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

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.

 

Guest Post: Kristi Ashcroft: “These things they go away; Replaced by Everyday” — R.E.M., Nightswimming

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To my three boys,

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow it’s over. When the school bell rang on June 27, and we were staring ahead at 65 days of unscheduled, unstructured time at our rustic cottage on somewhat remote Manitoulin Island, it seemed both daunting and exhilarating. We all claimed this was what we wanted. But, with no camps booked for any of you this summer, with Dad’s work schedule requiring him in Toronto more than at the cottage, and with few good friends nearby, I felt like I was embarking on a tight rope across a wide chasm. With just the right balance, it could be great. Or it could go another way.

I admit, the bickering almost undid me. “Stop it”, “Owwwwww”, “Mommmmmmmmmm”, “He started it”, “Stop copying me”, “He pinched (kicked, punched, scratched, poked) me”, “He cheated”, “That’s mine”, “I hate you”, “You don’t even know what 45 plus 56 is”, “You suck at hockey,” “You’re an idiot”, “What?”, “What did I do?”.

And that was before breakfast.

I vacillated between refereeing, cajoling, bribing, punishing, peace-brokering, distracting, and out and out losing my mind. None of those strategies seemed to be particularly or consistently effective. One morning, out of fury over some territorial conflict involving a pillow fort, you my littlest one, managed to strip off your pull-up from the night before and bonk your eldest brother over the head with it, thereby causing the diaper to explode and sending pee-soaked polymers across the room where they settled like a yellow-tinged snow. We were only about two weeks into summer and my coffee hadn’t even finished brewing. I promptly declared summer cancelled, and in a further fit of hyperbole, threatened to sell the cottage and use the proceeds to send each of you to summer camp, separately, in perpetuity. Because clearly we couldn’t survive summer together.

But we plodded on. The memories of the fighting do eventually fade to white noise. We can all now laugh at the diaper snow story, and you each delight in regaling others with your part in it. And thank goodness I didn’t throw in the towel. There is so much I would have missed.

First, I would have missed our talks: talks that don’t get cut short or interrupted because there’s a brother to pick up or a practice to get to; talks that stem from your questions, fears or curiosities. We talked about wolves and tornadoes and cancer and dying a lot this summer, though I can’t really explain why those themes recurred. Our “where did I come from” talk started after you learned about an initiative to repopulate the Great Lakes with sturgeon, and I found myself in the somewhat awkward position of having to compare and contrast fish procreation with the human variety. You were captivated by stories of when you were young, and of when we were young, creating a trove of family lore that I hope will stay with you and eventually be retold by you.

We had time to focus on things that often get swept aside during the busy seasons, like manners. You had the chance to hone your skills of being a good guest, a good host and a good neighbour. I don’t want to jinx it, but this summer may have paved the way for 2014 to be declared “The Year Everyone Started Holding Their Fork Correctly,” although I’m guessing you guys won’t remember it that way.

You had more freedom and I got to give it to you. You could ride way ahead on your bike, wander the woods with your brothers, or burst outside on a whim without a corresponding admonition from your mother to “stop at the stop sign”, or “slow down”. I loved observing how you handled the mutually reinforcing responsibility and independence. I also loved that I almost never heard myself say “Hurry up”, “Time to go” or “We’re late.”

I had a chance to shed my roles as chauffeur, guidance counsellor, tutor, nag-in-chief and disciplinarian, and to have the opportunity to just DO things with you. Do things WITH you. The nights we kayaked out past the point so we could see the sun set. The quiet mornings when we felt like we were the first ones to make ripples in the water with our paddles. The bike rides that we’d finish with sprints, pretending we were chasing down a hockey player from the other team who was on a breakaway. The walks where we noticed all the things we miss when we drive that same stretch of country lane. The swims, the saunas and then more swims. The time I got up on water skis for the first time and saw you all cheering me on from the boat. Moms don’t get cheers very often, and we don’t necessarily expect or need them. But when we do get woo-hoos and high fives from our kids, it is incredibly special.

I loved all the games we played together. (OK, except Junior Monopoly. I actually hated Junior Monopoly, with its skewed economics where you’re either enjoying an immediate 100% return on investment, or suffering expropriation of your properties with the mere draw of a Chance card, thereby leaving all participants somewhere on the spectrum between indifferent and incensed by the end of the game). But matching wits with you in Connect Four or Qwirkle, playing series after series of Crazy Eights and Uno, and watching your logical minds at work cracking codes in Mastermind were some of my favourite indoor moments of the summer.

I relished the opportunity to watch you be you. Your true natures reveal themselves when you are responsible for combatting your own boredom. I noticed, without judgment, who was more likely to reach for his hockey stick and who was more likely to work a puzzle. I watched as you would spend hours in character as imaginary brothers who are 12- and 11-years-old, respectively, undertaking no end of wild adventures, Stanley Cup quests, and other complicated plot lines. I was intrigued to hear your takes on the books you read, and was sometimes surprised at which ones you loved and which were just OK. I noticed which friends from school you mentioned and which issues from home permeated our summer bubble. I made a mental note of these for when we return home and other factors sometimes muddy our priorities.

I stopped myself on more than one occasion this summer and wished I could bottle these moments, or that I could hit the pause button and keep you at ages 4, 6 and 8, picking raspberries, catching frogs, chasing sea gulls, digging in mud, jumping on trampolines and letting me read stories to you. The summer felt fleeting, perhaps because I don’t know if conditions will ever permit us to have another 65-day spell like this one.

But now it’s time. Tomorrow I send you back to your real worlds of school and sports and social lives. You’re blonder, taller and tanner than when you left. But I think you’re changed in less visible albeit more permanent ways as well. I know I am. I hope we get to do this again sometime.

Love, Mom

Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London.  She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 4, 6 and 8.

Island Time: What a month away with my children taught me

IMG_1261I just returned from a month away. With my kids. All three of them. 24/7 at arm’s length for 4 whole weeks. We ate every meal together, woke up at an ungodly hour every day together, and spent every second together for 28 days.

Believe it or not, it’s what I wanted. In fact, I was desperate for it. I longed to be free from the schedule: the schoolwork and the activities, the play dates and birthday parties and the overwhelming feeling of always being on the go. I wanted to spend the days with the boys doing nothing. Teaching them that doing nothing is in fact doing something – it’s recharging. Re-setting. And all of us need to know how to do that.

Residing in a busy city and having busy schedules and living with a big, busy family, it’s hard to not get swept up in always “doing”. Checking things off “the list” with compulsion and not really enjoying any of it. I’ve spent lots of time this past year reflecting on how much time we spend “doing” and not “being”. I want to change that.

Most importantly I want to impart to my boys that their self-worth is not tied to how busy they are. And what better way to do that, than to show them how.

We unpacked our bags in Grand Cayman and settled in for a month of island living, where “island time” is a real thing. We spent the days at the beach discovering the sea life, and learning about our world. Snorkelling adventures spanned hours and walks on the sand were slow and unchartered. Mealtime was unhurried and evenings were spent watching old movies, playing cards and lost in our imaginations.

Escaping the perils of boyhood is not possible – even in Paradise. They still fought, and whined, and complained. They still didn’t want to be touched, breathed on, or looked at. The iPads were still taken away and threats were still made, but all to a much lesser degree.

Free from distractions, the boys reconnected with each other and with me. The conversation flowed and while my boys studied mollusks and coral formations, I realized who they are. Their distinct personalities revealed themselves to me in new ways, and my understanding of them and their fears, anxieties, dreams and excitements, became clearer.

The weeks passed in a blur, a painful reminder of how fast the years are slipping by, and tears came with the realization that I can slow down and be more present but I can’t stop time.

Amazing August (and Our Fifth Blogoversary!)

FullSizeRender (1)August is so amazing… we’ve got our summer groove on and are in the thick of the season. There is alternately so much happening or, if you are lucky/intentional, nothing much happening at all, and both of these states are perfectly good.

It’s also a time when many of us find the time to travel, in all of its many forms. This month, we’re writing about some of the ways in which we move around.  Some of us are destined for faraway places, some of us stay near to home, but all of us are moving, all the time.

We’re happy to announce our special guests lined up, including friend Kristi Ashcroft on summering with her kids. We also have – wait for it – original 4 Mothers co-writer Marcelle Cerny back for a post! It’s wonderful to have her writing on our screen again.

We’ll also offer some tips on making those travel plans work: everything from games, shoes, sunscreen and bug spray.  And if you’re looking for great reads for kids, stay tuned, and we’ll tell you what our favourites are in our What We’re Reading Kids feature.

Most of all, we hope that reading here is, in some small way, giving your summer days a bit of a boost. Because that’s kind of why we’re here in the first place. This season marks our fifth summer writing daily to you – that would be FIVE YEARS – when, exactly, did that happen?

Beth-Anne, Nathalie and I are as surprised as you are… when we started this project those many moons ago, we didn’t have much of an agenda.  What we did know, and what we still know, is that we wanted to show up and write here, everyday. The fact that you are showing up too and reading here is exciting and humbling in equal measure. We now have over 11,000 subscribers, a number that makes us feel as grateful for your support as it makes us proud of our growth. We are so grateful for the new horizons this blog brings to us, the reliable way it calls to us to get the words in our head down on the page/screen, and especially for the way it helps us to connect to each other, to you, and to our world beyond. Thank you so much for joining us in this shared space!  We are looking forward to all the future has to bring.

Crispy Fish Tacos from EmmaEats

Our guest for today is fellow Savvy Storyteller Liz from EmmaEats . . . and Katie too! Liz is a busy mom of two, so she knows first hand that time is at a premium. Somehow she manages to create delicious recipes that are big on taste but don’t require tons of prep. Liz and I have something in common; we both have kids with nut allergies. Her collection of recipes is nut-free, allowing me to just follow along without worrying about substitutions. Follow Liz on Food Gawker or Taste Spotting for meal inspiration or her blog, EmmaEats, for good food for busy families.

These Crispy Fish Tacos, adapted from LCBO’s Fried Fish Sandwiches, are perfect for an alfresco summer family dinner.

Crispy Fish Tacos
(serves 4)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4-5 tilapia fillets, cut in half into two strips (~1 lb)
  • salt and black pepper
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • tortillas (optional, to serve)
  • Zesty Avocado Dip (optional, to serve – recipe follows)
  • chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (to serve)
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt (optional, to serve)
  • Chipotle sauce (optional, to serve)
In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, oregano, paprika, cumin, coriander, white pepper and cayenne. Salt and pepper the tilapia and rub the seasoning mix over all sides of each strip. Drizzle with lime juice and let marinate for 15-30 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400F.
Setup a workstation with egg in one platter and panko breadcrumbs in another.
Dredge each tilapia piece through the egg first and then through the breadcrumbs. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet.
When all of the pieces are breaded, bake in the preheated oven for ~20-30 minutes, flipping once halfway through baking. The fish should be flaky and opaque with a crispy and golden exterior.
Serve in warmed tortillas, topped with Zesty Avocado Dip, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers with a dollop of sour cream or drizzled with chipotle sauce.
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Zesty Avocado Dip
(serves 4)
  • 2 avocados
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Halve the avocados and roughly mash the flesh with the garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with tortilla chips or over Crispy Fish Tacos.

Rhubarb BBQ Sauce by Dinner With Julie

Our guest for today is Julie Van Rosendaal food writer, stylist and columnist frequently featured in Parents Canada, Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One, a contributor to the online cooking series Good Bite and co-host of It’s Just Food on Viva Network.

Julie is a real foodie and her passion for good food goes beyond simply enjoying it. She shares it. Her blog, Dinner With Julie, is a compilation of recipes that run the gamut from appetizers to dessert, all indexed for easy search and execution. But here’s the thing. Even though she’s an accomplished gastronome, she’s a real mom. She knows that even with our best intentions to meal plan, we end up staring into the fridge trying to make sense of a disjointed collection of potential ingredients . . .some approaching their expiration date. She knows this, because she’s one of us.

For one less worry, bookmark her blog to figure out what’s for dinner or follow her on Instagram for meal inspiration.

Thank you Julie for sharing your recipe for Rhubarb BBQ Sauce. A summer condiment that is the perfect pairing for grilled meats and may even be sourced from your garden. Just remember, only the stalk of a rhubarb plant can be eaten, the leaves are poisonous.
Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

2-3 large stalks of rhubarb, chopped (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup water
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup pure maple or golden syrup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. grainy mustard

In a small saucepan, bring the rhubarb and water to a simmer and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

In the same saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the onion for 3-4 minutes, until soft; add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer; cook for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Puree with a hand-held immersion blender or cool and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Use as you would any barbecue sauce – on grilled meats, in baked beans or drizzled on burgers.

Makes about 2 cups.

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