Family Winter Getaway: Blue Mountain

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Two weeks ago, we stuffed the minivan with snacks and snowsuits and left on a two-hour journey that would land us at Blue Mountain resort for a winter-themed family getaway. Could we entertain four kids and two grown ups (who don't ski) at a vacation destination known for wintertime skiing? We were going to find out.

JB and I both grew up in areas of Ontario where towering snowbanks were part of the landscape, Christmases were always white, and snow stuck around until spring. We each have fond memories of being excited by the sight of more falling snow (imagine!) Playing outside — no matter how cold the windchill got — was a welcome part of the winter season.

It's easy to lose that child-like wonder when you grow up and have places to be and responsibilities to meet. But maybe that's the best part about living somewhere with seasons — you adapt to the changes and learn how to make the best of each season as it comes. And as easy as it would be to give into hibernation each winter, we are doing the best we can to encourage our kids to appreciate the outdoors year-round.

Once we pulled into The Westin Trillium House, unloaded our bags, and parked in the underground parking lot, we were able to say goodbye to our minivan for the rest of the trip. Blue Mountain Village is completely pedestrian-friendly. We walked everywhere and the kids had a lot of freedom to roam. We noticed several families using toboggans and sleds to wander around with their snowsuit-clad toddlers and kids. 

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We walked into the village to check it out and stopped in at the Crock A Doodle shop to paint some pottery. I have very artistically-inclined kids, and it was the perfect (mellow) way to shake off the drive. Once we got them all settled with their chosen pieces, the grown ups snuck out and around the corner for some parent-sized Starbucks. All the pieces we painted were ready to be picked up (fired and glazed) the next afternoon.

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After hanging out in our two-bedroom suite (complete with kitchen) for awhile to get ourselves unpacked and fight over beds, we made our way back into the village to catch a shuttle bus to dinner at the newly-renovated Pottery Restaurant. The menu offered great kids' options with generous portion sizes and a choice of salad or french fries (tip: half the kids order fries and the other half order salad. We divide the bounty by using the bread plates for a side salad). The adults were able to enjoy a few beverages (since we were catching another shuttle back to our hotel) and all of us were well-fuelled for some night swimming at Westin's outdoor pool. 

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The kids loved being able to swim outside in the dark, and the water was heated to the perfect temperature. There was a lot of giggling each time we had to streak from the pool to the hot tub in the snow! And everyone was tired enough to settle down (hello, Westin's Heavenly Beds!) without protest. 

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We set our alarms and piled on the outerwear to walk into the village for breakfast the next day. There are a lot of us and we wanted to be sure to get a table at the popular all-day breakfast joint, Sunset Grill, before the crowds started to show up. The kids filled themselves up with chocolate chip pancakes and fruit, while I did my best not to fall victim to the bottomless refills of coffee (knowing where we were headed next). 

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We took a shuttle over to the ski rental building where we were met by friendly and knowledgable staff that helped us get all our measurements sorted out. We wanted to do something outside that was geared to our large family, and we were thrilled to find out we could take a guided snowshoe hike. For those families who are interested in skiing, the Kids at Blue program looked amazing and the instructors could not be more supportive and encouraging (and oh my goodness, there is nothing more adorable than a gaggle of kids in ski goggles).There's also an amazing outdoor skating pond that offers rentals. 

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Snowshoeing was just as fun as I imagined it would be. But don't let that fool you, like it temporarily fooled me. Snowshoeing is a work out — especially when your guide takes you straight up a ski hill (aren't they meant for travelling in a downward direction?!). Our more athletic kids were able to keep up to the guide, but I had to stop several times to shovel handfuls of the fresh snow in my mouth. And JB got sidetracked by a dawdling six-year-old, who was also very focused on eating snow. But we made it to the top and stopped at a couple of look outs to take in the view of Collingwood and Georgian Bay below. 

We were sweaty and well-exercised by the time we made it back to the bottom of the hill and more than ready to head back to the village for smoothies and BeaverTails as a reward. At that point, I separated from JB and the kids (who were able to pick up the instructions to a village scavenger hunt at the Information Kiosk) and headed to an appointment at the IWA Spa in the village.

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I felt guilty (that JB wasn't with me) for about 10 seconds, before the ache in my calves and feet (I'm not used to walking around in snowshoes) let me give myself over to the most incredible hour. I started with the Beat The Ski Boot Blues leg and foot massage, and it was absolutely wonderful (and enjoyed alongside homemade chocolate and herbal tea). Just when I thought I couldn't be more relaxed, I was whisked upstairs for a first-time experience in the Gan-ban rock sauna. I love being any place that's warm, and this meditative experience was no exception. Check out my glow. 

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I managed to drift back to the hotel where I found the kids happily relaxing in preparation for our next adventure (tip: grab comic books and magazines from the book store, picture books from the library, and art supplies from home and pack them in a tote. Give the electronic devices a vacation, too).

We got into our bathing suits and robes again and headed down to the amazing PLUNGE! Aquatic Centre (tip: you can buy three hour or full-day passes and there's a discount if you buy four or more). This was a trip highlight for my swimmers. My kids love to be in the water and the added adventure of being at an indoor-outdoor water park was so much fun for them. 

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We enjoyed the basketball hoops, flotation devices, swinging rope drop, and the outdoor water slide (even my fearful kid was able to conquer her worries and go down it several times). All of the action happening against a snowy backdrop made it even more magical. The water was warm and the hot tub warmer. There were plenty of seats, an on-duty lifeguard, and lots of fun to be had on the pint-sized slides and fountains found indoors. 

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By the time we were dried off again, we were all starving. And our youngest was dragging her heels with hunger and exhaustion. Luckily, we only had a short elevator ride to dinner. We headed for the lobby of the Westin and into Oliver & Bonacini's for dinner. As soon as our wonderful server took in the sight of my little one with her head down on the table, she promised to speed up service and get her fed before she fell asleep for the night. We devoured two baskets of warm bread and then enjoyed one of the most delicious meals we've had in a long while. We even made it to dessert (once my kids saw S'mores on the menu it was a given). 

We were up early again the next day, so we could treat ourselves to another hearty breakfast (tip: because Blue Mountain accommodations offer kitchenettes, you can save money by bringing your own breakfast foods. There are coffee machines and kettles in the rooms, too). We decided to go back to Oliver & Bonacini's for a hot breakfast (because we knew they have amazing Eggs Benedict, and we don't normally have time for that kind of decadence). Once again, the kids' menu was perfect for our crew, and we were happy to get some eggs into all of them before heading outside for our last day of adventure.

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The Hike N' Tube adventure was so perfect for our family. The kids could pull the tubes to the top of the hill on their own and they whoooped and hollered down to the bottom over and over again. As for me and JB? Well, we did plenty of hollering, too (is there anything better than feeling like a kid again?). This activity is great for anyone age three and up (there were grandparents racing their grandkids, too). And passes are available for an hour of riding. 

Just when we thought the fun couldn't be topped, we made our way over to the outdoor Ridge Runner Coaster which takes you on a speedy ride through the woods and over top of skiers as they speed down the hills. Children under age 13 ride with a responsible adult (meaning someone who knows when it's a good idea to apply the brakes). We would hear the "wheeeeee" from the observation deck on top of the ski chalet. 

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We could not have asked for a better winter getaway (that was within a very manageable driving distance to the Toronto-area) to help bring us out of the hibernation that can easily happen during winter. The activities we enjoyed at Blue Mountain were fun for every member of our family, which was really the best part of the trip; we were able to do everything together. 

As we climbed back into our minivan and pulled away from the beautiful view, I heard a voice call out from the backseat, "Oh Mama, can we please come back again?" I turned to JB and said, "I was going to say the same thing."

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Disclosure:

Thank you to the wonderful and generous team at Blue Mountain for making this trip happen for my family. And thank you to all the vendors throughout the village who welcomed us so warmly.

Opinions and photos are my own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Again: A Storytelling Journey Across Ireland

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If you've ever heard an Irish ballad, then you already know each one tells its own story.

I've known them by heart from the earliest days of my childhood. And though they belong to my dad's home, their sounds and verses connected me and my sister to the stories of Ireland long before we had the chance to stand upon its rolling hills.

I feel like this post needs to convey what those songs make me feel when I hear them—a longing for those hills and a connection to the people who live among them. 

Since returning from a 10-day trip, from one side of Ireland to the other, I've been trying to make sense of my newly-shaped heart; to understand how it could be so full and changed by the moments I experienced there, but also saddened by knowing the journey is behind me now.

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When we first heard that my parents oldest and dearest friends' son was getting married, we had a wouldn't it be great if we could go moment. But then the logistics of schedules and children and responsibilities set in, and we too easily brushed off the possibility.

My dad has wanted to take us home again for awhile. The wedding gave us the perfect reason to go and the what if we went wouldn't go away. At some point it became clear that we needed to think less with our heads and more with our hearts.

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Even though this trip could only happen if my sister and I left our husbands and children behind, something told us it was important. And I know it surprised some to hear I could take a vacation like this without my own family. But if we were going to travel through my dad's childhood and really get a good picture of what it was like, we had to go alone. 

I'm so glad we did.

I've reached a time in my life that plays tricks on me. I still have so much to look forward to, but I've also come far enough to feel the value of what lies behind me and gratitude for each day that I am given. I've gone past the days of taking any of it for granted.  

And it was this trip that showed me how important it is to see every page in my story. I realized how much I want my children to hear about the moments that came before them—the beautiful and the hard—because it has everything to do with the moments I'm creating with them now.

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{Our first family trip to Ireland, 1986}

Fourafter

{Roscrea, Ireland where my dad spent his late teen years after leaving home}

My dad's childhood wasn't an easy one. And taking us back to those places and memories was both good and hard. We were too young on earlier trips to fully appreciate what he wanted us to know. 

In the moments that my sister and I stood and listened to our dad's memories, we were his children more than we were wives or mothers. He was carefully handing us a torch to pass on when we feel the time is right. And with each story it became more clear how much his early life shaped the way he raised us and how much he triumphed over pain to love us unconditionally.

Even in my toughest parenting moments, I am reminded that I already have everything I need to succeed. I only have to love my children the same way I was loved, and I know it will be okay. Because my parents made the choice to gave us everything they didn't have and more. 

 

 

Gate

When we first pulled up at the gate of the farm property, where my dad spent his first 15 years being raised by his grandparents (until he left and made his way in the world on his own), he pointed to the fields through a rusty gate and began to tell us what we were seeing from behind the barrier. At a safe distance.

It was my bold and feisty sister who climbed through it and beckoned for us to follow. There was a brief unspoken moment of understanding exchanged between us, and then we were all on the other side. 

We spent nearly an hour exploring the abandoned buildings (that humbled me beyond words) and hearing things about my dad we hadn't known before, that he hadn't been ready to tell us until now.

Farmhouse

{Newport, Tipperary. Family farm} 

 A couple of years ago, my dad and I were having a cup of tea in my kitchen. My 10-year-old came into the room, long after she should have been asleep, and told us she couldn't sleep. I sent her away with a less-than-understanding tone.

He waited until she left and then told me that at 10 years old, he was often left on his own for days. There was no one to go to when he couldn't sleep. He reminded me, sometimes kids just need to know they're not alone

As we stood looking at the place he had spent his childhood, I remembered the many times I had gone to him in the night to tell him I couldn't sleep. He never sent me away. He never left me on my own. 

  Field

{In the field on the family farm. Newport, Tipperary}

My dad has lived his life with unanswered questions and it was this trip that gave him the courage to face them. It was a privilege to be there for each step that he took beyond that rusty gate. And I'm so grateful for the understanding and compassion he was shown along the way. 

 

Geneaology

{On our way to the North Tipperary Genealogy Centre}

We were welcomed by so many of our extended family members and friends. And I know my sister and I both feel like it will be a homecoming when we go back with our children in the future. Because of this trip, we have stories to tell them and a history to share when we get there.

I hope it changes the shape of their hearts, too.

 

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Wallafter
 

Thank you, Ireland, for giving my family this extraordinary gift. Thank you for reminding me that life is too short to waste a chance.

I've always felt connected to you, but now I know my story begins with you. I know where I come from and so much more about who I am and what a gift my life has been. I can't wait to see you again.

 

There's a spirit that flows in an Irishman's soul,

and carries within it, all the dreams of the past.

In each Irishman's heart,

there's a part of you inside.

In my heart,

I have been here before.

{Back Home To Ireland - Irish ballad)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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don't let her fool you

Spiritisland{Spirit Island, Meligne Lake, Jasper National Park}

We've just landed back at home after a wonderful family vacation in Alberta.

Mountains, aqua-coloured lakes, wild animals.

It was eight days of visual candy. And we ate it all up.

My iphone did, too—just ask my Instagram feed. 

All said, the kids did very, very well. There were minimal blips in behaviour, and we made it through eight breakfasts, eight lunches, and eight dinners electronics-free. I had quietly set a goal that we be able to maintain our at-home rule for being without screens and gadgets during meals, but I wasn't confident we could pull it off. 

I worried about the effects of time changes, routine shake-ups, and long restaurant waits. But I didn't have to. There was always a lot to talk about—like our plans for the day or our favourite parts of the days we had already left behind. 

They were so good about rolling with the punches: the unexpected rainfall, the lack of movie time in the cabin without cable, the long car rides. They enjoyed each other's company, and were thrilled to have our undistracted and undivided attention. They also had the added gift of travelling with a grandparent, and new bonds were created along the way.

 

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But don't let my words, or the above photo, fool you into thinking it was all easy. It's always challenging to put your family outside their comfort zone, and it can be downright intimidating when you're doing it in front of an audience. 

And travelling with a rowdy, exuberant, stubborn, fearless three-year-old just ups the ante/sweat/tears for everyone. Based on her performance on a flight just over a year ago, we had reason to fear the four hour journey there and back. And although she redeemed herself on the flight to Alberta, there was a good foot-stomping, arm flailing, screeching episode that came just as another row of screeching toddlers had quieted. 

I scooped her out of her seat beside JB, who looked at me like he wanted to throw me up against the emergency exit and kiss me passionately with gratitude, and ran for the cargo space at the back of the plane. We sat on the floor in the dark, as the flight attendants quietly walked around us, and we talked about how hard it was to sit for so long. We named all of our beloved stuffies at home, and talked about how excited they would be to see her. We sighed with contented delight at the thought of being reunited with our favourite pillows. We got excited about seeing her favourite cousin when we got home. 

The sobs eventually subsided and she put her arms around my neck and whispered into my hair, You are my best Mommy.

And I knew we would be okay.

We headed back to her seat, where JB greeted us with a lollipop, and big sister offered her the pink headphones. A new episode of Toopy and Binoo popped up on the screen, and all was quiet again. I thought about returning to my book, but I realized there was only an hour of vacation left, so I put my own headphones on, and we laughed at Toopy together. 

Undistracted and undivided. 

 

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