Monday, 17 December 2007

Camping in the Great Indoors

What better way to pass the time on a cold, wet and blustery day than snuggling inside a cozy tent, nestled comfortably in a sea of pillows and blankets. No doubt, most of us have fond childhood memories of spending stormy afternoons tucked inside our own private tent, smack in the middle of the living room. After a quick raid of the linen closet and the assembly of a few choice pieces of furniture, we were able to create our own personal getaway in mere minutes.

With a long, cold Canadian winter ahead of us, I imagine the boys and I will be housebound on more than one occasion. Creating play tents, tunnels and forts is a favorite activity at our house. Chi-Chi in particular enjoys hiding out in his personal “secret” retreats. Muffy, being the typical little brother, delights in disturbing the peace and invading Chi-Chi’s hideaways. There is never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

I decided to add a little twist to the conventional living room blanket tent by seeking out some fun and interesting “construction materials”. On a recent trip to the Annapolis Valley, I paid a visit to a little gem of a fabric shop, Esther’s Sewing Centre in New Minas. I was immediately drawn to a vivid, hand-dyed batik print. Conveniently, my selection was sheeting fabric so I was able to obtain a very large piece of material measuring a whopping 10 feet by 10 feet. A quick hemming job on my sewing machine was all that was needed to finish the project. I purchased a set of wooden play clips from a great Canadian, on-line natural toy store. These clips are made in Canada and are a wonderful tool for creating play spaces. (
Chi-Chi and Muffy’s play tent will be waiting for them on Christmas morning, a gift from dear old Santa. I must admit, late at night, when the wee ones are tucked in bed, I pull out the tent and set it up. I’ve forced my husband to crawl inside and just “hang out” with me over a cup of tea. It’s a soothing and dreamy place to pass the time. I suspect, from a child’s perspective, one might get the sense of traveling inside a rainbow. The tent is particularly magical on a sunny day with the bright light shining through the vibrant colors of the fabric.

I am certain both Chi-Chi and Muffy will discover many creative uses over the years for this open-ended toy. It will not share the fate of the poor synthetic, toxic smelling polyester play tent we owned for just a short stint. Unfortunately, it will soon be on its way to a landfill for it could not withstand the play activities of two young boys. Interesting, considering that's what it was supposedly designed for!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

A Tree Fit for Charlie Brown

Nothing quite adds to a festive atmosphere than the scent of balsam wafting through the house. I’ve been enjoying this cheerful aroma for the last couple of days. On Sunday our family ventured on our annual "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Hunt". Since the majority of our sixteen-acre property is forested, we forego the tree lots each year and head into the woods to select our special Christmas tree.

Chi-Chi was simply thrilled with the day’s adventure! Waddling around in his puffy snowsuit, he examined our options carefully and was tickled pink when we finally settled on an adorable 3 foot spruce tree. Neighbour friends joined in on the fun and went home with a 15 foot beauty, a perfect fit for their cathedral ceiling family room. This homegrown selection represented the deal of the week for this family. Our local tree lot was offering 12 foot varieties for a whopping $125 plus tax!
Due to the Muffy’s “active tendencies”, we were forced to find an out-of -reach spot for our little tree. It is nestled on top of our sideboard in the dining room and I must admit, it looks rather ridiculous. I’m currently watching Muffy as he eyes the tree. The wheels are churning inside that little head. No doubt he’ll devise a strategy to tear it down before the holidays are threw!

I’ve always been partial to homemade decorations, thanks to my mother. Growing up, our tree was adorned in adorable handmade ornaments. Over the last few years, I’ve been working on compiling a set of homemade tree garnishes. Since we live next to the Atlantic Ocean, I thought it would be fun to decorate our tree in a coastal theme. I stole a few items from my shell collection and in no time created a set of seashell ornaments. After drilling holes in a few muscle shells, periwinkles and sand dollars, I simply strung them with bits of yarn and ribbon. Chi-Chi proudly contributed a basket of pine cones he collected a few weeks ago to our set of ornaments. Appropriately, a large starfish sits atop our tree. Not only are these decorations cute, they were free and are 100% biodegradable. You can’t beat that!

Thanks to our sweet little tree, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Friday, 7 December 2007

Pillow Talk

What mother of young children doesn’t look forward to the much-anticipated daily ritual of naptime? With Muffy greeting the day at 6 a.m. most mornings, I’m definitely frazzled and fizzled by the time 2 p.m. rolls around. To my delight, Chi-Chi has been engaging in the game of “sleep” lately. This is a wonderful activity that involves lounging on the couch and pretending to have a nap. Unfortunately, this restful, peaceful moment usually lasts a mere 30 seconds. Regardless, I actually appreciate the luxury of putting my feet up for 30 seconds these days! I’ll take whatever I can get!

With Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been spending most evenings in “Santa’s Workshop”, putting the final touches on my gifts to the boys. While there will certainly be purchased gifts under the tree this year, I thought it would be fun and rewarding to hand make a few special items. Perhaps I was spurred by sheer selfishness, but I decided to create a gift that would promote and encourage Chi-Chi and Muffy’s participation in peaceful pastimes. I thought the little ones would find enjoyment in a couple of plush play pillows to call their own. Although pillows are very simple and plain objects, I figure their wild imaginations will find many uses for them. My hope is that Chi-Chi and Muffy will find them comforting and soothing in a quiet moment. Of course, I’m not naïve enough to believe they won’t provide the inspiration and tools for the odd pillow fight!

I’m not much of a seamstress, so simplicity and straight lines are pre-requisites to any sewing project I take on. Each pillow is 12’ by 18’, which is a manageable size for little hands. Wanting to steer clear of synthetic materials, the pillows and removable, washable cases were sewn with 100% cotton. I used wool batting for the stuffing that I purchased from the Lismore Sheep Farm in River John, Nova Scotia ( Deep inside, I tucked a tiny fragrant sachet of dried lavender, which apparently possesses calming and stress relieving qualities.

Chi-Chi is fast approaching the age of 3 so I suspect his days of afternoon siestas are limited. Paired with a wooly sheepskin rug, this set of snuggly pillows will hopefully provide the little ones with a cozy corner to cuddle up with a book, or simply slow down for a brief, but refreshing moment of rest.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Christmas Comes Early for our Feathered Friends

The temperature has certainly taken a nosedive in our neck of the woods. With a wind chill reading of minus 12 degrees Celsius, it’s just a tad too frosty for Chi-Chi and Muffy to spend too much time outdoors today. No doubt we are not the only ones feeling the effects of the falling mercury. Our feathered friends are braving the frigid winds in an effort to fill their tummies and fatten up for the long winter ahead. Nestled comfortably in our toasty house, I felt a wee bit guilty watching the little chickadees dutifully pecking away for their breakfast.

With the whole family suffering a mild case of cabin fever, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get the little ones involved in an activity to both pass some time, and celebrate the winter season that has descended upon us. My tiny backyard birds provided me with the inspiration I was looking for!

I’ve spent the last couple of evenings working on my Christmas list. In an effort to avoid the malls and big box stores this holiday season, I’ve decided to hand make a number of gifts. Why not enlist the services of my talented, eager and willing children to help out in the gift making process? Flipping through various craft and project books, I came across several recipes for bird treats. After a quick glance in the pantry, I was able to assemble enough ingredients to create a revised version of the various recipes I’d seen.

My bird treat recipe is simple, quick and easy. Despite the fact I had a 2 ½ year old in the kitchen, the mess was minimal.

2 cups quick cooking rolled oats
3 cups boiling water
1 cup shortening
½ cup chunky peanut butter (no salt)
3/4 cup black oil sunflower seeds
1/4 cup thistle seed
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup Red River cereal
1/2 cup dried cranberries

I cooked the oats for approximately 2 minutes. After letting it cool to a lukewarm temperature, I brought the pot over to Chi-Chi to work with. He gleefully dumped in the rest of the ingredients and stirred them well. Once the mixture was fully cooled, the real fun began! Chi-Chi delighted in working with this “bird seed play dough”. He skillfully formed patties and cookies and placed them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. We popped them in the freezer and in no time they were frozen solid. It didn’t take long for our crew of chickadees to sniff out this tasty new treat. They have been enthusiastically gobbling it up all afternoon.

Not only was this a fun activity for Chi-Chi, but it also helped Mommy cross off a few items on her Christmas list. These yummy bird cakes will be a great gift for the nature lovers on my list. Not only are they easy on the gift-giving budget, they are eco-friendly and fully biodegradable! Of course, they were also made with love by the hands of my 2 year old, which makes them particularly special. He will be thrilled to pass these out to his loved ones - a gift that truly comes from his dear little heart!

Friday, 30 November 2007

Bowled Over by the Toy Industry

Last week I was greeted by a disturbing notice in my mailbox. A letter from Lee Valley revealed that a favorite in our family’s toy box was likely adorned with lead paint. A set of Russian Matriuschka nesting dolls I had purchased was the contaminated plaything. I cringed as I stared down at this heavily played-with item. Much of the paint had chipped off. Smoke billowed from my ears as I considered my sweet innocent children being unnecessarily exposed to lead.

I continue to be shocked, disgusted and frustrated with the toy industry. My distrust over the safety controls in place propelled me on a quest to provide my children with non-toxic, quality toys. I’ve discovered that toys crafted with my own two hands provide the best solution in many cases. I’m in complete control of the materials and manufacturing quality standards in place! My solution to the loss of the Matriuschka dolls was to create a homemade version of a nesting toy. With a crochet hook in hand, I was able to whip up a set of woolen rainbow nesting bowls over the course of a few evenings. A couple of cycles through my washing machine felted them sufficiently to hold shape.

Nesting toys have always been a favorite in my house. Both Chi-Chi and Muffy find delight in solving the “puzzle” these toys present by sorting the objects in order of size. Their creative imaginations have allowed them to discover many other uses for these open-ended toys. The six vibrant vessels often serve as cooking pots and serving dishes in their bustling play kitchen. Just last night, Chi-Chi was “skating” in the living room and decided he needed a hat to protect his ears from the cold. In the blink of an eye the orange bowl served as a cozy toque.

I’ve managed to find a silver lining amidst my feelings of disgust and rage. I’ve embarked on a self-improvement journey that has been rewarding and exhilarating. I’m having the time of my life acquiring new skills and experimenting with new materials. Over the last six months I’ve added crochet, knitting, carving and felting to my list of hobbies and interests! While I am personally enjoying the creative outlet these projects provide, Chi-Chi and Muffy are reaping the benefits of a toy box filled with beautiful, natural hand-crafted toys. It’s a win-win situation for the whole family!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Not Just For The Birds

It is a crisp, yet sunny November morning. Despite the chill in the air, the little ones barely take notice. They are snug and warm, bundled up in their snowsuits and deeply engrossed in the important task at hand. Chi-Chi and Muffy are huddled over our feed bucket, enthusiastically scooping out sunflower seeds and sprinkling them on the ground. They are busy performing the responsibilities involved in caring for our family’s pets – the chickadees, blue jays, juncos, pheasants and giant colony of squirrels that reside on our property.

As I inch myself a little deeper into my cozy down-filled jacket, a smile forms on my lips. My approach to pets certainly provides for a simpler way of life during these busy and hectic days with a young family. A few scoops of seeds tossed into the birdfeeder every few days is the extent of care our feathered friends require. My life is free of poop to scoop, pricey vet bills, fur balls and that nagging and ever-present guilt that poor Rover has not had a walk in over a week. The wise words of my father echo through my mind. I can picture him standing in our backyard, waving at his numerous birdfeeders and firmly stating, “These birds are the best darn pets I’ve ever had the only pet a man needs”. His words may have been wise and his opinions strong, but his heart was soft. He no doubt developed this philosophy after enduring years of caring for and cleaning up after a menagerie of friends from the animal kingdom. Obviously, his children’s incessant pleading and whining forced him to stray from his strong beliefs. A herd of cattle, a crazy chicken, an African frog, two quail, four rabbits, three thousand honey bees, too many hamsters, countless fish and one very high-maintenance beagle are just of few of the critters my father welcomed into this home and heart.

Feeding the birds is not just “for the birds”. Chi-Chi and Muffy are learning valuable lessons about taking responsibility and nurturing another living creature. They are also developing an interest and appreciation for nature and our native wildlife. At 2 1/2, Chi-Chi is able to identify the different species of birds that frequent our feeder. Although a bit younger, Muffy also demonstrates an appreciation for these little creatures as he keenly and quietly observes them.

My plan to “keep it simple” is to learn from the mistakes of others and follow my father’s wise advice on pet parenting. Of course, this is the man who just recently tried to convince me to adopt a couple of baby goats. Perhaps he realizes that all the hassle, work and frustration that went hand-in-hand with our pets was well worth it for the benefit of the children. Perhaps he simply wants to see me suffer what he did!! Regardless, I think for the time being, I’ll stick to the birds!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

My Elf In Shining Armour

My husband does not fit the typical profile of a Christmas elf. Personally, I picture him as more of a “knight in shining armour” type with his tall athletic frame, dark tanned skin and broad shoulders. He recently surprised and impressed me, however, with his elf-like toy making abilities. After months of enduring my lengthy lectures and rants about the benefits of natural and handmade toys, he finally decided to roll up his sleeves and pitch in on my efforts to reinvent the contents of our family's toybox.

At 2 ½, Chi-Chi’s creative play is becoming more elaborate and complex. His quiet and peaceful moments of independent, imaginative play are welcome and appreciated around my busy household. It is much simpler to whip together a quick meal with Chi-Chi deeply engrossed in a farmyard scenario where Mr. Bunny crashed his fire truck into Mr. Horse's stall. Wishing to encourage this creative outlet for him, I thought he would find enjoyment in some type of structure to “house” his vehicles and animal friends. Browsing through natural toy websites, I quickly became aware that wooden dollhouses and barns can easily take a toll on one's pocketbook. A self-made structure seemed the best option.

My husband and I put our heads and hands together and created a wonderful little playhouse that will no doubt provide endless hours of entertainment in our home. A quick rummage through the yard and basement produced all the necessary project supplies. The two main floors of the structure were created from a remnant of a century-old barn board that was used as flooring in our home. Sticks and twigs from our property provided the beams and support pieces. The top platform was sliced off a log from my favorite childhood tree that my parents salvaged years ago. Hubby and I collaborated on the design of the project. I was responsible for sanding and finishing and he was in charge construction and assembly.

Chi-Chi’s little dollhouse is a child’s dream. This open-ended toy allows a child’s mind to drift and imagine. One moment it is an airport, the next a fire station. In the blink of an eye, Chi-Chi transports himself to Nanny and Graga’s house for a visit to pick apples and pet a sheep. Chi-Chi is also learning valuable lessons as he observes Mommy and Daddy collaborating on a project, lovingly building something with their hands especially for him. He's learning about being resourceful and creative by sorting through one's scraps to produce a beautiful and useful object. This little play house and the lessons and values that go with it are cetainly not something Chi-Chi could have found on the pages of the Sears Wish Book catalogue this Christmas!

Sunday, 30 September 2007

An Eco-Friendly Extravaganza

My dear baby Muffy turned one year old today. As I sit and reflect on the past twelve months, I am astonished at how quickly my sweet tender newborn has transformed into a bright, determined little toddler with a crooked grin and a keen interest in climbing! Needless to say, today was a day of celebration in our household. The festivities were both casual and lively as our families gathered to pay tribute to the charming little guest of honor.

While my baby’s first birthday was a momentous occasion that deserved special attention, I wanted to ensure that the environmental impact of the event was kept to a minimum. It seems most kid’s parties these days result in several trash bags of paper plates, disposable cutlery, excessive decorations and junkie party favors. With an eco-friendly theme in mind, I decided to pass on the paper plates and napkins for this affair and opted to use my everyday dishes and linens. I enlisted the dishwashing services of my dear husband between courses to ensure there were clean plates in time for the birthday cake. Junkie dollar store loot bags were replaced with a few adorable party favors that were handmade, all-natural and simply beautiful! The infants and toddlers each received a hand-crafted finger puppet and a wholesome crocheted strawberry compliments of the Wool Fairy. Muffy’s seven year old cousin was no doubt pleased with the small assortment of seashells tucked into his favor bag. As the big brother, Chi-Chi made his contribution to the party planning by providing the majority of the decorations. A banner comprised of his artwork adorned the dining room along with a simple “Happy Birthday” sign that I whipped up during a naptime. With the recent discovery of a balloon in Chi-Chi’s diaper, I decided it would be safe and wise to seek out an alternative to this popular party favorite. I picked up a set of paper balloons that did the trick and can be re-used for future family celebrations. A collection of goofy hats and wigs from my “tickle trunk” replaced the traditional paper party hats. Our menu consisted of a steaming pot of homemade organic chili and a healthy assortment of cheese, fruit and veggies. We all enjoyed a scrumptious chocolate zucchini cake compliments of my sweet and generous mother!

My eco-friendly party planning resulted in a fun and festive event that was enjoyable for the guests and kind to our Mother Earth!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Chi-Chi's Fabulous Find

Last weekend my husband and I packed up the crew and headed down to the Annapolis Valley to attend the Wolfville Antique Show. This proved to be no small feat. Navigating two very active and curious toddlers through an auditorium crammed with precious, fragile and expensive objects could have easily spelled disaster! We have both been avid antique collectors for years and continue to indulge in this hobby, despite the fact that it is becoming more difficult with a growing family. Gone are the days of spending countless hours in musty shops and barns - poking, dreaming and losing all track of time. We have learned to be more efficient in our shopping techniques, as we are now faced with the challenge of working around the limited attention spans of Chi-Chi and Muffy.

Perhaps our passion for antiques is beginning to rub off on the little ones. Despite the fact that Mommy and Daddy are the collectors in the family, Chi-Chi was the one who walked away with a fabulous find at the show. He eyed an adorable antique upholstered chair that was just his size. The chair measures 22” high by 19” wide and we were told it dates back to the 1920's. Being a bit of a nostalgic, I have a soft spot in my heart for children's antiques. This dear little chair was simply irresistible. I envisioned it nestled into a cozy little reading nook for the kiddies. Not wasting any time, the boys and I dropped it off at a local upholstery shop this week to give it a much-needed makeover. We chose a cheerful, bright red fabric that is durable enough to withstand the wear and tear it will undeniably experience. Decked out in its new attire, the little chair is a charming addition to the living room and accents the décor beautifully. What a wonderful alternative to a gaudy, furry purple “Dora” chair parked next to my sofa!

I regret not taking a "before" photo of this piece. It was definitely well-used and well-loved throughout its life. For close to a century this sweet little chair has been bringing a touch of joy and comfort to children’s lives. It warms my heart that we are providing it with a loving and caring home where it can continue its journey. I have no doubt Chi-Chi’s fabulous find will be around for generations to come!

Thursday, 20 September 2007

The Return of the Wool Fairy

The Wool Fairy of Seaside Farms paid another late night visit to our house recently. Her basket was brimming with a cornucopia of freshly harvested woolen veggies. Since we are in the midst of the fall harvest season, she wanted to ensure that Chi-Chi and Muffy’s pantry was well stocked with a fresh and diverse supply of produce.

Our family has been taking full advantage of the bountiful assortment of fresh, local fruits and veggies available at the many farmers markets this autumn. We have all been feasting like kings, enjoying the mouth-watering selection of natural treats that grace our plates each mealtime. Chi-Chi and Muffy have been devouring every last morsel of these healthy, wholesome foods. As a health-conscious, doting mommy, the phrase, “More please!” is music to my ears!

I am proud to be setting a positive example to my children during these formative years. Not only are they eating a varied and nutritious diet to support strong, healthy growth, they are also learning the ins and outs of adopting a healthy lifestyle. Involving the little ones in our shopping trips helps them gain a better appreciation for the foods we consume and teaches them the benefits of buying local and organic when possible. To my delight, Chi-Chi has been enthusiastically re-enacting our shopping expeditions, regularly engaging in imaginary trips to the market for food to feed the family. As I quietly observe his play scenarios, I marvel at his creative imagination and his striking ability to learn by example. Chi-Chi may not be aware of it, but through his play, he is practicing and developing important skills and values that will serve him throughout his life.

I’ve also learned that presenting my children with healthy play food is a fun way to plant the seed for future healthy eating and lifestyle habits. On a recent trip to a department store, I was horrified to discover a set of play food depicting the offerings of a well-known fast food restaurant. In light of the rising childhood obesity rates, we must question the message this sends to our children. I am pleased to see my little ones playing with more appropriate options including strawberries, carrots, cucumbers and pears. (I will admit to making an irresistible cookie, but at least it was oatmeal raisin!) As Chi-Chi prepares an elaborate concoction of eggplant, mushroom soup, Muffy munches happily on a leaf of lettuce. These natural, open-ended toys offer endless opportunities for these young creative minds while promoting a diet rich in fresh produce!

Who knows what woolen treats our play-food obsessed fairy will supply on her next visit. You may see her wandering the booths on your next trip to the farmers market, seeking inspiration!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Kozy Kanteen

It was a wet, blustery day today. The wild weather presented our family with a perfect opportunity to “bunker in” for the afternoon. With both little ones tucked in for a restful nap, I settled into my overstuffed couch with a comforting cup of Red Rose and a basket full of wool. I’ve been itching for a quiet moment to embark on the latest project brewing in my head.

A few months ago, I initiated a “plastic elimination campaign” in our household. Worried over the risks associated with the use of plastic beverage and food containers, I started seeking out non-plastic alternatives. Chi-Chi and Muffy were outfitted with a set of “Klean Kanteen” stainless steel sippy cups. These sippy cups are available locally through my friend at Nurtured Products for Parenting ( Our Klean Kanteens have been a big hit. Their trim and lightweight design makes them easy for Chi-Chi and Muffy to handle. As a concerned mommy, I’m pleased to have found a healthy alternative for serving drinks to my precious little ones. The canteens are both durable and easy to clean. I have noticed, however, that these metal cups can become a bit cool for little hands when refilled with a frosty serving of milk. A quick wrap in a tea towel easily takes the chill off. Although this does the trick, I decided to devise a solution that would be more fun, creative and colorful!

My deep passion for wool and my newly acquired crochet skills inspired my latest endeavor. I hopped in the car for a quick ride to my local yarn shop – Tangled Skeins in Dartmouth. After an hour of drooling over the gorgeous selection of luxurious natural fibers, I settled on a sumptuous skein of hand-dyed wool by the Fleece Artist ( I was convinced that both Chi-Chi and Muffy would be drawn to the ocean-inspired hues of my selection – a most beautiful blend of blues, greens and aqua.

Although simple and straightforward in design, I’m very pleased with the new "Kanteen Kozy". It works wonders at keeping tender little fingers warm and toasty. As a bonus, it helps soften the blow when the odd cup is hurled across the hardwood floor! Chi-Chi adores his Kanteen's new wardrobe and enjoys fingering the soft wool as he guzzles his yummy milk.

The rhythmic and repetitive motion of my crochet hook is often meditative in nature. With the rain battering against the window and the wind whistling through the eaves, I lost track of time today, absorbed in the details of my project. What a “kozy” way to spend a stormy afternoon!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

A Gift From The Sea

For many of us, it is a struggle to dream up unique and creative gift ideas for children. This may sound ironic, considering the shelves of most big box toy stores are literally overflowing with the “latest and greatest craze”. It seems today’s children have it all. It is often a challenge to find a gift that will capture a child’s interest long term, and spark their imagination.

Our nephew, who lives just down the road, turns seven tomorrow. I wanted to give him a special birthday present that he would truly appreciate, but that would also meet our family’s personal ethical standards. I am making a concerted effort to supply my own little ones with natural, ecologically friendly toys. It only stands to reason that I would take these same factors into consideration when choosing gifts from our family.

Fortunately, I’ve got Chi-Chi to keep me up to speed on what kids go crazy for these days! His keen interest in sea life provided me with the inspiration I was looking for. His love of the sea prompted us to purchase him a copy of Canada’s Atlantic Seashore by Jeffrey C. Domm. Mr. Domm just happens to be a neighbour of ours! Despite the fact this book is targeted at an older crowd, Chi-Chi has grown quite attached to his copy and refers to it on a regular basis. His enthusiasm lead me to the conclusion that our little nephew would likely enjoy this publication as well. I picked up an extra copy at a local independent bookstore and assembled a small collection of native shells and preserved sea creatures. The collection includes a starfish, sand dollar, moon snail, scallop, whelk and a few periwinkles. It is the perfect little starter set for a young, aspiring beachcomber!

I’m so pleased with this little package of treasures from the sea. Not only is this a unique, educational and natural gift, it was also sourced locally. The book was written locally and was printed and bound in Canada. All of the shells were discovered by yours truly, or purchased at a nearby souvenir shop. Obviously, they are biodegradable, and will not be taking up residence in a landfill fifty years from now.

I hope our little nephew enjoys this small gift that comes from the heart. Perhaps it will provide him with gentle encouragement to further investigate, explore and appreciate the abundance of sea life at his doorstep!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

An Antique Lover's Sandbox

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the past. I am a lover of old homes, antiques and the simpler methods and lifestyles of the “good old days”. An object with a lengthy and colorful past emanates a warmth, charm and patina that simply cannot be duplicated or reproduced. Not surprisingly, my husband and I have been avid antique collectors for several years. Although we built a new home four years ago, we incorporated a number of reclaimed and antique materials into the construction. We were extremely fortunate to stumble upon a set of hand-hewn beams being salvaged from a crumbling barn in the Annapolis Valley. We integrated these beams into our downstairs living space, creating the illusion of an authentic post and beam frame. The leftover and unused beams were tossed in the backyard for unknown future projects.

This past spring, I decided it would be worthwhile to install a sandbox in our backyard. Chi-Chi adores working with sand. I knew a sandbox would provide endless hours of entertainment for both of my little ones. Although we live just a hop, skip and a jump from the beach, it is not always practical to make the trek to the shore with two small children. I printed a few sandbox plans off the internet and presented them to my husband one Saturday morning. He was assigned his “weekend project” and instructed to march off to the local hardware store to purchase the required supplies. Being a resourceful and creative man, he suggested we incorporate the remaining barn beams into the construction of the sandbox. What an ingenious idea! Not only did we save on material costs, we also “recycled” our beams. We were thrilled with the end results. The completed sandbox is simply beautiful and possesses a warmth and character like no other! The box is 6’X6’, which provides ample space for two to three children to play creatively and independently. The wide beams provide the perfect place for a tired mother to rest her laurels!

Chi-Chi and Muffy spend over an hour each day digging and exploring in the sandbox. Along with the traditional buckets and shovels, the sandbox houses treasures from our trips to the seashore. Both Chi-Chi and Muffy delight in discovering a scallop or moon snail shell while working away on their excavation projects. I too enjoy the sandbox and have discovered its therapeutic qualities. I often find myself getting lost in the relaxed, open-ended play opportunities that it presents. I enjoy assisting Chi-Chi with his elaborate road and trail systems and giggling at the grimace on Muffy’s face following a gritty bite of sand pie. Our sandbox is a soothing and peaceful spot for children and adults to pass the afternoon!

Once again, I am impressed with the play value offered by an open-ended, natural toy. The sandbox is truly a timeless toy that has stood the test of time. No doubt, we can all recall this much-loved favorite from our childhoods. This is a classic from our past that should be enjoyed by all and not reserved for the nostalgics!

Monday, 10 September 2007

At Tisket, A Tasket

As a concerned citizen of the planet Earth, I make a concerted effort to reduce the amount of waste produced by our household. Although each step often feels like a grain of sand in the Sahara, I remain persistent. Recently, our two major grocery chains launched campaigns promoting the use of reusable shopping bags. I am pleased with this sign of progress and with the message being delivered. Such changes in attitude give us all hope that the concepts of waste reduction are becoming more and more mainstream. Practices once reserved for “granola types” are now becoming commonly accepted.

Our family owns a sizeable stash of cotton shopping bags that serves us well on our weekly trips to the supermarket. I always keep a small supply on hand in the trunk of the car so they are conveniently available when needed. Until recently, I’d never given much thought to these shopping bags beyond their utilitarian value.

As Mom and I prepared for our visit to a local farmers’ market last weekend, I noticed she was toting the most handsome basket. This lovely, large basket, with its pleasing round shape, was simply begging to be filled with freshly harvested fruits and veggies. I was truly amazed at the vast amount of farm-fresh goodies she was able to cram into her shopping basket. Mom’s attractive basket seemed to enhance the richness of our market experience. Browsing amongst the vendor stands with a basket on your arm is somehow both a nostalgic and romantic experience. Luckily, I was able to pick up one of these beautiful baskets for myself during my visit to the Annapolis Valley. I even discovered a matching one for Chi-Chi so he can share in the market experience!

A tisket, a tasket, I love my new basket! It is a fun alternative to my drab cotton bags and is also a great way to incorporate a touch of beauty into my weekly chore of stocking the family’s cupboards!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Recharging my Batteries

It is a breezy, sunny fall morning. The air is crisp, yet a hint of summer still lingers. As I lounge comfortably in the pergola, savoring a steaming cup of tea, a light gust of wind rustles the leaves of the wisteria vine overhead. The wind chimes entertain me with a cheerful, nostalgic tune. I breathe deeply. I am feeling rested, relaxed and calm. The day before me is a blank canvas and I am free to decorate it as I my heart desires. Something seems amiss in this picture. It is most definitely not a typical day in my life as a mommy. There are no meals to prepare, bums to change, floors to wipe, toys to tidy. It is a day of well-deserved self-indulgence!

In the two and a half years since Chi-Chi's birth, we've been separated a mere two nights. My one-time "getaway" was far from peaceful or relaxing. It was spent at the local maternity hospital, giving birth to dear little Muffy. Muffy's first birthday is fast approaching and I decided it was not unrealistic or outrageous to grant myself the luxury of a weekend alone, free from my day-to-day chores and obligations.

I booked a room at the best five star B&B I know of- my parents' house in the Annapolis Valley! Their 200 year old home overlooks a picturesque valley of rolling farm fields. The house is warm, cozy and full of charm and character. The big bonus for me is the incredible room rate. I'm always welcome free of charge!

The Annapolis Valley is 'the place to be" this time of year. There is a contagious sense of enthusiasm buzzing in the air during the fall harvest season. The farmers’ markets are overflowing with a colorful array of freshly picked fruits and veggies. My shopping basket was filled to the brim following my visit to the Wolfville Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, corn, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, beans – these are just of few of the tasty treats my family will be feasting on this week. A visit to my favorite antique shop, “Antiques at Home” in New Minas was followed by a relaxing afternoon of reading and chatting with Mom. I enjoyed the simple pleasure “free time”, something most of us with young families crave desperately!

I’ll admit, I’ve placed a total of eight phone calls home in the last thirty-six hours. I miss the sticky kisses, sweet smiles and even the poopy little bums! When Monday morning rolls around, I will feel more grounded, patient and appreciative of my family. Just last week, Chi-Chi turned to me and stated, "I want to be by my lone, Mommy." Even at this tender age, Chi-Chi recognizes that we all need personal and private time to think, listen, read, dream (or in his case, have a poop behind the couch). My simple little “no frills” getaway was just what I needed to rejuvenate my mind and body. I will be heading home with my batteries recharged.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Hats Off to Cast-Offs

As I sip lemonade on my sun-drenched deck, basking in one of the few remaining days of summer, bizarre visions of snow squalls and sub-zero temperatures drift through my wandering mind. This may sound rather peculiar, considering the thermometer reads 20 degrees and I’m sporting a tank top and sandals. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Chi-Chi and Muffy are parading through the house in attire suitable for an Arctic expedition. Just moments earlier, a scavenger hunt in the hall closet lead to the exciting discovery of treasures from a recent trip to the local thrift shop. Muffy is proudly toddling along in a cuddly, cozy red LL Bean bunting suit with the $2.99 price tag still attached. Chi-Chi is decked out in a smart navy blue Land’s End snow suit and matching Stride Rite winter boots. His complete outfit set me back a mere $24, which is a far cry from the $200 retail price (including shipping, duty and taxes). The true accountant in me surfaces as my lips form a wide, satisfied grin. I feel a deep sense of pride as I tally the savings in my head.

As the “baby” of the family, I grew up cringing at the mere mention of the word hand-me-down. I had little need or desire for my sister’s outgrown and unwanted leftovers. I hastily snubbed any previously owned article of clothing that snuck into my closet. Needless to say, the tables have now turned, and as a parent, I pounce on any opportunity to clothe Chi-Chi and Muffy in second-hand threads. No doubt, others may find it premature to be shopping for a winter wardrobe as we cling to the fading summer. Experience has taught me that this is a prime time of year for rummaging through second-hand shops and scanning eBay listings for super deals on cold weather apparel. Ninety percent of Chi-Chi and Muffy’s closet is comprised of gently-used attire. I frequent the thrift shops regularly, keeping my eyes pealed for a bargain. I’m rarely disappointed and my efforts are often rewarded with fabulous finds of high quality clothing in pristine condition.

Not only are hand-me-downs easy on the pocketbook, they are also friendly on the environment. Reusing and recycling second-hand items is a great way for families to reduce their ecological footprint and practice the “Three R’s” in day-to-day life.

In setting a positive example, my hope is that Chi-Chi and Muffy will inherit an appreciation for hand-me-downs and the benefits they offer. My dear mother is likely chuckling to herself as she reads these lines. My days of giving cast-offs the cold shoulder are long gone!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Ode to the Modern-Day Milkman

The crunching of gravel on my driveway and a soft thump on the doorstep rouse me from my slumber. I groggily glance at my bedside clock. It is flashing 5:30 a.m. I turn away and nestle back into my warm cocoon. I smile to myself as I mentally cross an item off my endless to do list. Our family’s supply of milk has just been replenished. How organized and efficient I feel to be accomplishing chores from the comfort of my bed!

Several months ago, my life was feeling a tad more out-of-control than usual. It was the dead of winter and we were in the midst of a particularly cold spell. Although Muffy was already four months of age, I was still having difficulty adjusting to the increased responsibilities in my job description! The juggling act involved in meeting the needs of “two under two” was overwhelming and was taking its toll on me. Averaging 4-5 hours of sleep a night, I was running on empty. It was a struggle to find a spare moment to wash my hair, let alone stay on top of my regular household duties.

Early one morning, while picking up the newspaper, I noticed a delivery truck pull into a neighbor’s driveway. Out hopped a cheerful looking man with an armful of dairy products. A light bulb immediately turned on inside my head. With two growing boys to feed, late-night milk runs were a common occurrence in our house. The idea of a regular and reliable supply of milk delivered directly to my doorstep seemed like an answer to my prayers. Without hesitation, I signed up that day for home delivery with Farmers Dairy. With just one quick phone call, I took a fairly significant step at simplifying my life.

In today’s fast-paced world, where past traditions and customs often fall to the wayside, it is heartening that the neighborhood milkman is still making his rounds. The romantic notion of a horse-drawn cart filled with glass bottles of farm fresh milk may be long gone, but our modern-day milkman is still providing a valuable service to today’s busy families.

Monday, 3 September 2007

A Child's Corner Office

Each morning following breakfast, Chi-Chi, Muffy and I stand at the doorway and bid farewell to Daddy as he departs for another day at the office. As Daddy’s car disappears down the driveway, Chi-Chi turns to me and declares, “I go to work now Mommy”. He scampers off and quickly occupies himself with the serious business of playtime.

Chi-Chi and Muffy share an office that would be the envy of any top executive. Tucked into a cozy 3’x4’ corner of our living room, their “place of business” is snug, inviting and beautiful. With windows facing East and South, the play nook is brimming with a warm natural light throughout the day. The low sills offer the children a breathtaking view of the wildflowers, trees, sky and ocean. The space is filled with natural, open-ended toys that promote creativity and spark imagination. An antique hooked rug and vintage bookcase add charm and character to the atmosphere of the space. Even I tend to gravitate to this corner of the room. I enjoy sitting on the mat in the morning sunlight, sipping a cup of tea while assisting with Chi-Chi’s ironing or taste testing Muffy’s wool carrot creations.

A few months ago, I found myself sitting at the dining room table late one night, pencil and sketchbook in hand. I was drafting potential layouts for a large playroom in the basement. I cringed as dollar signs flashed before my eyes. I was feeling frustrated and exasperated. Our carefully decorated home was being invaded by an army of ugly, loud, plastic toys. All this “stuff” was occupying valuable space and was detracting from the aesthetically pleasing environment my husband and I had proudly created. After reading up on the Waldorf and Montessori approaches, I realized that a child’s environment and playthings deserve the same attention, care and aesthetic considerations that we adults grant ourselves

I set to work on our toy box, earmarking unused and redundant items to be shipped off to a local charity. Obviously, it was non-negotiable that certain loved and cherished favorites remain. My husband and I vowed, however, that on a go forward basis, we would seek out more natural and beautiful options when selecting toys for the children. I’ve always found that Chi-Chi and Muffy are drawn to toys that are displayed in an organized and pleasing fashion. As I result, I’ve sought out creative display options for their playthings. An antique pine shelf, located in a handy spot off the kitchen, attractively displays wooden blocks, hand made finger puppets and beanbags.

My battle against the bulging toy box helped me discover that toys and child-friendly spaces can actually enhance a home's décor as opposed to detract from it. My purging process has simplied our storage solutions and the nightly clean-up as there are fewer toys to "manage". Chi-Chi and Muffy's corner office has turned a lonely and empty spot into a welcoming, cozy nook where adults and children can enjoy a moment of escape!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Thanks, But No Thanks!

I was greeted by a surprise in my mailbox this morning. A tiny rush of adrenaline flowed through my veins as I spotted this unexpected little parcel. Who wouldn’t be pleased to discover something other than bills and junk mail crammed in the post box? Unfortunately, my smile vaporized with disappointment as I tore open the bundle. In my mad rush to uncover my treasure, I had failed to notice that the gift giver was RC2 Corporation – the makers of Thomas & Friends wooden train sets. I looked down in disgust at “Salty” the diesel engine smiling blankly back at me.

Our family was affected by the Thomas & Friends June recall relating to lead paint. Within ten minutes of hearing the news, I had gathered the contaminated toys and tightly packaged them up for return to the manufacturer. I resisted an intense urge to hurl our entire set out the window. My rational side suppressed this desire. Thankfully we only own a twenty five-piece figure eight set. Despite my disgust and outrage over the matter, I’ve allowed Chi-Chi to continue playing with his track. I’ll admit that it promotes quiet, independent and imaginative play that I certainly welcome. My conscience, however, vowed to no longer support “Thomas” and his friends. The promised replacement parts would not be welcome in our home.

With smoke fuming from my ears, I began my search for substitute railcars that would live up to my safety and ethical standards. I stumbled upon a wonderful little company that impressed me with its philosophies and business practices. The Whittle Shortline Railroad is a small, family-owned business that handcrafts beautiful wooden train sets ( All of their toys are handmade from reforested birch hardwood and finished in child-safe paints and sealers. Although Whittle Shortline Railroad is a US company, they do ship to Canada at reasonable rates. Since the toys are crafted in North America, they are free of duty charges. I was delighted to discover they carry adorable railcar lines that appeal to their friendly neighbors up North! Chi-Chi and Muffy will be thrilled to discover a few charming “Canadian National” and “Canadian Pacific” railcars under the Christmas tree this year.

As for my friend “Thomas”, I suppose I should only be polite and send a note of appreciation for my gift. The card will likely read, “Thanks, but no thanks!”

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Sappy Over Nappies

This may sound rather peculiar, but I actually classify “cloth diapering” as one of my hobbies. Some might conclude from this statement that I have slipped into a delusional state, triggered by the exhaustion and lack of sleep that accompanies mothering two busy young boys. They would be mistaken. My love and appreciation for cloth diapers is both genuine and enduring!

Long before Chi-Chi was even a tiny zygote in my belly, I realized cloth diapers would grace the bums of my unborn children. A good friend of mine introduced me to the wonderful world of cloth diapering. There was really no convincing required. Cloth was the only option that seemed logical from many different perspectives.

From an environmental point of view, choosing cloth over disposables is a no-brainer. Going the cloth route undeniably adheres to the principle of “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle”. I wash and reuse my sheets and dishes, why wouldn’t I adopt the same approach with my diapers? The frugal accountant in me also relishes the cost savings associated with cloth diapers. Our family will likely save a few thousand dollars by the time Muffy graduates to underpants. As a mommy, a chief concern of mine is the health of my children. I can’t help but feel concerned and skeptical about the materials and chemicals used to produce disposable diapers.

Many parents don’t realize the cloth diapering options that are currently available. Great Granny would no doubt be shocked by the fashionable attire today’s tiniest bums are sporting. Chi-Chi and Muffy are huge Fuzzi Bunz fans. These soft, fleece-lined nappies are super comfy and are available in a rainbow of fun colors. They are just plain cute! Luckily, cloth diapers are increasing in popularity and are becoming more readily available. A good friend of mine sells Fuzzi Bunz locally, along with many other beautiful and unique cloth diapering and natural parenting products. Check her out at

I realize that my cloth diapering days are numbered. Chi-Chi has been demonstrating a keen interest in the potty lately that I cannot deny. A few weeks ago, I purchased him a few pairs of underwear and he gleefully performed the “Underpants Dance” around the kitchen table. I tear came to my eye and a lump formed in my throat. Someday, in the not-so-distant future, I will run my last load of Fuzzi Bunz through my workhorse of a washer. It will be with a heavy heart that I pack up my beloved nappies and send them off to a new and worthy home. Until then, I will treasure each trip to the change table as a chance to tickle a soft bum, nibble a tiny toe and sing a soft rhyme to a dear little heart. Sniff....Sniff.....

Cheap Thrills

As a mommy, I am constantly wracking my brain to come up with fresh and stimulating adventures for my little ones. As an accountant, I am forever on the lookout for a great deal or bargain. A sublime sense of satisfaction overcomes me when the cosmos align and I am able to achieve these two goals in synchrony!

Since we live on the coast, Chi-Chi spends a significant amount of time gazing out to sea. He admires the seagulls soaring overhead and giggles when the cool sea breeze tickles his cheeks. He listens attentively to the ubiquitous sound of the foghorn. Chi-Chi has a deep passion for all modes of transportation. It is therefore no surprise that he delights in spotting the various boats and ships that cross our view plane - from local lobster boats checking traps, to military vessels performing training exercises and cargo ships journeying out to the open ocean. His enthusiasm for the transportation industry and his maritime surroundings assured me that a “Big Boat Trip” would be a sure hit in his books!

The day of our long awaited nautical adventure finally arrived and we were graced with sunny skies and a light sea breeze. We loaded into the family car and headed down the road to the Dartmouth Ferry terminal. I was rather pleased when I pulled out my change purse to pay our fares. My one-way ticket was a mere $2 and Chi-Chi cleared the gate free of charge. Our 12-minute voyage across the Halifax Harbor was both thrilling and scenic through the eyes of this little two-year old. He smiled shyly at the other passengers and marveled at the many “big, big, big boats” we observed. He was particularly tickled by his sighting of Theodore Tugboat chugging along the water. We received an enthusiastic welcome from Daddy upon docking in Halifax and enjoyed al-fresco dining on the wharf at one of the local restaurants. We meandered along the boardwalk hand-in-hand, stopping to browse in the odd shop or watch an entertaining busker act. We treated Chi-Chi to an adorable wooden Theodore memento. At $15, this was probably a bit of a splurge for a cheapskate like me, but I simply could not resist! How often does one stumble upon a souvenir that meets the criteria of a natural toy? As our ferry waited, I dug another toonie from my purse. Farewell hugs and kisses from Daddy sent us on our journey home.

A one-hour tour on Theodore Too would have set us back a whopping $56. That’s the equivalent of 28 one-way ferry rides! No doubt I will one day shell out that $56. Chi-Chi is now sleeping with his wooden Theodore. It may be the beginning of a new love affair. Regardless, if you are in search of a “cheap thrill” for your little one, a ride on the Dartmouth Ferry may just be the right ticket!

Saturday, 25 August 2007

A Toddler's Tea Ceremony

I love a good cup of tea. There is nothing quite as relaxing and comforting as nestling into a comfy corner with a warm and soothing cup of my favorite tea. I’m pretty “plain Jane” when it comes to my taste in tea. I enjoy my Red Rose orange pekoe with a generous splash of milk. I indulge myself in this pleasure several times a day. As a stay-at-home mommy with two very active little ones, my daily tea rituals provide me with a welcome opportunity to put my feet up and unwind. That’s not to say I finish every cup to the last drop free of interruption!

I find the actual process of brewing a pot enjoyable. I don’t own an electric kettle, nor do I want one. The simplicity of putting a kettle on to boil is somehow more gratifying. An antique pine hutch houses my collection of eclectic pottery mugs. Each one reminds me of a special person, event or place we’ve visited. I carefully review my collection each time, selecting the mug that best suits my mood. I am very fond of each hand-made cup. The warmth and character that each one provides adds to the enjoyment of my “tea break”.

Chi-Chi also enjoys sitting down to a nice little cup of tea. His brew of choice these days is a homemade blend of peppermint and spearmint. As is common with most two-year olds, Chi-Chi is fascinated with the process as opposed to the product. The ‘tea ceremony” is the source of his entertainment and satisfaction. We have a little herb garden growing on our front step. He is “responsible” for watering these plants and takes his duties quite seriously. At such a young age, he seems to understand that he is caring for the plants that provide us with nourishment. He delights in carefully harvesting his mint leaves and enthusiastically runs them back to the kitchen for steeping. He rarely sits still long enough to drain his cup, but he certainly has fun along the way!

I suppose there is a lesson to be learned from Chi-Chi’s attitude and approach to tea time. As the saying goes, it is the journey and not the destination that should be cherished. This is definitely an area I can improve upon in my life. Hats off to Chi-Chi for reminding me of this!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Plug Into Nature

As human beings, I believe that we are inherently drawn to interact with the natural world around us. In today’s hectic and high tech environment, it is often easy to become detached from nature. Personally, I have a strong physical and mental need to spend time outdoors each day, absorbing the energy from the abundance of life that surrounds me. I witness this same need in my children. It does not take long for Chi-Chi to go stir crazy when confined by the four walls of our home. As soon as he marches out the front door, he becomes engrossed in his surroundings. Our backyard is a far more effective “babysitter” than any television program could ever be. Every morning I enjoy a leisurely cup of tea on the doorstep while Chi-Chi collects pinecones in his wagon or squeals at the discovery of a new rock. I try to make a point to “schedule” time outside each day where he is free to explore and lead the way.

On a recent business trip, my husband sat beside a woman and her 8 year old son. A scene of a child running freely through a lush green field flashed on the in-flight video screen. The little boy turned to his mother and asked, “Mommy, isn’t it dangerous to run through a field like that?” An hour later, while peering out the window, he asked his mother if the rural farm fields were golf courses. Are today’s children so “plugged into” technology and controlled scheduled activities that they have completely lost touch with nature? It concerns me that the potential leaders of tomorrow may not have a hands-on appreciation for the natural world.

I recently read a book that touches on this very issue – Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. It is a must-read for every parent and really emphasizes the importance of providing our children with the opportunity to freely explore and discover the wonders of the natural world. Children need to get their hands dirty so to speak. From a parent’s perspective, this should be an easy goal to achieve. It can be as simple as clearing our kids’ schedules of a few organized activities and sending them out into a natural space to devise their own agenda.

I was very fortunate as a child to have ample opportunities to interact with nature. My sister and I spent endless hours beachcombing for treasures for our shell and fossil collections. We were quick to identify the name of every flowering plant during our family walks on the “country road”. I have my parents to thank for all of this. They provided the freedom we needed to explore and gentle instruction and guidance when required. At the tender age of two, Chi-Chi is showing a keen interest in the sea life at our doorstep. He has his own little shell collection that he sorts through on a daily basis. He is quick to correct anyone who attempts to call a quahog a clam shell! I'm so pleased with all he has learned in nature's classroom. I'm glad I signed him up for this one!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Logs Made With Love

In our day-to-day lives, many of us find joy in surrounding ourselves with beauty. We decorate our homes with art and furnishings that please us. We dress in clothes that suit our own personal style. We take the scenic route home to enjoy the charming architecture and landscape. It appears we are inherently drawn to an environment that is aesthetically pleasing. Why then, do we surround our children with loud, tacky and ugly objects? I love the natural texture and beauty of wool, wood, stone and cotton. It therefore only seems logical to believe that Chi-Chi and Muffy feel the same way!

My quest for natural play objects led me into the woods early one Sunday morning, saw in hand. I had previously discovered “Tree Blocks” ( on one of my web searches and felt that this was a woodworking project I could handle, keeping in mind my limited skill set. Considering we live on 16 acres, the majority of which is either forest or alders, it only made sense to venture into my own backyard for the project supplies. I carefully selected a few alder and birch branches to harvest and towed them back to the house to dry out for a few weeks. My dear husband, who always seems to get dragged into my endeavors, used a chop saw to cut the branches into blocks in one-inch increments. I hand sanded each block and then polished them with a sweet-smelling beeswax finish. Chi-Chi enjoyed participating in the project, happily sanding alongside me.

Needless to say, the blocks were a big hit with both of the boys. At 10 months, Muffy is fascinated with dumping them out of their basket. I don’t have to fret over the threat of toxic paint when he chooses to taste test the odd block. Chi-Chi immediately set to work building various garage structures for his cars. I too love our new blocks. They make my housekeeping duties a little more pleasant. I don’t seem to mind tidying up as much when I am handling something beautiful. I occasionally take a moment to smell the honey scent of the blocks and enjoy the melodic clinking sound as they drop into the basket. Despite the fact that I am an accountant, I love the imperfect nature of the blocks. Each one is unique and this helps the children find more creative methods to build and interact with them. These blocks definitely rank highly on the "most played" list in our household!

The Clover Invasion

My husband and I are always dreaming up strategies to simplify our lives and reduce the amount of time we spend running errands and doing chores. We both enjoy various hobbies and projects. With two small children, it can be extremely challenging to fit in personal time.

This summer we decided to take an “au natural” approach to some of our landscaping efforts. We stopped mowing our front lawn completely and encouraged a natural meadow to take its place. A “clover invasion” on our front lawn was the catalyst for this idea. Over the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed a sea of clover thrive, while the grass seeds we carefully planted seemed to struggle in our harsh coastal environment. Clover is such a lush and beautiful plant and our brood of wild bunnies adores munching on it. In the back of my mind I deduced that if the bunnies found contentment on their clover farm, they would refrain from dining in my garden! As a result of our efforts (or lack thereof) the chore of lawn mowing has turned into a 20-minute quickie.

I certainly enjoy the benefits of the lawn space that remains. It‘s a wonderful place for the little ones to stretch their legs and run. It will no doubt serve as a great mini soccer or ball field in the future. I notice, however, that both Chi-Chi and Muffy gravitate to the wild and natural spaces of our property as opposed to the manicured areas. Among the sweet smelling clover, goldenrod and wild yarrow, there is a wonderful world to discover. Although the meadow plants are waist high on Chi-Chi, he traipses through the bunny paths, inspecting insects and admiring the tiny sparrows. He delights in his regular sightings of bunnies and pheasants. We literally have a natural playground on our front lawn! Who knew that our laziness would reward us with such benefits?!

Monday, 20 August 2007

A Visit from the Wool Fairy

My little guy Chi-Chi was greeted by a present from the “Wool Fairy” this morning. A perfect little woolen strawberry was resting on his pillow when he awoke from his sweet dreams. Despite being plagued by the effects of chronic lack of sleep and caffeine overdose, the “Wool Fairy” of Seaside Farms worked into the wee hours of the morning to create this little masterpiece.

Over the last couple of months, I have been searching for more natural and aesthetically pleasing items to place in our family’s toy box. The recent recalls in the toy industry have further fuelled my quest to find options that are made of natural, non-toxic materials. I have experienced a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment in crafting some of these toys myself. This has been a bit of a challenge considering I have two small children at home, but the benefits are well worth it.

I recently became interested in learning how to crochet. I came across a wonderful book that included patterns for play food, which happens to be one of my weaknesses! Amigurumi – Super Happy Crochet Cute by Elisabeth Doherty includes a number of adorable patterns ranging from carrots to cupcakes to bunny rabbits. My friend’s mother, who is a master at the art of crochet, whipped up a bunch of carrots for me last week. They are simply gorgeous! The carrots and strawberries were all made with 100% wool, including the stuffing. They are beautiful, natural, environmentally friendly and made with love. What more can one ask for in a toy? It certainly beats lead paint and plastic parts that can poison our children and will eventually end up in a landfill.

As I write, Chi-Chi is busy in his kitchen, carefully cooking up a batch of carrot soup and strawberry jam for this morning’s snack. Sounds delicious!


Sunday, 24 June 2007

Lessons from the Garden

After a stressful couple of days, I spent some time fiddling in my perennial garden this morning. I needed to clear my head and heart. Getting some dirt under my fingernails always proves to be a therapeutic and rejuvenating experience for me. During our first spring at “Seaside Farms II”, I was chomping at the bit to plant my long awaited dream garden. I had clear visions of a beautiful palette of my favorite blooms and anticipated the positive aesthetic appeal this garden would provide to our landscape. At the time, I wasn’t enlightened to the other benefits gardening can bring to a person’s life.

A perennial garden keeps on giving of itself. I tried to explain this to my husband after my first trip home from the garden centre. The cost of these plants was clearly an investment! What’s interesting is that my favorite plants are undeniably the ones that have been passed along by friends. These plants joined my garden as a few tiny seedlings “weeded” out by someone else, or a clump of roots handed to me in a plastic grocery “gift” bag. With very little effort on my part, they have transformed into mature, lush plants. We have some neighbour friends that have been gardening in our seaside community for many years. The plants we’ve received from them are most always a guaranteed success as they have stood the test of our harsh coastal weather. My mother has a friend who had been an avid gardener for years. When her perennials became too much for her to maintain, she passed along many of them to Mom. Mom in turn handed some over to my sister and I. What a treat to see this dear lady’s gorgeous mauve irises gracing my garden this spring. I will take a photo and send it along to her. No doubt she will be pleased to know her plants are still bringing joy to others.

When planning my garden, I chose many flowers that had nostalgic value to me. Brown-Eyed-Susans were always a favorite of my grandmother's. Nanny’s middle name was Susan so perhaps this is why they held a special place in her heart. Forget-me-nots bring back memories of my childhood. At a very young age I marveled at their delicate beauty and unique shade of indigo blue. The scent of lilac blooms in late June reminds me of that exhilarating feeling of school being out for the summer. I’ve been told that my great-grandmother tended the most beautiful patch of sweet peas. Even though I was never lucky enough to meet her, I grow these each year in her honor.

I hope to pass along the joys of gardening to my children. Chi-Chi (as my 2 year-old likes to refer to himself) has his own little lettuce patch he has been faithfully tending. He enjoys watering my garden with his miniature watering can. Often he ends up watering himself more than the plants! Hopefully my garden path will serve as an informal classroom to my boys. What a wonderful setting for Chi-Chi and Muffy (my 9 month old) to explore and discover the beauty of nature!