This time more than 10 days and more than 1 destination – but without a doubt, the best bits of a summer spent celebrating family and making memories.
With Christmas now just 6 weeks away – eek, where has this year gone?! – it’s hard to believe that I still haven’t finished telling the tales of our busy summer. You’d have thought our fairly last-minute plans to fly out to Canada for 2 weeks would have been more than enough to keep us all occupied, but we had even more adventures squeezed in to the final 10 days of the summer holidays before school started back.
We had the return journey from hell with a disrupted flight thanks to a group of rowdy French exchange students, who got into arguments and near fist fights with both the airline crew and other passengers, just rows away from the seats we were sitting in. I have never been so upset on a flight and am just grateful that the children were more entertained by the films they chose to watch, than scared by the events going on around them. This behaviour continued in the Dublin airport terminal and didn’t help the stress of a delayed flight back, which meant we missed our onward flight home by mere minutes. Mike and I were tired, grumpy and so fed up by all we experienced, that we complained long and hard, which fortunately secured us a later flight home, though it was 12 hours later than originally planned, and a hotel room for the day, which gave us the chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep, something that had been impossible on the plane.
We were both back at work the following day, whilst G and M went to my Mum’s for the last 2 days of the week. We rushed through the washing and then found ourselves packing once again for a weekend in Liverpool to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition that we had missed when we visited back in April and what was, perhaps, the highlight of M’s summer holiday – a week at Over The Wall. Our weekend in Liverpool was a great success, especially as we managed a return trip to both of the fabulous freefrom restaurants we had discovered on our previous visit, something both children were desperate to do. The morning spent at the World Museum was well worth it and we all enjoyed seeing the amazing Terracotta Warriors that were on display. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since Mike and I first saw them in Xi’an, China and fantastic to introduce G and M to this incredible ancient tribute to China’s first emperor. They also insisted we explored every other part of the museum we could and given the rather miserable weather, it was a great way to entertain them whilst away from home.
From Liverpool, we headed back South, dropping M off at the Midlands OTW Health Challenges camp for what we had no doubt would be an amazing week for him again. I cannot begin to describe the incredible benefits that M gets from OTW and why this charity deserves all the support and praise we can possibly give it. Once again the camp chefs outdid our expectations and created meals for M that went beyond our wildest dreams – and yet again apparently put my attempts to shame. This year, however, I can take great solace in the fact that M shared with the chef that I put my recipes on this blog and he not only took a look at them, but also used them to help cook treats for M whilst he was at camp. Just as with his stay at the South HC camp 2 years ago, M was exhausted after a week of unbelievable fun and challenge and just about managed to survive the very final bit of our seemingly endless summer adventures.
OTW’s Midlands camp is based just minutes away from the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield, Staffordshire and it seemed a shame to be so close and not stop there for a relatively quick visit. The NMA is somewhere I’ve long considered visiting and we chose a beautiful day to make the trip. Both children were about studying the World Wars at school and with 2018 marking the centenary of the Armistice, it seemed fitting to spend some time walking the grounds and exploring the many memorials that are found here. It was a remarkable and moving place to visit and I’m glad we made the effort to, despite M’s reluctance and overwhelming tiredness from a week away from home.
Whenever and wherever we travel, I also keep a beady eye out for any new foods that are safe for both children. I do, of course, take an ample supply of M-friendly snacks with us as there are no guarantees that we’ll find anything that he can eat, but I always keep my fingers crossed that his hopes are met, if not exceeded whilst away from home. This year I was especially hopeful that we might find a handful of items for them both, though our last visit to Canada showed us how challenging it can be to avoid soya and corn, which can be found in the most unexpected of places.
The good news is that we did found some great snacks and even managed to bring some of them home with us to keep G and M going for a short while at least. We discovered them all at the Independent grocery shore on the shore of Lake Huron and don’t really know how readily available they are elsewhere, but I’d definitely recommend giving them a go if you get the chance. These are just a few from this hidden treasure trove:
Soy-free Vegenaise – G absolutely adores mayonnaise and can, of course, eat “normal” brands without problem. However, M often feels he’s missing out and it’s taken a long time to find a rice-based version which he can eat and even then it’s not that easy to buy it. Discovering this brand just sitting in the fridge alongside other food items was so exciting and something I hadn’t expect to be able to replace during our holiday. M said it tasted great, G was equally happy to eat it and I was delighted to carry a jar around with us for the entire 2 weeks we were there.
Laiki Rice Crackers – another big success with M were these rice crackers, not least because he had a choice between their red rice and black rice versions, something he rarely gets in everyday life when it comes to his food. They proved to be the perfect accompaniment to lengthy car journeys, of which there were several, and were surprisingly moreish, with the pack not lasting long once opened.
Daiya Cheezy Mac – It’s a well-known fact that I am a big fan of Kraft Dinner, a boxed ready meal of macaroni cheese that became a staple of my diet whilst studying at Ottawa University over 20 years ago. G similarly loves macaroni cheese and I was thrilled to find Daiya’s gluten- and dairy-free boxed equivalent for her to try. This was a resounding success with my sometimes picky eater and we brought several boxes home with us, although they’ve all disappeared now!
Made Good Crispy Squares – despite the previous successes achieved, the biggest hit of our holiday was the discovery of these Crispy squares, which came in both Chocolate chip and Vanilla flavours and made M smile for days. They came at the perfect time as we had found several gluten- and dairy-free treats for G, but the prevalence of both soya and corn, neither of which M can tolerate, was making it near impossible to find something safe for him to enjoy. I had promised to make him some banana cookies whilst we were staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and whilst I did that also, the addition of crispy squares to our rucksack each day made a huge difference.
There’s very little we love more as a family than finding the perfect places to be able to go out and eat a safe meal together. Having found some wonderful restaurants and cafes in both the UK and abroad since M went elemental 4 years ago, we couldn’t wait to see what Toronto might have to offer. The first part of our holiday spent near Lake Huron with Mike’s parents meant that we ate home-cooked food with a few very welcome additions that we discovered at the local Independent grocery store; whilst at the Beachwood resort we were very grateful to their accommodating chef, who agreed to whip some plain rice, chicken and bacon for M to enjoy.
It was once we were downtown in Toronto that we really had a good chance to get out and explore what restaurants we could find. I had taken the precaution of packing our usual extra suitcase full of safe foods before leaving the UK, had kept it topped up with the new treats we had found and booked to stay in a self-catering apartment fairly close to the lake – just to make sure every base was covered when it came to feeding my hungry pair. Our biggest disappointment was that there are no longer any Hard Rock Cafes in Toronto, so we had to search hard to find a great alternative.
Our day spent at the CNE meant that we didn’t venture too far to find our meals, instead heading into the expansive food building to work out what from the hundreds of offerings might be safe for both G and M to eat. Mike and G went in one direction to find her ideal lunch, whilst M and I disappeared in a different one to find his. My wonderful sister-in-law managed to secure a table in front of the Colossal Onion booth and we all eventually wound our way back there to actually sit down and enjoy some food. M was thrilled to find some apple fries dusted with sugar and I then queued an inordinately long amount of time at the aptly named Bacon Nation to buy a cup of bacon to provide his protein, where I refused to even consider the purchase of the $100 Gold Burger, though I did see someone else carrying one away from the counter. Fortunately, we were carrying a number of rice-based snacks around with us too, so it wasn’t the completely unbalanced meal that perhaps it sounds!
For our one meal out, we chose to go to Jack Astor’s Bar and Grill, thanks to some frenzied internet-searching on my part to find an allergy-friendly restaurant to try. They had a good array of gluten-free offerings to choose from and both children opted for a bacon cheeseburger, without the cheese. Decisions made and food ordered, G and M enjoyed writing and drawing on the paper tablecloths whilst they waited for their meals to be cooked. The plates of food that arrived looked amazing and didn’t last long with either child – a sure sign that the food is good. The portion was as large as we’ve come to expect with Canadian servings, but that didn’t stop them eating it all, although we had no complaints about being hungry for the rest of the evening!
We really were trying to squeeze as much as we possibly could into our 2 weeks in Canada this time round and so decided to end our visit with just 3 days in downtown Toronto to do a little sightseeing that we hadn’t done before. When we thought we were going to be visiting at Christmas, M had been really keen to have a repeat trip to Niagara Falls, somewhere we’ve visited with the children on 2 previous holidays, as he was desperate to see the Falls frozen, though we had warned that it might not happen even during December. However, visiting in the summer changed our plans a lot and Mike was really keen to fit in a day trip to Toronto Island if we could, something that we managed to do without any problem whilst we were staying downtown.
Our home for these 3 days was an apartment within walking distance of almost everywhere we wanted to go and, ironically, just across the road from that of another friend of ours, who we didn’t realise was living nearby. Our plans, as always, were fairly loose, though we had booked tickets for sports games and theatre trips to provide some structure for each day. We decided to visit the CNE – Canadian National Exhibition – with the same cousins we’d headed to Canada’s Wonderland with and had lots of fun wandering between the various exhibits. The day we went happened to be Veterans day and all 4 children enjoyed looking around the Canadian military section and exploring the tanks and aircraft on display. We even managed to find a stall selling Beavertails – a deep-fried dough sweet treat, shaped like a beaver’s tail – and bought a couple of us all to share. This treat was obviously not gluten-free as well as being covered in sugar, so G, M and I only took a small mouthful each, whilst Mike, his brother and the rest of the family enjoyed the rest.
Our day on Toronto Island was beautiful and started with a boat trip across Lake Ontario in glorious sunshine. The children were keen to explore what was there and we could easily have spent another day or two on the island itself. However, our time was limited and so we enjoyed more rides in the small island theme park, though nothing quite as adventurous as those at Canada’s Wonderland, before heading off for a short walk, a trolley tour of the island and the opportunity to dip our toes into another of the Great Lakes to finish off our day. We had to cut short our stay on the island as we were heading to a baseball game in the evening, but we managed to find time to walk some of the streets of Toronto to the Eaton Shopping Centre, before exploring the underground shopping concourses back to the stadium. G found the underground “streets” particularly confusing to walk and couldn’t quite believe that it was possible to walk the approximately 15 blocks from the Eaton Centre to the Skydome completely underground. All in all, it was a busy few days, but the perfect ending to our 2018 Canadian Adventures.
The next stage of our Canadian road trip found us driving over 5 hours east from Lake Huron to the peaceful resort of Beachwood, Lakefield to join a number of our friends and their families for a short summer break. We had been lucky enough to book a room in the main lodge for a couple of nights, which gave us the chance to catch up with these friends who we might otherwise have missed. It was also a fantastic chance for both G and M to catch up with some of their godparents, as 2 of G’s godfathers and one of M’s numbered amongst our friends staying at the resort that week.
G and M were both excited at the prospect of spending a few days lakeside and were delighted to find that they could swim in both the small pool and the lake itself. The resort was amazing and we were easily able to walk between our room and the various cottages our friends were staying in whenever we wanted. Our children were the oldest there and soon became popular, G in particular, with the younger crowd. It came as no surprise that they also befriended some of the other children on site and spent a lot of time moving between pool and lake to play games with whoever was around. As well as the swimming, the children also loved the opportunity to go out in a canoe (or should that be kayak?!) with Mike, hitch a lift on the speedboat when it took guests out water-skiing and spent a huge amount of time climbing and playing on the giant inflatable obstacle course in the middle of the lake. It was here that G started to find her inner thrill-seeker, something that came as a complete surprise to us all and was to develop even more as our holiday continued.
With our couple of days with friends behind us, we travelled south to the town where Mike grew up and our home for the rest of that week. Our primary aim whilst we were there was to visit Canada’s Wonderland, an awesome theme park and one that I had never before been to, despite my numerous visits over the last 20 years! Not only did we have 2 days of incredible fun, but we spent it with the rest of the family we hadn’t yet had a chance to see and both G and M loved every moment of racing around the park and trying out the rides with their cousins. It was here that G’s newly discovered thrill-seeking personality really came into its own as she and her cousin, H, challenged themselves to ride pretty much every roller-coaster or ride they could find. The boys were slightly less keen to ride the bigger rides, which suited my sister-in-law and me just fine, and quickly found themselves enjoying similar experiences, which were very different to those their sisters were undertaking.
G’s confidence in trying out so many different roller-coasters and rides – there’s only 1 I can remember her refusing to go on which the rest of us did – came as a complete surprise to us all. Our trip to Florida 4 years ago found M being slightly more adventurous than his big sister and I really hadn’t expected things to change as much as they did. It was fantastic to see G and H really enjoy the time they spent together, usually with Uncle Dave, though Mike found himself on some rides that he perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise chosen! It really was an amazing time with both family and friends and we could barely believe that we were heading into the final few days of our holiday as we packed up and moved on to our final destination in downtown Toronto.
Getting to Canada was not quite as straightforward as we had expected it to be. As I said in my last post, our decision to go had changed fairly last-minute and whilst I had managed to find a great deal for us to travel via Dublin, we had some unexpected last-minute stress when a work colleague mentioned that the rules had changed and Mike and the children might need Canadian passports to be able to enter the country. Fortunately, after a few extremely stressful hours as I anxiously trawled through the pages of the Canadian High Commission’ website, I discovered that we could apply for special authorisation to travel without the correct documents as there wasn’t enough time to process them before we left.
Bags packed, we arrived at our local airport and made our first pit stop in Dublin. Our layover wasn’t long enough to allow us to venture into the city itself, much to the disappointment of G in particular, so instead we explored the airport terminal and managed to find one of the airport restaurants that could make gluten-free bacon sandwiches for both children to help assuage their inevitable hunger. I had naturally packed more than enough food to satisfy their appetites during the flight, but was pleasantly surprised when the Aer Lingus meals arrived for lunch and had made a reasonable stab at providing the plain rice and chicken I had requested, despite the email I’d received telling us that they simply couldn’t accommodate M’s dietary needs at all.
We had left the UK in glorious sunshine and arrived in Toronto to hot weather, but pouring rain, which didn’t impress the children for their first visit in 5 years. However, M in particular was delighted with the huge Ford Explorer that was to be our vehicle for the duration of our 2 week stay and that went a long way to keep them cheerful despite the miserable weather. We headed north, on our way to Lake Huron and Mike’s parents’ house, stopping overnight in Orangeville for some much-needed sleep before we reached our final destination.
The next 4 days were spent with Mike’s parents in their beautiful town on the shore of Lake Huron and we enjoyed a whole host of activities, doing things we’d never had the chance to do before. Walks along the shore and the harbour; swims in one of the Great Lakes; a boat trip to the lighthouse on Chantry Island; stock car racing and time spent making precious memories with both their grandparents and some of their cousins. We did enough to keep us all entertained, but also enjoyed some great time just relaxing with family.
Summer feels like something of a distant memory now and, I have to be honest, it passed in something of a whirlwind once again. As the children get older, we seem to squeeze more and more into every spare minute we can find, creating precious memories that I hope will last a lifetime. This year we had the added bonus of exploring just how to make the most of having introduced bananas into M’s diet as well as pushing the limits with a few more trials along the way too.
Our summer plans were originally to stay close to home, with my Mum helping out by looking after G and M for much of the time whilst Mike and I both worked. Things changed just after Easter and we found ourselves having to bring forward our plans for a Christmas trip to Canada and head back in the summer instead. However, between the end of the school year and our long-haul flight to Toronto, G and M took part in a rowing course and touch-typing course respectively and we also managed to find the time to head to the beautiful cities of Bristol and Bath for a day in each to explore their summer art trails – Gromit Unleashed 2 and Minerva’s Owls. We’ve enjoyed taking part in an incredible variety of sculpture trails over the years, including the Shaun in the City trail in 2015, so it was great to be able to dip into these 2 challenges, although M in particular was disappointed that we didn’t have time to find all of the sculptures that formed part of the trails.
The glorious weather made it a real pleasure to spend time outside on our feet, though M might disagree with me after our very hot day in Bath, where we had to resort to searching out a supermarket to find some allergy-friendly ice-cream and ice lollies to cool us all down. Food-wise, we enjoyed both eating dinner out at our all-time favourite, Wagamama and an idyllic picnic lunch catered by Marks and Spencer. One evening M even commented that it was just like being back in Syros because he was happily walking through the city in the evening wearing shorts and a t-shirt. All in all, those first couple of weeks of our summer were busy, but amazing and a great start to what the rest of the holiday would bring.
One of the things I love about G and M’s secondary school is the Enrichment week they run in June. Every year the young people are encouraged to explore new activities and opportunities during the week and try their hands at things they perhaps haven’t had the chance to experience before. When G was in Year 7, she opted for Bush Camp – an African-style adventure that involved 4 nights away from home sleeping out under canvas with campfire dinners, quirky showers and earth toilets for her home comforts. If there’s one thing that proves my daughter doesn’t always follow in my footsteps, this choice was it as I am a reluctant camper at best and it would take an awful lot to convince me that this could be considered as a fun week away from home. However, G loved every moment and couldn’t wait to choose her options for both Years 8 and 9.
Whilst G had determined that this year was going to be the year for a week away at pony camp in the Brecon Beacons, M’s choices were limited by the reality that he wouldn’t be able to spend a week away from home. We made the decision right at the start of his Year 7 year, not wanting to put him through once again the trauma of last-minute decisions and the inevitable disappointment that he experienced when we had to conclude that he couldn’t go away to the end of term Year 6 camp last year. We opted that M would be based at home for the week and instead he had to the activities that he would participate in during the school day.
M decided on Action Adventure, where he got to try his hands at high and low rope courses, archery, building a trebuchet and bush-craft skills over the first 3 days of the week. Day 4 was designated as a community day, which was designed to give the children an opportunity to understand their role in our local community and to give a little something back. Some children did bag-packing at a local supermarket, others chose sponsored activities to raise money for local charities and M’s group of year 7s built wooden bird-boxes to be put up in the grounds of their school.
On his final day, M was keen to join the trip to the Tamworth snowdome, although he was disappointed that he had to ski, rather than being able to show off his rapidly improving snowboarding skills. He has been learning to snowboard since Christmas and has been coming on in leaps and bounds on the artificial slopes. He didn’t find it as easy to ski as he had hoped and the combination of time spent focused on skiing and ice-skating meant that he and his friend slept on their way back home. Both children had a great enrichment week and I’m grateful that this fantastic opportunity has been available for them both to fully experience, explore and enjoy. Not only am I impressed by the variety of opportunities they have to choose from, but the school did a great job of keeping the parents of around 900 students updated about their return home on the final day, which is no easy feat!
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