A day at Calypso with the kids

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We had only been to Calypso once since it opened, and that was two years ago. Ever since, the kids have been asking to go again because they loved it so much. For a million reasons, we never made it a priority. I promised them we would go this summer and so on my very last free weekend before school starts back up, we got there - and it was fantastic!

What we loved

We aren't really a speed demon family and we have outgrown the little kid section of the park, so we stuck to a few attractions that provided endless entertainment for all five of us.

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* Jungle Run lazy river - this tame lazy river almost never has a wait and my kids could have happily just gone around and around without every stopping for hours at a time. This probably shouldn't be surprising based on the fact that they would spend hours in tiny hotel lazy rivers, but they really enjoyed this and it was one of our faves of the day.

* Kongo lazy river - this is the more exciting "lazy" river and we waited the longest. The line-up got too long for us by the end of the day. It's super fun and worth waiting for at least once or twice while you're there, though! You float atop a tube and get to see all kinds of fun Kongo scenes and get pulled around through faster and slower parts, wavy parts, spraying parts, etc. I cheated and went through the inner tube so my feet could be on the ground and I could control how likely I was to end up with a bucket of water on my head (not my favourite!)

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* Wave pool - the wave pool is amazing, but also intense. I won't let my kids go in alone and I won't let them go in without life jackets. It's got REALLY big waves and there are hundreds of people in there. I do feel it's well monitored with at least 10 lifeguards watching closely, but I still wouldn't let my kids in this pool unattended. With parents and lifejackets though, the kids LOVED the wave pool and getting thrown around by the waves. 

* Family twisters - there are four small slides that are very anti-adrenaline and younger kid friendly. My kids are too big for the kiddy area but these slides are just the right place for a bit of sliding without worrying about their stomachs dropping out from under them on the bigger slides. The lines are relatively short and we can just sit at the bottom while they go up and around many many times.

Pro tip

Reserve a table in the shade when you get there. We got there when they opened and had no problems finding a table. A couple of hours later I saw quite a few open tables, but by early afternoon they were hard to come by.

It seemed to be pretty standard procedure to leave your stuff at a table and have it unattended for the day. We were happy to have a table to come back to to for eating and drying off, or just to take breaks and cool down from the really hot sun.

Many people in the park had coolers (you can go back out to the car and grab it when it's time to eat) and bringing your own food makes the day more cost effective. (Seeing all the coolers in the park made me think we should have a post about how to pack a cooler for a family day out too - that kind of stuff always overwhelms me so I skip it and spend a fortune on food ;) 

Word of warning

You cannot wear shirts on the slides at Calypso - including swim shirts. It's not very prominent on their web site or very well explained. It meant my daughter, who I put in a swim shirt to protect her from all-day intense sun, couldn't ride any of the bigger slides. For many of the boys (and some girls too, though my daughter didn't feel comfortable doing this) they can just take the swim shirt off for the slide. Instead my daughter had to skip some of the slides she really wanted to go on because we brought the wrong swimsuit.

The cost

The price for Calypso is not inexpensive. My twins JUST qualify for the small pricing and by next year will be in the tall pricing, meaning that for our family of 5 to attend the park it will cost us at minimum $250 + tax to get in, plus $10 for parking and $10 for a locker. 

That's why I'm very tempted by their current promotion for $40 off yearly passes if you buy before the park closes for the season on September 4th.
$89 for small (From 1m to 1.32 m) and $109 for tall (1.32 m and over) is just over the cost of attending twice next year, and if you buy this year you can try to squeeze in one last hurrah before they close!

The kids deemed this the most fun thing we'd done all summer, so I call that a major win. We'll definitely be back next summer!

10 Back to School Hacks for Parents

The start of the school year means the return of a regular routine as well as a busier schedule with the addition of homework, extra-curricular activities, and sports. September, especially, can be overwhelming and stressful for many families, including my own, but I have found some back to school hacks that have helped make the transition from summer to school a little bit easier.

Back to school hacks for parents

1) Prepare breakfast the night before

My daughter does not last on cold cereal alone, so when possible I try to prepare a hearty breakfast beforehand. Whether it is cooking an extra large batch of pancakes on the weekend and freezing them, baking muffins, preparing berries and fruit that can be easily thrown on top of yogurt with granola, or preparing a pot of overnight oatmeal in my slow cooker, knowing I have a plan and have prepared a hearty breakfast saves time and fills bellies with a lot less stress. Websites, such as this one, offer many nutritious and easy-to-make breakfast recipes that can be prepared the night before.

2) Keep sticky notes handy 

School days are busy days and I am constantly saying to myself (or whoever is around to hear me), “Oh, I must remember….” And as soon as I say it, I forget it. Put sticky notes and a pen in your kitchen, on your nightstand, in the family room and anywhere else you’re known to have a brilliant moment that you know will vanish as quick as it came if you don’t write it down. Your memory (or lack there of) will thank you later.

3) If you don’t have a wall calendar – get one!

I don’t know how families survive without an old-fashioned wall calendar. Everyone in my family contributes to our wall calendar with birthday party dates, weekly activity times and anything else that everyone in the family should know about. We have ours hanging on our pantry door – a place everyone goes into and will see.

4) Keep your schedule top of mind

Take a picture of your weekly calendar and set it as your locked picture on your smart phone. It’s a fast and simple way to know what time you have to pick up who where, and a quick way to know what’s going on that week should someone ask you if you’re free.

5) Empty and fill backpacks as soon as you see them

Make looking for notes from the school a priority as soon as everyone gets in the door – either have a central bin and ask the kids to make sure permission slips and school forms that must be signed and returned are put in there on a daily basis or have a daily dumping of the school bag. Then sign the forms and have your kids put them in their bags right away. As this becomes part of your after school/work routine, you may notice less and less forms go missing (unless they get eaten by the school bus on the way home, which often happens in this house). ;) 

6) Google Translate is your friend

My daughter is in French Immersion and although I speak a little French, I cannot speak it well enough to help my daughter with some of her homework. So, I use Google Translate a lot – on my laptop and on my iPhone. So, if you don’t speak or read French (or English or any other language) well enough to keep up with your kids, get the Google Translate app on your phone – you can take pictures of documents and it will translate them for you. Time saver extraordinaire!

7) Schedule date nights (way) in advance

Book a night a month solely for date nights – no matter what. It doesn’t have to be a weekend either. If Tuesdays are better for you than Saturdays, then make Tuesday your date night! The same should also be done for self-care appointments such as massages, beer nights and girls night out – it’s important to step away from the every day and have fun away from the kids, regardless of how busy life is.

8) Batch cook or get an Instant Pot (or both)

Similar to planning and preparing breakfasts in advance, batch cook suppers so you have home cooked meals in the freezer that can easily be thawed and cooked when you need them. Meal preparation places, such as Supperworks make meal planning simple and can ensure you have nutritious meals every day of the week.

Similarly, the addition of an Instant Pot can save you valuable time on weekdays. We have one and I love that it can cook a whole chicken in 45 minutes and hearty soups in 30 minutes. It's my favourite kitchen appliance.

9) Don’t be afraid to set limits and stay within them

It can be easy to say yes to everything and then feel overwhelmed by all the commitments. If you can’t fit parent council meetings into your schedule or can’t make it to a book club meeting during busier times, don’t feel guilty about it. Be honest with yourself and those around you about what you can and cannot do. No one can do it all – and no one is, despite what you may think.

10) Remember Netflix is waiting for you

My favourite day of the week is Friday. It’s an evening of wine and Netflix with my husband. So remember, quiet moments will come and go throughout the school year, and they are there waiting for you despite the chaos and stress that comes along with the return of another school year.

What are some of your back to school hacks?

Playing and Learning with PlaSmart

Do you have a Plasma Car? We got one when they were at the height their popularity, and it's one toy that has stood the test of time in our house. Now at 7 and 4 years-old, my girls are still playing regularly with the car (in the winter, they drive the car around the kitchen and dining room!)

I've since followed PlaSmart Toys with interest, as I love the type of toys they distribute here in Canada. I was super excited to get the chance to review a couple of new toys here on the blog. First up - Catch and Learn! (stay tuned to the blog as I'll soon be reviewing a fort building toy)

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Catch and Learn is an educational game where kids get to "fish" for the answers to mathematical or alphabetical problems. 

The game comes with 10 dry-erase fishies, a dry-erase marker and a retractable magnet fishing tool. The kids get to make up whatever game they want (we've done adding, subtracting, multiplication and spelling) and write the answers on the fish.

I love that this game can be used for different ages, and my 4 year-old has as much fun with it as my 7 year-old. As with the Plasma Car, this is a game that keeps getting brought out.

The only potential issue? The fishing line is retractable, and therefore a TON of fun for the little ones...fun to the point that they like to tie the retractable line around various things in the house. Then Mommy spends a lot of time untying knots. But I will say - despite the abuse this little fishing line has taken, it has not broken!

Head over to our Facebook page, and enter our contest to win your own Catch and Learn toy!!

Do you own a PlaSmart toy? What do you love about it?

Disclaimer: in exchange for this review, we were provided with the Catch and Learn toy. All opinions are our own

Little Ray’s Reptiles : An educational outing

One of the things on my daughter’s summer bucket list was to visit the baby sloth at Little Ray’s Reptiles. So, I took a morning off work to go with her and my mom. Apparently my mom and my daughter went last summer as well, but this was my first time visiting.

We arrived at Little Ray's Reptiles just as the doors opened at 10 a.m. There was a summer camp in session and a school bus pulling in with another camp dropping in for a field trip. Needless to say - there were a lot of people in Little Ray's that day.

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The building was VERY warm. An employee came by to apologize and let us know the air conditioner had broken; however my mom noted that it was just as hot in the building the last time they were there, last summer.

The adorable baby sloth (three months old) yawning

The adorable baby sloth (three months old) yawning

I was a bit surprised that Little Ray’s would be fully air conditioned because I remembered when the Canadian Museum of Nature had their reptiles exhibit, with similar reptiles native to tropical climates, that they had to ensure the exhibit was separated and the doors closed to keep the exhibit warm and humid at all times. When I looked it up on their website, they mentions an air ventilation system that should keep the building at 20 degrees. Regardless, if you go, be prepared for a warm, tropical-like temperature inside the building.

What kinds of animals are there?

Little Ray’s has many (over 150) different species of animals, frogs, snakes and reptiles to look at and learn about. My daughter stopped to try and find each one in their habitat (like a “Where’s Waldo?) as well as read about them. She was very impressed by the size of the resident alligator.

Little Ray's Reptiles

Little Ray’s Reptiles also has an outdoor area with a few rabbits, a lynx and bald eagles. Apparently there is also a kangaroo, but he wasn’t outside when we were there. It took us about an hour to tour the building, as my daughter likes to stop and learn everything about the animals. There were many toddlers and preschoolers there at the same time as us who enjoyed looking at the ferrets and frogs as well as the rabbits.

A lynx at Little Ray's Reptiles

The Live Show

The main attraction is the live shows in which staff takes out various creatures and share facts about them with the audience. When we were there my daughter got to hold or touch and learn about a tarantula, a scorpion and a cobra snake. They also brought out the baby sloth, but because we had a rambunctious, busy audience there was no touching the sloth, just looking and photos, which was enough to satisfy my daughter’s love of sloths.

While my daughter had a great time during the show, I would have liked to have seen the pace of the show move a little faster. I love that the handler takes the time to give everyone who wants to hold an animal a chance to, but I wish there had been a second person who continued to teach. This would help little ones - who often have a shorter attention span - from getting restless and wanting to walk about when they have been requested to sit down. The group we had also would not stop talking, which made it hard to hear what the handler was saying. Some ground rules regarding talking, etc. prior to the show would have made it more enjoyable.

Holding a tarantula at Little Ray's Reptiles

What you need to know

  • You can expect to spend about an hour and a half at Little Ray’s Reptiles – more if you plan on staying for the live show, which really make it worth your money.
  • Little Ray’s Reptiles is a privately funded zoo and a member of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and has more than one location.
  • General admission is $12.50 for adults, $10 for seniors, and ages two and under are free. There is also a family rate of $48 for 4 people.
  • There is free parking in the parking lot in front of the building, as well as along Bank Street. The day we were there was quite busy, so they had a staff member directing traffic and making sure those parked along Bank Street were safe.
  • Summer Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week (from May long weekend to the September long weekend)
  • There is a gift shop
  • There is no place to eat there, but there are restaurants located nearby in Findlay Creek (including a McDonald’s.)

My daughter loves learning about animals - if your have a child with a passion for animals then they will probably love Little Ray's Reptiles too!

Five ways to keep kids entertained at a cottage

We’re a cottaging family and spend at least two weeks at cottages every summer.

The packing list for the cottage may be long, but based on my years of cottaging with children I thought I’d make a list of my five favourites for keeping the family entertained.

I realized after writing it that my list falls to the less sporty type family so you may want to include some type of sporting equipment or balls or something too ;)

5 ways to keep kids entertained at a cottage

1) The super noodle

If you’ve ever been in a lake with children you know that, regardless of how well they can swim, their favourite place to be is attached to you. This is okay when you can stand up, but once you’re in water above your head, it can feel a bit like you’re about to drown. I quickly figured out that I needed multiple noodles in order to keep myself and a child up above water, but once I found the super noodles from Costco I was sold on spending $20+ on a noodle.

The super noodle will hold me and at least two, sometimes three children above water. It will even allow me to stay mostly above water as children catapult themselves off docks and into my arms. 

My general rule with the super noodle is that adults always get them first, as the only reason we invested in them is to help the adults stay afloat with the children who will undoubtedly try to sit on top of their heads while they’re trying to tread water. When all the adults are out of the water I’m willing to share and let the kids experience the fun of the super noodle too.

2) Child sized kayaks

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We previously wrote about kayaks on Kids in the Capital and I still think they are one of the best investments if you go to a cottage with any regularity. They cost about $100 and I have seen children as young as four master them really quickly.

Kids can spend a lot of time just trolling around close to shore while you supervise, the ones who are a bit more nervous about swimming out further or who just are less inclined to swim a lot can kayak themselves to floating docks, and you can go on a family kayak ride. Note: make sure you have some kind of towing rope on your kayak or theirs and an easy way to attach the kayaks together. I often end up towing kids back, but it’s well worth it to have had them kayak independently to start.

3) An art kit

Arts and crafts are a must at the cottage - especially for rainy days or quieter evenings. We come up with all kinds of projects while we’re at the cottage and many include crafting.

·      Painting rocks and sticks.

·      Scavenger hunts.

·      Simple paintings and drawings.

·      Creating a memory game.

·      Box monsters.

4) Books

Adults and kids alike bring many books to the cottage. We have comics and novels and activity idea books.

You’ll find people reading in hammocks, in bunkbeds, and sitting by the lake.

We’re a bookish family so we may lean a bit more heavily to the books than others, but I think the cottage is a great time to get a lot of great reading done – make it part of what you expect at the cottage! The Ottawa Public Library allows you to take most books out for three weeks (and they can often be renewed for another three), which is usually a perfect length of time for a cottage vacation.

5)   Lego and puzzles

Some kids are less outdoorsy than others – I have one like that in particular. While they might love it if we’d let them play on electronics all day, that’s simply not an option. Instead we make sure there are Lego or 500-1000 piece puzzles to play with. These cottage projects are perfect for the kids who want to stay indoors while the others are in the lake, and they are great for quiet creative time.

We can rarely find an activity that all five of us want to do at once, and now that our kids are a bit older (with our youngest being 8) we’re able to simply accept that we can split up and do what each of us wants to do. Having lots of options for every personality type has really helped everyone enjoy their time at the cottages.

What are your cottage must haves to keep everyone busy and entertained?