The Mother of Adventure

Shop with a conscience this season

If you’ve ever wondered about the ethics behind big-name clothing and jewelry manufacturers and wanted to help make a difference, this is your chance.

This Friday, fair trade retailers Ten Thousand Villages and Adorit Boutique will be joining forces for their third-annual Fair Trade Fashion Show in Ottawa – and admission is FREE!

Celebrity emcee Melissa Lamb (from CTV Ottawa) will join us to show you how to “shop with a conscience” – and look great doing it.

WHEN: Friday, November 27, 2015 from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Ottawa Mennonite Church, located at 1830 Kilborn Avenue (free parking!)

WHY: Come see original, organic and fairly-traded clothing from Adorit Boutique, a funky clothing store based in the Byward Market. Adorit’s clothing will be paired with beautiful, handcrafted and fairly-traded accessories (scarves, necklaces, handbags) from Ten Thousand Villages, an organization which gives a livelihood to underprivileged artisans in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

*PLUS! Get a jump-start on your Christmas shopping by browsing our global marketplace at the church – the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale is running alongside the fashion show! Beautiful, handcrafted Christmas decorations, dishes, cards, toys and home décor items will be available for purchase (*Note: Festival sale is open from 3 to 8 p.m.).
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Shades of November (Young Rembrandts)

Lily's American Gothic

AMERICAN GOTHIC: One of my all-time favourite drawings that my daughter, Lily created during her classes with the Young Rembrandts.

Well, Halloween is behind us and a new month lies ahead…happy November! Does anyone have a candy hangover today??

I don’t know about you, but autumn has *totally* been flying by at our house. I’m looking at November as a time to re-group and get ready for winter and, of course, Christmas (sorry…too soon??)!

At this time of year, many parents are also looking for engaging activities to take their kids through the winter. If your kids are anything like mine and enjoy creative pursuits, you might want to check out the Young Rembrandts in Ottawa. My girls have enjoyed countless drawing classes there, and the instructors have truly helped further their artistic abilities!

In each week’s new (and kid-tested!) lesson, the Young Rembrandts use a step-by-step method that assures every student is a creative success.  As they learn and use technical drawing skills, children engage their problem-solving skills, innovation and imagination to create their very own masterpieces. Instructors at the drawing school are also skilled at working with kids on the autism spectrum, which I wrote about in a past issue of Parenting Times magazine.

Check out the latest Young Rembrandt class offerings in Barrhaven, Kanata, Stittsville and Orleans. Your kids will be colouring November with all shades of happy as they discover art for themselves!


The seashell motto

Birthday with KimThe other day, while digging in one of the many pockets of my purse, my hand closed around a seashell.

Surprised, I pulled it out – and was flooded with a wave of nostalgia. The shell came from the ocean shores of Vancouver, where we spent a blissful few days with my sister-in-law and her family at the tail end of our family vacation in western Canada. I was also blessed to celebrate my 40th birthday there, surrounded by friends and family – including an incredible surprise visit from my dear friend, Kim – who flew all the way up from Phoenix just to spend the day with me. The Vancouver harbour, fresh seafood and delicious Thai food (and obviously, a few cocktails), and a circle of my most favourite people…amazing memories.

I’ve always found transitions to be tough. I anticipated the arrival of the big “four-oh!” with low-level dread, then had such a great time celebrating it that it was hard to come home. After settling back in, I definitely felt the letdown of a much-anticipated holiday – now over and in the past. The end of August felt like sand slipping through my fingers – I was reluctant to let go of the long, sun-kissed days – unharnessed from the routine of full-time work for me and my husband, and school and activities for the kids.

Elissa at the beachBut the benefit of life experience (and I swear I’m not just saying this to sweeten the fact that I have a whole 40 years of it!) is that we learn from every stage. Bittersweet though it may be to change chapters or seasons, we take along what we’ve learned – and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some pretty incredible people.

Leading up to the fall issue of Parenting Times Magazine, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Shimi Kang, the author of the book, The Dolphin Parent: A Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Self-Motivated Kids. One of her book’s key messages is that parents shouldn’t feel the need to hyperschedule their kids – and at the same time, themselves – in order to ensure their success. She argues that constantly filling our children’s time with formal instruction – when a tutor, coach or parent is telling the child what to do – results in rigidity and sleep-deprived, fragile kids (she calls them “crispies”). You can read the full Q&A in the magazine for full details.

I think this particularly resonated with me after my experience of returning to work full-time last January. Part of what made the transition so hard was that my kids’ extra-curricular schedule was so busy; the girls had activities four out of five evenings a week. When I was freelance writing from home, it worked. But in the new scenario, it meant that after a full work day and my hour-long commute home, I had to rush to pick up the kids from daycare, make dinner and get them back out the door in record time for activities. It’s a bad feeling to come in the front door – arms loaded with backpacks – and realize you have approximately 22 minutes to prepare and serve supper if you’re going to have any hope of getting to the prescheduled activity on time.

This season, I’m taking a page from Dr. Kang’s book (quite literally) and reassessing our priorities. That means picking and choosing our commitments carefully, and, if necessary, dropping a few things – or signing up for weekend activities, when we’re not being pulled 100 directions.

Check the viewBy dialing back a bit on the structure, I’m also aiming to build in more unstructured time. I’m always amazed at the creative games our girls come up with – particularly when we drag them away from TV and video screens. Suddenly, the “Cat Olympics” will be set up in the basement, or an elaborate series of forts created. Outdoor time and fresh air is critical, too. It can be so easy to drop onto the couch after work, but I really find that getting out the door for a bike ride with the kids – or a walk on a nearby nature trail – is so rewarding.

So maybe we don’t have to give up every iota of unstructured time just because September is here again. Perhaps making room for even little pockets of freedom will keep that sweet, summertime feeling alive just a bit longer. In the meantime, I’ll put the seashell back in my pocket – so I don’t forget.

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The summer issue is here! (Ottawa Parenting Times)

Parenting TimesIt’s here!

The June/July 2015 edition of Ottawa Parenting Times magazine is now online — and on racks all around the city. It’s jam-packed with great ideas for summer food and fun with the kids. Read new and archived stories at and find the new digital issue here:

Readers can also download Ottawa Parenting Times brand-new app – for free – available on iTunes and Google Play.

Happy reading!

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Colour Me Happy!

Brooke, Sonia & Lily

Brooke (left) of Crayon Occasion, Sonia and seven-year-old Lily at her birthday party.

I’ve always seen my girls’ birthday parties as a creative opportunity – a chance to celebrate their unique, emerging personalities.

Kids go through different stages and phases, and in an effort to embrace that I aim to build a party theme that reflects one of their passions or interest areas. My daughter, Lily, absolutely loves to draw, so we decided to plan a drawing party for her seventh birthday.

I recently met a very talented and enthusiastic fine artist named Brooke Alexander, who has launched a small business in Ottawa called Crayon Occasion. Brooke offers painting lessons for children ages six to 12, teaching kids to create their own masterpieces based on art styles like realism or impressionism. She provides all supplies – canvases, paint, brushes, etc. – for the duration of the six-week session, and participants (and their parents) are always in awe of what they produce under her direction.

In addition to ongoing classes, I learned that Brooke offers drawing lessons customized for birthday parties. What could be more perfect for Lily??

Hiring Crayon Occasion turned out to be a great decision, as Brooke was a huge help with the party planning. Leading up to Lily’s big day, Brooke contacted me to ask what we preferred in the way of a theme for the drawing exercise. Since Lily was in the throes of a dragon obsession, we decided to give her party a “mythical creatures” theme.

Building on that idea, Brooke drew an original unicorn-and-dragon image, which she sent to me via email for approval. She was open to input and made several modifications – insisting that both Lily and I be 100 per cent happy with the final image. She truly went out of her way to please!

White board

Brooke leads Lily and her party guests in a step-by-step drawing tutorial.

On the day of the party, I had two large tables set up for the kids to work on their drawings. Since the two groups were sitting in adjoining rooms, Brooke could move between the tables to provide each child with one-on-one assistance if they needed it. After showing them her beautiful, completed image, Brooke gave the kids paper, pencils and step-by-step instructions on how to replicate it.

Little artists at work

Lily and her birthday guests bring their masterpieces to life with pencil crayons.

Since Brooke has such a way with kids, everyone was very engaged in their drawings and eager to follow the teacher’s instructions. Once their images were completed, Brooke helped the kids bring it alive by adding colour. At the end of the party, each child went home with a frame-worthy drawing of their very own! I had also arranged for Brooke to provide an additional black-and-white image – another original that she had created – to take home for more colouring; that made a great addition to the loot bags I had prepared.

Book reading

Party host Brooke reads her published children’s book, “Little Mia’s Big Heart”, to an attentive audience.


After cake and opening gifts, Brooke gathered the kids for a reading of Little Mia’s Big Heart, a beautiful book that she wrote and illustrated herself. It was the perfect way to wind the kids down and wrap up one of the best kids’ parties that I’ve pulled off!



A little taste of heaven

KitchenI’ve always thought there must be food in heaven. Let’s be clear – I’m not referring to simple sustenance here; I’m dreaming of food so sublime that, in my case, it just doesn’t come along every day (at least not on earth).

Earlier this month, I had the chance to taste a meal that definitely qualified as “heaven sent” – compliments of the CrEATe Kitchen located inside Ottawa’s Shaw Centre.

A hidden gem in the national capital’s culinary scene, CrEATe is a “kitchen studio” that manages to be cutting edge yet intimate. Offering a unique format, the CrEATe Kitchen offers interactive cooking and dining experiences – for everything from team building to private celebrations. Basically, CrEATe can be what you want it to be. On this particular Saturday night, it was a wonderland of culinary creativity led by Chef Geoffrey Morden – who demonstrated his craft before a room of Ottawa’s hungriest food critics.

OystersOur delicious evening began with two beautiful oysters, one crispy fried west coast and the other prosecco-chilled east coast. While I’m a westerner at heart (you can take the girl out of Alberta, but you can’t take Alberta out of the girl!), I definitely preferred the east coast oyster for its ever-so-slightly sweet and refreshing qualities.

Bone marrowNext up was short rib ravioli, roasted veal marrow, served with beef fume and root pearls. While I loved the ravioli, I am admittedly a newcomer to veal marrow; its intense richness overwhelmed me a bit, though I can imagine aquiring a taste for it over time.


LambThe feature presentation – overnight roasted lamb rack with cauliflower puree, cashew crust and natural jus – was truly divine. Cooked to perfection (the delicate dance of cooking lamb just so always scares me off; Chef Morden openly admitted he uses a digital thermometer to get it just so), it was absolute, melt-in-your-mouth tender. I loved the artful plating in pristine, stainless-steel frying pans.

SaladAfter bringing out the heavy hitter, the menu blissfully dialed it back with a deliciously fresh salad – served in adorable, miniature colanders. Mache, hothouse greens and pea tendrils were treated to a dressing of cherry vinegar and truffle olive oil, and finished with dehydrated roma petals.


CrispsPalate cleansed…just in time for triple cream brie, sour cherry syrup and crisps – the pre-dessert dessert (no complaints here!).


DessertThe crowning glory of this incredible meal was a warm pineapple fritter, dusted with vanilla sugar and served with a perfect little pool of caramel. On the side was a small cup of chocolate fondant, topped with a rich puddle of raspberry sauce.

It was a thrill to see Chef Morden and his amazing team at work in their element, crafting such incredible dishes right before our eyes. With such an approachable, down-to-earth personality, Chef Morden made it easy for the guests to ask questions about his cooking techniques, the source for his food ingredients or details about the amazing wines served alongside each course.

Any foodie would undoubtedly enjoy such a unique culinary experience, which is why I would definitely consider the CrEATe Kitchen as a location for a truly memorable evening with friends – perhaps for a milestone birthday or another special celebration.

Until then, I will have to content myself by gazing longingly at my photos of a night I won’t soon forget.








And the winner is…

Giveaway-Winner…Kate Moynihan!

I am pleased to announce that Kate is the winner of two full-day passes to Tay River AQUA & Spa!

As a busy mom and a blogger in her own right at Kate Has Cancer, I am certain Kate will make good use of her spa day. Congrats, Kate! (Please pop me an email at and I will make arrangements to get the passes to you.)

Thanks very much to everyone for entering – and to Tay River AQUA for the wonderful giveaway prize. Have a great weekend…go Sens go!!


Tay River AQUA + spa pass giveaway!

Getting pamperedThe cashier at the shoe store peered at me curiously as she rang in the sale of my flip-flops. “Are you going somewhere warm where you’ll be able to wear these soon?” she asked. “No…I wish!” I laughingly replied. “But I’ll be doing the next best thing – spending a day at the spa.”

And it truly was – a trip to Tay River AQUA was just what I needed on a sunny-but-crisp Saturday at the end of March, after enduring a long, intensely cold winter in Ottawa. While a Caribbean beach would have been nice, the Nordic-style spa – located in quaint, small-town Perth, Ontario – is much more accessible!

Located under an hour away from home, it was the perfect day’s escape for my friend Marianne and I. Breakfast spreadAs invited guests of the spa’s new aquatic facilities, our day began with a mouthwatering spread of breakfast goodies – homemade muffins, fresh croissants, fresh fruit and coffee. Food is such an important element of pampering, and Tay River’s dining lounge certainly didn’t disappoint. It felt so indulgent to lounge on leather couches, nibbling little quiches and enjoying coffee talk with my girlfriend – sans enfants!

Soon afterwards, we were treated to skin consultations with Dr. Manuela Joannou at the adjoining Tay River Reflections Medical Spa. As founder and Medical Director, it  quickly became clear to me that Dr. Joannou was a wealth of knowledge and experience, and very passionate about helping others to achieve their optimum health and well-being. During our session, Dr. Joannou gave me her full attention as she addressed my personal skin care concerns – and I loved that she never made me feel pressured to buy any products or services. I learned that the medical spa was the first service offered at Tay River when it first opened in 1999; the facility has since expanded exponentially to include AQUA and Train & Transform, a full-service fitness centre. TayReflections_0183

Following our skin consults, Marianne and I wandered over to check out the fitness centre, an impressively large facility that offers an indoor track, cardio machines, weights and a beautiful, sun-lit yoga studio upstairs. We decided that we should expend a little energy before heading back to the dining lounge for lunch – so we enjoyed a leisurely workout in the gym. One-day visitors to the spa can enjoy access to the fitness centre, while the locals in Perth can opt for ongoing classes – including weight training, spin and pilates – or even connect with a personal trainer for one-on-one support. Hot tubs

After our workout and a late lunch, Marianne and I were more than ready to hit the hot tubs. Tay River’s brand-new AQUA facilities include two large, outdoor hot tubs (they each hold 25 people!), a red cedar dry sauna and three relaxation gazebos. A series of comfy Adirondack chairs – clustered around an outdoor fireplace – provide an additional area for lounging with a book or a glass of wine.

Between both of us working full time, parenting young kids and juggling family commitments, it’s rare that Marianne and I have the chance to truly connect. That made our casual conversation amidst the rising steam of the hot tubs that much more precious, and our time together really flew by.

As our day was wrapping up, the staff approached us and asked if we’d like to sample one last service back at the medical spa. Not about to turn down the offer of one last pampering session, we readily agreed. Marianne opted for a mini-massage, while I got to try out reflexology for the very first time. I absolutely loved my session; with my tired feet in the skilled hands of the reflexologist, I was so relaxed that I just about lost consciousness! It was the perfect, indulgent end to a bliss-filled day.

Are you a harried parent in dire need of some time away – with your spouse or with a friend? Tay River and I want to give it to you! Simply comment on this post to have your name added to a draw for TWO FULL-DAY PASSES TO TAY RIVER AQUA! (A winner will be announced on Friday, April 24, 2015.)


5 ways technology is impacting education (Parenting Times)

Technology & educationIf you were a child of the 80s, as I was, you probably remember those first trips to the computer lab at school. When I was an elementary student, computers were so new – these big, huge boxes that you’d get access to on rare occasion as a class – but otherwise didn’t factor into the school experience a whole lot.

Now my own girls are elementary students, and their technology reality is certainly very different. I had the chance to talk with Ottawa Catholic School Board educators recently – on behalf of Ottawa Parenting Times – and was intrigued to learn about the philosophy behind the integration of technology into today’s classroom.

In my article, 5 ways technology is impacting education, I spoke with a forward-thinking principal who showed me how the “event” of visiting the computer lab – kids queuing up to march down the hall for a designated hour – is quickly becoming a thing of the past as schools seek new ways to enrich the learning experience through technology tools.

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Funk up your February

Bruno-Mars-Uptown-Funk-Images-540x303I had to laugh when my 10-year-old daughter came home with a story about her teacher the other day.

Apparently one of her classmates was singing the uber-popular song, ‘Uptown Funk’ and the teacher said, “Please, please tell me that song says ‘funk you up.'” When the student confirmed that yes indeed, the lyrics were “funk you up” – as opposed to the wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap alternative – he breathed an audible sigh of relief. I laughed to hear that because I had pretty much the exact same reaction the first time I heard the song with the kids in the back seat of the car!

BeavertailNow that the song has passed the sniff test, I have to admit that I’ve been quite enjoying listening to it whenever it hits Sirius XM – which seems to be quite often. It’s one of those crazy-catchy tunes that just lifts your mood and gets you moving. The video is pretty cool, too – there’s something about seeing Bruno Mars in old lady curlers that makes me smile; he has such an uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson in my mind. Such a lithe, nimble, natural performer.

So I have to give Bruno Mars a bit of credit for perking up my February, which has been a snow-filled, deep freeze of a month in Ottawa so far. This has never been my favourite time of the year, so I look for the good in the little things – like a song I love – to get me through the days where it’s dark when I leave for work and (nearly) dark when I finish my commute home again.

Here are some other happy things that help me funk up my February:

  • treating myself to a cappuccino (the café in my office building just installed these state-of-the-art coffee machines and are trying to promote them, so cappuccino sells for less than the price of a regular coffee at Tim Hortons!)
  • snuggle time with my two little girls (I try to inhale the smell of their hair and skin without them noticing)
  • homemade oatmeal-and-M&M cookies (that’s right…M&Ms!)
  • weekend naps on the couch (enough said)
  • sugar-and-cinnamon Beavertails after skating on the Rideau canal (yummm!)
  • sweat-inducing runs on the treadmill (to work off the aforementioned cappuccinos, cookies and Beavertails)
  • watching ‘Breaking Bad’ with my husband and a glass of wine (please don’t tell us what happens…we’re almost done the series)

Do many of my pick-me-ups seem to involve food? Perhaps they do, but you’ve got to make it through winter somehow, right? It might as well be as tasty a month as it is cold.

So those are some of my February secrets. Now tell me, what’s making you smile at this time of year?



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