Eight tips for achieving family life balance

elephant balancing on a ballForget work life balance. Some days I think the biggest challenge is family life balance.

In the past six weeks, we’ve had friends or family over three weekends, went to a friend’s cottage one weekend, attended two country fairs, one regatta, one baseball tournament, shuffled our work schedules so we could be home during the day for two service provider visits, and chauffeured kids to various camps, practices and friends’ houses.

Some days it’s exhausting, but most of the time it’s busy, fun and manageable. That’s because we learned the importance a long time ago of always scheduling in down time.

Here are eight tips that we’ve found helped our family maintain a healthy balance on the home front:

  1. Keep one weekend a month completely open. Dave made me promise this years ago and it’s been our saving grace ever since.
  2. Don’t feel pressured to spend time doing something you don’t want to do. If I don’t have the time or feel like baking for a potluck or school fundraiser or dinner party, I’ll just buy something. Same thing with our house—our friends and family know they are always welcome to drop by and there will be a cold beer for them, but we don’t spend hours cleaning or tidying up—they take us as we are.
  3. Keep things simple when you do entertain. I’d rather spend an extra hour with guests chatting on the dock than cooking and cleaning on a beautiful summer’s day, so we often serve what’s simplest and easiest.
  4. No matter how many chores or things need to get done, carve out one hour a day for down time.
  5. If your child asks you to play cards, read, or play a game, say yes. I remember when the kids were little, they would always want to curl up in our big green chair and read after supper. I’d leave the dishes in the sink and read with them. The dishes could wait.
  6. Know what time is most precious to you and protect it. For me, it’s the first few hours of the day on the weekends. I can face just about anything as long as I can enjoy my coffee and read the papers before jetting off somewhere.
  7. Say no sometimes. Where we live, our kids often want us to run them into Kingston for something. It can kill up to half a day since we live north of the city. If we’re really busy the rest of the weekend, and it’s not something important, I’ll just say no.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When Dave had his knee replaced last fall and I was juggling kids, work and running him to appointments, I asked my neighbour to take him to one of his doctor’s appointments—it was a huge help.

This week’s #HappyAct is to share your tips for finding the right family life balance. What are some of the things you do to keep your non nine-to-five life in a happy state of equilibrium? Leave a comment.

The most important decision you’ll ever make

Picture of girls in newspaper

Grace and Clare on the front page of The Frontenac News

Last weekend, both girls competed in a regatta in Carleton Place. It was a long, 14-hour day, but they both did amazingly well for their first regatta and were featured on the front page of our local paper this week, showcasing their fourth place medals for the K4 500 metre race.

For years, Dave and I tried to minimize the amount of scheduled activities our kids were involved in to keep life sane, but we always knew there would be a time in our lives when our weekends and evenings would be spent chauffeuring our kids to various tournaments, races and activities.

With 4H, kayaking, hockey, and baseball we are finally there.

Life is busy and good, but it does mean we have to sacrifice our own interests for the kids, and I’ll admit, some days I resent not having any time to myself.

I was complaining this to a friend the other day, and asked her how she dealt with raising two children. She said she had felt exactly the same way, and asked the same question years ago to a friend of hers who had four teenagers. Her friend’s answer was “I just decided that this would be the best time of my life.”

In a few years, Grace will be off to university. Clare will be in her final years of high school. The day is nearing when it will just be Dave and I staring at each other over the dining room table.

So I have decided these are going to be the best years of my life. I will embrace every practice and local fair, cheer at the top of my lungs at every baseball and hockey game, and occasionally steal time for myself to keep me sane.

For I know I will never get this time back with my children. I will never be able to rewind time. I resolve to make these the best years of my life.

Gentleman, start your engines

fire crew at demolition derby on stand bySometimes you have to kick the dust up and get a bit of mud on your tires.

Last weekend, Clare and I went to the Odessa Fair to watch the demolition derby.

North Americans have long held a fascination with demolition derbies. Derbies started back in the late 1940’s or early 1950s at local county fairs, probably an extension of the American love of the automobile. Car drivers ram into each other until only one car remains running.

For most local fairs, they are still one of the main attractions. The Odessa Derby started off with an audience participation vote of the car with the best paint job. We liked the one with the teeth marks on the side (I think it won), then it was time for the first heat of minis.

Each heat always starts the same way. Five or six cars enter the ring. The master of ceremonies announces a “gentleman’s bump then it’s full on carnage.

Cars at demolition derby

Drivers have to modify their vehicles for safety. All glass and flammable material need to be removed from the car. The gas tank is removed and replaced with a small two-to-three gallon tank, located behind the driver’s seat and the battery has to be relocated to the floor of the passenger side. Drivers use sheet metal, small oil drums, or beer kegs to protect their fuel tanks. No head on collisions or driver door hits are allowed.

We watched heat after heat of bumper busting, engine roaring, mud flying fun. At one point, the mud was flung so far, it landed on our shirts.

 

People watching at the derby is almost as much fun as the derby itself. The locals who knew the fairground backed their trucks up between the grandstands. One guy even had a home-rigged viewing platform with awning on the back of his truck.

In two words, it’s pure fun.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a seat in the grandstand for the demolition derby in your hometown. Here are three derbies coming up in our area this summer:

 

Have an unbirthday party

group picture of cottagers

Love the look on Clare’s face in this photo!

When our kids were young, we had a wonderful neighbour named Mark Berry.

Mark was in his 60’s and lived on his own on our lake. His family was in Toronto, so he adopted us and we adopted him. Our dogs became best friends and we’d often have Mark over for a beer or dinner.

Every time Mark came for dinner, he’d bring us presents, claiming it was an “unbirthday party”.

There’d be huge stuffed animals for the girls, something for the kitchen or a bottle of wine for me, and usually something fish-related for Dave. These were some of our favourite nights.

Last weekend, it was our turn to pay it forward and hold an unbirthday party for a group of friends we’ve been getting together with for almost 20 years.

Girls wearing wine drinking team tshirts and socks

Our official wine drinking team–the socks say “if you can read this, bring me a glass of wine”

We brought wine drinking team t-shirts and socks for the girls, water bottles for the kids, funny beer koozies for the boys and a few other gifts for the real birthday boy who happened to be celebrating that weekend. I think everyone appreciated their gifts.

The best gift is having this wonderful group of friends who we’ve shared so many memories with in our lives.

This week’s #HappyAct is to plan an unbirthday party for a special group of people. May it bring many happy memories and returns.

 

 

Man with birthday hat and glasses

The real birthday boy

Strawberry fields forever

strawberry fieldsLast Monday, we piled into the car and headed to one of our favourite local strawberry farms, Paulridge Berry Farm just north of Napanee.

It’s a rite of passage each spring, picking berries. Strawberries are the first berry to ripen in the spring. I think for Canadians, it’s reaffirming. We take to the fields, celebrating the passage of winter and heralding the advent of the harvest season, grateful that another season of crops are bearing fruit.

When Dave and I were dating, we’d pick berries at Andrews Scenic Acres, north of Milton (I see it now also has a winery—time for a return trip!) My favourite part of their operation was the frozen yogurt machine at the entrance—you could have fresh frozen yogurt on the spot with fruit picked from the fields. In the fall, they’d have corn roasts and we’d have fresh apple pie in front of the fireplace in the barn. Many of my most well-thumbed recipes in my recipe box to this day are from Andrews Scenic Acres.

family sitting on a wagon

My other favourite part of berry picking is the wagon ride. In an age of trains, planes and automobiles, it’s nostalgic to lumber across open fields on a wagon, baskets in hand, to the perfect patch.

Of course, nothing beats the ultimate reward: eating the sweet, succulent fruit. There is nothing sweeter than a freshly picked strawberry.

This week’s #HappyAct is to visit your local berry farm.

Be sure to check in advance on their operating hours and to see what’s in season. This may be the last weekend for strawberries, but it won’t be long before raspberries and blueberries will be ripe, including the wild raspberries on my property.

Here is a great recipe for homemade strawberry shortcake. Enjoy!

Yummy Strawberry shortcake

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup softened butter
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp baking power
1 tsp grated lemon peel
3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450. Grease a cookie sheet. In medium bowl with a mixer, blend all ingredients. Drop dough in 8 equal mounds on the cookie sheet and cook for 10 minutes or until golden.

strawberry shortcake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl with strawberry basket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

family in strawberry field

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy chocolate

sign that says you can't buy happiness but you can buy chocolate which is basically the same thingI’ve discovered a new favourite haunt in Kingston, Cacao 70 on King Street. This popular chocolateatery franchise has several locations in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and opened a restaurant in Kingston last summer.

Cacao bills itself as a unique place to drop by after a hectic day at work or school and relax and share a moment with friends. In addition to its heavenly decadent chocolate menu, it serves sandwiches, salads and boasts a great brunch menu.

Cacao 70 didn’t disappoint.

The minute you walk in the door, you know you’ve entered chocolate heaven. The melding smells of sweet milk and dark chocolate stick to your nostrils and you immediately forget about lunch. Just bring on the dark stuff.

I’ve been to Cacao two times in the last two months, once with my girlfriend Elaine for her birthday, and once with the girls. Elaine and I ordered sandwiches. My chicken salad sandwich was one of the best sandwiches I ever had. Cacao makes their sandwiches on thick, toasted delicious homemade bread. The chicken had an amazing mix of flavours.

chocolate wafflesWe made sure we had room left to split a chocolate birthday fondue. Cacao’s fondues come with fresh fruit, waffle squares and brownie chunks for dipping. One piece of advice: don’t overdip! While it looks like you have this huge bowl of chocolate, it’s really a half-bowl, but in the end we discovered it was the perfect amount as we mopped up the remaining drops of chocolate with our fruit.

The second time I went to Cacao, I took the girls after we packed hampers for the Salvation Army before Christmas for a special Mommy daughter lunch. This time I had a chocolate strawberry crepe. Grace went for it, ordering two chocolate dishes, the chocolate waffles with whipped cream and a chocolate fondue. Everything was decadent.

kids eating chocolate treatsI’m already planning my third trip. Maybe this time I’ll try the chocolate banana pizza, a volcano ice cream cup or a vintage hot chocolate. Oh, the choices.

This week’s #HappyAct is to indulge in a chocolate fantasy meal. Because as the sign says, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy chocolate which is basically the same thing.”

Ed. note: I know writing this at the beginning of January may seem cruel for those of you who hope to lose weight in 2017. I’ve got the perfect solution. Use your chocolate extravaganza experience as an incentive and reward. Stick to your weight loss regime. When you successfully meet your first goal, whether it’s a month of healthy eating, or your first few pounds off, treat yourself to a Cacao dish!

Friends eating chocolate fondue

chocolate crepes

Life’s a beach

Girl riding beach toyWhat a summer we’ve had in eastern Canada—one of the hottest on record. The best way to beat the heat is to hit the beach with your favourite floating toy.

This year on the July long weekend, my brother and his wife brought the kids the latest installment in our collection of exotic beach toys: a big yellow banana. Yes, riding the Big Banana has taken on a whole new meaning in the Swinton household this summer.

There have been epic noodle fights, rodeo rides and spectacular spills on that banana, especially the time Dave tried to ride it. I can’t help but wonder what the cottagers across the lake think when they look across and see The Big Yellow Banana.

Beach toys are a part of summer. We have a raft of old beach toys crumpled up in a deflated pile in our barn. Oh the memories. There was Homer Simpson, who one year we found floating at the other end of the lake in early spring. The Montreal Canadiens life raft—symbolic I think. And too many floating chairs to mention now sunk in the graveyard of water toys in our barn.

This week’s #HappyAct is to keep cool with a cool beach toy–whatever floats your boat. Ours just happens to be a big yellow banana.

Ed. note: As a kid cottaging on Lake Simcoe, I remember we used to dive off huge inner tubes that came from military truck tires. There was a guy in Port Credit who used to sell those inner tubes. They’re fantastic for jumping and diving, and rafting. If anyone knows where you can get inner tubes, post a comment.

Girl on a floating raft