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 

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!"
8:22PM - 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.

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

Playground Name: 

45 Strachan Avenue (Liberty Village)

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.

$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

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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