Monday, 27 April 2015

Diary of a Disney Vacay

Walt Disney World Pirates League, Magic Kingdom, kids, pirates

Saturday morning...Up since 7am, big breakfast, children bouncing off walls with excitement. House cleaned, bags packed in car, key dropped off with neighbours, all family members present and accounted for; hitting the road!

Saturday...later...Smoothest road trip ever! Children happy, gas and food and bathroom breaks all coordinating beautifully. Making amazing time. Family giddy with anticipation.

Saturday...later still...Thick fog and pouring rain through Pennsylvania and Virginias has turned mountain portion of trip from pleasant, picturesque drive into perilous eight-hour exercise in tension for adults. Kids cheerfully watching movies in back seat, blissfully unaware of weather.

Somewhere between really late Saturday and really early Sunday...euphoria over fog lifting and skies clearing has prompted us to decide to drive through the night. Kids sleeping peacefully in back. Will be wonderful surprise when they wake up!

Sunday morning...Arrival at Disney after an hour's sleep at a Georgia rest stop and another hour's break over a long, leisurely, gorgeously grease-laden Southern breakfast. Already hot and sunny. Heaven. Have literally never seen such a look of pure joy as on youngest son's face as we drove through the Disney gates. "We're here? We're really here? At Disney?" Bliss.
     Morning at Downtown Disney. Meander up and down the cobblestone streets and in and out of dozens of Disney shops. Soft serve at the ice cream parlour, long walk along the boardwalk by the water. Build and race Lego racecars at the Legoland store, dig for dinosaur bones at the T-Rex Cafe. Cool off in the splash pad. Lunch in a boardwalk cafe, photo op with Woody and Buzz.

Sunday afternoon...Stop at store for booze, snacks and sunscreen.
     Check-in at the Caribbean Beach Resort, pick up Magic Bands and pirate swords and refillable resort mugs.
     Themed-out waterfront Pirates of the Caribbean room - pirate ship beds, treasure chest dressers, gunpowder keg fridge, pirate flags and swag in every corner. Kids in heaven. Feels like coming home.
   
Caribbean Beach Resort beach, kids, sandcastles
     Drop bags, remove most of clothes, head to beach.
     Sun. Sand. Water. Bliss.
     Hours and hours of sandcastle construction. Mommy stretched out on lounge trailing feet in sand. Husband swinging in hammock beneath palms. Cold cocktails all around. Not a cloud in the sky. Heaven.





Sunday...much later...Wander up to Old Port Royale for dinner. Beautiful winding trail meandering along water's edge through lush grounds - drooping palms and leafy fronds, exotic plants and flowers everywhere, white sandy beaches stretching between low pastel buildings. Dinner picked up at the marketplace - usual burgers and fries in a sandpail for the kids - and eaten out on the patio next to the marina. Spot sea turtles and catfish swimming below. Linger until sunset. Wander across bridge to Caribbean Cay island playground. Back in room, pretend pirate play, everyone tucked into pirate ship beds in preparation for Magic Kingdom in the morning.


Monday...Up with the sun, walk up to Old Port Royale for breakfast - Mickey Mouse shaped waffles - before meeting the shuttle to Magic Kingdom. Children literally vibrating with excitement.
     Magic day at Magic Kingdom. Start (fittingly) with Pirates of the Caribbean. Clever Mommy made most of mobile app and years of Disney experience to plan out Fast Passes, dining reservations, parade and show seating. Hit all the favourites from one end to the other - Pirates, Jungle Cruise and Aladdin's Magic Carpets in Adventureland; Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and the Walt Disney World Railroad in Frontierland; the Haunted Mansion and Riverboat in Liberty Square; It's a Small World, Peter Pan's Flight, Under the Sea, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and the Prince Charming Carrousel in Fantasyland, Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Barnstormer in Storybook Circus; the Tomorrowland Speedway, the PeopleMover, Astro Orbiter and, of course, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland.
     Lunch at the Tortuga Tavern and a pirate tutorial from Captain Jack Sparrow, Mickey-shaped ice cream from Storybook Treats, dinner at the Pinocchio Village Haus and a meet and greet with Woody and Jessie from Toy Story; the Dream Along With Mickey show on Main Street and a happy half-hour cooling off at the circus-themed Casey Jr. Splash and Soak Station; the Main Street Electrical Parade at sundown and the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show over Cinderella's castle. That magical final hour of the night when the park clears out and we ride Buzz Lightyear and the PeopleMover over and over again, Tomorrowland lit up overhead and all around us like a futuristic technicolour dream. After 1am by the time the kids are tucked into their pirate ship beds.

Tuesday...Lazy morning in-suite - late sleep-in, lounging around playing new Disney Parks Edition of Uno (the first of many souvenir purchases with the "Grandma and Grandpa money" my parents send the kids to spend at Disney every year).

Caribbean Beach Resort Old Port Royale pool, Walt Disney World     Meander up to Old Port Royale for breakfast on the boardwalk. Linger over coffee, basking in already-baking-hot sunshine. Snag a spot by the Spanish fortress between the shipwreck splash pad and the pool and spend a blissful half-day swimming, sliding and splashing away. So much fun.

     Waterlogged, worn out and sunburnt, pick up picnic supplies at resort shop and head back to "our" beach. Picnic lunch under the palms.
     Long afternoon playing on the beach - major sandcastle construction project. Not another soul in sight all afternoon - everyone's at the pools. Feels like our own private beach. Heaven.

     Hours later - head up to room to get ready for dinner. Hang out in the air conditioning for a bit before trekking back up to Old Port Royale. Stake out seats right by the screen for the movie by the water and grab burgers and fries in sandpails for dinner from the restaurant and settle in with our food just as the sun starts to set over the water. 101 Dalmations - Disney classic. Fireworks over the water behind the big inflatable screen just as the movie ends and the credits start to roll. Disney magic. A night-time romp across the bridge to the Caribbean Cay island playground and a sleepy stroll back to our suite for bed.

Wednesday...Up and on the shuttle to the Magic Kingdom bright and early in the morning. Family photos in front of the castle with Mickey before sitting down for our breakfast reservation at The Crystal Palace (prime time slot for character breakfast with Tigger and Pooh - had to make reservation almost three months ago). Our favourite restaurant - light, bright, airy, all lush greenery hanging and floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere, delicious all-you-can-eat buffet. Annual tradition. Awesome window table overlooking a waterfall and tropical jungle paradise near the entrance to Adventureland. Stuffed ourselves well beyond capacity. Photo ops with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyone, and Piglet - baby boy all wide-eyed and star-struck (meeting Disney characters is equivalent of celeb encounter for preschoolers). One of our favourite parts of the trip every year.
     After breakfast, make way through Adventureland and Frontierland - perfectly timed Fast Passes for Jungle Cruise, Pirates and Splash Mountain put us on the boat ride across the river just in time to catch the Festival of Fantasy Parade from the top of the trails on Tom Sawyer Island - best view in the park. An hour adventuring on the island - shipwreck playground, abandoned mine, army fortress, underground hideaway and secret caves, window trails and rickety barrel bridges. Oodles of fun - right up until, with typical grace, Mommy trips and stubs by toe on slab of granite by boat dock. Broken.
     Hobbled over to Fantasyland for late lunch at Gaston's Tavern and to rest rapidly swelling toe. Long afternoon in Fantasyland on all the favourites - Peter Pan, Pooh, Under the Sea - and brave the never-ending line to ride brand-new Seven Dwarfs Mine Trail for the first time. Kids attempt to remove Sword in the Stone from said stone. Sword stuck. Over to Tomorrowland to ride Speedway, PeopleMover, Astro Orbiter and Buzz Lightyear, then dinner on the patio at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe and create plan of attack for last night at Kingdom.
     Toe, incidentally, is purplish-black and hideously swollen and disfigured at this point. Helf-assedly splint with twisted lengths of tissue found in purse. Should probably have stopped at first aid station at some point.
     Hit all the favourites one last time: Buzz Lightyear (oldest child's pick), the Speedway (middle child's pick), Aladdin (youngest child's pick), Pirates (Mommy and Daddy's pick) and Peter Pan (everyone's pick). Watched Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks in front of Cinderella's castle and finished our night riding People Mover and Space Ranger Spin over and over. Gift shop run on the way out for souvenirs. After 1am again by the time we're back in our pirate suite.


Caribbean Beach Resort pirate ship splash pad, Walt Disney World
Thursday...Early morning pirate play on the pirate ship beds with the new Captain Jack swords and bandanas. Long walk through the resort grounds, exploring all the paths and waterways. Breakfast at Old Port Royale at our usual outdoor table. Another perfect day - not a cloud in the sky.

     Snag a set of lounges under the shade of the palms by the shipwreck splash pad and set up for the day. Hours of water fun - splash pad, slides, swimming and sunning. Staff-organized Disney-themed games with prizes on deck. So much fun.

     Late lunch on the patio by the cabana bar. Cocktails for Mommy & Daddy.

     Back to our beach. Enormous collection of sandpails and shovels after so many burger-in-a-bucket meals. Long, lovely afternoon in the sunshine building sandcastles, playing in the water and lazing in the lounges and hammocks. Whole beach to ourselves again all day. Make friends with the ducks and turtles. Quick dip in the small pool by our suite before heading back to Old Port Royale for dinner.
     Marshmallow roast and campfire on the main beach at sunset. Bring dinner from the restaurant out onto the patio for movie by the water again - Finding Nemo. Youngest falls asleep after so much water and sun - manages to sleep right through movie and fireworks. Late night card games back at the room before bed.


Friday...Another morning waking up in heaven. Thirty degrees before breakfast and not a cloud in the sky. Slip easily into our daily resort routine: pirate play, walk up to Old Port Royale, breakfast on the boardwalk; a couple of hours at the splash pad, on the waterslides, in the pool. Lunch and cocktails by the cabana bar, playtime at Caribbean Cay; walk back to "our" private beach, lounging and swimming and playing in the sand all afternoon. Pre-dinner chill-out in-suite, walk back to Old Port Royale for marshmallow roast and campfire on the beach and sunset dinner by the water while watching tonight's movie - the newest Tinkerbell. Final fireworks show of the week, lingering walk back to our suite, let kids stay up extra-late enjoying our last night in our pirate room. Late night cocktails out on the balcony with husband, soaking up the heavy stillness of a hot Southern night. Perfect end to another perfect day.

Saturday...One last day in paradise.
     One last morning playing pirates in our pirate ship suite.
     One last breakfast on the boardwalk at Old Port Royale.
     One last waterlogged morning of swimming and splashing and sliding at the pool.
     One last jaunt across to the island playground and one last explore around Caribbean Cay.
     One last late lunch by the water.
     One last long blissful afternoon soaking up the sun and playing on the beach.
     One last good-bye to our favourite place on earth before hopping in the car shortly before sunset to start the long journey home.

Very, very, very late Saturday...Oddly much less motivated on the drive home then the drive Disney-bound...stop at hotel for the night. No attempt to drive through this time.

Sunday...Early start. Long day of driving left but clear, skies this time - perfect driving weather. Sunny skies, good tunes, lots of snacks, happy kids. Awesome road trip.

Late Sunday...Home at last. Tired, happy family. Tucking kids into bed: "Mommy, I love Disney and I can't wait to go back but...I'm glad to be home. Home's my favourite." Bliss


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Friday, 24 April 2015

Back to Work

My baby boy starts kindergarten this September. It's hard to believe - I can hardly wrap my mind around the fact that nearly four years have passed since he made our family complete and my last little baby boy is off to join the great big world.

This also means that after years and years (almost eleven!) of full-time Mommying I will be going back to work. Not part-time work, not freelance work, not middle-of-the-night laptop work, not work-at-home-doing-whatever just to scrape a few extra dollars together to keep the show going; actually, honest-to-goodness, back-to-work work.

With my last baby finished with babyhood and off to school full-time my life is going to change dramatically. For six and a half hours every day all three of my boys will be at school, giving me the chance to actually work out of the house again.

I can hardly remember what that's like!

For so many years "work" has had to be whatever I could find that would allow me to earn an income and be a full-time all-the-time caregiver for my kids. The reality that I will be able to go our and actually work at a job that I choose, one I have trained for and actually enjoy...it almost seems too good to be true.

What I will do for work when I return to the workforce in a few short months has been a pretty big decision. It's one thing to waffle about what you want to be when you grow up when you're a student or even in your twenties. It's quite another when you're thirty-six and people generally expect you to have already actually grown up by then.

I have worked a lot of jobs in my life, with varying degrees of enjoyment and success. I worked in aquatics for years managing programs and aquatic staff. I worked in health and fitness in a half-dozen different capacities. I've managed recreation centres and private gyms. I've coached a swim team. I've run a first aid training school. I've worked a lot of jobs, and it's pretty clear I lack focus when it comes to life planning.

I went to university for English Lit, changed majors a half-dozen times, and ended up graduating with a double honours degree in History and Political Science, a minor in English and a certificate program in creative writing. Utterly useless, as degrees go.

I returned from university to work for the Town at the same lifeguarding job I'd had in high school - just until I figured out what I really wanted to do. I got more qualifications and became a trainer. Then a supervisor, Then a manager. I worked at multiple sites managing the pools and pool staff, then got my fitness qualifications and started teaching fitness classes and doing personal training on the side. That led me to get my national coaching certifications and begin coaching and training athletes (I was a competitive swimmer when I was younger.) A gnawing sense of inadequacy, a feeling that I should really be doing something further removed from the job I had in high school - a "real job" - prompted me to finally leave the Town, where I spent years jumping from private pool management company to recreation facility management to private gyms to running my own fitness company. It's only after years away, working from home and full-time mommying, that I realized the job I left was a "real job". It took skill and training and paid me a good salary, I liked it and I was good at it. Why did I leave? What else was I looking for?

Once I worked all of that out, of course, the decision over what to do for work when baby boy starts school was easy. I'm going back to aquatics.

I spent a few weeks contacting the various certifying agencies to figure out what I had to do to get my qualifications back. I dug out all my old resources, I reached out to all my old contacts. I registered for the courses I needed to bring my certifications up to date and providing I pass the exams I have scheduled over the next three months, by September I will be working once again in the field I should probably never have left in the first place.

I'm so excited!

I'm going to be working at a job I actually enjoy. With two full incomes instead of one and a half, we're going to feel like millionaires. And with hours I can control myself, I can work within the school day, I can still walk my kids to school and back, and I can still be an at-home mom for all those after-school hours and P.A. Days.

I'm so excited!


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Monday, 20 April 2015

Not So Saving Savvy

It took a few years, a few bad decisions, and many mistakes but I eventually learned my lessons and became pretty smart about spending, avoiding debt and managing credit wisely. I feel confident calling myself an expert when it comes to budgeting, prioritizing, and living well within my means. But when it comes to saving - I kind of suck.

I learned about credit and debt in early adulthood the way most people do - by screwing up. I got my first credit card at eighteen, used it to party and buy stuff I didn't need, then half killed myself working to pay it back. Fortunately, I had a good job and made good money (for a student) and was able to pay it off. But the cycle had started. From that point on, however much money I had available in credit became however much money I had to spend. As life got more expensive, I was able to pay back less and less every time I racked up that credit card bill.

A few years later, I found myself married with a mortgage, two leased cars, financed furniture and countless maxed-out credit cards. It wasn't until after the divorce, when I bottomed out money-wise, that I learned my lesson. Alone and broke, working late every night on my laptop to save on childcare costs during the day, every penny that I made went to keeping us alive. When I finally got to the point that I could start making a serious dent in my debt I made it count - and when that debt was finally gone I promised myself I'd never let myself get there again.

And I haven't.

I'm in fantastic financial shape. I have no debt beyond a very manageable mortgage. Our household budget is a masterpiece of planning.

But when it comes to saving, I seriously suck.

For someone who earns a living as a "frugal family living" author and expert,I should probably be a lot better at saving. But somehow we manage to spend everything we have every month, no matter how much that is.

Part of it, I know, is just where we are in our lives. A young, active family with three school and pre-school age kids - between groceries and sports and school and activities and child care the money flows out as quickly as it comes in even with a careful budget.

We do have savings in the form of RRSP's and RESP's - automatic payments withdrawn monthly from our accounts for our retirement and our kids' education. Because it's automatic we don't even think about it. But although we do have "extra" money built into our budget each month for "saving" - an umbrella phrase we use to cover emergency savings, savings for the house, savings for miscellaneous unplanned expenses should any come up - somehow it always gets spent. No matter how much we make or how much extra we have come in we always end up living practically paycheque-to-paycheque.

The importance of keeping extra savings set aside - savings we don't end up folding back into our budget for something or another - hit home last winter when we had a major home emergency for which we were completely unprepared. You'd think the experience would have taught us to plan out our savings better, but we still seem to just keep spending what we have. Goal-oriented saving we can do - saving up for a new deck in the backyard, saving up for our annual Disney trip, saving up for a new couch. But long-term saving that just sits there seems to be something we're just not very good at.

We are not saving-savvy.

How do you handle savings? Do you set up an automatic system to set aside money each month or put it in an untouchable savings vehicle? How much do you set aside for emergencies and long-term savings?

Originally published as "Not So Saving-Savvy" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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Friday, 17 April 2015

Children Are Expensive!

I have a lot of friends having kids lately. A lot. Pregnant with their first babies, welcoming their second or third or even (gasp!) fourth little angel; virtually everyone I know is busy making and expanding their families. But what no-one really seems to realize is that these beautiful little babies are eventually going to grow into kids, and those kids are going to cost a fortune.

Oh, everyone knows that having a family costs money in a vague sort of sense - another mouth or two to feed, bodies to clothe and shelter - but that's why you bought the house with the big backyard and extra bedroom, right?

You're covered for baby stuff after all the showers and gifts. The crib with the adorable bedding set that will suffocate baby if you actually put it in with his mattress. The coordinated mobile, drapery and lamp that won't ever match anything else in that room once baby outgrows his bedding in fifteen minutes. The change table with its carefully sorted and organized baskets of diapers, wipes, cloths, creams, lotions, powders and bath supplies, which will continue to look just as carefully styled until the day you throw it out because you just change the child's diaper wherever you happen to be - your bed, the living room couch, the basement floor. The shelves and shelves of lovingly folded onesies and sleepers and coordinated outfits that make you squeal which will be soiled beyond salvation on the first wearing and outgrown before the second. The fancy diaper disposal system, the snazzy baby bathtub. The seventeen chairs and rockers and bouncers and swings and baby gyms strewn about the house. You're covered for baby.

Of course, you'll be on maternity leave after baby is born - for a full year, for most people in Canada - so even though most of the big purchases for your new little guy are already taken care of you'll still have to figure out how to live on a significantly reduced income. And although you've got your baby gear in advance, diapers and wipes and formula (if you can't breastfeed) will set you back a small fortune every week.
But that's only for a year; you can tighten your belts and learn to live on less until you're back to work and a full income, right?

Wrong. Do you have any idea how much child care costs? It's crippling. If you have more than one child who's preschool aged, it's almost not worth working at all - you'll be working just to pay those child care costs.

And the little darlings just keep growing. Like, every time you turn around. They won't have worn an outfit twice before their pants are dangling inches above their ankles and shirts end somewhere between elbow and wrist and their shoes are cramped and pinching. You will literally be buying your kids cloths and shoes constantly.

But then one day they'll be in school. No more all-day daycare, the growth spurts will start to slow - surely the expenses will ease up a little bit then, right?

Wrong. By the time they're school-age there will be all of the sports and recreational programs that will set you back thousands of dollars a year and involve feats of scheduling and coordination you'd need a degree in higher mathematics to understand.

And they will still be growing out of their clothes constantly, with the added bonus of torn knees and shredded toes and threadbare seams from bike ride falls and soccer dives and God-knows-what they do at recess, but by then there will be a very specific brand name and style of clothing and shoe they'll find acceptable to wear.

And they will, quite literally, eat you out of house and home. I have three sons, and we spend more on our grocery budget each month than we do on our mortgage. Our fairly large mortgage, since our tiny home is located in a very posh neighbourhood. We spend more on food - not because we're eating fancy, but because our children just don't stop eating. Ever.

And there will be this unstoppable trickle of unplanned, untraceable money dribbling out every single day - five dollars for this fundraising, five dollars for that fundraising; ten dollars for this guest speaker, twenty dollars for that field trip; ten dollars for an agenda, twenty for a yearbook; a twoonie to meet this goal, a twoonie to support that cause. It doesn't sound like much and doesn't feel like much - but added up over a month and multiplied by two or three kids it is.

Maybe it will ease up once they're teenagers, working a little part-time job perhaps, more independent, spending more time with their friends and less at home; right?

Wrong. Do you think those little bottomless pits are going to start eating less as they get older? Become less label-conscious as teenagers? I don't think so.

Oh, and while you're shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year to keep them alive and cared for - while still taking care of your mortgage and car payments and usual household bills - you need to sock away a couple of hundred dollars a month per kid for RESP's if you want to be able to send them to university without crippling debt. From the day they're born. On top of your RRSP savings, of course - by the time the kids are off to university and you're finished taking care of them financially you won't have a lot of working years left to take care of yourselves.

Those kids are going to cost you a fortune, and they will continue to cost you a fortune, and it will only increase exponentially until they're grown. Every second and every cent of it is worth it - but you should know and understand that kids do cost money, and they cost an awful lot of it.


Originally published as "Newsflash: Kids Cost Money" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com


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Monday, 13 April 2015

Fundraising

Once your kids enter the world of rep sports you're suddenly bombarded with a slew of expenses - club fees five or six times the regular house league registration fees, tournament costs, team costs, uniform costs, equipment costs. The kids' sports, instead of being an incidental cost once a season, become an enormous expense that needs to be built into the monthly budget.

With so many additional expenses for the teams outside of what is covered by registration fees, fundraising becomes an inevitable part of participating in rep sports. Some teams cover these expenses simply by asking parents to write a cheque for their child's share once the budget is set for the season. Some sell popcorn, baked goods, meat. Some run raffles or hold a car wash or a bingo night. Some partner with businesses in the community to raise funds to finance their teams. And some are lucky enough to hustle themselves a sponsor or two to full their team coffers and finance their season.

I have been a parent to rep athletes for several years and a team manager for multiple teams for several more. I have both organized and participated in countless fundraisers over the years.

As a parent of a player, to be honest, I'd really rather just write a cheque for our family's required contribution to the team budget. I'm not a huge fan of hawking things to my friends and family and colleagues and the overhead on a lot of these fundraisers is pretty steep - it's hard to justify buying or selling eight hundred dollars' worth of something just to make seventy-five bucks for the team. I prefer to just set aside enough in our sports budget to cover the contribution ourselves without any hustling.

As a team manager, though, I know that not all parents feel the same way, so I typically offer either a fundraising option or an equivalent contribution amount.

The most successful fundraisers we've ever run have been bingo nights (pros: reasonable overhead, fun for everyone who participates; cons: tons of work to organize and requires volunteers - never easy to come by), meat sales (pros: appeals to those who would rather buy something to feel like they're getting something for their money; cons: ridiculously expensive, have to sell insane dollar value of product for tiny return to the team), and raffles.

My favourite fundraiser, by far, is the raffle - you can customize it every time to meet your team's budget and needs, the overhead is completely within your control and can be kept very low with some smart purchases and a couple of donations from local businesses usually eager to help out, and inexpensive raffle tickets (usually ten dollars each) are a quick and easy sell for anyone. Oh, and it's relatively quick and simple to organize - an important factor when the person organizing the fundraiser works full-time in addition to volunteering twenty hours a week managing a couple of rep teams. And raising three children.

It may not be my favourite part of life in a family of athletes, but the reality is that fundraising is a necessary part of participating in sports at a certain level. It only makes sense to organize a fundraiser that's easy, inexpensive and flexible to meet the team's needs while keeping the cost low for players.


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Friday, 10 April 2015

Summer Sports

Now that spring is finally officially upon us the summer sports season is rushing up quickly.

For our family, of course, sports season runs year-round (rep sports don't have an off-season!) but as the weather turns warmer our twice-weekly-per-kid indoor soccer practices move outdoors and multiply: by May the boys will be practicing three times a week each and competing in weekly games and monthly tournaments. My oldest is playing baseball again this summer, too - just house league ball, one practice and one game a week - and my youngest has followed in his older brothers' cleats and started playing soccer. It's going to be a busy summer!

After a long winter of indoor soccer on the artificial turf we can't wait to get outdoors. And after so many months of seemingly endless hours of work as manager for both my older boys' teams - organizing, scheduling, fundraising, middle of the night emails to the team, endless meetings at the club, endless reams of paperwork - twenty hours of work a week, every week, as a volunteer - I'm really looking forward to the actual outdoor soccer season. And I really kind of can't wait for baseball season - a team I don't have to put any work into - a sport where we can literally show up, enjoy the game, and leave. No volunteering!

But no matter how busy we are, no matter how many practices and games and tournaments we have a week, no matter how many nights we have to rush after work through dinner and out the door, sometimes to two different fields at the same time, this is what summer means to us. The busy rush from field to field, lugging folding chairs and coolers and endless cases of bottled water, the all-consuming focus on an hour of kicking a ball around a pitch, the long hot summer evenings sitting field-side swatting at bugs, the friends that have become family with whom we sit and chat and cheer night after night and have lived our lives with and raised our children with for years - this is the essence of summer for us.

I can't imagine summer without our little athletes' summer sports!


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Monday, 6 April 2015

Spring is Springing

April is here and spring is finally beginning to - well - spring.

Now that the snow has melted and the ground has thawed it's time to start thinking about spring gardening. Though there will still be nights over the next month or so when the temperature dips too low for anything freshly planted to survive outside, it's not too early to start those seeds growing indoors.

We plant a vegetable garden every year both in an effort to eat organic as much as possible and as a fun family project. Cultivating the plants right from seed is an awesome project for the kids, watering and weeding and watching them grow all spring and summer, and picking and eating the fresh veggies all summer and fall is a treat for the whole family.

growing vegetables, planting, gardening, seedsThis year we're planting tomatoes, cucumber, swiss chard and kale in the garden and growing fresh herbs in pots up on the deck. We bought a large plastic mini-greenhouse to start the plants indoors and planted everything from seed last weekend. The little baby veggies are already flourishing in the sunshine of our kitchen window and can't wait to get out into the garden!



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Friday, 3 April 2015

Happy Family Easter

Coloured Easter EggsThough Easter is a religious holiday, ours is not a religious family. Our family is all about enjoying moments and making memories together, and holidays are a time when we can focus on family even more: with a few days off of work and school and sports we can just hang out and relax and enjoy each other's company.

As with most holidays, I tend to go overboard with Easter: creating Easter crafts with the kids, baking up Easter sweets and treats, planning out the Easter baskets and our Easter celebrations and entertaining. But in our family, going overboard is more about the experiences rather than the expenses.

I've never thought of Easter as a gift-giving occasion, and am surprised by how much marketing there is for Easter gifts and discussion over how much to spend. In our house, the Easter Bunny brings a basket for each boy with a chocolate bunny, a small stuffed toy, some colourful candy and sometimes one extra treat - a ball, sidewalk chalk, stickers or a colouring book. Dollar store stuff. He hides hundreds of those little foil-wrapped chocolate eggs all over the house and yard (weather permitting) and the kids spend all morning hunting them down.

We colour a couple dozen eggs the day before, then crack them at Easter breakfast in a family competition to find out whose egg can survive the longest. While the rest of the eggs are eaten at a big family breakfast with hot cross buns and bacon and platters of cookies and fruit, the champion egg is carried forward to the next contest when the extended family comes over for Easter lunch and dinner in an ultra-competitive match against aunts and uncles and cousins.

A long day of food and drink and family, a couple of huge hams and a half-dozen salads and my special decadent carrot cake with cream cheese icing, kids and toys and chocolates everywhere underfoot, the house decorated with the Easter crafts the kids and I made together.

The rest of the long weekend filled with doing nothing: walking and biking through the neighbourhood, enjoying the sunshine and the first signs of spring; lazy mornings lounging in pyjamas, playing cards around the breakfast table; board game tournaments at the dining table and soccer games in the backyard; movie nights all curled up together in the living room with pillows and blankets and big bowls of popcorn and hot chocolate.

It's colouring eggs and the family cracking contest, it's jammie days and playing with the cousins, it's time spent together making crafts and playing games; it's time and moments and memories that matter, not the gifts we give or get. It's these moments that will make up our family memories in years to come, and it's these memories that I hope our kids will hold on to as they grow up and move on to have families of their own: holiday traditions, family time, home and love.


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Family Easter Celebration