Refresh and Recharge

Drinking wine at lunch on a sun-soaked patio overlooking a glorious turquoise pool. Having a nap, in the morning after a full breakfast complete with egg-white omelette that I did not make. An impromptu massage before a 9 pm dinner. Glasses of wine served in pristine glasses overlooking beautiful vineyards. Feeling a cold wave crash over your head fighting the Niagara Rapids in an open jet boat. Having a conversation with adults (including a husband) that is not interrupted by “please do not eat with your hands.”

These are a few of the precious memories this mom of three took with her into this past week from a luxurious, too-short mini trip away with Mr. L to Niagara-on-the-Lake. An agreeable grandmother who took on all three of the kids (plus the dog) for a weekend so we could sneak away for some much-needed R&R led to a weekend full of food, wine, friends and fun. And much too short….

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I could write away with abandon on everything we did, the amount of wine consumed, the delicious food, but all I will state is that if in the area, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Pillar and Post are two of my favorite things right now and if you can, run for a visit.

Poolside at Pillar and Post

Poolside at Pillar and Post

Instead, it became clear to me how much I needed a little recharging. As parents, couples well, people, I find if we don’t find a balance in life and slow down, life can turn from being busy and full to difficult and something you have to endure. As a mom home alone with three kiddies, dog and on her own for much of the time, it was a necessity.

The whole trip was based upon another couple. Good friends who were celebrating their twentieth anniversary, they had never been away from their son for one night. He is now sixteen. At dinner a winter ago, and after a cocktail or two the subject of their upcoming “china” anniversary came up. I volunteered to take them on a wine tour, something they have never done and we would make a weekend out of it. Planning is a strength for me, even in these crazy days, so with a little research I booked everything and then tacked on an extra night for Mr. L and I as a belated anniversary gift to ourselves.

From www.clipartof.com

All during the spring and early summer I looked forward to our weekend knowing that my hard work at home with the kids would be rewarded. And it was, very nicely. It was a picture-perfect weekend, (except for my red-eye due to severe allergic reaction this year to ragweed) and it seemed the weather gods had even listened providing the perfect weather to take a wine tour and enjoy the posh amenities at the Pillar and Post.

The other couple was so grateful  and had enjoyed themselves so much, another tentative trip back is planned in January. I have a feeling now that they have a taste of alone time away from the responsibilities of house/child they will crave more of it. Or perhaps they were finally at a place where they felt comfortable to leave their son for a night or two with good friends or family. Either way, the embraced the weekend.

For me, a SAHM who spends most of her time catering to the demands of four other people,  these carved out chunks of time are a welcome respite from well, normal life. I learned on this trip that it was not only me who craved and appreciated these times. Mr. L and our friends enjoyed a couple of days away from, well, the kids. Time away could be something as simple as a visit to my mother’s house, alone, but to be able to hear one’s thoughts for even a day is welcome. I have been known to take long walks to clear my head in order to achieve a little clairty.

In the everyday rush of life, I think sometimes we forget a bit of silence, rest and enjoyment from pleasures like a bike ride down a country road can work tiny miracles upon ourselves. It has done wonders for me this week. I feel calmer. My head feels a bit clearer. I can see things not as a constant to-do list but the big plans ahead with time to complete what I need to do. Life does not seem as overwhelming. I call it the “post-vacation high.” Sometimes it lasts a few days, sometimes longer. But I will soak it in while I can.

And on the upcoming days when things seem to start to spin out of control, I will close my eyes and picture the vineyards and remember I can go back. Even for a day. Soon.

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Adventure and Relaxation – a parents dream! Part One.

Imagine, standing on a ski lift similar to a moving sidewalk and around you is the magic of large, fluffy white snowflakes gently drifting. The sky is awash in misty grays with streaks of blue. Your white ski helmet is covered with snow and it is cold out. You know it is cold because the bite of the wind on your uncovered cheeks. However, the rest of you is pleasantly warm snuggled into ski pants and jacket. Around you are other people, all on skis and snowboards, enjoying the winter wonderland and joy of skiing on such a wonderful day.

It is fairly silent with the freshly fallen snow insulating most of the noise except for the occasional “swoosh” of a nearby skier who has come close to the lift you are riding. Around you are hills and mountains peppered with trees lifting their branches as a child would to catch a snowflake. Then you hear it, “DAAAADDDDYYYYYYY!!!” It is the screech of a child’s voice from the bottom of a nearby hill. Again, “DADDDDDYY!!” echoes and you look behind you to see a fairly young child on skis stomping his two feet the best he can, fairly mad that his Dad has not yet reached the bottom of the hill. The person behind you (that you cannot really see as you cannot move on the lift) starts chuckling and then another and before you know it, a line of people are all laughing so hard at this little spitfire watching as his Dad skis down the hill his hands and poles raised in the air in apparent exasperation as the child continues to yell. Wiping a tear from my eye with a thick waterproof mitten I casually say to no one in particular, “and that is why our children are at home.”

Thus starts our adult weekend away skiing at Blue Mountain in Collingwood.

Ski Weekend

Ski Weekend

In general I enjoy taking my children with us to new places. I also enjoy a night or two away to recharge and sleep. Mr. L and I do not get away very often but when the opportunity arose with friends to go on a spa and ski weekend, we could not turn it down. Over the years I have found that getting away once in a while really helps Mr. L and I catch-up as a couple. Being parents to three or more, you more often than not are outnumbered and generally exhausted. Most days Mr. L and I manage to have a brief conversation before he escapes to our make-shift at-home gym while I write, play catch-up on everything and prepare for the next day. By the time we are both done our respective activities, one of us are dozing or in bed trying to re-charge our batteries. We have tried at home date nights and movie nights but as parents to young kids, oftentimes we are interrupted by someone in need of a hot water bottle, glass of water or who is not feeling well. We try to fit date nights in when we can. So, a night or two away is a delicious treat and indulgence that we fit in not too often (as our youngest is only two years old) but often enough that we have come to rely on them to help “save our sanity.” We look at these opportunities as a chance to relax and try new things together. This time it was skiing.

We are fortunate to live near some very nice but not too intimidating ski hills. A very popular resort town is simply called, Blue Mountain located in Collingwood, Ontario. A four-season resort town  in Northern Ontario, it has grown over the past ten years into a very pleasant weekend destination for singles, couples and families.

Mr. L is not a winter sports enthusiast. He weathers winter like an animal in hibernation, happy to stay indoors and very rarely participating in winter activities. He has yet to build a snowman, does not see why a winter walk is a good idea and counts the days until the weather is back up to a pleasant 15 degrees celsius. This year we took the kids tobogganing for the first time and he enjoyed it. Building on this momentum, when a ski weekend was suggested complete with lessons for all of us he reluctantly agreed caught up in the enthusiasm of the other three participants. He bought ski gear and hiding his nervousness concentrated on the other things he could enjoy like the restaurants, couples massage at a nearby spa and adult only time.

Arriving last Friday, our first planned activity was snowmobiling through Blue Mountain Activities. The bitter winds coming off the coldest couple of weeks this winter season, we were very appreciative of the snow mobile suits and zipped ourselves in after checking in and receiving mandatory helmets. Although delayed due to mechanical issues, the  hour ride was pleasant for first time snowmobilers and Mr. L (in the driver’s seat) managed on the well utilized path following the lead snow mobile. Although pleasant, next time I will take my own vehicle to avoid the jerky turns and bumps a back seat passenger endures! Our friends had done this activity a couple of years before and expressed disappointment the route wasn’t through the hills that had amazing views. The snow-covered fields though practical for less experienced drivers, was a little boring after the first thirty minutes and lower lying areas were awash in mud puddles from a recent thaw.

On the snowmobile!

On the snowmobile!

After snowmobiling, we drove a short distance to the Scandinave Spa. A series of hot and cold pools, this nordic day spa is popular for its water therapies. We had booked couples massages and arrived early, as recommended, to enjoy the full benefit of the therapeutic waters. Dusk was descending as we arrived and the steam from the hot pools floated lazily across the outdoor spa grounds. Wooden huts peppered the area and the silence was very welcome after the loudness of the snow mobile engines.

Scandinave Spa

Scandinave Spa

The reception was timely and friendly inquiring if we had come directly from snowmobiling. When asked how he guessed, he slyly smiled and said, “There is a certain aroma people carry after an hour of snowmobiling.”

Turning to each other we shrugged and then a certain odour became apparent. Gasoline fumes permeated off the four of us and seemed etched into every fold of our clothes. Grabbing our towels and robes, we headed to the large change rooms to disrobe, air out our clothes and get into the pools.

The water therapies at the Spa are  “widely recognized for their energizing and relaxing properties, there are many benefits associated with baths and hydrotherapy. In addition to cleaning the body, they improve blood circulation and promote the release of endorphins, known as the “well-being hormones.” More specifically, endorphins can help improve one’s physical condition and enable attainment of a better quality of life.” (Directly from the Scandinave Spa)

We were instructed to hit a heat source (hot pool, steam room or sauna), followed by a cold immersion and then a rest period in one of their relaxing rooms.

After finding hooks and disrobing we hurriedly got into the first hot pool. Chatting together, we were soon warned by the manager our voices were carrying and as the spa was for relaxation and silence we needed to significantly lower our voices. Glaring at Mr. L (who has a naturally loud way of speaking), we resorted to whispers or simply floating in the warm waters watching as dusk quickly turned to night. The only sounds were very low whispers of those people we could glimpse in between the constant patches of fog and steam rising from the water and the soothing hum of the waterfalls. Trying to follow the spa etiquette closely, we all decided to take the full experience of the spa and attempt the cold plunge. Interestingly, one is not too cold first coming out of a hot pool on a freezing evening, until your toes hit the coldest water making you wonder if it is possible to get hypothermia when in this water for even a minute. As you continue to immerse yourself, your body is in shock. Fighting my body’s initial flight response away from the icy dip, I pushed myself into the pool waist deep breathing deeply, splashed my face and arms and quickly grabbed my robe and slippers muttering obscenities under my breath in the quietest way possible. Careful not to run or allow my teeth chatter to bother another patron, we headed into one of the relaxation rooms.

The relaxation rooms were warm with rows of comfortable muskoka chairs. Encased by large  windows one could rest while looking out into the woods or simply drift into sleep. These heated rooms allow a rest period and let your body absorb the benefit of the hot/cold therapy.  After a period of rest, you repeat the cycle trying to ignore the frozen bath robes and towels as you move from a heat source (hot pool, sauna or eucalyptus steam room) to the cold immersion to a rest period. After our third cycle, it was time for our massages. Heading to the massage rooms, we all relished in the warm beds with heating pads and drifted off for a nap under the expert hands of our therapists.

Overall the Scandinave Spa was a very enjoyable experience and we will definitely return. One can only imagine the magical effect a place like this can have in aiding in relaxation and rest to its patrons. It certainly was a restful way to end a busy day. Next time, I may recommend (during the winter months anyway), a heating rack for people with robes. An icy and wet robe is not conducive to relaxation or warmth in the cold Ontario winters!

Another birthday to plan.

January 12, 2013

Mr. L’s birthday today and another December to February event checked off the list!  December to February is our family’s busiest time of year with Hanukkah, Christmas,  Jacob’s birthday, New Year’s, Mr. L’s birthday and the girl’s birthdays (not including the other kiddie and extended family birthdays that fall in the same time frame) there is lots of event planning, cake eating, presents and a Mom in the middle coordinating everything. Mr. L and I recently had a conversation and I stated my need for us to start getting away during March Break, even somewhere local where we can all just have a little R&R!

Yesterday was a bit of a scramble finalizing everything for Mr. L to menu for breakfast, wrapping presents, coordinating card creations by two little girls and finalizing dinner plans. Every year I always feel badly that his birthday is more thrown together than planned carefully.

Being a Mom of three or more with all birthdays falling at an already hectic time of year, it is imperative to have the big items pre-booked before the rush of the holiday season. It helps lessen stress levels after the holidays as parents try to get their kids back into a regular routine in early January and off their preference for sugary desserts over healthy balanced meals. All three of my kid’s birthday parties were planned and booked nearly a month ago. Now that Mr. L’s birthday is off my list, it is time to focus on the smaller details of the girl’s parties.

Tonight I have booked the babysitter, given him the afternoon to do whatever he wants and we’re heading for dinner at an upscale steakhouse. Being a carnivore, Mr. L’s favourite restaurants are old steakhouses. The more red velvet upholstery and dark lighting the better.

The weather is unusual for mid-January today. It is warm enough for a sweater and a toque. I am itching to get outside and convince the kids a walk in the fresh air will be fun if we take hockey sticks. Once upon a lifetime ago I could play decent field hockey so can actually handle a stick. Mr. L being originally from a warmer climate can’t even skate, so winter activities fall into my domain.

The girls picked out Mr. L’s birthday cake but the healthy eating conscious guy (who is in the midst of a no carb fast) blows out the candles and cuts the dark chocolate ganache cake pieces for our little brood while fondly looking at the small piece he is pretending to eat on his plate. I have to admire his willpower!

Dinner cannot come soon enough! A fabulous meal complete with appetizers, mains and wine where we can use proper utensils,  we finish our meals when they are hot instead of stone cold and relax into a proper adult conversation. What else do you need for a birthday dinner?

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January 13, 2013

Too much wine at dinner last night meant a crappy night’s sleep! But overall it was a really pleasant evening. The restaurant was lovely and food was divine. Mr. L and I chatted and then took advantage of the warm trend and walked down by the lake on the boardwalk. I did not even mind walking in my spike-heeled knee-high leather boots in the mud. Watching the swans swim lazily along the shore their brilliant white a stark contrast against the black night, it was a peaceful way to end the day.

January 14, 2013

Monday morning and back into another busy week. The girls start skating lessons tonight so I was checking helmets and skates last night. Missing Elizabeth’s bus by one minute meant that I had to pack her and Jacob up a little early to get her to school before dropping him at nursery school. Mr. L was running late this morning and we had waved to him as he sped down the street in his rusty Sante Fe with expired plates (for two years!) at Audrey’s bus drop off. Little did I know that him rushing out the door meant he neglected to take our nine and a half-year old lab out for a proper walk.

Over the holidays we had a discussion how he needed to make more of an effort to take our sixth family member out in the morning, even up and down the street to help with some of the weight gain over the last year from eating Jacob’s dropped food. He had agreed, yet he was slipping back into his usual routine. Of course, our poor dog trying to get my frazzled attention, could not wait any longer and I emerged from brushing my teeth to find dog poop all down our staircase. Now this is a dog who feels so bad when he does something wrong, he hides with his long yellow tail behind his legs. Cursing under my breath, I put Jacob in a safe spot, asked Elizabeth to get ready and proceeded to clean up dog poop  knowing I would need to come back home and sanitize everything. “Oh buddy,” I sighed and muttered curse words in Mr. L’s direction already planning my phone call to him as soon as I dropped the kids off while trying not to make an already nervous dog feel worse.

After all that Elizabeth was of course late to school and being only in grade one I took both of the kids into school, all of us sweating in the wool hats and winter coats. Thank goodness one of her school mates was also late and her mother nicely offered to take both girls up to their class. Welcome Monday morning.

Toy Shopping and Date Night.

January 4, 2013

The girls had a good morning playing together. It only took until near the end of the winter break for them to realize they can actually have fun together!  Even though I will probably curse the amount of beanie boos or babies or whatever they are called in the near future they have accumulated, today they are having a party for them and are occupied.  Jacob is following me around, but he likes to help Mommy do her chores so at least I can get the kitchen cleaned up and make the beds. It’s amazing how much a toddler likes to help clean! By our third I figured we should start them early in helping around the house.

I casually mentioned to Mr. L that I desperately wanted a shower, (Notice I now say wanted instead of needed, this is a change any three or more Mom will tell you!) but alas no response. In a moment of brilliance, I quickly downloaded Bubble Guppies, the current favorite show of all three kiddies, onto my iPhone. Thank goodness for technology some days! Jacob will sit for twenty minutes, so I can jump into the shower and wash my hair that still smells like chlorine from the waterpark.

Today is an errand morning. I need to buy a birthday present for a party tomorrow so I have planned a trip to the toy store with all three kids with a promised lunch out afterwards if they behave. Audrey has enough points for a new toy and Elizabeth has saved money to buy yet another Beanie Boo so they are happy. We started a chalkboard points system a few months ago for certain behaviours that required a bit of work. If they earn ten points, they get a reward. Most of the time it works well.

Listening to Sharon, Lois and Bram driving across town, I yell above the music outlining the expected behavior to the kids stating strongly we are there to buy a present for someone else first, then we will get their promised toys. In that moment, Elizabeth yells, “Mom, my lip is bleeding!”

After taking a moment to worry about my newly cleaned leather seats, I calmly ask her if she bit it, then she pauses, “Oh it’s my nose, I mixed it up.” She is six and a half and cannot tell her lip from her nose! Stifling a sigh, I ask her if she needs me to stop, is it gushing or is it just spotting blood. Digging through my purse I find a pack of kleenex and throw it back to her at a stoplight. The art of being able to aim and throw random objects into the back seat when driving a vehicle, only a Mom with a van would get it. Thankfully it seems to be just spotting, so we continue driving.

Audrey then starts yelling, “Ewww…I don’t want to see it…put it away!”

Jacob then starts yelling, “Mama! More music! Up!” Just a typical day driving the swag wagon around town.

Upon arrival at the toystore all our discussions en route seem to be forgotten as I have three little bodies hurling themselves in three different directions. Beanie Babies! Trucks! Umbrellas! (Jacob has an obsession with umbrellas.) Feeling as if I’m herding sheep, I get them all generally in the same area to achieve our goal, a birthday present for a friend. The girls start whispering about what Beanie Boos they have, which they want and finally after what seems like an eternity they choose one for their friend. Jacob has found the garbage can, the train table and the umbrellas, again.

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Image from: http://www.beehivegatesville.com

 

Taking a quick survey of the toy store, I quickly grab a couple more toys to add with the stuffed animal. Then foolishly decide to search for a baby gift I needed to buy as well. Jacob was done looking at the toys at this point. Ten minutes into the shopping trip and he was ready to take off out the door. Keeping an eye on him to ensure he didn’t actually slip out with someone who couldn’t help but smile at my blonde-mopped toddler with the mischievous grin,  I grabbed the gifts and pushed them to the book section where I finally took a breath while they all looked at their favorite books. Then I saw it. Jacob’s face as he white-knuckled the small wood table standing uncharacteristically still and thought, “Great, the one time I didn’t bring the diaper bag inside.”

“Jacob,” I said as quietly as I could, “Did you go poo-poo?”

Shaking his head firmly he shouts, “NO!” and proceeds to run down the aisle leaving a definite odor behind him.

The girls by this time are climbing on the book shelves trying to reach the latest fairy book they desperately need to look at. Mentally counting to five, I pick up books dropped by my crew as the staff looks on. The older ones smiling as if remembering their own lives and the younger ones trying not to stare as I try to keep two girls at the cash, pay for gifts (as well as the few random items my kids have thrown into the bin), ask for gift receipts, wrapping and trying to keep an eye on Jacob who has disappeared into the toy aisles. Paying for everything I realize I can’t hear or see Jacob, so tell the two girls to stay at the cashier.  Smiling as if I’m not panicked I notice a well-meaning father pointing towards the front of the store where Jacob has taken a huge white cougar from the display and is hugging it yelling, “My teddy!!!”

Firmly taking him by the hand, we put “teddy” back in the window display, I try to tell him that he can’t run away from Mommy and we go back to the cashier where the two girls are squirming trying to stand still. Picking up the bags, I ask how long will it take to wrap the gifts. The cashier kindly tells me a few minutes and then points towards the bathrooms at the back of the store. Thanking her, we make the trek back out the van, grab the diaper bag, unload the shopping bags and all four of us head into the large family washroom where I can finally get Mr. Stinkypants’ diaper changed. The thought of a promised lunch out after we are all settled back into the van makes me so very tired, so I tell the kids it will be a drive-through lunch to eat at home. Piece of advice for all parents, always take in the diaper bag!

The best part of my days as a SAHM are Jacob’s nap times and I have a Sleeping Toddler. While cuddling my little guy we read stories, listen to music and promptly fall asleep together in the giant glider chair I invested in when he was a couple of months old. Why it took to child number three to invest in a chair I can put my feet up and sleep fairly comfortably holding a small child is beyond me? Part of me knows I should be breaking him of this habit. Any babysitter, grandparent and his own father can place him asleep in his crib and he goes to sleep. But when Mommy is in the room, he screams bloody murder if I dare tip toe near the door before he is completely asleep. The soft-hearted part of me that still remembers his cries after his tenth blood test when he was born just cannot be firm with him and actually, I cherish these daily moments. I get a brief rest feeling his little heart beating and his steady breath against me and I know my time is limited. After all, he won’t sleep like this for naps forever. (Or at least I hope so!) Soon enough he will drop the naps and be on the go all day with no break for Mommy. I will take cuddles (and rest) where and when I am able.

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 Tonight is very exciting! Mr. L arrives home and I’m off! It is a welcome respite in our family filled week to have a bit of time on my own which I will relish. After my appointments and errands, Mr. L and I have a fun date-night planned. A Groupon purchased a year ago is finally going to be redeemed. A 5-course meal prepared for us in our home. Yes, it took me a year to redeem it.

Groupon is very addictive and I had to put myself on a shopping time-out until I had redeemed all my unused Groupons. Whoever came up with this idea is brilliant!  At the tap of a button I can purchase anything my heart desires for me, my family and my friends at discounted prices! Last year as I lay in bed for the third time in six months with a mild flu but raging fever, I spent nearly an hour tapping, buying and looking at experiences I could have. After emerging from my sweaty sheets to actually shower and looking at the damage I made on my credit card,  I vowed not to buy any more Groupons, WagJags etc. until I used ALL the ones I had already bought. Although loving a discount, these things did not align well with our financial plans of saving money.

In any case, tonight we get to redeem one and Pino,  The Chef on 2 Wheels, arrives promptly at 8 pm. It’s the first non-kid oriented meal we have had in the last couple of weeks. All the kids are asleep thanks to our combined efforts and the rare use of bribery for the girls ensures they all stay in bed. Mr. L is in fine form, relaxed and chatty. Unlike our typical routine on a Friday night where we are both snoozing and too tired to even talk properly it is quite a welcome change. The Chef is great and the food tasty. He shows us some tips when cooking Italian food, how to properly set a table and I fail miserably at napkin folding.

Laughing I shrug and state, “He didn’t marry me for my domestic skills.”

Mr. L and I catch up on our days while nibbling on beef carpaccio then penne a la vodka sipping our Italian red wine. It was a very nice way to end the holiday season and well-deserved after a chaotic month full of Hanukkah celebrations, school festivities, Christmas, holiday parties and of course Jacob’s second birthday which is near the end of December. Not a bad way to start the new year.

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