Monthly Archives: March 2013

My family-travel bucket-list

As I write this post we are five days away from a spring break trip to beautiful… Arkansas! I never dreamed I’d be packing our bags for the Natural State for the fourth time in seven years, but that’s what you do when Grammy lives near Hot Springs (Bill Clinton’s boyhood home, FYI).

Besides, the kiddos are excited about visiting the Arkansas Alligator Farm, where they can “pet a real live alligator.” Bennett is especially thrilled we are flying to Easter and is looking forward to all the eggs because when they hatch he’ll have baby bunnies (I know, so cute, right?). Perhaps he recalls how, during our visit three years ago, his second cousin Jackson received a real live bunny from the Easter Bunny on Easter Sunday.

Three years ago this little bunny hopped over for some Easter fun.

Three years ago cousin Jackson’s little bunny hopped over for some Easter fun.

Anyway, Arkansas it is. Before we had kids my husband and I fantasized about all the amazing trips we’d take as a family. We wouldn’t be like those lame-os who go to all-inclusives or opt for the safety of Hawaii or surprise their kids with a trip  to Disneyland. No, we’d be jetting off to Australia to rehabilitate koala bears, schussing in Zermatt and trekking to Everest base camp (evidently, in our travel fantasies we were also rolling around in fat stacks like Scrooge McDuck). Arkansas was definitely not on our family-travel bucket-list.

But the reality is that travel with young kids can be trying, especially when one of them has autism (it’s difficult enough when the kids are both typical). Truthfully, some days I’m amazed we ever leave town. But we do, though our destinations are the very places we used to scoff at: all-inclusives in Mexico, Maui and yes, Arkansas. But hey, at least we are getting out there and seeing new places!

I came across a beautiful Vancouver Sun photo gallery earlier this week: 15 places to see before you die. I scrolled through it and felt that old wanderlust creeping up as images of Petra in Jordan, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and Pammukale hot springs in Turkey filled my iPad screen. A couple days later I read a story on making a parenting bucket list, about one mom’s parenting resolutions to her children. It got me thinking I should make a family-travel bucket-list, filled with trips we could realistically take in the foreseeable future that are bucket-list worthy for our travel style. No, not a trek to Everest base camp, but something adventurous and cool, like sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez.

What adventures await our family of four?

What adventures await our family of four?

Avery went through a similar bucket-list exercise last year but, being six at the time, included things like “Climb a mountain (the highest one)” and “Go to Mexico and dance on a table.” So, in an effort to keep this list somewhat grounded, here goes…

Our Family-Travel Bucket-List:

  1. Raft through the Grand Canyon
  2. Go backcountry camping and swim in an alpine lake
  3. Visit Costa Rica and zipline through the rainforest canopy
  4. Go on a family African safari
  5. Climb a mountain together (not Everest; maybe a Colorado 14-er?)
  6. Sail around the Caribbean
  7. Go on a train journey like the Rocky Mountaineer
  8. Sea kayak in the Sea of Cortez
  9. Ski on a glacier somewhere (Alaska? Heli- or cat-skiing?)
  10. Road trip to Walley World (or, ahem, maybe even Disneyland), stopping in all the beautiful U.S. southwest national parks along the way.

How close are we to actually achieving any of these? Well, we recently returned from a trip to Arizona that saw us hiking in Sedona, exploring underground caverns and horseback riding at a dude ranch. It’s fair to say we’re on our way…

Hiking the Bell Rock trail in Sedona, Ariz. is a baby step toward realizing the travel dreams on our family-travel bucket-list.

Hiking the Bell Rock trail in Sedona, Ariz. is a baby step toward realizing the travel dreams on our family-travel bucket-list.

My kid’s school needs a new playground

For the past 18 months I have been part of a playground committee that is raising money for a new playground at my daughter’s elementary school. It’s a very worthwhile project — no one can deny the importance of a playground or the role it plays in child development — but the process of getting a new one is, frankly, brutal.

Peeling paint adds to our school playground's woes.

Peeling paint adds to our school playground’s woes. This old play structure is scheduled to be removed so we need to raise $$ for a new one!

I wrote about our struggles in a column for the Calgary Herald that went up online on Thursday. It appears in the print edition (Weekend Life section) of Saturday’s paper. You never know what the response to this kind of story will be. Would I come across as a big whiner? Would people be sympathetic to our plight and dig deep to donate thousands of dollars? Or would they tell me to take a reality pill, shelve our extensive (and costly) naturalization and play structure plans, and spend money on soccer balls instead?

Most of the feedback I have received has been supportive. I’ve gotten e-mails from  fellow moms who are on playground committees at other schools (and thus going through the same trials and tribulations) telling me to hang in there. Other readers have been shocked to find out that, 1. New playgrounds are very expensive, and 2. It’s up to parent groups to raise funds to pay for them, as the cost is not government- or school board-funded.

There have also been comments implying that school playgrounds are unnecessary extras. One reader suggested we take out the play structure and buy balls for the kids to chase around. “Way more fun than swinging, climbing, and sliding,” he wrote on the Herald website. “Get them playing pick-up sports.” Another reader wrote: “You want a 270 thousand dollar playground — that’s going to take a lot of effort and a lot of gin. A playground area is nice, it’s not a necessity.”

I like her idea about more gin, but I disagree with her comment that a playground is not a necessity. While organized sports promote teamwork and certainly have their place, a playground is a gathering place where children can engage in creative play that is not directed by adults. As structured activities take over our busy lives, this kind of unstructured play time is crucial to child development but is sorely missing.

Our future play park will have both an interesting play structure, as well as elements such as boulders, logs, trees and stumps  that can be incorporated into imaginative games at recess — and, after school hours, by all the kids in the community. It’s worth noting that naturalized playgrounds like the one we have planned are gaining momentum as educators realize the limitations of lone play structures.

My sincere hope is that we can raise enough money to see our play park become a reality. What do you think? Are we out to lunch or should we keep the dream alive over more G&Ts?

Drink of the Week: Moscow Mule

I know that St. Patrick’s Day is this weekend, but I’m not going to insult you by blogging about some kind of green cocktail or — worse — green beer. Instead I will wow you with a Moscow Mule and, if colour is really a consideration for your Sunday night festivities, I suppose a couple drops of Green No. 3 would do the trick.

Last weekend my husband and I and another couple attended Crowbar, a pop-up cocktail lounge. Crowbar is the brainchild of local foodie Wade Sirois, of Forage and Infuse Catering; every couple months he organizes an evening of craft and classic cocktails, plus some appetizers and small plates, in a different location. The pop-up lounge is a spin-off of the pop-up trend that has seen everything from restaurants to ice skating rinks appear overnight in surprising venues in cities around North America and abroad.

Blake and I attended our first Crowbar at the Art Gallery of Calgary last spring. I wrote about it for the Calgary Herald. Photo by Christina Ryan.

Blake and I attended our first Crowbar at the Art Gallery of Calgary last spring. I wrote about it for the Calgary Herald. Photo by Christina Ryan.

This Crowbar took place inside Calgary’s National Music Centre and so, fittingly, featured live jazz by Johnny Summers. We had a great night listening to music and sampling diverse drinks. The men loved Remember the Maine, a barrel-aged cocktail not unlike a Manhattan, made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry mariner and absinthe. The Planter’s Punch was delish; the exotic Pegu Club Cocktail (gin, Cointreau, lime juice, bitters) was too, but if I’m drinking cocktails all night, give me a Moscow Mule. Its mix of vodka, ginger beer and lime is refreshing, balanced and not too boozy. Happy St. Parick’s Day!

While I liked most of the drinks on the menu, the Moscow Mule is one you could drink all night (an important consideration for St. Pattie's Day).

I liked most of the drinks on the menu, but the Moscow Mule is one I could drink all night (an important consideration for St. Pattie’s Day).

Moscow Mule

  • 2 oz Square One vodka
  • Lime wedge (1/8 of lime)
  • Top with Fentiman’s ginger beer

Pour vodka over ice in a copper mug. Squeeze lime wedge in and drop the wedge into the mug. Top with ginger beer. Replica mugs available from The Crafty Bartender out of Toronto.

— Recipe courtesy Wade Sirois