Tag Archive | family outing

The Bystander Effect

On the weekend, we witnessed a car crash.

We were on our way to the airport to drop off Ian’s brother after Ben’s Raptor Birthday Party Extravaganza (more on that later, but here’s a little taste). As often happens on the highway, for whatever reason someone braked unexpectedly, and as also often happens, someone else had a momentary lapse in attention and didn’t catch on in time.

Black car meets slams back of red car, red car careens sideways into blue car, and there you have it.

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New Years 2015 – Resolving to have less resolve.

Team Pickles celebrated a very happy New Year’s with friends, family, food, skiing, and Harry Potter-watching up at the chalet!

Father-Daughter Chairlift Selfie - New Year's with #TeamPickles www.picklesINK.com

Father-Daughter Chairlift Selfie


Molly Monkey's ski lesson New Year's with #TeamPickles www.picklesINK.com

Molly’s most successful ski lesson to date


Baby William, asleep with excitement - New Year's with #TeamPickles www.picklesINK.com

Baby William, asleep with excitement.

Ben and Baby William grinning - New Year's with #TeamPickles www.picklesINK.com

Another gratuitous Baby William picture because baby.

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Guest Post: Kindness Heroes Help The Earth, by Ben Pickles

Today I have invited a guest poster, Ben Pickles (age 6), to share some of his thoughts with you.

Ben is 6 years old. Last year at school he was in Montessori. This year he is going into Grade 1 in French Immersion and he has started riding the school bus! He is excited to use his new Angry Birds pencil case and Angry Birds pens from his Aunt Yen Yen. Ben has guest-posted before on PicklesINK and also on Raising Wild Things. He is the author of Your Brio Peak Story Collection. One of Ben’s favourite books and movies is The Lorax, and Ben likes to help the environment just like the Lorax does. In the future Ben plans to be a premier of a province called Benville. Benville will be environmentally friendly, with wind turbines and solar panels to make electricity so we do not have to burn coal and oil and gas that makes air pollution.

Litter 3w

Ben and Molly with their full litter bag. Caption Reads: Kindness Heroes Help The Earth, Guest Post by Ben

Litter is garbage that people throw on the ground instead of throwing it out or recycling it. When I see litter, I feel like I should pick it up. I think that sometimes people throw things out of their cars because the cars will just run over them.

A little while ago, mommy, Molly and I were walking to the mailbox and the library. I saw some litter on the ground and I wanted to pick it up and carry it to a garbage. Mommy had two bags – one was a throw-outable bag and one wasn’t, so we put her letters in the other bag and used the throw-outable one to carry the litter so we could just throw out the bag with the litter when we got to the library.

Litter 2w

Photo of Ben and Molly picking up litter on the side of the road

On the rest of the walk downtown, we saw some more litter so we decided to pick up all the litter that we saw. Molly and I worked as a team – I held the bag and I showed Molly the litter and Molly picked it up and put it in the bag because I didn’t like the stinky smells.

Molly thought the litter was called “glitter” and every time she saw it she said, “Glitter! Glitter! More glitter!”

When we got downtown the bag was full of litter and we put it in the garbage at the library. We decided that every time we go on a walk we will bring a bag to pick up litter.

Litter 1w

Ben and Molly carrying their litter bag together

The thing that people litter most is cigarettes. I have seen that there are garbages for them, but people just litter them, and they have already done something that is not good for the environment – polluted the air with smoke. I wish I could pick up the cigarettes but they are too germy. I wish people who smoke cigarettes would put them into garbages instead of littering.

I like picking up litter, but I still wish that there wasn’t so much litter because litter pollutes the Earth. I wish that people would hold onto their garbage until they find a garbage or a recycling box to put it in because that would be nicer to the environment.

I would like to ask everyone who reads this blog post to pick up one piece of litter today and put it in the garbage (or if you find a box or can or anything that needs to be recycled find a recycling bin). Remember the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Like it says in How to Help the Earth – by the Lorax:

If we work together,

the earth will get better.

The land will be cleaner.

The soil will be wetter.

The sun will shine brighter.

The trees will be greener.

The sky will be bluer.

The air will be cleaner.


 ~ Ben Pickles

Show Ben some Comment Love here!!

From Sulks and Sadness to Sushi and Smiles: Ben and Molly’s First Day of School

Today was the big day – back to school for Ben and Molly!

Back to school collage

Photo Collage: Ben on porch with Molly in background, Daddy and Ben hugs, and Molly at sushi. Caption reads “From Sulks + Sadness to Sushi + Smiles – Team Pickles is Back to School”

This summer has *figuratively* flown by. As anyone who knows me can attest, I was never cut out to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. The work-at-home/half-time school balance that I have going on with Ben and Molly works perfectly for me. Summers can throw that routine off but this summer was a really good one; we crammed in lots of fun activities but also kept up a fairly workable routine of daycamp and me trying desperately to get all my work done while also rehearsing and performing two plays (but more on that in another post).

As you may have noticed (or, you know, actually more likely not because you were also off enjoying your fantastic summers that also figuratively flew by!) I haven’t posted very much this summer, so you can look forward to some summer recap and catch-up posts over the next couple of weeks!

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Ben has a big transition this year, leaving his beloved Montessori school for Grade One French Immersion, all day, every day, and with a school bus ride to boot. Molly also has changes in store, moving up to the Casa classroom and going from four mornings a week to five. There are a few other kids at the school that Ben knows from Montessori and other places, but none in his class and none that he knows very well.

My anxiety around Ben’s new school has been through the roof – most likely because I’ve been projecting my own less than blissful elementary school experience onto him. It’s not that I have particularly horrible memories but I also don’t have particularly happy shiny ones. Mostly I remember a lot of being bored and not having any really close friends (I did have a camp best friend but she lived 4 hours away so we couldn’t do much in the way of playdates).

I vividly remember my dad bringing me to visit my senior kindergarten classroom before the beginning of the school year and forever alienating the teacher, Mrs. Lambursky, by scanning the classroom and then asking in a disgusted tone, “But where’s the Science Table???” My parents tried to make it up to her at Christmas with a lovely gift of sheep-themed oven mitts (lamb –> Lambursky –> get it? See, I come by it honestly) but it didn’t seem to do the trick.

The grade two memory that stands out most is two of us being sent to the principal’s office and interrogated and accused of stealing our seatmate’s fruit roll-up, which she later found buried in her desk. There was never any apology and the injustice still stings.

I had a love/hate relationship with grade three. One the one hand, my teacher, Miss Methven, was wonderful and kept a stash of small prizes in her desk that we could earn through academic achievement and good behaviour. One the other hand, whenever she left the room, a girl named Jerky McJerkhead* would stand on a chair and lead a popularity contest (of a sort): “Put up your hand if you hate Karyn! Everyone who hates Karyn, put up your hand!!” Not just me, of course. That would have been cruel. She had a list of favourite targets and worked her way through in rotation.

Grade four was great, in large part because I went to a new school – so I have to admit, there is something to be said for a change of scene! Twenty-four of us unsuspecting 9 year-olds were bused away to form a full-time gifted classroom across town (6 girls and 18 boys, which has always raised questions for me about gender-bias either in the gifted testing itself or parents’ decision-making around the school change). We had an amazing teacher, Mr. Keay, and were a very close-knit class. I bonded with a girl named Nicole over our mutual love of card games and we played Crazy 8’s constantly…on the bus, on the playground, in our desks until Mr. Keay figured it out and moved us across the room from each other (le sigh).

Grade 4 class karyn

My grade 4 class picture. Can you pick me out?

After that was yet another transition, this time to the all-girls school I attended until graduation and where over time I made many very close friends and had…well…good and bad experiences, endeared myself to some staff members and alienated others, received a fine education that was probably worth every penny, and learned the most effective ways to make your kilt seem long enough and your shirt appear to be tucked in when neither actually is.

Like I said…the majority of my anxiety about Ben’s first day is wrapped up in my own experience, so I’ve been working reeeeeallly hard to keep it from impacting him.

Ben has been really excited about his new school, especially after we visited in the spring, met the principal, and had a tour. He confessed to me a few days ago, “Mommy, I’m excited about my new school, but I’m also a little nervous about meeting all those new people. Sometimes when I do something like that I get a little…shy.” I did the only thing a reasonable parent could do of course and cancelled his registration and vowed to homeschool him through to his graduate degree pulled myself together and assured him that everyone feels like that and lots of his new friends will be feeling shy too, even the ones who have been at that school who are going to a new classroom with a new teacher.

Of course, before setting foot in his new classroom, he still needed to be outfitted with school supplies. After The Conversation about backpacks, peer pressure, and bullying, Ben gave the backpack question a lot of consideration. We looked at all of his options online and in stores and in the end he went with:

School supplies

Ben’s new Thomas backpack (with suitcase wheels!) and school supplies

Thomas, of course! Let it never be said that Ben is boy who doesn’t know what he wants.

He had also considered Dr. Seuss as a backpack option but we weren’t able to find it, so I offered to make him a marker roll out of Dr. Seuss fabric (let me know if you’re interested and I will post a tutorial about that). I asked him if he would like a different fabric inside where it wouldn’t show as much and he inspected my fabrics carefully and said, “Princesses. Because I like princesses, and it’s now or never.”


Ben’s fabric choices for his marker roll: Dr. Seuss on the outside, princesses on the inside.

Ian, also the veteran of many childhood moves and therefore many school transitions, planned the ultimate back-to-school day for everyone: He took the day off work, bought back-to-school gifts for the kids, booked me a pedicure (and himself a bucket of balls at the driving range), and told Ben that dinner was his choice (“PIZZA!!!!”).

The morning drop-offs started with Molly to Montessori, grumpy, but quick to cheer up when she saw her friends.

Molly and Jade

Molly and her friend Jade ham it up for the camera

Next up was Ben to his new school, where the principal made his day by recognizing him: “It’s Ben Pickles!!” but unfortunately then he was thrown off when he learned that we were supposed to drop him off outside instead of at his classroom door like he had imagined. Honestly, I’m surprised he held it together as long as he did and had expected that something would cause his calm veneer to crumble.

Daddy hugs

Sad cuddles with daddy

Daddy cuddles helped a lot but in the end it was his principal’s offer to let us go in with him that did the trick. Once we brought him in, he changed into his indoor shoes and then with a nervous smile and wave was ready to start his new life as a primary school student.

On porch

Grinning Ben on the porch ready to go with grumpy Molly in the background

After that, Ian dropped me off for 90 minutes of bliss at the spa while he hit some balls and then we headed back for Molly’s pick up time. Although the only thing she would say in response to questions about what she did was a cheerful, “I don’t know!” we gathered that she had had a good morning. Over a sushi lunch and manicures she opened up a little more, telling me that they had sung songs about “butts” that went “Poop. Poop poop poop poop.” I may have to organize a parent-teacher interview…

Sushi lunch

Molly enjoying a bowl of miso soup

Finally, the moment of truth: We returned to Ben’s school for the pick-up. We hardly recognized the cheerful, confident 6 year-old who marched out the door bursting with stories about his day. The highlights, it seems, were the special “teacher introducement” in the gym and the fact that the playground possesses not one but TWO particularly slippery fireman’s poles.

Into every life, though, a little rain must fall, and there was one sour note – When Ian asked if anyone said anything about his Thomas backpack, Ben’s response was an utterly indignant, “They took NO interest AT ALL!”

Oh well. C’est la vie.

~ karyn

*Names have been changed.

Mulch Ado About Something – Gardening post #2

Oh my goodness…This post is very, very, very late – It’s now over halfway through July and I’m pretty sure I left it half-finished at the beginning of June. Please imagine very hard that I actually posted these next couple of paragraphs a month ago —>

Gardening post 2 icon

Collage of pictures from post – Hanging plant, brush pile, and kids feeding goat. Caption reads “Gardening #2: Mulch Ado About SOMETHING!”

We’ve been continuing on a roll with our gardening madness. The back yard is almost totally cleared out but the bees are out in force which may *stem* from the fact that our huge privet hedge has just bloomed. The other morning I tried to edge the last of it but I got scared away by all the buzzing and just dumped a couple of bags of mulch and moved on to the front.

I tried my hand (well, foot, and shovel) at dividing my enormous hostas with limited success. I got one out, at least, and naturally couldn’t resist shouting, “HOSTA LA VISTA, BABY!” (I mean, really, who can blame me?)

After that I pruned the corkscrew hazelnut in the middle of the lawn, stopping to ask my neighbour for advice. When I get the energy later I’ll drag a bag of mulch from the back but for now I said *screw* it – this heat is *nuts*.

Corkscrew hazelnut pruned and mulched

Corkscrew hazelnut, pruned and mulched

Then I went to town on the euanamous bushes, which have totally overgrown the front garden. My plan (Well, our plan. We’ve discussed it and it’s *euanamous*) is to cut them back drastically, disentangle them from the other hedges, give them some shape (other than, you know, “giant amorphous blob”), and mulch and plant some lower-growing flowers in front.

I discovered, to my chagrin, a huge pile of dry sticks underneath everything that on closer inspection turned out to be an entire dead euanamous bush – proof, sadly, that the gardener I was paying $50 a visit to for the last 2 years never ventured more than 6 inches into the garden. Ah well. Live and learn.

Brush pile - mid-pruning

Brush pile from front garden MID-pruning. By the end it filled a small trailer.

Ben and Molly and I took an afternoon to check out the plants at our local farmers market, picking out lots of herbs (Ben and Molly are especially partial to lavender and mint), tomatoes, and hot peppers.

Plants from farmers market 1

Plants from farmers market – experimental ground cover, herbs, tomatoes, and peppers.

No trip to that market is complete, of course, without visiting and feeding the animals there – friendly goats, geese, and chickens.

Feeding goats

Ben and Molly feeding the goats – Molly dressed to the nines, as usual!

Ben begged for a hanging basket of flowers – “Look mommy! It has a hook, and we have hooks on the front porch! It’s perfect!”  Our neighbour Walt marched over the day after we hung it with a retractable hanger – “Here, Karyn. I’ve had this squirreled waitin’ for someone to get a plant like this. Watcha do is you pull it down and lock it, water it, then send it back up.” Ben immediately declared that it is now HIS job to water it since Walt gave him the hanger just so  he could reach it.

Hanging plant

Ben’s prized hanging plant – “Look, Molly! It’s pink! Your favourite colour!”

A few days later, on what turned out to be the hottest day of the summer so far, I decided to try to dig out that euanamous stump. It took me 2 hours and was the dirtiest job I’ve ever done, but boy did I ever feel like a superwoman when I finished. It’s a good think I wore gloves, don’t you think?

dirty arm

Dirty arm – there was dirt on my arms…in my eyes…in my teeth…in my…well, you get the picture.

I think I cemented my reputation with my neighbours, who have been watching approvingly. Ian reported when he arrived home from his 3 days away that Walt had greeted him with, “You know, that wife of yours has been out there all week working her…uh…uh…” “Tail?” “…off all week in this heat. You shoulda seen her!” Another neighbour came over one morning just to tell me how great it looked. Yay! Pat on the back for ME!

Victory is mine

I conquered the stump!! VICTORY IS MINE!!

Once that bastard of a stump was out, we planted a cutting from the forsythia in the backyard in its place. Team Pickles has a little bit of a forsythia obsession that I can’t explain…Okay, fine…it’s my obsession. It’s just such a fun word. Forsythia. Forsythia! FORSYTHIA!!! Now imagine a 3 year-old saying it – see? Awesome. We have a car game in the spring where the first person to see a forsythia while driving yells, “FORSYTHIA!”…and then…well…uh…that’s actually it until someone else sees a forsythia and yells, “FORSYTHIA.” Oh yeah? Well, I think your car games are dumb too!

Ooohkay…moving on.

Walt was also out first thing the other morning edging the front and left me with clear instructions to “Mulch the shit out of it.”

Front garden pruned

Front garden, pruned and mulched.

Heading back to the back yard, I potted (over the course of a couple of HOT weeks) all the tomatoes, hot peppers, basil, and mint. We can’t grow tomatoes or pepper in the ground because there have been black walnut trees in the yard in the past – their roots leave a toxin that affects tomatoes and peppers for decades afterwards.

Potted plants

Potted plants – tomatoes, hot peppers, and basil.

Ben and Molly helped me to plant the other herbs (cilantro, lavender, and rosemary) in the garden. I even experimented with more transplanting, moving the clumps of my orange mystery flower – now identified as blanketflower – from the herb garden to other parts of the garden.

Herb garden planted

Finished herb garden – Clockwise from top left are rosemary, cilantro, sage, chives, oregano, lavender

While moving rocks around to edge the back garden, I found a huge ant colony under a flat stone and intrepid photographer Ben ran back in for the camera to document them rushing their eggs underground.

Ants racing underground

Upper left is a purple mystery flower, lower left is the overturned stone (crawling with ants), and upper middle and right you can see the uncovered tunnels and thousands of ants racing to get their eggs underground.

Finally, I planted a couple of groundcover plants in the front, and Walt assures me that all this transplanting will be fine as long as I “water the shit out of it.” I’m starting to see a theme here.

Okay, that brings us to about mid-July. I’ll try to make the next garden post come a bit sooner than this one did so stay tuned!

~ karyn

Stone edging 2

Almost finished back garden – partly mulched and edged with stone.

Stone edging 1

Back yard side garden, mulched and edged with stone.

Pruned, roses and sweet peas in bloom

Back yard side garden, mulched, roses and sweet pea in bloom.

Blooming yellow mystery flower

Back garden, mulched and edged (once the ants were back underground). Yellow mystery flower in bloom.

How are your gardening adventures going? Do you recognize any of my mystery flowers?


Other parents’ judgement? That’s the leash-t of my worries.

I love Today’s Parent. I don’t always agree with everything in it, but it’s always a good read, and gosh-dang-it, y’all know I’m a sucker for any kind of child development material!

The topic of this month’s “Debate” column is “Should you use a leash to control your toddler?” and I felt it missed the mark. I was frankly offended by Nadine Silverthorne’s assertion that “parents who use leashes look lazy,” and although Amy Morrison’s “Yes” column made a great case for leashes, I was saddened by the caveat that she never actually used one herself due to fear of judgement – a fear that was clearly justified!

Since Today’s Parent hasn’t been able to find anyone willing to admit to actually using a toddler leash, I feel compelled (anyone surprised by that?) to add my own two cents!

Although I use the term “toddler leash” facetiously among friends, it is not at all the same as an animal leash. There is no “obedience training” involved and it is not a punitive device used to jerk back a disobedient pet to ensure compliance born out of fear of a repeat performance. A toddler “leash” or harness is a safety device that allows your child the freedom of walking a few steps away from you while giving you the means to respond effectively to any unexpected danger.

Toddlers value independence above all else. The “Terrible Twos” exist because it is around that age that children first learn to do for themselves, at their own pace, and heaven help the parent who says, “Just let me do it for you!” Is it really fair to strap your fearless little explorer into a 5-point stroller harness just because he or she is too dazzled by the wonderful world around him or her to stop dead every time you shout, “Freeze!”?

Going back to the statement that toddler leash-toting parents “look lazy,” I asked my own mother, who, as a full-time doctor and mother of 3 in the 1980’s is the least lazy person I know (Case in point: She recently returned to work on crutches 9 days after breaking her hip in a skiing accident), what she thinks of parents who use toddler leashes. She responded dryly, “Karyn, if I hadn’t used a toddler leash, your brother Chris wouldn’t be around today.”

When Ben was a toddler, I kept his lightweight harness in my diaper bag, ready to throw on him any time the situation warranted. If I was going to be wandering the Eaton’s Centre or downtown Toronto, or taking a trip to a train station or waterfront with a 2 year-old, you bet your bippy I’d have that leash at the ready!

Ben with leash 2

Ben, on leash, walking by a river in Germany.
©PicklesINK 2013

It was the best option for both of us – Ben was free to explore without being stuck in the stroller or having his hand held (just take a minute to imagine how uncomfortable it must be to have someone much taller than you holding your hand up above your head until it falls asleep, gripping it hard enough that you can’t pull away) and I had the security of knowing that I could stop him if he suddenly bolted towards a hazard.

Ben with leash 3

And Ben, off leash!
©PicklesINK 2013

There are certain situations in which even the most anti-leash parent would be unlikely to argue that a safety harness isn’t a good idea:

Ben with harness on sailboat

Ben on a sailboat with a lifejacket and safety harness.
©PicklesINK 2013

(For the record, the harness Ben is wearing in the preceding photograph is actually an adult boating harness intended for sailboat racing – safety devices ain’t just for toddlers, y’know.)

And how about in the case of special needs children? If you don’t think that’s appropriate, take a minute to walk a mile in some other parents’ shoes by reading the testimonials on this website from users of special needs child-to-adult harnesses. Or take it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak:

I’ve got the best harness in the world. When I first got it I didn’t like wearing it, but now I love my harness. I never get lost and I don’t have to keep holding hands all the time and its comfortable to wear. Big kids and little kids should wear a harness because you are never too old to be kept safe. And I love the colours.

– Tyler, Australia, Age 9, http://www.childharness.ca/testimonials.html

There are important guidelines to follow when using a toddler harness:

1. The whole idea is to give your child the freedom to explore on his or her own terms, so try to follow at his or her pace and guide your child with your words (“Time to go this way! Come on!”). Your child is not a puppy, and the harness is not an choke-chain, so do not jerk him or her back to you.

2. If you aren’t holding the harness, tuck it firmly out of the way, and take it off completely if your child is playing on something like a climber or slide where it could become a strangulation hazard.

3. When it comes to wrist straps, just don’t: If you can manage to get them tight enough to stay on, they’re just a broken wrist waiting to happen.

4. And of course, make sure that you come prepared with pithy rejoinders for those inevitable judgments, such as,

“Well, the breeder suggested that we try this first, but if his behaviour doesn’t improve soon, it’s off to obedience school!”

“Dear God! You’re right! This isn’t my dachshund Olympus – it’s my neighbour’s kid! I can’t believe I did it AGAIN!”

Or the classic, “You know what they say about people in glass houses.”

As Nadine Silverthorne points out, it is our job as parents to teach our children “the rules,” including the expectation that when we say “Freeze,” they will. I say that even more importantly, it is our job to know our own children and to keep them safe whether they are listening or not.  The call-and-response method that she describes is an excellent training tool, but at the toddler age it is simply not foolproof. There is always potential for distraction, and the use of a toddler leash can ensure that a moment’s  impulsiveness doesn’t turn into a life-altering tragedy.

~ karyn (aka that horrible, lazy, toddler-leash-using mom everybody love to judge!)

Who decided to call it March “Break” anyway?

I’m ba-a-ack!! Sorry about the bloggy hiatus. It’s been a bit of a hectic couple of weeks around here! My car has been fixed, no thanks to Mazda (I won’t get into that though…feel free to scroll back through my Twitter for details). So far I haven’t received the bill, so I’m just pretending it doesn’t exist…not necessarily a sustainable plan over the long term, but it’s working for me right now!

It seems that Mother Nature has decided to tack the winter she forgot to give us last year onto the end of this one. Watching the blowing snow out my living room window day after day I’m starting to feel like I’m trapped in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. But I digress.

We had a great March Break but I don’t think you can really call it a “break!” We went up to my parents’ ski chalet for the week, bringing friends and our babysitter Victoria with us. When we got there, Ben and Molly spent an hour bouncing off the walls – “When are Noah and Ella going to be here? Are they here yet? When are they going to get here? AREN’T THEY HERE YET???” I think that was when Victoria started wondering what she had gotten herself into…

Noah and Ella and their parents arrived and the kids settled right in together:

Hanging out 1

Ben and Noah and Molly and Ella giggling together in chairs (no plans for bedtime any time soon!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah went to ski day camp in the mornings and both improved immensely skiing-wise. Michael (Noah and Ella’s dad) and I got some great skiing in too. I think we managed to go through every snow condition possible – warm, sticky spring, fresh powder, icy pellets, freezing cold dead of winter. It was like the entire ski season compressed itself into 3 days!

Ben skiing 2

Ben skiing. I think this was the really cold day – note the icy patch on his left
©PicklesINK 2013

With a 2-hour group lesson every day, Ben and Noah both improved immensely. Ben continues to work his way through the fast-food metaphors, having now graduated from doing “pizza slices” and onto “french fries.” They also became quite well-known at the hill – “Are you Ben’s mom? Oh my gosh, he and Noah are SO. CUTE. They are so chatty! And they were holding hands while they were waiting for the lift.”

Noah skiing

Looking good, Noah!
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Ben skiing

Ben’s kind of halfway between the pizza slice and the french fries here.
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Much to their mommies’ terror, the reward for a good day of skiing seemed to be a trip down the free-style terrain park. There’s nothing quite like seeing your 5 year-old sliding across rails and off ski jumps to strike cold fear into your heart!

Molly also tried her hand…er…her feet at skiing. Boy, was my back sore after that…


Mommy and Molly skiing together
©PicklesINK 2013

As I’m sure you gathered from her expression, she hated it! She wasn’t totally satisfied though – I asked how she liked it and she said, “Great! But faster next time, Mommy, okay? Faster!”


Mommy helping grinning Molly back up at the bottom of the hill
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben finally got to experience his first sleepover. We’ve tried a few times letting him and Molly share a room, and sadly it always ends in disaster. The closest they came to making it work was a few weeks ago when Ben finally fell asleep and stayed that way, despite Molly sitting up beside him kicking him with both legs yelling, “Ben? BEN? Wake up, Ben! I want to play! BEEEEENNNNN!!!”

Ben and Noah, happily, were able to make it work, much to Ben’s delight – “A sleepover with my BEST FRIEND? THIS IS THE GREATEST NIGHT EVER!!” Towards the early hours of the morning we did discover that Ben, like his parents before him, is a cover-hog. My advice for marital harmony, folks? Two words: Separate duvets.


Ben and Noah’s sleepover
©PicklesINK 2013

Thanks to Victoria, we grown-ups were able to enjoy a lovely night out at a beautiful local restaurant called Mrs. Mitchell’s, named after the last and longest-serving teacher at the one-room schoolhouse that now houses the restaurant. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it! (If you can’t get there, at least try making their famous spoon bread at home). The waitress told us one of the best stories ever about my mom and aunt (identical twins): “You know how they look exactly alike but one of them is chattier than the other? For years I thought they were the same person but with multiple personalities. Then one day they came in together and I nearly fell off my chair!”

Mrs. Mitchell’s is also famous for their afternoon tea, which has been a favourite of mine (and hasn’t changed much!) since I was little. Karen and I brought Molly and Ella for a “Princess Tea Party” on our last afternoon.

Princess tea party 2

Molly’s first taste of tea
©PicklesINK 2013

Really, what could be better than an individual basket of fresh-baked scones and sweet potato and walnut muffins served with strawberry preserves, cream, and whipped butter? Not much, say I!

Princess tea party 1

Molly enjoying her muffin
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah made good use of their time while the girls were gone, converting the chalet into a bookstore, complete with window display and “employees only” area.

Bookstore 1

Ben and Noah’s bookshop window display (visible from outside as we drove up!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Bookstore 2

Sign reads “Noah and Ben’s book store – staff only”
©PicklesINK 2013

When we got back, they were down in the “staff only” area hard at work writing and illustrating their debut novel, “Journey To The End Of The Pine River.” [*Spoiler alert*] I assume that part of the story will deal with the existential futility of trying to play Poohsticks with pieces of ice…

Bridge 3

Noah, Ella, Ben and Molly playing Poohsticks with ice – sadly, a losing battle.
©PicklesINK 2013

All in all, an excellent but exhausting week! Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know if you can really call it a “break.” Perhaps the concept was pioneered by a childless school principal – “EUREKA! I’ve just had the Greatest! Idea! Ever!!”

Bridge 4

Definitely worth it, though! Look at those grins!
©PicklesINK 2013

Or maybe it’s actually a clever acronym: March B.R.E.A.K. (Begetting Really Exhausted parents And Kids).


The Aftermath: I think Ian and Molly could have slept for a week!
©PicklesINK 2013

Chalet trip: Black Diamonds are forever and Happy New Year

Ben went away after Christmas for a “special trip with Nana and Grandad.” We perhaps should have prepared Molly better, because she was absolutely devastated when he left:

Sad Molly

The saddest Molly face EVER.
©PicklesINK 2012

She cried for hours – “But I need BEN! I can’t go to sleep without BEN! No, you can’t sing me a lullaby – ONLY BEN CAN SING ME A LULLABY!” She finally rolled over in bed and poured her heart out to her doll, Charlie – “Charlie, I miss BEN! Will you do a craft with me tomorrow, Charlie? With pink, and sparkles, and then we can call Ben and tell him about it?”

Ben and Molly’s reunion three days later was a sight to see. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it, but he threw open the car door and jumped in and they embraced and cheered and gushed, “I missed you, Molly!!” “I missed you too Ben!” “I love you, Molly!!” “I love you, Ben!!” and you couldn’t pry them apart for the rest of the day.

Together again 3

Ben and Molly sitting in a chair watching a show
©PicklesINK 2012

Ice cream

Ben and Molly sharing a chair and dessert
©PicklesINK 2012

For days after we got home, Molly would occasionally smile and say, “Now Ben is back where he belongs – with Molly.” I know they’ll have their sibling ups and downs, but as one friend put it, we must be doing something right!

The purpose of Ben’s special trip, aside from having a fun time with Nana and Grandad, was to give him the opportunity to learn to ski. In my family, we traditionally are put on skis pretty well as soon as we can walk reliably and there’s snow on the ground, so we started both Ben and Molly on skis the winters before their 2nd birthdays. At that age, though, you’re mostly just holding the child up and getting them used to the idea of sliding down the hill standing up.

A friend who is an extremely talented pianist and piano teacher (shameless plug – if you’re in the Toronto area and looking for piano lessons, check her out) suggested that in most cases it’s good idea to hold off on private piano lessons until a child is old enough to have the fine motor control to physically do what they want to do on the instrument or they will get frustrated. She suggests starting lessons at 6 and notices that in general children who start piano lessons at that age very quickly catch up to their peers who started at a younger age.

I suspect that the same is true of sports like skiing – I think that each child has a threshold for when they are physically capable of learning the sport, and while introducing them to it earlier will help them become comfortable with the sensations, once they hit that threshold they will literally and figuratively take off.

In Ben’s case, that threshold was age 5 1/2! He left with Nana and Grandad on Boxing Day to go up to the chalet, and Molly and I joined them on the 29th. He left a non-skier who hadn’t even been on skis in a year, and this is what I found when I went up:

Zoom 1

Ben zooming downhill without a care in the world
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and grandad 2

Ben, in the lead, racing Grandad
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and nana 2

Ben and Nana stopping for a chat
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben just a dot

Ben, just a dot in the distance
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben on Chair

Ben riding the chairlift like an old pro
©PicklesINK 2012

Helmet hair

Ben showing off his helmet hair in the bar…er…cafeteria.
©PicklesINK 2012

He was skiing down the freaking black diamonds!! In skiing speak, those are the “Advanced” slopes, as compared to the green circles (Beginner), blue squares (Intermediate), and double- or triple- black diamonds (!!☠☠!! and !!!☠☠☠!!!). This is all, of course, relative – Ontario black diamonds are not the same level as BC or Quebec black diamonds, let alone others found worldwide. But still – pretty amazing stuff for a 5 year-old after 4 days of lessons!

Please also note my prodigious talent at photographing a moving target whilst skiing myself – I may not excel at many sports, but when it comes to skiing I got mad skillZ! And if you don’t believe me, take it from The Evil Snowman:

Evil snowman

I am The Evil Snowman, and I endorse this message.
©PicklesINK 2012

After skiing, it was back to the chalet for some (EVIL) snowman-building followed by warm chocolate with marshmallows (Ben and Molly feel that hot chocolate would be too hot) and a dip in the hot tub.

Molly's bathing suit

I forgot Molly’s bathing suit, but a tankini top and some creative strap-tying did the trick.
©PicklesINK 2012

Ian and I reprised the dip in the hot tub on New Year’s Eve and participated in the classic chalet tradition of making snow angels in bathing suits. Before you say anything, let he among you who can resist a double-dare cast the first stone snowball!!

Snow angel

Brrr….snow angel…..brrr….
©PicklesINK 2012

Ian went for a wander with his camera and took some great pictures:

Snow falling

New Year’s Eve snowfall
©PicklesINK 2012


Snowy riverbanks
©PicklesINK 2012


Snowy woodland trail covered with cross-country ski tracks
©PicklesINK 2012


Icy river close-up
©PicklesINK 2012

And along with Nana, we managed (just) to stay up until midnight, raise a glass, and then collapse into bed.

Evil snowman celebrating

Happy New Year
from The Evil Snowman!
©PicklesINK 2012

I know it’s a little late, but from our home to yours, I hope you had a very Happy New Year and that your hopes and dreams for the coming year all come true!

~ karyn

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?

Giving some old shoes the boot

About a year ago I was detoured on my way home because of an accident and drove past a very odd sight: a large tree by the side of the road festooned with hundreds of pairs of shoes.

©PicklesINK 2012

I had never seen anything like it before and went home and consulted my friend Google, who also had no idea. Since then, the good people of Wikipedia have been hard at work and there is now an entry that would have answered some of my questions, but at the time I had to muddle on in ignorance.

It has since suffered some damage as we’ve had some pretty severe storms in the last year but the most of the shoes seemed to have come through pretty well…at least you wooden know weather or not they were the worse for the wear.

©PicklesINK 2012

A little while ago I showed it to Ben and Molly and ever since Ben has been eager to add a pair of his shoes to it, so we decided that today was the day. We gathered up a hammer and some nails and two pairs of worn out shoes (Ben’s favourite, worn right through the soles, Thomas sneakers, and Molly’s out-grown and well-scuffed “pretty pretty pink shoes”) and drove out to the tree, where Ian handily nailed found some space and nailed them on.

©PicklesINK 2012

Ian managed to find room for Ben’s on the trunk

©PicklesINK 2012

but for Molly’s he had to go out on a limb.

©PicklesINK 2012

You might think we’re barking mad, and perhaps that is the root of the issue… (okay, I think I’m done now. At least I guess it’s time I leaf it alone. Heheheheheh…) Anyway, now Ben and Molly’s shoes have a place in local history along with other footwear both large and small (Hey, if the shoe fits…).

©PicklesINK 2012

And Ben and Molly have a fun memory of a family outing to illegally vandalize a natural landmark purely for the sake of entertainment!

But seriously, it was a lot of fun!

©PicklesINK 2012

~ karyn

Have you seen a shoe tree? Do you know anything more about them?