Monday, 30 May 2016

Hot Tonight - Guide to Surviving Music Festivals with Kids

This past weekend we took the minions to a music festival.  This is the first outdoor festival we've gone to as a family since they were little babies/toddlers, and easily strapped to our chests. I'll admit it, I was skeptical at first, but Chris convinced me that they were old enough to tag along, and that the CBC Music Festival is super family friendly. It was the ideal venue for a trial run to save some money on a sitter and help "socialize" our kids into a world that includes appreciation for live music. It didn't hurt that kids under 12 get in for free.  Overall I'd say it was a successful day, despite the temperatures reaching record highs for May. The results were solid but mixed: moving forward I'll take Jack to nearly any appropriate kid friendly concert so long as Chris promises to be "in charge" of Molly (don't get me wrong, she did okay, but had an epic tantrum when I wouldn't let her make a river in the sandbox, which forced me to miss the majority of Tokyo Police Club).

Molly & Jack enjoying the TD Echo Beach "Sandbox"

11 tips for attending outdoor concerts or festivals with your little kids

  1. Research the event
    How family friendly is it?  Will there be activities specifically focused for
    children?  The more of these types of events (distractions) the better.  This also means that people will be expecting kids to be there and be more patient surrounding regular kid antics.
  2. Research the entertainment
    Are these family friendly bands?  Do your kids have any interest in the music?  Will you care if someone drops an F bomb on stage? Consider playing some of the music or anticipated entertainment for the kids before hand and encouraging them to pick favourite songs as their interest in the bands on stage is key to a successful day.
  3. Research the venue before packing
    Find out what you are and are not allowed to pack before setting up your event backpack.  Can you bring umbrellas, water bottles, what about snacks?  If there is little input on the venue's site, pack bottles that you're trying to use up/won't care if they need to get ditched at security (just don't forget to slather as much sunscreen as possible on everyone before you have to trash any supplies at the gates).
  4. Check the weather forecast
    They sell rain ponchos at the dollar store and garbage bags can make great make-shift raincoats or seats on a damp or rainy lawn.  We had some really hot weather, thankfully the venue had water stations where we could refill out bottle several times (at no cost) for drinking, pouring on our heads and making better sandcastles.
  5. Plan your mode of transportation
    If parking is going to be a nightmare, or crazy expensive, consider taking transit, plus you know, the environment.  The TTC has trip planners to help you plan your route, and a taxi part way (or all the way) home may be a great alternative to driving yourself, and possibly still cheaper than parking.

    Dad & Jack on the Dufferin Bus
  6. Get the lineup of events ahead of time to ensure minimal waiting around
    A lot of festivals will provide a set order or expected schedule a few days before the event.  Look this up to make sure you don't arrive too early, or too late and can plan your day accordingly.  There is no point in arriving three hours before the first band you want to see goes on stage and wasting good kid behaviour time just standing around.
  7. Check where the bathrooms with the smallest lines are early
    Knowing where the nearest bathroom is before it's "go time" will ensure a smoother day.  If the line is super long and your kid is desperate don't be afraid to ask people to let you in.  People were happy to let Jackie and I in front of them, Jack's shorts and bladder were very, very thankful!  Also, bring some spare clothes, just in case of sweat, spills, chills or accidents.
  8. Have bribes ready
    For whatever reason mints are a huge motivator for the minions.  By giving them a mint if they're good in a line, or happily dance alongside a stage, we can always buy ourselves a lot more well behaved kid time.  
  9. Be prepared to splurge a little
    It was hot on Saturday when we went, and a lot of fruit Popsicles were purchased, but no one got heat stroke, so I'm good with that expense. 
  10. Bring activities
    While there may be a lot to do around the festival it may be nowhere near the band you want to check out.  Consider bringing cards, colouring books, sticker books or storybooks to keep your kids quietly entertained.  If all else fails just hand over your phone so they can play a game or two.
  11. Call it a day about 45 minute before imminent meltdown
    Don't push it.  Know when to pull the parachute cord.  You could push to see one more band, but then you may be carrying a screaming, sleepy mean child out of the venue, and nobody wants that.

    We spent a lot of time at the Sandbox, thankfully you could hear the music and see the artists on a screen if you picked the right bench to sit on.

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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Red Riding Hood: Movie Review Hoodwinked Too

Molly and Jack love the movie Hoodwinked, so as soon as they heard there was a sequel they both began clamouring to check it out, immediately.  Despite sub par reviews on Rotten Tomatoes we decided to check it out, after all, the first movie didn't get great reviews and all of us liked it, so we watched it for Sunday Night movie night a couple of weeks ago.

Movie Review: Hoodwinked Too

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

What's in it for the Kids?
Revisit all of your favourite characters from the first film as they try to rescue Hansel and Gretel from the evil witch.  The plot offers good discussion points on jealousy and team dynamic, revisits a lot of old jokes, and the characters they love.

What's in it for the Adults?
This film has some of the witty, fast, and funny dialogue from the first movie that will keep the parents (mildly) entertained. The movie also features the returning voice talents of: Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton, and Andy Dick.  Hayden Penettiere has replaced Anne Hathaway as Red for this movie (but truthfully I didn't notice much difference). New voices include: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Brad Garrett, Joan Cusak, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.

Best Parts of the Movie
The first half of the movie continues with the same fast paced and fun dialogue as the first film, but then about halfway into the movie this momentum kinda dies.  Molly and Jack love Hansel and Gretel and have requested to watch the movie several more times since our first viewing.

Worst Parts of the Movie
This movie just stalls.  Chris and I both fell asleep in front of it at the 30-40 minute mark during two separate viewings because it's just missing something that the original movie had.  It's just not as funny, period.

Overall Rating
Molly and Jack love this movie, but their tastes can be questionable, so I'm not relying on them for a critical analysis of a film.   I would rate this movie 2.5/5.  There is nothing offensive that would stop me from letting them watch the movie because they love it, however I won't be watching it with them again, unless I need a nap.

To read my review of the original film, Hoodwinked, click here

To read my review on Zootopia click here

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Monday, 16 May 2016

What a Wookie: 6 Essential Tips for Watching Star Wars with your kids

Last week we let the minions watch Star Wars for the very first time.  Despite their young age (four and a half) it was a HUGE success! While Molly and Jack are very young to enjoy this type of film, I like to think that a number of factors enhanced their viewing experience and made the entire film easier to digest.

Jackie on Star Wars Day Circa 2013

6 Essential Tips to Help Make Your Child's First Star Wars Experience Successful

  1. Watch the movie during the day
    Giving a bit of space between movie viewing and bed time can allow for time for questions, and distance between anything that might be scary or upsetting for kids and minimize any potential for nightmares.
  2. Consider breaking down the viewing into segments or episodes
    For my kids 30 minutes to 45 minutes maximum is about the breaking point for attention span, so it helped to watch the movie in three shifts, on three different days, to make sure everyone was focused and paying attentions.
  3. Press pause for questions
    There were a lot of questions during this movie.  Rather than having your kids miss important plot points because they are wondering where Princess Leia's crown is, I mean after all she is a princess, just hit pause, answer and then carry on.
  4. Press pause when your child gets distracted or upset
    Some upsetting things happen in Star Wars. Planets are destroyed, people die, and Han is kinda a jerk (a sexy, sexy, jerk, but still a jerk).  By calming your child, or taking a bathroom break when things get intense, or other needs supersede attention on the film.
  5. Unleash your inner critic
    Ask your kids about which characters they favour, which scenes really resonate with them and why.  Then tell them what you liked best when you were a kid and why, it makes for some great bonding.
  6. Become a reporter
    Maybe this is my inner Lit Geek coming to the surface, but Star Wars has so many themes and interesting discussion points as a sort of space soap opera.  Take the time to talk to your kids about important plot points in the film to enhance the experience.  
Image Courtesy of Lucas Film

Interesting Questions & Topics We Have Explored Since Watching Star Wars Together

  1. What makes someone a hero?
  2. What makes someone a villain or bad guy?
  3. Can someone be both a villain and a bad guy?
  4. Is it more important to be brave or to be safe?  Why?
  5. Can people still help us and be a part of our lives after they die?
  6. Will you be better at something if you "use" the force and believe in yourself?

To read about 7 important life lessons you (and your kids) can learn from watching Back to the Future click here.

Click here to enjoy the Chewbacca Song, I promise you won't regret it.

To read about how we made our decision to let the minions watch Star Wars at age four and a half, click here.

To read about Molly and Jack's first time watching The Princess Bride click here.

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Thursday, 12 May 2016

Imperial March: Watching Star Wars for the very first time

The Star Wars franchise has always been a pretty big deal in our house (not including the prequels, cause you know, Jar Jar and cry baby Anakin are the worst).  As children who were both born in the 1970's and at peak Star Wars appreciating ages during the 1980s, it has become a foundation in our personal popular culture appreciation, I mean it's freaking Star Wars!

*If you have never seen Star Wars, you should, but be warned this post is riddled with spoilers for the good trilogy.

When we found out we were having girl/boy twins one of the ongoing jokes was us potentially naming them after famous twins Leia and Luke.  The photo frame containing the most recent photo of Molly and Jack displayed in Chris's office says, "The force runs strong in my family".   Chris named our car Rondo Calrissian, and almost every year we have a May the 4th Star Wars viewing where we watch one or more of the movies.

It's really no surprise that there was heated discussion in our house about when the perfect time was to have the minions enjoy Star Wars for the very first time.

Various media guides recommend not letting your children watch Star Wars related content until they are anywhere from six to 11 years old depending on your child and the movie in the franchise, but I usually disagree with these guides to some extent, I think I have a higher tolerance for swearing and nudity than most parents, not that this is the case with Star Wars.  There have even been white papers written about the topic where fanboy, Star Wars loving blogging father's debated the important question parenting question, What is the right age to expose your children to Star Wars?  The white paper had an average suggesting somewhere between ages five and six.

The week leading up to May the 4th, Jack came home from school talking about Star Wars every, single, day.  After he told us he'd spent the day playing with Chewbacca, C3P0 and R2D2 we decided it was probably time to give the movie a shot and see what would happen.

Molly & Me Circa May the 4th 2013 (This is not the shirt you are looking for)

7 things that happened during the premiere Star Wars viewing 

  • Molly cried when the Jawas stole R2D2 (but really quickly got over it)
  • The minions had absolutely no reaction or fear towards the Tusken Raiders (AKA Sand People), we both thought they'd be really scared
  • Jack felt a strong sense of empathy for the red and white R2 unit, the one with the broken motivator, and has since named this R2 unit, A2TNT, because he wants to fix it and make it his own
  • Jack found it hysterical when everyone had to climb into the garbage shoot to escape the Storm Troopers
  • Jack's laughter was taken to the next level when Luke was pulled underwater, and his face turned red because he was "nearly squished" in the trash compactor 
  • When Darth Vader struck Obi-Wan Kenobi with the light sabre, Molly was hopeful that he had turned invisible, but then cried when she realized what had really happened
  • Molly who loves emotional reunions and warm fuzzy moments nearly lost her mind in happiness when Princess Leia gave all of the heroes awards for their role in her rescue and destroying Death Star One
Since we watched the film Jack has been humming Star Wars theme music non-stop, and both kids have declared their emphatic hatred towards the Empire, and Darth Vader.  I am confident that four and a half was the correct age for our kids to watch this film.  They have already asked to see the next movie soon and we will gladly oblige, likely in another month or two (we need to savour these things).

Stay tuned for my next post for 6 essential tips to make your child's first Star Wars experience a success, complete with some great discussion topics for kids and parents.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Happy Wanderer - Hiking along the Lakeshore Palace Pier

Chris, the minions and I had such a blast on our Lakeshore hike a few weeks ago at Colonel Sam Smith Park that another section of Toronto's Lakeshore and waterfront became the focus of our Mother's Day walk/hike this past weekend.  Despite sporadic rain, some pretty mighty gusts of wind, and no actual playgrounds along our stroll, the minions, mom and dad managed to remain entertained and active for over an hour.  We started our hike at Palace Pier and then walked west to the Humber Butterfly Habitat, explored some of the foot bridges and then headed back.

The only complaints we received were when the thunder started up and we had to rush back to the car. All together through the various trails, diversions and time spent climbing on rocks along the lake I'd guesstimate that this was about a two to three km adventure, that was more of a meander than an actual vigorous hike.

For anyone hoping to spot butterflies in the Butterfly habitat, they aren't here yet, it's suggested that you visit between early June and early September.

A rare photo of just me and the minions, complete with Toronto skyline in the background

A swan along the lakeshore trail

Admiring a snail living in the Butterfly Habitat.  

Visiting the ducks

Birdhouse that sits atop the Butterfly Habitat

A stormy sky looms as Molly walks along the bridge

Johnny the swan

As always, the highlight of the walk was climbing up onto the rocks and admiring the lake.  A close second was trying to skip stones.  The more time we get outside, and into nature, the more exposure the kids have to calculated and positive risk taking, which is so important.

I'm happy that on this outing the minions learned a valuable lesson about wild animals: they're unpredictable and you shouldn't get too close.

During a hike earlier this spring, we came across a swan who happily swam close to Chris and Jack while they watched from a nearby rock. This positive experience prompted Jack to want to get very close to the swan we spotted on this walk.  As we neared a rather large swan, it was very apparent that he wanted nothing to do with us, and quite aggressively hissed at us. This gave a good startle to the kids, and also mildly entertained them as the swan proceeded to suspiciously follow alongside us as we cautiously walked over the bridge.  This swan has made such an impact with Jack that he's named him Johnny, has composed a song about him, and has taken to hissing at Chris and I whenever he's annoyed at us. Overall a huge success!  Go nature!

To read about our hike in Colonel Sam Smith park (Lakeshore West/Etobicoke) click here

To learn about exploring the boardwalk path and dinosaur playground at Lakeshore's Marilyn Bell park click here.

Have suggestions for excellent, but family friendly, walks or hikes?  Leave a comment or send me a note to

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Thursday, 5 May 2016

So Sorry, Happy Mother's Day

I can't believe that it's that time of year again. In just a few days it will be Mother's Day.  In annual tradition, today I look back on the year that has passed and apologize to my own mom for "crimes" that I most likely violated when I was four years old based on my own motherhood experiences this year.  Deep breath, here it goes....

Molly & Jack at the park

Dearest Mom,

I'm so incredibly sorry for...

  • Creating an imaginary friend that is responsible for all wrong-doing, tall tales, and anything I might get in trouble for
  • Spraying 1/3 of a new bottle of your perfume into the toilet after I poop
  • Throwing the most epic tantrums in front of parents you know, are trying to befriend, or make play date arrangements for me with
  • Hiding my snow pants so I didn't have to wear them for two months until my teacher sent you a note asking why I don't own snow pants.   After said snow pants have been recovered, hiding them again until a janitor finds them and donates them to charity because, clearly, they don't belong to anyone
  • Opening up all of my litterless lunch containers, but eating very little of my actual lunch so there is soggy, brown, banana mush on everything by the time I get home
  • Painting the sink with toothpaste to "make it pretty" and then freaking out when you clean (aka destroy) my art
  • Crying that my leg hurts whenever I get in trouble for being mean to my brother
  • Trying to pee in the vents because I wanted to see what happened
  • Yelling "YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME!" at the top of my lungs after you've asked me to settle down and just walk to the car
  • Refusing to try a new food, just because
  • Nightmares about ridiculous things (like ducks with teeth) that wake up everyone in the house,  for multiple nights in a row
  • Pouring all of your body wash into my bath to make it "sudsy"
  • Timing all of my sicknesses for the few and far between times you have personal appointments, which you then had to reschedule three times in a row
  • Refusing to go to the bathroom before we go out, and then immediately demanding to go/ peeing my pants
  • Insisting on wearing, and then breaking or losing, your necklaces
  • Announcing (loudly) that you have "drunk eyes" in front of other parents at pick-up
  • Crying about random things, like when you explain that humans are animals because you don't want it to be true
  • Honking your breasts in public and announcing, "I grabbed your boobs"
  • Dozens of other unlisted "incidents"

P.S. Still not sorry for the black lipstick I wore as a teenager

P.P.S I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world!

To see the first ever apology note click here

To see the 2015 apology note click here

To see the 2014 apology note click here

To see the 2013 apology note click here

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Monday, 2 May 2016

Meagan's Walk 2016 - A Mother's Day Tradition

A few weeks ago, while at a children's birthday party, it really hit me how lucky we all are.  As I sat back and watched the excitement build in a room full of pre-schoolers as they hit a giant pinata, hoping that they'd be the one to release the cornucopia of sweets all over the floor I couldn't help but smile.  At the centre of the crowd, with a focus, hand eye coordination and brute force that would rival many kids twice his age was Birthday Boy, Emmett, determined to get his hands on the candy....cause what's better than candy when you're three?

Dad & Emmett at the 2014 Meagan's Walk

Emmett's Story

Just three years ago, in April 2013, my friends had their first child, the above mentioned candy loving little slugger named Emmett.   After a remarkably uneventful pregnancy and a straightforward home birth, everyone was ready for an equally smooth transition into their new lives as parents.  Within a few days after Emmett was born it became apparent that something was wrong.  Their son was born with Esophageal Atresia with Tracheoesophageal Fistula (EA/TEF). In short, his mouth pipe didn't connect to his stomach pipe.  A few days after he was born he underwent surgery to connect the pipes.

As new parents they essentially moved into Sick Kids hospital waiting and hoping for Emmett's recovery, all while learning how to cope with parenthood and deal with everything that had just happened. After a successful surgery they set to work getting Emmett to take milk (an excruciatingly slow process). They soon realized that they would be celebrating Gwen's first Mother's Day at Sick Kids. As the day approached they were confronted with bittersweet emotions. The love and support of friends and family helped, but most parents don't envision celebrating their first Mother's Day inside a hospital.

When Mother's Day came they were both feeling pretty low. As they sat in Emmett's room an announcement was made that all parents and kids who were able should gather at the exterior windows at 11:45 a.m. for the end of Meagan's Walk.  Welcoming the distraction they bundled up Emmett and wheeled his IV/feeding pole down with them to the atrium windows.  They watched as the street below was filled with people in Meagan's Walk t-shirts. Adults and children, many from inside Sick Kid's who could make it outside, stretched as far as they could see. It felt as if everyone on the street was looking directly up at their family.

At 11:45AM everyone below joined hands, took several steps backwards, then wrapped the hospital in an enormous hug. Instantly, they felt a rush of calm for the first time since Emmett became a Sick Kid. Waving to everyone below, it was impossible not to feel hopeful.  The participants seemed to know how much everyone in that hospital needed love on Mother's Day.  It was that moment when they decided to join Meagan's Walk, an annual tradition that they (alongside Emmett) have participated in for two, going on three, years now.

Doc and the McFlys at the 2015 Meagan's Walk

About the 2015 Walk

Each year, shortly after Emmett's birthday, the entire family (Emmett included), along with some of their friends, walk Meagan's Walk as "Doc and the McFlys" in the hope that their love and participation helped and comforted others as they'd been.  Highlights from last year's Meagan's Walk include:

  • In 2015, we were part of 4,000 participants who helped Megan's Walk raise over $530,000 for SickKids.
  • Team Doc and the McFlys raised $720 in 2015.
  • It was a gorgeous day for the walk and we all got a little sunburned, what with forgetting what the sun looked liked over the winter.
  • Standing strong as a family in the hug around the hospital. 

What's in Store for the 2016 Walk

The money raised from Meagan's Walk goes towards the Meagan Bebenek Endowment Fund and awareness, research and treatment of paediatric brain tumours at Sick Kids.

This year Doc and the McFlys have set their sights high and are aiming for $2000 in total donations.

If you would like to support Doc and the McFlys on their third year of an annual Mother's Day Tradition (this year held on Saturday May 7th), they would greatly appreciate your donation: click here.

To learn more about Meagan's Walk click here.

Happy Mother's Day Everyone!

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