A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The maple leaf for making memories

You might expect me to have the maple leaf charm because I'm Canadian, or to represent Canada Day which is celebrated in July. But on my bracelet this charm has a special meaning for a special family tradition, in the not-so-special month of March.

March always seems like a very long month, especially in our neck of the woods, where winter typically starts in November and is still going strong in March. While my Facebook friends from around the world were posting beautiful photos of daffodils and cherry blossoms, it was not so beautiful here where the remaining piles of snow were just brown and dirty. In March things here are usually frozen and we inevitably get snow. It is one of the hardest months for me, when it feels like winter will never let up. In a previous post I shared one of my strategies for beating the winter blues. Another thing that helps is looking forward to our annual family vacation during the last week of March - and a tradition that is unique to this part of Canada.

Welcome to the Calabogie Lodge Resort
When we were in our twenties my husband Mike and I bought a timeshare for a week at the end of March at the Calabogie Lodge Resort just west of Ottawa. At the time we envisioned exchanging our timeshare week for other destinations and travelling the world. Now we just travel an hour down the highway and check in at the lodge for a family retreat. It's a week full of activities, movies, games, and lots and lots of laughter.

We first brought our kids to Calabogie when they were just four months old. The kids slept in playpens and my mom slept on the pull-out couch. The kids eventually graduated to the pull-out couch, while Mike and I slept in the bedroom upstairs.

Mike didn't always stay the whole week. Some years he went back to work and stayed in Ottawa. Other years he just drove into the city for his Monday night basketball game. But the kids and I kept ourselves busy. We baked and we did crafts and even science experiments.

We spent lots of time outdoors. When there was snow we went snowshoeing or skiing. We took long walks through the town, exploring along the side of the river, and hiking through the woods.

Spring essentials in Canada:
waterproof splash pants and fleece-lined raincoats
One year Mitchell found a big rock buried on the sandy beach. He spent days patiently digging it out of the sand. He wanted to bring it home but it was too heavy for him to lift so he called Daddy and asked him to bring a hammer and nails from home. He built a box out of firewood, and attached a rope so he could drag it back to our unit.

We swam every day - sometimes twice a day - and played lots of water games. It was always amazing to see how much the kids' swimming improved when they swam every day for a week.

Some years Easter would fall in the last week of March. The kids would have to follow the clues to find a few small gifts left by the Easter bunny. And there would be Cadbury mini chocolate Easter eggs everywhere in our unit - hidden in the most unusual locations. Taylor enjoyed the Easter egg hunt so much that she would ask to have the egg hunt at Calabogie, even if it wasn't Easter. Even though our twins are 15 now, they still love an egg hunt.

our unit is right along the water's edge
When we arrived this year, we were surprised to discover that the spiral staircase in our unit had been replaced (see photos below). The spiral staircase had provided hours of entertainment over the years. When the kids were babies we hung the Jolly Jumper from the stairs. As they got older they would use couch cushions and blankets to build forts under the stairs. Taylor even liked to sit on them to eat her lunch or snacks.

When I asked Mitchell what were his favourite things about our annual vacation at Calabogie, he first mentioned swimming. The second thing was getting to watch the Family Channel. We did not have cable when the kids were younger and they weren't allowed to watch TV during the school week, so watching TV was a special treat for them. We also didn't have video games at home so Mitchell was pretty excited when they installed one in the Games Room at the lodge. In the last few years much of our time has been spent playing in the Games Room with foozball, air hockey and ping pong. And last year Mike taught us all how to play pool.

Taylor victorious on the foozball table
Check out this video (on my Facebook page) of my crazy husband Mike trying to distract Taylor while playing pool. You can also see a video of what I was doing that had Mike literally rolling on the floor laughing at me!

The Spring of 2015 was a difficult time for me. I had just finished six months of intensive schema-focused therapy and was still feeling pretty overwhelmed by emotions. I really had to push myself to focus and get organized and ready to go to Calabogie, so I rewarded myself with the maple leaf charm just for making it happen.

Last year (2016) was the end of an era in our family. The kids started high school (grade 9) and didn't think they should miss a week of school, so they were only at Calabogie for a long weekend; I stayed the rest of the week by myself. With the kids in different high schools, with different friends, and participating in different sports, it's nice to see them having fun together and valuing this family time.

I sometimes feel guilty that we can't afford to travel the world with our kids, but I'm starting to see that these simple pleasures and shared experiences are what builds family strength and lasting memories.

Please take a stroll through the photo gallery below to see photos from our years at Calabogie. You can also watch Mike tell one of my all-time favourite stories about Mitchell - and find out why the maple leaf in particular represents our annual family retreat and a uniquely Canadian Springtime tradition.

Family Photo Gallery

posing with the polar bear in the main lodge
Nana Verna with Mitchell (4 months old)
Daddy with Taylor (4 months old)

pretending to be explorers

Flip-a-gram of Mitchell climbing the rocks (on YouTube)

Flip-a-gram of Taylor climbing the rocks (on YouTube)

colouring the path with sidewalk chalk
ready for rollerblading and road hockey on the tennis courts
hiking and climbing in the woods
feeding the local wildlife
the kids were in charge of making lunches
Mike and I on the couch, when it's not the kids' bed
reading comics on the pull-out couch
Taylor posing on the indoor play structure, aka the spiral staircase
Taylor liked to climb the spiral staircase, on the outside

 YouTube video of Mike telling the story about Mitchell and the spiral staircase.

There is a beach at the resort, and a ski hill across the lake

roasting marshmallows in a bonfire on the beach
exploring at the beach
playing on the play structure at the beach
snowshoeing in the woods

tubing at Calabogie Peaks

downhill skiing at Calabogie Peaks

Our week of vacation always ends with a trip to the "sugar shack." This is an activity unique to this part of the Canada. When the temperature is above the freezing point during the day, but still below freezing at night, the sap starts to flow in sugar maple trees. The aboriginals would hollow out a wooden log, fill it with sap from maple trees and add hot rocks to boil it down to make syrup. These techniques were taught to the early settlers in this region who made use of metal buckets and pots. And because you need to boil the sap as soon as it's harvested they would build a shack right there in the woods - hence the term "sugar shack."

When we go to the sugar shack, we hike the trails, learning how they collect the sap (now with plastic tubing) and reading interpretive signs about wildlife in the sugarbush (groves of sugar maple trees). We learned that 85% of the world's maple syrup is made in Canada, most of it in the province of Quebec just east of our city of Ottawa. Although I didn't grow up going to the sugar shack, it is a common activity with friends and family in this part of the country and a memorable tradition for us. And it certainly is a bright spot in an otherwise dreary month of March.
the old-fashioned way to collect sap with buckets and then boil it down to syrup
being silly in the rustic play fort

pancakes with maple syrup, and a side of bacon or maple sausages
And that's why I have the maple leaf charm on my "Treasured Hearts" bracelet, all about our family.

Related Posts:

Walk this way - in the moment - the very first story on my blog about starting my meditative walks while we were at Calabogie in 2012, not long after I had begun my recovery and started earning Pandora charms - including some more pictures from Calabogie.

Can you see what's there? It's a wonderland! - a story about one of the most important things I do to beat the winter blues and one of my most important affirmations.

Accept where you are and start where you're at - a story about my wake-up call last Spring; now updated with videos embedded from my new YouTube channel.

Do you know what makes you happy? - a story about our favourite adventures and traditions in the Autumn - and the charm that represents it.

A little girl and an egg remind me to celebrate - an Easter story about my daughter and the joy of celebrating the little things.