Frost Family Roadtrip Day 13: Uptown Manhattan (Natural History, Central Park & Harry Potter)

This is it – the final summary from our big city adventures.

Can I admit I’m glad these are over? I’ve really missed thinking and writing about something other than the stress of finding public bathrooms. (Though thanks to a kind reader – Hi Erin! – who pointed out there is a website/app for this. As soon as I saw her comment I could not believe we didn’t try to Google our way out of this problem).

Our trip home via New England will get lumped into a reflective post on the highs and lows of traveling with kids.

There was an underlying sense of relief as we headed out on our last day. City life is exciting and exhausting, and we all felt ready for one last grand adventure…and then some days of rest.

This was the only day in New York where we set an alarm. We had timed tickets for the American Museum of Natural History, purchased before leaving home. If we had been doing this trip sans kids, John and I would have opted for an art museum – likely the Metropolitan again. But we did have the kids and they have been very enthusiastic about the Night at the Museum movies, so the Museum of Natural History seemed like an obvious choice.

It was another gorgeous day. Once we arrived in Times Square, we immediately navigated to the subway and took the line Uptown.

Here was our original plan, but we needed to make some changes along the way.

  1. American Museum of Natural History
  2. Central Park (Bethesda fountain, Billy Johnson Playground, Strawberry Fields, The Plaza)
  3. Roosevelt Island Lighthouse (take tramway)

Extras: Ancient playground (right beside the MET; halfway up Central Park)

We had tickets for 10 am, but arrived about 30 minutes early. We made good use of that buffer and navigated to a nearby Banksy. The last time John and I were in NYC we just happened upon a Banksy, but Googled this one! The experience was likely lost on the kids, but they came along willingly. Street art is so cool.

And then an all-too-familiar calamity struck. A child desperately needed the bathroom. I do not know how this happened so often on our trip. I guess back home there is just always either a public bathroom or we’re on a trail/outside, so they can go au natural? Either way, there was an uncomfortable panic as we walked back from the Banksy (and found a locked Porta Potty along the way – such a cruel discovery when one’s child needs a bathroom) and waited in line to get into the museum. We managed to make it in time, but the stress of the toileting situation was wearing thin!

I have mixed emotions about our experience. The biggest letdown was the fact the kids were so enthused about items from the Night at the Museum movies, but nothing looked exactly like it did in the films. We followed an official museum guide that provided a tour based on the movies, but it was underwhelming. I also found that different people were interested in different things, but the space was too big to separate. Finally, and I know this is nitpicking, I am typically a huge fan of museum architecture, and found there were a number of areas in the museum that looked quite dated.

That said, we made the most of it and have plenty of fun memories.

The front hall was gorgeous.

The dinosaur skeletons were definitely a highlight (Rexy from the movies). A very friendly and knowledgeable museum guide wandered over at one point and engaged us in a great conversation that the kids seemed to appreciate. The kids also loved seeing the replica of an Easter Island sculpture (Dum-Dum from the movies), and the enormous blue whale in the great hall.

I’d say this was the highlight of the trip for the kids. I didn’t tell them it wasn’t actually real! They LOVE Dum Dum.
The blue whale was incredible. The scale, the lighting. A lot of people were sitting down on the floor and staring up to take it all in. One of my favourite stops in the museum for sure!

Levi also spotted a panda, which was very exciting since he had just finished researching them for a school project. He insisted I take a picture for his teacher.

Levi’s picture!
Levi again!
Robin Williams plays Teddy Roosevelt in the movies, and the kids adore his character, so they were very excited to pose with this statue.

We let the kids use our phones to take pictures and that really helped to keep them engaged. It was fun to look back at the photo roll from the day because the kids took such interesting angles of the exhibits, both because they are naturally shorter but also because they are interested in different things.

By the time we left, the weather was oppressively hot. I had planned on us wandering through Central Park, stopping at some various playgrounds along the way.

Unfortunately, a combination of factors led to tears being shed at Bethesda Fountain and I don’t even have a single picture of this gorgeous space. Sigh.

The kids spent some time playing on the iconic slide in the Billy Johnson Playground, and then we took the kids by The Plaza Hotel (they LOVE Home Alone, and this hotel features prominently in the second movie). Then a child needed a bathroom (and yes, we made everyone use the bathroom before leaving the Museum of Natural History) and there were none to be found. We wandered for a while – slowly starting to panic – in Central Park and ended up buying a $7 sparkling water at the Central Park Zoo cafe so we felt justified in using their bathroom. Again, we made it just in time.

We strolled down Fifth Avenue and stopped for some food. It felt great to get into air conditioning and we all enjoyed lots of water with ice – despite the ramifications of drinking all that water!

I had really wanted to take the tramway out to Roosevelt Island, but I could tell the heat was going to make that experience less-than-ideal, so we decided to skip it this trip.

By this point, we were back in Times Square. We hadn’t decided if we were going to take in another show while in New York, but went to the TKTS booth to see what was on offer. They didn’t have much of interest/in a price range I wanted; the kids were willing to try either The Lion King (TKTS doesn’t get tickets for this show) or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (sold out at the TKTS booth). We decided to try each theatre.

The Lion King tickets were EXPENSIVE and we would have had to split up into groups of two. I wasn’t overly enthused about going to see it anyway, so we made our way to the Lyric Theatre and snagged reasonably priced seats for Harry Potter.

Tickets in hand, we went to The Hard Rock Cafe because they were advertising a “Messi” burger (Levi’s favourite soccer player) and it was close to the theatre. Supper was not without incident. They said the wait time was 45 minutes unless we were willing to squeeze around a tall, round bar table. We were fine with that! Things were going so well until one child, in the very crowded conditions, accidentally banged their elbow into a huge glass of water which shattered all over the floor. Said child was very upset (from embarrassment) and started crying. The tears eventually stopped and the Messi burger was delicious. Abby had the Mac n’ Cheese which came in a very fun plate shaped like a guitar with, she told me, incredibly delicious strawberries.

We had enough time to make a quick stop by Krispy Kreme for dessert (my first time having one of their doughnuts). This was a sweet deal – literally. While lining up to order, they handed out free – incredibly fresh/still warm – doughnuts!

Though I’ve read all the Harry Potter books (multiple times), and have seen all the movies, I don’t consider myself a super fan and hadn’t read the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Though this was on Broadway, it is a play not a musical. It is also very, very long. Originally this play was designed to run 4 acts spread over two nights. For Broadway, it has been condensed into a single show with a runtime of 3.5 hours! We discussed the length before buying tickets, and both kids insisted they wanted to go for it.

There were a few hiccups at the start. We got seats in a box, which is a unique experience. One child was frightened by the perspective. The railing is quite low and to see the stage you really do have to lean your head/upper body out over the ledge. I asked the usher if they had any other seats available, but in the end there was only a SINGLE seat that hadn’t been sold for that night.

I found some boosters and this worked like a charm – both kids (and even John at one point) knelt on the ground.

The first 30 minutes or so, I thought we’d made a mistake. It was very loud and I could tell Levi was bothered by the volume. There is no orchestra, so all the sound effects come through speakers…which were hanging right next to our box seats. Poor little guy. He was a trooper, though.

About 30 minutes in, I completely warmed up to the experience, and got carried away by the story and special effects.

Was it light, fluffy and fun like a musical? No. Were the set design, magic elements, and acting top-quality? Yes.

We were all very impressed with the level of detail involved, and there were so many cool nuances. My favourites: the time turning scenes, where moving forward/backward is conveyed via an optical illusion on the set that wowed me every single time. Also, the fact the water scene in the Triwizard Tournament actually involves a pool of water on stage.

I won’t say more because I don’t want to give away major plot points, but if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’re almost guaranteed to love this show.

Technically I enjoyed Aladdin more because it’s so light-hearted and I love musicals. But if there had been a couple of songs in Harry Potter (which I think could totally work), this would have been a nearly perfect show.

It was LATE when we got out. The last shuttle is supposed to leave at 10:30 pm for New Jersey, and it was about 10:28 pm when we exited the theatre. We had resigned ourselves to needing to Uber back to the hotel, but John suggested we at least try to catch a shuttle.

Lo and behold, when we arrived at the Port Authority, the shuttle was still there!

Another up and down day, but it ended on a high note and is sure to be something the kids remember forever!

Your turn. Has anyone else been to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? It had just opened in Toronto when we were visiting there, but I’m glad we waited to see this on Broadway.

Frost Family Roadtrip Day 12: Lower Manhattan (Brooklyn Bridge, Staten Island & Broadway)

After some lows on Day 11, it felt good to start with a fresh slate.

When we organized our time in New York, John and I were mindful of all the walking. One way to cut down on the miles was to group activities by location. Day 11 was Midtown, Day 12 was Brooklyn/Lower Manhattan, and Day 13 was Uptown.

Our strategy worked most successfully on Day 12 and this was by far my favourite day of the trip. The weather was beautiful – warm and sunny, but never stifling.

After Monday’s fail with Broadway, that was our priority for the day. We looked at booking tickets online, but the fees were outrageous (about $70 USD) and available tickets were pricey. I knew the TKTS booth in Times Square opened at 11 am on Tuesday, but I didn’t want to have to organize our whole day around that. We opted to go right to the theatre (The New Amsterdam – the oldest theatre on Broadway – which is such a gorgeous spot; John and I actually saw Mary Poppins here in 2011). The theatre had better prices than were available online (and we paid of total a $2.50 USD in fees). We left with tickets in hand. So exciting!

A quick note about buying tickets. On our previous trips, John and I bought tickets from a TKTS booth on South Street. It had great prices, no lines, and better hours than the booth in Times Square. Unfortunately, this location has been closed since COVID (along with the one at Lincoln Center). For this trip, we ended up booking both of our shows (stay tuned for Day 13!) at their respective theatres. Could we have gotten better tickets for the same price at TKTS? Maybe. But it would have required a lot more uncertainty and lots of time waiting in lines (neither ideal with the kids in tow).

Here was our original itinerary for the day. We had planned to do Coney Island, but since the kids did some rides on Centre Island in Toronto – and given our Broadway tickets for the evening – we opted to save this experience for another time.

  1. Brooklyn Bridge
  2. Staten Island Ferry
  3. Coney Island *Broadway instead*!!

Extras: 9/11 Memorial pools + Washington Square Park

I wanted to start with the Brooklyn Bridge since it’s very exposed to the elements; I knew the kids would start to lose energy later in the day, especially in direct sun. We took the subway to Brooklyn and can you guess what we saw immediately after exiting the station?! A Porta Potty. A clean, lovely, wonderful, glorious Porta Potty. This alone was a highlight from the day.

We opted to head right to the bridge; most of the best/famous spots to see the city skyline require quite a bit of extra walking but I didn’t want to unnecessarily deplete the kids patience and energy reserves.

There were lots of locks on the bridge (Abby loved reading the inscriptions) – along with lots of signs telling people NOT to attach locks to the bridge.

Our walk across the bridge was wonderful. We had great views of the city and the kids were chipper and happy. Interestingly, this was the cheapest place to buy water ($1/bottle!) and souvenirs. Levi got a hat (he’d left his back at the hotel), and Abby got a few small items.

After getting off the bridge we stopped to debate the merits of taking the Staten Island Ferry. John and I had done it before and found it fine, but nothing too exciting. In the end we decided to go for it, and this ended up being another highlight of the trip. We arrived just as they were boarding, so we didn’t have to wait in line. The kids and I got a great seat at the back of the boat – shaded from the sun and with incredible views. We also got great views of the Statue of Liberty!

I had packed a few snacks and the kids spent a chunk of the trip contentedly munching on granola bars and, of course, our beloved Mike and Ike’s. This is a great way to get FREE (there is no cost for the ferry) views of the Statue of Liberty, the city skyline and to cool down on a warm day.

Also, important to my narrative, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal had the nicest public bathrooms we found in NYC. The importance of how smoothly toileting went on Day 12 cannot be underestimated.

Off the ferry – and with a delightful bathroom experience behind us – we decided to wander back toward Broadway.

I love lower Manhattan. It’s much cleaner and quieter than Midtown. There are lots of tall buildings, of course, but also these quaint tiny buildings that ooze history.

We all have some work to do on mastering our Fearless Girl pose.

We stopped on Wall Street and saw the Charging Bull, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Fearless Girl.

Next up was the 9/11 Memorial. This spot is an incredible tribute to the tragedy and lives lost in 2001. I thought it was a beautiful memorial – both reflective and moving (physically, because of the water, and emotionally).

Look at those cool shadows from The Oculus!

We marveled at fun architecture…

The Woolworth Building – which was, for a while, the tallest building in the world.
Love all the cool buildings with their iconic fire escapes.

We stopped at a Chick-fil-A for lunch. Aside from delicious food, they also had amazing bathrooms. We were on a terrific streak of toileting options on Day 12! The kids were especially thrilled because our food receipt provided the code needed to enter the (very clean + stocked with free diapers and sanitary products!) bathroom.

We popped by the Comedy Cellar. Many famous comedians, including Ray Romano and Jon Stewart, got their start at this club.

We spotted the Audrey Hepburn mural in Little Italy, before meandering through Washington Square Park. This is a lovely spot, though it smelled really awful by the fountain – like rotting fish. Since everyone was happy and well-fed, they didn’t complain. Even the truly horrific public bathrooms were met with relative acceptance! Once these recaps are over, I promise I won’t mention bathrooms for at least a month.

On our way out of the park, Levi spotted some people playing chess. He has really taken an interest in the game this year and even joined a chess club at school. When he walked over to take a look, an older gentleman invited him to play a game. Levi was very enthused. Turns out this man teaches chess for a living and works for a Grandmaster! It was his day off, so he was hanging out in Washington Square Park. He was so kind while teaching Levi various moves, and encouraged Levi to victory! At one point he asked where we were from and we replied Canada. This generic answer is usually enough to end the conversation (most people assume all Canadians live in Toronto). But he asked where specifically in Canada we lived. When we said Nova Scotia, his eyes lit up and he said he had once taken a course at a small Nova Scotian university. Turns out he went to the university where I did my Master’s/now work! It really is a small world.

We ate supper and walked by more tall buildings.

And then it was time to see Aladdin on Broadway.

Levi fit in some cross-eye training while we waited for the curtain to go up!

I LOVED the show. John (who has seen 4 musicals on Broadway) said it was his least favourite. I can appreciate all of his points, but I still thought this was SUCH a fun show (and maybe my favourite of the three I’ve seen). My only real criticism was the genie: he was very breathy and his words were not well articulated. But I thought Jasmine’s voice was incredible, I enjoyed the songs that were unique to the Broadway show, and I found the supporting cast to be absolutely hilarious. Also – the magic carpet ride and some of the other special effects were just so cool!

Levi found some of the loud sound effects jarring (agreed), but was a real trooper about it all and both kids really enjoyed this experience.

When we came out of the show, John snapped a selfie of us – it perfectly captures my mood in that moment which was pure delight!

Levi fit in a little snuggle while looking at the lights in Times Square. Such a perfect summer night in the city.

It was only 9:30 pm and since everyone was riding the wave of Broadway adrenaline, we thought we’d spend a few minutes in Times Square. We arrived just as some street entertainers were starting a show. It was a group of 20-somethings who were doing feats of strength and acrobatics and our kids were absolutely enthralled. We stayed for almost an hour watching, before grabbing the final shuttle back to New Jersey.

All in all, this was a very fun day! It represented the city experience I’ve come to know and love and so desperately wanted to pass on to the kids.

Frost Family Roadtrip Day 11: Midtown NYC (Chocolate, Rain, LEGO, and Some Tears)

Our first full day in New York City! For me, this was the hardest day of the trip. In retrospect things seem a bit rosier, but overall I was not a big fan of Day 11.

Do we have oodles of fabulous pictures? Yup. Did we have some great moments? Yup. Did I wish at multiple points in the day I could just. go. home? Yup.

Let’s rewind a bit to the start of the day – which happened to be very late. The combination of our early morning departure from Toronto, along with the evening adventure in Manhattan, left us all feeling tired. We let the kids sleep as long as they wanted, and that ended up being well after 9:00 am. This has never happened. Ever. In their lives!

The forecast was calling for rain, so we packed umbrellas. Since we were planning on Broadway that night, I also packed extra clothes in our backpack. Side story: the first time John and I were in New York, we got soaked in a rainstorm before heading to Broadway and each of us ended up buying a whole new outfit from H&M to rectify our drenched state. This is certainly a case of The things that go wrong often make the best memories. I remember SO many details of that experience and we frequently re-tell various stories related to that NYC rainstorm.

Before we set off on our roadtrip, I made daily itineraries with three prioritized locations/events, with a few “extras”. Here is was what was on-tap for Monday:

  1. Grand Central Terminal
  2. Empire State Building (we decided to skip this because someone offered to get us free guest passes to go up the One World Trade Centre; unfortunately, this option ended up falling through because of scheduling challenges, so we never made it up a tall building on this trip)
  3. Rockefeller Centre + area (LEGO Store, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York Public Library, Chrysler Building)

Extras: Little Island + Flatiron Building


The day started well. It’s always fun to see a Levi’s store in the “wild” and he was happy to pose for a picture in front of this one right in the middle of Times Square.

We snapped a few family pictures of all the billboards (the kids didn’t seem overly impressed, but I still find it all very exciting and invigorating).

Since we were already in Times Square, we made our way to the M&M’s Store. The kids loved this for obvious reasons. We bought some bulk M&M’s, wandered through the merch, and the kids stood on an interactive platform where they got a personality reading that told them their “M&M colour.” It was ridiculous, but a fun kind of ridiculous and they enjoyed it. I almost bought a mug, but opted not to (a decision I regretted, as I ended up not getting a mug from NYC).

Next was the Hershey’s Store. This was less visually appealing than the M&M’s store, but we each bought one unique chocolate bar. We told the kids they had to pick something they couldn’t buy at a store in Nova Scotia. John got a blueberry muffin Kit-Kat, Abby a special Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup chocolate bar that had Reese’s pieces in it, Levi got some variety of Kit-Kat, and I got Peanut Butter Reese’s Cups (as in the outside AND the inside were all made from peanut butter and peanut butter-flavoured chocolate). We did not buy the World’s Largest Hershey’s Bar. That thing was heavy!

On our way out of the store a staff member handed everyone a mini Hershey’s bar. This was an unexpected surprise, and it really boosted our spirits! We let the kids eat that small treat, but stashed the rest of the candy away for later.

It had started to rain – lightly – by the time we left the Hershey’s store. We navigated toward Rockefeller Center. By this point we had our umbrella’s out, but they weren’t overly effective because of some wind. It didn’t rain for long, but long enough we were all damp. Ick. It was also extremely humid, so I felt uncomfortable the rest of the day. We got a few pictures, but didn’t linger because of the rain. The kids were very meh about it all, which I could not comprehend. I love city architecture.

We joined a queue for the LEGO Store. The rain was now at a dull roar – let’s characterize it as a heavy mist. I looked out a few minutes later and it was pouring, so things could have been worse!

The LEGO Store was very fun. We’re huge LEGO fans, so a store devoted to the stuff is basically guaranteed to please. Levi mostly wanted to hang out with the giant bins of LEGO and build things from scratch. This made it tough on other family members who wanted to wander as we couldn’t leave Levi alone. We debated buying a NYC skyline LEGO set, but I was underwhelmed. The Statue of Liberty minifigure didn’t even come with any headpiece! It was just a green LEGO-block head. We looked at some other options, but knew we’d have to pay duty at the border, so opted to leave with only memories.

Here I’ll pause to say at the LEGO store I saw a huge family (5 children, ranging in age from teenagers down to Levi’s age) who seemed SO happy. Everyone was smiling and joking together and the mother – clearly not a spring chicken – seemed to ooze confidence in her parenting. In the ten minutes I watched her, she seemed unflappable and even-keeled. Was I reading too far into this situation? I’m sure. But watching that Mom made me feel extra guilty for how grumpy I was about the rain and how the kids weren’t huge fans of NYC. I’m sure this family had their own rough moments on their trip, but seeing them engaging so nicely together (the siblings looked like BFFs) was actually a tough moment in my day. In my defense, I was trying very hard to be chipper and positive through the various hiccups, but the kids were having none of it. Onward.

We caught a glimpse of St. Patricks Cathedral, which is directly across the street from the LEGO store (I wanted to go inside, but everyone was hungry and it had started to rain again). We found a place to eat which, unfortunately, didn’t have functioning bathrooms. Argh!! I sometimes wished we were all just wearing diapers this whole trip.

Next up was Grand Central Terminal. The kids were tired, we were all wet – but we found bathrooms.

And my period started. This may border on TMI, but long-term readers know this is a big deal in my life, and helps to explain some of my exhaustion and emotion.

Despite the less-than-perfect circumstances of our day, Grand Central is simply beautiful. The kids enjoyed the Whispering Gallery located outside The Oyster Bar. If you’ve never tried this, I highly recommend it on a visit to NYC. It’s a huge arched foyer, and if you stand facing one corner and whisper, a person on the other side of the huge atrium can hear you clearly in their corner. Very cool; John and I had done this before and letting the kids try this was my main goal for visiting Grand Central.

It makes me so happy to visit spaces used for ordinary things – like public transit – that are aesthetically delightful!

The sky was very ominous when we got out of the terminal, so we opted to head toward Bryant Park; the kids wanted to find some green space. Along the way, I gushed over the sidewalk details, though this was another source of frustration. I really wanted to stop and savour all the quotes – I LOVE quotes (I even wrote a post all about how I organize my quotes). Alas, my family does not give two wits about quotes and were far more concerned about the dark clouds looming above. (On a personal note, I want to be intentional about walking this same path if I get to visit NYC again…at a much more leisurely pace.)

I love stuff like this.

It ended up being a good thing I didn’t dawdle, though – it started to POUR when we were within eyesight of the main branch of the NY Public Library. This is a very nice place to get stuck in a rainstorm. We each ate our chocolate bars (from the Hershey’s Store) and spent some time exploring the library. We found bathrooms and a water fountain. The last time we visited, there was public access to the Rose Reading Room, but unfortunately this was now cut off to tourists. We got off our feet for a few minutes in a smaller room across the hall. There was a very cool art installation in place and the kids got an interesting pamphlet complete with a poster which is now hanging on Abby’s bedroom wall.

The rain was over – it was still very humid though – and I knew the TKTS discount booth in Times Square was set to open. We headed there to snag some Broadway tickets.

And here the day really breaks down. I could handle the rain and my period because Broadway was still looming in front of me like a beacon in the night. You have to sense where this is going.

When I did my research for NYC, I knew Monday was the “off” night. So I had planned on us doing Broadway on Tuesday night. But then I needed to rearrange our schedule to accomodate the only slots we could get for tickets for the American Museum of Natural History. I did some cut and paste in my travel document…and BAM. Broadway was suddenly slotted for Monday night.

We stood in a very short line only to discover that Aladdin did not have a show Monday night. In fact, the only Broadway option that day was The Phantom of the Opera. I have nothing against Phantom and I know it has been running forever, but I don’t love the music or the story. (So I guess I do have something against Phantom?) If we could have gotten dirt-cheap tickets, I would have gone. But they only had expensive seats left at the TKTS booth and when we went to the theatre (getting lost along the way – that was not fun), it was still almost $90/ticket. With the exchange rate x4, I didn’t want to spend that much money for a show that I didn’t think the kids would like and to which I have a slight aversion.

The day mostly spiraled from there. We were wet (so got cold if we went into some place with AC) and grumpy. It was only mid-afternoon, but our grand adventure for the evenings was suddenly a bust. We found a movie theatre, but there was nothing playing that was family-friendly/we wanted to see. We did stop to get a picture in front of the Aladdin poster, though.

We contemplated walking to Little Island, but it required timed tickets and it was a long walk. We ended up going to The Vessel down in the Hudson Yards. This is a very cool sculpture/building. The person who recommended it to us seemed to indicate we could get part-way up the structure. You can’t. It was a lot of walking for an underwhelming experience though, after visiting, I learned it has – very sadly – been a common spot for suicides, hence the indefinite closure. I guess they may alter the railing height and re-open?

And then there was another bathroom emergency. We stopped at a pizza place (apparently relatively famous in NYC, though I forget the name now), and got Abby some pizza just so we could get access to a bathroom. This required a key and a lineup. By this point I was just over the day. It felt like a major bummer to head back to the hotel so early, but we did just that.

The day did get slightly better because the highlight of Day 11 – for me – happened on our 3-minute walk back from the shuttle drop-off point when we discovered an Aldi.

I am very, very happy living in Canada. But Wolfville would be even better with an Aldi. The options! The prices! We stocked up and it was all incredible. Delicious yogurt ($0.35 for a big individual carton). Buns for sandwiches ($0.58). Strawberries ($1.50). We spent about $25 USD and came out with our arms full.

The kids spent some time in the pool, we ate a variety of things from our haul at Aldi, and then I guess we watched TV? It’s all a bit of a blur. Despite the success of Aldi, I did cry a bit.

But there were some really great moments. And to end this post on a high note, Day 12 was basically wonderful from start to finish and hands-down my favourite day of the whole trip. Win some, lose some!

Frost Family Roadtrip Day 10: Toronto – NYC (Niagara Falls, The Border, & a Rooftop Pool)

Time to head off on our next adventure. New York City.

We set an alarm for 4:30, and were on the road by 5 am. The kids really are great about car travel and handle these early wakings without complaint (trust me when I say they complain plenty about many other things). John had prepared a big container of sandwiches the previous evening, which we ate for both breakfast and lunch in the car.

Traffic was minimal, so we made good time. We had been debating a stop in Niagara Falls. It was only 10 minutes off our route, so we went for it.

Parking can be a nightmare in Niagara, but since we were there at 6:45 am, it was pretty much a ghost town. It took us a few minutes of driving to find a parking lot we could use (that didn’t require us to walk very far or charge a flat rate of $35). We eventually found a spot close to the falls for $10; the payment meter wasn’t working properly, so we took our chances and ended up getting to park for free.

We visited years ago when Levi was still a toddler and my primary memory of the experience was how far the mist from the falls travels. Sure enough, we started feeling water droplets as soon as we left the car.

We all enjoyed the view. Niagara Falls is gorgeous.

Throwback to 2017. Wow the kids seem soooo little.

Back in the car, a child suddenly needed the bathroom desperately. Ugh. We found a spot as quickly as we could but then one child didn’t have shoes on when we arrived. This did not go over well with a certain adult in the car. It was a little thing but definitely revealed the frayed nerves from all our time in close proximity. There were apologies all around and everyone made it to the bathroom on time…but I was feeling pretty tense as we headed to the border.

Which I assumed would be a straightforward process.


The lines weren’t very long, but then we spotted an empty fast-track line. Because of John’s frequent travel, he has border pre-check priviledges (Nexus/TSA-Pre). After noticing it, we had to make the decision in a split-second. I said we should go for it. Spoiler alert: I made the wrong decision. We found ourselves pulling up to the window relatively confidently, at which point the border agent asked to see everyone’s pre-check documents. Uh oh. We explained that the rest of us only had passports – which he promptly confiscated. He sent us to the border patrol facility (and told us they would yell at us for choosing the wrong line_.

This was not a fun experience. Well, Levi enjoyed it, actually. The waiting room had a TV playing a deep-sea fishing show, so he was very much loving life. I, on the other hand, was trying not to vomit and/or catastrophize We had left early to make good time but by trying to save a few minutes, had unknowingly created a situation with various unpleasant outcomes.

Long story short – we were only detained for 30-40 minutes and nothing bad happened (though they told John his pre-check privileges could have been revoked because we were in the wrong line).

At this point, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, and it was only 9 am.

I napped in the car a bit, but also wanted to be available to help John navigate. I was also finding it very, very hot. Eventually, I noticed the air vents were making an unusual noise and the car was now VERY hot. Turns out (we think) the motor in the car fan had started to overheat, so the AC couldn’t circulate. Thankfully, if we turned everything off for a while, we could restart it and the fan would work. But it meant we had to drive significant stretches on a 35-degree day without any AC.

Both kids napped for a bit, trying to stay cool.

The heat left me even groggier so I gave up and took a caffeine pill around lunchtime! I knew it was going to be a LONG day.

The drive down to NYC was beautiful. I was shocked how mountainous the area was; John and I drove the same route almost exactly 11 years earlier, but I didn’t remember it being such a lovely landscape.

We were all very relieved to arrive at the hotel. And our hotel was AMAZING. We have always stayed in New Jersey, and this time simply moved about 100 feet down the street to a different hotel. It was economical ($130 USD/night) and had great amenities, including free garage parking. I cannot rave enough about this hotel (the Best Western Premier Gateway in North Bergen). We booked through, but if you book directly with the hotel they also have discounts for CAA/AAA members.

As soon as we got to our room, I immediately started unpacking things. After so much back-and-forth and living out of suitcases, the prospect of staying in one spot for 4 consecutive nights was positively delightful. The bedroom was gorgeous; very spacious and well laid-out. It also had a fabulous bathroom with a huge shower and tall ceilings.

The only picture we got of the facilities; the pool was great and the kids used it twice with much delight.

John went for a treadmill run in the fitness centre while the kids vegged on the beds and watched some Food Network and I continued unpacking/catching up on e-mails. We showered and got changed into fresh clothes before heading off.

Though the American home base for John’s company is Denver, he has several colleagues that live in New York. One offered to host a rooftop BBQ, so that was our plan for the evening.

Another great feature of our hotel is the proximity to a shuttle (a 2-minute walk) and this is how we traveled in and out of the city each day. At $3.50/person, our whole family could get into Manhattan for $14, while avoiding having to drive/park in the city or pay a premium for a hotel in Manhattan. The shuttle takes about 15 minutes – the kids enjoyed the Lincoln Tunnel – and drops you off at the Port Authority in Times Square.

We were a bit later getting into Manhattan than planned (see: unfortunate delay at the border above). We had planned to take public transit down to our destination close to Washington Square Park, but the crowds were huge and we were all tired and it was so, so hot. We opted for an Uber.

The BBQ was amazing. I had only met one of his colleagues (years ago in Sydney, Australia before he even officially worked for this company), but everyone was lovely and welcoming. I brought UNO along and played with Levi for about 30 minutes while Abby explored and John took a work call (ironically enough).

The rooftop pool was pretty crowded, but as soon as it thinned out, Abby and Levi were anxious to go swimming. I mean. Swimming on top of a high rise with the Chrysler Building in the background? That’s pretty hard to beat. In fact, this moment of watching them swim, with soft evening shadows, was probably my single favourite moment of the whole trip.

It’s hard to distinguish in this picture, but basically straight up from Abby’s handstand is the Chrysler Building!

It had been a sweltering day, but things cooled off and the whole experience was lovely in a pinch-me-cuz-I’m-dreaming kind of way.

That’s the One World Trade Centre (also known as the Freedom Tower) off to the right. It’s over 0.5 km tall! This is the tallest building in the USA and the 7th tallest building in the world.

The building right next to where we were sitting for supper (not pictured) apparently used to house John Legend and Chrissy Teigen. That was the closest we got to a celebrity sighting. This was slightly disappointing as our last time in NYC John actually photobombed a Katie Holmes movie scene (100% accidentally – but he literally walked into the middle of the set while they were filming!).

We said our goodbyes and planned to take the subway back to Times Square but then…you guessed it…about 2 minutes after we left the BBQ, a child (who – hint, hint – can stand to pee) had to DESPERATELY use the bathroom. We walked in circles for what felt like forever (it was less than 10 minutes) and could not find a single public bathroom. Eventually we spotted an empty car park that had a small tree. Not ideal, but it worked.

By this point we were feeling a bit frazzled and decided we’d just keep walking. It was a beautiful night and we walked all the way back up to Times Square (from 4th Street). We got the kids an ice cream en route.

I was completely unaware John snapped this picture, but I love how candid it is as Levi holds my hand.

The kids were a bit overwhelmed by all the crowds and, at dusk, we passed some people that were disoriented from recreational “pursuits” which was startling for them. Overall this was a common theme in NYC – the kids feeling a bit confused/overwhelmed by the smells (especially of cigarette smoke which just hangs around everywhere) and crowds.

We saw The Flatiron and the Empire State Building. The kids got to experience Times Square in all its nighttime opulence.

The line for the shuttle was unreal (like 100 people long), because of some weekend events in the city. The kids were exhausted, so we ended up getting another Uber to take us back to our hotel. We only used Ubers this first evening – they were more expensive than public transit, but 100% worth it based on our energy levels and the crowds. Every other time the shuttle worked perfectly.

It was after 10:30 before we got back to the hotel and we were all exhausted. I had a little snack; there were lots to choose from. Our fridge and shelves looked like we were moving in for a month – though almost all of this food was used up over the course of our four days in the city.

There was no rush for Monday morning, so we went to bed with some big memories – some amazing (swimming on the roof! ice cream after dark!) and some less amazing (the border! no AC!) – from the day.

Your turn – anyone a big fan of NYC? Has anyone else been surprised to recognize different nuances in a city when you’ve traveled with kids?

Casual Friday + Anxiety and Things Making Me Smile

I felt all over the place emotionally this week. But, at the end of the day, life’s good.

Saturday was tough. Sunday was wonderful. Monday and Tuesday I literally felt like my skin was crawling with anxiety – despite some onion ring-and-chocolate therapy. Wednesday? Felt great. Thursday? Hit-and-miss.

For better or worse, I function best when I have a concrete to-do list (even if that is: “Go adventure today”) and I’m recognizing how the lack of that structure is not a great fit right now.

I’ve been trying to attack the branches – and they have been thorny and annoying. A work “emergency” that materialized right before soccer practice one night (so it had lots of time to fester and worry me). Stress about renovations. Evening events that keep pushing kid bedtimes later than ideal. The (ironic) learning curve of “anti-diet” eating.

But to tackle the root, I need to get back to basics and force our casual summer into something (slightly) more structured. I want to get up earlier to fit in my daily walk first thing – this has been so much harder to accomplish now that the kids are home and we don’t walk them to school. I want to get back to reading my Bible every day. I want to finish drafting trip recaps. I want to get the kids to bed earlier. I want to eat more vegetables and have a bit more structure in my eating routine.

While I feel like I should love the flexibility of summer, I don’t always. And that’s okay (I say quasi-confidently).

Next week will be more structured as the kids are in a sports camp. It’s only partial days (9 am – 12:30 pm), but that will require a more formal morning routine and provide dedicated time for me to work in the office, drink a hot beverage in peace, and fit in some workouts (hopefully at least a few runs?)

Despite moments of sheer panic from feeling so “off” there were a lot of truly wonderful moments too – I’m trying to focus on those.

Some things making me smile this week

  • The beach. After church on Sunday we packed up and headed to a beach. Abby and John “surfed” (the waves were small and choppy so the surfboards largely functioned as giant boogie boards, but it was fun nonetheless). The kids played together in the sand, digging giant holes and trying to protect them from the incoming tide. It was a delight to see them so happy.
  • I e-mailed a dear friend (host of my Soup-and-Sandwich-Oasis) to unload some of my mental angst. As always, she was a supportive listener. But it was how she signed off on her reply that really made me smile. Love & hugs 24/7/365. Bless.
  • Friends we haven’t seen in years were visiting from Germany and came over for supper on Tuesday. Full disclosure: I was near tears before they arrived. I had been dealing with stressful work stuff all day, contractors were outside in the driveway (using jackhammers!), bathrooms needed to be cleaned…I was feeling frazzled and exhausted and very much not ready to entertain. And then they arrived and it was great. All the kids darted off to play as soon as supper was over; a neighbourhood gaggle ended up on our side lawn talking and playing soccer. With the kids entertained outside, the adults got to sit and talk for hours, largely without interruption. When the sun went down, the kids grabbed flashlights and played outside some more.
  • Renovations are re-started. Everything is bottlenecked because of supply and labour shortages, but we made some progress this week. Renovations really stress me out – the cost (more than anything! how I hate spending money), the decisions, the mess/noise. I think a big chunk of my anxiety this week was tied to the uncertainty of renovations and all they entail. But I’m also so thankful we have found someone we trust who does good work. They found a small amount of rot, but fixed it without difficulty. The house did not collapse. And all the activity provided built-in entertainment. Multiple times I went looking for the kids, only to find them mesmerized by decking progress.
  • Also making me smile – The fact we now have a deck. We have NEVER had a proper deck at our house (and neither of our apartments had balconies).
  • Friends (who our kids call “auntie and uncle” even though we’re not actually related) rearranged their schedule to come help us cheer Levi on in his first ever soccer game. Having them there really made our family smile!
  • Levi’s game. He was great offensively (and scored a goal), but quickly volunteered to be goalie and was amazing! It started POURING rain about 2 minutes after the game ended, which somehow made the whole experience even more thrilling.
  • A friend sent this and I had to laugh! Things have been 1000x times better for me with nighttime waking since I went to the osteopath, but I can still relate!
  • We are now a pet family. Abby has been waiting since April for this hamster. We kept pushing it off because of travel plans and I really, really wanted to wait until September, but she simply would not allow further delays. Fair enough. So…meet Meatball. We went through dozens of names (other frontrunners were Cheddar and Twizzler – I guess we prefer to brainstorm food-related names?), but Meatball really suits this sweet little guy.
  • Reconnecting with my bestie who was away at the same time we were road-tripping. We fit in a long morning walk and, per tradition, she brought me a new Trader Joe’s bag from California. She knows me well – waffles are pretty much a love language in our house.

Your turn. Any big ups and downs this week? I hope you’ve found lots of things that make you smile.

Frost Family Roadtrip Days 8b-9: Toronto (Night Skyline, Art Gallery)

This is it – my final recap from our adventures in Toronto!

After my sister made her last-minute offer to keep the kiddos at her place, John and I left Barrie late-afternoon on Friday (Day #8). We dropped a few things at the condo, and then drove to the closest subway station. We were planning to stay downtown quite late, and I didn’t relish the thought of a 1.5 km walk home in the dark. It was only $2 for parking, so this was a no-brainer.

It was so much easier to navigate the city without kids in tow! This time we only bought a round-trip ticket for the subway, instead of a day-pass, since we planned to only use the subway for the long route of getting down and back.

On our agenda:

  • Supper out
  • City Hall/Skyline at night
  • Art Gallery of Ontario
  • Chinatown/Kensington Market

Each year around our anniversary we try to visit one of our favourite restaurants (a steakhouse chain), which happens to have several locations in Toronto. We found a convenient spot downtown and made a reservation.

Supper was lovely. The food is delicious and, since we go each year, I also knew exactly what I want to order. I know some people relish the idea of trying new restaurants, but I find it stressful. If I’m being honest it mostly boils down to money. I’m happy to be adventurous if someone else is paying, but if we’re responsible for the bill, I prefer to eat at a place I know I’m going to enjoy (and avoid decision fatigue).

This meal (and our time alone together) did not disappoint! It’s wonderful being married to your best friend. By the time we finished eating it was dusk, so I suggested we go back to City Hall/Nathan Philip’s Square. It was absolutely gorgeous and I enjoyed just sitting and watching the water fountains. The temperature was perfect once the sun went down.

We really wanted to see the city skyline at night. We considered going to Centre Island, which has an iconic view and would have been lovely at night. But…we had already been there earlier in our visit and it would have cost about $16. In the end we opted to walk to Trillium Park, which is on the outskirts of the city.

It ended up being a very long trek – it was about 4 km each way, and some of it was not well-lit. I was really tired (it was about 10:30 pm at this point) and if I had it to do over again, I would have walked down mid-evening, had a picnic on the shore of the harbour, and watched the sunset/waited for all the city lights to come on. (Or we could have taken that ferry to Centre Island, and wouldn’t have had to walk very far at all.)

But I’m cheap. And Trillium Park didn’t seem very far away when I looked at a map. At one point I thought: “I would give absolutely anything to magically snap my fingers and be home in bed”. And, adding insult to injury, the whole walk down I realized we would be walking a long way back, too.

But then we reached the park and the views were stunning and it all felt worth it. We were so, so glad we hadn’t tried to do this with the kids. We sat on the shoreline and listened to the waves and admired the skyline.

Ordinarily this would have been a good time to call an Uber (which, of course, would have cost far more than the ferry tickets to Centre Island), but it was suddenly incredibly busy since The Chicks were playing at a concert venue right next to Trillium Park. We did in fact have to walk 4 km back, but managed to find a slightly easier route.

I was very happy to reach public transit (I actually had a series of micro naps on the subway) and was very happy we had parked at the subway station.

We ended up having a great sleep (even if it was 1:30 am before we got back and settled at the condo!), and it was such a treat to not have to coordinate breakfast for the kids. I did some repacking for NYC, enjoyed a big mug of hot coffee and then we headed out for one final day of exploration in Toronto.

We had never planned to go to the Art Gallery of Ontario because we knew this wasn’t something the kids were likely to enjoy. Now that they were being happily entertained by my sister, we decided to add this stop to our roster.

We arrived before the gallery was open, so took the opportunity to wander through Chinatown and Kensington Market (the latter reminded me a lot of Christiania/Freetown in Copenhagen).

We got back to the gallery shortly after it opened and spent the next few hours exploring that space. There were some excellent collections by Canadian artists. The European art was a bit underwhelming; there was one Van Gogh (our favourite artist, but this particular work was not too exciting), a Picasso, several by Gauguin, a Monet. As per usual, I enjoyed the architectural spaces within the gallery – especially this enormous wooden spiral staircase.

There was a really beautiful exhibit full of reflective orbs.

We spotted one Alex Colville (he attended the undergraduate university where John and I met/got married and went on to live in Wolfville) but were surprised there wasn’t more of his work featured in the gallery.

I was drawn to this painting, descriptively titled The Tiff – I thought the artist captured such a relatable moment so accurately.

We stopped at the gallery cafe and enjoyed some absolutely delicious (albeit outrageously priced) desserts. It was worth every penny, though, for a nice quiet moment enjoyed together in a gorgeous space.

After the gallery, we wandered around for a few more hours. We walked back to St. Lawrence Market.

We took pictures of the back of the “Flatiron” which has a fascinating mural (it is actually painted on a giant panel that sticks out a foot or so off the back wall of the building).

I bought a soft-serve ice cream at McDonald’s (I had been craving one all week because of the heat). We bought a postcard to send to ourselves. Nothing too exciting but, at this point, I really felt (aside from that elusive Blue Jay’s home game), I had seen everything I wanted to in Toronto!

By the time we got back to the subway station/our car, it was time to rendezvous with my sister to get the kids.

The return trip into Toronto was the only real traffic we encountered the whole week, but even still we were settled by 6:30 pm. I made the kids a box of Mac n’ Cheese for supper, we watched a bit of a movie, did a load of laundry, packed the car for New York City, showered, and went to bed.

So long Toronto!

Frost Family Roadtrip Days 6-8a: Toronto (City Hall, Eaton Centre, Ripley’s Aquarium) – Barrie

After our late-night BBQ on Tuesday – and a lot of walking – we were a more subdued family on Wednesday morning. We slept well, but everyone was still awake early because of the 1-hour shift in time zone. The kids eased into their day by watching the final Kenobi episode on Disney+ while eating breakfast.

On our agenda:

  • City Hall/Nathan Philip’s Square
  • Eaton Centre
  • Dundas Square
  • CN Tower/Ripley’s Aquarium
  • Distillery District (didn’t make it!)
  • Barrie

We took the subway back to the downtown core, stopping just shy of Union Station so we were closer to City Hall/Nathan Philip’s Square. My father-in-law used to work at City Hall, which gave this visit special significance. We couldn’t believe how empty things were at the central plaza. More generally, Toronto seemed almost eerily quiet/devoid of people during our entire visit.

Abby wanted to take a picture of John and I; Levi, naturally, decided to photobomb.

In addition to the unique architecture of City Hall and the iconic TORONTO sign, the pool had an interesting art installation. From one angle the shapes were designed to look like houses, a school bus, and a church partially submerged due to rising water levels; from the opposite side, the same shapes (unpainted) looked like icebergs in a flow.

This space becomes a public skating arena in the winter – wouldn’t it be fun to skate here at night with the lights of the plaza twinkling in the background? The kids really enjoyed this stop and insisted on posing in front of every letter.

Abby and I had a few minutes alone while the boys explored; I love this picture of our shadows!

By 10 am it was oppressively hot. We planned to navigate from City Hall to Dundas Square (Toronto’s equivalent of Times Square) and opted to walk through the Eaton Centre (Toronto’s famous mall and North America’s busiest shopping mall) to get there since it offered respite from the heat.

We really enjoyed the Eaton Centre. It was clean, nicely laid out and had PUBLIC BATHROOMS. This final part was key. You will hear me reference public bathrooms repeatedly in these recaps because they were such a hassle; it seemed our kids only needed bathroom breaks at the most inopportune times. And yes, we always made everyone go whenever we stopped at a public bathroom…but there were still crisis moments nonetheless.

It also had lots of escalators and our kids still love escalators. Who am I kidding? I still love escalators. So we took a lot of unnecessary trips up and down escalators because it was fun and there was air-conditioning (and bathrooms).

We splurged on some delicious treats at Purdy’s Chocolates. These were incredible (though at $12 for 10 chocolates, it was a steep price tag); it made for a fun memory as the kids appreciated getting to make individual selections.

Back into the heat, we emerged in the middle of Dundas Square. It had some water features that allowed the kids to wet their hands and cool down. One of the reasons we timed our trip for June was to avoid the oppressive summer heat, but we hit Toronto at the wrong time. It was sweltering. About 40 degrees (Celcius) with the humidex.

And at this point in the day, I made a bad call. I love food, but find dining choices overwhelming when we’re traveling (especially in a city where there seem to be an infinite number of options). John mentioned we could go to the huge food court in the Eaton Centre so we could all pick something we wanted…but I said we should navigate to a Wendy’s (the kids’ request) so there was no choice involved.

We found one close to our next destination and navigated there, only to spend 30 minutes (and an additional 2 km of walking) trying to find this elusive Wendy’s. We finally asked for directions – turns out it was down a dead-end street which did not show up properly on Google Maps. When we finally arrived, we discovered it was a pick-up-only station for online orders (like UberEats). So not only were we tired and hungry and hot, we also couldn’t get any food at this pseudo-Wendy’s location. At least we got some great views of the CN Tower, Union Station. I really do love architecture.

Union Station (Toronto’s equivalent to New York’s Grand Central)

We eventually found a food court nearby with a Subway…which we could have had back at the Eaton Centre. Sigh. My sub was delicious, but I was sweaty and frazzled. In happier news, while at the food court we bought tickets for Ripley’s Aquarium.

Ripley’s came highly recommended by family and friends; the price point was enough we dithered a bit, especially since the entry was timed so we had to coordinate our schedule. (Note there is a 20% discount available for CAA members; with those savings, it was $130 for our family.)

I have mixed feelings about aquariums and zoos. With a background in ecology, I appreciate the difficulties associated with conditions in these spaces, but also recognize the role they can play in awareness and inspiring future generations to pursue careers and support causes to protect the environment and the creatures in it. This was actually my first time visiting a large aquarium and I thought it was excellent.

Before we got to the entrance I had to pose in front of Rogers Centre. Hands down my biggest regret on this trip was not getting to see the Toronto Blue Jays play. I have loved major league baseball my whole life and tickets in Toronto are both readily available and affordable. They had home games with the Yankee’s and Red Sox (their main rivals) in the week before and after our trip, but were on the road the whole time we were in Toronto. We explored options for changing our trip itinerary to accommodate a home game, but it just didn’t make sense. This was a big disappointment. Oh well. Another time, and gives me a great reason to return to Toronto again! Ironically, my brother-in-law had 5 tickets for Canada Day, and our whole family could have gone for free. Win some, lose some.

Back to the aquarium. This experience had highs and lows. The kids wanted to rush from one display to the next and that was…frustrating. I prefer to wander slowly and really enjoy the experience; the kids were either sighing about being held back or rushing past interesting exhibits. Also, one child was battling an upper sinus issue that day (no sneezing or runny nose, just a lot of pressure – and I didn’t think about antihistamines until that evening) and that definitely impacted their mood. But, there were many enjoyable moments, too.

We timed our visit perfectly to take in the daily sting-ray feeding. This was SO cool. The kids’ moods were tanking around this point, and it felt wonderful to sit down in the dark. I also pulled out a handful of candy (Mike and Ike’s were one of the best “hacks” from our trip; they don’t melt and are delicious – I brought along a small dish of them every single day). The combination of rest and sugar did wonders for us all.

A related highlight was the Touch Tank with smaller stingrays. Probably my favourite experience from the aquarium.

I also really enjoyed the “kelp forest” which was a huge cylindrical tank scaling multiple levels of the aquarium. Watching fish swim in and around huge clumps of kelp – gently swaying in the current – was mesmerizing. There were also really fun interactive displays like standing on a scale that would tell you how much you would be worth if you were a tuna (I can see this being problematic on many levels, but it was irresistible. I haven’t stepped on a bathroom scale for several months but, if I was a tuna, I’d be worth around $13,000!!). At another exhibit, you could hold your hand under water being circulated at the speed/temperature of the surrounding tanks. It was freezing!

There is a moving sidewalk that slowly takes you under overhead tanks. It was incredible to see sharks and turtles swimming all around.

And now I can share another bathroom debacle (if running down the street after being locked out of a PortaPotty wasn’t enough drama). Right before we left the aquarium, I wanted everyone to use the bathroom. Because a connecting hallway was shut down for a private event and since, due to COVID, traffic could only move in one direction, we actually had to leave the aquarium and enter/show our tickets again to access a bathroom. But then, to exit, we had to navigate through the ENTIRE museum. There were a few shortcuts along the way, but people must have thought we were crazy walking by everything so fast!

Another day I think this aquarium visit would have been an A+ for the kids; even as a B-, I’m really glad we went.

Loved this manhole outside the aquarium!

But when we left the aquarium everything started to break down. One adult was keen to keep exploring (we had discussed going to the Distillery District), while another adult was very much ready to call it a day (I’m discreetly not mentioning names here, though you might be able to Sherlock Holmes the situation), and both kids were completely over it. In the end, we headed back to the condo mid-afternoon and regrouped for our next adventure – heading to Barrie to see my sister.

My brother-in-law works in Toronto Monday – Wednesday (things have changed a lot because of the pandemic, so he works more from home now), so he left after work for Barrie and we followed around 6:30 pm. We arrived in Barrie before my sister finished her shift and settled in before she got home and we enjoyed a delicious BBQ supper.

The kids spent some time in the hot tub, and the adults stayed up late chatting. I haven’t seen this sister in 3.5 years, so it was great to reconnect in person.

barrie (Days 7+8)

After some busy days, we were keen to relax. My sister – an amateur athlete (she’s doing two Ironman competitions this summer!) – had mapped out a running route for John and me to do our first morning. It was a great run and it felt amazing to be home, showered, and drinking hot coffee by 8:30 am.

The kids spent lots of time…relaxing. Abby loved having access to cable and watched lots of Food Network. Levi spent lots of time playing Pop-a-Shot (can I brag slightly and say I was -shockingly – the runaway champ at this?) and video games.

I napped one afternoon in their hammock (one of the highlights of my visit – solitude was hard to come by while we were away).

My 18-year-old nephew, who recently completed basic training, took two days of leave from his current military posting and came to visit. It was wonderful to see him. He’s an accomplished soccer player and took Levi under his wing. He also passed along some great soccer equipment (goalie gloves! A solo-trainer belt!) and spent a lot of time playing with Levi.

It was also wonderful to see my niece who is such an inspiration. She has a range of special needs and has faced so many challenges in life, but is thriving in excellent care and we got to see her for large chunks of each day. It made me so happy to see my own kids get to interact with her in their own way. She is a special delight who has taught our whole family so much over the years.

We spent lots of time outside, too. A stroll along the waterfront in Barrie where the kids watched some baby ducks and played at a huge waterfront playground with my sister while John and I walked further along the shore. That evening we went to a local high school soccer field and spent several hours playing soccer before coming home to pile into the hot tub.

My sister made delicious chocolate chip cookies using a recipe from my grandmother that I’d never seen/had before!? Seeing my grandmother’s handwriting was a nostalgic treat I was not expecting and I will definitely be making this recipe soon.

My brother-in-law took us to the local air force base where he previously worked and we toured the military museum. It really struck me when I saw the hanger filled with different models of tanks – can you imagine looking outside and seeing those coming down the street toward you? “Ordinary” people who overnight are plunged into war zones. It just felt so much more tangible to conceptualize this after seeing similar equipment up close. It was sobering.

We were all scheduled to return to Toronto Friday evening, when my sister offered to keep the kiddos at her house in Barrie so John and I could have 24 hours solo in the city. The kids were thrilled, so we left them in her capable hands. It sounds like there was lots more time spent in the hot tub, watching TV, as well as another stint at a park playing soccer + a splashpad. Oh, and ice cream twice (once in the hot tub).

Phew. One more day in Toronto to recap, and then we were off to New York City!

Keeping It Real – Onion Rings and a Chocolate Bar

This afternoon I had a moment.

We had just come back from another jaunt to the beach which sounds lovely – and it was – but I’m here to admit I have officially hit my summer angst mode.

I’m restless.

I miss routine and time alone.

(And I feel so, so guilty. Because my life is great. The kids are great. John is great. There is so much great and still I’m restless.)

This happens, to some degree, every year. I stop reading. I stop using my planner. I stop cooking vegetables and we eat peanut butter sandwiches or scrambled eggs for every meal (not really, but frequently).

We also get funny tan lines and savour ice cream and stay up late and generally make great memories.

But I also flounder a bit.

Adventurous Elisabeth has a blast, while routine-loving/creative Elisabeth sulks in the corner.

Back to today. The kids were getting cleaned up from the beach and I was sitting rather aimlessly at the table. I knew I didn’t have time to put in serious effort on a work task that will require concentrated effort (late tonight?). The rest of the afternoon felt nebulous. Levi’s invited to a friend’s for supper. Both kids have soccer. John was heading out for a run. We have company coming tomorrow for supper and the house is a hot mess but contractors are supposed to be here working during the day, so there’s no point in mopping floors.

And then, amidst the crazy, my mind decided to start catastrophizing about how I haven’t been running in two weeks. Never mind it has been several years since I ran seriously in the summer, and I know this isn’t the year to get back into that headspace. I turned down some running opportunities last week and, with minimal effort, could fit it in during the day since John is on sabbatical. It’s not for lack of availability. It’s lack of motivation which makes me feel…not so great about myself.

I feel stuck in a summer rut and, today, this mental spiral did not go particularly well. Because instead of putting on shorts and running shoes and using the treadmill, you know what I did?

I finished off a bag of Sour Cream Onion rings and washed those down with half a chocolate bar.

I guess that’s one response to not fitting in a run?

Does anyone else find the switch to summer routines tough? I love summer! I crave it and talk about it wistfully all winter long. And then it comes and I secretly start looking forward to the fall (at which point I complain about how cold it’s getting and lament it’s not summer).

Header photo by Tetiana Bykovets on Unsplash