Category Archives: trees

Summer’s Here and So are Posts for Parents


Latino Children Play Swing

Latino Children Play Swing (Photo credit: epSos.de)

School is over and you are scratching your head over summer plans, not the big ones such as vacations (Aunt Lucie’s cottage again!) or camps if you can afford it: Camp Tappawallit for one week, two or three?  No, it’s the nitty-gritty, the hot summer evenings, the long weekends of only two days, the weeks of amusing small ones if you can afford to or must stay home with them.

If you are home with your kids,

you are Home With Your Kids

Here are some suggestions gleaned from my long hot summers as a teacher and parent and from other parents.  First, if you are home with the kids, remember that is your primary goal.  Sure there are jobs to be done but restrict them to cool mornings when your kids are happy to amuse themselves.  I also expected my kids to do a few chores, starting with keeping their rooms tidy.

Summer was my time for sorting through each child’s clothes, making a note of what was going to be needed in the fall, what could be passed on and placing the worn out clothes directly in the rag bag.  Sometimes it was tedious.  If we got through it in one session, I was pleased; if the child got cranky, I marked the bags, tidied what we hadn’t sorted and waited for another day to finish up.

It was also a time to sort out closets and clean rooms thoroughly but unless truly inspired I rarely went past lunch.  It just wasn’t fair to the kids.

Put aside at least half of each day to be with the kids

Afternoons were for a cold glass of water, a book, a chaise lounge and the shade of the tree in the back yard.  The kids came and went, asking permission for

Beautiful shady tree with "Candle-nut&quo...

Beautiful shady tree with “Candle-nut” fruits. The fruits of this plant were used as candles by early settlers. Native to NE QLD Australia and to New Guinea. old name: Aleurites moluccana v. rockinghamensis Location: rainforest reserve in Chapel Hill, Brisbane, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

various things, climbing the tree, going off with their friends and inviting friends around.  I checked hats and sunblock and fluids and where they were going and with whom but it felt relaxed because I wasn’t trying to do anything else.  I often didn’t read more than a couple of pages.

Sometimes if dinner was organised, we would walk (or cycle) along the bicycle path to meet their dad.  This was a treat, as they loved to surprise him and tell him about their day.

Be good to yourself and your family

Remember, if you try to look after your kids and have an immaculate house, writes the Great Canadian Novel, or run a successful home-based business, you will also be seriously irritated with your kids and very frustrated.  Taking care of the kids comes first. If anything else gets done it’s a bonus. Things do get done but never nearly as often as you would like. Just keep reminding yourself that you are there for your children.

We don’t all have the luxury of one parent staying at home for the summer

Isn’t that the truth!  It takes a bit of planning but picking up the kids after work and taking them straight to the nearest park, splash-pad, pool or beach for a picnic supper is a welcome treat on the hotter days.

Making picnicking on a whim easier

When you dry towels and bathing suits, pop them in a bag with sunblock, hats

English: Kids at shore

Kids at shore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and whatever necessities you need and keep it in the hall closet.  Make sure you have enough for the whole family so you can just grab the bag when the water

English: A frisbee made by Wham-O.

A frisbee made by Wham-O. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

calls.  Use a distinctive bag and the same bag each time so the kids can find it to toss in the Frisbee or toy they think is needed.

Keep a box or basket or cooler handy with whatever cutlery, cups and china you use for a picnic.  Save large plastic jars with good screw-on lids to put any drippy food in.  Pack cloth napkins or tea towels for mopping up sticky fingers and chins.

Then all you need to add is food. If the food has been frozen or well chilled and you plan to eat within the hour, you probably won’t need ice.  If you think you might need ice, consider using those chill packs intended for sprains and bruises: less mess and effective for short trips.

Checklists help

Create generic checklists for the food container and the one in the hall.  For the food container you might list:

4 Cups

4 forks

4 spoons

4 knives

4 plates

main course

vegetables

rice/potato/bread

afters (dessert)

drinks

water

thermos of tea

2 tea towels

As you can see it covers most of what you would take for your picnic and some of it can be done as soon as you have done the dishes from the last picnic.  Some of it will help with your planning.  You are less likely to leave something important behind even if you are tired and frazzled.

A tone mapped HDR image of a picnic setup on t...

A tone mapped HDR image of a picnic setup on the grass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suggestions for food for an easy picnic supper:

Bake a lot of chicken legs, then freeze them in bags in amounts your family is likely to eat.  If you have a couple extra, freeze them separately so you can add them for guests.  You can take these out in the morning and put them in the cooler or fridge.

A lot of food for a very hungry family!

Or make peanut butter and banana sandwiches

Or check out lentil or bean or quinoa salads on the Internet.  Some of them are a meal in themselves.  It would be easier to make these the night before and if you double the recipe, it will cover two meals.

Or pick up a small ham and carve it on the spot

Carrot and celery sticks are favourites and easy to prepare a day or two in advance.

Forget about potato salad and take some good bread and butter

For dessert bring a selection of fruit and maybe a cookie for each person.  I love to bring whatever delicious berry is in season.  They usually disappear fast and if they don’t, well all the more for the adults’ lunches.

Bottles with ice and water are great but you can also cut juice in half with soda water for a fizzy drink that is nutritious.

Surprisingly good:

Turnip sticks

                        Cucumber sticks or slices

                        Lettuce leaves eaten as finger food (especially dark  green or red)

                        Plain yogurt sprinkled with brown sugar

                        Cut up fresh fruit with plain yogurt

                        Yogurt and juice beaten together.  Add milk if it is too thick

                        Pickled herring

Between the fun of the water and the good simple food, all of you will sleep better, no matter how hot it is.

When you get home, do yourself a favour and clean out the food containers thoroughly.  Even if it is late, at least get the china, containers and cutlery into a tub of soapy water or a dishwasher and wipe out the cooler or basket.  You do not want to face stinky, smelly picnic things next time you want to picnic on a whim.

Family picnicing in the shade on a hot summer ...

Family picnicing in the shade on a hot summer day at Bonython Park on the banks of River Torrens, Adelaide, South Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next Time:  Summertime: can you make if fun AND educational cheaply?

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Don’t Sell off Those Downtown Schools!


 In these times of declining enrolment, cuts to school budgets and no prospect of new income sources on the horizon, it is easy for a school board to look at the valuable downtown properties and consider selling them.  However, in many cities, such as Ottawa, there are still many families from all walks of life living in the inner city.  In the not far distant future, these families will be looking again for schools for their children, preferably community schools.

To achieve the goal of keeping downtown schools open and providing income or capital for the school boards, we need to rethink our use of property.  We need to consider sharing space the way stores have shared space with offices, apartments or condos above them for many years, even centuries, nay millennia.  The Romans had their stores or business places at the front of their homes, while the living quarters occupied the other three sides of the courtyard.  On many Canadian main streets there are stores with two or three stories of apartments or offices above them.

Obviously, because the health and safety of children is always a priority, schools sharing space with other facilities would require more careful planning than most arrangements.  In an age when we are locking school doors after school starts, questioning unknown adults on the schoolyard, insisting that visitors report first to the office for a badge and requiring all volunteers to have a police check, sharing property must be done with careful regard to student safety.

An example of the model I am proposing is this: in downtown Ottawa exists a former high school that takes up the better part of a city block.  Across the road from it are its former playing fields.  It would be too expensive to bring the building up to standard, but it is sitting on very valuable land ripe for development, eyed by property developers.  Here is what I propose.

Replace the high school with a three-story high school at the base of a multi-story condo. Immediately below the high school put a parking level for teachers, parents and visitors.  There set a security camera outside the stairwell and elevator leading to the school.  When visitors pressed the bell for admission the office would remotely unlock the door or elevator after checking the person through the camera.  If the elevator and stairwell opened immediately in front of the office, then visitors from the parking lot could be observed as they arrived on the main floor of the school.  Make the front entrance also visible from the office and security may not be perfect but it will be very good.

The condominiums would be from the fourth floor up.  Their lobby would be at street level, but on a street where there are no doors to the school; if the entrance to the parking lot was on the same side, there might not even be space for first floor windows in that side of the school.  The condominium lobby need not be much larger than the area required to accommodate an appropriate bank of elevators, mail boxes and small waiting room.  The elevators would serve the lower parking levels reserved for the use of the condominium owners, but skip the school parking level and the school itself.

This may sound complicated but this kind of mixed use or designated elevators is already being used commercially.  If you have ever been to a late movie in a theatre in an office tower, you might have noticed that the elevator was programmed to go only to certain floors and the parking garage.  On the other hand, if you have gone to dinner outside the building, leaving your car in the garage, you will find that access to it from outside would have been only through a door found in the building’s airlock.  Not only is there no need to go into the building to get your car, but those inner doors to the building will be locked!

Security cameras are not ubiquitous in our city and rightly so.  However their judicious use at entrances has been employed by organisations that are concerned about who is admitted to their building.  Women’s hostels are a case in point.  While I would not advocate security cameras within a school, their use at entrance and exit points is well worth considering.  It would certainly ease concerns about a high school and homes sharing the same building.

Why would people consider buying a condominium over a high school?  In this case, the view will be magnificent: the Ottawa River, the Gatineau Hills, the Parliament Buildings and much of Ottawa would spread below you.  Secondly, if carefully thought out, it might be possible for the condo and the school to share sports facilities.  A swimming pool, weights room and gym on the school’s third floor that was accessible to the owners of the condominiums outside of school and extra-curricular hours might be attractive.  In addition, the playing fields over the road could be accessible for Ultimate Frisbee and soccer and the track around it would be great for the runners.  There might be room in one corner for a tot lot.  Careful tree planting would provide shade in summer and make the playing fields attractive.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board does work to make school facilities available (for a modest fee) to the public outside of school hours; in fact the schools that are open most evenings and weekends are called Lighthouse Schools.  This would be an extension of that concept. 

Many schools these days are allowing day cares and even private schools to move into their unused facilities as enrolment shrinks.  The smart thing to do would be to design this high school with decreasing enrolment in mind.  One corner of the school could be designed to be shut off from the rest of the school if necessary and the rooms rearranged to suit offices or day cares or whatever organisation might be looking for space in the area. How could that be done?  I’m not sure, but isn’t that what good architects are for?  It would certainly be a challenge as walls that successfully block noise between classrooms are not easily removed for remodelling.

Enrolment does decrease from time to time, but eventually that earlier big wave of children will have children and enrolment will increase again.  We need to design our schools with the flexibility to meet the challenges of changes in enrolment.  We need to rethink how to effectively use expensive downtown space to the financial advantage of education.  Let’s not sell off our biggest financial assets but use them to guarantee schools within walking distance of the students who need them.  Let’s be innovators!