5 things

This will be my seventh year on our elementary school council, and my third year on the intermediate/high school council. I don’t see any reason why I will not continue to be on the high school council right through Lucas’ graduation in 2026, which means that by the time he’s done school I’ll have logged a full SEVENTEEN YEARS on school council. In fact, I’ll have been retired from my day job for two years before I retire from council.

I didn’t join the school council at the boys’ first school, where Tristan attended JK through Grade 3 and Simon attended Kindergarten before we moved to Manotick, mostly because I was shy and a little bit intimidated. I thought you had to be part of the “in crowd” of moms, the ones who all seemed to know each other at the school fence, who made coffee dates and attended zumba class and didn’t generally talk to me. I thought that because I worked downtown during the day, I wouldn’t be able to participate. I thought you had to be one of those hyper-involved moms with boundless energy and community connections, entirely unlike tired, barely-holding-it-together, socially awkward me.

When we moved to Manotick, though, I thought maybe joining school council would help me get to know our new school and our new community, so I put on my brave girl pants and showed up for the first meeting of the year. The first person who befriended me remains a friend of the family to this day (hi Debra!) and all of the myths I’d assumed about council were dispelled. I didn’t need to commit to hours of activities during school hours, but I did need to commit to monthly meetings. Joining the school council has been great for making friends, occasionally exasperating, an excellent way to make community connections, and one of the best things I’ve done to feel connected to the place where the boys spend so much of their formative years.

Here’s five reasons why you should join your kids’ school council.

1. You will know what’s happening at school

The pre-teen’s monosyllabic grunt in response to “what’s new at school?” may be the least informative mode of human expression. This becomes, in my opinion, an even bigger challenge in middle school and high school. Schools try very hard to ensure parents are informed and have many channels of communication, but being on council has been the single most effective way for me to know not only what’s going on with school events and activities, but what challenges the school is facing, what victories they are celebrating, and to get a feel for the culture of the school.

2. You can voice your opinions and contribute to decisions

From fundraising to parking lot conflicts to lunch programs to technology in the classroom, being on council gives parents a meaningful voice in school life. Knowledge is power, and council offers an insightful window on the challenges your school is facing (from funding to enrollment to infrastructure) and what changes are being considered. I can think of a few occasions where the school admin have approached council with a contentious issue, listened carefully to feedback, and implemented a solution based on what they heard instead of what they were originally planning.

3. Builds relationships with staff and community

Through council, I’ve met many great people and made friendships that have extended beyond the school walls. Equally valuable, I’ve had the chance to get to know the school administration and many of the teaching staff. On the very few occasions when something has come up that I’ve needed to talk to the school about a sensitive or troubling matter, it’s been great to be able to rely on an existing relationship to smooth the way. It’s also great to be able to put a face to the names that come up in conversation with the kids, and to feel connected to their school lives.

4. Give back

It’s important to me to be able to give back to my community, and to set an example of community service for the boys. This is a pretty small commitment in the grand scheme of things, and a self-serving one, given the reasons outlined above. Still, it does feel good to be able to volunteer a couple of hours each month to make the boys’ school a better place for them and for their classmates.

5. It’s not as much work as you might think

I think this was my biggest fear about getting involved in council. What kind of purgatory am I signing up for? I’ve found through the years, though, that you can take on as much or as little as you are able. There are indeed some parents who can and do volunteer at the school on a nearly full-time basis, and there are others like me who try to weave it in to the fabric of working and parenting and everything else. If your council has voting positions, you need to commit to attending the monthly meetings so quorum (having enough voting members present to pass motions) can be achieved. Some years, that’s barely all I could achieve. Other years, I’ve been secretary, which requires only showing up and keeping a record of the proceedings and managing the agenda. This past year, in a fit of delusional enthusiasm for Simon’s Grade Six graduation year I was foolish enough to take on the yearbook. I nearly drowned in the 100+ hours it ate through May and June and I learned to sit on my twitchy-to-volunteer hands through forthcoming September meetings. Most councils are open-door, so even if you don’t want to commit to a voting position, you’re still welcome to sit at the council table and listen and contribute to the conversation. This is a great way to find out about other volunteer options, through council sub-groups or school activities like lunch programs and social events.

apple on books

Councils, like schools, each have their unique personalities. I need to mention that we live in a high-privilege community, and the chairs around our council tables are always full, but I have heard that there are schools in Ottawa who struggle to get even a few regular volunteers for council. I imagine this makes things a lot more challenging, as each person has to take on a larger share of the work.

While I’ve found council sometimes frustrating (oh humanity) and occasionally exhausting (when you get up at 5:30 for work, a meeting that runs until 9:30 on a cold February night can feel interminable!) in general my experiences with both the elementary and high school councils have been far more positive than not, and I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in their kids’ school lives consider signing up or at least attending some of the meetings.

What’s your experience? Have you volunteered for your school’s parent council? How did you find the experience?


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So, Pokemon Go. Right? It’s insanely popular. It’s taken over the conversation online, but what’s really stunning is to go to a local park or landmark and see how it really is EVERYWHERE. I have never seen anything like it.

As mom to three boys, I know a little bit about Charmander and Squirtle and Ash Ketchum and the tree professors that comprise the Pokemon universe. A little bit. Like, all the words to the theme song, the world’s most unshakeable earworm. Each boy has been a Pokemon fan to one degree or another, and so I’ve been in the room when every episode ever produced of the TV show and several of the films have been playing (though admittedly, I’ve become quite adept at filtering them out) and we have Pokemon stuffies, boardgames, Pokeballs, t-shirts and of course, trading cards.

Our first Pokemon

Our first Pokemon


My 14 year old has been steadfast in his appreciation of all things Pokemon, and has come full circle as his friends embraced the game, moved on and told him Pokemon was for babies, and watched with a smirk as the entire population came tumbling back to the Pokemon world that he never left.

All that to say, I was predisposed to like Pokemon Go. When a friend offered me his credentials to sign in to the US iTunes store a full week before the game was available in Canada (the night before we left for PEI), I downloaded the game immediately.

Best. Mom. Ever.

We chased Pokemon around Watson’s Mill that first night. It was bloody hot and after one sweaty loop, I was done, but the two eldest begged permission to take my phone and walk a few blocks more, to check the local library and other Pokestops. The next day, we chased Pokemon across Quebec and into New Brunswick. At every stop, the boys begged to use my phone to explore the local Pokestops. We found them on the beach, in our rental cottage, and across PEI.

This one from downtown Charlottetown is probably my favourite:

The Father of Confederation and a Zubat

The Father of Confederation and a Zubat

So we’ve been part of the craze from the beginning, and we enjoyed having it as part of our summer vacation trip. It has only been in the past week or so, though, that it has started to seep in just how massive this game is right now. The kids come home from criss-crossing the village with reports of bands of players coming together, from kids to grown adults, to compare recent acquisitions and tips for nearby stops. They collaborate with lures, drawing more Pokemon to the group. And all of this in our sleepy little village on a weekday morning!

That was my first inkling that maybe this whole Pokemon Go thing was even more than the hyperbole had expressed. And then we went downtown. We’d met up with friends to check out Buskerfest and Ribest on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and on our way from one to the other we walked through Confederation Park. I have been immersed in the madness that is Pokemon Go right from the start, and I was still amazed by the sheer number of people obviously playing the game. Look at the crowds behind our gang – I’d say easily 3/4 of the people in the crowded park are on their phones, playing Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go

I had to tip my hat to the ingenuity of this entrepreneur, selling actual Pokemon team hats and team badges. Again, look at the people on the fringes – almost all of them are playing.

Pokemon Go entrepreneur

It’s seriously crazy! I have never seen anything like it.

The only thing that’s more fascinating to me than how madly popular it is might be the volume of vitriol being hurled at the game. Haters gonna hate, right? Aside from the fact of its ubiquitousness, I really can’t see why so many people have such a hate on for the game. I’m sure it’s quite obvious by now that I love it. I think it’s clever, weirdly insidious, and awesome. Here’s five reasons why this (nearly) 47 year old mom thinks Pokemon Go is the best video game ever.

1. It gets the kids out and moving

The whole basis of the game is to go out and explore. You can only “hatch” some of the Pokemon eggs you find by walking 2, 5 or 10 km. Kids show up on our porch at breakfast time to collect one (or two) of the boys to go out Poke-hunting on their bikes. They zoom across the village together, and if they keep their speed below 20 km/hr, the game gives them credit for distanced traveled to hatch their Poke-eggs.

2. It’s social and collaborative

While there is an element of competition, the game is mostly collaborative. You can only “battle” at designated gyms, and even if you lose and your Pokemon gets killed, you can revive it. Mostly, though, it’s collaborative: several people can catch the same Pokemon, so you can let your friends know when there is a good one nearby and you can all catch it. You can actually hear a ripple of excitement in a large gathering when one of the more rare Pokemon appears. People naturally congregate and collaborate, with strangers chatting amiably about their experiences and acquisitions, and it’s amazing to see youngsters tutoring adults on various aspects of the game.

3. Any age can play

As a mother to a teenager, a tween and an eight year old, I can tell you that it’s a challenge to find an activity that’s equally appealing to all of them. The older kids may play with a higher degree of finesse, but the game is very easy to play from the first time you open the app. Anyone who has mastered the screen swipe can spin a Pokestop to retrieve the items and throw a Pokeball to catch a Pokemon, and for the youngest players (or the most Poke-obtuse parental ones!) that’s more than enough to get full enjoyment out of the game.

Pokemon Go Lucas

4. It’s free!

It’s a free download, and while there are in-app upgrades and items available for purchase with real dollars, you don’t have to use a credit card to set up or play the app. (I’d be careful to make sure you don’t have any disposable income in your iTunes account if your kids aren’t reliable enough to not accidentally make in-app purchases.) You do need a data plan, and while the game is a notorious battery hog, we don’t find it consumes too much data. I’ve read it consumes approximately 30 MB for an hour of active play.

5. It’s fascinating

I’ve read stories about people with mental health issues leaving their homes and making contact with people for the first time in years because of the game. The guy in line in front of us at ribfest had walked 67 km since downloading the app. Parents can play with kids, kids want to roam and explore, and the community is generally genial and friendly. It’s surprisingly neat to see photos of local landmarks integrated into the game (on the back of Google maps technology), and there has never been an uptake of technology on this scale before. It’s wicked cool to watch and be a part of it.

What do you think? If you hate it, care to share why? Are you or your kids playing? What’s the most fun thing you’ve seen?

Edit to add: almost forgot! If you want to see the phenomenon live in action, the Agriculture Museum at the Central Experimental Farm is holding Pokemon lure party next Saturday, August 6. It’s free if you show you have the app installed on your device!


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It was such a lovely, lingering summer, wasn’t it? Not everyone loves a warm autumn, though, and just a week or so ago, I was looking at the trees and wondering if our fall foliage season would be a bust. Now that we’ve had a few cool nights, though, and a soaking rain or two, the trees are beginning to shine in their lovely autumn reds, oranges and yellows.

306:365 Autumn leafy goodness

Families love portraits taken against that warm, colourful fall backdrop, and I’m also a bit of a weather geek, so I’ve been collecting resources for tracking the fall colours across Ontario and Quebec. I thought I’d share them, in case anyone wants to chase the brilliant autumn foliage this long Thanksgiving weekend. Here’s five sites you might find useful, skewed to those who live around Ottawa in Ontario, Quebec and the nearby United States.

Autumn spiral

400Eleven Colour Progression Report
: This neat site shows the percentage colour change, predominant leaf colour and suggestions for best locations for viewing fall colours throughout Ontario, broken down by region.

537:1000 Shiny tree

Ontario Parks interactive fall colour map: Ontario Parks has put together a neat interactive map that shows the dominant colour in each provincial park, and then gives a text description below of the dominant colour, colour change percentage and best viewing locations. I like the fact that it also states when the information was most recently updated, so you know how recently the information was posted.

Overgrown

Quebec Original fall colour map: Tourism Quebec offers a similar if not simplified map of the colour progression across southern Quebec. It only provides an assessment of whether a region is early in the fall colour season, nearing peak, mid-peak or post-peak.

leafy bokeh

Gatineau Park Fall Rhapsody: For those of us in the capital region, the National Capital Commission is hosting a series of events (this is the last of three weekends) to celebrate autumn, including a list of the 12 best places in the park to enjoy the fall colours. (Some of you may also read this as 12 places to avoid this weekend!)

Autumn leaves

US Fall Foliage Prediction Map
: This is actually the tool that set me off looking for a Canadian equivalent. I sort of expected Parks Canada might have put together something similar. Those of us relatively near the northern border can play with the slider under the map to guesstimate our peak foliage viewing times. Hint: it’s RIGHT NOW! This map begs the question, though – do they even have fall foliage in Florida?

Leafy canopy

If I were to road trip to chase the fall colours this year, Maine, Vermont and the Eastern Townships would be at the top of my list, but there’s no shortage of beautiful spots right here in Ottawa for a lovely autumnal hike after a big turkey dinner! Five years (!) ago, I wrote this post about lovely places to take fall photos in Ottawa.

I’ve shared my secrets, now you share yours! For those of us who will be actively avoiding those 12 best spots to view fall colours, where ELSE should we go?


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Sometimes a blog post needs to percolate in my head for a while. This one started out as a vaguely apologetic examination of why I’ve gotten out of the habit of wearing makeup lately, but the more the idea fermented, the less apologetic I was feeling. In fact, I’m feeling rather defiant about the whole issue now, perhaps in part thanks to an article I read on Jezebel called Please don’t tell me that I look better without make-up. It’s not so much that I disagree with the author, or that I have some moral opposition to makeup and those who wear it – I am just over feeling apologetic about my choice to not to wear it.

For me, this is about overcoming insecurity and the ridiculous notion that I must wear makeup or else appear like I was “letting myself go” or the idea that women of (ahem) a certain age need makeup to make up for the loss of dewy youthfulness. It’s the idea of makeup being mandatory that irks me – that you would feel like you couldn’t leave the house without it, or that going around without makeup is like going around in a stained shirt and torn trackpants.

If you wear makeup and love it, great! I’m glad it works for you. It has never worked for me, though. I wore makeup for years because I felt like I had to, because I was supposed to, because I wasn’t attractive enough without it. Except I was never particularly good at applying it, so I never felt terrific when I was wearing it, either – I felt self-conscious either way, but I was self-conscious AND uncomfortable when I was wearing makeup. Up until recently, I felt obligated to wear makeup to the office in the same way I’d wear work-appropriate clothes. Except I love dressing up in my work clothes, and I just felt hassled by remembering to put on makeup.

Now that I’ve more or less given it up entirely, I’m feeling rather liberated. Here’s five reasons why I’m happy that I finally got over the idea that I was obligated to wear makeup:

1. It’s expensive. I learned young that you pretty much get what you pay for with cosmetics, and when I did wear makeup I was a sucker for the higher-end brands. It’s especially expensive if you follow the recommended guidelines and replace it every few months but you only ever apply it often enough to use 1/10 of the container. I can’t tell you how many mostly-full eyeshadows and mascaras I pitched because I couldn’t remember how many years old they were.

2. It’s a hassle. You have to remember to put it on, and you have to remember to take it off again. Getting eye-makeup off is an even bigger PITA than getting it on properly. And you have to remember not to rub your eyes, or cry, or lick your lips. And you have to carry a patch kit, and have spare makeup stashed in your desk or purse for the days you forget to put it on before you leave the house. And it doesn’t stay on your face – you get foundation on your pillow cases and lipstick on your coffee mug. Ick.

3. It’s unhealthy – or, at least, my skin is healthier without it. “U.S. researchers identified 10,500 industrial chemicals used as cosmetic ingredients, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxics, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers and surfactants,” according to the David Suzuki foundation. Sure there are toxin-free alternatives out there, but they’re usually even more expensive. And sure, there are chemicals in my shampoo and moisturizer and everything else I touch all day long, but if I’m eliminating one more source of toxins, so much the better, right?

4. It changes the way you look. I know, duh, that’s the point, right? But I don’t like the idea that how you see me is through a layer of paint. I don’t like the fact that if I wear makeup nine days out of ten on that tenth day you see me and say, “Wow, she looks like shit today” because I’m not wearing my war paint.

5. It’s a self-perpetuating tyranny. This is linked to the previous point. The more often you wear makeup, the more you feel obligated to wear it and the more like you don’t feel like yourself if you aren’t wearing it. You-in-makeup becomes baseline you, so you without makeup is somehow not as good.

This is me, unvarnished. No make-up – and no Instagram filter, either. (Not even with the white balance and exposure adjusted, which is way harder for me than not wearing makeup.)

Ha, it is so much harder to take and post a photo like this than to leave the house without makeup! Eek! But I have to admit, unlike the author of the Jezebel article, I DO feel like I look better without makeup — and I’m more than happy to hear you tell me so! 😉

So what do you think? Why do we feel apologetic about NOT wearing makeup? Do you feel makeup because you love it, because you feel like you have to, or you don’t bother? Is it about being pretty, or your sense of self? Does it bother you to leave the house without fixing your face first?

What say ye, bloggy peeps?


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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!

IMG_0122_1

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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Oy, the years are starting to blur together! Back in 2009 I wrote a post with five ideas for fun family activities in Ottawa on Thanksgiving weekend, and it’s been surprisingly popular the last week or so. Lots of people are looking for ideas for something to do with children during the long holiday weekend, so here’s five more ideas!

1. Visit the Canada Agriculture Museum

The Canada Agriculture Museum, fondly known as the Experimental Farm, is a terrific place for a family visit no matter what the season. For the Thanksgiving weekend, they’re putting on an exhibit called Harvesting Energy, including windmills and conservation. There’s also cider tasting! The farm is one of my go-to family activities in Ottawa.

2. The Manotick Harvest Festival

On Saturday October 6, enjoy the fall colours as you make the trip out to Manotick. At the Harvest Festival, you’ll enjoy fun family activities like horse-drawn wagon rides, pumpkin art for kids, face painting and free music and street entertainment. There will also be a harvest marketplace featuring homemade goods and handcrafted items. Don’t forget to visit Watson’s Mill and the Manotick Farmer’s Market while you’re out here. That’s a lot of fun to cram in to a single Saturday — will I see you there?


3. Go apple picking!

It seems a little late in the season, but just last Saturday we were at the Log Cabin Orchard in Osgoode and here’s how it looked:

apple picking 2012

We left plenty on the trees for you – and yum yum, are they ever delicious! They also have tractor-pulled wagon rides, apply baked goods and extra activities for the kids. It’s a lovely little orchard and I’m glad we “discovered” it this year! (More photos here!)

4. Take a walk on the boardwalk

I know of at least three conservation areas in Ottawa that have lovely wooden boardwalks through beautiful boggy swamps that will be crazy with fall colours this weekend – and you might even see a critter or two getting ready for winter. We’re fond of Stony Swamp just off Moodie Drive in the west end and have newly discovered the Mer Bleue Bog in the east end. One of the region’s best-kept secrets is the Chapman Mills conservation area just off Prince of Wales Drive near Barrhaven, that winds along the Rideau River. Gorgeous in any season, but spectacular right now!

5. Funhaven

Okay, so the first four are what my kids would call mom activities. They’re wholesome, inexpensive, energy-expending, fresh-air experiences with lots of accidental learning opportunities. And, ahem, maybe a photo op or two. But if you’ve had your fill of fresh air and you want to drop some cash while delighting your children, I’d heartily endorse Funhaven. We spent a day there at the end of the summer and all three boys had a blast. The bumper cars were easy enough for even four-year-old Lucas to drive by himself, but fun enough for all three boys to enjoy. I personally enjoyed a bit of fun on the Deal or No Deal game. And the do-it-yourself frozen yogurt bar was a hit with all of us. Not an inexpensive day out, but one the boys are still talking about two months later.

If these ideas don’t engage your imagination, I’ve got a whole category of posts dedicated to ideas for family fun in and around Ottawa. What mischief will you be up to this holiday weekend?


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Five favourite summer traditions

21 July 2012 5 things

Ahhhh, summer vacation at last! We spent the first week of our family summer vacation driving madly across the province and back. We visited with siblings and cousins on both sides of the family and made a few new friends as well. There may or may not be a blog post about all that (oy, […]

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Winter break family fun ideas

4 January 2012 5 things

With back to school starting so late this year, it seems like Christmas was ages ago. I don’t know about your kids, but at our house the kids are twitchy. Most of the gifts have been examined and played with, the family visits are past and the Christmas decorations stashed away for another year — […]

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Five ideas for Thanksgiving Family Fun in and around Ottawa

7 October 2011 5 things

Wow, did you see the forecast for this weekend? I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten Thanksgiving dinner in shorts before – yowza, it’s going to be a spectacular weekend! Here’s five quick ideas of ways you can get out of the house and celebrate Thanksgiving in Ottawa: 1. Admire the fall foliage at Gatineau […]

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Friday Family Fun: Five crafty ideas to keep kids busy

22 July 2011 5 things

I was in Costco the other day and they had the back-to-school supplies out already. Nooooooo! I’m not ready!!! Yeesh, summer has barely begun! And yet, when the kids are restless, those long summer days can seem less like something to be enjoyed and more like something to be endured. For this week’s version of […]

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