforless

How's your back to school shopping going? I haven't done much, and likely won't until after he starts next week. I like to know for sure what he needs before I go out. We are lucky that his backpack is in great shape still, and he still has plenty of lunch stuff. The school still supplies a lot of the consumables he would need, and we have tons of pencils and markers and such.

But clothes are a bit of an issue. After a summer of shorts and short-sleeved tees, it is time to find out just how much Boo has grown and just how much of his ankles and wrists remain uncovered by his fall wardrobe. This kid is tall and skinny to begin with, so it's generally a struggle to find pants long enough for him, and always has been. Summer is a blessing when you kid has such long legs and such a skinny waist!

Over the years I've sourced out certain stores/brands that work for him, and others I've learned just don't. Somewhere I've never shopped? Giant Tiger. Turns out - their pants fit!! GT sent me a box of back to school goodies, including a mix of clothes, supplies, and lunch box items. And I'm realising that this is another great one-stop shop where I can get bunches crossed off my list in no time.

For the record? The Giant Value jelly beans are awesome - fantastic and varied flavours. A few of those in the lunch box will make a great treat when he goes back. And I think the pencils are fun, with the coloured wood.

These are the camo sweatpants they sent for him. Size 10, which is what he should be wearing, and they actually touch his feet and even bunch a little. They are bigger in the waist, but they cinch in with that tie. Soft and cozy, great, trendy look, and they fit. We didn't get jeans, but on a recent shopping trip I noted that the GT jeans are designed with an adjustable waist, which I appreciate. So much easier than adding a belt.

Giant Tiger has added three new lines of kids' clothes. Boys & Girls sizes 2-6x have the durable and affordable Monkey Bars; Girls sizes 7-14 can check out the "creative, cool and confident" Bella & Birdie. And for Boo and the other boys in the 8-16 range, they have Survival Gear. The tagline is "Fun, Fearless, For Adventure." I would characterise it as skater-style influenced. It's urban and fun, with camo splashes. Perfect for Boo's tastes. And with $4 tees, $12 long sleeves, and $18 jeans? Perfect for mom's wallet too.

This new top has a lot going on. Love the "No Limitations." This will look great under his jean jacket.

Of course, a good day at school starts with a good night's sleep, and Giant Tiger has fun night wear as well. What do you think of this onesie?

He was skeptical when I pulled it out for him to try on, but then he was hooked. It is super soft and cozy, and I'm a little jealous. Again, the length works great for him. He actually changed into this after getting a shower the next day and lounged in it for hours. He kept commenting on how comfy it was. That night he slept like a log in it.

Happiness Guarantee

With the addition of these new, exclusive lines, Giant Tiger has also brought in a very special Happiness Guarantee. If for any reason you or your child change your mind on the clothes you buy them, if they outgrow or outlast the clothes, return the item along with the original receipt for a full refund. Giant Tiger stands behind the quality and value of their garments, which helps me feel confident buying there.

What about you? What do you (or did you) find the hardest about shopping for Back to School?

Disclosure: Giant Tiger provided a box of complimentary BTS goodies for us to try out. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own or those of my family.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Mom's Guide to Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO has been with us now in Canada for about a month, and it just seems to get more popular each day. There's also been a number of safety concerns expressed and many memes and much mocking of the players and their obsession with the game. If you're still concerned and wondering if this is something your kids should be playing, please read on for this mom's take.

Now, for the record, I downloaded this app the day it became available. Our eldest was Pokemon obsessed back when he was small, so there are a lot of memories attached for me. Plus I like to keep up-to-date. Boo was not initially interested, although he is a Pokemon fan. He heard so many stories of people staring at their phones and walking into things after it launched in the US, he thought it was a silly game. Until he started playing it with me. Yep. I'm that strange mom who got her son hooked, instead of the other way around. Please tell me I'm not alone? Pokemon GO has a lot of positives, and I believe the negatives have been overstated.

You don't need to stare at your phone. This is a big one, so let's get it out of the way right from the start. In spite of all the stories of people running into poles, walking into a lake, or not paying attention crossing the road, there is no reason to keep staring at your mobile device while you are playing this game. You are looking for three things basically - gyms, Pokestops, and Pokemon. On your screen is a map, and on that map you will see all the nearby gyms and Pokestops long before you come upon them, so a quick glance every couple of blocks will suffice. If you are entering a gym or accessing a Pokestop, you stand in one place, so no worries. What about the Pokemon? Well, your device will vibrate and/or make a sound when one comes into range. At that point you can stop and check your device screen. It's all about common sense.

When you see a gym on your map, just touch the symbol and it will bring up this information, even if it is out of range for you to interact with it. The description tells you where it is, in this case, at the public library. Easy!

Family Time. I have been seeing so much of this. Families out walking together after dinner, engaging the kids in the quest to "catch 'em all." It's motivation to plan a family hike, or simple stroll through the neighbourhood. It provides a goal the family can work on together. And it's fun for everyone. Bonus - if you are like us and have a huge age gap between kids, this is something they can bond over and enjoy together.

Get active.  This one seems obvious, as you have to get out and walk around to find the Pokemon. But even more than that, there is a specific aspect of the game that acts kind of like a pedometer. You can receive Pokemon eggs, either by levelling up your avatar or at certain Pokestops. These eggs are like surprise bags and will hatch into a mystery Pokemon. Which one? You won't know until it hatches! And here's the active part - you hatch the eggs by walking. Yep. While you are walking with the app open, the GPS on your device tracks your distance covered and this is used to hatch the eggs. They require 2, 5, or 10 km each, and you can see how far you've walked in the app. The excitement of adding a surprise Pokemon to your collection is motivation to keep moving. Just 0.3 km left? Let's keep going!

To hatch an egg, place it in an incubator and start walking.

Explore new places. Definitely a bonus, certain types of Pokemon are more likely to be found in certain areas. Looking for a water type? Your best bet is by a river or at the beach. We went to a local beach to find a Magicarp because Boo wanted one. Our neighbourhood has tons of Drowzees (big everywhere in Toronto it seems), Zubats, and Pidgeys. Also Jinx, which is rarer. If we stay in our neighbourhood, we will continue to see the same Pokemon. But if we go to a new park across town, or head to the Zoo, we'll find different varieties. As a family you can plan a series of outings with this in mind. We got a bunch of Sandshrews at the Zoo, but have never seen them anywhere else, as an example.

Learn about your area's history. This one is related to the last one. Pokestops have been created at landmarks, like statues, murals, churches, community centres, and historical plaques. Not every Pokestop you encounter will have educational value, but you can learn some local history, and maybe take a closer look at public art you've just walked by in the past.

Meet people. I love this one. While you may think of Pokemon Go as inherently non-social, as it ties you to your mobile device, it actually leads to many fun encounters. Boo and I recently paid a visit to our Optometrist to get his glasses fixed, and then we decided to wander around the area to catch some Pokemon. We saw so many other kids, teens, and families doing the same thing, and even joined a gym battle with some teen boys. Everyone was saying hi and comparing notes. Likewise at Edwards Gardens last week. There was amom and her two kids there, playing for the first time. Boo taught the kids some tricks, and I had a lovely chat with the mom. Pokemon GO can bring people together and maybe even spark up new friendships. It may even help shy kids break out of their bubble.

A photo posted by Deb Coombs (@raisingmyboys) on

Maxi is a huge Pokemon GO fan, because it means extra long walks for her.

A photo posted by Deb Coombs (@raisingmyboys) on

These Drowzees are all over my neighbourhood.

What do you think? Have you played? Are there other quesstions you have that you'd like answered? I can certainly try to help you out!


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