Friday, 29 August 2014

Holding on to Summer

Heading into the last few days of summer vacation time is starting to speed up on us. We've suddenly lost that sense of summer endlessness, of days drifting into weeks and months of unplanned sunshiney afternoons slipping one into the other and stretching out in front of us until the end of time.

The kids are back to school in only a week. Fall will be on us before we've turned around. But I feel like we've barely begun to enjoy our summer at home together!

I'm not ready for my babies to be back to school, another year older, another grade older, another childhood summer behind them. Back to school means my little boys are getting bigger, growing up and growing away that tiny bit more and more each year. I love my babies and I'm proud of the boys they've become and the men I know they will be. I want them to grow and learn and be happy, successful, independent people one day - but that day seems to be coming too soon!

There is so little time that little ones are little, a few short years, a couple of sleepless spins around the sun so frantic and busy we barely blink before they're over and gone, our babies suddenly grown and living their own lives and all we have are the memories of moments of this time.

I want to enjoy every second with my little guys while they are still little. I want to make the most of every moment. I don't want to turn around one day and realize my babies are all grown up and I didn't do everything I could have done with them when we had the time together, so I do everything I can to make sure our time together is special. So many of those special moments spent together are during the long, lazy days of summer. But there never seems to be enough time!

Childhood is marked by the memories made year after year, summer after summer - and the end of summer means another year gone by, the boys another year older and more independent. I'm so proud of the people they're growing into year after year - but I miss the babies they once were and their childhoods slowly slipping away as those years go by.

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Monday, 25 August 2014

At the Ex!

It's the end of summer vacation, the countdown to Labour Day weekend and back-to-school, which in Toronto also means it's time for the Ex!

CNE Toronto, The Ex, Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, CN Tower, rides, midway

A trip to the Ex (CNE) is a Toronto family tradition - a full day out in the sun, midway rides and games and sports, concerts and shows and musicians and acrobats, animals and exhibits and battered deep-fried fast-food everything, parades and fireworks and people people everywhere.

This year, for the first time, we managed to make it to the Ex before the final weekend, when the crowds are so thick you can't see your own kids clutching your hands as you shove shoulder-to-shoulder through the throngs and the lineups so long it takes half the day to get on a single ride. What a difference! No crowds, no lineups, front seats at every show and vendors eager to drape our kids in all the free swag their little shoulders could carry.

CNE, Exhibition, The Ex, Toronto, sports zoneThis year at the Ex we did the rounds of the Farm building with its farm animals and butter sculptures, corn maze and children's activities, and bronco simulator and tractor rides and live fishing, the Reptilia snake and reptile show and the birds of prey show, and the aerial acrobatic show and street performers before hitting the midway and children's rides.

The sports zone featured free soccer, baseball, badminton, boxing, gymnastics and track and field events for kids to compete in and after a few hours of sports a few minutes in the water play area cooled our little athletes off.

CNE, Exhibition, The Ex, Toronto, Splash N Boots

The Splash 'n Boots show was one of the highlights of the day - a live stage performance of one of the younger kids' favourite singing groups, real live Treehouse TV "celebrities" right there in front of them in a fun, energetic song and dance show - as was the circus show, where the kids had a chance not only to watch a real circus act, but were then picked out of the crowd to try out the trapeze and learn and perform a tumbling and acrobatics act for the crowd.

And, as always, the day was topped off with the traditional favourite Mardi Gras parade, a line of floats winding their way through the Ex grounds tossing thousands of strands of shiny plastic beads to eager outstretched hands. This year we staked out our spot at the beginning of the parade route, caught the parade and a few dozen necklaces along the midway, then jogged a short-cut through the grounds to a spot near the end of the route - and caught a few dozen more. The Ex is not the Ex unless we end the day absolutely dripping with colourful bead necklaces!

A train ride around the grounds as the sun dropped behind the skyline and the midway lit the darkening sky and a fireworks show to end the night - a perfect end to a long, fun family day, another summer tradition, another memory made.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Park Hop!

park, kids, summerWith only a week left until the kids are back to school we've been trying to cram in as much last-minute summer fun as possible, fitting in all our favourite field trips and outdoor activities just one more time before we're back to the daily busyness of work and school and schedules.

Bike riding and playing at the park are among our favourite and most frequent summer afternoon outings so I thought we'd make a whole day out of it - a park hop!

We have a dozen awesome parks with playgrounds within a couple of kilometres of our home - in addition to the one just outside our backyard gate. I mapped out a route that covered most of them and packed a picnic lunch. The boys hopped on their bikes and rollerblades and we took off for an all-day neighbourhood park hop.

What a great way to spend a summer day and turn something as everyday as a trip to the park and a picnic into an adventure!

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Garden Harvest Season

Home grown vegetables, organic vegetables, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, swiss chard, gardeningOur little backyard vegetable garden is finally coming into its own after a long, cold winter, late spring and a summer with weather all over the place. It's finally harvest season!

This year we pared down our garden to just those veggies we eat the most: cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and Swiss chard. We planted the vegetables from seed last winter, dozens of teeny-tiny little pots of soil and seeds lined up along our sunny kitchen windowsills, watered and watched day after day for those first little green sprouts to start peeking out and strung up with kitchen skewers and straws when the sprouts began to wind their way up the california shutters.

When spring finally sprung we moved the plants outside and planted them in the freshly-prepared composted soil in our backyard vegetable garden. We planted the Swiss chard from seed in stages, staggering the planting so that we'd have fresh greens ready to pick every day once they grew in.

And it's finally harvest time! The cucumbers and peppers are thriving this year and the tomatoes are finally starting to come in. We have fresh Swiss chard in our salad every night and I've been cooking with fresh basil and thyme all summer. There's nothing better than eating fresh, organic vegetables grown and harvested with our own hands in our own backyard!

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Delicious Everyday Muffins

These delicious everyday muffins are one of our favourite go-to homemade treats. We bake them in big batches every week - the boys love helping in the kitchen, measuring and pouring and mixing and stirring - and add whatever fresh fruits or veggies we have on hand to create a new treat every time. Muffins are a fantastic snack to have in the house, especially in the summer when we're so often on our way out field tripping, picnicing, or heading to the soccer field for a practice or game or tournament.

Basic Muffin Recipe

muffins, baking, home bakingIngredients:
2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 400F. 
2. Combine all dry ingredients in large bowl.
3. Mix in wet ingredients.
4. Add 1 1/2 cups of extras* and mix.
5. Bake in lined muffin tins for 24 minutes.

*Extras: Almost anything! Try blueberries and raspberries, bananas with cinnamon, apples with nutmeg, peaches with coconut, carrots with ginger and molasses...the possibilities are endless!

Delicious hot and fresh from the oven, as snacks on the road, or frozen to pack in picnics and school lunches - and a super quick and easy recipe!

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Friday, 15 August 2014

Make-Your-Own Ice Cream!

Summer has suddenly turned cold and wet in this part of the world, putting a damper on the bike ride-picnic-park-pool routine most of our family's summer days take. There are only so many board games we can play, forts we can build, foosball tournaments we can have and Lego creations we can make before this active, outdoor family begins to go stir-crazy inside. So how can we make the most of summer vacation days stuck indoors? Outdoor activities inside!

We pulled the coffee table out of the living room and spread out the big, colourful woven Mexican blanket we use for picnics. Big crusty buns with homemade jam, slices of cheese and cucumbers from the garden, peaches and pears and bowls of fresh blueberries and the kids' favourite home-baked fruit muffins. Our indoor picnic was just as much fun as a picnic in the park!

Our usual sunny summer afternoons outside tend to involve cool treats - so why should a cold summer day stuck inside be any different? We made our own ice cream!

My parents bought this awesome ice cream maker for my oldest son for Christmas last year, but you could make your own ice cream just as easily using two Ziploc freezer bags (one large, one small.)

Vanilla Ice Cream:

4 cups of milk or cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar

Make Your Own Ice Cream, vanilla ice cream1. Mix all ingredients and pour in inner chamber (or smaller freezer bag.) If using bags, place small bag inside large bag. 
2. Fill large chamber (or larger freezer bag) with ice. Add 1 cup rock salt or kosher salt.
3, Seal chambers or bags. Mix for 15 minutes.
4. Open large chamber or bag, remove water and ice, replace with fresh ice. Open small chamber or bag, stir thickening cream. Seal chambers or bags. Mix for 15 minutes more.
5. Open small chamber or bag, now filled with finished ice cream; serve and enjoy!

Because we made ours in this cool ball-shaped chamber, my boys rolled and passed the ball back and forth across the indoor picnic area to shake and mix the ingredients. 

And after half an hour of fun we had our very own homemade vanilla ice cream - delicious!

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Marshmallow Construction Craft

A great rainy-day activity to keep little hands occupied and entertained for hours!

You will need:
Dried spaghetti or linguine noodles
Mini marshmallows
Thick cardboard, cutting board or other flat surface

Spaghetti and Marshmallow craft, craft, kids crafts, kids activities1. Give each child a flat surface to work on so that you will be able to move their creations once they're built. We used stiff placemats covered in parchment paper.

2. Break the dried pasta into pieces of various sizes.

3. Using pasta as the framework and marshmallows as the connectors, kids can build any structure their imaginations can come up with!

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Monday, 11 August 2014

Outdoor Art

We're always looking for fun new activities to keep the kids entertained during these long, lazy days of summer vacation. We are an active, outdoorsy kind of family, but we are also a family who loves to make art. So we combine the two!

This week we created an enormous sidewalk chalk mural on the brick wall in the backyard (in between leaping in the pool, blowing bubbles in the yard, and kicking the ball around in the park.)

Backyard Birdhouse Craft

Earlier this summer we built and painted birdhouses which we hung on the back fence to feed the neighbourhood wildlife.

 Garden Windchime Craft, kids craft, kids activitiy, outdoor activity, backyard, summer

Last summer we made and decorated our own wooden wind chimes which hang next to our patio door.

Mural, Mural on the Lawn

And one day, out of creative crafty ideas, we spread an enormous roll of craft paper across the lawn and painted a giant mural.

Just because it's summer and all our time is spent outdoors is no reason kids can't be creative!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Keeping Summer Learning Alive

It's easy during the long, lazy days of summer to slip out of the habit of daily learning activities that become a part of our regular routine during the school year. No school, no lessons, no homework, no schedule - it's very easy to forget to fit learning into our days.

There's the inherent learning that comes just from being a child, ever curious and interested and inquisitive about the world around them, learning every day as they explore and discover through play - in the sandbox, at the park, in the ravine; digging, building, drawing, gardening; playing board games and video games and even watching television. Children are always learning just by being children.

But sometimes a little bit of forced learning is good, too, a little bit of scheduled and supervised learning time when they're sway from school.

At the beginning of every summer we go to the library and sign up for the summer reading program, in which school-age kids sign out books at their reading level, keep track of the books they read in a passport-style log book, and do a book report for the librarian after every third book read and receive a little prize. It's a great way of making sure we don't fall behind with our reading during the summer months.

We are a family of avid readers so our boys have never had to be forced to read, but every night before bed they have half an hour of quiet reading time after we tuck them in just to make sure.

And ever since they've been able to print I've kept summer journals with my boys. Twice a week we sit down with their journals and write out the highlights of their week. It's a fantastic way to keep their writing skills up during the summer, ensures their brains and imaginations are still active by the time they have to go back to school, and makes a wonderful keepsake of their childhoods!

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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Afternoons at the Botanical Gardens

Edward's Gardens botanical gardenOne of our family's favourite summertime field trips is to Edward's Gardens, an enormous, beautiful botanical garden filled with walking paths to explore and connected to the Don Valley and river by endless hiking and biking trails.

It's absolutely gorgeous and goes on forever, garden after garden, rockeries, bridges over creeks and waterfalls, meandering trails through the woods and down into the valley. It's an amazing way to spend a day outdoors with the kids exploring, discovering and getting lots of fresh air and exercise - and it's completely free!

Edward's Gardens botanical gardenEdward's Gardens botanical garden

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Monday, 4 August 2014

Summertime Traditions

Most of the summer memories we make are in those moments in between the big day trips and outings and special treats - the hours spent in the sandbox and the pool, climbing trees and playing at the park, lazing about in pyjamas playing board games, biking and hiking through the neighbourhood trails and, for our family, endless evenings and weekends at the soccer field.

Most of the moments we'll remember are those unplanned moments that fill up our summer days and nights and mean love and family and home.

But our summertime memories are also made from treats and trips and traditions big and small.

Trips to Main Street for ice cream, visits to the arboretum and the botanical garden, days spent at the splash pad and the water park and the zoo. There are festivals and fairs to mark the beginning and end of the summer season, concerts in the town square and movie nights at the park.

Our summers are always spent making memories together - but some of my favourite memories are the ones we repeat year after year, the summertime traditions that have become such an important part of our family's life.

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Friday, 1 August 2014

Lazy Long Weekends

Wine in the garden, backyard, summer, long weekendsThere's nothing better than the lazy long weekends of summer.

In the past, for my family, long weekends meant a crazy, crowded, fun-filled trip to my parents' cottage with my brothers and sisters-in-law and their kids - morning walks through the dunes, nun-soaked afternoons on the beach, beer-and-barbeque-filled days stretching long into evening sunsets and starry nights on the big beachfront deck. Those weekends were wonderful, what family memories are made of.

Last year, though, my parents sold the family cottage and bought a home on the water instead.

Backyard campfire, summer, long weekends

So our long weekends have turned local - a time to sleep in, to sip morning coffee in the sunshine on the back deck and afternoon wine in the sun-dappled garden, to play in the pool and hit the local fairs and festivals, to do some outdoor field tripping and patioing, to sit out by the campfire late into the nights roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and lighting fireworks in the park.

What a lovely way to spend our lazy summer long weekends.

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