My Favourite Breakfast: Homemade Flax Granola

I am so hooked on my Flax Granola and can hardly believe that I had to choke it down when I first got the recipe in May.  The recipe is from Lyn-Genet’s book The Plan.  The flax granola itself does not have much flavour, but by the time I load it up, it is yummy and very enjoyable.  It is super easy to make and an absolute staple in my diet. I do try to change-up my breakfasts because I feel that it is important to do so, so I tend to switch it up with an omelette a few times per week.  After the initial 20 days on The Plan, Lyn suggests only having the flax granola twice per week.  I must say that I generally have it at least 3 – 4 times per week, so I guess I should cut back. I haven’t “tested” oatmeal yet, but will definitely do so to see if porridge might be another suitable breakfast option for me during the cold winter months.

Homemade Flax Granola Recipe

1 cup whole flax seeds
1/2 cup water
Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves to taste (I use a very generous amount of all the seasonings).
Raisins, almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, etc. to taste.
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional, but I use it)

Mix the flax seeds with the water and seasonings.  Refrigerate overnight.  Remove from the fridge and spread in a thin layer on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour.  (I line my baking sheet with parchment paper to avoid sticking).  Stir every 20 minutes.  Optional:  Add the fruits and nuts during the last 10 minutes.

flax granola

When I make this, I use all of the recommended seasonings and the vanilla, but do not add any nuts or berries.  However, when I eat the granola for breakfast, I top it with fruit and nuts.  This is my favourite combo:

1 cup of flax granola
1/2 a chopped apple
chopped raw almonds
cinnamon sprinkled on top (generous amount)
Rice Dream in lieu of milk
At times,  I have even microwaved the flax a bit and served the granola warm….mmm.

flax granola with apple

The Facts About Flax

flax seeds Flax seeds offer many health benefits.  They are high in Omega-3’s, calcium, and protein.  I cup of flax seeds has 40 grams of protein.  They also contain mucilage which supports digestion and helps to give your intestines a “clean sweep”.  Lyn mentions the importance of using flax seeds over ground flax.  Eating whole flax seeds help to cut down on the risk of absorption of the estrogenic properties present in flax.  Flax has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health and there is evidence that it offers anti-inflammatory benefits as well.  Due to the anti-inflammatory benefits, flax can also be considered a possibility for helping to reduce the risks of cancer and other inflammatory conditions.


Farmland Flax Cookies

flax cookies

A colleague made these flax cookies a few years ago and shared the recipe.  They were very good, but I have not yet made them myself.  Here is the link to the recipe.



If you love to share your thoughts and interests and would like to get paid for doing what you love, do what I did and find some experts to mentor you. Click here to learn how a novice like myself was able to quickly learn techniques and strategies for blogging effectively.

Hot Oatmeal Breakfast Sundae

The kids are back to school, but I was lucky enough to have my day off land on the first day back, so I get one extra day all to myself. I decided to treat myself to something I don’t indulge in too often anymore ~ a Hot Oatmeal Sundae!

What is a Hot Oatmeal Sundae?

Well, oatmeal has been a breakfast favourite for decades, but I have to admit it was not one of mine. A few years ago, I pretty much forced myself to eat “porridge” as I had read about how good it was for you. I had to play around a bit to find a way that I could eat it without actually gagging. Honestly, the consistency did not agree with me. Eventually, I not only developed a love of hot oatmeal, but it actually became one of my favourite breakfasts.

Hot Oatmeal Breakfast Sundae:


  • cooked oatmeal (I just use the Quick Oats and even opt for the microwave version if I don’t have the time to prepare it on the stove top. (In this case, 1/3 cup oats to 2/3 cup water with a pinch of salt for about 2 minutes)
  • a bit of milk to create a texture/creaminess that suits your tastes
  • Sundae toppings of your choice (walnuts, pecans, chopped dates, blueberries, apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, pure maple syrup, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc.)

There really is no right or wrong way to make this, but my favourite consists of hot oatmeal with milk stirred in  and topped chopped dates, apple, chopped walnuts, cinnamon and a sprinkle of both chia and flax seeds. I generally don’t need any sweetener as the dates make it sweet enough. If you do opt to add sugar or syrup, do so sparingly. This is so yummy and a great way to serve oatmeal to kids. It is fun to set out a little of tray of toppings and let them build their own Breakfast Sundae. Enjoy! (I don’t think I need to actually say this, but I will. If you are thinking, “Oh, that’s just like those little flavoured packages you can buy!” Let me make this perfectly clear. It is nothing like those packages, this is a delicious way to incorporate a medley of fresh nutritious foods into your breakfast. I always add items that add extra protein because I believe it is very important to have ample protein with every meal.)

P.S. You may be wondering why I began the post by saying that I don’t eat this often…..Did you know that Lyn Genet-Recitas lists oatmeal as one of the 7 “devil foods” in her book. She includes it on the list because so many people believe that it is a healthy choice when it is actually reactive for  85% of the population. I am okay with it, but I know that it is not a completely friendly food for me, so it is a once in a while treat for me. Go figure? I force myself to eat it believing I should be and now have to limit my intake because it actually causes inflammation in my body. In her book, THE PLAN she states:

…inflammation is the underlying factor behind all disease and health issues.

Although oatmeal has been identified as a food that helps lower cholesterol, that is only true for those few people who do not have an inflammatory response to oatmeal consumption. That is really the trouble with nutrition these days, no one really knows what to eat anymore. Foods seem to bounce from the Superfoods list to the Devil Foods list and it is difficult to know what the best choices are. Again, I really think it is worth the time and energy to figure this out for yourself as everyone reacts to food differently.

Pineapple Smoothie #2

I’m determined to find a pineapple smoothie that can be my new “go to” breakfast drink. I tried out another recipe this morning and so far it’s ranked number one. I liked it more than the first, but I’ll continue to try out a few more.

Pineapple Strawberry SmoothiePineapple Strawberrry Smoothie #2


1 cup frozen pineapple

1/2 cup fresh strawberries

3/4 cup coconut milk (1.5 grams of protein)

1 to 2 Tablespoon of chia seeds (2 T. is 4.4 grams of protein)

Dump the ingredients in a blender. Mix well and serve. The coconut milk and chia seeds add some protein to the shake. I really enjoyed this smoothie. It was lighter than the first recipe which included both banana and yogurt.

My Thoughts:

I think I’ll continue to play with a few more recipes, as I feel like I still need more protein. Although I enjoyed this version more than the first, I was quite hungry by mid morning.

An egg has 6 grams of protein and my favourite breakfasts are usually 2 poached eggs on one slice of whole wheat bread (about 15 to 16 grams of protein) or a 3 egg omelette (18 grams of protein). I find that a high protein breakfast really sets me up for the day and I’m definitely missing this in my shake. I know I could throw some protein powder in, but my preference is to try and get the protein more naturally. When writing this post, I actually pondered the idea of tossing a raw egg or two in my shake just to boost the protein. I thought I’d look into it a bit and found this great article on Mark’s Daily Apple that suggests the protein in eggs is actually more digestible when the eggs are heated. The thought of raw eggs doesn’t really turn my crank, so I think I will continue to look for other sources and stick with cooking my eggs.

I love peanut butter and would even consider eating a Tablespoon of it along side my smoothie to knock my breakfast protein up by 4 grams. My daughter often adds peanut butter to her smoothies, but I only like peanut butter combined with certain fruits. A chocolate peanut butter smoothie sounds wonderful, but it also sounds more like dessert than a healthy breakfast shake.  I’ll keep you posted as I continue to test out more recipes.

Fighting the Post Christmas Blahs

I am not sure about you, but by the time Boxing Day rolls around, I seem to be suffering from the post-Christmas blahs! The crazy weeks of preparation, late nights and poor eating habits all come crashing down and I wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a semi-truck.

If there is one thing that I can be certain of it is that I absolutely need my sleep and my body functions best with 8 to 9 hours per night. For many, if not most, going to bed at 11 or midnight is the norm, but for me it is very rare that I stay up that late. A great game of Settlers or Canasta can definitely lure me into the wee hours of the morning, but other that I am usually off to bed before 10 with 9 being my favourite time to hit the sack. I do find with the kids getting older and staying up later, my 9 o’clock bedtime is becoming much less frequent and more of an occasional luxury. This month has been crazy busy and I found myself collapsing into bed after 11 most nights.   All of those late nights and lack of sleep have certainly taken their toll. My eyes are super puffy with big bags under them and my stomach has been uncomfortable for days.

Fighting the Blahs with the Plan

The PlanThe great news is, that I know just what to do to get back on track. The thing I love the most about The Plan is that I have already determined many of the foods that are “friendly” for my body. Throughout the holidays it is difficult to be in complete control of what you are eating as you are often out and about.  I have previously done several posts regarding The Plan and how impressed I am with Lyn-Genet Recitas’s book. I know this is the time of the year when so many are making New Year’s resolutions and planning to shed the Christmas pounds or get back to the gym. Lyn’s book is “hands-down” the best source I have come across. I love that The Plan does not tell you what you can and can not eat, but rather teaches you how to discover what foods work for you and which foods don’t. It is completely different for every individual and allows you to have the control over  your own body and how you feel.

Here are some of my previous posts in which I have referenced The Plan:

The Plan and Prosperity

Calorie Counting and Intense Exercise

Chocolate: The Inside Scoop

The Power of Water

Relax, Don’t Do It

My Favourite Breakfast: Homemade Flax Granola

Getting Back on Track:

Here are a few simple tips for getting back on track quickly:

  • Get a good night’s sleep, 8 hours if possible
  • Adequate water intake ~ drink the number of ounces equal to half your body weight (compensate with additional water if you have coffee or exercise as both cause dehydration)
  • Get back to foods that you know to be friendly for you (Note: I don’t say healthy foods)

The Devil Foods According to Lyn

One of the biggest pitfalls that we fall into is assuming we are eating well because the media has told us what “super foods” we need in our diets to be healthy. One of the most fascinating parts of Lyn’s book is learning that your “go-to” healthy foods might be causing the most havoc on your body. Lyn refers to the following 7 foods as the “Devil Foods” because so many people are “reactive” to these foods. Basically, this means that the foods cause your body to react and set it into an inflammatory state which often results in weight gain as well as other symptoms.

  1. Oatmeal
  2. Salmon
  3. Asparagus
  4. Tomato Sauce
  5. Tofu
  6. Black Beans
  7. Turkey

The list of Devil Foods is quite surprising to most. Most of the items on her list were regular items in my diet. I believed that salmon was a super foods and we had it once a week faithfully. We often chose ground turkey over beef, believing it to be a superior choice for healthy eating. Asparagus is one of our families favourite vegetables. Not really the foods you would expect to see on such a list. The point is not that these are bad foods, but more so that people are consciously choosing these foods believing that they are making a healthier choice when in fact some or all of these foods can be highly reactive for many people. So, the result is that roller coaster of weight gain and loss.  Have you ever been eating super “healthy” and still gained weight or would lose a few, gain a few. That happened to me all the time, but as soon as I read this book I knew why. Although I have discovered other foods as well, I have discovered that I am highly reactive to many types of fish. We ate fish one to two times per week and for me, a small fillet of fish can cause me to gain up to 2 pounds within 8 hours of consuming it. So you can see how you could be eating really well, but every time you consume that reactive food, you jump back up a few more pounds.

Is The Plan for You?

If you struggle with your weight or even just want to get off those last few pounds, I swear, this is what you have been looking for. I am not going to lie. The first 20 days take quite a bit of commitment because you need to get your body into a “friendly” state, so that you can test foods and get accurate results. However, once you begin to discover the keys to success, you will always have that knowledge to go back to. The Plan doesn’t prevent me from eating anything at all, but it just helps me to read my own body better, make better choices that work for me and most importantly, have the tools to get back on track when I derail and know I am in a reactive state.

My Staple Salad Courtesy of the Plan

This is my absolute favourite everyday salad. I never tire of it and it is really delicious and super easy to make. The dressing is courtesy of the The Plan. I make a batch of dressing every Sunday and it lasts all week.

Lime Agave Vinaigrette

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup water
1 Tablespoon Herbes de Provence
1 Tablespoon agave nectar (you could probably use honey as a substitute, but I always have agave on hand)
Optional: 1 clove garlic, crushed (I am sure fresh would be better, but we buy the big jar from Costco and I use that in it)

Mix and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 Individual Salad:

  • a bed of greens (either baby Romaine or Spring Mix)
  • 1/4 of an avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 of a Granny Smith apple, chopped
  • few thin slices of purple onion
  • a handful of raw pumpkin seeds

This salad tastes like “summer” to me, but is great for any time of the year. It is light, yummy and looks incredible. We will be having this salad for dinner tonight with some left over Borscht. Mmmm good!

If you are interested in learning to blog, do not miss this opportunity to learn how the pros blog with a revolutionary new blogging platform.  Click here to learn more.

Communication: The Key to Avoiding Disappointment

Happy Birthday to Me! Yummy Chocolate Mousse Cake

Today I wanted to share a recent discovery I made. It’s really so simple that it seems ridiculous, but since it took me 52 years to figure it out, I thought others might find it speaks to them as well. So let me preface this by saying that I am in no way bashing my husband and kids. I love and appreciate them very much! I know some are going to read this and judge me for posting this, as it may not reflect too well on me, but as I get older I realize there is great freedom in being honest and real. So like it or not…here goes.

Mother’s Day and my birthday both land in May. Over the past few years, I have found that I am often left feeling a bit disappointed on both occasions. I found myself really battling these feelings, believing it was super selfish. I would literally fight this “edge” in my mood all day on both occasions. I didn’t really know or understand why, but for some reason I always felt like my family didn’t really understand what was important to me. I never really stopped to ponder it much, but just knew neither were highlights for me. Anyway, this year a friend alluded to the fact that she too dreaded Mother’s Day and we discovered our experiences/feelings to be much the same. In our conversation, she shared that her new strategy for creating a better experience was to simply tell her family exactly what she wanted/needed to make her Mother’s Day great (or at least better). It seemed so simple and yet a bit radical at the same time. It really got me to thinking. Here are a few observations I made about my own feelings and situation:

  • My mom passed away before we had children, so my kids have never seen me honour my own Mom. We all know how powerful role modelling is and they have not seen that modelled in any way.
  • My husband worked nights and weekends for most of our marriage and thus was literally never around on Sundays. When I really stopped to consider this, I realized that my husband never had the opportunity to dedicate this day to me, just as I had never done for him. Now don’t get me wrong, we always acknowledged the day, but it was often with a card, perhaps a gift and a very quick dinner between him getting up at 5 and leaving for work at 6 pm.
  • When the kids were younger, I created my own Mother’s Day tradition which basically involved attending a beautiful Mother’s Day service at church. Tim would be sleeping all day in preparation for work, so it was just a given that I would have the kids and it would basically be a typical day in every way other than perhaps a “Happy Mother’s Day!”, exchange of cards and sometimes gifts. I was okay with this because that was just the life and schedule we had, but perhaps always felt a bit slighted.
  • Last year (2019) was probably the first Mother’s Day that Tim was off and it never really dawned on me that we had no Mother’s Day and Father’s Day traditions. We had never really established a pattern for celebrating and I think that I somehow expected more and was thus left disappointed.

My Revelation:

As a teacher, it is my job to teach the lesson, explain the assignment and set the criteria. As I got to thinking about my disappointment and bad attitude, I realized how impossible it would be for my family to meet my expectations and avoid disappointing me, if they really had no idea what I expected/wanted. So, with my friend’s strategy in mind, I decided that I was going to test this out two weeks later when my May 24th birthday arrived.

I know I have shared about The Five Love Languages before, but it really warrants mentioning again. I think what every person really wants/needs is to be and feel loved. The problem is that not everyone experiences/feels love in the same way. When we speak different love languages it can feel a bit like communicating in a foreign language….full of misunderstandings, confusion and hurt. One can feeling like they are pouring their heart into someone and it seem to always fall short….it is all too common we speak different languages of love. According Gary Chapman, there are 5 basic love languages:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Quality Time
  4. Giving Gifts
  5. Physical Touch

Although we all have varying degrees of each of these, there are generally one or two languages that you primarily communicate with. So for example, Acts of Service is my number one love language. If I want to show someone I love/care for them, I am most likely going to step up and do something for them…..bake their favourite cookies, iron their shirt, help clean their room, etc. I show I love them by serving them in some way. Likewise, this is how I feel most loved. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love and appreciate a beautifully wrapped gift because I do, it just isn’t my primary love language. My family can best communicate their love by doing a job for me, spending quality time with me (doing something that I LOVE) or offering words of affirmation. For me, these three are stronger modes of communication. (To figure out someone’s love language, simply watch to see how they demonstrate love for others. This is always your best indicator.) So what was happening for me was that my family was giving me gifts and/or cards, but what I really needed was an act of service or a sign that they really understood me.

So, with all of this new understanding of why I was feeling disappointed, I made a declaration. A few days before my birthday, I told my husband and kids exactly what I wanted for my birthday. At first it felt a bit weird to be dictating exactly how I wanted my birthday to go down, so I kind of made a game out it. I also explained my discovery and how unfair it was for me to judge them if they had no idea what my expectations even were.

The Birthday Experiment

Of course, everyone’s version would be different, but I thought I’d like to give this concept of setting the criteria a whirl and see how it turned out. Below pretty much sums up exactly what I told them in the days leading up to my birthday experiment.

  1. I wanted everyone up and out of bed for online church without moans, groans or arguments. Why? Because it’s important to me and “It’s my birthday!”
  2. Think about something that I LOVE and invite me to participate. “I know you don’t love board games, but I DO and you love me, so just maybe you are going to ask me to play a board game with you! Why? Because IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!” How about a walk? A bike ride? It’s not about you and what you feel like doing… it’s all about me because “It’s my birthday!”
  3. What kind of job can you do for me without being asked? The best way you can show me how much you care is by doing something for me. Of course, I gave them some examples of this as well… make me a cup of tea/coffee, make a meal, unload the dish washer, literally any job that needed to get done….show me the love!
  4. Going out this year wasn’t a great option, so I told them what I wanted for dinner as well.
  5. Finally….I announced that I would be making my own cake. I think my husband was a bit caught off guard by this one, but here’s what I said. I don’t like or want store bought cake. I LOVE homemade cake, but I never, ever get a homemade cake on my birthday. It is always bought. I would much rather bake my own cake. I love dessert/birthday cake and if I’m going to consume those calories, it is my birthday and I want to choose how to spend them! And just like that….I got the exact cake I wanted.

So, in a very fun loving, yet direct way, I told my family exactly what my expectations were for my birthday and guess what…..BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!! Everyone got up for online church without complaint…yay!! I got some hugs and happy birthdays as well as a few cards with wonderful sentiments written inside. Tim prepared a wonderful breakfast of bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, toast and coffee without even asking me what I wanted…he just went for it. After a lovely breakfast, my dad and I played a few games. Later, Tim asked me to go for a walk. (More quality time!) Just before dinner, Shay came and asked me if I wanted to play a game or two…YES!! Tim picked up a few groceries, did some needed yard work and together we prepped dinner. (More acts of service.) I didn’t mind helping one little bit because my love tank was full! After dinner, my dad and I played a few more games while we waited for Eden to get home from work. She arrived home and we had the homemade cake I made with no Happy Birthday song…also my request. We ended the evening with a family game of Rummoli! I went to bed feeling like I had hit the jackpot. You may be thinking that didn’t sound so amazing….that’s because our needs are all unique, but my point is that I truly discovered that the key to avoiding disappointment is simple…..clearly communicate what your wants and needs are. (You may or may not have noticed I didn’t actually receive any gifts which was totally fine because it is not my primary love language. However, both my husband and kids did in fact give me gifts that arrived after the date…and both were super thoughtful….a book from one of my favourite authors (that I didn’t ask for) and a special hand painted coffee mug with my dog Hershey on it!)

As a mom, I feel like I always try to practise this for everyone else’s birthdays already…by asking questions…What do you want for dinner? What gifts would you like? What kind of cake shall I make? and so on, but after having such an amazing day, I also told my kids and husband to think about what would really make them feel special on their birthdays and to communicate it. Maybe I too was missing the mark. Why do we often make things so complicated? I can’t believe it took me 52 years to figure this out, but it did. I think we just want the people we love to figure the answers out, but why risk hurt feelings and disappointment. It just seems so much easier to set the stage in a loving and respectful way.

I want my kids to know how to honour others. Someday they will be married and they need to know how to show that love, honour and respect to their spouses. If it hasn’t been modelled and/or taught, how is a person supposed to know what to do. So to all you moms out there who go out of your way to make everyone else feel special…how about letting your loved ones know what they can do to make your birthday and/or Mother’s Day even better. Good luck!

I would love to hear from you. Maybe I’m one of few that feel this way about Mother’s Day and birthdays or just maybe this post speaks to you. For me, it was so freeing to finally stop pretending and truly enjoy my day – selfish or not! Tell me your story!

Road Trip 2015: Chapter 7

We stayed in the Los Angeles area for the following two nights. We had booked a room in Reseda, California which is just north of Hollywood. It was a good location for the attractions we wanted to take in and the prices were significantly less in this area. It was safe, the rooms were clean and the price included a simple continental breakfast.

Day 15: Hollywood Tours

I had pre-booked two Hollywood tours with our “Go Cards” prior to our trip. We wanted to do a third, but they didn’t take advanced reservations. We got up early and headed for the Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour. It was excellent! All of us enjoyed it. The tour was very informative and although we didn’t have any actual “star” encounters, we thought it was really cool to see some of the props/sets from our favourite shows and movies. There was lots of memorabilia set up for both Batman and Harry Potter, as well as various other shows and movies. We got to see the various Batmobiles used in the movies. The kids got to go on the set of one of the shows they like to watch and we had a family photo taken on the “Friends” set. We sat on the couch in Central Perk in the exact same spot where the cast used to sit and listen to Phoebe sing “Smelly Cat!” So fun!

When we were reminiscing about the trip, Tim and the kids agreed my acting debut in “Gravity” was their favourite memory. At Warner Studios, part of the behind the scenes tour demonstrates how a movie is pulled together from costume design to filming. Near the end, you have an opportunity to get filmed in front of a green screen using props from either Batman, Harry Potter or Gravity. We all went our separate ways and although I wasn’t too keen, I didn’t want to be a party pooper. I chose the “Gravity” scene mostly because I thought it looked easy and there was no line. Once in costume, I quickly realized two things. First, how the space helmet accentuated my overly small head and second how difficulty it is to act when nothing is really happening around you. (It’s all pretend when you are using a green screen.) You can watch yourself on the screen as they are filming the short clip and even though my “director/coach” was talking me through and telling me how to react, by my own confession, it was the sorriest case of acting you’ve ever seen. When everyone finished, we headed to the viewing area where you could purchase the videos/photos of your experience. I told my family how bad mine was, but everyone said the same thing. It wasn’t until my video played that we all almost died in hysterics. I was soooooo bad! In the words of my husband….”Well, let’s just say you’re no Sandra Bullock.” We had lots of fun and my acting expressions/moves became the brunt of many jokes for the remained of the trip. It was super funny! In all honesty, we later regretted not buying my video just because it was so hilariously bad. Fortunately, I think the visual of that awkward “Gravity” scene is forever ingrained in our memories.

After the Warner Bros. tour, we left Burbank and headed to Hollywood Boulevard. I had booked a “Behind the Scenes” walking tour through Red Line tours. It was a one hour walking tour and despite the record high temperature of 103 degrees, it was excellent. Through the tour, we learned about the history of Hollywood with stops at the Egyptian Theatre (where the “Hollywood” phenomenon all began with the first ever movie premiers), the Chinese Theatre (with the hand/foot prints of the stars) and the Dolby Theatre which is home to the Oscars. Did you know the Dolby Theatre is actually located in a shopping mall ~ who would have guessed? Of course, it was also interesting to see our favourite stars on the Walk of Fame and learn some of the history and interesting facts about them. Did you know that anyone can nominate a star, but the nominations are put through a selection process and the stars that are picked are approached to see if they actually want one. Many popular stars have actually declined and do not have stars such as Angelina Jolie, Clint Eastwood, Julia Roberts and George Clooney. They decline for different reasons and although I’m sure money isn’t one of them, it does cost the stars $30,000 to have a star placed on the Walk of Fame.

We had planned to take a “Hollywood Homes of the Stars” tour, but it was hot and we decided we’d much rather head to Santa Monica Pier for the evening. We had to have our tickets scanned before the 5:30 cut-off, so we headed over, got our wrist bands for the Pier midway and then headed south to explore Venice Beach. Venice Beach is really something to see. It is a totally different experience than Santa Monica Pier where there is more of an upscale feel. Venice Beach is hard to describe. The beach is beautiful and the boardwalk is lined with little kiosks and it has kind of an artsy vibe. People wander in and out of the t-shirt, skateboard and jewelry shops along the walk. There are also many people set-up along the beach selling their own handmade wares, henna tattoos and various knickknacks. Street performers and buskers are in abundance….some talented, but many not. You never quite know what to expect. We were captivated by one street performer, who despite his foul language, was hilarious and attracted quite a crowd. His “talent” was stepping on and lying down on broken glass. It wasn’t really the act of bravery that captivated his audience, but rather the hilarious delivery leading up to the actual performance. We also were witness to one of Los Angeles “Snapchat” highlights for the day. Police had cordoned off an area around a bicycle on which a swarm of wasps had made themselves at home over the course of the day. So weird! We loved Venice Beach and all the people we encountered.

After a few hours at Venice Beach, we headed back the few miles north to Santa Monica and enjoyed a full evening of fun on the Pier. The Pier is always really “rockin”’” with the midway rides and the various street performers lining the pier. The wrist bands are around $28 for adults, so again, it was nice to have this included with our “Go Cards”.

Day 16

Hollywood SignAfter several days of being on the go, we packed up the van, checked out of the hotel and decided to only do one attraction on our final day. We all felt a bit done. We headed back to Hollywood and did the Tour of the Homes of the Stars (by LA City Tours) that we skipped the day before. I had just done a similar tour in February with another company (Starline Tours) and must say I found this one to be much better. Our tour guide was very knowledgable and we had way better views of the homes. The tour in February had a very fast talking guide who was hard to follow and the tour mostly consisted of driving by and seeing the hedges that hid the homes. Many of the homes are well protected and hidden, as you’d expect, but surprisingly the tour with LA City Tours seemed much better. We got great views of several homes and upscale communities that we didn’t even pass through on the previous tour. We wanted to take the open top van, but with temperatures soaring, we opted for the 3 hour tour in the air conditioned van. It was comfortable and enjoyable.

Following the tour, we began our journey north. Although we still had a week to go, we had not booked any accommodations for the last leg of the trip. We weren’t sure what time we would get away from LA and didn’t want to rush our drive up the coast to San Francisco. Tim and I had done the Pacific Coast drive many years ago and we really wanted the time to enjoy it without being stuck to a schedule. The trouble with this is that you risk the possibility of paying more for lodging than you would if you were pre-booked. We only drove as far north as Camarillo, California and then decided to shop for a few hours at the outlet mall before settling at a hotel for the night. Again, the shopping wasn’t great, sales were marginal at best and with the poor exchange rate, it just didn’t make sense to do much shopping.

Road Trip Extraodinaire: 22 states in 17 days

I’m going to apologize up front. This post is super long and that’s why it has taken me an eternity to get it up. I’ve tried to really give you a sense of all that can happen in such a short time when embarked on a well planned road trip. The map gives you a quick look at where we went, so you don’t have to scroll through the entire post if you’re not interested. If you find a location that interests you, scroll down to see if there is anything we found or learned that can help in your own planning.road trip extaordinaire

In August 2011, our family embarked on a 19 day road trip. We travelled across 22 states in our old 1999 Dodge Caravan.  Our round trip took us across prairies, through rolling hills, and vast greenery to the Eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean.  We passed through the Appalachians, the swamps of Louisiana, the dry Texas plains and the beautiful Ozark mountains.  After 9600 km and almost 100 hours on the road, we arrived home with memories that we’ll cherish for a life time. Of all the vacations we’ve taken as a family, this is the one that stands out for all of us. The endless hours we spent together in the van talking, laughing and listening to music were truly special. Of course, we did many cool things while away, but our time on the road was just as valuable and memorable as the excursions.

We stayed in 9 different locations along our route and spent extra time exploring many of the cities and towns, we stopped in. Below is a list of the places we stayed along our route.

  • Whitehall, Wisconsin
  • Worthington, Ohio
  • Beckley, West Virginia
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Kissimmee, Florida
  • Monticello, Florida
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Eureka Springs, Arkansas
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Day 1:

We left Winnipeg, Manitoba early on the first morning and drove to Albertville Outlet mall. We stopped and spent a few hours shopping before continuing on to our first destination. We arrived at the Oak Park Inn Bed & Breakfast in Whitehall, Wisconsin.  Linda was an awesome host and the inn was very quaint with beautiful gardens surrounding it. The inn is certainly not posh, but it’s super quaint, clean, family friendly and very affordable. We enjoyed our stay and the hosts so much that we stayed with them again in 2013. Oak Park Inn

Day 2:

We left Wisconsin and enjoyed a beautiful drive through the hills and forests of Wisconsin. I especially loved seeing all of the beautiful old barns that were speckled through the country side. The architecture of many of them was quite different from what you would see in Manitoba. We continued our journey to Worthington, Ohio. This was one of the few places where we stayed in what you would consider your “run of the mill” hotel room for the night. After a long day of driving, we crashed for the night at a Holiday Inn.

Day 3:

The next morning, we got up and ate a good breakfast before making the short trek to Columbus, Ohio where we spent all day on at the Columbus Zoo. This zoo was made famous by former zoo director, Jack Hanna. It was an incredible zoo and an experience that will never be forgotten. Believe me, it was like no other trip to the zoo.

It was a very hot day, but despite the heat, the animals were really active and entertaining. Tim had a “stare down” with a gorilla that had major attitude and it “flipped him the bird” not once, but twice! The polar bears put on quite a show during a mid afternoon down pour and engaged in an impromptu diving contest. It was so amazing and fun to watch. The red masked mandrills were quite entertaining as well. Let’s just say they provided a live display depicting exactly how babies are made!! The Columbus Zoo certainly did not disappoint … it was quite an adventure and a day full of laughter.

We ended the day by clocking up another few hundred km. Adding a few hours of driving at the end of a long day may seem a bit crazy, but it gave us a chance to reminisce about the day and relax after spending hours on our feet in the hot sun. It also alleviated a few hours of drive time from the following day’s journey.  This was one of the few nights we didn’t pre-book as we weren’t sure how far we’d make it after a long day at the zoo. We ended up finding a hotel room in Beckley, West Virginia.

Day 4:

We continued our drive through the gorgeous mountains and lush greenery of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.  We were intrigued by the many signs along the road for  Lewisburg, WV and decided to make a pit stop and check out the town. Although we didn’t spend much time there, we drove down the main drag and a few of the residential streets. The town exudes character and was voted on of the coolest small towns in America. If we ever travel this route again, we would be sure to make the quaint town of Lewisburg one of our destination stops.

We ended day 4 in Savannah, Georgia. We had pre-booked The Marshall House,  an incredible hotel located in the historic district of Savannah. It was built in 1851 and most of the original structure has been preserved.  We were awe-struck by the hardwood floors, original doors, mouldings, staircases, etc.  It was our favourite hotel of the trip!!

That evening, we went out for dinner and enjoyed a beautiful dinner on the waterfront. It was my first time eating Fried Green Tomatoes….mmmm good!  On our way back to the hotel, we came upon a street party celebrating the 92nd birthday of Leopold’s Ice Cream. Of course, we couldn’t participate in the festivities without actually trying some of their famous ice cream. Delicious.

Days 5 and 6:

We spent the next two days exploring the city. Savannah was established in 1733 and its history is reflected in the incredible architecture.  The layout of the city is also very unique, as there are “town squares” every few blocks. The squares  were once business hubs, but now mostly serve as parks.  The kids had a blast running through the fountains in Ellis Square. It was really hot, so the cold water was very refreshing! We also took a guided tour of the historic district in a horse-drawn carriage. It was really interesting to learn about the history of Savannah and some of the homes that are around 200 years old. Crazy!! It is a beautiful city and was a definite highlight of our vacation.

A short drive from Savannah is Tybee Island. We set off early so that we could spend a few hours at the beach before taking off for our next adventure. The kids loved playing in the waves from the Atlantic Ocean, but unfortunately Eden’s retainer was swept away in all the fun!

We left Tybee Island and drove about 4 hours to Cape Canaveral, just in time to board the Orlando Princess for four hours of deep-sea fishing.  We had signed up for the Florida Groupon and were able to pre-buy the tickets at a great price. The ocean was very calm when we left, but a few hours in, we got caught in a squall.  The waves were huge and at times the boat seemed to stand almost vertically before crashing down the other side of a wave. It was a super rocky boat ride, but somehow we all dodged sea sickness and it only seemed to enhanced our adventure!  Of course, the most memorable part was when the “boys” made their big catches and solved the dinner problem for the next few nights. Tim caught a delicious mackerel and Shay hooked a shark!  We got to keep both, but had to toss back the numerous other fish that were deemed too small to keep.

We drove the last leg of our trip and arrived at our condo in Kissimmee, Florida late in the evening.

Days 7 to 14:

We had rented a condo that would serve as our home base for our week stay in Florida. During our time in Florida, we did a variety of touristy types of activities. We had taken the kids to Disney twice before, so although we did spend one day enjoying the parks, it was not the highlight of our trip. Here is a bit of a summary of what we did.

  • We spent the day at Aquatica, and on this trip everyone was “big enough” to try all the watersides. Our kids love Aquatica and deem it their favourite water park. What fun!!
  • The next two days were enjoyed at Universal Studios.  Eden was more cautious and opted out of most of the thrill rides, but Shay was more adventurous and joined us on most of the coasters and other attractions.  The water rides were a big hit with the whole family, as the days were very hot.  Despite the crowds, the lines moved quickly and both days were great fun!
  • We decided to take a day to enjoy the pool at the condo, shop Downtown Disney and go miniature golfing at Pirate’s Cove.  We had a great time golfing, and Tim and I reminisced about the first time we had golfed there, about 20 years prior.  I must admit I had the most fun because I waxed Tim and the kids!! (I’m very competitive.)
  • We could only squeeze in one day at Disney, so we splurged and got park hopper passes.  The kids participated in the Jedi training at Hollywood Studios.  We hit all of our favourite thrill rides at both Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  It was a long day, but great fun!
  • Our last day in Kissimmee was spent at the Discovery Cove all-inclusive resort.  We spent the day snorkelling and swimming with a variety of tropical fish, stingrays and of course, the highlight, dolphins.  We got tomeet Kylani.  She had great personality and enjoyed our hugs and kisses!   Kylani’s aunt (a full grown dolphin) let us hold her fin and took us for a ride.  It was a truly awesome experience and a day we’ll never forget.


After a wonderful day at Discovery Cove, we got back on the road to begin our return trip. We stayed at the John Denham House in Monticello, Florida. The home was built in 1872 and oozes with character.  We had a peaceful sleep in the infamous “blue room” despite the fact the home was named the “2nd most haunted place to sleep with a ghost” in USA Today. The 12 foot ceilings and massive pocket doors made Tim look like a dwarf in comparison.

Day 15

We drove along the Gulf coast and saw first hand the lingering devastation of “Katrina” (2005) along the deserted shore.  We arrived in New Orleans on the 6th anniversary of the hurricane.

Once in town, you couldn’t help but enjoy the music and excitement of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.   We stayed in the beautiful Hotel Monteleone which was built in 1886.  Tim and I had Po’boys at Mother’s and of course, we stopped for coffee and beignet at Cafe du Monde.

Days 16 and 17

From New Orleans we headed West to San Antonio, Texas, where we spent two days.  We stayed at another lovely bed and breakfast – Bonner Garden.  This grand Italian Villa was built in 1910.  During our stay, we spent time in the private pool, took a guided boat tour along the famous river walk, and visited  The Alamo. Bonner Garden was a great place to stay, but I understand it has been permanently closed.

Days 18 and 19

We began our return trip by driving north through the Ozarks to Eureka Springs, AK (one of our favourite places).  I’ve added a link to the Eureka site, but if you Google Eureka Springs images, you’ll soon see why we love it! I first heard of this quaint one of a kind town in the early 1990’s. Tim and I stopped there for the first time over 20 years ago and instantly fell in love with it. I think this was my fifth trip through Eureka Springs. I absolutely love, love, love Eureka Springs.   For more on Eureka Springs, check out this articleOf course, we stopped at Bubba’s BBQ for their famous ribs before heading to our hotel.  (If the truth be told, this is one of the reasons we stop here.) To be honest, the hotels we stayed in were not really that nice, but we were doing the “historic” theme and decided to try two iconic Eureka hotels: the Basin Park and Crescent Hotel. They were fine, but would probably stay elsewhere next time. There are many lovely choices in Eureka Springs.

Eureka Springs must be one of the quaintest towns in North America.  It is nestled in the Ozarks and the streets and buildings are built right on the side of the mountain.  The town is very old and each and every building tells a story of long ago.  It is home to many artisans, and the main street is lined with unique little boutiques.  We spent our day getting “old time” family photos taken, visiting the Thorncrown Chapel and “Quigley’s Castle”, shopping, eating at “The Dog house” and having the best dessert ever at “Peace, Love and Cheesecake”. The town is just so cool…lush trees, hilly townscape, incredible architecture, character homes and unique boutiques and eateries… really has it all. In fact, Eureka Springs would make a great road trip destination as there is so much to explore in the area.

Day 20

From Eureka, we headed to Kansas City, where we spent several hours shopping at the outlet mall. We came back to the van to find a note under our wiper that said, “Go Jets Go! from a fellow Manitoban”.  We had an awesome burger at FIVE GUYS and then continued driving to Sioux Falls, SD.  It took much longer than expected because sections of the interstate were still closed due to spring flooding.  We arrived in Sioux Falls very late and got a room for the night. We tackled the last 7 1/2 hours the following day, and arrived home around 5 o’clock on the 21st day of our trip.

Despite the many hours spent in the van, the memories and experiences have been unparalleled to date. There was so much packed into those 3 weeks. Again, I say to you…..take the plunge and plan a road trip. There truly is nothing like it. For more information on why road trips make the best family vacations and the steps to planning a successful trip check out my previous posts.

11 Steps to Planning a Successful Road Trip

Why a Road Trip?

11 Steps to Planning a Successful Road Trip

Road TripIn 2011, our family embarked on a fabulous 17 day road trip. I’m pretty organized and must say that the thought of spending endless hours in the vehicle with two young children both excited and terrified me. At times, I thought the whole idea was ludacrist, as we couldn’t seem to make it across the city to piano lessons without a royal battle commencing in the backseat. We had been on many 4 hour drives to my hometown and although the kids did occassionally “fight”, it seemed like scooting around the city was more of an issue than when we were in “vacation” mode. I was cautiously optomistic, but the teacher in me decided that the best way to ensure survival was to plan lots of activiites for the van. I can honestly say I must have spent about 50 hours or more planning this trip. Some of the time was well worth the effort, but some was an absolutet waste of time. Let’s just say I learned a lot from planning that first big trip.

At the time, our kids were 9 and 7. They owned iPod shuffles that had their own music on them, but did not own or have access to any kind of “device” to occupy them with video games, so it was up to me to figure out how to fill the 100 hours we expected to be on the road. Yep, that’s right 100 hours, (10,000 km) in 17 days!  Our days on the road averaged at around 7 to 8 hours per day, but we did do a couple of 11 hour days as well as some short trecks as well. The trip was packed with long days of travel, pit stops and lots of adventure.

Planning the travel details like the route, places to stay and major attractions was well worth the time and effort. Likewise, the bit of research I did about the 22 states we travelled through kept us entertained and counting down the miles to the next stateline. The kids were intrigued by the fun facts and trivia we learned along the way. I also think it helped that the places in which we stayed were in some way intriguing in and of themselves. We stayed at several Bed & Breakfasts, many of which were historical homes with lots of history. The kids enjoyed meeting the owners and learning about the homes and towns we visited, just as much as Tim and I did. I really strived to stay away from the hotel strips and find quaint little towns or neighborhoods within the areas we wished to stop.

On the flip side, the crate full of activities I researched, made, purchased and collected was for the most part an absolute waste of my time. I had travel bingo games, card games, sketch books, books to read and numerous other activities. The crate full of “time killers” was big, took up lots of room and was virtually untouched. I totally underestimated my kids. There were exactly two conflicts/meltdowns on the trip….and both were after long days during our week stay in Florida (not on the road). There was not one single dispute or complaint during the entire drive. I did make the kids passports with the intention that we would collect ticket stubs, stickers, etc. along the trip to add to their passports. I thought this was a great idea (and still think it is), but we honestly just kind of forgot about them, as we were too busy having a great time! The sketch books and maps were the two things the kids used.

11 Steps to Planning a Successful Roadtrip:

  1. mapMind Set ~ set the stage for a positive road trip.  Although we planned to spend one week of our vacation in Florida, we never talked about our trip in terms of a “trip to Florida”. It was never about the destination, but rather the adventure of being on a road trip with many stops and adventures along the route. I think this really helps to eliminate the “how long until were there mentality”.
  2. Map out your route and make copies for the kids. Our kids loved highlighting our route as we travelled and enjoyed filling in points of interest and personal memories on their own maps.
  3. Take a GPS. If you don’t have one, it really is a must. We visited lots of little towns and it was so simple to find the addresses of the Bed & Breakfasts with our GPS. I assume most people have one or access through their phones, but it really is a necessity if you don’t have one.
  4. Take your vehicle in for servicing before you go.  Be sure all the fluids are full, tires are in good condition and that your vehicle has been completely checked over (especially if its an older vehicle).
  5. Find interesting facts about the states or areas you plan to travel through. We passed through 22 states in 17 days. As we crossed each state line, I would share some interesting facts about each state. The kids’ favourites were learning what famous people live in or came from a particular state, town or city. They also loved the crazy list of 3 or 4 state laws I managed to did up. These took the form of “Did you know it is illegal to _____ in _____?” (For example, “Did you know it’s illegal to cross the state line with a duck atop your head in Minnesota?”) Of course, there is a website completely dedicated to sharing dumb laws, so its pretty easy research and lots of fun for the whole family. Another favourite was learning about popular foods or “dishes” in certain states. Whenever possible, we tried to sample some foods that were either grown in or unique to certain areas. (Like the Fried Green Tomatoes and Peach Pie in Georgia or a Po-Boy Sandwich in New Orleans. Mmmm.)
  6. Try to plan your stops ahead of time. This gives you a goal for each day and by pre-planning, you don’t have to worry about finding a decent place to stay. We wanted to maximize our time at our stops, so we planned a few long driving days. This allowed us spend more time in the places we really wanted to explore. My husband loves to drive and he was more than happy to do all of the driving. Pre-booking your accomodations can also help the budget, as there is nothing worse than breaking the bank on an unplanned expensive hotel stay because you’re in a “pickle” and can’t find anything else.
  7. Entertainment: We did have a DVD player in the van, but our kids only watched one movie, twice. We were going to visit Universal Studios and neither of them really knew the Harry Potter series, so we bought the first movie for the trip. We took a whack of others, but they were too engrossed in the trip to watch movies. Go figure? There was no “shut-eye” either. With so much to see everyone was wide awake. Eden did not fall asleep once and Shay slept for about an hour on the last leg of our 100 hour road trip. Now that’s a road trip!!  I loved that they did not have video games. We spent the entire trip listening to great music (from a pre-made iPod playlist with great tunes both old and new) and talking. To this day, the kids will often have a road trip memory when they hear a song from our playlist. It was facinating just to watch the change in topography as we travelled from state to state . We literally saw mountains, hills, plains, ocean, beaches, dessert, and forests – it was amazing!  The architecture was also intriguing. One of my favourite memories was of all the incredible barns we saw when we exited the interstate to make our way to our first Bed & Breakfast in the little town of Whitehall, WI.
  8. Columbus ZooTry to break-up the trip with some longer stops along the way. We really found that having a “fun” destination after a long day or two of travel kept everyone excited. After your stop, try to rattle off another couple of hours driving before stopping for the night. This helps to cut the driving time on some of the other days. Everyone is tired from the day’s activities and more than happy to sit and relax in the van for a few hours before calling it a day.
  9. Of course, you need to budget. Although you aren’t paying for flights, you will be paying for gas, lodging, food and entertainment. Depending on the nature of your holiday, we found that if you spend wisely on some days, you can afford to be more extravegant on others. For example, amusement park tickets are expensive, but the beach is free (other than parking). Planning ahead really pays off. Many park passes and attraction tickets are cheaper to buy online. Try to avoid paying escalated gate prices.
  10. Take a cooler. Plan snacks and food for along the way. Make sure you bring condiments like salt & pepper, mustard, ketchup and butter with you. We had a variety of fruits and healthy snacks to munch on, but also made wraps or sandwiches for lunch. On long travel days, we would sometimes breakdown and hit a fast food drive through for dinner, but this only happened a few times. Packing healthy snacks and food is super important. No one feels good if they’ve spent days on end in the car eating Cheetos and McDonald’s. This will save you money, prevent sugar lows (moody kids) and keep everyone feeling well. It also makes those occassional ice cream pit stops a highlight for the whole family.
  11. PouchPlan some activities for the kids. Again, speaking from experience, don’t over do it. Of course, this totally depends on the age and interests of your kids. Our kids were 7 and 9 at the time of this trip. If I were doing it again, I would take prepared maps, sketch books, writing and colouring tools and a chapter book each. I might also bring a couple of trivia type games or car bingo that we can all play. Movies are a good idea, although my kids weren’t interested in watching them. One thing I would suggest is some kind of a small tub and pouch to keep their things in one place. Here is an example of what ours looked like. The pouch was picked up at the dollar store and rigged it up to attach to the front seats. It kept all of their pens and markers. (This little tub sat between them and worked well. You can’t see the huge red crate with all the other activities that they didn’t even touch.) It’s Always Autumn has a great post with 20 awesome road trip ideas and there are also some great ideas on Frugal Family Times. There are many great resources on the internet, so don’t bother reinventing the wheel – it will save you lots of time and energy.

Balance is Key:

When you are planning a long vacation, you really need to create a balance between high and low cost choices. The sacrafices you make some days will allow you to go all out on other days.

Have each family member create a list of what they would like to do on the trip. Compare the lists and try to come up with a plan that balances out the inexpensive and more pricey activities.

The same can be true for meals and lodging. When we reached Florida, we rented a condo for the week. Often renting for 7 days is less expensive than paying a nightly fee. The condo also allowed us to save on food. We ate breakfast at the condo and usually packed a lunch in a cooler before leaving for the day. (Some parks will not allow coolers, so research this first.) For dinner, we did a combo of eating in and out. Little things make a big difference. For example, you could order pizza for $30 or more, or pick-up frozen pizza for under $10 to throw in the oven after a long day. You may not feel like preparing big meals, so consider simple short cuts and convenience foods like “salad kits” or canned spaghetti sauce. This may not be the way you would shop at home, but it can save you both time and money. Try to think about buying groceries to create meals that are both easy to prepare and at least somewhat nutritious. Those store roasted chickens are another great meal. For $10, you can have dinner and possibly enough leftovers for lunch the next day. It really is worth thinking through the possiblities for easy meals before you go (or while you’re on the road), as it really beats the expense of eating out everyday.

Lodging Tips:

Again, renting a place with a kitchen is a great way to extend your money when you’re on a long vacation. The other thing to consider is booking your single or two night stays at places that include breakfast. We did try to stay away from hotel chains, as we were really looking for unique experiences.  Whenever possible, we stayed at either Bed & Breakfasts or historic hotels that were built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Bed & Breakfasts can be very elegant and expensive, but many are very affordable. The nice thing is that there are nearly always plenty of reviews to help you figure out what is the best fit for your family. When travelling as a family, we are basically looking for B & B’s that are safe and clean with great hosts. You can often get a feel for the hosts through the reviews. When we were booking in 2011, I was using a site that had a “family friendly” filter. Many Bed & Breakfasts are designed for adults only. If you go to, you will first want to put in your destination, dates and number of guests. Once you press search, a button for + Advanced Search will come up. You’ll want to click this and under the ammenities, select “children welcome“. This will save you lots of time as it will only give you properties that welcome families. Bed & Breakfasts are a really great way to learn about the places you travel and connect with people. We love sitting around the breakfast table and chatting with the hosts and other travellers from around the world. So interesting! The best tips and information generally come from the locals and B & B owners will often offer coupons or discounts for local attractions. I just love picking their brains ~ “If there was one thing we must see what would it be?” You often get insider tips that aren’t even in the travel brochures!

If you want to know more details about our 2011 road trip from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Florida via “the scenic route” check-out part two of this post. The post will include the route, stops, lodging and attractions we took in. Stay tuned.


If you have never taken your family on a road trip, do it. The bonding time and memories from that one trip far out weigh those from our trips to the Dells or Disney. It is truly a chance to unplug and intimately connect with your family. Conversations go deeper and life gets a whole lot richer within the confines of a car!

Why A Road Trip?

station wagonA road trip? Oh yeah! I’m sure many of you have fond memories of those family road trips from when you were a kid. If you are as old as I am, you might even remember choosing the shelf below the back window as your resting place for the long drive.  My favourite memories are of the trips in our old paneled station wagon in the 70’s. We would fold the seat down and strategically place the luggage in the back, open up our sleeping bags to pad the “floor” and settle in for a comfy drive. We always brought our pillows so that we could nap, but had ample space to move around and would often play card games to pass the time. Of course, there were no seatbelt laws, so this was a way of life for families back then. It always annoyed me when my dad would pull over to pick-up a hitch hiker, as we’d have to fold the back seat up and this would mess with my “ride”. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how children even survived the 70’s!

It seems like now-a-days, everyone is in a big hurry and all about luxury and convenience. We have not travelled extensively, but enough to know there are pros and cons to every type of holiday. We love the all-inclusive resorts (who wouldn’t) and flying south to escape our frigid winters, but there is nothing like a great road trip.

Why a Road Trip?

1. Unplug ~ leave the devices at home and completely unplug at least while on the road. If you need to check email (or write a blog post) at your stop, so be it, but it truly is a chance to unwind from the vices of devices.

2. Bonding ~ there is no better way to connect than within the confines of car. Kids realize pretty quickly that there is no escaping each other and that they might as well make the best of it. There are no toys to fight over or computer times to negotiate. It is good old-fashioned quality time. Time to talk, laugh, explore and have fun together as a family unit.

3. Learning Experience ~ A road trip can be such a great learning experience. From the topography to culture, there is so much to see and explore. There are ample teachable moments along the way.

4. Freedom ~ Road trips give you the freedom to make pit stops, take detours and avoid planning your entire vacation around the traditional tourist traps. The greatest memories are often created while on the road or off the beaten path and away from the big city lights. Don’t get me wrong, we love amusement parks, zoos and other touristy things, but we have found that it’s in our interactions with the locals in the quaint little restaurants we find or towns we visit that the greatest memories are often made. A great example would be our 2011 road trip ~ although we visited Disney and Universal, the kids will often bring up the small incidentals like playing in the fountains in Savannah, Georgia or the lady we met at one of the Bed and Breakfasts.

5. Flexibility ~ You’re off the clock! Although you may have accommodations pre-booked along the way, for the most part you are free to stop whenever and wherever you wish. You have the flexibility to spend more time in the places that strike a chord with you and less in those that don’t impress you as much. You can make last-minute decisions when you see a billboard advertising a place that catches your eye or over hear a conversation that peaks your interest in a Tourist Information center. It truly is an adventure!

6. Avoid the Airports ~ Have you ever had a flight delayed and ended up missing part of your vacation because you were stuck in an airport? We have. There is nothing worse than paying the big bucks for a family vacation and then spending 2 days stuck in airports with crying kids. Try adding a sudden bout of the flu to that. We’ve lived that nightmare and it wasn’t fun. Oh, did I mention that on the same trip our luggage was lost and we were randomly selected for a full security check? I can tell you we weren’t really in the vacation mood when arrived 2 1/2 days late with lost luggage and a wicked stomach flu. With a road trip, the vacation starts the moment you pull out of your driveway. Instant gratification without the hassles.

7. Good tunes! ~ There is nothing like cranking up the tunes with a selection of your favourite music. It is a great time to dig up the old hits and teach your kids about some of the greats from your own childhood.

For many, the thought of packing your clan into a vehicle and spending endless hours on the road can be less than appealing and in some regards almost frightening. You might be thinking that a road trip would in fact be a source of human torture. Like most moms, I can become exasperated by the constant battles in the back seat. If we can’t make it to piano lessons with out the kids fighting, how on earth could we spend hours on end crossing a country? I can’t explain it, but can say that there is something magical that happens when you embark on a well planned road trip. When the kids are part of the planning and have something to look forward to, it is amazing how the fighting is virtually non-existent (at least in our family). I too was pretty nervous about the long days in the car. I remember worrying about having to listen to arguing and fighting for hours on end as well as the constant nagging …. Are we almost there? How much longer? For us, it just didn’t happen. Our huge trip in 2011, was by far our best vacation ever. The kids have been begging us for another road trip and we are currently trying to make some plans for the coming summer.

If you are thinking of planning a road trip this summer, be on the look out for my new post with tips on planning a road trip.

Back to School Worries: Tips on How to Deal with Childhood Anxiety

Back to SchoolI have been in the education field for more than 20 years, having taught Kindergarten, grade one and grade two. As well, I am the mother of two great kids that are now 10 and 12. In my experience, I have both parented and taught many anxious children. Over the years, I have made several observations and noted some patterns regarding anxiety in children. I’m certainly not a psychologist and do not claim to have all the answers, but wanted to share some of what I have learned through my years of working with children.

My Observations and Thoughts on Childhood Anxiety:

Most children are going to feel at least somewhat apprehensive about going back to school. Usually these feelings are balanced with excitement and are what I would consider to be completely normal. Every child wonders what their new teacher will be like and which friends will be in their class. They often wonder if the work will be hard and if they’ll have lots of homework. Every year is a new beginning and there is often a fear of the unknown. Once they arrive at school and the get the answers to the questions that have been swimming around in their mind, all is well and they settle in nicely. However, this is not always the case and for some children they become so worried and anxious that it can be somewhat all consuming. A parent with even the highest level of patience can become frustrated by the constant questions, need for reassurance and even, complete melt downs. Believe me, I’ve seen and lived it all.

If your child is feeling quite anxious about school, here are a few things that you might want to try or at least consider:

  • Worry Too MuchTalk About the Worry and help to put it into perspective. Try to work through the “worst case scenerio” because for some kids that is where they’re “stuck”. For example, a child with separation anxiety, is often worried they’ll be left at school. Emphasize all the “right” things such as where you’ll be and at what time, but also talk about what would happen if you were running late. Let them know they would never be left alone and would always be kept safe. Don’t discount their fears, but help them to recognize that even if their fear came to pass, it would all be okay.  Emphasize all the great things about school such as making friends, playing with new toys, story time, playing in the gym, singing and dancing, recess (older kids), etc. Having said this, I found that with my own children, after explaining and discussing the worry, we tried to lay it to rest. For me, I found that when we continued to discuss the same worry over and over it was like watering and nourishing a seed and if we continued to give it the attention and nourishment, it would take root and become even worse. If your child does not bring it up, don’t ask them how they are feeling as it is only going to re-surface. This is an excellent book/workbook that I used with my own children and I would highly recommend it, if anxiety an issue in your home. It provides you and the child with great strategies for dealing with worries.
  • For younger children just beginning school or changing schools, try to spend time at the playground just to help the child feel comfortable around the school. It is quite possible they may also meet some neighbourhood kids while playing. I also suggest pointing to the school as you drive or walk by for months prior to school starting. Talk to them about how that is going to be their school. If your child’s school has any city programs or preschool programs offered in the school building – register your child for a program. Our school division has a program called Kindergarten Here We Come. It is designed for 4 year olds in their pre-kindergarten year. I find that children who have spent time in the school for programs, picking up siblings or playing on the structure generally feel more comfortable with starting school. Programs also have the added advantage of helping your child meet other children their age, learn how to engage socially in larger groups and can sharpen their physical and/or academic skills, depending on the type of program.
  • Walk to school when possible. I’m a firm believer in walking your children to school when possible. Of course, this isn’t an option for students that are bussed, but if possible, I think there is a lot to be gained. First, if your house is like mine, it can be a bit crazy and even stressful in the mornings. Trying to get everyone up, showered, teeth brushed, lunches made, homework and notes packed and out the door on time. Sometimes the morning frenzy can add to the anxiety of a child. I find that the walk to school provides the child with the time they need to calm their nerves and relax before entering school. It provides you with an opportunity to connect positively with your child without the “nagging” and frustration that can often happen in the midst of the morning rush. It also gives the child a chance to stretch their legs and have a bit of exercise before having to sit down, concentrate and complete their school tasks. A bit of exercise is a great way to start the day on a positive note!
  • Register for Morning Class if your child is in a half day program. When your child is entering a half day program, there are many things to consider such as what works for your family, childcare arrangements and of course, what program you think your child will thrive in. One of the things I’ve noticed is that children that have issues with separation anxiety seem to cope better in a morning program. I don’t know why, but I feel it is because they get up and go. They don’t have the time to think or worry about school. When a child is enrolled in the afternoon program, they have all morning to worry about leaving their mom and possibly even the fun games they are engaged in with their siblings. To them it probably feels like a punishment. They are having fun playing with their favourite toys with their brother/sister in the safety of their own home and it doesn’t seem fair when their siblings get to stay at home with mom/dad while they go to school. I’m sure they think about all the things they are going to miss out on. The afternoon program works well for many children, but I believe, generally speaking, that morning Kindergarten/Nursery works better for those with anxiety.
  • separation anxietyBe Punctual – the absolute worst thing you can do when you have an anxious kid is be late. It is essential to have your child at school with enough time to briefly engage with their peers prior to the bell ringing. Once they see their friends and have a chance to chat, it immediately lowers their anxiety level. If you bring them late and they have to enter the building by themselves or with you and there are no friends in sight ~ their anxiety level skyrockets. Of course, the same is true for after school. Whoever is picking up your child must be on time. There is nothing as devastating for a small child than leaving the classroom and finding no one there to pick them up. They often dissolve into tears immediately, believing they’ve been abandoned. Don’t be late and if you are stuck in traffic or something, call the school so that the teacher can prepare the child.
  • Don’t enter the school/classroom. Every school/teacher is different and has their own procedures and expectations for drop-off. After teaching kindergarten for many years, I have found that the last thing an anxious child needs is a parent to come into the school/classroom with them. I teach the kids in my pre-kindergarten meetings that Kindergarten is for kids and that we will wave goodbye to mom and dad outside. It is way easier to take a child’s hand and lead them into the classroom than to try to have a parent leave once they’ve entered. Usually, even the most upset child will settle within the first few minutes once the parent is out of sight. I usually have support teachers who are available to help during the first few days of school. It is much more effective for the school to handle the anxiety without the parent involved. If the parent comes in, it sets a precedent and the child gets the message that if I scream louder or cry harder, they’ll come in. It is very difficult to break and only escalates the anxiety and the behaviour. The sooner they face the unknown on their own (with staff support as needed) the more quickly they’ll settle. I have had many kids that have literally clung to their parents screaming and crying, but will settle within a few minutes of saying goodbye. Every parent who experiences this, feels absolutely horrible when they see the distress of their anxious child, but in their best interest say your goodbyes outside and set them up for success. I know this is extremely hard, but it will be worth it. Remember it is often the difficult choices that are more effective, it is much easier to give them a big hug and whisper those words of reassurance, but unfortunately its not all that effective. It is much more productive to talk about how “how it is going to go down” before the day ever comes – the key is preparation, so they know what to expect.
  • Meet a friend before school. If you child is feeling worried about the first day of school, plan to walk to school with neighbourhood friends. If this isn’t an option, perhaps you can plan to meet at a specific spot 5 minutes before the bell so that the kids can connect before school. Walking in with a friend is much easier ~ I know I always prefer to do something knew with a friend.
  • Bathroom Bashfulness – This is so common! I wrote about this in my post yesterday, but it really fits with the subject of today’s post, so I’ll say it again. Using the bathroom independently is a pretty important part of going to school. The children should not only know how to go to the bathroom on their own, but should also be taught proper bathroom etiquette. Using a public restroom is very different from going to the bathroom at home. Help prepare your child by talking about things like: closing the door, washing their hands, knocking before opening the door when it’s closed, what to do if they “drip” on the seat, what to do if they have an accident, etc. Using the bathroom is actually a cause for great anxiety for many youngsters and the result can sometimes be that they will refuse “to go” at school. This isn’t healthy and although the strategy may work in a half day program, it isn’t as effective when they come all day in grade one. The anxiety comes from all the “unknowns” and the best way to conquer this is to talk about it.
  • Plant the seed and register early – most schools accept fall registrations as early as March (this gives you months to talk and prepare for it). As mentioned before, you should be talking about school (positively) long before they ever start. Your attitude and excitement will play a huge part in how your child feels about school. My daughter can be a bit anxious, so we began going to the February open house for her grade 7 school when she was in grade 4. We knew where she was going to go, so we gave her 3 years to get used of the idea and prepare for the change. Naturally, she still has some worries about the unknown, but she’s also super excited and looking forward to it, instead of having anxiety attacks and meltdowns. She already saw the new school as “her school” long before she ever started, and she did not know one single person who would be attending the same school. Anxious kids need plenty of time to adjust and accept change.
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep and has a good breakfast in the morning. I don’t think I really need to expand on us. We all know that overtired and/or hungry kids pretty much equals disaster. Establish a consistent bed time and wake up time for your child.
  • Establish Routines – I’m a pretty rigid routine kind of a person, but when my son was having some anxiety issues when he was younger, one of the things we did to help him was tighten up our routines. Children that feel anxious need to very tight boundaries. They need to know what’s happening and when. We already ran a pretty tight ship, but we did things like formally establish and mount house rules and designated a very specific time-out space with a set of expectations on how that would work. Routines are extremely important to anxious kids. They do not “fly by the seat of their pants”, at least not well. If your child is feeling anxious, you need to do what you can to create very firm boundaries and with clear expectations.

If your child suffers from anxiety, there are two other things I think you need to consider.

  1. I had written a post some time ago suggesting that I think there maybe a link between technology and childhood anxiety. Now a days, kids spend much of their time on some kind of a device. They are constantly being “entertained” and I believe it is detrimental to their overall development. When there isn’t WiFi or a device available, they are “bored” and don’t know what to do with themselves. They are uncomfortable with themselves and their own thoughts and don’t have the slightest idea how to fill their down time. For many, their entire self-image can be traced to the number of likes, friends or followers they have. If you would like to read more from my post “Is Technology Causing Anxiety?” , follow the link.
  2. There is also research suggesting a link between diet and anxiety. Many psychologists and physicians are suggesting a controlled diet as a means of helping manage anxiety. Research indicates that sugar can be one of the worst contributors. To learn more about how and why diet is so important, check out this two part article called Feed them Calm: The Role of Nutrition in Your Child’s Anxiety.