Friday, September 11, 2015

Ahoy! There is Still Time to Get Swept Away by @PirateLifeTO

Everybody knows that Toronto is a huge city population-wise, but a lot of us forget just how big it is geographically too. For example, I forget all about the Toronto Islands all the time. That's unfortunate, because, for the sake of a few minutes and a cheap ferry ride, you can find yourself in another world.

There's tons of stuff to do on the Islands, and during our summer staycation we were lucky enough to be able to try a few of them. One of our favourites was the Pirate Life Adventure. Geared to kids of all ages, Pirate Life lets the whole family get in on the adventure. 

It starts with everybody getting into costume. We knew M would be all over that, but we weren't quite sure how Little Cat Z would take it. He's a better sport than we give him credit for, and by the end of his session he was asking for extra touches to his make-up to round out his gnarly pirate look.

Once on board, the young mateys swear the Pirate Oath before hitting the open sea. Errr, lake... With swashbuckling adventures and a chance to fire the cannons, a great time was had by all.

Even the littlest pirate got in on the action:

Pirate Life is still operating on the weekends for as long as the weather cooperates. They're currently running a contest for free tickets to one of the few remaining shows this year. If you're looking for a local adventure, it's a sure way to have a good time!

Disclaimer: We received tickets for the purposes of writing this review. No other compensation was received. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Understanding Learning Differences: Terrific Teddy by @JimForgan #BookReview

Little kids are awesome! Their views on the world around them are fascinating, and their unbridled honesty is truly a treasure. Except, of course, when it's the source of profound embarrassment for their parents! But let's face it, I think we all know a few adults who could use a little help in the tact department...

M is in school now, which means she meets kids from all walks of life. Sometimes she meets kids who have special needs and learning differences, and it can be hard to come up with ways to explain those differences in an honest, age-appropriate way. It's important to remember that just about everything will be repeated, without a care in the world about who is within earshot.

So how do we explain, tactfully, that some classmates experience learning differences that may mean changes to the way their teachers address their specific needs?

Terrific Teddy's Excessive Energy - by Dr. Jim ForganThankfully, Dr. Jim Forgan, a licensed school psychologist, has given us the Terrific Teddy series to use as a guide when talking to children about learning differences. I received copies of Terrific Teddy bd Mix-Up and Terrific Teddy's Excessive Energy for review.

Terrific Teddy and the b-d Mix-Up (Understanding Learning Differences) (Volume 1)

Terrific Teddy's Excessive Energy (Understanding Learning Differences) (Volume 2)

I read them with M and *I* thought the books were helpful and sweet. But let's face it, I'm not the intended audience! M also really enjoyed the Terrific Teddy books. She read them to her little brother. She asked to read them again and again. Several weeks later she asked a question about a classmate with a speech impediment, and we were able to relate it to what we learned in the Terrific Teddy books.

Parenting is fraught with difficult questions and potential landmines at every turn. The Terrific Teddy series helps parents answer at least some of those questions with grace. 

* Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of the above noted Terrific Teddy books to write this review. I was not otherwise compensated, and all opinions expressed are my own. I participate in the Amazon Associates program, and if you purchase the Terrific Teddy books using the links above, I will receive a small commission. This in no way influences my opinion of the Terrific Teddy books. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Talking to my daughter about #womenslives

It's a common scene for us, walking around our neighbourhood. It's a safe place with good schools and a real sense of community. There are often people out on the main strip holding clip boards, talking to passers-by about charitable organizations. This day was nothing out of the ordinary, except that it was the first time that I had to have a conversation about the place of women in the world.

On this day, the logo on the back of the clip board was the one for "Because I am a Girl." For those not familiar with the organization, this is their mission: "Because I am a Girl is a global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty."

The thing with (almost) six-year-old children is that they ask questions about absolutely everything. Because I have a firm pledge to always answer my children honestly when they ask a question, this sometimes leaves me struggling to find an age-appropriate way to explain what is happening in the world around them.

I told her that she is lucky to live here, because in some places in the world, girls are treated very differently. And then I shut up, because I realized that even here some girls are still treated very differently. I don't know how to answer these questions about the role of women in today's society because frankly, we get the short end of the stick an awful lot of the time. I make sure to mark the anniversary of the massacre at L'Ecole Polytechnique every year. Will I tell her that? How will I explain that right here in Canada women were murdered because they were born with an X instead of a Y.

I don't know the answers, but I know that doesn't mean that we should stop asking the questions. That's why I'm pleased to take part in Across Women's Lives, a collaborative radio, web and social media coverage of gender equity around the world hosted by SheKnows Media and Public Radio International. I'll be sharing experiences about #womenslives on Twitter and Facebook. Please follow along!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dear Moms at the Toddler Playgroup, I'm Sorry!

You may remember us from the Parent and Toddler Playgroup. Mine is the gregarious, affectionate little guy who gave several of you big, unprompted hugs. Yes, I know, he IS adorable, and super-duper sweet. He's a little on the small side for his age which makes all the running and talking that little bit more endearing. He also hugged a bunch of your kids and kissed the communal toys. I'm *really* sorry about that in particular.

Im Sorry Flowers - Life with a Parasite
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
You see, when we were leaving the house he was a pretty cranky little bugger. The deep snow has kept us chained to the house for most of the week and I figured he had just had enough of looking at the four walls around him. A change would do him good, right? So I bundled him up and gave my shoulders one hell of an awesome workout, pushing him in the stroller all the way to the playgroup.

He ran and jumped and played, we came home for lunch, I put him down for his nap, and everything seemed fine. It wasn't until a few hours later, after he woke up, that the "scene from The Exorcist" eruptions began to literally spew out of him. Within 8 hours it was clear that no family member was going to be spared this indignity. Suffice it to say I'm pretty grateful for the "sanitize" settings on my washer and dryer right now.

With the gift of hindsight, it's pretty clear that his morning fussiness was because of the coming (literal) shitstorm. Given the incubation period of the average norovirus, it is only now clear to me that he was probably contagious as he was was all up in your face. And your kid's face. And slobbering all over the toys. In my defence, if I had known what lay only mere hours ahead, I never would have taken him out. Really, I had no idea! Nevertheless, if it makes you feel any better, (and as you furiously work on decontamination, it probably doesn't) I feel like a giant asshole for unknowingly spreading a plague. Just remember how cute he is and how happy that hug made you as you plot your revenge.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Mile Markers on Road to Good Health

I don't know about you, but huge, looming goals on a distant horizon scare the bejeezus out of me. I'm working on an E-book for a client and I can't think about the total word count goal because I break out in hives. Instead, I have a goal for a set number of chapters every week. Sure, I still have to turn in all of the work to get it done on time, but these smaller, more manageable chunks don't trigger my anxiety.

When I used to think about getting fit and healthy, I used to look at my total weight loss goal. That was 70 pounds in June 2012, and 55 pounds in June 2014. To be fair, I did have a baby somewhere in there. Looking at a goal that's 50+ pounds away is really hard. You just can't see it, or visualize what you will look and feel like once you get there. That's why I set a few different milestones for myself along the way.

Milestone #1 - Pre-Pregnancy Weight

Mile Marker Sign Image - Life with a ParasiteThe first 25 pounds after Z was born pretty much fell off me. I was banking on breastfeeding to help me take off the rest, but the sleep deprivation led to some pretty wonky hormones, so in spite of damn near round-the-clock nursing, the extra weight stayed on until Z started sleeping through the night and I had the energy to start working it off.

15 down, 40 to go, reached in September 2014

Milestone #2 - Pre-Marital Weight

The early days in a relationship are awesome! But those early days also typically involve a lot of dining out and meeting for drinks. Oh, and it means less time at the gym because there's someone you'd rather be spending time with.

10 down, 25 to go, reached THIS WEEK!

Milestone #3 - Pre-Quit Smoking Weight

Obviously quitting smoking was a good life choice, but it came with a bunch of extra pounds. That was a decade ago, so it's really not a viable excuse any more.

Distance to milestone: 15 pounds; Target date: March 2015

Milestone #4 - The Final Goal

Inside the healthy range for my height and now something I look at as completely attainable.

Distance to goal: 25 pounds; Target date: June 2015

At every milestone there is something to celebrate and therefore a reward. For the first milestone it was a gym membership at a place that has child care so I can get some time to myself a few times a week. For the second milestone, it was a cute dress to wear out for my birthday dinner with The Husband in a couple of weeks. A cute dress in a MUCH smaller size.

What do YOU think I should do to celebrate the next milestone and the final goal?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

When Doing Nothing Does Something

Busy Mom - Life with a Parasite
A Reasonable Facsimile
It was a Professional Development Day at M's school yesterday. Usually this fills me with a sense of "OMFG, what are we going to do all day?" but yesterday, I tried something a little different. Wait, I should back up a bit. Our daily routine is predictably a pretty busy one, and it goes something like this:
  • Get up, pack M's lunch for school, help get her dressed, feed and dress Z, and then finally feed and dress myself. 
  • Morning programs for Mommy & Z.
  • Home for lunch, put Z down for nap and do some work until he wakes up. 
  • Go pick up M at school, go to her after school programs a couple of times a week.
  • Make dinner, put the kids to bed, do some more work and head to bed. 
  • Wash, rinse, repeat. 
Somewhere in there the laundry and dishes get done. And sometimes I even have an evening off to hang out with The Husband. Imagine that!

Yesterday, however, was a little different. With both kids underfoot and The Husband at work all day, the idea of getting stuff done around here was laughable. So I didn't bother trying. I cleared the decks and took the kids to an indoor play centre in the morning to let them run around and blow off steam. When we got back, Z went for a nap and M and I did each other's nails and then curled up on the couch and watched The Book of Life together. 

Taking that time to do nothing and reconnect reminded me why I had these kids. There's actually a name for what happens when you take a day to reconnect, it's called filling the attachment tank. Yes, I spend a lot of time with the kids, but a lot of it spent in the midst of doing something else. Once in a while, the damn laundry can wait. Let's face facts, it's not going anywhere. Ever. But someday these kids won't have any interest in lengthy cuddles on the couch.

Have you tried taking a break from all the "stuff" that needs to get done, just to spend some time doing nothing with your little people? Tell me how it went! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Textbook Follies

For some inexplicable reason, when I decided to go back to University, I also decided to take what I thought would be the most challenging course in my program first. It's only going to be challenging because in high school I took the absolute bare minimum of math courses before I ran screaming for the hills. This leaves me with some gaps in knowledge, like algebra. No big deal, right? Who needs algebra anyway?

My first course is Introductory Statistics. Naturally, that's one that involves a great deal of... ALGEBRA. Om nom nom. Those words are tasty! Was taking it first to get it out of the way a brilliant idea, or a profoundly stupid one? Only time will tell! I'm using my virtually non-existent spare time to catch up with some courses through the Khan Academy

So there I was, reading my textbook, when I had a WTF moment. It was describing how to use a protractor to determine the sizes of the pie pieces in a pie chart. But it went even further:

Text book snapshot
These COM-PU-TERS are amazing!
As I was reading the first paragraph, I was asking myself if they were fucking kidding me. Do they seriously think that anyone in this day and age would actually draw a pie chart by hand? Then I got to the next paragraph that helpfully pointed out that "many computers are programmed so that, once the data have been entered, a simple command will produce a pie chart." 

These newfangled computer thingies can do it all, my friends! I don't know about you, but I totally read that in a Mitch McConnell-esque turtle voice. One where every syl-la-ble of COM-PU-TER was enunciated very slowly and deliberately. Then I realized I was going to be graded on my ability to actually do this shit and not my epic snarking talents, and promptly went back to reading. But seriously!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Did YOU Know the Vinegar Trick for Preserving Berries?

I like to think of myself as one who is pretty handy in the kitchen, but every once in a while I learn something new that makes me smack myself in the forehead for not learning it sooner. These little life hacks are awesome. Like the one about soaking berries in a vinegar and water solution to help them last longer. This video describes the process in detail. I was sceptical (as born cynics are wont to be) but decided to give it a whirl. You see my little people LOVE berries. I think Little Cat Z would forsake all other foods for his berries. Great! What's the problem? Well...

Toronto weather

With temps like these, you don't see a lot of fresh berries. The ones we get in the store only last a day or two before they turn to sludge. You can buy organic vegetable washes, but a small bottle of it is around $8. Sure, you'll make that back pretty quickly in berry savings, but let's not bring logic to the party. Out of season berries are too expensive to buy only to throw them out on day three when they have liquefied and started to ooze out of the container. Hungry now? Neither am I. Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Are you also wondering if it works? I went grocery shopping on Sunday morning and spent a grand total of 15 minutes doing the vinegar and water soak. As instructed in the video I left them to dry completely and put them back in the washed containers with a paper towel liner. Here's how they looked earlier today, four days later. They still only lasted a few days, but this time it's because we ate them all. And by we, I mean my berry-loving kids. 

Preserve raspberries with vinegar

Friday, January 9, 2015

Foodie on a Diet

I love food. If you really think about it, the significant occasions in our lives are usually centred around a meal. As I pack M's lunch every day, I have realized that food is my love language. But here's the thing... I'm on a quest to find optimal health, and losing weight is one piece of the puzzle. Where I have failed in the past, and indeed where a lot of us probably fail, is in trying to cut out the things we love completely. That makes life really boring, especially for the foodies among us.

For example, I simply *adore* this recipe for Dragon Noodles from Budget Bytes. I literally salivate while I'm making it. Gross, but true. I feel like a real grown up when I'm eating it because it's WAY too spicy for my kids and I like it like that. However, it's not remotely compatible with the Insanity Max:30 nutrition plan. I could go eight weeks without my spicy fix, or I could come up with an alternative.

Now, because I am, well, me, there are a few things I always have on hand like cooked chicken and sliced bell peppers. Here are the ingredients I used for my version:

Instead of the recipe directions for noodles
1/2 cup thinly sliced bell peppers
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
1/2 cup cooked chicken breast, cut in to small, thin strips
1/3 cup cooked chow mein noodles

Sauce (See original recipe for directions, HELLO copyright. Also, I am lazy!)
1 large egg
2 tsp butter
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp sriracha hot sauce
1 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce

First, I started the onions and peppers in a non-stick pan. Then I started the sauce in a separate non-stick pan. I added the chicken and the noodles just long enough to heat them up and mixed it all together for something truly delightful. According to the FitBit food tracker, here's the difference:

The Original
Calories Fat Fiber Carbs Sodium Protein
555 14.5 3.7 93.5 700.3 9.9

My Version
Calories Fat Fiber Carbs Sodium Protein
466 19.2 2.8 33.5 1315.4 38.9

So, the sodium goes up quite a bit, but a lot of that is naturally occurring in the food. For example, the chicken brings 435mg to the party. And look what happens to the protein and the carbs. Anyway, I'm not suggesting this as an every day food, more like an indulgence here and there. If you're following the Insanity Max:30 or 21 Day Fix meal plans, this works out to 1.5 red, 1 green, 1 yellow and 2 tsps. 

When all is said and done, it looks like this:
My version of Budget Bytes' Dragon Noodles

And it tastes like this:

And it makes my belly feel like this:

Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored by any of the sites linked. I receive no compensation if you click a link or buy a product. I have provided links so you know the actual products that I use. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Back to School

It should come as no surprise to my regular readers that I'm at my best when I'm busy. REALLY busy. Just in case life as a full-time mom to two small children and a small business owner wasn't challenging enough, I decided to add something else to the mix. Because I'm CRAZY like that.

Back story... My University days were tumultuous. I didn't have a lot of structure growing up so I was a little unaccustomed to the notion of study habits and setting realistic goals. Predictably, as I was fumbling my way through post-secondary life with no idea what I was doing, the results were pretty far from spectacular.

However, the fact that I have allowed that failure to bother me for nearly 20 years (holy shit!) is all on me. I can continue to feel like a failure, OR I can do something constructive to address the problem. Thus far ignoring my feelings on the matter hasn't been working out for me, so I guess I'll have to give the latter a shot. 

Today, my first class as a distance learning student at a very prestigious University is officially under way. Because I am only able to manage a very small course load until Z starts school, it's probably going to take me five years to upgrade my degree to something that gives me a sense of pride rather than one of shame and defeat. And that's fine, because when something is worth the reward, it's worth the work. 

I'm asking your for your help, my dear readers. If I haven't given any updates on the state of school in a while, I need you to give me a little nudge, OK? Thanks!