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.

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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.

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

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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

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Summer in the City, Indoors

Too hot?  Rainy?  We’ve got you covered for some fun things to do with kids–inside!

Art

My approach to art education is to get kids in front of art early and often.  I’m always amazed at how my kids will respond to what’s in front of them, and, on one trip to the AGO, when they were given white play dough and coloured pencils to take inside, I got inspiration for how to approach museum and gallery visits: create the creations.

Now, whenever we go to a gallery, we take along our sketchbooks and the kids pick a picture, park and draw.  (Check with the gallery to see what materials are allowed.  I once had to buy an expensive set of pencils from the gift shop because our markers were not allowed!)  Having them occupied with their own creations means not only are they inspired to make their own art, but I get time to enjoy the art on display myself.

I can’t say enough good things about the AGO.  There is great programming for kids, and the current Emily Carr exhibit, From the Forest to the Sea, is a great one for families and is included with General Admission.  Younger children will appreciate the bold strokes and colours of her landscapes, and you can talk with your older kids about the haunting emptiness of so many of her paintings: the effects of disease and a mammoth logging industry that came with European colonization.

"Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky" Emily Carr

“Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky” Emily Carr

We recently went to check out the Andy Warhol: Revisited exhibit at a pop-up gallery at 77 Bloor Street West, where you can meet Queen Elizabeth, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and John Wayne.  The exhibit will rotate over 120 of Warhol’s pieces from the Revolver Gallery over its run, which ends December 31, 2015.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and kids.  Find out more at Warhol Revisited.

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Museums

Right down the street from Andy Warhol is the ROM, where you could spend all of a rainy day and more.  And it’s not just dinosaurs!  Follow up on seeing Emily Carr’s totem poles by seeing two of the real things, housed in the museum stairwell, a three-storey space designed to house them and allow you to get right up close to the amazing work.

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Movies

Next week, we will be reviewing a wordless picture book.  It’s not much of a stretch, really, but what about a wordless movie?!  I took the kids along to see a preview Shaun the Sheep without knowing very much about the series on which the movie was based.  I honestly did not notice that the movie was wordless until about half way through!  The visual gags are so great, and the Claymation so engaging, that I didn’t even notice the absence of dialogue.  We took along a friend who loves the tv show, and he found the movie to be a great extension of the franchise he loves, but, as my experience demonstrates, no previous experience is necessary!  Shaun the Sheep will be released in Canada on August 7.

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Fun for the Whole Family: Interactive Theatre with 6th Man Collective’s Monday Nights

Monday Nights is an interactive theatre experience that is one part choose-your-own-adventure, one part private detective role play, one part choreography, one part gym class and many parts fun.

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The first thing that you need to know about Monday Nights is that it’s not just on Monday nights.  The play is a production by 6th Man Collective at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West.  It runs nightly (excluding Tuesday) until Sunday, July 26th.  Click here to find tickets.

Members of the audience begin the night by going into the theatre and rifling through the players’ gym bags.  The bags contain clues about the personalities of the four players, and you choose your team for the evening based on what resonates with you among the things you find.  You then sit in the section that corresponds to the team you choose, and put on headphones that hang on the back of each chair.  The play begins with the audience observing choreographed basketball drills and skills while listening to information about their player from the three other players.  Then the four actors lead their teams in games and challenges, and the teams compete for points.  You do not have to participate at all, if you don’t want to, or you can participate by helping to keep score or by competing in a variety of basketball drills.  (Tip: if you are a good player, wait until the end to volunteer, as the skill level required for each drill gradually increases.) The actor who leads the team with the lowest number of points has to do the costume laundry that night!

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My kids (boys, 10 and 7) had a blast.  They both play basketball, so I knew that the premise would interest them, but I wasn’t prepared for how much they loved being involved.  Even my more reserved child put his hand up to be a “volunteammate” several times.  They chose different sections to sit in, which was easy to facilitate because the theatre is small enough that I could see the child I was not sitting with easily.  I sat with Youngest, who wanted to volunteer for every single possible opportunity to hold the ball.  (Your team gets an extra point for getting new volunteers for each drill, so when he got to go up a second time, it cost the team a point!  Luckily he’s really good at sinking baskets and made up for it with points scored!)  Youngest got lots of cheers and support from our section, and he basked in the applause and high fives.  I was certainly not the loudest one cheering him on.

This play has been a highlight of our summer entertainment so far, and I can recommend it highly for a night out with kids.  For an added dimension of fun, go with a group and sit in separate sections and compete against each other.  It was a novel experience, and I had a smile on my face the whole night.  I had fun observing my kids’ enjoyment, and cheering my kids on when they went up to play, but I also really enjoyed taking in all the aspects of character development, props, script and choreography.

I love that the city has such a great range of arts experiences to take in during the Pan Am Games.  Monday Nights fits right in with the offerings at Panamania, and it harnesses all of that cheering, sports fan energy.

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The Harbord Room’s Juicy Burger

unnamedToronto’s The Harbord Room is a favourite spot in the city. We had a special 4Mothers dinner a while back and hardly noticed the celebs on the patio because we were enjoying our food (and conversation) so much. On May 28th National Hamburger Day was celebrated and while we may be late to this party, The Harbord Room’s co-chef Robbie Hojilla shares the recipe for their much-loved burger. People, this is insider scoop!

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 8 minutes

Makes 8 burgers and 3 cups of aioli

AÏOLI

4 large egg yolks
2 tbsp grainy mustard

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp thyme leaves

1 tbsp kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups canola oil
¾ cup olive oil

Combine all aioli ingredients except oils in a food processor and mix until blended. Slowly pour in both oils while machine is running, until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

BURGER

3 lbs ground beef brisket
2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil
8–16 slices aged cheddar
8 fresh buns or large brioche buns

Transfer meat into a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix with your hands until combined and form into 8 patties.

Preheat bbq to medium. Use a clean, oiled, hot grill and barbecue the patties for 5 to 6 minutes with the lid closed. Flip the burgers, top with cheese and continue cooking for 4 more minutes with the lid closed. If the BBQ isn’t an option, coat a cast iron pan or skillet with a little oil and set over medium-high. Cook 4 patties until browned (about 4 minutes), then flip. Top with cheese. Continue cooking for 4 more minutes (for medium-rare) until browned. Repeat with remaining patties.

To finish, smear aioli on bun, followed by the toasted burger patty, caramelized onions and sliced tomato (or your garnish of preference). Serve with a side of hand-cut fries and your favourite summer beverage.

To experience a fantastic summer meal, head down to The Harbord Room. Can’t make it? Follow The Harbord Room on Instagram for your food porn fix.

OK Friday Barn Fair: Top 6 Reasons to Visit!

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We all revel in a good farmer’s market, and OK Friday Barn Fair, launched by Burl’s Creek Event Grounds, has just taken things up a notch (or four). This weekly arts and market space, located in Oro-Medonte and conveniently en route to cottage country, showcases a wide range of goods from local farmers and vendors, selected Toronto imports, and live musical performances.  I recently had a chance to visit OK Friday Barn Fair and loved it, and am here to report to you my top six reasons for visiting.

1. There’s an amazing and thoughtful array of local goods.  You’ll find wonderful local produce, cheese, meats, maple syrup, honey, as well as jewelry and other crafted goodness at OK Friday Barn Fair. When you meet the farmers and craftspeople doing the growing and the making, you’ll also know that they’ve been selected with care and in collaboration with The Karma Project, a non-profit cooperative dedicated to promoting sustainable and accessible local food.

2. Cottage-goers never had it so good. So it’s Friday and you’re desperate to leave the city and you didn’t quite find the time to buy what you need to make your weekend the culinary delight you were hoping for.  Never fear! You now have delicious local options that are moons away from the jaded produce from Foodland in Barrie or the IGA in Wherever. Stretch your legs, score some great food, and support local farmers and businesses while you’re at it.

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OK Friday Barn Fair_Maddington Farms_Image by Daniel Williams-Dowling PicturesOr, if cooking after the commute feels too much, grab dinner from the eateries at OK Friday. Rodney’s Oyster House offers up its famous oysters, mussels, and lobster rolls. Fans of Toronto’s restaurant trinity Fat Pasha, Rose and Sons, and Big Crow will be pleased to know that Anthony Rose also presents a range of his wares for sale.  Enjoy tastings of award-winning VQA Norman Hardie wines, and take a bottle home with you.  And for those of us lucky enough to be guests for a weekend away, it goes without saying that OK Friday Barn Fair is a treasure trove of lovely gifts for host or hostess.

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3.  The locals never had it so good.  One of the magical things about OK Friday Barn Fair and Burl’s Creek Event Grounds generally is the boost its giving to its community of Oro-Medonte. The market and grounds provide business development, cultural programming, and visibility to a beautiful region of Ontario. Restoration work on a 1930’s landmark barn with soaring 40 foot ceilings has been undertaken with assistance from the Mennonite community, and will serve as a destination event space, including weddings. During my visit to OK Friday Barn Fair, we enjoyed not just performances by Reuben and the Dark, but also by a local school who treated us to singing and their ukeleles, which were received through a musical grant. The presence of the local community of Oro-Medonte is infused throughout the market and the grounds.

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4.  Drop by or spend the day.  If you only have time for a quick stop, the amazing vendors will help you make the most of every minute.  But if you have the luxury of a day to spend, it’s worth the trip to go. Time moves easily as you check out the grounds, browse the stalls, or just take in the glorious natural setting.  The eating is great (of course), and the music is an ever-changing series of local Canadian talent – this week is Dan Mangan. You can even heighten your peace of mind with an outdoor mid-day yoga practice at 3pm with Shanti Vira Yoga Studio and Green River Yoga Company.

5.  The music festivals!  OK Friday Barn Fair runs every Friday from 2 to 8 pm except for July 24, when Burl’s Creek hosts WayHome Music and Arts Festival (Neil Young headlines days of jam-packed talent) and August 7, when the huge Boots and Hearts Music Festival comes to town.  With over 700 acres of pristine land, Burl’s Creek is Canada’s largest outdoor event venue, with space for 60,000 people and 45,000 campers.

6.  It’s a labour of love. During my visit to OK Friday Barn Fair, I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting next to Burl’s Creek owner Stan Dunford during lunch (by Anthony Rose!). His goal was unwavering and simple from its inception: to create a world class facility. When asked what motivated Stan to take on this project, he points to his nephew, a fellow lover of music and the person who helped inspire the expansive vision behind Burl’s Creek. Stan talked about how the heart of an endeavour like this was never clearer to him than when a music festival was cancelled, but 40,000 people showed up anyway. They weren’t there for the music (there was none), he explained, but the chance to be together.  The core of Burl’s Creek is not just food and fun, but family and friendship.  It’s a good place to be.

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The OK Friday Barn Fair operates every Friday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. until October 9, excluding July 24 and August 7 when Burl’s Creek has planned festival events.

Photo credits: Daniel Williams/Dowling Pictures

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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houseRobin 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.

Gerry Dee’s Tour: You Gotta See It!

About a year ago, I saw my first stand-up comedy show in Las Vegas and I loved it.   To celebrate my birthday, I asked my husband to forgo the fancy dinner out and take me to the local comedy club. We still did the dinner, courtesy of my brother and his wife, and the four of us made our way to the 11 pm show at Absolute Comedy.

Seeing live performances, be it Shakespeare in the park, a big-budget flashy musical or a lone comic standing at a mic, is electrifying. The performers have logged many hours honing their craft and their moment of truth is when they take the stage.

When it feels off, like the marks are missed or cadence wavers, my stomach usually knots and I feel a mixture of anxiety, embarrassment and disappointment for the performers. But with that, I always feel admiration. They put themselves out there to be judged, albeit harshly when the price of a ticket is attached, and I simply don’t have the chutzpah to do that.

But last night, the four of us went to see homegrown comedian, challenger on Last Comic Standing and star of his own eponymous CBC show, Gerry Dee and everything clicked.

Gerry Dee took the stage at historic Massey Hall and after being introduced by his solid opener Graham Chinden, his 90-minute set was an enjoyable ride!

Dee’s bits are taken from his life as a former teacher, dad to three young children and husband to a levelheaded, east coaster who is the perfect yin to his yang.

His banter is relatable; relationships are universal and if you’re not a parent, you’ve been a kid.

When you see a consummate performer like Dee, whose polished routine fails to falter, the energy in the room becomes exhilarating. A good performance brings about a high for the audience, and in the case of last night with 2,600 people united by laughter the room buzzed.

It’s no wonder it feels so good to experience a release of energy through laughter. The Mayo Clinic sites the short-term benefits as endorphin enriching, stress reducing and muscle relaxing. Need proof? The elevated people exiting from the crowded theatre did so with nary a kerfuffle.

Laughing Canadians = very gracious folk.

Gerry Dee is on a national tour and you’ve gotta see it!  Check if he’s coming to your city by clicking here.

And I leave you with my favourite bit from the night.

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

11120553_10153243999317269_1724565510_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!

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!

Ideas for March Break Activities Around Toronto

From Nathalie

I took Middlest to see National Theatre Live’s production of Treasure Island recently, and I really like the idea of taking kids to see plays at the movie theatre.  While we sat in a Cineplex theatre in Toronto, we watched a live production of the play being staged in London, complete with a 20-minute intermission.  Of course, seeing the play in the theatre lacked some of the fun and sense of occasion that goes with a night at the theatre, but that informality is exactly what appealed to me with young kids.  We ate our popcorn and drank our drinks and it was all very relaxed.  I’d like my kids to see as much Shakespeare as possible before they encounter it at school, and for the price of a movie ticket, you really can’t go wrong.  King Lear is showing tomorrow, Shakespeare’s Globe on Screen will be showing Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I am dying to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet later this year.

And if it’s fine art that tickles your fancy, head over to the AGO, which has fabulous programming for kids to complement their latest exhibition of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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From March 14-22,  join the AGO for one of nine creative days of exploring the amazing art of Basquiat. The whole family can enjoy beat boxing, dancing and drumming performances; interactive storytelling; art making; films and family-friendly tours of the Basquiat exhibition.  As with every new exhibit, the AGO also runs Family Sundays, from February 8-March 29.  Each week families are invited to explore a new aspect of Basquiat’s work through art-making and hands-on activities (1 – 4 p.m. in the Weston Family Learning Centre).  For a complete line-up of activities, visit www.ago.net/family-events.

If you are in Vaughan, you can hit three great destinations in one fun-filled day.  Start at LEGOLAND, where Carol, Beth-Anne and I took our boys a while back and loved it, then head over to Sky Zone Vaughan to bounce their sillies out.  It’s wall-to-wall-to-wall trampolines, and, yes, they can bounce off the walls.   You can pay to bounce for 30 minutes or in increments up to two hours.  There are special toddler times for the littlest ones, but generally, jumpers should be already walking and be able to follow the instructions of the staff.

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And when you are done jumping, go chill with the cold-blooded creatures at Reptilia.  As Canada’s largest indoor reptile zoo, Reptilia boasts a collection of over 250 reptiles, amphibians and arachnids (!).  Reptilia is also taking the show on the road, and they will at Hillcrest Mall for March Break from March 19-21.    At Reptilia Live! there will be interactive meet-and-greet, and guests can get to see, hold and touch a variety of cold-blooded creatures and learn interesting and educational facts.

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Show times are as follows:

[Thursday / Friday, March 19 and 20]

11:00 – 11:20 | Live animal show

11:20 – 12:00 | Meet and Greet

1:00 – 1:20 | Live animal show

1:20 – 2:00 | Meet and Greet

3:00 – 3:20 | Live animal show

3:20 – 4:00 | Meet and Gree

[Saturday, March 21]

12:30 – 12:50 | Live animal show

12:50 – 1:30 | Meet and Greet

2:00 – 2:20 | Live animal show

2:20 – 3:00 | Meet and Greet

If you go on the Thursday, look for Carol and Nathalie!  We’ll be there with some of our brood.

Toronto for Kids also has a great round-up of camps, shows and activities.  Check it out.

From Beth-Anne

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The Young People’s Theatre is one of my favourite not-so hidden gems in the city. The productions are always top-notch and tailored for a younger audience. Over March Break the classic tale of Pinocchio takes the main stage and to enhance the experience theatre-goers can sign up for the Puppet Lab and learn from experts how to create their very own, unique puppet. Space is limited. For ticket and show information visit Young People’s Theatre.

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For older children, The Heart of Robin Hood is a great bet! I have been a patron of Mirvish Productions for many years and The Heart of Robin Hood easily makes my top 5 list. The real story of Robin Hood may surprise you – Maid Marion is no shrinking violet, Robin’s not as generous as you may have believed and Friar Tuck . . . poor Friar Tuck. The original music is guaranteed to have your feet moving but it’s the transformation of the theatre into Sherwood Forest that is truly remarkable. If you’re looking into introduce theatre to your tweens or teens, this is the show to attend but hurry, the run ends on March 29. For tickets and show information visit Mirvish Productions.

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For the dancers, The National Ballet of Canada’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, looks simply magical. I have not yet seen it but judging how much the boys enjoyed The Nutcracker, it appears it would be a hit. The costumes and the staging are receiving rave reviews and the sneak peeks shown on the website justify why. On stage March 14-29. For tickets and show information visit The National Ballet of Canada.

From Carol

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It will still be wintry, but hopefully just a notch or two higher on the temperature scale, which means perfect timing for skating.  I love outdoor skating whenever we can get it, and Toronto boasts both Nathan Philips Square and the Natrel rink down at at Harbourfront are wonderful urban settings for gliding on city ice.

Or head over to the Brickworks for a smaller, more intimate outdoor skating experience on their public rink, and then head over to one of their drop-in programs for kids over March Break.  Paper mache boat building, both for individual boats and a collective boat, caught my eye.  Suggested donation $5.

Boats make me think of not winter, and I’m feeling ready to move on to our next season with Canada Blooms, our largest flower and garden festival. The many events and workshops fall over March Break, and offer opportunities for children to get their hands dirty getting ready to garden.  Kids will also be able to take home vegetables and flowers to start their own gardens at home.

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For a unique cultural experience, the Aga Khan Museum offers stunning exhibits and collections that explore Muslim civilizations – head over on the Wednesday of March Break to enjoy and explore for free between 4 to 8pm.

Do you have any favourite suggestions for the March break?  Please share them!