Archive for February, 2011

Ottawa Area: March Break Activities

Schools in the Ottawa area have staggered March Breaks, some beginning as early as February 28, and some as late as March 14. Spending March Break in and around the Ottawa area can be a lot of fun. With a little bit of preparation, families can have an exciting vacation while staying at home.

Are you looking for an entire day outside with children of varying ages? My children love snow tubing. There is a great place in Gatineau called Domaine de L’Ange Gardien. The hills are of varying sizes, and thoughtfully laid out with safety in mind. There is also a T-Bar lift that is simple enough for small children to use (this is a big hit). The snow tube rentals are included in the cost of admission, as is space indoors to have a little break or to eat lunch. There are also trails to walk on through the woods as well as sleigh rides.

Try visiting a sugar bush this season. Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush has a variety of activities to keep everyone happy. These include trails, self-guided tours, games like “I Spy” and “Mystery Hunt”, face painting, horse drawn wagon rides, and lots of other fun activities. Most of the time, these are offered mainly on the weekend.

However, Fulton’s will be hosting these special activities everyday from March 12- March 20. 

There are other sugar bushes in the area worth checking out as well including Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm and Proulx Sugarbush and Berry Farm.

Sometimes, an hour or so outing with the children is all you need to make the day special for them. The Ottawa Public Library is an excellent place to head when the children need a change of scene. They offer all sorts of programs over March Break as well. There are programs for all ages ranging from preschool to 18 years old. Best of all is that all of the programs are free!

Still in need of ideas? Have a look at the Ottawa Information Guide which has outlined lots of activities for all ages. Also, don’t forget the local park. Children still enjoy parks in the winter, and running about outside is the best way to ensure a happy and healthy March Break.

How will you be spending March Break?

Have fun!


Gwen blogs at She can also be found on Twitter @GwenVsTheKids

*image credit: stock.xchng

Kindness Week


Best Tools for Schools is excited that this is Kindness Week.  Candace is on the Steering Committee and Laurie is on the Education committee.  Rebecca is blogging during the week as well on the Kindness Week website.  Kindness Week focuses on ways people can be kind in our community, and encourages these acts to last year round.  There are events happening across the city, or citizens are encouraged to come up with their own kindness activity.

As you know, Best Tools for Schools is very involved in giving to our community.  Last year, we donated many school supply kits across the city and were happy to help kick off a new school fundraising program for the Snowsuit Fund.

We are proud to run an annual initiative with our family of schools who hold fundraising events in support of the Snowsuit Fund of Ottawa during the month of November.  With the help and generosity of our amazing schools our campaign raised almost two thousand dollars in the first year alone.  Both cash donations and donations of used snowsuits go directly back into our community, to children who are the classmates and playmates of our children.  

                                                                   From the Snowsuit Fund Website

Best Tools for Schools is excited to be a part of Kindness Week again this year and look forward to hearing about kind activities happening in our wonderful city. 

How are you being kind?

Test Kitchen: Corn Bread

I like to watch cooking shows – as much for their entertainment as for the tips and ideas they give me. And as so often happens in a busy day I end up only half paying attention to what is happening on screen and half to whatever chaos is going on around me. It was a brave day when I decided to try out this recipe from a half watched episode of Chef Michael Smith’s Chef at Home – a recipe I dare say I did not recall in its entirety.

However, the results were good! And hubby and my step daughter seemed to be delighted with the little triangles of corn goodness.

3 TBSP butter
1 1/2 cup milk
2 cups corn meal
3 eggs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add a greased cast iron skillet or 9 inch round cake pan to the oven to heat up.

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted add milk and heat through.  While the milk is warming crack 3 eggs into a large mixing bowl.

Once milk is slightly warmer than room temperature, add corn meal. Stir until grains stick together and form a dough like consistency. Remove from heat and place corn meal mixture in the mixing bowl with eggs. Combine until the mixture is like batter.

Pour the batter into the warmed skillet or pan – cook until a fork inserted into the middle of the bread comes out clean. Approx. 30 minutes. Serve with stew or soup.

Jodi Lariviere is a blogger and food writer with a real passion for healthy, local ingredients and she also writes two of her own blogs:  Simply Fresh – and the new Vegging for Two –

Yoga at Home

A question I get quite often from parents is where they can find more information to incorporate yoga at home.  Of course I always recommend checking out my website and blog, but have a list of many other resources I like to share!  Taking time out to practice yoga as a family is a wonderful bonding experience and is a great way to release stress and improve your overall health.  Here are some resources available to you online to bring yoga into your home.

From my family to yours, enjoy!

YouTube Clips for Ages 3-6

YouTube Clips for Ages 6-12

Yoga Music For the Whole Family

Yoga Books for the Whole Family

My Daddy is a Pretzel by Baron Baptiste

The Happiest Tree by Uma Krishnaswami

Suggested Yoga DVD’s

Yoga 4 Kids- Marsha Wenig

Radiant Child- Shakta Kaur Khalsa

Shanti the Yogi- Snatam Kaur

DeGrace Energetics & Little Lotus Yoga programs may be found at  & 

Follow @littlelotusyoga on twitter for up to date information, recommended resources and to continue enjoying yoga with your children.

Join our Little Lotus Yoga” fan page on Facebook to access pictures of postures, yoga sequences, guided meditations and recommended resources.

Outside the Classroom – Toronto Edition: Family Day

Did you know that Family Day is the most recent addition to Ontario’s holiday calendar?  Our first ever Family Day was in 2008.  The purpose of Family Day is to spend the day with loved ones, as well as to break up the long stretch of winter between New Year’s Day and Easter. 

Although there will be some closures, most family friendly attractions will be open.  Here are some of the amazing activities to participate in this Family Day:

Toronto Zoo: family trees at most indoor pavillions and animal family displays

Casa Loma: include ghost tracking on Sunday and on Monday a Dora the Explorer themed scavenger hunt and a “Become a Knight” program (pre-registration required).

Hockey Hall of Fame: free admission to youth 13 and under on Family Day (must be accompanied by a paying adult; 4 free youth permitted per adult ticket).

Royal Ontario Museum: African Adventure

City of Toronto: Events at different locations that will offer Dance, music, sculpture, street theatre, crafts, storytelling, skating, tasty treats and free hot chocolate.

The Beaches:  Family entertainment and animals from the Bowmanville Zoo. From 11am – 4pm

International Centre:  Toronto’s Kids-Fest with inflatable bouncers, stage shows, pony rides and more in 50,000 square feet! 

Downsview Park:  The city’s largest indoor amusement park featuring Rides, Attractions and Interactive Entertainment!

But if you are in the mood for shopping, the Eaton Centre and Yonge/Dundas shops will be open on Family Day as well. 

Happy Family Day!

*image credit: stock.xchng

❤❤❤❤ Peace, Love and Cupcakes

~ Nerissa




Where Life Is Sweet 

Other Blogs

The Cupcake Place

Life Beyond Cupcakes

Book Review: The Queen’s Secret

As my kids get older they put on themselves expectations, behaviours that they think they should follow because they want others to think they’re big. I talked about this last week when reviewing Zero Kisses for Me.  

Scholastic‘s book The Queen’s Secret (age 3-7 )  written by Frieda Wishinsky and illustrated by Loufane, is another book along the same line. Young Kay notices that The Queen always has a large handbag with her wherever she goes. Kay lets her imagination loose as she imagines what’s in The Queen’s bag. Then one day, just as she is about to meet The Queen, Kay gets a peek in the bag and is surprised at what she finds.

Most kids have a favourite stuffed animal when growing up, stuffies in our house. They become a source of comfort and companionship as kids go through various stages of growth and development. But stuffies have a reputation as being a toy for babies; as you get bigger you don’t need them anymore. When Kay discovers The Queen’s Secret is a stuffy she carries around, it illustrates that even big people have their own security blankets.

My two oldest kids waiver in and out of this “I’m too big for stuffies” phase; they are worried about being viewed as little if someone found out. The Queen’s Secret shows that sometimes we all need something, sometimes.

The Queen’s Secret is a great book for kids dealing with the dilemma of growing up and leaving childhood items behind, though the pink-princessy tone will probably appeal to girls more than boys. I have to thank Nikole from Scholastic Canada for my review copy.

The Queen’s Secret

(age 3-7)

written by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Loufane


Carrie Anne is a contributing book reviewer on Best Tools for School’s blog and No Time for Flash Cards as well as Managing Editor of You can catch up with her and her three kids on her blog Another Day Another Thought… Or Two.

Don’t Kid Yourself: High-Cost Education Isn’t Necessarily High Quality

Last night, I dreamed of visiting a private school and trying to convince the principal that he should institute twice yearly reading and writing assessments for his SK to grade 3 students.   If you’re familiar with my education background and passions, it’s no surprise that I would dream about mandatory literacy assessments.

Maybe the reason I had the dream is that recently I’ve been inundated with calls and emails from parents concerned about their children’s ability to read, write or do math, the level of support they are receiving in the public system, and their desire to find the solution for their children.

Many parents ask me if they should remove their children from the public system and, if so, what private school I recommend.  Here, I am talking about parents of children who are struggling, not parents of kids who will ease through the system and then receive scholarships to Queens or McGill.

 My answer is always the same:  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that moving your child out of the public system of education is going to be the magic that changes his/her academic life.   It may be the right thing to do; it may not.

Private schools are not necessarily better, not even the ones that advertise themselves as specifically focussed on special needs or offering a multiple-intelligence approach.   Don’t just “buy” the literature without asking a lot of very specific questions.

If the school advertises for students with special needs, what special programming is it offering?  How are instruction and assessment modified to suit each child’s needs?  What is the real student-teacher ratio?  How much do the teachers rely on workbooks? Are there speech language pathologists on staff or on contract?  Physical therapists?  Psychologists?  What is the specific training of the teachers that qualifies them to work in this unique setting?  What ongoing professional development is the school providing to its teachers to ensure they keep current with educational theory, technological change, and resource reviews? 

Any school can advertise a multiple-intelligence approach to education.  What does that mean?  Are the unit plans for every subject infused with a variety of teaching strategies (bodily-kinaesthetic, linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist)?  Are the assignments and assessment tools also designed in such a way as to allow students to demonstrate their learning through different intelligences, or is a test simply a test?  

Even though you’re frustrated trying to negotiate the necessaries of getting your child’s unique learning needs addressed in public school, think hard before you buy into the notion that private is necessarily better.  What special training do the teachers of the essential skills of math and language have?  What do they know about learning disabilities? ADHD?  What experience do they have differentiating instruction?  What resources (human and other) are available to support them?

Don’t know how to find out the answers to these questions?  Call the principal.  Ask for a tour and a meeting.  Go in with prepared questions and take detailed notes.   Go to the parking lot at drop off / pick up time and talk to parents. Lots of them.   

In the end, if you can’t come up with a lot of specific reasons why Private School X is better than your neighbourhood public school, don’t move your child.  Private isn’t better just because it’s private.  Private school is a business first and a child’s educational forum second.

Of course, public school is a business too.  But at least when the teachers in the public system recommend you find a tutor to help your child, it isn’t after your $13,000 tuition cheque clears the bank. 

Of course, if you do find an affordable private school that “hits all the right notes,” do whatever you think is best for your child. 

That’s what we always do in the end anyway, isn’t it?

Until next time,


Diane Duff, B. Ed., is a literacy consultant who works with families, schools, and literacy coaches/tutors.  Diane conducts assessments for reading/writing skills and dyslexia; provides workshops for parent groups; leads reading and language curriculum review for private schools, Montessori schools and homeschooling parents; and conducts teacher training in language and literacy development.     For more information, visit 

*image credit: stock.xchng

Getting Organized: Avoiding the Tax Scramble

Right now, you might be starting the TAX SCRAMBLE and be thinking to yourself:

  • Where’s that slip with my E-File number?
  • I  hope none of my RRSP slips ended up in the recycle bin
  • Where did that tuition receipt for figure skating/soccer/fencing end up?
  • I’m pretty sure I have all my gas receipts in my glove box

Well after you get that all sorted out, do yourself a favour and start getting ready for the following year’s tax season.
Get a file folder/binder/snap case or whatever will be more functional for you, and label it ‘2011 Taxes
Receipts and donation slips’
.  As they come to you throughout the year, put them in your file of choice.  Once 2012 rolls around and you start in on your taxes for 2011, you can take the TAX SCRAMBLE out of the equation, which makes all the calculating a whole lot easier!

*image credit: stock.xchng

Lisa is the Co-Host of MeFest, Half of @Those2Girls & a lover of all things Facebook & Twitter.  When not running to work, the grocery store, hockey practice etc she doesn’t like to waste her fun time doing tedious tasks.  Let On Track Thursday help you find your ME Time & get you back to the FUN!

Outside the Classroom: Ottawa Edition – At The Movies

It’s cold outside. And I have a cold. And the children are bored. And I fear that one more toboggan run might be the end of me. It’s time to grab the kids and go to the movies!

I’m a big fan of the Ottawa Family Cinema.  It is inexpensive and the parking is free. That’s all I need to be happy! Lots of different types of movies are screened, including “Little Fockers”, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (3D), and “Tangled” (3D). The cost for a family of five?  Non-members would pay $25 and members would pay $15 if the tickets were ordered in advance. Worth checking out!

Another good place to see movies is the Rainbow Theatre in the St. Laurent Mall. Tickets are only $5, regardless of age. Having said that, there is a $3 charge for 3D movies. A family of five can see a movie for $25. This weekend, both “Yogi Bear” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” are playing. There is lots of free parking.

The IMAX at the Museum of Civilization is worth seeing. It is a more expensive option, but there are “Mix and Save” packages that offer savings if you wanted to visit the museum as well (you haven’t lived until you’ve visited the Children’s Museum within the Museum of Civilization!). There are various shows ranging from the 32 minutes “Animaloplois” to the feature length film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One”. To see an IMAX film (that isn’t feature length), it would cost a family of five $38. Parking is an additional charge.

In Ottawa, everyone is talking about Winterlude. For my family, “Plan B” is definitely going to the movies. Because sometimes, everyone needs a break from the winter, if only for a couple of hours!

Gwen blogs at She can also be found on Twitter @GwenVsTheKids

*image credit: stock.xchng

Test Kitchen: Split Pea Soup

I have a Cook Along Book Club on my blog, where every so often I pick a cook book of mine and begin to cook my way through a good number of the recipes. My latest book was Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller – a steller book with one issue. The portions. HUGE portions. Enough to feed a restaurant not to mention a family.

One of my favourite recipes of his was a split pea soup – but I found it could use a little tweaking, not just in the portion sizes but in the amount of ham used as well. I love ham in my split pea soup and so does my step daughter – to keep us both happy I altered his amazing recipe – sorry Chef Keller! But I was very happy with it in the end. Rich, comforting and surprisingly healthy.


1 TBSP canola oil
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cup coarsly chopped leeks
1 cup coarsly chopped onions
2 smoked ham hocks
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup split peas, rinsed and stones removed
1 TBSP red wine vinegar
1 cup frozen peas

Heat canola oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add carrots, leeks and onions. Add a generous pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low and cover – allow just a bit of steam to escape by placing the lid on slightly askew. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally for 35 minutes until veggies are tender.

Add the ham hocks and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 45 minutes. Using a strainer or slotted spoon remove the vegetables and discard, reserve the ham hocks and stock. Return the ham hocks and stock to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Add split peas and simmer for 1 hour until peas are completely soft.

Remove soup from heat and take out the ham hocks. Add vinegar, pepper to taste and frozen peas, cover with tight fitting lid. While this sits, remove the bone, skin and fat from ham hock and shred the meat. Return meat to the pot. Serve warm. 

Jodi Lariviere is a blogger and food writer with a real passion for healthy, local ingredients and she also writes two of her own blogs:  Simply Fresh – and the new Vegging for Two –

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