Basin Head beach was our first favourite place on Prince Edward Island. Clearly, lots of other people agree with us: Basin Head was recently named by Chatelaine as one of Canada’s Best Beaches. One of the main reasons I chose our current cottage is because it’s perfectly situated on the same coastal area as Basin Head, just outside of Souris.

Yesterday, we went on a free Eco-Tour (yes, FREE!) of Basin Head, courtesy of the PEI Wildlife Federation, and it made us fall in love with our old favourite all over again. If you get a chance to attend one of these tours, I highly recommend it!

We started off at the Basin Head Fisheries Museum and learned some local history about the Mi’kmaq who lived here for 2,000 years, then the French, British, Scottish and Irish settlers who came in the 1700s and 1800s. We learned a little bit about the history of the fishing industry, and then about some of the reasons why Basin Head is a provincially and federally protected area, including a strain of Irish Moss that doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world.

Then we moved to the beach. Oh how I love this beach!

Basin Head Eco Tour

But seriously, it’s 10 am on a perfect July day in mid-tourism season and there is NOBODY except us on the beach. How is that even possible? We had the crashing waves and the quirky singing sands (to me, they sound more like a seal bark than a song!) all to ourselves.

Basin Head Eco Tour

Have you been to Basin Head? Did you know that on the other side of the dunes is a stunning meadow full of moss and lichens that looks like an Alpine meadow and will take your breath away?

Basin Head Eco Tour

Basin Head Eco Tour

Basin Head Eco Tour

These pictures do not even come close to doing it justice. There are four kinds of moss growing, the only one of which I remember is Reindeer moss. (Ha, wonder why I remembered that one?) But you have to be careful where you step, because you will kill the moss if you walk on it, and you also need to step carefully around the tall fronds of Marram grass that help anchor the dunes and keep the sand from eroding away.

The boys may have found the first part of the tour a little heavy on the talking, even if they did seem to be mostly paying attention and engaged with the tour (they were the youngest participants by far in our group.) But Lucas especially loved the next part of the tour when we moved to the river and the tour guides dragged a net for a few meters to bring some of the sea life up close for us to interact with.

Basin Head Eco Tour

I was astonished by the sheer number of critters and creatures they caught in the net. Rock crabs, Green crabs, a hermit crab, sand shrimp, flounder, hake, and a whole bunch of others that I’ll never remember. Only the kids seemed to be particularly interested in getting up close and getting their hands wet!

Basin Head Eco Tour

One fish in particular they seemed pleased to have caught: a pipe fish is a relative of the seahorse (it looks like a straightened-out version) and like the seahorse, the male tends to the babies until they hatch. Lucas held the flounder and the pipe fish, as well as a few others, but declined the crab angrily waving his claws.

Basin Head Eco Tour

This is how you create a marine biologist or an environmental scientists, right here. What a great morning out!

Basin Head Eco Tour

This sealed the deal for me. Basin Head is my forever favourite beach!


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Did you know that if you visit both the East Point lighthouse and the North Cape lighthouse on Prince Edward Island, you earn a “tip to tip” certificate? I wasn’t entirely sure that a certificate alone would be enough to induce the boys into agreeing to the 2.5 hour drive across the province, but I was pretty sure that the water slides at Mill River, not too far from North Cape, would be enough to seal the deal. (How much do I love that you can drive across an ENTIRE PROVINCE in the time it takes to finish an extra large takeout coffee?)

The East Point lighthouse is not too far from where we are staying, so we popped over there a few days ago to get our East Point ribbons. We packed a picnic lunch, stopped for some Robin’s Eggs (our favourite Island road-trip treat) and headed out early.

If you’re looking for a scenic drive that will make your inner photographer weep with covetousness of the shots not taken because if you stopped the car its occupants would throw you off the nearest seaside cliff, you could do worse than the rolling, pastoral countryside around Kensington, PEI. Beautiful farmland bordered by careful lines of towering pines, rolling off into the distance. (The hills, not the pines.) As we drove, the morning fog burned off, rolled back in, burned off again. By the time we reached Mill River Park and its water slides, it was just before noon and fully fogged in again. We made the executive decision to push on through Tignish and to the North Cape in order to circle back to the water park after the day warmed up a bit.

The fog was breaking up again 25 or so minutes later when we pulled into the parking lot at the North Cape lighthouse, on the most north-western point of the Island.

Exploring North Cape PEI

Don’t they look full of the victory of having driven the full breadth of the Island? Trophy photo acquired, we were about to go into the gift shop and collect our certificates when Lucas saw something he wanted to explore.

Exploring North Cape PEI-2

That’s how we stumbled upon one of the most beautiful open secrets on PEI: dozens and dozens of Inuksuit built on the seaside.

Exploring North Cape PEI-6

It’s an enchanting sight that took our breath away. So! Many! Inuksuk! (Did you know the plural of Inuksuk is Inuksuit? Now you do!)

Exploring North Cape PEI-7

So of course, we were on a mission. I had to photograph them, and the boys had to make them. The fog burned off, the sun came out, and everyone was happy!

Exploring North Cape PEI-8

Exploring North Cape PEI-12

Exploring North Cape PEI-3

Tristan is like a cat in more ways than one. He likes to find his way to the highest perch to survey the world.

Exploring North Cape PEI-9

And when I saw how amazing the light was with that red sand cliff against a bright blue sky, I needed to get everyone else in the photo, too.

Exploring North Cape PEI-11

And when I say everyone needed to be in the photo, I mean EVERYONE! Here’s to makeshift tripods made out of rocks and a purse, and a mad dash across the rocks while the self-timer counts down. My bum had barely landed on the rock when the shutter clicked on this one!

Exploring North Cape PEI-10

I was not expecting the cape itself to be such an interesting destination, and I could have spent another couple of hours there just playing among the rocks. Promises had been made, though, so we enjoyed our picnic lunch at the base of the lighthouse and headed back to the water park.

Pretty sure the boys thought it was worth the drive, too!

slide collage

It’s a crazy wooden water slide. You sit on a sled thingy and shoot down the ridiculously steep slope and pretty much skip across the pond at the bottom. Wicked fun for kids and moms alike! Also fun, not pictured – bumper boats!

So if you’re looking for an unexpectedly delightful adventure on PEI, I’d say the trek out to the North Cape is well worth the drive. And now we can say that we’ve seen the Island from tip to tip. We’ve even got the certificates to prove it!


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I have a spreadsheet of things we can do while we’re on PEI, with events and ideas and links that I’ve collected over a couple of years of relentless PEI research. It’s a little bit hard to admit that I’m the sort of person who has a spreadsheet to plan her vacation, but then again, 20 years ago I was the only backpacker in Europe following a pre-planned and carefully printed itinerary. It’s mired in some weird sort of FOMO: in the moment, with my family looking expectantly at me for ideas, it’s a way to stave off the “what are we going to do today?” panic.

The most important part about having a spreadsheet full of vacation inspiration, though, is knowing when to ignore it. We’d had vague plans of packing up and heading to one of our favourite beaches, when I realized that we were having a lovely beachy sort of day on the amazing kilometer or so of beach adjacent to our cottage: poking around looking for sea glass (I’m sure we’re working on our second pound by now) or building inuksuks out of PEI sandstone or clambering up and over the massive boulders at either end of the beach. Um hello, perfect beach day — and literally steps away from the cottage with its clean bathrooms and cold drinks and, ahem, wifi.

PEI 2016 Day 2

fromwhereistand by the sea

I’m sitting on the wooden steps with my coffee, Beloved is beachcombing for sea glass, and Lucas is building an inuksuk – in his jammies. Hello, perfect morning at the cottage!

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I love this photo because it’s a perfect moment in a lovely day. Beloved is holding up a piece of blue sea glass, because the blue ones are my favourite. Simon is photobombing, because Simon. Tristan is busily on task, hunting for treasure. And Lucas is not wearing pants, because when you’re treasure hunting on your perfect little private beach and your shorts are too long and keep getting wet, you just leave them on the sand somewhere to dry out.

PEI 2016 Day 2

I kid you not, we found more than a pound of sea glass just today. Here’s most, but not all of it.

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We did make one small excursion. One of our favourite PEI discoveries from our first PEI trip in 2014 was Peter Llewellyn’s Shoreline Design workshop and studio. We found Peter charming and informative, and we came away with beautiful hammered silver rings for the boys and a cuff bracelet for me. Earlier this year, Simon’s ring broke when he got his hand caught in the car door (cringe) and the ring took the brunt of it. We brought it back to its maker, hoping it could be repaired. To our delight, it was an easy fix, and we found Peter to be as personable as ever. Since he wouldn’t take payment to repair the ring, we supported his business by purchasing a beautiful (and affordable) set of sea glass stud earrings (blue, of course!) for me, and a silver ring with a red stone inset that echoes my own white-gold-with-ruby ring.

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And if a little rain must fall into every vacation, it’s still better than two solid weeks of rain – and even better when the Island gives you a pretty little rainbow over your private sea view to end a perfectly lovely, perfectly unscheduled day.

PEI 2016 Day 2


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We’ve returned for our third annual trip to Prince Edward Island. This year, we’ve chosen a cottage with direct beach access and water views from almost every room in the cottage – quite an improvement from our cottage last year, where “water views” meant a postage-stamp-sized glimpse through some trees and a walk most of a kilometer through scrub and other cottages.

This is us discovering our semi-private beach after two long, hot days in the car.

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

Lucas at the top of the stairs leading from the beach to our wee cottage. You can’t quite see the cottage, but it’s just behind the flagpole up there. There are only three or four other cottages in the area, so this kilometer or so of heaven is pretty much our own private beach. Seriously amazing location!

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

Within the first 15 minutes on our little beach, I’d checked off more than half of my PEI to-do list: red sand, blue sea, toes in the water, rocks to climb on — and sea glass!

A photo posted by Danielle Donders (@dani_girl) on

We’re so close to the sea that we could hear the waves crashing on the shore all night long, and though we’ve woken to rain this morning, the forecast is for an amazing week!


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Yay, it’s officially summer! I’ve got a short list of five great activities I’d like to do this summer with the boys, and I thought I’d share in case you needed a little inspiration for planning your Ottawa family fun in the next couple of weeks. It’s a sort of a Bucket List of Ottawa Family Fun. If we get most of these checked off, it will have been a summer of awesome adventures. And surprisingly, most of these are things we’ve never tried before.

1. Go zip-lining at Camp Fortune

I loved this idea from the first time I heard about it, and I loved it even more when I got discounted coupons through Groupon earlier this summer. “Visit Camp Fortune for an adventurous zip lining and aerial park excursion. Glide through the trees from stand to stand through one of two courses available. Trekking through the ropes course will include climbing ladders and bridges, while enjoying the beautiful scenery.” Fun, right?

2. Check out the balanced rock sculptures on the Ottawa River

I’ve been meaning to do this for years, if not decades. It’s surprising how few people know about the amazing balanced rock sculptures created by John Ceprano at the Remic rapids on the Ottawa River. I think the boys will be fascinated by them.

3. Go canoeing and/or kayaking

We rented kayaks at the end of last summer at Chapman Mills, and despite the fact that one of our party went swimming unexpectedly, we still had a good time. This may be the summer we try stand-up paddling!

Paddling

4. Learn to Geocache

I know there isn’t a lot to “learn” with Geocaching, but despite having it on my radar for years and knowing the boys would love the idea of treasure hunting, I’ve still never actually gotten started with this fun family activity. I finally downloaded the Geocaching app to my iPhone this week and was amazed by the sheer number of caches even in our immediate neighbourhood.

5. Visit the dinosaurs at Prehistoric World

This is another one I’ve had on my radar for years, and we really need to get out there while Lucas is still in his dino-fascinated phase. Prehistoric World is a small park near Morrisburg with meandering paths featuring over 50 life-sized and apparently mostly scientifically accurate dinosaur sculptures. This would be a great side trip to pair with our other favourite Morrisburg adventure, McHaffie’s flea market.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, I’ve got a dedicated category full of blog posts about fun family adventures in Ottawa. What’s on YOUR Ottawa summer fun to-do list?


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I‘m trying to remember when they opened the new and improved Landsdowne Park. Was it summer 2015? Maybe summer 2014? Regardless, we haven’t had the chance to make our way down there until this past weekend. I have to say, we were impressed. It’s a beautiful, bright and spacious area, and we felt like tourists in our own city poking around it yesterday afternoon.

We went down specifically for the farmer’s market, and it’s definitely one of the best in the city. I was surprised, though, that on a blazingly sunny Sunday afternoon on a long holiday weekend that there weren’t more people. I was braced for crowds, especially after having brought the boys downtown on Friday for their first Canada Day festival in Ottawa (north of the Queensway twice in one weekend!) but it felt more like a Tuesday morning with the amount of people around.

We poked about the shops for a bit, managing to miss entirely the Whole Foods (maybe for the best?), collecting our free sample at Lindt, and then stopped for lunch at South Street Burger. (Five thumbs up.) Our favourite part, though, was definitely the playground and the water feature. Any time you can get an eight-year-old, a tween and a teen all engaged in the same activity, that’s a win. Like most of the families present, we ignored the rather odd differentiation between the art side of the water park and the play side of the water park, and all three kids played WITH the art.

Then Lucas noticed the giant roll of hill off in the distance, across a wide open and completely empty green space. “Can I run up the hill?” he asked, eyes bright. Of course! And with that, a sibling gauntlet was thrown, and all three charged up the hill.

I couldn’t resist using the rolling shape of the hill and the, um, whatever that weird structure is, to frame up a photograph. Picture me at the bottom of the hill, yelling up to my agreeable subjects. “Tristan, move left one step. Great! Simon, two steps left. That’s it! Now – band pose!”

Boys at play at Lansdowne park

Yes, a photographer’s kids know a handful of poses by name. What, yours don’t?

Simon and I had earlier been discussing a new summer challenge we’re undertaking together. One minute of planking every day for the entire summer, with the idea of working up to two minutes of planking every day for, well, forever.

Here’s Simon getting started.

Boys at play at Lansdowne park

I’m seeing the birth of a photography-fitness mash-up here. How many interesting places can we photograph Simon doing a plank this summer?

We had a lovely, low-key day exploring Lansdowne park with the family on a sunny, summer Sunday that also happened to be our 17th wedding anniversary. (Happy Anniversary, my sweet Beloved!)

Have you spent any time there? What did you think?


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Photos of the day: Five little monkeys on the porch

2 July 2016 Mothership Photography

I‘ve joked before that I will yet ban three year olds from my photography practice. They are, in my experience, equal parts willful and wonderful, and of all the ages for family portraits, I find three to be the most challenging. Imagine my delight, then, to have not one, not two, but THREE little three […]

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Photo(s) of the day: First and last day of school, 2015-2016

29 June 2016 Ah, me boys

I am a big fan of traditions, and one of my favourite is the annual first-and-last day of school photo. Did Tristan even get a haircut during this school year? I’m honestly not sure! I’ve been making them for a while now! Next year, all three boys will be in different schools – one in […]

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Photos of the day: M&J at the park

26 June 2016 Mothership Photography

You might remember back in October when I had the great honour of being the photographer for Mat and Jasmine’s wedding. It was a perfect autumn day, and their adorable toddler Jack stole the show. We’ve been trying for a few weeks now to get out to the park to celebrate their growing family (new […]

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Flashback faves: 10 years ago this month

21 June 2016 Flashback faves

One of my favourite features on Facebook is the “On This Day” app. There’s something wonderful about dipping into the minutiae of years gone by. It got me thinking that I now have enough years of content that I can look back and see in (occasionally painful and cringe-worthy) detail exactly what was happening in […]

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