Monday, 30 September 2013

A little painted glass project

I love decorating my home and I can be fairly creative about doing it on a budget, but I am not the craftiest person on the planet so while some of my little ideas and projects work out exactly as I plan them, some are spectacular fails. This one falls somewhere in the middle.

I took an old framed print that hasn't been on a wall in years but has moved with us from house to house and lived in storage for the last decade - normally my organizational OCD wouldn't allow me to keep something I wasn't using for so long, but while the art is not to my taste I do kind of like the frame. And frames can be expensive.

For this project, disassemble the piece and use the backside of the print to sketch out the letters.

Carefully cut out the shape to create the stencil. Flip the paper over and tape the stencil to the glass with cardboard as a backing. Use lots of tape - you don't want the stencil to be able to move at all or the paint to bleed under. Make sure your stencil is taped on backwards - you want to be painting the backside of the glass.

Using crafter's acrylic paint, carefully paint within the stencil. It dries very quickly so be careful!

Peel off the stencil and do any touch-ups necessary.

Flip the glass over and re-frame. Voila!
craft, home decor, diy
Backpainted glass project

I think this is great idea for a little low-cost home project. (Total cost: nothing! I borrowed the paint and brush from the kids' craft drawer and the framed print was sitting in the closet waiting to be thrown out.) However, I don't have the steadiest hand and am by no means an artist, so it's only ok. Definitely not the sort of thing I'd hang in my living room. But for the kids' empty bathroom wall? Just right! And I think someone much more patient and artistic with a far steadier hand could use this idea to make something really fantastic.

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Indian campfire craft

fall craft, kids crafts
This was a fun fall craft for the boys.

We made our native indians out of toilet rolls, wool, felt and craft feathers.

Their teepees are constructed with twigs, craft paper and paint and the fire pit is made from twigs, felt, foil and homemade wool pom-poms. (Pom-pom tutorial here).

The wild turkeys are made from fallen pine cones and colourful leaves we collected on the walk home from school.

A great seasonal craft for creative little crafters!

fall craft, kids crafts

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Friday, 27 September 2013

Outer space craft

We've had some rainy days this summer. Quite a few rainy days. We are an active, outdoor, swimming-biking-hiking-soccer-playing-at-the-park kind of a family. Being stuck indoors with three kids for days on end is not my ideal way to spend summer vacation.

So what do you do when you've played every board game in the house seventeen times, have the rent on every Monopoly property memorized, can recite every word of every Curious George book without turning a page and find yourself singing Jake and the Neverland Pirates to yourself in the kitchen - and it's still pouring rain?
crafts, kids crafts, rocket ship craft
Crafts. Lots and lots of crafts.

We spent an entire afternoon at the playroom craft table creating our outer space project.

Toilet roll, popsicle stick and construction paper rocket ships covered in glitter and stickers and gems, a family of play clay aliens and their alien pet made of bendaroos and seashells, and glittery star stickers for the night sky.

Rainy-day parenting success!

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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Medieval castle craft

Back-to-school means back to packed classrooms filled with dozens of little germ factories. So by the second week both my school-age boys were down for the count. What do you do with kids stuck home from school once their fever breaks and they're tired of lazing around on the couch?


This one took a few afternoons, with the kids working in shifts as one and then the other spent a couple of days home sick with the flu.

kids' crafts, toilet roll crafts

For this medieval castle we decorated a big cardboard box with as much glitter and gems and sparkle and bling as we could possibly stick on, made turrets from toilet rolls and construction paper and flags from pipe cleaners and paint chips.

kids' crafts, toilet roll crafts, knight craft, princess craft, dragon craft
Then we really got creative with our toilet roll characters - a knight in shining aluminum foil armor, a dragon wrapped in knobbly green wool, and a princess with orange wool hair in a glitter-glued pink felt gown.

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Monday, 23 September 2013

Artwork photobooks

As moms, we want to hold on to every precious little scrap of art from the heart that our little angels make - the crayon scribbles, the fingerpaintings, the early attempts at letters, the construction paper crafts, the homemade cards, the sweetly misspelled meandering stories - we want to keep all of it forever. 

But that's simply not practical. Kids generate a lot of art - at home, at daycare, at school - and it's all heart-achingly adorable. If we kept everything they ever touched our home would soon be filled to the rafters with stacks and stacks of boxes filled with drawings and paintings and macaroni art and play clay figures and handprints cut out of construction paper, and later journals and book reports and essays and creative writing. It's simply too much.

But how do we decide what to keep and what to purge? And what do we do with the pieces we're keeping so that we can enjoy them without having them take over the house? 

I have a system

art wall, kids' artEverything each child creates at the craft table or brings home from school gets put in their own big bin. Once a year, usually at the end of school or before the beginning of the new school year, I sort through the bins and purge as ruthlessly as I possibly can. I can usually get rid of more than half - it's much easier to make the decision to toss one of your baby's precious pictures when faced with a pile of hundreds of similar pieces. I then pick my two favourite pieces out of each child's pile and hang them on the gallery wall in our playroom where we can see and enjoy them every day.

But what of the rest of the pieces? If I just left them in their bins they'd get packed away in the basement, never to be seen again. I made the decision to keep them because they're important and special and I want to have them to remember a particular stage of my baby boys' lives. How would I enjoy them packed away in a bin in the basement? 

My solution is to create artwork photobooks for each of my boys. A digital photo of each piece of work, printed and bound in a separate photobook for each child, either one for each year or each grade in school or several years together, depending on how artistically prolific they were during that time. Through the magic of digital photography those enormous craft paper projects and awkwardly shaped crafts can all be sized down to be enjoyed just as they are in the photobook rather than folded up and scrunched into a box where they get torn and lose those all-important bits of feather, macaroni or sequins. 

A perfect solution to keep those memories of childhood art out where you can enjoy them always.

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Friday, 20 September 2013

Tryout season

It's been a few weeks since the summer sports season ended. We had a luxurious couple of soccer-free weekends and over two full weeks of weeknights when we could dawdle over dinner and play in the park or go for a bike ride or snuggle up for a movie before bed each night. No scarfing down meals on the way out the door, no frantic rushing here and there, no schedules to remember or uniforms to wash or equipment to pack. Two weeks.


But that's about it for a seasonal break when you're involved in rep sports. Two weeks off and we're right back at it, busier than ever before.

Both our older boys are trying out for rep soccer for next season. And they're trying out for two different clubs, hoping that if they don't make one team they may make the other. This means that, as a family, we have to attend thirteen hour-and-a-half to two-hour tryouts over a nine-day period - then finals, if they make it. This means that we are back to tearing around town to different fields, sometimes at overlapping or back-to-back times, changing in and out of cleats and shinguards and uniforms hourly over the weekends, hauling Baby back and forth from outdoor field to indoor pitch, desperately trying to keep him entertained and out of the way while still watching our older boys run drills and play practice games, eating at odd times and on the go and giving up completely on any semblance of a family schedule. This means that our boys are excited and nervous and worn off their feet every single day and that Mommy is sick to her stomach with anxiety that one of them might be disappointed, sitting up every night checking email every thirty seconds for that next cut list to be released.

It's not a very relaxing time of year - but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I love watching my boys work so hard and excel at something that they love. I love seeing how much fun they have out on the pitch, training and drilling and practicing to get better. I love seeing how excited they are and how much fun they're having. And I'm so proud that they both want to work toward something that they enjoy so much.

We're almost there - only one more tryout per kid for each club.Then we'll have another two weeks of rest before next season's training begins!

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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Soccer star birthday

My eldest turned nine years old this month. Nine.

How on earth did that happen already? Wasn't he a brand-new roly-poly squishy little baby boy just yesterday? Where did this tall, lean, lanky kid come from who insists on wearing designer shirts and gel in his hair?

kids parties, birthday parties, kids birthdays, soccer themed party
At nine kids still want a birthday party with their friends but are beginning to outgrow the whole themed party thing, so I couldn't go quite as crazy as I normally do with themed decorations, pinatas, games and crafts. I thought a soccer ball cake would be acceptable (fun, not babyish, and most importantly "cool") as the birthday boy is obsessed with soccer and plays on a rep team. I added soccer ball napkins and plain chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, and decorated with simple black and white balloons and streamers. Instead of loot bags the party guests each took home a new soccer ball - and that was it for theming this year.

The party itself was at an indoor arcade and playplace (birthday boy's choice) and aside from pizza, presents and cake the guests had a fabulous time tearing around with their game tokens and ignoring us entirely.

I'm proud of how strong and confident and independent my little boy is becoming; but it's a little heartbreaking how fast he's growing up!

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Monday, 16 September 2013

Let's talk about sex

My biggest little boy is growing up. This month he turned nine and started fourth grade. He plays rep soccer for a community club and intramural sports at school and at home he'd rather read or play video games than play with toys. He's started paying attention to what he wears (we have a lot of Hilfiger sweaters in the closet these days - oh how my wallet misses the days of seven dollar Wal-Mart t's!) and won't go to school without gel in his hair. My baby's turning into a big boy.

And as he gets older I find myself starting to wonder - when do I need to have "the talk" with him? Nine seems a little ridiculously young to have to worry about teaching my son about sex and safety - but so does ten and so does eleven and then it's just too late - so what is the right age?

I know, both from the media and hearing (fairly terrifying) stories from my teacher friends, that kids are starting to be sexual much younger now than when we were kids - they're developing earlier, they're experimenting more at a much younger age. I'm astonished at some of the stories I hear. And I want to make sure that I get in there first, that my boy isn't out there doing things I don't even want to think about without knowing everything he needs to know first. Properly. Safely. Appropriately. And from me.

But when?

He still seems like such a little boy to me. He still climbs into my bed to snuggle in the mornings. He still holds my hand when we walk to and from school and gives me a kiss good-bye in the yard. I still tuck him in with a hug and a kiss on the lips every night. He still calls me "Mommy," not "Mom" or "Ma." And I'm still his best friend - he still tells me everything that happens in his life, everything that's going on at school and everything that's going on with his friends and everything that's going on in his head. But I know that he's growing up. I can see it happening.

So when is it appropriate to have that conversation with kids? There seems to be a fine line between when they're too young and it's not yet appropriate, and when they've already started experimenting without being armed with the proper education.

Have you had "the talk" with your kids yet? How old were they? Where and how did you begin? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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Friday, 13 September 2013

No longer in control...

Two of my kids are snipping and sniping and whining at one another about the video game they're playing together; when I suggested they play separately or play something else they protested loudly, redirecting their arguing and whining at me.

Third child is throwing a full-fledged tantrum on the floor because he wants a granola bar but won't let me open it because he wants to do it himself but his chubby not-quite-two-year-old fingers can't manage the foil wrapper - we are at an impasse.

I have stepped on the stupid cat three times in the last five minutes. If he gets underfoot one more time he will likely get thrown out a window.

Husband will be home in five minutes, at which point we will have exactly twenty minutes to eat and clean up from dinner, get uniforms on and bags packed and pile in the car to head out to soccer. Of course, dinner isn't in fact cooked yet as every time I've tried to start I've had to break up an argument in the next room, fetch a glass of milk for a child whose own arms and legs apparently don't work, clean up a spilled bowl of Cheerios, refill a sippy cup of water, grab a tissue for another child incapable of moving under his own power, pick up a toddler who'd prefer to be carried than stand on his own, and negotiate a tv / wii / board game scheduling agreement more complicated than an international peace treaty to keep everyone happy / entertained / out of my hair for five bloody minutes.

Now the children are arguing over who gets to sit on which couch. My God.

It's pretty clear I'm no longer in control around here.

At one point in time, I was the boss around here. As far as my kids were concerned I was all-knowing and all-powerful and my word was law.

Somewhere along the way that changed.

Maybe it was when my youngest was born - I'm clearly outnumbered at this point. Three boys, working together against me, secretly plotting out a rotating schedule of "Mom I want..." and "Mom can I have..." and "Mom can you help with..." and "Mom can you get..." from different rooms on different floors of the house, taking it in turn to get sick or throw temper tantrums or require my undivided attention, and tag-teaming their night-time wake-ups so at least one is always up with me but the others are well-rested and ready to go. One mom who hasn't had a full night's sleep or fifteen minutes to herself in nine years.

I don't stand a chance.

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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

How to know you're done

How do you know if you're done having kids?

When every conversation with your spouse starts with "when the kids are older..."

When those newborn commercials that used to make you wistful and weepy now prompt you to pour another glass of wine.

When the moment your youngest outgrows each bulky baby seat or swing or ride-on toy you've already torn him off it and tossed it at the curb before he can blink.

When you're trying to give away cribs and high chairs and exersaucers and bags of clothes and toys to everyone you see.

When your grocery bills are more than your mortgage payments

When you haven't bought a new outfit for yourself in nine years and "dressing up" means clean yoga pants.

When your garage looks more like a sporting goods store than a place to park a vehicle - how exactly do three kids manage to accumulate that many sleds, bikes, scooters, skates and helmets anyway?

When you have to pile the groceries on the front seat of the car because the trunk is filled with picnic blankets, camping chairs, soccer balls, cleats, shin guards, pop-up nets and sports bags.

When you find yourself humming the Thomas theme in line at the store - and the only songs you can think of to drown it out are from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Jake.

When you've mentally worked out exactly how many days are left until your eldest is old enough to babysit your youngest - and update the countdown every day.

When you're using three forms of birth control and still feel your throat starting to constrict if your period's half an hour later than expected.

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Monday, 9 September 2013

I'm doing everything wrong.

I'm a mom - so everything I do is wrong.

When my children were babies I breastfed, creating a brood of dependent, breast-obsessed Mama's boys. I picked them up when they cried, destroying any chances of them ever learning independence. Ever. When I did leave one crying for a minute while I helped the other I destroyed his ability to trust. Ever. I didn't sleep train, soothed them when they woke, rocked them to sleep and even sometimes let them sleep in our bed, likely preventing them from ever learning to get a full night's sleep without me as long as they lived.

I stayed at home to raise my boys, depriving them not only of countless learning opportunities and critical peer interaction, but also of a strong female role model, ensuring they'd never learn to respect women and single-handedly setting back the women's right movement by decades. When I returned to work and did put them in part-time daycare it meant I was a failure as a parent, sending them off to be raised by someone else, missing their childhood and risking raising latchkey kids.

My children are very active in competitive sports, robbing them of the freedom of an unscheduled childhood. I let them watch TV and play video games, which everyone knows automatically means I'm a bad parent, and I have even been known to check email on my smart phone while playing with them at the park, so I'm negligent as well. I've yelled at them when I'm angry and used words I'd rather not have, probably qualifying me as borderline abusive - confirmed by the fact that I actually punish them with time outs and suspended privileges when they misbehave.

I go out of my way to make birthdays and holidays and special occasions over-the-top, qualifying me as a show-off to other moms, and we do a lot of family field trips and vacations, which will likely turn my boys into spoiled, self-indulgent brats with an over-inflated sense of entitlement.

We're very focused on healthy eating in our home, which should be a good thing, but apparently means we're risking our boys overindulging later in life and becoming obese. When we allow the occasional treat, it teaches unhealthy habits they'll never be able to break. My husband and I generally have a drink with dinner, so the boys will probably become alcoholics, and because we place a priority on education we plan to pay for their post-secondary schooling - almost guaranteeing they'll never learn the value of money and will drop out of university due to a lack of motivation.

It's a shame, really, that I'm so obviously and hopelessly incompetent as a parent. These poor kids are going to grow up completely dependent, self-indulgent, narcissistic sociopaths with no social skills, no motivation, an eating disorder or two and a pronounced drinking problem. They'll be in therapy for the rest of their lives.

It's too bad, with the abundance of parenting advice available from other parents, online forums, magazine articles, mommy blogs, doctors, in-laws, and television experts, that I haven't been able to figure this parenting thing out.

But I'm a mom, so everything I do is wrong.

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Friday, 6 September 2013

I want my kids to go to university

I've heard a lot of surprising "expert advice" lately advising against a university education - because of the associated cost and debt incurred, because of the specialization required to have an increased income potential, and because of the many alternative educational opportunities available. Despite the alternatives and their potential, I fervently hope my boys decide to go to university - but possibly not for the obvious reasons.

There has been a significant shift toward university education in Canada over the last several decades, for fairly transparent reasons: employability and earning potential. The number of full-time university students has more than doubled since 1980 and jobs for people with only a high school diploma are disappearing. The number of jobs given to university graduates more than doubled from 1.9 million in 1990 to 4.4 million in 2010, while the number of jobs given to high school graduates dropped by 1.2 million. A graduate with a university degree is significantly more likely to find employment than one without. The income advantages of a university education are enormous as well, and the gap is increasing as time goes on; in 1980 a university graduate earned 37% more than a high school graduate, while by 2010 the advantage was over 50% (as much as 66% for women). By contrast, a college or trade school graduate earns only 15% more than a high school graduate.

So if my kids go to university rather than college they are both more likely to find a job, and more likely to make a better income in that job. Like any parent, I want the best for my children, so it only makes sense that I'd prefer they make a choice that stands a greater chance of landing them gainful employment and the comforts in life that an increased income can provide.

But that's not the only reason I want my kids to go to university.

A university degree by no means guarantees a job upon graduation. A general Bachelor's degree in arts or humanities provides no specialized knowledge that will prepare a graduate to enter the workplace, while a college diploma or trade school certificate or an apprenticeship provides a student with specific, career-directed education that will prepare them for the specific field which they wish to enter. I realize that. And the amount of student debt accrued earning a university education without Mommy & Daddy's assistance is astronomical, and can't be justified by future earnings unless the student is enrolled in a professional program. According to a report in Financial Post last month, the average university student in Canada these days graduates with $28,000 in debt, which takes an average of fourteen years to pay off assuming a starting salary of about $40,000. It's hard to justify saddling a kid with that kind of debt, which is why many financial experts ask students to weigh the debt load they're taking on against future earnings before deciding what program they pursue.

I can't argue with any of these points. But I still think it's important my kids go to university.

I did a four-year Bachelor of Arts. I graduated with a Combined Honours degree in History and Political Science with a minor in English.
I now work in fitness.
I changed majors roughly a zillion times over my four years of university. Because my courses were all essay courses (evaluated solely on essays & a final exam) I spent about 99% of my time partying, playing varsity sports, and sleeping - and attended maybe one class a week - but still graduated with an A average because I write a mean essay. This isn't a skill I learned in university, though I'm sure I refined it there - it's a skill I had since high school.
My parents paid for that "education."

Obviously, my "formal education" did not have a direct career path. I didn't leave university with any job skills or any clearer a notion of what I was going to be when I grew up than when I started. Luckily - thanks to my parents - I didn't have any student debt, either.

But those things I did learn in those four years are what helped to make me the person I am today. I firmly believe that without those four years of university, of abstract learning and reading and courses with no little or no practical application in the workforce, of delving into philosophical ideas and literary masterpieces and political history and ideology unrelated to a potential job, of submitting work to be criticized and evaluated, of auditioning my writing against a field of hundreds of my peers to be selected for an elite writing tutorial for only a dozen students, I would never have gained the confidence or broad-based knowledge to be able to start my own business, to go out and sell the concept to complete strangers, to return to school years after graduating for continuing education courses to  increase my qualifications. If I had gone to a community college for a specialized program, I may have landed a job in that field and continued in the same career to this day and until retirement rather than drifting from job to job for several years as I did after university. But I don't believe that I would have been as happy in that career as I am now.

I don't believe that an eighteen-year-old can or should be expected to know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. There is much to be said for all the post-secondary educational opportunities available. But in my opinion, those four undergraduate years of university provide students with the opportunity to learn, to explore, to grow up emotionally and intellectually. And they provide invaluable, intangible benefits that carry on throughout their adult lives.

I want my children to do and be whatever they want and have always taught them that they can (at the moment, my oldest wants to be a professional soccer player and a chef; his brother plans to be a Jedi.)  We are saving enough that we will be able to pay for their education for them, whatever direction that education ends up taking (is Jedi training expensive?) But in my own mind, I really and truly hope they decide to go to university as the first stepping stone on that path.

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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Back to soon?

My boys are back at school.

I wasn't ready for this!

We've had such a wonderful summer of long, lazy mornings at home and sunny afternoons outside and all-day family field trips. It was so special to spend two whole months hanging out playing with my amazing little boys. I can't believe it's all over already! Where did the time go?

And now they're back to school.

For my eldest, this means Grade Four - a classroom on the second floor, a locker to share with his best friend, extra responsibilities like helping out in the kindergarten yard, and the opportunity to play intramural sports. He's already planning to try out for cross country, volleyball, and track. The morning drop-off for my extroverted little social butterfly went something like this: found out class assignment from administrative table; ran into seventeen friends en route to said class; "What class are you in? Yesssss me too!"; found new class; "Hi I'm _" to new teacher; "Bye Mom" already navigating between desks and negotiating seating arrangements with friends. Me: "Bye baby, have a good day..." from the doorway, arm making an awkward switch from the expected hug to a wave as Eldest son was already on the other side of the room. How did my baby get so big?

For my middle child, this means Grade Two - a classroom outside the shared Primary pod, more independent options for recess activities, and helping a kindergarten Reading Buddy learn to read. My shy little guy was a lot more nervous on the first day of school than his big brother: nervous about his new class, nervous about his new teacher, nervous about which friends would be in his class, nervous about being back at school and away from this summer's safe, cozy little world of home and Mommy and brothers. There were a few tears and there was a little clinging. But once I finally extracted myself from his grip and left him in line, determinedly not looking over my shoulder, he was just fine - at the end of the day he was full of smiles and stories about his new classroom and teacher and friends and pushing me to organize playdates.

For my youngest and I, this meant a big shift in our days from the super fun constant activity but slight insanity of summer days with three kids at home on top of one another to six quiet hours alone together every day. Poor little guy's really going to miss having his brothers to play with all day - he absolutely worships them, and Mommy simply isn't as much fun. But it does mean he'll get more individual attention and one-on-one time with Mom, so I'm sure he'll be just fine. And the start of another school year means he's one year closer to starting school himself - only two more years until he's off for his first day of kindergarten (gasp!)

And for me - I'm in a bit of a strange place at the moment, caught between desperately wanting to keep my little boys little forever and not missing a single moment of their childhood but craving a little bit of an identity of my own outside "Mommy" and some alone time and independence for my husband and I. My girlfriends are just starting families, having their first or second baby, maybe just sending their eldest off to kindergarten - it's a very different headspace, there are different priorities and plans. My eldest is only a few years away from being old enough to babysit. With no more children in the plans, we can look toward things like big vacations and retirement with definite plans.

Back-to-school time means that I'm heartbroken that my boys are that little bit older and more grown-up now, but also the relief of having a little more free time to get my work done and make plans for the future. Back-to-school time means thinking about returning to work and what that would mean for our family - finances, daycare, a new vehicle, family time, extra-curricular activity coordination.

My little boys are growing up, and I couldn't be prouder of the people they've become - but it kills me that this time with them as little ones is creeping to a close. My babies will always be my babies - but they won't be babies anymore. And that just breaks my heart.

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Monday, 2 September 2013

End of summer...

I'm having a hard time grasping that it's Labour Day already and back-to-school tomorrow. This summer has just flown by, and has been so much fun.

summer, Toronto, slide, kidsI can't believe I was feeling anxious at the end of school last spring about having all my boys at home all day every day - so silly! I should have known how quickly and easily we'd all slip back into the routine of being home together all day, that lazy unscheduled summer routine of breakfast in the living room and jammies til noon and board games and movies and couch cushion forts, or bike riding and playing at the park and visiting the splash pad, or long walks to the pool and the library and through the trails of the arboretum, or hanging out in the backyard blowing bubbles and running through the sprinkler and playing in the sandbox and climbing trees or going on one of a million fun family field trips: Edward's Gardens, the Toronto Zoo, Canada's Wonderland, the CNE, cottaging, camping, and as many splash pads and beaches as we could find.

We've had so much fun this summer and made memories to last a lifetime. The end of this particular summer is a little bittersweet for me; this may well be the last summer that I am officially a full-time at-home mom since next spring may mark my return to part-time work. Even if I do go back, it's only for a few hours a day and I will still have a full month's vacation home with my boys, but this may well have been the last summer where the last day of school marks the start of a seemingly endless string of magical summer days at home that stretches all the way to Labour Day.

kids craft, painting, outdoor activities, summer

I'm simply not ready for this summer to be over.