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!

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Toronto’s Only Urban Homesteading Store

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.

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

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.

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

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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The Leslie Street Spit: A Man-Made, Nature-Filled Wonder

mapThe Leslie Street Spit is a man-made headland that extends five kilometers south into Lake Ontario from the bottom of Leslie Street.  Since the 1960s, the site has been used for dumping all of the rubble and dirt from excavations from new building construction.  What came out of the ground with excavators got dumped down here until it had grown to its current size.  What the city did not anticipate was that this man-made land would be so quickly colonized by plant and bird life, and what began as a dumping ground has become a bird sanctuary and a haven for city-dwellers looking for a long and car-free walk by the lake.

The site is now a park, but because it is still an active dumping zone, the park is only open on weekends. Parking at the gates to the park is a bit haphazard, and while there is a lone hot dog stand at the end of the route, you will keep your little campers happy if you come well stocked with snacks and drinks.

I have walked and biked the 10 kilometers round trip from the street to the lighthouse at the tip of the spit with the kids many times, and there is always something new to discover.  One year, students from Guelph University were there tagging monarch butterflies; the spit has become a stop on the butterflies’ migration route.  There are 45 species of birds that breed on the headland, and more than 300 species have been spotted there.  Budding bird-watchers will find a lot to spot.  There are marshes and woods and bridges and bright sky and a lake wind.  There are cormorants perching on wooden pilings and butterflies to chase.  The entire route is paved, with makes biking, roller blading and walking with a stroller all equally easy.  You may see one city pick up truck, but the route is closed to cars.  It is amazing to walk here and see how much work nature has done to make this space its own in such a short time.  It teems with life.  It’s a place to go on a wide-open day, when you have no pressing business elsewhere, to meet with the wide open sky and the lake.  Wide open days are precious enough, but when you can say that you have walked among the cottonwood trees or seen the lake’s whitecaps at your leisure, I think the day has been truly well spent.

 

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Facts and map from Wikipedia.

 

 

Explore Toronto: Eco-Art-Fest @Todmorden Mills


AU_no9_EcoArtFest_8036Last 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.

IMG_4848While 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.

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.

Online Learning versus Learning with Nature, by guest blogger Catherine Ross

“As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of the flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unconsciously to the soughing of the trees…”, wrote Valerie Andrews in her book called ‘A Passion for this Earth’.

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Photo Courtesy: Philippe Put

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of playing games like hide and seek and blind man’s bluff with the kids in the neighborhood. We were a bunch of 8-10 kids who would gather in the biggest garden available (which was, luckily, ours) or the park every evening around tea-time and spend at least two hours together. We would either play one of the above mentioned games or simply make up new and innovative games of our own, squealing away as we chased each other. And the feeling of accomplishment which came with emerging as the winner in such games was unparalleled – we would strut around the house all evening, proudly proclaiming the same till our moms shut us up!

Another vivid memory is the annual treat of going out camping with dad for a weekend in our summer holidays. My younger brother and I used to start badgering him a week before the summer vacations actually began – eventually he would have to give in and then off we would go, with our sleeping bags in tow. One particular summer, dad was out of town for the entire duration of the holidays and we were particularly morose until our mum came up with a brilliant idea – we ended up camping with our tents and sleeping bags in our very own backyard!

However, if you ask my kids today what activities they enjoy the most, they would probably say it’s the PlayStation game ‘EyePet and Friends’, ‘Temple Run’ or some such online or mobile game. Playing outdoors would never figure in their list of activities at all, let alone favorite activities!

A study carried out in the USA titled – An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play – came up with the following major findings:

* Children in the USA today spend less time playing outdoors than the previous generation.

* The number of regular play activities is higher for indoor activities than outdoor ones (96 per cent kids watch television regularly, 81 per cent play online games every day).

* Obstacles to playing outdoors focus on the child’s increased use of television and computers at home.

Then comes the question: Does it matter? After all, one should change with the changing times. In the present age of tablets, smart phones, cable TV, Facebook and YouTube, is it actually important for today’s kids to know the difference between the daisy and the chrysanthemum, a fowl and a chicken?

My answer would veer somewhere between a yes and a no. I don’t think kids would be affected as adults if they don’t know the difference between two different species of plants; what would matter more is picking up qualities like problem-solving skills, cooperation and teamwork, which they could have picked up while getting dirty climbing trees and splashing through mud puddles with other kids of the same age group. These little joys of childhood learning are slowly but surely disappearing today.

I, being a homeschooling mum to my two kids, definitely feel we are better off with the internet at our disposal today. And though some parents may not agree with me, I do feel children can benefit from educational games, provided they are regularly monitored as well as used in moderation. One, they get a sense of accomplishment while clearing the different levels of a game. It spurs them on to try harder and inculcates self-confidence in them. Two, it does help to improve eye-hand coordination as well as gets them more tuned into how a computer works, which undoubtedly, is something one must know in this day and age. Also, certain games do test the reasoning abilities of the kids, thus sharpening their logical power.

However, outdoor activities in the lap of nature teach things which online learning cannot match. First of all, outdoor games are multi-sensory activities wherein you can touch, hear, see and smell things. It is an imaginative process, where there are no pre-conceived ideas and you can change rules to suit your needs. Interacting with other people in person develops a certain level of empathy and understanding between fellow beings plus improves communication skills, which is impossible in the case of online learning. And last but not the least, kids build up their immunity levels and keep themselves fit with all the running around. Would all this be possible if they were cooped indoors all day, with a touch screen tablet in their hands? No way!

So when Richard Louv writes: “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when our world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist…”, I completely agree with him. Because it is possible to strike a balance between the time our kids spend indoors and the time they spend outdoors, in order to make them have the best of both worlds.

After all, in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. That’s the fun of it. Don’t we owe it to our kids?

Author Bio: Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at http://kidslearninggames.weebly.com/

The Summer Of Running Free

IMG_3274This summer has been glorious. It has been slow, uncluttered and deliberate. It has been uncomplicated. Moments of serenity have peppered the routine whining, that at this stage of the game is more like the soundtrack to my life; a white noise that occasionally demands to be hushed.

Almost one month in and I can say so far this has been my favourite summer with my boys. My favourite summer since becoming a mom.

The choices that I have made this past month have been mindful. After a grueling winter trapped much of the time inside, my only desire for this summer was to be outside.

It was years ago, my first born was still an infant, tucked into his snowsuit with just his rosy cheeks exposed to the cold air, when I pushed our red stroller up and down the city sidewalks. The thick treaded tires ploughed through the snow and my son cooed contentedly. It was when I was stopped at a traffic light that an older lady, weighed down by her heavy wool coat peered into the stroller. She smiled and asked me if the bundle was a boy or a girl. When I replied a boy, she said that she had one piece of advice for me. I bristled. I was hesitant to listen. I was tired of well-meaning strangers giving me their two-cents on everything from feeding to sleeping and hat wearing.

“Sometimes a boy just has to run free outdoors.”

Most intended perils of wisdom have been forgotten over the years, but this one has stuck.

It didn’t take this crippling winter juxtaposed with the summer that proceeded it for a what felt like a fleeting minute to confirm that, yes, sometimes a boy just has to run free outdoors.

This summer has been the summer of running free.

The boys have passed more of their waking hours outside. They’ve toiled in the garden, snorkelled in the sea and fished the lake. Untethered by any schedule they have indulged their curiosities. They’ve asked questions and sought out answers. They’ve collapsed in bed exhausted with tanned skin, grazed knees and dirty feet.

I’ve watched my sons gently pick up snails, caterpillars and geckos. I’ve watched them marvel at how small a person is in comparison to an ocean, but how powerful a human’s actions can be.

My middle son, devastated to learn how lionfish are encroaching on Caribbean sea life schooled his brothers resulting in a serious discussion that united them together as eco-warriors. My misty-eyed boys have brought the plight of the monarch butterflies and the serious threats facing the bee population to my attention. It’s humbling and inspiring to witness how awestruck they are by nature.

The idea of nature-deficient children and what Louv suggests that will mean for the well being of our society, is frightening to me.

It’s as frightening to me as drowning polar bears.

50 Things to Do Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At Issue: Kids, Parents and The Great Outdoors

boy-469264_640Ruth Lera could be any mom.  She describes herself in her 2012 article “Learning To Love The Natural World” for Today’s Parent as a “hodgepodge” and says that finding a place to pat herself on the back can be difficult.

Being a parent is wrought with not-so-proud moments, so when you recognize something you’ve done well it’s nothing short of inspiring.

Lera has made connecting with nature a priority and because of that her children have developed a love for it.  A respect for it.

Author Richard Louv is worried that not enough children are making connections with nature and fears that many children are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder.  This is very concerning to the man who authored Last Child in the Woods and who believes that when childhood passes without any connection being made to nature during the formative years, the resulting deficit is a serious detriment to society’s wellbeing.

Louv has spent years researching, collecting anecdotal evidence and inspiring policy makers because he believes a connection with nature can boost mental acuity and creativity, promote health and wellness, and build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities and economies.

This week we will be discussing parenting and nature.  Catherine Ross, a mother of two and of the blog Learning is Fun will be our guest this week.

As always we welcome your comments and insights.  Join the conversation by leaving a comment or follow us and share via Facebook and Twitter!

Here are a few videos on the subject to get you inspired:

Explore: Evergreen Brick Works

IMG_4844Years ago my weekends were peppered with city-dweller activities: markets, neighbour explorations, festivals and art appreciation but then a string of pregnancies and little babies kept me nestled (chained) in my neighbourhood bubble venturing only outside to visit the zoo.  My youngest is now almost 4 (I still can’t believe it!) and for the past year, we’ve really been able to enjoy the city and all that it has to offer without the stress of strollers, naps and diapers.

It’s a whole new world!

Recently we explored an urban oasis: Evergreen Brick Works.

The Brick Works, as locals affectionately call it, was the Don Valley Brick Works from 1889 to 1984 and many of Canada’s preeminent buildings are constructed of bricks made from this site.  From 1984 until the early 2000s, the Brick Works deteriorated.  Piles of rubble and crumbling buildings are what most people saw when they drove past along Bayview Avenue, with the exception of a group of creative innovators who saw the potential to transform the site into a not-for-profit destination celebrating nature, culture and community.

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The old buildings mesmerized the boys.  They imagined themselves heating clay in the giant kilns to make bricks.  They saw the old tracks used to transport the tons of coal from the various buildings.  We talked about the working conditions: how loud it must have been and oppressively hot from the steam, the kilns (and the humid Toronto summers) and how it probably wasn’t that safe in the early years.

Exploring the kiln building was a favourite but not only because of its historical significance.  The walls are lined with an evocative gallery displaying artistic photography and, perhaps the highlight for me; it is where The Sustainable City installation is currently on display. City school teams have imagined and created a future Toronto that encompasses the core values of Evergreen: nature, community and culture.  Not only are the projects incredible but also they are inspiring!  To think that our city is home to such innovators . . . lucky for us!

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There is a lot to see and do at the Brick Works.  Every day people explore the extensive trails where local wildlife abounds!

The weekdays are quieter but the weekends are chock-full of activities including an impressive farmer’s market, pottery demonstrations, bike rentals, a flea market and the children’s garden.  The Brick Works hosts seminars on the weekends that appeal to bikers, gardeners, wild life enthusiasts and artists.

Wednesday evenings (from July 2- August 6) enjoy pizza from Pizzeria Libretto from the outdoor wood-fired oven (to.die.for.) and a small seasonal salad for $3.

It’s summer and there is no shortage of activities in Toronto.  There is a reason it’s called The Living City, so get out there and live!

Be Green and Detox Your Home

images-1Carol is my go-to green expert.  She’s most likely cringing right now because she considers herself anything but an expert on the topic.  She is, however, the most environmentally conscious person whom I know and instead of wanting to stick my fingers in my ears and ride out the guilt wave whenever she talks about her latest greening project, I am inspired!  That’s right folks, inspired!

This woman makes her own soap, grows her own mushrooms and boarded the eco-train long before it became mainstream yet she is anything but a green snob.  Her quiet enthusiasm spurs me to try new things and step way out of my comfort zone.

A few weeks ago, Seventh Generation sent over a home detox kit and I figured why not give it a try?  I have made strides to introduce more organic, whole foods in to our every day diet but I have been neglectful on the home front.

I am not easily impressed when it comes to “green” cleaners.  The few that I have tried have delivered lacklustre results that left me wondering how clean the toilet/counter/floor really is?

I was pleasantly surprised with Seventh Generation’s granite counter cleaner and dishwashing detergent but the laundry detergent made me a convert!  images

I do laundry like it’s my job.  Well, it kinda is my job.  I easily push through 10 loads a week of grimy, sweaty, stained clothes running the gamut from sporting uniforms to my beloved skinnies and EVERYTHING CAME OUT SPOTLESS with no soapy residue.

Thinking of “leaning-in” to become more green conscious when it comes to your home?  Here are some easy-to-do tips from Seventh Generation:

  1. Open The Windows – avoid synthetic air fresheners and sprays.
  2. Leave Shoes At The Door – and wash those welcome mats!
  3. Plant More Indoor Plants – they help purify the air.
  4. Clean With Plant-Based or DIY Cleaners – or choose a brand that lists all of their ingredients so you can make an informed choice.
  5. Sleep On Organic And/Or Natural Fibres
  6. Detox Your Home From The Outside In – spray your lawn with white vinegar to combat those pesky weeds!
  7. Choose Toys Made From Natural Materials – and wash them with natural detergents.