If you’re here as a previous reader of this blog, you’ll have noticed my new digs on WordPress and the new look of the place. If this is your first visit, welcome!
2016 was a rough year for me and my family – I don’t want to go into gory details, but there was job loss, terminal illness, death, hospital visits, emergency home renovation… you know what, I’m getting bummed out just listing them all, even vaguely and generically. The point is, both blogging and the kind of adventures that I love to write about took a back seat all year long, in spite of my efforts to “dig myself out of a hole.”
There were a few positives in 2016 and while they really deserve their own individual posts, I’m going to start 2017 with looking forward, but I’ll just list a few honourable mentions…
which we used as an opportunity to take our first family camping trip.
We managed to make a shorter, later version of our annual trip to Germany.
We capped off the year by spending New Year’s at the cottage, which is the first time we did that as a family. We tried some downhill skiing, some cross-country skiing, and lots of snow-frolicking.
What does 2017 hold for this space? Lots of the same outdoor, active family living, with a focus on multi-sport/triathlon. Some things in our life have changed; the kids are older and pursue their own extra-curricular activity with less parental involvement (except driving them to and from the venue), and I’m less fit than when I was writing this blog regularly, so some of the fitness subjects will be more on the rehabilitative side (though I’m not going to turn this into a weight loss blog). I will probably incorporate more mental health and productivity content, and I’d really like to step up the amount of gear and technology review. Also, this might not be the final look of the blog, but I have to shout out and thank Janice from Salads4Lunch for getting me this far!
“No, no… Dig Up, stupid!” – Chief Wiggum, The Simpsons – Homer the Vigilante
I think this is becoming an annual tradition. Every year around Christmas time, the chaos of the holidays eats up my ability to get any blogging done. So that when other bloggers are writing up end of year round-ups, Iron Rogue is in radio silence. After that, come the new year resolution/goal/plans posts, and this space is still in hibernation.
I almost don’t mind. While I don’t have a problem with the end-of-year and new year stuff, I certainly don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. The start of 2016, though has dealt us some extra turmoil that has kept me from getting started again. The nature of that turmoil, I’m going to choose to keep private, but it’s comprised of more than one unexpected event, and dealing with it has eaten up not only time to blog, but also time to exercise and take good care of my health and fitness, which dries up the well of subject matter for this space.
That means, among other things, that I’ve put on holiday weight and then some, and I’m not in good shape physically – or at least not the shape I’ve come to expect of myself. I think of myself as being in a hole, and climbing out of a hole is always challenging even if I’ve done it before.
I’m going to start, and this post is a declaration of that beginning. Does that mean I have goals and plans? No, not yet. I guess I have… Ideas. If I discuss those ideas here, that won’t make a plan, but it’s a good start to not only creating a plan, but starting to write again. Also, many of these ideas will make for future posts, which I will label in an effort to pique your interest in reading this blog going forward.
To start getting my house in order physically and creatively, I started following BexLife more seriously. I signed up to do a 21 day mantra challenge, where she provides a mantra every day (the above image is from Day 6) that you meditate on for 4 minutes. I’m generally lousy at this kind of thing, and I did struggle with some of my meditation sessions, but for others, I had an epiphany or two. You can see some of my experiences on my Instagram account. As Bex says “Look How Dope My Life Is” (#lookhowdopemylifeis). I have to be honest and report that I didn’t get it done every day of the challenge, but I did learn about myself and I think I can make meditation a more regular part of my life – daily would be ideal. I also didn’t manage to make every day of a core challenge called #thegetthatcorechallenge organized by Heather Rose Scott of Fit Strong Fierce. How did I drop the ball on two daily challenges that didn’t have much of a time commitment beyond a few minutes each? WE WENT TO JAMAICA! [future post alert!]
So I guess I traded guided meditation for feet-in-the-sand and core exercises for swimming with the kids, but it didn’t do much for getting back in physical shape. It wasn’t the most active of our family vacations (plus unlimited Jerk and Red Stripe), but I will do a write-up to talk about it soon.
Before I even started the 21 Day Mantra Challenge, I did an exercise recommended by Bex to build Do-It-Yourself Mantras. You can find the video to explain it on the page linked above. Briefly, you take a list of 10 things you want…
…freedom to go outside
…a super hero body [future post alert!]
...harmony in my family
…robots [future post alert!]
…a working side hustle (i.e. monetizing this space, as mentioned in last year’s Vision Board Post)
…to keep learning
…to be a good Scouter [future post alert!]
…to travel as much as possible
…respect for my contributions
You also need a list of 10 things you can offer…
I CAN OFFER
…my knowledge of active family life
…my knowledge of mobile communications and wireless networks
…my experience with scouting
…my willingness to learn
Anytime you want a mantra, pick one from each list (with some correlation between the two, hopefully) and your meditation session is good to go.
So, I’ve slipped in my meditation, my core challenge exercises, and many other ways as I try to put my life back into the shape I want; climbing out of a hole means slipping back down sometimes. If you watch this space (and also my Instagram, especially with the #ClimbingOutOfTheHole hashtag), you’ll see how that shapes up.
I’m hoping to build a community around this site, too. That means active families, and hopefully some novice triathletes too [future post alert!]. Besides BexLife, I’m also getting plugged into Nerd Fitness; I think this year’s adventures will be guided by the kinds of connections I start making.
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on
“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”
I used to break down these trips into multiple parts, thanks to extensive journals I kept, but I think I’d just prefer to do a single round-up and not just because I didn’t keep a journal this time. I think I’m just going to do a summary by category.
Climb UP! Climbing Forest.
This was one of the cooler adventures we got up to. For adults, there are various challenges to climb up into the treetops, and of course, some zip lines. We didn’t do the adult challenges in favour of accompanying the kids. They each wore safety harnesses with 2 carabiners that got hooked into safety lines that ran alongside each climbing challenge. The challenges were strung together to form an entire course to traverse. At the end of one challenge, you’d unhook a carabiner from the completed challenge’s safety line and hook it into the new, then you’d repeat for the second carabiner, so that in principle, you were always tethered. The kids never got any higher than around 5 feet off the ground, but I guess it’s the principle that’s important. Shark Boy loved it and managed his own safety harness, and while the Lightning Kid seems to be a born climber, he got a little tired about halfway through the course so I let him bail.
Germendorf Zoo/Theme Park
We’ve visited this place annually for at least 3 years now. When we got in, Shark Boy found a dead snake beneath a statue of an elephant, and by the time we were done, he still considered it a highlight. This year I had us navigate toward the ‘Dinosaur’ section before we got too close to the carnival rides and playgrounds that always seem to high-jack the kids’ interest in the animals there. I think I only saw one dinosaur (statue) but we got to see some animals we haven’t seen in prior visits. For me the highlight was a puma, which is not only one of my favourite animals, but this one actually got up and walked around, which is kind of rare for big cats in captivity (in my experience). He did seem to take an unhealthy interest in Shark Boy; at least, unhealthy for the boy – his ears pricked up, he stared, licked his chops, you name it.
We got to see monkeys playing, meerkats, parrots and even pet and feed a deer.
Then it was time for lunch and rides. We shelled out for them to ride these electrically powered motorcycles (they move fairly slowly), which not only gave us a sweet moment of the two brothers riding together, but we actually got the Lightning Kid to ride his own. He did a great job of steering until he’d get distracted by what his brother was up to, and then he’d crash – which didn’t hurt him but resulted in tears from the sudden shock. There was an indoor play area which used to house a ball pit and a few bouncy castles, but they’ve expanded it into a much more extensive play area with all kinds of climbing structures.
I don’t like to make fun of personal appearances, but I have to tell this story. My wife and I were sitting near the ball pit which was intended (according to the signs) for kids aged 0-5. There were kids much older in there, and they were throwing the balls out of the pit and generally making a nuisance of themselves. The supervisor turned up and told them off – and they got off light, because the supervisor was a witch from a storybook, I kid you not. Hook nose, wild and wiry hair, crazy eyes… all that was missing was a wart. I know we weren’t all created to have movie star good looks, but maybe using a brush once in a while… on the other hand, maybe it helps with her job. My wife and I have read a lot of German children’s literature (as children ourselves, we don’t like it too much for our kids) where there is often some kind of boogeyman who comes and gets you when you don’t follow the rules (see here for an example) – so we couldn’t help but laugh to see one of these scenarios brought to life.
Another annual mandatory outing. We had lovely weather, but this year they stopped making a stop near where we were staying, so we had to make a round trip. The food menu seemed reduced too, but at least it’s getting easier to keep the kids safe while they roam the decks.
We rode our bikes through the local forest into the town of Tegel to find a playground. This day was particularly hot, so the shade provided by the trees was very welcome. Shark Boy had been getting over a flu, and I think we overestimated his recovery, because he simply quit well before we could get home, in spite of covering a much bigger distance last year. Still, taken as a whole, I have to call it a successful outing, and hopefully a precursor to future family bike trips.
There’s a Simpsons episode where Germany is referred to as the land of chocolate, so we had plenty of that. I honestly don’t quite understand how Germans stay thin (my observations of people make me think that they’re thinner on average, though I found this on Wikipedia – Canadian men are 2 kg lighter than Germans [who are 6 kg lighter than Americans] on average). They have some good habits like more walking and biking as transportation, not to mention that the evening meal is generally quite light, with lunch being the big hot meal, but still! The bread is made with white flour, the meat is often red; I have a hard enough time eating fruit at home, but with fresh cold cuts and cheeses bought on a daily basis, they really get pushed to the side.
And then there’s my fetish for ice cream made in the image of pasta… I try to eat Spaghetti Ice Cream as often as I can get my hands on it while I’m in Germany since I can’t get it back home. The ice cream is pushed through a press to make noodles, the tomato sauce is actually strawberry sauce, and the grated cheese is either grated coconut, or grated white chocolate. I didn’t get to try any new places this year, but I got enough samples to keep me happy.
My wife and I had two date nights: once at our favourite little Italian place, where they always treat us like royalty and once at Alten Fritz (which has been open, in some capacity or another, since 1410!). We actually went to this restaurant twice: once with a larger group, and once with just the two of us. The first time I had a Goulash made with Wild Boar, and the second time a platter with 3 kinds of dumpling; it was really an eye-opener to how fine traditional German cuisine can be. There’s outdoor seating and even a little forested area with pond that really adds to the ambience.
I used our proximity to the Havel River to my full advantage and I’d packed my wetsuit. I got in 3 open water swims, and since I’ve been doing a lot more than usual pool training, the difference that the open water makes was a bit of a surprise to me. I’m not sure of my technique in open water, but I’ve got the rest of the summer to figure it out. I got 3 different swims in, and one was 1800m, close to a half-iron distance swim. I think I’ll be putting together a post about swimming in an unfamiliar river.
In addition to the family bike ride mentioned above, I got in 3 rides. I knew my cycling training would suffer the most for not having access to a road or tri bike, but two of my rides were with the Lightning Kid, including one that had us out for about 3 hours (2 hours of actual riding) – it was great bonding time for us, and he liked seeing the sights and sounds including visiting a pens where boars and deer are kept. My third ride got cut short by a flat tire.
Running is the easiest form of training to accomplish on vacation. Running with my brother on the day we arrived with jet lag (after an overnight flight) was pretty challenging; I expected to feel tired, but I had this dead feeling in my legs that I wasn’t prepared for. For the first few days in Berlin we had a lot of cold weather and rain so my first solo run was not enjoyable, but I also had nice runs in sunnier weather, alternating between going along the Havel River (and trying, unsuccessfully, to race one of the Steamboat cruises) and through the forest.
In addition to the usual suspects I also got to try the original Budweiser. This Czech lager is nothing like the American brew and I really enjoyed it. There was also Altenmuenster, which I gave 3.25 stars out of 5 and my wife and I both had a Kronbacher Radler. If you haven’t heard of a Radler (Moosehead is making one, for example), it’s a little like a shandy or other beer based beverage. A mix of sparkling lemonade and beer, the story goes that a bar owner was getting cleaned out of stock by thirsty cyclists stopping in, so he found a way to stretch his inventory while still quenching his customers’ thirst – Radler translates to ‘Cyclist’ as it turns out. So of course we had one while on the family bike ride mentioned above.
“You know what I like about Vermont? It has better sticks.” – Shark Boy
While I have my doubts that the sticks of Vermont are of higher quality than the sticks of Ontario, Shark Boy does have a point that we were able to spend our vacation in a beautiful (fairly) natural setting at Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort. We try to alternate our spring break between hot places and ski vacations, so after last year’s trip to Mexico, it was going to be skiing, even if this was another brutally cold winter. Having been to Quebec twice, we wanted to switch it up this year. My wife did some research at the Toronto Snow Show, and while there was heavy competition, we decided on Smuggler’s Notch due to its reputation for families and the 20% discount deal that they offered us through the show.
Taxicab Selfie on the way to the airport
When I told people about the trip, most assumed we’d drive there from Toronto, but that would have taken longer than I generally like to spend time in a car, never mind with two bored kids in the back. Flying Porter from the Toronto Island is actually a reasonably comfortable experience with young ones; they get excited about all the various stages – taxi, ferry, air-plane. The line-ups aren’t as long as at Pearson International Airport and the waiting lounge has free coffee and cookies. Propeller planes are a little noisier and slower than jets, and they seem to have more turbulence (maybe due to a slower ascent into the more peaceful altitudes?) which is tough if you’re a nervous flyer like my wife. It was also a bit of a bumpy landing into Burlington, VT. Porter flights de-board in a weird satellite terminal which requires a shuttle ride to the main terminal. We’d been expecting a shuttle that we booked with Smuggler’s Notch; they were supposed to have a sign with our name on it, but we were unable to find them either at the first terminal or the main one. We did, however, get a lot of help and support from the driver of their regular inter-terminal shuttle buses, and we eventually found out that our driver had been told that our flight had been delayed when it actually hadn’t. The upshot was that I never felt genuinely worried that we wouldn’t get our ride to the resort, everyone we dealt with was courteous, knowledgeable and professional.
We got checked into the resort, and driven to our condo which was in the “Liftside” section, and as the name implies, very close to the lifts. If we hadn’t had a second story apartment we could have walked onto the hill from the back door of our room. It was also a very short walk to the main village which not only houses most of the resort’s restaurants, but the ski school, rental shop, and guest services so we were well off in terms of location.
We had our first dinner in the Pizzeria, Riga-Bello’s. Frankly, I found it a little confusing because it looked like the kind of joint where you walk up to the counter and order a slice, but when we were directed to take menus, it made me think it would be a sit-down-server-takes-your-order experience. My first instinct was correct, but we ended up having my wife run back and forth from the counter to our table to provide updates as to which pizzas were available by the slice versus whole pizzas – it just made dinner way more complicated than it had to be. The pizza was okay, but nothing special.
Our apartment was quite nice. We had our own kitchen, which we sometimes used to make breakfast (the rest of the time we fell prey to the lure of treating ourselves), and a living room area where the kids would watch TV while we prepared our (or more specifically their) equipment and outfits for the ski day. We were all in one bedroom which worked well, with Shark Boy on a higher bed (he’s a little more stable in his sleeping patterns) and the Lightning Kid on a low trundle bed which felt safe. One of the things we liked best, of course, was the en suite washer and dryer; which meant not only being able to have clean and dry clothes when we needed them, but kept our packing and luggage to a minimum (2 ski bags, 2 suitcases, a ski boot bag, one backpack, one laptop bag – the last 3 items were all carry-on).
Our first full day at Smuggler’s Notch started with a gorgeous breakfast at the Morse Mountain Grill. I had the stuffed waffles, which I can highly recommend. They have a great kids breakfast menu too.
Bringing the kids to the ski school involved some confusion for us. The package we had booked gave us ‘Discovery Camp’ tickets for both boys, and at the intake/registration, upon hearing that the Lightning Kid had been on skis before (albeit with our help) and was toilet-trained, said he’d be ahead of some of the other students in his class (named Discovery Dynamos while Shark Boy would be in Trail Blazers). This sounded promising, but we had envisioned him as being in more of a daycare situation with some one-on-one ski instruction. The instructor who was leading his proposed group had some directed questions about the Lightning Kid’s ability to follow instructions verbally, and in programs like his Little Kickers Soccer class, he’s done better by being able to follow the other kids. The instructor pushed the Adaptive Ski Program as an idea; Smuggler’s Notch is clearly very proud of their adaptive ski program for individuals of different abilities, as well they should be. It’s just that we’ve found that he does better when he’s surrounded by typical peers in an inclusive environment – ultimately we know what’s best for our son. We eventually opted for the Little Rascals on Snow program, which is run out of their Treasures daycare building.
The Treasures daycare is a short distance uphill, but once we had him registered (a process which was impressively thorough for the safety and security of the children), he seemed comfortable enough, and my wife and I were off for a day of skiing! The day before had brought some new snow so as we got higher and higher we were treated to some beautiful scenery; snow coated trees and branches. Smuggler’s Notch has 3 mountains: Morse, Madonna and Sterling. I guess we were still a little antsy about leaving the kids alone, and we weren’t too confident in our own legs: we had said that getting in even a few runs alone would have been good enough for us on this vacation! We stuck to Morse mountain (the closest to our home base) and only did Blue runs that day.
I found it a little strange that even with 3 mountains worth of ski runs, Smuggs only has old-fashioned (read: slow, not high speed), two person lifts over the entire resort. It seems quaint, and it didn’t bother me that much, but I think it’s something you’d want to know so you can manage your expectations.
The hillside cafeteria food was basically the kind of fare you might expect, but somehow it all tasted a little above average. There were a few novel treats too, like macaroni and cheese in a bread-bowl (carb city!).
Everyday at the Treasures daycare, they took the kids into their little backyard where they have what has to be the world’s smallest magic carpet and slope. Already on the first day, he had done a little skiing on his own. We’d pick him up in our ski boots, get him geared up, and I’d ski down the hill with him between my legs to the bottom, where we’d walk back into our condo and change for dinner. Skiing like that is a little tiring (it’s like holding a deep squat), but this was often my favourite part of the day.
Before dinner, we gave the kids a little bit of free play in the Fun Zone, which is an inflated dome full of play areas for kids of various ages and adults. There’s skee-ball like games, bouncy castles, inflated giant slides and obstacle courses as well as mini-golf. There’s a few rules for the larger structures that also keep little ones like the Lightning Kid off them, but there was enough smaller play structures to keep him happy. The Fun Zone was a daily highlight for both kids (even if there are no sticks in the Fun Zone).
We had dinner at the Morse Mountain Grille again. We were serenaded by Rockin’ Ron the Friendly Pirate. Ron has some corny pirate humour, but the songs were fun to sing along with and the kids were frankly entranced by him. Vermont cuisine, in which as far as I can tell always involves Maple, Bacon or Green Apples, was always featured and always desirable. I had the Maple Whiskey BBQ Steak Tips, which were tasty if a little tough, but what I really enjoyed was the local craft beer sampler, especially the ‘Sunshine and Hoppiness’ Ale.
On the second day, we dropped the kids off a little more efficiently after a breakfast of toast and peanut butter (supplied by items I bought at the General Store the night before), and we sampled Mount Madonna and Mount Sterling. I had been warned that crossing between the mountains involved flat stretches that needed a lot of skating to get through, but having been warned, I gathered up plenty of momentum each time, and I don’t think it was really that bad. One of our first priorities at Mount Madonna was to try one of their on-hill Waffle snacks. I could smell them from several hundred meters away. They were very tasty, but I’d decline the Nutella if I were you because cleaning up one’s face on the hill isn’t easy.
We got some good runs in, and I found plenty of Blues that still gave me a little kick with their twisty narrow turns. One complaint I had was I found that branches would crowd the fringes of many runs; I nearly got taken out by a branch on two occasions, once because I was looking uphill at a run we were merging with – just like the caution sign suggested. The morning weather was pleasantly mild, but it turned nasty and we spent most of the midday being drizzled on. Getting wet like that made us get cold faster. We knocked off a little early to pick up Shark Boy from his lesson and ski with him. Being the older brother means getting less attention much of the time, so it’s nice to address that with some two-on-one time; plus we wanted to see what he’d learned! He showed us some great linked turns and much better stopping than we’d seen from him before we came to Vermont.
We also picked up the Lightning Kid early. My wife wanted us to have a date night, and she found out about a kids’ Fun Feast that would have the kids being looked after and fed, with games, movies and interacting with Mogul Mouse and Billy Bob Bear. She figured we’d have a dinner for two at one of the restaurants, but the reservations desk upped the ante… they were running a snowshoe adventure that evening where we’d take a lift Mount Sterling, do a little snowshoeing, enjoy a candlelit gourmet dinner (catered by their Hearth and Candle restaurant, but on the mountain the location is called Top of the Notch. Then we’d snowshoe down the mountain; and to boot, we’d be able to drop the kids off earlier than other parents who’d signed up for the Fun Feast (another trip to the Fun Zone for our boys).
We took the shuttle from the village to the bottom of Mount Sterling. We were briefed on how we could pick up our snowshoes, board the lift, and disembark – which was going to be more challenging and tricky than it would have been on skis. Not being able to slide off the ramp meant having to turn away from the chair and letting it pass, then crossing the ramp without getting hit by the returning chair. We managed it on our first try. We moved inside to Top of the Notch, where the guides explained the course of the evening. We sat with two other couples who had kids in the same Fun Feast and ski school, and they were even from the West side of Toronto – unfortunately, we were too big dorks to get their contact info… Beth, Richard, Dave and Jenn, if you read this, you can contact me at one of the links on the right side of the page! The head guide/host explained that calls of nature would have to be answered… in nature with a secluded area for the ladies, and the men just about anywhere else. He also invited the whole group for what he called a ‘little hike’ – it ended up being a mostly uphill climb all the way to Stowe! Some of the scenery was lovely, but that was a tough hike, and I’m surprised everybody managed it. Apparently we were the first group that had been able to accomplish that trek this season! I later kicked myself for not wearing my Garmin to track it, especially because the Garmin was actually in the backpack I had brought along for the event – the dinner was BYOB with the exception of a hot chocolate with banana schnapps. We both had trouble with our snowshoes staying on, but the guides were really good and making fixes on the go.
A pond just off the peak of Mount Sterling
We made it! A view from the top of Stowe…
Obviously the way back down was easier, though the sun was getting low and the air got colder. For spring, it was pretty cold, especially with the wind cutting through you. We had a lovely dinner, my pork was a little dry, but the wild mushroom ravioli was heavenly. We heard good things about the Vermont chicken too. Suddenly, it was time to go if we wanted to be on time to pick up our children. The mountain hadn’t gotten any warmer in the dark, but it was a fun downhill hustle in snowshoes, and interesting to see some of the familiar runs of the daytime in the darkness, never mind going at a slower pace than on skis.
We picked up the kids and they were over excited, and over tired, never a good combination. It was St. Patrick’s Day and the Lightning Kid had his face painted green for the occasion. In the spirit of many other St. Patrick’s Day revellers, he also did a face plant in the village courtyard that left a nice little scrape on his nose.
Day 3 was our last full day at Smuggs; and I promised Shark Boy that we’d visit the pool after skiing. We’d been avoiding it since all winter long, every time we took the Lightning Kid skiing, he’d get a nasty cold – barking coughs, wheezy breathing, you name it. My wife booked a massage at the spa, and I wanted to get a few lengths in the pool; it was officially week 1 of my Half-Iron training program and besides the snowshoeing, skiing, lugging ski equipment and chasing the kids around the fun zone, I hadn’t had any real exercise. I found out to my delight that the pool used a salt water chlorination process, but it was only 20 yards long. Ah well, better than nothing.
After that my wife and I met up for more skiing, but the cold winds were blasting up the hill. We got too cold, too fast, and the wind had also cleaned the hills of snow to a large extent. We did the best we could to enjoy ourselves, but getting inside for lunch was a pleasure that I have to say we dragged out longer than we would have otherwise. We only did 2 runs on Mount Madonna before opting to make the ski trek back to Mount Morse and the Village to pick up the kids. While Shark Boy had been a little resistant to go to a “Ski School” – we shouldn’t have called it that because school means teachers which means rules and orders to follow – he didn’t want it to end and was sad when he found out it was his last day. The instructors were great, and they use a GPS tracking technology (called Flaik) which not only lets them track the kids in case of emergency, but summarizes their runs, you can even map it out from the Flaik website.
One of Shark Boy’s days on skis.
Swimming in the pool ended up being a lot of fun. I had Shark Boy do a swim test to prove he could handle the deep end, which I’m proud to say he passed with flying colours. The Lightning Kid has tubes in his ears, and we got custom earplugs to protect them; this was one of my first times working with them, and I lost them. Three times, but I found them every time, once in the drain filter, once floating nearby, and once in the middle of the pool where I did my best Hasselhoff impression with a daring aquatic rescue (Baywatch reference!).
We took the kids to the Fun Zone which was next to the indoor pool so their hair could dry a little before going the the Hearth and Candle. It’s a cozy restaurant which would have been nice for a romantic dinner in the basement where the fireplaces are, but the main floor accommodates families beautifully too. I got a chance to try the Vermont chicken which I had missed out on the night before and it was delicious. What I didn’t enjoy as much was the Maple Bacon Manhattan; I blame myself, because it didn’t taste any different than it should, I think I just expected to like it based on the fact that all the individual ingredients were things that I liked. On Day 4, we weren’t flying out till the afternoon, and Smuggs was nice enough to let us have a late checkout without any extra charges which meant being able to do a few runs as a family. And the Lightning Kid didn’t seem like swimming had caused him to catch a cold! Oddly enough, it was the first time we’d gotten a real look at the beginner’s runs and lifts. Apparently Shark Boy was able to ride the Mogul Mouse lift by himself, and he didn’t like me lifting him up to get on the Village lift; turns out it was a good idea though because those chairs are a little higher and it nearly knocked him down – I managed to snag him in the last second. He actually rode mostly with his mother, because it was my job to get the Lightning Kid on the chairlift. Both my wife and I were nervous at the prospect, but I resolved to simply keep a good hold on him. The lift staff didn’t bat an eyelash as I lined up for the lift.
I got a lift-selfie to mark the occasion
We moved over to make use of the magic carpet and were able to let Shark Boy ski independently while my wife and I got the Lightning Kid to ski unassisted. WHICH HE TOTALLY DID…. for about 6 feet, but still! I got him to put his hands on his knees which is something he’s learned in the soccer program I mentioned earlier. That made his stance perfect with a low centre of gravity. Any time he wasn’t being held up, he screamed, but he did ski independently which was a great moment for us. Another funny moment was when we convinced him to ski without being held, by distracting him and singing “LET IT GO!” (his all-time favourite song from the movie Frozen). We capped off our last day at Smuggler’s Notch as a family of four skiers, and we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.
Our shuttle back to Burlington airport had all the info he needed to make sure we were there in a timely fashion and he even gave us a little scenic tour so we could see some of the mountains and learn about what some of the local villages have to offer; Underhill and Jericho Corners are great for hiking, for example.
We had a fairly uneventful flight back, and I think this trip stands out as a good example of how family vacations don’t have to be stressful; there were hair-pulling moments of course, but altogether, we got what we wanted out of the trip.
I was inspired to write this post after a crazy weekend in Collingwood full of skiing (downhill and cross-country), and swimming too. It took some time for me to crystalize the most important things I’ve learned into a list of 5 lessons, but here goes.
Leave it to the last minute.
This one sounds counter-intuitive, as planning and organization are the keys to stress-free living, right? And when it comes to races (and booking travel, etc.) earlier means cheaper. Still, nothing is more expensive than paying for an event you can’t attend at all. I once DNS’ed (did not start) the Bracebridge Triathlon because the Lightning Kid got sick. This year, we wanted to go to Collingwood for a weekend, and I wanted to do the Tubbs Romp 2 Stomp snowshoe race, but with it being a brutal winter (that might make the drive difficult, or be too cold for outdoor fun), with a brutal cold/flu season to go with it, we knew it might not happen, so we waited till a couple of days before where it seemed like it was going to be OK to leave home, then we booked the hotel and I registered at the race site (online registration was already closed) and hoped for the best (see #4).
Be Flexible (WYCWYC*)
Why are you out there? Fresh air, fun, and exercise. Those are the reasons, those are the goals, and the actual activity/sport you are trying to do are just the means to an end. When we put the Lightning Kid on skis, we only hope he’ll try to move his feet a little, or if we’re at the hill, one single run (him riding between my legs) is a victory. (WYCWYC=What You Can, When You Can)
My wife and I used to volunteer with the Ontario Track 3 Ski program for children with special needs (everything from cognitive/developmental delays like autism to physical impairments like cerebral palsy), and the motto was always “first safety, then fun, then learning.” While we ostensibly there to teach the kids to ski, sometimes you couldn’t really get that far with them, and if rolling down a snowbank was what they wanted to do, then that’s what would take place that day. You would be connecting with them, and they with physical activity in the outdoors, and sometimes that would lead to better chances at learning the actual sport later on. It’s not really different for any children, especially when they’re very young. You have to take what you can get today, and hope it pays off tomorrow, which brings me to point #3…
Consider the Long Game
I’ve taken the Lightning Kid out in the Kayak, and traversed a total distance of about 200m. It was still worth it, because he got exposed to boating, and I got a little, tiny bit of exercise.
When we went cross-country skiing last year, we had some outings where the time spent on skis was all of 30 minutes, and that’s with about 90 minutes of driving each way; I don’t even want to get into the time spent packing the car, unpacking at the trail-head, re-packing at the trail-head, and unpacking at home. This year, though, we’re lasting longer (especially Shark Boy who’s gotten faster and stronger, completing some 2 km trails himself).
At very young ages, it’s hard to know how much they remember, but somehow the routine of getting out of the regular routine pays dividends and sticks into their character makeup later on.
It goes for more than just the kids, it goes for you too. It takes a second to lose your patience; how long does it take to find your patience. Fairly long, I’ll bet. Being patient has never been a strong suit of mine, and when I found out one of my children was going to have special needs, it became a real fear that my lack of patience would keep me from being a good father to him. I honestly think I’m getting better at waiting for the kids to learn what I’m trying to teach (manners, reading, physical education). You just have to believe that it will pay off; you have to…
Use Your Optimism Muscle
This past weekend, I had to take care of both boys myself. Well, like any red-blooded adult who is in control of their life, I ran to my mother for help. We went to her place on Saturday afternoon and spent the night as well as all day Sunday there. There are two ways I can relate the events of the weekend.
Both boys were sick with nasty colds, and I had one too, feeling feverish and being nearly unable to swallow on Friday night, meaning…
I barely slept between taking care of their various discomforts and my own
We didn’t get outside much
The kids demonstrated that they still don’t listen no matter how many times they’re told, to the point that their doting grandmother even noticed that their behaviour was lousy
I got the Lightning Kid to his soccer program and Shark Boy to his dance lesson on time.
The kids and their grandmother got to spend time together/I got to see my mother.
The kids and Shark Boy’s Godfather got to spend time together
We got to enjoy my mother’s wonderful cooking
I got to do a favour for my wife, who totally deserved the weekend away from the kids
I got more bonding time with the kids, especially cuddling up with the Lightning Kid during his nap (while I read a few chapters on my e-reader)
It honestly gave me a sense of achievement to have gotten through it all (parenting is the ultimate endurance sport)
While the weekend doesn’t typify one of our family outdoor adventures (we only got outside long enough to shovel her driveway), it’s a good demonstration of how your attitude re-frames the experience.
There have been many times we’ve come back from an outing, tuckered out, and the day waning, and I’ve thought: “I guess I’m not going to clean the garage again”, or whatever random task I’ve equated with being a real adult who is in control of their life. On balance, though, those tasks are unlikely to cause me any deathbed regrets. Taking care of yourself, getting outside and spending time with your family are the things you’ll regret not doing. And again, this is a two way street – your kids might not make it to that classmate’s birthday party that they were invited to, because they were out with you. It might not have been their first choice to go out biking/skiing/spelunking with you, but as parents, we make healthier choices for their diets, activities (both mental and physical), and everything else; what are they going to remember more fondly on their deathbed (sorry to be morbid… let’s just say they live to be 999), fun times in the great outdoors, moving their young, healthy bodies with loved ones, or a bunch of cake and wrapping paper to spoil a classmate whose name they won’t remember anyway.
Between increases in youth obesity, and wanting to limit ‘screen time’, many families are looking to make fitness a family affair, as Victoria Freile writes. As I discussed the topic of this post with my wife, she pointed out how much more we have to learn; smart cookie. Forging an active family life is an on-going, iterative process. Some, like Katie Arnold of Outside Magazine’s column Raising Rippers are at the more extreme end of the spectrum, while some families would probably be happy to take regular family walks. When you start early with your children, they absorb it easily and fitness becomes part of their lifestyle; inactive adults need to learn this like a new skill. While how well my pants fit has fluctuated, I’m lucky in that I never had to figure out how to get active. I was raised in such a way that exercise was as natural a habit as washing. It’s a gift I hope to pass on to my kids, and hopefully the generations that come after I’m long gone.
Hopefully, some of you reading this will be able to use it to make your family life more active, and then I’ll have passed on the gift even further.
How does your family get active together today? Are you looking to do better?
Having completed our snowshoe races, it was time for the main event, as far as spending time together as a family is concerned. Cross-country skiing! We’d eaten our lunch in the chalet, and we were hoping our legs (that is, Shark Boy and I’s legs) were well rested. As I mentioned in the race recap, trails at Scenic Caves start with a climb, so it can be tough going. The nice part was that they had regroomed the parts of the ski trails that had been traversed by snowshoe racers, so we had a nice track to follow.
We started by following the ‘Easy Peasy’ 2km trail, which links up to the more extensive trail network where you can add mileage as you see fit. On some ski outings, the Lightning Kid has been a little fussy in the Chariot; he seems to want his mom around which doesn’t work well since I tend to speed ahead while she helps coach Shark Boy on his own skis. This time, it seemed I was in luck – the race meant getting a late start on skis, so that he was in the Chariot around his midday nap and quickly fell asleep. Somehow, the camera on my phone wasn’t working and I couldn’t get any pictures, but this blog already has plenty of family cross-country ski photos. I had made up my mind to tack at least an extra 1.1km on by myself, but I waited by the crucial fork for my wife and Shark Boy to arrive to make sure that they took the right branch to complete Easy Peasy and get back to the chalet. While there, I had to engage in the usual banter with passers-by who always ask if they can hitch a ride on the Chariot too. I think the conversation got too loud, or it’s possible that the Lightning Kid’s damp socks were a problem in the cold, but he woke up and started crying, so I took Easy Peasy back as quickly as I could. I would have liked more mileage that day, but what can you do? He did settle down once I got him inside.
Apparently Shark Boy really struggled to finish the trail with legs that must have been tired from the snowshoe race. We packed it in, and headed to the Day’s Inn where my wife had booked the last available room earlier in the week. It has a pool, but we were sorely tempted to check out a water park found in Blue Mountain Village that we’d heard good things about. It’s called Plunge! and we gave into temptation and took it. We were a little worried because it seems like the Lightning Kid gets sick every time he goes swimming. I hoped that he’d spend more time with the splash pads than immersed in deeper water and that it might make the difference.
The boys chilling before we went to the Aquatic Centre
We arrived a little after 4PM, and it turns out that’s a popular time to arrive since families that have since left the ski hills at Blue Mountain are looking for their next activity. The pool was filled to capacity, but they were expecting some exits soon. The cashier explained the situation to everyone standing in line and pointed to the expected cutoff, where the wait would be conceivably much longer. That cutoff point was right behind me. This was to be one of many examples of what some might call a guardian angel looking over us, or having horseshoes where the sun don’t shine, whatever your preference.
Once we were in, I found myself a little disappointed by the size of it, which I had assumed would be much bigger. Still there was a swimming pool with some splash features and toys like pool noodles, mats, life jackets in addition to a splash pad with a small water slide and some fountains which were loved by the Lightning Kid. Shark Boy and I went through the pool doorway to the outdoor pools which had additional (and larger) water slides; I didn’t want him getting out of the water in below freezing temperatures, so we headed back inside. We let them have fun till nearly 5:30 and then decided to get out, change and head to dinner.
Through the Days’ Inn we got a 10% discount at Boston Pizza, and that restaurant was on a short list of places we’d try with the kids; it has a good selection of food (and beer), and is quite kid friendly. I considered ordering a chicken pecan salad, to try and stay on track nutritionally, but I was simply too hungry so I ended up with a huge bowl of Butter Chicken Linguine (I substituted in their whole wheat linguine for the regular fettuccine at least). The real highlight of the dinner, though, was seeing a young man named Kevin as part of the staff. Kevin (like the Lightning Kid) happens to have Down syndrome, and according to his co-workers, is a great, friendly, professional and welcome recent addition to their team. Apparently this isn’t uncommon at Boston Pizza locations…if we liked Boston Pizza before, that sealed the deal for us!
With a King size bed and a pull-out couch, and two boys who roll all around their beds at night, we opted to put the Lightning Kid on couch cushions on the floor, while my wife slept next to him on the pull-out couch. Shark Boy and I shared the King size bed where I could plug in my CPAP machine. Around midnight, the Lightning Kid woke up with very wheezy breathing. Having dealt with bronchiolitis and pneumonia in the past, we opted to take him to the hospital to get his oxygen levels checked (N.B. I deal with plenty of armchair diagnosis in real life and on Facebook, so I don’t want to get into those kinds of discussions in this space). I stayed at the hotel with Shark Boy, though of course I couldn’t sleep (though I did whine about it on Facebook). We must have found more horseshoes, since the problems were limited to his upper respiratory tract; the doctor figured it might be from dust in the room – I blame the couch cushions. I switched to the pull-out (no more CPAP) and my wife had to share the King size with both boys – resulting in sleeping perched on the edge of the bed. Still, it did improve the Lightning Kid’s breathing and he was well enough to ski the next day.
We had a delicious breakfast at the Westside Diner, and returned to the hotel to pack up and check out. Then it was over to Blue Mountain to try and get the kids to find their ski legs. I generally find Blue Mountain over-priced and over-crowded, but I have to say, guest services hooked us up with the minimum price of tickets we needed to get the kids on the magic carpet (and down the bunny hill). A beginner ticket for me, a free pedestrian ticket for my wife (she didn’t put on equipment, just stayed on foot for coaching), and free kids tickets. Shark Boy seemed to remember enough from last year to ride the magic carpet up without a problem, and he needed very little intervention after the first couple of runs where he fell a few times. The Lightning Kid was eager to ride up, but a little fussy about riding down. A few times we got him to take a few steps independently, and I tried holding him between my knees with a ski pole acting as a kind of safety bar. Frankly, it was a bit of a struggle for me – he’s so small I found it awkward to bend down enough. I did get a couple of short bursts where he’d sort of stride and flap his feet like a walk or strut as we slid down the bunny hill. The problem was when he’d cross his skis I’d have to lift him up in the air long enough to uncross them. One time I pulled up on my ski pole and ended up giving him a fat lip. He screamed and cried, but somehow I talked him into one more run (if only for the chance to go up the magic carpet again). This time we both managed to get good bent knees with low centres of gravity and we zoomed down the hill… to the squeals of delight of my wife. Being able to ski as a family seemed doubtful when we first got his diagnosis, even though we’d skied with kids with special needs when we used to volunteer with the Ontario Track 3 Ski Program.
It was only few runs, but we called it a victory before my wife took him inside to warm up. Shark Boy and I continued a few runs where I gave him a turning exercise by planting a ski pole in front of him (ambush!). I find I’m never dressed warm enough for the outdoors when I’m with the kids; it’s a slower activity than I plan for so I get cold. We did 3 more runs and re-joined the rest of our family for lunch.
After lunch it was time to head home. Shark Boy wanted to know what else was on tap for the day! I guess, it’s just never enough. Or rather, it is, because the cranky attitude was reflective of the fatigue. He fell asleep in about 2 minutes of driving, which meant he missed another example of our horseshoe angels’ help. I must not have tightened the ski rack enough before leaving, and it opened on the country road heading from the ski hill into Collingwood proper. My wife and I’s cross-country skis and poles flew off the car and landed on the road behind us! The downhill skis were heavier and stayed put. What could have been a disaster ended up being a shining example of how generous people can be. Cars behind us stopped (without running our equipment over) and even helped me get everything off the road so we could all get moving again as quickly as possible. The skis didn’t take any significant damage (a few nicks and scuffs), and I tightened and locked the rack as best as I could.
The snow continued to fall, as it had all day, so I was extremely nervous about the drive home. Luckily, although it was slow going, visibility was good enough and everyone seemed to be driving sensibly, so we got home safe and sound, had dinner as a family, put the kids to bed, and unpacked. By the time we crawled into bed, my wife and I could do nothing but smile at each other, both awed by all the craziness we’d experienced in 48 hours, and proud of our accomplishments.
I typed the first part of this post on a Saturday night in a hotel business centre in Collingwood, Ontario. I was intending to finish writing about the entirety of the Saturday, but the slow net connection and my own exhaustion made it impossible. As I type this now with borderline frostbitten fingertips, I know I have to break the tale of our crazy Collingwood weekend up into more than one post. For now, you’ll have to settle for my contribution to the Lakeshore Runner Tri-ed It Tuesday linkup: a recap of our first snowshoe race.
I’ve wanted to take part in a snowshoe race for some time now. I’ve owned my own snowshoes for over a year, but I haven’t gotten many chances to get proficient with them. This year I missed two chances to take part in snowshoeing events run by Personal Best at Albion Hills. Not only was the venue close, but vendors were allowing you to try on snowshoes for demonstration purposes, and they had children’s sizes, so I ended up getting Shark Boy all psyched up to, only for us to miss our shot by a few minutes each time. As a family, we made cross-country skiing the top priority weekend outdoor activity, and snowshoeing kept getting punted.
Before we were married, my wife and I used to love coming up to Collingwood for both cross-country and downhill skiing, and even with two kids, we still try to make the effort. Knowing that we wanted to make such a weekend happen, and since I found the Romp To Stomp Snowshoe Race (benefitting the fight against Breast Cancer), I had a way to kill two birds with one stone. All I had to do was pack cross-country ski gear for four people, downhill gear for four people, the Chariot, my snowshoes, plus swimsuits and clothes for an overnight stay into my car…
We’ve had to deal with enough chaos in our life (e.g. the Lightning Kid getting sick in the last minute) that I was unwilling to pre-register; I just have to live with having every plan be tentative. I had packed the car the night before, but when I got outside on Saturday morning to pull the car out of the garage, I saw it was snowing. Heavily. This was going to impact the ideal schedule… not catastrophic, but chaotic as the norm. After a 2 hour drive, we were passing through Collingwood on the way to Scenic Caves, where the event was being held, and we saw that there was parking for the event in town with shuttles to Scenic Caves. This didn’t bode well, since we knew we wanted to park there so we’d have access to both the snowshoe event and cross-country ski trails afterwards. Luckily, the staff let us park in their lot, even though it was off-limits to race participants.
The building housing the registration desk was far from just about everything else, but luckily (again) Shark Boy and I made it in time. It was a bit of an ordeal filling out at least 3 different forms, and the network connection was too spotty to make a credit card authorization for my $42 (plus tax) registration fee. Somehow, we still got out with our race bibs pinned to our jackets and I got a demo pair of Tubbs (the main sponsor) snowshoes for Shark Boy, and I still had time to change into my Salomon trail runners and grab my own snowshoes.
The ‘Lil Rompers’ race took place first. It was a very short out and back of only a few hundred meters; a nice little sprint for the little ones to get their energy out and try out what it was like to run in snowshoes. Shark Boy did great, and took to snowshoes like a Shark to water (where do you think we get that nickname from?). He was actually last to cross the finish line, but he was one of the smallest/youngest kids, and there were several who gave up crying. He always puts on a brave face, but I found out later that he was actually a little upset at coming in ‘last’ and when I spoke to him about it on Sunday night, he also complained of getting snow kicked into his face (which I would also experience at the start of my own race). I explained about how his not giving up and crossing the finish line made him a hero to me, and it’s one of the things I love about him most. I hope that’s worth a gold medal to him…
Shark Boy is in the green jacket back there…
Look at the snow fly!
If you see a lot of pink in these pictures it’s because the Romp To Stomp Snowshoe series benefits the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. So in addition to being a lot of fun, they’re also helping out a great cause.
As I lined up for my own race, of course a few nerves kicked in. I asked some of my fellow participants if they knew what colour our trail (3 km race, there was also a 5 km race and 3 km walk available) was blazed. Someone pointed out to me that I was wearing a Walk bib as opposed to a race bib. I needn’t have worried, as there were pink and blue arrows spray painted into the snowbanks and marshals at every possible fork to keep anyone from getting lost. As we took off, I had only 3 people running in front of me, but their intensity was enough to kick up a good cloud of powder. As I settled into a pace I thought I could maintain, we got a little spaced out on the trail and I stayed firmly in fourth place. Scenic Caves is on the Niagara Escarpment, and as such the trails are made to start with a lot of climbing (which is better than ending with a lot of climbing). I’m familiar with the terrain from cross-country skiing here over the years, but I’m not as competent at pacing myself on snowshoes, and try as I might to climb slowly while still ‘running’ I found myself taking it back to a walk. I blame peer-pressure, as the other front runners were doing it too, so it only seemed sensible. The snowshoes have little teeth that make traction a non issue, so every step was efficient and meaningful.
What I noticed about the snowshoe trails (when they deviated from the ski trails) is that they can go into much denser vegetation since there’s less chance of quickly careening off trail into a tree.
Whoever was in first had left the rest behind, but I kept seeing racers 2 and 3 a little ahead, and some of the volunteers even egged me on to try and catch them. On uphills I felt like I was gaining ground, but on every descent they’d seem to disappear. I eventually learned that I can lean into a downhill on snowshoes much like when I run normally.
Another way I might have been losing ground was that I stopped to take pictures. When it came to crossing the big suspension bridge, I simply had to. It has a great view, and luckily I’m not afraid of heights…
The bridge is 25m above a stream below…
…and 300m above Georgian Bay.
On the final kilometre of the race, I finally began to gain ground on racers 2 and 3 who seemed to be sticking together, with one always a little ahead of the other. There was one last big climb that I managed to maintain enough intensity on to pass them both. I still needed to drop back into a walk before the top, but I figure my longer legs kept me ahead on a stride by stride basis. My only regret about this race was not wearing my heart rate monitor strap; I think it would have been interesting to know exactly how hard I was going.
Once I crossed the finish line, they let me know I came in second place! Not bad for someone racing in snowshoes for the first time! I think I heard them announcing some of the podium places for both 3km and 5km racers later on, but I was busy with the family at the time. We might have been chowing down on Maple Lodge Chicken Dogs which were available for nothing but a donation to Breast Cancer awareness. They were tasty! If it wasn’t the chicken dogs, then we were out continuing our adventures on the cross-country ski trails, which will be the first part of Chapter 2 of our Collingwood Adventure. So I’m leaving you with a bit of a cliff hanger… see you next time!
In my on-going game of blog post catch-up, I would like to engage in the (probably pointless) exercise of telling you, dear reader, about our annual family trip to Germany. Last time I keptadetailedjournal, not so much this time, so I’ll wrap it up in a single post, with just the broad strokes. With Germany in the World Cup final, I’m sure you’re all eager for a little taste of the Fatherland, right?
Travelling with small children is indeed exhausting, especially the flights, but I have to say, my boys are actually pretty good, all things considered and they get compliments from airline staff and other passengers. They’ve both been on planes since they were 6 months old, and while the Lightning Kid still doesn’t get the need to stay seated, they show their veteran flyer status in their general behaviour.
Due to the German holiday calendar this year, we weren’t able to spend as much time with my brother’s family, and we ended up heading to the Berlin area shortly after landing. Germany gave us some great weather this year, though it was late May, it felt like a full-on summer (meanwhile, back in Canada, the climate was still shaking off the Polar Vortex).
This gave us an opportunity to swim in the Havel river a bunch including off a boat! Shark Boy really improved his swimming and it ended up paying off a few weeks later at TriKids Burlington. I even got my own open water swimming training session, and though it didn’t feel great in terms of technique, performance or accomplishment, this is the first year I’ve gotten one done while on vacation though that river has been there the whole time, so I feel proud of it.
This boat was docked nearby, and it gave me a daydream about living on it, and having constant access to open water, living a nomadic, triathlon lifestyle a little like Team Wuertele. Having a cottage is pretty good too, though.
We don’t do much sight-seeing while there and prefer to be homebodies… it’s quite cozy. Apparently some ducks thought so too – but nobody told them that ducks aren’t roof birds…
The other big physical activity we did as a family was a bike ride; Shark Boy rode at 10 km on his own, and now that the Lightning Kid is a little bigger, he can ride longer in the rear seat – he is also carrying on his brother’s tradition of reaching forward to try and give me a wedgie.
While we didn’t sightsee, we did have to find ways to keep the kids entertained, and we looked into a couple of amusement park and play centres as we’ve come across them over the years. Lots of jumping and climbing for both boys, and it’s great to see the Lightning Kid really rock his gross motor skill development.
After Berlin, we did finally get a chance to spend time with my brother and his family, and what we didn’t have in quantity of time, we made up for in quality. Seeing the cousins play and bond really reinforces the feeling that family is something to be treasured. We took a nice hike up one of the Taunus mountains.
I also got a nice run in with my brother.
Like any vacation, it was over too quickly and now seems so long ago.
We’re big on travel in our family, and we want to give our kids great, diverse experiences, even from a young age, even though travelling with young ones can be very stressful. So far, we’ve been going South in even-numbered years (it was Turks & Caicos for 2012) and ski vacations in odd years (Mt. Ste. Anne for 2011 and 2013). I’m glad this year wasn’t a ski year, because after the Polar Vortex(es) of this winter, I couldn’t take more cold and really needed some sun and warmth. We all did.
The Beaches resort in Turks and Caicos really spoiled us in terms of what was possible for an all inclusive with child care, but it was too expensive to repeat this year. My wife did some great research and we booked a Sunwing holiday through Corinne at Have Baby Will Travel. We were going to the Grand Palladium in the Mayan Riviera, Mexico. I’d been looking forward to it for a while but as the days before the trip trickled down to single digits, I got worried. I’d had bad experiences with charter airlines in the past, getting tripped up on baggage weight restrictions and being crammed (me=5’11.5”) into small seats. I’ve got to say, though, combined with our using their online check-in, Sunwing made it really fast and efficient, which is very important, because I find it hardest to manage the kids when standing in line. Having got through baggage drop-off and security quickly, we had time to kill before boarding but I find the gate area a lot better space for managing kids, the Lightning Kid’s disagreement with an escalator about direction of travel notwithstanding.
The flight went well too; the kids are too energetic to be easy on the plane, but they’re experiencedenough flyers that they weather most of the challenges well. We were warned of keeping track of our immigration papers on the flight, and briefed about the customs procedure (where you push a button to determine whether you’re going to have your luggage searched) by the flight crew. Exiting the terminal, we bought snacks for the long bus ride to the resort – 15USD for a beer, a water and a can of Pringles. Ouch. The kids slept a little on the bus ride, which made things a little easier.
Grand Palladium in the Mayan Riviera is a resort with 4 different lobbies: Riviera, White Sands, Kantenah and Colonial. We were booked in the latter, which I liked, because as far as I could tell from the map, it was closest to one of the biggest pools, the kids water park, the beach, and definitely closest to the “Mini-Club” (child care). The Colonial lobby is next to a Flamingo lagoon, which made a strong first impression for our arrival.
Our room was ready with a crib, and the couch had been pulled out and made with sheets, so both kids would have a place to sleep. We’ve struggled with this in other hotels – we’ll request a crib, be assured that one will be there, and come up empty when we check in.
Once we were ready to explore, we found we had a neighbour: a rather large iguana; I asked Shark Boy to give him a name and he picked “Max”. At first we were astounded not only by how tame he seemed, but how nobody else seemed to notice him (or us staring at him). It turns out, these things are everywhere on the resort, and if you’re grossed out by lizards, I have to tell you that there was a startling absence of bugs, and maybe that’s a coincidence, and maybe it isn’t. The entire resort is peppered with mangroves, which not only protect the landscape from erosion and give the local fauna a place to live (while making little visits to the inhabited sections of the resort) but also provide extra shade. As a melanoma survivor, it’s not always easy to enjoy sunny destinations and the shade provided by the mangroves as well as some sheltered paths was really welcome.
Cooling off became our first priority. We found the big pool (or one of them) and started in the shallow end. Shark Boy has gotten the hang of swimming (thanks to his grandfather) and he splashed around in the water as comfortably as his namesake. We didn’t really get to sample the rest of the pool much; in spite of an on-site daycare, we spent most of the time with the kids… more on this in a bit. I would have liked to use it to swim a few lengths in the mornings before things got busy, or spend some time at the pool-side bar, but I was able to fetch drinks from it once or twice.
After the pool, we showed the kids the new water park. I took the Lightning Kid with me on a water slide and was chided by the life-guard who directed me to the rules board… where we couldn’t find what rule I had broken. Finally he pointed out “Always obey the life-guard” which would have to do. No big slides for the Lightning Kid, and he was hesitant on the smaller ones, but fun in the water is still a favourite for both kids.
The other thing that had made me apprehensive before the trip besides the flights was that we’d all be in the same room. The Lightning Kid was waking up 2-3 times a night still, I snore, and Shark Boy sometimes gets nightmares if he’d overtired or overstimulated (both of which were likely while on vacation), so I thought we’d all end up waking each other up and come back from vacation less rested than when we left. That couldn’t have been further from what actually happened. The kids were so tuckered out from walking and swimming in the sun that both nap-time and night-times were a breeze to get them down and keep them down. It’s almost upsetting to me, because we strive to keep them active and outdoors every day, but the Canadian suburbs simply can’t compete with living by the beach in Mexico. As for me, I think the sea air helped my sinuses or something, because snoring was lessened.
Speaking of the beach and sea, I think this was the best part of every day we spent there. Shark Boy could really show his stuff (and make his parents’ teeth sweat) being thrown around in the surf, and the Lightning Kid loved running into the water repeatedly after a (mispronounced) “1-2-3-GO!”, not to mention running up to people on beach chairs and socializing. I’m really happy that the boys were able to get so much out of being on the ocean.
The resort had activities that I would have liked to try including kayaks, catamarans and stand-up paddle boarding at the beach, not to mention archery on their sports field. It was for this kind of thing and the potential for date dinners/lunches that the ‘Mini-Club’ (for Shark Boy, age 4) and ‘Baby-Club’ (for the Lightning Kid aged 2) were supposed to come in handy. I think the Mini-Club would have been fine (especially once Shark Boy’s initial resistance was overcome and we got into a routine) for longer stays since they would take them to the water park or beach. The Baby Club, however, gave us a walky-talky to reach us at a moment’s notice (which you want in a way, just in case), but apparently had very limited range, as they specified we couldn’t go further than the beach or pool area. This, combined with picking the kids up at lunch time made for limited opportunities. More than anything else, we used our kid free time to research what on-site restaurants to try and other logistical details. I did manage to fit in one scuba dive, though. The dive shop was right at the beach and the dive site was only 5 minutes by boat, so I managed a single tank dive in something under 90 minutes; perfect when you have kids to get back to. The weather had been kind of windy all week, so visibility was not so great and we didn’t manage to spot any big ticket items like sharks or turtles, but I did see some lionfish, pufferfish and a seahorse (not pictured).
The resort had both buffet-style and a la carte restaurants. I was surprised by how good the quality at the buffets (La Hacienda, Tikal and Grand Azul) were with plenty of healthy things like fruits and smoothies, local dishes like antojitos, international cuisine including paella and run of the mill stuff like chicken fingers for the kids. By contrast, the a la carte places didn’t seem as good, with the Italian place (Portofino) being the biggest disappointment (slow service, bland food), the Japanese being mediocre (interesting Mexican twists on the sushi, but not high quality fish, I think). The Mexican a la carte (Adelita), on the other hand, was mouth wateringly good, and we had a nice, if rushed due to Baby-Club hours, date night dinner.
While we did get around the resort mostly on foot, there was the opportunity to take little trains (on wheels, not tracks) from one lobby to another and the boys got a kick out of the ride. Shark Boy and I used this to attend a ‘Surf Party’ with animal mascots (known as Raggs and Friends – side note: Raggs has a friend who is differently abled – hooray for inclusion!) run by the Kids’ Club staff. There were plenty of evening entertainment options for the kids (if they weren’t too tired from the days activities) including a Pinata party one night too.
I have to confess that there were times I wish we had taken a holiday without the kids; the funny thing is that now I have trouble remembering the specifics of what made it so difficult. I guess it just got frustrating trying to take the kids to places like the pool and the beach while they actively worked against making it easier to do so (e.g. resisting getting dressed), even though the destination was where they wanted to be. What I do remember, is all the smiles and fun we had. Grand Palladium not only gave us a taste of sun and sea (as a family), but a good sampling of both Mexican cuisine and the local ecology too.
The resort has a crocodile lagoon in addition to the flamingo lagoons
Coati and raccoons were occasionally visible around the resort. We saw a monkey once too.
I’m really behind on blog post topics. As the subject matter becomes less current (or even irrelevant), I’m left with either abandoning the topic, or going ahead with a ‘better late than never’ attitude. This one falls into the latter camp; I know you don’t want to hear about winter, but we had a good time, and maybe the information will be useful for next season.
Winter is tough. For everyone, but even worse for families with small children. If you’re a family with small children and want to lead active lifestyles, EVEN TOUGHER. We’ve done a good job of embracing the elements that a Canadian Winter gives us, but the snow in Southern Ontario is inconsistent at best, and really immersing yourself in the winter environment takes more time than than the average weekend allows (think packing, driving, herding the cats kids). Enter the ski vacation.
Two years ago, we shopped around at the Ski and Snowboard Show for ski resorts that could accommodate a family with a child less than 18 months. All the reps at the show acted like it would be no problem, since they simply wanted to make a sale, but the truth was, that the 18-month mark is a dividing line for daycare licensing and insurance and most resorts didn’t have that capability. Shark Boy was going to be 17 months old (close but no cigar) for the dates we were looking at, but Mont Ste Anne takes kids into it’s daycare from 6 months on! Staying inside Canada meant no customs/border hassles, avoiding invasive TSA screening procedures and dealing in Canadian currency. Long story short, we loved it and booked another trip this year, which we did in the end of March.
We flew to Quebec City with Porter Airlines from the Toronto Island Airport. That made for some excitement as the kids got to enjoy a taxi ride, a ferry ride and a plane trip… I made the pre-boarding a little more exciting by forgetting one of our suitcases, necessitating a panicked taxi-ride home and back (an extra hundred bucks, ouch), but we made our flight just fine.
The weather in Ontario had been iffy, sometimes cold, sometimes mild, but not very good with snow, but immediately before we left, Sainte Anne got a dump of fresh snow.
From what I could tell, this wasn’t powder of the very highest grade, but it was good enough for me. We were booked into the Chateau Mont Sainte Anne, and in one of their newer Studio (Nordik) rooms with a King bed. We had a crib for the Lightning Kid and Shark Boy slept on the pull-out couch.
The morning after arriving, we brought the boys to the daycare where they were welcomed with open arms. My theory on child-care givers is that experience brings an air of cool confidence that kids can read, and things tend to go smoother; the staff at Mont Sainte Anne has that air. We kept Shark Boy in for the whole day on Saturday which gave us the time to ski almost
Problem: I hadn’t downhill skied in two years at least. We took mostly Blue runs, but we found we had to take frequent breaks on the hills, and even on the Blue trails we found moguls we weren’t ready for. My theory is that downhill skiing is quite the opposite of most sports I do: rather than applying little to moderate force through a fairly large scale movement (like a running stride or cycling pedal stroke), you’re mostly pushing with a great deal of force through very little movement at all when you’re digging your edges in on turns. It’s dynamic versus static muscular strength and endurance.
We’d pick Shark Boy up after his second ski lesson, and had a few runs with us so we could see the progress he was making – it seems like he’s a natural. After that, we’d pick the Lighting Kid up (typically once he’d woken up from a nap) and take them for a ride up the gondola… and of course, back down.
He got frightened during a plane take-off but this didn’t bother him a bit.
Dead times before (and sometimes after) meals were spent in the kids room in the basement of the Chateau (there is also a video arcade, but our kids are too young for that kind of thing, and we weren’t going to encourage it – though later on, I got smoked at Dance Dance Revolution). The kids loved the toys in there and frequently played with other children – language barrier be darned.
I did have a little scare in the kids’ playroom. One morning, the Lightning Kid woke up around 5, and wouldn’t go back down. I had to dress quickly and hustle him out of the room before he could wake up his brother. I took him down to the playroom and let him go. I ended up finding a very large bug, which (to my surprise, since I was feeling sluggish as you can imagine) I was able to capture and bring to the front desk. Any parent wants their kids to be able to play in a fairly clean environment so my paranoia was going full tilt. When I followed up later, a member of the staff explained that they deemed it a grasshopper (rather than something more scary), and that these sorts of things could come in from all over the world in visitors suitcases. They take a lot of measure to prevent infestations like the kind my imagination was running wild with, and I had to admit, it didn’t really look like a cockroach or anything like that, so I was basically satisfied. There are a good variety of restaurants within the resort grounds, so we tried a new place every night. We also ended up packing up our food before we could complete a proper meal, because the kids wouldn’t behave properly (I think they were a little overstimulated by the new environment and/or activities). Quebecers are really laid-back and don’t bat an eyelid at kids’ behaviour; unfortunately, I’m not a Quebecer, I’m an uptight Ontarian and meal-times ended up stressing me out. The last gasp before bedtime was a swim in the pool (also in the basement of the pool). I was able to get Shark Boy to show me some of the skills he’s been learning in his swim lessons, and we’ve long since discovered that swimming is an excellent way to tucker them out so they’ll sleep. Once they were out one of us had to stay in the room with them, so we weren’t able to enjoy our evenings as a couple. We’d do a little solo (drinks, the aforementioned arcade) but conk out early from exhaustion. There were many wake-ups to deal with, so it was good to get all the rest we could. The next day, I felt so much stronger and more confident on my skis. We still stuck mostly to Blue hills, but it really felt like the best I’ve ever skied in terms of technique. We made sure this time to put in a stop at the Maple Syrup hut on the East side of the mountain. Here, they pour maple syrup into a trough of snow where it congeals, then you pick that up on a stick by rolling it all up (see below). Delicious!
In the trough
I got all the syrup… LIKE A BOSS!
The other thing we made time for is making sure we caught some of Shark Boy’s ski lesson. Then we took him for another run with his parents on “The Big Magic Carpet” as requested. On our third day, I actually opted to head back to the room and sleep rather than ski. Normally there’s a voice inside that makes me seize the day, and says:”You can only ski like this so often, but you can sleep anytime!” but that isn’t actually true anymore. A chance to sleep without being woken up by the kids (or a phone call or whatever) is about as rare as good powder, which I missed out on that morning by all reports. I did manage a couple of Black Diamond runs in the afternoon, though the snow had gotten granular. The vacation wound to an end… but they left me wanting more. There is an extensive network of cross-country skiing trails that we haven’t explored yet, and other winter activities like dog-sledding beckon too. My one gripe is that access to other services isn’t so great; two years ago I had to hail a taxi to get to a drug store for infant pain-killers because Shark Boy got an ear infection. There is also no shuttle to/from the Quebec City Airport making cab rides necessary. Even as the kids get older and the daycare requirements get lighter, easier and more flexible I could see us returning to Mont Ste Anne. For another view on this trip, please visit the Lightning Kid blog.