The Mother of Adventure

Strike a pose for CHEO (Parenting Times)

fall-2014-community-profileWhat do you get when you cross a passion for fashion with a heart for helping sick kids?

The answer is Noémie Pound, the adorable, eight-year-old girl from Ottawa who is organizing ‘Happy Hearts’ – a fashion show dedicated to raising money for CHEO.

I had a chance to interview little Noémie last July – for a feature article in Parenting Times magazine. Inspired by her mom’s work at CHEO, Noémie hatched her very own plan to raise funds to help kids at CHEO and the CHEO Research Institute.

The event will take place on Friday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Visit the Eventbrite page for ticket information - and consider joining Noémie and a line-up of child models (including past and present CHEO patients) for a fun-filled night of children’s fashions and a silent auction.

 

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Homemade Playdough

DinosaurI’m on a roll with sharing recipes this week…yesterday was Chocolate Brownies and today I’m talking playdough!

I have a lot of friends who are teachers, and with the start of school this week my friend Marnie asked if I would share my playdough recipe so that she can pass it along to her little scholars and their parents.

This recipe is uber-easy to make, and creates generous amounts of playdough offering a great consistency and a long shelf life. Last spring, my two young daughters and I made this recipe – in several pretty, pastel colours – for a spot on CTV Ottawa about fun Easter crafts. The great thing about playdough is that you can customize it with colours (and even add fragrances!) for an occasion, or just use it in everyday fun play. It even makes a great gift idea!

Homemade Playdough

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon alum*
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Food colouring
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

*What the heck is alum?? I wondered the same thing when I first came across this recipe…it is a safe, edible preservative traditionally used in canning. Alum is very inexpensive and can be purchased at a grocery store or the Bulk Barn (which is where I bought mine).

Method:

  • Place salt, alum and cooking oil in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add boiling water and food colouring (be cautious – a few drops goes a long way!). Stir to dissolve salt and alum.
  • Gradually add flour while continually mixing the dough. Once it becomes thick enough, stop stirring and start kneading the dough. If dough seems sticky, add more flour until a desirable consistency is reached.
  •  Once thoroughly mixed and cooled, store playdough in a ziplock bag or sealed plastic container. Keeps unrefrigerated.
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Transitions

Kelly's Landing

It’s back-to-school day for our two girls, which is always a bit of a transition!

After the unstructured pace of summer, it can feel a bit strange to be back on a schedule again. Just yesterday, we were wearing flip flops, building sandcastles at Mooney’s Bay and eating lunch by the Rideau River…Ottawa was blessed with a long weekend filled with hot, beautiful weather. Today it was suddenly back to making sandwiches, labelling backpacks and sharpening HB pencils!

Happily, our girls were pretty excited about school; I think most of their anxiety came from not knowing if their best friends would be in their classes. It turns out they are – so all is right in the world! We left them smiling in the schoolyard this morning – catching up with all of their little buddies.

imageIt’s always a bit nostalgic for parents to drop their kids off in September, too. It’s one of those markers of time that somehow feel poignant – as we are reminded of how quickly the years are passing by. I know last year was a tough one for me, as our youngest daughter, Lily, headed off to Grade 1 – her first time away from home for a full day. This year, I am thankful for a full and happy summer – and looking forward to embracing the changing season and new writing pursuits.

Heading back to school always brings the challenge of packing school lunches, too. While I’m definitely keen on healthy eating – especially for my kids – I also believe treats are an important part of enjoying life! With their first-day-of-school milestone on the brain, I decided to make some homemade brownies. I love this recipe – I wish I could take credit for it, but I found it on allrecipes.com a while back. It is sooo simple…I love that I don’t even have to haul out my KitchenAid to make it; simply melt your butter on the stovetop, mix in the other ingredients and bake. So simple and so decadent…a sweet reward for my little students!

Hey, how did your back-to-school routine go today? Were you sad to see the kids off, or thrilled to have a bit of peace and quiet?? I’d love to hear about it!

Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour an 8″ square pan.
  • In a large saucepan, melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla. Beat in cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder. Spread batter into prepared pan.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes.

Frosting:

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup icing sugar

Directions:

  • Combine all ingredients and stir until smooth. Frost (and eat) brownies while they are still warm (yum!).
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An old-fashioned carnival & picnic at Lansdowne Park

Amusement park rideIf you’re looking for some fun with the kids tomorrow, head over to Lansdowne Park for the official “urban park” opening!

While the Ottawa REDBLACKS have already settled into their new digs, August 16th will mark the unveiling of the newest green space in downtown Ottawa.

What: There will be a number of family-friendly activities taking place, including:

  • An old-fashioned fair featuring amusement park rides
  • Face painting, arts & crafts – like kite building, button-making and balloon animals
  • Free cotton candy & popcorn
  • A picnic in the park – everyone is encouraged to pack a picnic basket and spread out a blanket on the ‘Great Lawn’
  • A Farmer’s Market & food trucks
  • An exhibit on Ottawa’s football history
  • The Grey Cup on display – get your photo taken with the Cup!
  • Local musicians, acrobats & jugglers
  • At Aberdeen Pavilion, visitors can step back in time and learn about the history of Lansdowne and Ottawa through interactive displays

When: Saturday, August 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Lansdowne Park, 1015 Bank Street, Ottawa, ON

*NOTE: There is no parking at Lansdowne, so to avoid parking frustrations, consider planning your trip via public transit, walking or cycling. For more information and an event map, visit the City of Ottawa website.

 

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Summer fun at Calypso

Entrance

Summer is a season that’s nearly synonymous with water fun. I’m pretty sure my girls would actually *live* in their bathing suits all summer, if I gave them the chance.

My best friend Cathy is in the same boat with her two girls. So where do you go when you have four little sea nymphs on your hands? The Calypso Waterpark turned out to be the perfect spot for us to spend a splash-filled day last week.

Canada’s largest theme waterpark, Calypso is located between Ottawa and Montreal. It was a good 45-minute drive from our place in Ottawa’s south end – with quite a number of “Are we there yet??” moments to contend with – but the kids definitely found it to be worth the wait.

Wave poolAfter stashing our stuff in lockers (be prepared to make a $10 deposit per locker – you’ll get $5 at the end of the day when you return the key), we set up camp next to ‘Calypso Palace’ – the park’s massive wave pool. This area is nicely set up with oodles of white lounge chairs, behind which is a grassy area with dozens of picnic tables (every table has an umbrella – bonus!). We left our towels, sunscreen and sandals at a picnic table; I noticed that many other families had brought in full-sized coolers, too.

The kids voted to kick off our water fun at ‘Zoo Lagoon’ - and it took us moms a few minutes to realize that this area is actually meant for toddlers. Our kids – who range from six to 10 years, collectively – could not have seemed to care less. After about half an hour, however, we coaxed them next door to ‘Pirate’s Aquaplay,’ which was a bit more age appropriate for our crew. My six-year-old daughter, Lily, couldn’t get enough of the massive bucket that slowly fills and then dumps a tidal wave of water on your head – I’m actually a bit surprised the surge didn’t knock her right off her feet, but she just kept going back for more!

SashaThe rest of the day passed by in a happy blur of slides and wave pool fun. Our kids especially liked the ‘Jungle Challenge’ and ‘Family Twisters’ – a series of four coiled waterslides that seemed to be sized just right for them. The three oldest girls also loved ‘Kongo Expedition,’ but Lily was too small to ride without a life jacket (we found out late in the day that life jackets can be borrowed free at the entrance – just leave your ID).

When it was time to break for lunch, Calypso’s ‘Main Street Restaurant’ had all the kid-friendly fare we could ask for – the cafeteria-style cheeseburgers, hot dogs and fries totally hit the spot. Cathy’s youngest daughter Sasha, however, needed a gluten-free meal as she’s celiac. The ‘Ulysses Bar & Grill’ had a number of options – we hit a home run with a personal-sized, gluten-free pizza for Sash.

Lunch time!Our last ride of the day was ‘Jungle Run’ - which was a fun, floaty ride through a simulated jungle river – complete with insect and animal noises all around you.

On the way out, we capped off our fun-filled day at the ‘Penguins’ Stop’ for an ice-cream cone. Cathy treated all of us using the park’s ‘Money at my fingertip’ payment method, which allows you to pre-load money for park services and do a finger swipe to pay – rather than carrying cash. Having never seen this biometric technology in action, I was rather fascinated watching Cathy do her “finger swipe” at the ice-cream shop!

We stayed at the park till it was nearly closing time – and Cathy and I basically had to drag the kids out. On the way home, Lily fell asleep in the car – a sure sign of a very happy, exhausted customer.

 

 

 

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Sound of Light

Family shotThere’s something about bright, beautiful colours in the dark that just never gets old.

Last night, our family headed down to the grounds of the Canadian Museum of History (formerly called the Canadian Museum of Civilization – I’m still trying to get used to that name change!) to take in the Casino du Lac-Leamy Sound of Light show, which runs through August 16.

Now, some people say that “fireworks are fireworks,” but there were a few factors that made this show pretty cool:

The music: Last night’s show was the first of five “pyromusical” presentations – which means fireworks synchronized to an original soundtrack. Our show – which was presented by a group from Hong Kong – was based on popular show tunes – think Greased Lightning and Dancing Queen. Fun!

Museum of History groundsThe location: If you’ve never been behind the Canadian Museum of History, it’s worth a trip. Located right on the edge of the Ottawa River (on the Quebec side), you can look back at downtown Ottawa and see the back of Parliament Hill and the Peace Tower sitting on a high cliff.

The weather: Let’s face it, fireworks are just not any fun in the rain. We almost didn’t go to last night’s show – despite the fact that we had free passes – because there were thunderstorms in the forecast. We watched the radar, and finally grabbed a couple of umbrellas and decided to risk it. It turned out to be the *perfect* night – no rain, no humidity, no bugs – just calm and comfortable.

The drinks: You have to hand it to Quebec – they have alcohol available in situations where Ontario likely would not! After a hot day of landscaping our backyard, a fruit cooler and a lawn chair seemed like a lovely reward. If you’re heading to any of the upcoming shows, be sure to have a few dollars on hand as drinks and food are cash only.

Toy lightThe toys: Normally, I roll my eyes at having to dish out money for little plastic toys, but the light-up wands the girls wanted yesterday ($5 each) turned out to be really cool in the dark – I even captured our mini light show in a few photos (right).

If you decide to check out one of the upcoming shows – featuring presentations by Canada, Portugal and Switzerland (see schedule) – be sure to bring your lawn chairs, as you’ll be a lot more comfortable.

And if you don’t have a lawn chair, please don’t be the moron who stands (yes, STANDS) awkwardly in front of the people sitting in the lawn chairs – like the guy who partially blocked our view, despite my request that he sit down. You can see dummy’s silhouette on one of the fireworks shots below.

Idiots aside, I’d recommend you take a couple of hours to enjoy the Sound of Light fireworks show – it’s a lovely excuse for a relaxed evening outside with your family.

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An ode to summer (Parenting Times)

ode-to-summerI’ll never forget that feeling of pure exhilaration — a moment of absolute, uninhibited joy — right before I plunged into the cool, crisp water.

It all came rushing back to me as I looked at that old photo, captured back in the summer of 1991. Read more…

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Nursing pioneer Isobel MacLeod turns 101 (Ottawa Citizen)

0621 life isobel-34.JPGI recently had the privilege to meet with a centenarian – and an amazing one at that.

Earlier this month, I interviewed Isobel MacLeod – an Ottawa resident who spent much of her life blazing a new trail in the world of nursing. This upbeat woman – who turned 101 years old today – was incredibly lucid and witty during our hour-long interview. It was truly a pleasure to get to know her – and hear about life over the span of more than a century.

My full article, “Nursing pioneer Isobel MacLeod turns 101“, was published in the Ottawa Citizen. Happy birthday, Isobel!

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Home-run snacks for little athletes

Lily's first gameOur six-year-old daughter is in Little League again this spring, and I can’t decide what’s cuter: The proud look on Lily’s face when she gets a run or the over-the-moon proud look on her dad’s face (he is arguably the world’s biggest baseball fan).

Well, I think Lily wins the cute contest; it’s pretty hard to beat that face…but I digress.

A couple of weeks ago, it was our family’s turn to bring post-game snacks for the little athletes. Since the coach’s wife had brought these adorable fruit skewers – with a chocolate-dipped marshmallow at the end – as the snack after the first game, the bar had been set pretty high. A careless bag of ‘Chips Ahoy’ were just not going to cut it – I had to come up with something a bit funkier.

A bit of messing around on Google images turned up a bunch of baseball-themed snack ideas, including these Rice Krispie snacks. Clearly I didn’t re-invent the wheel here, but it was fun to put a new twist on an old classic – and it turned out to be a total hit (get it? Hit? Ahh…the puns just keep coming!).

Here’s how I made them – the basic recipe is from the back of a box of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies:

IngredientsIngredients:

  • 1/4 cup margarine or butter
  • 5 cups miniature or 40 regular marshmallows
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 cups Kellogg’s Rice Krispies

Method:

1. In large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.

2. Add cereal and stir until well coated.

3. Using a buttered spatula or wax paper, evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Allow to cool.

Decoration:

So here’s where the fun part begins – turning a regular old pan of Rice Krispies into a plateful of little baseballs!

1. Use a round cookie cutter to cut your Rice Krispies into ‘baseballs.’ If you’re preparing them for a team, make sure you cut them small enough that everyone gets one (with a couple to spare for little siblings at the game!).

2. Spread a layer of white icing over the top of each circle (I used a store-bought jar of icing).

3. Allow the icing to cool and dry; I put my tray into the fridge for about half an hour.

4. Using a tube of red decorator’s icing, pipe semi-circles on top of each ‘baseball’ to make the main lines for the stitching.

5. On either side of your two red lines, carefully pipe a few smaller red lines for the side stitches.

Did the kids like the treats, you ask? Well, let’s just say I hardly got the lid off my Tupperware before they disappeared in about 2.7 seconds…I felt a bit like a piece of meat being attacked by a team of hungry piranhas.

Now that’s what I call hitting it out of the park.

 

 

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‘Our little miracle baby’ (Parenting Times magazine)

Sonia and ElissaSeeing as it’s Mother’s Day today, I thought it was fitting that I share the story of our difficult entrance into parenthood.

Our first-born daughter, Elissa, was born with a large cyst in her brain – which made for a lot of uncertainty in the latter stages of my pregnancy and through the major surgeries she underwent in her first year of life. We have been infinitely blessed with a very happy ending – and I wrote about how it feels to look back 10 years later in ‘Our little miracle baby’, published in the latest issue of Parenting Times magazine.

Wishing all the moms out there a very Happy Mother’s Day – take a moment today to savour the blessing of a happy, healthy family.

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