In Between: Mud Season in Ottawa

I had a funny encounter with a New Zealander the other week - it was one of the two warmer days we've had this Spring, and I commented on how lovely it was to feel the sun. She looked at me in surprise and said, "I hate this weather!" 

Not having grown up in Canada's climate, my co-worker doesn't enjoy the "in between" season - when the snow turns brown, the puddles grow, and the mud sticks. You have to admit, our annual weather kind of looks like this:

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons

But you can't truly enjoy the seasons unless you're properly "geared up." Heading outdoors in Spring wearing your nice leather shoes will certainly result in stress and much cursing.

And so, to prepare for Mud Season here in Ottawa, I've chosen a few key items that may (or may not!) be necessary for the kids AND for you:

1. A good pair of rain pants - anything by MEC will be good quality. Or a rain suit for the younger ones.

Waterproof shoes

2. Waterproof shoes (image courtesy of Mansfield's Shoes)

3. If you're looking for a big splurge, I looove these Hunter Boots. But given my budget, I'm more likely to put on a thick pair of wool socks and get a pair of these from Mark's.

4. Hatley has awesome rain jackets, which can be found at Kiddie Kobbler. I'm also loving this sweet coat and hat set from 3 Little Monkeys.

5. And as much as we wish it were 15 degrees, it's not. Which means hats and mitts are still necessary - but go for thin fleece instead of heavy duty at this time of year! 

6. And finally - an umbrella! They're annoying to carry around, but great for your commute. And of course, the kids love them!

What gear do you have for mud season?

 

Travelling with a Toddler: Surprise Backpacks!

By Brittany

I've written before about travelling with a toddler on my own blog. One of our friends prepared a box of surprises for our daughter to keep her entertained while flying out west. It helped us keep her entertained for a good portion of our five-hour flight across Canada. It included so many fun things - stickers, crayons, books, paper, dolls, and much more!

In the spirit of keeping this amazing "new tradition" alive, we decided to do the same for our friend's daughter, who will going on a trip of her own.

This little girl is one of my daughter's closest friends. She has many sweet passions and interests, but her favourite right now -- FROZEN! Who doesn't love Frozen? It seems as if my family is the only one who has not yet watched the movie. Our little one isn't into movies just yet.

So I was on a mission to find some cute, Frozen-themed items that would keep her happy and entertained for her long journey. 

After searching high and low, I came across the following items:

1. Small, clear Frozen themed backpack
2. Hair comb and mirror and hair accessories (Frozen of course)
3. Frozen lip balm (Gotta keep your lips hydrated. Even if you are only 2!)
4. Flash card games by Fisher Price
5. Dora the Explorer colouring book (another favourite of this sweetie pie)
6. Melissa and Doug Crayons
7. Treats

Tip: It doesn’t have to cost a lot, check out your nearest Dollarama for some creative ideas. The treasures to be discovered are endless. 
 
Here's the final product! Cute isn't it?

Brittany is a mother to a busy toddler, and writes about life on My Mama Journey 

Worth a Visit: Almonte

One of my family's favourite day trips when we have the time is a visit to Almonte. I started going there as a kid because my Great Uncle and his family lived there. Later, my grandparents moved there and we visited more often.

 Almonte is a lovely little town not too far from Ottawa, with a lot to offer. We usually start our trip with lunch at the Robin's Nest. They make simple sandwiches, great soup and I can guarantee your enjoyment of any of their desserts. 

While you're waiting for your lunch you can go right through to the shop next door, Keepsakes, home of little toys, gifts, jewelry and other knick knacks. Keepsakes is one of many great and unique shops on Mill Street.

The best place in Almonte (my must see), is Mill Street Books. Mill Street is one of only a handful of independent bookstores still open in the region, which is one great reason to support them. Another great reason is the selection, particularly of books for kids. I can't remember the last time I went in and didn't manage to find a great new read for the kid and me. 

We've discovered a lot of great new writers because of the friendly staff at Mill Street Books. And I've found a lot of great books for myself there too. (We really need more bookshelves). 

If you're visiting Almonte on a Friday or Saturday, you're probably going to want to drop by HFT for some doughnuts while you're there. And if you're picking up doughnuts you might as well grab some coffee at Equator Coffee Roasters too. 

I also highly recommend a visit to Mississippi Mills Musicworks if your kids love instruments. The staff is friendly, they have a wide array of instruments, lots of music books and a friendly dog. (They also offer music lessons). 

And if you're in the Almonte area, you might as well visit Pakenham, not too far away. Pakenham is home to the truly awesome Scoops Ice Cream and the best cinnamon buns any general store has to offer. 

Have you visited Almonte? Leave a comment and tell us about your favourite place to go!

Family Vacation: Mont Tremblant

We just returned from March Break in Mont Tremblant. My parents graciously gifted us a week's stay at a cottage near Sainte-Agathe-des-monts in the Laurentiens, about a 30 minute drive from the ski resort of Mont Tremblant.

Getting There

We took a bit of a scenic route north-east of Ottawa, and the entire trip was 2.5 - 3 hours. There had been significant snowfall the day before, so we were held up by icy roads and snowplows. The more straightforward route along highway 50 to the 15 in Quebec would make the trip about 2 hours. A perfect length of time to be stuck in a car with little ones.

Where to Stay

Our cottage was fantastic - there was a beautiful view of (frozen) Lake Manitou from the porch, and we could warm our feet by the stone fireplace. It was everything that I like in a cottage - not too fancy, chock full of antiques, and that cozy cottage smell. And the price of renting a modest cottage is affordable. The hotels and condos at the base of the mountain can run you hundreds of dollars per night.

Cottage Fireplace

That said, there are disadvantages to staying outside the ski resort area. The main one is all the driving you have to do. With young children, I could definitely see the benefit to staying at one of the resort condos, and being able to hit the slopes right outside my front door. If cost is an issue, Tremblant runs flash sales and packages, so getting on their mailing list is a good idea. 

The second disadvantage to this cottage was that it wasn't very pedestrian-friendly. The road was small and windy, which made going for walks slightly terrifying when cars whipped around the corners. I think summertime would have made outdoor play much easier, with close access to a beach, playground and the cottage property (knee-deep snow was not great for trudging around with a 2 year-old!)

Tremblant3.JPG

What To Do

What isn't there to do? If you're outdoorsy, a winter vacation can be fantastic - our daughter tried three different activities for the first time - cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowshoeing. There are many trails located at Saint-Bernard but my parents discovered an even better (and closer) location in Sainte-Agathe, where the town's campground has been turned into cross-country and snowshoe trails in the winter.

And of course, the downhill skiing is fantastic! Our tiny hills in Ontario are no match for this mountain. After realizing that it had been 16 years since I'd strapped on a pair of downhill skis (and after taking out a poor kid on a snowboard in my attempt to get off the chair lift), I got some tips from a friend and stuck to the easiest green hills.

My daughter and I also checked out the Aquaclub, where you can find indoor pools, a hottub, and slides for the little ones. Some hotels on-site will include free passes to the pools, but we paid a whopping $24 to swim for 3 hours. That said, it was a great indoor activity for those who aren't keen on skiing every day.

Tips

  • The "village" at the base of the mountain is pedestrian friendly, so no cars allowed. You need to park in one of their three (free) parking lots, and then catch the (free) shuttle bus into the village. It's here that you can buy lift tickets, rent ski equipment, get some lunch, shop or check out the Aquaclub. Just remember to tack on lots of extra time to your trip for parking and the shuttle runs.
  • There's also the actual village of Mont Tremblant (with an old and newer section), where you can find shops and restaurants. When they say "Tremblant," they really mean the entire area including both the mountain and the town.
  • If I were to do it again, I would want a bag like this. Walking around in your ski boots for even a short period of time is painful and really tiring for kids. There are lockers available for $2 to store your stuff. 
  • Alternatively, you can take a longer drive over to the North side of the mountain, where the parking lot leads right up to the ski lifts. Much easier when dealing with kiddos, but alas, the bunny hills (and magic carpets!) are on the South side.
  • We brought lots of snacks, but found it easier to just buy a meal while skiing. It's pricey, but the food is REALLY good. And you can even enjoy a beer or wine with your lunch!
  • Don't want to ski? Our friends tried dog sledding, and as I mentioned, there are many snowshoe trails. Or just go shopping in the quaint little shops you can find in the older part of town on Lac Mercier. Unfortunately, we didn't get around to checking out the snow tubing, and the outdoor skating rink was closed for the season.

We'll definitely go back to Mont Tremblant one day, and we've all been bitten by the skiing bug. Later this week I'll be writing about our experience skiing with younger children - what worked and what didn't.

Have you ever been to Mont Tremblant? Did you enjoy yourselves?

Getting away to the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge

This March break we decided to get away without going too far away. I've been thinking about Great Wolf Lodge for quite awhile but heard there were closer and cheaper options in New York State.  A little online research and I found the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge near Lake George New York. 

How far is it?

By the map it's about 4.5 hours.  It took us closer to 6 or so including bathroom breaks, the wait and the border and lunch.

We drove through Montreal, though you can also drive through Ogdensberg. The Montreal route is longer but on faster roads.  The route down the 416 takes you through smaller towns at slower speeds.

Either route takes you through the mountains and it's quite a lovely drive.  There isn't as much as usual to be seen along the highways as I usually see on our trips to the States though - not a single Cracker Barrel between Ottawa and our destination, but fortunately there was an Applebees :)

What is there to do there?

Indoor Water Park

The indoor water park is included in your stay at the hotel (so is the outdoor amusement park when it's open) and it has a lazy river, a treehouse, a toddler area, 3 4-story enclosed slides and a boogie board ride.

My kids aren't very adventurous so they were thrilled with the lazy river and the slides in the treehouse. I was really impressed with the lifeguards on staff.  They were monitoring everything very closely and are constantly showing that they are doing visual checks of all sections of the water.  We were comfortable letting the kids have free run of the lazy river and treehouse on their own at ages 5 and 8.

Adventure Trek

I didn't really understand what this was before we arrived but in the end we invested and I'm really glad we did.

The hotel has an indoor video game called Adventure Trek.  You need to buy a wand (about $30) and then you use the wand to complete missions.  Once you've completed all the missions in one section of the game you get to play a game on a big video game screen.

We only bought one wand for the three kids.  Most of the groups of kids we saw had each kid with their own wand.  We were fine with just the one.  We also didn't get the upsell of fancy toppers for the wands nor did we buy them adventure capes.  We're the boring parents apparently ;)

What was great about this is that it kept the kids moving even when we weren't in the water park.  They were running all over the hotel, up and down the stairs from floor to floor, to try to find all the things they needed in each mission.  We always had one of us with them while doing this but had the twins been a bit older we would happily have left them to their own devices.  

The perk here is that your kids get to go running around the hotel and it's perfectly acceptable and part of the way the hotel works!

Kids Klub

They have a kids' club that was great for keeping the kids entertained.  We went and coloured a few times, and the twins also spent some of their pocket money on colouring t-shirts.

There are mascots that make appearances daily and one night we had bedtime stories with Scrappy Doo which the twins really enjoyed.  At eight and a half, my older son was pretty uninterested in the mascots though.   There's also an arcade. The kids loved this but it's just a typical arcade with the tickets and prizes.

Lake George

This area is mostly closed down in the winter. I would love to go back when we could take advantage of the hiking, the outdoor mini putt, and the amusement park.  There are outlets and lots of restaurants, though many were closed for the season.  There's also skiing but we aren't winter sports people :) 

Overall, this was a great trip and I'd definitely go again. I think that for the winter months two nights would have been enough and three pushed it a bit long with only the adventure trek and the water park to keep us busy.  

Have you been to Lake George? What did you think?