Canadian Ski Council Ski Pass is back!

Just got word that the Canadian Ski Council will be running their very popular Ski Pass™ program again this winter. For just $29.95 — the cost of processing and delivery of your child’s pass —  your grade four or five student can ski or snowboard up to three times each at one of 150 participating ski centres across Canada. Otherwise, the pass is free!

If you’ve got a child born in either of 2002 or 2003 (currently enrolled in grade 5 or 4) and are a Canadian resident, all you have to do to take advantage of this fantastic offer is to visit the Canadian Ski Council website. To get immediate online access, you’ll need a digital photo of your child as well as digital proof of age or enrollment in grade four or five in a Canadian school. If you don’t have the required information at your fingertips, you can download an application from the website.

Snow Pass season starts December 1st and is valid for the entire 2012 – 2013 ski season. Visit the Canadian Ski Council website for more information. Happy skiing!

Guest Post: Patsy Spanos on Being a Dancing Queen at 40

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiz...

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiza por la noche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My situation is a unique one. I am a mother of three young boys — six year old twins and a nine year-old — and for the last five years, I have spent my Julys in Ibiza. For those of you who don’t know Ibiza, it’s a Spanish island close to Barcelona, with a party scene that resembles Babylon during the summer months. Seeing body-painted, half naked women, in their G – strings, is as common here as Lululemon pants are for us in Canada. Bare breasts and string bottoms on the beaches are more accepted than tankinis. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows what a tankini is in Ibiza.

Along with this eccentric fashion sense is the out-of-this-world nightlife that starts somewhere around at 2 a.m. and goes strong until 7 a.m. Luckily dinner in Spain is usually at 10 p.m. and if I feel like putting my dancing shoes on, I tuck the kids in bed by 1 a.m. and away I go! This 40 year old, Canadian mom turns into a Dancing Queen.

Let me stop right here for a second, and put things into perspective. I am a stay-at-home mom from Stouffville, Ontario. The most excitement I get throughout the school year is scoring two free slices for the school pizza lunches. Dancing in the V.I.P section in all the hottest clubs in Ibiza (thanks to a very connected brother in law) throughout the month of July is a far stretch from my home life in Stouffville.

Needless to say, I feel like a fish out of water in this subculture, kind of like Madonna, with her toned arms, desperately trying to hold on to her youth. But the saving grace in all this is that I am a certified YogaDance instructor and I love to dance. So this old maid feeling I get amongst all the young beautiful ladies quickly disappears for me once I start to dance and allow the music to take over.

It is this passion for dance is that controls my Mother Bee instinct and keeps me from throwing a sweater on these half naked 19 year old girls, or from having a one on one with a go-go dancer and strongly suggesting that she read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.  If I did, I’d be behaving like a frumpy Oprah in a Lady Gaga world. Nobody asked me for my opinion, and these girls are all having a great time…so maybe I’m the one with the issues…Maybe I’m just too rigid, and uptight…Maybe I have to change my angle, and let loose….

So, last night, at a very happening club, I made an extra effort to embrace this foreign world. When my husband knuckle-chucked the bouncer, who then waved us through the VIP entrance letting us bypass the horde outside, I instantaneously allowed my I.Q. to drop by five notches. I squeezed my husband’s arms and whispered in his ears, “You are HOT!” After 16 years of marriage, no matter how hard you try, a comment like that oozes with sarcasm, so my husband grabbed me by the waist and pulled me in for a long, romantic kiss. For the first time in a long time I felt like he and I were the only people on the crowded dance floor.

I slowly turned into a Solid Gold dancer, twisting and moving, and turning my body into pretzel positions that would make most people blush in Canada. It was fun! I smiled at strangers and danced close to them. I didn’t know their first names, but I definitely knew the size of their waistlines. I laughed, made funny faces, and challenged them with a dance move that would make the shirtless guy with the cowboy hat on City TV’s Electric Circus nervous. Oh yeah! I would have given him a run for his money that night.

Last night, I wasn’t a conservative, Canadian stay at home mom, looking for the latest specials at Wal-Mart. I was a Goddess who was offered a drink while her husband was in the restroom. Of course, my instinctive reaction was to scream, kiss the boy and thank him for reminding me that I still got it. Whatever “it” is, I like “it”! Even though I had to say, “No thank you,” to the young boy with a Mrs. Robinson fetish, at that moment, I was fifty shades happier 40 year old in Ibiza.

Wicked Wednesday: Share It Maybe

Canadian Carly-Rae Jepson’s ubiquitous hit, Call Me Maybe, has been reworked by the fine folks over at the Sesame Workshop.  Your kids might not get the video, even if they recognize the song, but no matter. You’ll all soon be singing along to this:

You cookie showing
And me hunger growing
Let’s get skim milk flowing
We’ll start this snack going baby!
Hey, me just met you, and this is crazy
But you got cookie, so share it maybe

Curing the Nature Deficit

July 1, 2012: Milkman’s Lane, Yellow Creek Ravine, Mud Creek Ravine, Don Valley Brickworks.

In his book Accidental City, Robert Fulford wrote about Toronto’s ravines:

The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.

If you’re not familiar with Toronto’s ravine system, I recommend the blog, Toronto Ravines and Trails with Abbey. It’s the personal blog of a Toronto father who has chronicled his adventures exploring Toronto’s ravines with his five-year old daughter.  Of course, if you have a literary bent, there’s always Margaret Atwood‘s Cat’s Eye to read,  in which Toronto’s ravines figure prominently.

Walking in Toronto’s ravines has become a Canada Day ritual for us, those years when we can’t get out of the city (read: most years). There is nothing like an amble along a sun-dappled trail to get the imagination flowing. Not five steps on to Milkman’s Lane, and the boys had launched into a new game of their own devising, which continued, unabated, until they finally stopped to smell (or water) the roses at the Evergreen Brickworks, our destination of the day:

P.S.: We’re wishing our American readers, family and friends a very happy, relaxing and restorative Fourth of July.  Whether you spend the day in a ravine, at a beach, at a barbeque or just in the company of people you love, we hope today is a good one.

Thank You Gifts for Teachers

School is winding down, and if you haven’t already thought about a thank you gift for your child’s teacher (or if you don’t have a class parent organizing a joint gift), here are three quick options:

Over at Orange You Glad are candy jars filled with sweet treats. Imagine these filled with your child’s teacher’s favourite candy . They’re easy to make — you just need some canning jars from your local hardware store.

Aren’t the labels adorable? You can find them at heirloompaperie.com

I’ve ordered from Susie over at Mommy Pads and More a couple of times now, and have been really happy with both her service and her product.  You can have notepads printed in your choice of colours and sizes, personalized with your child’s teacher’s name. These also make good gifts for music teachers, day care teachers and coaches. Some of the boys’ previous teachers liked them so much, they now order their own each year:

Gibson notepad from Mommy Pads and More

One last option, if time is running short: consider a gift card for CanadaHelps. CanadaHelps is a registered Canadian charity whose goal is to make giving to charity simple.  And it really is simple: purchase a gift card in any denomination, and give it to your child’s teacher, who can then use the card to make a donation in that amount to their favourite Canadian charity. As purchaser, you get the tax receipt for the donation. This is a great gift for the socially conscious teacher who probably doesn’t need another coffee mug!

With a Side of Garlic Butter

As I write, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where I’m attending a work-related conference. It’s rare that I travel for work, and it’s been quite some time since I’ve been away from my family for longer than a weekend away with girlfriends.

Over the years, I’ve made a habit of bringing home a “souvenir” of my trip for the boys. Over the years, this has varied from the mundane (a Thomas train from the toy store in the Ottawa Rideau Centre) to the unusual(wooden puzzles from a toy store on Granville Island). My souvenir isn’t always a toy. Sometimes I bring home brochures for local attractions, a map of local transit,  or postcards so that the boys can see where I’ve been — although, we’re just as likely to pull up Google streetview now.

This time, the boys have made a specific request (other than, “Not something to wear, Mom“).  They want me to bring home a lobster.

A genuine, fresh-from-the-sea lobster. Never mind the fact that I’m not sure when I will have time to procure a lobster while at a conference 15 hours a day, or the fact that I can get one, ready-steamed, at my local grocer. It’s not even lobster season, from what I understand.  They’ve got crustacean on the brain.

So if you see a frazzled lady leaving the Toronto Island Airport on Friday, juggling a lap top case and a lobster in a cooler, say hi. It’s probably me.

On Toy Guns and Norway

Image courtesy Wikipedia

The summer I was eight, I won a miniature toy handgun as a prize at the Canadian National Exhibition. It was clear orange plastic, and contained some sort of mechanism inside that made a whirring noise and set off sparks when the trigger was pulled.   I loved that gun. With that in my hand,  I could be anything I wanted to be — a policewoman, one of Charlie’s Angels, an inter-galactic princess like Princess Leia — and I felt bigger, safer, and stronger than I was in real life.

Most of all, I felt dangerous.  I liked feeling dangerous.

The gun was left out in the rain one day, and rainwater seeped into the mechanism, rendering it useless.  Without its spark,  it was nothing but a piece of plastic from the CNE.  But I still remember the thrill of it, and that’s why I feel utterly and completely conflicted when it comes to the issue of toy guns for my boys.

I am, at heart, a good liberal Canadian, who abhors violence and who can’t understand why, in this day and age, that anyone would need to own a gun.  We teach our boys that guns are unnecessary, that they’re used to kill people, and of course, that killing is wrong. I cringe when I hear one of them roar at the other, “I’m going to kill you!” followed by mouth sounds of “phew! phew! phew!”, which I know to be  sound of an imaginary Star Wars blaster, firing.  When their grandfather bought them each Nerf guns, I admit to being more annoyed that they’d conned him into buying something that we’d already said they couldn’t have, than I was with the Nerf Guns themselves. They’re infinitely cooler than the Nerf pop guns my sister and I had when we were kids, as it turns out.

Other than the Nerf guns, they don’t own any toy guns that they haven’t themselves fashioned from sticks, cardboard, or other household detritus.   We don’t buy guns, but we also haven’t completely forbidden toy guns from the house, either.

Then, the news this weekend from Norway of a horrific shooting massacre of innocent youth, and I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve taken the right path on the subject.  Should we forbid toy guns? How can we abhor and denounce this sort of violence and still allow our children the means to play act in a similar manner?  Yet, if I take away their toy guns (and swords, and light sabres, and sticks and and the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper, and on it goes, for the line between violence and gun violence is thinly drawn) as a reaction to what they symbolize, have I really done anything to teach them why violence is abhorent, or have I simply left them to their own devices, finger guns drawn?

I’m not sure of the answer.  I wonder sometimes whether we’re unclear on what message we’re trying to convey.  Sure, we all feel like we’re doing something, in loudly and vocally denouncing guns, but I’m not sure that repetition of that message makes playing with toy guns any less of a thrill for the average child. Does playing with a toy gun make a child more likely to use  a real gun when they’re older? Probably no more so than wearing a Superman cape makes it likely that a child will try to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  The message that real violence is to be avoided, that real guns can be used to kill, that killing is not glamorous or something to be joked about — these are the the things we want our children to learn — for their safety and everyone’s.  I haven’t yet decided whether the lesson can only be learned if toy guns are removed from the equation.

Spending Days in Montreal

Schwartz's smoked meat medium fat Montreal Que...

Image via Wikipedia

The boys and I are taking our first mommy-son vacation later next month, when we hit the rails for a four day adventure to Montreal.  When trying to decide where to go, it didn’t take long to land on Montreal as our first choice. In fact, the location was a no-brainer. Where else could we go where we can reach our destination within hours, take a “real” train (says Sebastian, as opposed to the subway he rides every day) and hear French at every turn? Daniel starts French lessons this fall at school, and he’s anxious to try out a few French phrases (which I will dutifully make him and his brother practice between now and them, whether they like it or not).

Having spent some time in Montreal, I’m familiar with the city and its charms. Finding things to do will be easy peasy: Hike to the top of Mount Royal? Will do. Visit the Biosphere, stroll through Old Montreal, and eat smoked meat until you puke? Why, don’t mind if I do!  Montreal is such a wonderful city for visiting that I’m sure that we’ll all have a fantastic time.

There’s just one hiccup.

I haven’t got a clue where to stay. I mean, I really can’t decide. There seem to be hundreds of choices, and all the regular web sites offering hotel reviews are, surprisingly, unhelpful. For every decent review, there appear to be seven negative or neutral reviews, for all but the chicest, most exclusive (and least likely to be child-friendly) hotels. While I try to see through the comments made by chronic complainers, I’m finding it hard to make up my mind about my options.

It shouldn’t be this hard. My list of hotel needs is not huge. At least two beds ( A king will not do. I love my boys, but they sleep like starfish). A pool would be ideal. I’d prefer a suite with at least two rooms and some sort of kitchenette, which makes it easier to save on food costs and allows one person (read: the adult, a.k.a. me) to remain awake in the living room while others sleep in the bedroom.  Close to downtown…or close to Old Montreal…or close to the Main, or close to, close to….ARG!

So here’s my request to all of you. If you’ve been to Montreal lately, or know someone who has, let me know where you stayed. Where does your neighbour from Montreal stay when he’s in town? How about your co-worker? Right now, I’m looking for room for three people, close to downtown, and I’d love an honest, genuine recommendation. Let me know in the comments if you’ve stayed somewhere worth revisiting.

Toronto Fun Places

Picture it. It’s a Saturday morning. A whole long day stretches in front of you, and you have no idea how to fill your day. 

Go to the park?

Sure. For an hour.

Art projects?

Sure. For an hour.

You know what kind of day I mean. Last summer we found something that helps keep those long, tedious, unplanned days at bay.  Called Toronto Fun Places, author Nathalie Prézeau and her family visited hundreds of different locales around Toronto to come up with this guide to family-tested, tried and true day trips in and within a two-hour drive of the city of Toronto. Organized by theme (indoors/outdoors; water fun; natural activities, sports and so on) the book lists every conceivable indoor playground, pool, and park worth visiting.   My favourite feature?  A guide to kid-friendly strolls around various TTC subway stations — a great feature when you have one transit-obsessed child and another who needs something to look forward to at the end of the line.  Prézeau also includes little tips about each location, including what to see, what to bring and where to eat. Now in its fifth edition, Toronto Fun Places is available in the travel book section at Independent booksellers, Chapters/Indigo and through the distributor, University of Toronto Press.

On the Canadian Flyer for Adventure

My boys really enjoyed the popular Magic Tree House series written by American author Mary Pope Osborne. In it, brother and sister Jack and Annie travel back in time through the conveyance of a mysterious, magical treehouse.  The series captures the interests of children between the ages of six and nine (dinosaurs! pirates! princesses! ninjas!) and teaches them about both world and American history in a fun (for a child) and engaging way.

My only regret while sharing these books with my children, and this is not a criticism of the series per se, was that the series is so focused on American history.  So I was pleased to find a similarly-themed series of Canadian books, called the Canadian Flyer Adventures series. Like the kids in the Magic Tree House series, the protagonists of the Canadian Flyer Adventures series use a magical conveyance (this time, an antique sled that had belonged to one character’s grandmother) to travel back in time to places and events of importance in Canadian history: through these books, we’ve visited L’Anse aux Meadows, what is now the Alberta Badlands during the time of the dinosaurs, and Alexander Graham Bell’s home in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. We’ve learned about the Underground Railroad and what it was like in to live in Canada during the second World War.   Each book provides the reader with a series of quick facts about each topic, as well. While not quite as comprehensive as the Magic Tree House series, the Canadian Flyer Adventure series books provide an adventure-filled and interesting introduction to Canadian history for the junior school set. I recommend them to your budding Canadian historians.