3 Family Activities To Do This September

Spending time together as a family can be a daunting task. Between activities, commitments and crabby attitudes, it’s tough to find the time (or in some cases the want) to spend together.

I know that it may seem painfully Rockwell-esque but getting outdoors has proven to the recipe for success for my family. Without the confines of space, everyone has room to breathe (but not on each other) and stare at nature (but not at each other) and we’re less tempted to look at our texts or make phone calls.

Apple picking may not be tops on everyone’s agenda but it’s a pleasant way to spend the day and the spoils can be made into pie, or strudel, or sauce.




If you live in Toronto or are a short drive, Evergreen Brickworks and Todmorden Mills are rich with history as well as greenery. The farmer’s market never disappoints and Cafe Belong makes for a unpretentiously delicious lunch spot.



The Islands. Toronto has them and they are underrated. Go and explore them.  Biking, sailing, kayaking, strolling, eating, riding – check!




Centreville for the kids on Centre Island and swoon-worthy houses to ogle.  To fully understand what I mean, click on this link.  I’m such a sucker for a house with a history.

kayak outing to Toronto Islands 6 Nathalie Prezeau

Before Summer Slips Away

476I had a whole post lined up for today, a post that celebrates productivity and finding bounty all around us.

And yet I find myself not quite able to post it. I still want to share it with you, but maybe not today.

The truth is, on what is basically the eve to the start of the new school year, I feel pretty bluesy. Good old fashioned dread has reared its head when thinking about the unrelenting school schedules, the details I can never remember, and all those lunches and snacks. Yes, dread has settled in but not quite enough to prompt me to re-stock the reusable lunch containers or fill the pantry with things that will make day-to-day school life manageable. Because if I did that, I’d be looking at the end of summer right in the eyes, and I don’t want that. I’m looking away and hoping to go unnoticed.

I want to hang on to summer to the very end, and put productivity on pause just a little longer. Don’t get me wrong – the end of a summer’s day (and sometimes its middle) has me crashing into bed – but summer has been so good in so many way. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to hail her one last time before she finds my gaze and slips away.





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


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.

What We Leave Out of Photos

I’m of the old school that believes photographs should flatter the subject.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to really get the aesthetic of Eldest’s THOUSANDS of selfies of his nostrils.  And when I say “get” what I really mean is “not totally hate.”

I will probably go to my grave without ever taking a selfie from below with my nostrils as the main subject, but then again, I can count on one hand the number of selfies I have ever taken.  I am the family photographer, so I am usually behind the lens.  I guess that means that one of the most significant things that gets left out of my photos is myself.

I just have no urge to photograph myself from arm’s length (or a selfie stick’s length).  I like to photograph others, and I like them to look right into the lens, and I really like to capture their best and brightest smiles.  The kind that light up the whole face.  I like to leave out noise and logos and often, even, setting, because what I want to remember is the face and the smile.

I don’t think I have more than a dozen photos of my kids crying, and I don’t think many of those were taken on purpose.  I’m not a documentary photographer.  I want to reminisce on good times in the moments with the photo albums.  That doesn’t mean I am whitewashing.  It means I have no need of the memory of sadness or anger or humiliation.  They don’t belong in a photograph album.

I have a few of them sleeping, because that’s the most tender and most vulnerable moment you can capture, and I need to see those baby faces in sleep for ever, but I will not allow others to photograph them sleeping.  A group of tourists tried to do that to my boys on the top of a roofless double decker bus in London, when they’d passed out with jet lag, and I got angry.  You cannot take photographs without permission, and sleeping children (and husbands) can’t give that.

Permission is something that I never leave out of my photographs.  I ask permission to keep the images of sleep, and now, I ask my kids’ permission to post to facebook.

On facebook at the moment, my profile picture is of the Library Lion from the New York Public Library, because I was there and I wanted to show off and I wanted to celebrate being away from my children and I wanted to honour the iconic lion.  Not all honourable motives, but the photo of the lion is flattering, even if it is shot from below.



One thing you will never see as my profile picture is a picture of my children.  They are not me, and I am not them.  I love them will all of my being, but they do not stand for who I am.  They are their own persons.  And I am mine.  I may often be missing from our family albums, but I don’t leave myself out of my profile.










FullSizeRenderjuicer (n): an intensely delicious kiss on the cheek whereupon the lips of one are pressed firmly into the cheek of another lasting for at minimum 5 glorious Mississippi-seconds.

-the kisser’s hand cradles and presses the head of the receiver, creating counter-pressure to intensify the kiss.
-the kisser’s lips attach to the cheek with an open-mouth creating a suction seal, producing a delicious, slurpy sound when pulled away.
-rarely, but much loved by the receiver, the kisser, while lips attached to the cheek, vocalizes Muuuuuu-wah!

How to Photograph Kids with a Phone Camera: Guest Post Jose Carlier

IMG_3199I am so excited to welcome Jose Carlier to the blog today.  Born in Holland and raised in Iran, Jordan, Egypt, France and other assorted locales, Jose is a New York-based photographer whose nomadic sense of adventure is evident in her every frame.  Whether she is shooting fashion for a magazine or environmental portraits of kids, Jose’s pictures are whimsical, bold, and unexpected.  Trained at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and published globally, Jose, a mother of two, has most recently focused her lens on kids.  She starts with an unexpected outdoor scene, places high-energy children in it, and captures the can’t miss moments.  Check out her work on her website, Instagram and Facebook.



10 tips for shooting portraits with your phone camera

(I use the iPhone 6)

1.  My #1 rule would be to take a step back.  Phone lenses are wide lenses, and they distort the face when you get up too close.  Shoot from further away, and you can always crop your image later during your editing process.

2.  Keep the background simple.  It’s easy to lose your model in a busy background.  If they have light hair and/or clothing, try a darker background so that they will pop out and a lighter background if your subjects are darker.  Also, be careful that you don’t have branches, poles etc. sticking out of your model’s head (when using a busier background).  I love old walls as a background (they have tons of character).  I don’t love graffiti (way too busy unless clothing is styled specifically with the graffiti in mind).



3.  We have always learnt to keep the sun behind us while shooting so that we don’t get shadows on our models’ faces.  I recommend that, but it’s also very popular at the moment to shoot with the sun behind the model while exposing for the model’s face (press on the face on the phone screen to expose for it prior to shooting).  Experiment with the position of the sun and you can get fun flare effects.


4.  Shoot from above.  If you are lower than your model’s face you will have a bigger chance of capturing multiple chins ;-)

5.  I find that lots of kids’ eyes are sensitive to sunlight and you will end up with lots of images with 1/2 closed eyes.  If I notice that they are blinking a lot, I will ask them to close their eyes, I will count till 3, and then shoot when they open their eyes at 3.  Prevents discomfort and bad images.

6.  When you are setting up your shot you can touch the screen to set your focus and exposure.  Play around with the exposure.  As you touch different areas of the scene on your screen you will notice the image getting darker or lighter.


7.  Don’t ZOOM in!  Remember as you zoom in you will lose a lot of photo quality.  It’s better to crop the image later or step in a little closer to your subject.  Don’t get too close or you will get distortion (see tip #1).

8.  I never use flash.  I don’t like the effect you get at all.  The newer phones are incredible, and you can get great results in low light situations.  Try tip #6 to expose for the darker areas.


9. I was amazed to discover that most of my friends didn’t realize how many editing options we have on our phones.  On my iPhone 6 I can go to edit on a photo and press on the 3rd icon (looks like a clock), ignore the options, and go to the 3 horizontal lines (list icon) and click on that.  It then opens up light, color and b/w options so you can get really specific.  For example getting rid of the dark shadows without changing the rest of the image.  Most photo addicts have other photo editing aps (I love Snapseed) but I use them less and less as each new phone camera gets better quality and editing options.


10. Filters.  Lots of photographers stay away from filters because they feel it’s a crutch.  I think that if you have a good image to start with, you can improve it with some filters and it’s fun to play around with them.  Actually if you have a bad image you can also use filters to save it :-)  Just don’t go too crazy.  Pick a few favorites and stick with those and create your own style.

FullSizeRender (7)

How to Transfer a Photograph Onto Wood: Easy DIY Tutorial


Ever since catching a few photo transfer craft projects online, it’s been on my to do list.  I love natural materials so I focused on transfers to wood blocks. In the spirit of discovery for photography month here at 4 Mothers, I’ve just my first batch delighted to report that I think this is a keeper!  It’s easy (easy enough to do with patient children), takes few materials (fewer than I saw listed in other online tutorials), and makes a memorable and inexpensive keepsake or gift. You do know that Father’s Day is around the corner, right?


What you’ll need:

– a block of unfinished wood (from the dollar store, or scrap from the hardware store)

– a photograph printed from a laser printer onto regular copy paper (note: the photo will end up being a mirror image unless you flip it on your computer before you print it.)

– Mod Podge or gel medium

– a sponge brush (or paint brush, which I used)

That’s it!  I went to the art store because I couldn’t find my jar of Mod Podge, and was all ready to buy that and a gel medium. The beautiful thing about art and craft stores is that the people there actually practice these things, and the young salesperson told me that Mod Podge and gel medium basically do the same thing. This fellow earned instant credibility as he had done transferred lots of photos in his time, including onto wood. Loved walking out of the store with just one product and more cash in my wallet.

What You’ll Do

1.  Cut the printed photograph to fit the wood to your liking.

2.  Paint a layer of Mod Podge onto the picture side of the printed photograph.  Be gentle here, especially if using a paintbrush rather than a sponge brush. I thought I was but my brush took off a corner of the picture.


3.  Paint a layer of Mod Podge onto the wood’s surface where you want the photo displayed.

4.  Place the photograph picture side down onto the Mod Podged wood, so that the two Mod Podged surfaces meet.

5.  Smooth out the photograph with a flat sided tool (I used my rewards card from the art store, naturally).

6.  Let dry completely (2 to 3 hours).  (The art guy dries his for 24 hours “to be safe” but I like to walk wild, and just a few hours worked out over here.)

7.  Cover photo paper with a wet rag for a few minutes.

8.  Rub the white of the paper off the wooden block.  You’ll do this with a rag or your fingers by gently massaging the paper in different directions. The key word here is gentle; if you’re even a bit rigorous, you will rub the photograph off too and expose the wood underneath.  The goal is to remove the white surface of the paper while leaving the printed surface intact.  I think a bit of exposure of the wood is okay since the overall look is pretty rustic (I left mine alone), but you could also fill in the spaces with a grey marker as needed.


You’ll probably need to repeat steps 7 and 8, going through the rubbing process more than once.  I thought I was done the first time and was surprised at how cloudy the photo was after it dried, so I had to get back to it.  Do it as many times as you need to until you’re satisfied with the image.

9. Once you’re finished removing all the white paper and the photo is dry, apply a layer or two of Mod Podge to the surface to seal the deal.  (It’s a sealant as well as a glue.)

That’s it!  This is one of those rare craft tutorials that is actually easier than it looks.  Hands on time was much less than an hour, and it’s pretty satisfying work. My son watched with pleasure as I transferred a photo of his first sleepover – this would be an easy sell for crafting with patient kids, and I think it would make a lovely gift from a child to anyone.

You can use any type of wood you like, as long as it’s unfinished so the photograph will stick (some people use sandpaper for extra grit; I didn’t need it), but I used a nice thick block that can easily stand up on its own.

Finally, the glory of this DIY project is that it’s both fun and forgiving. The goal of paper on wood is not to reflect perfection (for the birds, as they say) but beauty, through the people and images you find it in.