An Afternoon at the Pumpkin Festival

IMG_2222One of the things I really enjoy about the Thanksgiving weekend is all the Fall Festivals that there are to check out. Fall in general seems to be a celebration of the harvest and represents the abundance in our world. Set against the fall colors and the golden sunlight I just find it a wonderful experience.

Now many of these festivals do run on other weekends as well, but I always like to pick one and make that the ‘trip of the weekend’, so that the kids associate Thanksgiving not only with turkey dinner, but with something fun as well.

IMG_2180This Thanksgiving we went to the Pumpkin Festival at the Calgary Corn Maze. And it was an absolute blast. Full of additional ‘pumpkin’ activities, such as pumpkin bowling, pumpkin decorating and pumpkin bingo, it is easy to while away your afternoon there. And that’s on top of all the regular activities that they have such as mini golf, navigating the corn maze, jumping pillows, hill slide, petting zoo and more!

Matthew on the hill slide

Matthew on the hill slide

The favorites were definitely the jumping pillow and the hill slide. Both which at first Chloe was a little hesitant to go on. On the hill slide once she went up and down a few times with me she got brave and started venturing out on her own. You could hear her squeals of delight when she got to the bottom and yelled that she did it all by herself, grinning radiantly from ear to ear. The jumping pillow was similar once D’Wayne was on there jumping with her for a bit, she became more confident and did it to on her own. (Now it’s debatable whether D’Wayne went on there to ‘help’ Chloe or because he really wanted to get on there himself. I remember when I first told him that they had jumping pillows, he got quite excited)

IMG_2230Even the maze was fun to go through with the kids, though it being at the end of the season is quite tromped down, the original paths hard to find. (Next year I am going at the beginning of the season when it’s fresh and green). The kids just wandered through the maze with us, Matthew taking the lead on finding the way out. Nobody got upset or worried that we were going to be stuck or lost in there, though I think the twins would have no concept of that at this point. Overall it was just a lovely, leisurely, fun afternoon. Checking out different activities as we pleased, no one rushing anywhere or hurrying people along.

IMG_2208Though there were a few activities that we did not get to, we did close the place down. The kids wanted one more time on the jumping pillow, so we went over for the last 10 minutes until they announced that they were closed for the day. We then gently got them all off, but no one complained or fussed, everyone seemed completely satisfied.

It’s afternoons like those that I really enjoy being a mother and having a family. There’s just something about going out and playing together that bonds us, relaxes us and satisfies the soul; for all of us, kids and adults alike. I think we need more of that in our lives, but sometimes that’s the challenge isn’t it?

The tractor ride

The tractor ride

Autumn Leaves

One of my most favorite things about Fall is leaf jumping! I absolutely loved it as a kid, making a big pile in the yard, jumping and playing in them. We would create huge piles ¬†and run and jump. Or we’d bury each other in them and sometimes just lay there.

It’s hard to describe but there’s just something comforting about laying in the leaves, being surrounded by them. Both leaf jumping and lying in the them is something that I still enjoy and love as an adult!

Of course I was super excited to introduce this activity to my kids. Except in our backyard the number of leaves we had was small, being in a newer neighborhood. They loved it too.

On the weekend the kids went to Parkland Park with their Dad, which is an older community in Calgary where the trees are huge and the leaves are abundant. Luke, Chloe and Matthew all enjoyed playing in the leaves, Chloe even laying down and having a ‘sleep’.

I think this weekend we will all have to go and find some more leaves to jump in ūüôā

 

Tis the Season for Apples (and yummy Crumb Cake)

Fall is a great time of year. Not only with the warm sunny days and crisp fall mornings, but the fall harvest and abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits that are available.

We have an apple tree in our backyard so each Fall we have an abundance of apples. So many that I don’t always know what to do with them. And with each year the amount of apples increases as the tree grows. We usually end up with an apple crumble every other day, apple pie, as well as I make homemade applesauce and apple juice from them. The kids will also eat them right off the tree but there is no way that they can eat them fast enough.

This year I decided that I wanted to try some new things with our apples, as though pie and crumble are good, well you can only have so much (can’t you?). I have been trying various apple cake and apple muffin recipes; and though good were only using 2 apples at a time. Then I remembered, when I was growing up my Mum used to make this crumb cake which is originally a recipe from my Oma. I remembered that sometimes she put apples or plums in the cake, which made this delicious cake even better! Perfect I thought that this would use up some apples for sure! So I decided to pull out the recipe and make apple crumb cake.

Apple Cake Muffins

I was surprised at how much sugar was in it! I knew it took a lot for the crumbs, but I didn’t think there was that much in the cake. I knew though that I could make the adjustments. Deciding on coconut sugar as the substitute, I set out making the cake, in hopes that it would not only turn out but that I could use a good amount of apples in it as well.

Only 4 apples and a short time later, I had the cake in the oven. Matthew had taste tested the dough by licking a beater, and informed me that it was yummy. (I always find that if the dough tastes good that is a good indication that your cake/ cookies will be). Things were looking good.

As it started to bake and the smells were wafting through the house, Chloe wandered into the kitchen saying “Oh something smells good!” Another excellent indicator.

It looked good too, looking like I remembered when my Mom used to make it. Now it was just the taste test. The timer beeped indicating it was done, everyone’s mouths watering in anticipation. I let it sit for about 20 minutes to cool (and to have supper) before we cut into it.

Everyone devoured their cake and quickly asked for seconds. Luke’s mouth still full as he asked for more. I found that it tasted very close to the original and was pleased with how it turned out. The only change I would make would have been to add another layer of apples on the cake before putting the crumbs on top. I like to be able to taste the fruit and though you could, a few more apples would do the trick.

I think next time, I will try using honey in the actual cake, still using coconut sugar for the crumbs, just to see what the difference, if any would be. I am always curious and like to see which sugar substitute is the best. Though sometimes the one I choose is good, another choice is much better. Regardless I know that coconut sugar works and is a very good choice as the twins have been going on about apple cake. Matthew even said that he would be the envy of all his friends at school when he has some in his lunch today, because it is so delicious!

Though it did not use as many apples as I would have liked the cake was a hit and like my aunt said, “That’s 4 less apples than you had before” which is true. My quest for using up my apples continues, looking for unique and delicious ways to do so. (So if you have some good apple recipes to share please send them my way!) The baking frenzy continues…

I know I can slice and freeze the apples, the trouble is I tend to forget about them down there in the freezer…maybe I should get into dehydrating?

Apple Crumb Cake (sugar free and dairy free)

Dough:

apple crumb cake

Crumb Cake

1 c. coconut sugar

3 1/2 c. flour

3 tbsp. baking powder

juice from half a lemon

1/2 c. Earth Balance vegan spread

4 eggs

2/3 c. rice milk

Crumbs:

1/2 c. Earth Balance Vegan spread

1 1/4 c. coconut sugar

1 3/4 c. flour

Dough: Cream Earth Balance, coconut sugar and eggs. Add flour and baking powder, mix well. Then add rice milk and lemon juice creating a soft dough. Press or roll dough into a cookie sheet sized pan.

Crumbs: Mix flour and coconut sugar in a medium sized bowl. Cut Earth Balance into sugar/ flour mixture. Form large crumbs and spread over dough.

Thinly slice apples and place on top of cake, slightly overlapping. Sprinkle cinnamon, coconut sugar and a little Earth Balance on top of fruit, then add crumbs on top. You can use other fruit such as plums for this cake. If choosing plums omit cinnamon.

Bake at 350 C for 1 hour.

Sugar Free Thanksgiving Recipes

Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I am not sure if it is because the meal contains so many foods that I love, such as turkey, stuffing and gravy, or my favorite pumpkin pie! (Actually I love anything pumpkin – pumpkin muffins, pumpkin spice lattes)! Or if it is because of the warm, comforting feeling that surrounds the holiday. The fall season, that makes me think of burning candles and cozying up by the fire.

Pumpkin muffins

Either way I thoroughly enjoy it, and it is something that I look forward to. Last year, when we went sugar free at our house, I was a bit concerned, in fact I was very concerned about how to make my pumpkin pie. This was not something that I wanted to give up. Was it possible to find or create a recipe that would be just as good? I hoped there was, so I started looking and within a short time discovered a recipe that met my requirements and was just as easy to make. I found the recipe at Honey Bunny, the same company that makes the Bodacious Tomato Ketchup and BBQ sauce that we now buy. The Honey Bunny recipe called for evaporated milk and since we are also a dairy free household made a simple adjustment and used coconut milk instead. It turned out beautifully! and was just as delicious if not more, than what we were used to. In fact I think we all had 2 pieces!

The other thing that I adjusted last year was our cranberry sauce, as store bought brands contain a lot of sugar. I have never been a fan of cranberry sauce, but others in the family enjoy it. So I decided to make my own. I got the original recipe off the bag of Ocean Spray¬ģ cranberries and simply substituted agave nectar for the sugar. Again I had great success! and even I enjoyed some cranberry sauce last year.

I find that the highest amounts of sugar that we consume are around the holidays, and Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a lot of feasting and delectable delights. I know many people who feel like they have overindulged during the holidays and put themselves on a strict diet after Christmas. But if we had treats that were good for us and did not contain the sugar than we could enjoy the holiday feasting and not feel guilty or like we have overdone it. Eating healthy and well can be done, regardless of what is going on.

There are many alternatives out there and ways to still enjoy the foods you love without the sugar or worry. You will also feel so much better and so will your family! Perhaps this Thanksgiving is a great time to start. Try these recipes below and add them to your dinner feast. You’ll be amazed how good they are and if you don’t tell anyone else at the table, I bet they won’t even notice.

Honey Pumpkin Pie

1-398 ml can pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1-398 ml can coconut milk

Preheat oven to 425¬įF.

Combine all ingredients together. Pour into 9 inch pie crust.
Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F and cook for 35 minutes. Test with cake tester, if it comes out clean pie is done, and centre will move only slightly when gently shaken.

Cranberry Sauce

1 -12 oz. pack fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and drained

2/3 cup agave nectar

1/2 cup water

If you prefer your cranberries to be crushed within your sauce, crush in a bowl or puree in blender. Combine water and agave nectar in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil; add cranberries, return to boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time.

Makes 2 1/4 cups

Happy Feasting!


Don’t forget, guest blogger Nina Manolson this week with more great tips and tricks on eating healthy!

Apples, Apples, Apples

apple activities for kids

Inspired by our apple picking the other day and with the abundance of apples in my kitchen, I decided to hop on the internet and look for fun crafts, games and ideas to do with the kids around an apple theme. Of course, I was not disappointed by the abundance of ideas out there, especially at this time of year.

After checking out a number of websites, I made a list of my favorites and have been trying them with the kids over the last few days. Here are the highlights and my faves.

Apple Crafts

apple activities

Fingerprint Apple Tree

Fingerprint Apple Tree – this craft is super easy and fun! You will need brown, red and green tempera paint and some paper. The kids place the side of their hand in the brown paint and then stamp it on the paper. Then using their index finger they dip it in the green paint to make leaves. Lastly using their pinky finger, they dip it in the red paint and touch it to the paper to make apples.

Matthew and I did ours just like the picture showed while Luke and Chloe, though they started out the same, ended up getting very creative with their tree. It was so cute to watch, both very focused, creating their tree. It was actually their first time using paints and they loved it! and have beautiful apple trees to show for it. And even though it doesn’t ‘look’ like the picture, they proudly call it their apple tree and share it with others.

Luke’s apple tree

Along the theme of apple trees, kids can also make a Pom Pom Apple Tree. Again very simple and easy. You will need brown paper, a brown marker, green paint, scissors, white glue and red pom poms. For this one I am going direct you to the website I found it on as they have done a great job of explaining how to put it together with great pictures.

There are other easy apple crafts I discovered that I like –¬†Cinnamon Apple Wreath, Toilet Paper Roll Apple, Stained Glass Apple and one of my favorites, the Worm in Apple.

You can even do apple prints, like potato stamping, and create beautiful lunchbags, dish towels or a homemade greeting cards. A craft from Martha Stewart of course.

Cinnamon Apple Wreath

Apple Games

Hot Apple – Just like hot potato except you use an apple instead. Children sit in a circle passing around the apple while there is music playing. Children pass the apple from one to another; they want to pass the apple quickly because when the music stops if they are holding the apple, then they are out of the game. Game continues until there is only one child left.

Apple Relay РDivide the children into 2 teams. Designate a starting line and an end line.  Teams line up one behind the other at the start line. The first person on each team places the apple on their head and must balance the apple on their head while they walk to the end line and back. If they drop the apple they must stop, count to three, then place the apple back on their head and continue. Once they are back to the start line, the next person goes. The first team to have everyone on their team finish wins.

Apple Hide & Seek – this is great for younger children. Have the children sit in a circle and close their eyes. While their eyes are closed hide the apple. Once it is hidden children may open their eyes and then move around the room looking for the apple. Once they find the apple they leave it where it is hidden and simply return to the circle. The last person to find the apple can hide the apple for the next round.

Bobbing for apples

Of course there is the traditional Bobbing for Apples, which we typically do around Halloween, which is always a riot. I like the version where you have to bob for the apple, then go and use your nose to find a candy in the flour bowl. It can get quite messy but it’s a hoot!

Apple Books

An apple theme would not be complete without books about apples. From Apples, Apples, Apples to How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World
there are many stories that will teach and delight children of all ages.

apple activities

Apples, Apples, Apples¬†is a wonderful children’s book that I discovered while doing my research on the internet. Written by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, it’s about the bunny family’s trip to Long Hill Orchard where Mr. Miller takes them on a wobbly wagon ride and tells them all sorts of fun things about Fall’s favorite fruit. It also includes apple songs, sayings and a recipe to try.

How Do Apples Grow? is a delightful story about how apples grow from flower to fruit, ready for you to eat. Written by Betty Maestro, it is beautifully illustrated and easy to read.

Regardless of the apple activities you try, the kids will be sure to enjoy themselves learning about this abundant and delicious Fall fruit and you may even learn something new yourself!

apple activities

Chloe’s ‘Apple of her eye’

Fall Activities for Kids

Fall is my favorite time of year. The vibrant colors, the leaves changing on the trees. I often find a sense of renewal and excitement in the fall. Change and new beginnings, an expectation of things to come. Now I know that spring is typically the time for renewal and new things but for some reason this applies more to me in the Fall. There is just something about the energy, the way the warm sun glints through the trees, the crisp cool mornings, and the cozy afternoons. It’s magical, inviting and I look forward to it every year.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

I also enjoy all the activities that you can do in the Fall with the kids, the Fall recipes like warms hearty stews, specialty coffees like Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the bonfires, the festivals. It creates a warmth, a coziness and welcoming feeling that I love. It’s the time of year that I start to light more candles and fill my house with scents of pumpkin, cinnamon and cloves. It’s also a great time of year to be outside enjoying the warm sunny autumn afternoons.

One of my favorite things to do in Fall is to just go for a walk, letting the kids explore and play in the leaves. The leaves are the best part of Fall. Whether we are kicking them up and dancing with them as they blow in the wind or gathering them for crafts and decorations for later. And I still love jumping in them! When I was growing up my sisters and I would love raking up the leaves, piling them high and jumping in them. Now as a parent and adult I love to jump in the leaves with my kids.

Taking the kids out for a walk is a great opportunity for them to not only have some fun but to teach them to learn about and appreciate their natural environment. There are lots of simple activities you can do while you’re out with very little equipment. If you bring a few items with you such as a magnifying glass, some paper, crayons, pencils and a cloth bag, this will get you started.

Many of these activities will engage kids of all ages. Here are some of my favorites:

Tree & Leaf Rubbings

Leaf Rubbings

Have the children pick a tree, then take a piece of paper and a crayon. Put the paper up against the bark of the tree and then gently rub over the paper with their crayon. Younger children may need assistance holding their paper. Once they are finished they can leave the tree rubbing on it’s own or then add to it and make it part of another picture. They can also do leaf rubbings with leaves they have found on the ground, but will need a flat surface to do the rubbing. If there is nothing close by then take the leaves home and they ¬†can do the leaf rubbings there.

More Leaf Fun…

Have the kids gather a variety of leaves, different shapes, sizes and colors. (Please note to get the children to take the leaves off the ground not off the trees!) The kids will love gathering them and it is an easy way for them to explore and teach them about the different kinds of trees. Take a moment to help them figure out which leaves belong to which trees. If you aren’t familiar with which trees are which, you can get a tree identification book from the library. With young children only talk about one or two, with older more.

With their gathered leaves they can also make a bouquet to put in a vase and use as a centerpiece on your table, or cut a circle out of cardboard and glue the leaves on to make a  leaf wreath.

They can trace their leaves on construction paper using different colors, cut them out then decorate their room or a part of the house. Also using construction paper they could make their own Autumn tree by cutting out a trunk and glueing the leaves on the branches or creating leaf people out of their leaves. Younger children may need help with cutting.

Find a Tree

This is an environmental game that I do with all ages of children, from my 2 year old twins to the Leaders in Training who are 12-14. You can adjust it accordingly depending on the age of the children but the premise is the same. In partners, one is blindfolded and the other leads their partner to a tree. While blindfolded they explore the tree using their other senses. Touch, smell, etc. Once they feel that they have explored the tree thoroughly then the partner takes them back to where they started, removes the blindfold. The blindfolded partner then goes and sees if they can find their tree. With younger children use a small area with only a few trees to choose from with older you can use a larger area to make it more challlenging.

Fall Festivals

On the Jumping Pillow at the Calgary Corn Maze

Many communities Fall Festival celebrations, from pumpkin patches to hayrides, corn mazes and barbeques. We have a variety here in Calgary, from the Calgary Corn Maze, where they have a petting zoo, jumping pillow and corn cannons; to events at Heritage Park such as the Harvest Sale and Railway Days. Check out your local community events to find something that speaks to you.

Other Crafts and Activities

Twig Fairy

There are so many materials in the natural environment, especially in the Fall, to create all kinds of wonderful crafts and activities. When gathering materials for crafts please encourage the children to take things from the ground (whether it be leaves, pine cones, etc.) and not from the live trees and plants as this could damage or kill them. There are great crafts such as twig fairies, autumn looms (to display all the natural treasures they find), word searches and coloring pages. Just GoogleFall Activities and Crafts’ and all kinds of great websites will come up. Some of my favorite sites are Enchanted Learning and Family Fun.

Fall is a beautiful season, so get out and explore it, let the kids fill a bag of goodies (natural items) and then come home and see what you can do with them. Encourage the kids to create their own crafts and games from what they have found. It is a wonderful time to be creative and use their imagination and they’ll be learning about the natural world and all she has to offer at the same time!

 

Rainy Day Activities

Playing at the lake in Oliver, BC

We have been blessed this year with a very beautiful summer. Many warm, sunny days filled with clear blue skies and days at the lake. Fortunately we have not had many rainy days at all, which has been great for those of us who want to play outside, but probably not so good for the farmers.

When we do have the odd rainy day and as the weather cools as we move into fall, it can be challenging to keep the kids entertained and prevent the inevitable ‘cabin fever’ that sets in from being inside for too long. I have found that having a ‘backpocket’ full of activities for the kids is a great way to keep them busy and you happy.

Here are some activities that I have enjoyed as a child and have used with my own kids to keep us all sane on those rainy days. Of course there are the typical things like watching movies and playing video games, but I always find that it is great to have some creative ideas and activities to engage their minds and imagination, as I feel that being in front of the tv all day is not always the best.

Build a fort

My favorite indoor activity has always been to make a fort. My sisters and I would get chairs and blankets and set things up so that we could then get inside and play all day. We would spend hours setting it up and enjoying it. My kids tend to use the couch cushions and pillows, in addition to blankets to set up their forts. Yes my couch comes apart for a while but the deal is at the end of the day they put it all back together, and everybody’s happy. They have had hours of fun and I have had hours of stress free activity.

Matthew in his couch fort

Kids can also use cardboard boxes to build a fort, this is something that they could leave up for awhile and use if it was in a space that worked for everyone. They can experiment with all shapes and sizes, decorate it with crayons or markers.

The important thing with forts is to let the kids be creative. Let them build it and knock it down a few times, let them use their imaginations. Regardless of what they create ensure it is safe to play in and is under adult supervision.

Play Board Games

Candyland

Also another favorite when I was growing up. We had all kinds of board games, from Monopoly to Pay Day and would often spend all day playing them. We would often set up Monopoly and have a tournament. The game would last all day and Mum never had to worry about what we were up to. There are lots of board games out there for all ages, like Candyland, Yahtzee, Connect Four, etc. that once you get the kids set up they can play on their own or join in.

Create a Play

Have the kids write their own play, assign parts and do a performance. Kids will be very occupied creating the stage, costumes, props as well as practicing the play itself. They can then present to friends and family at the end of the day.

Play Hide and Seek

Who says this is just an outdoor game? Set clear guidelines and boundaries about where they can and can not hide, then let the games begin. You can add a variation by changing the game to Sardines, where only one person hides and then everyone else has to find them. The catch is when you find the person who is hiding you have to then hide with them in that space. This can get very tricky if the space is a little small.

Have a Puppet Show

If you already have puppets, grab them; otherwise, the kids can make their own. They can use brown paper lunch bags and decorate them with markers, glitter, construction paper, etc. You could also use old mitts or sew little hand puppets for them to decorate. I know you are saying “Yes I am going to whip out the sewing machine and make a few puppets for them while they are waiting”. Perhaps have some ready beforehand and just put them away ‘for a rainy day’. They can also make a puppet theatre to do their show in using a cardboard box, blankets or a combination of both. Other great ‘theatres’ could be the island in the kitchen if you have one, or simply standing behind the couch.

Go outside and Play in the Rain!

Yes if all else fails, put on their rainboots, raincoats and send them outside in the backyard. One rainy afternoon we had all 3 kids going crazy by 4 o’clock. They were running around the house screaming and I was ready to scream myself. With an hour to go til dinner, I dressed them and sent them all outside. They had a great time, they ran around the deck, splashed in puddles and just plain enjoyed themselves. The stress level in the house went down, everyone was happier and I was able to make dinner in peace while still watching the kids.

The important thing is to keep on eye on them and make sure they are not getting cold, that they stay close to the house in case they need to come inside if they are. Otherwise let them play and jump in puddles. Challenge them to make as small a splash as possible, then a big one. You can also take out buckets and shovels and they can fill them up and scoop water out. My daughter loves transfering water from one bucket to another, filling it up and then dumping it. She can do that for an hour straight without getting bored or distracted. Who says that just because¬†it’s wet outside that you can’t go out? The fresh air does everyone good and keep us all sane!

Play-Doh Fun Factory

This is just a sampling of ideas of what you could do, there are many other things that kids love that you could do with them on a rainy day, like playing with Play-Doh, various crafts, even some baking. You just have to do a little planning and have some materials on hand, so when it does rain you know what you can do. Believe me, it is worth the time spent planning to have a smooth and stress free rainy day!