Week #1 Family Learning Report – Laughter & Fun

fun

We kicked off our first Summer Learning week with Laughter & Fun as the topic to set the tone for an enjoyable summer break. We brainstormed some ideas as a family and this is what we came up with:

– See a funny movie (Despicable Me 2 was hilarious!)
– Water balloon fight (we blew up 20 but the toddler smashed them all before we could have a proper battle. We’ll try again soon)
– Pull off a prank (this one is still in the works….)
– Dance Party (we shook our booties in the living room to Macklemore, The Black Eyed Peas and Robin Thicke)
– Sleep outside in the tent (too hot but planned for this week if it cools down)
– Learn some good clean jokes (Why did the spider cross the road? To get to his web site!)

Although we didn’t hit everything on our list, we did have a mostly enjoyable week as the kids and I settled in to our new routine of spending a lot more time together (translation: the first few days were frustrating and challenging dealing with the incessant fighting. Arghhh!)
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Summer Family Fun & Learning

Over the years as I’ve learned, read and taken courses on a variety of wellness related topics, I have often thought about how much I would love bring my children along to these classes or find age-appropriate ways to impart the valuable information I’ve received. I believe in general kids are much more open-minded when it comes to learning new things and although I appreciate the education they are getting at school, it would be awesome if they could also take courses in subjects like mindfulness, kindness, manifesting, self-acceptance, gratitude and health eating.

meditation

Since no such program exists in my area (although my friend Leslie is working on something for the fall- woohoo!), I decided that I would take it upon myself to dream up a fun learning experience to undertake with my kids during some of my time with them this summer. I know, I know – “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks!” I’ve already promised them that this won’t be like school and we will still have lots of time for chillin’ by the pool, playing crazy 8’s and hanging with friends. I’ll only list a theme for the week and together we will brainstorm ideas for a couple of things we can do to explore that topic (and yes, I am prepared for some sighing and eye rolling as we get started).
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NYC Surprise

My sister had a milestone birthday last week so as a special surprise my mom and I took her to New York City for the weekend. We tricked her into taking a Friday off work and then picked her up early and whisked her off to the airport. There is nothing better than pulling off a great surprise and the look on her face when we told her the news was priceless!

Since the weekend was my sister’s celebration, my mom and I wanted to make sure we focused in on her favourite things. And that of course really meant only one thing- shopping! We literally shopped until we dropped (well mom and I did – my sister kept going ; ) and we managed to squeak in some great meals, site-seeing and attractions in between stores. Here are a few highlights of our trip as inspiration in case you are considering a little getaway to the Big Apple:

1. The Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square – any great trip requires a fantastic place to say and we absolutely love the Marriott Marquis. This is the third time I’ve stayed at this particular hotel (we even stayed here with the kids 2 summers ago) and I am impressed every time. Conveniently located in bustling Times Square, this high-rise hotel has a modern space age design and the service is always impressive. In addition to nicely appointed and spacious rooms, there is also a Starbucks in the lobby (booyah!), a beautiful bakery and store on the 8th floor, 3 super cool restaurants and lovely glass elevators that go all the way to the top of the hotel (very handy when you are travelling with a couple of closet claustrophobics like my mom and I).

nyc marriott

2. Juniors Restaurant and Bakery– right across from the Marriott Marquis, this restaurant and bakery is the perfect spot to grab breakfast before a busy day of site-seeing and shopping. The place is packed all day long because they serve up big helpings of delicious home-cooked food and although we’ve only ever enjoyed breakfast – the freshly baked desserts look incredible.

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3. Walking, walking and more walking – because our hotel was in the heart of Times Square, we were able to walk around our neighbourhood with lots to see and enjoy while feeling very safe. We strolled by the NBC Building and Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, all around the billboards and crazy action in Times Square, the shops on 5th Ave (and Trump Hotel) and all the way up to Central Park. We also took a cab to Soho (see below) and strolled for hours and even hiked a good hour home from a gourmet dinner on Friday night while gawking at the stunning million-dollar high-rise apartments on Park Avenue.

4. Candle 79 Restaurant– I booked our dinner reservations and I was thrilled to get us in to this vegan hot spot on Friday night. Located on 79th and 3rd, this dining establishment even made it on to the VegNews Vegan Bucket List of 99 Things You Must Do. The food and wine were superb and we all agreed that this was well worth the higher end price tag. We split appetizers of steamed dumplings over wilted greens and smoked hummus with pitas and then tucked into main courses of Spaghetti and “Wheat” Balls, Moroccan Chickpea Cakes and Pumpkin Seed Crusted Tempeh. Everything was scrumptious and our only complaint was that we were too darn stuffed for dessert.

nyc - candle 79

5. Shopping in Soho– on our last trip to the city, my mom arranged for us to do a guided shopping tour in the Garment District and it was an adventure not to be missed. But since we’d already experienced it, we decided to try something different so we hopped a taxi down to Soho for the day. We had a blast popping in and out of unique and interesting boutiques set along the cobblestone streets of this quaint neighbourhood. It’s so interesting seeing chic art galleries and small boutiques situated beside well-known stores like Anthropologie and Lulu Lemon. And a highlight for my reality tv junkie sister and myself? Stopping in to the Kardashian sister’s store Dash!

nyc soho

6. Pedicab ride through Central Park– we had planned to do a bike trip through Central Park on our last day in the city, but as we approached the park a friendly young man walked up to us and offered us a few suggestions. Although he said the bikes were fun, he recommended a pedicab ride instead with himself as our driver. He assured us this would be a much better way to learn about the park as he would act as tour guide and teach us all about the wonders of this New York landmark. I’ll admit that I wasn’t so sure at first (and we all felt a bit guilty having the poor guy lug us up and down the hills) but it turned out to be an unexpected highlight of our trip. If you are in the city, you’ve got to find our amazing tour guide Tao (he was outside the Plaza Hotel at the 5th Avenue entrance of the park). He was the most lovely fellow and gave us a wonderful, funny and informative tour that was well worth the $90 price tag.

nyc pedicab

7. New York Style Pizza– although I generally don’t eat much cheese, no trip to New York City would be complete without a slice of NY-style pizza  and we snuck in a couple of slices at different spots this time around. On our last trip to the city, we trekked down to Lombardi’s for some of the most amazing pizza I’ve ever tasted. This time we grabbed a slice in Soho which was good but a bit oily for our taste and later in the weekend we stayed closer to our hotel and went to John’s Pizzeria for a much crisper and delicious pie. I learned that most New Yorkers fold their thin-crust style pizza in half to make it more manageable – I wish we’d know that before we dripped sauce all over ourselves!

nyc pizza

8.  Cocktails at Rockafeller Plaza– Just being in Rockefeller Center is impressive enough – I’m always blown away by the 30 Rock building, the flags, the stores and the people watching. But set beneath the center of the plaza is a charming little café that was calling to my mother and I after 3 long days of shopping. While my fearless sister pressed on, my mom and I settled in for a well-deserved cocktail (I had a mojito and she had sangria) and the most delicious nachos and fresh guacamole. The perfect spot to put your feet up and watch the hustle and bustle of the city.

nyc rock

Of course there are countless wonderful things to do in New York City and this is only the tip of the iceberg. We didn’t get to fit in a Broadway Show, ride the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus, visit the 9/11 Memorial site, cross the Brooklyn Bridge, enjoy the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, shop at the crazy and fun Century 21, walk on the historic High Line, experience a swishy cocktail in a fancy night club or take the lift to the top of the Empire State Building this time around among other things on our to-do list. I’m also convinced you could live in that city for a year or more and go out to dine every day and never eat at the same place twice. Talk about fun!

I personally can’t wait for my next visit to NYC. And just in case someone near and dear to me is thinking of maybe booking a trip for me for my next big birthday (hint, hint) – I’m always ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple!

Happy Birthday Jodi!

*** P.S. If you are planning to go to NYC with your children, I’d highly recommend The American Girl Store for “tea” and shopping, the Lego Store in Rockefeller Center, FAO Schartz, Toys R Us in Times Square (you gotta ride the ferris wheel!),  the M & M Store in Times Square, Central Park, The Museum of Natural History and a kid-friendly Broadway Show.

Chocolate Fondue Fun

We recently had our good friends and their 4 children stay with us for the weekend. There were 11 of us in total and I really wanted to cook a homemade meal for everyone to enjoy. Coming up with a delicious plant-based dinner to please the entire crowd took some serious thinking and planning – but the dessert was an absolute no-brainer. It had to be chocolate fondue!

corbin

Doesn’t that adorable face just say it all?! I guarantee you this dessert will elicit loads of giggles, squeals of delight and gobs of chocolate on hands, clothes, the floor and all over faces. What fun! And hey – everyone will be eating a ton of fruit and soaking in antioxidants from the chocolate. It’s win-win.

You can get fancy and purchase a proper chocolate fondue set but I just melt my chocolate in a saucepan and then transfer it to a bowl, put it in the middle of a fruit platter, hand out some forks or wooden skewers and let the good times begin.

7 children and 4 adults – CHAOS. Lifeguarding the kids in the pool – STRESSFUL. Trying to reminisce about university days over the cacophony – TRICKY. Losing a euchre tournament to the guys yet again – FRUSTRATING. Sipping wine and watching chocolate drip down our smiling kid’s faces- PRICELESS.

Chocolate Fondue

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1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips (vegan or regular)
1 tsp coconut oil
2 bananas, chopped
1 container or strawberries, washed and stems removed
1/4 pineapple, cut into chunks
3 apples, sliced
Optional: marshmallows, plain cookies or cake cut into cubes, pretzels, orange slices, grapes, kiwi – or anything you love dipped in chocolate!

Cut up fruit and other dipping items and lay them out on a large tray or platter.
Melt chocolate and coconut oil in a saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently.
Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Place in the middle of the fruit tray.
Hand out skewers or forks and enjoy!

10 Hilarious Ways to Lighten Things Up

I don’t know about you but I can sometimes take myself and life in general far too seriously. I’ll hear the latest gloom and doom story on the news and immediately start to fret about the state of the world. Or I’ll get down about an especially busy week on our schedule or a conflict with one of my children and I’ll blow it up as an imminent disaster. I’m already prone to worrying so it only takes something small to turn things into a crisis in my mind.

They say laughter is the best medicine and I know I always feel better after a good chuckle. I am becoming more mindful of when I start heading down the path of catastrophizing a situation and I gently remind myself to lighten up already. I have found that smiling, acting goofy or enjoying something  funny can totally change my mood and my outlook on life. And this works equally well with my children. When they are feeling especially blue- nothing is better than a good joke, a funny movie, an off-color remark from their impish 3-year old brother or a well-timed fart from my husband to remind them that life doesn’t have to be so heavy.

If you and your loved ones would like to try out some laughter therapy, here 10 ways I’ve found to really bust a gut:

1. Modern Family – the one television show that my husband and I always watch together is Modern Family and we laugh out loud during every episode. The writing is brilliant and I guarantee it will crack you up (we also love 30 Rock and The Office if you want to keep the good times rolling).

modernfamily

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey – Tina Fey is one of the smartest female comedians ever and her book Bossypants had me in stitches from beginning to end. It is well-written and hilarious and I even learned a few new words along the way (FUPA!)

bossypants

3. Kicking & Screaming – Will Ferrell is one of my favourite male actors and this family-friendly movie is a must-see for viewers of all ages. My kids adore it and have probably watched it a few dozen times and they laugh just as hard at each viewing.  We also love Will Ferrell in Elf and my husband is a big fan of his website FunnyorDie.com but be advised that most of the content on that site is for adults only (Will is also hilarious in Old School but again this is definitely for an 18 and over crowd)

kickingandscreaming

4. Stand-Up Comedy – whether it’s at a live performance or a pre-recorded show, there are some fantastic comedians out there who will make you laugh hysterically. My personal favourites are Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld, Russell Peters, Daniel Tosh, Eddie Murphy and Jeff Foxworthy. Many of their stand-up routines are available on Netflix, On Demand or DVD.

russellpeters

5. Funny 820 AM– I spend a fair amount of time in the car travelling back and forth to Toronto for voice work and I stumbled upon a gem of a radio station while I was flipping around the AM dial looking for the news. I am so happy I found Funny 820AM as opposed to the dreary daily news because I am totally addicted to this 24-hour comedy channel. I now spend my time in the car laughing as opposed to obsessing over the latest tragedy or crisis.

funny 820

6. Diary of A Wimpy Kid (books and movies)- we bought the first Wimpy Kid book for my son a few years ago on our way home from a long road trip and he honestly killed himself laughing the whole way home. Both of my older children devoured every book in the series and the movies are just as entertaining. Even my husband and I found ourselves chuckling away watching the films and the opening scene at the public pool in the latest movie is my all-time favourite! (Captain Underpants and Dumb Bunnies by Dave Pilkey, The Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce, Mercy Watson books by Katie DiCamillo and Leslie Patricelli books for toddlers are also hilarious choices)

diarywimpykid

7. Kid Snippets– thank you to my friends Peyton, Parker, Corbin and Scarlett for turning me on to these hilarious vignettes on YouTube that have my whole family cracking up. It’s hard to describe these videos and you have to watch a couple to get the gist of it but basically, the producers recorded conversations between young children and had grown-up actors perform them. My favourites are Cooking Show, Fast Food, Salesman, Basketball Class and Math Class.

kidsnippets

8. A Good Joke – my dad is a master joke-teller and he is always the first one at a party to pipe up with a hilarious zinger. He relies on his own personal repertoire that he has honed by retelling his best material over the years but you can find some funny and family-friendly jokes at Funology.com and  Enchanted Learning.com. And here’s a goodie to try out on the younger crowd:

Knock, Knock.

Who’s There?

Smell Mop.

Smell Mop who?

(Gotta love potty humour!)

9. The Encyclopedia of Immaturity– friend’s of ours recommended this book a couple of years ago and it has been a source of endless funny activities and suggestions. Thanks to this book – my kids can successfully remove their underwear without taking off their pants! Genius!

immaturity10. Regular Show -my kids and my nieces and nephew are obsessed with this show and can often be heard quoting some kooky line of dialogue from one of the characters. Yes this is a cartoon but it’s actually quite funny and well-written and definitely worth a watch. Other favourites include Phineas & Ferb and Adventure Time.

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I hope these suggestions will add some lightness and merriment to your life and that you will share the fun with your family and friends. To wrap up – here are a few tweets from funny-man Will Ferrell to leave you laughing:

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My Kitchen Helper and Oat Flour Pancakes

I have a “helper” in the kitchen when I am whipping up most of my culinary masterpieces. He is about 2 feet tall, has blue eyes, blond hair, a killer smile and he’s been known to throw a measuring cup full of almond milk across the kitchen in a fit of rage. No I am not talking about a mini-Gordon Ramsey – it’s my feisty and adorable 2 year old son.

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Most of the time I enjoy his “help” and the way he loves to stir every batter, pour every ingredient and lick every spoon (not so keen to try my muffins now are you?) but sometimes he truly drives me nuts. Like the time he dumped an entire bowl of flour all over the floor. Or the time he spilled beet juice on my marble island. Or the aforementioned “almond milk incident”.

But I know all too soon he will be skipping off to school with his brother and sister and I will be alone in my kitchen missing his company and longing for the days when he was so eager to pull up his chair and assist me in any foodie endeavor.

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My little helper definitely has some strong opinions about my cooking and baking (beet salad = “that tastes terrible mommy”) but his very favourite thing of all to make has gotta be pancakes. Since I am on Day 19 of my Kathy Freston cleanse, I decided to enlist the help of my assistant in whipping up a batch of pancakes that would be tasty and still adhere to my requirements of no gluten, sugar or animal products.

I started by making a fruit puree to use as a topping on my pancakes (the kids and my hubby just stuck to maple syrup). Then my helper and I ground up our own GF oats to make the flour, stirred in some milk and coconut oil and in no time at all we had whipped up a delicious meal. These pancakes are yummy but they are actually more like a big oatmeal cookie when you cook them – crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

These giant cookie/pancakes make a delicious breakfast and a fun dinner that the whole family will love. And if you are interested giving them a try and you’d like to enlist the help of an eager toddler smack dab in the middle of his terrible twos- give me a call ; )

Oat Flour Pancakes with Fruit Puree

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1 1/2 cups oat flour (I ground my own GF oats in a food processor but you could simply buy oat flour)
1/2 cup barley flour
2 flax eggs (2 tbsp. of flax meal mixed with 1/2 cup of water – let stand to get goopy)
2 cups of almond milk
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir. Heat a frying pan over medium high heat and grease with earth balance or organic butter. Pour 1/2 cup circles of batter on the frying pan and cook until bubbles form. Flip cakes and press down with the spatula to flatten slightly. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Serve with fruit puree and/or syrup, fresh fruit and chopped pecans.

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Fruit Puree

2 cups pitted medjool dates
2 apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Put all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer on low heat for 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. When cool, place in a high-powered blender or food processor and puree.

Enjoy!

Kids Cook Night #1

Sometimes I get a tad resentful of all of the things I do for my family that they seemingly take completely for granted. Do you ever feel that way? Grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, planning, and on and on. It can really get me down. Yes the kids are responsible for their bedrooms and for a few other small chores around the house but the bulk of the work is really done by my husband and myself.

Instead of complaining and whining (tactics I’ve definitely tried in the past), I decided I would do something about it and thus “Kids Cook” night was born! We chatted about it as a family and the kids were actually quite excited to give it a try. The deal was that they come up with the menu (I would grocery shop for their items) and then they had to prepare it all and clean up the kitchen afterwards. We agreed that 1 night per week was their turn to be set loose in the kitchen.

Since my children are 11, 9 and 2, the older two are quite capable of reading recipes, prepping and chopping food and working around the stove- and the toddler is super helpful if you are looking for someone to taste test while sitting on the table and/or make a huge mess ; )

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On night #1 their menu was as follows:

Nachos and Cheese
Guacamole
Spanish Rice
Edamame

Not too shabby and since most of the items would work on my cleanse I was quite excited to see it all come together. When their night rolled around my daughter got right to work on the Spanish Rice. She totally rocked at following the recipe and she even chopped the onion by herself- while sporting a snazzy pair of her dad’s safety goggles to protect her eyes. She enlisted the help of her little brother when it came time to make the guacamole because she knew he would be a good avocado musher and he was only too pleased to sample the dip as she adjusted the seasonings. My older son got busy steaming edamame and grating cheese for the nachos and was happy to learn how to work the broiler in the oven to get the cheese perfectly melted. They all set the table and were thrilled to bits to sit down to a meal of their own creation.

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And guess what? It was really good! We gobbled it down and enjoyed every bite (I skipped the cheese because of the cleanse but everything else was yummy). I was quite sure I was going to get some serious push back when it came time to clean but they stepped right up and even swept the floor after the dishes were all washed. It was fantastic!

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So Kids Cook night was a resounding success. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next week! Now if I can just get them doing the laundry I’ll be all set…..

Nachos & Cheese

1 bag of tortilla chips (preferably an organic corn variety)
1 small block of medium cheddar (I like L’Ancetre brand)

Turn on the broiler in the oven. Dump the bag of chips onto a cookie sheet. Grate cheese and sprinkle over top. Pop in the oven and broil for 5 min or until cheese is melted.

Izzy’s Guacamole is posted here.

Steam frozen organic Edamame according to package directions.

Spanish Rice

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 cup long grain rice
1 3/4 cups water
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp sea salt
1/3 tsp black pepper

Heat oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook approx. 3 minutes until soft and just starting to turn translucent. Add garlic and carrot and cook for 2 more minutes. Pour in rice and stir to coat. Add water, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, stir once and reduce heat to low. Cover and let simmer for approx. 17 minutes until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. Enjoy!

***Cleanse Update: Day # 10 and I’m almost halfway there! I feel clear-headed, strong and confident that I can see this cleanse through to the end. I have noticed a slight dip in my energy after dinner the last couple of days so I’m going to up my water consumption around that time and see if it makes a difference. I had a crazy sugar craving on Day 9 so I whipped up an impromptu “almond milk shake” that totally hit the spot. I just threw some homemade almond milk, a handful of strawberries, a frozen banana, a few dates and some ice in my vitamixer and slurped up the sweet creamy goodness. I’ll post the exact recipe soon.

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