Friday, 28 February 2014

Keep it Simple

What Makes You Happy?

Life can get so busy, so complicated, so ferociously competitive and fast-paced and relentlessly progressive that we lose track of what's important. 

Let's step back for a sec, take a deep breath, and try to reevaluate our priorities. 

Keep it simple.

What makes us happy? 

Is it a bigger house? Or the people you share it with? 
A newer car? Or the family field trips you take together? 
A big-screen TV or curling up with the kids and a bowl of popcorn for movie night?
Designer clothes or just feeling good about ourselves?

Things don't make us happy. Things aren't what will put a smile on our faces when we're old and grey. Moments make us happy, and memories make us smile.

Keep it simple, live on less, focus on priorities and realize that life is about love and family and making memories together. Life is not about things - having more things, wanting better things, spending our money and cluttering up our lives with things.

A simplified lifestyle makes the little things more important and priorities clearer.

It is ok to get pleasure from things, too. It's one of the privileges of living in the part of the world we do. Beauty and comfort and luxury bring pleasure to even the most minimalist of us - but often those things that bring us pleasure are not the big things we might think.

What are the things that bring you pleasure? The little things. The things that give you that warm sense of cozy satisfaction deep down inside.

My life is all about my kids, my husband, our family. My happiness comes from spending time with them and the things we do together. What else makes me happy?

Sunshine. Open water. Long drives with good music.
Coffee. Notebooks. Fresh flowers.
Jeans that fit well. Big sunglasses.
My kids' artwork on the wall.
Christmas commercials on TV.
The way June smells.
The sounds of the suburbs on summer evenings.
Old people who look content.

That list does not include a bigger or better home, decor, clothes or car. I don't need to compete with my neighbours or mortgage my future in order to have any of the things on this list.

Simplify. Live on less. Prioritize moments and memories and little things.

Keep it simple.

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Monday, 24 February 2014

Easter crafts

It's time for more holiday crafting!

With Easter approaching and spring on its way soon (hopefully...dear God please let spring come soon...) I've gathered some awesome ideas for fun family crafting projects to do with the kids. Easter eggs, bunnies and chicks, handprint crafts and toilet roll crafts and tissue paper crafts and pom-pom crafts - there are so many easy and creative crafts for little ones to make to celebrate the season.

Hard-boiled Easter Egg bunny craft, Easter crafts, kids crafts
Hard-boiled Easter Egg Bunnies
Tissue paper Easter egg craft, Easter crafts, kids crafts
Tissue Paper Easter Eggs
Thumbprint Easter chick craft, Easter crafts, kids crafts
Thumbprint Chicks
Handprint Easter chick craft, Easter crafts, crafts
Handprint Chick Craft
Handprint Easter lamb craft, Easter crafts, kids crafts
Handprint Easter Lamb
Pom-pom Easter chick craft, kids crafts, Easter crafts
Pom-pom Chicks
Toilet roll Easter Bunny craft, Easter crafts, kids crafts
Toilet Roll Bunnies
Marshmallow Easter egg craft, kids crafts, Easter crafts
Marshmallow Easter Egg Craft
Potato masher Easter egg craft, Easter crafts, kids crafts
Potato Masher Easter Eggs
Coloured wool Easter egg craft, kids crafts, Easter crafts
Coloured Wool Easter Eggs
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Friday, 21 February 2014

Olympics at Home!

We have been obsessed with watching the Winter Olympics these last two weeks. I mean, absolutely glued to the television during every broadcast minute, checking for updates on our phones when we're out, sneaking peeks at every screen we pass in case we missed something obsessed.

We watch every second of hockey, obviously - we're Canadian

But we're almost equally as riveted by the skiing, the snowboarding, the speed skating, the figure skating, the bobsledding, the luge. We've even made a valiant effort to watch curling - roughly the equivalent, entertainment-value-wise, of watching paint dry. The kids absolutely cannot get enough of watching these athletes perform and keeping track of scores and standings and medals and cheering for our country. It's awesome.

hockey, winter activities, kids, sports, Olympics at home

So I thought, why not have our own little Olympics at home?

tabletop shuffleboard, winter activities, Olympics at home, kids, sports

sledding, winter activities, kids, Olympics at home, sports
"Two-Man Luge"

A Canadian flag hung over the tv in the living room to show our Canadian pride and a homemade construction paper Olympic ring chain.

Celebrating the Olympics in style!

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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Homework Help

New to me as a mom in the past few years of parenting is after-school homework help.

When the boys were younger homework consisted of daily reading practice with leveled reading books, weekly spelling lists and the odd worksheet to practice printing or addition or subtraction. The kids weren't assigned a great deal of work to do at home for the first few years of school so most of the at-home learning activities we did I organized myself - math workbooks, word puzzles and games, journaling and lots and lots of reading.

In the past few years they're started to bring home quite a bit more homework - reading lists, spelling lists, math worksheets, word problems, French vocabulary. It's so regular now that it's part of our daily after-school routine - the kids unpack their backpacks in the kitchen and sit right down to their homework with their after-school snack. I read and sign agendas and permission slips and unpack lunch bags while they do their homework so I'm right there to help them as they need it, then review it with them once they're finished.

But the biggest homework addition we've had recently is the "big project" - the kids are assigned a major research project or presentation with a whole bunch of components that they're given a week or two to complete. The kids really enjoy these projects, and I enjoy helping them.

But I can be a bit of a control freak, and I've had a very hard time making sure I don't over help. For someone obsessed with organization, clean lines and visual appeal, a child's version of a presentation board with a hand-lettered title meandering diagonally across and down one side of the page or a research report without clearly marked and underlined titles and topic's a little jarring.

I don't know why I've had such a hard time with it when it comes to homework projects; when the kids and I do artwork and crafts together I've always made a point of being very hands-off, my philosophy being that these are meant to be activities for them and keepsakes of their own making - if I had my hands all over their work it wouldn't be theirs. (This, by the way, is why the kids' crafts on my blog are sometimes not quite as photo-worthy as other mom blogs; my kids' crafts are actually made by kids, not by mom. And I think they're perfect.)

For some reason, though, when it comes to the boys' homework projects I feel compelled to step in, to tidy them up, to design them and stage them the way I would do it.

I don't, though. Through a superhuman exercise in self-restraint I manage to control my obsessive-compulsive nature and silently hand over the requested glue stick or eraser, biting my tongue about the dripping paint or off-centre title or erased-and-corrected-a-dozen-times-over diagram penciled in the margin.

And of course their projects are perfect.

Canadian Lynx diorama, school work, school project, homework, kids crafts
First Grade Diorama
My son's diorama project on the Canadian Lynx from last year still sits proudly on his bedroom shelf. We worked so hard on that project together, researching everything we could learn about the lynx and its characteristics and habits and habitat, carefully printing out his report and practicing his presentation, collecting twigs and leaves and rocks from the park and gathering craft supplies and carefully gluing everything together in a shoebox for the diorama.

It wasn't exactly how I would have made it, but I stood back and followed his instructions - and it was exactly perfect.

For his holiday presentation earlier this year, though my fingers itched to sort and organize and arrange the photos and clippings and items he'd gathered onto his presentation board and stencil out an evenly-lettered title, my only job after helping with the report was to glue the items onto the board.

And for my older son's research reports on pioneer life, members of our community and cultural celebrations around the world, I helped him with where to find the information he needed but let him read and learn and decide what needed to go in the report; I answered questions but held back from offering suggestions; and I bit my tongue when the charts and diagrams didn't look just the way I would have made them. And his reports were perfect.

It's hard as parents who want to help our kids with everything to just step back and let them do for themselves; but it's one of the most important things we can do. Our job is to help them learn and grow on their own, to problem-solve and figure out and make mistakes - and to be proud of everything they do.

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Monday, 17 February 2014

Family Fun in Toronto

These cold winter days seem to be dragging on forever and the novelty of afternoons spent sledding and skating and playing outside in a snowy winter wonderland and evenings curled up by the fire with our fingers wrapped around steaming mugs of hot chocolate has long worn off. 

We're about bloody well done with winter this year, thank-you very much. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is not. And although long weekends in the summer are something to look forward to with endless possibilities for field trips and activities and active outdoor fun-in-the-sun-type things to do, a long weekend in February doesn't quite have the same appeal.

Thank goodness we live in a city with so many amazing things to do year-round!
If you're in and around Toronto this Family Day long weekend:

Family Day Weekend & Polar Bear Fest at Toronto Zoo

The Toronto Zoo is always our favourite family field trip so what better way to celebrate Family Day Weekend than with a visit to the zoo? February is Polar Bear Month at the Toronto Zoo to raise awareness of polar bears and help to save the species through Meet-the-Keeper Polar Bear Talks, fun educational activities, crafts and activities for kids, prize draws and more. The animals tend to be friskier and more active during the winter months so bundle up and head out to the zoo for some wild family fun!

polar bears, Toronto Zoo, winter, snow, animals, animal photography, Canada

Royal Ontario Museum logo

Royal Ontario Museum Family Day Weekend

The ROM has organized special events all weekend for families to enjoy, including an "Earth Rangers" animal show, photos with the ROM dinosaur mascots, hands-on crafts and activities and animal artifact touch tables, and interactions with live reptiles and amphibians from Sciencesational Sssnakes, bats and owls in the Bat Cave and insects in the hands-on galleries.

Ontario Science CentreOntario Science Centre Family Day Weekend

The Science Centre always has lots of interactive science fun for families including IMAX movies, planetarium programs, KidSpark kids' zone and endless interactive science exhibitions. Special programming this month includes a magic show, an electricity demo, a papermaking demo, planetarium programs for kids, two Winter Olympic sport experiences, jump rope performances and interactive healthy living demonstrations throughout the Science Centre.

Family Day at the Art Gallery of Ontario

The AGO is turning into the "KGO" for Family Day (Kids' Gallery of Ontario) in an all-day art extravaganza. A discounted family admission includes an all-day dance party, giant floor board games, guided tours, a Gallery-wide game of Clue, virtual-reality art-hunt challenges, a Build-It-Take-It-Apart room, a huge build-it-yourself playground, art-making, a drawing and activity area, a photo booth and family-friendly films.

Back to Home PageHockey Hall of Fame

To celebrate Family Day children's admission is free. To celebrate the beginning of the Olympic hockey playoffs, visitors can touch Sidney Crosby's 2010 gold-medal-winning puck and pose with the 2002 Lucky Loonie to help cheer Team Canada on to 2014 gold!

Family Fun Fest at Downsview Park

Superior Events Group transforms over 30,000 square feet at Downsview Park into a huge Indoor Fun Zone for Family Day weekend. The Family Fun Fest includes an indoor amusement park with rides, jumping castles, giant slides, kids' activities, interactive and carnival games, strolling entertainers and interactive stage shows - and of course lots of junk food!

Family Day at Fort York

At Historic Fort York this Family Day kids can build snow forts and decorate them with their own hand-made flags or coats of arms, then sample some baking from the historic kitchen to enjoy by the fire with a hot chocolate. Kids can also participate in an 1812 drill class, Officers' Sword Drill, and old-fashioned games and crafts.

Family Day at TIFF

TIFF offers a variety of short and full-length film screenings and family activities for Family Day including create-your-own animations, shadow puppet shows and buttons for kids.

Family Day at the Living Arts Centre

A day of family entertainment including live entertainment, artist demos, dance workshops, face painting, arts and crafts and family-friendly theatre performances.

Family Skate Day at Evergreen Brick Works

Free admission to the Brick Works' outdoor Family Day event, including skating at the outdoor rink, a guided nature and heritage hike through the Don Valley, eco-crafts and nature play and community stone soup (just bring a vegetable to add to the pot!)

HarbourKIDS Skating Festival at Harbourfront

Harbourfront Centre hosts a free Family Day program designed to foster creativity in kids featuring on-ice performances, ice carving demonstrations, arts and crafts, a street dance workshop and of course a day of free family skating at the outdoor rink.

Family Day at PawsWay

PawsWay is hosting a free pet-friendly Paws & People Family Day for families courtesy of Purina Dog Chow. The event will include clowns, face painters, prizes and dog shows and performances.

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Friday, 14 February 2014

Family Valentine's Day

heart stamp placemats, hearts and handprints bouquet, Valentine's Day crafts, crafts, kids craftsValentine's Day - like every other holiday or event - is a very family-centred holiday in this house.

The kids and I have been busy for weeks making homemade Valentine cards and Valentine crafts, putting together cards and gifts for their classmates, and decorating our house with hearts.

Every day in February leading up to Valentine's Day I post an "I love you because..." heart on the boys' bedroom doors - a little extra love to warm up these winter morning wake-ups.

Valentine's Day morning they woke up to Valentine chocolates and candies and gifts and a breakfast of heart-shaped pancakes with heart-shaped strawberries.

Valentine's Day heart-shaped pancakes and strawberries, breakfast

school lunches, Valentine's Day foodWe spent the morning at the boys' school for their annual "Snuggle Up and Read" event to celebrate Valentine's Day and Literacy Week - a couple of hours curled up in the gym with pillows and blankets and lots and lots of books.

Their school lunches were filled with heart-shaped jam sandwiches, heart-shaped apple and strawberry slices, heart-shaped sugar cookies and chocolate hearts - and a special Valentine from Mom for a lunchtime surprise.

And later tonight, once the kids are all in bed, hopefully my husband and I will have a few moments alone together for an adults' Valentine's Day celebration to remind ourselves where this family we love so much started.

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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Valentine's Day Heart Crafts

The best kind of holiday decor is the kind made by little hands and filled with love. For Valentine's Day it's all about hearts - the crafting possibilities are almost endless!

Potato Stamp Heart Placemats, Valentine's Day, Valentine crafts, Valentine decor, crafts, kids crafts
Potato Stamp Heart Placemats

Potato Stamp Heart Placemats

My kids absolutely loved this craft and wanted to stamp everything in sight. You may not want to actually eat off the placemats (unless you laminate them) as they will get dribbled on and destroyed; we used them to decorate our Valentine's Day table but then moved them to the middle of the table when we sat down to eat.

Potato Stamp Heart Placemats, Valentine's Day, Valentine crafts, Valentine decor, crafts, kids crafts
Heart-shaped Potato Stamp

1. Cut a potato in half and carve out a heart shape on the flat side.

2. Dip potato stamp in paint and press onto a piece of coloured construction paper.

3. Dry and enjoy!

Stained Glass Paper Hearts, Valentine's Day, Valentine's crafts, crafts, kids crafts

"Stained Glass" Paper Hearts

We make these pretty wax paper hearts every year. They're a fun craft for the kids and some cheerful spring warmth and colour to decorate the windows during this dull winter month.

Cut varying sizes of heart shapes out of wax paper, colour, and tape to windows. So pretty when the sun shines through!

Stained Glass Paper Hearts, Valentine's Day, Valentine's crafts, crafts, kids crafts
"Stained Glass" Paper Hearts

Dream Catcher Pipe Cleaner Hearts, Valentine's Day, Valentine's decor, Valentine's crafts, crafts, kids crafts
"Dream Catcher" Pipe Cleaner Hearts

Dream Catcher Pipe Cleaner Hearts

Bend craft pipe cleaners into heart shapes. Wrap colourful wool around the hearts, leaving some spaces. Be careful not to pull the wool too tightly - it will bend and distort the heart shape. Tie the ends of the wool together at the back and hang the hearts in the window.

Dream Catcher Pipe Cleaner Hearts, Valentine's Day, Valentine's decor, Valentine's crafts, crafts, kids crafts
Dream Catcher Pipe Cleaner Hearts, Valentine's Day, Valentine's decor, Valentine's crafts, crafts, kids crafts

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Monday, 10 February 2014

'Little Love Bugs' Valentine Craft

This is a cute and easy Valentine's Day craft for kids: Little Love Bugs!

Pom-Pom Love Bugs

Pom-Pom Love Bugs craft, kids crafts, Valentines Day crafts1. Make pom-poms from coloured wool. (See my step-by-step pom-pom tutorial.)
2. Cut out heart shapes from coloured felt; glue to bottom of pom-pom as feet.
3. Twist coloured pipe cleaners into antennae; twist around pom-pom. 
4. Glue craft feathers to back of pom-pom for wings.
5. Glue on googly eyes or create out of construction paper.

Toilet Roll Love Bugs

Toilet Roll Love Bugs craft, kids crafts, Valentine's Day craft1. Wrap toilet rolls in construction paper.
2. Cut out heart shapes from construction paper; colour and decorate; glue to back of toilet roll.
3. Twist coloured pipe cleaners into antennae; glue to back of toilet roll.
4. Glue craft feathers to back of toilet roll.
5. Cut out heart shapes from coloured felt; glue to front of toilet roll for eyes.

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Friday, 7 February 2014

Hearts and Handprints Valentine Bouquet

Hearts and Handprints Valentine Bouquet craft, kids crafts, Valentine's Day

This "Hearts and Handprints" bouquet is a pretty, colourful decoration for the Valentine's Day dinner table and a fun holiday craft for kids.

And it's super easy to make!

Hearts and Handprints Valentine Bouquet craft, kids crafts, Valentine's Day
1. Trace and cut out handprints and heart shapes on colourful construction paper for "flowers."

2. Cut out leaf shapes from green construction paper.

3. Carefully thread craft pipe cleaners through the construction paper shapes for "stems."

Arrange in a vase and enjoy!

Hearts and Handprints Valentine Bouquet craft, kids crafts, Valentine's Day

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Handprint Valentine Cards

"Peek-a-Boo I Love You" Valentine handprint card, Valentine's Day crafts, kids craftsCards are so much more personal when they're handmade. My kids love making and decorating cards for us and each other for every occasion imaginable. This Valentine's Day we decided to make handprint cards (my favourite kind of kids' craft) - it doesn't get much more personal or handmade than that.

"Peek-a-Boo I Love You" Handprint Card

For this card, trace and cut out handprints and a face shape. Glue onto a construction paper card with the fingers covering the eyes - glue only at the wrists so that hands can be opened and closed. Colour and decorate!

"Peek-a-Boo I Love You" Valentine handprint card, Valentine's Day craft, kids craft

"My Heart's In Your Hands" handprint Valentine cards, Valentine's Day crafts, kids crafts

"My Heart's In Your Hands" Handprint Cards

We tried this double-handprint card craft two different ways for two different kids.

Version 1: Trace and cut out handprints, then colour and glue them onto a homemade construction paper card with the fingers and thumbs pointed to form a heart in the middle. Colour and decorate! 

Version 2: Dip hands in paint and place in the same shape on a construction paper heart.

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Monday, 3 February 2014

Screw the Mom Wars

I am sooo tired of reading all these posts every bloody time I turn on the computer: stay-at-home moms are better moms, working moms are better role models, stay-at-home moms make more sacrifices, working moms do so much more.

What the hell, ladies? Since when did child-rearing become a competition?

The thing is, every other mom I know says the same thing. So I have to wonder: does anyone actually believe this competitive crap? Are there any real moms out there actually saying and believing that one is better than the other, that what they do is more significant or more challenging than what someone else does?

I don't think so, to be honest. This "war" is manufactured: by the writers, the bloggers, the social media manipulators who post these comments to incense the rest of us and provoke a reaction - in the form of hits, shares, views and comments - and, eventually, revenue.

I see red over someone writing that "women who have children will never be successful" (Why? Why? That doesn't even make sense. And what's your measure of success?) or that working moms "do everything stay-at-home-moms do PLUS work all day" (Yes...except for the eight to ten hours of child-rearing which you are in fact paying someone else to do...that's like saying I do everything a teacher does because I help my kids with their homework for an hour or two) or that breastfeeding will make your child dependent or that picking up your baby when he cries will keep him from learning to do things on his own. And I know that those with differing parenting methods to mine have the exact same reaction when they read that stay-at-home-moms are doing better for their kids than working moms, that feeding your infant formula will stunt his development, that sleep training your baby is cruel.

Here's the thing: I don't think anyone actually thinks those things.

These posts are out there to create controversy, to create "Mommy wars."

When I write that I would never work outside the home and send my kids to daycare if I could possibly help it, when I say that I would feel like I was missing their childhood and that I was paying someone else to raise them, I mean just that. That's how I would feel, and that's the choice I am making as a result. It has nothing to do with anyone else. I want to be home to raise my kids, so I have found a job that lets me do just that while still earning a second income. It's not a judgement against a mom who makes the choice to return to work or who doesn't have a choice in the matter and is forced to return to work. It's not a commentary on any other mom at all. It's a statement of my own feelings and values and choices. And that's all it is.

I think that this online culture of sharing information and opinions on parenting, while it's given us access to a world of support we wouldn't otherwise have, has also created a world where we all feel we have to defend the choices we make to one another.

I feel as though I am constantly defending my decision to be an at-home mom, and I know that's in response to statements by working moms that they could never give up their job, their identity, their sense of self in order to "just" be a stay-at-home mom; I also know that they are likely not criticizing my decision but justifying their own, and my defensive reaction is just that - me being defensive.

In the same way that a working mom making that statement is probably referring only to herself and not implying that I am a useless failure as a human being because I do stay home with my kids, when I say I don't want to put my kids in daycare I'm referring to my own needs rather than making a statement against a mom who does choose to work outside the home. No judgement on either side.

Every mom makes the decision that's right for them. I decided to stay at home with my kids. I have my reasons for that decision, and they have nothing to do with anyone else. A working mom makes the decision to return to the workplace, she has her reasons for that decision, and they have nothing to do with anyone else. Somehow, though, as we all try to defend the decisions we've made we all end up feeling judged for them.

Maybe none of us are actually being judged.

Maybe it's something we're putting on ourselves.

Mom guilt - it's a killer. But I don't think it's cause to start a Mom War.

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