Finding the way back to (a new) normal + Vegan & refined sugar free apple pie

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Good evening dear friends!

It’s been such a long, long time since I last visited this, my happy place, since I last talked to you, my dear friends. Summer came and went and so did most of Autumn (my favorite season!), and it is only now that the advent is almost upon us that our lives have regained some sort of normality, of calm and that I begin to find the way back to the words I have been wanting to write for a while.

So here I am, listening to The Piano, which is the soundtrack with which I have written every post of this blog, and thinking about the roller coaster of emotions that have been the last few months (pardon the cliché).

You see, On the 1st week of October: 1) We pulled Luka and Zoe out of their new school, worried about the high levels of stress that they were enduring and, advised by a psychologist,  decided to home school them (insert worry, doubts and sadness), 2) We lost our babysitter ( a big deal for expats like us, trust me) and 3)  I started working, from home, on the most amazing project I could have ever dreamed (insert jumps of joy and huge smiles).  Our daily lives, and the plans we had for the immediate future, as you can imagine, changed pretty much overnight, and it has taken a while for all of us to re adjust and find the calm and quiet of a new normal.

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During all this time there were many occasions in which I sat at the computer with the intention to type a new blog post, only to be met by the most atrocious writer’s block. It seemed as though I had run out of words or, rather, as if I had too many words waiting to be said,  too many raw emotions inside of me battling to be put on paper first.  Should I talk to you about the sadness and worry for our children’s well being that had haunted us during September, or should I talk about the relief we found when, unexpectedly and surprisingly, we decided to home school them? And how to discuss the joy, hope and personal fulfillment that  the new project I am working on had brought into my life? How could I piece those feelings together, in a blog post, or two, or three, when I was still dazed myself by all that had occurred?

I couldn’t.

And the more I thought about it, the more daunting the task seemed. As days and then weeks passed by, this first blog post acquired mythical proportions and it became more and more difficult to write.

Until this week, when  I realized I didn’t have to do any of this: that I can  take my time to write about it all in greater detail when the words come to me  in their own time, and that I could just come back here being me, the confused, worried, joyful, warm and simply  happy me that I have always been. And that I could just say hello to you again, bring you a piece of pie, and ask you (like old friends do):

How have you been, my dears, during all this time? 

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And speaking of pie, here’s the recipe I promised:

 

Vegan & refined sugar free apple pie

Ingredients: For the crust:400 grs all purpose flour, 200 grs margarine, cold (the best quality you can find, preferably from the health food store), 2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar, 1/4 cup very cold water. For the filling: 2 big Granny Smith apples, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in cold water, 7 tablespoons coconut palm sugar, 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon.

Preparation:

1) Make the crust: Put flour, sugar and margarine in the food processor. Pulse until the flour reaches a sand-like consistency. Add water while the processor runs, until the dough separates from the bowl. Wrap the dough in foil and let it rest in the refrigerator for one hour. Note:  If you don’t have a food processor, use two knives to incorporate flour, sugar and margarine.

2) After one hour, pre heat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in two. Roll one half and cover the botton of a pie dish with it.

3) Prepare the filling: Peel and finely slice the apples and put them in the pie dish. Mix the dissolved cornstarch, coconut sugar and cinnamon and pour it evenly over the apples, to coat. Cover the dish with the other half of dough and bring it to the oven. Bake until the crust is golden. Serve warm and, if you are feeling decadent, accompanied by a scoop of good quality vanilla bean ice cream.

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10 tips to plan fun summer themes and activities for kids+ FREE resources

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Spending  Summer at home with kids means fun, water games and crazy schedules, right? Well, yes,  but, let’s be honest, it frequently also means facing the inevitable  “I AM BORED” (with tons of emphasis) and  “I don’t know what to do!” and, in those cases, having a few summer themes and activities that are easy to put together in a whim and that will keep our children happy and stimulated becomes very (VERY) important.

So, if you are facing the prospect of a full month of August at home with your kids, and would like to be prepared, this post is for you! I have put together my tips for planning themes and gathering activities around them, so that you can plan the ones that are best for your child, and I have included a downloadable pdf with a list of great things to have at home to quickly put together fun projects and games. You can take this list with you when shopping for supplies and you can also use it as a checklist for things to recycle.

 

WHY PLAN ACTIVITIES AROUND THEMES

 

I know you may be wondering this. I  also asked myself this question in the past and, after having tried this system, here are my reasons:

*  Having a few themes makes it easier to find activities (I’ll show you how)

* It is easier to gather resources,which can then be reused several times within the same them

* Children get to explore a subject in greater depth, and when the subject is one they are already interested in, they get the most out of it.

  Ready to get started? Here are my tips!

HOW TO PLAN FUN SUMMER THEMES AND ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS

 

1) Observe  your child:  What does your child like? What activities does he enjoy? What is he attracted to? What books does he prefer? Follow you child’s lead when choosing themes for greater success. For example, one of our themes this year is Space, because both Luka and Zoe are fascinated with stars, planets, galaxies, aliens and the solar system. As a consequence, every activity I suggest in this theme is quickly embraced and we have been able to do much more with it than if I had randomly chosen something else.

2) Think about some areas where your child may be struggling: Look at what your child is struggling with and use the opportunity to reinforce those areas through play and fun activities. Let him learn without realizing it. For example, if your child has an immature pencil grip or can’t use scissors properly, you could check this website for ideas on games that you can do with him in order for him to get better . If your child needs to work on controlling his temper, or getting better at socializing, you could check this website, makes face dolls with toilet paper rolls, use puppets to talk about feelings, etc.

3) Pick a few themes. After you have observed what your child likes and what he needs, decide on a few themes. I like to chose just a few, no more than 3 or 4, because I find that a bigger number can be overwhelming, especially when planning.

4) Create Pinterest boards: This is the fun part where we get to use pinterest for research 😉 I suggest opening a pinterest board for each theme, it will help you keep everything organized-remember that you then have to be able to use those ideas and in order to do that, you first need to find them.

5) Research: I use pinterest a lot for this purpose and I also visit my favorite children blogs. Here they are:

Modern Parents Messy Kids

Pink and Green mama

Mrs Ricefield

All the bloggers in this pinterest board

Remember to look for activities that are developmentally appropriate. If they are too easy, your child may get bored. If they are too difficult, he may become frustrated. Show him the next step, not the end of the ladder.

6)  Start making lists of activities for each theme

7) Take a good look at your lists and ponder:Which ones are more complicated  and require some preparation (example, planning an experiment, or building a rocket ship according to NASA’s instructions)?Which ones can be put together in no time and are sure to entertain bored little minds?  Take a calendar and plan when to do the more complicated ones, but be realistic with your time and resources. I normally mix a more complicated one per day, or every two days, with simple ones (such as sensory work) and free time. You can decide to schedule themes per week or mix them all during the week, according to your child’s motivation and interests.

8) Write a bucket list. From each theme, select some to put into your list of things that you don’t want the Summer to end without having done. Themes aside, which other experiences do you wish to have this summer with your children. Make this a summer to remember!

9) Make a list of emergency activities Make a list of activities that are reaaaaaaaly easy to put together in a whim, for emergencies, and glue it to your fridge. I find that sensory work and water play work wonders in these cases.

10)Gather the materials:  Now that you know what you want to do, look around your house: what do you already have that can be used?What do you need to buy?  I find that a well stocked art basket/box is a precious tool because it allows us to always have the right resources on hand to bring all our projects to life. Luka and Zoe call it “the magic box” because we always find something fun to do with it. In order to help you put one together, I have attached below a pdf with my own list of resources. Use it to gather things around the house and to go shopping, if needed!

 

Click here to get the pdf list “what to include in an art box

 

Last but not least, my dear friend Jo Ebisujima wrote  a fabulous kindle ebook with +50 Montessori activities for kids aged 2-6 years old that was written by my dear friend Jo Ebisujima (she interviewed me last Sunday, by the way) and which is being offered FREE TODAY.  So  go grab your copy!

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Now it’s your turn: do you plan your summer activities? which are your favorite ones? Let me know in the comments below!

6 great resources for fun Summer activities {Summer at home with kids}

 Summer, summer, summer….what does it mean to you? Holidays? The Beach? Warm weather? Relaxation?

Chances are that, if you are a mum, Summer also means Kids at home 24/7 , and that your google searches from the end of May until the end of August are mostly focused on finding cool, entertaining, educational, fun and, yes, affordable, summer activities to do with kids.Am I right? Are you like me?

Then this blog post is for you!

As I mentioned before, Luka and Zoe are not going to Summer school this year, nor are we going on holidays because of my husband’s work, so this has meant finding TONS of activities to keep their energetic little minds and bodies active, stimulated and entertained.  Summer in Cyprus is very, very hot, so it is not possible for us to spend all day outside and, since we live in an apartment, several activities have to adapted, but we make it work!

In following posts I will tell you all about how we are planning each day (schedules, schedules!) and I will share with you specific ideas, activities and resources for our “Summer themes” but, for today, here’s a list of general books I have found more useful in this process. With these resources on hand I know I’ll never run out of ideas for fun summer activities!

Here they are:

6 great resouces for fun Summer activities 

1)The Pre-schoolers busy book: 365 creative games & activities to occupy 3-6 year olds: This is a wonderful general resource book that you can use all year long, for many years.   What I love about this book is that it has resources for everything: rainy days, cooking with children, outdoor adventures, drama and music, arts and crafts, and even holiday activities. It also included lists of material to buy and recycle, lists of age-appropriate books and home-made recipes for things such as play-dough and bubble solution. If your child is smaller than 3 years, you may want to know that we had the previous one too (The Toddler’s busy book) and it is also great!

2) Camp mom: Summer activities pack: This is an ebook created by 20 blogger mums, full of guidance on how to plan, schedule and execute tons of super fun activities in three main themes: water, art and nature. Many of the ideas can be used all year long, and it also contains an area called “sensory play every day” which is great for emergencies (a.k.a I need an idea FAST!) and which includes links to sensory activities.

3) Self-Esteem games: 300 activities that make children feel good about themselves: I really love this book and it has been a wonderful resource for encouraging a sense of self in Luka and Zoe. The games help children focus on the things they do well, learn to love their names, getting to know themselves (their bodies, their feelings and emotions, their reactions) and learning how to be with others, how to trust and express affection. If you have a child who has been bullied or who has gone through a difficult first socialization experience, this is a beautiful book to add to your library.

4) Science is Simple: Over 250 activities for pre-schoolers: Children are naturally curious about the World around them and the early years are a great time to teach them to think scientifically: to question, to observe, to hypothesize, to draw conclusions. This book teaches children (and the adults teaching them) to be mindful about the world and think about things such as why do tree leaves change color, how to seeds grow, what is melting, what can the wind do, where do trees come from, how to explore the unknown and many, many others. What I love about this book is that it teaches children to find their own answers to the multiple whats, whys and hows they encounter everyday, and to be active in the finding of knowledge and not mere receptacles of the ideas of others.

5) Montessori Geography curriculum: This ebook was originally conceived to help Montessori teachers, but I have found wonderful ideas in it as well (and it’s free!). The main idea of the Montessori Geography curriculum is to help children develop spatial awareness and understand themselves as part of a bigger group that includes neighbourhood, city, country, continent and, ultimately, our planet. The instructions are detailed and the activities are, even though the country geography lessons are US-specific, they are easily adaptable.

6) Art not craft ebook: I love this ebook! I was not a creative person before having children and their artistic explorations opened a whole new world for me. This book provides instructions, ideas and resources for drawing, painting, printmaking, collage and even making sculptures, as well as ideas on  how to prepare a creative space,  how to store art materials and how to store artwork. (Note: the ebook I bought is no longer available for purchase and has been replaced by a book called “Time to create”, which is very similar)

In my next blog posts I will share with you our Summer themes (you may have guessed them from my book descriptions!) as well as the specific activities and resources that I have planned for each of them, so make sure to come back for more ideas. Or even better, subscribe to this blog in the pink box below to receive them all directly in your inbox!

Now it’s your turn: how are you planning your kid’s summer and what are your favourite resources for doing so? Let me know in the comments below!

NOTE: The links above ARE NOT affiliate ones. If you want to purchase these books using my affiliate link, you can go to The Celebration Girl’s amazon store

Belgrade with kids- Our family trip + tips

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In the almost nine years that my husband and I have been together, we have visited Belgrade together many times.  But visiting Belgrade with kids is always a different experience, and one that keeps changing as our children grow.

We arrived to Belgrade on the 30th of April, from Athens, Greece, in a small Fokker plane from Olympus Airlines. Ahead of us was one week of extended holiday because, due to the proximity between the 1st of May and 2013’s Orthodox Easter, most shops and Government agencies were going to remain closed or with limited working hours on the days in  between the two holidays. As a consequence, the city (which is normally bustling with excitement and noise) was quite quiet and leisure-like, like a holiday spot

 

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I have mentioned before that, when we travel to Belgrade, we live like locals do, go to the places where locals go and pretty much avoid touristic spots. In this trip, this meant spending the 1st of May having lunch in one of the traditional restaurants that are located in the hills that surround the city.

Going to the hills on Labor Day is an old tradition that marks the beginning of the lovely Spring weather. The tradition, in fairness, is to go for a picnic, and people start arriving and setting up their picnic and camping spots as soon as they wake up, very early in the morning. Soon, the whole place is covered and there are families, and groups of friends chatting, drinking, eating and relaxing, children playing and running all over, musicians, and even salesmen walking around selling ice cream, drinks, and children toys and balloons.

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Instead of a picnic,  though, this time we opted for a restaurant in the middle of the woods, that had a lovely playground for the children and a piece of land where Luka and Zoe blew dandelions in search of fairies.

When we had finished lunch and were waiting for dessert, something funny happened. A band that was at the restaurant, serenading customers with traditional Serbian music, approached our table and, realizing that I was not speaking Serbian, asked me where I was from. When I mentioned that I was from Argentina, one of them started speaking Spanish to me and they promptly starting playing La muerte del Angel, a tango by Astor Piazzola!

 

 

 

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The leisurely feeling of the city influenced the rest of our days in it, as well. We strolled around the streets of downtown, especially the always beautiful Knez Mihajlova, where Luka and Zoe ran, ate ice cream and marveled at the water fountains; and where we could visit the tourist office shop to buy presents to bring back home as well as visit the wonderful math fair that was taking place all month of May.

 

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The maths fair, which was full of young volunteers willing to help, was ideal to get children excited about science. There was a bicycle with squared wheels, a floor mat for people to find their way out turning only left (we all tried it and it was hard!), several math games, pendulums, dice experiments, a 3D printer and a fantastic table with thousands of straws that children could put together to create objects, thus bringing awareness to shapes and dimensions.

The squared wheel bicycle, as you can imagine, was a real hit with Luka and Zoe 🙂

We also spent lots of time with family, which is something that, being expats, we don’t get to do often enough.

We took Luka and Zoe to amusement parks, the zoo, and open air playgrounds.

 

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We had cake at my brother in law’s traditional sweet shop, which dates from 1936.

We strolled in the esplanade along the Savva River.Belgrade3

We enjoyed the slow days and the quiet nights.

We relaxed.

Then, 10 days after we arrived, it was time to say goodbye. We took a plane back to Athens, then a plane back to Cyprus and here we are now. At home.

And now, in case you are planning to visit Belgrade with kids (or with adults) I have put together a mini guide of things worth doing, worth seeing and worth eating!

Here it goes:

What to do in Belgrade with Kids

1) Visit Kalemegdan. The old city fortress is a real beauty, not only in itself but also because of the surrounding parks and the view of the Savva and Danube rivers. Lots of space for kids to run, and get excited about history. The fortress also hosts an army museum which kids love.

2) Go to the Zoo: It’s next to Kalemegdan and it’s very well kept. There are elephants, tigers, lions, penguins, seals, hippopotamus, giraffes, zebras, goats, tons of birds and much more.

3) Go to an amusement park: Also, in Kalemegdan. It’s not very big but it’s a nice stop before or after the zoo.

4) Walk around Knez Mihajlova. The most famous street in Belgrade, with its French inspired buildings, is a real beauty.

5) Have lemonade (or Boza) and cake at a traditional Poslaticarnica (or sweet shop). In Belgrade, sweet shops are where traditional cakes and pastries are sold. They are normally rather small and offer a mixture of Northern European cakes (due to the Austro-Hungarian influence) and Oriental delights, such as baklava (due to the times under Ottoman rule). Speaking about Baklava, you will find 3 different types: Greek, Turkish and Serbian (made with nuts mixed with Plazma cookies powder)

6) Try different types of bread at a Pekara (bakery). Cakes and sweets are sold in Poslasticarnicas, and Pekaras are were you can find exclusively bread. Delicious bread!

7) Rent bikes to ride around the Savva river

8) Take a boat ride on the Danube.

9) Have lunch  on a “Float” (restaurants on the Savva and Danube)

10) Take a tram ride

11) Buy Plazma cookies at the supermarket. Seriously, you cannot leave without tasting the iconic Serbian cookie with the famous tagline “A house is not a home without Plazma”. And since you are at the supermarket, you may also try Domacica cookies, bananica and cedevita juice. You will look like a local 😉

12) Visit the beautiful Orthodox churches and marvel at their works of art.

13) Buy burek or cevapcice at a local fast food shop and have an improvised picnic in one of the many Belgrade parks. 

14) If your kids are bigger than mine, you can go take a look at the buildings bombed by NATO during the war in Kosovo. They were not remodeled nor were they repaired,  and it may be a good opportunity to discuss war and recent European history. As a former peacekeeper, I find it important to discuss war and its consequences in times of peace.

15) Taste traditional Serbian food in the beautiful restaurants or Kafana of Skadarlija street (my husband recommends Tri Sesira, Ima Dana or Dva Jelena) For ideas on what to eat, keep reading!

What to eat in a Belgrade Kafana

1)  Proja, corn bread (most of the times, it contains a cheese similar to feta inside)

2) Burek:  A puff pastry pie, filled with cheese (burek sa sirom) or with meat (burek sa meson). It is possible to find some varieties with Spinach and cheese as well.

3) Corba and other traditional soups. Strictly speaking, corba is soup that contains fish or beef and that is thickened with flour.

4) Sarma: Beef and rice wrapped in vine leaves and cooked for a very long time!

5) Punjene paprike: Red peppers stuffed with rice and beef.

6) Pasulji: Bean stew.

7) Cevapcice: long meat balls made with lamb, pig and beef meat.

8)   Tarator: Salad very similar to Tzaziki, made with yogurt, cucumbers, garlic and parsley. Ideal for Summer and for using as a sauce over bread.

9) Ajvar: Red pepper puree.

 

 

What to eat in a Poslasticarnica

1) Northern European cakes, such as black forest, or struddel.

2) Triglav: a  chocolate buttercream cone, covered in chocolate.

4) Krempita: A bomb. A very thick layer of pastry cream between two slices of puff pastry. Here is a recipe, if you want to try it at home.

5) Baklava: A classic with its own Serbian version,made with plazma cookies and nuts.
6) Kuglof: A wonderful tea cake made with dried fruits.
7) Ratluk: fruit candies,covered in sugar.
8)  Tulumbe: Similar to churros.  This recipe sounds good.  
9) Vasa’s Torte:  A cake made with nuts, chocolate and lots and lots of cream. Nigella’s community has a recipe available online 
Did this post make you want to visit Belgrade? Or at least to eat some Serbian food? If so, mission accomplished 🙂
Have a lovely week, dear friends, and don’t forget to subscribe to get the  mini Summer recipes ebook that I created with wonderful Claire Stone!

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