Moments Like This

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Moments like this leave you breathless. – Haleakula, Maui July 2015.

Our guest today is Sonya Davidson, known as The Culture Pearl.  If you’re looking for something inspiring you may want to visit Sonya (@theculturepearl). Life is about being open to new experiences and learning something new each day. You can find her on instagram (highly recommended) as well as her posts on national sites including Urbanmoms.ca, TorontoIsAwesome.com, CanadianReviewer.com, and AZNmodern.com

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The Trip of a Lifetime

IMG_5236The way I see it, marriage and family are two sides of a scale and sometimes the kids trump over the marriage but it’s foolish not to restore the balance. As much as sharing milestones and spending time with my children is the bedrock of our family, I don’t believe in moving my marriage down the priority list. Not all trips are meant to be enjoyed as a family.

Our tenth anniversary trip was such a trip.

Corsica is a French island, rich in political history, south of mainland France and west of the Italian peninsula where the land offers everything from rugged mountainous terrain to sweeping vistas, breathtaking coastlines and crystalline beaches. Located at the southern tip (on a clear day Sardinia beckons) is the most spectacular place I’ve ever visited.

Domaine de Murtoli is a family estate. Since the 16th century sheep and cows graze the land and in 1994 the current heir married his love for his ancestral land and his passion for the environment with his talent for creating beautiful spaces.  Murtoli as it’s known today was born. A series of villas reconstructed as much as possible from the original centuries-old building materials coupled with modern-day luxury are the jewel of this working estate where agriculture still prevails.

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We spent a week in our villa, a tiny sheepfold, nestled away from everyone and everything. Our daily trips to the market brought about the finest in local ingredients, and foraging at Murtoli’s garden was as picturesque as bountiful. Our days started with a basket of fresh pastries delivered each morning and then we’d spend the rest of the time hiking the impressive land dotted with cork trees and fields of lavender or lounging on a 5-kilometer stretch of isolated beach where a restaurant served the best of local cuisine. When we felt up for it, we’d venture off the estate and explore the neighbouring villages and even spent one glorious afternoon at our proprietor’s family vineyard.  Most memorable  are the dinners that were prepared over hours, and several bottles of French champagne.

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The highlight of the trip was the evening spent listening to a small orchestra play classical music on the beach, illuminated by 5,000 candles. Just the memory alone is enough to give me goose bumps.

We came away restored and with a great appreciation for a landscape and culture that previously we knew nothing about.

To see more pictures from our trip-of-a-decade be sure to follow 4Mothers on Instagram.

It’s in the Bag!

Here are some things that are going along with us on our travels this summer.  Things to keep us happy, safe, and sane!

You guys, I get so many compliments on these shoes.  I love them.  They are not only fun and funky, they are really comfortable and practical.  I have walked all over the city in them, and the support and comfort cannot be beaten.  They are also light, making it a no-brainer to throw them in the suitcase.  I was sent this orange pair, but now I am tempted to buy them in every colour of the rainbow.  Check them out for yourself at Uneek by Keen.

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I find it tricky to pack for kids when we are travelling: how to combine comfort, fun and respectability?!  I found an answer at The Children’s Place, where I stocked up on some new threads for summer.  Your money goes a long way at The Children’s Place, and with clothes so reasonably priced, it’s easy to find the kids something new and special for a trip.  I bought Youngest this Skylanders shirt, which he wore non-stop in the last weeks of school.  The shirts I bought have held up well through many washes, and he got so many compliments, I even picked up extras as gifts for his friends.

 

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Keeping kids occupied on flights and drives is one of the hardest parts of travel, and this deck of cards has been doing the trick.  Personalogy is a situation card game that encourages discussion and imaginative thinking.  It comes in two editions: one for adults and one for the whole family.  I got a sample pack of the family edition, and I used it on a subway ride with seven ten-year-old boys heading to a movie.  They loved it, and it kept them busy while we got from A-B.  If anything, they were so eager that they rushed to get through the questions, eager to get to the next question rather than answer the “why” part of the question fully.  Next time, we’ll have to reinforce the why component.

 

Staying sun safe has never been so important, but what do you do if you are super-sensitive to sunscreens?  I have had the hardest time finding a sun screen for Middlest, who reacts with a rash to every single one.  I think I have finally found an answer for my kid’s unhappy reactions to sunscreen with Aveeno’s Sensitive Skin line.  We’ve tried it several times, and so far, so good!  Peace of mind, finally, under the hot sun.

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And speaking of hot, I am seriously in love with Consonant’s brand new dealkalizing deodorant.  I was given a free trial with the purchase of their skincare products.  As a lifetime user of anti-perspirant, I was really, really skeptical about switching to deodorant, but I tell you, this stuff works.  I’m amazed at its odor-busting abilities, and I really haven’t felt like I’ve given up on anything with the switch.  Seriously–magic in a stick.

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Throw it all into a bag from Tom’s, and you will be doing good while looking good.  Tom’s has an extensive charitable aspect to the business, and you can give the gift of maternal health and safe births with every bag purchased.

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End the Summer with Volunteer Work by Anne Cooper

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Some Rights Reserved, puck90 via Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

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All Rights Reserved, Troy Snow via Flickr Creative Commons

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

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Some Rights Reserved, Kim Piper Werker via Flickr Creative Commons

This post was contributed by one of our partners.

Island Time: What a month away with my children taught me

11738059_10155931974745083_6601488050755240455_nI 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.

OK Friday Barn Fair: Top 6 Reasons to Visit!

OK Friday Barn Fair_Betty's(4)_Image by Daniel Williams-Dowling Pictures
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.

OK Friday Barn Fair_fresh produce(2)_Image by Daniel Williams-Dowling Pictures

OK Friday Barn Fair_baked goods_Image by Daniel Williams-Dowling Pictures
OK Friday Barn Fair_Nocturna Jewellery(3)_Image by Daniel Williams-Dowling Pictures
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.

OK Friday Barn Fair_Rodney's Oysters(3)_Image by Daniel WilliamsDowling Pictures
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.

OK Friday Barn Fair_banr(5)_Image by Daniel Williams-Dowling Pictures
OK Friday Barn Fair_Reuben and the Dark(5)_Image by Daniel Williams-Dowling Pictures
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.

OK Friday Barn Fair_Northwinds planters(3)_Image by Daniel Williams-Dowling Pictures

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

I’m Thankful for My Bugaboo Stroller

I can’t live without my smartphone.  I have had marginal success with detoxing from my excessive use, but the thought of cancelling my contract and tossing it into a drawer  is never going to be a reality.

I felt the same away about my Bugaboo Frog stroller a few weeks ago when I was cleaning out the garage.  I just can’t part with it.  I have had my red Bugaboo Frog and all of its accoutrements for almost 8 years.  Eight years!

That stroller means more to me than a plastic, canvas and rubber contraption meant to transport my child from A to B.  There are times when it felt like a lifeline tethering me to the outside world from my post-natal cocoon.  I would push through the snow, the wind and the rain, my destination unclear but my motivation crystal.  I needed to be out and among the land of the living.  I needed to walk the busy streets and look in the shop windows.  I needed to create urgency to complete mundane errands.  My Bugaboo made it possible for me to do just that.

I knew from early on that Bugaboo was the stroller for me.  It took little convincing that we were a perfect fit.  Its sleek design; adaptable seats and functionality were in my mind unparalleled to the available options.

My parents generously gifted the Bugaboo to me when my first son was born.  My mom loved it too,  and like me saw value in its merits.  My dad took some convincing.  When he saw the price tag, admittedly not cheap, he choked out that his first car had cost less.  It made me think of this scene from Father Of The Bride:

In eight years that stroller has survived three boys, more spilled milk than one could imagine, and enough vomit to make Public Health concerned.  It’s been washed, scrubbed and de-Cheerioed several times, each time impressing me with its resiliency.  And I’ve easily put more kilometers on it than my car.

So when Bugaboo invited me to preview their exciting line-up for 2015, I of course said yes, not withstanding that my strolling days are numbered.  I am glad that I did.

Bugaboo is one of those brands that marry functionality and aesthetics so perfectly and come the New Year their fans will be delighted by their many collaborations.

The lifestyle brand Diesel, known for its rugged, utilitarian look has toughened up the Bugaboo Cameleon.  The dark green and brown colour combination give the stroller a decidedly masculine look, while the interior finishes are the soft, comfortable and functional details that Bugaboo is known for.

 bugaboo-cameleon3-by-diesel-iconic-image-2(Available November 2014)

 There is also the new Bugaboo Bee3 for the parents who zip around the city and live life on the fly.  The Bee is lightweight, easy to use and has a larger underseat basket for storing everything from groceries to a diaper bag.  For parents who like to express their individuality, the Bee is available in 64 different fabric colour combinations and provides UPF50+ sun and extendable sun canopy while being water repellent and washable.

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(Available in stores now)

And there is this . . . the Bugaboo Runner.  Oh, be still my heart!  Why buy two strollers when you can buy the Bugaboo Runner, a base that fits all Bugaboo models?  The three-wheel model, with its front wheel fixed, makes for a smooth run and the base collapses compactly making at-home storage easy.

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(Available Spring 2015)

 It’s not just the artistry of the Bugaboo that impresses me; it’s the story behind the product.  While at the launch I had the opportunity to meet members of the Bugaboo team.  Their passion for their product was inspiring and not overly surprising considering the quality of their strollers and accessories.  Bugaboo started off as a design school project by Max Barenbrug and twenty years later it has expanded to include numerous stroller models and functional accessories while staying true to their mission to create innovative products that inspire people to explore the world.

Speaking with members of the Bugaboo team, I learned that designers watch people with children navigating everyday life, identifying obstacles and dreaming of ways to make life simpler and more accessible.  I was fascinated, and not at all shocked, to hear about the push-back the North American team had in convincing the designers to create a cup-holder.  The Europeans were flummoxed as to why someone would need to take their coffee to-go and hesitated in creating what is now the best-selling Bugaboo accessory in North America.

It’s always the stories that attract me to products.  It’s the people and their passion, their commitment and their innovation.  Creative people always inspire me and I am moved to see the world through their eyes, whether the medium is a stroller or a bar of soap, because when I do, it’s enlightening.

 Disclaimer:  I didn’t receive a penny for this review, but when I do I will let ya know!

Legoland Fun for All

Isn’t it a great feeling when your kids get along with your friend’s kids?

In the four years we have been blogging together, our boys have never met each other but last week we all met at Legoland Discovery Centre and within minutes our boys were laughing and playing together like they’ve been friends for years.

Legoland Discovery Centre invited us to try out the newest addition to the Vaughan Mills site: the Ninjago Laser Training Camp and since Carol, Nathalie and I are not as fluent in all things Lego like our boys, we brought them along.

Lego ROM!  Amazing.

Lego ROM! Amazing.

Our morning started with a group photo before we entered the Lego Factory.  An interactive entrance to the museum, the factory lets kids see the steps that go into shaping a Lego brick.  They can also measure their height and weight in Lego bricks, and create art with Lego bricks on ipads.

After this introduction, we hopped aboard the Kingdom’s Quest tunnel ride and were handed laser guns.  This group of boys was giddy at the opportunity to point, shoot and tally up their score.  The mothers all sighed.  We’ve long given up on fighting the appeal of “gun play.”  Truth be told, Carol got the best score.  “Hey!  I’m pretty good at this!” she said.  Props for mom when the truth was revealed.

The boys then spent about thirty minutes constructing their Lego Racers and testing them out on the Royfoss track.  It always amazes me to see what kids are capable of creating with no adult involvement.  As a group they cheered each others’ cars on and made the necessary improvements to improve their performance.

After that they worked up a sweat racing through the multi-level play zone while the moms enjoyed each other’s company on the sidelines waiting to experience Merlin’s Apprentice.  Seated in pairs (children under 120 cm must ride with an adult on all Legoland Discovery Centre rides), we pedaled up, up and away!

Before viewing one of the four 15 minute 4-D movies, we got in the line for the Ninjago Training Camp.  The boys were excited to tackle the lasers and discussed at length their strategies with the enthusiastic operator who encouraged the boys to try the more advanced ninja and sensei levels.  They were all too happy to oblige.

The maze doesn’t last long but it is addictive, meaning our boys returned to the line-up several times over to increase their score.  Points are awarded by making it through the maze without “breaking” any of the laser beams.  The boys used their creativity (and their oh-so-flexible limbs) to hop, crawl and slide their way through.  The moms were not quite so limber but in all fairness were saddled with purses and extra sweatshirts.

When it was time to say goodbye, with the promise to get together soon, the boys made their way through the exit and of course . . . the gift shop.  Each boy chose a small token to remember their special morning by and mothers were thankful for the minutes of quiet playtime said purchases bought later that afternoon.  We left feeling that we could easily have stayed longer and not run out of things to do.

Thinking of making a visit?  Here’s what you need to know:

–       Shoes and bare feet are not permitted inside the play zone.  Socks must be worn.

–       The snack shop has a variety of healthier options but many options are not nut-free.

–       The washrooms are clean!  Hurrah!!!!

–       There are NO in-and-out privileges.

–       Adults are not permitted entry without children.

–       Tickets are less expensive if purchased on-line ($18 each) and children under the age of 2 are free.

–       The centre is not large and can get very crowded at peak times (holidays, school breaks, summer vacation, etc.)

–       Many of the activities are geared to younger children (under 10)

–       We spent three hours there as a group, and Carol stayed for another two hours and said her boys would happily have kept building for yet more time.  Out of ten, her eldest gave it a “10 google” (off the charts).

–       None of us had been before and all of us would happily go back.

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!