Elderflower Everything

stgermainliquuerI am obsessed with Elderflower.  Obsessed.  I discovered it a few years ago in a pop I found at Winners.  Do you know, I sometimes go to Winners just to shop in the crazy impulse buy aisles they have you weaving through miles of just to get to the cash register.  Seriously.  Just for that.  I find the best stuff in those aisles!  It’s where I found this elderflower pop.  It’s where my elderflower adventure began!

From a rare find at Winners to England, where elderflower pop is readily available at Tesco, and a habit was formed.  I drank a lot of it in England and brought home a bottle of elderflower cordial in my suitcase.

From elderflower softdrinks, I moved on to a discovery of elderflower liqueur.  St. Germain is available at the LCBO, and mixed with a splash of soda, it’s a little taste of heaven.

Also available at the LCBO is Rekorderlig elderflower and pear cider.  Serve very well chilled.  See above re: heaven.

Finally, a friend, aware of my passion, brought me a bottle of elderflower cordial from Ikea.

If you are feeling ambitious, you can make your own!  Recipe here from the Tree Council.

So, I’ve got several ways to find it, and now I’m working on ways to mix it.

Elderflower Bellini

A really indulgent cocktail that’s perfect for summer, is a simple mix of Prosecco and St. Germain.  Pour half an ounce of St. Germain into a champagne flute, fill with chilled Prosecco and feel the bliss.

REKORDERLIG-ELDERFLOWERElderflower Elvis

I made this cocktail for my Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon.  It was incredible.  At the time, I left out the beer from the original Bon Appetit recipe because I’m not a big fan of beer cocktails.  I’m thinking, though, that the Rekorderlig cider would be a delicious substitute for the beer and would amplify the elderflower flavour.

I also adapted the recipe by substituting vodka for gin and soaking segmented grapefruit in the vodka for a few hours.  I then used this flavour-infused vodka to make the cocktails and used the grapefruit for garnish.  Delish!

Virgin Elvis

Just add Elderflower cordial to pink grapefruit juice and add a splash of soda water.  Yum!

Please tell me about any other elderflower drinks you may know about!!

 

Reignite the Spark and Heat Up Your Summer: Sex with Dr. Jess

jessIt’s a tough life, but somebody’s got to do it.  A few weeks ago, Durex invited 4Mothers to a women’s only evening of Talking Sex with Dr. Jess, a Toronto-based sexologist.  It was a blast!  Jessica O’Reilly is a fabulous speaker, and she made us laugh and put us at our ease in seconds flat.

She’s full of zippy one-liners, and one of her best was to “Do a sister a favour and share the wealth.”  So, with no further ado, here is the PG version of Dr. Jess’s tips to reignite the spark

1.  Fantasize during sex, and let your mind wander.

The top four fantasies for women are domination & submission, having sex with a stranger, role-playing and exhibitionism.  Try them out as fantasies and see where they take you.

2.  Seduce with surprise.

If you are not usually explicit, then explicitly express your desire.  Be unpredictable.

3.  Talk.

Reconnect.  Do not talk about the kids or the day to day stuff.  Ask an intimate question, focus on yourselves.

4.  Talk Dirty.

“If you can talk dirty you never, ever have to get on top again.”

5.  Change something old.  Try something new.

Try changing just one thing outside and one thing inside the bedroom.  New date night, new lingerie.

6.  Time & Space Challenge.

Have sex at a different time of day than you usually do.   Do not have sex in the bedroom.  Just those small changes can be enough to re-ignite the spark.

7. Be the teacher

Using plenty of lube, teach your partner some new ways to touch you.  (I can’t keep it PG with specifics.  Suffice to say, she used a vulva puppet, and had us miming various techniques, and was shouting, “Do it!!  You won’t remember it if you don’t do it!  Muscle memory!!”)

Have fun! 

The Eras of Childhood, As Measured by Trips to the E.R.

A light-hearted look at our trips to the emergency room, written while touching wood and counting our blessings that we can laugh about them now.  4Mothers would like to say that we are extremely grateful to be able to take our emergencies to The Hospital for Sick Children.  Every time I go in there, I feel so proud and so blessed to be a Canadian tax payer!

The Era of Croup, infancy

“Who are you and what have you done with my baby?!” you say to the seal who seems to have possessed your barking infant.  Off you rush to the E.R., because it’s 3 a.m. and you have a seal in the crib, but apparently, this is so benign it does not even require medical attention.  “Walk around outside [in -20 degree cold] for a few minutes,” says Doctor.  The cold air will, indeed, fix it.

The Era of the Ear Infection, infancy to 3

It’s Friday night.  Your child has had a cold all week, and it’s gotten steadily worse.  Now that the doctor’s office is closed, his little ear canals have filled up and festered, his fever has spiked and he is screaming blue murder every time he goes horizontal.  You know it’s an ear infection.  The pharmacist knows it’s an ear infection.  Neither of you can do anything about it without a prescription from a doctor.  He will finally fall asleep in the ER.

The Era of Allergies, toddler to school age

The definition of an anaphylactic allergy is that two or more of the body’s systems react violently to the allergen.  Skin.  Respiratory.  Digestive.  If you are lucky, you will rush your little lobster to the ER, both of you covered in vomit, and pray that you have enough diapers to get through the visit.

The Era of Poisoning, toddler to school age

Rhubarb leaf.  Who knew?

Concussion, school age

Head meets ice through helmet.  Headache and vomiting ensue.  Get thee to the ER.  Always better to be safe than sorry.

The Era of Broken Bones, school age

You will go into the ER, for example, with Eldest, who has a broken bone in his hand, and while you wait, a lovely, eager medical student will zip over to ask you to fill out a questionnaire about Trampoline Safety.  You will say yes because that’s the kind of Helpful Person that you are.  You will fill out the questionnaire then read the safety guidelines that she hands you informing you that, actually, Canadian pediatricians are asking for a ban on all backyard trampolines.  You will say to her, in all certainty, that as a mother of three boys, “A trampoline will be the reason for my next visit to the ER.”  You will be right.

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Did I miss any?

Raising Great Parents by Doone Estey, Beverley Cathcart-Ross and Martin Nash

rgp_front_high_rgbRaising Great Parents: How to Become the Parent Your Child Needs You to Be

by Doone Estey, Beverley Cathcart-Ross and Martin Nash, M.D.

Toronto: BPS Books, 2014

July has been our learning at home month, but, of course, not all learning is for the kids.  Parents are also always learning, and to recognize that learning process as on-going and ever-lasting is one of the most important tools in our parenting tool kit.

I learned a lot about myself reading this book.  I am, by nature, exactly the kind of controlling parent at whom this book is aimed.  “Step away from the rule book a minute and listen.  Attend.  Observe.  Relax.”  That’s what this book taught me to remember.

The authors of Raising Great Parents introduce the book by saying,

We realized that, to end the stressful conflicts with our kids, we had to start with ourselves.  We adopted a different form of parental leadership as it finally dawned on us that our challenge was not to raise great kids but to become great parents. (2)

I love how such a simple phrase turns the table: do not aim to raise great kids, aim to be a great parent.

How do you do that?

Begin by recognizing that the only behaviour you can actually control is your own.  Here is a great example: the kids are acting up at bedtime, arguing and disrupting book time.  Instead of barking orders to control them (“Stop fighting!”) or feeling powerless in the face of their behaviour (“Why are you ruining my special time?”), simply close the book and tell them, “I will read when the room is quiet.”

Now you have control–over yourself.  In effect, your words mean, “I can’t make you do it, so I will decide for myself what I will do in this situation.  I’m going to … decide what’s going to happen next — to me. (33)

The book is full of ideas and exercises to practice how to convert a dynamic of control into co-operation.  The vocabulary the authors use for modeling an exchange may not feel natural to you, but the exercises are useful for thinking outside of the usual box.  The tips for taking the yelling out of the morning routine were life-changing!  There is also a fabulous chart of age-appropriate chores for kids to do at home that will encourage you to give your kids a bit more responsibility and a lot more independence.

The book begins with asking parents to examine their own behaviours.  (Helpful.  Humbling.)  It then goes on to examine why kids misbehave and provides tools to guide families to a more co-operative dynamic.  It covers the greatest hits: misbehaving, punishment, the link between praise and self-esteem, and co-operative problem-solving.

If you are familiar with Adlerian approaches to parenting, this book will cover familiar ground.  The authors are all affiliated with The Parenting Network, an organization that promotes parenting through cooperation and guiding our kids’ intrinsic motivation.

Full disclosure: I know one of the authors of this book, Beverley Cathcart-Ross, very well.  She’s family!  I’ve seen her in action hosting Thanksgiving dinner for 40 people without breaking a sweat.  She is grace in motion, and mostly unflappable.  If she says, “I will read when the room is quiet,” she means it, but in the nicest way possible.

 

CBC Kids’ Programming: Combining Learning and Fun

photo (8)File this under things I never thought I’d say: if I had it all to do again, I would let my preschoolers watch more television.  At least, that’s how I feel after meeting some of the great minds behind CBC children’s programming.

I love meeting people who are infectiously enthusiastic about their jobs, and that was very much the case at CBC Kids’ Days when I met Kim Wilson, creative head of CBC children’s programming, and Dr. Lynn Oldershaw, child psychologist and children’s’ programming consultant for Kids’ CBC.  They were introducing three new shows coming to CBC Kids– Chirp, The Moblees, and You & Me–and they invited 4Mothers along to their Very Important Picnic, where parents and kids could mix and mingle and meet some of the people in front of and behind the camera.

(Confession: I have a crush on Mamma Yamma and I got to meet her!  In the potato flesh!)

photo (7)

Almost as exciting as that celebrity spotting, I learned a lot about their whole child approach to children’s programming and how their shows fill their mandate to educate and empower children.

“We are not just making content, we are making a difference.”

Kim Wilson

Both Kim and Lynn emphasized how television can make a positive difference to preschool-aged viewers, and, I confess, I was a bit skeptical at first.  As a rule, I place tight limits on screen time because I’d prefer my kids to be active, but as Lynn pointed out, preschoolers do not watch television passively in the way that adults and older children do.  Their minds are constantly working as they watch, and they are active consumers of what’s on the screen.  If you make sure to put them in front of quality, interactive programming, then they will engage and learn.

The team at CBC ensures that learning happens with their Whole Child Development Approach to programming, in which five areas of development are being targeted in shows that are very interactive:

1.  Cognitive Growth (science, spelling, numeracy, learning to read; Bookaboo, Monster Math Squad)

2. Social Skills (equally important in preparing for academic success is how to get along with other children; Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood)

3. Emotional Intelligence (empowering kids to identify and regulate their emotions and then problem-solve to cope with powerful emotions; Poko, The Adventures of Napkin Man)

4. Creativity (music, art, storytelling–children have an enormous capacity for creativity, and quality programming will stimulate it, not stifle it, by enabling kids to extend on what they see and hear; Artzooka; I noticed how simple the monsters in Monster Math would be to draw ourselves)

5. Physical Development (many aspects of the programming encourage, and even require, kids to move in order to propel the story; Bo on the Go)

I was thrilled to learn that John Mighton, of Jump Math fame, was a consultant on the numeracy content in Monster Math Squad, and Mary Gordon, who founded Roots of Empathy, was a consultant for the emotional intelligence content of The Adventures of Napkin Man.  These are thinkers and activists whose work I have long admired, and to hear that they are contributing to children’s television is nothing short of delightful.

We had a great day at the CBC studios, and I left feeling really grateful to have had the chance to look behind the curtain.  It has given me a much rosier view of how the small screen can be a positive part of at home learning.

 

50 Things to Do Outside

Have you seen the list of 50 Things to Do Before You Are 11 3/4 from England’s National Trust?  It’s brilliant.

I’m a big fan of the bucket-list approach to living.  (We are steadily working our way through 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up.  I plan never to be too old for anything in that book.  I love the whole series.)

Give me a list and I itch to get ticking.  Is it even possible to try 1001 Whiskeys Before You Die?  There’s only one way to find out!  It’s the journey and not the destination, right?

What I love about the National Trust List is that it is as much a starting point for infinite adventures as it is a finite list.  It works for the task-oriented, but also for those who like to wander off the beaten path.  It pushes you further into the wild, and it makes you open your eyes to the wilderness on your urban doorstep.

Middlest and I were walking through a ravine the other day, and he said, “People just see the danger in the wild.  They don’t see the good things.”  We started to name the good things.  We ran out of ravine before we ran out of ideas.

conkersI grew up playing conkers in England.  You tie a chestnut onto a string, and then you try to knock your opponent’s chestnut off of her string.  The enormous crispiness of those brown leaves, the prickle of the nut case, and the smell of weather cooling is forever part of my sensory memory.  I don’t know why conkers isn’t popular in Canada, but because it isn’t, chestnuts are just another tree to my boys, and they probably could not name it.  Chestnut, maple, oak: these are trees that I am confident I can identify in almost all seasons, but as Middlest and I were walking, I realized that I could not name nearly all of the trees we walked past.  It awoke in me a desire to learn to identify all of the trees in our neighbourhood.  They are so much a part of our lives, and yet we don’t know all of their names.

treeI’ve taken to carrying my tree guide to the park, to taking new routes with new trees, and while the kids play soccer, I wander around looking at the trees.  Then they wander over and have a peek and help me to identify the leaf shape and find the right name.

And, lo and behold, we all have a name for the fragrant tree that brings us so much joy when it’s in blossom in June and July.  Hello, Linden.  So nice to know your name.

Comparative Literature for Kids

hr_Maleficent_42One of the at-home learning activities my kids have been most invested in and most enthusiastic about has been my kid-friendly version of comparative literature: taking one fairy tale and finding as many versions  of it as we can find.  This includes not only looking at different authors’ but also different illustrators’ takes on the standard tales.  Sometimes, we even discover clever retellings of the stories that draw attention to their absurdities.

My kids have loved this approach to fairy tales, and it offers so many points of departure for discussing the stories and how they are told.

  • Is there a reason why the bad guy is a bad guy?
  • Does the story give any motivation?
  • Are the good guys always good?
  • Do girls always have to be princesses?
  • Do boys always have to be the heroes?
  • How does the author change the original story?
  • How does that change the message?
  • Why are so many kids in stories orphans?
  • Why is the forest always scary?
  • Is the animal a helper or an enemy?
  • How would the story be different if an animal told it?
  • Which illustrations do you like best?  Why?
  • How would you change this story?
  • How would you illustrate it?

Including movies in this comp. lit mix gives you a lot more to talk about.  With Maleficent out now, it’s a great time to dig out “Sleeping Beauty” again, both the tales and Disney’s original animated movie.  I loved watching it with my kids and talking about what a difference it makes to tell the story from the antagonist’s point of view.  I loved how they reference Disney’s illustration of Maleficent with those magnificent cheekbones!  I loved how we finally get a motivation for a terribly two-dimensional Disney demon.  The movie gave us so much to talk about in terms of stock characters and how it’s so much more interesting when the story is not just about good vs. evil.

Here’s what has worked for me and my boys.

For kids up to age six, decide on a fairy tale, and go to the library and find as many different illustrated picture book versions as you can.  This worked wonderfully for us with boys of different ages, because each child will spot different things and be attracted to different aspects of the books.

fairy-tales-from-the-brothers-grimmFor kids from six to ten, go back to the original versions from the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Andrew Lang and Hans Christian Andersen.  Some of these are much more creepy and violent than their Disney incarnations!  Some you’ve never heard of.  Philip Pullman recently published his tellings of the stories of the Brothers Grimm, complete with information about the origin and adaptations of the stories and why some have lasted longer than others.

Fairy tales are so elastic, they even lend themselves to including tweens and teens.  If you read the picture books to all the kids, middle grade readers can go off and read books like The Grimm Sisters, or for mature readers, Angela Carter’s retellings in The Bloody Chamber.   For movie adaptations for older kids, there are recent movie version of Red Riding Hood and Snow White and the Huntsman.

Here are some  other great retellings to share:

  • Philip Pullman retells Cinderella from the point of view of one of the rats who got changed into horses in I Was a Rat.  Funny.
  • The Sisters Grimm series of nine middle-grade novels by Michael Buckley tells the story of two girl detectives in the land of Everafters.  Addictive.
  • A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz is the first of a trilogy that retells the story of Hansel and Gretel for middle grade readers.  Page-turners.
  • Sweetly by Jackson Pearce also retells Hansel and Gretel for young adults.  About to find out….  Just ordered it.

Can you suggest any other retellings?  (Honestly, I’m hopeless.  I’ve added a dozen books to my wish list while writing this post and looking at these lists.  Hennepin County LibraryGoodreadsEpic Reads.  )

YA_Retellings_ALL_Web-3

 

 

 

Learning to Draw

Our theme for our posts for July is, loosely, homeschooling: learning at home.  Partly, we are talking about avoiding the summer slide, but we are also looking at how learning at home and outside of the classroom is important for broadening our kids’ horizons.  And, yes, we include our trip to LEGOLAND in the learning category!  You should have seen how the boys looked at each others’ car models and sought advice and inspiration from each other to make their cars faster.

One of my goals for myself and my kids this summer is to create more art.  I am powerfully drawn to art supply stores in a way that totally defies logic because I can’t draw!  All those gorgeous colours of markers, and here’s be barely able to draw a smiley face.

I’d like to change that.

Here are three sets of books that I have found really useful.

animalsEd Emberley’s illustration instruction is an outstanding place to start, not only because the method is so simple and fun but because results are so instant.  Seriously, no one can mess this up.  We have several of his books, but the web site is fun and useful, too.  It has printable sheets and animated instruction.  I really like the step-by-step method, but also how he includes ways to vary the basic image.  We own a copy of his Drawing Book of Animals, originally published in 1970.  It is dedicated to “the boy I was, the book I could not find.”  That broke my heart a little.  Well, your boys and girls can find both the book and the web site and can get busy making art right away.  His fingerprint illustrations are particularly fun, and they even incorporate literacy into the method: if you can write IVY LOU, you can draw an owl.

owl

Another series I love is based on shapes.  Chris Hart has a whole line of illustration instruction books, but the ones I go to all the time are his very basic shape-based ones: Draw a Triangle/Circle/Square, Draw Anything.

drawAgain, the key to the success of these books is step-by-step instruction and instant gratification.  My son’s hockey team, whose logo was a deer, made it to the finals in their division a few years back.  For luck, I decided to give them all lucky underwear (inspiration from the coach, who had a pair) and I went to this book to find a super-simple image of a deer to draw onto the underwear.  Huge hit.

20Finally, I have fallen in love with a great series of books that encourage artists not only to make art but to find a style that suits them: the 20 Ways to Draw series from Quarry books.  The illustrations are a lot more advanced, but the books demonstrate various styles for illustrating the same object, from simple to more complicated.  There is no step-by-step instruction, but there is a lot of inspiration!

20-ways-draw-penguin-244

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TMN-logo_Square1A reminder that voting is open for the best mom blog of 2014, for which we are thrilled to have been nominated.

Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees.  You can vote for your favourite three.  Voting closes on Monday, July 14.

 

Exciting News!

TMN-logo_Square1We’ve got some exciting news to share!  4Mothers1Blog has been nominated for Toronto Mom Now’s Toronto Mom Blogger 2014 Award!

Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees.  Lots of great reading out there!

We love what we do, and we are so grateful that one of you nominated us for this award.  (We’d love to thank you in person if you’d like to send us an email!)

Please check out the blogs on the list, and vote for your favourite three.  Voting closes on Monday, July 14.