Leading up to an Overseas Family Vacation

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I love to travel, and if I could, I would take many trips around the world every year.  I can’t afford to do that, but hey, a girl can dream. But I don’t always have to dream, as once in a while I am lucky enough to go on a big trip. I’m leaving on one in a couple of days. And I’m not going alone. I’m taking my husband, my son, two daughters and niece too, to Israel. We are going on a long overdue, overseas family vacation. And I’m freaking out!

I have traveled many times with my husband and children, and we even took my nephew with us the last time we went to Israel, three years ago. Traveling with children does not scare me. I think that going on a family vacation is something wonderful and adventurous. If one can, travel is the greatest gift a parent can give to a child.

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Our attempt at a family selfie in the Old City of Jerusalem during our last visit to Israel 3 years ago

So why am I freaking out? Well, first of all, I think I always do in the final days leading up to a big family vacation. Whether we are driving to David’s family country house in Quebec or flying around the world to New Zealand, all the details that go into the booking, planning and (wince!) packing for a family vacation are stressful.

Most of the booking and planning is complete. The planning is actually the fun part. In some ways, you get to stretch the trip out longer when you surf the web and do research about activities and excursions. I’m now in the packing phase, which is always challenging. When I travel by myself, no problem. But I have set a lofty goal to pack efficiently and get everything our family of 5 needs into just 3 suitcases.

How many shirts? Did I remember to pack pyjamas for the baby? Since we are in Israel over Passover, did I make sure to throw in nice (clean) clothes for everyone? We will be in the desert, where it’s hot, for a few days. But oh, evenings are cold. So, I guess we need light jackets? Socks. Underwear. Toothpaste. Enough children’s Advil and Tylenol if the kids get sick. All of this swirls through my head night and day in the days leading up to our family vacation.

But it’s not just the packing. Just because I am going away, it doesn’t mean life at home stops. Okay, so I turn down the thermostat, shut off the lights and lock up my house. My daily life and daily routines comes to a halt. But the people I interact with every day keep living their regular daily lives.  I always need to prepare myself for that reality.

Who do I need to alert that I will be away? Are there services providers I need to contact? I don’t receive a daily newspaper anymore, so no worries there. I can monitor my home alarm from anywhere in the world. And in the technology age, I travel with my cell phone and am reachable at the top of Masada, on the beach in Tel Aviv or a windy road in the Galilee.

But there’s still so much to do. I work a few hours more in the week leading up to the family vacation to ensure I don’t leave any of my colleagues in the lurch while I am away. It reminds me of a study released back in January by ADP Canada (my main communications client right now where I spend most of my time) that examined how many hours Canadians typically devote to work before and/or after a vacation. Over 70% of people admitted having to put in much more work in the days leading up to vacation.

And for me and my family right now, as I have written about on a few occasions, life is stressful in general right now. Our work-life situation is rather unstable, and we don’t quite know where life will take us in the coming months. Is this the right time to go on such an ambitious family vacation? Should we be so far from home and potentially miss the next great opportunity?

Is all this freaking out on my part worth it?

The simple answer is, yes. I need a vacation. I really need a vacation. My family really needs it. No matter how many times I freak out in the next couple of days and wake up with night sweats paranoid about remembering to pack enough diapers for the baby for the plane, it’s all worth it.

Once I stand on my mother-in-law’s balcony, looking west to the view in the distance of the Mediterranean Sea and to the east view of the Jerusalem hills, I will feel better. Most of what I am feeling right now is normal. Going on a family vacation is a tremendous luxury, one that I appreciate more than ever right now. It doesn’t mean I will freak out less.  But it does mean I may enjoy it just a little bit more.

Sometimes it just has to be Ladies First

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I don’t know if the best description of me is a lady. There is something sophisticated and elegant about the word. I don’t think it is something I aspire to be. Sometimes the word just makes me chuckle. But if that’s what we were on Friday, all 575 of us, then I’ll take it. I enjoyed my first ever (and hopefully not my last) Ladies Day at my ski club, and wow, what a great day it was.

Throughout the winter, I have written a lot about my love of skiing. It is my stress release, my escape from everyday life and a great chance to enjoy the outdoors and be active. The best way to get through a tough Canadian winter is to find an outdoor activity you love and embrace it. It makes the season not only enjoyable but also something to look forward to.

For many years, I have balked at the chance to participate in Ladies Day at the ski club. I was too busy. I couldn’t take the day off work. Or I had a baby to care for. My mother and sister gave similar excuses and chose to not participate.

But this year my sister and mother said, what the heck, and they registered. I refused to follow suit and even made fun of them. Why would they choose, and even pay, to spend a Friday at the ski hill with a bunch of women, who from stories I had heard, just shopped, ate, did yoga and drank too much alcohol all day? Not for me. No way.

But a few weeks ago, a work colleague, who attended her ski club’s ladies’ day, convinced me otherwise. She told me it was the greatest ski day of the year. There are no men there. There are no whiny and demanding children there. Someone else feeds me. The ski hill is only there for the ladies, who for the most part are polite easygoing skiers. What’s not to love? She looked at me and said, go, sign up! And I did!

And wow, what a great day was had by all.

How nice is it to start the day at the ski hill with a buffet breakfast, that someone else cooked? We stuffed our faces (my sister is an expert at keeping her eye on the prize and making her way through any buffet) and were happily filled to start our day. Then we visited the Marketplace. I did not actively participate in this activity as I was not interested in spending $245 on machine washable shoes or $120 on a micro down après ski skirt. There were definitely some cute items at this little pop-up market, but I was there to ski and eat. And that’s it.

And ski I did. 18 runs. The hill was ours. We crossed the mountain, enjoyed many laughs on the chairlift and definitely seized the day. I even went down, for the time ever, one of the steepest (not THE steepest) runs at the ski club, called Slingshot. I was too much of a wimp to go down more terrifying runs like Crescendo and Free Fall. I’m not that crazy.

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On the hill selfie with Tamara and Darcie
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I looked, I photographed and moved on.
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We took a selfie and moved on.
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But I went down this one!
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And so did my mother.

Lunch was another buffet, with a glass of white wine (that was included too!), followed by an afternoon of more great skiing. I took a spectacular tumble on one run called Ambush, spread eagle, eating snow and all, but I picked myself up and kept going.

The day’s theme was Nashville North, and while I don’t think we Canadian ladies quite understood what that means, after a day of skiing we changed our clothes and enjoyed our themed après ski. There was a lot of plaid and cheesy cowboy hats and even a few Dolly Parton look alikes. By late afternoon the drinks were flowing, appetizers were being consumed and the music was blaring loudly.

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Selfie with my mother, just because.
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Yes, we wore matching shirts.

Kudos to my sister (and many other brave ladies) who rode the mechanical bull. Others danced and sang with the music. Many people (not my group) drank too much. Some of the day wasn’t to my taste, but that’s okay. It was a day off. It was a day for me. For my mother. For my sister. It was a day of pure enjoyment and relaxation for the 575 ladies who participated in the day.

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That’s my sister falling off the bull
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My friend Tamara did a great job on the bull
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That’s the closest I got to riding the bull

Everyone needs a day like ladies’ day. Whether you ski, snowboard, socialize, eat or just relax, it’s a great way to recharge the battery and give back to yourself. If I got anything out of my experience on Friday it’s that I need down time and time just for me. I learned that it’s okay to stop the world for a day and focus on what I love and what I need. Thank you, Heather, for reminding me to do that. Thank you to you my mother, my sister and friends at the ski hill for being part of that day with me. And thank you to the ladies who organized this day. I can’t wait until next year!

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

telecommunications

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

booking travel

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.