Snowshoeing and Spa Under the Stars

My husband and I find it tough to get out for date nights. It's not that we don't want the time alone, but there are barriers - money, busy schedules and available babysitters top the list.

But barriers have solutions, and we've been working on it for a while (we've got a good list of babysitters now, and we've made room in our budget for date nights.) After all, healthy relationships thrive when couples can find time for each other. Of course, this doesn't always mean an expensive night out, but sharing new experiences together can be fun!

Kids in the Capital is launching a new series called "Parents Night Out." We want to highlight some of the fun things to do here in the capital that are for parents alone. Every couple of months we will post a new adventure for you to check out. We're also looking for ideas! If you have a fun thing to do for date nights here in Ottawa, let us know at kidsinthecapital@gmail.com

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Snowshoeing Under the Stars

If you live in Ottawa and have never visited Le Nordic, then I urge you to get there as soon as possible. Le Nordic is North America's largest spa (yes, you read that right - it's BIG!!) Located at the entrance of Gatineau Park, the spa is where you go to unwind and re-couple.  And sorry kiddos, but you can't get in here until you're 16 years old!

Our fantastic snowshoe team - Look hard and you'll recognize a bunch of our bloggers :) 

Our fantastic snowshoe team - Look hard and you'll recognize a bunch of our bloggers :) 

Le Nordic has paired up with Gatineau Park to offer couples an amazing winter experience - a guided snowshoe through the park, followed by an evening in the baths. A group of 11 of us got together to check out this package, offered every Tuesday evening until mid-March, at $61 per person.

Gatineau Park Visitor's Centre

My friend the beaver

My friend the beaver

We arrived at the visitor's centre at 6:30 p.m. (side note: must visit the centre another time with the kids, as it looked like it would be a fun place to explore!) Snowshoes were provided to everyone who didn't own a pair. And not to fret, they're super easy to put on! We were asked to bring a headlamp if we had one, but the night was quite bright. Once our eyes adjusted to the dark, we were able to turn the headlamp off.

Guided Hike

Our guide Michelle and I

Our guide Michelle and I

We had a very experienced guide, Michelle, who is a volunteer with Friends of Gatineau Park. The Friends organize hikes for school groups, as well as adults, and their goal is to foster an appreciation for the Park's natural and human heritage.

The cool thing about a winter hike is that it's the only time you can go off-trail, without damaging the vegetation. We learned all sorts of amazing tidbits about the creatures living in Gatineau Park, including where to spot claw marks from the bears (who love to eat the beech nuts on beech trees!) I was happy to hear that most of the bears would be sleeping through the winter...until Michelle mentioned that it wasn't uncommon for them to wake up and go for a little "stroll." I made sure I wasn't at the back of the pack when I heard that piece of news.

The hike was suitable for beginners, and our only complaint was that most of us dressed too warmly. It's amazing the heat you start to generate when clomping around in snowshoes, and of course, it's been a very warm winter here.

Can you spot the bear claw marks?

Can you spot the bear claw marks?

Le Nordic

We handed our snowshoes back to Michelle, and got in our cars to drive the tiny distance over to the spa. You can either rent a robe or bring your own, and you definitely need a robe. No one wears their clothes (well, except a bathing suit,) even in the dining area! Also make sure to bring flip flops, as your feet will not appreciate the frozen ground.

Le Nordic is a Scandinavian spa experience. This means that your body will benefit from the therapeutic effects of hot and cold. If you've ever watched someone burst out of a sauna to do a polar swim, you'll know what I'm talking about - the exhilaration that you feel after a cold dunk is amazing! 

There is guidance provided on which pools or saunas to try in succession, or you can just do your own thing. There are also "rest" areas throughout the spa, where you can sit by a warm fire or lie in a snug sleeping bag.

Given that we were a group of eleven and quite chatty, we chose to spend our time in the "talking area." There is also a silent area of the spa, where anything above a whisper is prohibited. Many people go to the spa for a quiet getaway, and so if you are looking for a more social experience, you still have many pools and saunas to choose from!

Comfy in our robes

Comfy in our robes

After a soak in the tub, some sauna time, and a brave dunk in a cold pool, we were ready to relax with some snacks and drinks. The food is at Le Nordic is lovely, and you can choose from a resto, a lounge or a cafe. There are full meals to be enjoyed, or small bites...and of course, your drink of choice!

Le Nordic 3

We arrived home feeling tired and happy, and I slept like a log that night! Fresh air and warm baths will do that to you. It was a fantastic Parents Night Out, and we can't wait to do it again.

Le Nordic 2

Disclosure: we were provided this Snowshoe Under the Stars at a discounted rate. All opinions are my own, which isn't really necessary to say, given that everyone knows how much I love Le Nordic (and snowshoes....!!)

10 things to do for March Break Staycation in Ottawa

It's a sad reality that we can't all be jetting off to sun and sand for March Break (and the way the Canadian dollar is going, that's probably a good thing!) But that doesn't mean you can't have a fun March Break with the kids here in Ottawa. Here's a round-up of ten ideas for things to do in Ottawa over March break:

March Break Staycation Ottawa

Starr Gymnastics: Camp for a day

If you are off work for March Break, you might not want to pay for a full-week camp for your child. But the thought of 7 days straight with the kiddos is a little much, no? Why not throw them into camp for a day? Starr Gymnastics has a $50 option for one-day camps during March Break as well as full week options, with various locations around the city.

Visit Parc Omega in the winter!

Think those furry animals are only out in the summer? Think again! Beat the busy lines of traffic at this popular destination by visiting in the winter!  The new First Nations Trail, “the trail of the talking trees,” just opened in October and pays tribute to the  original inhabitants of the Petite-Nation and the rest of the province. Along the 1-km trail, each of Quebec’s 11 First Nations is represented by an animal totem carved by Denis Charette, an artist from Cantley.

Snow Tubing

Tube sliding with the family is always a great time—you’ve got to do it at least once every winter! Domaine de l’Ange-Gardien in Outaouais offers eight different slides, a chairlift, old-fashioned horse-drawn sleigh rides, and snowshoe trails. Fresh air, fun and lots of laughter—a perfect recipe for a great day out for March Break!

Tinkering Workshop

I've signed my 6 year-old up for this one-day workshop at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. She loves learning how things work, and had a blast at the Maker Faire; so I knew this would be appropriate for her! The museum tells me there are quite a few spots left, so book today by calling 613-991-3053.

Altitude Gym

Lara checked out the clip 'n climb with her kids this past summer, and they had a great time! Your child can participate for the day or for a whole week camp!

Build-a-Bug at the Nature Museum

I told you all about the Bugs Outside the Box exhibit, which is a must-see for kids who are curious about bug creatures. For extra March Break fun, the museum is getting kids to build their own bugs out of Crayola Model Magic!

Go see a movie

For some reason I never think of this option when I'm trying to find things for the kids to do - Cine Starz in Orleans and Rainbow Cinemas at St. Laurent are both affordable options for families!

Visit a Sugar Bush in the city

If you want a "low-key" kind of day, stay in the city and visit our very own Sugar Bush at Vanier Museopark! The area is beautiful and serene, and you wouldn't even know you were surrounded by a large city - a great way to discover our urban environment.

Host a gaming afternoon

Board games are a great way to connect as a family, and can provide hours of fun. We're lacking in board games at our house, though (it's on my to-do list to purchase some more,) so our go-to place is The Loft Board Game Lounge. Kids are more than welcome, and parents can sip on a local brew while checking out the 800 games available! 

The National Art Gallery: Artissimo

The Gallery is chock full of activities for youngsters - there are family-guided tours, audio tours, feely boxes, and mini-workshops where kids can create their own art. If you think the Art Gallery is just for parents, think again!

Are you staying in Ottawa for March Break?

What you need to know to survive the zombie apocalypse

by Lara

Photo credit Elena Gatti

Photo credit Elena Gatti

I'm a busy parent, you're a busy parent. So I imagine you "get" this - sometimes I need an escape. I need to just chill out, relax, and escape into a good story. And lately those good stories, whether they be on a screen or in a book, tend to be leaning towards the zombie genre. That or post apocalyptic young adult fiction. When I'm relaxing I don't want to have to think much :)

Because I want to be helpful (and because I think we all need to think about things other than kids once in awhile,) I thought I could share with you all that I've learned from watching these shows and reading these books. My tips on the best ways to survive the zombie apocalypse (and probably why I won't survive, to be honest ;) 

1) Own an RV

That’s right. A home on wheels comes in handy when you’re living in a world of zombies.

All the survivors have at least one in their caravans in the shows I watch. It’s the place that people come together as an operation centre (it's where they keep all the maps!) And if you had to choose between a zombie scratching at your tent or a zombie scratching at your RV – which sounds better to you?

For these reasons I keep trying to convince my husband we should buy an RV. We can even use it for regular vacations until the apocalypse! Apparently he thinks it would be more like being locked in a tin can full of arguing children than a vacation, and getting ready for the zombies seems a little too low on his list of priorities.

2) Crossbows

The best weapon for killing zombies is a crossbow. The ammo is reusable, which is key in a world with no new resources. 

I took archery at summer camp as a kid, so I'm going to have to work on my skills. As it stands, the zombies would be all “what are these pesky sticks flying around nowhere near my body?” No way I’d get them in the brains.

I HAVE noticed lately there are lots of new archery and AX throwing centres popping up  – I appreciate knowing people are getting ready for the apocalypse with the right skills.

3) Don’t get left behind

You know how in horror movies when someone says “I’ll just go check out that weird noise in the basement”...you know that person is doomed, right? You’re thinking DON’T DO IT!!!

Same thing happens with people who stay behind anywhere when there are zombies. Always accompany everyone when they are going for supplies, or checking out what's just down the road in that farmhouse. Always.

Here’s the problem: I’m inherently lazy. I’ll know this about being left behind but then I’ll be reading a book in the shade of someone else's RV (someone else who was smart enough to be prepared) and I’ll think “you guys go hunt for supplies, I’ll just stay here and guard the camp”

Toast. I’m toast.

4) Building shelter

People don’t stay in the cities after a zombie apocalypse because that’s where there are the most people who got caught by other zombies, and therefore they're always overrun. That means everyone heads out to the wilderness and you need to create safe shelters that are zombie proof.

Based on my experience with IKEA furniture building, and the stories my husband likes to tell about said furniture building, I am NOT the person to be counted on for safe shelter. I’m all “this looks like it goes here, and this goes that and yup – this looks about right.” Zombies probably won’t follow my directions on how to keep the shelter upright: "Just don’t touch it in THAT corner!!" My husband won't even let me practice so I can improve my skills. He claims he wants all the furniture to be "well-built." Sheesh.

5) Skills

You need a lot of skills to help you survive, so if you’re looking for a new hobby I recommend:

  • gardening – so you can grow your own food when the grocery stores are all empty or overrun with zombies

  • mechanical stuff – so you can fix the old cars and trucks you find when the ones you had broke down

  • orienteering because you want to know how to get to Atlanta or California - once the zombies come those are the two most important destinations. Atlanta, because that's where the Centre for Disease Control is (do you see how much helpful knowledge I have?!) 

So there you have it - my tips on surviving the zombie apocalypse.  If you don’t already have an RV, make a run for the closest RV store when the zombies attack. Start practicing your archery skills now, get your building and mechanical skills polished (because there are only falling down houses and old cars from the 80s) to be found.

And most importantly....don’t count on me, because the zombies will probably get me first!!

Winterlude Fun

So yes, OK, Winterlude has been a bit of a bust this year. I even heard the term "Waterlude" the other day, which made me chuckle.

But let us not forget, dear, cold Canadians, that there are still many days left for us to enjoy the ice and snow. Many days to stand in line for overpriced fried dough, and take skates down the canal with our screaming children.

Winterlude

It is TRADITION.

I was really happy to get out the other day with my daughter, just before the warm weather left ice sculpture heads lying in the snow. And I realized that our previous Winterlude post needs updating (although check out Amy's post on snow tubing!)

So for those first-time parents hoping to brave the frigid (or not so frigid) temperatures, here are some tips:

Don't bring a stroller

If you want to participate in the activities at the central location at Confederation Park, the snow is so deep and slushy, it's almost impossible to navigate a stroller through there. I saw many stuck parents, weakly calling for their partners to fetch them a Beavertail.

Winterlude 3

DO bring a sled!

One of those small red sleds with the back are perfect for the wee ones who can't skate. Bundle them up well and pull them along behind you - unless you are the parents with the "crying child" who will not be happy wizzing along the frozen canal (see below.)

Don't expect your child will skate

Walk-skating on the canal is totally acceptable!

Walk-skating on the canal is totally acceptable!

The first year we attempted Winterlude with two kids, we ended the canal skate after about 0.4 kilometres of screaming. Their toes were cold, skating was terrible, and we were horrible parents for bringing them there. It's getting better, though, I promise! Each year we add about two feet to the skate ;)

Parents have to dress warmly too

If you think you'll get by in a pair of jeans and a warm coat, think again. Even on warmer days, kids love for you to get down on the ground and play. In the Confederation park zone, there was a great area for kids to build with coloured bricks - if I hadn't had my snowpants on, I wouldn't have been able to get down on the ground and be a kid myelf!

You must eat Beavertails and drink hot chocolate

YUM

YUM

Again...tradition!! Yes, they are $4.50 each, and you will question your sanity when buying one for each family member. And the hot chocolate is made from powdered sugar. But the good news is that you are fueled enough to withstand the frigid temperatures and crowds. 

Take the bus

Finding parking is sometimes difficult, so we had a great time taking the bus from Orleans. And don't forget - there are free buses to take you to and from the different Winterlude locations. We didn't do snow tubing this time, but I'd love to check out Jacques Cartier at some point!

 

How do you do Winterlude? What are your tips for our readers?

How to choose a school

It's Kindergarten registration time and I've been thrown back into the whole process again as I gear up to send my youngest to school. It takes me back to the stressful time we had when deciding where to send my oldest three years ago.

As someone pointed out to me recently, some areas don't have a lot of options. Perhaps the options are limited because of the remoteness of the community, or perhaps it is financial. Many of us can't afford to consider private or alternative education.

So I do consider myself lucky that we had several choices in our area, but it did make for a lot of careful deliberation (I almost wonder if one school choice would be easier!) I know what went into our decision, but I was curious how other parents made the choice. So I put the question out on Facebook and got a lot of responses. Below I've highlighted some of the factors you may want to consider when choosing a school for your child:

Language

We are lucky here in Ottawa to live in a fairly bilingual community. It's important for our children to learn French, especially if they hope to stay and work in Ottawa in the future (which we don't actually know at age 4, but hey, you can think ahead for them!) So before you look into the school in more detail, it's probably best to hash out whether you will do full French (both public and Catholic options), French Immersion (public and Catholic options,) or core French (the Catholic board starts with 50% French in Kindergarten and the public board does 200 minutes per week.) For those unsure if full French is the right option, I wrote a post about being Anglophone in a Francophone system.

Religion

As one parent wrote: "We went with the closest Catholic school to our house. I liked the Catholic board because of the 50/50 French in kindergarten and the later immersion options."

I am not Catholic, but my husband is. My oldest was baptised in the United Church, and my youngest has yet to be baptised. However, both will attend Catholic school for a number of reasons, and so far we've been really happy with the choice. If you know a great Catholic school nearby, but you aren't Catholic, make sure to contact them to ask about your options!

Location

Several parents commented that location was a deciding factor, which was our case as well. I wanted my children to be able to walk to school, and given our proximity to the school grounds the school we chose was definitely within walking distance - I can actually throw them over the fence and wave goodbye ;) 

For those who can't walk, bus schedules are another factor: "The school bus schedule. Yup. Anything to save on paying for before or after care so we can finally start mending the financial wounds of mat leaves and childcare for the past 4 years." 

Alternatives

"We chose the alternative system. The teaching style in the alternative system is so exciting and inspiring. We were completely wowed when we went for a visit. It's like home schooling, but at school!!"

Montessori, Waldorf, Forest School etc. There are many options in Ottawa! Check out a recent post by our friend Andrea over at A Peek Inside the Fishbowl, all about Joan of Arc Academy. We even have a public school across the street from us (called La Source) which follows a play-based curriculum. Many alternative schools are publicly funded, but parents will need to consider cost for private schools. 

School Resources

"We printed off profiles of schools from the school board when we were looking for a house and while we didn't intentionally buy our house based on the profile we liked the best, it sort of turned out that way. I liked the high number of kids who's first language was neither English or French. I liked the fact that the school has a hard of hearing program and I liked some of the partnerships that the school had developed with community agencies to support the students."

What types of programs does your school offer beyond the curriculum? Where do they focus their resources? How involved is the school in the community? These are all really important questions to ask at a school open house - parents know that volunteer work and strong community connections can engage students in a meaningful way. 

School Rankings

I've added this last one, because I noticed it didn't come up in any of the comments on our Facebook post. I'm not sure parents are considering "rankings" to be an important factor in their decision, probably because of some of the criticisms of how schools are ranked - after all, grades are not the decided factor when it comes to a school's "success." Many teachers I have chatted with all say that rankings are flawed, and that you are better off meeting the principal and speaking with other parents whose children attend that school to decide for yourself.