Summer Fun Ideas for The Family (That Won’t Break the Bank!)

 

Summer goes so fast, doesn’t it?  Here we are in the fourth week of August, and September is fast approaching.  But despite the need for back-to-school shopping, there is still time to get in some last-minute family fun this summer. Here are a few ideas that involve minimal planning and won’t break the bank.  I have tried to include links when possible.  Many of these activities are available well into the fall, so the fun doesn’t have to end with the start of the new school year!

Summer Fun Ideas For the Family
A view of the South Entrance Main Trail at Merritt Island
A view of the South Entrance Main Trail at Merritt Island
  1. Have an old-fashioned picnic. Fill a cooler with your favourite grub and make use of a local park or even your own backyard. There are so many lovely spots tucked away in Niagara, you really can’t go wrong.  Merritt Island in Welland is one of my favourites, as it offers a view of the water, a playground, and a well-maintained 4km trail for biking, rollerblading or walking.
  2. Go outside and play. Turn Hide and Seek into a water fight.  Water balloons, squirt guns and super-soakers aside, a couple of buckets will work nicely.  Want to be a bit devious? Arm yourself and then leave a message for your kids and a water gun for each one outside. In the note, tell them mom and dad are hiding somewhere in the yard and challenge them to find you.  This can also be done without the water if you prefer to stay dry, but the simple act of playing with your kids will be a great bonding moment and show them that you still know how to be silly.
  3. Explore the local parks and splash pads – many of which are free to use. In fact, why not combine this with a picnic and spend the day playing outside?   (Note to Parents: avoid the temptation to sit on the sidelines just watching your kids – get involved and play too!)  You can also use the playground equipment to get in a quick workout.  There are lots of great ideas on Pinterest for exercising with your kids and many that can be easily adaptable to a playground jungle gym.
  4. Plan a day trip or weekend getaway. Pack up the family and go exploring!  Can’t afford to spend a week at a cottage?  Why not take a day trip and explore attractions nearby?  Here’s a great link to get you started which can be used to plan a last-minute summer road trip or a fall getaway:  Visit Ontario Travel
  5. Set up a tent in the backyard. Use it either for a camp out, or simply let the kids play in it during the day.  You’ll be surprised at how easily they will put down their electronic devices, and if you’re lucky you may even get a quiet night in if you can convince them to sleep outside.
  6. Go Stargazing. Seriously, when was the last time you did this?  While it may not be easy to do from your backyard if you live in the city, a short drive out-of-town can provide the proper setting to view the celestial show.
    Image of Big Dipper provided by Sky & Telescope
    Image provided by Sky & Telescope

    There are many phone apps now that offer stargazing support that even a beginner can have fun whether the sky is clear or not!  Do some research beforehand, and be prepared to share some stories about how the constellations got their names.  Greek Mythology is rich with these, and your local library can be a great resource.  Late August is usually a great time for meteor showers, and with a little luck, you may be able to see some interesting phenomena with the naked eye.   For a detailed summary of this week’s sky forecast, click this link to Sky & Telescope.com

  7. Try something new! Rent a paddle-boat, kayak or canoe on the Welland Canal (visit City of Welland’s site here.) Hourly rates are quite reasonable and the waters of the canal provide a great place for beginners.  Not into water sports?  Why not go hiking in the Niagara Falls Gorge, or try rock climbing at an indoor facility like Peaks Rock Climbing in St. Catharines.  They will offer instruction and assistance so that even the most tentative of beginners can feel secure.  Pricing for initial lessons are a bit more, but a day pass is quite reasonable and they are open late most days.  (Note to Parents: Children under 18 years of age will need a parent to sign a waiver.)  If climbing doesn’t appeal to you, why not try bouncing instead?  Plan a visit to the new Sky Zone in St. Catharines.  They offer a range of activities utilizing trampolines and climbing apparatus.  You will have to buy a pair of special socks, but these can be used on return visits and really, why should the fun end with summer?

There’s still time to do something together before school starts.  Just do it as a family, and make some great summer memories.  Now put down that iPad or phone, and get outside!

Have an idea for a fun family activity that won’t cost a fortune?  Share your ideas below!

Reasons Why I Love/Hate My Yoga Mat

 

I have a love/hate relationship with yoga. I generally love it, and have practiced in a haphazard way since my early twenties. When I remember to practice on a regular basis, my body and soul respond with flexibility and strength, resulting in a deeper level of peace and fulfillment. My stress and anxiety melt away. I breathe deeper, and the world looks brighter.

The hate part of my relationship occurs when I allow myself to lose the connection to my mat and put aside my yoga practice. For whatever reason, I will at some point become busy with other things and miss a day, which then becomes a week, then a month, then two. My rationale will be that I am either too tired, too busy, or too sore. Ironically, these are the very times in which I should focus on my practice the most. I know this. Yet somehow, I will justify putting it off.

It may take some time before I catch my pattern, but inevitably I will see my yoga mat standing in the corner and have that familiar “duh!” moment (not unlike Homer Simpson) in which I mentally slap my forehead and shake my head. How can I have forgotten? It’s as if I can hear my yoga mat laughing and shaking its own head at me, smiling in a knowing way as I unroll it and dust it off.

If you are like me, and run a similar pattern, you’ll know what I am talking about. While I know that yoga is non-judgemental, I still hear my own inner voice admonishing me for slacking off. But this does not bother me anymore. At one time, I would have been angry with myself for it, but as I’ve grown in my practice I have learned to let these feelings go. I no longer beat myself up for skipping practice, but rather smile as I admit my oversight. The first step in changing any pattern is to recognize it. The faster one does this, the easier it becomes to avoid repeating it.

So in an effort to reconnect with my practice I am sharing some of the reasons I both love/hate my yoga mat. You may have your own list – what we love and hate is often a reflection of ourselves, so consider how your feelings reflect where you are in your own practice. Here is my own list:

Top Reasons Why I Love/ Hate My Yoga Mat
  1. It is a mirror of my own mental state (good or bad). When I practice, I am able to focus on my inner state and discover the root of my feelings. Sometimes I realize that I have been on edge because of a situation that has been at the back of my mind. When I am calm, I am able to turn my attention inward. This can be both enlightening and empowering.

    20160822_162740
    How many of us can still touch our toes after 40? After 50? Remember: use it or lose it….
  2. I find tight muscles I didn’t know I had, and discover if I need a pedicure while in forward bend. It’s amazing how seldom we bend over as we get older! Yoga encourages me to stretch and bend in ways I don’t on a daily basis. I am often surprised at how my flexibility can change after time away from my mat. Luckily the same can be said once I return to it.
  3. I discover if I need to clean the floors again – especially that stubborn spot beneath the couch. Yoga provides new perspective. It can also be humbling. By looking at the world from different angles, we can remain modest and open to new ideas.
  4. My mat never judges me; it simply exists. I know my mat isn’t actually chiding me for losing touch with my practice, and that any voice I hear in my head is actually my own. Knowing this helps me to remember that being on my mat is a chance to put aside my ego and for a short time, to simply be.
  5. I start to see the world differently after a session. Whenever I am feeling challenged, yoga helps me to find a solution. Sometimes this is as simple as getting out of my own way. Breathing deeply in sync with your movements can quiet the mind and lessen stress and anxiety. Even a short 10-minute session can help increase feelings of positivity and relaxation. (Note: If you ever feel you are struggling in a pose, remember to smile! This will help to relax the face and jaw muscles; a common place of tension.)
  6. My mat both humbles and challenges me to realize my limitations, and then move beyond them. Never judge your own progress by comparing your ability to hold a pose with anyone else. We are each on our own journey, and must progress at our own pace. Yoga allows us to explore so much – starting inwardly with our own muscles and joints and where we feel pain/freedom of motion, to our emotional responses to these sensations, and ultimately how all of this affects our interactions with the world around us. Turning our attention inward allows us time for reflection and appreciation.
  7. Like a good friend, I know my mat is always there for me. Never judging the lapses in my practice, I know my mat will always welcome me back. It may take some time for me to find my way back, but I know it will always be there to support me when I do. And as I finally dust it off, clear a space and start unrolling it, I know I will hear a faint voice whispering with a smile “I knew you’d be back.”

Have a thought or comment to share?  Drop me a line!  I’d love to hear from you.

My First (and Last) Hip Concert

 

Tonight is a momentous and historic evening for all Canadians, both home and abroad. If you are not yet aware (and really if you don’t know about this by now you must be living under a rock,) this evening marks the career culmination of one of the most revered music groups in modern Canadian History. Tonight we will bid a fond farewell to one of our most treasured musical gems: The Tragically Hip.

While the rest of the world concerns itself with obtaining Olympic medals, this weekend Canada has its own reason to celebrate. In true Canadian style, we will continue to support our athletes in Rio, but for one night we will politely excuse ourselves from The Games to pay tribute to a band that deserves its own medal. Americans have their Superbowl. We Canadians have our Stanley Cup. And apparently our taste in music.

Founded in Kingston, Ontario in 1984, The Tragically Hip (heretofore referred to as “The Hip”) is a band that has worked its way across all of Canada and into the hearts of most Canadians. It has inspired us with its witty and poetical lyrics. Gord Downie’s storytelling paired with the appealing sounds of talented musicians Ron Baker, Gord Sinclair, Johnny Fay and Paul Langlois have created a uniquely Canadian phenomenon. Their sound has become a part of our very culture. Somehow they have won the hearts of a rather reserved and stalwart people. Despite their efforts to cross the border, their popularity has never made it into the US on the same degree. In a way, I am proud of this.

I was first introduced to the band in my early teens, when I started grade 9 at E.L. Crossley. To this day, I am instantly transported back to the summer of 1991 whenever I hear songs from their album “Road Apples.” That year was a formative one for me musically, as I began to explore and develop my own tastes. I have discovered many different bands since then and while my tastes have changed somewhat over the years, The Hip have remained a constant for me. I am not a dedicated fan like some that I know, but am proud to say I know most of their songs. Like the old family cottage, The Hip have always been there in the background, quietly waiting to flood me with memories from my youth upon my return. The urge to see them live was never very strong with me. Somewhere in the recesses of my laid-back mind I think I always thought I’d get around to it. One day I’d see them live. Well it would seem that ship has now sailed, and I am still standing on the dock.

Quite literally. As I write this, I am sitting at the family cottage, located well within cottage country. While this may not be the ideal location to partake in a concert experience, it is for me the perfect one in this case. The Tragically Hip has been a part of many a summer experience for me, and I can honestly think of no better way to celebrate their career than by continuing this tradition. I will be one of the many who did not score tickets, and that is ok. Rather, I will tune into CBC’s live coverage of their final concert in Kingston, and toast the band with a cold Canadian beer from the comfort of the deck as I overlook the lake. To quote Gord’s lyrics from the song Bobcaygeon, I will “watch the constellations reveal themselves, one star at a time.”  Somehow I feel this to be an ideal tribute.

So tonight I will join in with my fellow Canadians to celebrate this band that has become a part of us so deeply that we cannot simply let them go. The Hip are more than a part of our culture. They are in our blood and bone, and even though we must bid adieu, we will cherish their music in our very souls.

Farewell Gentlemen, and thanks for the music.