picklesink

A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

I’ve been bitten (and stung) by the gardening bug!

One of the first things that attracted us to our house was the amazing perennial garden – carefully planted to bloom all season and attract butterflies and hummingbirds and complete with pond, waterfall, and koi. I had a sort of naive belief that such an amazing garden would inspire me to become some sort of earth-mama tree-hugging wood-nymph magically endowed with the body of Gwyneth Paltrow, the fashion sense of Nicole Richie, and the horticultural knowledge of Luther Burbank.

I very quickly discovered that this was not the case and my naive belief switched over to, “No worries – these sorts of things take care of themselves, right?”

Not so very much.

Two  years later, with the koi dead and my garden replaced by a waving 3-foot tall sea of something I learned was called “goutweed,” I despaired and called for help, hiring a gardener to dig everything out and restart. She has been maintaining the garden for me for the last couple of years, but this year Ian and I have decided to take a leap of faith and go at it ourselves (with lots of advice and guidance from my neighbours and my fabulous sister-in-law Mel).

In progress

This plan has been somewhat complicated by poor Ian’s debilitating hay fever, which seems to be experiencing its worst year ever! The last couple of weeks have seen him sneezing non-stop even when dosed up on antihistamines, but it seems to be settling down now. He has been soldiering on though and we can happily report major progress over the last weekend!

Here’s the situation as it stands:

The Garden

We have a fully planted perennial garden – lots of green stuff, lots of flowering stuff, lots of bulbs and shrubs.

Before 2

Crowded garden – Pretty flowers, but way too many!

With all the lovely rain we’ve been having, EVERYTHING is growing and and spreading like crazy so the plants are encroaching on each other and there are no pathways to get through any of it to weed.

Before 1

Plants all vying for space – lilies, blue mystery plant, and sweet pea.

Where the pond used to be is now a bog garden (layers of rock and gravel under the soil to keep it moist for water-loving plants but without standing water on the surface for mosquitoes to bred). The goutweed was never fully eradicated – it’s still in our neighbours’ yards and spreads by its root system under the fences.

Before 3

Overgrown garden – clumps of lily, euonymus, clematis, and iris. The goutweed is poking through the fence into the grass on the right.

There is a section at one side of the garden that I tried growing vegetables in 2 years ago but didn’t plant last year that is now overgrown with weeds (plus a few clumps of an identified plant that my neighbour didn’t recognize but said I should keep).

The Plan

Thin everything out so there is space between plants, mulch EVERYWHERE, and edge with stones. Take out some of the repetition and experiment with new plants, especially hummingbird and butterfly-attracting plants. Plant my potted kitchen herbs in the bare (former vegetable patch) section. Prune back shrubs. Learn how to maintain everything (when and how to prune what) and weed regularly. Teach Ben and Molly to help out (if I’m not paying them, it’s not child labour, just character-building, right?).

Progress Report

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve pulled out all the weeds along the fence and taught Ben and Molly to recognize the goutweed and pull it if they see it (“See these leaves? These are yucky! If you see them, pull them out right from the bottom of the stem and say, ‘Get out of our garden, yucky plant!!'”). On Saturday Ian bought 20 bags of mulch and we spent the afternoon weeding, edging, laying stones, pruning shrubs, and transplanting the herbs, and put down one bag of mulch in the back corner. I also transplanted a random patch of wild strawberry from the middle of the lawn to what I’ll now start calling the kitchen garden. Sunday afternoon we were back at it again but my efforts were cut short by an event that can only be described in rhyme:

There once was a pretty young lass,
Who was gardening up like a boss,
When a bumblebee thought
She had disturbed his spot
And stung her right up on her upper upper thigh.

After that I took a little break to nurse my injured…dignity.*

During 2

In progress – the kitchen garden has been weeded and edged with stones and my potted herbs planted – lavender, chives, and oregano. The little green patch in the middle is the wild strawberry tranplanted from the lawn.

During 6

This section is in progress – I haven’t decided whether or not to mulch the kitchen garden (left side). My rhubarb is in the centre and the bog garden to the right.

Despite the fact that it has been a literal pain in the rear-end, I am starting to feel the earth-mama vibe… I have found, weirdly enough, that I’m more comfortable barefoot while I’m gardening than wearing shoes, though I have to wear gloves because I hate getting my hands dirty and the bugs freak me right out. Yes, the irony has been pointed out to me. I’m also starting to get excited not only about the prospect of finishing what I’ve got but also about experimenting with new plants and sharing the ones I’m digging out.

Now I’m just waiting on that Gwyneth body…

Finished section

This is the first finished section! Dappled willow and forsythia bushes pruned and everything weeded and mulched. I may pull out the clump of whatever that is beside the fence (there is more of it in the bog garden on the other side of the shrubs).

Comment time: Gardening aficionados, help!!

Can you identify any of these mystery plants for me?

Unidentified 1

Mystery Plant #1 – fuzzy leaves, flowers starting but no discernible colour yet. This is the one that appeared and my neighbour said to keep.

Unidentified 2

Mystery Plant #2 – spiky stem, water pools at the base of leaves. Growing in the middle of the bog garden, so water-loving. About 2.5 feet tall and there is only one.

Unidentified 3

Mystery Plant #3 – Feathery leaves, flowers starting but no discernible colour. Sort of daisy-like.

Unidentified 4

Mystery Plant #4 – These are in clumps all over. The honeybees and black ants love them.

Do you have any ideas for other plants for me to try out – butterfly- or hummingbird-attracting, pretty, interesting? What are your favourites?

*I have since observed (and confirmed via my old friend Google), that bumblebees nest in the ground. Who knew? (Don’t answer that. It was rhetorical.) It seems that when I moved away from the clump of plants she was buzzing around, I wound up standing right on her house. Anyone know of a non-lethal way to get rid of an underground bumblebee nest in your garden?

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Other parents’ judgement? That’s the leash-t of my worries.

I love Today’s Parent. I don’t always agree with everything in it, but it’s always a good read, and gosh-dang-it, y’all know I’m a sucker for any kind of child development material!

The topic of this month’s “Debate” column is “Should you use a leash to control your toddler?” and I felt it missed the mark. I was frankly offended by Nadine Silverthorne’s assertion that “parents who use leashes look lazy,” and although Amy Morrison’s “Yes” column made a great case for leashes, I was saddened by the caveat that she never actually used one herself due to fear of judgement – a fear that was clearly justified!

Since Today’s Parent hasn’t been able to find anyone willing to admit to actually using a toddler leash, I feel compelled (anyone surprised by that?) to add my own two cents!

Although I use the term “toddler leash” facetiously among friends, it is not at all the same as an animal leash. There is no “obedience training” involved and it is not a punitive device used to jerk back a disobedient pet to ensure compliance born out of fear of a repeat performance. A toddler “leash” or harness is a safety device that allows your child the freedom of walking a few steps away from you while giving you the means to respond effectively to any unexpected danger.

Toddlers value independence above all else. The “Terrible Twos” exist because it is around that age that children first learn to do for themselves, at their own pace, and heaven help the parent who says, “Just let me do it for you!” Is it really fair to strap your fearless little explorer into a 5-point stroller harness just because he or she is too dazzled by the wonderful world around him or her to stop dead every time you shout, “Freeze!”?

Going back to the statement that toddler leash-toting parents “look lazy,” I asked my own mother, who, as a full-time doctor and mother of 3 in the 1980’s is the least lazy person I know (Case in point: She recently returned to work on crutches 9 days after breaking her hip in a skiing accident), what she thinks of parents who use toddler leashes. She responded dryly, “Karyn, if I hadn’t used a toddler leash, your brother Chris wouldn’t be around today.”

When Ben was a toddler, I kept his lightweight harness in my diaper bag, ready to throw on him any time the situation warranted. If I was going to be wandering the Eaton’s Centre or downtown Toronto, or taking a trip to a train station or waterfront with a 2 year-old, you bet your bippy I’d have that leash at the ready!

Ben with leash 2

Ben, on leash, walking by a river in Germany.
©PicklesINK 2013

It was the best option for both of us – Ben was free to explore without being stuck in the stroller or having his hand held (just take a minute to imagine how uncomfortable it must be to have someone much taller than you holding your hand up above your head until it falls asleep, gripping it hard enough that you can’t pull away) and I had the security of knowing that I could stop him if he suddenly bolted towards a hazard.

Ben with leash 3

And Ben, off leash!
©PicklesINK 2013

There are certain situations in which even the most anti-leash parent would be unlikely to argue that a safety harness isn’t a good idea:

Ben with harness on sailboat

Ben on a sailboat with a lifejacket and safety harness.
©PicklesINK 2013

(For the record, the harness Ben is wearing in the preceding photograph is actually an adult boating harness intended for sailboat racing – safety devices ain’t just for toddlers, y’know.)

And how about in the case of special needs children? If you don’t think that’s appropriate, take a minute to walk a mile in some other parents’ shoes by reading the testimonials on this website from users of special needs child-to-adult harnesses. Or take it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak:

I’ve got the best harness in the world. When I first got it I didn’t like wearing it, but now I love my harness. I never get lost and I don’t have to keep holding hands all the time and its comfortable to wear. Big kids and little kids should wear a harness because you are never too old to be kept safe. And I love the colours.

– Tyler, Australia, Age 9, http://www.childharness.ca/testimonials.html

There are important guidelines to follow when using a toddler harness:

1. The whole idea is to give your child the freedom to explore on his or her own terms, so try to follow at his or her pace and guide your child with your words (“Time to go this way! Come on!”). Your child is not a puppy, and the harness is not an choke-chain, so do not jerk him or her back to you.

2. If you aren’t holding the harness, tuck it firmly out of the way, and take it off completely if your child is playing on something like a climber or slide where it could become a strangulation hazard.

3. When it comes to wrist straps, just don’t: If you can manage to get them tight enough to stay on, they’re just a broken wrist waiting to happen.

4. And of course, make sure that you come prepared with pithy rejoinders for those inevitable judgments, such as,

“Well, the breeder suggested that we try this first, but if his behaviour doesn’t improve soon, it’s off to obedience school!”

“Dear God! You’re right! This isn’t my dachshund Olympus – it’s my neighbour’s kid! I can’t believe I did it AGAIN!”

Or the classic, “You know what they say about people in glass houses.”

As Nadine Silverthorne points out, it is our job as parents to teach our children “the rules,” including the expectation that when we say “Freeze,” they will. I say that even more importantly, it is our job to know our own children and to keep them safe whether they are listening or not.  The call-and-response method that she describes is an excellent training tool, but at the toddler age it is simply not foolproof. There is always potential for distraction, and the use of a toddler leash can ensure that a moment’s  impulsiveness doesn’t turn into a life-altering tragedy.

~ karyn (aka that horrible, lazy, toddler-leash-using mom everybody love to judge!)

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The coins on the bus go clink-clink-clink

….assuming you still use coins, and not tickets or some sort of magnetic swipe pass or retinal scan….

(Almost) since the dawn of time, parents have wrestled with the age-old question: When should you start teaching your kids about money?

Scene: A Cave, 500,000 B.C.:

*grunt* *grunt grunt* *grunt* OG *grunt grunt grunt* *grunt GRUNT* [Translation: “How many times to I have to tell you, OG?? The pointed stick is worth 5 flat rocks, not 3!!”]

And when you do talk to your kids about money, HOW do you do it? How do you translate such an abstract concept into something they will understand?

“Experts” suggest starting to talk to your kids about money around age 5-6, talking your kids through the transactions that you make and looking at the relative value of coins and bills. That was hard enough for our parents back when they had, you know, actual money as a frame of reference. I don’t know about you, but it’s an even more intangible entity now since my kids see me making purchases using a plastic card, a series of numbers, or simply by tapping a password onto a touchscreen.

I hadn’t even begun to give any serious thought to this issue, but with Ben’s help, I accidentally stumbled upon an amazing technique that has helped Ben and Molly grasp the concept of money beautifully.

A few months ago, after watching an episode of Franklin the Turtle, Ben said, “Mommy, I have an idea. I think I should do chores, and every time I do a chore, I get a sticker, and when I have 5 stickers, I get a new engine. Okay?” I said, “All right, bud, I love the concept but I think the terms some adjustment.”

After some discussion, Ian and I came up with this plan:

Ben’s Sticker Chores

  • A grown-up assigns a sticker chore or determines if something counts as a sticker chore (Ben can suggest a chore or ask to be assigned one)
  • When Ben completes a sticker chore, he puts a sticker on the calendar, and each sticker on the calendar is worth $1
  • Ben decides how and when he wants to spend his stickers (but we control the rate at which he earns them)

Ben keeps a tally of his stickers in his head (counting them on the calendar to double-check), and keeps revising his plans of what to do with them. Originally he was going to earn 100 stickers so he could buy a double-decker roundhouse for his trains, but he has now changed his mind and is working towards smaller goals. Molly loves to help Ben so many of the chores are actually communal efforts and Ben assures her that she will share in the rewards!

Two days ago was the big day when he spent his first 4 stickers on the Thomas Day of the Diesels app (which was enjoyed by all).

Ben, daddy and Molly with iPod

Daddy, Molly and Ben listening to a Day of the Diesels story at bedtime.
©PicklesINK 2013

When we put this together, I thought it was going to be a simple chore/reward system – I was not thinking of it as a way of addressing the concept of money at all! Around the same time as we started, though, Ben got very interested in doing keyword searches which lead to his finding DVDs and apps on iTunes and asking to download them, saying, “But you just have to put in your password!! It’s easy!”

He just wasn’t understanding why we kept saying “no” until inspiration struck and I said, “Ben, the trouble is, downloading that DVD actually costs 15 sticker chores!”

The lightbulb went on for both of us! Ben said, “WHAT? FIFTEEN! But I only have 5 sticker chores now and I need 100 to get the double-decker roundhouse!! That’s WAY too many!!” and I said, “I know! If we got it, that means unloading the dishwasher FIFTEEN MORE TIMES! That’s a LOT of work, isn’t it?’

stickers on calendar

Money Smarts: Brought to You by the Canadian National Bank of Princess Stickers
©PicklesINK 2013

Since then, everything money-related has been framed as “sticker chores,” and through this analogy Ben has come to understand:

STUFF costs money & money = work; therefore getting stuff = WORK

Whether “money” is represented by stickers, coins, plastic cards, or a password on the computer is irrelevant.

As a grown-up I do well to remind myself of that every once in a while too – when I think back to what it takes to earn that money, sometimes I think twice before clicking “Add To Cart”!

~ karyn

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Yep, this post is going to be about poop.

Molly has been almost completely toilet-trained for about a year, with one notable exception:

Her utter refusal to poop on the toilet.

Now, I’ve done all the right things. I know (theoretically) not to get emotional about it, not to make it into a power struggle, not to let her see that it bothers me…

Molly with iPad on toilet

Molly on the toilet with the iPad. Yes, I went there.
©PicklesINK 2013

I’ve calmly cleaned her up and washed pair of underpants after pair of underpants. I’ve read stories to her while she “has a try.” I spent an hour on my hands and knees scrubbing the carpet the day she (unsuccessfully) changed her own diaper. We’ve discussed the pros and cons of wiping a bum after pooping on the toilet versus changing a diaper.

Ben has even demonstrated for her, repeatedly, the art and science of pooping – “See, Molly? You just push your tummy like this *ERGGHHH* and the poop comes RIGHT OUT – see?!”

I even anthromorophised “Poop” in a long dialogue begging her to please, “Push me out because it’s dark in here and I’m afraid of the dark and I really want to go swimming!” (FYI – Poop has a high, squeaky voice. Don’t judge me. You ain’t seen what I seen.)

I finally concluded that she just wasn’t physically ready, but as of last night I know that this is not true. The problem isn’t that she isn’t capable of controlling her bowels.

The problem is that she’s a JERK.

Last night as we were snuggling together at bedtime, Molly pulled her usual stalling tactic of, “Oh! Mommy! I have to pee and poop!” “Fine,” I sighed, and took her to the bathroom.

As usual, she sat on the toilet, smiled at me, and said, “Nope! No pee or poop!” and I said, “Good! You’d better not poop. In fact, don’t you dare poop. Don’t you push out a poop…because if you do…”

Molly looked me dead in the eyes, grinned an evil grin, said, “I WILL!” and did.

~ karyn

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Don’t be fooled by the cuteness. This shirt isn’t some cutesy ironic saying. It’s a warning. (Shirt reads “TROUBLE”)
©PicklesINK 2013

Update (May 21, 2013): My thoughts are with the moms and dads in Oklahoma who would give anything to change another poopy diaper. Like many of you, I’m going to be hugging my kids a bit tighter today, jerks or not.

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To My Favourite Ben-Magoo on Your 6th Birthday

Oh, my Ben-Magoo…what can I say? You have been full of surprises literally* since the day you were born! I can’t post a pregnant belly picture of you because I don’t have any. I was so busy with school and daddy with his new job that we hadn’t gotten around to taking an artsy belly picture when you decided to make your surprise appearance at only 33 1/2 weeks.

Tiny Ben

Tiny baby Ben in his isolette. His chest is smaller than my hand.
©PicklesINK 2013

You got it in your teeny head that you were ready to be born and there was no stopping you! I was scared at the time but I should have known you had it all under control. They told us that preemies usually have breathing problems – not you! They told us that preemies usually stay in the hospital until their due date – but you made sure you were home in time for my first Mothers’ Day!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We could have fit 5 baby Bens in this Moses basket!
©PicklesINK 2013

Have I told you before how smart you are? I know all moms think “My kid is so smart!” but my Magoo, your intellect continues to astound me. I haven’t been able to win an argument with you since…well, since you learned to talk…and ever since you started moving around you’ve been building and creating amazing structures – first “simple” towers and now extensive multi-level train tracks like Brio Peak.

Stacking

Ben, around 18 months, creating a stack of jars taller than him.
©PicklesINK 2013

You have what your Uncle Chris calls “the knack,” and not only that, you have the single-minded drive, when you come up with an idea, to keep working at it until you see it through. You can get frustrated when things don’t go the way you envisioned though, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes all it takes is a different perspective or a second pair of hands to finish the job, and asking for help is just a way of effectively problem-solving.

You are so kind and loving, my Magoo. We had a bit of a rough patch there for a while after Molly was born. There were times when I got really frustrated yelled too much, and I know that I hurt your feelings and made you sad sometimes, and you still loved me more than anything. But just like I said, asking for help is a way of problem-solving, and knowing how much you loved me gave me the strength to do that. Do you know what else? Me being able to talk about that hard time has given lots of other people the courage to do the same thing, and that’s all thanks to you!

Mommy and Ben

Mommy and Ben snuggles
©PicklesINK 2013

I bet you didn’t know this, Magoo, but there are some kids who are unhappy or mad when a new baby comes home because they have to share their mommies or daddies. I don’t think that ever even crossed your mind, though, because you have loved Molly more than anything since the moment you first saw her.

Grinning big brother Ben holding his brand-new sister Molly.
©PicklesINK 2013

I don’t know if I’ve seen you so sad as the day I told you you couldn’t marry her because she’s your sister! And boy, does she ever look up to you. She thinks that you are just the coolest person ever, and I think she believes you could do absolutely anything.

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Ben plays a private guitar concert for Molly in her jumperoo.
©PicklesINK 2013

I know that now that’s she’s getting older there are times when she gets on your nerves, but even when you two fight you work it out together and go right back to being best friends. I hope you two keep on appreciating and loving each other as much as you do now, even when you grow up.

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Ben and Molly hugs
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben-Magoo, one of the most wonderful things about you is your integrity. I will never, ever forget when you knocked over a pile of socks that Molly had folded, and I said, “Don’t tell Molly you knocked those over because she’ll be sad.” She overheard me and said, “Did Ben knock over my socks?” and I said, “No, monkey, I put them in the laundry basket.” You leaped up and said, “Oh Molly, I did knock them over! I’m so sorry! It was an accident. I’m really, really sorry,” and Molly said, “That’s okay, Ben.”

Then you looked me in the eye and said, “Mommy, you shouldn’t have told that lie.” You know what, Bud? You were absolutely right. It it always better to take responsibility for your actions and face the consequences then to tell a lie to get out of trouble, and you were right to remind me of that.

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Stern Ben dressed as Santa
©PicklesINK 2013

We had something sad happen in our family this year, didn’t we, Bud? Our Papa, your great-grandfather, died. You were so very special to Papa because you were his very first great-grandchild. The first time he held you in the hospital, he looked at me, his face aglow, and said, “Can you believe that I actually have a great-grandson?

Papa and Ben

Papa holding Ben – can you ever see the resemblance!
©PicklesINK 2013

Papa was very special to you, too. It must have been hard wrapping your head around the fact that you were never going to see him again, but you thought about it asked the questions that you needed to to understand, and sometimes I think that you understand better than us grown-ups – Like when you said, “Chris and Caitie are sad because Papa isn’t going to be at their wedding. But really he is going to be there with us, isn’t he?” and when at Christmas you said, “This Christmas our family just isn’t the same, is it, because Papa died.”

You also have  real gift for creativity, Magoo. You and daddy share a special bond with your love of photography. (I know, I know, you don’t have that camera any more. You figured out pretty quickly that kid cameras just couldn’t capture the shots that you wanted and you took over mommy’s!)

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2 year-old Ben with his obsolete kiddy camera
©PicklesINK 2013

You and daddy definitely share that photographer’s eye. I don’t think there are many people who could guess which of you took which of these pictures!

Ben's sunset pic

Sunset on the St. Lawrence
©PicklesINK 2013

(Your artistic shots are great, of course, but my favourites are your self-portraits!)

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Self-portrait by Ben
©PicklesINK 2013

And your creativity and ambition don’t stop with just photography. How many other just-turned-6-year-olds can say that they are published authors?

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Ben opening up his debut book,
Your Favourite Brio Peak Collection
©PicklesINK 2013

 So, my favourite Ben-Magoo, keep on being your super-cool self, just like you have been from the day you were born, even if people tell you it’s wrong. (Except mommy. If mommy tells you you’re doing something wrong, you’d better listen. Because I’m mommy, that’s why.)

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Ben and Molly at Day Out With Thomas
©PicklesINK 2013

Happy 6th Birthday, our favourite guy!

~ Love, Mommy, Daddy, and Molly

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Team Pickles self-portrait. Can someone explain why 3 of us look goofy while Molly photo-bombs the shot with utter adorableness?
©PicklesINK 2013

*and y’all know I don’t use that word lightly.

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10 Ways to Save the Planet

As parents, we can all relate to Kermit – It’s Not Easy Being Green. We are constantly bombarded with “BUY BUY BUY” messages — You need to get the latest toys! You need to get the DVD as soon as it comes out! Look, this one is EDUCATIONAL! Second child a boy? Well, that pink corn-popper ain’t going to cut it – better pick up a gender-neutral one!

Fisher-Price Corn Popper toy – pink
Photo: http://www.toysrus.ca/product/index.jsp?productId=2688007

And don’t forget to buy NEW CLOTHES NEW WASHCLOTHS NEW RECEIVING BLANKETS NEW SHEETS SOPHIE THE GIRAFFE NEWBORN BABY SHOES AT LEAST 5 PAIRS THE LATEST NURSERY MONITOR TECHNOLOGY AND YOU DEFINITELY NEED THAT WIPES-WARMER BECAUSE THERE’S JUST NOTHING WORSE THAN THE FEELING OF A ROOM-TEMPERATURE WIPE ON YOUR BUM CHEEKS.

Ever since my kids memorized The Lorax I’ve gotten much more in touch with my inner tree-hugger, so in celebration of Earth Day I’ve put together a list of 10 ways that Team Pickles tries to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

"I yam the Yorax! I 'peak for the fwees!" ©PicklesINK 2012

“I yam the Yorax! I ‘peak for the fwees!”
©PicklesINK 2012

  1. When it comes to the 3 R’s of living green, REDUCE should always be at the top of the list. We try as much as possible not to consume too much. I try to always shop with a list — if it’s not on the list, we probably don’t need it, and if I can resist the impulse to buy it right then, I probably won’t miss it!
  2. I try to buy things used as much as I can – partly because I’m CHEAP and partly because it’s more environmentally friendly. Second-hand stores are GREAT sources of books, toys, and clothes for kids and adults. Most sports stores have swap programs which can reduce your costs when it comes to getting your kids involved in expensive sports like skiing or hockey. The exception of course is safety equipment like helmets and carseats, which it is best to buy new or receive used from a source you trust.
  3. Make use of hand-me-downs if you are lucky enough to have friends or family members with kids older than yours, and pay it forward (or back to them) when your kids outgrow the items. For a lot of big-ticket baby items, such as crib mattresses and particle-board furniture, used can actually be healthier than new because they will have finished off-gassing their chemicals into your home’s air.
  4. Buy local! You don’t have to follow a strict 100-mile diet, but as much as you can, buy local and in-season to reduce your carbon footprint and support your neighbours and your local economy. I try to plan meals around what is in season and to shop at my local farm stands and farmer’s markets.
  5. REUSE containers, and use reusable containers — my kids go through A LOT of yoghurt, and I use the empty tubs to freeze things like soups, wine (for cooking! Not winesicles! I swear! Although as ideas go…hmmm), and cooking stock. And if you have the choice, store things in washable containers instead of disposable bags.
  6. Think outside the (craft) box — before you recycle cards or paper, think about whether they might be still be useful. I keep pretty paper scraps, Valentine’s cards, post-cards, etc. in a Ziploc bag in Ben and Molly’s craft cubby for their “cutting and gluing” projects. The scraps can also find new life as grocery lists or even the rough notes for a blog post!
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    Rough draft of this post on remnants of a Ben and Molly art project.
    ©PicklesINK 2013

     

  7. Be prepared when it comes to food and travel — I toss snacks and water bottles in my bag for the kids if we’re going to be out for an uncertain amount of time. Apples and bananas are grab and go (and come in their own handy packaging); bagels with cream cheese and plain waffles are easy-to-prepare favourites of my kids as well; and bite-sized crackers and cereal, on their own or in a mix, make great car snacks. (And I’m sure it goes without saying, but of course packaged in reusable containers rather than baggies.) This avoids those grouchy hungry kid meltdowns and saves you money!
  8. REUSE gift bags. Having kids generally means working the birthday party circuit pretty heavily, and I think the same gift bags have been making the birthday party rounds through Ben’s group of friends since they were all born (the friends, not the bags)! Let’s just say I’m pretty sure Ben got a gift last year in a bag that we gave a gift in the year before, and it NOT to the same friend. Now that’s recycling!
  9. On the subject of birthdays, get your kids to make their own birthday cards for their friends (or, in a pinch, use their already made artwork to make a card). It’s fun, inexpensive, green, and personalized. These are two of the cards Molly got for her birthday – Hallmark’s got nothing on these two!

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    Molly’s handmade birthday cards
    ©PicklesINK 2013

  10. Instill these values in your kids as early as you can. Instead of just saying “No!” to buying that toy at Walmart, explain WHY – because they have so many toys already or because we might find it used at another store without all that plastic packaging that will just go in the garbage. Explain that you are having asparagus for dinner because it is in season, which means it’s growing fresh at the farm right down the road instead of being shipped on a big truck across the country using up fuel and making smog. Have them help you pack up the clothes and toys that they have outgrown and talk about how exciting it is that someone else is going to be able to use them now.

If you get your kids involved and invested early, you’ll soon find that they’re the ones keeping on top of you when it comes to saving the planet!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

~ karyn

How do you reduce your carbon footprint? If you have kids, do you find it easier or harder since having them?

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Next month in Cosmo Parenting: How to live your dreams through your kids and look great doing it!!

Wow. This parenting thing is complicated. Every time I sign Ben or Molly up for an activity I have to ask myself:

1. Am I doing this because they like it, or because I like it?

2. Am I choosing this activity to conform to some outmoded gender stereotype, like “girls are supposed to do dance, and boys are supposed to do hockey?”

3. Am I choosing this activity to deliberately DEFY some outmoded gender stereotype, like “wouldn’t it be SO COOL to be the parent of the ONLY boy in ballet class?”

4. Can I even afford the fees, let alone the equipment?

5. What if they don’t like it? Will I make them stick it out, or let them drop it?

I have no coordination. Zero. In fact, less than zero: I have negative coordination. When the good lord was handing out coordination, ze not only skipped me, ze came back and took extra away from me and gave it to Kerri Strug. When I tell people that, they always laugh and say something like, “Oh, yeah, I totally know what you mean, me too, like back when I did my twelve years of dance and gymnastics I was totally awful…” and I think to myself, “I don’t think you quite ‘totally’ know what I mean.”

When I was in Godspell, our Judas, who was also a choreographer, bravely tried to teach us a simple dance number and I had to take him aside and explain, “I need you to understand that when I say ‘I have no coordination and I’m not going to be able to do this,’ I’m not just being self-deprecating – I can try my very hardest to learn it and I can practice it for months but when it comes down to it, I will get up on stage and I will %$&* it right up.” In the end, I got to stand in the back on a sawhorse  playing rhythm sticks, and damn it, I nailed it!

“We Beseech Thee” from Godspell
That’s me in the back – NAILED IT!!
©PicklesINK 2012

With this lack of coordination both coupled with and contributing to my lack of interest, I was a dismal failure when it came to athletic pursuits. I hated every minute of ballet as a preschooler, loved swimming lessons but despised competitive swimming, and never went back after one brief season each of soccer and softball. Skiing was the only exception. Artistic endeavours were more up my alley and I sang in multiple choirs and played in multiple orchestras through my school career and recently discovered a love of acting. I am also amazed by the seemingly effortless skill of dancers, gymnasts, and figure skaters and love watching them. Ian brings the love of competitive and team sports to the equation, with childhood success in swimming and judo and an adolescent and adult rugby and soccer career under his belt.

So when it comes to Question 1, things get pretty complicated. I would LOVE to sign up Ben and Molly for everything under the sun, especially those things I would have loved to do but couldn’t – Wouldn’t it be amazing if Molly became a champion gymnast? A pro hockey player? A prima ballerina? If I get Ben into lessons early enough, he could be a  concert violinist! A pro baseball player! A musical theatre triple threat! All of these things that maybe I could have been if only my parents had started me in lessons when I was 2 and forced me (for my own good, damn it!!) to continue!

Or Ben could be a professional busker…
©PicklesINK 2012

And then Question 2: When Ben was 3, we signed him up for hockey, but we’ve got Molly in dance. What if Ben would like dance better? Are we pigeon-holing him? What about Molly? She seems to like dance, but am I just seeing that because she looks so cute in her pink dance outfits? What if her niche is actually judo? Am I selling her short?

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Seriously, how friggin’ cute is Molly in a dance outfit?
©PicklesINK 2013

Then there’s the flip-side, Question 3: I’m a liberal-minded, enlightened, feminist mom, and I should make sure everyone knows that! Am I letting down the cause by dressing up my daughter in her pink leotard and packing her off to dance class with all the other girls every Saturday? Maybe I should sign Ben up – PEOPLE need to SEE that boys can do ballet too! Ian is really good about calling me on that one. Having grown up as one of four brothers in a fairly traditional family, he leans towards being more comfortable with Ben in gender-normative “boy” activities while being happy to consider trying Molly in anything; and in my “enlightenment” (and those are deliberate air quotes) I am biased towards putting Molly in gender-normative “girl” activities (because SHE LOOKS SO DARN CUTE!) while wanting to push the conformity envelope with Ben. Together we meet in the middle and make a pretty good team.

Not to mention, how friggin’ cute is Ben in hockey gear?
©PicklesINK 2012

And of course Question 4: How privileged I am to even be able to ask this question, and to have it so far down on the list, when for so many families this is Question #1 and none of the other questions even factor into the decision!?! I have to be mindful of just how amazingly lucky we are that we have these opportunities available AND that we can afford to provide Ben and Molly with at least some of them.

Finally, Question 5: What will we do? I don’t know yet. My parents were really good about making us stick things out for long enough to know for sure that we wanted to quit, and I’m thankful for that. I think I’ll have to play that one by ear, and activity by activity. It kind of links back to Question 1, doesn’t it? We will have to make sure that in making that decision, we’re focusing on what Ben and Molly want or don’t want and not what Ian and I want.

With that in mind, of course, I’ll sign Ben and Molly up for violin, piano, hockey, tap, ballet, t-ball, soccer, swimming, acting, gymnastics, ringette, curling, skiing, tuba…or maybe not! I’m trying my best to provide them with a variety of options to see what peaks their interest (so far DEFINITELY dance for Molly, but we haven’t hit on a real love yet for Ben) while not falling into the trap of signing them up for something Every. Single. Night!

Of course, when Molly is a pro tennis player and Ben a Broadway star, I’ll let you know so you can say, “I knew them (or at least read their mom’s blog) when…!”

~ karyn

How do you navigate the crazy world of kids activities?

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The Rainbow Connection

I picked up a really lovely book a while back at the Grand River Book Store at the Five Oaks Retreat Centre outside of Paris, Ontario: God’s Dream, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams.

God’s Dream
Cover art by LeUyen Pham

It’s fitting that I picked it up at the beginning of February, Black History Month, as telling Ben and Molly about Archbishop Tutu sparked a conversation about apartheid and racism. Ben was shocked at the idea that anyone would think that people should be treated differently because of what they look like, citing examples of his friends at school who had different-coloured skin but were just the same as him. We also talked about Archbishop Tutu’s own experience of growing up in South Africa during apartheid and witnessing and experiencing the mistreatment of black people by white people, but always advocating for both change and forgiveness.

God’s Dream comes in both a large hardcover edition with a dustjacket or a smaller board edition; I chose the board book in the interests of durability. The language is simple and the pictures bright and appealing, making the book suitable for children from infancy to school-age. In 28 sentences and 15 illustrations, the book covers love, racism, ageism, diversity, apology, reparation, forgiveness, theism, and universality, delivering as its core message that we are all God’s children, worthy of love and respect, and called to love and respect one another.

The engaging illustrations depict cultural and religious diversity (sadly, as with so many children’s books, it is missing pictures of children with disabilities) and the universal message makes the book relevant to and suitable for families with any theistic worldview not specifically Christianity (or organized religion at all): You could read the story to a group of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish children, for example, and they could each recognize their faith’s core message.

God’s Dream ends with the message that when people fulfill God’s dream by loving one another, “God smiles like a rainbow,” and ends with a picture of a rainbow made up of children’s handprints.

Book illustration

Final page of God’s Dream
Art by LeUyen Pham

Ben and Molly immediately asked if we could do a craft like that, and I suggested that in the interests of size we try fingerprints instead. We started with rainbow-coloured paints in an egg carton…

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Rainbow-coloured paints in an egg carton
©PicklesINK 2013

..then took turns painting each others’ fingers with cotton swabs…

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Molly painting Ben’s finger yellow
©PicklesINK 2013

…and stamped the painted fingers on the canvas to make the rainbow.

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Ben stamping his yellow fingerprints
©PicklesINK 2013

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Ben painting Molly’s finger purple
©PicklesINK 2013

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Molly painting my finger pink
©PicklesINK 2013

Finished painting

Finished rainbow fingerprint painting on canvas
©PicklesINK 2013

The finished product was a complete team effort and is now proudly displayed on the playroom wall.

~ karyn

Have you read any particularly meaningful children’s books lately? What would you recommend?

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Who decided to call it March “Break” anyway?

I’m ba-a-ack!! Sorry about the bloggy hiatus. It’s been a bit of a hectic couple of weeks around here! My car has been fixed, no thanks to Mazda (I won’t get into that though…feel free to scroll back through my Twitter for details). So far I haven’t received the bill, so I’m just pretending it doesn’t exist…not necessarily a sustainable plan over the long term, but it’s working for me right now!

It seems that Mother Nature has decided to tack the winter she forgot to give us last year onto the end of this one. Watching the blowing snow out my living room window day after day I’m starting to feel like I’m trapped in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. But I digress.

We had a great March Break but I don’t think you can really call it a “break!” We went up to my parents’ ski chalet for the week, bringing friends and our babysitter Victoria with us. When we got there, Ben and Molly spent an hour bouncing off the walls – “When are Noah and Ella going to be here? Are they here yet? When are they going to get here? AREN’T THEY HERE YET???” I think that was when Victoria started wondering what she had gotten herself into…

Noah and Ella and their parents arrived and the kids settled right in together:

Hanging out 1

Ben and Noah and Molly and Ella giggling together in chairs (no plans for bedtime any time soon!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah went to ski day camp in the mornings and both improved immensely skiing-wise. Michael (Noah and Ella’s dad) and I got some great skiing in too. I think we managed to go through every snow condition possible – warm, sticky spring, fresh powder, icy pellets, freezing cold dead of winter. It was like the entire ski season compressed itself into 3 days!

Ben skiing 2

Ben skiing. I think this was the really cold day – note the icy patch on his left
©PicklesINK 2013

With a 2-hour group lesson every day, Ben and Noah both improved immensely. Ben continues to work his way through the fast-food metaphors, having now graduated from doing “pizza slices” and onto “french fries.” They also became quite well-known at the hill – “Are you Ben’s mom? Oh my gosh, he and Noah are SO. CUTE. They are so chatty! And they were holding hands while they were waiting for the lift.”

Noah skiing

Looking good, Noah!
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Ben skiing

Ben’s kind of halfway between the pizza slice and the french fries here.
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Much to their mommies’ terror, the reward for a good day of skiing seemed to be a trip down the free-style terrain park. There’s nothing quite like seeing your 5 year-old sliding across rails and off ski jumps to strike cold fear into your heart!

Molly also tried her hand…er…her feet at skiing. Boy, was my back sore after that…

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Mommy and Molly skiing together
©PicklesINK 2013

As I’m sure you gathered from her expression, she hated it! She wasn’t totally satisfied though – I asked how she liked it and she said, “Great! But faster next time, Mommy, okay? Faster!”

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Mommy helping grinning Molly back up at the bottom of the hill
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben finally got to experience his first sleepover. We’ve tried a few times letting him and Molly share a room, and sadly it always ends in disaster. The closest they came to making it work was a few weeks ago when Ben finally fell asleep and stayed that way, despite Molly sitting up beside him kicking him with both legs yelling, “Ben? BEN? Wake up, Ben! I want to play! BEEEEENNNNN!!!”

Ben and Noah, happily, were able to make it work, much to Ben’s delight – “A sleepover with my BEST FRIEND? THIS IS THE GREATEST NIGHT EVER!!” Towards the early hours of the morning we did discover that Ben, like his parents before him, is a cover-hog. My advice for marital harmony, folks? Two words: Separate duvets.

Sleepover

Ben and Noah’s sleepover
©PicklesINK 2013

Thanks to Victoria, we grown-ups were able to enjoy a lovely night out at a beautiful local restaurant called Mrs. Mitchell’s, named after the last and longest-serving teacher at the one-room schoolhouse that now houses the restaurant. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it! (If you can’t get there, at least try making their famous spoon bread at home). The waitress told us one of the best stories ever about my mom and aunt (identical twins): “You know how they look exactly alike but one of them is chattier than the other? For years I thought they were the same person but with multiple personalities. Then one day they came in together and I nearly fell off my chair!”

Mrs. Mitchell’s is also famous for their afternoon tea, which has been a favourite of mine (and hasn’t changed much!) since I was little. Karen and I brought Molly and Ella for a “Princess Tea Party” on our last afternoon.

Princess tea party 2

Molly’s first taste of tea
©PicklesINK 2013

Really, what could be better than an individual basket of fresh-baked scones and sweet potato and walnut muffins served with strawberry preserves, cream, and whipped butter? Not much, say I!

Princess tea party 1

Molly enjoying her muffin
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah made good use of their time while the girls were gone, converting the chalet into a bookstore, complete with window display and “employees only” area.

Bookstore 1

Ben and Noah’s bookshop window display (visible from outside as we drove up!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Bookstore 2

Sign reads “Noah and Ben’s book store – staff only”
©PicklesINK 2013

When we got back, they were down in the “staff only” area hard at work writing and illustrating their debut novel, “Journey To The End Of The Pine River.” [*Spoiler alert*] I assume that part of the story will deal with the existential futility of trying to play Poohsticks with pieces of ice…

Bridge 3

Noah, Ella, Ben and Molly playing Poohsticks with ice – sadly, a losing battle.
©PicklesINK 2013

All in all, an excellent but exhausting week! Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know if you can really call it a “break.” Perhaps the concept was pioneered by a childless school principal – “EUREKA! I’ve just had the Greatest! Idea! Ever!!”

Bridge 4

Definitely worth it, though! Look at those grins!
©PicklesINK 2013

Or maybe it’s actually a clever acronym: March B.R.E.A.K. (Begetting Really Exhausted parents And Kids).

Aftermath

The Aftermath: I think Ian and Molly could have slept for a week!
©PicklesINK 2013

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To My Silly Munkin-Bum on Your 3rd Birthday

Dear Molly,

Time sure flies, eh? Four International Women’s Days ago, I went from this:

Me with pregnant belly
March 8, 2010
©PicklesINK 2013

to this:

Ian, me, and baby Molly – March 8, 2010
©PicklesINK 2013

…and now suddenly, somehow, you’re turning 3! Really – 3, even though I know you sometimes fudge the truth a little. I’ve heard you tell other kids that you’re 4 or 6, and you say it with such conviction that despite all evidence to the contrary, they actually believe you. Because really, who wouldn’t believe this face?

80s Molly

Grinning Molly in 80’s dance outfit
©PicklesINK 2013

I think it’s fitting that you were born on March 8, the day that we celebrate the achievements of women around the world as well as remind the world how far we still have to go. You are well on your way to becoming a strong-minded and empowered woman and I sure hope the world will be ready for you by then, whatever you decide to do or be!

Molly fixing sink 3

Molly fixing the sink
©PicklesINK 2013

As it is, by your 3rd birthday, I’ve already experienced your single-minded determination – like last summer, when you refused to wear anything that didn’t match, which meant that you left the house every day dressed from head to toe in pink (except for the one day a week that you wore your green outfit).

Pink-tastic Molly on rope bridge in Germany
©PicklesINK 2013

Or all those nights you decided that instead of going to sleep when you were tucked into your nice warm bed, you would read some books, rearrange your furniture, and make a couple of wardrobe changes before falling asleep in your favourite pink dance outfit and tights. (Thanks for that, by the way. I enjoyed that middle-of-the-night strip-off-your-leotard-and-tights-to-put-your-diaper-back-on-fiasco. We’ll call it mommy and Molly bonding time.)

Molly in bed 1

Molly asleep on her Dora couch in her dance outfit surrounded by the evidence of a wild night
©PicklesINK 2013

Yes, my funny bum, you may look cute, but your impulsiveness may one day get you into real trouble. Take this morning, for instance, when you were downstairs making a craft and I heard Ben say, “Molly! You’re not supposed to do that with TOYS! You have to go show mommy!” and then you came upstairs, seemingly abashed (although I could still see that gleam in your eye) as you showed me what you had done.

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Molly’s “craft” – a black toy car, now with hearts, glitter, and a face.
©PicklesINK 2013

We will have to keep working on the principle of “look before you leap.” At least we know that Ben has always got your back. He loves you SOOO much – and I know you love him too!

Ben and Molly – BFFs!
©PicklesINK 2013

I love hiding around the corner and listening to the two of you play together. You can play and chatter for hours, and even if you sometimes disagree, your arguments blow over as quickly as they started with both of you apologizing and working out a solution together.

Ben and Molly drinking their fuzzy water on our Valentine’s dinner out
©PicklesINK 2013

I should probably apologize in advance for the nicknames you’re going to endure as you grow up. It started out so innocuous, with “Molly-Moo” and then “Monkey,” which you quickly grew to answer to more consistently than your given name…then it devolved to “Monkey-Bum,” even given your Auntie Caitie’s dire warning that It. Would. Stick. After that came “Munkin” (I have no explanation…it’s kind of a combo of “Monkey,” “Munchkin,” and “Pumpkin” that slipped out one day…), “Munkin-Bum,” “Molly-Magoo,” “Funny-Bum,” “Silly-Munkin,” and I’m sure a multitude of others that have slipped my mind right now but will be equally traumatizing when they slip out in front of your middle school friends. I apologize in advance for being that mom.

Molly first pic

My favourite newborn Monkey-Bum!
©PicklesINK 2013

So, as you move on to the wild world of 3 years old, whether you’re getting your hands dirty…

Molly in the garden covered with dirt (that Ben was shoveling over her head)
©PicklesINK 2013

…or keeping them clean…

Molly at playgroup playing with shaving cream
©PicklesINK 2013

…just make sure you keep on being your awesome self, even if that means sometimes being a square peg in a round hole.

The dental floss that Molly discovered would fit perfectly in a toilet paper roll.
©PicklesINK 2013

Dance to the beat of your own drummer…

Molly in her own production of “Blackbeard Takes Swan Lake”
©PicklesINK 2013

…show the world that there are two sides to every story…

Molly wearing her Santa costume over her ballerina dress
©PicklesINK 2013

…and when life gives you pepperoni sticks, lie down on placemats and eat them on the floor!

Molly enjoying a snack of apple, pepperoni stick, and pretend tea lying on the floor
©PicklesINK 2013

Mommy, daddy and Ben love you millions and millions and millions, our favourite Molly-Moo! To quote your favourite song, “Molly is my favourite monkey, favourite monkey, favourite monkey! Molly is my favourite monkey – She says, ‘Ooo-ooo, ah-ah!” We hope you have a very, very happy 3rd birthday and that you are always as happy as you are today!

Love,

Mommy

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