When you have the opportunity to travel with just one child, magic things can happen. As a huge fan of Canadian history, I chose to stay at the Fairmont Palliser on a recent mom-son trip to Calgary.
Entering its 100th year, the Palliser is an icon – how I wish the figures framed on the walls could share their secrets!
We arrived during the holiday season and my son’s eyes bugged out at the stunning lobby displays. Then he saw the hand-painted cows used to fundraise for Ronald MacDonald House Charities, which UrbanMommies supports wholeheartedly. Moo-ing (of course) ensued and he was desperate to bid on a cow in the silent auction.
Opening the door to the room he exclaimed, “Now THIS is a good hotel room!” He then proceeded to jump on the bed and approved of the bounce. As a Fairmont President’s Club member, complimentary sneakers and workout gear in my size are automatically delivered to the room. One less thing to pack and worry about. Oh – and internet is complimentary as well.
The highlight of the whole experience was the gold floor lounge. At the top of the hotel, it mixed tradition with new cuisine and comfort. The hors d’oeuvres in the evening were not only kid-friendly, but delicious and healthy. My son was able to mix his favourite concoction of juices (in a wine glass) and grinned at the stunning view as snow fell in the heart of the city.
My favourite memory was teaching him how to play cribbage on an antique brass and wood board. After an successful outing to the Glenbow Museum directly across the street (they had exhibits on rocks and gems as well as military uniforms from all era which thrilled both of us!) we came back to the hotel and my son made a beeline for the cribbage board. We will forever be joined in cribbage and I will smile and think of that night every time I think of the Palliser.
Disclosure: UrbanMommies was not compensated for this review though we received a lovely welcome basket in our room. As always, our opinions are our own.
Thank goodness I have friends with older girls. If not I wouldn’t have known about One Direction. And when I met Emma, a resident of the Ronald McDonald House Vancouver, I wouldn’t have been able to connect nearly as well. I always end up at RMH around the Christmas season. Last year the boys and I delivered new unwrapped toys and my kids refused to leave for 2 hours after having an extraordinary time playing with the other children.
This year, I was drawing on mugs to wrap for the house so that families would have something handcrafted, homey and festive for the holidays. And wow. Totally appropriate! These parents devour coffee. Of course they do. Many don’t sleep much between their childrens’ treatments, and with going to the hospital and giving attention and education to siblings also living in the house, there’s not much free time. I, too, am a coffee addict (with apparently no good excuse) and jumped at the chance to try the new McCafe take-home coffee at this event. Little did I know I’d be transformed by positive, loving children at the same time.
A new arrival from Powell River was among the most polite boys I have ever met. “Please”, “thank you”, smiles and an artistic talent that made me stare. He was wearing a Ronald McDonald House shirt and decided to draw the logo on his mug. (I drew a bunch of sunshines and happy stuff as it was the only way my heart wouldn’t break – especially when I made eye contact with the other moms there.) If I could have purchased his mug, I would have. He was so proud. With shining eyes and meticulous wrapping, he joined me by the Christmas tree for a photo. One little girl took her place snuggled under the tree. Yes – she was definitely a gift. Cute as a button I think the expression goes.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to teach a dance class. Cook a meal for the families. Lead the kids in a theatre sports game. The experience just solidified my affinity with the charity and I know I will be back shortly. There is so much good that we can all do and when I visited the house in London, Ontario I realized what families with severely ill children might need. You can always drop the following to your local RMH. (There are 317 houses in 31 countries throughout the world and in 2011 , there were 513 families served worldwide.).
– Tupperware to transport leftovers to the hospital so parents don’t have to leave the bedside of their children
– Toys for Christmas and the holidays – often parents cannot get away to shop – even for siblings staying at the houses.
– A hot meal for the house (you can book a date, buy groceries and cook)
– Volunteer to teach a yoga class, fitness training, do a craft or share one of your talents.
– Drop off some treats or baked goods for families to enjoy between hospital visits (label the ingredients).
– And then there’s coffee… but now that McDonald’s has launched it’s McCafe Premium Roast take home coffee, the need will be much less great.
I was so happy to learn that McDonald’s supplies so much (besides the beds and positive atmosphere for families in need) to the houses. Even suppliers and staff run frequent dinner-cooking nights. Pretty cool. And seriously? After meeting the happy kids and being with the parents? No better place on earth. Unless you’re not a visitor. As volunteers at the houses say “It’s the best place ever that you hope you never have to stay in.”
We were introduced to our first Ronald McDonald House in London, Ontario on our final All-Access Trip. With 12 Ronald McDonald Houses across Canada, 309 around the globe and plans for 2 more in Canada located in Red Deer and St John’s, the scope of this charity is huge.
I was embarrassed that I only knew a few things to begin – like 10 cents from every Happy Meal goes to the charity, and that families stay there when their child is ill and hospitalized. The amount I didn’t know, and had trouble imagining, was what changed my perspective on life more than anything else in the McDonald’s All-Access Moms Program. Meeting real people in crisis is a powerful thing. People with real stories, pain, and incredible strength. I hope that my involvement with the charity is limited to volunteering, and I pray that I will never be one of the 10,000 Canadian families per year who become residents in one of the houses.
Just imagine being a parent of a child with leukemia when your spouse has to stay at home working. Imagine being a 4-year-old sibling of a sick child who doesn’t understand why Christmas isn’t happening this year like normal. Imagine being a Mother who spends every waking moment at a hospital with no time to cook or do laundry. The doctor’s visits when there is bad news, or when there is good news and hope. Imagine just for a second and then push it out of your mind. Ronald McDonald House exists in order to give families the gift of time. As Margaret, the executive director at the Ronald McDonald House in London uttered: “We can’t buy the children time, but we can give it away.” The gift of preparing hot meals, dealing with Christmas shopping, laundry and expenses can allow families to spend precious time together as a unit.
Here’s what I didn’t know:
1. The first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974.
2. New initiatives for the charity include Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in hospitals and Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles which may be used to travel to inner cities or remote areas where there are limited resources. The 40 x 8 feet mobile vehicles are specially designed to deliver pediatric health care services, where children need it most.
3. McDonalds underwrites the salaries and all expenses of Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada employees so that 100 percent of dollars raised go back to the Houses. This is very rare.
4. The (Canadian) federal and (Ontario) provincial governments have supported the Houses through capital funding as well. Recently, the Infrastructure Stimulus Funding program parceled out over 22 million to renovate and increase the number of rooms in the Toronto, Hamilton and London facilities.
5. The family dinner program is a crucial component of daily life for families using the Houses. Individuals from the community are able to sign up to donate food, time and cooking skills to make a dinner for the House. The value to families is immense. After a long day at the hospital, parents and siblings get a home cooked meal that they don’t have to prepare or fund. And volunteers can see the immediate impact of their efforts as they dine with the grateful families.
6. Although it’s not completely free to stay, thanks to the support of their sponsors, Ronald McDonald House families pay on average only $11 per day though no family is ever turned away due to an inability to pay.
7. Despite the increase in beds and space for families with children in hospitals, the Ronald McDonald House in London in particular has an occupancy rate of 86 per cent. Wow!
8. $37 million has been raised since 2004 from Happy Meals alone. That’s ten cents at a time. You can do the math. I’m kind of inept with decimals…
9. Spaces in the London House include: 5 computers with internet access, a toddler playroom, children’s library, play space for 6-12 year-olds, teenage room, fitness centre and a home theatre room. The different areas and nooks within the house allow families privacy and encourage them to live their lives as normally as possible. The respect for the individuals is immense. Families have their own locked cupboards in the kitchen in case the kids will only eat nutella or mac and cheese. Tupperware and bags are readily on-hand if families would prefer to eat later or take their dinner back to the hospital. My favourite place was the treasure chest. This room is very special and has a magical effect on the children that stay at the House. But I can’t say anymore…I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the pirates.
10. There is a section in many Houses, just as welcoming as the other rooms, where families whose children are immune-compromised can stay, in order to further prevent the spread of germs to these children.
I used to volunteer for many organizations and since having had kids I have struggled to incorporate charity into my life. I have now found a place I can put down roots and show the kids what it means both for us and families in need to help. Whether we cook a meal, take unwrapped toys to help siblings adjust to their temporary surroundings, donate some Tupperware containers or teach a tap dance class in the House to help release some stress. I want to incorporate this charity into my life with my kids. I keep thinking more creatively about how I can use my unique talents to help – donating time and talents are just as valuable as contributing money. I took my boys to our local Ronald McDonald House yesterday to deliver toys. They met many children and played, hugged and laughed. For many, I think the friendship was a more powerful gift than the toys.
About to take off on my final journey I am quite sad, actually. The whole experience as a McDonald’s All-Access Mom has been transformative, but not in any of the ways I expected. Sure – lots of questions have been answered, I’ve traipsed around farms and plants (check out the videos), and worn way too many un-sexy lab coats. But I also feel like a better mom. A better citizen. The corporate culture of McDonald’s and its suppliers is much friendlier – much more transparent, than I was expecting. After almost 6 years of momm-ing, I think I’ve gotten a bit too insular. Charity work had lapsed and a disconnection to the world and it’s news had set in. The opportunity to participate in the MAAM program has helped change that.
I am most excited about seeing the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Giving back. Sharing. Helping. These charities give homes and home cooked meals to families whose children are hospitalized with severe illness. I will be spending a full day with the children and families involved in the London, Ontario house, learning about the program and more importantly, the people. I hope that I can take the lessons of charity and giving back to my own children and incorporate them into our daily lives. I know there has been criticism of the All-Access-Mom program, but this is an opportunity to get a glimpse into something that nobody could say McDonald’s doesn’t do really well.
The second part of the trip? Chicken at the London, Ontario Cargill facility. Shall I cluck like when I moo-ed at the cows? Want to know the deal with the shaped McNuggets? (I already asked about chicken lips and toenails getting into the mix.) Nada. Any other questions? Reconstituted white meat? Glue? Sawdust? Last chance!!