End the Summer with Volunteer Work by Anne Cooper

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Some Rights Reserved, puck90 via Flickr Creative Commons

August is often the most dreaded month of the year for children as it reminds them that summer is coming to an end. To make those last few weeks really count, it might be a good idea to take the family on one last hurrah, but instead of taking them up to a cabin by the lake or on a Disneyland adventure, consider doing some volunteer work. Unlike your regular vacations, these philanthropic trips are much easier to plan, as many specialized tour operators such as Projects Abroad tend to organize details such as flights, accommodation and the itinerary itself. Plus, it makes your vacation a little more meaningful and one the whole family will remember.

Volunteering has always been recognised as a great way to give back while strengthening family bonds, but throughout the school year some families struggle to fit in charitable activities because of their busy schedules. With child sponsorship programs and other nonprofits expanding their scope of operations by providing opportunities for volunteers rather than just accepting donations, this kind of vacation can really open up you and your kids’ minds to a whole new world.

Although there are plenty of options out there that your family will enjoy, one destination that you should consider is the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Angel Canyon, located north of Kanab in Utah. Run by the Best Friends Animal Society, this place is an animal refuge for almost 2,000 homeless animals, from sheep to dogs and cats. The sanctuary allows animals to heal from illness, neglect and abuse, and with the help of volunteers from around the world, the animals thrive and eventually find loving homes through adoption programs. Best Friends Animal Society welcomes volunteers to stay at their many on-site cottages and cabins. They also have RV sites for families on road trips.

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All Rights Reserved, Troy Snow via Flickr Creative Commons

Daily activities at the sanctuary include tours and looking after the many animals, so depending on the preference of your kids, you will have an option to work with specific types of animals, doing things like preparing meals, grooming and socializing. Despite all the hard work the kids will have to put in to taking care of these sick animals, the family will benefit from these beautiful memories in the long term, and hopefully you’ll want to continue doing volunteer work in the future.

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Some Rights Reserved, Kim Piper Werker via Flickr Creative Commons

This post was contributed by one of our partners.

Caerwent House Stories: The History of Your House, Bound

I met Robin Burgoyne, the owner of Caerwent House Stories, as she sat at a table in the shade of a tree on a Cabbagetown sidewalk during the annual outdoor art festival.  Ranged modestly on the table was a selection of the beautiful hardcover books she had produced, and as soon as I saw the watercolours of Toronto’s houses on their covers, painted by Peter Liu, I was hooked.

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watercolour by Peter Liu for Caerwent House Stories

watercolour by Peter Liu for Caerwent House Stories

Robin tells the story of your house and all who have lived in it.  Beginning with work at the local and provincial archives, libraries, land registry offices, city building permits departments, and the web, Robin uncovers the mysteries and the details of your home’s history, from its building to the present day, and she brings that telling alive with interviews with former owners and photographs from archival sources.

I knew as soon as I saw her books that one would make the perfect gift for my husband.  I was able to tailor our house story to include the history of the neighbourhood and I was also able to participate in the writing and editing of the book.  The whole process felt so personal, and the final product was a history to treasure.

I once hosted a baby shower in this house for my brother-in-law, and one of his guests wandered through the house for a bit before saying, “Yes, I think I used to live here.”  In one of its former incarnations, my house was an experiment in communal living.  It was owned by Therafields, and it was one of several houses owned and operated as a psychoanalytic commune whose residents lived, worked, and underwent intensive group psychoanalysis together.  Amongst other exercises, the residents practiced “scream therapy,” using intense vocalizations to align the unconscious with the voice. And that is how, in these houses, Canadian sound poetry was born.  The guest in question was one of those poets.  It just so happens that my brother-in-law is also a poet, as well as a professor of Canadian literature, and it was a wonderful moment of happenstance to be able to gather to welcome his baby in a house with auspicious poetic heritage.  As a proud auntie, I can say that the baby was born with the gift of very precocious verbal abilities.  Robin incorporated my brother-in-law’s research into that era of Canadian literature in our house story, and the anecdote of that coincidence is one of my favourite stories about our house.

Family history is so often bound up with place, and the work that Robin does with her house stories is a wonderful way to add to your family archive.

Get Out and Bounce!

OK.  I’m calling it.  Yes, it snowed in Toronto last night, but winter is over.  Officially.  The calendar and I both say so.  It’s now just a matter of mind over sub-arctic winds.

As hard as it may still be to imagine a summer’s day, the sunny weather IS coming, and with it, the chance to gather outdoors for your parties, fairs and assorted extravaganzas.

Adventure Mania has a great range of bouncy castles for your events, with products to suit toddlers to teens.

A brand new offering for 2015, they’ve just brought in a movie screen bouncer, so that you can transition from daytime bouncing to night-time movie theatre.  The rental comes complete with a PS3 console, a loud speaker, and a projector, with a movie screen that is 9 feet long, and 5 feet high.

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There is a huge selection of bouncers with movie and game tie-ins, and you can combine them with various things, like slides and basketball hoops.  For your little Frozen fans, one of their most popular rentals is the line of Frozen bouncers.

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There is also a bouncer that operates rain or shine, so if you want your bases covered for your event, this is a great, safe bet.

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Haley Chiappino is the Event Specialist at Adventure Media, and she is a delight to work with.  Such a friendly ally in what can often be the stressful process of event planning.  You can reach her at (905)864-3290 or info@adventuremania.ca.  Best of all, if you mention this blog post, you will get a 10% discount for your rental.  They rent everything from bouncy castles and slides to sno-cone makers and carnival games.  All you need for a fun day in the sun.  Based in Milton, they serve the entire GTA, and you can check out their full range of offerings here.

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*Adventure Mania offered 4mothers1blog a rental for review consideration.  The opinions expressed are our own.

 

Attention Toronto Parents: The Great Kids Stuff Sale is coming!

10407575_889876101025044_7323590842128034865_nIt’s that time again!  The North Toronto MOMS Group is hosting their bi-annual Great Kids Stuff Sale.  This large-scale mom-to-mom consignment sale benefits several charities in the Greater Toronto Area which is just one of the reasons that make this a must-check-out event.

In the past, I have picked up two bikes for $20, a pair of all-leather, never worn shoes for a baby for $5, an almost new GAP coat for $8 as well as a bag of clothes for less than $50.

It’s the perfect place to pick up baby gear for a fraction of the price.  Bumbos for $10, Bjorns for $20, strollers for a less than a third of the retail value!  There are mounds of clothing, stacks of books and so many toys that it could easily take hours to sort through it all.

Here are my insider tips for you:

–        Arrive early.  The doors open at 9 am and there is always a line-up.

–        Bring a large bag to carry around your finds.

–        Have a plan of what you are looking for.  The sale can be overwhelming so it’s better to know what you’re looking for before you get lost in the piles.

–        If you can, leave babies and kids at home as the sale can get crowded

–        Become a vendor!  Clear out the outgrown clothing and never played with toys that are cluttering up your home.  It’s not uncommon for vendors to make hundreds of dollars!

SATURDAY, APRIL 25 from 9:00 am – Noon @ St. Clement’s Church (70 St. Clements Avenue, at Duplex)

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Just check out the rows and rows of clothes!  Everything is organized by gender and size so finding what fits your little ones is much easier.  Shoes, formal wear, and outer wear are also separated so make sure you know what sizes you’re looking for!

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It really is a sea of clothing!  The first two rows have bedding, receiving blankets and room decor.  It’s not uncommon to find the original price tags still on sheet sets.

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Need a bouncy chair?  How about an extra one for the upstairs or grandma’s house?  For $15 or less, it’s hard to say no.

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And you thought your toy room had lots of stuff!  Toys run the gamut from baby to six years old.  Games, puzzles, books, DVDs, – if your kid wants it, it’s here!

Toronto’s Only Urban Homesteading Store

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Little House In The City truly is a hidden gem in this city – maybe even the entire country!

Located at 555 Parliament St., just around the corner from the ever popular Riverdale Farm, Little House In The City is Toronto’s first urban homesteading and sustainable living store . . .and it’s co-owned by Carol!

What is urban homesteading? It’s really a lifestyle.  It’s about taking a step backwards, living more simply and making a conscious effort to create a more sustainable, low-impact life.

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Take time to sew using these whimsical fabrics.

Take time to sew using these whimsical fabrics.

 

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Buttons galore! Useful for a myriad of craft projects and very pretty to look at.

Little House In The City has a wide variety of supplies to support creative adventures and DIYs in and for your home.  In addition to being ethical and sustainable, these simple activities will encourage a newfound confidence in your homemaking abilities. They also have beautifully crafted ready-made gifts that made with organic or sustainable materials like the stunning cheese boards made of reclaimed wood that Nathalie received for her birthday.

These cheeseboards make for a lovely hostess gift.

These cheeseboards make for a lovely hostess gift.

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The neutral tones of this pottery would off-set a colourful, summer salad or rich, wintery stew quite nicely.

Whether it be cheese making, fermenting, soap making or sewing Carol, and her partner Carla, will guide you in selecting the right tools for the job.

Beginners: don’t feel intimidated!  I purchased the sprout growing kit with organic seeds and I followed Carol’s instructions.  Within a few days we were adding alfalfa to our sandwiches and salads – and I can barely keep houseplants alive!

Coming soon, Little House In The City will offer classes for adults and children, hands-on demonstrations and community events to teach and inspire others to live more mindfully.

Here are some of my favourite things!

Follow Little House In The City on Facebook

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Community Success

photo 3My proudest time as a teacher was taking a group of students to South Africa on exchange.

In 2007, I took eleven Nelson Mandela Park Public School students (from grades five to twelve) to Cape Town, South Africa, for a month.

For close to two years, the school and the Regent Park community worked together and supported the exchange in every way (financially, emotionally, physically) through fundraising, learning about South Africa and Nelson Mandela, and through communicating with Battswood, our sister school in South Africa.

Prior to our trip, in December of 2006, the Regent Park community hosted a group of teachers, parents and students from our sister school in their homes and classrooms for a month.

The community aspect, both here in Canada and there in South Africa, was amazing.

It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time it was easy because we knew that other people were supporting  the project.

What was most remarkable about this whole experience was the level of trust from the school, the community, and the families that these children could be successful in doing the unexpected.

I was privileged to be a part of this life changing experience.

(Recounting this story brought tears to Sherri’s eyes).

 

What do you learn from your students?

photo (10)Being a teacher and spending my days with young children has taught me to embrace living in an imperfect world. The lives of children are often messy and complicated, but that messiness is usually short-lived and turns into joy and exuberance more quickly than we adults anticipate. I am always amazed watching children make mistakes as they are learning or as they are navigating the social world of the playground because I am also witnessing them build resilience and their inner strength, which I know they will carry into their adult lives.  Watching them build their resiliency or come to accept when their ideas don’t work out as planned makes me remember it’s okay to exist in a place that isn’t always neat and tidy, where it’s okay to fail because we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

Spotlight on Teachers

honyuWe love the way that Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York, can create a biographical moment in one image, sometimes with as little as one sentence.  HONY began as a catalogue of the people of New York.  It became an internet success (nearly 10 million followers) and now Brandon is travelling the world with the UN, telling stories from developing nations and nations in conflict.

Inspired by HONY and its piercing brevity, we wanted to pay tribute to some of the teachers in our kids’ lives and ask them about their work.

Stay tuned as 4Mothers1Blog puts the spotlight on teachers for our back to school theme week.

 

Explore Toronto: Eco-Art-Fest @Todmorden Mills

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Last week, with intentions to squeeze every last bit of summer fun out of what remained of the summer days, Carol, Nathalie and I took our boys to explore no. 9’s Eco-Art Fest.

Just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, is a tucked-away enclave sheltered by a canopy of trees where art and green collide. Andrew Davies, Executive Director, is a man with a vision. Having spent years in New York City working for the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Davies became enamoured with the emerging art scene that seemed to couple art and social consciousness so seamlessly. Upon his return to Toronto, he learned about the Evergreen Brick Works, at that time in its planning stages, and envisioned a place where art and the environment could not only flourish but also serve to inspire people to live more sustainable lives.

Drawing on his extensive art and architecture background Davies went on to found no. 9. It is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns through school and community based programs. Earlier this summer when I explored the Brick Works with my boys we were able to view My Sustainable City, a collaboration between no.9 and the Toronto District School Board that is on exhibit at Brick Works until September 23.

While My Sustainable City is an example of a school program, Eco-Art-Fest is an outdoor summer-long art festival held at Todmorden Mills until September 21 for the entire community to enjoy.  imgres

Davies and his staff of artisans offer daily programs for children. Our boys got their hands dirty throwing clay and enjoyed a water colour painting workshop where they learned about endangered animals and just how interrelated the creatures in our environment really is. We ended our morning activities with a guided tour of the various outdoor art installations by celebrated artists Dean Baldwin, Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Sean Martindale, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, John Loerchner and Laura Mendes.

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It was an enriching opportunity to learn how art is not just paint, paper and brush strokes. Art can be just as much about aesthetic and expression as a social message. In particular my boys enjoyed Sean Martindale’s installation of the word HISTORIES created from the earth, and depending on perspective history could be rising up from the ground or buried.

Saturday nights offer live music after 5 pm, delicious artisanal charcuterie boards that are works of art in themselves, and organic beer and wine all under the lights of Helliwell’s.

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Nearly four hours passed before I looked at my watch.   The green space combined with the art, and the easy-going, light-hearted atmosphere was enough to make me forget that I was in the city, less than a few minutes drive to the centre and its hustle and bustle. It was four hours of appreciating art in many forms, learning about our environment and most importantly connecting with each other.

Time is running out to experience the wonder of Eco-Art-Fest this summer. The festival ends on September 21 but will return next year. To learn more or to register for the activities and tours please visit Eco-Art-Fest.

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.