What are you doing New Year’s, New Year’s Eve?

On the final day of 2013, we had no need to wake early; our Disney days were over and we were on our own timeline. We slept until eight and went downstairs to eat, learning that the restaurant is much busier later in the morning. I was surprised. It was full of families, and I saw some families putting food (like full apples, oranges, and bananas) into Ziploc bags and taking it with them after they ate. Being in the hospitality industry, that drives me a little bit – okay, a lot – crazy!

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More cheerios and whipped cream – I’m sensing a new holiday tradition! 🙂

We made the decision that it would be less expensive and much more convenient for us to rent a vehicle for our last two days in California. Our flight on the 2nd was scheduled to leave after midnight, and we’d have to check out and deal with our things at 11am that morning. We knew we wanted to tour Hollywood and go to the coast, so it seemed logical. We made some calls, and found we could rent a van, but we would have to pick it up and drop it off at the airport. The kids had their own money still to spend, so we decided I would take them to Downtown Disney while D’Arcy to a shuttle to LAX to pick up a vehicle; we would meet up again in the afternoon.

Santa had brought Sarah & Olivia some Disney themed fake fingernails, so Olivia put those on and we set out walking the 3.5km to Downtown Disney. The kids were in great spirits and the girls were cartwheeling on the sidewalks. We had a text from D’Arcy saying the traffic was a bit nuts and the shuttle he was on was playing “Finding Nemo”.

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On our way to Downtown Disney – Olivia showing off her beautiful fingernails!

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D’Arcy’s view of the traffic as he started out in the rental

At Downtown Disney, we went in to the World of Disney store. Each had their own money to choose to spend as they wished. I stayed with the girls, and we set up a meeting time and place with Evan & Alex before separating to shop. Sarah & Olivia each wanted to get something for their cousin, Neil. Neil has been looking after Olivia’s guinea pig, Caroline, while she was away, and is in Sarah’s class at school so they are very close. They looked around the whole store, making note of what things he might like. They are very thoughtful shoppers. After an hour in the store, Olivia chose to buy Neil a glow-in-the-dark set of cards, and an Ariel wig for herself to go with the costume Santa brought her. Sarah chose to buy Neil a keychain that she could put his name on, and a three person locket “Best” “Friends” “Forever” for herself, and her friends Chloe & Lily. Evan bought himself the basic Disneyland mouse ear hat, and Alex didn’t find anything he felt was worth spending his money on. There were a couple things he had his eye on, but figured if he bought them he would have buyer’s remorse. I bought one thing – a Mickey Mouse Christmas tree ornament to hang on our tree next year; our vacation tradition.

Olivia kept dropping plastic press-on nails and handing them to me to look after. As we started walking back home towards our hotel, D’Arcy sent me a message saying that he was close and to keep an eye out for him. We had only walked about a block when we heard him beep at us, and we crossed the street to hop in to the SUV.

At the hotel, I heated up the leftovers from the night before, made small salads, and put out some apples and carrots so we could have a late lunch/early supper before heading to the Pacific Ocean! If there’s anything I’ve learned about traveling with kids, it’s that there is little complaining if their bellies are full!

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Ariel & Rapunzel getting ready to Skype with their grandparents (who weren’t home)

At the recommendation of the guest service agent at the front desk of the hotel, we went to Huntington Beach, located about a 45 minute drive from our hotel. It was beautiful and expansive and we arrived just before the sun was setting. The six of us all got our feet in the ocean and played in the soft, cold sand. After the sun went down, we walked up to the end of the pier and back. On the pier, we saw a family catch and release a baby sting ray. What a way to send off the old year!

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Our kids and the Sunset at Huntington Beach, California, New Year’s Eve 2013

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The Pacific Ocean is cold!

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Happy New Year!

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Beautiful California sky

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Happy New Year from the McDonah kids!

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D’Arcy & me

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the grocery store for some food and champagne, thinking everything would be closed the following day the way it is in Nova Scotia. We bought a bottle of Californian Barefoot Sparkling Wine for $6.95 as we have a tradition that whoever stays awake until midnight gets to take part in a champagne toast. (Just sips for the kids.) We discovered limited edition pumpkin cream cheese so bought some, as well as more nibblies for the evening. Our plan was to go back to the hotel and play games until midnight.

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Look what we found in the grocery store!

When we got to the hotel, it was almost midnight at home, four hours ahead. We counted down to the AST New Year, sent some greetings on Facebook, and then the six of us went to the hot tub. We had intended to be back in our room to watch the ball drop in Times Square, but were having too much fun at the pool, and it was long over when we got back up stairs. On our way in, the front desk gave the girls hats and noise makers, and D’Arcy a complimentary bottle of sparkling cider.

The kids started making toast with the pumpkin cream cheese and we never did get the other food out. Olivia fell asleep on the pull-out couch with her food on a plate in her lap. By 10pm, all of us with the exception of Alex had dozed off where we were! I woke up in time for anti-climactic countdown on Pacific Coast – all they do is replay the NYC segment! I was expecting that there would be a Pacific Coast celebration of their own.

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These really were “Flamin’ hot”

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Hot tub at New Year’s EST

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It’s tough to stay awake until midnight!

D’Arcy & I each had a sip of sparkling wine, but the boys didn’t want any and the girls were still sleeping. We went to bed thankful for our many blessings this past year, and looking forward to the year ahead of us.

From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the traffic is terrific… (The day that didn’t end)

We had a slow start to our morning at Don & Cathy’s, but what a treat for D’Arcy and me to have someone preparing breakfast for us for a change! Cathy (with Olivia’s help) made the most decadent raised cinnamon rolls with a carmel sauce. Definitely a future menu offering at our B&B! We got showered and changed and re-arranged our suitcases to be ready for our flights.  The kids played Uno and chatted with Cathy while we got ready. Their house is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it made me realize that I do miss having our own decorations up this year.

Olivia & Cathy preparing the cinnamon rolls to be ready to bake the following morning.

Olivia & Cathy preparing the cinnamon rolls to be ready to bake the following morning.

We had to leave late morning because I had ordered some lobsters to take to Phil & Susan’s with us and they had to be picked up in Boston at lunchtime. Funny story – when I had called to order the lobsters locally from Nova Scotia and have them shipped, they informed me that when they ship lobsters to the US, they use a company from Boston. I guess they’re coming from the same cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and I’m sure the lobsters don’t know where the border is! 😉

After we picked up the lobsters, packed for airplane travel, we visited some of downtown Boston. We stopped in at the Hard Rock Café and split some appetizers. We told the kids the story of our honeymoon in San Antonio at Christmastime, when we ate our Christmas Dinner of nachos at the Hard Rock Café along the Riverwalk. It was fun and a nice change of pace to do something spontaniously. D’Arcy & Olivia were having a dance-off by the time we left.

Daddy & Sarah having fun at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.

Daddy & Sarah having fun at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.

We swung by to see the Boston Christmas tree, an annual gift from Nova Scotians to remember and thank the people of Boston for all the help they provided after the Halifax Explosion in 1916. We were surprised by how huge it was; just beautiful!

Boston's Christmas tree, a gift from Nova Scotians.

Boston’s Christmas tree, a gift from Nova Scotians.

We stopped at the grocery store to get food for the cooler to take on the plane and use at the airports with Olivia. We bought some clementines, ham, grapes, apples, pineapple, crackers, and cereal to pack. She has a note from her allergist, which states that she is not able to eat airline food due to her allergies.  From there, we went to our friends’, Willem & Kate, house in Salem to spend the evening.

Good friends, good food, and laughter; what the holidays are all about

Good friends, good food, and laughter; what the holidays are all about

D'Arcy & Willem enjoy an Uncle Leo's Brewery Smoked Porter, brought from Nova Scotia.

D’Arcy & Willem enjoy an Uncle Leo’s Brewery Smoked Porter, brought from Nova Scotia.

Holiday cheer - friends playing cards.

Holiday cheer – friends playing cards.

We’ve been friends for ten years now and our two families get along very well.  We got caught up  over a huge spread of appetizers while the kids all hung out together, then we had a delicious pasta supper with salad and bread. After supper, the grownups played a new card game while the kids played games, built with lego, played wii, and hung out. We had chocolate fondue for dessert and enjoyed ourselves until midnight when it was time for us to leave for the airport, a 20 minute drive from their home.

We rearranged the things in our bags one last time, in order to pare our luggage down to as little as possible. United Charges $25 per bag, so we hoped to just check the lobsters, the booster seats for the girls, and one large suitcase. We took a shuttle to the terminal, to discover that there was nobody around. (At 1am – go figure!) We got ourselves set up on chairs by the baggage claim and had catnaps until 3am when we could check in for our flight. By that time, the lineup was huge. We had some stress trying to get checked in when our boarding passes didn’t print at the self-serve kiosk. How frustrating! We were able to get them sorted out and rushed to security where they put us to the front of the line since our flight was scheduled to depart at 5:00am. You can just imagine the chaos and stress I was feeling as we got carry-ons, medications, electronics, food, and personal items sorted out while struggling to get shoes and belts off.  We got called aside and they informed me they were going to go through the cooler, and did it have any sharp items? I replied that no, it didn’t, and she pulled out a jar of pickles I didn’t realize was packed – liquid! Needless to say, I gave the pickles up and we rushed to our gate, only to learn that they were waiting for a flight attendant so our flight was delayed. We only had one hour to make our connection in Boston, so we were a little bit worried, wondering what we would end up having to do.

It was the first time the girls had ever been on an airplane and they were a combination of worried and excited. It was fun to watch them as we prepared for take-off and got up into the air! Our two hour and 37 minute flight was uneventful and we all dozed. We were sure we were going to have missed our connection, but the pilot came on the speaker and said that of the 162 people on board, 150 had to catch a connecting flight. He suggested that those who weren’t trying to immediately catch a flight, that they let those of us who did have to catch one off first. As soon as I turned airplane mode off on my phone, I received an email saying that the connecting flight had been delayed by 13 minutes and we learned we had hope to make it. If we didn’t, United had booked us on a flight in the afternoon of Christmas Eve and we wouldn’t be getting to Portland until 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve – we would have been flying with Santa and the reindeer! Luckily, they held the flight for us in Chicago and we sprinted from one plane to the other. We took off just after we got to our seats.

The kids are really good travelers and haven’t complained, despite being exhausted.

Not getting much out of her first flight...

Not getting much out of her first flight…

At this point, we’re excited to see Phil & Susan, but ready for a hot shower and a good nap! When we arrive at close to 11am Portland time we’ll have been traveling for 15 hours in this leg of our journey. We’re hoping that our lobsters and car seats made their connection as well and that we’ll be able to relax a bit and enjoy Christmas when we arrive in Portland. Is that word even in our vocabulary?

Christmas Adventure 2013

Driving from Truro, Nova Scotia, to Nashua, New Hampshire, in messy weather made the shortest day of the year feel like the longest day of the year.

This Christmas, rather than gathering more stuff, our family will be having adventures and creating lasting memories. We  are going on a trip that has been in the planning for six years. When our boys were seven and nine years old, we took them to Disney World in Florida during March Break, leaving their (then one and three year old) sisters at home with their grandparents. It was a magical trip; the boys were big enough that they had the stamina to explore the parks from open to close and master all the roller coasters, yet small enough to believe in all the magic. We promised the girls that we would take them to Disney when they were the same age.

Our family loves to travel and explore new places, so the decision was made that we would go to Disneyland this time, in California. Knowing we would need more than a week to go that far, and because we both teach and run a B&B in the summer, we realized Christmas gave us the most vacation time. My cousin Phil, and his wife Susan live in Portland, Oregon, so it was a no-brainer that while we are on the West Coast we have a visit with them as well!

Because Canada has some of the highest airport fees in the world, it saves us $3,500 to fly from the United States instead of Halifax. Being in tourism, I know we should be traveling from our own Country (for the good of our own economy), however,  we can do a lot of things while on vacation with that money!!  Our flights are booked out of Boston and we get the added bonus of visiting friends and family along the way.

We celebrated Christmas with my parents, brother Jon, and Auntie Ruth after school on the 20th, all the while wondering about the weather. We got up early in the morning on Saturday and got ourselves packed up and left the house at around 9:30, just slightly behind schedule. We had a couple of errands we had to do in town, and two trips back to the house for things we’d forgotten and hit the highway at ten.

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Heading out in the fog, excited to be making new Christmas memories!

All was smooth sailing through New Brunswick with lots of fog, but little precipitation. Alex’s godmother Theresa texted us along the way and insisted we stop for a quick lunch at their house in Moncton. When we arrived, she had sandwiches, veggies, fruit, cheese, and juices all ready for us. We ate, had a bathroom break, quick hugs, and got back on the road.

We encountered some rain and texted with home to ask where the freezing rain and snow was. We made the decision to drive through Saint John to Saint Stephen. We got through the border with no issues and traded drivers. As soon as we started down Route 9, the freezing rain started. For those of you not familiar with Route 9, or “The Airline Route” it is a slower drive at the best of times: a secondary road with many hills, twists, and turns. About 20 minutes into our drive, we noticed that the trees were covered with ice. By this time, it was getting dark as well. Luckily, the kids were still excited about the start of vacation so the bickering was minimal, and we just kept driving. We eventually drove out of the freezing rain, and by the time we got to our destination in Nashua, NH, the sky was clear and the temperature was up to 11*C. What we thought was a nine hour drive took us eleven, with only the quick stop for lunch and a gas stop at the border.

We stayed overnight with D’Arcy’s cousin and his family and had a wonderful evening. We had a yummy meal of Chicken Picatta, rice, and green beans. And wine. We sat at the table and talked and laughed until far too late while the girls played with their cousins;  the drive was soon forgotten. What a delightful way to begin our holiday!

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Cousins! Sarah, Caitlin & Olivia

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A perfect Christmas setting – playing cards by the fire with Cathy.

Traveling with Food Allergies

Did you know that Belgravia Bed & Breakfast is the only accommodation in Nova Scotia that advertises as “Peanut & Tree nut Free”?

This came about after our youngest daughter was diagnosed with severe food allergies when she was just ten months old. Initially her list of allergies was long: peanuts,  tree nuts, eggs, soy, dairy, cinnamon, banana, avocado, kiwi, strawberries, celery, citrus, pineapple, blueberries, grapes, melon… The only fruits she could have were canned peaches, pears and applesauce. It was overwhelming at first and we had to learn a whole new way of cooking and baking. Luckily, our baking was mostly homemade due to the quality of breakfast we provide at our bed & breakfast anyway, so we just had to modify some recipes, not learn how to bake from scratch…

Traveling still makes us nervous, but we know she can’t live in a bubble either. We are fortunate that she has outgrown most of her allergies and is left with *only* peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and soy – all of which result in anaphylaxis and, as per her most recent blood work, appear to be life-long. At home, accommodating these allergies has become second nature. She can be around eggs as long as they don’t touch her and she doesn’t ingest them, so we use a separate spatula for cooking eggs for our guests than we do when flipping egg-free pancakes for her. She has her own separate washcloths so that we don’t accidentally wipe her hands or face with a cloth that has wiped up egg. (Learned that one the hard way!) We also ask our guests to refrain from bringing peanut or nut products into our home. (Learned that one the hard way too!)

Showing off her 16 pokes after her allergy tests – 14 skin pricks, blood work and her MMR immunization (grown on egg, so her allergist administers that one and watches her afterwards for reaction)..

When we travel, we tend to take a lot of our own food with us, so that we know there will be something safe for her to eat. We tend to dine at restaurants where we know they take allergies seriously. Did you know that Boston Pizza and The Keg keep allergy binders with all ingredients for the recipes included? Each will wipe down all surfaces and change all cutting boards & utensils when they know they are preparing a meal for a guest with allergies? For our daughter’s particular mix of allergens, McDonald’s french fries and a burger without the bun are “safe”! Regardless, she does not leave our house without carrying her two epipens – just in case! All six of us are trained to use it in an emergency.

Here at the Belgravia, we “get” food allergies and do our best to accommodate any type we can, with notice. We’ll make room in our fridge and freezer for your own special food/ice packs. We will also tailor the  breakfast we serve to accommodate your needs.  One dietary restriction that affects more and more people is the need to be gluten-free and we can accommodate that too!

One of our favourite gluten-free recipes is for Buttermilk Apple Cake, passed along to us by former guests, the owners of Valley Flax Flour.

  • 1/2 cup Brown sugar
  • 2 cups Buttermilk (we’ve also soured rice milk successfully)
  • 1 cup Brown Rice Flour
  • 1 cup Flax Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 medium Apples, cored & chopped
  1. Lightly grease and flour (gluten-free, of course!) a 2L baking or Bundt pan
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and buttermilk.
  3. Combine rice flour, flax flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add apples to wet ingredients; mix until combined.
  4. Spread batter evenly in the pan.
  5. Bake in an oven preheated to 350*F for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pan before removing and cutting into 12 servings.

Traveling is stressful enough, without worrying that you are going to end up sick or having to spend time hospital – or heaven forbid – worse, because of something you ate. Here, we will do our best to keep you safe!

If only it would be this easy when she becomes a teenager…