The Mother of Adventure

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 ottawaparentingtimes.com and find the new digital issue here: http://bit.ly/1Kr3sLK

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!

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 soniam@bell.net 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!!

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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.)

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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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Diving into the new year

fishbowlHappy New Year, everyone!

We’re at the tail end of the holidays – here’s hoping all of you have experienced a wonderful Christmas and a festive New Year’s Eve. Our family sure did – we hosted my parents (from Edmonton) for a week, which was a lovely treat, especially considering our kids don’t get too many chances to spend time with their grandparents.

Yesterday – after getting home from a fantastic New Year’s Eve celebration (and family sleepover!) with some great friends, I suddenly felt flooded with this sense of well being and happiness. I feel so full…of good food, of family love and of excitement for what 2015 will bring!

Speaking of possibilities, I wanted to share a little life lesson that my kids inadvertently taught me the other day. I was cleaning up (a perpetual activity, it seems…), and putting some doodles and paper scraps into the recycling when I came across this list of ‘Fish Names.’

Fish namesI instantly remembered that, a few days before, my 10-year-old and seven-year-old daughters had spontaneously started generating names for their pet fish. Do we have fish, you ask? Negative. Will we be getting fish? Very doubtful. In fact, I think I overheard their conversation and grumpily said, “We used to have fish and you wanted a cat. I got you a cat – and we’re not going to get fish again.” (I may also have grumped out some complaints about being the one to clean out the fish bowls.)

Nevertheless, my storm-cloud comments failed to dampen their enthusiasm. In their fresh, young minds, the prospect of a fish remains a distinct possibility – so why not dream about it? Why not plan for it, and even name it?

That’s the bright approach I want to engage this year, as I look forward to what the future will bring. I want to tap into that inner child – the one who is not restricted by what’s been done before, by fears or by so-called ‘common sense’ – when dreaming about the possibilities ahead. Whether it’s a fitness goal, a new career prospect or a bold, new direction, why not approach it by thinking, “Yes, this could totally happen!”

I’m excited about the year ahead, and am looking forward to sharing some of my upcoming adventures – in parenting and life in general – through my blog. I’ve been rather sporadic at posting recently, particularly during the rush of Christmas preparations, but I want to send out my sincere thanks to my readers who have stopped by and taken a moment – here and there – to read and send their comments my way. Blogging isn’t always easy – it really does require “putting yourself out there” and it’s been pretty awesome to grow a network of readers and supporters.

I will be striving to post more frequently in 2015 – and always welcome your input on posts and themes, because really, this blog could go any which direction in the year ahead…just think of the possibilities!

What about you, dear reader? What are some of your aims for the year ahead? Any resolutions or inspirations you care to share? You know I always look forward to it.

Here’s to us…and a fabulous year ahead.

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The winter issue is out! (Parenting Times)

opt_cover_winter15It’s official – the Winter 2014/2015 issue of Parenting Times magazine has hit the streets across Ottawa, and I have to credit my editor, Kelly Roesler, for putting together yet another lovely issue. If you haven’t had the chance to pick up your copy, you can always flip through it virtually here (which is nearly as good…but makes it a bit harder to snuggle up with on chilly, winter days like today).

One of my writing highlights for this issue was getting the chance to speak with author Kristine Barnett, who wrote The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius. If you’re looking for an inspiring read this Christmas season, it really is an incredible book – and in my Q&A article I had the chance to ask Barnett a bit more about her incredible journey with her son, Jacob, and her vast experience and insights in working with autistic children.

In this issue, I also contributed a lunchbox nutrition piece – chalk full of ideas from holistic nutritionist Stefania Moffatt about how to fuel your kids at school (page 58). In ‘Focus on Education’ I had the chance to explore the benefits of enrolling your child in theatre school, and in ‘Just for Kids’ I rounded up some of my fave toys to keep your little ones entertained indoors – on the coldest of snow days (page 54).

Last, but certainly not least, I was honoured to speak with some dedicated volunteers, current and former staff and alumni of CHEO for our ‘Community Profile.’ The highlight was talking to an incredible young man who survived cancer as a child – thanks to CHEO – and now lives an inspiring, athletic life with a prosthetic leg (he even teaches paraplegics to scuba dive!).

It’s hard to believe an entire year has already flown by since I first started contributing to Parenting Times magazine! It’s been a real honour to work with such a positive, encouraging editor and dedicated staff – and I’ve honestly enjoyed every piece I’ve had the opportunity to write. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I love being a small part of it.

 

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A Ceramic Christmas

Packages

After they came out of the kiln, Sandra wrapped each of our ceramic pieces in pretty paper and ribbon – all ready for Christmas!

Every year, I seem to find myself scrambling to find Christmas gifts for my kids’ teachers. In my mind’s eye, I’d like my daughters to give them something small but thoughtful – a little token that has a personal stamp – to show our appreciation for all they do throughout the year.

Admittedly, it doesn’t always happen; when I run out of time or ideas, I often turn to my tired, old stand-bys like a Starbucks gift card or some semi-useless item from Indigo (insert yawn here).

Happily, my girls and I found a great alternative this year – crafting our own unique Christmas decorations at the Creative Ceramics Studio & Gifts.

Sandra and the girls

Sandra and my daughters, during our crafting session.

Sandra MacDonald is the crafty business owner behind Creative Ceramics – which she runs out of her home in Barrhaven. As warm and encouraging as she is knowledgeable, Sandra learned the skill of ceramic-making and painting from her mother – who owned the largest ceramics studio in Calgary, Alberta when Sandra was growing up (a fellow Alberta girl…no wonder I liked her as soon as I met her!).

My daughters, Elissa and Lily, took two different approaches to their time at Creative Ceramics. Ten-year-old Elissa chose a pre-made ceramic piece off the shelf – a little Christmas cat – and simply painted it before Sandra fired it in the kiln (giving it that lovely, glossy look).

Rolling clay

Seven-year-old Lily rolls out the clay to create her own Christmas ornaments.

Seven-year-old Lily, on the other hand, chose to take a large lump of clay and created a series of eight Christmas ornaments (the number varies based on the size of your cut-outs), which she then personalized with words and designs for her friends and teachers.

My girls love creative projects and they truly enjoyed their time at Sandra’s studio. A patient teacher, Sandra oversaw every stage of their project – giving detailed instructions, yet stepping back to let them do the work themselves. The resulting ceramic pieces are lovely – and I can tell the kids are proud that they made them all by themselves.

On Dec. 9, Sandra is offering a two-hour Christmas workshop that allows you to paint a project – either a Christmas wreath or a penguin dish – just in time for the holidays. For $10 she’ll provide the ceramic piece, paints and supplies – and she even serves up refreshments to keep you inspired while you work. It’s a great chance to get together with friends, take on a creative project and walk away with an original, handmade gift. Space is limited, so click here to reserve your spot.

If crafting just isn’t in the cards for you this season, keep Creative Ceramics in mind when planning for your next kid’s birthday party. Sandra offers a very well-priced solution to keeping the kids entertained – for just $15 per child, each party guest will get the chance to paint a small to medium-sized ceramic piece. Plus, Sandra gives a behind-the-scenes tour of her studio – explaining how the ceramic pieces are made and letting kids look at the two huge kilns that bake the ceramics to perfection. The birthday child even receives a personalized plate – which their guests help to decorate – as a memento of their special day.

Whether you’re looking to make a gift, find a place for a fun party or you simply want to test-drive a new hobby (working with ceramics is a great stress reliever!), Creative Ceramics is not to be missed. This season, grab some clay and put your own stamp on it – you’ll be glad you did.

*My daughters and I received a complimentary ceramics session prior to the writing of this post, but as always, thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

 

 

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