Would you like a side of sarcasm with that?

Corporate Relations Department
Cara Network
199 Four Valley Drive
Vaughan, ON L4K 0B8

July 3, 2014

Dear Sir or Madam,

On March 30, 2014, at 8:43 pm, I placed a delivery order through which I foolishly assumed would result in my eating rotisserie chicken, perogies, pork ribs, delicious signature chalet dipping sauce, and assorted sundries within the hour. My assumption that the food would be prepared, packaged, and delivered in short order was only encouraged by the fact that my husband received a confirmation email shortly after placing the order (Conf. #01250-11).

As 10:00 pm neared and our combined hunger pangs reached epic proportions, we considered giving all up for lost and simply starving to death, but decided that a more effective course of action would be to call the phone number listed on the website under the seemingly appropriate heading “Is there a problem with your delivery or call ahead pick-up order?” (1-866-439-0439).

The CSR who answered informed my husband Ian that the order had been confirmed but subsequently cancelled when to the website’s surprise, it turned out that our local Swiss Chalet restaurant was in fact closed for the evening. The CSR further informed Ian that we had received a phone call advising us of this fact. On checking with me and learning that I was as surprised as he about this, Ian tried to troubleshoot, asking if it was possible they had phoned the wrong number, but was told in no uncertain terms that they had in fact called our home phone, presumably in an alternate dimension where it makes sense that a website is not programmed to automatically decline an order for food from a restaurant that isn’t actually open. But I digress.

Ian, quite reasonably, I felt, requested that the $42.33 that had been debited from our bank account in exchange for the food that was neither prepared nor delivered be refunded. In a stunning plot twist, this request was denied. At this point a new character entered the scene, Kevin the Manager, who doggedly insisted that our request for Swiss Chalet to reverse the charge was totally out of the question, and explained that it was our responsibility to speak to our bank because the transaction was handled by “a third party” and the money had not gone to Swiss Chalet.

I imagine that conversation going something like this:

Hi, —- Bank? Yes, I’m going to need you to refund the $42.33 I paid to have food delivered from Swiss Chalet, because it never showed up. Uh huh, I called them. Yep, they know the food never came, because they canceled the order. Right, that’s what I thought too, but apparently it’s not their job to give the money back. Something about a third party handling the transaction…Yep, I know it says “SWISS CHALET #1 _V” on the bank statement, but they insist that somehow it’s my responsibility to get you to give it to me even though it’s now in the possession of some entity they engaged to handle their online transactions. Nope, doesn’t make much sense to me either….Uh…prove I didn’t get the food? Umm…I guess I could send you a picture of me with a sad face because I’m really hungry?

With Kevin not prepared to budge, we gave up for the night and decided to try again the next day. Subsequently I contacted you folks at Swiss Chalet through:

  1. Guest Services at 1-866-450-2903, where I was told again that the onus was on my to contact my bank, and then on further questioning the CSR passed the literal buck to the local restaurant, conferencing in Annemarie, the very friendly but confused manager whose store actually had nothing to do with the issue whatsoever since it had been closed through the entire event.
  2.  Swiss Chalet on Facebook, where I was advised to phone guest services at 1-866-450-2903 (see above).
  3. @mySwissChalet on Twitter, where I received no response at all. (You should consider working on your social media strategy. I know a few bloggers and social media strategists who might be able to help out with that.)
  4. Cara corporate headquarters, at 905-760-2244, where I finally encountered the most helpful CSR thus far, who sympathized completely, agreed that it really did not seem like good corporate practice for a company to refuse to refund money that had been paid by a customer for an order that said company had declined to provide. He discussed the situation at length with his manager, apologized to me personally and corporately, took my contact information, and vowed that “something” would be done. Sadly, that “something” never materialized.

And so here we are. I continue to be $42.33 poorer and you will remain one household’s worth of customers poorer, not to mention all the lovely folks who come across my tale of woe on the interwebs. *waves ‘Hi’ to blog readers* I’m sure that’s just a drop in the bucket to a conglomerate such as yourselves though; certainly well worth that $42.33 you seem determined to hold onto.

Going ever so slightly more serious for a moment, I would like to mention that some of my earliest and fondest memories are of chalet sauce and festive specials. For as long as I can remember and until both of my grandparents passed away, my dad’s extended family would gather at Swiss Chalet, where we would take up a giant extended table and order festive specials all around. The meal wasn’t complete until all the cousins had we had drained the last of our Shirley Temples, rinsed our greasy hands in tiny finger-bowls, fought over the most desirable toys in the treasure chest, and tried to talk Grandmother R. into giving us her Toblerone bar – memories that it’s too bad I won’t be able to recreate with my own children.

I am enclosing the coupons that you were kind enough to deliver recently through the flyer mail system. Feel free to pass them on to someone who finds a heady thrill in taking the risk of paying for goods and/or services that they may or may not actually receive.

Thank you for…uh…well, thank you for nothing, I guess. Thank you for providing me with nothing. I look forward to receiving the bill.


 Karyn Pickles

To Swiss Chalet: Epic customer service fail, bro. No Love, Me.

To Swiss Chalet: Epic customer service fail, bro. No Love, Me.

The Rainbow Connection

I picked up a really lovely book a while back at the Grand River Book Store at the Five Oaks Retreat Centre outside of Paris, Ontario: God’s Dream, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams.

God’s Dream
Cover art by LeUyen Pham

It’s fitting that I picked it up at the beginning of February, Black History Month, as telling Ben and Molly about Archbishop Tutu sparked a conversation about apartheid and racism. Ben was shocked at the idea that anyone would think that people should be treated differently because of what they look like, citing examples of his friends at school who had different-coloured skin but were just the same as him. We also talked about Archbishop Tutu’s own experience of growing up in South Africa during apartheid and witnessing and experiencing the mistreatment of black people by white people, but always advocating for both change and forgiveness.

God’s Dream comes in both a large hardcover edition with a dustjacket or a smaller board edition; I chose the board book in the interests of durability. The language is simple and the pictures bright and appealing, making the book suitable for children from infancy to school-age. In 28 sentences and 15 illustrations, the book covers love, racism, ageism, diversity, apology, reparation, forgiveness, theism, and universality, delivering as its core message that we are all God’s children, worthy of love and respect, and called to love and respect one another.

The engaging illustrations depict cultural and religious diversity (sadly, as with so many children’s books, it is missing pictures of children with disabilities) and the universal message makes the book relevant to and suitable for families with any theistic worldview not specifically Christianity (or organized religion at all): You could read the story to a group of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish children, for example, and they could each recognize their faith’s core message.

God’s Dream ends with the message that when people fulfill God’s dream by loving one another, “God smiles like a rainbow,” and ends with a picture of a rainbow made up of children’s handprints.

Book illustration

Final page of God’s Dream
Art by LeUyen Pham

Ben and Molly immediately asked if we could do a craft like that, and I suggested that in the interests of size we try fingerprints instead. We started with rainbow-coloured paints in an egg carton…


Rainbow-coloured paints in an egg carton
©PicklesINK 2013

..then took turns painting each others’ fingers with cotton swabs…


Molly painting Ben’s finger yellow
©PicklesINK 2013

…and stamped the painted fingers on the canvas to make the rainbow.


Ben stamping his yellow fingerprints
©PicklesINK 2013


Ben painting Molly’s finger purple
©PicklesINK 2013


Molly painting my finger pink
©PicklesINK 2013

Finished painting

Finished rainbow fingerprint painting on canvas
©PicklesINK 2013

The finished product was a complete team effort and is now proudly displayed on the playroom wall.

~ karyn

Have you read any particularly meaningful children’s books lately? What would you recommend?

Gee, Karyn, are there any dolls you actually do like??

I’m not all doom and gloom, privilege/oppression/whiteness/and-other-social-work-buzzwords. There are some good options out there if you’re willing to do some digging (or some sewing).

I have a collection of dolls/hand puppets from when I was a teenager called “Treehuggers.” These were, in my opinion, the best rag dolls ever made. You could buy from the catalogue or place a custom order, choosing gender, eye shape (from a selection of buttons), hair colour and texture (yarn – straight, ravelled, dreadlocked, long, short), and skin colour. They also encouraged fine motor development through tie-able shoelaces, button fastenings on the clothing, and  the fact that they could be used as dolls or hand puppets, making them excellent toys for children with special needs. Unfortunately, except for the odd Ebay listing, you can’t get them any more. If anyone reading this has mad sewing skills and wants to go into business, let’s talk!


My collection of 4 Treehuggers dolls, each with different skin colour, hair colour and texture, and eye shape and colour.
©PicklesINK 2012

Cabbage Patch Kids are still available in black or white and as boys or girls. At the lower price point they have unfortunately gone to the glossy doll-hair but you can get the “original” version through the website for a price. Lots of the older ones are available in thrift stores though.

Ben and Molly's babies: From left, Lissaba, Melissa, Alyssa, and baby with no name.©PicklesINK 2012.

Ben and Molly’s babies:
From left, Lissaba, Melissa, Alyssa,
and baby with no name.
©PicklesINK 2012

There is a line of dolls called “Hearts for Hearts Girls” that is reasonably affordable. Each doll represents different country and comes with a story book, friendship bracelet, web access code, and donation through World Vision to help girls in her country of origin. Unfortunately, in Canada they are exclusive to Walmart, which may turn off some consumers. They only have girls, but that does fit with their concept.

Part of the “Hearts 4 Hearts Girls” collection: From left, Consuelo (Mexico), Dell (USA), Rahel (Ethiopia), Zelia (Brazil), and Lauryce (USA). Photo credit: Hearts 4 Hearts Facebook page

I also quite like Groovy Girls – contrary to their name, there are boy dolls, and they come in many different skin tones and hair colours and textures (yarn). They have been around since 1998, so they would probably be available in second-hand shops as well for more variety. We have a great collection that was given to Molly by my cousin.

Molly's collection of "Groovy Girls" dolls©PicklesINK 2012

Molly’s collection of “Groovy Girls” dolls
©PicklesINK 2012

Online, by asking my good friend Google to find me “ethnic dolls” I also found the following intriguing websites (below). Sadly, the first entry that turned up in my search was, offering “ethnic dolls, including Dora the Explorer, Barbie, and SpongeBob.”


Screenshot of Google search for "ethnic dolls"

Screenshot of Google search for “ethnic dolls”

Anyway, moving on…

My World Ethnic Doll Clothing, based in Toronto, Ontario, was founded by a Canadian teacher who wanted to provide parents with the opportunity to purchase doll clothes that represented their cultures. This website provides a wide variety of multicultural fashions, male and female, and androgynous dolls in 4 different skin tones. Prices are shockingly reasonable.


My World Ethnic Doll Clothing
doll and clothing collection

Kids Like Me, based in the UK, provides educational toys, books, and resources that embrace diversity, special needs and inclusion. Their online catalogue offers a variety of reasonably-priced multicultural rag dolls (boys and girls).

And finally, oddly enough, IKEA has the coolest collection of multi-ethnic, unisex, and extremely reasonably priced doll stuff anywhere…which I suppose should not be particularly surprising since they have for some time been ahead of the game when it comes to providing unisex (ie. neither pink nor blue) toys such as kitchens and toolbenches. The LEKKAMRAT series includes 3 soft doll options (different skin and hair colours and facial features), 4 different sets of outfits, and a bathtime set in which the bathtub is blue. BLUE! IKEA also offers a wooden doll bed with blue sheet and rainbow-striped cover – and listed as “related products” to the doll bed are the children’s “10-piece coffee/tea set,” “5-piece kitchen utensil set,” and “toolbelt with soft toys.”

Photo of LEKKAMRAT dolls in various outfits
from website of Kimberley Bezaire, PhD

Whether you are searching for a doll that looks like your own child, trying to find resources for your classroom or daycare, or looking for ways to promote diversity in your own home, there are definitely options available – in fact, more than I even realized when I started this post.

~ karyn

Lottie: She may be new, but is she improved?

A good friend posted this article to my Facebook timeline the other day, asking what I thought of it:

“New doll made with body image in mind”, Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

Two “Lottie” dolls by Arklu
Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

According to the article, Arklu, the company that makes ‘Lottie dolls’ “worked with two academics to work out the exact proportions of an average healthy 9-year-old. The scaled-down dolls don’t have breasts or super skinny waists, although their heads and eyes are enlarged.”

I had skimmed the article when I first came across it and remember thinking “Meh…cute dolls, nice concept, good price, but it’s been done,” but being asked specifically for an opinion compelled me to look a little deeper and I wound up tossing and turning all night thinking about my response, which was this:

As options for young girls go, I don’t hate them. I don’t think they will do any harm (or any more harm than any other doll, but I’ll get to that) but I don’t know that they’ll do the good the creators are hoping either. I know we as a society have heaped a lot of vitriol on Barbie, but I believe she is a symptom of our warped ideal body image, not the cause. When I was a little girl playing with Barbie, I saw her as a doll, not an image of an ideal woman. I never thought I would grow up to look like Barbie…I also never thought I would grow up to live in a Dream Castle (TM) or drive a bubble-gum pink motorhome.

Barbie in her Magical Motorhome (1990)

Aside from the weird physical proportions, Barbie (bearing in mind, I haven’t actually seen any of the movie/TV tie-ins, so I’m basing this solely on the commercials and characters from when I was a kid) is actually not unempowered, as female characters go. Except for that “Math is hard! Let’s go shopping!” talking Barbie debacle, Barbie usually represents an independent and successful woman – she has been a doctor and teacher, owns her own home, car, and motorhome, and though Ken shows up occasionally, he’s generally an unnecessary add-on. Yes, there is plenty of gender stereotyping (ie. Dr. Barbie spends all her time delivering cute babies and clearly has a weakness for short skits and pink stethoscopes , but the Lottie dolls obviously have not made clear inroads there either.

Dr. Barbie with 3 Baby Dolls (1995)
Special Edition Career Collection

On the other hand, these dolls do fill a void in the market – there are lots of baby dolls and lots of grown-up dolls (Barbie), but the only in-between little girl dolls traditionally have been TV characters like Dora or Doc McStuffins, or are prohibitively expensive (American Girl dolls, china dolls) so it is nice to have an affordable option that kids can personalize and relate to. In terms of the not wearing makeup, heels or jewelry, it’s a nice hook but to me the faces still have that same “glamour” look that defines all of these giant-headed, small-bodied dolls: Huge eyes, long straight hair, and perfect skin. Conclusion of the body-image section of my comment: I don’t think that these dolls are going to solve any problems, but they aren’t really going to create any new ones either.

Putting the body image piece aside, further study of the Lottie dolls brings up several other issues for me. First, on reading her website, we see that “Lottie” is clearly not suffering from any lack of funds, since her favourite activities include “pony flag races” and walks in “English country gardens” with her (presumably pedigreed) dog, “Biscuit the Beagle.” Lottie may be shaped like the average 9-year-old girl, but she seems to enjoy a very different class of leisure activities than the average girl who will be playing with her.

Second, and this is common to the whole “fashion doll” and for the most part the “doll in general” market – where are the boys? When are we going to meet Lottie’s brother Larry, who, I don’t know, loves playing soccer with Lottie and her friends when they’re finished with their English country garden picnics and fox hunts?

And third, and this is my very biggest issue – Traditionally, dolls are white. This is a HUGE problem for non-white children. There was a study originally done in the 1940’s and then re-created in 2006 by a high school student that demonstrated that when given 2 baby dolls, one black, one white, black children (boys and girls) overwhelmingly preferred the white doll and attributed positive attributes to it (“pretty,” “nice”) and negative attributes to the black doll (“bad”), and also identified the black doll when asked “Which doll looks the most like you?”

Kiri Davis - A Girl Like Me

A Girl Like Me DVD Video Poster
© 2012 Kiri Davis

That bears repeating – the study was done first in the NINETEEN-FORTIES and repeated in TWO THOUSAND AND SIX and showed NO CHANGE in attitude. Please take 7 minutes and go and watch the extraordinarily powerful documentary by Kiri Davis. I’ll wait.

When I was about 3, Cabbage Patch Kids came out, and they were the first mainstream, popular manufacturer to actually offer a selection of black dolls.

Cabbage Patch Kids

Four Cabbage Patch Kids (1982)
©PicklesINK 2012

Now manufacturers are offering more selection when it comes to non-white dolls (or at least, black dolls – there is still very little out representing other ethnicities) but even those options only change the skin colour – they still have idealized, typically “white” features such as small, pointed noses, and long, smooth, glossy, straight hair, and these Lottie dolls are no exception (here’s that picture again). Does this look to you like the “average 9-year-old girl”?

Two “Lottie” dolls by Arklu
Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

Meteorologist Rhonda A. Lee

Consider the fact that a black meteorologist named Rhonda Lee was fired this November for responding – politely – to a viewer’s FB post saying that her short-cropped hair made her look like a “cancer patient” and she should wear a wig to avoid upsetting viewers (the viewer than continues on to say that while he is not racist, the world has “certain standerd [sic]” and asks, “if you come from a world of being poor, are you going to dress in rags?”);

News8 Anchor Jennifer Livingston

while at the same time a white news anchor, Jennifer Livingston, was hailed as a hero worldwide by responding to a letter saying that she should lose weight in order to be a better role model with a 4-minute on-air segment (she was interviewed by, among others, Ellen, Katie Couric, and Glamour magazine).

Rhonda Lee’s viewer is right – our world does have certain standards which have been set by public opinion and which are reinforced every day by, among other things, the dolls that are available for our children to play with. If Arclu wants their Lottie dolls to help to dismantle and reinvent these damaging standards, they have a little more thinking to do before they get to the heart of promoting positive self-image in the young girls (and boys) who are really at risk.

~ karyn

Do you like or loathe Barbie? Would you buy a Lottie doll?

Beluga Grads having a Whale of a Time

Subtitled 3 Generations Go Bananas at @Raffi_RC Concert

Raffi ticket

Raffi #BelugaGrads Family Concert Ticket


Like practically all Canadians of a certain age (*cough* 27 *cough* No, really! *cough* *cough* Well, the specifics are unimportant, so…moving on…) I spent my childhood immersed in the music of Raffi . I played my Singable Songs for the Very Young and More Singable Songs LPs until I wore out the needle on my Strawberry Shortcake record player (and my dad kept…forgetting…to pick up a new needle…I’m beginning to suspect that he may have been enjoying the peace and quiet).

Singable Songs

Singable Songs and More Singable Songs
album covers

Moving on to the modern world of cassette tapes, One Light, One Sun was my absolute favourite. And even as an adult, “Joshua Giraffe” is guaranteed to send terrified shivers up and down my spine.

Raffi talking

Raffi speaks onstage at Roy Thomson Hall
December 2, 2012 ©PicklesINK 2012

Raffi Cavoukian fell into children’s music by accident, or perhaps serendipity. Originally a folk musician, Raffi accepted his mother-in-law’s invitation to sing for her nursery school and then took her suggestion to record a children’s album – proof positive that mothers (or mother-in-laws) know best! The rest, as they say, is history.

Raffi guitar 4

Raffi plays guitar and sings at Roy Thomson Hall
December 2, 2012 ©PicklesINK 2012

Raffi’s authenticity and genuine love for children comes through in his music as well as his activism. Raffi has always been a strong proponent of children’s rights, from his song “All I really need,” inspired by the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; to his 1997 founding of the Centre for Child Honouring, dedicated to advancing a vision of societal transformation based on respect for children and the earth; and most recently, spurred by the tragic suicide of Amanda Todd, to his founding of The Red Hood Project which aims to make the internet safer for young users.

Having been a fan of Raffi’s music from a very young age and his philosophy from more recently, I introduced my children to his music early on. Ben has always loved music – these two pictures, taken a year apart, show Ben jamming with his favourite busker, Keith, at a farmers’ market.

Ben jamming 1

Ben, age 3, jamming with Keith the busker
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben jamming 2

Ben, age 4 –
This time Keith gave Ben the stage to himself!
©PicklesINK 2012

He spent several months around the age of 3 obsessed with watching Youtube videos of vintage Raffi concerts and then putting on his own Hawaiian shirt, picking up his ukulele and recreating them for Molly, who appreciated the private concerts very much!

Ben as Raffi

Ben puts on a concert for a captive audience,
baby Molly in the jolly jumper.
©PicklesINK 2012

So when I heard in August about the upcoming #BelugaGrads Family Concert tour, I wasted no time getting my tickets…and not just mine!

Nana and Aunt Jane

Aunt Jane (left) and Nana watching the show
©PicklesINK 2012

Nana, Grandad, and Aunt Jane were delighted to come and share the Beluga nostalgia…

Grandad, Molly, daddy

Grandad, Molly, and daddy welcome Raffi onstage
©PicklesINK 2012

…and Ian, an English import and therefore a more recent Raffi convert was excited to experience the magic as well!

Ben and Kiara 2

Ben and Kiara dancing together
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly were also happy to have their young friend Kiara and her mommy Keri along for the ride. Kiara may turn out to be one of Raffi’s most fervent admirers – she didn’t stop bobbing her head and clapping the whole time!

Kiara clapping

Kiara clapping along with the music
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly’s reviews of the concert were glowing: Ben told me that his favourite part of the concert was every part and his favourite song was every song! Molly was more specific – her favourite song was “Molly’s song,” which she said went, “Monkey monkey monkey monkey. Monkey monkey monkey monkey. Monkey monkey monkey monkey. Monkey monkey monkey munchkin.” I’m not convinced I remember that one but perhaps it will provide inspiration for Raffi’s next album!

Grandad’s favourite part was when Raffi crouched behind his chair to slip on a red jersey before singing a new song, “On Hockey Days.” He was slightly disappointed when Raffi stood and revealed that it was Team Canada rather than Habs but enjoyed the song anyway.

Raffi hockey 2

Raffi can handle a hockey stick
and sing at the same time!
©PicklesINK 2012

One of the most touching moments in the concert was when Raffi led us all in singing “Happy Birthday” to 3 year-old Mason – read more about that in @Clippo‘s touching post “On Music, Love, and Raffi.”

Thank you so much, Raffi – It was a wonderful concert and an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon for kids and adults alike – As I said to the other obviously Beluga Grad parents in the elevator on the way down, “Our kids enjoyed it, but let’s be honest with ourselves – we all came here for us, right?”

~ karyn

Do your kids listen to Raffi? Did you? What’s your favourite Raffi song?

phil&teds Excellent Adventure

Once upon a time, I bought the greatest stroller known to man, the phil&teds Explorer Sport with double attachment. Greatest. Stroller. Ever.

Phil&teds stroller with carseat attachment
©PicklesINK 2012

I loved that stroller. I took it everywhere and recommended it to everyone who would listen (at least those who asked me about it…I didn’t run up to random strangers like a crazy person and scream at them to buy this stroller. Much.).

Molly fast asleep in the stroller
after a long day at the zoo.
©PicklesINK 2012

When we planned our trip to Germany this summer, we originally planned to bring 2 cheap umbrella strollers to the airport but at the last minute decided to take the phil&teds instead, thinking that it would be more useful in our travels. Unfortunately, fate was not on our side and it came to pass that a terrible dragon, in the form of a careless baggage handler, wrecked it during the flight. Actually, my guess, judging from the type of damage, is that he – and I say he not out of sexism but because it was taken from me by 2 young men – dropped it to the tarmac while carrying it down the stairs before the flight ever began.

They snapped the handle clean off!
©PicklesINK 2012

At first I hoped to keep using the broken stroller, at least for the trip, and did managed to get a bit of use out if it in the first few days with packing tape holding the handle together.

It could still safely carry liquor!
©PicklesINK 2012

Unfortunately some new damage quickly came to light – I think the front wheel assembly must have been bent too so with continued use the tire popped. Despondent, I gave it up for lost, figuring that my kids were a bit older and I could probably get by with a cheap umbrella stroller until they outgrew strollers completely (see the October 2012 issue of Today’s Parent for a good debate on topic of strollering your toddler or preschooler), and I would be better off taking a cash settlement.

I even composed a haiku in its honour:

Careless baggage guys/dropped my stroller down the stairs/Condor owes me big.

After a fair bit of frustration and some back-and-forthing through social media and then email with Condor Airlines, it came down to a choice between a significantly depreciated cash value versus full reimbursement for a replacement stroller so I opted for the replacement – which means I was able to purchase the brand new just-released phil&teds Navigator in pretty robins-egg blue!

Things that I loved about my Explorer:

– SO maneuverable

– double stroller without the double width

– double attachment let Ben jump in and ride when he needed to and didn’t get in my way when he didn’t

– driveable in all seasons and on all terrains

Things that I loved less:

– stiff wire brake needed a lot of force to flip on or off with foot (and not doable in sandals – ouch!)

– deep fabric footwell caught crumbs and dirt and you had to flip stroller upside down and shake get them out

– long dangly tails on harness straps

– waist straps that you had to dig out from under your kid to buckle

– very small sunshade that didn’t really shade at all

– no clip to prevent stroller from opening when folded

– soft fabric back of seat was oh so tempting for kid in double attachment seat to kick or push, earning a “Hey!!” or just a wail as they woke up from the kid above

– permanently attached seat cover cannot be washed

Don’t get me wrong – these were all minor annoyances and certainly did not detract from this being the BEST STROLLER EVER MADE.

Until now.

With the Navigator, phil&teds have stared deep within my soul, discovered all of the things I found mildly irritating about the Explorer, and FIXED THEM. Every last one of them. The Navigator has a one-touch toggle brake; a firm plastic footwell with vents for the crumbs to fall through; a new tail-less harness system (I didn’t even know you could do that!); a harness system that while still having shoulder and waist restraints, only has 2 clips; a hard plastic back to minimize those “Hey!”s; and a detachable, machine-washable seat cover. They even fixed the bar that goes across the front – I took it off originally because my kids were biting chunks of foam off it, and apparently this issue was not unique to me because the new incarnation has a fabric sleeve.

It also has the biggest freaking sunshade I’ve ever seen (Ben and Molly like to pull it all the way down to enclose them in a kind of sunshade cocoon) – and again, since they either have secret video cameras recording my life or else someone in R&D is my creepy long-lost brain twin, they KNEW that I always put stuff like my keys or wallet on top of the sunshade while I walk around and I’ve lost a cell phone as a result, and built freaking POCKETS into the sides of the sunshade so that when things inevitably slide off, instead of falling to the ground they get caught in the pockets.

New stroller with double attachment.
Note the stuff on the sunshade –
No, I will never learn.
©PicklesINK 2012

Another really neat feature is that it assembles completely without tools – I took it out of the box, popped the wheels on, and was ready to go. It also handles like a dream, even more smoothly than the Explorer did, and all this at the exact same price I paid for my Explorer originally.

If I have one complaint, it’s the the colour is not as bright and the fabric slightly coarser than I expected, but since I ordered it online without seeing it in person, I can’t really blame phil&teds for that.

Ben and Molly heartily approve.
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly heartily approve of the new stroller, and if it has half the staying power of the last one (barring being dropped down a flight of stairs onto asphalt) it should last through a few more kids after mine. Thank you, thank you, thank you, phil&teds, for making my stroller dreams come true, and thank you Condor Airlines for making things right.

~ karyn

A tickle is worth a thousand words

My brother suggested that I have a look at this app, Mulberry FingerPlays for iPhone, so I gave it a try and figured, naturally, that I would blog a review!

Mulberry Fingerplays Logo
Credit: Mulberry Media Interactive Inc.

Fingerplays are simple rhythmic songs or rhymes with accompanying hand actions, sometimes actions that your child imitates and sometimes actions that you perform on your child by tickling them or wiggling their fingers or toes. They are a fun way to interact with your young children and actually promote intellectual, social-emotional development, and physical development  as your children learn rhyme, rhythm, cadence, melody, and actions and are encouraged to maintain eye contact and mimic your facial expressions and emotional reactions  – Who knew that a simple song could do so much?

You probably already know lots of them by heart – “The Eensy Weensy Spider,” “Round and Round the Garden Like a Teddy Bear,” “This Little Piggy,” but I bet there are lots more that you will recognize but can’t for the life of you remember all the way through, like “Where is Thumbkin?” or “Five Little Pumpkins.” There were lots of times when Ben first started at nursery school and came home singing a rhyme that I recognized but couldn’t remember well enough to sing along with him, and at 2 years old he wasn’t much help!

This super-simple app by Mulberry Media Interactive is a collection of HD videos of a calm, soothing-voiced woman who looks just like your kindergarten teacher in 1983 reciting and demonstrating each fingerplay slowly enough that you can easily learn it. My children (5 1/2 and 2 1/2) also quite enjoy watching her themselves.

Screenshot from Mulberry FingerPlays iPhone app
Credit: Mulberry Media Interactive Inc.

You can tap the info icon to bring up a short description of the fingerplay followed by lyrics (but beware, I had trouble taping the tiny iPhone icon accurately with my pudgy fingers and kept restarting the video instead.

Screenshot from Mulberry FingerPlays iPhone app
Credit: Mulberry Media Interactive Inc.

The first time you open the app on a device, you view video introduction by Canadian author Paulette Bourgeois, creator of the Franklin the Turtle books, who finishes by demonstrating a really neat Franklin fingerplay. Unfortunately I can’t figure out how to make that video replay, which is too bad because it would have been very appealing to my Franklin-loving kids but was too long to learn in one viewing.

The first time you view each video it takes a few seconds to download but this only happens once for each video.  There is no discernible difference in video quality between the iPhone/iPod sized screen and the iPad. The free version of the app is actually just a demo and gives you access to five videos. You can then choose to purchase 20 more videos for $0.99, which I thought was quite reasonable for the amount and quality of the content. You can also sign up for a newsletter that will let you know when new videos are added to the library; I don’t know however if these will be included in the original purchase price or if you will have to pay for them in addition.

All in all, I thought this was a really neat, simple little app and excellent value for the price. It would be an excellent resource for any parents, daycare providers, ECE specialists and students, Sunday school teachers, babysitters, grandparents, aunts, uncles…really, anyone with contact with young children and a few minutes to kill! My only complaint is the inability to replay the Franklin fingerplay video, which I would love to have included in the library.

Well done Mulberry Interactive – keep ’em coming!

Mulberry FingerPlays for iPhone - Mulberry Media Interactive Inc.

~ karyn

Let’s Go To The Ex – In a Torrential Downpour!

We had been planning yesterday’s trip to The CNE for a week – my mom was on vacation and wanted to come, the kids were raring to go and Ben would never have forgiven me if we missed out this year (on the CNE of course, but more importantly on the GO Train ride to the CNE). On Monday morning the sky looked a touch threatening, but the good people at The Weather Network assured me that everything was fine – if anything we would see 5 mm of precipitation in Toronto, and really, does that even qualify as “rain”?

Call that “rain”? Pshaw!
© PicklesINK

But being the never-prepared mom that I am, I packed up snacks and raincoats (even for me!). On the way to the train station, it was a little drizzly, but I thought, “That’s okay – the weather forecast for TORONTO says only 1 mm of rain in the morning.” When I stopped for Starbucks I quipped to the girl at the drive-through that we were on our way to the Ex on this beautiful sunny day, and she laughed nervously, obviously knowing something I didn’t. By the time we got to the train station, it was raining pretty steadily, so I bundled the kids into their raincoats and we made a run for the platform, still optimistic. (“My friends at The Weather Network say close to 5 mm! That’s not even actually 5 mm! And when have they ever been wrong before?”) So we got our tickets, boarded the train, and rattled on towards our destination.

Rain, rain, go away!
© PicklesINK

The highlight of the train ride for Ben was borrowing my camera to take a picture of the tracks.

A pretty good shot for a 5 year-old!
©PicklesINK 2012

Lo and behold my optimism paid off because it was barely raining at all when we got to Exhibition Station and met Nana and our 13 year-old family friend Erdene. The dry spell lasted just long enough for us to buy our tickets and enter the grounds before the heavens opened and let us know what they thought about The Weather Network and their scientifically-based meteorological “predictions.” But we had come this far and we were darn well going to make the best of it!

We made our way, wetly, towards KIDS’ WORLD, detouring along the way into the Arts and Crafts Building, where we visited an amazingly talented designer friend, Naomi, of Designs by Naomi. Always super-generous, she gave each of the kids a cool crocheted hat in their favourite colour.

Ben’s, naturally, green, and Molly’s, of course, pink.
Angelina Ballerina didn’t get one.
©PicklesINK 2012

We continued on to KIDS’ WORLD where we hit up some rides and games. Erdene and I got drenched on the sopping wet Tornado (those foam seats sure hold a lot of water!).

Tornado Ride
Photo credit:

Molly caught a frog in a net to win her new favourite pink stuffed monkey (who she named, aptly enough, “Pinky”) and Ben played a fishing game and won a stuffed fish and crocodile, and then they practiced their foul weather aeronautical skills flying helicopters in the rain.

Coming in for a landing.
© PicklesINK

Then we moved on to our main goal – the KIDS’ WORLD Stage, where Splash ‘N Boots, my Ben and Molly’s favourite kids entertainers were playing at 12:30. We were a bit early for the show, but it was sheltered and we weren’t about to look a gift awning in the mouth! Nana went and got some popcorn and we settled in to snack and watch the roadies set up. Angelina Ballerina came out for a visit and Ben and Molly enjoyed hugging and dancing with her. Ben did lean over to me and whisper, “Mommy, I don’t think that’s really Angelina. I think it’s a person in a costume,” but he was kind enough not to share his observation with Molly.

Much less creepy than
most of the mascots.
©PicklesINK 2012

And then, finally, the main event! Splash ‘N Boots came out and chatted with Ben and Molly for a bit because they’re awesome that way (Yes, I am a Ben and Molly are groupie(s)!). Splash was the first to see the big reveal of Ben’s new semi-permanent hair colour – as it turns out, the dye in his new green hat was not colour-fast.

Perfect for back-to-school!
©PicklesINK 2012

Splash ‘N Boots put on an awesome semi-private show for Ben and Molly and about 5 other families who had sought shelter from the rain. Ben finally got to say his favourite animal (“Kitten!”) into Boots’ microphone (he had chased her around the audience every show before this in vain and even singing the chorus of “KooKooKaMachoo” at the last show was cold comfort). Molly had her turn too, and leaned into the microphone and said very clearly, “My favourite animal is a…” and then wandered off, leaving Ben to fill in, “Monkey!” for her. They also got to hold up their favourite vegetables for “Rockin’ Vegetables,”

©PicklesINK 2012

although Splash ‘N Boots may need to rethink that plan after Molly tried to load hers into the stroller and make her escape.

If I do it very quietly, I’m sure
no-one will catch on…
© PicklesINK

When the show ended we stuck around and monopolized the stars for a little while

©PicklesINK 2012

and then went back to use up the rest of our ride tickets in what we assumed would be another very brief dry spell! There are a lot of great things about visiting amusement parks/midways in the rain (as a teenager, I always tried to plan my Wonderland visits for rainy days!) – no lines, bored and generally friendly ride operators who give extra-long rides, and the only rides that usually get shut down are the roller coasters that I don’t really like anyway. Really, the only downside was being soaked, and a little rain never hurt anyone. (Okay, almost never.)

Kiddie Train (with working bell)
©PicklesINK 2012

Nana and Ben spinning the Berry-Go-Round.
©PicklesINK 2012

Molly on the Berry-Go-Round:
“Whee!!! It’s fast!! I’m so dizzy!!”
©PicklesINK 2012

And what trip to the fair would be complete without a trip up the Ferris Wheel?!

©PicklesINK 2012

Finally, we finished the day with a nice, healthy late lunch in the Food Building. I actually managed to resist the Eclair Hot Dog and opted for some Jamaican jerk chicken instead. Ben and Molly had pizza followed, naturally, by Tiny Tom’s Donuts.

The donuts are gone. She is eating the sugar
out of the bottom of the bag in handfuls.
©PicklesINK 2012

Then, having completely exhausted Nana our options, we headed back to the station to catch our train home, and entertained the other riders with conversations like, “Would you like some snack, bud?” “But mommy, you said we weren’t allowed to eat on the train!” “Well, bud, to be honest, that’s just something I said because I didn’t want to get the snack out right then.”

It was an awesome day out and despite the rain (Darn you, Weather Network!) we wouldn’t have missed it!

~ karyn

What’s a penguin to think when he wakes up PINK!

Molly made a great book find at the library the other day – she was attracted to it by the cover (“Mommy, can you read my pink book? Can you read this my pink book? That is my pink book!!”) but it turned out to be cute and topical.

Cover picture from

PINK! is the story of a penguin named Patrick who wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned pink. When he finds himself being teased at school, he decides to go and live with the flamingos, but finds that he doesn’t fit in there either. He returns home where he finds that his friends and family are happy to have him back and want to hear all about his adventures.

It’s a really nice story – well written, doesn’t hammer the points home over and over as some children’s books are wont to do, and was simple enough to keep Molly interested with a meaty enough story to engage Ben as well. In fact, at bedtime last night we read it twice. In a row. And I still like it. Can there be a better recommendation than that?

~ karyn