Nine Things to do as a Family in Montreal (and One Thing Not to Do)

The following post was sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds. Thanks, Blue Diamond!
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...almonds everywhere. 
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Last week, at this time, we were just leaving Montreal on our way back to Vermont. It was raining as we left, but thankfully, we spent the majority of the week under clear Quebecois skies, exploring the city with my parents and sister, cousins and aunt. We were able to spend four full days in Montreal and while we didn't see everything (or even some of everything) we did get to take in a few family friendly sites that appealed to all ages and generations of travelers. They are...
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1. Purchase Fromage and Fruit at Atwater Market - When we first arrived in Montreal, we met my sister's high school friend at Atwater Market.  Bo got us kicked out of a cheese shop, but other than that, we had a lovely afternoon picking out fresh fruit, fiddlehead ferns (my favorite) and cheese to serve with dinner at our rental apartment in Westmount. ED: We don't stay in hotels when we travel as a family anymore. We have to get two rooms now that there are six of us ($$$$$) and it's far easier/less stressful preparing dinners at home than it is dining out. We also did takeout via Eatz Encore which was located around the corner from our house and specializes in gluten free options and incredibly delicious (vegan/vegetarian) salads.
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2. Row Your Boat - After doing some food shopping at Atwater, we crossed the canal and decided (my mom's idea) to do a family canoe outing which ended up being one of the most fun things we have ever done as a family, mainly because it was such an absurd thing to do at 5:00pm on a Monday and we were all amazed that all the kids were game to strap on life vests and paddle around the canal for an hour. Good times.
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3. Visit the Insectarium - This place blew my mind. Especially the ant exhibit which I did not get a photo of (argh) but you can read more about it, here. The beetles were also a highlight. (And the kids loved the stick insects.)
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4. The Botanical Garden - The Botanical Garden is at the top of my list of must-dos, especially if you plan to travel to Montreal, like, right this second. Spring has sprung in a major way. The tulips were all in full bloom and the air smelled like lilacs and apple blossoms. It was absolute heaven.
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5. Old Montreal - We spent an entire day in Old Montreal and it was my favorite day of all the days we spent scampering around the town. We toured Notre-Dame Basilica and took a horse and buggy around the old city. (Revi was petrified to get on the buggy so we had to leave her with my parents. For the rest of us, it was a delight, even if all of the historical information our driver gave us was hilariously inaccurate.)
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I wish I had the name of the restaurant where Hal and I took the kids (my parents and sister dined elsewhere, (somewhere with gluten-free options) because their pizza was delicious and the outdoor seating area was totally child-friendly. Everything that could have gone wrong WENT wrong during lunch and after tears WERE shed from every. single. one of us, we all eventually broke into hysterics laughing because by the time we were finished with lunch, we were dealing with broken chairs, waterlogged pizza, and multiple flesh wounds. (How hard am I selling this whole travel-with small children thing?)

Do you ever have those moments where you're like, "Oh, this moment is going to flash before my eyes before I die"?

That lunch at the forgot-it's-name Italian restaurant in Old Montreal was one of those. 
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We cried until we laughed and then we laughed until we cried and nothing else mattered after that.

... Except, of course, the dancing...

Which we did. In the square. To the sound of a trumpeter with accompanying boom box. Legit.
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6. China Town -  Some places just vibe well with (my?) kids and the platform in the middle of China Town served as a stage for make believe performances and places to play dress up and hang with cousins. (We spent three hours in this spot because the kids were having so much fun watching and dancing and running around like banshees with their paper fans.)
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Until, of course, it started to rain and none of us had umbrellas.
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Still, we loved us some China Town. Huge fans, all of us...
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7. Get Lost - Hal and I both had dead phones by each and every day's end (because our phones are old/broken and on the fritz)  AKA no GPS to help us get home from across town. SO. On one particular occasion, we got lost. But, like, on purpose. Kind of. We eventually found our way back home and by WE I mean HAL because my sense of direction is F- and his is A+. Anyway, dead phones or not, getting lost was incredibly fun and exciting because we got to see parts of the city we hadn't intended on seeing and it felt like an adventure and the twins were finally asleep in the car so it was kind of nice to just.... drive. (And listen to them snore. Finally.)
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8. The Biodome  - Full disclosure, we did NOT go here. We had planned to go here but when we arrived, we decided that the day was too beautiful to spend indoors so we made a quick change of plans and walked on over to the Insectarium (see above) and Botanical Gardens instead. Next time...
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9. Taking in the view at Mount Royal - Unbelievable view. Unfortunately, we were not in Montreal on a Sunday so we missed the Tam-Tams which was a huge bummer because the kids/I would have gone nuts for that action. (Hal would have run for the hills.)

10. Feeding Raccoons at Mount Royal - Okay so THIS is the thing NOT to do which I didn't realize was a thing not to do until AFTER we did the thing that we weren't supposed to be doing, which was partaking in feeding raccoons. One raccoon, specifically and YES I KNOW ANIMALS CARRY DISEASE I AM THE IRRESPONSIBLEST but I grew up being irresponsibly friendly with small yet wild-ish animals and lived to see the day.  I'm with Pocahontas. So is Archer.
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Anyway, later that night, when we googled Mount Royal Raccoons, we found this:


Needless to say, these raccoons are extremely friendly/slightly domesticated/out of control. Do not feed them. You will be fined. Maybe. Ahem. (Whoops.)

And speaking of extremely friendly/slightly domesticated/out of control, here I am with Bo, my cousin Yvette, her daughter Mikaela, the big O, and our snacks. 
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Blue Diamond hooked us up with enough almonds to last us our entire trip/supply us with a much needed protein boost as we experienced all of the above and more. Almonds are our go-to healthy snack for planes, trains, automobiles, carriage rides, shoulder rides, walks around gardens and etc. Thanks, guys. 
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How about you guys? Any Montreal/Quebecois families in the house? Where do you like to take your children/families/selves? Also, I AM IN LOVE WITH YOUR CITY. What an incredible place. 

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Have Small Children, Must Travel/Apologize to Those Seated Near us on the Plane

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two Saturdays ago, 4:30am PST
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If the journey was truly more important than the destination, nobody in their right mind would ever travel with small children. Nobody would lug carseats on top of strollers on top of luggage, besides backpacks overflowing with changes of clothes for the wet-throughs on airplane seats, and snacks to be spilled and squashed and smashed and shattered into crumbs that somehow end up between skin and jeans, soaked with the water from those little airplane water bottles because NO! I DO IT MYSELF! Nobody would have to move seats because the man seated in front of your daughter threatens her with a booming howl as she gets out of her seat for the 787987th time, rubbing up against his fully reclined seat.

"Sorry, sir. She's two and sitting still is not her strength."


"I know. I'm sorry but..."


"I... yeah."

If the journey was more important than the destination, visiting far away lands would be an adults only operation. Children would have to stay home. They would not attend weddings and meltdown on dance floors. They would not take in the views or cross borders seated on sweaters after soaking through their clothes during long drives. We would all sleep on airplanes, read on airplanes, watch movies on airplanes. We would all be rested as we climbed to the rock overlooking the world.

I took an impressive amount of photos as we traveled these last eleven days but among them are no images of the meltdowns and the screaming and the hours it took for us to get the little ones down at night after napping zero hours during the day. There are no artfully cropped images of airplane travel with:

1. A two year old who is terrified of flying and
2. A two year old who is terrified of sitting in an airplane seat for more than three seconds.
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But there is this, which I took as we were dealing with lost luggage (mine) which was eventually found (and shuttled to us the following day) and miraculously, through the wait, the kids entertained themselves for an hour with no meltdowns and only minor bouts of drama. Amazing.
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On the way home, in the midst of handing off a screaming child during the descent into Los Angeles, I stood up to breathe, even though I was supposed to be fastened into my seatbelt, and looked around at a plane full of people with hands over their ears and told them with my eyes that I was sorry. And frustrated. And wished this wasn't part of the deal.

If only we could go to the place with the view without the screaming and the accidents and the tantrums and the inability to sleep or nap while traveling. 

If only we could fly in peace and quiet. 

If only the journey was as relaxing as the moment we are taking in the scenic views of Lake Champlain. 

Ah, but it isn't.

The journey is NOTHING LIKE the destination when traveling with small children. Not even close. The journey is very much the journey. Between long plane rides and layovers, shuttle rides and lost luggage, wet socks and being up for sixteen hours straight. (My kids do not sleep on planes. Bummer.) And yet, we do it anyway. We do it because there is no other way to get from one end of the country to another. We do it because it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. We do it because there are going to be times in our lives when people hate us.

Because sometimes you have no choice but to be THOSE people and it's humbling.

To be hated.

To be yelled at.

To be sneered at when leaving an airplane with a child who is still hysterical.

These last eleven days, spent mainly amongst trees and valleys, surrounded by lakes and the natural landscape, family and abundant beauty, I've felt incredibly small, humbled, grateful. And in the hours it took to get there, bruised and battered trying to wrangle and calm and not get punched by the angry dude in the Von Dutch hat, even more so...

Because every last journey must come to an end. Maybe that's why we, as parents, can't stop taking photographs...

Because in the aftermath of a tantrum or a sleepless night or a diaper that leaked out the side of a pair of leggings and onto one's jeans, there is light. The age old adage that the grass is always greener on the other side takes on a whole new meaning when you arrive on the other side surrounded by green. And so, we capture with cameras the love instead of the war, the embrace instead of the hair pull, the rainbows instead of the rain...
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The rain was there, though.

The war happened.

The hairs were in clumps on the floor.

But I would rather see the sun...
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Share the love...
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...revel in the embrace of four exhausted children, on a curb waiting for the shuttle after fourteen hours of traveling, as a a reminder that the destination is ALWAYS worth the journey it takes to get there. Even when we're all out of our minds with exhaustion.
airportwait Tuesday night, 2am EST.

Maya Angelou: On Writing & Life

The following has been excerpted from The Paris Review and is worth reading in its entirety, today, and revisiting often... 
        I have kept a hotel room in every town I’ve ever lived in. I rent a hotel room for a few months, leave my home at six, and try to be at work by six-thirty. To write, I lie across the bed, so that this elbow is absolutely encrusted at the end, just so rough with callouses. I never allow the hotel people to change the bed, because I never sleep there. I stay until twelve-thirty or one-thirty in the afternoon, and then I go home and try to breathe; I look at the work around five; I have an orderly dinner—proper, quiet, lovely dinner; and then I go back to work the next morning. Sometimes in hotels I’ll go into the room and there’ll be a note on the floor which says, Dear Miss Angelou, let us change the sheets. We think they are moldy. But I only allow them to come in and empty wastebaskets. I insist that all things are taken off the walls. I don’t want anything in there. I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything. No milkmaids, no flowers, nothing. I just want to feel and then when I start to work I’ll remember. I’ll read something, maybe the Psalms, maybe, again, something from Mr. Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson. And I’ll remember how beautiful, how pliable the language is, how it will lend itself. If you pull it, it says, OK.” I remember that and I start to write. Nathaniel Hawthorne says, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” I try to pull the language in to such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy. Of course, there are those critics—New York critics as a rule—who say, Well, Maya Angelou has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer. Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. Iwork at the language. On an evening like this, looking out at the auditorium, if I had to write this evening from my point of view, I’d see the rust-red used worn velvet seats and the lightness where people’s backs have rubbed against the back of the seat so that it’s a light orange, then the beautiful colors of the people’s faces, the white, pink-white, beige-white, light beige and brown and tan—I would have to look at all that, at all those faces and the way they sit on top of their necks. When I would end up writing after four hours or five hours in my room, it might sound like, It was a rat that sat on a mat. That’s that. Not a cat. But I would continue to play with it and pull at it and say, I love you. Come to me. I love you. It might take me two or three weeks just to describe what I’m seeing now.

INTERVIEWER (George Plimpton)
Aren’t the extraordinary events of your life very hard for the rest of us to identify with? 

Oh my God, I’ve lived a very simple life! You can say, Oh yes, at thirteen this happened to me and at fourteen . . . But those are facts. But the facts can obscure the truth, what it really felt like. Every human being has paid the earth to grow up. Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They get older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth. Not superficial costs—anybody can have that—I mean in truth. That’s what I write. What it really is like. I’m just telling a very simple story. 

Is there a thread one can see through the five autobiographies? It seems to me that one prevailing theme is the love of your child.

Yes, well, that’s true. I think that that’s a particular. I suppose, if I’m lucky, the particular is seen in the general. There is, I hope, a thesis in my work: we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. That sounds goody-two-shoes, I know, but I believe that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure and time. Less time is crystal. Less than that is coal. Less than that is fossilized leaves. Less than that it’s just plain dirt. In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats—maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats—but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be. Human beings are more alike than unalike. There’s no real mystique. Every human being, every Jew, Christian, backslider, Muslim, Shintoist, Zen Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, every human being wants a nice place to live, a good place for the children to go to school, healthy children, somebody to love, the courage, the unmitigated gall to accept love in return, someplace to party on Saturday or Sunday night, and someplace to perpetuate that God. There’s no mystique. None. And if I’m right in my work, that’s what my work says ... 


Thank you, Dr. Angelou. Your words were the first to affect me deeply and will never cease to do so. With love and gratitude for a life beautifully lived, and a story impeccably told. Thank you for being a hero. 

Potty Animals (Er, not so much.)

The following post is sponsored by The Honest Company. Thanks, Honest!
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It all started when I asked the universe for a sign. My kids have always been late bloomers in the potty training department or maybe I'm just lazy and the idea of pressuring someone to do anything with their bowels makes me... well... poop is not my thing. It is the one thing I feel squeamish about even after four children so dealing with poop accidents... I mean.

This is why I waited for Archer and Fable to decide for themselves when they were ready. Which they did. Eventually. When they were both older than two. One day, they both woke up and were like, "Potty time? Yeah! Let's do this thing!" and then all I had to do was buy them underwear at the store and there were no accidents after that ever. (They had both JUST turned three.) Well, hold on. That's not entirely true. There was ONE bad poop accident where instead of washing and stain removing (my favorite Honest product is the stain remover btw) "soiled" linens, I ended up throwing away all the clothes in the trash can and turning a sweater I had in my bag into a kilt.

And that's why I wasn't in any rush to potty train. Because eventually I knew Archer and Fable would want to use a toilet and that is exactly what happened.

That said, we have been having naked potty time for the last few months and Bo and Revi are AMAZING naked potty people. They are completely awesome at using the toilet when they are naked. They are 10/10 when disrobed. But once you put clothes of any kind on either of them, accident central. Which is why they're still in diapers or WERE in diapers until about two weeks ago, when after a weekend of naked awesome poop-and-pee-on-potty time action, I asked the gods for a sign to... do something to move this potty training business forward. Because, come July, when the girls start school, they would need to wear... clothes.

I am not even kidding when I say that this is what happened when I asked the universe for a sign.

Ready? BAM:
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Twin toilets. Extremely Fraternal. Parked on the side of the road on the street I always park on when I go write at the coffee shop. I MEAN!


The time had come to bite the bullet and buy some underwear. The time had also come to change my diaper subscription to a training pant subscription instead. (I have also been told that swim diapers make for ideal potty training pants. Like underwear but with... more diaper...ness.)

So that is what I did:
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And Bo and Revi promptly lost their minds but in TOTALLY odd ways that have nothing to do with potty training.

Of course.

Revi decided that underwear were collectables not unlike rare books or original (boxed) Star Wars Figurines and refused to try a single pair on. Instead, she folded them and sat with them on the couch for an entire day before putting EVERY PAIR under her pillow and sleeping with them.

Bo, on the other hand WOULD ONLY wear hers if she could wear ALL OF THEM AT ONCE.


This is what potty training looks like in my house. I totally give up, you guys. I give up.
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Which brings us to now. Currently on vacation. Doing naked time before bed and having 100% potty participation. And yet! Out and about, in training pants (which is what they're wearing outside of the house) they refuse to sit on the potty, to "try" and here we go again.

ED: Bo and Revi will NOT wear the same training pants so Bo wears the stars and Revi wears the princesses and if I dare put the princess training pant diaper on Bo, Revi goes ballistic. (I learned this the hard way.)
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1. And so, I ask you, dear friends. WWYD? 

2. When did you potty train your kids? 

3. At what age and what was your method of training? 

4. Did you have a similar issue to us? 

I'm especially interested in hearing from those with multiple experiences because every kid is different with this stuff. (Although... hmmm...  Archer and Fable were kind of the same and Bo and Revi are very much the same in this respect. This might be the only thing they have ever done similarly. Which is kind of cute, actually. Not, like CUTE but cute, you know? Anyway...) 

I look forward to your thoughts...

On poop.

(The worst.)


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