Sunday, 27 December 2015

Bored - 6 Cheap or Free things to do over the holidays that beat boredom

We are so thankful that we had a fantastic Christmas with the minions.  All of the wrapping is off of the presents and new sharp and pointy toys are scattered all over the floor for adults to step on (usually in bare feet)  The excitement of the holiday season is slowly wearing down and there are now an additional seven days with the kids off of school.

There isn't any snow on the ground yet in the City of Toronto, so tobogganing is out of the question for now.  Here are six fun, cheap, family focused activities to help keep everyone engaged during the holiday season that will hopefully prevent those dreaded "I'm BORED!" chants from popping up over the next several days and also create some nice holiday memories.

Christmas Tree Craft by Miss Molly


Holiday Lights
Go for a walk, or a drive, on a street or a neighbourhood that you know is packed with a lot of holiday lights and decorations.  Talk about which ones you like the best and why as well as voting on the family favourite.  Be warned though, this led to extensive questioning about why we don't have outdoor lights and Chris has now promised that next December he'll put up lights along the front of our house. Both kids are saying this is one of the best things we've done so far this holiday season.

Baking or Cooking a meal together
Maybe you've had enough sweets already, but that doesn't mean you can't create something tasty and healthy together....making salads, soups, smoothies, or frozen fruit treats can be a fun way to get some vitamins in together.

Storytime Day
We are lucky enough that friends and family have supplied us with a ton of new books over the holidays.  Put on the kettle for some tea or hot cocoa, and everyone can curl up for some great reading.  Didn't get any books?  Visit your local library or thrift store to get some great books you can enjoy together.

Dance Party
Dance parties started in our house, in the master bedroom as a way to keep Molly and Jack dancing around the bed while the adults folded laundry.  Dance parties also happen in our living room where we all dance and sing together.  Favourite tunes of Molly and Jack's include: Song 2 by Blur, Dr. Jones and Barbie Girl by Aqua, Tub Thumping by Chumbawamba.

Green Houses
Maybe it's cold outside but a visit to a local green house is a great way to see bright colours and warm up.  Many still have festive displays still going well into January.  In Toronto you can visit Allen Gardens or Centennial Park green houses almost every day of the year.

PJ Day
On the last day of school before the holidays Molly's class had a pyjama day where everyone wore their pjs all day.  They spent a good portion of the day watching movies, playing games, and hanging out.  This can be a great way for everyone to unwind after the stress of the holiday season.

What free or cheap activities do you have planned to keep everyone entertained over the holiday break?


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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

I Am Santa Claus

We expected it last year, but four seems to be the age where all things Christmas has really clicked in for the minions.  They are bursting with excitement (and possibly fruit flavour from all of the candy they've been eating) as they ask on a daily basis: How soon is Christmas?  When can I open my presents?  When is Santa coming?

This means a few things: getting them to bed on Christmas Eve, getting them to sleep on Christmas Eve, and any chance of getting up after 8AM on Christmas morning are pretty much finished.  It also means that Molly and Jack are super aware of everything Santa and he has become a pretty big deal here.  They each wrote him a letter with Molly's containing a lot of questions about his food preferences to see if he felt the same way about tomatoes as she does, while Jack's was more direct and asked him whether or not he had any children.  Oh yeah, and they contained specific gift requests: an Ariel doll, a Belle Doll for Molly and a shockingly realistic toy vacuum cleaner for Jack who is afraid of the noises vacuums make (this gift could go terribly awry).


Jack enjoys some silver bells (and Cheerios) - 2012

Growing-up at my house Santa gifts came in stockings and unwrapped and were set out on display in our living room with no packages, wrapping or boxes...completely ready to play with.  Chris grew up in a house where Santa gifts were always wrapped and placed (presumably with care) under the tree. After a recent conversation with my older sister, I discovered that Santa gifts used to come wrapped in our household until at six years old she realized that mom and dad had the same wrapping paper in their closet as Santa had used.  She interrogated our parents about this at great lengths, then suddenly, the following year the wrapping miraculously disappeared from our Santa gifts.

Another parent told me about a close call where their six year old daughter came downstairs into the kitchen where mom and dad were putting together a toy at around midnight on Christmas Eve. Luckily dad was quick on his feet and mentioned that Santa was running late this year and had asked them to put together the toy for him.

There is debate amongst parents as to whether or not to push Santa on their kids.  Chris and I both have fond memories of Santa and the excitement around it, so we've decided to embrace Saint Nick in our house.  I also know that the minions would likely ruin Christmas for every other kid in their respective kindergarten class and circle of friends if we were to lay some truth bombs on them this year.

Miss Molly opening up some gifts - Christmas 2012

Here are 6 Tips on Keeping Santa "Real" in your home



  1. If you are going to wrap gifts, purchase "Santa" paper or gift bags away from the eyes of little kidsKeep wrapping and paper well hidden and dispose of it like you would of a dead body. (I'm not saying go dump it in a river bank, but just give it to another friend or recycle it and get it out of your house).
  2. Your kids recognize your handwriting, so do something about it
    There are companies that offer customized Santa tags that you can purchase or print.  You can get free ones here.  Make sure the labels you use aren't the same ones you use for other gifts.  In our house "Santa" brought a set of gift labels unlike any others in our house into his office to have an "elf" (aka co-worker) with neat printing help write out for each minion.
  3. Get the letters sent out to Santa early to avoid disappointment and set realistic expectationsThis way items won't run out at stores, Santa gets better prices and it also means that it becomes slightly more difficult for mind changing about the latest "must-have toy" by your child(ren) at the 11th hour.  I equate the grown-up version of this as orderer's regret at a restaurant.
  4. Find a good hiding place
    This goes for stocking items, gifts and gift receipts.  Growing up, my mom was the only person allowed into the attic because "you could only step in certain places and beams without causing damage to the ceiling of the living room".  This threat kept all of us from entering her favourite hiding place.
  5. Keep Santa SimpleLast year I read this heartwarming letter from a mother asking parents to spend less on gifts from "Father Christmas" and more on gifts from mom and dad.  I know there are some people who may disagree, but by keeping Santa gifts modest we can avoid kids comparing how one child received a new playstation from Santa, with six video games, while another, equally awesome kid, received a new hat and mitts from Santa. 
  6. Focus on sharing quality time together
    If Santa is the main, and only, attraction at Christmas, supreme disappointment is bound to occur down the road, like this angry letter from a little girl who just found out her parents were lying to her.  Set non-Santa/consumerist traditions to enjoy together as a family, like board games, a walk to enjoy holiday lights, singing carols, volunteering, collecting items for a foodbank, baking or cooking a special meal together.

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Thursday, 17 December 2015

It's Cliched to Be Cynical at Christmas - Holiday Movies for Grown-ups

We've spent a lot of time watching Christmas movies with the minions this year.  Don't get me wrong, Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas (yeah it's actually called that) is a refreshing movie because it doesn't push the Santa agenda, but by 9PM I want to watch something a little less G Rated.

There are a number of movies that Chris and I enjoy watching, and try to enjoy almost every year, to get us into the holiday spirit, that are less appropriate for little eyes and ears.  These movies are often watched in the evening, with a glass of festive spirits in hand, while we write out Christmas cards, wrap gifts, or perform other Christmas elf-like activities.


Image courtesy of Tribeca Film

6 of the Best Non-Kid Holiday Un-Classics to Watch with Spiked Eggnog


For the Holiday Romantic

  1. Love Actually
    Is there anything more Rom-Com than a Christmas movie set in December with Hugh Grant as a romantic lead?  Didn't think so.
  2. Serendipity
    A movie about a couple who meet at Christmas time and the ways their lives intersect over the years.  A beautiful portrait of pre-911 New York and a last glimpse of why we all used to love John Cusak as romantic lead.  I LOVE YOU Lloyd Dobbler!

    For a Twist on a Classic
  3. Scrooged
    Bill Murray at his best, in a 1980's consumerist version of the classic Christmas Story.

    For the Kid at Heart
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
    Some kids will enjoy this tale, but this is still too scary for my little ones.  Jack Skellington and his Halloween friends discover Christmas Town and seek to understand the true meaning of Christmas.

    For the Grinch/Horror Movie Fan
  5. Gremlins
    Gremlins takes place during the Christmas season.  Don't believe me, watch it, and laugh out loud over Phoebe Cates monologue about why she hates Christmas.

    For the Action Loving Tough Guy
  6. Die Hard
    What would you do if you were taken hostage at a Christmas party.  Even better what would John McClane do?
What grown-up holiday movies are on your "must see" list?

Want to see my top holiday movie selections to watch with the kids, click here

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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

I Think We're (Home) Alone Now

Now that the minions are a little bit older we've been able to go a little more full throttle on the variety of Christmas movies and shows we're watching this year. Each time we finish watching a holiday special Molly jumps off the couch and announces, "That was the best Christmas movie ever!" I don't foresee a profession reviewing movies from the detailed "critiques" she's provided so far, but they both seem to be enjoying our selections.

On Sunday I worried that they'd be scared of The Ghost of Christmas Future in Mickey's Christmas Carol.  Thanks to some creative edits to ensure maximum ad space by CBC, and Molly and Jack's exposure to the character of Pete on the show Mickey Mouse Club House they barely blinked at the scene where Pete (AKA the Grim Reaper) pushed Scrooge McDuck into his own grave.  This scene terrified me as a child on a level comparable to The Legend of Sleepy HollowIs anyone else willing to admit with me that Disney used to be scary?  Twice now, since the viewing of the movie, Molly has reminded me that Pete was showing Scrooge why he should be good.  Apparently the holiday message gleaned here is simple comeuppance.

Then there's the boy child.  Jack loves slapstick comedy and it somehow seemed fitting for us to view  Home Alone  together on the 25th Anniversary of the movie.  He liked it so much that we've since watched Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, twice, and are now the proud owners of both movies on DVD.  Listening to him giggle makes it almost worth it.  Here's the other thing, Molly isn't really a fan of slapstick.  For most of the movie she'll sit there, tilt her head sideways with an expression that says, "I know this is supposed to be funny, but I just don't get it."  Watching the two very different, yet understandable reactions simultaneously is just amazing.

Home Alone Movie Poster
Image courtesy of Loft Cinema


Should you decide to go down the Home Alone rabbit hole like we did here are some fun facts about the movie to look for while you watch.  Parents be warned: you may be watching again, and again and again. I'm sorry.

10 Interesting Items of Trivia About Home Alone....AHHHHHHHHH!

  1. Home Alone is the most successful Christmas themed movie ever.  The film is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest grossing live action comedy, ever.  It earned $285, 761, 243 in theatres and remained on the big screen well past Christmas.
  2. The drawing of Kevin's plan to thwart the robbers was actually drawn by actor Macaulay Culkin.
  3. Bad guy robber, played by Daniel Stern, isn't actually screaming when the tarantula is on his face.  He had to mime the scream, so as not to freak out the spider.
  4. The gangster movie, Angels with Filthy Souls, doesn't really exist.  It was created for the movie, although it was requested for rentals at video stores a lot in the 1990's because of the success of Home Alone.
  5. The "other Culkin", Kieran Culkin, is in the movie and plays Kevin's bed-wetting cousin Fuller.
  6. The movie was written for Culkin and inspired by a scene (and his performance) in the movie Uncle Buck.
  7. Scenes in the flooded out basements, caused by The Wet Bandits, were filmed in a local Chicago high school's swimming pool.
  8. Actor Jon Lovitz reportedly turned down the role of burglar Harry (as played by Joe Pesci).  But he doesn't have any regrets...right?
  9. Macaulay Culkin has a scar on his finger from Joe Pesci actually biting him during one of the final scenes of the movie.
  10. When Kevin's dad (arguably the most useless character in the entire movie series) is cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, you momentarily see Kevin's plane ticket in the garbage.

What holiday movie do you want to rediscover with your kids this year?


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Thursday, 10 December 2015

A Crow on my Shoulder

I often write about my grandmother, Alice, partially because she's the grandparent I knew the longest, but also because she was quite the character in a pretty amazing and very sassy way.  In later years she'd spend a lot of her time betting with us on reality TV, talking about how handsome Benjamin Bratt is, or clipping interesting newspaper articles for her children and grandchildren to read.

This week I saw an article that I would have clipped for her because of a very fond memory I have from my childhood.  One time my grandmother told me about a special crow, named Sammy, who would trade small shiny objects for other shiny objects.  At my grandmother's instruction I placed a shiny black button in my backyard, and a few days later found it replaced by a coin.   The following week I put out a paper clip and found a glass marble a few days later, and so on.  Turns out my grandmother had given my mom a giant bag of shiny objects (random junk from around her house that could conceivably fit into a crow's beak) and had my mom play the role of Sammy, the Geocaching Crow.

Diaval, Diablo
Maleficent and her crow named Diaval or Diablo (depending on the movie) Courtesy of Fan Pop

This week I saw an article about a little girl who has been feeding and receiving gifts from a murder of crows and I immediately thought of Alice.  Gabi has been feeding crows since she was four (she's eight now) and they have been leaving her a number of gifts in return for some time now (to read more click here).  They also have followed her to school, and I assume made her their queen.

While it would be nice to start up a "Sammy" tradition, with the minions, I don't like birds (they freak me out) and I'm not sure how our neighbours would feel about a gang of crows hanging around our house.  I'm also not so sure that I am interested in raising the real life version of Daenerys Targaryen or Maleficent.  All the same it made me think of my grandmother, and smile.  Thank you Gabi for reminding me of my grandmother and Sammy the Crow.  Please don't send your army of birds out to attack me or poop on my car!


Game of thrones dragon
Image of Daenerys Targaryen courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Monday, 7 December 2015

Calendar Girl - Misadventures in the world of advent calendars

My parents never let us eat sugar cereal growing up, the only exception to this rule was when we were on vacation, so naturally when I moved out on my own I bought and sampled every type of sugar cereal imaginable.  This grew old pretty fast because I was sugar crashing in the morning at work due to the fact that I was essentially eating candy for breakfast.  I soon moved back towards the healthy breakfast fare I'd been raised on and haven't really looked back.

There a number of moments when, as a child and young adult, I've questioned the logic of my parents methods.  Now as an adult I find myself up to the same parenting shenanigans my mom and dad employed on me years ago.
Image Courtesy of Fan Pop

I am a pretty typical middle child.  In December every year my mother would purchase an advent calendar.  Stop and re-read that sentence.  One advent calendar....for three children.  During an already anticipation laden month we'd take turns and enjoy eight opportunities to open the little door and eat some chocolate.  As my sister got older, she determined she didn't like the "cardboardy" tasting chocolate from the calendar, so she'd give my brother and I an opportunity to vie for her piece of chocolate, so long as she got to be the one opening the little door when it was her turn.  I feel a need to mention that my sister, the eldest, would ensure on the years the calendar purchased had 25 doors instead of 24 that she received the coveted position of first pick so she would get nine turns to open the door, despite the fact that she wasn't even eating the freaking chocolate.  She was older, smarter, meaner, and clearly much better at math.

Many of my friends at school boasted that they had advent calendars all to themselves, day after day enjoying a bounty of truthfully pretty crummy chocolate.  I vowed that when I was a parent, my children would each have an advent calendar of their own, so they would never know the "trauma" I had experienced as a child in December. I recognize that my holiday experience is not as heartwarming as Tiny Tim.

chocolate advent calendar
Image Courtesy of www.adventcalendar.org


This year Grandma and Grandpa bought Molly and Jack a giant, gorgeous advent calendar filled with Lindt chocolate. This calendar is a far cry from the Bargain Harolds calendar my mom was buying us in the 1980s: my sister wouldn't have been sharing the chocolate from her turn with anyone cause this is some seriously awesome chocolate. The calendar sat on top of our fridge for around six weeks before the minions could begin to enjoy the bounty of this quality confection filled calendar and they asked about it almost daily.

Here's the thing, I have betrayed my 10 year old self.  Molly and Jack are alternating turns with the advent calendar and they don't seem to care.  The excitement surrounding the day that it's their turn to pick is like a mini Christmas morning each day after school.  They still both have a crap ton of Halloween candy left over, the chocolates in this calendar are gigantic, and there was no way any other calendar could compete with the chocolate giant from the grandparents.

So here it is, I'm just like my mother in December, only the chocolate is better, but I had absolutely nothing to do with that because I didn't buy the calendar.  If there are ever 25 days in an advent calendar I'm cutting that last piece of chocolate in half and they are going to smile and share it, and if they complain, I'll eat it myself.  Progress comes in baby steps.

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Wednesday, 2 December 2015

School Days, Part 2 - Gifting for Teachers and Caregivers

This is part two of  my posting on gifting for teachers and caregivers.  Last month I reached out to my social network of caregivers including: Teachers (both elementary and secondary school), Early Childhood Educators, Nannies, Babysitters and Special Education Workers to find out more about the good, the bad and the ugly about gifts they've received over their careers and thought I'd share part 2 of the results.  To view part 1 click here



Image courtesy of Image Basket.

What is the most useful gift you've received?  

Without question gift cards reigned as the clear leader in this category with coffee shop gift cards being the number one type of gift card to receive.

"A gift card for Dollarama or other stores where teachers regularly shop would be appreciated.  We end up buying a lot of supplies for our classes out of our own pocket for our classes, not that this is a complaint, but gift cards for those stores would go to good use." said SB, primary school teacher.

"Something the child has worked really hard on, like a drawing or poem that is easy to tuck away and doesn't take up space at home is always on the top of my list." said, AL.


Have you ever refused a gift from a student/client? Explain why and how it went.

"I have refused gifts that weren't really theirs to give or were given to them from their parents.  I had a little girl a few years back try to give me a very special necklace her mother had given her because she loved me so much.  Although I was touched by the gesture, it would never be appropriate to accept that, and her mother would be unhappy about it!  I told her I knew why she was giving it to me, and that my heart felt very happy at the fact she thought so much about me, but some presents are too special to give away.  I then asked her if I could wear it while I was at her house instead, and she agreed happily." said The Stretch for Something Beautiful, nanny and babysitter.

"Since I usually teach adults, I have been offered some pretty strange gifts.  I have been offered personal massages, home cooked meals, and even a sample of medicine from a hospital. I always refuse these types of gifts." said UJ.

"Sometimes kids buy new markers or notepads and get overly excited about it and want to share their new purchases with their teachers.  In situations like this I tell them I'd rather they keep their new set complete. It's their stuff and they should use it and enjoy it!" said SB, primary school teacher.

"Thankfully I have never received anything that I have had to refuse!" said JF, an elementary school teacher.

"I have never refused a gift, I would feel too mean." said MP, middle school/high school teacher.


Do you have any advice, stories, or lessons learned on teaching children about what a generous heart/ giving spirit means that would be helpful to parents and guardians?

"When I was in elementary school I went to a before and after-school program and by the time I hit grade five I really hated it.  I felt like I lived at school, was sick of most of my teachers and found everyone's involvement in my life really invasive and annoying.  When Christmas arrived my mother wanted me to bring gifts to all of my teachers and leaders, but they weren't the people I wanted to give to.  I had been able to get to know the custodian at my school pretty well.  She was a wonderful woman who was always smiling and very positive from morning to night.  I made sure that the biggest and best present I gave out that year was for her.  When I gave her the present she began to cry and told me it was the first time she had received a gift from a student.  To this day I don't remember a lot of my teachers, but I will never forget that one woman's positivity and warmth.  Custodians are there everyday cleaning up nosebleeds, spilled lunches, washroom floors and making sure that paths are shovelled of snow and salted so kids won't slip.  I never had a bus driver, but I'm certain they also have to put up with a lot of crap too....Try giving thanks to those who rarely get it, but often deserve it." said UJ.

"My son went to a friend's birthday party recently and she asked for donations to the Food Bank as her gift.  I thought that was truly awesome.  Kids have too much stuff already and get a ridiculous number of gifts sometimes." said MP, middle school/high school teacher.

"I personally dislike receiving gifts in front of other students as it can make kids feel like they should have bought me something.  I teach students that kindness is free and that it's more powerful to give than to receive, so I really try to model this message.  I also really love students giving to a charity like World Vision in lieu of gifts from students, staff at my school felt that they already have so much and it was important for students to see how good it feels to help others, we are all very proud of what we as a collective can give to those in need." said JF, elementary school teacher.

"Sometimes we get caught up with the notion that being generous means giving things, whether it be donating new/used toys or donating money to charities.  It's important to teach your child how to be generous with their words, giving other people compliments or focusing on and celebrating a person's strengths and talents rather than pointing out weaknesses.  Words can go a long way and the generosity and love shown through your words often reflects on your own character and personality." said SB, primary school teacher.

To read about gift ideas for the pregnant friend or family member in your life click here

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Monday, 30 November 2015

School Days - Gift Giving for Teachers & People who care for our children

It's that time of year when we try to show appreciation to various people in our lives.  When it comes to gifts for the people who look after our children it can be a tricky area.  What do you give, if anything?  Do you give something a little extra special to a teacher when you know when your child has been "that kid" you're sure all of the teacher's friends hear stories about over Friday night drinks?  Before you go out in search of another "World's Greatest Teacher" mug I thought it would be a good idea to get the lowdown on these gifts directly from the source.

I reached out to my social network of caregivers including: Teachers (both elementary and secondary school), Early Childhood Educators, Nannies, Babysitters and Special Education Workers to find out more about the good, the bad and the ugly about gifts they've received over their careers and thought I'd share...

Image courtesy of evermine.com 



Holiday Gifts for Teachers and Caregivers Survey

What aged children do you work with?
I had people respond to this survey who work with children aged infant to adult students in their 60s.

How often do you receive holiday or year-end gifts from your students/clients?
The trend here was that the younger the client/student the more likely they were to receive a gift.  ECE workers, nannies and primary school educators receive gifts a lot more frequently than secondary school teachers and those who primarily work with adults.

"I'd say almost all of them give Christmas gifts and about half year-end gifts." said SB, primary school teacher."

What is the most common gift you receive?
The most common items included: chocolate, gift cards, bath products, candles, ornaments, beer, wine, picture frames, mugs, knickknacks and, not to be forgotten, world's greatest teacher swag.

Do you have a collection or do you keep more common items?
"I consume it all!  I share with my family over the holidays!" said UJ.

"I haven't kept all of the knickknacks, because you just can't, but I've appreciated all of them.  I used to need a whole box to cart all of the gifts home when I was teaching grade 7.  I went through a lot of Thank You cards." said MP, middle school/high school teacher.

What is the strangest/funniest gift you've ever received?
"A pair of used earrings.  To this day I still think the little girl packed up her mom's old rusted earrings, without asking her, and gave them to me, she was SOOO excited to give them to me." said SB.

"I once received a dead flower and a feather from a very sweet four year old boy I looked after.  He was very earnest when he gave them to me." said Stretch for Something Beautiful, nanny/babysitter.

"A giant faux crystal cross, about the size of a large light bulb.  Seven years later I've never worn it, but I still have it." said UJ

What is the most meaningful gift you've ever received from a student/client?
The short answer here is something that truly comes from the heart.  Photos, thank you cards, home made baked goods/treats and genuine messaging seems to be the key.

"A letter. A seven year old student wrote me the most heartfelt letter.  She wrote about how thankful she was that I helped her become a better reader and writer.  She shared her most memorable moments of grade one, including the first day of school when she couldn't believe I was going to be her teacher." said SB.

"Any card or picture that the child worked really hard on." says AL.

"A letter or photo from a student long after they've left your care.  It is so nice to be remembered." said UJ.

Coming up next...when caregivers and teachers had to refuse a gift, the aftermath, and what's really on their wish lists!

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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The First Noel - Gift Ideas for the Mama-To-Be

I had just discovered I was pregnant when the holiday season hit in 2010.  I spent Christmas with the most amazing secret as I was blissfully unaware of the wall of nausea that the new year would bring. During my 38 weeks pregnant there are a number of items that would have been (or were gratefully appreciated) gifts from friends and family.  Wondering what to get your pregnant friend, partner or family member this holiday season? Below is a variety of ideas that range from sentimental to extremely practical, including budget-friendly and major splurge items.

Please note: What you select to gift should depend on your relationship....I will not be held accountable if a spouse provides their partner with a pillow wedge and unscented moisturizer (and nothing more) for the holidays and doesn't understand why she's annoyed.

Image courtesy of Free Vector

12 Excellent Gift Ideas for the Mom-to-Be
  1. Support and a good night's rest
    As the days and weeks of pregnancy go on sleeping comfortably can be an issue.  Wedge pillows can provide belly and back support without making her feel like she's living in the storybook The Princess and the Pea.
  2. A sentimental ornament
    An ornament that commemorates her holiday season expecting could be a nice gift for the family to enjoy putting on the tree each year.
  3. Unscented spa basket
    If it's still early days, and her stomach is queasy, give her a chance to pamper herself with a series of unscented soaps, lotions and creams.  
  4. A spa day
    Many places have maternity focused services including registered massage therapists that specialize in prenatal massage (to keep her safe and relaxed).
  5. Books by her favourite authors
    Towards the end of pregnancy and in the first few months post-babies it was great to have access to some interesting books on CD and podcasts that I could listen to (often in the middle of the night) for company, interest and relaxation.
  6. Nights Out
    Pregnancy is a great time to remind yourselves to enjoy time together, whether it's picking up theatre tickets, movie passes or a night out at a favourite restaurant it's a great idea to stay connected.
  7. Mocktail recipes, kits and dealcoholized products
    Drinking sparkling water for 40 weeks gets boring pretty fast.  If she is a fan of mixed drinks consider a mocktail recipe book (with a few key ingredients), if she prefers beer there are a lot of great dealcoholized options, and the same goes for wine.
  8. Food she's craving
    This could be a gift certificate to a particular restaurant, fancy chocolate or her favourite teas, candies or snacks.
  9. Things she can't have right now
    I would trend towards only getting gifts like this if she is in the last month to six weeks of pregnancy, but a bottle of her favourite sparkling wine or champagne to celebrate the arrival of her baby or a gift card to that sushi restaurant she's been skipping could be something fun for her to look forward to.
  10. Babymoon or weekend away as a couple or friend weekend
    This is the splurge item. A long weekend somewhere away, relaxing and adult focused could be a great way to unwind before baby arrives.
  11. Awesome maternity clothes or gift cards to maternity stores
    Stylish maternity clothes can get expensive.  There are some great traditional options like Thyme Maternity or  Motherhood Maternity.  I personally liked Etsy Store MamaSan Maternity for my post-goth maternity needs and Evymama for their nursing bras, tops and maternity dresses.
  12. Items that have absolutely nothing to do with pregnancy
    Look for gifts that support other interests and hobbies, because sometimes pregnant women need a break from everything baby.

    To read about gift ideas and budgets for kids this holiday season click here.


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Monday, 23 November 2015

The First Time - Celebrating Little (Big) Moments

There are so many milestones for babies: first smile, roll over, word, crawling and walking, to name just a few.  I never gave much thought to other meaningful moments in Molly and Jack's lives once they passed the baby years, beyond when they were both (finally) potty trained.  I thought it might be fun to record some other magical and meaningful moments we've experienced a little more recently as the minions develop into little people with BIG PERSONALITIES.

Below are 7 Milestones that we've reached this past year with Molly and Jack that I think are worthy of celebration.

Molly and her sidewalk chalk
  1. When Molly told her first joke.  It involved a chicken crossing the road.  Her second joke was a knock knock.
  2. Watching Chris play Lego with the kids for the very first time.  He literally saved his childhood lego for them and it was like Christmas watching him play with them.
  3. When they could finally fetch things for us, like a beer from the fridge, a takeout menu or the phone.
  4. The day they both showed me how they could sing the national anthem, at the top of their lungs.
  5. Listening to Molly share a made up poem.
  6. The first time Molly drew a picture of the family and you could tell that it was a drawing of actual real people.
  7. When Chris and I were bickering in the car about directions and Jack refereed by saying, "You two are supposed to be best friends!  Say you're sorry and play nicely!
What little moments are you proud of as your kids get older?

To read about Molly's attempt to curb her thumb-sucking click here.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Sleepy Time Time

I'll admit it, we've always been incredibly lucky when it comes to the kids and sleep and a lot of parents rightfully groan when we boast about it.  About a month ago, when another parent friend was telling us what an ordeal bed time is in their house I shrugged unknowingly.  "We've never had much of a problem" I said, "Sometimes Molly will even ask to go to bed."  Then, suddenly bedtime got difficult.  So, get me a fork, I'm about to eat my words.

Bedtime has been a literal nightmare recently.  Long gone are the days of snuggles, extra stories and a quick and quiet lights out complete with kisses.  Nowadays it goes more like this....


Literally sleeping like a baby...

7:40PM - Announcement from parent about bath time.
7:41PM - 7:45PM - Declaration of sudden near death levels of thirst and/or hunger from both children.
7:46PM - Sudden abandonment of glass of milk, piece of fruit or cracker with less than one sip/ bite taken.
7:48PM - Run around the house naked and avoid bath at all costs.
7:49PM - Request from parent about going to the washroom before bath.
7:49PM - Request denied.
7:50PM - Both children in bath.
7:51PM - Request received from one or more child to go potty, NOW!!!
7:53PM - Spirited "debate" over whose hair will get washed first.
7:56PM - Quiet giggling and pretending to be mermaids in bath.
7:58PM - Bathroom soaked in sudden splash fight.  Two mermaid suspects wanted.
8:01PM - Mermaids begin to fight about where they are sitting in the bath.  Parental intervention determines that bath time is officially over and it's time to get out and dry off.
8:01-8:06PM - Two soaking wet, naked "mermaids" decide that optimal drying is not achieved by using towels, but instead by rolling around in a bed, preferably the one with newly changed sheets (their own, ours or a combination thereof).
8:08PM - Children tackled and placed into pyjamas.
8:10PM - Mom or dad read story aloud (apparently to selves) while children run around the house screaming and singing, until someone slips and starts crying.
8:11PM  "How are they naked, again?"
8:15PM - Frustrated parent finishes story and suggests it's time to go to bed.
8:16PM - Sudden burst of hunger and thirst reignites.  When this mission fails both children need to use the facilities, again.  This results in one to 10 minutes of toilet sitting -  No one actually uses the facilities, despite the cries of urgency.
8:17PM - Both children are sad and or scared and parents are exposed to additional stall techniques including "But you didn't give me a high five!" "What are you making me for lunch tomorrow?" or "I need to go and find that random toy I haven't played with in six months right now!"
8:19PM - "BUT I'M NOT TIRED! I'LL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN!"
8:20PM - SO MUCH CRYING!
8:22PM - Sudden sleep filled silence.

If anyone has any tips to make bedtime fun and story filled again, I'm listening and eating humble pie (and I don't even like pie!)

For 14 tips on busting nightmares click here.

To read 10 reasons why it's a bad idea to let a child climb into your bed at night click here

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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Black Market Baby - Is Robert Munsch a Bad Influence?

The minions love books by Robert Munsch and Chris and I like them too.   They're fun to read aloud, get plenty of laughs and they're never boring.  A while back I was searching for some "new to us" titles to explore and came across some rants from parents about what a bad example characters in Munsch's books set with terribly disobedient, rude children and neglectful parents.  Since Molly and Jack are quite aware that stories are pretend and intended to take you to a magical place, we are not going to start a book ban based on mischief created by the world of fiction.  That being said, I thought it might be fun to re-name some of the titles based on the bad examples set.  Warning: the rest of this entry contains a lot of spoilers.


Mr. "Bad Influence" Robert Munsch courtesy of Famous Authors.

Mortimer
Judgemental Parent Plot Synopsis: Little boy, Mortimer, seeks negative attention at bed time by singing an angsty anti-establishment punk song at the top of his lungs.  Rather than deal with the problem themselves, his parents call the police to step in.  When the police fail at silencing the lad, dad gets into a domestic dispute with the siblings and mom gets all up in the grill of the cops.  Mortimer falls asleep while his mom goes to jail for assaulting two police officers.
New Title: COPS (for kids)

Angela's Airplane
Judgemental Parent Synopsis: After Angela's father "disappears" at the airport, assumingly to smuggle drugs, she thwarts airport security, swipes a plane and then crashes it into the ground.  Thankfully, Angela possesses super hero level healing ability and rises from the crash without a scratch.  Having completed his "transaction" at the airport, Angela's father re-appears and forbids her to ever drive an airplane ever again, but when she grows up she decides to be a pilot, just to spite her dad.
New Title: Grand Theft Airplane: Angela's Joy Ride

Murmel Murmel Murmel
Judgemental Parent Synopsis: Five year old Robin finds an infant buried in her sandbox.  Instead of panicking about a potential sink hole or baby burying psychopath, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Unsupervised and dangerously absent of any inkling of stranger danger she starts soliciting strangers on the street to unload her black market baby.  Eventually she finds a rando truck driver who gladly trades her his rig for said baby.
New Title: Free Baby, No reference required

If you want to get the real inspiration/background behind the Robert Munsch classics you can find them on his website.


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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

I Will Remember You - Explaining Remembrance Day to Children

Molly has been asking about poppies for a few weeks now, ever since she spotted one on a classmate's jacket in the morning kindergarten line-up.  This past weekend she told us that she wanted one of her own and we happily to obliged.   I still have fond, vibrant memories from my childhood of sitting in my grandfather's car and admiring the rows of poppies he'd secured to the driver's side visor.  Each year the poppy collection grew one larger, shortly after Remembrance Day he'd place his newest poppy onto the visor.  When I asked him why he purchased a new poppy each year, even though he clearly had many, he explained about the importance of continually supporting veterans. This display was something he was very proud of.

Image, Poppies on Lake Geneva, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Before we agreed to secure the red flower onto Molly and Jack's lapels we wanted to make sure that they had some understanding of the significance of Remembrance Day here in Canada.  But how do you explain war, death, freedom and personal sacrifice to four year olds who have been privileged enough to live here without going overboard and frightening them?

Since my grandfather, also Jack, is no longer around to help explain, we found a fantastic story online called Why Wear a Poppy that illustrates sacrifice and significance of Remembrance Day in terms that children can understand.

After sharing the story several times both children have a better appreciation as to why they're wearing a poppy.

Molly can recite many parts of the Why Wear a Poppy story aloud already, and when you ask her why she's wearing her poppy, she says it's because she's proud to be Canadian and to celebrate and pay tribute to soldiers and freedom.

You can also use resources available at your local school or the Royal Canadian Legion about their Youth Programs, created to help young Canadians understand Remembrance Day and the cost of their freedom or attend many Remembrance Day events and encourage your kids to ask lots of questions.

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Monday, 9 November 2015

Discover Me (And You'll Discover Love) - Children's Discovery Centre Review

While we've been very lucky this autumn in Toronto with many warm and sunny days there has been a certain bite in the air and it's starting to smell a bit like snow.  It's time for us to spend a little more time inside and explore some of the indoor activities options around the city over the next several months.  

My park/playground/activity review disclaimer: If you don't live in the area I hope you enjoy the pics and can use some of the ideas to inspire and explore in your own city. If you have any recommendations for great playgrounds/centres or activities ideally some in Toronto proper (indoor or out or new criteria I haven't thought of) please post a comment on this post or email me at multiplemomstrosity@gmail.com

Playground Name: 

Location: 
45 Strachan Avenue (Liberty Village)

Parking:
There is some street parking nearby and a few pay lots.  You can also take the King Streetcar to Strachan and walk three blocks south if you want to arrive by TTC.

Theme of Park:
Toronto's only Children's Museum with activities that have been designed by a team of early childhood development specialists to encourage play,and imagination.

Cost:
$13 per person (including parents or guardians). There is no cost for children under 12 months.  We funded this visit using birthday money from Molly and Jack's Great Grandmother, as this is beyond our usual budget for a weekend day outing.

 Variety of Equipment for different ages:
This discovery centre is specifically designed for children aged zero to six. There are physical activities or discovery zones including: bikes, scooters and a mini "construction" site in the Mini City and other rooms that highlight imagination.  Other areas include artistic space for painting and sculpting, the Boom Room to make a lot of noise and a number of other dress-up and imagination play activities including a camp site. 

Inside the Campground Room


Best Part(s) of the Park:
The variety of things to do for kids no matter what their interests are is amazing.  There is a kitchen where you can prepare or make-up your own food as well as some reasonably priced snacks available for sale at the front desk.  Molly particularly enjoyed the dress-up at the Make-Believe Station (that includes a stage) as well as painting and playing grocery store in the Eat Street Station.  Jack was a little overwhelmed with all of the choice of what to do, but eventually gravitated towards the Imagination Station (where you can build with foam blocks, tubes and shapes) the Boom Room (where you make loud noises and bang on stuff) and the giant Connect 4 game.  There is also a reading room where you can curl up in an imaginary house and read stories (we used the houses to play 3 little pigs (not sure we were as quiet as intended for the room).  There is also a Pet Vet Station where kids can play veterinarian to a variety of stuffed animals. During the day there are scheduled story and song times, although we did not participate in any during our time at the Discovery Centre.


 Giant Connect Four


 Jack building in the Imagination Station

Making Noise in the Boom Room

Downfalls:
This was not a cheap trip...I understand that this is a grassroots pilot project and that rent in Liberty Village isn't cheap, however the additional cost for guardians prohibits this as a regular destination for us. 

Overall Rating:
I rate this playground a 4/5 for creativity and ingenuity.  Molly and Jack had a really good time and have already asked when they can come back again, perhaps this is something we can do over the December break with some holiday spending money.  I will be keeping an eye out for coupons!  

Plan your visit before May 31 2016 when this pilot project comes to a halt!

Foam Noodle Curtain Exiting the Campground.


To Read my review of other indoor playgrounds in Mississauga click here.   If you have suggested playgrounds for me to review, please leave a comment.

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Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Smashing Pumpkins - A New Post-Halloween Tradition

There's always a little bit of a letdown after a big event or holiday.  Expectations are set high, anticipation is more than half the fun and then it's done and you're left with two gigantic bags of candy in your house that you're slowly sneaking off to the office, in hope that you (and your offspring) won't eat it all yourselves.  Molly keeps on asking us what we're going to be for Halloween next year, apparently she's already planning her costume.  I swear the love of Halloween has to run in our family.

While we try to encourage the minions to enjoy the small things, not always sitting poised for the next big thing or event, it isn't always easy to come up with exciting things to do, especially when the nights become long and most of us are trapped inside all day despite the unseasonably balmy weather.

Yesterday, while we began to slowly put away our Halloween decorations, Chris came up with an idea for a new tradition to help extend the fun of Halloween a little bit further...drum roll please...The Inaugural Pumpkin Toss.

So yeah...before we placed our carved pumpkins into the green bin for composting, Chris laid down a tarp in the backyard and we had Molly and Jack participate in the first Annual Smashing Pumpkins Event. It was a 10 minute event (with most of it being set up and then scooping the pumpkin pieces into the green bin, but I'd say it was worth it).  We spent a good deal of time explaining that this is only something we do with our pumpkins, but yeah...smashing stuff is fun.


The tarp and green bin are set up and ready to go.

Preparing for the first "throw"

Excitedly Giddy to toss this big guy.

Hopefully we haven't started them off on a long career of Halloween high jinks and tricks instead of treats, but listening to their shrieks and giggles of excitement was totally worth it.

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Monday, 2 November 2015

A Very Merry Unbirthday - Parents Issue Notice of Eviction

We’ve all heard the inspirational expressions and credos about how parenting is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding jobs that a person can ever have.  You’re faced with sleepless nights, colic, the terrible twos, 5AM driving shifts to hockey practices and the amazing little fact that we’ve manufactured an extra few years of adolescence through the invention of a marketing category of “Tweens”, because teenagers don’t hate their parents enough, we really needed an extra couple of years of that infamous teenage attitude and eye rolling, don’t we?

On top of the physical, emotional and spiritual toll that parenting takes, there’s also the epic financial suck that we endure in raising our offspring.  Seriously, I never realized how expensive children were until I started pricing daycare facilities.  A few months ago, when it came time to renew our mortgage, my husband and I came to the realization that, if we remained on schedule, our house would be paid off as we sent our twins off to college, one mortgage replaced by another epic expense.  The irony is delicious, isn’t it?

At this point in my life, raising four year olds, I continue to spout positive, semi martyr filled affirmations about how motherhood has made me a better person and improved my life.  I also recognize that I may not feel this way if I was expected to perform these same “duties” 16 years from now.  At present, I am blissfully unaware as to the realities are of having a grown man-cub skulking around the house.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Would I gift my child “A Very Merry Unbirthday” present, care of a coldly cleverly executed 20th Birthday Notice of Expiration of Child-Rearing Services like Yusa Hasegawa’s parents did?  Maybe – it depends on how I was feeling about the current living situation and my appreciation levels of my student son.  Would I double his newly enforced rental rates when I realized that he used social media to publicly shame his parents because they were sick of his slacker bull$%t?  Likely. 
Apparently the note was all tongue and cheek and mom and dad sent it as a joke, cause who doesn’t love a good birthday roast from their parents about how they’re failing at adulting?


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Thursday, 29 October 2015

Allergies - Halloween, Allergies and the Teal Pumpkin Project

One of the most awesome things about Halloween is that you are able to become whatever you want.  It's like career shadowing on steroids because you actually can be Batman, or a tiger or a box of cereal.  It's a big, exciting, marathon game of dress-up and everyone is invited.  As a kid I always appreciated that we were all doing the same thing and able to compliment cool costumes no matter what our social group was, and no one was ever left out of participating.


The Flying Bats Pumpkin

When I first heard about the Teal Pumpkin Project I was intrigued.  This initiative was launched in 2014 as a campaign by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) to raise awareness and promote inclusion on Halloween.  Essentially you get a pumpkin, paint it teal and then print a sign that you can download from FARE that indicates that you have non-food treats available for those who ask.  This allows children who have severe allergies or can't eat candy an opportunity to participate in the Trick or Treating experience.

The Piranha Pumpkin


Thankfully the minions don't have any allergies that we know of yet (unless you count listening and a slight allergic reaction to dog hair). I can only imagine how difficult managing severe allergies must be for many parents and in turn the kids, especially when it comes to holidays and events where food is a main focus, like Halloween.

In 2014, 50 states and 7 countries participate in The Teal Pumpkin Project.  We usually get 100-150 kids at our door every Halloween, and this year we will be participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project and give out non-food treats for anyone who asks.


Teal Pumpkin Project
Our first Teal Pumpkin after the first coat of paint...I was going for a minion, but it looks a little more like Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants.

Image Courtesy of  Fanpop

Want to participate and need non-food ideas? Here are some that might work for you (available at most discount/dollar stores):

  • Blowing Bubbles Kits
  • Funky Pencils or Erasers
  • Glow sticks or bracelets
  • Stickers or temporary tattoos
  • Rubber balls
  • Colouring books
  • Crayons
  • Balloons
Happy Halloween!

Looking for some creative ways to curb the post Halloween Candy Overload, consider these!

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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Saturday Night - Drunk Moms Talk About Their Kids

It’s Saturday night and you’ve managed to steal a few hours away with your spouse or some friends and a few glasses of wine (okay maybe it was most of a bottle).  Either way, it was a lovely evening and you’re proud of yourself for remaining a “cool” mom who has made me-time a priority.  You’ve read a bunch of articles about how making time for yourself will refresh you and are certain you’ll be a better parent for taking a few hours off.  You arrive home to pay the sitter, get a regular update on how the evening went and find yourself sloppily gushing about how freaking amazing your kids are to the sitter who probably just wants to go home, but you just can’t help yourself.  Once you’ve finished traumatizing the caregiver, and sent them home in a cab (there’s no way you’re sober enough to drive anyone home) you stumble to the nursery to check in on your kids.  You give them a cuddle and continue your Jerry Maguire inspired monologue about how they “complete you”. 

The next morning when your children wake you up, likely at least an hour earlier than their regular awake time and with diarrhea, because life’s just a bitch like that, you find yourself falling into the hungover mom shame spiral: How much did I drink last night? Did I embarrass myself in front of the sitter?  Where is the hot water bottle?  Will my semi-annual drunken late night visits to my children’s room become a recurring topic of discussion at a regular therapy session, no doubt caused by mommy dearest?   Most importantly, you feel a need to ask yourself, what is it about those rare grown-up nights out that turns you into a one woman edition of Drunk Moms Talk About Their Kids?


Date night this spring at a wedding....quality kid free time!


Once you get over your drunken mommy shame, you wonder about why, even when you make a concerted effort to get away from parenting you find yourself back where you started, going on at great length about motherhood.  Some parents find it prudent to put a ban on conversation about their kids on date night or nights out with friends, so they can remember their lives BC (before children) and reconnect.  Others find it the only place where they can have an honest conversation about said children away from little ears. 


Maybe instead of getting embarrassed about an intoxicated expression of affection towards your kid(s), it’s time to re-evaluate taking more me time, so every stolen night away doesn’t have to be “New Year’s Eve” equivalent of fun.  When we become parents we focus so much time and attention on our kids and parenting that we lose focus, and practice, taking time and care of ourselves. Skill mastery is about repetition and perseverance and that includes taking time for yourself as a couple or an individual.    The next time you find yourself going on a wine induced rant about how awesome your kids are, consider this, maybe this is a sign that you just need more breaks, not less, and book another block of time for yourself, alcohol not (necessarily) required.

To read about ways to save money on babysitting click here.

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