I Tried Wakeboarding!

Last week was a pretty sweet week to be me. My family and I were hosted by Destination Osoyoos, promoting family-friendly getaways to a beautiful part of British Columbia. It took us about four and a half hours to get there by car, but it’s a very different place than Vancouver. While I live in a rainforest, Osoyoos is Canada’s only true desert, with a dry and sunny landscape. And there’s a lake, too, and some totally fabulous wineries. What’s not to love?

While we were planning the trip, the organizers presented me with a number of things my family and I could do during our visit. Wakeboarding was on the list, and on a whim I thought, “Okay, sure, why not?” This is how, last Thursday at 2:00pm, my nine-year-old daughter and I found ourselves on the dock in front of our hotel shaking hands with Rob Rausch, owner and manager of Wakepilot. (PS – It looks like he’s not just an amazing wakeboarding coach, but he also flies Boeing 777s for Air Canada. So, you know, not too shabby.)

osoyoos walnut beach

My daughter was super-pumped to try, so she put on her life jacket and jumped in the water first. Rob took her through exactly what would happen, and had her practice her stance and holding the rope. She had a helmet with speakers in the ears, not for safety but so he could communicate with her. When she was finally ready (and she was So. Ready.) she actually stood up on her first try. Then she had another go, and she stood up for even longer. After that she was done, though – she was not a big fan of the water that she got up her nose when she fell.

I was intimidated when it was my turn, I have to admit. I’ve never tried wakeboarding or snowboarding. I’m not exactly what you would call super-athletic, and I’m not as young as I once was. I wanted to give wakeboarding a go, but I didn’t expect to succeed. My first two tries I wiped out spectacularly before I was even able to stand up. Rob told me to let the boat do the work, and I think I did that too well because I let the boat pull me right over.

After two epic wipeouts in a row Rob decided to pull me a little slower (actually, at exactly the same pace he’d pulled my daughter, as it turns out) and I did it! I stood up … for about one and a half seconds. Then the fourth time I stood up for a little longer. And finally, I gave it one last go, and I did it! I actually managed to wakeboard for a few minutes, as Rob coached me through the speakers in my helmet. It felt pretty good, skimming over the surface of the water, sunshine all around me, looking at the beautiful scenery. It made the eventual wipeout when I flushed out my sinus cavities with about half of Lake Osoyoos totally worth it.

osoyoos

After my last ride I was done. My arms were really aching, and I needed a rest. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on to the rope any longer, so I got back on the boat.

My wakeboarding adventure was three days ago now, and I’m still feeling it, especially in my forearms. I’m not used to holding on to something as tightly as I held on to that rope. I’m also really glad I did it, though. As a suburban mom of two who’s in my late 30s I don’t push my physical limits or try adventure sports on a regular basis. This was a chance to step beyond my boundaries, do something totally new, and remind myself that I am capable of more than I think. And you know what? We probably all are.

Thank you so much to Rob and Wakepilot for a wonderful introduction to wakeboarding. If you want to see actual wakeboarders in action, check out this video. It’s shot at Walnut Beach Resort, which is where I stayed in Osoyoos. You can also see Rob at the end – he’s the one in blue handing out the prizes.

Experiencing the Wild West Coast

This past weekend was extra-long for my family. Friday was a non-instructional day at my kids’ school, and Monday was Remembrance Day, which is a holiday where we live. Jon and I decided to take advantage of it by scheduling a weekend getaway. And, thanks to fabulous grandparents, we were able to make it a kid-free weekend getaway. Such luxury!

We went back and forth a few times on the destination (San Francisco? Seattle? Portland? Victoria? Harrison Hot Springs?). In the end we settled on Tofino, a small village on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, famous for natural beauty, big waves and winter storms. In fact, in addition to two bathrobes in our hotel room, we found two raincoats and umbrellas for us to use during our stay. Tofino is a popular surfing destination locally, although with very cold water a wet suit is definitely required. Since the water is basically freezing all year long, this means that people are still out there in November.

I can walk to the ocean in about 20 minutes from my house. However, the ocean here is a very different thing than in Tofino. The closest stretch of the ocean to me is a salt marsh at the end of Port Moody Inlet. The sea here is very quiet. Vancouver is protected by Vancouver Island to the west, so the waves never get that big. At the very end of Port Moody Inlet it’s even more protected, and when the tide is in you could easily mistake it for a lake, the water is so calm. Local beaches are typically rocky, and while you can find baby crabs hiding under rocks and spot the occasional sea star or harbour seal, heavy use and lots of boat traffic make for a less-than-wild feeling.

Tofino is a different animal, which I suspected but didn’t fully understand until I arrived for this, my first visit. The trees there still reach high for the sky, in spite of their obviously wind-swept appearance. The empty shells on the beach are much bigger than at home. And the waves along the unprotected coast never stop. Even at their smallest they emit a constant roar, which is actually very soothing to listen to. There is lots of sand, worn smooth by all those relentless waves. If you visit the protected harbour in Tofino you’ll see water taxis, tour boats and float planes, which can take you to nearby islands that are not accessible by car.

In Tofino I got a picture of what the place I live in might have looked like (minus the big waves) 200 years ago. There was a time when the mussels were just as big and the trees were just as tall here in Vancouver, I’m sure. Now, I’ll have to visit places like Tofino to experience that wildness. I’m glad I made the trip. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worthwhile to remind myself of the power of the natural world. The sleeping in wasn’t too shabby, either.

Here are some of my snapshots:

Living the Dream

living the dream disneyland perspective

One day last week at Disneyland I found myself squished into a bathroom stall with my four-year-old son Jacob, waiting for him to finish. As I stood there, thinking about all the fun I was missing, a phrase passed through my head: living the dream.

Now, it’s true that you won’t find parenting on a list of glamourous (or well-compensated) jobs. And it’s also true that even in parenting terms, waiting in a public bathroom for a four-year-old to finish up isn’t exactly the most exciting way to spend your time. All the same, when that phrase passed through my head, two things happened. First, the more cynical and sarcastic part of me gave a little chuckle. But then a second part of me spoke up and reminded me that I was with my child, on a family vacation to Disneyland. It’s a place that many people would really love to be. I really was living the dream.

It’s easy to focus on the drudgery in life. It’s even easier to focus on the drudgery in parenting. The sleepless nights, the messes, the noise, the bodily fluids – they can all wear you down. You may miss the life you had before kids, which now seems so much easier in retrospect. You may long for the ability to visit the bathroom by yourself, or read more than one paragraph in a book at a time. No one could blame you if sometimes you just long for a break.

Travel has many downsides, as well. Many of them are similar to parenting – sleepless nights, noise, and sometimes even bodily fluids. No one will tell you that being away from home is all sunshine and roses. It’s normal to wonder why you signed up for this, anyway, when your whole family is tired and cranky and hot and you’re standing in yet another line-up.

On the other hand, the truth is that many of us dreamed of one day having children. I certainly did. And most of us don’t plan family vacations in the anticipation that we’ll have a terrible time. There are tedious and annoying parts of life, no matter how you slice it. But if you spend all your time and energy thinking about those, you can miss the fabulous and amazing parts of life that are happening around you. The parts that you’ve been imagining for years, since you were six years old yourself and thought, “If I ever have kids, I’m going to take them to Disneyland, and we’ll go on all the rides, and it will be lots of fun, and I’ll be so much nicer than my own parents.”

Once I had my little revelation standing in that bathroom stall, I was once again able to see the forest for the trees. I remembered that, in fact, I was doing something my whole family had been looking forward to for ages. And while every moment may not have been sheer bliss, on the whole I was very lucky and I was enjoying myself quite a lot. That attitude re-adjustment really did make all the difference.

How do you re-focus yourself when you start complaining about petty problems? I’d love to hear!

The Disney Retrospective

We returned home from our Disneyland trip on Friday. Having taken the weekend to recover, I’m now ready to share the highlights and the lowlights of the trip. Here’s how it went.

The Good

  • Our hotel was awesome. We stayed at the Howard Johnson Anaheim, in a kids suite. The children had their own room with a bunk bed, which they adored. The hotel was close to Disneyland, affordable, and had a fabulous water park. Our room also had a microwave and fridge, so that we could keep snacks and breakfast food on hand.
  • The flight was totally fine. We had one thirty minute flight and one two and a half hour flight, with just one connection. Other than having to run to make our connection on the way home, the airplane trips were largely uneventful. I would totally take my kids on a plane again – although I don’t know if I’m ready to brave a longer flight yet.
  • The food at Disneyland was way better than I expected. Yes, it was expensive – we paid around $40 for lunch. However, for that we got pretty good food, including lots of fruits and veggies. The restaurants mostly used real dishes and cutlery, as well. And since we dined cafeteria-style, there were no waits to speak of. Plus, there were lots of great kids’ options.
  • We bought the PhotoPass+, and got lots of great photos, including many shots of our whole family. The photographers were friendly and good with the kids. We didn’t get it together to buy it two weeks before our trip, so we had to buy it on-site, but I feel that it was worth the $100.
  • My kids had a fabulous time – especially my daughter Hannah. At eight years old, she was the perfect age to really get into all the parades and rides and shows. Jacob was a little bit young for some of the stuff, but he still really enjoyed himself for the most part. They were both really sad when it was time to come home.

The Bad

  • As I said, my son Jacob was a little bit too young. Disneyland doesn’t go halfway on pretty much anything. The over-the-top experience was too much for a four-year-old who can’t really distinguish between reality and fantasy yet. He was completely terrified when Darth Vader and Darth Maul appeared during the Jedi Training Academy show, and he sobbed his way through the Finding Nemo submarine ride.
  • The character line-ups were tedious and boring, and I had a hard time justifying standing in line for up to 45 minutes to meet a princess. My kids, on the other hand, wanted to stand in every line to meet every character. I can understand why meeting Tinkerbell was a big deal for them, but this was definitely not my favourite part of the trip.
  • There were so many people, it was just plain overwhelming. Yes, it’s to be expected, and yes, I expected it. But it still doesn’t make it fun to battle throngs of people in order to find a spot on the sidewalk to watch a parade. I was on high alert pretty much the whole trip, trying to keep tabs on my kids. Luckily we didn’t lose anyone, but it could easily happen with all those people.
  • The over-the-top commercialism is excessive. You’re constantly confronted with opportunities to buy something, whether it’s food or balloons or gift shops that you have to walk through at the end of a ride. We let our kids each buy one souvenir, but we still spent lots of time wandering around stores as they debated on what item to bring home with them. Disneyland is all about spending money.

In the end, we did our best to take our time, and we didn’t try to see everything when we were at Disneyland. We enjoyed both parks – Disney California Adventure is pretty cool – and tried to stick with what we knew our kids would enjoy. Sometimes we guessed wrong, as with Finding Nemo, but on the whole it went pretty well. I would even consider going back again – but not for a few years, at least. Next time I go I’d like my kids to be a little older. That way we can go on some of the rides that I like. Plus, hopefully the whole experience won’t be as overwhelming for them.

Really, though, what’s a vacation post without photos? Here are some of the shots from our trip:

Twas the Night Before Disney

With apologies to Clement C. Moore, this is what I was inspired to write Saturday evening as we prepared to depart for Disneyland.

DCF 1.0

‘Twas the night before Disney, when all through the house
every creature was stirring (though hopefully no mouse).
The suitcases were flung wide open everywhere,
As we frantically searched out clean socks and underwear.

The children refused to remain in their beds,
while visions of Mickey Mouse danced in their heads.
And Jon in his old T-shirt and I in my nightdress,
were wondering just how we’d got into this mess.

Toilets needed scrubbing, and bedsheets needed changing,
bathing suits needed washing, and carry-ons rearranging.
Around the whole house I flew like a flash
searching desperately for my American cash.

The electric lights in the house, each and every one on,
made it bright as midday, though it was hours before dawn.
The lists that I’d written of what I should pack
lay abandoned beneath piles of random bric-a-brac.

“Now Jacob! Now Hannah!
Now Husband, I say!
Pick up all the stuff,
and put it away!
From the top of the house!
To the last fireplace!
Now dash away!
Put it all in a suitcase!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so all around the house our family flew,
with armfuls of stuff, and worried looks, too.

It was later than late, three hours past nine,
and I was thinking of opening a bottle of wine.
The fog in my eye and the twitch in my head
were letting me know that I should be in bed.

Who knew that vacations could be so much work?
And why’d I volunteer, like an uninformed jerk?
Rubbing my temples and blowing my nose,
I carefully stepped over the pile of clothes.

I put my kids to bed, and tucked them in soundly –
while they tried to resist, they were soon snoring roundly.
Then my husband exclaimed, before turning out the light,
“Happy vacation to all, I give up for the night!”

While I’m away, I won’t be publishing regularly here. I hope that you all have a fabulous week, and that your vacations are blissfully stress-free.

Travel Anxiety

It’s been some seven years since my daughter Hannah cried almost every time we strapped her into her carseat, but if I close my eyes and think about it I can still hear those piercing screams. They echo forward in time, impacting many of the parenting decisions my husband and I have made over the years. For instance, we have travelled very little with our children, and the trips we have taken have pretty much all been close to home. My sister’s son is just two and a half, but he’s been to Chicago and Hawaii and Italy and a bunch of other places I’m forgetting. I’m just not that brave. The fact that we live within easy driving distance of most everyone in our families has made our personal travel ban just that much easier to impose.

trip to disneyland travel advice

This Spring Break, we’re biting the bullet. One week from today we will be in sunny Southern California, visiting everyone’s favourite family vacation mecca: Disneyland. To say the kids are excited would be a dramatic understatement. While Hannah has taken one brief plane trip, it happened when she was just 15 months old, so for all intents and purposes this is the first time on a plane for both of my kids. Several times a day, every day, they pepper me with questions. What will we do at Disneyland? Which ride will we go on first? What is it like when a plane takes off? Which seats will we sit in? How long will we be on the plane? How many days will we be at Disneyland for? How many days until we leave? How many minutes until we set foot inside the front gates?

This will be my first time at Disneyland, as well, although I did visit Disney World twice as a teenager. My husband Jon visited the actual Disneyland as a child, however, so he has become the in-house expert. The fact that his own visit was some 25 years ago does not tarnish his credentials at all in the eyes of our children. They approach him like they would approach a long-admired author of a seminal work in his or her field: reverently, deferentially, unquestioningly. In their eagerness for information, he has taken on a special status.

disneyland trip travel tips
Photo credit: Mike Saechang on Flickr

While the children are beyond excited, the truth is that my husband and I are a little nervous. Disneyland would not be our first choice in terms of vacation destinations, were it not for the children. We would favour someplace a little quieter, with ample lounge chairs and a bar serving frosty cocktails. We’re putting on our game faces for our kids, but we have plenty of questions of our own. How will they behave on the plane? Will our four-year-old make a break for it and get lost in the park? How will they handle it if they have to wait around in long line-ups? How much Advil should we pack, exactly? We need help.

And so, my fair blog readers, I’m turning to you. Have you travelled with your children? Do you have tips to share – either in general, or about Disneyland specifically? Any ideas for keeping two over-excited children quiet on a plane, or keeping tabs on a preschooler who likes to run, would be greatly appreciated. Just plain old good thoughts would be appreciated, too, for that matter. I’m not sure if I’ll need them, but it will feel good to know that I have them.

Thinking About Roots

I’ve been thinking about roots, lately. Not literal roots, anchoring and nourishing plants, but metaphorical roots. The kind of roots that anchor and nourish people, connecting them to where they live, to the soil they walk on every day (even if it is buried beneath the concrete). I’ve been considering the way that the sights, sound, tastes – the whole feel of a place – can get under your skin and change the way you look at life.

I’ve been thinking about roots for two reasons. The first is that many of my friends are moving away. Some are moving five or six hours down the road, some across oceans, but all of them far enough of that I won’t see them anymore. Oh, maybe there will be a trip or two, and we have the wonders of technology to connect us. But they are leaving this place, and I am staying, and it won’t be the same. They are uprooting themselves, in a way that I never have.

The farm
Plants on Salt Spring, putting down roots

Sometimes I imagine my friends clipping the ties that are keeping them here with a pair of scissors, and floating up, up, up like balloons. They are free, not weighed down by the petty cares and concerns that fill life on earth. Pulling up roots has also removed the obligations that come along with those roots – obligations like remembering to take out the garbage once a week and trying to get along with that cranky neighbour. I imagine myself joining them, floating away, surveying a vivid green landscape below me, looking for a promising spot to land.

The real truth is that I don’t want to fly away from here. This is my home. And that brings me to the second thing that has me thinking about roots – my trip last weekend to Salt Spring Island, a smallish island that’s home to about 10,000 people not too far from me. In recent decades Salt Spring has become something of a hippie mecca. It’s home to artists and artisans, small-scale farmers and people going back to the land. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks or an Old Navy there. Many of the houses are nestled amid tall trees, with big wood piles in a shed out front. There are lots of signs advertising pottery and art studios, and many farm stands selling fresh eggs and other farm goods at the side of the road.

goats on salt spring island
Goats enjoying the island vibe

Being on Salt Spring reminded me of my own roots. I was raised by hippies in a semi-rural setting. Cows grazed in fields across the street from my house, and many of my fondest childhood memories involve playing in a little creek beneath the tall trees of the forest. My father was a self-taught goldsmith, an artisan in every sense of the word, and a sign on our front lawn advertised that you could find his jewellery store in the front room of our house. That house was heated with wood, and I remember my parents out chopping up kindling in all weather. Inside our house, the only doors separated the studio and showroom from the rest of the house. Our bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen – none of these had doors.

Being on Salt Spring was like taking a tour of of my life some 30 years ago. Many of these folks are creative people, moving away from the city, looking for a quieter lifestyle. The graffiti scribbled on the wall at the provincial park spoke of overthrowing our colonial-capitalist system. The children wore hand knits and big gum boots. While this was the first time I set foot on Salt Spring, the homes and the people looked familiar. My roots might not have been in that place, exactly, but they were in a place very much like it. I grew up steeped in the same sort of ethos that I felt as I ate local, free-range, organic eggs served to me by a young woman with henna on her arms and a laid-back sort of approach to waiting tables on Sunday morning.

Us!
Enjoying our kid-free weekend

I spent my childhood among people who made similar choices to the people on Salt Spring. The hard-scrabble-ness that comes with those choices is only really visible to me now, as an adult myself. Living in a semi-rural setting presents challenges. Making a living from your art presents challenges. Being a ferry ride away from a bigger community presents challenges. You embrace those challenges, because for you, the upsides outweigh the downsides. With my adult eyes, I saw both the challenges and the innovative solutions. The sacrifices and the gains. I found myself asking the inevitable question: would I choose it, too?

As my husband and I sat in our car for a rain-soaked ferry ride from Salt Spring to Victoria on our trip home, I realized that I have already chosen where to plant myself, right here in suburban Vancouver. I don’t want to leave this place to return to my counter-culture childhood. I don’t want to leave it in search of greener pastures, either. I found clarity as I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s car, listening to the soft tap-tap-tap of the raindrops, gazing out through blurry, rain-streaked windows. I choose to plant my roots in this wild and rain-soaked country, where fir and cedar trees grow tall and straight, and the ocean is never too far away. I love that, in spite of the wilderness that’s always nearby, I’m 10 minutes from IKEA and within easy walking distance of four Starbucks locations.

Sun, islands and water
Luckily the trip to Salt Spring was nicer than the trip home

My roots are deep in the place I call home, and I’m choosing to stay right here. While my friends fly away, I send good wishes with them, hoping they find the perfect spot to plant themselves. I send good wishes to the potters and painters and artisanal cheese-makers on Salt Spring, too. While I feel a warm sort of familiarity with them, I happily drive away after buying some organic camembert. I’m pushing my roots even further into my thick, damp, suburban soil. I’m feasting on the nourishment that I soak up through them. It’s the best thing ever, this soul food that lets me know that I am just where I should be.

Where do you choose to put down your roots?

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