Back-To-School Blues

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It’s with great sadness that I write, summer is unofficially over. I always consider back-to-school the “new year” and even though there are technically many more days left of summer, I equate school with Fall and Fall with, “winter’s just around the corner”.

Back-to-school time is when we are bombarded with lists of what we need. Christmas is the only other time of year where wish lists meets crazed parents and the result is a frenzied shopping spree. We’re hoping to make things a bit easier for you with our back-to-school guide of must-haves and nice-to-haves.

Let’s all try to keep our sanity for as long as possible once the busyness of school, work, activities, homework and reports takeover. We’ve got some tips for finding your zen . . . or maybe just surviving the dinner hour!

As always we’ve got some great guests lined up. One mom shares the experience of taking her first-born to kindergarten for the first time, and to contrast another mom bravely shares the emotions she felt as she pulled away from the university dorm for the first time.

Our theme week is definitely going to be “bookmark” worthy because we are sharing our best, time-saving, sanity soothing mom hacks.   The debate over school uniforms and dress codes proves to be a hot-button topic and is this month’s At Issue.

We are introducing a new feature this month What We’re Watching, a roundup of binge-worthy television and movies with the occasional podcast thrown in for good measure.   WWW will replace Best of the Blogosphere and we will continue to share content from fellow bloggers on our Facebook page, so be sure to follow us there and share what you’re reading too!

Wishing you happy school days!

Moments Like This

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Moments like this leave you breathless. – Haleakula, Maui July 2015.

Our guest today is Sonya Davidson, known as The Culture Pearl.  If you’re looking for something inspiring you may want to visit Sonya (@theculturepearl). Life is about being open to new experiences and learning something new each day. You can find her on instagram (highly recommended) as well as her posts on national sites including Urbanmoms.ca, TorontoIsAwesome.com, CanadianReviewer.com, and AZNmodern.com

Having a baby? Going to a baby shower? We’ve got the latest in baby gear!

It’s safe to say that the three mothers are past the stage of babies, diapers and midnight feedings but we know that not all of our readers are. We’ve relied on our own experiences and we’ve tapped some 4th mothers to weigh-in and give us their opinion on some of the newest baby gear to hit the stores. If you boxed up the binkies a long time ago, you will still want to bookmark this round-up of baby gear, because we never outgrow attending baby showers!

BABYBJÖRN Bouncer Mini

Bouncers are a must for new moms. In fact, when asked for my advice about bouncers, I say with enthusiasm “get one for each floor!” This new, mini version of the classic BABYBJÖRN bouncer is ergonomically designed for newborns to 6 months and adjusts into two positions – one for play and one for rest. The baby’s natural movement rocks the seat, gently stimulating and soothing the infant without the need for batteries or remote controls. The sleek, simple design is a welcome addition to any living room and the detachable legs score points for easy storage. While the suggested price tag of $159.95 may seem on higher end, you’ll save on batteries and the timeless design ensures Baby #2 will enjoy its comforts in the years to come. Worth the splurge!

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My nephew was the official tester and this is what his mom had to say:

“The BABYBJÖRN Bouncer Mini is one of our most used baby items. I love the fact that Henry can bounce it himself, it’s easy to clean and you can’t beat the way it looks.”

Shaidee and Shaidee Bug

Have you ever put a blanket over your baby while toting them in a carrier to keep the sun off their bare arms, legs and tiny head? Guilty! Shaidee and Shaidee Bug is a cooler and more comfortable way to shade your baby from the sun and wind. Its lightweight design is compatible with most carriers and is easy to clean. Priced less than most blankets (including free shipping!), the Shaidee is an ideal gift for outdoor-loving parents-to-be.

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Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Smart Connect Cradle ‘n Swing

For the tech-savvy parents this swing is the crème de la crème of baby gear. Fisher-Price, a heavy weight in the baby game for generations, has launched the 21st century version of their much-loved swing. Two rocking motions, six swing speeds and 19 sounds that sooth baby all with the touch of a button from your smartphone or tablet! How genius is that?

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Anita Nursing Bras

We recently got to check out a great line of Canadian lingerie, and the variety for nursing mothers means that they can get great bras, too!  Anita lingerie is a 100% family-owned company dedicated to bring high-quality, well-made undergarments and swimwear to women. Each line, from sport to maternity, is available in a wide-range of sizes (larger bust sizes rejoice!) but it’s the design detail that’s truly standout. New moms need a supportive nursing bra, but the fourth trimester is synonymous with feeling less than your best. Anita’s line of maternity and nursing bras are available in every combination imaginable from seamless and wireless (great for under a t-shirt) to ultra-feminine lace. 

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Never Grow Up

There’s a new babywear shop on the block, and it’s as cute as a button!  Never Grow Up is an established babywear store in Oakville, and it has just opened up a new store at 1725 Bayview Avenue in Toronto.  It’s full of adorable, fun and funky clothes from newborn to 10.  There is a variety of designers, from both near and far, and the styles range from cutsie cute to cutting edge.  The staff are super friendly and helpful, and who can resist all that tiny fashion?!

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How smart is this?! A pacifier clip, built right in.

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For your little sleeping bear cub, a sleeping sack that ties at the bottom to keep him safe and snug.

*Full disclosure: My little nephew benefitted from the BABYBJÖRN Bouncer Mini and he loves it! We received no financial compensation from any of the other companies/products mentioned above. Not that we’re opposed to making a few dollars ;) Be assured that all opinions expressed are our own.

Our Top 6 Tips for Successful Cottaging

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Few things evoke summer idyll as much as cottage living does.  Rustic beauty, swimming and sport in clear lake waters, Muskoka chairs on the deck to watch the gorgeous sunsets, maybe a campfire – these are all part of cottage dream for good reason.

As the owners of any cottage will tell you, though, the cottage experience doesn’t just make itself. My husband and I don’t own a cottage ourselves, but we do have regular access to one (my in-laws have a stunning spot on Georgian Bay) and we know firsthand, sometimes through our own oversights, what works and doesn’t work at the cottage. As with any project, a fun cottage experience is the result of good planning, collaboration, and consideration. Here are our top 6 tips for making the cottage dream a reality.

  1. Make an offering. If you’re a visitor, you can’t really defray the costs of the cottage, but you can offset anything associated with your stay. Bring a host gift, but keep things on the practical side – a cottage can’t hold many knick knacks. Offer to pay for boat gas (exorbitant, because boat engines burn right through it). Ask whether you can bring anything up to the cottage and cover it. Last weekend we were invited to friend’s cottage and it turned out she had a wish list of organic groceries, which are hard to source near her cottage. We brought up everything.
  2. 2. Arrive prepared. If you’re doing the cottage right, you’ll be spending time outdoors. Bring appropriate attire (swimwear, towels, warm clothing (especially for rides in boats), swim diapers). Remember life jackets and other flotation devices. Bring hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen (preferably an eco-brand, cottagers want to keep their waters pristine).

    3. Bring insect repellent. Canada’s recent public health advisories on ticks, which can transmit Lyme Disease, reveal that bug spray is about more than avoiding itchy bites. I’ve always try to use deet-free sprays, especially with my kids, and was eager to try Deet-free PiACTIVE when they offered it to us. The Canadian Paediatric Society states that PiACTIVE‘s main ingredient Icaridin “is considered to be the repellent of first choice by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Advisory Committee on Tropical Medicine and Travel for travellers six months to 12 years of age.” Thus reassured, we can report that it works great, is non-greasy, has no scent, and sports a convenient pump. Plus the cover for the pump contains a working compass. I wanted to pack the repellent for the cottage but my son claimed it for overnight camp: “I need the compass!” he cried.  I gave in, because not only is he going to wear that repellent, he’s not going to get lost either. Thank you, PiACTIVE. Available online and at selected retailers, including Mountain Equipment Co-op.PiACTIVE™ Insect Repellent Launches in Canada (CNW Group/Talvi Kuld Strategic Communications)

    4.  Get your licenses. Are there boats where you’re headed? Get your boating license. Do you like to fish? Get your fishing licence.  Don’t fish and don’t keep the catch unless you’re permitted to. Respect the regulations and the environment they seek to protect.

    5. Work. You’ve arrived at the cottage after a long week of work, somehow squeezing in the time to ready yourselves and pack.  Your one goal for the weekend: to relax. And relax you should. But interspersed with your relaxing should be work. Even at the cottage, someone still has to look after the kids, make the meals, wash up, maintain the boats, chop wood, return things to the shed, strip the beds, clean the bathrooms. If you’re not working, someone else is doing it for you. You’re at a cottage, not a resort. Find out what needs to be done, and do your part (or more).

    1. beach bookShake it up. Part of the pleasure in returning to the same spot several times a year, every year, is knowing what to expect and enjoying the rituals of our stays. But sometimes the same patterns grow a little stale and it’s good to usher in something new. Maybe invite a guest, bring up a new game, or plan a new activity. This year, I brought up The Beach Book: Loads of Things to Do at Lakes, Rivers and the Seaside by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield, which is filled with nature-based ideas and inspiring, beautiful photographs for play along any shoreline. Prompted by one of its ideas, to create a dam and channel water, I join my boys who were trying to catch minnows with nets. I eventually let go of the dam idea because they were already engrossed, but I did hang around and dove into the water (which I often sidestep because the bay is chilly). I ended up swimming and sunning myself on rocks with them for the afternoon. They loved this, and so did I. There are many more ideas in the book, and I’m sure to consult it again, but if it does nothing besides inspire us anew to enjoy ourselves at the cottage, it will have accomplished what it intended and more besides.
    2. Cook! Make an effort to have nice meals. Most people like to eat good food, even if they don’t like to prepare it. Plus everything tastes better when someone else cooks it, so this is a nice thing to do for a cottage host. Even if you’re on your own, take some time for this. One of the beauties of cottage life is the slower pace, and having the time to prepare good eats is one of its hallmark pleasures.
    3. Cover your cottage bases and with any luck, you’ll get invited back. Unless you’re family, and then they’re kind of stuck with you either way. But it’s good karma to be a good member of the clan, and cottage peace is a sweet prize.

      Have I missed something? What is your favourite tip for successful cottaging?

If This is Tuesday, it Must Be Latvia by guest Marcelle Cerny

We are excited to have Marcelle Cerny as our guest for today! Marcelle is one of the founding 4Mothers and we’ve missed reading her words!  Today she shares memories from her recent European trip with her family – and the pictures are something else!  

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Have you ever wanted to say, “I’m with the band?” Well, now I have: my family and I ran away to Europe this summer to follow a bunch of touring musicians.

This past July, our eldest son Daniel toured Russia, the Baltics and Poland as a member of the Toronto Children’s Chorus Chamber Tour Choir, a group of forty fine and talented young musical ambassadors from Canada, along with their inimitable musical director, Elise Bradley, and the choir’s fabulous musical staff. Not wanting to miss out, my husband, youngest son and I became “choir groupies”, part of a gaggle of parents and siblings of choristers who travelled along with the choir for all or part of their 17-day tour.

While Daniel visited Russia, spending time in Moscow and St. Petersburg,

 

Above: Views of Stockholm

Above: Views of Stockholm

The three of us made a brief stop in Stockholm, so that I could cross it off of my bucket list (it did not disappoint, by the way, but that’s another story):

Left: Moscow. Right: St Petersburg

Left: Moscow. Right: St Petersburg

before taking a voyage by ferry across the Baltic Sea, under skies that never entirely darkened,

Baltic Sea, 11:30 pm.

Baltic Sea, 11:30 pm.

to meet up with him and the choir in Tallinn, Estonia. After that, our tour took on a specific rhythm: each morning, we joined the children for some sightseeing, leaving them in the afternoon to rehearse while we did our own touring. Every second evening or so, the choir performed, sometimes with a local children’s or youth choir, and the next day we’d all pack up and off to the next destination we’d go. This all had a bit of a Planes, Trains and Automobiles feel about it – by our count, we took four planes, three long-distance coaches, two trains, and at least one automobile over fourteen days – but as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it was outstanding.

Clockwise from top left: Inside the city walls, Tallin; Tallin from above; Part of Vilnius Castle; House of the Blackheads, Riga; Inside the Riga Dome Cathedral.

Clockwise from top left: Inside the city walls, Tallin; Tallin from above; Part of Vilnius Castle; House of the Blackheads, Riga; Inside the Riga Dome Cathedral.

So what was the best part of being a choir groupie? In part, it was visiting these remarkable countries. History is all around you in these places: each of the historic city centres of Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Krakow are UNESCO World Heritage sites, protected locales deemed to be cultural significance to humanity. Those of us of a certain age remember how more recent history was written in the Baltics, as Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were the first countries to declare their independence from Soviet rule in the late 1980s. The choir’s tour guide recalled how, as a young mother, she joined the human chain of nearly two million people connecting Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, as a protest against Soviet occupation. Some of this area’s history is also intensely personal to our family: when the choir visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, my husband went too, to this place of horror where his grandfather’s parents and sister perished and which his grandfather, to our everlasting gratitude, survived. It was this stop on the tour that motivated us to go to Europe in the first place, so that the memory of it would be shared.

Of course, without the choir, there would be no need for choir groupies. The children’s tour repertoire included between 25 and 30 pieces, some sacred, some contemporary, all performed from memory. Their concerts in Vilnius and Krakow were the best concerts we heard them perform all year. Their venues included some of the most special and sacred spaces in Eastern Europe, including Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, the final resting place Frederick Chopin’s heart. In Krakow, they were conducted by Polish Maestro Krysztof Penderecki (who earned top billing on the Choir’s concert posters plastered around Krakow’s old town). As groupies, and as parents we couldn’t have been more proud, or more thrilled to watch them perform.

Clockwise from top left: Krakow's old town square; Here lies Chopin's Heart (Warsaw); Krakow in early evening; Krakow concert poster; Inside the Cloth Market, Krakow.

Clockwise from top left: Krakow’s old town square; Here lies Chopin’s Heart (Warsaw); Krakow in early evening; Krakow concert poster; Inside the Cloth Market, Krakow.

Some of the benefits of being a groupie were less obvious. On his first evening in Warsaw, we met up with Daniel at his hotel, hoping for some time to catch up with him. Very shortly after we got there, he looked at his phone, stood up, and started counting off on his fingers all the things he had to do in the ten minutes before dinner: unpack, start his hand-washing, and settle into his new room and for that reason, he said, he was very sorry, but we had to go. Want to experience temporary disorientation? Have your teenager insinuate that you’re a slacker with no regard for time and the reason he’s late for dinner. That would never happen at home.

The best part of all? The absolute best part of getting to visit with Daniel on his tour happened ten days after Daniel left Canada. It was when we finally got to Tallinn, and it was this:

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The Trip of a Lifetime

IMG_5242The way I see it, marriage and family are two sides of a scale and sometimes the kids trump over the marriage but it’s foolish not to restore the balance. As much as sharing milestones and spending time with my children is the bedrock of our family, I don’t believe in moving my marriage down the priority list. Not all trips are meant to be enjoyed as a family.

Our tenth anniversary trip was such a trip.

Corsica is a French island, rich in political history, south of mainland France and west of the Italian peninsula where the land offers everything from rugged mountainous terrain to sweeping vistas, breathtaking coastlines and crystalline beaches. Located at the southern tip (on a clear day Sardinia beckons) is the most spectacular place I’ve ever visited.

Domaine de Murtoli is a family estate. Since the 16th century sheep and cows graze the land and in 1994 the current heir married his love for his ancestral land and his passion for the environment with his talent for creating beautiful spaces.  Murtoli as it’s known today was born. A series of villas reconstructed as much as possible from the original centuries-old building materials coupled with modern-day luxury are the jewel of this working estate where agriculture still prevails.

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We spent a week in our villa, a tiny sheepfold, nestled away from everyone and everything. Our daily trips to the market brought about the finest in local ingredients, and foraging at Murtoli’s garden was as picturesque as bountiful. Our days started with a basket of fresh pastries delivered each morning and then we’d spend the rest of the time hiking the impressive land dotted with cork trees and fields of lavender or lounging on a 5-kilometer stretch of isolated beach where a restaurant served the best of local cuisine. When we felt up for it, we’d venture off the estate and explore the neighbouring villages and even spent one glorious afternoon at our proprietor’s family vineyard.  Most memorable  are the dinners that were prepared over hours, and several bottles of French champagne.

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The highlight of the trip was the evening spent listening to a small orchestra play classical music on the beach, illuminated by 5,000 candles. Just the memory alone is enough to give me goose bumps.

We came away restored and with a great appreciation for a landscape and culture that previously we knew nothing about.

To see more pictures from our trip-of-a-decade be sure to follow 4Mothers on Instagram.