March 2014

I heard this clip on CBC Radio on the way home today, and to my great surprise, I cried. Okay, maybe not so much surprise. It’s all over the Internet right all of a sudden, but if you haven’t seen it, you *must* watch it.

This is Wil Wheaton at the Denver Comicon, replying to a little girl who asks him if he was called a nerd when he was growing up and how he dealt with it. I have two favourite bits: the part where he says you should never make fun of someone for something they didn’t choose, and the part when he talks about how much better it gets once you get out of the school ecosystem. That might be the bit that made me cry.

Trust me, it’s worth the 3 minutes, and then some.

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The boys and I were in the car, on the way to swimming lessons in a snowstorm (seminal Canadian childhood experience, right?) and we’re listening to Michael Enright on CBC Sunday Morning. He’s talking about this National Post article by Sarah Boesveld, about a New Zealand school that “had stopped reprimanding students who whipped around on their scooters or wielded sticks in play sword fights” in the playground, giving kids more freedom to play in an active, creative, energetic way. The article goes on to say,

[The principal] knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.

It’s such a good article. Go read about what happened when a boy broke his arm on the new “unsafetied” playground. Wait, I’ll save you the click. The parent of the boy who broke his arm on the playground confronted the principal and said, “I just wanted to make sure you don’t change this play environment, because kids break their arms.”

533:1000 A tire swing is more fun when shared with a brother

I love this idea. LOVE it. And what I loved even more was that it gave me a chance to talk about it with my boys.

DISCLAIMER: this is not a criticism of any school in particular. This is defintely not a criticism of our school. This is just a discussion of a topic that I find interesting, and relevant, and important. Please don’t bother reporting me to the principal over this blog post. Again.

Ahem, as I was saying, this gave me a terrific opportunity to discuss this issue with the boys. I knew they had been listening, and we have talked about this very issue before.

“So, what did you think about that,” I asked them. “Do you guys have a lot of rules about safety on the playground?”

They said they wished they had more freedom to do things like climb trees and play tag. “Yeah,” one sighed. “There’s a lot of rules. I can kinda see the point of some of them. But there are so many rules that all we can do at recess is sort of walk around.”

I totally get that any school administration wants nothing more than to protect kids. I really, really do believe that they have the kids’ best interests in mind, but I also think that in making these policies they have to consider things like litigious parents and school board liability and all sorts of other factors that are in opposition to letting kids be kids. Kids need to play, and as they get older, kids need to take risks – and sometimes, they need to suffer the consequences of those risks. You decide to play pirate swords with that big branch and take a stick to the side of the head, that’s a pretty reasonable consequence to choosing to engage in rough play. And the bump will go down – eventually.

It’s hard, I get it. I drive the kids to the toboggan hill and watch them slide down (albeit with camera in hand) and bite my tongue instead of tutt-tutting when they start going down face first. I walk them to the park and try my best not to look when they sail off the swing when it reaches its apex. I send them out to ride their bikes around the block and restrain myself from peering down the block after them.

I don’t want my kids to get hurt. But I think about the times I visited the ER as a kid (a concussion from flipping over my handlebars and a sprained ankle from standing up on a toboggan come immediately to mind, to say nothing of arriving on the porch after walking home from the park soaked in blood after taking a toboggan to the nose) I realize that those injuries were probably harder on my parents than they were on me. I can tell you this, though – I was a lot more careful racing my bike after that, I never stood up on a toboggan again, and I learned to walk up the side of the toboggan hill instead of across the bit where people were sledding out of control.

The New Zealand school’s experience is fascinating. The principal observes, “The students weren’t hurting themselves — in fact, they were so busy and physically active at recess that they returned to the classroom ready to learn. They came back vibrant and motivated, not agitated or annoyed.”

This story speaks to the core of how I want to parent my children. I don’t want to discourage them from taking risks because *I* am afraid of the consequences. I want them to learn the natural consequences of their actions, and I want them to understand that getting hurt is a natural part of life, not a reason to stop doing fun things. And I would love to see schools in Canada embrace this brave New Zealand principal’s common sense approach to letting kids be kids, even if it sometimes hurts.

What do you think? We all seem to agree that kids are too coddled these days, but how do we break away from that? I know this is something I need to work on personally, too, because I do tend to coddle the boys when there is a risk of physical injury. I think we need to work on our culture of risk aversion at the family level, so we can broaden that into the school community.

I’d love to hear your perspective on this, whether in the context of the playground or just in letting kids take risks in general. How do we help our schools feel more comfortable with this kind of philosophy and how do we get back to letting kids be kids, overlooking the risks in favour of the rewards? And I’d really love to hear your perspective as a teacher or school administrator. What are the challenges from your perspective? What can we all as a community do?


It’s no secret that I’m an Ottawa fangirl. I love our community for exactly that – it IS a community, filled with kind and courageous people who work to make it a better place to live.

Last night I had the honour of attending the CHEO Healthy Kids awards ceremony at Funhaven with the boys and Beloved. I was curious about the awards, and I knew the boys wouldn’t say no to a free couple of hours to run wild around their favourite indoor fun park.

The CHEO Healthy Kids awards were established in 2010 with the goal of promoting wellness for children and youth. MC for the evening, and also CHEO president and CEO Alex Munter, mentioned that (sorry if I get this wrong, I’m going from memory) 24 per cent of our population is under 21, and the Healthy Kids initiatives underscore that preventing illness and injuries is a far better prescription for health than having to treat them.

In addition to Alex Munter, Mayor Jim Watson and Laureen Harper were on hand to help present the awards.

Listening to the descriptions of the winning programs reminded me that we are lucky to live in a city with these kinds of resources available. Here’s a little bit about each of the award categories and the winner in each category, courtesty of CHEO:

Youth for Youth Award: Awarded to initiatives or programs that are created by youth, for youth

Recipient: Take Action Parkwood Hills

Take Action Parkwood Hills (TAP) project provided opportunities for local youth to learn how to create and edit films, their end result being ‘Parkwood Hills, The Documentary’. By using each youth’s community as a subject , TAP empowered youth to become proactive, contributing members of their communities. Many are now using themes from their films to affect real change locally. TAP fosters cross-cultural relationships, stressing the importance of combating current stereotypes found in Canadian society.

Community Champion Award: Awarded to an individual who has proven themselves an exceptional advocate of childhood mental and physical health.

Recipient: Steven Thomas – GoodGuysTri

GoodGuysTri (GGT) is an Ottawa based non-profit organization that raises awareness and funds for many charities. GGT has fully dedicated itself to engaging in a variety of great causes and to inspiring others to be active. Steven Thomas, nominated by fellow co-founder Mike Herzog, has worked tirelessly over the past two years. Steven has also been a major catalyst of End Kids Cancer.

Community Program Award: Awarded to a corporate, non-profit or organizational program/initiative that promotes the healthy development of children/youth.

Recipient: Christie Lake Kids STAR (Skills Through Activity and Recreation) – Craig Mackie

The Christie Lake Kids STAR program serves underprivileged families by providing recreation and skill-building programs, free of charge, for young adults. They seek to remove the barriers that economic disadvantages set in place so that all youth have equal footing in life. With over 30 years of dedicated service and a 70% retention rate, Christie Lake Kids STAR program builds character and instills life skills in the youth they teach.

Help for Special Needs Award: Awarded to a project/program that works to enrich the lives of children/youth who are developmentally delayed, medically challenged, technologically dependent or who require complex/palliative care.

Recipient: Gloucester Association for Children with Special Needs

The Gloucester Association for Children with Special Needs (GACSN) has improved the physical and social development of special needs children by providing fun weekend activities. Each Saturday, those involved in GACSN are invited to an afternoon of swimming and crafts, giving parents and caregivers a few hours of respite. Praised for its consistency, GACSN offers both group and one-on-one sessions with the youth and young adults enrolled in the program. For more than 20 years, GACSN has been helping children with special needs make friends, improve physical fitness and develop new skills so they may excel in their adult lives.

Connected Care Award: Awarded to partners that have worked together to promote healthy development in youth, furthering their success from that partnership.

Recipient: Paediatric Complex and Chronic Care Clinic, Iqaluit

The Paediatric Complex and Chronic Care Clinic (PCCC) is an intra-disciplinary team of experts who work to keep the youth in their community – Qikiqtani, Nunavut – connected to the health services that they require. In a region where poverty, criminality and suicide rates are high, the passionate and committed experts in the PCCC work to enhance delivery of required services, facilitate knowledge sharing and aim to become a regional team so that they may serve more youth.

Health Advocacy and Public Education Award: Awarded to an individual or organization that is raising awareness and providing public education on a key issue impacting the health of children/youth, or influences a change in public policy that will benefit youth and their families.

Recipients: Community Suicide Prevention Network and Building Capacity for GLBTTQ Youth Mental Health

Building Capacity for GLBTTQ Youth Mental Health provides counselling for GLBTTQ youth and young adults and their families. They provide support for the nation’s capital by offering workshops for service providers and educators and free services to GLBTTQ youth. With a focus on exploring sexual orientation and gender identity, Building Capacity for GLBTTQ Youth Mental Health aims to build resilience and capacity for GLBTTQ youth.

The Community Suicide Prevention Network (CSPN) is a group of partner associations who are committed to the prevention of suicide in Ottawa. By sharing resources and expertise, CSPN has made a collaborative effort to make mental health services more accessible in the Ottawa region. They have recently launched their “Know What To Do” guide, information outlining what to do and where to go for help. They continue to work together to make Ottawa a suicide safer community.

That’s impressive, isn’t it? Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to CHEO and all your supporters for the fun evening out, and insight into these programs. I’m more proud than ever to be raising my family in Ottawa.


Had you told me before I had kids that I’d be reading aloud each night to my kids beyond the age of ten, I’d have laughed. I mean, sure, we’re a bookish family, and reading is sacred – but I would not have imagined that they would still not only enjoy but actively request out-loud reading at the end of every day.

From the Hobbit to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to Harry Potter, it’s been fun revisiting some of my favourite books with them. We’ve also checked a few off my own “must read” list, including A Wrinkle in Time and most recently, Anne of Green Gables. (I seriously never could have imagined that two 21st century preteen boys could be so engaged by a 100 year old book about a spunky girl as they have. Truly one of my finer parenting moments!)

They are just getting to an age where they are starting to have more sophisticated tastes in their individual reading. They’ve both read two of the three Hunger Games books, and are racing to finish Mocking Jay before the first movie comes out this fall. With the hype about the new Divergent movie and a recommendation from a camp counsellor, Simon now wants to read that. I waffled – he is only 10, and I don’t know how mature the themes in the book are, even though it is purportedly for a young adult audience. There is a lot of ground between 10 and 17!

At first, I was going to hold him off until I could read the series myself first. At the very least, I thought I would skim the interwebs to see if I could get an idea if there was anything questionable in the books. However, I was nine when I picked up my mom’s copy of Stephen King’s Firestarter and I’ve been reading adult novels just about ever since.

304:365 Antique books

After reflecting on it a bit, I decided that they’re now pretty much okay to read whatever they want. I couldn’t think of anything I wouldn’t want them to read, although I do still want to know what they’re reading so we can talk about it. I think I’d still be careful about what movies we watched together, but there’s something about books and the engagement of your imagination that makes me willing to give them a longer leash.

I tried to think of what would make me restrict a book, and I suppose the violence would be the biggest red flag for me, although they are a little naive for any overt sexuality. Truth be told, if they are smart enough to find that stuff and learn something, more power to them! As if we weren’t all reading everything from Tiger Eyes to Tropic of Capricorn looking for the racy bits back in high school.

What do you think? Are you concerned about what your pre-teen or teen is reading? Do you monitor their reading? Are there some themes that worry you more than others? Are there any books you would forbid outright? (And how long do you think it would be before they found a way to subvert you?)

I’m thinking I may at last soon be able to do something I’ve been waiting years to do: read one of my all-time favourite books out loud to the boys. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, here we come!

(Thanks to Kerry and her family for inspiring this blog post with a random Facebook conversation!)


I‘m listening to a call-in show on CBC radio about workplaces making accommodations for parents, and in between grinding my teeth and rolling my eyes I’m repressing the urge to call in myself. Conveniently, I have another medium through which to vent my opinions on this subject, and I’ve been thinking about blogging about this topic for a while now anyway. Every day I count my lucky stars that I have an employer that allows me to work part time, and on the days I do work, allows me to schedule hours early enough in the day that I can be home in time to pick up the kids after school.

"What I dream of is an art of balance." ~ Henri Matisse

It’s been just a wee bit over five years since I made the decision to drop down to part time hours at work. When I came back to work after my maternity leave with Lucas, I switched from working full time to working four days per week. I kid you not when I say it was the best decision I ever made with regard to my career and work-life balance. People often ask me about my experience and how it’s working out, and I am always happy to rave about what a difference it has made in my life.

I love working part time hours. LOVE it! My weeks have a delicious, predictable rhythm. I take most Wednesdays off, which means that no matter whether things are nuts at home or at work, I only have to get through “tomorrow” at latest until there is a change of scene. Kids climbing the walls? No problem, the serenity of my little corner cubicle awaits. Work files overwhelming? Just get through today and tomorrow for a respite.

And best of all, no more of that Sunday evening dread, when you look at all the tasks you never got around to doing on the weekend (I’m eyeballing YOU, teetering pile of unsorted and unfolded laundry!) because you can likely take care of it in a couple of days instead of tripping over it all week. Wednesdays off are when I schedule all the kids’ (and the pets, and my) medical and dental appointments, the day I am free to volunteer in the classroom or on class trips (hello ski trip!) or deal with life’s minutiae, like furnace tune-ups and overdue library books.

I’m lucky to have an employer that respects my need to balance life at work and life outside of work, and a job that allows for it. There are times when I switch off and work a Wednesday to accommodate a meeting, or call in from home for a conference call, and I think flexibility on both sides of the fence has been key to making this work. I do think that maybe I’ve hampered my own progression into a more senior position by working part time, but that’s a sacrifice I’m more than happy to live with – for now, at least. While I love my job, I love my sanity more, and I have never been particularly career ambitious. I just want to be happy, yanno?

There is, of course, a cost to working only 80 per cent of a week – I lost 1/5 of my income. (Worth! Every! Penny!) Conveniently, the same month I dropped down to part time hours was the month I launched my 365 project, which has turned into a nice little photography business on the side. I sometimes wonder if I would have had enough stamina to manage the photo business working five full days a week. While I’m not bringing in the full amount of my lost wages through the blog and the photo business, it’s gone a long way to bridging the gap.

There’s a cost beyond 20 per cent of my salary, too. For every five years I work 80 per cent of full time hours, I will have to delay my full-pension retirement by one year. Rather than retiring at age 55, I now have to delay that by a year to account for the last five years of part time work. I may well resent myself at age 55 for the extra years I’ll have to put in before retirement — but I probably won’t. Heck, Lucas will only be in high school by then — I’m probably delusional about the idea of retiring before I pay for three university educations anyway!

The initial plan was for me to work part time until the kids were in school full time, and then hop back into the game full time to maximize my salary for that last decade before I retire. You know what, though? Even though Lucas has been in school full time since September, I feel sick to my stomach when I even think about going back full time. On the rare weeks when I do have to work five days in a row, I am frazzled and exhausted and whine wonder aloud how anybody manages to live life like this. I’ve become accustomed to both the restricted salary and the relaxed pace, and from here an extra couple of years until retirement doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. I know my bosses would be delighted if I decided to come back full time, but I can’t imagine how I’d make it work.

How do you make your life work for you? Do you work from home or flexible hours, or trade off with a spouse who does? Are you staying at home until the kids are done school – or permanently? Or do you compensate by hiring out menial chores? (I would so love to hire a cleaning service, but just cannot justify it when I am supposed to be cleaning on my day off! Five years later and I’m still waiting to work that one into the schedule!) Would you want to work a lesser work week and if so – what’s keeping you from doing it?


Have you heard about Kidsfest Ottawa?

What’s Kidsfest?

At Kidsfest Ottawa families will enjoy quality, family-fun entertainment including stage shows, interactive animal exhibits and opportunities to meet popular children’s characters, explore over 70 exhibitor booths providing a unique platform for parents to purchase products and services for their families, and have access to fun and valuable information and resources.

Some of the events and activities to expect:

 the Kratt Brothers will be performing a 1/2 hour live show Amazon Adventure Event on Saturday followed by an autograph signing session

 Mike the Knight will delight crowds with two performances on Sunday with his motto “Be a Knight, Do it Right”

 “Inspiration Stage” will expand your imagination with songs and music

 Junkyard Symphony will perform on the Main Stage both days and later teach children how to play instruments using recycled materials on the Inspiration Stage

 Ray’s Reptiles will showcase its new performance of ‘Under the Canopy – Animals of the Rainforest’

 Funatorium Emporium will be a new partner with its Gyro Gym, Magnetic Wall, Lego Build & Plasma Cars

Kratt brothers!! *swoon* I have such a mom-crush on them! And there’s a special place in my heart for Ray’s Reptiles, too. We do love our critters around here! The boys are super-excited about attending this one – doesn’t it sound like kid heaven? Kidsfest runs Saturday and Sunday April 5-6 at the EY Centre. For details on tickets and the schedule of events, visit the Kidsfest website.

But you, my bloggy peeps, can win one of two family passes that I have to give away! I have TWO family passes, each comprising two adult and two child admissions to Kidsfest Ottawa on either April 5 or April 6, 2014. If you would like to enter the giveaway to win one of the two family passes, simply leave a comment on this blog post telling me about a family-friendly activity you enjoy in Ottawa.

Here’s the fine print:

  1. This is a giveaway for one of two sets of family passes to Kidsfest Ottawa on April 5 or 6, 2014.
  2. A family pass comprises two adult and two child admissions to Kidsfest.
  3. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post telling me about a family-friendly Ottawa activity that you enjoy.
  4. Two winners will be chosen at random from all comments posted. Each winner will win one family pass [2 adult and 2 child admissions] to Kidsfest, good for either April 5 or April 6.
  5. 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.
  6. This giveaway is open only to residents of Canada, excluding residents of Quebec. (sorry!)
  7. This giveaway will run until 11:59 pm EDT on Friday March 21, 2014.
  8. If you win, you must be willing to provide your full name and contact information to me to share with Kidsfest Ottawa. Your pass will be available at the EY Centre’s “Will Call” desk during Kidsfest.
  9. Please note that the family passes do not include fees for parking at the EY Centre.

Sounds like fun, right? Good luck!

Disclosure: In addition to offering two family passes for this giveaway, Kidsfest also offered us a family pass in exchange for this promotion. Now to figure out which kid has to sit in the parking lot since the pass only covers four admissions, and I don’t think I will be able to convince Beloved to sit this one out, either! 😉

Edited to add: Thank you all for entering. Two winners have been selected and contacted via e-mail and I will share the details once they confirm their availability. However, here’s a good deal for everyone else from Capital Parent: Use promo code ‘CPSOCIAL2014’ and get $3 OFF adult admission when you buy your tickets online!

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A rambly review of some of my favourite ideas for March Break family fun in Ottawa

8 March 2014 Ottawa Family Fun

Two years ago just after the March Break, it it 26C in Ottawa. Sigh, remember that? I don’t think we’ll hit shorts weather this year on the March Break, but after a deep freeze of a winter the forecasted near zero temperatures will make it just about perfect for getting out of the house and […]

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A love letter to Tristan, age 12

7 March 2014 Tristan

My dear darling Tristan, today you are twelve years old! Tristan, you are a curious, creative, thoughtful boy with a delightfuly dry and wry sense of humour. You are warm and affectionate, shy but loyal, and full of deep thoughts. You are always a wonderful companion and I enjoy spending time with you. It seems […]

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Great new for bloggers: Millions of photos on Getty Images are now free

6 March 2014 Photography

Wow. I did not see this one coming. Getty Images announced last night that it is making approximately 40 million images – including 600+ from me – free for use on social media. If you are a blogger, this is great news for you. If you are a photographer who sells imagery through Getty, maybe […]

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Hey Blogger, did you declare that free soup on your income tax return?

1 March 2014 How I love the Interwebs

So this is kind of interesting. Bloggers, photographers, Facebook business page owners and anyone who earns even a couple of dollars from the interwebs, you might want to pay attention to this. Up-front disclosure – this is not tax advice. Also, as you may know, despite having failed income tax returns in high school (true […]

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