The Mother of Adventure

Cloud Hopping

Race logoBy Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger

In June of this year I made a life changing decision without even knowing it. I signed up for my first 5K race.

I can’t tell you what series of events fell into place to make me decide that “This year is the year!” or what ultimately prompted me to take on this challenge. I simply saw the advertisement for the local “Rattle Me Bones” race that was to take place on October 27th and eagerly created my profile online, set up my sponsor page and paid my $45 race fee. I’m 36 by the way, and the last time I “ran” further than the length of a supermarket parking lot was when I was in high school.

I admit I used to be one of those people that drove by those hard-core runners – out after 9 p.m., braving the wind, rain and sub-zero temperatures – and exclaim: “Why would anyone want to do that? It’s practically snowing!”

However, at about the three-week mark of my training program, it clicked. Running may be a solo sport but oddly enough, it’s one that can be shared with countless other runners who understand exactly how you feel about running. From the very moment you lace up your runners and your feet hit the pavement, you are immediately and whole-heartedly welcomed into the “Runner’s Club,” for lack of a better term. And you’re a member for life.

Even now, in early November, I love being outside, enjoying the fresh air, listening to my own music for once (no kiddie tunes or sports radio stations!) or just hearing the sounds going on around me. Improving my pace is still always goal, but not something I obsess about. When you’re running, the only person you’re trying beat is yourself, and the time you’re trying to improve upon is your own.

But one of the best things about running is it’s something you can do by yourself!  There’s not much I can do by myself in a house with two young children and my husband. With running, however, I can make time to go for a half-hour to 45-minute run after the evening clean-up and bedtime routines are finished. It’s blissful alone time that I anticipate long before the moment I gear up to go outside.

Training for a 5K was also not as terrifying as I thought it would be. I read countless articles and perused numerous websites to figure out what type of training I should – and could! – do, what brand of shoes would be best for my feet and the most appropriate apparel to wear. All I needed was an open mind and a positive attitude.

Oh, and yes, those comfortable, first pair of running shoes were also extremely important as well! The Running Room is an amazing place to ask those “newbie” running questions and they provide a personalized shoe-fitting session where they take the time to check your gait and suggest the shoes that are best suited to support your feet and meet your training needs. I love my Brooks Glycerin 11s; true to their description, I feel like I’m running on a cloud.

Now if someone had compared the act of running to “cloud-hopping” prior to June I honestly don’t know how I would have responded. Most likely, I would have scowled. How could those two things possibly go together?

The Rattle Me Bones race was an amazing experience for my very first 5K run. Not only did my family and friends support me in my endeavor, they also helped me fundraise over $450 for Bone Cancer Research. I also exceeded my expectations; I ran 5K continuously while being chased by zombies!  The Ottawa Hospital’s first 5K Zombie race certainly lived up to its name.  It was a challenging off-road course teeming with zombies – some walking, some sprinting – that wanted to snatch our flags.

It was a very memorable morning.  The cherry on top was that I finally had the chance to run with my husband, Dennis.  Dennis and I very rarely have a chance to run together because we stagger our running times. As much as we’d like to take off together for a quick 30-minute run after the kids are asleep, running together is just not something we can do very often until they’re older.

Zombie 5K 2013I’m on month five of my running journey and if I had the foresight to keep a journal, I’m pretty sure the first dozen entries would have focussed on the negatives. I vaguely remember pain… everywhere! But for the most part it was localized to my thighs. I also remember how hard it was to run continuously for that first 2K. The distance hurdle was difficult to overcome as it does take time to build up that stamina and endurance. Thank goodness for indoor exercise equipment to help with the cardio those first few months!

I think one of the most enjoyable things to have come out of my new-found love of running is that my children notice a difference in their Mom. I’m less tired and irritable and I have more energy than I did back in the spring. I’m motivated to try to new things and that motivation translates into my children wanting to try new things. Ryan has already asked if he can start running with me when he’s a bit older. I think that would be pretty awesome.

I may have picked up the running ‘bug’ later in life, but better late than never! I hope it’s something I can keep doing for many more years to come.

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Strawberry Fields Forever

By Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger

Erin & ClaireSummer and strawberries go hand in hand. And when picking strawberries, you’ll often find me putting more in my mouth than in my basket, but I’m not going to apologize for this gluttony. If I’m going to spend the morning out in the fields with the sun on my back and my bum on the ground, I think I deserve a second (or third!) helping of that summer goodness while it lasts!

Ontario is jam packed (pun intended!) with pick-your-own strawberry farms. The Ontario Berry Growers Association has some great information on their site which provides berry lovers with helpful information about all of the farm fresh berries offered over the summer months and up until October.

Surprisingly, many Ottawa suburbs have a variety of local fields for your strawberry-picking pleasure. I had no idea that my little Barrhaven burrow, and surrounding areas, was home to at least four of these hidden gems.

Shouldice Farms has three separate fields – one on Woodroffe Avenue, one on Merivale Road, and the third is smack dab in the middle of Bells Corners on Richmond Road.

The Richmond Nursery Strawberry Farm is always a field favourite. Had it been open when we were planning our strawberry-picking adventure, it would have been my first choice as it has a few little extras for young children like a bunny hutch, duck pond, picnic tables and a swing set in the shade.

I recently took my daughter, Claire, on her first strawberry picking experience and was she ever thrilled. While I’ll admit she didn’t consume the same number of juicy berries that I did, she showed me every single one she picked. She was very concerned about the size, colour and shape of her berries for only the biggest and best berries could go into our homemade strawberry jam! She picked many white berries, or teeny-tiny green berries with flowering stems attached, but it is all just part of the wonderful process.

Once I told her she could sample some of her bounty, the floodgates opened. I didn’t think a 30-pound three-year-old could consume so many berries in one sitting, but she proved me wrong!  And when I told her that we were going to make freezer strawberry jam with our 8 litres of berries, she giggled with delight at the prospect of being Mommy’s Little Helper.

Claire at stoveOnce we were home, Claire did a great job washing the berries after the stems were removed, and she was VERY eager to mash them to a pulp with a heavy duty potato masher. I have to admit, that was my favourite part of our jam-making experience as well!

She was cautious with measuring out the sugar, but insisted she do it all herself. I was pretty proud of my little girl!

Not to miss out on any pectin action, she very carefully stirred the thickening agent with Mommy overseeing the process, of course. We then combined everything in the mixing bowl, poured the jam into 12 mason jars, and let the jars sit on the counter for 24 hours.

The next day, after the pectin had set, we placed all of our jam jars into the freezer. I wanted to wait at least another 24 hours before we did our taste test. Claire was not so happy about having to follow this one rule, but I think she realized it was worth it in the end once that first jar had thawed and came out of the fridge.

Finished produceThat following Monday morning, with the first bite into her peanut butter and jam toast, Claire became a strawberry jam-a-holic for life. She has refused any and all other breakfast options. Even though we are now on Day 9 of our early morning toast ritual, she still tells me how much she loves her jam.

It’s these simple moments together with my girl that make me so happy to be a Mom.

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Lunch Box Wars

By Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger

SandwichI’m in that moment again this morning. You know the one I’m talking about – that tiny little window between your first coffee and the breakfast clean-up – and before piling the kids in the car for school and daycare. It’s time to pack ‘The Lunch Box’.

In my household, ‘lunch box’ has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s not an inanimate object or simply a fabric sack that gets lovingly filled every morning with items from every major food group. It used to be, but not anymore. Oh no… the lunch box has become a living thing, and my mortal enemy. It’s something I curse and loathe and wish I never had to look at again.

It’s bad enough that my 3-year-old daughter eats like a bird, and doesn’t venture far from her sparse menu of bread and pasta (read: carbs), strawberries, yogurt, cooked carrots, peanut butter, bananas, crackers and cheese, but recently I have also had to contend with my son – usually a ravenous youngster – who is now, surprisingly, refusing to eat his lunch at school.

The last few months it’s all I can do to not lose it at the sight of a barely-eaten lunch when my six year old comes home from daycare. Most lunches I pack for him come home with a few bites out of some of the items, and if I’m lucky, the “main course” such as soup or a sandwich is partially consumed. But apart from that, the remainder of his meal is untouched.

Is it any wonder he’s starving when he walks in the door, complaining about needing a snack?!

Ryan, for the most part, will eat his breakfast and dinner portions like a champ and practically lick the plate. And on weekends, lunch at home follows the same pattern. Lunches at school are the culprit with my little man; I am at a loss as to how to encourage better eating habits at school. My one silver lining is that school is almost over and our lovely and patient daycare provider, Donna, will have to tackle that Mount Everest over the upcoming summer months.

It’s not like I’ve thrown my hands in the air and given up completely. No, sir! I’ve tried multiple approaches and tactics to encourage his school-day food intake, such as:

* Asking him for the exact food items he would like in his lunch

* Providing a reward chart that promises special little treats when he gets home if he only leaves one item uneaten

* Asking him to make his own lunch so that he can appreciate the amount of time it takes to make one

* Sending smaller amounts of each particular food

* Cutting down the number of items in his lunch

Seeing as none of these things have worked or changed his lunch eating behaviours, I am now at a loss at how to best deal with this lunch box situation.

Ryan has thwarted all of my strategies and has now made life that much more entertaining at daycare pick up time. When I arrive at Donna’s door he immediately  announces what he didn’t eat in his lunch today (usually two or three things are remaining). But, can he still have that special piece of gum when he gets home?

Lunch boxEvery day when I ask him why he didn’t eat his lunch it’s a different story. He didn’t have time. He tried really hard but it was too difficult. The bell rang. A little boy talked to him the entire time. He forgot. He drank his water and ate some cucumber, that’s good, right?

What’s a Mom to do?

I’m hoping that over the summer, Ryan will develop some better eating habits at daycare (Donna is already on board, thank goodness!) and hopefully whatever has kept him from eating his lunch box feast is just a phase and something that won’t be repeated again.

Maybe a new lunch box – with special little compartments and cool little stacking bins – will win him over. Or, maybe a new set of classmates that don’t chat him up at every nutrition break will break the trend.

Because come September, little lunch box, if we end up in this little predicament again, I intend to win.

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New bike blues

By Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger

Bike photoIt’s times like these when I wish I could remember what it was like to be three years old.

I do remember getting my first new bike, though. I wasn’t three however, and all the bikes before it were hand-me-downs from my two older brothers. So getting my first ‘girly-girl’ pink bike frame – complete with white banana seat, wicker handlebar basket and pink and white tassels – was a very memorable moment of my childhood.

Let’s fast-forward to 2013. Claire, my three-year-old daughter, just received her first new bike. And at first sight, she exhibited all the joy and exuberance I did many years ago. I even had that glorious flashback of me and my bike and all the fun I had riding around the neighbourhood with my friends.

Claire gingerly touched the seat, and somehow at the same time squealed in jubilation at the sight of – you guessed it – the beautiful white tassels. She was in love with her Canadian Tire Pixie Dust bike.

Seeing her so excited at the prospect of getting on that bike blinded me to what was to come; of what was inevitable to occur.

Claire waited patiently while I adjusted her helmet so that it fit her snugly and securely. She let me help her on to her bike while phrases of “Oh Mommy, I love it!” and “It’s so beautiful!” escape her lips in anticipation of her first experience riding a big girl bike.

Once she’s in the sitting position with both feet firmly and squarely on the pedals, I give her a little push and urge her forward with words of encouragement. “That’s it, sweetie! Push down with your feet! Push forward a little more – that’s it – you’re doing it!”

And then her squeals of laughter turn to tears of despair. I blinked. What is this? Why is she crying?

I run up to where she has stopped in the middle of the road, in the throes of a complete meltdown.

I ask her what’s wrong and she throws her head back in despair, “I CAN’T DO IT, Momma!”

I shake my head, still confused at her reaction. She had been pedaling all on her own, she had made it about 10 feet down the street, and her training wheels were keeping her fairly balanced. Why was she so upset?

Again she wails, “I CAN’T DO IT, MOMMA!” Sobs rack her little body and she starts shaking.

I bend down and give her a big hug and tell her that she’s doing a great job. I tell her that we’ll turn around and try it one more time, going back towards the house.

Pixie DustShe asks me for her Barbie three-wheeler. That little noisy, pink-and-purple plastic attempt at a tricycle that she used last year and was buried somewhere in the back of the garage. No way. It was Pixie Dust’s time to shine!

I tell her, “No, let’s give it one more try.”

Yes, I know. I pushed it. My excitement for her got the better of me.

I encourage her again to push down with her feet on the pedals. Her little Dora shoe slips off  and she begins another round of sobs.

The Pixie Dust bike has now lost its lustre. Tassels and banana seat be damned. She tells me she doesn’t like it and gets off the bike in tears.

I later realized that what would have helped her over that initial hump of frustration was me pushing her for a longer period of time. That’s all she needed. She couldn’t tell me that, of course, but we did figure out that important piece of information the next day when we gave it a try after a good night’s sleep.

I learned an important lesson this weekend. My excitement for my daughter got the best of me. I was holding on to my experience and not focusing on helping her adjust to hers.

But even as I write this I can see the two of us riding happily into the sunset on a hot July evening. Sigh. She’s only three, Erin. There’s lots of time to get the Pixie Dust Express broken in!

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The Gardner’s Great Escape

Mickey video

By Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger

Our family took a much needed mini-vacation right before Christmas this past year. We were spending too much time in closed quarters, listening to far too many Christmas carols and if I had to watch Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas one more time, I was going to lose it.

So, in preparation for this little getaway, I made sure all the Christmas shopping was finished and every present was wrapped. This way there would be no last minute rushing around when we returned.

We packed up the car with colouring books and crayons, favourite toys, and as many electronic gadgets as we could to keep our kids happy and entertained. And let’s be honest, to keep Mommy and Daddy’s sanity intact! We even made sure they each had their own set of headphones so Claire could watch her Tinker Bell movie on the tablet, Ryan could play his Nintendo 3DS and Dennis and I could actually talk to each other and listen to our own music for the drive.

The last trip we had made as a family of four was in February 2011, when we went to Kissimmee, Florida with my parents. Disneyworld is the quintessential choice for a kid-friendly vacation; it’s our destination of choice when time and money permits. But if you’re interested in a less expensive, water-filled fun adventure that’s much closer to home, The Great Escape Lodge is a place you should definitely visit.

So, once we left Ottawa and merged on to Highway 416 and headed south to Ogdensburg, we were in full vacation mode. We had a planned stop at McDonald’s for an early lunch once we crossed the Canada-US border. (Boy, did that get Mom and Dad some bonus points!) From that point on, our drive was a pretty beautiful one. The GPS took us on a lovely drive through snow-covered trees and hills in the Adirondacks and there were barely any other cars on the road. We passed through the quaint little towns of Colton, Tupper Lake, Long Lake and Warrensburg. And as we merged on to the large I87 highway, we were only a twenty minute drive away from our final destination.

The Great Escape Lodge is actually located inside the Six Flags Amusement Park resort in Lake George, New York. In the summer, it will be teeming with families taking advantage of the roller coasters and rides. Of course in the winter, the amusement park is closed, but the reason for going to this particular location had nothing to do with what was going on in the Six Flags outdoor park. It was all about what was waiting for us inside the lodge.

Lobby viewPulling in to the driveway of the lodge was an experience in itself: the outside of the lodge featured a larger than life Santa, sleigh and reindeer and lots of Christmas lights. And inside was more of the same. The atrium boasted a huge, fully decorated Christmas tree, and we later found out that in the evenings kids could sign up for special reading time with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The lodge also has a Kids Club where kids can make crafts; some at an additional cost. Ryan and Claire both enjoyed colouring their very own Great Escape Lodge souvenir t-shirt! My kids were squealing with excitement and trying to take it all in. But they hadn’t even seen the piece de resistance: the 38,000 square foot indoor waterpark! And believe me, this waterpark caters to children (and adults!) of all ages.

The Tall Timbers Tree House is a multi-story structure that has over 160 interactive water features and three twisting body slides suitable for children 40” and over. Claire, my fearless three year old, put on her life jacket, marched up to the top of the tree house, picked the biggest slide and jumped on without hesitation, screaming with glee until she splashed into the warm water pool at the bottom. The Lodge keeps the water heated to a comfortable 84 degrees – bonus!

Ryan preferred to start his adventure in the Tak-It-Eesi-Creek lazy river. With Daddy in tow, Ryan chose an inflatable two-person tube and once settled, the current carried them around the perimeter of the water park amid mini waterfalls and fountain sprays.

The four of us tackled Avalanche which proved to make my stomach queasy, but was an instant favourite for everyone else. Avalanche is a twisting, turning raft ride for up to four people (in the dark!) and is meant to simulate a white-water rafting experience, complete with a pretty shocking 41-foot drop at the end. And again, my two young children showed no fear – they loved it!

My brave boy, Ryan, who was barely six when we went to the lodge, was the only Gardner to attempt the Boogie Bear Surf ride. I’m sure Claire would have loved to have jumped on a surf board and experience “the wave” but unfortunately she was a few inches too short. Ryan on the other hand, was able to stand up on the board on his second attempt – even if it was for only an instant. Those waves were pretty intense!

The Gardner boys spent several hours having fun going down the 290-foot water slides in their personal inner tube. Glacier Run and Snow Shoe Falls were a little too big for Claire so she and I stuck to Tall Timbers, which was Claire’s – and Mommy’s! – favourite spot to hang out anyways.

The waterpark also caters to families with infants in tow. Tip-A-Kanu-Beach is a shallow beach-inspired pool area that has pint-sized waterslides, a baby swing and surprise fountains.

The lodge has several dining options, but I recommend eating at one of the many family friendly Lake George area restaurants such as Applebee’s or Olive Garden. The prices of the food were decent, there was more variety for children, and the overall quality of the food was great. If you stay in a room that has a kitchenette like we did, then you already have breakfast and lunch covered. The room comes with a fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. Dining in the suite will save time and money when all you want to do is jump into your bathing suit and head for the slides! Lake George has several grocery stores and a Wal-Mart so you can stock up on food and drink items to keep in your room.

An extended stay at a waterpark resort might not be for everyone. And if it isn’t, there are other area attractions that may peak your interest:

  • The Adirondack Mountains: The beauty of the Adirondacks simply can’t be missed. And what better way to see them then by boat? We went during the off season so unfortunately we couldn’t experience this unique boat tour. The Lake George Steamboat Company  offers a variety of cruises – one of them being an authentic Paddlewheeler! When we go back during the warmer months (because we will definitely be going back!) we will be adding this excursion to our itinerary.
  • Outlet shopping: If shopping is more your thing, less than a kilometre down the road from the lodge lies an extensive selection of outlet shops that include such name brands as: Gap, Coach, Gymboree, Banana Republic, Rockport and J.Crew.
  • Kid-friendly museum: In nearby Glen Falls, The World Awareness Children’s Museum allows children to explore different cultures using hands-on exhibits such as the Nigerian Marketplace and Japanese Washitsu.

We spent three nights at the lodge, in an impressive Three Queen Suite (with a separate bedroom for the kids!) and we contemplated extending it for a fourth.  The kids absolutely loved it, and still ask to go back.  And with it being only a four-hour drive from Ottawa, I know we will be planning a second visit in the very near future.  A vacation that the entire family can enjoy is a rare thing.  Dennis and I enjoyed it as much as the kids did!

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To Everything There is a Season

Erin's daughter, Claire, is fearless on the Ottawa sledding hills.

Erin’s daughter, Claire, is fearless on the big sledding hills.

By Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger

I don’t hate winter. Perhaps this is not a shocking statement in and of itself, but truly, I am one of those people that actually embrace the four seasons.

I enjoy spring for its fresh, sweet air, the new buds on the trees and the colourful April flowers poking through the earth. I adore summer for the trips to the cottage, extended time with my husband, son and daughter at the neighborhood parks, and the abundance of BBQs and pool time fun we have on the weekends. Fall is a fleeting but magical season full of exceptional beauty. As a family, we enjoy walking the many nearby hiking trails, take an annual trip to the apple orchard, enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with family and of course, I’m a huge fan of Halloween. A pumpkin patch visit and jack-o-lantern carvings are some of my favourite fall activities. And yes. I even love winter.

Winter takes a lot of abuse. I used to resent the cold, harshness of this season as well. As a parent, we try to expose our children to lots of different experiences and activities. And by doing this, I became a huge fan of winter.

In Ottawa, winter is the season of Winterlude and skating on the Rideau Canal; the time of snowman making and downhill skiing; it’s also the time for Sugar Bushes and sledding.

The Gardner family embraced the Ottawa winter with a full range of outdoor activities.

The Gardner family embraced the Ottawa winter with a full range of outdoor activities.

Winterlude and the Rideau Canal draw thousands of tourists each year. At 7.8 km long, it becomes the world’s largest skating rink. Throughout the month of March and first week of April, The Log Farm on Cedarview Road, which is accessible off of Highway 416, offers an all day breakfast buffet, maple taffy on a stick and a historic walk through the Bradley Lodge and Farm. Further down Cedarview Road lies Bruce Pit. It boasts a very large sledding hill and is unique to Ottawa in that it is the largest dog park where owners can have their dogs off the leash amid wonderful National Capital Commission nature trails.

As we near the month of April, I look back and I think that my family enjoyed many activities together as a family this winter. It makes me proud to see my 3-year-old daughter Claire bombing down that extra large sledding hill at Bruce Pit. It warms my heart to see my husband, Dennis, and our 6-year-old son spend Sunday mornings at the Vorlage ski hill in Wakefield. And although we will be tipping our hat to Jack Frost and saying farewell to the snow over the next few weeks, I’m so happy to know that the Gardners had one of the best winter seasons yet.

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