A Rambler’s Guide to Hidden Treasure

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You pass by them every day. Hiding in your local park. Tucked in among the trees at the end of the street. Stashed in the empty lot behind the mall. Little treasures hidden all over the city, while you walk by with nary an inkling.

That, my friend, is because you are a Muggle.

‘Muggle’ is the name geocachers give to non-geocaching folk. But what is geocaching? It’s a world-wide, year-around, easter-egg hunt. It’s hide-and-seek, but with loot. It is also one great excuse to get out and do some more rambling before the snow flies (again).

Geomonster with our first find.

A cache is a little container, carefully concealed from the prying eyes of Muggles. It holds a log book where finders can record their visit, and (usually) some trinkets for swapping. Take a trinket, leave a trinket, write your name – it’s that simple. Well, once you find it of course.

Chances are, there’s at least one cache within walking distance of where you are right now. Just look at all the caches in downtown Ottawa alone:

Geocaches in Downtown Ottawa

Some caches will hold ‘travellers’, with a metal tag (or ‘travel-bug’) attached. The tag has a number which allows it to be tracked on the web. Some travellers are sent out just to roam the world, others have specific goals in mind. Either way, their owners (and anyone else) can track their progress on geocaching.com.

Travel Bug

Most importantly, geocaching is family friendly – what kid can resist the allure of hidden loot? Miss Bea picked a Pooh figurine from her first find, and proudly carried it home to Daddy. I have a travel bug waiting for a mission, I’m thinking I may send it out to make it’s way around the British Isles, to return in time for Miss Bea’s 10th birthday, when we can plan a trip to follow in it’s footsteps.

And speaking of hidden treasure, here’s a find: geonarcissa’s list of family-friendly caches in Ottawa. “The caches on this list are accessible to families with kids in strollers, or easy to grab while a little one snoozes in the carseat. I’ve done them all!”. I contacted her while preparing this post, to ask her advice on families starting out, and not only did she come up with a great list, she posted it to her blog: Geocaching With Kids – Some Helpful Tips.

A word of warning though: geocaching is addictive. Ever since getting into this a couple of weeks ago, I find myself checking for caches wherever I go. Gotta run to Home Depot? There’s a cache at the end of the street. Going for a walk? You’re bound to pass some. And to think I thought I’d already discovered all Andrew Haydon Park had to offer.

Ready to start?  Here are some useful resources:

So check the map, put on your explorer boots and hats (and scarves and mittens), and go find some hidden treasure!

Mom-to-Mom Giving

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Barely a month into blogging and I’m already off topic! Clearly, the stroller isn’t the only thing rambling around here. Actually, I’m not as far off as you might think: giving feels good, and that ties nicely into the original goal of this blog. And so, with a little bit of leftover Thanksgiving spirit, here is a list of mom-to-mom giving ideas:

The Diaper Bag Project

It’s one of those brilliantly simple, gee-I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that ideas: collect gently used diaper bags, and the stuff that goes in ‘em, and deliver the stocked bags to women’s shelters, teen mom centres, and anywhere else you might find new moms in need. Brainchild of a Kanata mom, since it’s inception a mere 6 weeks ago the project has already collected enough sleepers and blankets to overtax the organizer’s storage space, and has delivered 4 bags to a local women’s shelter.

Items needed:

  • diaper bags
  • receiving blankets
  • empty travel wipes cases
  • travel size vaseline/diaper cream
  • newborn/size 1 disposable diapers (perfect for those partial bags that are leftover when baby grows into the next size)
  • empty travel size hand sanitizer bottles
  • newborn size sleepers 

For more information or to donate, contact Erin at diaperbagproject@gmail.com. Erin also blogs at https://mysuburbanadventure.wordpress.com/.

The Food Bank

The Food Bank – it’s not just about the food. The food bank also accepts baby care items, such as diapers and wipes. Something I like to do around Christmas time is pass the hat at work and then a bunch of us go on a shopping spree in the baby aisle. And it doubles as a team building exercise: the folks with older children reminisce, and we tease the young single guys who have no idea what babies need. All Good.

The Snowsuit Fund

It’s that time of year, and if you’ve dusted off last year’s snowsuit and can see 3 inches of ankle between boot and suit, then consider donating it to the Snowsuit Fund. Gently used winter outerwear can be dropped off at any local Canadian Tire or Brown’s Cleaners, or at the Snowsuit Fund depot (225 Donald Street, Unit 134).

Getting Crafty

For those with a crafty side, Yarn Forward accepts new, hand-knit or crocheted hats, mitts and scarves for the Snowsuit Fund. They also keep a stash of customer-donated yarn that you can use for this purpose. Similarly, Wool Tyme keeps a yarn stash and collects blankets for Project Linus.

So, that’s what I was able to come up with, but I’m sure there’s more! If you know of any other mom-to-mom giving opportunities, or have been involved with any of these (as a giver or recipient), please leave details in the comments: I’m planning on updating this information once or twice a year, and I’d love to add your ideas.

The New Kid-Café on the Block

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So is it just me, or is there a sudden boom in the kid-friendly café market? After all, I haven’t been looking for very long, it’s possible I just didn’t notice.

My first clue that such things existed was while expecting Girl the Younger. I was googling for things to do to get myself out of the house after baby arrived, and came across Kid Kaf. A couple weeks later I heard about Two Monkeys (from Savvy Mom, I think), and now we have a new kid friendly café on the block: the Sippy Cup Café in Morgan’s Grant.

This morning I was treated to a taste of what’s in the Sippy Cup, where preparations are in high-gear for Monday’s planned opening. The space was still littered with ladders and cables (and a sprinkling of contractors), but it was not hard to picture what visitors will see on Monday.

When you enter the café, you first pass by the stroller parking in the vestibule. But with no strollers in sight, you’d never guess this was anything other than your typical café – the marble counter-tops, the dark chocolaty colour scheme, and the brick accent wall all say “urban-chic coffee house”.

Walk past the counter and through a glass door and you reach the play room. When I saw it, the play room was still dominated by a large stack of special rubber-backed carpet tiles, designed to provide a little bit of bounce for anyone that goes ‘boom’. But proprietor Preston Martelly described for me the bench-style seating that will run along the wall, the drink shelf (keeping hot lattes away from little hands), and the toys: a play house, workbench, kitchen set, and train table, along with books and a rotating selection of free standing toys.

The menu includes everything you’d expect from the coffee house experience: a wide array of hot and cold drinks, baked treats and fancy sandwiches, plus of course a kid’s menu. This will consist primarily of pre-packaged snacks to start with: the goal, Preston told me, is to keep the play room peanut-free, although the adult menu will include items with nuts.

Preston also expressed an interest in supporting local mompreneurs and parenting groups, by providing a venue for meet-ups or an assembly-point for group field-trips. Such events could be posted to the event calendar on the café website. The calendar will also eventually include on-site activities like kids crafts and movies.

So welcome to the new kid, let’s get together and do coffee.

(re)Discovering Andrew Haydon Park

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I’ve always known it was there, and have even spent some time walking through it, but a few weeks ago I rediscovered Andrew Haydon Park. Have you ever noticed the picturesque little waterfall hiding at the west end of the park? Or watched the radio-controlled sailboats race on the pond?

It all started with a leisurely stroll ’round the pond with Girl the Younger, when she decided to break her habit of sleeping through absolutely anything (except, of course, ‘the night’), and needed to be fed. It was one of those lovely, mild, post-heat wave days in August, and we found the nicest nursing spot in town: a bench just off the beaten path, facing the river. So there we sat, a soft breeze playing on our faces, I nibbling on my leftover Moxies asparagus-and-goat-cheese pizza; she nibbling on, well, her lunch. It was all so gosh darn perfect that I was compelled to rush home and throw together a picnic dinner for Daddy and Girl the Elder.

The park sports three play structures, two near the middle of the park and a water play park at the east end. Elder (at 20 months) enjoys the larger play structures, but they are definitely designed for the older kids (some of whom tend to run rough-shod over stray toddlers). The water park is sized better for the younger set, and also has washrooms near by.

The landscape is dominated by two large ponds, encircled by paved (read: stroller friendly) walking paths.  These are perfect for a leisurely stroll or a run, and have links to the NCC path network.  I found the paths great for some of those early post-baby outings, when you’re not sure how much walking you are up for (or how much time baby will spend happily in stroller) – you can park in the middle of the park with plenty of pathway available, while keeping within an easy striking distance of the car.

The big event in the park is Canada Day, but the Nepean Concert Band also performs at the bandshell bi-weekly on Wednesday evenings, from June to August (Damn! Maybe next year). Other groups perform there as well – our picnic was serenaded by a Christian sing-along group (who were nothing if not enthusiastic) – but darned if I can find a schedule. The Rideau Nautical modellers and the Ottawa Area Model Yacht Club are out on the pond Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 until 2, and Wednesday evenings from 6 until 8, and have always been more than happy to talk whenever I come by.

And finally, there’s the wildlife.  Girl the Elder loves to point out the geese (her first sign after ‘milk’ was ‘bird’), and there are plenty to be had – thankfully the pathways get cleaned periodically.  On our last walk, we treated to a gray heron (?) sighting at the end of the east pond.  And me with nothing but a camera phone – I won’t let that happen again.

Starting Small

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I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a very long time; partly as an exercise in writing, partly as added motivation to get out and about. I have often reflected that we live in our nation’s capital, and yet rarely take in the sights. I had grand ideas of crafting stroller-friendly walking tours all over the city, complete with good pitstops for nursing and diaper changes, kid-friendly attractions and the best icecream parlours (all carefully tested, of course).

Fast forward 15 months or so, and I still have all my brainstorming notes, notes from the walks I did take, and even a blog entry waiting to be posted that is as meandering as the walk that inspired it. I also have another baby on the way*, and so all the more reason to get those stroller-friendly tours together. But in the interest of finally getting started, I’ve decided to start small: at the mall.

Malls are a great place for new moms, which is probably why you see so many of them around (moms I mean, not malls). Malls are climate controlled. They have ramps and elevators. They quite often have covered parking, and nice wide family parking spots close to the doors. Many have family bathrooms, nursing lounges, and a customer service desk with strollers and spare diapers. And even for ‘non-shoppers’ (like yours truly), they can offer a welcome break: I could sit on a sofa at Bayshore with a good book and let my 3-month-old amuse herself people watching, there was no way that that could happen at home.

There are, of course, many malls in Ottawa, these are just a few reflections on the ones I’ve spent time in with my daughter. Perhaps at some point I’ll put together a more complete list with all the kid-features reviewed (probably around the same time I get around to those stroller-friendly walking tours).

Bayshore
http://bayshoreshoppingcentre.com/

Bayshore is where I spent most of my mall-time during my mat leave. It was definitely nicest for walking around, with a wide open feel and natural light. It also has ample covered parking, so you can get everyone from the car to the mall with minimal exposure to the elements. The mall itself sports most of the ‘standard’ family friendly amenities: strollers and diapers from customer service (although they were all out of diapers the one time I asked), a family washroom (more on that below), and family parking spots.

Bayshore has a family washroom (on the ground floor, near Home Sense), but about the only good thing I can say about it is that the entrance doesn’t have a door, which simplifies access with a stroller. The space is strangely laid out and cramped: the minute a second stroller comes in, it’s like navigating one of those traffic puzzles. It has a playpen-like space, to deposit a little one while mom or dad washes up or attends to another child. It also includes a nursing ‘room’, which is a like a double-sized bathroom cubicle, with all the ambiance of, well, a bathroom cubicle. This is the only option in the mall for private nursing – and it tends to be taken when you need it. That being said, I’ve noticed more and more moms choosing to nurse in the sofas in the adjoining hallway (the benches outside Old Navy, up on the third floor, seems to be another popular spot).

One complaint I’ve heard about Bayshore when it comes to strollers is the elevators: they tend to be busy and not everyone respects the signs asking to give preference to strollers & wheelchairs. Personally , I’ve never found myself missing out on an elevator because it’s full of able-bodied people (ok, I came close once, but squeezed in: I have few qualms about ‘inconveniencing’ people who could have taken the stairs or escalators). And between the 1st and 2nd floors, try the elevators in Zellers or Winners/Homesense, which are hardly ever in use.

The all-important food court is located on the top floor, as far as humanly possible from the family washrooms (whose idea was that?). There are change tables in the adjoining washrooms, but there are also very loud hand dryers; if your little one is frightened by loud noises, you may be better off toting them down to the family washroom. The food court also has a sprinkling of high chairs, and I’ve generally found the food sellers quite amenable to providing hot water to heat a bottle (provided you’re also buying food).

Carlingwood
http://www.carlingwood.com

Carlingwood also has diapers and strollers available from customer service, although the one time I had to ask for a diaper they were all out of my size. They also have covered parking, but not adjacent to the mall building, so you still have to make a dash on a rainy/snowy day. The nursing room is much nicer than Bayshore, it’s an actual room with two easychairs and a door that locks. The lock is a double-edged sword though – if you really can’t share with another mom you can lock it behind you, but that’s of little comfort if you’re on the wrong side of the door. I also know of at least one occasion when it was commandeered by a couple of mall employees getting out of their work uniforms and ready for a night on the town – not very helpful. And there’s one of those crazy jet-engine-powered hand dryers just outside the door – again not fun if your little one jumps at loud noises.

Carlingwood, IMHO, isn’t as nice to walk around in as Bayshore, but it does have one key advantage: it actually has two ‘practical’ shopping options, a grocery store and a drugstore, so you can get out (in) for a stroll and actually pick off some errands while you’re at it.

Ikea
http://www.ikea.ca

Ok, so not technically a mall, but Ikea has some of the same advantages, and a few others to boot. Their family parking is actually adjacent to the building, no navigating traffic required. And I took Girl the Elder there once and we just floated from one play station to the next – she was just learning to walk, and had almost as much fun spinning the x’s and o’s game on the wall as I had watching her do it. I also have yet to see another public cafeteria where they serve baby food – and at the same price you’d buy it in the grocery store: it’s clearly there as a courtesy, not a profit generator (well, perhaps ‘courtesy’ is overly optimistic: I’m sure that like the cafeteria itself it’s a carefully calculated strategy to make sure you don’t have to leave the store before you’re done your shopping, but hey – call it a win-win). They also have a teeny tiny nursing room by the cafeteria, but with the usual issue that there’s just room for one, so if it’s taken then you’re stuck.


* And given that the ‘baby on the way’ is now 6 weeks old, it really is time to get started 🙂