July 2013

I was thinking the other day how great it is to be out of the nap zone with our kids. It used to be tough balancing playtime for the bigger kids with nap time for those who needed it. When my friends at Fisher-Price suggested a post on summertime fun this month, I thought it would be great to have a few suggestions for backyard fun you can set up for your older kids while the wee ones nap.

1. Bath toys in the swimming pool

This works well with a kiddie-sized swimming pool but you can also change things up by filling up a largish plastic sweater box with water, some bubbles and a few favourite bath toys. HOURS of entertainment, I kid you not. The Floating Island Bathtime Adventure is great for this, and the Little People always seem to enjoy a swim.

2. Backyard photo shoot

Send your future photographer out to document the progress of your flower or vegetable garden, or the dandelions, or whatever else is out there. It’s no secret we love our Kid-Tough Digital Camera!

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3. Kid-sized obstacle course

For extended play value, encourage the kids to help you in the set-up of a backyard obstacle course. Jump off the table, kick a ball as far as you can, ride your Kid-Tough trike in a circle, do a somersault across the grass, weave between a row of lawn chairs… and freezies as a prize for all competitors!

4. Driveway chalk or paint

My kids never get tired of drawing on the driveway, the sidewalk, the side of the house… but now that I think of it, it has been way too long since I brewed up a batch of sidewalk chalk paint! If just drawing pictures doesn’t engage them, you can always draw up a hopscotch or four-square board, or play “copy this letter”, or trace their outlines and let them colour in their own lifesized-selves.

Fun with sidewalk chalk paint (2 of 6)

5. Hot and cold hide-and-seek

Find five or ten small toys and hide them around the backyard. Give your seeker a basket or container to collect them and guide him or her by saying “getting warmer” when they get close or “getting cooler” when they get further away. Or, hide a small cache of something and draw up a treasure map where X marks the spot. We had a nanny who would make up a series of clues and hide them in sequential order all over the house, leading to a craft kit she would do with the boys – she was a terrific nanny!

While I don’t miss having to juggle nap times for the boys, I kinda wish we had more nap times for grownups built into the day!

What do you do to entertain an energetic big kid while the wee ones are napping?

Disclosure: I receive special perks as a part of my affiliation with the Fisher-Price Play Ambassador program with Mom Central Canada. The opinions in this blog are always my own.


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Can you tell it’s summer? The blog is all family fun all the time these days. And today, I get the opportunity to share the fun with YOU!

Have you been to the Museum of Nature lately? I’ve always been fond of it, but it’s been a good couple of years since we dropped by. I have to say, we have never loved it more! It was the epitome of “something for everyone.”

Lucas is newly enamoured with dinosaurs, so I knew he’d enjoy the dinosaur exhibit. Even though I’ve seen it several times, there’s something magical about watching your five-year-old light up like a Christmas tree, eyes wide with wonder and literally jumping up and down with excitement over every single skeleton. You can imagine how cute it was when we made it to the actual dinosaurs – in fact, you don’t have to imagine it at all. How cute is this?

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So I knew that would go over well. What I didn’t expect was how utterly engaged all five of us would be by the Earth Gallery. Tristan and Simon are Minecraft junkies (if you have a boy of a certain age, you know what I mean) and they’re fascinated by rocks, gems and mining. I had never been in this gallery before and even though I don’t play Minecraft, I’ve always been intrigued by geology and I found it really interesting. And I always love the Mammal Gallery with its realistic dioramas of Canadian wildlife.

We were creeping up on lunchtime by the time we’d carefully inspected each exhibit in each of those three galleries, so we decided to forgo the RBC Blue Water Gallery and head straight to the main event, the special Hidden Life of Ants exhibit.

Ants are everywhere. Though small in size, they form complex societies and dominate their ecosystems as much as humans do. Farmers, Warriors, Builders: The Hidden Life of Ants is an exhibition of 39 large-scale photos by award-winning photographer Mark W. Moffet. Visitors will also see two live colonies of harvester ants and honeypot ants, a three-dimensional aluminum cast of an ant nest and a touchable oversized ant model. You will have a whole new appreciation for ants after seeing this impressive show! This travelling exhibition is organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

I’m mildly bug phobic, but that has never really extended to ants, maybe because they’re so ubiquitous. (Unless they have wings. The ones with wings freak me out.) I found this exhibit engaging on a couple of levels – first, because the ants themselves are interesting. Second, because the photos really are spectacular. I mean, who wouldn’t love ants blown up to over a meter in size?

"Hey boys, pretend the giant ants are attacking you!"

(“Hey boys! Stand over here and pretend the giant ants are attacking you!”)(They’re so patient with me. I love them so!)

I found out from the exhibit curator on Twitter that although the photography part of the Hidden Life of Ants exhibit is only temporary, the ants belong to the museum and will be a permanent feature. I don’t know whether I’m more tickled by the serendipitous connections I make through Twitter or how clearly excited the curator was to share this news. I tell ya, I now know way more than I ever expected to know about ants. And dinosaurs.

Ahem, anyway, this was a terrific half day out and we followed it up with lunch in the Byward Market to round out a full day downtown. And now I get to share the joy! Would you like to attend the exhibit? The Hidden Life of Ants runs until January 5, 2014 at the Canadian Museum of Nature, and I have a family pass to give away! If you would like to enter this giveaway, just leave a comment on this post telling me whether you think ants are creepy or cool.

Here’s the fine print:

  1. This is a giveaway for a family pass comprising two adult and two child admissions to the Canadian Museum of Nature. The pass includes the Hidden Life of Ants exhibit and regular exhibits but some special exhibits and movies may have additional fees.
  2. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post telling me whether you think ants are creepy or cool.
  3. Everyone who “likes” Postcards from the Mothership on Facebook will get a bonus entry. (This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.) If you already like Postcards from the Mothership on FB, just say so in your comment.
  4. This giveaway is open only to Canadian residents, excluding residents of Quebec. (sorry!)
  5. This giveaway will run until 11:59 pm EDT on Wednesday July 31, 2013.
  6. One winner will be chosen at random from all comments posted.
  7. If you win, you must be willing to provide your full name and contact information to me to share with the agent of the Canadian Museum of Nature that is organizing the giveaway.

Special thanks to the Museum of Nature for the great morning of fun, for the free family pass they gave to us and for the free family pass to give away!

Edited to add: Thanks and congratulations to Suze, winner of the family pass. Enjoy the museum!! šŸ™‚


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For years I’ve been meaning to check out the boat rentals at Dow’s Lake. I rented a canoe once a million years ago, maybe before Beloved and I even met, but ever since we’ve had kids I’ve been thinking about going back and renting a peddle boat or two and splashing around the Canal. I had visions of happy, smiling kids burning off their excess energy, of close-up encounters with ducks and whatever creatures live in the lake, of sunshine and water and summertime joy.

Uh huh.

So my advice to you is that this is a really fun and relatively inexpensive excursion, with a couple of caveats. First, do not go on the hottest day of the summer, and do not delude yourself that going early in the day will make a difference. We went a week ago last Sunday, and it was sweltering even at 10 o’clock in the morning. You may also want to avoid 11-year-olds who get surly over wearing a lifejacket, and 9-year-olds who decide they’re too tired to pedal after the first 10 minutes. And be aware that despite what the people at the rental desk are calling to you from the deck, the rudder may be so finicky that you get stuck turning in counterclockwise circles about every 10 minutes, thus impeding your egress from the harbour, elevating your already elevated body temperature and perhaps adding to the overall surliness in your pedal boat.

Once you master the finicky rudder, however, you may be rewarded by close encounters with ducks after all.

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

And playing a gentle game of bumper boats will go a long way to restoring everyone’s equilibrium.

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

And if you stop pedalling and just put your feet up for a few minutes, it’s not so infernally hot after all.

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

Despite the heat and the elevated risk of crankiness, we all ended up having a good — but short — time. We’d rented two boats for an hour and I don’t think we lasted 45 minutes — but we also barely made it around to the edge of the arboretum and back. (Given the number of circles we turned trying to master the rudder, had we simply pedaled straight I’m pretty sure we could have made it most of the way to the NAC. And back.) It was an affordable little adventure at $15 per boat per hour, and $3.50 for parking across the street. Now that I know Lucas is old enough to sit still, I think next time we’ll go for a canoe instead of a peddle boat. And maybe choose a day where the mercury tops out under 35C.

If you go:
Dow’s Lake summer rentals:

  • Canoe, kayak and peddle boat rentals, starting at $15 per hour
  • A $20 deposit and government-issued ID required
  • Open 7 days a week (WEATHER PERMITTING), beginning after the water reaches navigation levels in May, until the Thanksgiving weekend in October. The hours vary with the seasons and also with the weather.
  • See website for additional details

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I‘m not a rabid royal watcher, but I do admit to a bit of infatuation with Will and Kate. How can you not love them? I haven’t gone out of my way to follow the progress of her pregnancy, but you’d have to be living in a media blackout to miss the fact that her due date has now come and gone.

I was overdue with all three of my boys. Tristan, my first, came of his own accord three days past his due date, but we had to take proactive action to dislodge both Simon and Lucas. It took almost 24 hours of pitocin to get me into any sort of reliable labour with Simon, and although my water broke and labour started of its own accord six days after my due date with Lucas, we still had to go through an induction when nothing had really happened two days later.

I got me some lazy babies. Or a really comfortable uterus. Or three boys averse to change. Maybe a little bit of each!

Anyway, all that to say, I remember how crazy-making being overdue was, and my heart goes out to Duchess Kate when I think of going through all that with half the world watching you. Oy.

Fisher-Price will be celebrating the arrival of the newest member of the royal (Royal?) family this week with a baby shower in Toronto. (I’m very sorry, I was supposed to write this post last week and offer you the opportunity to win VIP tickets by signing up for Fisher-Price’s newsletter, but it was such an insanely busy week that I totally dropped the ball. Sorry!) So, erm, both Kate and this post are overdue!

When I was overdue, I was willing to try ANYTHING to get those babies out. Blogging my interminable pregnancy with Lucas became a full-time job. I started obsessing about Lucas being born a full 10 days before my due date. I went through fits and starts of false labour. I tried every induction idea I could find on the Interwebs. I had a medical induction scheduled and then cancelled when I was nearly a week overdue. And then when my water broke there was still so much nothing going on that I managed to get five (!) blog posts out of it.

All that to say, even though I’m sure they are more than well taken care of while they wait this out, my heart still goes out to Kate and Will as they anticipate the arrival of their wee bundle of joy. What advice would you have to offer if Kate were your bestie? (Cuz yanno she’s just surfing the ‘net looking for things to do while she’s waiting – she might just stumble across this post, right?)

Disclosure: I receive special perks as a part of my affiliation with the Fisher-Price Play Ambassador program with Mom Central Canada. The opinions in this blog are always my own.


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This is a shameless but absolutely unsponsored plug for a great summer activity for kids aged 8 to 12. It was Beloved who noticed the ad for free kids’ camp on the Apple.ca website a few weeks ago. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call it “camp” as the sessions are only 90 minutes over three days, but if you are looking for an amazing free (did I mention free?!) summer activity for your preteen kids, check this out!

At Apple Camp, kids ages 8-12 learn how to shoot their own footage, create an original song in GarageBand on an iPad, and put it all together in iMovie on a Mac. This free workshop, held at Apple Retail Stores, spans three days and ends with campers debuting their masterpieces at the Apple Camp Film Festival.

Tristan and Simon attended the one in the Rideau Centre this past week and they had a blast. I was highly impressed with both the idea and the execution. (Those Apple people are pretty clever – offer free and excellent workshops for kids, using Apple products natch, and require the parents to remain onsite throughout the workshop. But they were content to let me work away on my Blackberry and iPhone and stack of paperwork I’d brought along while the kids attended the camp.)

The kids learned to conceptualize and lay out a storyboard, and then use the Garage Band app to lay out a soundtrack. They were on their own to film up to a minute of footage overnight, and then they used iMovie to put it all together during the second session. (The third session, a “film festival” of all participants, is this Saturday, and we’re just skipping that part.)

They didn’t need to bring any equipment of their own, although they both brought their own iPods and used them to capture the raw footage. You don’t need any Apple devices to attend the workshop, but be prepared to covet one if you don’t have one. We had iMovie for the iPods already (annoyingly not the same as the iPad version Tristan had used with a friend to make movie trailers a few weeks ago) and although I have Garage Band for my Macbook it is apparently not the same Garage Band as the one for the iPad. (Which we had to download because it is a wicked cool app, so we were in for $5 by the time the dust settled.) That’s my only complaint about the whole process – the difference in apps across devices confused the heck out of me. But that’s an Apple problem, not a workshop problem.

The toughest part was actually coming up with the concept. (Isn’t it always?) The final footage bore little to no resemblance to the storyboards, and the soundtrack Simon created on day one was with an action movie in mind, although his final product was a commercial. (More about the product featured in his commercial in my next post – and stand by for an awesome giveaway!)

Curious? Here’s the final cut!

First up, Agent Meow: score, direction, inspiration, filming and editing done by Tristan with props (and apologies) to Henry Mancini:

And this is Simon’s masterpiece, featuring the Zoku shake and slushie maker from Mastermind Toys (watch for a blogger cameo!):

Not bad for a couple of hours, eh? I think they did a great job and I know they had a great time. In addition to the experience, they got free t-shirts, USB wrist bands and iron-on patches. For FREE! Mad props to the Apple store for this program.

It looks like they’re offering more workshops at the Rideau Centre and Bayshore Apple stores the last week of July – check with Apple.ca for a location and date near you!


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It was almost three years ago that we first saw this house. I joke now (in that joking sort of way that has more than a nugget of truth in it) that there was a spectacular porch that I adored, an amazing treehouse that enchanted Tristan from first sight, and oh yes, a very nice house in between them. About two years before that, Tristan had confided to his Granny that the dearest wish of his wee heart was a treehouse of his own.

The treehouse was in rough shape when we inherited it. The rope ladder was a little tough for Simon and impossible for then two-year-old Lucas to climb. In fact, I’m pretty Lucas never actually set foot in the treehouse. I was up there a few times, but it didn’t feel terribly safe to me. It was made of plyboard and had begun to cant at an awkward angle. For the first year or so, we encouraged the kids to go up in it only one or two kids at a time, but by last summer it was clearly not safe enough for even one 50 lbs kid, and we banned them from climbing into it entirely when the plyboard floor began to rot through.

Dawn on the first day of spring

It’s a sort of a kid paradise in the backyard, with an enormous play structure, a swinging rope and a tire swing, which took away the sting from a treehouse you could see but not use. But this spring we noticed the playstructure too had drifted away from “weathered” and toward “rotting” in more places than one. Last year we replaced the swing set portion, but it was clear that the rest of it was deteriorating quickly. Beloved and I decided to act on our idle year-old plan of getting a quote from someone to get them fixed up.

A friend of a friend, and conveniently someone from our local school community, came out in June and took a look at the treehouse and playstructure with an eye to rehabilitating one or the other. The prognosis was grim. Neither could be fixed – they’d have to be razed and rebuilt. The playstructure would have probably come in around $5k to $6k to replicate (have you seen the insane prices on these things??) and about a fifth of that to rebuild the treehouse.

If you follow me on any other social media, you might have seen some vaguebooking status updates as Beloved and I debated the merits of trying to do the job ourselves or hire a competent professional. For perhaps the 300th time since we moved into this house of love and ongoing challenges, I wished Beloved or I were handy folk. Alas, no hero stepped forth to rescue us from our treehouse dilemma (hey, sometimes you just gotta ask!) and Beloved and I were left to our own devices. I’m pretty sure we *could* have adapted the plan put together by the contractor and built something that vaguely resembled a treehouse, but the more I thought of my children, and the neighbourhood children, to say nothing of the children I am occasionally paid to photograph, being suspended five feet off the ground on something Beloved and I built? Let’s just say I lost a little bit of sleep over this one. And it seemed like a crappy thing to do, accepting a quote and then filching the plan. But oh how I agonized over it all.

The day we finally decided that we’d rather invest in the treehouse than in some of the other home repair jobs that also desperately need some attention (and money!) around the house, I actually cried a little bit. I didn’t realize until we decided to go ahead with the project how badly I wanted to do this for the boys. There’s not much of a playground culture here in Manotick, and I love the idea of having the kind of yard where neighbourhood kids can play. And Tristan is 11 years old now – his treehouse years will soon be behind him. (Although Beloved said something about future girlfriends and the treehouse which I will judiciously choose to ignore.) I imagined it as a lure away from those infernal screens they all adore – but wouldn’t you know it, the household wifi reaches all the way to the treehouse! Mostly, though, I just wanted a safe place for them to play, to climb and invent and adventure and be boys.

With a little help from Mother Nature (thank you for two dry days in a row!) and our amazing treehouse building husband-and-wife team, this happened before our very eyes:

New treehouse

New treehouse-2

And apparently it’s good for kids of all sizes:

New treehouse-3

We love it. LOVE it! It’s safe and built with clear attention to detail, it’s big enough to support a handful of kids, it’s easy for even wee Lucas to get up and down by himself, and I can conveniently see what shenanigans might be going on through the rails. šŸ˜‰ We decided to go with independent supports so we didn’t have to rely on the weed maple for structural integrity. I can imagine things like a rod for puppet-theatre curtains on the underside or perhaps a little clubhouse with benches — after all, I’m not averse to building my handy skills on things that are not suspended five feet off the ground! The only downside is that I lost access to a favourite tree limb for posing families during porch portraits but can imagine a whole new world of possibilities for my outdoor “studio” now.

After what seems like endless dithering and angst, I can only wonder why we didn’t do this sooner. Best! Treehouse! Ever!!


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Cirque du Soleil in Ottawa: TOTEM

13 July 2013 Ottawa Family Fun

Before this week, I had never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, although my parents are fans who never miss the show when it comes to Ottawa. I have always liked the idea and appreciated the beauty of the performances, but I have never sought out my own tickets. All I knew about Cirque was […]

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Quick idea for family fun this week: Strawberry picking at Rideau Pines Farm

6 July 2013 Ottawa Family Fun

If you’re looking for something fun to do with the kids around Ottawa sometime in the next few days, I highly recommend a wee adventure at Rideau Pines Farm for berry picking. Although we’ve gone on excursions to pick apples, pumpkins and even Christmas trees, we have never yet managed to go strawberry picking, although […]

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Flashback Friday: Lukey’s Boat is painted green

5 July 2013 Uncategorized

Every now and then I stumble across a post in the archives that makes me smile, and I like to share them with you. I have no memory whatsover of writing this post nearly five years ago, but since I was deep in the sleep-deprived madness that is life with a newborn, I’m not really […]

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Summer 2013 playlist

3 July 2013 Life, the Universe and Everything

Now that the boys have iPods, our family iTunes account has become very, um, diverse in its musical tastes. Let’s just say that the Genius recommendations that used to kick out a lot of college alternative stuff are now so skewed toward Minecraft parody songs as to be unusable. I have to admit, though, that […]

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