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.

Gift Ideas for Teachers

From Nathalie

We have featured Far & Wide Collective on the blog before, and I am so happy to keep suggesting them as a place to shop for gifts.  Far and Wide Collective is a fair-trade on-line marketplace for artisans in post-conflict and emerging economies.  I have bought for myself and for others from their site, and the delivery and presentation of the gifts is beautiful.  In December, I could not help myself and I did a “one for you and one for me” kind of shopping with these Afghan silk scarves ($60), which come in so many gorgeous colours.  They came beautifully wrapped in tissue paper folded like origami, all ready to present (or, um, open for yourself….).

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These geometric patterned notecards ($20) would also make a great end of year gift for a teacher.

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And I loved this post on how to write a thank you note to a teacher at the end of the year from fellow Savvy Mom Storyteller, Jan Scott.  I think you can never go wrong with personalized stationery for teachers, but what a special addition to make sure that you send along your own detailed thanks for the highlights of the year.

I’m nuts about stationery and books, and this gift idea makes me happy in so many ways: a bookplate stamp personalized for your child’s teacher.  From Etsy retailer Stamp Out Online.

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Or what about a great tote bag for your child’s teacher to carry around all his or her summer reading?  I love the bold impact of this one from Nicole Tarasick available on the One of a Kind site.

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From Beth-Anne

Nathalie is the best gift giver of anyone I have ever met. Receiving a gift from her is the ultimate! I once asked her how she always knows just the right thing to give and she told me her secret. She listens. She listens to what people are talking about, what people are planning and what people are saying. Hard to believe in a society where everyone seems to be tapping on their phones to post to their social media more than actually being social. So here’s my take on the perfect gifts to give teacher this year . . . first off, listen. Find out what their plans are for this summer and use that as a springboard to curate the perfect gift. It’s worth noting that the perfect gift doesn’t mean expensive or hard-to-find. It can be something simple or it can be a more elaborate group effort. Either way, it should be well thought-out and ultimately come from a place of sheer gratitude.

Here are few suggestions to help get you started:

The Foodie

This teacher can’t wait to sample the latest food trends on a patio, and has already planned supper club with friends to while away the summer. A gift card to a new resto getting rave reviews may be ticket but if this teacher prefers the prep to the pomp, then I would suggest one of these cookbooks.

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It’s perfect for the more unconventional cooks but beware, there are some naughty words that could get Teacher sent to the Principal’s office.

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Brown Eggs and Jam Jars is chock-full of gorgeous photos that make even me want to cook!

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Fellow Savvy Storyteller, Amy Bronee of Family Feedbag, recently published her much buzzed about book The Canning Kitchen – the perfect accompaniment to the bounty that summer gardens bring.

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This ash and wood salad bowl from Indigo is tops on my list. For some reason, I can never seem to have enough bowls and this one says “summer salads”.

But my favourite gift to give a foodie is something you’ve made. Baked goods, canned goods, pasta sauce . . . wrap it pretty and serve with your favourite how-to instructions.

The Traveler

This teacher has been meticulously planning their trip down to the nitty gritty details. Of course guidebooks are recommended but chances are this teacher has already highlighted and dog-eared every other page.

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Literary travel books like We’ll Always Have Paris: A mother/daughter memoir are a great way to build excitement for a trip and supplement the facts gleaned from traditional travel books.

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Cookbooks featuring cuisine from the country is a way to whet the appetite for what’s to come. In the past year I have heard many travelers (and Paddington too) touting the glory of Peru. The Fire of Peru by Ricardo Zarate caught my eye.

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I also like the idea of getting a travel kit, like this one from Herschel, and filling it with all sorts of drugstore goodies like earplugs, sunscreen and bug spray.

The Binge Watcher

This teacher is going to score an A+ in relaxation this summer with plans of sinking into a vegetative state binge watching TV programs. My recommended favourite is Call The Midwife, granted not exactly up everyone’s alley so my second recommendation is True Detective.

 

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And you can’t score top marks for vegging without all the accoutrements. Gourmet popcorn is a must and while I have not tried this Toronto-based company, I just may have to because Tuxedo is calling my name!

From Carol

I have a strong practical streak and can’t shake the flawed practice of giving people what I like, so keep this in mind as you read on.  In a nutshell, I think giving soups in a jar is delightful. It’s giving both the gifts of nutrition and time, especially to one of our teachers who is also a single mom.  I love the idea of giving her what essentially amounts to a night off from cooking, but still having a pot of steamy nutrition bubbling on the stove.  You can make these easily enough, or Soup Girl has some wonderful options at the ready.

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I’m not sure how helpful this is for a gift guide, but honesty will reign, so herewith goes a plug for handmade presents.  I really enjoy making things, often with my kids, and I try to involve them with all of our gift-giving.  Handmade cards make frequent rounds, and this year I will be gifting some natural cold-pressed soap that I made.

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One of our teachers is also a health buff and loves his protein smoothies… we drink smoothies around here so know a dedicated travel jar for them might be nice.  Maybe for the mornings when he’s racing to work to teach our littles?  (How hard could it be to make one of these…?)

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Finally a confession: I also tend to contribute to classroom gift cards for the teacher.  It’s easy, it works, and we do try to personalize them to the teacher’s interests.  Let summer come!

Guest Post: Kelly Quinn on Frugality, Postponed

When Nathalie asked if I could do a blog post on the debt diet in January, I thought I was all set. I positively LIKE being frugal, when I manage it. It’s not like, say, swearing off chocolate, which makes me cranky and resentful. No, frugality is, for me, deeply satisfying.

So I thought I would talk about the pleasure of a small credit card bill in January, that sort of thing. Or I could talk about January as the month in which I reign triumphant, after my husband’s relishing of December, because while I take pleasure in frugality, he, in ways I can’t begin to understand, enjoys spending. (Beth-Anne talks about the experts who tell you that cutting out some small luxury can save you $30, $60, $100 a year. In our house, I am that expert. My husband is the poor beleaguered man being barked at about how if you add this or that up, that’s $50 a year!)

South AfricaBut then, within 24 hours of Nathalie’s request, everything changed. My husband is heading to South Africa in the summer, for work, but with a more-than-generous dose of pleasure time. He went to South Africa a few years ago, and absolutely loved it. Back then, accompanying him was unthinkable: our youngest was a baby, and a challenging one at that. (Come to think of it, solo-parenting for two weeks was also unthinkable at that stage, but somehow I got through it.) But now, the children are a little older. And we have enough points for a plane ticket for me, and so for the price of two children’s fares and food and drink while we’re there, the rest of us can tag along. So we’re going. I can’t even decide whether this is a money-wise decision (enormous value for dollar) or money-foolish. But whatever it is, there it is, SPLAT, on the January credit card bill. SIGH.

February, February…

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Kelly Quinn is the mother of two daughters and lives in Ottawa.  See one of her previous posts for us on her electricity bill.

Guest Post: Patsy Spanos on Being a Dancing Queen at 40

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiz...

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiza por la noche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My situation is a unique one. I am a mother of three young boys — six year old twins and a nine year-old — and for the last five years, I have spent my Julys in Ibiza. For those of you who don’t know Ibiza, it’s a Spanish island close to Barcelona, with a party scene that resembles Babylon during the summer months. Seeing body-painted, half naked women, in their G – strings, is as common here as Lululemon pants are for us in Canada. Bare breasts and string bottoms on the beaches are more accepted than tankinis. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows what a tankini is in Ibiza.

Along with this eccentric fashion sense is the out-of-this-world nightlife that starts somewhere around at 2 a.m. and goes strong until 7 a.m. Luckily dinner in Spain is usually at 10 p.m. and if I feel like putting my dancing shoes on, I tuck the kids in bed by 1 a.m. and away I go! This 40 year old, Canadian mom turns into a Dancing Queen.

Let me stop right here for a second, and put things into perspective. I am a stay-at-home mom from Stouffville, Ontario. The most excitement I get throughout the school year is scoring two free slices for the school pizza lunches. Dancing in the V.I.P section in all the hottest clubs in Ibiza (thanks to a very connected brother in law) throughout the month of July is a far stretch from my home life in Stouffville.

Needless to say, I feel like a fish out of water in this subculture, kind of like Madonna, with her toned arms, desperately trying to hold on to her youth. But the saving grace in all this is that I am a certified YogaDance instructor and I love to dance. So this old maid feeling I get amongst all the young beautiful ladies quickly disappears for me once I start to dance and allow the music to take over.

It is this passion for dance is that controls my Mother Bee instinct and keeps me from throwing a sweater on these half naked 19 year old girls, or from having a one on one with a go-go dancer and strongly suggesting that she read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.  If I did, I’d be behaving like a frumpy Oprah in a Lady Gaga world. Nobody asked me for my opinion, and these girls are all having a great time…so maybe I’m the one with the issues…Maybe I’m just too rigid, and uptight…Maybe I have to change my angle, and let loose….

So, last night, at a very happening club, I made an extra effort to embrace this foreign world. When my husband knuckle-chucked the bouncer, who then waved us through the VIP entrance letting us bypass the horde outside, I instantaneously allowed my I.Q. to drop by five notches. I squeezed my husband’s arms and whispered in his ears, “You are HOT!” After 16 years of marriage, no matter how hard you try, a comment like that oozes with sarcasm, so my husband grabbed me by the waist and pulled me in for a long, romantic kiss. For the first time in a long time I felt like he and I were the only people on the crowded dance floor.

I slowly turned into a Solid Gold dancer, twisting and moving, and turning my body into pretzel positions that would make most people blush in Canada. It was fun! I smiled at strangers and danced close to them. I didn’t know their first names, but I definitely knew the size of their waistlines. I laughed, made funny faces, and challenged them with a dance move that would make the shirtless guy with the cowboy hat on City TV’s Electric Circus nervous. Oh yeah! I would have given him a run for his money that night.

Last night, I wasn’t a conservative, Canadian stay at home mom, looking for the latest specials at Wal-Mart. I was a Goddess who was offered a drink while her husband was in the restroom. Of course, my instinctive reaction was to scream, kiss the boy and thank him for reminding me that I still got it. Whatever “it” is, I like “it”! Even though I had to say, “No thank you,” to the young boy with a Mrs. Robinson fetish, at that moment, I was fifty shades happier 40 year old in Ibiza.

Disney Daze

We’ve just come back from several enjoyable and unforgettable days in Florida. Each time I travel with my family, I learn something new about them. Traveling, even somewhere as relatively mundane as Florida, pushes out the walls of your comfort zone — and as Oprah-ish as that might sound, I think it’s a good thing for all of us to have our boundaries pushed at a little. My own boys seem each to be a year older and six inches taller today, and I swear that’s a by-product of being somewhere other than home for eight days.

Travel also reminds you of things you already knew, but probably have forgotten. To wit:

1. No matter how obedient your children might be, there will be moments when corrective action need be taken to keep their behaviour in check:

2. Not only are my boys friends, they are also best friends. Sometimes, they even act as if they are:

3. Theme parks are loud, crowded, and boisterous. They can be incredibly fun places if one is in the right frame of mind to be jostled, well prepared for the crowds, armed with a touring plan (we really liked this website, for that) and armed with a sense of humour and a large packet of patience.

Wine helps, too. Especially when you can sip that glass of wine anywhere in the park:

4.  I’m convinced that there exists over Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park an invisible bubble, which keeps in all the fairy dust, happy, scented air and whatever else it is they spread around there that makes it virtually impossible to be angry or grumpy at anyone for the entire duration of your stay. About ten minutes after you leave, you will find yourself doubly confused, both by the sudden return of your cynicism about all things Disney, as well as by the gaping hole in your wallet where your money once was.

5.    Every now and again, it’s okay to get a little Goofy:

We’re Game

Traveling with your children this week? With the extra week off of school after New Year’s Day his holiday, undoubtedly some of you are packing your bags for (hopefully) warmer climes.

But, how to entertain them on long car and plane trips? Thank Jobs for Iphones and Ipads.

Yes, I know. We survived family vacations with nothing but a deck of cards, travel bingo and those magic mystery ink books. But really, wouldn’t you have preferred to play Fruit Ninja when you were stuck in the backseat of the station wagon?

Here are some of my family’s favourite Ipad game apps. These are in frequent use in our house, even when we’re not on the road.

image copyright itunes.com CarcassoneIdentical to the popular board game of the same name, play is   deceptively simple: build a medieval territory and garner the greatest number of “followers” by linking to other players’ roads, cloisters and and cities while preventing your opponents from doing the same.  Simple to learn, and quick to play. You can also play against others online.

Ipad Chess (Mastersoft Chess version): there are numerous chess apps available for the Ipad, but we like this one for its clean graphics and smooth play.

Scribblenauts Remix: You may already be familiar with Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS, but this game is even more fun to play on the larger Ipad screen. Maxwell, the game’s main character, needs to collect “starites” to complete each level.  You can use the objects on screen to achieve his goal, or you can summon random objects to help him. Type in a noun, add the required adjectives (my favourite so far, courtesy of Sebastian, has been “Big yellow knight shoes”) and see what happens. Educational (you have to spell the words correctly!) and imaginative, this game is fun even for grown-ups.

Of course, Angry Birds can eat up an afternoon, too. Not that I recommend that.

For younger kids, try out these apps:

AniMatch:  Littles will enjoy trying to match the animal faces. They can match animal sounds, too!

Pictureka!: Kind of like Where’s Waldo and I Spy, but with cooler graphics.  Note that the most recent version appears to be a bit buggy.

Helicopter Taxi:  Uses your Ipad camera to simulate a ride in a toy helicopter.Fly around the room and pick up more passengers as you go.

All of these apps work on your Iphone as well.

What are your favourite Ipad/Iphone apps? Any you think we should know about? Be sure to leave a comment.

With a Side of Garlic Butter

As I write, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where I’m attending a work-related conference. It’s rare that I travel for work, and it’s been quite some time since I’ve been away from my family for longer than a weekend away with girlfriends.

Over the years, I’ve made a habit of bringing home a “souvenir” of my trip for the boys. Over the years, this has varied from the mundane (a Thomas train from the toy store in the Ottawa Rideau Centre) to the unusual(wooden puzzles from a toy store on Granville Island). My souvenir isn’t always a toy. Sometimes I bring home brochures for local attractions, a map of local transit,  or postcards so that the boys can see where I’ve been — although, we’re just as likely to pull up Google streetview now.

This time, the boys have made a specific request (other than, “Not something to wear, Mom“).  They want me to bring home a lobster.

A genuine, fresh-from-the-sea lobster. Never mind the fact that I’m not sure when I will have time to procure a lobster while at a conference 15 hours a day, or the fact that I can get one, ready-steamed, at my local grocer. It’s not even lobster season, from what I understand.  They’ve got crustacean on the brain.

So if you see a frazzled lady leaving the Toronto Island Airport on Friday, juggling a lap top case and a lobster in a cooler, say hi. It’s probably me.

Spending Days in Montreal

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Image via Wikipedia

The boys and I are taking our first mommy-son vacation later next month, when we hit the rails for a four day adventure to Montreal.  When trying to decide where to go, it didn’t take long to land on Montreal as our first choice. In fact, the location was a no-brainer. Where else could we go where we can reach our destination within hours, take a “real” train (says Sebastian, as opposed to the subway he rides every day) and hear French at every turn? Daniel starts French lessons this fall at school, and he’s anxious to try out a few French phrases (which I will dutifully make him and his brother practice between now and them, whether they like it or not).

Having spent some time in Montreal, I’m familiar with the city and its charms. Finding things to do will be easy peasy: Hike to the top of Mount Royal? Will do. Visit the Biosphere, stroll through Old Montreal, and eat smoked meat until you puke? Why, don’t mind if I do!  Montreal is such a wonderful city for visiting that I’m sure that we’ll all have a fantastic time.

There’s just one hiccup.

I haven’t got a clue where to stay. I mean, I really can’t decide. There seem to be hundreds of choices, and all the regular web sites offering hotel reviews are, surprisingly, unhelpful. For every decent review, there appear to be seven negative or neutral reviews, for all but the chicest, most exclusive (and least likely to be child-friendly) hotels. While I try to see through the comments made by chronic complainers, I’m finding it hard to make up my mind about my options.

It shouldn’t be this hard. My list of hotel needs is not huge. At least two beds ( A king will not do. I love my boys, but they sleep like starfish). A pool would be ideal. I’d prefer a suite with at least two rooms and some sort of kitchenette, which makes it easier to save on food costs and allows one person (read: the adult, a.k.a. me) to remain awake in the living room while others sleep in the bedroom.  Close to downtown…or close to Old Montreal…or close to the Main, or close to, close to….ARG!

So here’s my request to all of you. If you’ve been to Montreal lately, or know someone who has, let me know where you stayed. Where does your neighbour from Montreal stay when he’s in town? How about your co-worker? Right now, I’m looking for room for three people, close to downtown, and I’d love an honest, genuine recommendation. Let me know in the comments if you’ve stayed somewhere worth revisiting.