Monthly Archives: January 2012

Five magic moments at the Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival

I’ve been wanting to check out the Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival for years. It’s a celebration of winter whose crowning glory is the display of professionally-carved ice sculptures arrayed on the shore of Lake Louise beside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This year the festival was extended because of demand, so we packed up yet again and drove west for the final Little Chippers weekend. 

It was a weekend of snow, ice, cold, smiles, more snow, wine, whine (kids), cold toes, brandy hot chocolate, a 45-minutes wait for a “parrot” balloon animal, more wine, lots of giggles and yet even more snow at Lake Louise Ski Area. Through it all prevailed a kind of ice magic, thanks to the Chateau’s fairy-tale setting and our kids’ awe over ice raptors, ice castles and ice queens. Here are the highlights.

1. Ice skating with the Ice Queen around the Ice Castle. She was carved from a block of ice and came to life … blah, blah, blah. Avery missed the finer points of her story but enjoyed skating with her highness.

Carved from a block of ice and forced to wear Cinderella's cast-offs, it's ... the Ice Queen.

2. The Ice Playground. Located in a corner of the Lake Louise Village parking lot, I didn’t have high hopes for this sad-looking outdoor ice rumpus room at first glance. But as ice makes things cooler and more slippery, the ice tunnel and slides were a hit. So was the Little Chippers ice carving station, where children could don goggles and a pick and attempt ice art. 

Yeah, I know it looks lame but Bennett went down this slide, like, 20 times.

3. Lakeside sleigh ride. Granted, at an hour, it’s about 40 minutes too long for my kids. But the jingle of bells and hypnotic sight of falling snow mesmerized us and prevented a melt-down. Tip: don’t sit near the front: Parks Canada stipulates Brewster (the company that runs the tours) catch the horses’ poop in a manure catcher lest it litter the national park. Hence a ripe smell accompanied the lovely sights and sounds.

Avery's favourite part of the sleigh ride? "Petting the horses."

4. Eating my son’s New York Steak. We ordered Bennett the $11 New York Steak “For the Young Adult” at the Glacier Saloon inside the Chateau. The server even asked us how our four-year-old “would like his steak cooked?” Why, medium rare, thanks. Predictably, Bennett didn’t like the meat, eating only his French fries. OMG it was delish, cooked perfectly for any parent to enjoy. Tip: always order steak off the kid’s menu to save money.

5. Riding the Lake Louise gondola. Ever since the magic carpet (MC) at Fernie last weekend Bennett has been talking about wanting to ride a chairlift. So, after making him take the Lake Louise MC — with skis on — and then “ski” down the bunny hill (with Blake’s help, of course) onto the gondola we walked. He quivered with excitement and said, “We go up mountain, mommy?” Forget the Ice Queen, he was King of the Mountain for 24 minutes.

Warmer than a chairlift, faster than the magic carpet, it's ... the gondola!

Drink of the Week: Vodka Sour

I think I mentioned before I am totally into sours. And so the love affair continues. I’ve blogged about a Tequila Sour and an Apricot Lady Sour. This week: a Vodka Sour.

The bitters make this drink.

I received a bottle of Luksusowa gluten-free potato vodka in the mail recently, which promted me to give this clear spirit another go. Truthfully, I’d been a bit vodka’d out, what with all the flavoured vodka martinis that were hugely popular when I first started writing about cocktails in 2010. But the Luksusowa, though rather flavourless as most vodkas are, is smooth. And it mixes gloriously with the other ingedients in this drink.

This Vodka Sour is all smooth lemony goodness. It would be nice with just the first three ingredients, but the bitters give it an edge and the egg white makes a smooth vodka even smoother.

Vodka Sour

2 oz Luksusowa vodka

1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2 oz simple syrup*

3 dashes Angostura bitters

1/2 fresh egg white

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

*Make simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water and heating in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and refrigerate.

— Recipe adapted from Cocktails Made Easy by Simon Difford

Vacation deprived? Book a trip

“Vacation deprivation” is a relatively new phenomenon. I first heard about it from the travel website Expedia, which began doing an annual analysis of vacation habits across multiple countries several years ago. Not surprisingly, Americans scored poorly — regularly letting their holiday days slip away unused — and gained a reputation as some of the most vacation deprived citizens in the world. 

More recently, travel company Monograms warned Americans of the dangers of letting earned vacation days go unused: they’ll miss out on the opportunity to “walk the cobblestone streets of Italy, ride an elephant in Asia and have a pint to celebrate 2012 in a genuine pub in Ireland.”

The story cited not just money, but a lack of planning as reasons Americans are watching their vacation dreams vanish like a properly-poured Guinness. I don’t know about you, but I start planning my next trip right after I return from my last one. And I never, ever sacrifice a vacation day for more time at work. It’s the only way to stay sane in this climate. (To Canadians’ credit, we do pretty well using up our holiday days — acccording to Expedia, anyway — though it sure would be nice to have as many as the Europeans.)

Interesting though these studies and stories are, you have to wonder if they’re simply a clever way for companies to drum up some U.S. business, by mobilizing the masses to get booking lest they waste away in some kind of vacation deprived purgatory. Perhaps we’ll start seeing Expedia-sponsored ads warning of vacation withdrawl, with a voice-over listing possible side effects from spending too many hours in the office and not enough time at a swim-up bar : pasty-white skin, cheerless demeanor, inability to distinguish a mojito from a margarita.

In the meantime I will let the poor over-worked Americans keeps the global economy humming along, while I book my next holiday somewhere warm.

This is me at the beach while millions of Americans let their vacation days go unused.

What about you? Do you use all your vacation days every year? Do you think “vacation deprivation” is a real problem?

Come with me on a magic carpet ride

Almost everything I know about magic carpets I learned from the book Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street? In the book, which I’ve almost memorized from reading ad nauseum, Elmo gets sucked up into the air by his kite, plummets into a pond and finally gets deposited on a magic carpet that waggles, glides, takes off and rides him to outerspace. 

In other words, magic carpets are pretty cool. So it’s no surprise the nifty little conveyor belts located in learn-to-ski zones at ski areas are called magic carpets. Basically, they are moving walkways that transport ski-wearing toddlers up to the top of the bunny hill. They’re like magic for Aussie instructors, who no longer have to tote crying three-year-olds up the hill for more parent-imposed ski lessons (“Aww, c’mon Billy, quit whingeing and let’s get a move on!). Ask any little kid what he likes about skiing and he’ll tell you, “I got to ride the magic carpet.” 

It's a kind of magic, for kids.

Since Avery learned to ski by doing laps on the magic carpet at Fernie, we decided it was time Bennett got in on the fun, without skis, of course (don’t want to rush things here). We lodged his feet into his ski boots, popped a helmet on his head and tried to cajole him into walking to the bunny hill. Since ski boots weigh as much as concrete blocks, he refused to budge. Blake carried him halfway there and he grudgingly walked the remainder, only because the magic carpet was in sight. Since no one appeared to be supervising, I hopped on the miracle munchkin mover and rode to the top behind Bennett.

Pretty sure a three-person pileup on the magic carpet is frowned upon.

At the top there was a worker sitting on a bench whose job, I gathered, is to make sure no little kids fall off the conveyor belt or get sucked under when they reach the top. He was also in close proximity to a red emergency stop button, just in case there is a kid pileup or some other magic carpet hazard (hard to imagine at a velocity of about three clicks per hour. Yes, it’s as slow as the airport ones).

Look ma, no hands!

Bennett rode up the magic carpet about four times before turning to me and saying, “I want to ride magic carpet, Mommy.” “We’re on the magic carpet honey. Isn’t this fun?” “No, that one,” he said, pointing quite clearly to the three-person chairlift next to the bunny hill. Even Bennett knew he had a way better chance of getting to outerspace on a chairlft.

Drink of the Week: Apple Breeze

Don’t be put off by the name. Though it sounds girly, the Apple Breeze packs a nice rum punch, softened by apple and cranberry juices. There’s also tart lemon juice; a perfect foil to the sweet apricot brandy liqueur, which adds warmth on a -22C evening.

Sip and start dreaming of warmer climes.

I used Havana Club rum because I’ve been dreaming about a Caribbean escape all freezing week long. Since Cuba was on the brain, I served my Apple Breeze in a Communist propoganda highball glass from Vietnam. I think it works. This drink will warm you up while vicariously transporting you somewhere — anywhere — sunny and sandy.

Apple Breeze

2 oz Havana Club light rum

1/2 oz Bols apricot brandy liqueur

1-1/2 oz apple juice

1-1/2 oz white cranberry juice

1/2 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice

2 tsp simple syrup*

Apple wedge garnish

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with an apple wedge.

*To make simple syrup combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Cool and refrigerate for up to one month.

— Recipe adapted from Cocktails Made Easy by Simon Difford

Make your parenting resolutions fun (for you) or you won’t follow through

I know it’s a bit late to be penning parenting resolutions for 2012, but I keep coming across blogs from other moms who have vowed to make 2012 the year they unplug from technology, let their kids try new things, or visit more museums during family field trips. So initially I thought I could resolve to be more present with my kids, practice patience, visit Michaels regularly for crafting supplies, and spend more time cavorting in golden meadows with them.

Cavorting with Bennett.

But then I thought, who am I kidding? I am already present in body (even if my mind is zooming ahead to happy hour), I’m already fairly patient since I have a four-year-old who still isn’t potty trained, I actually really hate crafts, and it’s way too cold to frolic outdoors. So why not make some resolutions I’ll stick to? They may be hard on my kids, but they’ll make my life easier and more fun.

1. No more crafts. I just don’t get cutting and pasting and glitter and googly eyes that make a mess and a craft that gets tossed two days later. Seriously, what’s the point? Sure, it helps kids hone their fine motor skills, but can’t they just do this stuff at school?

2. Cook less rice. Note to Asia: this grain is really messy! Pasta is way more manageable. Also, stop buying Rice Krispies. When they mix with milk and fall on the floor, if you don’t clean it up right away it forms an unbreakable bond that will never come off.

3. Make the kids do more chores. This will be hard to institute, but think of the rewards! They are old enough to set the table, unload the dishwasher, clean their rooms, fix their own  snacks and feed the fish. So why I am I still doing everything?

4. Take them skiing and hiking more. We live so close to the mountains, so why do I spend so much time at playgrounds and the Calgary Zoo? 

5. Travel to cool places. We used to backpack in South America and Asia. Since having kids we visit all-inclusives and rent condos in Hawaii. These trips are fun, but kind of meh. It’s not like I want the children to get dysentery from a street vendor, but a little global adventure could add some spice to their pasta life.

What do you think? Are these resolutions I can keep?

Family-friendly dining in Calgary

My husband and I have always avoided taking our children out for meals at restaurants. Frankly, an eternity can pass between placing the order and the arrival of the food, and the experience can go off the rails faster than you can whip out an iPhone for entertainment. Why pay for good food we won’t enjoy when we can eat passable fare at home in relative peace? (That’s our rationale, anyway.)

I remember eating brunch at Humpty’s on New Year’s Day one year. Bennett, then just a newborn, was supposed to sleep in his carseat. Instead he woke up and I had to nurse him right when my French toast arrived. By the time I got to it, it was cold and rubbery and I just scarfed it down, all while he bawled. Another time at King’s Bennett threw a fit when the food finally showed up because we took the iPhone away. He screamed and cried and refused to eat (cue the rest of us inhaling wor wontons while avoiding eye contact with the other diners).

Now we pretty much only take the kids out for dim sum at the Regency Palace in Chinatown. It’s loud, it’s crowded and chances are there will be another baby or toddler screaming louder than our kids. Since the food comes by on carts at approximately three-minute intervals, we can start eating immediately without having to wait. As a bonus, Avery and Bennett love sticky rice.

The rice is so sticky, it sometimes gets in your hair.

Not quite ready for chopsticks.

 At the entrance there’s also a fish pond filled with koi. You can buy koi food for $1 and watch the fish (which may actually be carp, come to think of it) fight over the little pellets. It’s so entertaining, there’s no need to bring crayons or hand-held electronic distractions.

Let's hope these giant fish aren't being farmed to make koi dumplings!

Plus, there are fortune cookies for dessert! But just in case we get sick of tripe and pig’s feet (kidding! We stick to the rice, pork buns and shrimp dumplings), I polled Calgary moms for other kid-friendly Calgary restaurants, below. A couple moms recommended places such as Notable and Belgo, but we’re a ways away from a fine dining experience just yet. And I can’t imagine spending $12 on the Belgo Poutine & Sausage for my son to take one bite and say, “No, I don’t like it.” Sigh.

  • Stick to “chain-type” restaurants and you’ll be gold. One mom of two active boys swears by the Olive Garden, East Side Marios, Boston Pizza, Montanas, the Old Spaghetti Factory and Milestones.
  •  The Danish-Canadian Club is great for brunch on Saturday mornings, says another mom with two school-age boys. “There are always lots of kids there, and we all enjoy it.”
  • Little Chef in the Strathcona shopping plaza serves up burgers, sandwiches and meat pies.
  • Without Papers Pizza in Inglewood plays kids movies on Saturday afternoons. What kid doesn’t like pizza and movies?
  • And everyone agrees you can’t go wrong with Chinese food, or anywhere in Chinatown, such as the Silver Dragon.

But no matter where you go, remember to bring distractions in the form of crayons and colouring books as many places do not offer these items. For those restos without a kid’s menu, order off the appy list or just a bowl of soup. And if your kid starts screaming, “just eat faster.”