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.

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.

Did You Resolve to Have More Sex? Sex Tips and Facts from Carol Anne Austin, Sex Therapist.

kmaBefore the holidays, I had a chance to attend  What Mama Didn’t Tell Us, a panel presentation hosted by The Purple Fig It was a fabulously fun night of presentations and Q&A sessions about sex and pelvic health, featuring, among others, Carol Anne Austin, a sex expert and therapist at KMA Therapy.  She was a wonderfully funny and engaging speaker, and I felt that she really got the crowd: mothers, rookie and veteran, who were keen to get her tips on how to keep the spark alive with their partners.  Here is a distilled list of her best tips and facts.

1.  The research is really clear: sexual satisfaction is highly correlated to effective communication.  Talk about what’s working and what isn’t.

2.  The most common problem she sees in her clients is a drop in libido as people age or are in long-term relationships.

3.  The lower desire partner is much more likely to rush foreplay and initiate intercourse faster.   There’s a “get it over with” attitude.

4.  There is a circle of low desire: my partner wants to have sex; I don’t but I feel like I should; I’m not aroused before or during sex; I’m not that satisfied by the sex; I have a memory of having sex for someone else and not for me; sex becomes about someone else’s needs and satisfaction; I’m less likely to initiate or to feel like having sex again soon.

5.  To break that cycle, you need to find a way to bring something for you back into the sex.   Ask yourself what was going on when the sex was good?  Do that.

6.  There is no normal when it comes to the frequency of sex.  Frequency is a totally unreliable indicator of sexual satisfaction. Much more important is to emphasize quality over quantity.

7.  If you make time for yourself, you will have the energy for your partner.  Schedule time for yourself.

8.  Schedule time for your relationship.  Put it on the calendar!

9.  Shake up the script of sex before bed and sleep.  Find a time of day when you have more energy.

10.  A healthy active sexual relationship with yourself correlates directly to a healthy active sexual relationship with your partner.  (A woman asked, “What if I get addicted to my vibrator?”  Answer: she has never heard of that happening.  Using a vibrator is far more likely to improve your sex with your partner than to become an addiction.)

11.  Menopause is a challenging time for your sexual relationship.  To stay engaged in sex during a hot flash, switch up the order of kiss, foreplay, penetration and orgasm.  If it’s not a one way street then you can take a break.

12.  During menopause, intercourse can become painful because the change in hormones causes a drop in natural vaginal lubrication.  Use a lube.  BUT be careful and keep an eye out for glycerine in the list of ingredients.  Glycerine is a sugar and can affect the growth of yeast and cause a yeast infection.

Tequila Tasting in Toronto

It never fails to amaze me the many unique opportunities and experiences Toronto has to offer. There are the obvious: the CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the many orchestras, ballets and theatres, to name a few. It’s the hidden gems that continue to inspire me, delight me, educate me and make me thankful to be living in such a dynamic, colourful, and culturally diverse city.

El Caballito is one of these hidden gems. How does a tequila and tacos cantina qualify? First off, El Caballito, located in the heart of the entertainment district, is not just another tourist trap. The robust and lively atmosphere, with dimmed lighting and music pumping, instantly transports you from the hustle and bustle of traditional downtown Toronto to the vibrant streets of Mexico City. The place oozes authenticity and Manny Contreras will attest to its street cred, Certified Master Tequilier and bar manager, was born and raised in Mexico City.

El Caballito offers patrons more than just incredible Mexican cuisine. Whether you’re a scotch aficionado, a wine sipper with penchant for Merlot or a lover of craft beer, after some time in the private tequila tasting room with Manny, you’ll leave El Caballito at the very least with an appreciation for the art of tequila and quite possibly a new affection for the spirit.

Manny Contreras himself is a hidden gem. There are less than one thousand tequiliers working in North America and Manny is one of only two working in Canada after years honing his taste buds in Mexico City. He began at the age of 13 working behind his father’s bar and he is truly steeped in the tradition of tequila.

“You need to know everything about each tequila before you can sell it,” his father told him. Manny sipped from each bottle, discerning the various flavours before he had his first full glass at the age of 21. Manny’s interest in his country’s national drink was more than just a means to make money; it became a passion that propelled him to enroll in a five-year course to become a Certified Master Tequilier.

Tucked away in a room lined with his collection of tequila, that includes everything from Jose Cuervo to Clase Azul, the candle light flickers on the brick wall and the scene is set.

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Manny explains with vivid detail how tequila evolved from being the drink of the peasants to the kings and cycled back again to the peasants. Folklore, European invasions, wars, and big corporations have all had a hand in transforming tequila from pulque (fermented sap from the agave plant) to what we know it to be today.

“You have to be ready to really taste the tequila. You have to take your time with it. Let it be still in your mouth.” Manny guided us through our tasting with patience while describing the proper way to enjoy tequila. Drinking tequila is somewhat analogous to the vision that I have of the quintessential Latin lover.

There is much fore play: rolling it around in your mouth, breathing in the heady sensations, allowing the first sips to cleanse and prepare the palate.

There is much sweetness and intensity: the lightest in colour the blanco is young, and bites the tongue, while the darker anjeo is aged and has a sweeter, lasting flavour.

There is also the morning after that can leave one groggy and remorseful but Manny maintains it’s not likely if you savor the experience of a fine tequila instead of absently shooting it back in a flurry of debauchery.

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If you’re looking to experience something truly unique, even if you think you hate tequila because of a wasted night in Mexico on your 18th birthday, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.   Book an evening with Manny. He offers a variety of tasting experiences that are suited to all tastes and budgets.

Manny’s Picks

All Time Favourite: Don Julio 1942

Best Value: Tromba

Under-The-Radar: Casa Amigos

For Deep Pockets: Clase Azul

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.

Sexy Scrabble? Ways to Connect With Your Spouse

scrabble-476577_640When I reached the doors of Dr. Jess’ Talking Sex night, Nathalie met me with, “We’re 20 years older than everyone else here”.  I decided that Nathalie was probably exaggerating, and she was: we were only 18 years older.  Our icebreaker was to speak to two women we didn’t know at the event based on – get this – liking each others’ shoes!  I was wearing a pair of thrifted pink slip on shoes to go with my jean skirt, and was relieved when a 20-something in 4 inch heels and tight black cocktail dress spoke to me anyway. “They look comfortable,” she said placidly.

Nathalie and I had commented to each other that Dr. Jess’ talk would have been different had the crowd been older or geared to women with children, and it probably would have been. But what I learned from that night is that all of us, whatever age or strata we find ourselves in, have deeply-felt concerns and questions around sex. The young women asked: What if I started out as the crazy girl in bed but now sometimes just want to make love? What do I do when I want to try something new in bed and he laughs it off? What if there’s love but our sex life is unfulfilling because he’s not interested… won’t this just get worse with time?

Real concerns of real people, and that’s why I was impressed when Dr. Jess said to the dressed-up women in the room: Hot sex is what makes you and your partner satisfied. If that’s missionary once a week in the dark, and you both feel good about it, that’s hot sex. She proceeded to talk and offer tips and techniques because this comment is not exactly one size fits all, but just by saying it and other comments like it, I thought she helped keep the night from becoming a live version of a Cosmo article.

There was lots to take from the talk (and I did pay attention to the demos and slides), but I find it’s this element of real I come back to the most. Because when I think about it, many of the things that sustain my relationship with my spouse are, when itemized to the outside world, quite prosaic.  They work, though.  Here are a few positions we fall back on, to make some space for ourselves as a couple amidst the mayhem and magic of our lives.

1. We like to eat dinner together, just the two of us, at a restaurant.  Also known as a date night, I suppose, but date nights can be almost anything, and we almost always prefer to eat and talk. We never seem to do these as regularly as we’re supposed to (weekly), but we do make them happen.  They feel like regular deposits into a long-term investment.

2. We sit on our front porch and talk. We live in a neighbourhood where if you do this, you will see other people walk by and recognize some faces and have a sense of place. We’ve watched a number of rainstorms this way. Nothing. Better.

3.  We take a walk together and talk.  Sometimes we bike ride, which is more fun, but it’s harder to talk on bikes in the city, so walking is better for connection/conversation.

4. Sleep.  Giving each other the opportunity to take a much-needed nap can shift everything. As I read once somewhere, sleep is the silent remedy.  It was true eight years ago when we had our first son, and it’s true now.

5. We play Scrabble. The time to play is scarce, so when we get to, it’s a treat. It also feels exclusive, as I don’t play with anyone else. In university, my roommate said that Scrabble saved her parents’ marriage:  on the verge of separating, they vowed to sit together every night no matter what and play a game – and it got them through. At 19 years old, this made only so much sense to me, and gratefully it’s not why my husband and I play. But Scrabble’s a good game with good company, and obviously has power in it, and I love to play with my husband.

This is a selected list; sometimes there’s a bit more glamour in our lives than what’s noted above.  But we’re big on simple pleasures, and this list is solid.  Tried and true.  Real.

What do you do to stay connected to your love?

Photo credit

Date Night Gone Awry

I was really hoping to write about a new-ish restaurant in the city that my husband and I went to in celebration of our ninth wedding anniversary.  What I can tell you is that tucked-away, much buzzed about Patria is artfully designed.  The menu, at a glance looks delicious, as did the few plates that passed by our intimate table for two.

However I cannot write about what we ordered nor if the food critics are right in dubbing this tapas bar one of Toronto’s Best Restaurants of 2013.  I cannot tell you, because our ninth anniversary came and went and nary a morsel of food was consumed at Patria.

Let me start off my story by stressing that while summer vacation may be the days of folly and freedom for youngsters, it is for this stay-at-home mom, two months of intense togetherness that has me praying for bouts of dysentery* just so I can seek a few moments of privacy from my three boys.

Who am I kidding?  They’d follow me in there too.

The day of our anniversary, the babysitter arrived early with ample time for me to shower, shave my legs and tame my tresses.  Basically, I went from looking like this:

Portrait of very surprised bizarre screaming housewife

(With some creative liscence) To this:

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A cab picked me up from my front door and like Cinderella, I was shuttled off to the ball.  The whining, complaining, and incessant bickering faded in the review mirror.  Even the grueling stop and go traffic along Avenue Road couldn’t dampen my spirits.

I wanted to lean out of the rolled-down window, hair blowing in the breeze and call to the babysitter with a sinister sneer, “You’ve been duped!  They are not the loveable boys of school days.  These beasts are feral!  These boys are urchins!  These boys will wear you down, defeat you, make your ears beg for quiet!”

As the cab slowly navigated the downtown streets, I excitedly texted my husband that soon we’d be eating – in a restaurant!  With cutlery!  Where chicken fingers are a thing of lore!

I was giddy.  Like a parolee, I was relishing in the sights of the city.  When was this skyscraper finally completed?  What kind of art is that new installation?  When did men in suits start wearing full beards?

Upon entering Patria, our hostess lead us to our table and we followed behind like obedient school children relieved to finally have some time alone.  Just as my husband’s knees bent to sink into his chair, his iPhone buzzed to life.

A glance at the screen revealed a call from the babysitter.

She never calls his phone.

He answered it, and I can immediately tell from the way he casually walked away from the table, from me, that this wasn’t good news.

Back in the cab, it no longer feels like a shiny chariot but rather a jalopy with cracked vinyl seats, rank with fetid air.  The inching traffic nothing but a taunt.

He’s doing great mom!  We hope to have his thumb dislodged as soon as the fire department get here.”  The kind paramedic, used to placating frantic mothers on the verge of tears, said calmly into the phone.

My youngest son was stuck.  His tiny thumb had somehow managed to wedge itself tightly into the hinge of the glass shower door, thereby entrapping him on one side and his freshly scrubbed brother on the other side of the glass.

One frantic babysitter, one flummoxed neighbour and a host of EMS workers descended into our en suite washroom in attempt to free the compressed thumb.  Forty minutes later he was liberated with nothing more than a tiny gash and a throbbing digit.

After hours of soothing (the little guy, his empathic oldest brother and a devastated babysitter) my husband and I collapsed onto the couch with a bottle of wine.

Just over his shoulder I could see our wedding picture – the young, fresh faces smiling naively into the camera.

We couldn’t help but laugh.  Those people had no clue, no clue at all what kind of maelstrom was lying in wait.

Once the last drop of wine was consumed, we tip-toed up the stairs to check on our feral little urchins and to get some much needed rest, because in this house the only certainty of tomorrow is that it will leave me exhausted.

*Okay, maybe not.  But you get the idea.

pictures courtesy of: The Inklings of Life and Emphasis Added

A Weekend Away

023It’s one thing to hear abstract statistics about how many marriages end in divorce.  Statistics include everybody, and lord knows what everybody is doing.  But it’s quite another to watch your friends, the normal people you’ve known for a long time, the ones who have stable relationships and tend to make good choices, go down.

My husband and I have been together long enough to have borne witness to this a few times, most recently over this past holiday.  When people ask me whether I did anything special for New Year’s, I can say yes.  I left the house and my husband close to 11pm, to drive across the city to make sure a friend who wasn’t answering the phone was hanging in there after receiving some particularly distressing news about her marriage, which had already burst into flame in a spectacular way a few weeks earlier.

This kind of thing invariably makes me appreciate my spouse a little more, the relative insignificance of our complaints.  Our friend’s trouble didn’t lead us to take a weekend away just for ourselves – we had planned to do it anyway – but it did form part of the background as we firmed up our plans to go.

We decided to go to a unique bed and breakfast, an urban homestead which practices some truly sustainable living practices that we find inspiring and would like to learn from.  It was just an hour and a half away, and we were gone just over 24 hours in total, but we had to pull out the stops for childcare, with my mother, my sister, and my in-laws all pitching in.  I did the planning and the packing and the shipping of children while my husband was at work (I picked him up there) and I confess that by the time we were starting our trip, I was tired.

But of course it was worth it.  Even the drive offered wide expanses of time to talk, uninterrupted.  The accommodation was simple and lovely, the hostess warm and informative, and we soaked up the tour she gave of her house and farm.  It was an unusually mild winter weekend, so my husband and  walked long into the night, and more during the day, taking in new surroundings, eating meals that were, again, uninterrupted.  We made some exciting plans.  It felt good.

Yet still I find myself thinking about my friend, the one whose marriage wouldn’t have been fortified by any number of weekend jaunts.  I know she will find her way through the mess.  But she’s no statistic, and until she comes out on the other end of this, I’m sending her whatever wishes of comfort and strength that I can.

Follow The Yellow Brick Road

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This weekend I saw the all-Canadian new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz presented by Mirvish Productions.

Based on the 1900 children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum, this production is heavily influenced by the 1939 MGM motion picture starring Judy Garland but with a few surprises and a modern take on some of the classic songs that are instantly recognizable from the first note.

Danielle Wade, the winner of the CBC’s reality show Over the Rainbow holds her own in the spotlight with veteran Canadian performers and delivers a rendition of Over the Rainbow that will leave you with goosebumps.  Wade, voted Canada’s Dorothy, after several weeks of competition proves that she has what it takes to take top billing.

Lisa Horner who plays Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West is nothing short of captivating and when she takes the stage, your eyes will look at nothing but her.

Aside from knock-out performances given by the entire cast, The Wizard of Oz is a visual spectacle from the moment Glinda’s glittering dress graces the stage to the whirl of green shimmer and sparkle that create The Emerald City.

For more information about the show, visit Mirvish and be sure to follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road all the way to the Ed Mirvish Theatre at 244 Victoria St. in Toronto, Ontario.

What was your favourite part of the Wizard of Oz?  Was it Dorothy’s ruby red slippers?  Of the evil flying monkeys?  Have you see this production and if so, what was so memorable about if for you?

image courtesy of Spec.com