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….

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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.

Back To School: Getting & Staying Organized

IMG_1451I was never one of those kids who bemoaned the end of summer holiday. I was the one that was stalking the aisles of Zellers for three-ring binders and fresh stacks of lined paper in July. For me, September is the unofficial start of the year and I still revel in the anticipation of the new school year. I love organizing my supplies, charting the schedule and re-working our routines.

Here are some back-to-school products and tips that I like for this September. Sound off with a comment and let us know if you agree, what you’re planning for this back-to-school season and what you know is an absolute bust!

Let’s start with the backpack. Kids need a good, sturdy backpack. I am of the mindset to buy little packs for little bodies. I don’t think that kids should be carting around the entire contents of their desks, their gym clothes and their lunch. I tend to believe that if it doesn’t fit, you probably don’t need to carry it. Bigger kids – a completely different story.

Of course LL Bean does their classic knapsack in a variety of sizes. They are incredibly durable and can be monogrammed. The downside: three boys at my son’s school have the same pack and the same initial as my son. The first day of JK we had a mix-up and there were tears (his, not mine). That’s why I love these packs by Herschel. They are reasonably priced and come in a variety of sizes. This one is from Mini Mioche, a conscious, ethical shop located in the Distillery District in Toronto.

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What goes in the pack is just as important as the pack itself. Staples is my go-to for office/school supplies. They’ve got everything that I need and even more that I don’t! I love these life-time guarantee three-ring Better Binders that they carry. I remember throwing away several binders at the end of each term when I was a student and they are probably wasting away in a landfill somewhere.

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Colourful markers, like these neon Sharpies, are not only fun to write with, they are instrumental in keeping the schedule organized. I have colours for each child and everything is written in those colours.

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I have budding writers at home and leaning on my experience as a classroom teacher, I know how imperative it is that children learn how to hold their pencil correctly. It seems like such a little thing but holding a writing tool the proper way actually assists in proper letter formation, and reduces muscle fatigue (among other things!). I have a package of these grippers and will be buying even more this year . . . they seem to go missing as often as socks.

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Homework is never fun (unless you’re me!). My boys whine a little bit, but I created homework boxes much like this one. I keep it on the desk and when they’re doing homework on the go, it’s easy to toss into the bag. I like to put a checklist on the outside of the kit and it’s a weekly job to ensure that the homework kit is properly stocked and pencils are sharpened. In our kit: 2 pencils, 1 eraser, 1 highligher, 1 ruler, 1 mini-stapler, 1 pair of scissors, a few coloured pencil and a glue stick. Make sure to toss dried-out markers or broken pencils. Always, always, always have a stack of presentation boards available because it never fails that on Sunday night at 7 pm, someone says that they need a piece for a project due tomorrow!

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Organized homework stations can help to alleviate homework anxiety and reduce procrastination. A homework station that is sufficiently stocked (not too cluttered, not lacking for anything), and neat might be what’s needed to reduce the entire family’s stress level. Consider using file folders and vertical boxes, one dedicated to each child to store on-going projects or paperwork that comes home from the classroom. Also,have a file folder for you too! You need one place to keep all of those permission forms that need your signature. Clare Kumar, an organizing expert, suggests going vertical instead of using horizontal trays or pegboards. I have to agree.

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I don’t have any locker occupiers, but this kit speaks to my desire to organize and de-clutter. This locker kit, also available at Staples, comes complete with magnets, a magnetic pencil box, locker wallpaper, magnetic mirror and magnetic dry erase and marker. The kit is available in a variety of looks so your tween can express themselves. . .

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and might look like this inside your tween’s locker . . .

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Collect While You Spend!

Back-to-school hits the bank account hard. Other than Christmas, this is the time of year my credit card takes a pounding so why not shop online and collect points that you can cash-in to help with the holiday crunch that will be here before we know it. The best way to stay rewarded while checking-off the back-to-school wish list is to shop through AIR MILES Shops (airmilesshops.ca) that has partnered with brands such as Indigo, LL Bean, GAP, Old Navy, Toms and Roots. Many of these stores carry packs, lunch sacks, school supplies and uniform pieces that you may have planned to purchase already, so why not shop online through airmilesshops and collect? Come December you can redeem those miles and tick-off the holiday gift list.

Vote With Your Dollars

I always go back to what Carol says, “We vote with our dollars.” Me to We has partnered with Free The Children and Staples to help make a difference in the lives of children and their families in a Free The Children developing community. The program is so simple. Every purchase makes a difference! For example, when you purchase a lunch pack, Me to We will donate food to feed a child. When you buy a water bottle, Me to We will donate clean water to a child. What’s more, Me to We products have a tracking number that is entered on-line so you’re able to learn more about the gift your purchase gave and how it changed the life of a child or family. Imagine the potential for change if everyone bought just one Me to We item for their back-to-school list this year. That’s voting with your dollars!

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It’s first day of school today and so I would like to wish all of the students a wonderful year of learning, friendship and fun. I would like to wish all of the teachers a year of inspiration, engagement and fun. I would like to wish all of the parents, good luck!

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Let’s Talk About Sex

It may seem strange that it wasn’t until I was 25 and pregnant with my first child before I had meaningful conversations about sex with my girlfriends.

I wasn’t a naïve bride or ignorant in the ways of the birds and the bees, but my swollen belly was much like a cryptic knock upon a hidden away door.  One glance at my tummy and there was no disputing that I had, in fact had sex.  The jig was up and there was no ignoring it.  In fact, that was it.  No one was ignoring it.

My GP: I am surprised it didn’t take you very long.  Did you have sex everyday or every other day?

My OB: So, when do you think you conceived?

My students: Ew, that means Mrs. Jones had S-E-X.

My pregnancy gave me permission to talk about sex with confidence beyond girlish whispers or bravado. And I did.  I talked about sex with friends who were trying to get pregnant.  I talked with my pregnant friends about the sex that they were having (or not having).  At my regularly scheduled doctor appointments the doctor would inevitably grumble something about sex and I would mumble something back both of us preoccupied with my ever expanding fundus.  The belly gave me confidence that I had never been aware that I lacked.

If the pregnancy allowed me knowledge of this club- this freedom to talk about sex so openly- the baby that subsequently followed was my guaranteed admittance.

I crossed a threshold and was granted access to the inner sanctum where real, meaningful discussions about sex occur between girlfriends.  The women in my ever-growing circle share their stories, their fears, their frustrations, their longing, their desires.  They pass along well-intended advice and offer up suggestions.  Sometimes there are tears.  Sometimes there is sadness. Sometimes there is laughter.  Lots of laughter.

This isn’t the Cosmo talk.  It’s not even Sex and City chatter.  This is real-women, real-life talk.