Back-To-School Blues

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It’s with great sadness that I write, summer is unofficially over. I always consider back-to-school the “new year” and even though there are technically many more days left of summer, I equate school with Fall and Fall with, “winter’s just around the corner”.

Back-to-school time is when we are bombarded with lists of what we need. Christmas is the only other time of year where wish lists meets crazed parents and the result is a frenzied shopping spree. We’re hoping to make things a bit easier for you with our back-to-school guide of must-haves and nice-to-haves.

Let’s all try to keep our sanity for as long as possible once the busyness of school, work, activities, homework and reports takeover. We’ve got some tips for finding your zen . . . or maybe just surviving the dinner hour!

As always we’ve got some great guests lined up. One mom shares the experience of taking her first-born to kindergarten for the first time, and to contrast another mom bravely shares the emotions she felt as she pulled away from the university dorm for the first time.

Our theme week is definitely going to be “bookmark” worthy because we are sharing our best, time-saving, sanity soothing mom hacks.   The debate over school uniforms and dress codes proves to be a hot-button topic and is this month’s At Issue.

We are introducing a new feature this month What We’re Watching, a roundup of binge-worthy television and movies with the occasional podcast thrown in for good measure.   WWW will replace Best of the Blogosphere and we will continue to share content from fellow bloggers on our Facebook page, so be sure to follow us there and share what you’re reading too!

Wishing you happy school days!

Guest Post: Kristi Ashcroft: “These things they go away; Replaced by Everyday” — R.E.M., Nightswimming

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To my three boys,

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow it’s over. When the school bell rang on June 27, and we were staring ahead at 65 days of unscheduled, unstructured time at our rustic cottage on somewhat remote Manitoulin Island, it seemed both daunting and exhilarating. We all claimed this was what we wanted. But, with no camps booked for any of you this summer, with Dad’s work schedule requiring him in Toronto more than at the cottage, and with few good friends nearby, I felt like I was embarking on a tight rope across a wide chasm. With just the right balance, it could be great. Or it could go another way.

I admit, the bickering almost undid me. “Stop it”, “Owwwwww”, “Mommmmmmmmmm”, “He started it”, “Stop copying me”, “He pinched (kicked, punched, scratched, poked) me”, “He cheated”, “That’s mine”, “I hate you”, “You don’t even know what 45 plus 56 is”, “You suck at hockey,” “You’re an idiot”, “What?”, “What did I do?”.

And that was before breakfast.

I vacillated between refereeing, cajoling, bribing, punishing, peace-brokering, distracting, and out and out losing my mind. None of those strategies seemed to be particularly or consistently effective. One morning, out of fury over some territorial conflict involving a pillow fort, you my littlest one, managed to strip off your pull-up from the night before and bonk your eldest brother over the head with it, thereby causing the diaper to explode and sending pee-soaked polymers across the room where they settled like a yellow-tinged snow. We were only about two weeks into summer and my coffee hadn’t even finished brewing. I promptly declared summer cancelled, and in a further fit of hyperbole, threatened to sell the cottage and use the proceeds to send each of you to summer camp, separately, in perpetuity. Because clearly we couldn’t survive summer together.

But we plodded on. The memories of the fighting do eventually fade to white noise. We can all now laugh at the diaper snow story, and you each delight in regaling others with your part in it. And thank goodness I didn’t throw in the towel. There is so much I would have missed.

First, I would have missed our talks: talks that don’t get cut short or interrupted because there’s a brother to pick up or a practice to get to; talks that stem from your questions, fears or curiosities. We talked about wolves and tornadoes and cancer and dying a lot this summer, though I can’t really explain why those themes recurred. Our “where did I come from” talk started after you learned about an initiative to repopulate the Great Lakes with sturgeon, and I found myself in the somewhat awkward position of having to compare and contrast fish procreation with the human variety. You were captivated by stories of when you were young, and of when we were young, creating a trove of family lore that I hope will stay with you and eventually be retold by you.

We had time to focus on things that often get swept aside during the busy seasons, like manners. You had the chance to hone your skills of being a good guest, a good host and a good neighbour. I don’t want to jinx it, but this summer may have paved the way for 2014 to be declared “The Year Everyone Started Holding Their Fork Correctly,” although I’m guessing you guys won’t remember it that way.

You had more freedom and I got to give it to you. You could ride way ahead on your bike, wander the woods with your brothers, or burst outside on a whim without a corresponding admonition from your mother to “stop at the stop sign”, or “slow down”. I loved observing how you handled the mutually reinforcing responsibility and independence. I also loved that I almost never heard myself say “Hurry up”, “Time to go” or “We’re late.”

I had a chance to shed my roles as chauffeur, guidance counsellor, tutor, nag-in-chief and disciplinarian, and to have the opportunity to just DO things with you. Do things WITH you. The nights we kayaked out past the point so we could see the sun set. The quiet mornings when we felt like we were the first ones to make ripples in the water with our paddles. The bike rides that we’d finish with sprints, pretending we were chasing down a hockey player from the other team who was on a breakaway. The walks where we noticed all the things we miss when we drive that same stretch of country lane. The swims, the saunas and then more swims. The time I got up on water skis for the first time and saw you all cheering me on from the boat. Moms don’t get cheers very often, and we don’t necessarily expect or need them. But when we do get woo-hoos and high fives from our kids, it is incredibly special.

I loved all the games we played together. (OK, except Junior Monopoly. I actually hated Junior Monopoly, with its skewed economics where you’re either enjoying an immediate 100% return on investment, or suffering expropriation of your properties with the mere draw of a Chance card, thereby leaving all participants somewhere on the spectrum between indifferent and incensed by the end of the game). But matching wits with you in Connect Four or Qwirkle, playing series after series of Crazy Eights and Uno, and watching your logical minds at work cracking codes in Mastermind were some of my favourite indoor moments of the summer.

I relished the opportunity to watch you be you. Your true natures reveal themselves when you are responsible for combatting your own boredom. I noticed, without judgment, who was more likely to reach for his hockey stick and who was more likely to work a puzzle. I watched as you would spend hours in character as imaginary brothers who are 12- and 11-years-old, respectively, undertaking no end of wild adventures, Stanley Cup quests, and other complicated plot lines. I was intrigued to hear your takes on the books you read, and was sometimes surprised at which ones you loved and which were just OK. I noticed which friends from school you mentioned and which issues from home permeated our summer bubble. I made a mental note of these for when we return home and other factors sometimes muddy our priorities.

I stopped myself on more than one occasion this summer and wished I could bottle these moments, or that I could hit the pause button and keep you at ages 4, 6 and 8, picking raspberries, catching frogs, chasing sea gulls, digging in mud, jumping on trampolines and letting me read stories to you. The summer felt fleeting, perhaps because I don’t know if conditions will ever permit us to have another 65-day spell like this one.

But now it’s time. Tomorrow I send you back to your real worlds of school and sports and social lives. You’re blonder, taller and tanner than when you left. But I think you’re changed in less visible albeit more permanent ways as well. I know I am. I hope we get to do this again sometime.

Love, Mom

Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London.  She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 4, 6 and 8.

Summer Salads with Jane’s Adventure In Dinner

We’re excited to have Jane from Jane’s Adventure In Dinner as our guest today. Jane’s blog is a go-to for everything from appetizers to desserts. She’s passionate about food like no other, but as a busy mom she also understands that recipes need to be both delicious and do-able. Regardless of your cooking level (ahem, I am still a beginner after all of these years) Jane is the best teacher and you’re in capable hands with her step-by-step instruction . . .accompanied by gorgeous photos!

Today Jane shares simple salads that are perfect for the hot days of summer. Be sure to follow Jane’s website for meal inspiration and instruction. You won’t be disappointed.

Jane’s Summer Salad

I start with a nice big plate and drizzle it with 2 tsp. balsamic glaze.

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I added a layer (about 1 ½ cups) of spring greens.

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I took a firm pear (I’m a sucker for Anjou) and cut it into 6 wedges. I took out the core and started to lay it on the greens.

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Add 3 T Roquefort (or your favourite blue cheese) to the centre. Don’t like blue cheese? How about some Boursin or an herby cream cheese?

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Fold the pear pieces back together, top with toasted walnuts and drizzle with a really good quality olive oil.

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Drizzle on a bit more glaze . . .

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And add cracked pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Classic Salad Update

We seem to just live off the bbq in the summer.

I love to cook but I really like to keep the house cool and I’m not a huge fan of running the air conditioning all the time.

We’ve gotten used to having our little 1950’s bungalow vent itself for the most part and even though it’s lots bigger after the reno (yes, I promise to finally get all the pictures together this summer, I’ve got 1000’s) we designed the build to allow for our original airflow.

Having said that, if the oven is on all the time then nothing can keep the house cool so bbq it is.

I’ve been playing with a number of salad recipes lately that I’ll be sharing with everyone in the next couple of weeks but this is one that we’ve now had at least six times since I was happy with the recipe.

Hope you love it too.

To serve four adults for an appetizer start with four romaine hearts cut in half.

Bring them to room temperature, drizzle with olive oil, 3 crushed garlic cloves and lots of crushed, crunchy black pepper.

Let sit for 30 minutes.

Grill on high on each side JUST until a little charred.  This is about 30 seconds a side.

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While your one and only is grilling your lettuce (thinking that you are totally mental with your weird cooking ideas), crisp pancetta (I got super thin pieces that you blink at and they are cooked), or cook four really good pieces of bacon and crumble.

Put your yummy lettuce on a platter and top with; bacon/pancetta, slivers of parmesan, chunky croutons…

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drizzle with lemon juice.

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Plate one half per person (trust me, folks will be back for the other half) with plenty of pancetta and drizzle with balsamic glaze (you can find this all over the place OR boil balsamic until it is half its volume).

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Follow Jane on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

Grilled Chicken & Fresh Veggie Pasta Salad by Sylvia of Sylvia’s Simple Life

I am excited to introduce our first guest for the month, Sylvia of Sylvia’s Simple Life. Sylvia’s blog is the loveliest nook of the blogosphere. Her photos are stunning and celebrate the beauty and joy in the simple things that make up life.   My favourite post is one of her more recent, Lilac Mornings. Sylvia thoughtfully reflects on lilacs, fragility, nature, beauty and life without being overly saccharine or maudlin. Instead, I feel like she has granted me permission to enjoy the moment and join her in reflection. Treat yourself and spend some time visiting Sylvia’s blog or follow her on Instagram to see beauty in the everyday.

Today Sylvia shares one of her simple summer recipes.

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Grilled Chicken & Fresh Veggie Pasta Salad

Grilled Chicken & Fresh Veggie Pasta Salad

Summer is here and I cannot think of a better time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures and to eat fresh, honest, simple dishes. Summer abounds with colorful treasures of the field ­– from juicy ripe tomatoes, green beans and sweet peppers through fragrant basil and lavender to fresh berries, apricots and melon. Farmer’s markets are operating at full speed giving to those who do not have their own gardens an opportunity to buy local and eat seasonal, something I have committed myself to long ago. Summer also comes with cooking techniques that are easy, straightforward and quick – who wants, in the heat of the season, to be simmering dishes for hours – and there is no need to; simply let the fresh vibrant products do the work. With this simple, easy and delicious pasta salad I am about to share, you can do just that. Full of gorgeous colors and flavors, this market-inspired recipe, truly my family favorite highlights the season’s best and freshest ingredients. Perfect for a potluck, a casual summer get-together or a weeknight dinner whether as a side dish (you can omit the grilled chicken) or a main meal. Put it in a jar and you have a picnic-perfect pasta salad.

Feel free to improvise, make my family favorite recipe your family recipe and do not forget that “when you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simple and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is”, one of my favorite advices from Alice Water. It’s really just that simple and as easy as, well, the summer itself.

GRILLED CHICKEN & FRESH VEGGIE PASTA SALAD

Ingredients:
—————
1-2 skinless chicken breasts
4 tbsp. white wine
2 tbsp. olive oil
375g tri-colour vegetable rotini, or whole-wheat fusilli

250g (1 box) heirloom cherry tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
2 green onions, chopped into thin slices

200g fresh green peas
Parmesan cheese
fresh basil

Oil and vinegar dressing
——————————-
8 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
minced garlic

salt and pepper

Directions:

—————-
Marinate chicken breasts for 10-15 minutes in white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill each side of the skinless chicken breasts. It only takes a few minutes per side over direct medium-high heat for them to be brown, beautifully moist and evenly cooked. Let them cool.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool. Boil green peas in salted water for 3-5 minutes or until bright green and tender crisp. In the meantime, cut heirloom cherry tomatoes in half. Slice pepper halves into strips about 1/4″ wide. Combine all vegetables in a large salad bowl. Add pasta and the sliced chicken breasts.
To prepare the dressing whisk garlic, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper together.
Add the dressing to the salad.
Toss with Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.

ENJOY!

Grilled Chicken & Fresh Veggie Pasta Salad

Grilled Chicken & Fresh Veggie Pasta Salad

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Grilled Chicken Breast

Grilled Chicken Breast

Guest Post: Kristi Ashcroft: “These things they go away; Replaced by Everyday” — R.E.M., Nightswimming

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To my three boys,

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow it’s over. When the school bell rang on June 27, and we were staring ahead at 65 days of unscheduled, unstructured time at our rustic cottage on somewhat remote Manitoulin Island, it seemed both daunting and exhilarating. We all claimed this was what we wanted. But, with no camps booked for any of you this summer, with Dad’s work schedule requiring him in Toronto more than at the cottage, and with few good friends nearby, I felt like I was embarking on a tight rope across a wide chasm. With just the right balance, it could be great. Or it could go another way.

I admit, the bickering almost undid me. “Stop it”, “Owwwwww”, “Mommmmmmmmmm”, “He started it”, “Stop copying me”, “He pinched (kicked, punched, scratched, poked) me”, “He cheated”, “That’s mine”, “I hate you”, “You don’t even know what 45 plus 56 is”, “You suck at hockey,” “You’re an idiot”, “What?”, “What did I do?”.

And that was before breakfast.

I vacillated between refereeing, cajoling, bribing, punishing, peace-brokering, distracting, and out and out losing my mind. None of those strategies seemed to be particularly or consistently effective. One morning, out of fury over some territorial conflict involving a pillow fort, you my littlest one, managed to strip off your pull-up from the night before and bonk your eldest brother over the head with it, thereby causing the diaper to explode and sending pee-soaked polymers across the room where they settled like a yellow-tinged snow. We were only about two weeks into summer and my coffee hadn’t even finished brewing. I promptly declared summer cancelled, and in a further fit of hyperbole, threatened to sell the cottage and use the proceeds to send each of you to summer camp, separately, in perpetuity. Because clearly we couldn’t survive summer together.

But we plodded on. The memories of the fighting do eventually fade to white noise. We can all now laugh at the diaper snow story, and you each delight in regaling others with your part in it. And thank goodness I didn’t throw in the towel. There is so much I would have missed.

First, I would have missed our talks: talks that don’t get cut short or interrupted because there’s a brother to pick up or a practice to get to; talks that stem from your questions, fears or curiosities. We talked about wolves and tornadoes and cancer and dying a lot this summer, though I can’t really explain why those themes recurred. Our “where did I come from” talk started after you learned about an initiative to repopulate the Great Lakes with sturgeon, and I found myself in the somewhat awkward position of having to compare and contrast fish procreation with the human variety. You were captivated by stories of when you were young, and of when we were young, creating a trove of family lore that I hope will stay with you and eventually be retold by you.

We had time to focus on things that often get swept aside during the busy seasons, like manners. You had the chance to hone your skills of being a good guest, a good host and a good neighbour. I don’t want to jinx it, but this summer may have paved the way for 2014 to be declared “The Year Everyone Started Holding Their Fork Correctly,” although I’m guessing you guys won’t remember it that way.

You had more freedom and I got to give it to you. You could ride way ahead on your bike, wander the woods with your brothers, or burst outside on a whim without a corresponding admonition from your mother to “stop at the stop sign”, or “slow down”. I loved observing how you handled the mutually reinforcing responsibility and independence. I also loved that I almost never heard myself say “Hurry up”, “Time to go” or “We’re late.”

I had a chance to shed my roles as chauffeur, guidance counsellor, tutor, nag-in-chief and disciplinarian, and to have the opportunity to just DO things with you. Do things WITH you. The nights we kayaked out past the point so we could see the sun set. The quiet mornings when we felt like we were the first ones to make ripples in the water with our paddles. The bike rides that we’d finish with sprints, pretending we were chasing down a hockey player from the other team who was on a breakaway. The walks where we noticed all the things we miss when we drive that same stretch of country lane. The swims, the saunas and then more swims. The time I got up on water skis for the first time and saw you all cheering me on from the boat. Moms don’t get cheers very often, and we don’t necessarily expect or need them. But when we do get woo-hoos and high fives from our kids, it is incredibly special.

I loved all the games we played together. (OK, except Junior Monopoly. I actually hated Junior Monopoly, with its skewed economics where you’re either enjoying an immediate 100% return on investment, or suffering expropriation of your properties with the mere draw of a Chance card, thereby leaving all participants somewhere on the spectrum between indifferent and incensed by the end of the game). But matching wits with you in Connect Four or Qwirkle, playing series after series of Crazy Eights and Uno, and watching your logical minds at work cracking codes in Mastermind were some of my favourite indoor moments of the summer.

I relished the opportunity to watch you be you. Your true natures reveal themselves when you are responsible for combatting your own boredom. I noticed, without judgment, who was more likely to reach for his hockey stick and who was more likely to work a puzzle. I watched as you would spend hours in character as imaginary brothers who are 12- and 11-years-old, respectively, undertaking no end of wild adventures, Stanley Cup quests, and other complicated plot lines. I was intrigued to hear your takes on the books you read, and was sometimes surprised at which ones you loved and which were just OK. I noticed which friends from school you mentioned and which issues from home permeated our summer bubble. I made a mental note of these for when we return home and other factors sometimes muddy our priorities.

I stopped myself on more than one occasion this summer and wished I could bottle these moments, or that I could hit the pause button and keep you at ages 4, 6 and 8, picking raspberries, catching frogs, chasing sea gulls, digging in mud, jumping on trampolines and letting me read stories to you. The summer felt fleeting, perhaps because I don’t know if conditions will ever permit us to have another 65-day spell like this one.

But now it’s time. Tomorrow I send you back to your real worlds of school and sports and social lives. You’re blonder, taller and tanner than when you left. But I think you’re changed in less visible albeit more permanent ways as well. I know I am. I hope we get to do this again sometime.

Love, Mom

Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London.  She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 4, 6 and 8.

Theme Week: Summer Drinks Series

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What better way to cool off during a steamy summer night with a delicious cocktail? Earlier this summer I was invited to Minute Maid Cocktails & Creation hosted by Lena Almeida of the blog Listen to Lena.

We were treated to creations using Minute Maid Light Lemonade and Minute Maid Light Orange Juice created by food and entertaining expert and cooking instructor Nadine Hughes.

The event proved to be inspiring! This week we are sharing our favourite summer drinks that are perfect for an afternoon BBQ with friends or a date-night on the porch after the kids are tucked-in.

Our guest for this week is Aly from The Newlywed Life. Her lifestyle blog is a collection of healthy recipes, creative DIYs, affordable fashion and pretty fabulous parties; plus she’s my sister-in-law so I have it on good authority that she mixes up a tasty cocktail!

In the meantime, here are Nadine’s specialty cocktails for you to enjoy!

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Blueberry Lemon Pops

*makes approximately 8-10 pops. Preparation time: 20 min + 4-5 hours for freezing. Cooking time: 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

For the blueberry lemon sauce:

½ cup (125 mL) water

1 cup (250 mL) Minute Maid Light Lemonade

1 cup (200 g) sugar

2 cups fresh blueberries

2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoon water, in a small cup

For the frozen yogurt:

½ cup (125 mL) water

¼ cup (50 g) sugar

2 cup plain Greek yogurt

To make:

The blueberry lemon sauce:

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add wate, Minute Maid Light Lemonade and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the blueberries, increase heat to high and bring ot a boil. Reduce heat back to medium, add cornstarch/water mixture and stir until mixture is thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

The lemon yogurt:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Once cool, fold in the plain yogurt until combined.

To assemble your pops:

In a frozen ice pop mould, fill the moulds ¼ the way up with the lemon yogurt mixture. Fill the next ¼ with blueberry lemon sauce and then repeat layers one more time. Freeze the pops for 4-5 hours or overnight.

Adult Option:

When making the lemon yogurt, replace ¼ cup (65 mL) water with ¼ cup (65 mL) Italian lemon liqueur and follow the same directions. Remember to drink responsibly.

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Toasted Coconut Orange Macarooni

*Makes 1 drink

Ingredients:

3 oz Minute Maid Light Orange Juice

2 oz Zico Pure Premuim Coconut Water

1 oz Light Coconut Milk

Ice

Garnish (enough for 3-4 drinks)

1 cup of toasted shredded unsweetened coconut flakes

¼ cup (65 mL) Minute Maid Light Orange Juice

Orange wheels

Pineapple triangles

To make:

The toasted coconut:

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup of coconut flakes and cook, stirring frequently, until the flakes are mostly golden brown. Remove from heat and let cool.

To rim the glass:

Put ¼ (65 mL) Minute Maid Light Orange Juice in a shallow bowl or saucer. Put the cooled coconut flakes into another shallow bowl or saucer. Turn a chilled martini glass upside down and dip the rim of the glass first into the orange juice and then into the coconut flakes.

The cocktail:

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the Minute Maid Light Orange Juice, Zico Pure Premium Coconut Water and coconut milk. Shake and strain into an orange-coconut rimmed martini glass. Garnish with a wheel of orange, triangle or pineapple and enjoy!

Adult Option:

Add 1.5 oz of coconut flavoured rum into the cocktail shaker and continue with the directions. Remember to please drink responsibly.

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Lemon Ginger Punch

*Makes 9 ½ cups (2.25 L)

Ingredients:

½ English cucumber, cut into thin rounds

Small handful of fresh mint leaves

1 lemon cut into thin rounds

7 cups (1.75 mL) Minute Maid Light Lemonade

2 ½ cups (625 mL) Ginger-Ale

Crushed ice

Garnish:

Thin rounds of English cucumber

Fresh mint leaves

Thin rounds of fresh lemon slices

To make:

In a large pitcher or punch bowl, add the cucumber, mint and lemons, reserving some for garnish. Add the Minute Maid Light Lemonade and using a wooden spoon, stir until combined. (Note: you can make this in advance and refrigerate for a few hours allowing the fruits and vegetables to infuse the liquid.) Just before serving, add the Ginger-Ale and stir. To serve, fill a tall glass with crushed ice and pour mixture over top. Garnish individual glasses with a sprig of mint, cucumber round and lemon round.

Adult Option:

Add 2 cups (500 mL) of Gin based liqueur when you add the Minute Maid Light Lemonade. Stir and continue with recipe. Remember to drink responsibly.

Looking for some more delicious ways to enjoy Minute Maid Light? How about baked sweet potato fries with orange curry dip or fruit salad ice pops? Click through for the recipes!

Don’t forget to share with us your favourite summer mocktail or cocktail in the comment section.

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.

Summer Smiles

At the risk of sounding all Goopy or Oprah-ish, here are some things that I have come across this summer that just make my day. How about you? What has been your favourite summer find?

My Quotable Kid – a journal

Every parent has stories of funny things their kids say. Like this summer my three year old told me that I was “taking away all of his fun” when I thwarted his attempt to “fly” from a high surface whilewearing a blanket for a cape and a helmet. That’s me – a total meanie.

Window writers to identify drinking glasses

I stole this one from my sister-in-law. She solved the problem of the Mystery Glass. After a few wine spritzers or fruity cosmo’s the inevitable begins: “Is that my glass?”

Charms don’t work for my absent-minded friends who are too busy tracking their three year olds to remember whether they are the pink stiletto or the martini olives. Use Crayola Window Writers to scribble each person’s name on their glass.

Kids love this. Adults love this. The joker in the crowd loves this -some interesting nicknames might be revealed after round two.

Twist ‘N Sparkle Carbonator from Williams-Sonoma

I must confess that I read about this carbonator in O Magazine. The boys and I love bubbly water (actually, I pretty much love all things bubbly) so in effort to reduce my inflated San Pellegrino tab, I purchased one of these. The boys and I have had fun making carbonated O.J. and other fun umbrella-type drinks. I am definitely the party-hit when I twist the carbonator and we watch the bubbles fizz.

I have to hand it to my husband for creating the best cocktail of the summer – lemonade, vodka, Cointreau and a splash of lime cordial mixed together and then carbonated. So yummy, it comes dangerously close to fourth baby territory. (Don’t worry – not really!)

Cars 2 pancake molds and flippers from Williams-Sonoma

And while I was picking up the carbonator, I saw these spatulas and pancake molds. The perfect way to spend the morning while nursing a carbonated cocktail hangover 🙂

No Summer Boredom, Just the Regular Kind

Summer boredom hasn’t really hit our house of young children yet, mostly because our summer doesn’t look that much different from the rest of the year.  The main change is that my older son (5) isn’t going to afternoon JK anymore (2.5 hours).  I considered enrolling my younger son (3) in part-time preschool but he wasn’t taken with it, so that got postponed.  My husband and I are still working part-time and taking care of the kids mostly ourselves, with the shift that I’ve just started my maternity leave (no child yet ) so I’m home a lot more.

So no summer boredom, just the regular kind, from time to time.  Without a name (currently, gratefully), but evident when a restless child lolls about on a couch and whinnies.

Sometimes, at times like these, I reflect upon the limited structured activities we provide for our kids.  My older son has soccer once a week; my younger son music classes.  No camps – not yet – just playdates.  We intentionally keep structured activities low to encourage initiative and creative play, and because that’s the rhythm that fits better with our lives.

I know that the world outside the home can be filled with excitement and adventure, and of course this must be explored in time.  But I also think that home can be a special place for centering oneself and a source of fulfillment too.  Our children are welcomed and participate in our everyday lives, as well as their parents’ interests.  So my husband gives them squash lessons (he’s a coaching pro), takes the kids swimming and biking almost everyday, and they do the gardening and yardwork together.  With me it’s cooking and baking, crafting, and reading.

Our kids also know very well the routines of laundry, dishes, and broom and dustpan.  They are thoroughly acquainted with the grocery, hardward, and bike repair shop.  My older son pumps gas for the car.

I read Nathalie’s post on boredom earlier this week and it gave me pause.  I remember being painfully idle and lonely during my childhood summers – there was no money, no caregiver, and no inkling about kid activities to pass the summertime.  I can totally relate to Nathalie’s desire to keep her kids eons away from that reality.

I hope my husband and I are doing that, albeit through a different route.   There is some money; we, the caregivers, and are around most of the time; and whatever mistakes we are making, we do have honest inklings about spending time together and making fun for ourselves.

I suppose that as much as I don’t want to under-stimulate my children, neither do I want to become their entertainer or their entertainment manager.  I hope that while they enjoy capital A activities, they will also, after some restless minutes lolling about on the couch on a slow day, meander into the garden and poke at leaves and bugs and notice how a green tomato tastes different from a red one.  I feel pleasure when, after playing for ages in a kiddie pool I set out for them in the backyard, my kids wander onto the back porch with spray bottles and spontaneously start washing the windows of our house.  It’s about balance, I suppose, and our scales all tip at a different point.  But for me, when the squeals and laughter of the water play – which I loved and recorded – are done, I find the quiet focus and engagement in my small window washers equally rich.