I’m a downtown, Toronto mom with urban kids who walk to school and extracurricular activities. Because of our pedestrian lifestyle, I am always on the hunt for active wear for my kids that will allow them to play hard and be seen.
In our busy neighbourhood, safety is always at the forefront of my mind. I always let my kids know how important it is for them to watch out for vehicle traffic, cyclists and other pedestrians because not everyone can see them. Now that the sun is going down earlier in the evening and we’re walking home from after school care in the dusk, SAFETY is paramount.
I WORRY A LOT. I WANT MY KIDS TO PLAY HARD AND BE SEEN.
When we head out to the country to visit my folks, I get worried sick about walking across the highway to get to the corner store or park. Even though it’s something kids have been doing for many years and they know to look both ways before they cross. I know that I am not the only parent who feels that way.
Fellow Canadian Mom, Scarlet Kux-Kardos is the founder of Zapped Outfitters. Zapped Outfitters has been inspired by our dark, Canadian winters to manufacture items that make kids SAFE without making them look uncool to their peers. And Scarlet has the chops to prove it. She’s the founder of sk2design.com, which is a performance sportswear design studio. Some of their clients include Under Armour, Marmot and Columbia. I’m willing to place my bets that she knows what’s up on the durable and reflective kid’s clothing spectrum.
Zapped Outfitters has created a collection of outerwear products that are REFLECTIVE and WATERPROOF.
Let me explain – each article of active wear – baseball caps, slip on shoes, high top shoes or jacket is embedded with glass beads that reflect light. When the light hits the reflective material, mimicking a headlight from a car, they reflect back. Let me show you:
I put the slip on shoes and baseball hat that Zapped Outfitters sent my daughter to the test. We headed out to a busy, downtown street after dark. First photo, on the left was taken withOUT the flash. The second photo on the right is WITH FLASH, mimicking headlights from a car. The proof is on the picture! The reflective clothing brings more visibility to her.
The slip on shoes Miss M is wearing have a rugged rubber toe cap and a reinforced heel for durability. We parents all know that we don’t want to be buying new kids shoes and clothing ALL THE TIME, so durable is key here. And because they are slip ons, she can get them on fast and be out the door, hanging with her friends before I can sing a cheesy song to her. They retail for $75.00 Canadian. And they’re cool looking. She will legit wear these.
The ball cap have a meshed back (good for sweaty kids… like mine) and can fit any head because of it’s back snap adjustment. Retails for $30.00 Canadian.
Zapped Outfitters has our kid’s back, literally. One of Zapped Outfitter’s products is a backpack. It retails for $80.00 Canadian.
But heads up Moms – before we order the vodka, red bull and sit down with our iPads to get some of these fancy high visibility shoes, hats, backpacks and jackets… and glow sticks… I have to tell you, these are just for kids. There will be no rave in my garage for the neighbourhood Moms. Well, there won’t be one with us wearing our kid’s Zapped Outfitter outerwear at least.
Winter is coming.
Earlier dusk is coming. Don’t delay on checking these products out for your children.
And for rainy days? Their products are WATERPROOF too. Yep, the jacket ($110.00) will keep you dry.
This might be the first line of products like this for kids.
Interested in checking these out for yourself? Click this link to visit Zapped Outfitter’s website and use the code KATHRYNANYWHERE20 for 20% off your online order so your kids can play hard and be seen!
Zapped Outfitters sent my daughter the slip on shoes and hat to test out in exchange for an honest opinion of the products. Our thoughts are all our own.
Norfolk County might not appear to be Ontario’s premiere vacation destination on the surface. However, once you look under the surface, you find Ontario’s South Coast and a flourishing wine, craft beer and agri-tourism industry. Aside from that, it’s a quiet, green place to spend a weekend or take a mid-week trip, only two hours from downtown Toronto. And you find a relatively unknown area for family friendly fun in Norfolk County.
I had realized awhile ago that there was so much of Ontario I had not yet seen or experienced. And I felt that was a shame, so I looked at the parts I was not yet familiar with and started to plan new routes for us. I’ve really made it a point to explore Ontario these past couple summers with my kids and adopt the slogan “Yours To Discover” as a bit of a personal challenge. It’s worth noting that I pretty much accept any challenge that involves exploration, right? Right.
Anyway, this summer, I kept my kids quite busy between our experiences at Bonnechere Provincial Park, venturing into the Grotto on the Bruce Peninsula and hiking. They were ready to slow it down a bit. Norfolk County provided for them a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle they are used to living in the city of Toronto and I wasn’t able to drag them out on to cliffs this time. And it’s just what we needed to enjoy the last week of summer before school started and I head back to the all too familiar grind of working in reality TV.
Where Is Norfolk County?
Norfolk County is made of quite a few small towns in the southwestern part of Ontario. Head southwest from Hamilton or west from St. Catherines/Niagara Falls and you’ll be there in under an hour. It’s important to mention that due to the size of Norfolk County and how spread out everything is from each other, a vehicle is required for touring around.
What Exactly Does Norfolk County Consist Of?
Turkey Point Beach on the South Coast
Turkey Point Provincial Park has a wonderful beach on Lake Erie in the village of Turkey Point. It’s shallow and sandy, which makes it great for kids. Expect to make plenty of sand castles here. The swimming area at the main parking lot in the village is marked by a buoy line and the Ontario Parks website says there is no undertow here. It’s approximately 2 kilometres long and easily accessed by car with a large parking lot. It’s a day use area and if you are just a day visitor opposed to a camper in the camp ground, there is a fee for your car.
The day we were there was not overly busy, we carved out our own space fairly close to the water. I happen to drive around naturally with a pirate ship, sand pails and shovels in the trunk of our Ford Escape, so for Z Man, he was set for fun.
Long Point National Wildlife Area
It’s definitely worth the drive down Long Point towards the sand and pit formation to see one of Canada’s officially designated World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. This is an incredibly important area for wildlife in Norfolk County. There is a diversity of habitats such as marshes, dunes and beaches that are home to more than 75% of migratory birds in Canada. Over 80 bird species nest there!
You can see the marshes from the water and find a secret beach if you know someone who knows how to get you there. For that, you need to look up Captain Graham with Long Point Island Huggers. Graham Ferguson is a really jovial, comical, warm man with a great personal backstory of how he came to chartering boats through the marshes. He takes his pontoon boat that accommodates groups and people of all ages for wonderful cruises from sunrise to sunset. Captain Graham is so knowledgable about the area that you’ll leave the cruise with a whole new appreciation of the wetlands.
Words cannot describe how beautiful the sunset from the water is or how excited my son was to “feed the fish”, so you’ll just have to see for yourself:
Night Time Star Gazing
Z Man is space obsessed and what I did not realize is that Norfolk County is pretty spectacular for star gazing. When the skies are clear, there is an observatory at Long Point Eco Adventures that offers stargazing tours. It is quite prudent to point out that for an amateur like me, a star gazing app on a smart phone is enough to impress a four year old boy.
With the app and the naked eye, we were able to find Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and numerous constellations. We were unable to find Uranus or Neptune, so it looks like we will have to go back and try again.
The last time I saw stars like that was in November 2006 in Namibia, close to Sossusvlei.
Apple Hill Lavender Farm and Raging Bull Pottery
An absolute must-go-to experience in first half of the summertime in Norfolk County is lavender farms. The photos and the scent are just to die for. In late August, around the time we visited, most of the lavender had been harvested. However, you can still find some purple in the fields.
But here, despite the lack of the deep purple fields I expected, lies the beauty in childhood wonder. My kids had no preconceived notions of what a lavender field should look like. All they knew is that they were in a field and they could run up and down the rows. It’s moments like that, I sometimes take for granted. Miss M and Z Man don’t have freedom like that in the city. So, I let them run. I just let that opportunity be exactly that. No one else was there in the way, no one else dictating rules to them. They just got to explore.
The Apple Hill Lavender farm consists of more than just lavender fields. There are sunflowers, a small bee apiary and lots of apple trees. In the old farm house, you will find a shop to purchase lavender products, hand crafted body care products and Ragging Bull Pottery. Ragging Bull Pottery sells handmade, award winning porcelain by artist Melissa Schooley. If you’re looking for an amazing local artisan for house wares, this is it.
There is no admission fee for a self-guided tour. There is a fee for a group tour with live demonstrations and professional photo shoots. Located in Windham Centre, Ontario.
Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery
Still on the lavender fields, but this one is different. Not only is Bonnieheath known for the lavender, it’s a beautiful winery too. Pulling up in your car here is an experience, it feels like an “estate”, like a French Chateau.
This is the kind of place where you can order a glass of wine, then take a walk outside and wander through the lavender fields. Oh and wander through the vineyard too. At the very back of the vineyard you find a wetland. And it’s intentional. The wetland is an environmental project growing native grasses and windflowers to promote biodiversity and attract wildlife back to the area.
In addition to selling wine and ciders, you can also purchase lavender infused food products, like salt and pepper, tea and chocolate. My kids consumed that chocolate faster than anything.
Again, no admission fee. Located in Waterford, Ontario.
Burning Kiln Winery
When it comes to Ontario Wines, I’m really picky. There have been quite a few that have not sat right in my stomach. I went through the tasting menu here and tried all the wines expect one. I liked all of them. So much so, that I bought quite a few bottles of wine to take home. I’m normally not a Riesling fan, but guess what? Loved their Riesling!
While I was doing the tastings, the kids were welcome to play with balls and skipping ropes outside, no problem. There is a restaurant and we ate dinner there. While there is not a kid’s menu, Miss M and Z Man really enjoyed splitting the lamb and I had fish tacos.
Here’s where I am going to give a really interesting piece of agriculture fact and history to you. Norfolk County was once renown for tobacco farms in Canada. It’s part of “Ontario’s Tobacco Belt” and was very prosperous here until the early 2000’s when Ontario started to implement smoking bans. Many farmers have turned their fields into growing ginseng, asparagus, pumpkins, squash and now there are vineyards. Why am I telling you this? On the site of Burning Kiln, was once a tobacco tract.
The original barn has been reconfigured and pays homage to it’s history. The bulk tobacco kilns were repurposed to implement the grape drying art of “appassimento”, which is a technique that started in Italy to really enhance the flavours. And let me tell you, one taste of their Kiln Hanger cabernet franc and you’ll know what I mean about how good they are.
Burning Kiln Winery is located right across the street from where I was staying at Long Point Eco Adventures with the kids. Located approximately 3km from Turkey Point Beach.
Ramblin’ Road Brewery
What happens when kids go to a brewery and they get to eat a bowl ice cream? Mom gets to try craft beer in peace. The idea of serving ice cream at the brewery is pure genius!
When you hang out socially with me, you learn a couple things fairly quickly. I am a cream ale and an IPA fan. And for hangover breakfasts, I will drink a stout. Long story short, I know my beers. Ramblin’ Road Brewery did not disappoint me in that department and I was presented with something new – Ontario’s first potato beer, it’s called Dakota Pearl Ale. I was able to taste the Country Pilsner, Country Cream Ale, Country Lager, Dakota Pearl Ale and 3D Triple Chocolate stout. While the Dakota Pearl Ale was smooth, had a great golden-straw colour with a white head and a nice floral aroma, it is one touch too hoppy for me.
I purchased the 3D Triple Chocolate Stout and the IPA Unleashed. First, I’m a real sucker for chocolate and stouts. The IPA has a bitterness of 48 BU’s, making it a little sweet. The brewery has lots of other products by the parent company for sale such as kettle chips, peanuts and cute t-shirts.
Located just north of Delhi, Ontario.
Vanessa’s Bees and Apiary Tour
The highlight of the week for Miss M was the Apiary Tour. Interestingly enough, she was really hesitant about donning a protective suit and going anywhere near the bees. My somewhat sheltered, urban, Toronto kids in an apiary. Who would have thought?
Let’s be real, kids bring a certain element of the unknown to any situation. Taking them into the apiary, putting on the protective suits and bringing them close to the bees was a calculated risk. As in risk for the bees! I wondering if one of them was going to scream or freak out or knock something over or scare the bees and ruin the work that Vanessa and Cam had lovingly put into the apiary. Turns out my hesitations were unfounded. Again, my kids impressed me. They put on the suit without question and excitedly went towards where the bees were kept. Not only that, Miss M had a drone bee in her hand.
The kids got to experience the whole inner working of the hive. Learn about how drone and worker bees come to be. Learn about the Queen Bee and what happens to the Queen when a new one comes along – spoiler – it doesn’t always end well. It was beyond educational and exciting.
My kids went willingly out of their comfort zone. Maybe it was the promise of honey tasting after all that would be over. Maybe it was knowing we were going to make a candle out of beeswax that they went through with it. All I know if they did and would do it again.
These are the places we went and experienced personally, but that doesn’t mean that’s all of it! What else is there to see or do for family friendly fun in Norfolk County?
The Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum in Waterford
Port Dover Harbour Museum
Zipline at Long Point Eco Adventures
Kayak Tours through Big Creek National Wildlife Area
Zodiac Boat Tours
What’s great about this region, especially if you are from the Toronto area, is that you can come for a weekend or two or three and not even fit in everything I’ve listed above. You could just focus on one area like Long Point and Turkey Point in one weekend.
Go and check out Norfolk County is my advice. Do it before it turns into the next Prince Edward County and you can’t book accommodations anywhere. You can impress your friends with your knowledge of this wine region long before they’ve even heard of it.
The kids are I were guests of Norfolk County Tourism in August, 2018. We were given accommodation and experiences in exchange for an honest review. Our opinion has not been swayed in anyway.
Back in August, I took my friend Chris, from Rudderless Travel out to the metropolis of Apsley, Ontario to spend the day visiting someone very special. We took a journey to visit “Tiny Tim The Mini Donkey”, his new friend Chip and their really amazing owners, Jody and Ted Topping. I had been keeping the secret in my back pocket that I happen to know them. I just knew Chris would have a good time there too.
We thought we were just going for a fun day of visiting and farm fun. However, Jody and Ted had something else in store for me. I got put to work. I am a city girl, bear that in mind. It looks like I’m comfortable in those ugly, worn in running shoes and jeans. I’m truthfully more happy in a skirt or dress and heels. It was definitely fun on the farm.
Anyway, check out the video and see how I make an ass out of myself!
Driving a tractor was a new experience and it was really fun! I seemed to have mastered it really fast. BUT… in all honesty, what I cut out of the video was that it took me about 3 tries to get the tractor into reverse. It was brutal and video is about making me look good, right? I can now list “tractor driving” as skill on my resume, right? Right next to black belt in karate and open water diver.
The hay was dropped in the cow pen – is that what it is called?
My friend Chris made a video blog about the day as well, I recommend you check it out here to see it all.
The Grotto, in Bruce Peninsula National Park, has become one of Southern Ontario’s most popular tourist destinations in the summer. Located near Tobermory, it’s close to lots of other tourist destinations such as Fathom Five National Marine Park where you find Flower Pot Island. I didn’t realize how popular The Grotto was until last summer when we were turned away from seeing it due to the volume of people already there for the day. Luckily, we made it in this summer!
I’ve seen quite a few posts on Instagram and Facebook this summer from others who have attempted to go to the Grotto, but unfortunately could not make it in. I decided to put together this question and answer post of “What You Need To Know About Going To The Grotto” for other travellers before they attempt the journey and are disappointed.
What Is The Grotto?
The Grotto is a shoreline sea cave with the beautiful blue waters. It looks like it’s straight out of the Caribbean! The Grotto is a unique natural wonder and memorable place to experience. An underwater tunnel extends from the pool inside the cave through the cliff to Georgian Bay. This often makes it appear as though the pool is glowing on sunny days.
I do not believe there are other grottos located in Canada. If there are some that anyone else knows of – please let me know.
Where Is the Grotto?
The Grotto, is specifically located close to Cyprus Lake campground in Bruce Peninsula National Park. The national park is on the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula, just outside of Tobermory, Ontario. It is about 300 kilometres or a 4 hour drive northwest of Toronto. It’s on the Bruce Trail.
How Do I Make Sure I Can Get Into The Grotto?
During the peak season of July and August, there are a couple ways to make sure you are in Bruce Peninsula National Park and can access the Grotto:
1.) Be there already as a camper at one of the backcountry sites along Georgian Bay or in Cyprus Lake Campground, then hike over there.
2.) Reserve parking in advance if coming from outside the park. The fee to park is $11.70 per vehicle plus applicable reservation fee ($6.00 online, $8.50 by phone). Parking is assigned by time blocks and only a certain amount of cars are permitted per time slot. Parking does book up well in advance on weekends. You might have more luck during the week if you can try to go then.
3.) Head up there in the off or shoulder seasons of April/May/June or September/October when the demand to visit is much less.
How Do I Get To The Grotto?
To get to the Grotto, you will have to hike the Georgian Bay Trail from P1 of Cyprus Lake Campground. It takes roughly 45 minutes with younger kids. It can be done in 30 minutes if walking at a good pace. The trail head to the shore line at Indian Head Cove is rated as easy. It’s a man made trail that is wide and scenic. Once you get to the shore line, it’s a rocky hike. It is not wheelchair or other mobility device accessible. Watch your footing and keep children supervised. The portion of the Bruce Trail leading to the Grotto does require some climbing over slippery rocks and tree roots.
Once you reach Indian Head Cove, the Grotto entrance hole is approximately 100 metres away to the west, so don’t be confused when you arrive. Indian Head Cove is a great place to swim. As you carry on west, you will come across the Natural Arch, you can see the water through the hole, you’re still not there yet. Keep going.
There is a hole that you have to slide down to get into the actual Grotto and it’s not marked, no sign posts. Watch for others going in and out. Once you corkscrew down through the hole, you have to climb down a small escarpment.
I had to remove my backpack and have it passed down to me as I did not fit with it on my back.
Side note – the climb in and out is not something you can do if you are excessively overweight. You won’t fit through the hole. You will have to attempt a climb down and back up the rock face or swim around from Indian Head Cove.
The climb can be done wearing running shoes or bare foot if you are comfortable. I do not recommend attempting this with flip flops or water shoes that do not have good grips.
If you are not physically fit, you might need to rely on assistance from others to get back up and out.
As mentioned, you have to slide down a hole and and climb down an escarpment to get into the Grotto. My children, ages 9 and 4 did it with assistance from myself and their father. We are both fairly fit (gym rats) and assisted the children with no problem. This is not something the kids could have done on their own.
We did have to assist other kids with families coming in to the Grotto through the hole and climbing back out.
The water will be cold for them and the rocks are slippery. Please keep your children close to you at all times. The water is shallow enough close to the cave that they can walk around and the water won’t be past most older kid’s shoulder height.
How Cold Is The Water At The Grotto?
We visited the second week of August and I found it cold, but tolerable. I’m also a hearty Canadian who can swim in lakes and bays, so take my opinion on this with a grain of salt. My kids froze, their dad froze, they enjoy pools heated to over 80 degrees. If I could have carried more items in my backpack, I would have brought a wetsuit for the kids as well as floatation devices.
Where Else Is There To Stay In The Area?
If you are not camping in Bruce Peninsula National Park, there are many BnB’s, AirBnb’s and motels in the Tobermory Area. We’ve stayed at Cedar Vista Motel and also at the Blue Bay Motel. We recommend Blue Bay Motel. Accommodations in Tobermory fill up fast in the summer time. Be sure to plan and book your trip in advance or try going in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.
I made a little video with my GoPro camera that we took down there… Check it out!
Did I miss anything you need or want to know? Ask below! I’ll get back to you.
Everything about this moment on the Bonnechere River with my son is perfect.
It’s oh so quiet.
I took him out of daycare at the end of June and in two short weeks, he’ll be heading off to junior kindergarten, my daughter into grade 4 and I’m having all the feels. There isn’t enough time left. I know some moms are so looking forward to the end of summer, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the shopping and preperation and sending their kids back to school, but not me. I’m not looking forward to lining up for drop off and getting that Pumpkin Spice Latte.
I don’t care that these past couple months it’s been hard to get things done. Simple video fixes take me 5 hours instead of one because I’m refereeing between him and his nine year old sister or that I am the snack maven or maker of entertainment or Netflix supervisor. Cleaning the house has been a challenge. Laundry has taken a backseat. My coffee gets cold a lot.
I’ve worked full time for the past twenty years and I’ve had a really good time with my kids not doing that.
No strict deadlines, no pressured phone calls. There is no one telling me how important their work is and how much I have to care. No rebooting computers or swapping drives. No juggling USB keys.
This is what life is, adventures everyday. Sleeping in. Snuggles on the couch. Wandering where the wifi is weak and in some cases, completely nonexistent. Teaching them about the outdoors. Jumping over poison ivy.
I don’t think I could ever work full time through the summer again.
I’ve been a Mom for just over nine years. I’ve been through the gamut in terms of learning and growing and getting to know my children and their limits or lack thereof. I think that I, and their Dad, have done okay bringing them up so far. One of the prouder things I get to say as a parent is “I Took My Kids There”.
Just when I thought Mom Shaming had been confined to breast versus bottle, medicating versus non-medicating, Waldorf versus Montessori, I stumbled up on a new one: Adventure Parenting Shaming. For realzzzzzzzzzzz.
I was I was on the treadmill in the gym one day last week and I overheard a woman talking about parents taking their children to dangerous places and how awful it was of them. First of all, I know this woman does not have children, so my momma senses got on edge. Yes, parents taking their children to dangerous places is bad, I agree. Who in their right mind would do that?
I asked her to define dangerous
See, I come from a journalism background and I’ve had to cover stories where families are literally running for their lives in places like Chechnya and other war zones like Afghanistan. I’ve lived with nightmares from the images I’ve made stories out of and that’s why I can’t do it anymore. People there live in danger and were fleeing it. Taking your kids there for fun? No thanks. Never in my wildest dreams would I walk into that with my kids.
The woman in the gym proceeded to detailed cliff hikes, caves and grottos. She talked about the grotto in the Bruce Peninsula she had just been at and she said children were running everywhere. She talked about how in caves, nothing is safe and the roof could fall in at any time. And on cliff hikes – there’s no barriers. No way!
What she didn’t know what that my kids had very recently been on a cliff hike in Algonquin Provincial Park. The week before that, they were in Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves. Oh, and I also had them down into the Bonnechere Caves and that I was planning to take them to that very grotto in the Bruce Peninsula this week.
I’m not every parent and how I parent my children is different than how another woman will parent her children. And I envy the adventures my friend Kevin and his family, the Wandering Wagars take! I’m working the kids up to that. In the mean time, I’m finding places all over Ontario for my kids to explore.
I’m showing my children how to explore the world and teaching them to respect nature. Would I ever allow my children to run to the edge of a cliff? No. Are they learning to approach cautiously and assess the “boundary”? Yes. The power and impact of split second reckless decisions and the vulnerability of our physical selves in a force so much more powerful than our own being is an amazing lesson.
If those aren’t the best lessons in life, what is?
And my kids did make it into the Grotto in the Bruce Peninsula. Check out our video!