I’m Thankful for My Bugaboo Stroller

I can’t live without my smartphone.  I have had marginal success with detoxing from my excessive use, but the thought of cancelling my contract and tossing it into a drawer  is never going to be a reality.

I felt the same away about my Bugaboo Frog stroller a few weeks ago when I was cleaning out the garage.  I just can’t part with it.  I have had my red Bugaboo Frog and all of its accoutrements for almost 8 years.  Eight years!

That stroller means more to me than a plastic, canvas and rubber contraption meant to transport my child from A to B.  There are times when it felt like a lifeline tethering me to the outside world from my post-natal cocoon.  I would push through the snow, the wind and the rain, my destination unclear but my motivation crystal.  I needed to be out and among the land of the living.  I needed to walk the busy streets and look in the shop windows.  I needed to create urgency to complete mundane errands.  My Bugaboo made it possible for me to do just that.

I knew from early on that Bugaboo was the stroller for me.  It took little convincing that we were a perfect fit.  Its sleek design; adaptable seats and functionality were in my mind unparalleled to the available options.

My parents generously gifted the Bugaboo to me when my first son was born.  My mom loved it too,  and like me saw value in its merits.  My dad took some convincing.  When he saw the price tag, admittedly not cheap, he choked out that his first car had cost less.  It made me think of this scene from Father Of The Bride:

In eight years that stroller has survived three boys, more spilled milk than one could imagine, and enough vomit to make Public Health concerned.  It’s been washed, scrubbed and de-Cheerioed several times, each time impressing me with its resiliency.  And I’ve easily put more kilometers on it than my car.

So when Bugaboo invited me to preview their exciting line-up for 2015, I of course said yes, not withstanding that my strolling days are numbered.  I am glad that I did.

Bugaboo is one of those brands that marry functionality and aesthetics so perfectly and come the New Year their fans will be delighted by their many collaborations.

The lifestyle brand Diesel, known for its rugged, utilitarian look has toughened up the Bugaboo Cameleon.  The dark green and brown colour combination give the stroller a decidedly masculine look, while the interior finishes are the soft, comfortable and functional details that Bugaboo is known for.

 bugaboo-cameleon3-by-diesel-iconic-image-2(Available November 2014)

 There is also the new Bugaboo Bee3 for the parents who zip around the city and live life on the fly.  The Bee is lightweight, easy to use and has a larger underseat basket for storing everything from groceries to a diaper bag.  For parents who like to express their individuality, the Bee is available in 64 different fabric colour combinations and provides UPF50+ sun and extendable sun canopy while being water repellent and washable.

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(Available in stores now)

And there is this . . . the Bugaboo Runner.  Oh, be still my heart!  Why buy two strollers when you can buy the Bugaboo Runner, a base that fits all Bugaboo models?  The three-wheel model, with its front wheel fixed, makes for a smooth run and the base collapses compactly making at-home storage easy.

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(Available Spring 2015)

 It’s not just the artistry of the Bugaboo that impresses me; it’s the story behind the product.  While at the launch I had the opportunity to meet members of the Bugaboo team.  Their passion for their product was inspiring and not overly surprising considering the quality of their strollers and accessories.  Bugaboo started off as a design school project by Max Barenbrug and twenty years later it has expanded to include numerous stroller models and functional accessories while staying true to their mission to create innovative products that inspire people to explore the world.

Speaking with members of the Bugaboo team, I learned that designers watch people with children navigating everyday life, identifying obstacles and dreaming of ways to make life simpler and more accessible.  I was fascinated, and not at all shocked, to hear about the push-back the North American team had in convincing the designers to create a cup-holder.  The Europeans were flummoxed as to why someone would need to take their coffee to-go and hesitated in creating what is now the best-selling Bugaboo accessory in North America.

It’s always the stories that attract me to products.  It’s the people and their passion, their commitment and their innovation.  Creative people always inspire me and I am moved to see the world through their eyes, whether the medium is a stroller or a bar of soap, because when I do, it’s enlightening.

 Disclaimer:  I didn’t receive a penny for this review, but when I do I will let ya know!

How To Write The Perfect Thank You Note

Oprah once said that she writes her thank you notes on one-side of a card so that the recipient may frame it should they desire. Now, I am no Oprah so I can pretty much guarantee that no one will be framing my thank you note, but there is something to be said for this dying art form.

Much of my life has moved on-line. I buy my clothes, gifts and movies all on-line. I communicate with my friends by text message or email and I pay my bills with clicks of the mouse. However I can’t bring myself to replace traditional invitations and thank you notes with an e-version. I have, on occasion, hammered out a quick thanks to a friend via email and fired off an e-vite to a children’s party, but when it comes down to it, I always prefer the good ol’ fashion paper and pen. (Check out our Pinterest page for my son’s ninja party invite)

History of the Thank You Note

The ancient cultures, specifically the Egyptians and Chinese, would often send messages of goodwill to each other using papyrus. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s and the invention of the stamp that written correspondence became mainstream in North America.

Emily Post circa 1922

Perhaps the most celebrated when it comes to American etiquette, Emily Post offers several useful tidbits of advice that are still relevant today. For example, one should always remember that the thank you letter that you write is a reflection of yourself. Be sure to choose your words wisely, write neatly and spell words correctly. It may take more time to hand-write a thoughtful card than to send an email but it’s most always more appreciated.

Emily Post also always recommends that one write the date in full to avoid any confusion with abbreviations.

However, we’ve come a long way since the days of Ms. (err, Mrs.? Miss?) Post who suggests “suitability should be considered in choosing note paper as well as choosing a piece of a furniture for the house.”

And you thought choosing paper was a piece of cake!

The Close

“It is too bad that the English language does not permit the charming and graceful closing of all letters in the French manner, those little flowers of compliment that leave such a pleasant fragrance after reading. But ever since the Eighteenth Century the English-speaking have been busy pruning away all ornament of expression; even the last remaining graces, “kindest regards,” with kindest remembrances,” are fast disappearing, leaving us nothing but an abrupt “Your truly,” or “Sincerely yours.”  – Emily Post, 1922

I couldn’t agree more! I loathe the sign-off “Best.” It’s sharp and truncated. It implies such busyness that one could barely eke out the time to write the correspondence let alone finish the thought. Best what? Best wishes? Best of luck? Best friends for life?

According to Emily Post (1922) these are the only acceptable closings:

  • Sincerely, Sincerely yours, Very sincerely, Very sincerely yours
  • Faithfully, Faithfully yours (from a man)
  • Affectionately yours, Devotedly, Lovingly, Your loving (for intimate relationships only)
  • Gratefully

Completely unacceptable closings include:

  • Cordially
  • Warmly Yours (unspeakable!)
  • Yours in Haste.

I don’t necessarily agree but I would like to add “Best” to that list.

Martha Stewart, considered by some to be a modern day Emily Post, suggests that “Love” is more than appropriate when signing off a letter.

Tips for Writing The Perfect Thank You in 2014

  • Timing is everything. Send thank yous as soon after as possible. For weddings and showers within three months is the acceptable guideline.
  • Be organized. Keep a selection of various thank you cards and stamps on hand to use.
  • Keep your note simple. Four to five sentences expressing your gratitude are sufficient.
  • If you’re thanking someone for a gift or a gift of cash, let him or her know how it’s being used.
  • Be aware of differences in last names and how your recipient prefers to be addressed. Do they prefer Ms. or Mrs.? Be sure to include formal designations like Dr. or Honorable.
  • Children are more than capable of writing thank you notes. Encourage them to choose a card that reflects their personality, complete a rough draft before moving on to the final copy and walk to the mailbox together so they can post the letter themselves.

Examples

Always one to cover her bases, Emily Post offers the masses examples of the perfect thank you for any occasion. Been ill and convalesced at a friend’s house? Did you have an especially amusing weekend at a friend’s house and were hosted by a senior member of the family? For more examples of thank yous from the 1920s, many of which really are applicable to today, click here.

To read thank you notes from famous people like Bill Clinton and Marilyn Monroe visit this site.

Some Tools to Help You Craft the Perfect Thank You Note

 

 

Hello Love Address Book by Faiths Designs

Hello Love Address Book by Faith Designs 

English Countryside Address Book by Kristie Kern 2

English Countryside Address Book by Kristie Kern

French Stripes Thank You Card by Monica Tuazon

French Stripes Thank You Card by Monica Tuazon

United As One Thank You Card by Lauren Chism

United As One Thank You Card by Lauren Chism

Custom Camping ThankYou

Custom Camping Thank You Card by Love Love Me Do

Deep Blue Leaves ThankYou

Deep Blue Leaves Thank You Card by Love Love Me Do

YellowNauticalChevronsThankYou

Yellow Nautical Chevron Thank You Card by Love Love Me Do

Detective Fox Childrens Stationery by Anapuma

Detective Fox Children Stationery by Anapuma

Fire Engine Childrens Stationery b y Monica Tuazon

Fire Engine Chlidren Stationery by Monica Tuazon

Curveball Childrens Stationery by 24th and Dune

Curveball Children Stationery by 24th and Dune

Bears In The Woods ThankYou

Bears In The Woods Thank You Card by Love Love Me Do

Love Love Me Do features beautiful note cards and invitations by Sarah Carter, a Canadian custom stationery designer.  Each card is $4.80 or 3 for $10, 6 for $18, 8 for $24 and 100 for $150.

All other stationery is featured on Minted, a must-bookmark site for all stationery lovers!

Just 34

IMG_5224It’s the first of day of October. It seems as though I am flipping the pages of the calendar with increasing speed. Why is that? Why is it that when we are children the days and weeks stretch on for what feels like forever. We are always anxious for our next birthday, generously rounding up. Today’s my birthday and I can tell you with all honesty, I not only do not round up but I cling to the number I am until exactly today.   I was 33 yesterday. Not 33 ½. Not almost 34. I was 33. Today I am just 34. I will be just 34 for probably 6 months and then I will resign myself to being, solidly, 34.

Contrary to what you may think, I am not opposed to getting older. What I am opposed to is how damn quickly those days between 33 and 34 passed. And how, I know from experience, much more damn quickly the days between 34 and 35 will pass.

It’s impossible to control the passage of time, but is it ever possible to feel as though you’re not losing a race against the clock?

This month we have challenged ourselves to be thankful for our days, to be mindful of the choices that we make, to appreciate the beauty in the ordinary and to relish in the extraordinary. We will contemplate ways to be more mindful, suggest ways to give and say thanks, and share our favourite hidden gems in city that we are most grateful for.

If you like something we’ve written about, let us know by leaving a comment, or sharing via Twitter or Facebook.

An Artful Education

This month we focused on resuming routines and being back at school. We explored the complexities of learning and the compelling relationships between educators and their students.  But learning doesn’t always take place within the confines of a classroom and it certainly encompasses much more than the guidelines of a curriculum.

Extracurricular activities.  The mere mention is enough to make some recoil and others rush to registration, checkbook in hand.  It has been hotly debated lately (what hasn’t been when it comes to parenting?) with some taking the position that our children are over programmed and lack time for free play.  Others disagree and see extracurricular activities as vital to rounding out a child’s education.

Last week Leslie Foster’s Top 10 Reasons Your Kids Need Extracurricular Arts-Based Activities struck a nerve.  Perhaps it was because I was waffling on my decision to sign the boys up for more sports than I had intended this fall.  I had succumbed to their demands for soccer, swimming, karate, tennis and squash with nary a thought of exactly how I was going to transport all three boys to three different destinations at three different times and now my plate feels full.  Perhaps it was because each of my boys expressed sadness that they, in effort to minimize the intensity of a packed scheduled, were no longer enrolled in their respective art class/piano lessons/music and movement class.

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In my haste to ensure they were registered and equipped for their team sports, art took a back seat.  More so than being surprised by their request to resume their arts-based activities, I was pleased that my boys recognized in themselves a desire to be creative and express themselves artistically.

And so I will reach deep into my pockets, get creative with the schedule and call in favors to make it work.

But what about the kids who are not so fortunate as to ask and receive?

Artbarn School, a not-for-profit art school in Toronto offers a variety of art classes for children and adults. From watercolour and oil painting, drawing, encaustic and mixed media, these classes are taught by dedicated, enthusiastic artists eager to share their passion with budding creative-types.

Linda McMaster co-founder and Executive Director of Artbarn School, was aware that not all children who have an affection for art but not the financial means to register for the courses.

McMaster got the idea to start the scholarship when approached by a recently widowed mother of three whose son showed great artistic potential but she did not have the funds to register him for classes. The student’s skills not only blossomed but he thrived under the mentorship of his teacher.

Raising Artists is an event dedicated to raising the designers, architects, artists and creative thinkers of tomorrow with all proceeds directed toward the scholarship.

Children can explore the studio and participate in a variety of activities while the adults enjoy live music, appetizers and bid on the artwork created by their children. The budding-artists proudly showcase their work while their confidence soars.

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Many of our readers do not live in Toronto, but I hope you’re inspired by the initiative the Artbarn has taken to make extracurricular activities more accessible to families. Perhaps you’re inspired to get involved with your community organizations and improve the accessibility of extracurricular activities. Similarly, be sure to contact organizations to see if scholarship opportunities exist before deciding it’s not in the budget.

For Your Calendar:

Raising Artists

Artbarn School, 250 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto

Thursday, November 20 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Tickets are $20 and must be purchased in advance.

416-518-6108

Boys and Education: Sometimes the teacher must be the student

I have a confession to make. In addition to being a great mother before I had children, I was even a better fifth grade teacher. I couldn’t understand why library books didn’t come back on time, I’d shake my head at a family’s disorganization and as embarrassed as I am to admit, I would harrumph, and roll my eyes at the “excuses” for homework not being done.

That was before.

I will also admit to feeling gob smacked when I learned that I was having a boy. And another. And then another. How could I, poster child for the girly-girl, have three boys?

Living with boys hasn’t come easy to me. It has been a learning process of how to best communicate with them and Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Why Gender Matters, has been my instructional guide.

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“Did you know that most boys and men build friendships around activities and don’t really care to share their inner most feelings with each other?” I asked my husband, somewhat incredulously.

“Um, yeah,” he muttered back to me while absently staring at the tv and flicking through the channels.

“Did you know that most boys and men prefer to communicate shoulder-to-shoulder, you know, looking at problem together, rather than making direct eye contact?” I say this like it’s some sort of a revelation.

“Ya.”

“Okay, this explains a lot. Did you know that there are structural differences in the ears’ of boys and girls, and this guy is suggesting that sometimes boys have a hard time hearing their teacher and don’t intend to be disruptive?!”

“Sorry, what’d you say?”

And there you have it. My life with boys.

I read somewhere that women speak thousands more words in a day than men. In my case it’s true. I live my life according to a script.

“Wake up! Teeth brushed, beds made, clothes on! Knees off the table. Use your spoon. Dishes to the dishwasher . . . “

And when the boys are fighting, I am more likely to get into a discussion (albeit one-sided) about feelings and anger, and controlling impulses. Down on my knees, arms wrapped around each boy, sandwiching myself in between them, I talk. And talk. And talk. I’m usually there to intercede immediately after the first fist flies.

By contrast, the boys’ father will swoop into a room after the fighting has reached a level he has deemed too violent (usually just before or after bloodshed) and clip, “Enough!”

With that simple command, the boys will scamper to their respective corners, like lion cubs retreating after they’ve caused the leader of the pride to roar.

“You engage with them too much sometimes. Just say it once and mean it.” This is my husband’s advice. In fact this is how he lives his life. He keeps his sentences brief, and speaks when it counts. Years ago he told me that when someone talks to hear their own voice others would eventually learn to shut it out.

Dr. Sax would say that I should let the boys be physical and competitive because they are just doing what comes natural. He is quick to assert that doesn’t mean letting them pound each other to a bloody pulp or allow them to use violence to solve their problems, but that I should just back-off, and not make the jump to “Oh my God! They are going to grow up to be sociopaths if I let them pretend to shoot each other!”

But it’s hard for me. As a woman, I like to talk about everything and hash-it all out. My girlfriends and I will talk all sides of a story and debate tone and inflection until exhausted, we move on to another topic. My friends with daughters often remark how their little girls come home from school and they talk for an hour, getting the play-by –play: what the teacher wore, what so-and-so said, where they sat on the carpet and what the story was about. They will know the dynamics of friendships and whose feelings were hurt and who has made-up.

My boys come home and it’s like prying teeth to get them to share the happenings of their day. I have resorted to asking very pointed questions on our walks home from school, should-to-shoulder, avoiding direct eye contact. I used to think that they weren’t sharing things with me because they were embarrassed, or possibly nervous of my reaction, but no, I was reassured with a shrug of their shoulders and an, “Oh, I dunno. I forgot.

It’s important to note that my boys and I have a very close relationship and they will tell me their inner most secrets, but I’ve had to learn what’s news to me, isn’t news to them and like their father, they use fewer words than I do.

So what does all of this mean when it comes to the classroom?

I usually breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that my son’s teacher is a mom to a boy.

She gets it. I think.

I hope.

And usually she does. She usually gets that boys think fart jokes are hilarious, and that they generally like competition, even if it’s just with them. She gets that sitting for more than one-minute necessary can have a disastrous result. She gets that even when they don’t say anything, it doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting, or needing help. She gets the nuances of being a boy.

And that’s what I didn’t get when I was a teacher. Make no mistake; I thought that I got it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Can you really blame me?

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*Dr. Sax refers to gender and not “sex” differences. It’s an important distinction.

* Dr. Sax also writes about the disjointed messages our girls receive from society while growing up and how damaging they can be. Fascinating food for thought.

What was your proudest moment as a teacher?

20140911_145815 (1)“As a teacher I am fortunate to be in a profession that allows me to see great accomplishments on a daily basis.  Though I often feel pride, it isn’t necessarily because of something I’ve done. It is because of the accomplishments of others that I’m able to be a part of.

One such example is of two little girls from Bangladesh. Their mother was a gynecologist and father a computer professional. They came to Canada to provide their children with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. Life was not easy for them here. Their parents could not get work in their field and therefore were forced to live in a low-income area of Toronto where the children were living and going to school with people who had different ethics and values.

The two girls had to learn English and struggled to follow an academic path that was very different from many of their new friends.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach both girls in more than one grade. The eldest daughter mentioned me in her grade 6 valedictorian speech as being part of her success in elementary school.

The family has since moved to New York City and Mahshid is now in university on scholarship and wants to be in education. She keeps in contact still and often reminds me of the difference I (along with others) made in her life. I am so very proud – not for what I did, but for what she has achieved and for the fact I was fortunate to be involved, even if only for a short time.

This is what teaching gives you, the ability to guide, inspire, encourage and help someone on their path to achieve what they set out to do. It is pride for what others have allowed you to be a part of.”

What We’re Reading: Kids

From Beth-Anne

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Be Grateful Little Bear by Kara Evelyn-McNeil, illustrations by Max Scratchmann

Kara Evelyn-McNeil, a children’s entertainer from Whitby, Ontario wrote her first book Be Grateful Little Bear in hopes that parents will start a discussion with their children about being grateful for the blessings in their own lives. Little Bear finds himself alongside the proverbial fence, looking over at what appears to be greener pastures, but his loving parents remind him of the many wonderful traits that make him a special bear. The message, be proud of who you are, resounds loud and clear and served the purpose the author intended. My three boys sat around after the oldest had read the book aloud, and (yes, at my prompting) listed the things that make themselves and their brothers special.

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Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston-Gannon

Preston-Gannon, the first UK recipient of the Sendak Fellowship, spent one month living with and learning from Maurice Sendak, and Dinosaur Farm proves she is worthy of such an honour. This beautifully illustrated story tells how hard life is on a farm: waking up early, caring for your animals and tending to the earth but in a whimsical twist the animals that populate this farm are not chickens, cows and pigs . . .they are dinosaurs! The creative way the text is displayed makes reading with expression much easier for budding orators. My middle son spoke in a loud voice when reading BIG and a much quieter voice when reading small. But perhaps it is the textless illustrations that tell the reader the most. The last image we’re left with is of the farmer fast asleep tucked in his bed with his dinosaurs that have crept in through the open gate, asleep all around his bedroom. My boys were quick tell the “story” on that final page and to make a connection to another of their favourite bedtime stories, Goodnight ,Gorilla.

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Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas by DK Simoneau and David Radman, illustrations by Brad Cornelius

When Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas arrived at our house there were enough squeals of delight from my youngest to trick one into believing that it was Christmas morning and not a hot, humid July day. To say that my three boys are obsessed with Christmas, Santa and all things related would be a gross understatement. In fact, as I type this now, my youngest (age 3) is watching Barney’s Christmas on Netflix (reserve your judgement, I needed some time to hammer this out). DK Simoneau and David Radman have written a Christmas tale that must be added to your night before Christmas reading list. In this story, nothing is quite right on Christmas Eve. The elves are now 7 feet tall trolls, the stockings have been replaced with long underwear and most concerning, Santa’s suit is not red! It’s purple! My boys loved this book and everything about it – the whimsical fonts, the twists on the traditional and the illustrations. Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas now has a place in our Christmas tales reading box . . . after my youngest slept with it in his bed for three nights.

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Kitty Hawk and The Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

The first book in the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective series will have you hooked! What’s not to love? Canadian adventure, a fearless heroine and endearing characters . . . the Kitty Hawk series by Iain Reading is a breath of fresh air among the vampires, werewolves and teen angst that have dominated the young adult genre for the past few years. What’s more, the author has included an additional reading list and two websites for adventure enthusiasts to explore.

From Nathalie

We continue to (try to) make time for creating art hereabouts, and I am newly inspired.  I was at the Cabbagetown Outdoor Art Festival on the weekend and fell in love with the art of Judy Anderson of Kukucaju, which captures wonderfully the subversive violence of children’s stories and imaginations.  Her Big Sister caught my eye; art that endorses eating one’s siblings is something that would go over well in our house, where it’s not all brotherly love.  Check out her website.  You can have you own kids’ drawings turned into a custom-made piece of 3-D art.

mangaOne great book in our art adventure is the Big Book of Everything Manga.  Youngest (6) has had great success with the manga monsters and robots, and the drawings range from very simple to complex.  It’s a great art instruction book for artists of varying levels of ability.

escapeMiddlest (9) is awash in bookish goodness: two new releases in his favourite series.  Last month, it was the sixth book in Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Escape from Lucien.  Until we went to hear him speak, I had not read the Amulet books, but Kibuishi was such a great speaker that I read all of the books in the series in a single sitting.  They feature a really plucky heroine, who is brave and good and flawed.  She wears an amulet that gives her power, but whether it is for good or evil is still unclear.  In a world of kids’ books that are starkly black and white with respect to good and evil, I like how Kibuishi keeps us guessing about his plot and characters.

piratesMiddlest is also reading book five in Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series: Pirates of the Silver Coast.  Lots of plot twists and cliff hangers here, too.

One thing I’ve noticed with his consumption of these graphic novel series is that he re-reads them over and over again.  I used to fret about his re-reading these instead of trying out new chapter books, but it’s obvious that he has a real love for these books.  He’s rushed out to get the new books in the series, bless him, and now makes a habit of asking me to check publication dates for his favourite authors.  That’s some serious book love right there.

Middlest is also reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Perhaps you’ve heard of that oneI’m reading the Harry Potter books aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and then Middlest goes off and reads ahead.  I’m really enjoying myself with these books.  Youngest keeps stopping me to ask what words mean, which is sometimes frustrating, but, then again, he keeps stopping me to ask what words mean.  He’s listening!  He’s engaged!  He’s learning!  Coincidentally, Kazu Kibuishi has done the cover art for the latest edition of the Harry Potter books.  Cue my collector’s obsession….

Harry Potter Series

Finally, Eldest (13) is reading The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.

secretEldest: We had Library today.

Nathalie: What book did you choose?

Eldest: The Name of This Book is Secret.

Nathalie:  Ooooh!  I liked that one.  It’s very meta-textual.  Why did you pick that one?

Eldest: It fell on my head.

Nathalie: Seriously, why did you choose it?

Eldest: Seriously, it fell on my head.

Here endeth the attempt at intelligent discussion about books.  You win some, you lose some.

Explore Toronto: Eco-Art-Fest @Todmorden Mills

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Last week, with intentions to squeeze every last bit of summer fun out of what remained of the summer days, Carol, Nathalie and I took our boys to explore no. 9’s Eco-Art Fest.

Just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, is a tucked-away enclave sheltered by a canopy of trees where art and green collide. Andrew Davies, Executive Director, is a man with a vision. Having spent years in New York City working for the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Davies became enamoured with the emerging art scene that seemed to couple art and social consciousness so seamlessly. Upon his return to Toronto, he learned about the Evergreen Brick Works, at that time in its planning stages, and envisioned a place where art and the environment could not only flourish but also serve to inspire people to live more sustainable lives.

Drawing on his extensive art and architecture background Davies went on to found no. 9. It is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns through school and community based programs. Earlier this summer when I explored the Brick Works with my boys we were able to view My Sustainable City, a collaboration between no.9 and the Toronto District School Board that is on exhibit at Brick Works until September 23.

While My Sustainable City is an example of a school program, Eco-Art-Fest is an outdoor summer-long art festival held at Todmorden Mills until September 21 for the entire community to enjoy.  imgres

Davies and his staff of artisans offer daily programs for children. Our boys got their hands dirty throwing clay and enjoyed a water colour painting workshop where they learned about endangered animals and just how interrelated the creatures in our environment really is. We ended our morning activities with a guided tour of the various outdoor art installations by celebrated artists Dean Baldwin, Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Sean Martindale, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, John Loerchner and Laura Mendes.

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It was an enriching opportunity to learn how art is not just paint, paper and brush strokes. Art can be just as much about aesthetic and expression as a social message. In particular my boys enjoyed Sean Martindale’s installation of the word HISTORIES created from the earth, and depending on perspective history could be rising up from the ground or buried.

Saturday nights offer live music after 5 pm, delicious artisanal charcuterie boards that are works of art in themselves, and organic beer and wine all under the lights of Helliwell’s.

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Nearly four hours passed before I looked at my watch.   The green space combined with the art, and the easy-going, light-hearted atmosphere was enough to make me forget that I was in the city, less than a few minutes drive to the centre and its hustle and bustle. It was four hours of appreciating art in many forms, learning about our environment and most importantly connecting with each other.

Time is running out to experience the wonder of Eco-Art-Fest this summer. The festival ends on September 21 but will return next year. To learn more or to register for the activities and tours please visit Eco-Art-Fest.

Guest Post: Kristi Ashcroft: “These things they go away; Replaced by Everyday” — R.E.M., Nightswimming

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To my three boys,

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow it’s over. When the school bell rang on June 27, and we were staring ahead at 65 days of unscheduled, unstructured time at our rustic cottage on somewhat remote Manitoulin Island, it seemed both daunting and exhilarating. We all claimed this was what we wanted. But, with no camps booked for any of you this summer, with Dad’s work schedule requiring him in Toronto more than at the cottage, and with few good friends nearby, I felt like I was embarking on a tight rope across a wide chasm. With just the right balance, it could be great. Or it could go another way.

I admit, the bickering almost undid me. “Stop it”, “Owwwwww”, “Mommmmmmmmmm”, “He started it”, “Stop copying me”, “He pinched (kicked, punched, scratched, poked) me”, “He cheated”, “That’s mine”, “I hate you”, “You don’t even know what 45 plus 56 is”, “You suck at hockey,” “You’re an idiot”, “What?”, “What did I do?”.

And that was before breakfast.

I vacillated between refereeing, cajoling, bribing, punishing, peace-brokering, distracting, and out and out losing my mind. None of those strategies seemed to be particularly or consistently effective. One morning, out of fury over some territorial conflict involving a pillow fort, you my littlest one, managed to strip off your pull-up from the night before and bonk your eldest brother over the head with it, thereby causing the diaper to explode and sending pee-soaked polymers across the room where they settled like a yellow-tinged snow. We were only about two weeks into summer and my coffee hadn’t even finished brewing. I promptly declared summer cancelled, and in a further fit of hyperbole, threatened to sell the cottage and use the proceeds to send each of you to summer camp, separately, in perpetuity. Because clearly we couldn’t survive summer together.

But we plodded on. The memories of the fighting do eventually fade to white noise. We can all now laugh at the diaper snow story, and you each delight in regaling others with your part in it. And thank goodness I didn’t throw in the towel. There is so much I would have missed.

First, I would have missed our talks: talks that don’t get cut short or interrupted because there’s a brother to pick up or a practice to get to; talks that stem from your questions, fears or curiosities. We talked about wolves and tornadoes and cancer and dying a lot this summer, though I can’t really explain why those themes recurred. Our “where did I come from” talk started after you learned about an initiative to repopulate the Great Lakes with sturgeon, and I found myself in the somewhat awkward position of having to compare and contrast fish procreation with the human variety. You were captivated by stories of when you were young, and of when we were young, creating a trove of family lore that I hope will stay with you and eventually be retold by you.

We had time to focus on things that often get swept aside during the busy seasons, like manners. You had the chance to hone your skills of being a good guest, a good host and a good neighbour. I don’t want to jinx it, but this summer may have paved the way for 2014 to be declared “The Year Everyone Started Holding Their Fork Correctly,” although I’m guessing you guys won’t remember it that way.

You had more freedom and I got to give it to you. You could ride way ahead on your bike, wander the woods with your brothers, or burst outside on a whim without a corresponding admonition from your mother to “stop at the stop sign”, or “slow down”. I loved observing how you handled the mutually reinforcing responsibility and independence. I also loved that I almost never heard myself say “Hurry up”, “Time to go” or “We’re late.”

I had a chance to shed my roles as chauffeur, guidance counsellor, tutor, nag-in-chief and disciplinarian, and to have the opportunity to just DO things with you. Do things WITH you. The nights we kayaked out past the point so we could see the sun set. The quiet mornings when we felt like we were the first ones to make ripples in the water with our paddles. The bike rides that we’d finish with sprints, pretending we were chasing down a hockey player from the other team who was on a breakaway. The walks where we noticed all the things we miss when we drive that same stretch of country lane. The swims, the saunas and then more swims. The time I got up on water skis for the first time and saw you all cheering me on from the boat. Moms don’t get cheers very often, and we don’t necessarily expect or need them. But when we do get woo-hoos and high fives from our kids, it is incredibly special.

I loved all the games we played together. (OK, except Junior Monopoly. I actually hated Junior Monopoly, with its skewed economics where you’re either enjoying an immediate 100% return on investment, or suffering expropriation of your properties with the mere draw of a Chance card, thereby leaving all participants somewhere on the spectrum between indifferent and incensed by the end of the game). But matching wits with you in Connect Four or Qwirkle, playing series after series of Crazy Eights and Uno, and watching your logical minds at work cracking codes in Mastermind were some of my favourite indoor moments of the summer.

I relished the opportunity to watch you be you. Your true natures reveal themselves when you are responsible for combatting your own boredom. I noticed, without judgment, who was more likely to reach for his hockey stick and who was more likely to work a puzzle. I watched as you would spend hours in character as imaginary brothers who are 12- and 11-years-old, respectively, undertaking no end of wild adventures, Stanley Cup quests, and other complicated plot lines. I was intrigued to hear your takes on the books you read, and was sometimes surprised at which ones you loved and which were just OK. I noticed which friends from school you mentioned and which issues from home permeated our summer bubble. I made a mental note of these for when we return home and other factors sometimes muddy our priorities.

I stopped myself on more than one occasion this summer and wished I could bottle these moments, or that I could hit the pause button and keep you at ages 4, 6 and 8, picking raspberries, catching frogs, chasing sea gulls, digging in mud, jumping on trampolines and letting me read stories to you. The summer felt fleeting, perhaps because I don’t know if conditions will ever permit us to have another 65-day spell like this one.

But now it’s time. Tomorrow I send you back to your real worlds of school and sports and social lives. You’re blonder, taller and tanner than when you left. But I think you’re changed in less visible albeit more permanent ways as well. I know I am. I hope we get to do this again sometime.

Love, Mom

Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London.  She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 4, 6 and 8.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzlecorn. Yup, It’s THAT Good!

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You’ve done it!  You’ve just survived the first week of school.  Now it’s time to celebrate. . . and you can forget the wine.
Popcorn, Indiana has just launched their newest and in my opinion, their most yummy treat yet . . . Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzlecorn.
We’ve told you before that we get sent treats, products and books all of the time to sample and try out but we only write about these things unless we truly love them or think our readers will love them.
Well this time I am telling you to step away from your computer, put down your hand-held device and run to your nearest grocer to pick up Popcorn, Indiana’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzlecorn.  I love this stuff and I bet you will too!
The chocolate and peanut butter balance nicely with the crunchy, lightly salted kettle-popped corn.  I opened the bag expecting to nibble on a few kernels but then the hounds, err boys, whom could practically smell the deliciousness and sense my sheer elation descended on the open bag like a pack of starving wolves.  Within minutes the bag was empty and we were licking chocolately, peanut butter from our fingers.
This hand-crafted popcorn contains nothing artificial or high fructose corn syrup and at 180 calories for 1 1/2 cups you won’t feel too guilty about indulging in this delectable treat.
Unless you eat the entire bag.  Yourself.