The Mother of Adventure

Tay River AQUA + spa pass giveaway!

Getting pamperedThe cashier at the shoe store peered at me curiously as she rang in the sale of my flip-flops. “Are you going somewhere warm where you’ll be able to wear these soon?” she asked. “No…I wish!” I laughingly replied. “But I’ll be doing the next best thing – spending a day at the spa.”

And it truly was – a trip to Tay River AQUA was just what I needed on a sunny-but-crisp Saturday at the end of March, after enduring a long, intensely cold winter in Ottawa. While a Caribbean beach would have been nice, the Nordic-style spa – located in quaint, small-town Perth, Ontario – is much more accessible!

Located under an hour away from home, it was the perfect day’s escape for my friend Marianne and I. Breakfast spreadAs invited guests of the spa’s new aquatic facilities, our day began with a mouthwatering spread of breakfast goodies – homemade muffins, fresh croissants, fresh fruit and coffee. Food is such an important element of pampering, and Tay River’s dining lounge certainly didn’t disappoint. It felt so indulgent to lounge on leather couches, nibbling little quiches and enjoying coffee talk with my girlfriend – sans enfants!

Soon afterwards, we were treated to skin consultations with Dr. Manuela Joannou at the adjoining Tay River Reflections Medical Spa. As founder and Medical Director, it  quickly became clear to me that Dr. Joannou was a wealth of knowledge and experience, and very passionate about helping others to achieve their optimum health and well-being. During our session, Dr. Joannou gave me her full attention as she addressed my personal skin care concerns – and I loved that she never made me feel pressured to buy any products or services. I learned that the medical spa was the first service offered at Tay River when it first opened in 1999; the facility has since expanded exponentially to include AQUA and Train & Transform, a full-service fitness centre. TayReflections_0183

Following our skin consults, Marianne and I wandered over to check out the fitness centre, an impressively large facility that offers an indoor track, cardio machines, weights and a beautiful, sun-lit yoga studio upstairs. We decided that we should expend a little energy before heading back to the dining lounge for lunch – so we enjoyed a leisurely workout in the gym. One-day visitors to the spa can enjoy access to the fitness centre, while the locals in Perth can opt for ongoing classes – including weight training, spin and pilates – or even connect with a personal trainer for one-on-one support. Hot tubs

After our workout and a late lunch, Marianne and I were more than ready to hit the hot tubs. Tay River’s brand-new AQUA facilities include two large, outdoor hot tubs (they each hold 25 people!), a red cedar dry sauna and three relaxation gazebos. A series of comfy Adirondack chairs – clustered around an outdoor fireplace – provide an additional area for lounging with a book or a glass of wine.

Between both of us working full time, parenting young kids and juggling family commitments, it’s rare that Marianne and I have the chance to truly connect. That made our casual conversation amidst the rising steam of the hot tubs that much more precious, and our time together really flew by.

As our day was wrapping up, the staff approached us and asked if we’d like to sample one last service back at the medical spa. Not about to turn down the offer of one last pampering session, we readily agreed. Marianne opted for a mini-massage, while I got to try out reflexology for the very first time. I absolutely loved my session; with my tired feet in the skilled hands of the reflexologist, I was so relaxed that I just about lost consciousness! It was the perfect, indulgent end to a bliss-filled day.

Are you a harried parent in dire need of some time away – with your spouse or with a friend? Tay River and I want to give it to you! Simply comment on this post to have your name added to a draw for TWO FULL-DAY PASSES TO TAY RIVER AQUA! (A winner will be announced on Friday, April 24, 2015.)

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A Mini Family Vacay (Toronto, ON)

Ian and the kids pile on the hotel bed.

With our summer adventures in the rearview mirror, it had been a while since our little family took a break from day-to-day life in Ottawa. So naturally, our girls were thrilled when their dad announced we had enough Marriott hotel points for a free stay at a Toronto hotel (the silver lining to his frequent work trips). Enter the mini vacay…the perfect antidote to the November doldrums.

While making our plans, we debated whether to book our stay at a downtown hotel or at a suburban location. With limited time during a two-day weekend – which also included visiting some relatives in suburban Toronto – we figured we wouldn’t get the chance to see too many downtown sites this time around. That meant that our biggest requirement was a pool for the kids to enjoy – as well as proximity to some family-friendly restaurants. So we opted to stay at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Vaughan.

After making the four-hour drive from Ottawa, we checked in to the hotel and continued a small family tradition: letting the kids take off their shoes and jump up and down on the bed. The novelty of hotel stays has not yet worn off for our girls, so this is their way of kicking off the party. As a parent, I’m thrilled to let them do it, as I relish in the fact that I won’t be the one making that bed all weekend!

Our youngest daughter samples the chocolate milkshake at Dave & Buster’s.

While it didn’t exactly offer a spectacular view – we overlooked the parking lots of IKEA and Dave & Buster’s Restaurant – the hotel totally delivered for us. The front desk staff were friendly, the room was spacious and immaculate, and the pool was a great temperature for the kids to swim. Soon after checking in, we went for a family swim and subsequent hot tub soak. After working up an appetite, we started looking for supper options.

Sticking with the suburban theme of big-box convenience, we decided to try out Dave & Buster’s, which was a short walk from the hotel. While my husband was familiar with the U.S.-based restaurant/entertainment chain, I had never heard of it and was a bit curious to check it out.

My initial impression of Dave & Buster’s was that the place is absolutely cavernous (remember, the theme of all things Americana is “the bigger the better!”). This was probably heightened by the fact that we were four of about 25 people in the entire place, which felt more than a little strange. Nevertheless, we sat down at a booth in the vast dining room and perused the menu for supper. From the family perspective, I have to give them credit – they have a pretty extensive kids’ menu that pleased our girls; the highlight of the night being their thick, frosty milkshakes.

Based on her driving skills at the arcade, it’s a good thing we’ve got a few years before our oldest gets her license.

After we finished eating, we walked down the hall from the dining room to the games room – which was essentially a massive arcade. We bought a swipe card for $20 worth of games, then strolled around till we found games we wanted to try. Our five-year-old loved the Ice Age ‘Ice Breaker’ game (which was basically a modified version of Whack-a-Mole), while our eight-year-old tried out an interactive motorcycle racing game. But the best memory of the evening may have been our whole family going head-to-head at good, old-fashioned Skee ball. Things started off a bit shaky for the kids – who had never played before – balls were flying up in the air and landing in totally different lanes. But after an introductory lesson from Dad, the girls improved immensely; especially Elissa, who was thrilled to see her score increase with each round.

As we left the arcade, we noticed a huge line of people waiting to buy passes, and groups of people streamed in as we walked out the front doors. So it would seem that Dave & Buster’s is a pretty popular spot after all; as a mom to young kids, I sometimes forget that most people don’t choose to call it a night at 9 p.m.

After a full day of driving, swimming and arcade fun, we were all grateful for our comfy beds. The girls shared the pull-out couch, while Ian and I felt downright posh sleeping on a king-sized bed with a pillow-topped mattress. After all, sometimes the simplest indulgences are the best – made sweeter by the fact that you can share them with the ones you love the most.

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A Staycation in Ottawa

By Stefania Moffatt, Contributing Blogger

On a brisk Saturday morning in May, the Moffatt clan packed their car in a suburb of Ottawa and made their way to downtown Ottawa for an exciting staycation at one of the local hotels, the Ottawa Marriott Hotel. Although we weren’t too far from home, we wanted to have a relaxing and fun time, so we chose a local hotel with a pool and two playrooms catering to kids. The hotel was also within walking distance from many of the attractions in our nation’s capital.

A view of the Museum of Civilization (located on the Quebec side) from downtown Ottawa.

On that cool Saturday morning, we dropped our bags off in our room after check-in, grabbed our sweatshirts and headed out to stroll along Sparks Street Mall, which claims to be North America’s Original Pedestrian Mall. We slowly made our way to Paul’s Boat Lines to enjoy an Ottawa River Cruise.

So often we live in a city and don’t take the time to explore. The cruise was a relaxing way to learn about Ottawa’s local history. We also caught a glimpse of some beautiful historical landmarks in the area.

Of course, there is a snack bar on the boat and the children gobbled down chips and chocolate bars while we enjoyed the sights.

Our next destination after the cruise and was a leisurely stroll through the Byward Market as we made our way to Zak’s Diner. Service at the diner was a tad slow for the Saturday lunchtime crowd, but enjoyable nonetheless as a place to eat with family in downtown Ottawa.

Relaxing on the lawns of Parliament Hill.

With full bellies and the weather growing increasingly hot and sticky, we made our way to Parliament Hill.

When we arrived on Parliament Hill we felt like wilted flowers and needed to lie on the plush grass and rest. This was a good opportunity to people watch and appreciate the beauty of the Parliament buildings.

Once we had re-energized we were ready to tour the Peace Tower. A tour of the Peace Tower is free of charge. Once you arrive, go to the Visitor Welcome Centre at the base of the Peace Tower. All visitors go through security and line-ups are to be expected. We visited on a very hot day in May; we waited in line for about 20 minutes. Fortunately the wait was inside, but it was still hot.

Taking a breather in front of the Peace Tower.

Once our tour of downtown Ottawa was complete we made our way to the hotel playrooms, dinner and then we checked out the pool. The next morning we had a delicious breakfast at Cora’s, which the girls thought was the best place EVER!

I recommend everyone check out what their city has to offer. Taking a day to play tourist and enjoy a staycation in your hometown is fun.

(Sidenote: A night-time activity, which we enjoyed one night during the summer is Mosaika. It’s a beautiful light show on Parliament Hill.)

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Call of the river

Captain Laura and her tiny protégé at the wheel.

Floating on the St Lawrence River on a gorgeous July afternoon, time seems to stand still. A few ducks swim leisurely by the boat, which is anchored in a beautiful little inlet. The low, uneven shoreline is a bit rocky, but the smooth stones just under the water’s surface make for the perfect sitting place as I survey the kids splashing and playing nearby.

The boating culture of Ganonoque, ON has a distinctive flavour to it and although this is my first time here, I feel confident it’s something I could get used to pretty quickly. Our family was introduced to the quaint little town – just over an hour south-west of Ottawa – last weekend, courtesy of our generous friends Laura and Chris.

Having grown up there, Laura’s role as ‘Captain’ comes very naturally to her; she has been driving boats under the watchful eye of her father since childhood and independently since the age of 16. Even with her newborn son in a sling on her chest, she handles the wheel with a confident ease. Her husband, Chris, graciously adopts the role of second-in-command while on board. With the mid-morning sun overhead, he greets our two young daughters with a friendly but firm reminder of the ‘boat rules’:

  1. Laura is the Captain of the boat. Listen to her.
  2. Wear your life jacket at all times
  3. Have fun!

A view of the Gananoque Municipal Marina as we head out on to the water.

Simple rules; fitting for the simple but beautiful way of life that they govern. Laura speaks warmly of the fellow boaters they encounter, both at the Gananoque Municipal Marina and out on the water. As if to prove her point, shortly after she tells us about the highly-social atmosphere some family friends motor up to their boat. Sitting in a small dinghy, they have zipped across the water from their own anchored vessel to say a friendly hello. It strikes me that recreational boating is not unlike camping, where family and friends wander in and out of each other’s camp sites, sharing BBQ supplies, sunscreen and beer.

The little girls – there are four of them between the two families – spend the afternoon in and out of the water. Though it’s cold enough to generate a short-lived shock factor upon jumping in, the water is the perfect antidote as the mercury continues to climb. Before we know it, the supper hour is fast approaching and it’s time to head back to the marina.

The girls check out the boats docked at the Gananoque Municipal Marina.

A short ride later, Laura and Chris work in tandem to smoothly dock the boat. The small, boat-mounted barbeque is lit and soon the smell of steak, chicken and pork skewers fills the air. Some homemade potato salad and a bottle of red wine magically appear on deck and voilà – dinner is served.

Contentedly full and happily tired from a full day of sun and swimming, the girls doze on the drive back to Ottawa. Their little sea legs have now been initiated, and dreams begin to roll over them like gentle waves.

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