New Year’s on Ice

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Like many before us, we have found Vancouver Island to be a family-friendly wonderland. Living in the Parksville / Qualicum Beach area, we have been impressed by the many recreation opportunities that make the area special, from beautiful beaches to peaceful provincial parks. However, some of the most underrated recreational asset are those run by the Regional District of NanaimoFor a reasonable monthly price, both residents and non-residents alike have unlimited access to swimming at the beautiful Ravensong Aquatic Center and ice skating (rentals included) at Oceanside Place Arena, as well as Drop-In Gym programs twice a week.

DSC00584 DSC00597One of their showcase events of the year is the New Year’s Eve Family Celebration, and we were sure to reserve our complimentary tickets when they first became available on December 1st. The evening is a culmination of the many holiday-themed skates offered during the month of December (complete with lights and decorations), but it definitely takes the festivities to the next level. Live jazz music greeted us as we arrived, and we were faced with deciding what to try out first: skating in the Winter Wonderland rink, playing hockey in the other full-sized rink, taking a spin on the kid-sized Pond rink, or heading upstairs for New Year’s crafts.

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Hockey Rink
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Skating won out, so we took some leisurely laps around the Winter Wonderland and admired the many holiday scenes around us. High Five couldn’t get enough of skating between the sleigh and various benches throughout the rink, and Five Ball and Five of Hearts dashed around the ice, weaving in and out of skaters with ease.  Five String and Five Spice could only marvel at what excellent skaters the Younger Fives have become in just two months! We then headed back to the rental window to pick up hockey sticks and very much enjoyed shooting the puck around the ice for the first time.

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After some good skating, we decided to unlace, get our faces painted, and head upstairs to make some New Year’s crafts. From crowns to masks to wands, the kids stayed busy for well over an hour making their accessories. They were visited often by many characters in costume, including the Regional District’s polar bear mascot as well as Elsa and Anna from Frozen. The button maker was also a big hit, and we got to choose a design (or even make our own) to be transformed into a professional button. As always, we were super impressed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the staff, including the many high-school aged assistants.

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Before we knew it, the time had come for the New Year’s countdown and balloon drop (at 8:00 pm). Noisemakers found their way into everyone’s hands, and the excitement kept building until the balloons dropped from the ceiling only to be snatched up by a flurry of hands. All in all, this was by far the most fun and stress-free New Year’s Eve we’ve ever spent together as a family. The variety of activities appealed to kids of all ages, and the three-hour long event was the perfect amount of time. Also, ending the evening well before midnight within minutes of home meant no long drive or over-tired kids. Thanks to all the wonderful staff whose hard work made this evening so memorable!

A September Swim, or Fun with Logs, Sticks, and Stones

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We’ve been in central Oregon a little over a week now and have been surprised to feel temperatures climbing up into the 80s almost daily. Not ready to let go of summer quite yet, we’ve been making regular trips to Waldo Lake, one of the clearest lakes in the world as it has no permanent inlet to bring nutrients into the lake and allow for plant growth. Situated in the Willamette National Forest and closed to motorized boats, the lake is also know for its peace and serenity. I’m sure the lake didn’t feel that way though on the days we visited, as we’re not the quietest bunch. Factor in the stones skipped, the slippery sticks tiptoed across and fallen off of, and the logs set adrift, and I’d wager we could be heard just about anywhere on this 9.8 square mile lake. Hopefully, we won’t find ourselves on the restrictions list the next time we visit 🙂

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A Dip in the Swimming Hole

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We’d heard hints of some good places to swim around our rental for the summer, but we had little success in uncovering the details of how to actually get there. The other day though luck was on our side, and a stroll down a dirt road in our neighborhood led us into the National Forest, and a trail chosen at random took us past a lovely swimming hole, cold and clear.

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Now that the secret was out, we found ourselves splashing around every chance we got. After breakfast, after lunch, even after dinner…it didn’t really matter. We also raided our local dollar store to buy anything water-related we could get our hands on.

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A week has passed, and thankfully we have found some balance and are now making time for some activities best suited for OUT of the water. Our local librarians likely would have frowned upon us reading while submerged up to our knees, and believe me, we were tempted. While this might not be THE swimming hole, for us it’s everything we were hoping for 🙂

Plunging into the Past at Dzibilchaltún

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“We get to wear our bathing suits to the ruins? Cool!” Visiting Mayan ruins in the summer can be a hot and sun-drenched experience, but we (particularly the Younger Fives) were excited to learn about a Mayan site where visitors can take a swim right inside the historical site. And we were even happier to learn it is the closest ruins to our home for the next three months, Mérida.

While the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltún get overshadowed by more famous sites such as Palenque and Chichen Itza, it is well worth the visit. Like other ancient Mayan cities in the Yucatan, the site was built around a cenote, a limestone sinkhole that provides freshwater in a hot landscape with no above-ground rivers. What makes Dzibilchaltún special is that visitors are allowed to swim during their visit. While we had conflicting feelings about swimming in water that was and still is considered sacred by the Mayans and their descendants, the lure of the clear, cool water was too much to resist. Dzibilchaltún is also well known for its showcase of Mayan architectural and astronomical know-how. During the spring and fall equinoxes, the rising sun shines directly through the front and rear entrances of the Temple of the Seven Dolls and seems to pause within the temple before continuing on its journey.

Fives’ Facts about Dzibilchaltún

* Getting ThereDzibilchaltún is about 10 km from the northern edge of Mérida. The cheapest option is taking a collectivo from Parque San Juan (Calle 69 between 62 and 64), but none were running the Tuesday we went (maybe just on weekends?). There is also a new city-run bus route that leaves twice a day from the main plaza and large hotels. With five of us though, we ended up hiring a cab from the day (the taxi stand on the west side of Parque San Juan was wonderful) and made out better than we would have on the bus. We would guess that getting back to Mérida without previously arranged transportation would be tricky; most visitors come on arranged tours, and the site is not near any large town that has bus service.
* Hours and Admission:
The site is open everyday from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Adults pay $122 pesos, but children under 12 are free.
The Crowds: 
Dzibilchaltún is a relatively small site, and even with smaller crowds compared to Chichen Itza, it can still feel like the ruins are packed. Even on a week day, visitors from cruise ships docked at nearby Progreso visit on bus tours. To avoid the crowds, try arriving right at 8:00 before the crowds arrive at 10:00, or visit outside of the summer season or holidays.
* Swimming at the Cenote: The site provides changing rooms and a bag check (large backpacks are not allowed past the Visitor’s Center). We wore our bathing suits and found we were perfectly dry after continuing to explore the ruins after swimming. There is a shallower part of the cenote perfect for wading, and also a deeper part that is great for jumping into.
* Museum: We’ve heard great things about the onsite Museum of the Mayan People, but we were too tired out after swimming and exploring to take a look. The museum is free with entry to the ruins.