A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

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!)


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…


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!”


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.


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).


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


Chalet trip: Black Diamonds are forever and Happy New Year

Ben went away after Christmas for a “special trip with Nana and Grandad.” We perhaps should have prepared Molly better, because she was absolutely devastated when he left:

Sad Molly

The saddest Molly face EVER.
©PicklesINK 2012

She cried for hours – “But I need BEN! I can’t go to sleep without BEN! No, you can’t sing me a lullaby – ONLY BEN CAN SING ME A LULLABY!” She finally rolled over in bed and poured her heart out to her doll, Charlie – “Charlie, I miss BEN! Will you do a craft with me tomorrow, Charlie? With pink, and sparkles, and then we can call Ben and tell him about it?”

Ben and Molly’s reunion three days later was a sight to see. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it, but he threw open the car door and jumped in and they embraced and cheered and gushed, “I missed you, Molly!!” “I missed you too Ben!” “I love you, Molly!!” “I love you, Ben!!” and you couldn’t pry them apart for the rest of the day.

Together again 3

Ben and Molly sitting in a chair watching a show
©PicklesINK 2012

Ice cream

Ben and Molly sharing a chair and dessert
©PicklesINK 2012

For days after we got home, Molly would occasionally smile and say, “Now Ben is back where he belongs – with Molly.” I know they’ll have their sibling ups and downs, but as one friend put it, we must be doing something right!

The purpose of Ben’s special trip, aside from having a fun time with Nana and Grandad, was to give him the opportunity to learn to ski. In my family, we traditionally are put on skis pretty well as soon as we can walk reliably and there’s snow on the ground, so we started both Ben and Molly on skis the winters before their 2nd birthdays. At that age, though, you’re mostly just holding the child up and getting them used to the idea of sliding down the hill standing up.

A friend who is an extremely talented pianist and piano teacher (shameless plug – if you’re in the Toronto area and looking for piano lessons, check her out) suggested that in most cases it’s good idea to hold off on private piano lessons until a child is old enough to have the fine motor control to physically do what they want to do on the instrument or they will get frustrated. She suggests starting lessons at 6 and notices that in general children who start piano lessons at that age very quickly catch up to their peers who started at a younger age.

I suspect that the same is true of sports like skiing – I think that each child has a threshold for when they are physically capable of learning the sport, and while introducing them to it earlier will help them become comfortable with the sensations, once they hit that threshold they will literally and figuratively take off.

In Ben’s case, that threshold was age 5 1/2! He left with Nana and Grandad on Boxing Day to go up to the chalet, and Molly and I joined them on the 29th. He left a non-skier who hadn’t even been on skis in a year, and this is what I found when I went up:

Zoom 1

Ben zooming downhill without a care in the world
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and grandad 2

Ben, in the lead, racing Grandad
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and nana 2

Ben and Nana stopping for a chat
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben just a dot

Ben, just a dot in the distance
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben on Chair

Ben riding the chairlift like an old pro
©PicklesINK 2012

Helmet hair

Ben showing off his helmet hair in the bar…er…cafeteria.
©PicklesINK 2012

He was skiing down the freaking black diamonds!! In skiing speak, those are the “Advanced” slopes, as compared to the green circles (Beginner), blue squares (Intermediate), and double- or triple- black diamonds (!!☠☠!! and !!!☠☠☠!!!). This is all, of course, relative – Ontario black diamonds are not the same level as BC or Quebec black diamonds, let alone others found worldwide. But still – pretty amazing stuff for a 5 year-old after 4 days of lessons!

Please also note my prodigious talent at photographing a moving target whilst skiing myself – I may not excel at many sports, but when it comes to skiing I got mad skillZ! And if you don’t believe me, take it from The Evil Snowman:

Evil snowman

I am The Evil Snowman, and I endorse this message.
©PicklesINK 2012

After skiing, it was back to the chalet for some (EVIL) snowman-building followed by warm chocolate with marshmallows (Ben and Molly feel that hot chocolate would be too hot) and a dip in the hot tub.

Molly's bathing suit

I forgot Molly’s bathing suit, but a tankini top and some creative strap-tying did the trick.
©PicklesINK 2012

Ian and I reprised the dip in the hot tub on New Year’s Eve and participated in the classic chalet tradition of making snow angels in bathing suits. Before you say anything, let he among you who can resist a double-dare cast the first stone snowball!!

Snow angel

Brrr….snow angel…..brrr….
©PicklesINK 2012

Ian went for a wander with his camera and took some great pictures:

Snow falling

New Year’s Eve snowfall
©PicklesINK 2012


Snowy riverbanks
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Snowy woodland trail covered with cross-country ski tracks
©PicklesINK 2012


Icy river close-up
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And along with Nana, we managed (just) to stay up until midnight, raise a glass, and then collapse into bed.

Evil snowman celebrating

Happy New Year
from The Evil Snowman!
©PicklesINK 2012

I know it’s a little late, but from our home to yours, I hope you had a very Happy New Year and that your hopes and dreams for the coming year all come true!

~ karyn

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phil&teds Excellent Adventure

Once upon a time, I bought the greatest stroller known to man, the phil&teds Explorer Sport with double attachment. Greatest. Stroller. Ever.

Phil&teds stroller with carseat attachment
©PicklesINK 2012

I loved that stroller. I took it everywhere and recommended it to everyone who would listen (at least those who asked me about it…I didn’t run up to random strangers like a crazy person and scream at them to buy this stroller. Much.).

Molly fast asleep in the stroller
after a long day at the zoo.
©PicklesINK 2012

When we planned our trip to Germany this summer, we originally planned to bring 2 cheap umbrella strollers to the airport but at the last minute decided to take the phil&teds instead, thinking that it would be more useful in our travels. Unfortunately, fate was not on our side and it came to pass that a terrible dragon, in the form of a careless baggage handler, wrecked it during the flight. Actually, my guess, judging from the type of damage, is that he – and I say he not out of sexism but because it was taken from me by 2 young men – dropped it to the tarmac while carrying it down the stairs before the flight ever began.

They snapped the handle clean off!
©PicklesINK 2012

At first I hoped to keep using the broken stroller, at least for the trip, and did managed to get a bit of use out if it in the first few days with packing tape holding the handle together.

It could still safely carry liquor!
©PicklesINK 2012

Unfortunately some new damage quickly came to light – I think the front wheel assembly must have been bent too so with continued use the tire popped. Despondent, I gave it up for lost, figuring that my kids were a bit older and I could probably get by with a cheap umbrella stroller until they outgrew strollers completely (see the October 2012 issue of Today’s Parent for a good debate on topic of strollering your toddler or preschooler), and I would be better off taking a cash settlement.

I even composed a haiku in its honour:

Careless baggage guys/dropped my stroller down the stairs/Condor owes me big.

After a fair bit of frustration and some back-and-forthing through social media and then email with Condor Airlines, it came down to a choice between a significantly depreciated cash value versus full reimbursement for a replacement stroller so I opted for the replacement – which means I was able to purchase the brand new just-released phil&teds Navigator in pretty robins-egg blue!

Things that I loved about my Explorer:

– SO maneuverable

– double stroller without the double width

– double attachment let Ben jump in and ride when he needed to and didn’t get in my way when he didn’t

– driveable in all seasons and on all terrains

Things that I loved less:

– stiff wire brake needed a lot of force to flip on or off with foot (and not doable in sandals – ouch!)

– deep fabric footwell caught crumbs and dirt and you had to flip stroller upside down and shake get them out

– long dangly tails on harness straps

– waist straps that you had to dig out from under your kid to buckle

– very small sunshade that didn’t really shade at all

– no clip to prevent stroller from opening when folded

– soft fabric back of seat was oh so tempting for kid in double attachment seat to kick or push, earning a “Hey!!” or just a wail as they woke up from the kid above

– permanently attached seat cover cannot be washed

Don’t get me wrong – these were all minor annoyances and certainly did not detract from this being the BEST STROLLER EVER MADE.

Until now.

With the Navigator, phil&teds have stared deep within my soul, discovered all of the things I found mildly irritating about the Explorer, and FIXED THEM. Every last one of them. The Navigator has a one-touch toggle brake; a firm plastic footwell with vents for the crumbs to fall through; a new tail-less harness system (I didn’t even know you could do that!); a harness system that while still having shoulder and waist restraints, only has 2 clips; a hard plastic back to minimize those “Hey!”s; and a detachable, machine-washable seat cover. They even fixed the bar that goes across the front – I took it off originally because my kids were biting chunks of foam off it, and apparently this issue was not unique to me because the new incarnation has a fabric sleeve.

It also has the biggest freaking sunshade I’ve ever seen (Ben and Molly like to pull it all the way down to enclose them in a kind of sunshade cocoon) – and again, since they either have secret video cameras recording my life or else someone in R&D is my creepy long-lost brain twin, they KNEW that I always put stuff like my keys or wallet on top of the sunshade while I walk around and I’ve lost a cell phone as a result, and built freaking POCKETS into the sides of the sunshade so that when things inevitably slide off, instead of falling to the ground they get caught in the pockets.

New stroller with double attachment.
Note the stuff on the sunshade –
No, I will never learn.
©PicklesINK 2012

Another really neat feature is that it assembles completely without tools – I took it out of the box, popped the wheels on, and was ready to go. It also handles like a dream, even more smoothly than the Explorer did, and all this at the exact same price I paid for my Explorer originally.

If I have one complaint, it’s the the colour is not as bright and the fabric slightly coarser than I expected, but since I ordered it online without seeing it in person, I can’t really blame phil&teds for that.

Ben and Molly heartily approve.
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly heartily approve of the new stroller, and if it has half the staying power of the last one (barring being dropped down a flight of stairs onto asphalt) it should last through a few more kids after mine. Thank you, thank you, thank you, phil&teds, for making my stroller dreams come true, and thank you Condor Airlines for making things right.

~ karyn


Better late than never – Final Germany round-up!

Here are the last few Germany bits and pieces to wrap up the trip diary:

One of the highlights of the vacation was the trip up the mountain on a cable car.

Don’t look down!
©PicklesINK 2012

We went about 1800 m up, to the third of four stations (we couldn’t go all the way to the top as the timing meant that we would have had to ride back down on the same car without actually disembarking). Before we reached the third station we were in the clouds and the kids had a great time playing in the ethereal, misty playground (as described in Ben’s guest post).

©PicklesINK 2012

We then rode back down and enjoyed dinner al fresco at a lovely Italian restaurant, which was interrupted at one point by the sound of cowbells as a farmer brought his herd down from the mountain for the night. (“My family’s been bringing the cows down this road every night for 3 generations and we’re not going to stop now just because this damn town is overrun with tourists!”).

Who knew we’d be there until the cows came home?
©PicklesINK 2012

On the way home we passed the brewery that had been supporting our pils habit for the 2 weeks…mmm…I still miss the beer!

No chance of mistaking what they do here!
©PicklesINK 2012

Apparently there were a number of town festivals going on while we were there, which meant that for most of the trip many people were dressed in traditional Bavarian “tract.” These Bavarians certainly have the right idea when it comes to flattering clothing, especially for those of us with, let’s say, “hourglass” figures (I like to think of them as “good, strong childbearing hips.”)! I tried on a dirndl but unfortunately I just didn’t think it would translate well to home.

What, this old thing? It’s just something I threw on…
©PicklesINK 2012

I also tried to convince Ian to get a pair of lederhosen but no dice. (Come on! Even Santa wears them in the off-season!)

Ben said, “That’s not Santa.
I can see his mouth.”
©PicklesINK 2012

One area where Germany is way ahead seems to be the use of sustainable energy, particularly solar power. Everywhere we looked it seemed that people had solar panels on their roofs, sometimes just a few, sometimes covering every available inch.

Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun,
Please shine down on me!
©PicklesINK 2012

We also passed fields of row upon row of solar panels along the highways. Pretty cool stuff. I know we’re starting to experiment with it; in our town there are 2 towers with panels but it’s on such a small scale, comparatively. These Bavarians really seem to have it down to a science.

As a small side note, if you think back to the Kurpark post, this is the photograph that Ian was taking when he was hiding in the flowers:

You’d better BEE-lieve it!
©PicklesINK 2012

Finally, the time came for us to make our exit. In Germany this is indicated by highway signs reading, “Ausfahrt,” and I remain convinced that I can’t be the only English-speaker in the world whose inner 15 year-old giggles uncontrollably at that.

©PicklesINK 2012

~ karyn

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Ben’s review of the German playgrounds

I have invited a guest blogger to contribute to this post, and I will let him introduce himself:

My name is Benjamin. I am 5 years old. We went to Germany this August to see Grandma and Grandad and some of my uncles and aunts and cousins. We did some fun things there. We played in lots of parks and I’m going to tell you about the parks.

* Molly, 2 1/2, also contributed some thoughts.

The first park we went to was close to the river. This is a picture of the climber. All the parks in Germany were made of logs and ropes and chains and tires. I thought that was really cool.

©PicklesINK 2012

This is a picture of me on the log stairs. You had to climb and hold onto the rope to balance.

©PicklesINK 2012

This is the rope bridge. We needed to use a rope on this bridge too. After we went on the rope bridge we got to the shaky bridge which I call the “Shake-shake bridge.”

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After you went across the Shake-shake bridge you got to the climber! This is a picture of Molly at the top of the slide.

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There was a swing made out of rope and it looked like a spider web. You could put 3 kids in that swing!

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You could pull the bucket in the sandpit up with the chain. It felt light! If you let go of the chain the bucket would fall down fast!

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There was a stump in the sandpit with little holes you could put sand through.

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Everyone had fun at the park, even my daddy Ian!

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One day we went to a Rodelbahn. We went up a mountain on a chairlift and then we came down on a big slide. At the bottom there was a playground with a ride-on clam-digger. We had to put money into the slot to turn the motor on and then when we pulled the levers it would work. The scoop picked up stones and moved them around and dumped them.

©PicklesINK 2012

There was also a helicopter. On the helicopter you also had to put money in the slot and then it would go up. The helicopter’s lever didn’t move but you could push the screw on the top of the lever and it would make sounds.

©PicklesINK 2012

There were also trampolines and we had fun jumping on them.

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There was also a slide and a sandbox but we don’t have any pictures of them.

One day, we took a walk in the woods and we found a playground! There were stairs to come down to look at the stream. This is a picture of us playing in the stream. Molly added, “That park we went to. I liked it. We went to see a river and grandad come with us and grandma come with us too.”

©PicklesINK 2012

This is a picture of the shaky bridge, which I call the “Shake-shake bridge” too. This shake-shake bridge goes over the river. I called the river that the shake-shake bridge went over “the Logging Pond.” The bridge was really shaky and really high.

©PicklesINK 2012

There was a wooden train. You could only sit on it because it was made of wood and it didn’t make steam because it had a wood funnel but you could pretend you were driving it. Molly says, “And I went on that choo-choo train.”

©PicklesINK 2012

This is a picture of me (Ben) on the climbing tree. I think it was made out of a tree with the leaves taken off and parts of the branches sawed off.

©PicklesINK 2012

This is a picture of grandma swinging. I think she is having fun!

We all had a lot of fun playing at that park.

On another day we went on another walk in the woods. There was a xylophone made of wood. I didn’t play a song, I just played it, but Molly played, “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” and sang.

©PicklesINK 2012

This is a picture of me on the see-saw. There was also a jungle gym and a sandbox. To get to the stream you had to go to the other side of the grass. You have to go down the bank to get to the water but you can still see it from the top. You didn’t have to climb down the bank because there were stairs.

©PicklesINK 2012

We went wading in the stream. It was cold! We didn’t see any fish. There weren’t fish in any of the streams but there were fish in the lake.

©PicklesINK 2012

I think this is a picture Molly and Uncle Martin. I think Uncle Martin was going to lift Molly into the swing. This is the swing set and the climber. The slide is really slippery, especially when you’re wet!

©PicklesINK 2012

The last park we went to was on top of a mountain! We took a cable car up the mountain to get to it. When the cable car got to us, so many people got out that I said, “Is this a cable car or a party?”

©PicklesINK 2012

We went so high that we went in the cloud so it was misty at the park because we were inside a cloud. This is a picture of the high tower. It was the highest climber that I have ever seen!

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There was a shaky bridge which I called a “Shake-shake bridge” too. It was made  out of logs hanging with chains.

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This is a picture of Ian on the zip line. There was a green circle that you had to sit and then you pushed off and went really, really fast, as fast as me!! You would go all the way to the end and then come back.

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This is a picture of Molly and her doll Charlie on the swing. I think the swing was a chair from a chairlift like one at the Rodelbahn. Two people can fit in this swing together.

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This is the rope climber. It also had those green circles like on the zip line but this time they were for swinging. We could climb all the way up to the top.

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We were so high up and this is a picture of our view from when we looked down from the cable car on the way down.

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I thought that the parks in Germany were a lot different then the ones back in Canada. They were a lot of fun. I loved the clam-digger and I love all the Shake-shake bridges. I really want to back and play on them again one day!

~ Ben

(dictated to mommy)

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Food glorious food…coma.

German food. Very, very yummy. Not a lot of emphasis on green. Or red. Or orange. Unless they’re Smarties and gummy bears sprinkled on ice cream. But definite emphasis on the delicious. Here is the round-up of what we ate:

Every morning started with someone, usually Grandad, venturing to the bakery (or “makery,” as Molly termed it, which makes a sort of sense) with one or two children in tow to pick up fresh rolls (and gummy bears for the kids – breakfast of champions!).

Fresh-baked every morning!
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These would be served at the breakfast table along with soft-boiled eggs, fresh-churned butter, assorted jams, ham and salami, and local cheeses, most notably the delicious Heumilchkäse and Blumenkäse (literally, hay-milk cheese and flower cheese). The Heumilchkäse has a distinctly barnyard aroma and strong flavour and the Blumenkäse is milder and rolled in dried wildflowers. Heaven for a cheese-lover like myself! Ian wasn’t quite so enthralled and the kids were for the most part indifferent.

Heumilchkäse and Blumenkäse
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I have to confess to a weakness for Schnitzel und Spätzle so I sampled both as often as I could. My first opportunity was outside of Munich when we went to get the estimate for my (*sniff*) broken stroller (*sniff*) where we stopped at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and I had Schnitzel mit Pfeffer-Sahnesauce und Spätzle (schnitzel with peppercorn cream sauce and spatzle noodles/dumplings). I was so hungry that I ate it all without thinking to take a picture first so unfortunately I have no record except for the memory of its utter deliciousness, but the sauce was creamy and amazing and the spatzle was plump and had been crisped to golden perfection.

We enjoyed a lovely meal al fresco at the Biergarten across from the house where I had Champignon Schnitzel und Spätzle (schnitzel with mushroom cream sauce and spatzle). I realize that I have unfairly painted all of the German chefs with the same brush – as you can see this meal did include some green and orange!

Champignon Schnitzel und Spätzle.
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly each enjoyed a Kinder-Schnitzel und Kartoffel Kroketten (kiddie meal of schnitzel with potato croquettes), to which I had introduced my picky eater before we left to make sure that there was something he would eat in German restaurants…

Kinder-Schnitzel und Kartoffel Kroketten
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And German mall food courts:

Schnitzel und Spätzle (again)
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On another beautiful sunny day out we again had lunch on the patio of another local restaurant where I had (you guessed it!) Jägerschnitzel und Spätzle (schnitzel with mushroom gravy) and a Radler (half Pilsner, half Sprite). Yes, I may have a Spätzle problem.

Jägerschnitzel und Spätzle
©PicklesINK 2012

Ian went off script and had Hähnchen-Cordon-Bleu mit pommes (chicken cordon-bleu with french fries). Once again, I realize that I was unfair to the German chefs as his meal also included a variety of vegetables. Bundled together with a strip of bacon.

Hähnchen-Cordon-Bleu und pommes
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Sometimes of course we needed a break from the heavy German food. Fortunately there was an excellent take-away pizza restaurant down the road that did European-style thin crust wood-fired pizza with every topping imaginable. 

Pizza Hawaii
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Pizza Oliven Salami Peperoni
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For our last night out we ate at an Italian restaurant where I had Tortellini mit Gorgonzola, which was delicious,

Tortellini mit Gorgonzola
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and a bowl of Pfifferlingen Cremesuppe, a cream soup of the locally in season Chanterelle mushrooms.

Pfifferlingen Cremesuppe
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Of course, it wasn’t all savoury dishes. Germans are also very fond of ice cream. In the form of ice cream sundaes:

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Banana splits:

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Liquor-spiked chocolate milk with a scoop of ice cream topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings:

Baileys Eisschokolade
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And of course, appropriately small portions of ice cream for the children:

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As comfortingly delicious as it all was, the first thing we did when we got home was head to the grocery store to stock up on a fresh, crisp, brightly-coloured assortment of fruits and vegetables.

Produce, sweet produce!
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I ate half a cantaloupe for dinner yesterday and I may swear off white flour for good.

~ karyn


Tobogganing in summer…does life get any better?

Two things that the Bavarian Alps have a-plenty are cable cars and Rodelbahns. Cable cars are pretty self-explanatory. As I Google though I am learning that technically what we have been visiting is known as a Sommerrodelbahn (sommer = summer) and an actual Rodelbahn involves snow, but for simplicity’s sake I will refer to it as the latterJust don’t blame me if you try to Google it and get very confused.

How do you feel about heights?
©PicklesINK 2012

There are of course many ways to climb the mountains – Many enterprising folks choose to walk (often with Nordic walking sticks, which I don’t begin to understand); some even more energetic types run; and we even saw (from our comfortable perch on the cable car) one person cycle up. He was practically standing still, moving up inch by excruciating (I imagine) inch, until he got to the top, turned around, and with an expression of glee let go and sailed back down.

Now that’s hardcore!
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We, however, chose the leisurely and absolutely safe method of riding up on a single-seat open cable car with a metal “safety bar” about 1 cm in diameter. Imagine a rickety lawn chair dangling from a cable 25 feet off the ground carrying you up the side of a mountain. With the kids on our laps.

What could possibly go wrong?
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Great photo opps though!
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Can you tell that they’re 30 feet in the air?
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From an ultra-protective North American standpoint the blasé attitude towards carrying your 2 year-old up a cable car with no more instruction than a bored teenager barking an instruction in German that essentially amounted to “Hold her forwards!” was both terrifying and refreshing. It was all fun and games until Molly tried to slide out of my lap saying, “I want to bounce on that grass!!” (No.)

Disembarking safely:
Ie. hold on tight and jump!
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But we made it up unscathed and arrived at our reward: The Rodelbahn. Essentially, this is a metal track that snakes down the side of the mountain that you rocket down on a plastic sled holding onto a  joystick that controls your speed (forwards = faster, backwards = brake). At every curve there’s a sign that says “bremsen” (brake). Yeah, right!! About halfway down there is a speedometer that displays your speed for all to see; You wouldn’t have a hope of being the winner if you were braking safely like a sucker to avoid overturning on all of the corners!! The top recorded speed for us was my sister-in-law’s 38 km/hour. Ben and Molly alternated yelling, “Whee! Super-fast!!” and looking bored all the way down.

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It was a great morning out and we actually went back a second time because the adults kids really wanted to have a rematch do it again. Unfortunately (for the kids, who were really interested) the speedometer was broken that time but I think deep down we all knew that I won.

~ karyn

“WINNING!” – Charlie Sheen
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A Kur for what ails ye

One of Ben and Molly’s favourite discoveries in town so far is the Kurpark (essentially “spa park”). Many German towns have these and they can be more or less elaborate, incorporating gardens and multiple pools with various types of mineralized (or simply COLD) waters. The Kurpark Ben and Molly have been enjoying is on the smaller side but plenty of fun for two kids. It has been beautifully sunny so the water, which is usually painfully cold, is actually quite comfortable for wading.

There are lovely gardens (if you peer closely at the pictures, Where’s Waldo? style, you may be able to pick out Ian practicing his macrophotography on the flowers), a wading pool, and a basin.

Where’s Waldo?
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There is a sign explaining how to properly use the Kurpark in order to get all of the health benefits.

©PicklesINK 2012

According to Google Translate unfortunately we are doing it completely wrong, as we seldom remember that “the most important principle in using cold water is a pre-heated body active” and thus do not warm up first by “moving through brisk gymnastics or running.” We also frequently use the arm and foot baths in quick succession rather than allowing 2 hours to elapse between even though the sign cautions us that this is physiologically wrong and counteracts both uses. I can assure you however that bathing your arms in the basin and then walking through the pool with proper “stork walk” form (lifting each foot completely out of the water with each step) does, as advised, result in a “strong cold stimulus.”

Ben and Molly improving their circulation in the arm basin.
©PicklesINK 2012

The only trouble is that the Kurpark is actually intended for adults to quietly and contemplatively wade and those who come for that purpose are not always impressed to find my very active 2 and 5 year-old splashing around!

Actually, reasonably good
“stork walk” form.
©PicklesINK 2012

It’s a only 2 minute skip across the road from us so I’m sure we’ll be spending plenty of sunny afternoons there!

Not actually intended as a “foot bath.”
©PicklesINK 2012

~ karyn

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Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in Germany.

Aside from the sleep issues (Sleep update: Night 4 finished with Ian and I watching Inspector Morse on the laptop with earphones in the room until Molly fell asleep at 11:00 and Ben at midnight. Last night we took turns rubbing Molly’s back until she fell asleep; Ben went down easily; both around 7:00. Fingers and toes remained crossed all night and they both SLEPT THROUGH UNTIL 6:30!!!) the first few days of our trip have been GREAT.

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On Sunday we headed up to the town of Jungholz (technically in Austria, but accessible only from Germany and close enough to the village Ian’s parents live in that we walked home from there once in winter) to check out a craft fair.

Ben and grandad wandered off to explore by themselves for a bit and Ian, grandma, Molly and I had a look at the stalls. Molly was very taken by a couple of sleek black ducks in a chicken-wire topped crate watched over by a friendly young girl in traditional Bavarian dress. We passed by again a bit later and they were being transferred into a cardboard box. The young girl seemed very pleased as she put two new ducks into her crate and we realized that the originals were going to become a delicious roast dinner and this new pair might soon follow!

There was a one-room art gallery set up in the town hall by an artist who seemed to specialize in still-life paintings of fruit, stone fruits in particular, which caused my inner 15 year-old to giggle uncontrollably and think, “Nice plums!” (heh heh…heh heh…heheheheheheh…)

Once we found Ben and grandad, who had gone for a walk up the ski hill, we found a picnic table and sat down for an afternoon snack, which in Bavaria is it not uncommon to enjoy with either a coffee or a frothy golden-hued beverage. Have I mentioned the beer yet? Ahh…the beer. German pils is a thing of beauty. Almost every town has its own microbrewery and each beer is subtly different but all are delicious.

Molly took this picture of my beer.
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An afternoon snack also traditionally involves some type of pastry – I had a slice of apfelstrudel and Ben and Molly enjoyed some type of crumbly chocolate cake. Molly added an element of adventure to hers by mixing the crumbs in with the pebbles she had been collecting before picking them out and eating them.

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Germany has also been heaven for my fuzzy-water loving children – they have been happily sampling all of the different Mineralvasser.

Bottoms up!
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Besides the slaughter-your-own ducks, other artisans and offerings at the craft fair included clothing, wood carving, hand-woven baskets, candles, herbs, a bee-keeper, and a blacksmith. There was also a troupe of strolling players demonstrating that no matter the language, Medieval fair geeks are the same the world over.

©PicklesINK 2012

~ karyn

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