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 🙂

 

The Importance of One on One

Hiking at Moraine Lake

In many of the parenting articles I have read over the years they have often suggested that as the number of children in your family increased that you should make time to spend with each child one on one. Give them each a bit of time with just you and them, and with each parent individually. Yet as the number of children in the household increases the amount of ‘leisure time’ seems to decrease comparatively as there are more activities, more friends to play with and more things to do in general, like cleaning and laundry!

Where do you find the time exactly? The thing I have learned and been gently reminded of, is that kids don’t need large blocks of time or need to do fancy and exciting things during with you. They just want some time with you, it doesn’t matter to them how long or what you are doing; just that you spend time with them. Of course there are times when they would like to do something a little more involved and exciting (like laser tag, dinner or a movie), but they don’t always need that kind of activity with you on a regular basis. Your one on one focused attention is what they desire.

A prime example of this for me was this past Saturday. I had to take Matthew, my oldest, to pick out his frames and order his glasses. Our optometrist is up in Signal Hill, which is northwest Calgary and a bit of a drive for us. I had the opportunity to do this with just Matthew as D’Wayne had offered to watch the twins while we went.

Luke and Mom

Matthew was super excited to go. I had asked him to shower before we left, washing his hair and even suggested he dress up. He not only did as I asked but combed and parted his hair and put on a shirt and tie! He was bouncing and excited in the car as we drove to the optometrist, his eyes sparkling and chatting about this and that. It is not often that we get to go somewhere and have an uninterupted conversation, as usually the twins are chiming in or have something of their own to say.

He noticed and mentioned how I had showered and put on make-up and I responded, “Well if you’re dressing up then I should too.” He just smiled. Once we got to the optometrist we were literally only there for 10 minutes, as Matthew already knew which frames he wanted and it was just the details to sort out. I was kind of disappointed knowing that our time was so short. That’s when I decided we’d stop at Community Natural Foods on the way home. So we popped over there picking up a ‘few things’ (I had intended on only getting some vegan cream cheese but ended up with a few more items, especially with Matthew picking things up and asking to buy them. And honestly in that store he is asking for dried mangos and cheese, not chocolate bars and candy, very hard to say no).

Even this time in the Community Natural was fun, bonding and a way to continue to get to know each other. Yes he did ask me for many things, of which some I said yes and others no, but it was great. We laughed, we enjoyed.

Chloe and Mom

As I was driving home I realized then that the time I spend with him one on one does not always have to be fancy, simply focused and interactive. I have always made the effort to spend time with just him, either taking him to a movie, going for a walk or playing a board game at home once the twins are in bed. But I realized in that moment that whether it be a trip to the optometrist or a little grocery shopping as long as it’s him and me that was all that mattered. And if I could give him more moments like this, even at home, if only small, that that would make such a difference in our relationship. As I have even noticed that although sometimes I have to fight with him to come and dry the dishes, that once he is there, he is quite chatty and happy and we have some great conversations and connection happening.

I feel as parents yes it is important that we spend one on one time with each of our children but that we need to give ourselves a break and realize that it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, just a happy and enjoyable few moments (or more when possible) where we can connect with each other, and remember who we are to each other and in this world. To listen and recognize the beauty in our children and the great gifts that they bring to our world, as well as to share who we are and our wisdom with them. That is connection, that is bonding and that is something we don’t always achieve with all the kids together at once. It is not only rewarding for the child, but will be extremely rewarding for you as well.

Matthew and Mom

The Skunk Cabbage Trail

Often times on road trips I look for a nice little place to stop along the way. I feel that the journey along the way can be just as much fun as the destination. In fact we often find/ discover little treasures or places to explore that we might not otherwise.

The road between Calgary and Oliver is full of these little places and many a time I have driven thru making a mental list of all the places I would like to stop. Completing this list often takes a while as there are so many, and we typically only make one stop (or it would take forever for us to get to Oliver). We also tend to stop at some places more than once because they are favorites of the kids. (I have been to the Enchanted Forest so many times now I have lost count! but I do love it there)

This was the case on our way back from Oliver this summer as it was about that time to stop and stretch our legs, as I always like to make sure we do so at least once. It not only breaks up the drive but gives everyone a nice break to look forward to.

We were coming up to the Skunk Cabbage Trail which is in Mount Revelstoke National Park. I was starting to feel tired and Luke and Chloe who had been sitting so well for the whole trip, needed to get out and move a bit.

When I told them that we were going to stop and go for a walk on the Skunk Cabbage trail they got very excited and chatted about it excitedly until we got there. I had been on this trail before with my oldest son Matthew when he was about 3 years old and this was one of my favorite trails. Luke and Chloe had never been and I knew that it was a short loop they could easily handle.

The 1.2 km loop is a valley bottom wetland – one of the rarest environments found in the Columbia Wetlands and is full of Skunk Cabbage, a plant that is found in wetland areas and has a beautiful yellow flower in the spring. It is called Skunk Cabbage because of the distinctive ‘skunky’ odor it emits.

We set off along the trail, crossing a wooden bridge over a rushing creek. Luke and Chloe stopped to check out the sight leaning through the rail, saying “Mommy look water!”. We could have stayed there watching the water for awhile, going no further and Luke and Chloe would have been totally satisified. But me, being a typical mother wanted to move on as I not only wanted to walk the trail but was concerned about them falling over the railing into the water – ha ha.

On the other side of the bridge we entered into a cool old growth forest making our way to the beginning of the boardwalk itself. Interpretive signs highlighting the rich diversity of the plants and animals found in this area were spaced out along the loop. We would stop at each sign and I would ask Luke and Chloe if they wanted me to read it to them and they always said yes. So we learned about the bird migration project they were doing, that black bears like to eat Skunk Cabbage and other plants and animals such as Devils’ Club and frogs.

It was a hot afternoon and I was glad that it was only a short walk. The kids had their water cups with them while I had left mine in the car. We took our time, stopped to rest and enjoyed the trail. Luke kept asking where the skunks were, as that is what he thought we were looking for. I explained to him that it was a skunk plant and not an actual skunk and kept pointing them out along the trail. Chloe caught on quickly and started to point out the plants as well. Luke was still asking about the skunks by the time we got back to the car but enjoyed his walk none the less.

I always enjoy doing little walks like that with my kids and this trail was the perfect size for what we needed that day. There are other short walks along that stretch of highway like the Giant Cedars and the Rock Garden trail, which are fairly easy and just the right size for a little breather (and a bit of an education too!)

Though we did this walk in the summer, you could still easily do it in the Fall and if you have the chance I would definitely recommend it in the spring; as that is when the Skunk Cabbage flowers and it is a very cool sight to see – these huge plants with big yellow flowers in the middle.

Walking for Wildlife at the Bow Habitat Station

On the weekend we had a unique experience at the Bow Habitat Station here in Calgary. As part of National Wildlife Week and A Walk for Wildlife event, this family event included crafts, fish feeding, scaly friends, face painting and more.

The Bow Habitat Station is situated in Pearce Estates Park close to downtown Calgary and along the Bow River. The site of a fish hatchery, it is a pretty neat experience for kids. Touring the hatchery was just part of the fun, as the kids squealed in delight over the thousands (actually 28000) of fish of all shapes and sizes swimming around and around, there was also many different wildlife organizations there. There was the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Friends of Fish Creek and Species at Risk to name a few. All with different displays, activities and information for the kids (and parents too).

I thought the event was very well done with lots to do. When you entered the station you got a map and a scavenger hunt where you visited 6 stations, answered a question about wildlife and then got a stamp. These were well placed throughout the facility with some on each level. At the end, you returned your map and received a ballot for a draw for one of 3 family prize packs.

We got to feed the fish along the way, which the kids loved, getting an entire tube of fish food each. This was a riot to watch as the fish literally jumped and the water bubbled and swirled as they vied for their food. We saw live reptiles and snakes, Matthew even got to hold a boa constrictor!

On the upper level of the station, there are beautiful interactive displays for the kids teaching them about peat, dams, what fish eat, etc. (I got a bit of a shock when I stepped onto the ‘peat’ myself, a display with a very soft area to stand on). We did fish imprints and had our faces painted, we saw a huge White Sturgeon and learned that the Bull Trout is Alberta’s provincial fish. It was a really great event.

I had thought that this event was going to be outside, and we had prepared accordingly, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was indoors. I do plan to go back though as there is an outdoor wetland interpretive walk through Pearce Estates, as well as a lovely picnic area and playground. They also have a kids fishing pond that they stock from May to October which we are totally going to check out!

When leaving the event I asked the kids if they enjoyed it and what there favorite part was. Of course they said that they liked it all. But Matthew piped up and said, “Mom I’ve decided that I am either going to be a pilot or a nature scientist when I grow up.” I think that our little outing had a profound effect on him, don’t you?

Luke and Chloe’s 3rd Birthday

Chloe and Luke 1 week old

It is amazing how fast the kids grow up. It seems like yesterday that I was holding 2 little 5 pound babies in my arms and now they have just turned 3! Running, talking, and bouncing with personalities all their own. So much more aware of life, what’s going on and getting so big.

Both Luke and Chloe were very excited for their birthday this year. They ‘got’ what was happening and that it was their day. They knew that they would get presents and started asking for things for their birthday. Luke asked for a police car and his own Playmobil set, while Chloe wanted some jewelry and pretty dresses. They had decided what they wanted for birthday cakes before Christmas – Chloe asking for a kitty cat and Luke a train (which turned into Thomas the Tank Engine specifically).

They enjoyed the balloons and the streamers and knew that when everyone came over it was for their birthday and their party. Chloe dressed up in a pretty dress and Luke in a nice shirt and pants. They looked dapper for their big day!

Even though they were twins, when they were born I decided that it was important for them to be treated as individuals, so their own gifts (though sometimes they get joint ones depending on what it is), their own cards, their own cakes. Which in theory sounds like a lovely idea, except when it is 1 in the morning and Mom is still decorating the cakes!

The cakes themselves were not hard to make, I had made one chocolate, one vanilla; as over the last couple of years I found some good recipes that accommodate our no sugar and no dairy needs. Plus I was able to rent a shape pan from Stir Crazy Fun Center here in Calgary to make Thomas (only $5 to rent it and definitely worth it! I had never used a shape pan before and it is the cat’s meow let me tell you 🙂 It was the decorating that took the longest and this was because of the icing I was using. I have tried a couple of white sugar free icing recipes, which I can then color for decorating. I had found a great replacement for icing sugar, but the icing recipe itself I have not had much luck with. The icings I have found, though they taste great are not easy to work with as far as spreading or pumping through icing bags.

Chloe's 3rd Birthday

 

In the past I had made a coconut buttercream frosting but found that after a bit of time it got too hard and was extremely hard to work with. It was difficult to spread right from the beginning and only got worse. So this year I decided to try the Wilton icing recipe which uses shortening, butter, icing sugar and a bit of milk – all of which I had replacements for – but I found this icing also extremely hard to work with. Difficult to spread and very hard to pump through the icing bags. Also after time, it got greasy and hard in the icing bags, no longer mixed together. I found the whole experience very frustrating and though I managed to finish the cakes and they looked great I am sure that with the right icing I could cut my time in half and not be up til 1 in the morning decorating!

Luke's 3rd Birthday

Chloe’s cake, bless her, took me 20-30 minutes to cut out and decorate. This was because it was a simple design and I was able to use my sugar free chocolate icing, which is very easy to spread. Thomas was not so easy and it was not the detail it was the icing!

So I am on the search for a great sugar and dairy free, easy to work with, spreadable white icing recipe that I can color to decorate character cakes. I will keep looking and when I find a good one I will share it! In the meantime I will use what I have and see if I can modify them in some way.

If you know of or have any great sugar and dairy free white icing recipes please share them by commenting below.

A Preschool for Luke and Chloe

I can hardly believe that the twins are going to be 3 next week! Walking, talking, running and playing they are truly little people now with their own distinct personalities! Luke is very sensitive, quiet and observant, while Chloe is more robust, energetic and fiesty! They are both cute as buttons of course and are very good kids.

With the approach of their third birthday it was time for me to start considering preschool for them. I know some people don’t believe in preschool -and they say why should I pay to have my kids go do crafts and games when I can do that with them. The reality is, for most of us, do we actually do the crafts and games on a regular basis? The other thing is is preschool is more than crafts and games and has a variety of benefits for your child from promoting social and emotional development, learning to share, making choices, learning how to function in a structured environment and preparing them for kindergarten. And these days there is lots of choice in what preschool you can register your child in.

When we registered Matthew in preschool I just went down to the local one closest to us, looked around, felt happy and registered him. Only now do I wish that I had looked around a bit more and learned more about the different preschools that were available as I feel that there was a better choice and fit for Matthew due to his learning ability. But hind sight is 20/20 and he was my first child etc. So this time, not only did I know when to start looking/ registering for preschool, I took my time checking out a few preschools in the area and touring them all.

I kept it reasonable and looked at 3; and after googling preschools in Calgary selected Leap n Learn, Montessori and Apple Tree to go and take a look. Luke and Chloe got to come with me each time which I feel is very valuable when selecting a preschool for your child. It is important to see how they take to the environment and if they like it there. Also children have a strong intuitive sense, so if the energy is off or negative then they would pick up on and display it right away.

Luke discovering animals

Preschools have really changed now too with many offering 3 hour classes up to 5 days a week. You now provide your own snacks for your children, where as the school used to provide this, but I believe that with the growing number of people requiring special dietary needs that this was the best way to address this. There are specialty programs such as French Immersion or a strong music component, some are more academic (believe it or not) while others are your traditional beginning learning and getting them ready for school. All have their benefits and all have their place and it all depends on the child. The best fit for one child may not be the best fit for another.

One of the things I really liked about Matthew’s preschool is that we could walk to it. I found this to be a great benefit and we walked all through the winter to and from. Being more particular this time, this was one benefit I had to give up if I truly wanted the best fit.

Leap n Learn has a great program, they offer 3 hour classes and a French Immersion option. They also have a great music component.

Montessori is a great program for children who are self motivated and individual learners. The montessori approach is a wonderful one but is not for all children. Their philosophy is that they provide a solid foundation for children as they enter kindergarten. They do not offer music per se, and only a little bit of beginner French once a week.

Apple Tree is what I would describe as a regular preschool. Though it has been voted one of the best preschools in Calgary by Calgary’s Child, I did not find that it stood out. It was just a regular preschool in what I considered a fairly stark environment actually. I don’t believe French was offered here at all. But they do have Sonata Yamaha School of Music come in to do their music component.

Chloe

Needless to say we did not go with Apple Tree, though it was the one we could walk to! For us I felt that Leap n Learn and Montessori were the best choices, and were very close, but ended up choosing Montessori. I felt that it would be a better fit for Chloe especially and that Luke could thrive there as well. I did though choose the Montessori preschool that was a little bit further from us – as there was one 5 minutes away. I caution parents if you are going to do Montessori to still check out a few Montessori schools. Though the program and philosophy is the same, with all teachers being Montessori trained, they are individually owned and run, so vary slightly. We toured the one closest to us and though outwardly there was nothing wrong with it, it was not as bright as the other one, the energy was not as good and overall something just did not feel right. So I went with my gut and we are going a little bit further (15 minute drive) to one that I like and feel better about.

Choosing a preschool is very much an individual decision and I would strongly encourage you to tour a few of them so that you can see and make an informed decision that best fits your child. In summary here are things to keep in mind when choosing a preschool:

  1. Tour more than one school
  2. Tour each school – make an appointment where you can go and see the rooms, talk with someone about the program and able to answer any questions you have. Make sure that the kids can come with you
  3. Consider things like fees, monthly and registration, if there is a discount for a second child, etc.
  4. Is it clean? Bright and with natural light. Do you get a good vibe there? do the kids like it?
  5. What options do they have? 2 or 3 hour programs? French or other language, music
  6. Teacher training – what are their requirements for staff/teachers

Regardless of which preschool you choose for your child it should be one that is the best fit for you and your child. Make sure they are ready, gather all the information you need to make a sound informed decision, use a little intuition and take your time. Don’t dilly dally but don’t rush into it either. You want your child to have a positive experience in a positive environment.

Are you planning on registering your child for preschool this fall? What preschool have you chosen? Please comment and share below.

 

Wintery Fun in Kananaskis

Today the kids and I spent the afternoon in Kananaskis, having been invited by our neighbors to join them for quading, a campfire, food and fun. It was a wonderful afternoon with certainly no shortage of food, laughs and friendship.

The kids got a chance to go out on the Razor, Matthew usually riding in the front passenger seat and Luke and Chloe being pulled along in the toboggan on the back. Luke, being the trooper that he is, was the first to try it out.  Hopping into the toboggan with no worries, totally trusting that he would be safe and wanting to find out what it was all about. Chloe being less sure refused the first time, but was then upset when Luke set off without her.

Luke on his toboggan ride

Riding with the neighbor Mr. Koop, Luke simply enjoyed the ride, taking it all in. As they were riding Mr. Koop would ask Luke if he was having fun and Luke would just nod. He would later ask if he wanted to ride some more and Luke would nod again. That’s my boy, he just sits and observes, but it doesn’t mean that he is not having a good time, he is just quietly enjoying it.

While others in our group took their turns on the Razor/ toboggan we cozied up around a campfire in the trees, having hot chocolate, brownies and roasting hot dogs. Everyone brought something and shared, there was plenty to go around. Now for us it’s a bit challenging to share foods with our requirements of no dairy and no sugar. But I was prepared and  brought our own hot chocolate, made with almond milk and sweetened with maple syrup, a little mesquite and lucuma powder; as well as cinnamon salted caramel brownies. This recipe, (sugar free, dairy free and gluten free), I discovered while shopping at Community Natural Foods earlier in the week. They are sooo good!

Chloe enjoying her hot chocolate

I managed to whip up a batch before we headed out so that the kids would have something to enjoy. Cause like I said sharing can be challenging, not for us to share with others, but for others to share with us. Everyone was fascinated by the brownies and many had a taste. Sheila commented that she would never know they had no sugar in them if I had not told her (and thought they were delicious).

Matthew was a bit frustrated by the amount of things that were there that he could not have, while the twins didn’t know the difference. But it challenged Matthew to branch out a little; he tried roasting grapes over the fire and seeing what it was like. He said they were not bad. It also demonstrated how much of our food has sugar in it – which I pointed out to Matthew. So many of our convenience foods and foods we choose to bring to gatherings contain sugar! Many of these things, like baked beans or chocolate cake I can make with natural alternatives, but they also take time and I am not always able to pull these things together if we get invited on short notice.

Roasting grapes

Overall though Matthew survived and though he felt a bit slighted and a little upset with me, he had a great afternoon. He got 3 rides on the Razor and even Chloe eventually got on. Chloe, Luke and I took a turn together in the toboggan and had a great time. We did flip over at one point and tumbled out, but we got back in and enjoyed the ride. Luke and Chloe screamed in delight and we returned to our site with rosy cheeks and covered in snow. (Now just so you know Conroy was driving very slowly with the little ones in the back but it was just the right speed for me and enjoyable and safe for the twins) Even though there were moments where Chloe was a bit concerned, if you asked her if she had fun, her eyes glowed and she nodded adamantly.

It was so great to get out for the afternoon and enjoy the winter snow. It’s amazing that we have hardly any snow in Calgary but to drive half an hour down the road into Kananaskis there is tons! It was a beautiful mild winter day with gently falling snowflakes that came off and on. We totally skipped Luke and Chloe’s afternoon nap to go and I left the house in a mess and came home to the same mess, but sometimes you have to do those things in order to enjoy life. I am a big believer in routine and rarely deter from it (in fact some people call me militant), but sometimes you need that change, that spontaneity.Yeah I had to clean up when I got home, and supper was a little late, but I was able to handle it all calmly and cooly just doing what I needed to do. And because I had that break and that socialization it did not bother me at all that I still have to clean up a little or stay up a little later (yes there are still dishes awaiting me in the sink).

We went out and connected with nature, fed our spirits and just had fun! Which my goodness sometimes we just need to do in life. Leave the laundry, dishes, cleaning and go play! Enjoy this life and the time we have on this planet cause we are only here for a short time, might as well make it excellent!

Plus we created some wonderful memories for the kids (the kind that will be “Remember when we fell out of the sleigh…”, connections with others and some great pictures. (it’s unlikely that the same can be said for the laundry) Now who can put a price on that?

What adventures did you have this weekend? Leave a comment and share below

Christmas at the Hive

On the weekend I took the kids out to the Chinook Honey Company in Okotoks. A local honey farm and winery, they were hosting a Christmas family event with lots of activities for everyone.

When we first got up in the morning and I checked the temperature I debated on whether to go. It was -15 C and I knew most of the activities would be outside; and though we would dress for it, I knew for the little ones it might be cold.

As we putzed around and got breakfast going I slowly started to pack snacks and lunch, having decided that we would go and check it out. Though it was cool, I knew there were some buildings there that we could go into if we got cold; and living in Calgary you really can’t let the weather stop you from doing things. If you did, you’d never go anywhere or do anything. Besides this was the last day the event was on and I thought it would be fun for the kids.

Matthew making beeswax snow candle

And it was! It turned out to be one of those sunny clear blue sky Alberta days with lots of fun to be had. They had a scavenger hunt, apiary tours, and pictures with Christmas Critters. The kids could make their own beeswax snow candle, go on sleigh rides and enter the coloring contest. There was also an observation area where you could check out the bees in their hive, we even spotted the Queen.

Luke really enjoyed standing there and watching the bees. He just stood in front of the glass, head tilted up, watching. Chloe loved the animals, they had a horse and two donkeys that you could have your picture taken with. It took us a few tries getting the animals, and the kids all looking in the same direction, but we finally got a nice shot of everyone. Chloe and Luke insisted that they got to hold the rope of the donkey, just like Matthew did and Chloe cried when the donkey had to go back to his pen after the picture (cause she wanted to pet him some more).

They have a full store out there as well full of various honey products, such as beeswax candles, honey sticks, chocolates and the winery. It was decorated beautifully for Christmas, a rustic sort of look. The staff were extremely friendly as well and it’s a great environment to hang out.

They had a big fire pit outside to hang out and have hot chocolate and snacks and they even had carollers out there at one point. We did the apiary tour, which was interesting as the ‘King Bee’ Art, explained and showed us how they set up the ‘hives’ for the bees and how they extracted honey from them. It was fascinating, and all the kids were very attentive.

We learned many things such as how the bees ‘make’ their queen, how long she lives (4-5 years), what the role of the workerbees and drones are. He also told us how Albert Einstein once said that once the honey bee poplulation of the world was zero that we would have 4-5 years left to live; and that the honey bee populations of the world are dwindling and are down by 30%. Farmers are now working hard to keep healthy bee populations as they are so important to our ecosystem.

It is also highly beneficial for us to consume local honey made by local bees, as local honey provides us with immunity builders to environmental conditions in our area. So buying local is not just beneficial to the local economy but good for our health as well!

All in all it was a great day at the honey farm, we learned a lot, we played and we even left with a treasures, beeswax candles and some wonderful memories!

 

Gingerbread Cookies – A Holiday Favorite (& sugar free!)

sugar free gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread is a favorite and common Christmas recipe in most households during the holiday season. It’s fun to make, fun to decorate and of course delicious!

When we went sugar free I was unsure how to make sugar free gingerbread cookies, as it seemed silly to make and decorate them, then not eat them. I had found a website with sugar free recipes that offered an alternative but when I tried it though it was edible, it was not the same and I decided that I would not make it again. Matthew though really liked them, which I thought was interesting.

This past summer, I started using barley malt and coconut sugar more. Barley malt is a great substitute for molasses and coconut sugar for brown sugar. I made a delicious baked bean recipe when we went camping using the barley malt in place of the molasses, oh it was yummy!

Once I discovered these substitutions and that they worked well, I took a look at my original gingerbread recipe and realized that I now had the appropriate substitutions to adjust this recipe. I was very excited!

So I tried it out last week for the first time. I got out all my Christmas cookie cutters, which I have many, big and small and all different shapes. The kids love to use the cookie cutters and enjoy making the shapes. We made Santas, reindeer, angels and bells. Hollies and wreaths, snowmen and tin soldiers. Luke and Chloe were very excited and once we had them in the oven, asked to have the oven light on so they could see the cookies.

They did not eat much for lunch that day as they were waiting for cookies! (but I also used it an incentive to finish their lunch 🙂 They gobbled them up and of course wanted more, but after a few I said we would wait until later, as I actually had to bake the rest.

In adjusting the recipe I found that I would increase the spices a little, so though I have posted the recipe with the spice amounts as is, I would recommend increasing the ginger and maybe the cinnamon by 1/4 tsp. each, but it depends on your personal preference. I like my gingerbread cookies to be a bit more gingery than they turned out, though they were still very good.

We did not ice them this time around as we enjoyed them straight from the oven, but you could ice them with the recipe that I have included below. It is a basic sugar free icing recipe, which you can color using food coloring if you like. (Though food coloring is not good for us due to all the processing and effects it has on our body. You can buy natural food coloring in the store, I have seen it at Community Natural Foods here in Calgary, but you can also make your own. My sister has been experimenting with beets, spinach and other foods to color her icing for her cookies. More on that coming…)

Sugar Free Gingerbread Cookies

2 1/2 c. flour

sugar free gingerbread cookies1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. coconut sugar

1/2 c. barley malt

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp. ginger or 1-2 drops Ginger essential oil

1/4 tsp. cinnamon or 1 drop Cinnamon Bark essential oil

1/8 tsp. cloves or 1-2 drops Clove Bud essential oil

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tbsp. hot water

1 tsp. vinegar

Sift flour, measure, resift. Cream shortening, blend in coconut sugar and add barley malt and beaten egg. Beat well. Mix spices with baking soda and blend until smooth with hot water and vinegar. Stir into creamed mixture. Add flour and mix.

Roll out dough on a well floured surface to 1/4″ thick. Dough may be quite sticky. Use cookie cutters to make desired shapes. Put on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F for 10 minutes.

Cookies may be iced after fully cooled.

Simple Buttercream Icing 

1 c. Powdered Sugar Replacement (see recipe below)

1/2 c. Earth Balance Vegan Spread

1/2 c. Rice Milk or Almond Milk

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth. Proportions can be adjusted to make icing thicker or thinner as desired. Add food coloring if desired, ice cookies.

Sugar Free Powdered Sugar (replacement for regular icing sugar)

1 cup nonfat dry milk (for dairy free use powdered coconut milk)

1 cup cornstarch

2/3 cup Krisda Stevia for baking

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and whip until blended and powdered. Store in an airtight container.

This replacement can be used in any recipe calling for icing sugar.