Monday, 28 July 2014

Fitting In Fitness

I spent my youth as an athlete and my entire adult life working in recreation and fitness. Until the birth of my youngest son I worked out for a living. If anyone in the world should be in shape, it should be me.'s just so hard to find the time. And just so easy to use "no time" as an excuse.

And it is hard to find the time. Between work, three kids, at-home-mommying, managing teams, volunteering, school, soccer, swimming and all the daily everything I don't even have five minutes to spend with my husband until after ten o'clock every night; how could I possibly justify taking up any more time out of the day - time from my kids, time from my husband, time from the work that I love or the work that pays the bills or the million and one other commitments I've made and organizations and committees counting on me?

I've let that excuse be - well, my excuse - for nearly three years. Oh, there have been little spurts of ambition here and there, days and weeks and even months of determined resolve, bursts of energy and determination that quickly devolve back into late nights lounging on the couch watching Netflix with my love and a glass or two of wine. There's never been any real long-term fitness commitment since I left my job as a fitness professional nearly three years ago.

It's not that I'm completely inactive or out of shape in general - I walk five or ten kilometres a day, bike ride, rollerblade, play soccer with the kids, swim, and chase around after my three boys every waking minute of the day. I'm pretty active. But for me that basic exercise doesn't count - that's just life. For me to feel fit and healthy, to feel like I look good and to feel good about myself, I need to be fit. Which means that for the last three years I've felt kind of crappy most of the time.

Not anymore. I've finally found a way to fit fitness back in my life.

I work out at my kids' soccer practices.

It wasn't even my idea, and I can't believe I never thought of it.

My soccer mom friends and I were lazing about in our lounge chairs, watching our sons play soccer and lamenting our lost figures. (Like one does.) My friend Josee suggested we start putting our soccer practice time to better use - for fully an hour and a half every single night we just sit there gabbing; why not work out? The boys' younger siblings keep each other entertained, ignoring us almost entirely as they run around playing tag and taking shots on net. There's no reason we couldn't watch the older kids practice, keep an eye on the younger kids at play, and get in a good workout all at the same time. As the fitness professional of the bunch, I was nominated to take charge.

We started the next night - reluctantly at first, a little unsure about pulling out the hand weights and resistance bands and unfurling the yoga mats right there on the soccer field sidelines with an audience of hundreds - but that faded quickly and we've been working out enthusiastically four nights a week ever since.

We Crossfit, Pilates and resistance train. Laps of lunges up and down the length of the pitch, hundreds of step-ups on the team benches. Weights and bands for arms and shoulders, down on the mats for abs. Burpees and squats, push-ups and dips. Yoga. Sometimes it's just Josee and I, sometimes a few of our other mom friends join in.

And now, halfway through the summer, it's finally paying off. I'm looking and feeling better than I have in ages - a little tighter, a little more toned, a little lighter on my feet, a little more energy every day. I find myself looking forward to our workouts at the field. I'm enjoying planning and leading daily exercise classes again. And, most importantly, I'm loving working out again. Hopefully that love will mean that this time around my fitness program sticks.

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Friday, 25 July 2014

Sports Team Families

There's something about being a part of a team that's so special for kids.

It brings with it a sense of belonging, a feeling of family, that oneness that comes from a shared passion, shared goals, a shared dream;

from time spent together training, hours and hours together every week over months and months and year after year;

from learning and growing and improving together, from making mistake after mistake and finally nailing it;

from team cheers and slaps on the back and words of encouragement and shared successes and failures;

from scorching sunburnt weekend tournaments spent sweating on the pitch, jerseys sticking to slick skin, faces flushed and necks turning crispy red, the sounds of cheers and referee whistles from a dozen other games filling the air and ice cream trucks tinkling and tempting from the parking lots, younger siblings scurrying around without shirts and parents slowly baking in folding lawn chairs next to overflowing coolers dripping moisture;

from soaking wet games slugged out slip-sliding through the mud, huddled shivering and dripping on the bench, jerseys and hair plastered to skin, barely able to see the other end of the field through the driving rain or hear the cheers from the sopping poncho-clad parents on the sidelines;

Kids soccer, sports, team, summer, kids activitiesfrom the thousands of shared moments and experiences and successes and failures that bring the players together as a team and their brothers and sisters and parents together as one big extended soccer family.

There's something so special about being a part of a team.

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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Science Centre: Discovery & Play

Ontario Science Centre, astronaut, kidsOur family has always been very much about outings and adventures and field trips. Weekend fairs and festivals, concerts and movies and theatre in the park, Town-hosted activities and events, trips to the zoo and the aquarium, amusement parks and museums. I love exploring and adventuring with my boys, making the most of our moments together and storing up memories for the future.

One of our favourite family field trips is to the Ontario Science Centre. We have an annual family membership, so we can go as often as we like and explore as much or as little of the interactive science museum as we like.

Since our children are still younger, our favourite area of the Science Centre is KidSpark, where in one section the kids can explore water and bubble play, play with a giant pinboard, experiment with light and mirrors and explore parts of the natural world and in another they can construct a house, build and test their own roller coaster, make their own music and rock out on stage, and go grocery shopping and check-out in their own realistic market. We can spend hours in this part of the museum alone - there's nothing children enjoy more that hands-on discovery and play.

The Living Earth is another favourite section with a giant rainforest habitat and waterfall to walk through, aquariums and terrariums and fish and frogs and all manner of insects on display, and a chance to make your own tornado and explore a cave.

The Science Arcade is a lot of fun, where the kids can interact with exhibits exploring the science of physics - a giant plasma ball, experiments with static electricity, a shadow tunnel, a bike generator and tricks with lights and perception and optical illusions.

The Space section of the Science Centre is fascinating - all children of a certain age love everything about space - but it's pretty dark in there and younger kids might be frightened. There are metoeorites from Mars, a rocket space chair, and the planetarium is by far the coolest part of the Space section.

The Science Centre is a wonderful way to spend a day with the family and a great indoor alternative for rainy-day field tripping. It's a different adventure every visit and an opportunity for kids to learn and discover while exploring and playing.

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Monday, 21 July 2014

Camping at Home!

Our annual family camping trip was rained out this year.

We go camping at least once every summer - just for a night or two, usually, to one of the provincial parks close enough to home that if there was an emergency we could hop in the car and be back quickly.

Campfire, cookout, camping, hot dogs, family activitiesI'm not a big camper myself - I'm a fan of indoor plumbing and big comfy beds and not terribly fond of bugs and smoke in my face and sleeping on the ground. A vacation, to me, means sunshine and beaches and restaurants and hotels, not coolers and campfires and tents in the woods. But my husband loves camping, my children love camping, and I love my husband and children. So we go camping.

Coordinating this year's camping trip was tricky - between soccer six nights a week, tournaments three out of every four weekends, and our work schedules it was next to impossible - but we figured it out, booked the time off, and pulled the tents and air mattresses out of storage.

Mother Nature, however, disagreed with our plans and the day we were supposed to leave was the beginning of a crashing two-day thunderstorm.

Instead of giving up - vacation time is vacation time and there simply won't be any more days this summer when both my husband and I can take time off - we changed our plans. The skies cleared, the sun came out, the rain dried up and we planned ourselves a little camping trip at home.

We grilled steaks and eggplant and corn on the cob on the barbecue and ate out on the deck. Then, while I brought the boys to their soccer practices, my husband set up the tents and air mattresses and fire pit in the backyard and surprised us when we got home with with a "walk-the-plank" bridge he constructed over the "shark" bay below our back deck.

We put on our pirate hats (pirate hats are pretty much the norm for virtually every occasion in this family), walked the plank to our backyard campsite, and spent the night around the campfire roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and playing with sparklers.

At bedtime we crawled into our tents and cozied up for a night of camping at home in our own backyard.

It may not have been the usual summer camping trip, but we had lots of fun and made lots of memories - and we may make backyard camping a new family tradition!

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Friday, 18 July 2014

Lazy Summer Alone Time

Everyone talks about how moms need alone time.

Time for themselves, time to themselves, time to rest and relax and recouperate and regenerate. 

Time to get back to the person she is outside "mom" - the woman who's something more than healer of boo-boos and reader of bedtime stories, sidewalk chalk artist and swim instructor, activity coordinator and scheduler and referee, chauffeur and chef and cleaning crew, carrier of crayons and wipes and racecars and stuffies and extra bottles of water and snacks. 

The woman who loves her husband and children more than anything else in this world but aches for five minutes to herself without worrying about the household budget, how to juggle next week's sports schedule, the politics of parent council, breaking up arguments between bickering brothers or answering cries of "Mom" every three seconds.

I suck at taking alone time. I don't do it. Ever.

But yesterday I did. For the first time in a decade, I took a couple of hours all to myself. 

Not after the kids went to bed at night. Not by waking up extra early and creeping downstairs alone. Not to pull out my endless to-do list and start ticking off items. Not to catch up on paperwork and assignments.

Just a couple of hours alone in the middle of the afternoon.

It was heavenly.

My husband and the children were otherwise occupied, and for the first time ever I walked away.

summer garden, wine, alone timeI pulled out a book, poured a glass of wine, put on a floaty sundress and set myself up in the back garden. Alone. 

For two blissful hours I sat in silence, soaking up the sunshine, sipping at my wine, giggling away with Bridget Jones (I tend to read the same books over and over and over again) and feeling more in touch with myself than I have in years.

What a treat for a tired full-time mom. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon. What a wonderful way to fuel up the energy reserves for the next decade of Mommying.

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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Easy, Breezy Summertime Fun

Free Summer Fun

It's that time of year. The kids are home from school for the summer and looking to be entertained. There's nothing better than the long, lazy days of summer. Endless easy, breezy hours whiled away in the sunshine - but staring down two full months of twenty-four-hour-a-day entertainment requirements and cries of "Mom, I'm bored" it's tempting to turn to expensive outings to fill in the hours and days.

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three boys. There are a lot of hours between the last day of school in June and the first day of school in September. Because I am a stay-at-home mom, I am also a mom on a fairly strict budget. One of the luxuries we chose to give up in order to live on a reduced income was the extra money to spend on endless outings to entertain the kids. But our summers are filled with fun from beginning to end, and we do it without spending much.

There's a lot of fabulous field tripping fun to be had in the warm weather - water parks, amusement parks, zoos and farms and drive-in movies. But there are even more activities that are just as fun, and completely free.

Go bike riding through the neighbourhood, hiking through the local trails, or visit an arboretum or botanical garden. Spend an afternoon playing at the park or take a trip to the local splash pad. Head out into the backyard to dig in the sandbox, blow bubbles, have a water gun fight and run through the sprinkler in the backyard.

Mural, Mural on the Lawn
If you're lucky enough to live near a beach the kids can spend a whole day happily playing in the water and sand, and a picnic lunch out is always a special treat. Make a chalk drawing on the driveway or roll out the craft paper across the lawn and pull out the paints. Look up local concerts in the park and outdoor art and theatre exhibitions.

There are endless options for summertime family fun - and endless choices for outings and field trips with the kids. But there are just as many amazing options for summertime fun that don't cost a cent - and can fill a family's summer with special moments and memories.

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Monday, 14 July 2014

Party Planning Made Easy

tissue paper puffsI wouldn't call myself a party planning expert, but I have planned, organized and executed a lot of parties and events over the years - monthly events at the recreation centres I manage, themed parties for each of my kids' birthdays every year, bridal showers, baby showers, and endless family gatherings. I've done events for as few as ten and as many as a hundred and twenty people.

Planning a party, no matter what the occasion or how many guests are expected, should not be complicated or stressful.

But I've recently discovered that for some, it is.

My bestie Melissa of Sweetie & Joy is having her first baby this summer. Long planned-for and anticipated little Baby Sweetie or Baby Joy will be here in only a couple of weeks. So I got together with her sister-in-law and a couple of her other girlfriends to plan a baby shower. We picked a location and got a rough guest list from Mommy-to-be to get an idea of numbers.

Perfect, I thought, we're all sorted; a couple of emails back and forth to decide on a menu and decorations, a list to divide it all up and we'll be done. How complicated is it to organize a little lunch party for less than twenty women?

Extremely complicated, apparently.

Dozens of unnecessary email debates later (but what shade of yellow for the background on the invitations? is it just sheep she likes or are lambs ok too? yes, I'm serious.) and a request that I Skype in from an out-of-town soccer tournament for a scheduled baby-shower-planning summit (no, I'm not kidding) I pulled out my master party planning list and sent it over with some menu ideas before anyone had a heart attack.

With the newfound discovery that planning a simple party might be a daunting, stress-inducing challenge for some I thought I'd share some suggestions.

Party Planning

Guest list - the number of guests will determine your venue and shopping list
Venue - pick a location and make sure it works with your numbers
Invitations - depending how themed your event will be, settle on the theme before sending out invitations
Master list - plug the appropriate numbers into your master list
Menu - pick specific menu items
Decor - pick theme and colours (if not done so already)
Shop & Cook - it's best to make or buy as much food in advance as you can
Party Day! - decorate, lay out food and drink, decorate and stage; enjoy!

Master List - Buffet Party, 20 people

1 x banner
1 x flower bouquet
1 x balloon bouquet
12 x tissue paper puffs
2 x streamer rolls
2 x ribbon rolls

2 x tablecloths
20 x glassware
40 x paper napkins
40 x paper plates
40 x sets plastic cutlery

1 x tray fruit with dip
1 x tray vegetables with dip
2 x hot dishes
2 x salads
20 x rolls
20 x deli meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato
1 x tray dessert bars
1 x themed cake or cupcakes
4 x bottles wine
punch bowl

Party planning does not need to be complicated. It does not require endless meetings or debates. Planning a party is as simple as a half-hour's worth of list-making and food and decor decisions, another half-hour of internet research and an hour's shopping trip. A few hours of cooking and baking (unless your event is catered) and careful decorating and you'll have a beautiful, coordinated, thoughtful party without any of the party planning stress so many assume unnecessarily.

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Friday, 11 July 2014

Backyard Birdhouse Craft

Backyard Birdhouse Craft, crafts, kids crafts, paintingAt one of our many Town Park celebrations this summer there was a Home Depot-sponsored station where each child received their own wooden birdhouse kit. There were tables set up in the sunshine with tools and nails and screws and the kids spent a happy hour hammering away until they each had a birdhouse made with their very own hands.

Another sunny afternoon with a rainbow of acrylic paints and paintbrushes and their imaginations and we have three colourful new additions to our backyard decor. We hung them on the fence between the trees and our second-storey deck landing where we can bird-watch all summer long.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Strawberry Jam

strawberries, berry picking, strawberry jam, organic fruit, farmLast weekend our family went on our traditional strawberry picking trip to the local farm. A sunny afternoon of outdoor fun later we had baskets brimming with ripe, juicy berries. We made a few strawberry pies, sliced berries for dessert at dinner and smothered our breakfast yogurt in the juicy fruit. But we still found ourselves with baskets full of quickly over-ripening berries left over. So we made strawberry jam!

Strawberry Jam Recipe

4 cups mashed strawberries
4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. Crush strawberries until you have four cups of mashed berries.
2. Mix mashed berries, sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase to high heat and bring mixture to a boil. Boil, stirring often, for about ten minutes.
3. Transfer mixture to hot sterile jars and seal. Refrigerate.

(I didn't do any further processing or anything as we'll have all the jars eaten within the next couple of weeks.)


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Monday, 7 July 2014

Berry Picking and Berry Baking

strawberries, strawberry picking
The beginning of summer means strawberry season. We go berry picking every year at our favourite local farm. It's a whole afternoon of good old-fashioned family fun - wagon rides and fields full of berries, a petting zoo and playground and a giant play area. The kids have a blast, there's a winery for Mom and Dad, and at the end of the day we head home with baskets brimming with fresh, sweet, juicy-red berries.

One of the best parts of berry picking is using those berries to make tasty berry treats. This year, instead of our traditional strawberry crumble I made a couple of strawberry pies - delicious, melt-in-your-mouth gooey-sweet strawberry pies.

This recipe was one of the easiest I've ever tried.

Strawberry Pie Recipe

strawberry pieIngredients:
2 pre-made pie crusts
3 cups fresh strawberries
1 cup sliced apples
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. butter

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Place one crust in a pie pan.
2. Mix together sugar, flour and cinnamon. Slice berries and apples and toss gently in sugar mixture.
3. Pour filling into pastry-lined pan and top with dots of butter. 
4. Cover with top crust, press edges of pastry and slit top.
5. Bake for 40 minutes or until crust is browned.

A delicious treat after a long day out in the sun at the local farm!

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Friday, 4 July 2014

World Cup Crazy

Brasil World Cup swag, Brasil soccer ball, Brasil pennant, soccer, football, BrazilIt's World Cup time and the whole world has gone crazy over soccer. In this family where soccer games and practices fill up every evening and soccer tournaments fill every weekend we have now officially given over our lives to the sport, racing home to catch the games, planning activities and outings around the playoff schedule, filling in all our spare hours with highlights and updates.

Each of the boys has a favourite team and our house is completely kitted out in team swag - jerseys, t-shirts, banners pennants, and official team balls. My eldest son has an official FIFA sticker book and has been collecting stickers for all the international players. His brother has an enormous FIFA wall poster with the entire World Cup schedule printed on it and has been diligently filling in the scores and stats game by game.

It's awesome having something special to share that the entire family enjoys so much. It's an amazing learning experience for my elite little athletes to get to study how the pros play. And it's so much fun having this much excitement in the house for a whole month while we watch some of the best athletes on the planet play the beautiful game we love so much.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Canada Day Celebration

Canada Day - the first long weekend of summer vacation. The kids are finished school for a few months. The sun is blazing, the weather is gorgeous - what better way to spend the holiday than outdoors all day, soaking up the sunshine with family and friends and celebrating living in the best country in the world?

Our small town puts on a big Canada Day celebration every year. The morning starts with a parade and a maple-syrup-and-pancake breakfast and the afternoon is filled with fun family-friendly activities at the Town park.

There's a First Nations dance show, a bird and reptile show, an antique car show, and live concerts all day long.

There are bouncy castles and children's games and a petting zoo and barbeque and ice cream.

There's a passport activity for the kids - a station set up with an activity unique to each Canadian province or territory, stamps to collect at each of the thirteen stations, and a prize to collect once their "passports" are filled in. This year's activities included badminton, curling, hockey, mini-golf, an obstacle course, a relay race, tree planting, fishing, building a birdhouse, excavating for dinosaur bones and crafts.

And after a long day out at the park celebrating this amazing country of ours in this amazing community of ours we wander home for a backyard cookout - burgers and hot dogs and corn cooked over a bonfire and a couple of hours sipping cocktails, roasting marshmallows, and enjoying the evening sunshine before walking back across the street to watch the fireworks over the water.

Happy Canada Day!

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