August 2012

One of the first toys I ever bought for Tristan was a Fisher-Price classic: the Brilliant Basics Rock-a-Stack. He was too little to do much more than even grasp the smallest ring in his fat little fingers and drool on it, but it stayed in the every-day toybox (the one we dumped every day and picked up every night) for years and each boy took his turn learning to carefully stack the coloured rings on the tippy yellow pole. It’s not a complicated toy, but I wasn’t surprised to hear from Fisher-Price’s play expert Dr Kathleen Alfano during our visit to Mexico earlier this month that it’s a world-wide best seller.

Of course, I didn’t buy the toy expecting that it would help Tristan pass his high school trigonometry exams, but I do admit to buying more than a few toys because I hoped or believed they would help the boys reach some developmental milestones. Now that the boys are older, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of where their strengths and interests lie, but when they were babies I would have been grateful for the new playtime guide that Fisher-Price has started putting on its toys and features on its website.

As Dr Alfano explained to us, by way of this quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” That’s why the elements of enrichment are grouped into those three developmental domains: physical, cognitive and social/emotional. Dr Alfano used the Rock-a-Stack example of how the even the simplest toy can bridge many of these elements and can provide “a wonderful combination of simplicity and challenge: problem-solving thinking, trial and error, self-correcting, intrinsic learnings, size relationships, sequencing, colors, how many…” That’s a lot of learning packed into one well-drooled-upon little toy!

So I admit, I’ve always got my hidden mom’s agenda when choosing toys. Things that sway me are toys that encourage collaborative or imaginative play, toys that can be used in more than one way or encourage creativity, good quality (they take a beating over the course of three boys, our toys do), and of course, price. Perhaps, then, it’s lucky for the boys that the person actually in charge of most of the toy choosing in our family is Beloved, who is deeply in touch with his inner boy and much more attuned to what the boys want in their dearest secret hearts than I am. You have to give me points for trying, though, right?

Don’t get me wrong, now that the boys are old enough to covet things, there are plenty of toys that I consider junk that they’ll get just because they are kids and sometimes kids do love junk. But I’m trying to at least explain to them as we go why I think it’s junk. Most toys based on video-game or animé TV shows fall into this category and my kids know it.

Care to share your thoughts on buying toys? What sways you when you choose toys for your kids? What resources do you use to help in your decisions – toy buying guides, reviews, recommendations? (I am deeply swayed by recommendations, especially from friends. I would have never picked up the hex bugs that our boys so love if I hadn’t read about them online.) Do you plan ahead for what you want, or wander aimlessly through the toy store until something grabs your attention? (I always feel like a fish out of water when I do this – if I don’t have a plan going in, I’m likely to come out empty-handed and anxious, or I over-buy.)

What are the most important factors that influence what toys you purchase?

Disclosure: I am a Fisher-Price Play Ambassador and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are ALWAYS my own.


Facebook fan pages redux

by DaniGirl on August 28, 2012 · 0 comments

in Editorial asides

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I haven’t been a huge fan of Facebook. Over the last year or so, I’ve been slowly warming up to it, though, and find myself spending as much if not more time on Facebook than Twitter.

More and more lately, and especially after a conversation on (ironically) Facebook, I’m feeling motivated to finally publish the fan page I created for this blog a few years ago. (I know, welcome to 2009, right?)

The last time I thought seriously about this, I couldn’t think of a reason to have a fan page for the blog because I couldn’t see the value-added; what would be on the fan page that wouldn’t be on the blog? But not that I’m not blogging as obsessively as I once was, I do find things fall between the cracks, or just get posted to my personal FB page, just because it’s a quick and easy way to post a thought or two. There are fun things for Ottawa families that I don’t have time to post, or wee things that don’t seem to merit an entire blog post. There are shareworthy links that I might have posted on Pinterest, had I not quit it several months ago, or other bits of flotsam and jetsam that die in draft format because I can’t get them out quickly enough. I also have a few ideas for some fun giveaways and contests.

I was going to put up a poll asking you whether you’d be interested in “liking” a fan page for Postcards from the Mothership, but then I decided to let the liking speak for itself: if you’re interested in hearing a little bit more, please do!

Postcards from the Mothership

Promote Your Page Too

Consider it a sort of Postcards-lite, with a little extra something on the side. I hope to see you there!


And the theme in this week’s pictures shall be, “Oh look over there! Something colourful!” *snap*

When I took a photo course earlier this summer, I mentioned that I spent most of the time with my 50 mm f1.4 lens on my camera. I adore that lens! The instructor said a simple way to push your creative limits is to change up your perspective by using a different lens for a while, so this week I carried around my beast of a 35-70mm f2.8 lens on my camera instead. The 50mm weights 229 grams (about 8 oz) and the 35-70 mm weighs literally three times that at 660-odd grams. In fact, the lens weighs almost as much as the camera! All that to say, um, I’m not sure what I was trying to say after I googled all the camera and lens specs. Maybe that my left side is now stronger because that’s where I carry my camera? Or that my door frames now have larger divots from when I bump into them with the camera (you’d cringe if you saw how often I did that.) Um, no, it was that I did in fact find it useful to change up my perspective a little bit, despite the sore left arm.

But first, an iPhone picture – this one has no special filters or post-processing. The clouds really did look just like this over a farm out in the rural south as I looped my way out to Stittsville the back way on the weekend.

Crazy dramatic clouds over Manotick today!

I came across this guy playing with his nuts on a stump and loved how he was perfectly silhouetted against the sun on the river behind him – and that he was nice enough to freeze in terror just long enough for me to snap a shot!

Breakfast interuptus

Now that summer is creeping into fall, the morning fog is often thick between Manotick and the airport, where I found this cow noshing on some wildflowers.

Cow wandering through the wildflowers with morning fog

I was driving to work past the Rideau Canoe Club one morning and the colourful kayaks caught my eye from Hogs Back Road, so I pulled in and started poking around with my camera. Oooo, colourful! (Beloved and I want to get a canoe one of these days. Any advice for finding a good one that’s big enough for a family of five but would still be maneuverable by one early riser with a camera?)

Kayaks at sunrise

I walked by this downtown, got about fifteen feet down the sidewalk and went back for the picture. I mean, I know I ate a lot in Mexico last week, but don’t you think this is a little personal?

Ahem. Are you trying to tell me something?

I bought this adorable little bottle and wire basket set for less than $10 at my new favourite antiques and reproductions store, Gendron’s Antiques in Stittsville. OMG, how have I driven past this a hundred times on Carp Rd and never noticed the giant red barn? I also bought a barn star for my porch and made a wish list about as long as my arm. The yellow flowers are from my garden, about the only thing that survived the drought.

Yellow flowers

This is by far my favourite photo of the week. We went to the scaled-down SuperEx at the Rideau Carleton Raceway last weekend, and mid-morning on a Saturday you can see how busy it wasn’t.

SuperEx fun

It cost us $16 for the boys to win a $5 Pokemon stuffie, but getting this photo was worth every penny… and seeing the big boys happily let Lucas keep the stuffie, and Lucas sleeping with the darn thing every night this week, makes it just about perfect.


We’re at the dinner table (how many of my posts start out like this? I adore our family dinners!) and discussing the kindergarten teachers at the school. Lucas begins junior kindergarten this year – I’m not ready! Between being on the school council and picking the boys up at the school, I know most of the teachers by name and face, but can’t always put the two together.

We’re speculating on which teacher Lucas might have. “Is Ms Whosits the one with the bright blue eyes and the curly hair?” I ask. Tristan and Simon correct me. “No, that’s Ms So-and-so. Ms Whosits has blonde hair.” I’m just matching the names with the faces in my head when I notice that Lucas has tears in his eyes.

“What’s the matter, Lucas?” I ask, completely taken aback by his dismay, and wondering if maybe he’s bitten the inside of his cheek or something.

“I don’t want a curly-haired teacher,” he whispers, fat tears rolling down his cheek. I try to reassure him that his teacher will be wonderful, curly-haired or bald, and he adds in a barely-audible whisper, “I’m shy.”

Oh sweet Lucas, you are indeed shy. Simon is gregarious and open, and Tristan often prefers his own daydreams to the company of others, but Lucas is the one is genuinely and painfully shy. He still prefers not to be left at the play zone in Ikea or the grocery store, and stays close to his beloved caregiver at playgroups, sometimes even sitting in her lap. I had a hard time disengaging myself from him at a recent birthday party in the park, where he told me in the same whisper that he didn’t like dinosaurs or cake, either.

I eventually reassure him, with the help of the big boys, by describing the many wonders of kindergarten. “They have lots of books,” I tell him, and his eyes widen. “And puzzles, and block, too!” I cast about for what I know he loves best. “And you know what else they have?” Lucas’s eyes are now saucers, desperate to be convinced. “They have a craft station!” He’s sold, at least temporarily, on the idea of at least checking it out. Curly-haired teacher or not…

We have one week left in this amazing summer, and I’d booked it off as vacation in the long-ago spring, knowing we had no day care lined up for this week. I’m looking forward to celebrating each day with the boys before they go back to school, all three of them this time.

Where did the time go?

Brothers, June 2008


As I mentioned, Karisma Hotels operates a chain of hotels on the Mayan Riviera, including the three Azul hotels we toured. It was interesting to me how each of the three Azul hotels had completely different energy levels and vibes, right from the moment you walk into the lobby.

Azul Beach Hotel is the smallest of the three, offering a quieter and more mellow environment. I think this would be the best choice for families with wee children (say, ages five and under) and families without children. There were quite a few families with small children when we were there, and it was clear that there was plenty of kid-speed activities just for them. There’s a kids’ club with daily programming at the Azulitos play house:

The Azulitos Play House has equipment and special programs created for children from four to 12 years old. There is a play space designed by Fisher-Price® with all the latest educational toys to enhance early childhood development. Kids sing, listen to stories, and work on talking and sharing skills in playgroups.

Highlights for older children include video games and a full schedule of challenge games and activities. There is mini-yoga, handcrafts, face painting and movie time. Kids love all the beach activities, which include a treasure hunt, sandcastle building and balloon wars.

There’s a small playground on the beach, and three swimming pools, in addition to the suites with swim-up pools. Every day as we hustled from one activity to the next, I looked longingly at the craft station set up on the beach (they were painting ceramic figures) and I thought about how much my boys would have loved that particular activity. I’m pretty sure their heads may have exploded when they saw the dedicated Lego room, and the mini-trampoline, and the swing chairs, and the video game stations. And then, of course, white sand beach with rolling waves.

Azul Beach Hotel-3

And everywhere, there is evidence of Karisma’s partnership with Fisher-Price, from a toy-lending library to Fisher-Price booster seats scattered throughout the restaurant. Each of the restaurants has a kids’ menu, but of course kids are welcome to choose from the regular menu, too.It truly seems that children are welcome here, and just an inconvenience or afterthought.

Here’s the the #FisherPriceMoms Canadian team (well, the half of us that could make the trip) together with Eddie and Sonya Lee. (I must admit, these overly-life-sized Little (not so much) People may have freaked Lucas right out, but many of the kids at the resort seemed fine with them.)

Fisher-Price Canada team in Mexico

Azul Sensatori, the much larger hotel just down the road, has a totally different energy.

Azul Sensatori Hotel features never-before-seen suites that have a heated Jacuzzi for two in the lazy river off the terrace. There are also guaranteed family connecting suites, adults-only and premium sections, and honeymoon suites with wrap-around balconies.

This Gourmet Inclusive®, 438-suite hotel is just 20 minutes from the airport in Cancun. Special experiences foster togetherness for families, couples and groups of friends.

Available baby amenities include strollers, baby bath tubs, changing tables, baby monitors, cribs, play pens or pack n’plays, baby step stool, baby bath robes, bottle warmers & sterilizers. Azul Sensatori caters to kids and teenagers, with the Azulitos Playhouse and Extreme Breeze Teens Club. The exclusive Family & Friends Vacation Planner coordinates family reunions.

And the baby bath robes? Are adorable! Azul Sensatori has plenty of amenities for the littlest travelers, but also features a teen club with activities like DJ mixing lessons (this has Simon written all over it!) and a rock-climbing wall that Tristan would love. Here’s the play area at one of the pools:

Azul Sensatori kids play area

I don’t think I told you about my (ahem) suite at Azul Beach House yet. Third after chasing the sunrise on the beach every morning and the food, my favourite thing about Azul Beach House was the bathroom in my suite. It was easily the size of my kitchen at home (which, I admit, doesn’t say much about the size of my kitchen!) It had a stand-alone jacuzzi tub and a separate shower enclosure with both a shower wand and one of those rainfall shower heads in the ceiling. (And it only took me getting zapped in the ear once by cold water from the shower wand to learn to make sure it’s aimed down before turning on the water!) It was simply too large to capture decently in a single photo, so here’s a panorama of the bathroom:

Bathroom pano - Azul Beach Hotel

You know what I really loved, though? There was one of those iPhone charger clock radios in the bedroom, and it was attached to speakers in the bathroom. I plugged in my iPhone one day to charge it and was playing some music to cover up the sound of the silence (I’m really not used to silence anymore!) and was delighted to hear the music being piped into the bathroom speakers. Again, little touches like that really impressed me.

And speaking of water, my fears about water quality in Mexico were unfounded. My vow to use no ice cubes melted (ahem) in the first day of 45C humidity, and with all the food I ate there was no way I could avoid the fresh fruits and vegetables they tell you to avoid when traveling in Mexico. And I had no problems whatsoever.

This post has been all over the place, hasn’t it? I have at least one, maybe two more posts left in this series, but I want to make sure I can cram in as much of the awesome as possible!


Phew, I’ve been so busy telling you about family fun on the Mayan Riviera that I almost forgot to tell you about terrific family fun this weekend right here in Manotick!

Sunday August 26 will be Manotick’s annual Picnic in the Park, with a reprise of last year’s very successful soapbox derby. Details from the MVCA website:

Picnic-in the Park, Manotick’s happy celebration of a fine summer is slated to take place in Centennial Park and features fun for the whole family. Hot dogs, hamburgers, soft drinks, popcorn and cotton candy will be available at very reasonable prices beginning at noon until 3 PM. We are hoping that corn-on-the-cob will be available at no charge, donated by Shouldice Farms. Pizza Pizza have generously offered their “bouncy castle” for young children and there will be face painting and balloons. Bring chairs so you can sit in the park and listen to live music.

Please arrive early so that racing can start on at 9:00 sharp! Winners will be announced immediately after completion of all the races. Pre-registration is required. Further details and registration form are available on the MVCA website.

There was a bit of a delay in between when I got my latest update about the picnic and when I managed to get this post up, but as of early in the week there were even a few soap-box derby cars available for those without the means or talent to make one, courtesy of the Manotick Lions, the Legion, the Kiwanis and Watson’s Mill. (I find new reasons to love this community every year!)

Don’t miss the fun this Sunday at Manotick’s Centennial Park. Be there early if you’re interested in the soapbox races, or at from noon till 3 pm for the picnic.


Postcards from the Riviera Maya Chapter 3: The Canadian Connection (Alternate title: In which she ate her body weight in gourmet food, daily)

21 August 2012 Away we go

It was kind of funny how many Canadian connections I came across in my trip to Mexico last week. (Eek, only last week? Seems like a dream from here!) From the New York blogger who was born in Canada to the general manager and head chef at one of the hotels we visited to the […]

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This week in pictures: Mexico and other beautiful places

19 August 2012 Photo of the Day

We interrupt this series of post filled with pictures from Mexico to bring you — a post filled with pictures from Mexico. Since I took about 500 pictures this week (literally! Thank goodness we’re not shooting film anymore!), and since everything about the resort was all-inclusive and ridiculously decadent, about my toughest decision every day […]

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Postcards from the Riviera Maya Chapter 2: Bloggers in paradise

18 August 2012 Away we go

It’s really funny when you tell people that you’re going on an all-expenses trip to the Riviera Maya because of your blog. They give you the same look people used to give back in 2006 and nobody had ever heard of blogs, but with more incredulity. “They’re giving you the free trip why now?” I’ve […]

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Postcards from Riviera Maya Chapter 1: Murphy goes to Mexico

15 August 2012 Away we go

Okay, so I know by the time I finish this series of blog posts, you will be amazed and maybe just a little bit jealous of how truly amazing this trip has been. I can’t wait to start telling you all about it, so much so that I am sitting here in my hotel room […]

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