Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Are Coming to Toronto!

tmntThe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming to Toronto, and we are going to meet them!  And you can too!!

Youngest is very excited, and since Eldest is doing a unit on graffiti in his art class, he’s also going to come along to witness the Street Art Battle.  Four graffiti artists will be put to the challenge in a live competition to channel their “inner Ninja Turtle” and pay a fitting homage to each of the Turtles – Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo – named after renaissance artists.

Fans of the series that airs on Nickelodeon and YTV can watch their favourite Turtles come to life on 7X7 ft. canvases, and then vote online to determine the winning design that will be made available for purchase as an exclusive t-shirt at Walmart Canada this fall.  (Check out the link for more details.)

Here’s what you can do if you come along:

• Meet and take photos with the Turtles: Michelangelo and Raphael

• Share + Show + Get Promotion: Show your #innerninjaturtle on Instagram

for a chance at hundreds of instant prizes including toys, dvds, and be

entered to win an ultimate turtles prize pack ($300 value)

• Face painting

DATE: Saturday, April 5, 2014

TIME: 10AM – 3PM

LOCATION: Yonge-Dundas Square

1 Dundas Street East

And if you leave us a comment about your kids’ love of the Turtles, we can enter you for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle giveaway. 

How to Cast, Rehearse and Perform a Play with 30 Preschoolers in Three Hours

kingYoungest celebrated his sixth birthday this weekend, and when I asked him what he wanted to do for his party, he said, “Put on a play with my friends.”

A full three years ago, Middlest had chosen to do a play for HIS sixth birthday, a fact that I had all but forgotten.  So what was surprising about Youngest’s request was not so much that he wanted to put on a play but that he remembered that such a thing could be done with friends at a birthday party.

I guided Youngest to the theme of medieval knights and castles because he loves to dress up and do sword fights, but also because I had a dozen copies of Castles: How They Work on hand from a previous party!  The book has since gone out of print, so I had to shop for the rest of the books that would go into the guests’ loot bag.  I found Marcia Williams’s retelling of the stories of King Arthur, which was perfect, but I couldn’t get enough copies of that book, either, so I also picked up her retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Now, The Canterbury Tales are not exactly every child’s cup of tea, so I read Williams’s version to make sure that this book would be a good pick to send home with the kids at the end of the party.  Not only was it a great pick, it became the foundation of the three plays that the kids performed on the day.

Youngest is mightily fond of farts.  Honestly, I have never met a boy who delights in the gas we pass more than he does.  The Canterbury Tales is well-stocked with stories with farts, but I stayed well away from those for the plays.  Instead, I adapted The Nuns’ Priest’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale, and The Knight’s Tale to be performed by 6-10 kids in a 10-minute performance.  Thirty kids; three plays; thirty minutes.  That means stripping the story to its bare bones, making sure that there is plenty of action for the kids to perform, and including as much humour and audience participation as possible.

I learned this technique of performing plays with young kids from their fabulous playschool teacher, who regularly works with the kids to perform plays as part of her playschool programming.  Briefly, here’s how it works: the Narrator tells the story, and the kids act it out.  It’s that simple.  In this way, the Narrator has (theoretical) control of the action (this came in handy during the sword fighting scene), and the kids have close guidance of what to do and say.  The kids can create their own characters and story, which is what I did for the party three years ago, or you can narrate a story that you have prepared.


Here is how I stripped down and adapted The Nuns’ Priest’s Tale:

Chantecleer the Rockstar Rooster

Pertelote the Rockstar Hen

The Fox

The Chickens

In the courtyard of a castle there lived a rooster, Chantecleer, his wife Pertelote, and a brood of happy chickens. Chantecleer was very proud of his very fine voice, and the whole castle depended on his morning call. He and Pertelote would greet each day in perfect harmony, and at the end of the day, all of the birds would curl up to sleep.

One morning, before the sun rose, Chantecleer began to moan and groan in his sleep. The noise woke Pertelote, who then shook him awake. He had had a very bad dream. He dreamed that an orange monster with pointy ears, a long, pointy nose, white, sharp teeth and a bushy tail had chased him around and around and tried to eat him!

Ask Audience: What could it be?

He was sure that the dream had a meaning and that it meant that he should not sing his beautiful song that day.

Pertelote told him that was nonsense. She said his bad dream was because he had eaten too much the night before. She told him not to worry and to hurry up and get ready for their morning song. She gave him his microphone, and they both got ready to sing.

Ask Audience: Are you ready for their song? What will it sound like? Sing along if you know the words.

PLAY first verse and chorus of “What Does the Fox Say?” (heh heh)  Chickens dance and sing.

Well, the Fox did NOT like this song, not one little bit. So he hid behind a bush to watch for his chance to eat Chantecleer and put an end to this nonsense.

Chantecleer saw the fox hiding and was very afraid. Pertelote was afraid. The happy chickens were afraid, and they all crowded together. Chantecleer began to run away, but the clever Fox said,


He told him he had come to make friends and to hear his singing, which was famous even all the way to the forest. Chantecleer was very proud of his voice, so he was easily tricked into trusting the fox.  The fox said that his voice would sound even better if he did one special trick. The Fox showed him exactly what to do: close his eyes and stretch his neck way, way up.  So Chantecleer closed his eyes and stretched his neck way, way up.

And the Fox snapped him up and carried him off to the forest. He ran this way and that. The chickens ran after him, trying to save Chantecleer, but they could not keep up.  They stopped to catch their breath.

Oh! Poor Chantecleer! It looked like his goose was cooked, but Chantecleer was not just any pretty chicken. He had brains and he planned to use them.

He said, “Stop, Fox! You have outrun them now. You can slow down and tell the chickens that they might as well go home.” The Fox, who was not the sharpest crayon in the box, was quite happy to boast of his success and he opened his mouth to reply.


Ask audience: what will happen next?

Chantecleer flew free and flew to the top of a tree.

Poor Fox. He tried to flatter the rooster back to ground, but Chantecleer was older and wiser now, and crowed triumphantly at the monster from his dream.

Actors take a bow.

Beautiful literature, it is not.  However, it was a whole lot of fun to rehearse and perform this story with a group of 4-6 year-olds.

Here is what we did to prepare:

Props and costumes: Chantecleer, egg carton chicken masks, toilet roll microphone, fox nose and ears.

Props and costumes: Chantecleer, egg carton chicken masks, toilet roll microphone, fox nose and ears.

1.  Invite guests to attend the party in costume and tell them that they will have a chance to perform in a play.  Have extra costumes on hand.  (We have years’ worth of Halloween costumes.)  Lots of knights and princesses came to this party.  One child came as a dragon, so I added a dragon to one of the plays.  I needed a brood of chickens, so Youngest and I made chicken masks from egg cartons ahead of time.  All of the chickens wore princess dresses.  No problem.  The play is large; it can contain multitudes.

2.  After all the guests arrive, gather them in a circle and tell them, very briefly, the story for each play.  Then ask for volunteers for the roles.  Kids can also choose to just watch the plays.  The first stage of casting is done.

3.  Work with groups of 6-10 kids at a time.  Rehearse in a space separate from the rest of the kids so that there are no distractions and so that the final production will be new to the kids in the audience.  Tell the story briefly again, and finish assigning the roles.

4.  Now begin rehearsing.  The Narrator stands “on stage” with the kids and narrates the action of the play from downstage, nearly in the wings; the kids act out what is being narrated.  As you go, elicit what their characters would say.  Some kids will be eager to say lines.  Some will not.  You can narrate for the kids who would prefer not to speak.  Some kids will decide that they don’t like the role they chose.  Switch roles.  Some kids will decide they don’t want to perform.  That’s fine, too.

5.  Rehearse each play separately, then assemble all the kids for the Final Performance.  I invited parents to return for the last hour of the party to watch the plays.  Each group takes a turn performing its play.

6.  Have fun.  Expect hiccups.  Roll with it.

The party was a three-hour whirlwind, and while I rehearsed with the kids, my husband and the parents who had stayed for the party supervised those who were not rehearsing.  They grazed at the food table, they played, they did not kill or maim each other with their toy swords.  I knew we would not have time for cake, so after the performance, we sang “Happy Birthday,” then each guest went home with a book, a bookmark made by the birthday boy, and a birthday cookie made by the amazingly talented Christy at DolceDesserts.

photo 1

And then I sat down and did not get up for a good, long time.

Vacation of our Dreams, Times Three

untitledEldest wants to go to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Middlest wants to go on an African safari.  Youngest wants to go to Disney.

Me?  Any and all of the above, with just one child at a time.

If time is a parent’s most precious resource, quality time alone with each child is even more hard to come by.  In the vacations of my dreams, I get to take one child on his own on a life-changing adventure.  And since I’d be more than happy to do all of the above, I’ll let the kids decide.

I am a traveller who is pretty well wed to her itinerary.  I like to plan carefully, cover as much ground as humanly possible, and leave with no regrets of opportunities missed or sights unseen.  One of my favourite passages from Jennifer Coburn’s We’ll Always Have Paris comes after she and her daughter have decided on a whim to do things out of order, swapping the days for museum visits.  After going through the Museum of Modern Art in Rome, she says to her daughter,

 “There isn’t a piece in here that I am not one hundred percent in love with….”

“Aren’t you glad we changed the days?” Katie asked.

“We didn’t change the days; we let the days change us.”

Days that change us is what I’m after.  I’m willing to step outside of my safety zone to do that.

I’d also love to step out of my usual roles.  I am the voice of Chores and Homework and The Almighty Clock.  I am the Referee.  I’d really like not to be The Referee.  Yes, a dream vacation would free me up from the roles that pin me down.

Aside from the benefit of not having to be on sibling rivalry duty, time alone with each boy would make the vacation our own special thing.  I love having our own special thing.  My boys all know that I love them, but there’s no substitute for a private joke, a special treat or an amazing memory for cementing that love.

Oh, I’m loving this dreaming so much I just want to go off and plan it!  Not Kilimanjaro, maybe, but local hike.  Not a safari, but a trip to the zoo.  Not Disney, but Canada’s Wonderland is on our doorstep.  Some in-our-own-back-yard special things.

Unmet Needs

483px-Poligraf_PoligrafovichWe are considering getting a dog.  Shoot me now?

It was not long ago (last week, actually) that I thought that I just could not face the unmet needs of another living creature.  Then my three little living creatures went away without me for a while, and the space that opened in my day and in my mind began to welcome the idea of a dog.

(I would much, much rather have a cat.  I like their independence, their aloofness.  I like that they don’t need picking up after.  But we have allergies in this house that will not permit feline company.)

For so long I felt swamped by the needs of my children, but I have begun to look up and look about me.  I can do more.  I can take on more.  I don’t feel in constant need of rescue, and, in fact, I feel perfectly able to help others.  A tip of balance has taken place, putting me up above the morass of maternal obligation, giving me a wider view.  I could welcome a dog.  I could do it.

And then a little voice inside me says, “It’s a trap!  The kids are nearly all at school full time.  This is your time.  Do not take on the burden of another young thing.”

When does the balance tip between feeling burdened by the dependence of a loved one and so enriched by it that you forget the obligation?

We are close, very close, but it will not happen soon.  My eldest son, 12, just returned from a winter camping and dog sledding trip and is all enamoured of dogs.  He came upstairs the other night, after dinner and hockey practice and showering and doing homework, with a speech ready to persuade us of his ability to take care of a dog and of all the merits of having a family pet.

“Hold on,” I said.  “Before you begin this speech in earnest, have you taken out the garbage?”


“And have you, by any chance, emptied the dishwasher?”

“Good point.  I will be right back.”

I believe his speech will take some fine tuning.  I did not say, “no.”  Instead, we gave him a research project to find out the best options for breeds, adoption, etc.

In the mean time, my husband and I bring up the topic occasionally, and weigh the pros and cons.  Looking, looking for that balance, that moment when things will tip us into the realm of canine love and dependence.

A Perfumed Evening

scentI hosted my neighbourhood book club this month, and my choice was Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent.  It’s a wonderful account of his year following a perfumer and a celebrity as they create new fragrances: Claude Ellena, who makes Un Jardin sur le Nil, his first as the in-house perfumer for Hermes, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who embarks on her first fragrance for Coty, Lovely.

We often do food and drink that’s linked to the book in some way, so I got rose Turkish Delight, Chowder’s violet candies, lavender jelly for the cheese board, and I made a cardamom and ginger dressing for the cantaloupe and a rosewater-flavoured yogurt for the strawberries.  Yum!  For drinks, I had spiced rum punch and Elderflower pear cider and Elderflower liqueur.  All highly recommended!

As part of the evening, I got samples of the perfumes Burr discusses in the book, and I asked everyone to bring their favourite perfume: a smell and tell component to the evening.  We had a tour through all the samples, and it was striking how polarized opinion could be on some of the perfumes.  My favourite perfume, Dzing! by l’Artisan Parfumeur, makes me deliriously happy because it smells like hay and animals and, yes, a bit like manure.  Two other women who smelled it smelled, wait for it, electrical fire!!  One of them had had an electrical fire recently and said it smelled exactly like it.  Obviously not a happy connection.  We rounded out the night by discussing the book and told stories about our fragrance memories and about how we came to love our favourites.

imagesUB2XEPSXWe all had our memories of heavy perfumes we left behind with our youth, like Rive Gauche, Poison, Anais Anais, Obsession and Ralph Lauren.  Do you remember those?   We all had memories of women in our lives who are inseparable from their fragrances.  For me, it’s my mother and Youth Dew.  Inseparable.

My fascination with all things perfume truly began about five years ago when I discovered that there exists a perfume called In the Library, made by Christopher Brosius for CB I Hate Perfume.  It turned out that the only woman in Toronto to carry his perfumes was right around the corner.  Sadly, I really did not like the smell of In the Library, but two of the notes in it, Tobacco and Old Leather, were available as individual scents.  I bought them on the spot, and gave them to my husband to wear.  They are simply scrumptious, and it gives me a profound sense of calm and pleasure to smell those scents on him.  I have since bought about six of his perfumes, each with its own wonderful story and unfolding pleasures.

His In the Library started me on a quest to find other perfume that smelled like books.  I’d get very strange looks when I asked about it, but one store owner who really knew his stuff said, “Nothing like books, but what about hay?  Some people think this one smells like paper.”  And he introduced me to my beloved Dzing!  His store has since disappeared, so my favourite scent remains elusive.  All the better to make you yearn, my dear.

What perfumes have you forever left behind?  What are your current favourites?

Family Chess Night: The Gift of Experience

For Father’s Day this year, the kids and I gave Ted a Family Chess Night.

Little G plays a pawn game.

Little G plays a pawn game.

The two oldest had been selected for their school teams for the end-of-year chess tournaments, and with their successes we thought it would be fun to bring the competition home.  It took us until November to get the night booked, but it was well worth the wait.

You can tell they are related because they all hold their faces when they play.

You can tell they are related because they all hold their faces when they play.

We asked the kids’ wonderful chess coach from The Chess Institute of Canada to come and do a family night of chess fun for us all.  (And by “us” I mean “them” not “me”; I don’t play chess.  Yet?  This was designed to be a Dad and his boys kind of thing.)  I knew that it would be fun because I saw how my kids engaged with Yakos during chess club and during tournaments.  You could not hope to meet a more enthusiastic and supportive coach, and having presented him with the idea for a family night of chess, I was sure that he could plan activities that would work for the four chess players who live here.  He told us he was excited to have been asked, and he put together 90 minutes of games, puzzles, riddles, and a 3-on-1 match.  I observed, took photos, and reveled in seeing the boys compete with their dad for the family tournament points.

Yakos plays three against one.

Yakos plays three against one.

I love gifts that are experiences, and this was one of those experiences that made me grin from ear to ear all night.  Everyone had fun, everyone learned something new about chess, and we spent the evening together in a place that was not a hockey rink.  Good times!



Animal Stories at the Gardiner Museum

4Mothers were lucky enough to be invited to the first of five readings in the Kids Can Press Reading Series at the Gardiner Museum, during their run of Animal Stories: Friends, Foes, Fables and Fantasy.

We went along to hear and to meet Cybele Young, author of Ten Birds, and now, Ten Birds Meet a Monster.  The event was a great afternoon activity, and they had snacks and activities on hand for the kids.  There was face painting and a crafts table, and, of course, we bought our own copy of Ten Birds Meet a Monster, just in time for our Halloween books advent.   Cybele Young was right there, at the crafts table, working with the kids, which is such a fun way to get to know an author and illustrator.  While my little guy got his face painted, his brother sat and coloured pictures of the birds we were about to meet in the book.


After the reading, we headed into the Gardiner’s Animal Stories exhibition, a collection that I found equally well curated for old and young.  The exhibition spans more than three centuries of visual culture, and it reveals not only that animals are a constant source of inspiration, but also demonstrates how animals mediate our relationship to nature.  There is a sculpture of a monkey pouring tea that I stood contemplating for ages.  Coffee addict that I am, I was struck by how the sculpture evoked the ideas of stimulation, steeping, pouring (over), and sipping–all through an animal stand-in for the tea-seller.

There is a section with kids’ books to keep the kidlets occupied while you do your standing and contemplating, as well as many pieces that come from children’s books and appeal to them directly.

The highlight of the exhibition, by far, was being able to see a Barbara Reid work up close.  A page from her retelling of the Noah story, Fox Walked Alone, is on display, and to be able to see the detail of her plasticine creations is a real treat.  portfolio30[1]

The Kids Can Reading Series continues on Sundays through November and December, and is free with the price of admission to the Gardiner.

Guest Post: Binge Week by Christina Markham

As the school year approaches (so quickly), we become more and more aware of the total change about to engulf us.  We have been living the last 8 weeks in a selfish and fun world.  La-la land has nothing on this family.  Over the summer, we stay up late, watch movies, play video games, and do all the things we don’t have time or don’t allow during the school year.  We also eat at the wrong time and wake up at the wrong time – it’s like self-inflicted jet lag, only happy.   I am fortunate that I can set my work schedule, and choose to work significantly less so that I can enjoy summer with my kids.

When I was a kid, our summer vacations were spent playing hide and seek on the block until 11pm, sleeping in, watching some tv, going to museums, science centres, zoos and water parks, and just plain old relaxing.  There was no pressure.  We didn’t have too many organized activities and I am grateful for that.  Good quality family time.  I think there are enough demands through the school year, that some down time over the summer is healthy.

With our own school schedule particularly swamped, I try to do the same with my kids.   Anything goes. We didn’t totally dumb it down, we did nature walks, bike rides, exploring and being tourists in our own city.  We always go to a few attractions that are new to us.  (This is especially fun because I am teaching them something new, and they are none the wiser!!!)  We visited libraries, pioneer village, zoos and similar attractions.  But all in the name of fun, and on our schedule.  We usually start out with a bang.  We have a (huge) list of things we want to do, all good intentions, but we somehow lose steam as our relaxing mode kicks in.

This brings us to the last week of summer, or binge week.  This is the week where we (the kids and I) go with our guts and do all the things leftover from our vacation list.  It is their week to really say goodbye to summer and come to grips with the upcoming school year.  Although they are excited to return to school, meet new teachers and reconnect with friends, they are not quite ready to bid farewell to the lazy days of summer.

This has become more or less a lazy type of tradition, but nonetheless, our tradition.  The only way to move on from something is to give closure.  This is our closure.

Binge week events:  Family movie nights with homemade popcorn, watermelon on the back porch (with coffee for me!!), days spent in our pyjamas, visits to local pools and playgrounds, long walks or bike rides, more coffee, very little cleaning, minimal cooking.  Some may say it’s a good time to re-create the school year routine, and to that I say HA!  It’s no fun going to bed early, and rising early.  We have 10 months ahead to do that.  We make sure the last week of summer is our most memorable.  My husband often works less over summer, but especially this week for that super quality time with family.

We are a family of many rules (maybe too many) during the school year, but summer is sacred.  Keep it fun.

the kids bidding farewell to the cottage for another summer

the kids bidding farewell to the cottage for another summer

Farewell to Summer

That’s all, folks.  It’s the last week of summer vacation for most of us in Canada, and school resumes the Tuesday after Labour Day.  Does this news leave you feeling like this:

photo via Angrivated

photo via Angrivated

or are you less joyful about the back to school period?

This week, the 4 Mothers bid farewell to summer, with posts about our end-of-summer plans and traditions.

Hyundai Hockey Helpers and Kidsport

It’s August!  It’s the height of summer!  Let’s talk hockey!

All three of my boys are off to hockey camp this week, and we have done the Great Hockey Gear Excavation followed by the Great Equipment Shuffle.  The boys have grown, the skates have, mysteriously, multiplied, and after this round of trying things on, we only need a few bits of new equipment this year.

The costs of hockey add up quickly, and that can make hockey difficult for many families.  That’s why I’m always happy to help and help promote organizations that make it easier for families to get their kids on the ice.

Hyundai Hockey Helpers and its not-for-profit partner, KidSport, recently sent us this information to share.  They have teamed up with Norris Trophy winner and Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, his father Karl, and his family. The Subban family knows first-hand what it’s like to make financial sacrifices with five children and three boys playing hockey (younger brothers Malcolm and Jordan were recently drafted to NHL teams). They are also shining examples of the immeasurable benefits sports can provide socially and for the community.

P.K. Subban has a special place in my heart, because my eldest was moved to write a poem about him in his rookie year for an assignment at school.  Subban is still his favourite player, and he follows his career closely.  I love that he has added this charity to his public profile.  A great role model on so many levels.

Father and former principal Karl Subban has provided Hyundai Hockey Helpers with a list of tips for other parents to help their kids develop into the best player they can be.  I love all of these tips, and endorse them wholeheartedly.  Balance, fun, giving back.  All essential to the child athlete.

Karl SubbanKarl’s Tips

1.     Kids need balance. While long drives to tournaments and early morning practices can be overwhelming, it’s important to include family and play time. A child overwhelmed with a demanding schedule may soon lose his or her passion for the game.

2.     Kids need direction. Let your kids know why they are participating in an activity. Not only are they gaining skills to be a better player, but they are gaining the skills to be a better person, including confidence, teamwork, and communication. And most of all, they are playing to have fun.

3.     Motivate by rewarding effort, not wins. It’s easy to take your child out for an ice cream if they win a game, but it means more to celebrate milestones achieved through hard work and perseverance.

4.     Remind children that they get better over time, not over night. Kids can get frustrated when they don’t feel they are making progress. Maintaining current skills is an accomplishment, and those tiny, incremental improvements are leaps and bounds for children.

5.     Keep them fueled. Aim for balanced meals, but don’t obsess over nutrition. Kids can be picky. Try feeding them like a professional athlete and you will fight a losing battle. Remember, even pancakes (our family favourite) have protein-rich milk and eggs.

6.     Be an active listener. You want to influence young people, but more importantly you want to inspire them. Listen to your child’s subtle cues.

7.     Teach kids the importance of giving back from a young age. Regardless of socio-economic status, all kids can give back.  Whether it’s giving up a seat on public transit to someone in need or holding a door, small acts of kindness can go a long way to instill the values that ultimately make a great hockey player.

8.     It truly does take a village to raise a child, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Organize a car pooling schedule for your team. If finances are an issue, there are organizations that can help for almost every sport. Hockey parents in need can visit HyundaiHockey.ca to confidentially apply for grants for equipment and registration fees.