The Mother of Adventure

Nurturing our young Rembrandts

2016-04-30 11.54.18I love gaining new insight into how my kids see the world.

As parents, we’re constantly learning more about our children’s growing, changing personalities and looking for ways to help them express themselves. Drawing is a great way to do just that – and my two daughters have thoroughly enjoyed classes with the Young Rembrandts in Ottawa.

I’ll never forget when my youngest daughter, then six years old, came home with her own rendition of American Gothic. She was so keen to tell me the story behind the painting – interesting tidbits that she had gleaned from her instructor, who obviously knew the artist well. Her older sister, on the other hand, absolutely loved the cartooning classes – and came home with a series of clever sketches after each class. It’s a great way to get kids interested in the arts scene – and even generate interest in a trip to the National Art Gallery in Ottawa.

2016-04-09 12.01.33I noticed that while taking drawing lessons, my girls were frequently inspired to pick up pencil and paper at home – creating new versions of what they had learned at class that week, or simply following their instinct to create something new and off the wall. As a parent who battles the magnetism of kids to TV and computer games, I find it so refreshing to see them entertaining themselves with paper and pencils.

In fact, drawing has been well documented in its positive effect on child development. It aids in the development of fine motor skills, helps with concentration and boosts creativity. It’s even recommended for kids on the autism spectrum – as those children tend to be more receptive to information that is experienced visually, instead of relying on words to communicate feelings and thoughts. I wrote about the positive effects of artistic expression for kids with autism in a Parenting Times article, “Colouring outside the lines.” 

IMG_2521If you’re looking for a fun, new activity to keep your child busy this summer, check out the Young Rembrandts course offerings. There’s literally something suited for every child – from preschool (age 3) to Grade 6.

This year, there are a number of new workshops – including “Anime Cartoon” and “Kings and Queens of Castles” – as well as weekly sessions available. Classes are held at elementary schools around the city. The Young Rembrandts will even arrange for drop-in visits to other summer camps or daycare.

After all, some of the most famous artists in history most admired the creativity inherent in children.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

~ Pablo Picasso

 

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Under the Tyranny of Vegetables (Edible Ottawa)

TomatoesSpring came late to the party in Ottawa this year – which makes it all the sweeter. This past weekend, I started scratching around in my backyard for the first time. I pulled a few weeds and dragged out the patio furniture, but mostly stood with my face turned to the sun, reveling in the warmth I’ve been missing all winter. I have a modest little veggie patch, and I’m already dreaming about the fresh herbs and juicy tomatoes I’ll be enjoying in a few months. Mmmm…Caprese salad, anyone??

Ottawa’s spring thaw must surely have Madeleine Maltby breathing a sigh of relief. Maltby and her partner, Matthew Mason-Phillips, are the urban farmers behind a great little business called Britannia Backyard Edibles. The ambitious pair will be cultivating “borrowed” garden plots around the city, generating high yields in small areas.

I had the pleasure of meeting Maltby and Mason-Phillips last winter, when they told me all about their business model and vision for organic community gardening. Read the full article, ‘Under the Tyranny of Vegetables‘ in Edible Ottawa magazine. Their love for fresh produce is the perfect inspiration for breaking some new ground this season.

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The playtime pledge

Don't stop playingHappy New Year!

I think I’ve had equal parts broccoli and Ferraro Rocher this weekend; I’ve been straddling the fence between the lingering indulgence of the holidays and looking towards stronger, healthier habits.

The first week of a fresh, unwritten year is upon us. What are you anticipating for the year ahead? Are you making any New Year’s resolutions?

Leading up to Christmas, I found myself in a bit of a rut. As someone who has periodic arm-wrestling matches with anxiety, especially during the dreary winter months, I didn’t feel quite like myself. Taking a break from the day-to-day routine of office life, home and family commitments was great – our family spent an awesome week in Washington, DC with my in-laws. They spoiled us rotten with home-cooked meals and babysitting services – which allowed my husband and I to get out a few times alone. We went to see Star Wars, spent an evening at an awesome wine bar and finished up our Christmas shopping (as best we could with the brutal exchange rate!).

Our time away reminded me of the importance of playtime. Nope – not for the kids this time, although they are a great reminder of how to do it and can be just the catalyst we need to embrace general silliness. But as working parents, we need to find time for our own fun. For me, that can take a lot of different forms, from cooking a tasty new recipe from scratch, trying a new yoga class at the gym or brainstorming my next creative writing project. Sometimes it’s as simple as an impromptu dance performance to the tune of a favourite song, catching up with a friend over a pint or following up a serving of veggies with a big, rich, indulgent chunk of chocolate.

Life is about balance, after all, and if we can’t savour the flavours of our favourite parts it can get pretty stale. So I’m pledging to add more playtime to my 2016.

What about you? What’s on your to-do list of fun this year?

 

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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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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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Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Completed squash mealWhen I worked as managing editor of iRun Magazine many moons ago, I remember one of the bright spots in my in-box were the recipe submissions from contributing chef Dwayne Botchar. Although we never met – and lived in different cities – Dwayne’s emails always had an easy-going, positive tone – and with all of his culinary experience, I was always intrigued to see what new concoction he would cook up with next.

One of my favourite recipes – that I typed out, printed and cook till this day – is Dwayne’s Spaghetti Squash Casserole. At the time, I was new to cooking with squash – and it expanded my kitchen repertoire just a little. This recipe is a personal fave because it’s easy to make, healthy and has an interesting presentation – using the hollowed-out-shells of the squash.

Recently, I made it for our girls and they both *loved* it. Vegetarians can substitute ground beef for lentils, making it versatile for any audience.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe…thanks again to Dwayne for granting me permission to share it!

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash, halved, baked and scraped into a bowl
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ red pepper, chopped
  • ½ green pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 lb. of lean ground beef or meat alternative (lentils are great)
  • ½ bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
  • ¼ c. fresh, grated Romano
  • 4 tbsp. vegetable oil

Preparation

1)     To bake spaghetti squash, simply cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and centre wool, then place the halves on a deep baking sheet with some water in the bottom (this will steam the squash and speed up the cooking process slightly). Bake it for about 20 – 30 minutes, or until the skin depresses when you push into it. Cool and scrape out the spaghetti squash (it should come out in spaghetti-style strands). Set aside the skin shells for later use.

2)     Preheat a large skillet or pot. Pour in the oil and when it starts to ripple, add in ground beef. When the beef is almost cooked, add in the onions, garlic and peppers.

3)     Once the beef is completely cooked, add in the tomatoes, spaghetti squash and fresh herbs. Season to taste.

4)     Scoop the cooked mixture back into the squash skins. Sprinkle the cheeses on to the two halves. Bake at 425 F, or until the cheese has melted and browned lightly.

Cooking Tip: If you are using the meat alternative, cook the veggies first, then add in the lentils near the end to simply heat it up. And don’t forget – better to slightly undercook your vegetables; they will cook more when you bake the casserole.

Makes 4 – 6 portions.

 

 

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The Turkey Coma

Salad

My post-turkey-coma salad, which – if you look very carefully – actually has some tiny bits of turkey in it (the addict must withdraw slowly).

It’s almost noon, and I just awoke from what can only be described as a profound turkey coma.

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? Turkey coma can be contracted by innocently participating in a traditional, family meal, such as that held over Thanksgiving weekend. Those affected – like me – may have a deep passion for roasted turkey dinners (and mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing…), to the point that their perspective on what constitutes “a healthy serving” may become a tad distorted.

Your chances of contracting turkey coma can be raised by returning to the aforementioned turkey and trimmings only hours later…to take yet another portion and re-heat it in the microwave. The consumption of alcohol alongside said meal can also be indicative of the onset of turkey coma.

Then…WHAM-O, turkey coma hits, and it hits hard. Symptoms include profound sleepiness, severe lethargy and a general sense of well being. Be warned, however, that turkey coma is not always resolved after a good night’s sleep. This morning – after waking up and even having a cup of coffee – my turkey coma resumed – along with a slight, nagging headache – and I was overwhelmed with the urge to go back to bed.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why. Thankfully, I have a very wise husband, with extensive experience with turkey. Slowly and seriously, he offered up his simple diagnosis, “You have a case of turkey coma.”

His remedy was to unplug the phone, then leave me curled up on the couch with a fleecy blanket while he took the kids out to a Disney movie (Isn’t he great? He happens to be pretty easy on the eyes, too…but I digress).

To be honest, I had to resist the urge to get up and be productive, and shut out the laundry list of things the logical side of my brain was telling me I should be doing…go for a run! Clean up after your guests! Respond to those emails!

When I was able to (mostly) shut out that irritatingly chipper voice of productivity, what followed was something highly unusual…there were a couple of hours that I really can’t account for because I was in somewhat of a vegetative state. I finally arose feeling an overwhelming sense of relaxation, with my headache and turkey coma seemingly gone.

But most of all, I just feel thankful…thankful to live in such a blessed part of the world that overindulgent dinners are possible, and thankful that I have a family who will gracefully step aside while my turkey coma runs its course.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Mutant, move-it Monday!

Apple 3Happy Monday, all!

I decided to kick-start this week with a run. Lately, the mornings have been *such* a lovely temperature for running – and the afternoons heat up to a summer-like heat. Great to get the workout in early and set a positive tone for the day.

Typically, I run with my iPod. I get a lot of motivation out of cranking some upbeat tunes – there are certain songs that can totally inspire me to pick up my pace (runner friends – what is your fave running tune??). Today, however, I decided to leave the tunes at home – just to mix it up a little.

It was nice to break from the music and enjoy a quiet run. I found it caused me to focus on my breathing, to be more aware of the rhythm of my feet on the trail and the depth of the oxygen filling my lungs. I tuned in to the sound of the insects humming on the “off road” portion of my run, and noticed the birds sounding their chirpy, morning greetings.

Apple 2Back at home, I’ve got a pile of projects to tackle this week. One of them is deciding what to do with my crabapples – thus the ‘mutant’ reference in the post title! We have a lovely, young apple tree in our backyard, but this year its yield is nothing short of bizarre. There were not a ton of apples, and almost every one has an irregular, lumpy shape to it. Why did they grow like that? Any green thumbs out there that might know?

In addition to their strange shape, some of the apples seem to have been eaten by bugs. But it’s hard to tell, as some of them – when I slice them open have a small, black spot inside but no outside holes – which lead me to believe it’s not bugs after all.

AppleWondering what to do with these weird little fruits…I hate to waste food, so should I just salvage the good parts and bake something up? The unmarred sections taste great – a bit tart, perfect for baking.

A bit disappointed as two summers ago, I had an incredible yield of at least 100 big, perfect crabapples. Now I’m stuck with a bunch of mutants! I’ve got a lot to learn about gardening, so it seems.

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Gratitude

Trail 2I woke up in a bit of a funk this morning.

It was a choppy night; my 10-year-old daughter woke up with a nosebleed and I was up helping her for a bit. After what felt like forever, I finally fell back into a fitful sleep, filled with bizarre and unsettling dreams.

Getting out of bed, I looked out the window to see a heavy fog over the neighbourhood. It gave me the slight sensation that I was still asleep, maneuvering my way through a series of strange, unlikely situations.

I had to shake it off. So I did what I *least* wanted to do – I geared up to go for a run. I promised myself it could be slow and short; I just needed to get moving.

As I headed out to a nearby trail, the sun came out and quickly burned off the fog. My sun-splashed trail led me right by the river, which was as smooth and calm as glass.

Continuing on, I passed a seniors’ home and noticed a few people out on the grounds, enjoying the day. In the distance, I saw a man in a wheelchair; he turned and watched as I ran by along the path. Suddenly, a jolt went through me. It was one of those reality-check moments, where you’re reminded of the blatantly obvious that, somehow, you’ve conveniently forgotten.

TrailI have legs that work. I can walk, I can run. I can move freely on this beautiful, autumn day. I am so blessed.

It shouldn’t take looking at someone in a wheelchair to appreciate my own body and abilities, but sometimes complacency sets in. It’s so easy to complain about my little aches and pains, until I encounter someone who is truly suffering and I stop to realize how fortunate I really am.

I may not be the world’s fastest runner, and others might go much farther than I ever could. All I know is that on this day, I’ll breathe a little deeper, crank my favourite tunes a little louder and run just a bit farther than I originally set out to go…simply because I can.

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