Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Can Your Children Trust You?

When I was 9 I got one of these for Christmas and it made me really angry.

It wasn't because of the gift, in fact, it still stands near the top of my best Christmas gifts ever list (usurped only by the electric typewriter I got a few years later). What upset me was the fact the I got it from "Santa".

I knew Santa wasn't real but my parents, my stepdad in particular, insisted on perpetuating the Santa myth. I was mad because when I tried to thank my parents (because holy crap, BEST GIFT EVER!!!), my stepdad kept saying, "Don't thank me, it's not from me, it's from Santa." I appreciated this gift so much and I was mad because I couldn't properly thank them for it.

The next year the same thing happened when I got this.
insert fan-girl squeal here
I knew by the time I was 12 that when I had kids, I wasn't going to do the Santa thing.

The first few years after we had the boys was easy, they were too young for Santa anyway. Two years ago, I decided to tell the kids the truth, that Santa isn't real. At first my reasoning had to do with greed and debt and shopping stampedes and giving credit for the best gift ever to some fictional fat guy. And as I did this I realized that I didn't want to lie to my kids.

I don't want to bribe my kids to be well behaved by telling them that someone is watching them while they're sleeping and awake. Santa withholds gifts from naughty children and gives to the "good" ones. But tell me, if your kids really are naughty, will you be withholding their gifts? I want my children to trust me and to know that I'm always doing the best I can for them and lying to them just doesn't fit.

 So I told my boys that Santa isn't a real guy that flies around the world with reindeer pulling his sleigh, creeping into your house in the middle of the night leaving presents. We spoke of how Santa is a representation of the season of giving, how we all have a little Santa in us that we can share with other people. And a funny thing happened... they survived.

We had a few scary patches last year when they decided they wanted to share their knowledge with their friends but we've since fine-tuned our tradition.

Now, our Christmas season has become magically wonderful. The boys know that Santa isn't "real" but they also know that Santa is the spirit of the season. They enjoy watching Christmas specials with Santa in them, they run around the house pretending to be Santa and his reindeer and when I took them to see Santa at a local event, they looked at me with such knowing little looks, going along with the fun and thinking it was hilarious that other people *actually* believe this stuff.

They've also taken the story of Santa being the spirit of giving to heart. They've both been playing Santa at school, leaving little treats for their friends in coat pockets and on desks. They've both gone shopping with their own money to buy a gift for a child they don't know and even as we were driving to look for random driveways to shovel on Sunday, they were excited to "play" Santa for someone we didn't know.

Instead of bracing yourself for the day when your kids realize that Santa isn't real, and dealing with the heartbreak, loneliness and mistrust that follows, why not tell them the truth from the get-go? We've had a lot of Santa fun in our house without once having to worry about what will happen down the road when they find out the truth.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Perfect Playdough

By far, the favourite activity in our house for a long time has been play dough. It's one of the few activities that my boys will sit down and play with for an hour WITHOUT FIGHTING. So obviously, I always make sure we have some on hand.

I've been making this particular recipe since I was about 13 and had tiny sisters. I have no idea where the recipe came from but it is by far the best recipe I've ever used. It's also way way better than that name brand stuff that sells for a small fortune.

So here's my recipe for absolutely perfect playdough. 'Tis the season for sharing.

Perfect Playdough (makes 2 lbs)
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
4 Tb cream of tartar
1 Tb oil
2 cups water
4 Tb cinnamon (optional but oh-so worth it)
Food colouring

Mix all the ingredients except for the food colouring in a saucepan, stir well and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until it becomes a big clump.

Remove from heat and knead for about 3 minutes. I'm lazy and often make triple batches so I use my KitchenAid mixer but it's simple to knead by hand. Separate and mix in any food colouring at this time. I like gel food colouring because I always have it on hand but liquid works well too, although the colours won't be as vibrant.

Stored in an airtight container or plastic bags, this will last for months.


My oldest son is very "feel-y". He loves it when I pop the playdough into the microwave for about 15 seconds before he starts playing with it. I have to admit, it feels great between your hands when slightly warmed. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Standing Still

A couple of well-meaning history buffs are attempting to bring a little {still} life into Kitchener's Victoria Park.... by erecting 22 bronze statues of former Prime Ministers surrounding Victoria Parks Commons (that giant open space near the clock tower).

The Statue Project

The Statue Project plans to raise $2 million towards the project and has asked the city to kick in $300,000 toward the statue bases and installation. They have also asked the city to provide charitable receipts for donors.

Kitchener City Council heard the pitch and has decided to move on with public consultation in the New Year. Local councillors raised some good points, wondering why a project like this should be based in Kitchener, rather than Ottawa. Our own capital city doesn't even have statues of every Prime Minister. While raising questions, Mayor Carl Zehr admonished councillors for making it difficult for the project to move forward, calling it a "gift" to the city.

While I rarely agree with Kitchener City Councillors, I was in complete shock when I heard voices of reason. Why would a project of this magnitude not be looking for federal funding? This is hardly the kind of project that should be solely funded at a local level. Why in Victoria Park? Why Prime Ministers?

James Howe wrote and suggested that the statues, instead of being placed around the only open space in Victoria Park, be placed at the rapid transit stations that will be part of the much argued about Ion system. I'd go a step farther and question the choice of Prime Ministers as statue subjects.

Do we really need more reminders of the privileged white men who are taxing us on a daily basis? Do the homeless that sleep in Victoria Park need reminders of the men who have continually cut services and funding, possibly contributing to the position they are currently in? Were our former Prime Ministers good people? Bribery, alcoholism, Hitler-admirers and the fathers of Residential Schools...  (*edit: read more about the good, the bad and the ugly of Canada's Prime Ministers over here at My Contention)

Does anyone care about our former Prime Ministers outside of history books? Do we need a reminder about how close Woodside was to closing only last year? If people are not visiting the former home of a former Prime Minister, one who graces our paper money no less, will they travel to visit Victoria Park because it has some statues? Councillor Frank Etherington thinks the project will bring tourism to the region. Likely?

Something I see from local residents is the suggestion of having statues (somewhere) yes, but not (solely) of Prime Ministers. Why not statues of prominent Canadians? Visitors to the KW area WILL make a special trip to Victoria Park (or elsewhere) if they could pose with a statue of William Shatner, Margaret Atwood, Chris Hadfield, Wayne Gretzky, Terry Fox or David Suzuki. Statues of GREAT Canadians. Statues of people we as Canadians care about. Kim Campbell may have been our first female Prime Minister but for a job she held for less than 6 months, is she deserving of being immortalized in bronze for a lifetime?

Victoria Park has one completely open space. It is used for soccer games and yoga classes, music festivals and extreme frisbee. It is a truly wonderous space and in my humble opinion, should not be messed with. What are the chance of these statues getting damaged during set up or tear down of park events. Will the placement of these statues change the way events need to be set up? Will it take more time? What are the chances that someone will get hurt in a soccer or frisbee game with these statues surrounding the playing field?

I wouldn't suggest statues in our park at all but, if that's the only place the statues could go, I'd suggest spreading the statues out throughout the park and turning the entire park into our own version of Canada's Walk of Fame.

Mayor Zehr calls it a gift to the city. But there are some gifts we are not in a position to accept. If the gift is not cohesive with our local arts plan, if the gift will cost us money and if the residents don't want the gift, we cannot accept it.

Even IF, the Statue Project founders offered to fundraise ever last cent of the project and asked us for nothing, does that require the city to accept the gift? Absolutely not. Obviously a flat refusal is out of the question but I think we can dig deeper and try to collaborate on a spectacular project that will be a boon for our city. One that supports local artists, respects resident wishes and celebrates the diversity of our area.

Leave the politicians in Ottawa. 

If we're going to support any sort of statue project in Kitchener, make it one that celebrates people who are unique, innovative, enlightening and glorifying.... the kind of Canadians who make us proud.

Friday, December 6, 2013

PS, I love You

Last year I scaled back big time on my volunteering, in part so I could take a bigger part in being a part of our school community. I joined the school council, took over the greening efforts at the school, started working for the Nutrition For Learning snack bin program within the school and amped up the hours I worked at our Nutrition For Learning Breakfast Club at the church across the street from the school.

Working with the kids in our school has by far, been the most rewarding volunteer job of my life.

I love walking through the halls and hearing "Hi Nicolas' Mom!" I love getting a chance to peek at my children during school time when they don't know I'm watching. I love being on a first name basis with so many staff. I really love when I work in the staff room because I get to overhear teachers talking about techniques they use to help kids "get it".

But most especially, I love walking through the hallways after all the kids have gone home, before the custodians (bless their souls), have swept up and finding stuff like this:

Because Moms, you are awesome. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Experts Aren't Always Right

**There is an update below the original post...

They say you shouldn't write a blog post when you're angry but I figure what the hay, I do angry well.

I work with a group that works with kids. Because our kids eat, we also provide toothbrushes for them.

Last year (and years previous), the toothbrushes were stored in a box that was fitted with a few (brand new) heating grate covers. The heating grate covers worked well, they stored the toothbrushes upright and had separators in them that made sure the brushes stayed about 2" apart from each other. Each toothbrush also had a travel cover on it and was marked with the child's name.

When we asked Public Health to provide us with toothbrushes this year, they told us they didn't like our storage system and they came in to give the kids toothbrushes and show us how to store them "properly".

When the day finally came, the Public Health officer provided each child with their own toothbrush, travel cover and tube of toothpaste and put them in a plastic ziploc bag. I questioned the bag and asked the official why, knowing that the toothbrushes would not dry out if sealed in a baggie. Our team was told, "They may not dry out completely but at least this way, the kids will only be getting their own germs and not someone else's."

After the Public Health officer left, our team still questioned the practise but decided that we needed to follow the rules laid out for us.

Now we fast forward to today, as I help a child find his toothbrush bag in the bin. As I'm rummaging through, I start seeing some really gross bags. Upon closer inspection, a serious case of mould growing in many of the toothbrush bags. *gag*

My germophobic self springs into action, showing the bags to my team and gathering up the supplies to get our kids new toothbrushes. I'm shaking with anger and disgust. Normally, I would have been at this job earlier in the week and would have caught the problem sooner but my a different member of my family has been sick each day for the last week. I'm wondering how many of these kids were brushing their teeth with a mouldy toothbrush yesterday and the day before. I'm wondering why I was brushed off so lightly as I brought up these concerns when Public Health visited us in October.

It's a good reminder that sometimes, you have to go with your gut and against the recommendations of so-called experts.

As a parent, I know my kids are sharing germs every moment they're alive, especially at school. Frankly, I'd rather take the chance of them sharing a few germs because their toothbrushes are under a cover and stored 2" away from another child's toothbrush than brushing their teeth with a mouldy toothbrush that's been festering with bacteria because it's in a sealed baggie with no chance to dry out.

Would you want your kid brushing their teeth with this on it?
Photo: Courtesy
I've asked my team leader to immediately go out and purchase the products we need to make a new storage box. Long term, it may not be the perfect toothbrush storage solution but for now, I'd rather say screw it to the rules than chance any of our kids brushing their teeth with a putrefying bacterial time bomb.

**UPDATE (12/8/2013): Public Health has been looking into this issue. So far, they have let us know that they won't be suggesting this storage method anymore. They are still concerned about infection control and they have asked us to suspend our toothbrushing program until they have decided on a better storage method for toothbrushes. It is not ideal from our point of view but hopefully a new solution will be presented to us soon.

Monday, December 2, 2013


So I went to my first book swap 2 weeks ago and it was a revelation. FREE BOOKS. Yeah, I know that the library lets you borrow books for free but they also have all these rules and restrictions that require you to return books on time and if you don't, they hit you with fines.

Courtesy: Jumpmen
Oh, the fines. I can't afford the fines and I am an irresponsible library card holder so sad as it may be, I tend to avoid.

But back to the book swap. I picked up a pile of fiction and was ready to happily set on my way when I saw the first three books of the Twilight series. I've never been even remotely interested in reading them before but seeing them sitting there, unread and wanting to be loved, I took the plunge and grabbed them, wanting to get to the source of why my sister, cousins and so many others I know are all "Team Edward!" and "Team Jacob!"

Then late last week I was convalescing in bed for 2 days and there were no unread books in the house but those vampire books, staring at me menacingly. So I picked the first one up and started reading.

And I liked them. I read the first three books in those two sick days and when I finished the third, I was honestly upset that I didn't have the fourth on hand. They're not challenging reading by any means and I had a hard time getting into the whole vampire thing but as far as teenage angst and love stories go, they were (surprisingly) good books.

The night I finished the third book I was still stuck in the twilight spell so I decided to watch the first movie. I paid $3.99 to rent it and regretted it within the first 10 minutes. Holy crap what a bad movie! It looked like a home movie, the quality was poor, the acting was terrible and Edward, who was kind of charming and loveable in the books was totally creepy. BUT being my stubborn self, I was determined to watch the entire movie and get my $3.99 worth. The movie stay horrible throughout with one exception... the baseball scene. Some of my favourite geek fantasies involve watching all my favourite superheroes play baseball so it hit close to heart.

I haven't grabbed the last book yet, I'm determined to stick to my guns and only read it if I can get it for free. I likely won't watch any more of the movies even though my sister tells me that the rest are so much better. But I do feel better admitting my secret shame.... I read Twilight and I liked it.