Monday, 29 June 2015

Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing

We have discovered an important milestone in one of the minions lives, we determined that Molly has her first official crush.  I was expecting someone from school, maybe a teacher or someone who she actually knows, but the person she's crushing on is fictional and Molly now has something in common with her Aunt M. who had a childhood crush on a certain green Muppet.  Unfortunately Molly doesn't have a crush on anyone quite as lovable, charming or cuddly as Kermit the Frog. Molly fancies herself a bad boy.

Yesterday afternoon we were watching the classic Disney Silly Symphony cartoon short, The Three Little Pigs, which the kids love.  They squeal with delight and giggle the entire time they watch it.  Something different happened this time.  Molly kept incessantly talking about how much she wanted to see "The Handsome Big Bad Wolf".  The entire time we watched the program she'd coo over how cute and handsome he was.  Molly has a crush on The Big Bad Wolf.  That's right, my pre-school daughter has a crush on a cartoon villain, not Kermit, not Elmo but a sharp toothed pig eating, grandma kidnapping wolf.

Little Red Riding Hood...Halloween 2013!

Molly's love of the wolf, doesn't just extend to the wolf from The Three Little Pigs...It's for all "Handsome Big Bad Wolves" including the one featured in Little Red Riding Hood and the one in Peter and the Wolf. Later that evening she enquired whether or not it was a wolf who ate the Ginger Bread Man and was disappointed to find out that it was a fox who ate the obnoxious running pastry.

Molly later explained to me that her leading man was naughty, but she could help him change and that if she was his girlfriend that he wouldn't be bad any more, that he'd just be "The Handsome Big Bad Wolf" and she'd be "Brave Molly" and they would be happy.

"Handsome" big bad wolf

I wonder if it's his Top Hat that makes him so... handsome? Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

How can someone who is not even four have developed a cartoon "bad boy" complex?  I foresee some heart break in Little Red Riding Hood's future.  That being said if anyone can defeat the (handsome) Big Bad Wolf my money is on Brave Molly.

What was your strangest childhood crush?

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Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Whole World is Our Playground: Chestnut Hills Park

We drive past this playground every time we visit my parents.  In the colder months the minions began to ask about it and we promised them we'd take them when it was nicer outside.  

My park 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 (or new criteria I haven't thought of) please post a comment on this post or email me.

Park Name:
Chestnut Hills Park -  Islington Avenue and Dundas Street West

There is street parking nearby available on Chestnut Hills Parkway (which runs parallel to Islington avenue).  This Park is a 20 minute walk from Islington Subway station, or you can take the Islington bus to the corner of Islington and Dundas Street and walk from there.

Chestnut hills playground/park
The Climbers at Chestnut Hills Park

Theme of Park:
Traditional suburban playground.

Ground Coverage:
Wood Chips surrounded by grassy areas.

Variety of Equipment for different ages:
There is some great equipment for older kids here with limited stuff for very young toddlers.  This small park is situated, without fences, very close to a major roadway so you'd particularly have to watch little ones who tend to wander.

Best Parts of the Park:
Molly really liked the "castle" with the bridge play structure, where Jack was drawn to the giant mouthed cat for hiding and playing.  

The "castle" bridge

This park is only convenient to us because of it's proximity to my parents house and has very limited shaded areas on the physical playground - bring sunscreen.  As we were leaving my parents house to head to the park my mom mentioned that she had visited a few years back with my niece and my brother.  She said that the park was fun, but they ended up in a battle of wills over hand holding on their way to the playground, as it's near a very busy road, and that it was twenty minutes on site before my niece would hold hands and was allowed to go to the park to play. On our way to the park Jack ran towards a car while we were walking over and spent the majority of the time we were visiting in time-out, watching Molly play from the sidelines.  Apparently bad behaviour at this park is somewhat of a family tradition.  The wood chipped areas means that it isn't a very accessible playground, there is a drinking fountain but no splash pad.

Chestnut hills playground/park
Jackie's favourite part of the playground.

Overall Rating:
This park is a nice treat to anyone who it's convenient to get to, however I'd never go out of my way to travel here.  I'd rate it 3.0/5.0, but if it were around the corner, we'd probably picnic and play here very frequently during the warm weather.

To read a review of a west end Toronto playground with a splash pad click here.

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Monday, 22 June 2015

Dinosaurs Will Die

Although this isn't a movie that we attended with the minions, I know that kids love dinosaurs and parents may be wondering if they should take their kids.  As a grade nine student the year Jurassic Park came out , my friend P. and I lined up for hours and still ended up sitting in front of each other at the theatre because it was so crowded.  20 years later it was time to go back to Jurassic Park.

Movie Review Jurassic World

Jurassic World Poster courtesy of Wikipedia.

What's in it for the Kids?
Older kids who like dinosaurs will love this movie, but full disclosure I didn't see a single person under 20 at this 6:30PM viewing.  It contains the classics you love and grew up with (T-Rex, Raptors, Gallimimus) as well as some pretty cool new predators (Indominus Rex and Mosasaurs).

What's in it for the Adults?
Nostalgia aside, there are some great effects and chase scenes to enjoy.  If you can keep your suspension of disbelief in check (For example: don't think about what parent in their right minds would send their children to this park or what morons would continue to finance this endeavour?) and you'll enjoy it.

Best Parts of the Movie
I would say that as a huge fan of everything shark week, the introduction of the Mosasaurs, a water dino, was a huge highlight for me.  Jake Johnson (of New Girl fame) was a bright spot in the movie who provided comic relief throughout the film.  SPOILER ALERT: True to the original movie, bad guys get their comeuppance care of your favourite carnivores. The scenes with the Pteranodon reinforced my irrational dislike of birds.

Worst Parts of the Movie
I love Chris Pratt and the idea of a velociraptor Trainor who respects the Raptor as an animal, but Chris Pratt is not Han Solo no matter how great of a vest you put on him.  The director y tried to make him into a character that he didn't have the smarmy swagger to pull off.  You don't get the same level of suspense as you did with Malcolm/Jeff Goldbloom and the shaking water glass from the first movie, but you will get to see an enjoyable dino experience. There was a somewhat over-the-top ending that seemed a little thrown together (even I couldn't suspend my disbelief that for that!).

Overall Rating
I would rate this movie 4/5.  I would probably allow a 10 or 11 year old Molly or Jack to see this movie, depending on their fear tolerance (it's pretty violent and scary all things considered) while Chris said that he'd try to get them to wait until they were 12 or 13 being well aware that they'd probably watch it at a friend's house before then.  I'd suggest thinking pretty hard about what scares your kids before you introduce the kids to Jurassic World to gauge the fear level and whether or not it's likely to cause some nightmares.  For the adults I'd argue that it's worth seeing this movie in a campy "I love dinosaurs" summer blockbuster kinda way. See it in theatres to get the full dino experience!

To read my review of the 2015 Cinderella click here.

To read my review of Maleficent click here.

To read my review of Saving Mr. Banks click here.

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Tuesday, 16 June 2015


Whenever I am proud of a parenting decision it tends to come back and bite me.  I registered the minions for the "before" and "after" kindergarten care program waiting list long before Molly and Jack's first birthday.  Now, after years on a waiting list, we just found out there is no space for them and very few other options that will get the minions to school.  Just when I thought I had it all figured out, clearly I do not.

Next I had the bright idea that since Chris was the one who went to kindergarten registration, I'd take it upon myself to go to the kindergarten orientation unaccompanied with the minions tow.  That was not a good idea!

After a lot of deliberation, along with recommendations from our ECE workers and Jack's speech therapy team we decided it would be best to put the kids in separate classes.  This will encourage them to build their own friendships, identities and avoid direct competition and comparison.  Jack has particularly excelled since being separated from his sister at pre-school.  What could go wrong?

In our grandiose vision of what school would be, we overlooked one key, yet highly important factor: logistics.
  • Two separate drop-offs and pick-ups at two different, albeit fairly close, locations
  • Two sets of homework, (do kindergarten kids even get homework?)
  • Two teachers to contend with

The kicker, all of these items we had planned and requested.

I remember how excited other parents were when they introduced full day kindergarten in Ontario.  It was going to solve everyone's child care problems.  The only issues being the split shift I need to fill every morning before 9am and every afternoon post school until work is over AND that pick-up and drop-off is going to be a daily regime of attempting to solf the riddle about the sheep, the wolf, the cabbage and the river.

I am very well aware that this is a photo of a goat, not a sheep...but he's pretty cute either way!

During kindergarten orientation it became clear that I had inadvertently registered myself for the multi-tasking Olympics.  I had to listen to announcements for each child to determine what room they'd be visiting, get them in the proper line, give them name tags, introduce them to their teacher, ensure that they were comfortable and okay all the while trying to keep two very excited children quiet because they were over the moon that they were visiting KINDERGARTEN!!!  Once they were in their rooms, I attended the parental session and then was told to go inside to meet my child's teacher....hmmm....wait, I needed to be two places at once?

As I navigated two partial sessions with teachers with one or more children at my side, I was stressed, exhausted and ready to go home.   No matter what I was doing, I was ignoring the needs of one of my kids during an exercise that was supposed to make us all more comfortable with next year. Classes don't start until September and I am far from the land of comfort.

When we decide to take the leap into parenthood we are lured into reading a ton of books about pregnancy and attending classes about labour or what to expect in the first year.  As interesting as it is to know that my babies were the size of an avocado in my belly at a specific point in my pregnancy, I should have probably been focusing efforts on filling out college admission forms or something else instead.  Are we the only ones who struggle with learning how to get spaces for the affordable municipal swim lessons?

In the spirit of education here are some classes that I have definitely needed as a parent:

  • The Black Hole of Panic (AKA stop Googling that rash and go to sleep)
  • They'll Do It When They're Ready (An introduction to toilet training & patience)
  • Mastering Awkward Small Talk With Other Parents
  • Daycare Wait lists - Begging, Borrowing & Other Negotiation Tactics
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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Yesterday Ontario became the first in North America to create some regulations surrounding bee killing neonictinoid pesticides.  It seems like a good time to talk about ways us city dwellers can connect with nature in our own backyards and balconies.  Gardening is an activity that is often boasted as a healthy hobby that can help relieve stress, increase heart health and dexterity in your hands as you age.  It is also something that can be enjoyed whether you're a kid or an adult, which is why this year we got the minions involved in the planning, planting and maintenance of our backyard garden.  As we taught them about planting it became quickly apparent that gardening offers a variety of things beyond health.   Some of my fondest spring and summer memories from childhood come from selecting, planting and caring for flowers of my own alongside my mom and of course picking raspberries in August for desserts or "sampling".

father and daughter planting flowers in the garden
 Molly and dad getting the soil ready for planting.

Gardening Teaches Children....

To be patient
Whether it's fielding requests from your pre-schooler daughter about why she isn't allowed to pick the flowers immediately after planting them or explaining the reason why tomatoes don't magically appear two days after being planted, gardening grows patience and an appreciation that good things come to those who wait.

About where real food comes from
We all need to eat more real, wholesome food.  Plus how cool is it to eat food from your own garden?

The important role that worms and bees play
A lot of creatures aren't celebrated because they aren't cute, gardening provides teachable moments about the roles and impact humans and other creatures have on the environment.  To learn about planting a bee friendly garden click here for tips from The Honeybee Conservatory.

A practical life skill
You can use your green thumb all your life.

About work required to reap reward
Flower and vegetable beds need to be weeded, watered and harvested, yards need to be mowed and someone needs to teach that pesky raccoon a lesson!  Gardening provides a sense of pride and accomplishment while you eat your dinner salad, carve your Halloween pumpkin or enjoy that pie filled with berries from your yard.

A deeper understanding of famous literary characters
If you've ever tended a garden you can relate to why Rabbit gets so annoyed at Tigger or why Mr. McGregor has it out for Peter Rabbit.

That we can find joy in little things that let us slow down and quite literally smell the roses
Just don't pick them yet..okay Molly?

toddler playing hide and seek in a garden
Post planting game of hide and go seek.

To read my 10 tips on doing yard work while minding toddlers click here.

To read about ways to get your little ones involved in the kitchen click here.

Monday, 8 June 2015

If Venice Is Sinking

There are many constants in our lives that we take for granted.  We live on the assumption that there will be a tomorrow and that's a lot of the reason why we put off taking risks until later, whether it's looking for that job that will make us happy or saving that dream vacation for tomorrow or someday.

The other night we went to a concert at Massey Hall to see the band Spirit of the West perform.  Not sure who they are?  They are a Canadian folk/alternative band who are most well known for the frosh week classic Home for a Rest that also gets played at almost every Canadian wedding I've ever been to.

twin babies at a concert
Molly and Jack One Month Old at Spirit of the West 

Chris and I have always made a point to see Spirit of the West when they are in town and have seen them at least six times together.  This band is a constant in our relationship and holds a special place in my heart as it's the first concert that Molly and Jack ever attended when they were only one month old during the Dragon Boat Festival on a warm September afternoon in 2011.  It was at this show that I had one of those first moments in parenthood where I felt like we were finding our stride.  The show was such a success that we took the minions to see the band at a summer festival in Burlington in summer 2012 as well.

A couple of years ago Spirit of the West's front man, John Mann, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease (you can read about it in this article in the Globe and Mail).  Despite this news, and with the help of an iPad mounted on a microphone stand, Mann is still performing and on what the the band refers to as their retrospective tour (they won't call it their farewell tour).

baby at a concert
Molly at the Burlington Music Festival 2012

Going out to see the band, possibly for the last time, was an emotional experience to say the least.  If the response from the show-goers was a fraction of the sentiment felt, I can only imagine the tensions back stage.  Witnessing the friendship and support of the band as longtime songwriter/collaborator/band mate Geoff Kelly, who now serves as the narrator to stories that Mann once wrote and shared with ease but can no longer, is both sublimely beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking.  To watch Mann put every ounce of his concentration on the lyrics in front of him when just a few years ago they fell out of his mouth as easy as breathing was sometimes painful.  All of that being said, the love around him, the joy of being able to do what he loves is one of the most moving things I think I have ever witnessed.  The amount of support that the entire band has for each other and their craft is something truly remarkable.

It was an amazing show, with a seemingly deliberately selected song that was placed near the very end of their set.  As Mann sang out the lyrics to his song Unplugged,* so many things about this tour became painfully clear.

At this show we got to witness a man who is acutely aware that he's living on borrowed time and as we discussed with a friend after the show, "losing more and more of himself each and every day".  I am so glad that we went to see Spirit of the West on their retrospective tour.  I am thankful for the reminder to push ourselves towards what we want and what we need, to make more memories than money, to take time for experiences not things...and to hug and appreciate your good friends and family as tightly as you can because nothing is forever.

Thank you John are brave, inspiring and absolutely beautiful.

*Unplugged Lyrics - Spirit of the West 1995

The ceiling's too familiar
Laying slack-jawed on my back
And the words spit out like puzzles
As she tries to fill the gap

But my lover's not my mother
And the hands that wipe my ass
Are the hands that once caressed me
I don't want them to detest me

And I will not burden those I love
I will not be a spoon-fed bird
I'll beg for mercy from above
Oh let my cord become unplugged

The man from Holland left the room
But he never left his bed
On his birthday after brandy
He chose angel choirs instead

The first one was for sleeping
The next one took his breath
His wife left his bedside to reflect
In a rocking chair with a cigarette

And I will not burden those I love
I will not be a spoon-fed bird
I'll beg for mercy from above
Oh let my cord become unplugged

I will not burden those I love
I will not be a spoon-fed bird
I'll beg for mercy from above
Oh let my cords
Oh let my cord become unplugged

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Learn to Listen

Whether you're getting ready to hit the road for a summer vacation, looking for an audio solution to help entertain toddlers who are beginning to resist nap time or (as I talked about last week) seeking an alternative to traditional story time, audio stories are a great way to entertain little ones without resorting to TV.

The other weekend we were in the car with the kids running a series of errands.  Chris had the radio tuned to CBC radio 2 and they were running a version of Peter and The Wolf featuring narration from Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard).  The minions were immediately captivated by this symphonic story, which must run in the family since my dad is obsessed with it and it was a childhood staple in our house.  They both requested to hear it again just a few days later.

kids dr. suess picture horton thing one and two
Horton, Thing 1 & Thing 2 at Sarasota's Children's Garden Florida

Here are some interesting Books on CD that you might want to explore with your little ones.  I know we'll be grabbing a few of these before we begin our summer road trips up north.  I have provided links to Amazon, or you may want to see what your local library has in stock before you charge your credit cards.

Peter & The Wolf
This is the one that really captivated the minions featuring Patrick Stewart.  It has music and a great story although some kids might find it a little scary.

Charlotte's Web
We watched this movie with the kids for the very first time after it was recommended by another parent at daycare.  This story quickly became a favourite of Jack's, someone whose attention is a little harder to keep, so this will be on our shortlist of audio purchases.

The Gruffalo & Friends
Grandma and Grandpa bought Molly and Jack the book The Gruffalo's Child as a present last year and this quickly became one of their most requested stories.  It could be interesting to explore The Gruffalo's other adventures via CD.

Murmel Murmel Munsch
It's no surprise to many readers that the minions are both pretty crazy about Robert Munsch stories. This collection includes some of their favourites including: Murmel Murmel Murmel, Andrew's Loose Tooth, Pigs and Mud Puddle.

The Cat in the Hat and Other Stories
This gives you 11 Dr. Seuss stories with voicework including Billy Crystal, Kelsey Grammer, John Cleese, Dustin Hoffman, John Lithgow and more....

I'm thinking we might be setting up two library cards in the very near future....

What are your favourite audio stories, pre-schooler, big kid or adult?

To read about three digital videos that Jack has always enjoyed click here.

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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

There's a Hole in my Bucket

When I was about eight years old my aunt S. gave me a giant round Pelican Soap as a part of my birthday gift.  It was bright green and glorious....I left it in the bathroom, but never used it in the bath as I didn't want to ruin the shape and lines of my soapy little bird.  I kept it there for months, often admiring it while I used the facilities.   One day, several months later, our toilet backed up and we couldn't figure out why.  My parents tried the plunger, with no luck.  They asked us if we'd flushed anything that might have caused the damage.  Eventually my brother admitted that he had thrown my Pelican Soap into the toilet and flushed, until it got stuck.  My dad had to dismantle the toilet and sure enough he found my urine soaked bird...who had lost a lot of his shape, charm and luster.  When asked why he flushed the bird he simply responded, "I wanted to see what would happen."

Jack has only been given clearance as "potty trained" for a few months now.  To encourage independence we have a step stool that will allow the minions to use the washroom on their own.  Last week Jack was upstairs using the washroom and called up for me because his socks were wet and he was upset.  He had urinated all over the floor and on his socks directly in front of the toilet.  As I begrudgingly cleaned up the floor I asked him if he had missed.  He shook his head no.  I asked him why he chose to pee all over the floor directly in front of the toilet.  He responded quite simply, "I wanted to see what would happen."  I instructed him that all human waste should go inside the toilet and believed that he understood.  Boy was I wrong.

A few days later young Master Jack was upstairs in the bathroom.  I had determined that it would probably be best to keep a closer eye on his bathroom activities, so I was upstairs as well folding laundry.  As I walked by the bathroom I saw Jack standing, with his pants around his ankles, over a hole in the floor where the air vent cover is normally situated, preparing to urinate.
Jack: "Going potty."
"WE GO POTTY IN THE TOILET!" I yelled as I turned him around to face the toilet.
He proceeded to pee into the toilet.
"Why were you trying to pee into the floor vent?" I asked, exasperated.
"I wanted to see what would happen!"

toddler in cat carrier
The time Jack wanted to see "what would happen" if he climbed into a cat carrier.

Later that night Chris chastised me for being so hard on the boy child.  He told me that Jack is newly potty trained, he was exploring things and I need to be more patient.  Then he told me a story of when he was in kindergarten and decided one week that it would be "neat" to collect his own urine in a plastic garbage can in the rarely used downstairs bathroom at his parent's house.  After several days of adding to his collection of "liquid gold" he invited a friend over and brought him downstairs to show him what he'd been up to.  His friend was horrified and immediately told Chris's mum about the garbage can full of pee.  His mother immediately disposed of and I'm guessing she monitored his bathroom activities for a few weeks. When I asked Chris what he learned from this exercise he simply replied, "that his friend was a snitch and not to trust him with secrets".  Not exactly the moral of the story I was looking for, but I suppose. Maybe this is a boy thing, I don't believe I ever peed on or in anything but my diaper, pants or the toilet.

That being said, both minions have been given a lecture that includes, if ever you want to try something to see "What would happen", just ask us and we'll tell you, we promise and please...please...please stop trying to make our house smell like pee.

The big question here is, what's more important...child independence or toilet locks?  If anyone gives either of my children giant novelty soaps I assure you they will be kept under lock and key.

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Follow me on Twitter @Sarabethbug