Skiing Takes my Stress Away

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I would not consider myself an athlete. When asked if I play sports like baseball or hockey, my answer is often, “those who don’t play, watch.” I like to watch sports and love to talk about them, especially with my son. But not always. There is one sport in which I actively participate: downhill skiing.

My parents first put me on a pair of skis when I was four years old. I don’t actually remember what it felt like that first time as I was so young. It was a time before young children learned about “pizza’ and “french fries” on the ski hill. I learned the basics of snow plow and found my way down.

Our family skied at various places in Ontario and Quebec. Well-known Laurentian hills like Mont Tremblant, Mont Saint Saveur and Morin Heights gave me my first early exposure to good quality skiing conditions. I took lessons at a small place in Ontario called Devil’s Elbow, and sometimes we ventured further to places like Blue Mountain, and more recently, to Alpine Ski Club.

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First day selfie on the ski hill this season

Note that I keep using the word “we.” That’s important. Skiing was a sport my whole family did together – my parents, brother and sister too (she was on skis before she was even three!). No matter how busy we were all week, in the winter our family jumped in the car on a Saturday morning (or during a winter vacation) and headed to the ski hill. It was our break from life and a chance to spend quality time together.

Think about all the sports in which you participate or watch. How many of them can a family all do together, as one unit? Or even if a family can, do they? Skiing is one of those. I felt privileged as a child and even more so now as an adult, to be able to ski every winter weekend with my family.

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David tested out snowboarding a few years ago. A rare picture of us on the hill together
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I think we take too many selfies on the hill.
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Cousins testing out the ski hill at night, for some railing fun.

And when I say my family – I mean my parents, my siblings and their families and my husband and children too. It’s a rite of passage in our family. A baby learns to walk, then run, then ski. And the diaper is still on!

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Two-year-old Matthew gets some instruction from his Zaidy during his first season on skis
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Matthew, in blue, on skis for the first time at age 2, with his big cousins.
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Julia, age two, on skis
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We start them young. Matthew took Nessa for a mini ride when she was less than a year old
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We just had to take a selfie last winter during Nessa’s first visit to the ski hill

As any ski family will agree, getting ready to go skiing in the morning, in a house with piles of children (more on our family country home another day) can be a rather unpleasant and sometimes downright horrible experience. At the height of the season we are 16 people in the house – an even 8 adults and 8 children. The children range in age from one to fifteen. And no one cooperates. Someone is always crying or screaming or fighting with a sibling. Socks are lost. The previous day’s long under wear wasn’t washed because a child forgot to put it in the laundry. A glove was left at the ski hill the day before and a tantrum ensues.

We rush to the car, zoom to the hill and deal with the next level of craziness: get the kids out, strap their skis and snowboards to their feet and throw them on the hill. Someone is usually crying, screaming or fighting yet again. Is it all worth it?

Yes.

Once I am at the top of the mountain and look down at the sparkling white snow ahead of me all my stress disappears. I can let go. I am free. All the craziness of the week, my career and my family melt away. I let my skis take me down the hill. Yes, it is all worth it.

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The view I love. That’s Julia, my father and Matthew sliding down the hill together last year.
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There’s always a fun mix of family on the hill, like my mother, nephew and daughter.

It’s about minus 15 outside today, and I am in the city and unable to go skiing. But tomorrow, well that’s another story. It may be cold outside (okay, it is insanely freezing), but I will be out there on the ski hill doing my thing. As will my parents, siblings their kids, my kids and maybe even my husband (okay, not the baby, she will be in the daycare). And I will be skiing every weekend this winter. If you need to find me, look for me on the hill.

The Stress of Calling my Telecommunications Provider

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I sat on hold on the phone for 45 minutes yesterday. That’s not bad. I figured I would be on hold for 60 minutes. And it took much longer to get up the nerve to pick up the phone and dial. It is stressful, bordering on traumatic, every time I need to call my telecommunications provider.

We live in an age and in a society in which we rely heavily on technology and the services that support this habit. Gone are the days when households paid for a telephone line and maybe some basic cable. Today’s major telecommunications companies in Canada, such as Rogers, Bell, Telus and Shaw, to name a few, began as single-service providers and grew into so much more.

A typical Canadian home, like mine, subscribes to many services, including a home phone, TV cable or satellite, internet and wireless. Many telecommunications companies also offer alarm monitoring, online sports packages or even magazine subscriptions. I personally don’t have all of these, few of us do, but I have many of them.

Telecommunications companies love lazy people like me. I can’t be bothered to have each service in my home from a different company, so I can play one off another and keep the price down. It’s just easier to choose one of them and maximize the value. They also love me because I like to subscribe to some premium levels of their services as I don’t have the time or energy to do much on my own.

For example, some people subscribe to basic cable, then they also have Netflix and/or other downloadable, web-based options like Hulu. Or some of them dumped cable altogether and exclusively get content from a mix of web-based subscriptions. It’s a bit more work to find what you want to watch in different ways. I just can’t be bothered. I stuck to my telecommunications provider’s “VIP Cable” option and get it in one place.

Eventually, I did drop my telecommunications provider’s home phone service. I was paying almost $50 per month for a phone line that was attached to my internet’s modem, and that was even too much for me. Thanks to my IT savvy brother, I switched to a fantastic option called Fongo that also is internet-based but only costs $5 per month. It’s not perfect, but it’s cheaper.

Not perfect. None of my services are perfect. The internet is often slow or doesn’t work at all. My kids love to watch the “on-demand” channels on TV, but so often get a message on the TV screen that says “service not available right now.”

And Canadians pay way too much for our wireless services. Why does data have to be so expensive? Why should I pay so much for so little?

Which brings me back to where I began. I sat on hold on the phone for 45 minutes yesterday. To get more data and more Canada-wide talk time, for less than I was paying before. And to get credit on my account for a massive internet outage in my home the previous month. I knew I had to make the call and felt my heart race as I dialed the toll-free number.

I upgraded my wireless services and got the full credit for the telecommunications company’s internet screw-up. But my bill is still too high and the service I receive is still not good enough.

But the call is over. Until next time.

*Note to my readers: My brother explained to me that one Canadian telecommunications company put out an incredible wireless deal recently, and with tremendous pressure all their competitors followed suit. I just switched to a wireless plan that gives me (yes, just my mobile device) 10 GB of data and unlimited Canada wide calling, for just $60 per month. There’s always the famous asterisk online, so read all the details if you want to get this deal too. But this deal, or at least the specific one I got, expires TODAY. So if you want it, do it now!

Booking Travel is Stressful

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No one should feel sorry for me after you read the title of today’s blog post. I feel fortunate that I can pursue my love of travel and know that many people don’t have the opportunity to see the world like I do. But the process of booking travel, or more specifically airline tickets, is not pleasant. It causes me tremendous stress every step of the way.

I feel great excitement every time David and I start to discuss our next trip. We have been traveling together for over 20 years and have visited some amazing places. I quite enjoy the process to research flights and dates and airlines. The evolution of the internet into a space where I can sit on my couch and find almost anything has been quite helpful to me.

Years ago, I had to contact a travel agent or the airline directly and was at their mercy to learn information or find a good deal. Now I can do my research on my own at my leisure. I always challenge myself to find a good itinerary and fair price, and I am capable of spending hours in front of my computer, scouring the internet to find the best fit for me and my family.

My problem is that while I love the chase I don’t necessarily like to pull the trigger of booking travel. Travel is expensive, and for the most part, airlines are not easygoing about changes or refunds. I find it tremendously stressful to click that final button that says “confirm your purchase now” or “click here to finalize your booking.”

With airlines, booking travel seems so final, and it bothers me that I have no control over my purchase once I have made it. If I buy a sweater online and don’t like it then I send it back. I can book a hotel on the internet, and If I change my mind I can cancel with no penalty usually up to 24 hours before the scheduled check-in date. I can buy a new iPhone from Apple, load it and use it and have 15 days to decide if I want to keep it or return it for a full refund.

Some airlines give customers up to 24 hours to change their minds, but for the most part clicking “purchase” is quite final. And unless I am willing to spend hundreds of dollars more for a flexible fare, it can cost me two or three hundred dollars to make a change like a different date or time.

If I want to secure a good price I usually need to make my ticket purchase months in advance. With three young children and a busy schedule it’s hard to make a decision like this so much before we want to travel. If my plans change then it’s either tough luck or pay up.

How did airlines get this kind of power?

I faced this stress last night as David and I sat in front of my computer to check prices and dates for our trip to Israel next spring. We also prefer to travel on a European airline and spend a few days in a different city on our way home from Israel. We like to visit our family and friends in Israel as often as we can, and it’s been a few years since our last trip. Our niece is also joining us for the upcoming trip, so it means booking six tickets (the baby goes on my lap but I still have to pay a small fee for a ticket for her).

I found a great price weeks ago and was too nervous to pull the trigger and make this big purchase. Then I was scared to check prices again the last few weeks in case my great price had disappeared. But last night I dared to check and found an even better deal. While my hands shook as I followed each successive step on the British Airways website, I finally pressed that final button and made the purchase. My gosh it was stressful.

But now the fun part of booking travel begins. Once the stressful part of the airline ticket purchase is over I can focus on the search for a great deal on rental cars in Israel, a few nights of hotels in London and many day trips. I guess the stress is worth it.