Sunday, December 5, 2010

Expo Agricole in Saint-Hyacinthe

At the end of July every year, there is an awesome festival in Saint-Hyacinthe called Expo-Agricole. Seriously, I've been raving to friends about it since I tried it out last year for the first time. If you have young kids you simply MUST schedule this in your summer itinerary! Mark took the day off work to go as a family this year, because I couldn't stop raving about it. And, I'm happy to say he wasn't disappointed. :)

We went on the opening day, which was a Thursday. There were a lot of daycamps there, so it was actually quite packed. However, having the extra set of hands there made it so much easier for me, because - for example - while Mark took Kira to the lineup to get her face painted (see previous post for the beautiful result), I could take Calvin to the lineup for the mini-train ride, and both kids could avoid the lines for the activities they didn't so much care for.

What makes this fair stand out? It's incredibly well organized, and there is a huge variety of activities. It's clean, there are lots of accessible toilets (very important as a parent of young children), and it is spacious. If you get there early enough, there is ample free street parking. If you don't arrive early enough, the residents are all out with signs offering parking on their lots for $10. There are several rides even for the toddlers (Calvin went on rides on his own even last year, at 1.5 years old!). Oh, and the price is right: $15 per person, which includes access to all the rides. Even the airbrushed face painting was free!

Last year I packed a picnic, but once the kids saw that there was pizza for sale, I ended up buying them pizza and lemonade, and lugging my big backpack around all day. This year I packed lighter, knowing I'd spend a bit extra on lunch and treats, and it simply made things less stressful and more enjoyable.

Along with the usual ferris wheel and traveling fair-type rides, there were some interesting ones like this boat that the little kids could control with little hand cranks:

There was a petting zoo (pictured above) and several buildings full of prize-winning livestock, including horses, cows, sheep, pigs, miniature ponies, chickens, reptiles, and more!

Several tractors and farming vehicles were on display, and these took up a lot more time than we imagined they would, as the kids were climbing on and off every model of tractor on the lot!

Definitely worth the trek, folks!

Friday, December 3, 2010

HomeStart / Premiers Pas Daycamp

A definite highlight over the past several summers has been the Premiers Pas / HomeStart daycamp. This daycamp is held each summer over a period of 6 weeks (3 days a week), and it is for parents to participate alongside their child(ren), aged 0 to 5 years. The camp is subsidized by the government and as such, is made affordable beyond belief! This year the registration fees were $40 for the family, for 6 weeks inclusive! I know, unbelievable.

The counselors are resourceful, bilingual, energetic, and selected for their love of children and capacity to entertain and plan an exciting camp that is inclusive of babies up to preschoolers. We enjoyed spending time there, and outings included local pools, the Jean-Drapeau beach, the Old Port of Montreal, and the library.

I have been attending this camp since Kira was less than 2 years old. Honestly, there are not many options out there for organized activities for toddlers during the long summer days. I hope that some of you South Shore mums and dads will consider this daycamp and supporting a wonderful organization that helps families in need of social support. In doing so, you will meet an administration that is caring and devoted to the best interests of families.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kira's face canvas

I love how Kira is so into face-painting these days! She has always been an artistic girl, and this summer she was always happy to provide her face as a canvas. Here are just a few of the painted faces Kira sported this year!

Here is one from the Mums & Tots Easter party, painted by a fellow mom:
At the CHEO (Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario) Teddy Bears' Picnic in Ottawa, in June:
At Premiers Pas / HomeStart daycamp in July:

Expo Agricole in Ste. Hyacinthe in July:
And for Halloween, she wanted an angel painted on her face, by yours truly:
Loving this phase tremendously!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Highlights of summer - Calvin's happy place

As I've been away from blogging for several months now, I've missed out on blogging about the most awesome summer we had this year! So, here I am in December, posting about months ago...

It's kind of fun actually, looking at photos from the summertime. I can't believe how busy we were all summer long, and having a great time outdoors almost every day!

One of the cool things about flipping through hundred of pics at a time is that you can quickly see particular themes emerge. Clearly, Calvin was happiest in the sandbox. Whether we were camping, hanging out at a local park, at daycamp, or in our own backyard, Calvin just loved spending time in the sand! In fact, from May through September I kept a bag of sand toys in my trunk each and every day, at the ready. Here are some pics of Calvin in his happy place:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Meet the (preschool) teachers in Kira's life (so far!)

I really lucked out when I found out about Les Activités Préscolaires de Brossard. What a fantastic preschool that my daughter has attended the past 2 years! I can't even begin to express how pleased I am with her experience there.

Kira started preschool when she was 2 months shy of turning 3 years old. I was ready and pleased to put her there, in a predominantly French-speaking environment, with new friends her age. She was in a class called Mille Pattes with teacher Marie-France. I remember standing below the classroom window outside, hearing her scream and cry, and was reassured by an experienced mom: "Don't worry. Marie-France is the best for dealing with the little ones. You'll see, it breaks your heart now, but she's going to be just fine!". It took about a month for Kira to warm up to the idea of preschool, which she attended 3 mornings a week. As the months passed, she enjoyed it more and more, and came home with new songs, crafts, stories, and a lot of role-playing. I don't know how many times I had to play the student while she was my teacher.

PJ Day in December 2008:

Here is a shot from her first Christmas show:
And at the end of the year with Marie-France:
This past year we put Kira in for 2.5 days a week; that is, one morning and 2 full days. A big step that my big girl was ready for. And once again she had amazing teachers!

Her morning teacher 3 days a week was the talented François (aka Musicabouche), a musician with a gentle heart, and a comedian with a big smile all at the same time. What a fantastic male role model to have! Kira's favourite CD is one of François', and every time she listens to it, she says: "I feel like François is right here with me!"

Kira was also lucky to have the craftiest teacher in town, and by this I mean arts & crafts! Tina's classroom is the envy of all teachers when it comes to artistic displays! I've got a bag full of art projects that I'll keep for a lifetime thanks to Tina! Here's one of them, a big princess with Kira's face cut out and inserted in the cut-out!

Tina watched over Kira and a big group of children during "Club des Champions", an extension of lunch hour that included lots of outside playtime, bug-catching, silly fun, and of course, arts & crafts!

I'll be posting more about this preschool in coming months, with photos past and present. Calvin is about to discover the joys of "Les Activités Préscolaires" in a few short weeks! Whee!

If you live on the South Shore, be sure to check out this wonderful preschool!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Impromptu parties

I love when my kids get along and play well together. What parent doesn't love to hear a little laughter between their little ones as they play in the other room? Most recently, my kids have started holding their own parties in the living room while I do my household chores. Crafting hats and accessories out of paper, and using a lot of imagination for the guests and themes, here are a few random pics from 2 recent parties held in honour of Ms. Sheep and Mr. Giraffe.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The mommy connection

When we're over-tired, feeling like a zombie, frazzle-nerved, or simply hormonal, who can we rely on for that little bit of sanity to make it through the day? Other moms, of course. Friendships are what carry us through the day.

I'm the kind of person who seeks out friendships, and when I make a new one I come home happy as a schoolgirl ("Mark, I met someone new today, and she has BFF potential!"). When I knew I would be leaving my office job to take mat leave, I was afraid of losing that important circle of friends and not being able to make new ones. So, at my last prenatal class I handed out cookies and a slip of paper with my email address on it. Happily, there was a sizeable group of us who met up regularly all year! I then became a breastfeeding support mom through Moms for Milk, and met several beautiful and empowered women who shared several of the same values I had on motherhood and family life. I'm still friends with some of these women, although my children's lives have led my own into different circles.

Luckily, I still have wonderful friends through several outlets, who I see on a regular basis. But let me focus on the mommy groups today.

Although the membership changes year to year, one of the constant sources of my sanity comes from Mums & Tots of Brossard. We meet twice a week for this playgroup, which offers an opportunity for free play, crafts, stories and songs each meet. Duties are shared and rotated amongst the membership. There is always coffee and snacks to greet us. And fellow moms who want to share, ask, vent, or simply hang out. I remember when I was one big, hormonal mess, somehow hauling my 4-day old Calvin and 2 year old Kira up the stairs, bawling my eyes out to the most understanding and compassionate group of women (who were silently thinking: "Whoa, she went off the deep end!"). And here we are 2 years later at a monthly MNO (Moms' Night Out), a great source of sanity (and martinis!)

The Mums & Tots connection helped forge what became a monthly outing for those of us moms who would see each other regularly at drop-off at our kids' preschool. On Mondays, our children attended preschool from 8:30am to 10:45am. Just long enough for a stroll, a coffee, and some good conversation at a nearby Timmy's. So, once a month we made it an outing and a good reason to put off what little cleaning or chores we would manage in that short a time anyway! Thanks, Karen, for getting that ball rolling! :) Unfortunately, I was never quite organized enough to take a photo of that lovely group of ladies, which should go below this blurb. :(

When Kira started ballet last fall, I started talking to a fellow mom Michelle, who like me, was biding the 45 minutes of class time going through sales flyers. We ended up chatting (and once even managed to go out and do a bit of shopping!) during that time, and I must say I'm happy I got to know her. Well, this season the group of hallway moms grew to 6 of us who now take turns making and bringing a pot of coffee and/or treats, and who fill that 45 minutes with awesome conversation! Here's a pic of the little set-up we have going. We now have to make sure the treats are done and put away before the children come out of ballet class.

Finally, I'm just throwing in a pic of the Epicure team I belong to. Cara is my Leader, and I am Helen's leader, so we are a little chain of Consultants trying to make a go at selling spices and cookware while balancing motherhood and other commitments at the same time.

Thanks to all you wonderful women who make me feel like I'm a great mom when I'm having a bad day!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Busy at work and play

I was lamenting the first lawn mowing of the year, because it marks just the beginning of a long season of lawn mowing whether we like it or not. Today was actually a perfect day for it, though - sunny with a little breeze. I also find lawn-mowing to be rather therapeutic once I'm into it, so it ended up not being so bad. :)

This is the first year since we had kids, that Mark and I could actually get a fair amount of work done outside. Up until now, one of us would have to mind the kids while the other worked, so we'd end up taking turns. Today, as I was mowing the backyard, Mark started Kira up on weed-pulling from our planter box on the back deck, while he worked on repairing our fence (Calvin held the screws for him and dispensed them one by one).

Of course, to do any significant amount of weeding, you need to wear a tiara!

Once I finished mowing the backyard, I helped Kira plant some seeds (I took the kids on an "outing" to the gardening store last weekend when it was miserably rainy out). She wanted to watch her plants grow, but I had to warn her that it could take several weeks before we see anything!

Meanwhile, Mark started pruning the trees. Calvin helped collect the fallen branches. Here he is, sporting his new & cool shades to do the job:

Off to continue on the front lawn, where we managed to mow, prune, and weed some more. The kids had to run across the street (with Mark or I, of course. No heart attacks, please!) to talk to the neighbours, and they needed a little popsicle break for all of their hard work. Oh, and Kira also needed a wardrobe change by then:

Sure it takes double the amount of time it would normally take in our pre-kid years, but there's far more entertainment value in yard work with the kids!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Butterflies galore at the Botanical Gardens!

After several years of wanting to catch this exhibit, we finally made plans to see the Butterflies Go Free! exhibit at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. The kids and I met up with one of Kira's ballet friends and her mom. It was a perfect spring day, somewhere around 15 degrees max, with a little breeze.

Due to a labour dispute, the Biodome and Insectarium were closed, but no matter. The exhibit and the gardens filled the day. Here are some miscellaneous shots from the indoor exhibit, followed by a little video of the butterflies! Beautiful!

Butterflies snacking on a plate of fruit. :)

Cocoons, some with butterflies emerging!
And here is the video that only partially captures the beauty of butterflies:

I was surprised to see how crowded it was. Then again, Montrealers are great about converging to special activities and events, and as said, it was perfect weather! We lunched outdoors and then took a walk through the Chinese Botanical Gardens.

This is the last weekend for the exhibit. Hope you can catch it, and if not, there's always next year!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ecomuseum: awesome outing yearround!

I've been meaning to blog about the Ecomuseum for such a long time! Luckily, in postponing this post, I've amassed a nice collection of photos over the various seasons at my all-time favourite "regular" outing.

The Ecomuseum is a beautiful retreat in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. It cares for a wonderful variety of wildlife, and its focus is on education and protection of animals in a natural habitat. We started going there last summer, when I discovered it online somehow and was intrigued. We've gone 5 times since then, and have enjoyed it immensely each time!

For $20 a visit ($12.50 per adult, $7.50 for children 3 to 15 years, free for children under 3), we've made a full day outing of our trip to the Ecomuseum each time. In general, we arrive in the morning, set out on the trails for about 1.5 hours, stop for lunch (there's an indoor lunch room, or outdoor picnic tables so you're set no matter what the weather), then go downstairs to visit the reptiles, fish, and nocturnal animals for about a half hour. A 10am to 2pm outing is perfect timing here! The bathroom is equipped with a change table, and there is a stepping stool at the sink for young hand-washers. The staff are friendly and courteous. And the experience is always a bit different. Oh, and they are open every day of the year except Christmas Day, so it's a great place to plan an outing any time of year.

Here are views of the pond during the summertime and the wintertime:

We have seen a snowy owl (particularly beautiful in a snowy environment), a red fox, crows and ravens, a lynx, coyotes, a black bear, caribou, otters, butterflies in the butterfly garden, turtles, porcupines, turkeys, deer, and more! And on each visit, Kira has a new question ("Do bears have tails?" "How do fishers catch porcupines?") and walks out with new knowledge about the animals she saw that day. Calvin on the other hand, just enjoys the nature and the walk.

This winter we went to an Animal Apprentice workshop for 3 to 5 year olds, and it was a very enriching experience. Kira got to prepare food for the animals, along with the other participating children. The animator was excellent, and made her talk interesting and relevant to this age group. She separated the children into groups, which - with the help of the accompanying parents - made "toys" out of food for various animals to claw or peck or poke at to get to their snack. We discovered just how clever ravens are when we went to hide our group's "toy" in the raven's enclosure. We went for a long walk along the trail, while Jennifer our animator, shared all kinds of facts and interesting tidbits about the animals we were visiting. We fed many of those animals from the food that we prepared during our workshop. And upon our return to the warmth of the indoors, we were treated to more reptiles and animals that the kids got to meet up close. I highly recommend this experience for all nature and animal lovers!

Most recently, we went back to the Ecomuseum this past Saturday, for the first time with Mark! I was so excited for him to experience it and to see why I kept raving about it. Being Easter weekend, it was packed! But we had a wonderful time and perfect weather for this family outing. We even stayed in the area afterward, and went for a long walk along the river. We enjoyed ice cream, supper, and each other's company.