I’m really looking forward to this getaway

It looks like Christmas vacation 2021 is going to be a lot like Christmas vacay 2020: low key. In anticipation of a mellow holiday season (which frankly, is just the way I like it), I’ve booked us a few nights’ stay at a gorgeous cottage.

This “treehouse” cottage is on Three Mile Lake in Muskoka, and it’s right on the water’s edge. Look at those windows! I can’t wait to sleep in this bed, and wake up with this view.

The coolest part of the cottage has got to be the custom net hammocks:

And this living room looks beyond cozy for relaxing:

The “Water’s Edge” treehouse cottage is available for rent on Airbnb. Here’s the listing, if you’d like to book it for yourself. Bonus: it’s dog friendly.

I’m back

Avery Swartz wearing a grey sweater, twirling her hair and smiling, with blue wall behind her

Hello. I’m back.

My last blog post was in July 2019. What a time it has been since then. I may go into some details about my life in the last two years, I might not… but I can say that it feels right to be back here, on the blog, after so long away.

The truth is, I’ve missed this. I wrote multiple blog posts a week for 9 years (yup, there are archives here that go back to 2010). Writing those posts, as pithy and insignificant as some of them were, put me in a routine of noticing the things I enjoyed about the world around me. Small and large things, but always positive. The site is called Stuff Avery Likes after all. This has never been a space for ranting – it’s been my tiny little corner of the internet where I keep a record of what I enjoy. Knowing that I would write about things I like helped me to notice them in the first place.

With all the ups and downs that 2020 and 2021 has thrown at us all, I think I could really use a bit more noticing of the stuff I like, and I’m happy to share it with you.

Planning for Scotland trip 2020 has begun

We’ve learned from past experience that the best summer rental properties in Scotland book up far in advance. So, just over a year in advance, we’ve booked our spot for next summer. It’s a two-bedroom log cabin called Brightwater Lodge, with spectacular views overlooking Loch Sunart on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

This will be the first time Clara’s coming to Scotland with us, and we think it will be the perfect home base for exploring the area. Let the planning for summer 2020 begin!

PS – our previous Scotland holiday rentals, including this stunning house near Torridon, this comfortable cabin for two on Skye, and a cute apartment in Edinburgh.

Your weekend plans are now solved

A-frame cottage and dock on a lake

I’ve been following the Instagram account @EscapeToronto for a while, making note of the places that Chelsey Burnside and friends recommend for getaways from Toronto.

They’ve now launched a website with all the tips: Good Weekend Co. The site lists places to stay, eat, shop and visit within a 3-hour (ish) drive of Toronto. With summer finally here, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

Image of Trott Cottage on Lake of Bays, which is on my Airbnb wishlist ever since I saw it on Good Weekend Co.

Do you listen to podcasts with your kids?

When we drive somewhere as a family, we usually let 7-year-old Clara pick the soundtrack. It’s mostly to keep her happy during long rides. On the whole, Ian and I can tolerate the kiddie music. But lately the seemingly endless stream of kids bop is driving us a bit wild, so on a recent drive I suggested we listen to a podcast.

I heard that NPR had a science and natural history podcast for kids called Wow in the World, and downloaded a few episodes. It’s the perfect blend of humour and insight, and Clara loves it. Ian and I enjoy it too, so it keeps us all pretty happy.

Now I’m on the hunt for more kid-friendly podcasts. Any recommendations?

We’re going to Quebec for Carnaval

Next month we’re headed to Quebec City for Carnaval – the world’s largest winter festival. I’ve never been to Quebec City and I’m super excited.

We’re taking 7-year-old Clara, who’s excited to see ice sculptures and visit the Ice Hotel (the idea of which blows her mind). We’re also taking Ian’s mom, whose first language is French. She’s also never been to Quebec City and is really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to having her translation skills on standby as je ne parle pas très bien français!

So that everyone has enough space and we’re not living on top of each other, we’ve rented a gorgeous 2-bedroom loft in the trendy Saint-Roch neighbourhood of Quebec. it’s conveniently located next to a poutine shop.

We’re planning on seeing as much of the Carnaval as we can, and I’ll be keeping my eye out for a photo opp with Bonhomme. Apparently there’s only one Bonhomme and he has a lot of ground to cover during the festival, so if you catch him, grab a photo as you might not see him again.

Ian is pumped for the giant toboggan run set up outside the Chateau Frontenac (pictured above). I don’t think I’ll be going on it – it reaches speeds of 70 km/hour! I’ll just watch from the sidelines with a warm drink in hand, thanks.

Have you been to Carnaval? Do you have any tips? I’ve heard it’s quite cold and we’re prepared for that. The whole family is packing lots of layers and proper outerwear (including snow pants for everyone). If you have any other insights (restaurant recommendations in particular!) I’d love to hear.

The Samsung Family Hub refrigerator keeps my whole family organized

Earlier this summer, I did a fun “kitchen tech” segment on CTV Your Morning. I showcased a bunch of helpful gadgets for the busiest room of the house, including a smart fridge from Samsung. This thing is the coolest. Seriously, watch the clip. After the segment, Samsung asked if I wanted to try the fridge in my own home to really experience it. Yes please!

We’ve been living with the Samsung Family Hub fridge for a couple months now, and it’s so great. The entire family is in love (yes, we’re in love with a refrigerator). Here are some of the features that are total lifesavers, especially now that the craziness of the holiday season is upon us.

The giant digital screen

The touch-screen display on the fridge is a digital version of all the old stuff we used to have, minus the magnets and clutter. Just look at that photo of our old fridge on the left. All of that stuff is now inside that gorgeous touchscreen on the new fridge on the right. And during the holidays, we love receiving special holiday e-cards and displaying photos of loved ones.

Family calendar

The Samsung Family Hub has different profiles for each member of the family, so everyone can see their calendars and to-do lists. This feature has saved my sanity from questions like, “Mom, when is my piano lesson?” or “Are you traveling next week? Can you do school pickup on Monday?”

Morning briefing

We’ve all gotten into the habit of receiving a “morning briefing” when going to the fridge to grab breakfast items. Every family member has their own briefing, customized for the info they want to receive. Clara, who is 7 years old, loves hearing her calendar and the weather, but doesn’t care much for the news. I like the food reminder of what items are going to expire in the fridge, so I know what I should eat for lunch before it goes off.

Smart home integration

The Family Hub fridge integrates with other smart home products, including our Philips Hue lights and our ecobee4 smart thermostat. We can adjust the temperature and control our lights just by asking the fridge. It kind of makes sense to have the fridge as the centre of our smart home ecosystem, since we spend so much time in the kitchen near the fridge already.


I like listening to CBC radio or BBC Scotland when I’m in the kitchen, and I can do so easily with the TuneIn app on the Samsung Family Hub fridge. This time of year, we listen to classic holiday music on Spotify and are locked in a heated debate over which tune is the ultimate Christmas song. I’m firmly in the “Last Christmas” by Wham! camp. Ian swears that “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway is the best. Clara can’t decided between “Jingle Bell Rock” and Serena Ryder’s “Christmas Kisses.”

Shopping List and View Inside

All of those features are amazing… but hands down, my family’s favourite parts of the Samsung Family Hub fridge are the View Inside and Shopping List features. The Shopping List is shared, and we can add items to it when we’re standing in front of the fridge, and from our individual smartphones. It’s super handy during the holidays, when I have unusual items on my grocery list like baking chocolate.

But what about when you forget to put something on your Shopping List? That’s where the View Inside feature saves the day. The fridge has three cameras inside, so I can use the View Inside part of the Samsung Family Hub app on my smartphone to see what’s in the fridge, even when I’m not home. This is a total game-changer for my family. If we’re out of milk, heads are gonna roll. Ian and I used to anxiously text each other from the grocery store, wondering what we had and didn’t have. Now we can literally peek inside the fridge and see.

Join me for a live demo

Want to see all these features and more? Have a question about the Samsung Family Hub fridge? Join me on Instagram on Friday December 21 at 12pm Eastern. I’ll be doing an Instagram Live video, showing the features and answering your questions.

Disclosure: Samsung provided me with the Family Hub refrigerator. Opinions about the fridge are my own.

I don’t think I could live in a Tiny House… but I might want to vacation in one

The Tiny House movement puzzles me. I understand the drive towards minimalism, but you can have less stuff anywhere. Why live in a super small dwelling? Not to mention how totally impractical it is for families, and the racial and class issues the Tiny House movement has surfaced.

But! If the idea of living simply and small in a remote setting appeals to you, even for a short amount of time, you can try out the lifestyle with a tiny vacation rental. There are a few in Ontario and Quebec that are gorgeous. This little cabin is only an hour outside Toronto, and comes with its own lake (although you have to go to the farmhouse on the property to use the bathroom).

Repère Boréal has four small dwellings to rent in stunning Charlevoix, Quebec. Two of their properties have full kitchens and bathrooms. The smaller two (including this one with a panoramic window that goes up the wall and into the ceiling – swoon!) don’t have water, so you can use the onsite reception centre for washrooms, showers and kitchen facilities. They also have a “spa zone” with an outdoor cold-water shower, sauna and hot tubs for guests to use.

Cabinscape also has four small off-the-grid dwellings you can rent, scattered north of Kingston and west of Ottawa in Southern Ontario. All of them are on lakes, rivers, or trailheads, and Penner Cabin is next to the entrance to Frontenac Provincial Park. The cabins have small kitchens, composting toilets, and indoor showers. In the winter you have to hike in, and the running water is turned off, so no showers (but water is provided for drinking and dishwashing). Cabinscape welcomes children and dogs.

Which one would you rent?

The free app that’s making my Instagram Stories 1000 times better

I’ve had a whirlwind fall with a lot of travel and events this year. I’ve enjoyed sharing photos of my adventures on Instagram, particularly in Instagram Stories (and then saving the Stories as Highlights on my profile, so they don’t expire after 24 hours).

To make my Stories as compelling as possible, I use the Unfold app. It’s free (although there are paid add-ons), and available for iOS and Android. My favourite part is that I can use the app to draft a bunch of posts, so I can see the narrative unfold (get it?) as I build the story. Then I can share directly to Instagram from within the Unfold app. I’ve pasted some of the images from my recent trip to Amsterdam above. See how I could choose different layouts, and add text? that’s all in Unfold.

Do you use Unfold? Or have you tried other social media graphic design apps like Canva or Adobe Spark? What’s your favourite part?

5 tech gadgets to help make parenting young children easier

In one of my favourite recent segments on CTV Your Morning, I highlighted 5 gadgets that can help make parenting young children easier. I love all of these devices! Watch the clip online here, and here’s more info on each product, below.

1. Toddlermonitor
Toddlermonitor is a toddler-friendly baby monitor. It hangs on a doorknob and alerts parents if their child leaves their bedroom. It senses the motion of the door, and sends an alert to the parents’ smartphone via Bluetooth. Toddlermonitor was created by two moms from Calgary who designed this product after one of their son’s escaped from his room and their home when he was only 2. They were using a video monitor at the time but it didn’t alert them. It can hang on any type of door and can be moved without installation, making it perfect for travel. Toddlermonitor keeps it’s charge for 7 – 10 days.

2. Thermo by Withings
Thermo is a remarkably accurate, easy-to-use smart thermometer. It can track the temperature readings of up to 8 users, it has color-coded fever indicators, and the batteries last up to 2 years. Sync it with the dedicated app on your smartphone, and you can track temperature readings and input related symptoms and medications. That’s a game changer for parents who can’t remember exactly how long it’s been since medication was given, or how a fever is progressing over time.

3. Groclock 
Groclock solves the problem of your child not knowing what time is appropriate for getting out of bed, especially when they can’t tell time! Parents set an appropriate time for when kids can get up (for both overnight sleeps and for daytime naps). The Groclock then uses fun images of the stars and sun to communicate when to go back to sleep and when it’s time to leave bed. It also has a digital clock, so older kids can learn to tell time along with the “stars to sun” countdown.

4. Playbrush 
Getting young children to brush their teeth can feel like pulling teeth. Playbrush turns teeth brushing time into playtime. Playbrush connects to a smartphone app featuring fun games. During each 2-minute adventure, the gaming apps encourage children to brush at the correct speed and equally within all quadrants of the mouth. Choose from the Playbrush Smart (which can be attached to any manual toothbrush), or the Playbrush Smart Sonic electric toothbrush. The Playbrush app comes with 4 free games and a brushing coach, and you can upgrade to the games subscription for even more brushing adventures. The subscription also allows parents to monitor your children’s brushing in the parents app.

5. Circle Home 
Circle makes you the master of your home’s WiFi and every device connected to the internet. It easily connects to your home’s WiFi network and doesn’t require you to install any software on the actual devices themselves. With Circle, you can set time limits for apps and web sites, finally getting online time in check. You can also set up age-appropriate filters that apply to all their devices. Set bed times for each family member, use off times to create unplugged moments during the week, even pause the internet with the tap of a finger.