Tag Archives: Holidays

Winter fun, but come on spring!

With Family Day coming up in Ontario, there are lots of things to do. Usually, we just hang out, play outside (weather permitting). This year, we might take in one of Toronto’s many attractions.

There’s the new Ripley’s Aquarium or we could go to the Zoo, or even to a our local zoo at High Park.

And now that the kids have skates, we’ll probably do some skating, too, if the weather’s nice.

We’ll likely go out for dinner and take advantage of a local, family-friendly eatery. Got any suggestions?

February’s a short month, and with three big events for us, it’s a busy month. It should fly by fast.

And then onto warmer weather! Come on Spring!

But wait, there are birthdays and St. Paddy’s Day to celebrate first!

We can’t forget the Toronto St. Patrick’s Day Parade! We love parades! And maybe, just maybe, the temperature will go up enough to really enjoy the St. Paddy’s Day parade in beautiful sunshine and crisp soon-to-be-spring air! Maybe we’ll see ya there!

St. Patrick's Day Parade Route 2014

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Fun Food Friday – delayed

Wow, setting a weekly goal for myself has proven harder than I thought.

I’m a week behind getting this post up…and it’ll probably be more than that by the time I actually make the post live on the blog, which is why I’m including this week’s Fun Food Friday as well.

Anyway, last week’s Fun Food Friday consisted of a very healthy, fun-looking snack and an incredibly unhealthy but totally kid-approved dinner (note: the kids were also the ones who came up with the dinner idea. I would never actually feed this to my kids as part of a balanced diet, but I was so tired I caved they liked their idea so much, and who am I to squash their creativity?)

So here it is:

Fruity palm trees

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Chocolate Stuffed Raspberries

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Island Fun

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Santa Hats  (Yes, they are designed from french fries, ketchup and mini marshmallows. And probably only a kid would eat them.)

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And this week’s Fun Food Friday is pizza at a bowling alley!

(OK, it’s not exactly creative fun food, but it is food, and it is pizza [which is totally fun] and we did eat it while we were bowling [which is also totally fun], so it counts.)

It was the end-of-year Messy Church and Junior Youth Group party, so we did a family bowling night. It was a blast. We prayed and played and ate pizza and generally had a fantastic time!

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Apple TV: bringing families together

So you might know that I’m not a big TV watcher. You might also know that I’m not keen on my kids spending too much time in front of the TV. You’ve probably read somewhere on this blog that I canceled my family’s cable last May and signed up for Netflix as a compromise. You’re probably then also aware that we canceled Netflix before the trial period was over because we never used it.

You may then be wondering why I’m now writing about how TV can bring families together.

Here’s something you won’t hear me admit very often: I like watching TV. (I really do.)

(I try hard to make this not true, but the reality of a busy life sometimes demands mental downtime. And watching a good sitcom is like medicine for my brain.)

I also feel that, now that smartphones and tablets and computers are the new digital bad guys, liking TV is no longer such a terrible thing. There’s something worse out there.

Despite cancelling Netflix, we did not reactivate our cable. We were doing fine without it. Then we got an Apple TV from Staples.

Apple TV

We signed up for Netflix again to get a more complete experience from our Apple TV since we don’t have iPhones or an iPad and can’t do all the fancy syncing with those devices.

But there are plenty of other things to do on Apple TV, like:

  • Rent from the largest selection of HD movies, buy commercial-free HD TV shows, browse and play YouTube and Vimeo videos, access online Flickr photos, watch HD podcasts, and listen to Internet radio
  • Watch live and archived MLB and NHL games in HD ← Hubby’s pastime
  • iTunes Match subscription allows you to listen to all your favourite songs in your iCloud library from your HDTV
  • Enjoy all the photos, music and videos on your computer on the best TV and speakers in the house ← Agreed!
  • Stream everything you watch over 802.11n Wi-Fi
  • Simple setup with a single HDMI cable for both audio and video
  • Sleek design that’s small, quiet and energy efficient ← Apple can’t be beat in my opinion for design. This is one nifty little device.

We are now regular subscribers to Netflix because Apple TV makes it work so nicely. Our previous streaming device was clunky (if one can describe it that way) compared to the Apple device. Apples makes Netflix loads faster, runs smoothly and doesn’t freeze anymore.

So, now, as the holidays get closer and the rush of holiday preparation dies down and turns into family time, we can make hot cocoa, pop some popcorn, switch on Apple TV and snuggle up under a blanket together to watch family movies at the end of a long, busy day. And this is what I love about TV (and particularly Apple TV). It gives us that opportunity to sit down and be close. No one argues over whose turn it is to roll the dice. No one gets mad because they lost the game again. We all agree on which movies to watch. We all love the time to just sit together and flake out. And my husband and I enjoy the time we get, snuggled up together as we watch our shows after the kids go to bed (without commercials thanks to Apple TV!). It’s fantastic! Apple TV has given us that time together this holiday season.

Would you like some of that together-time this holiday season?

Thanks to Staples Canada you have a chance at it. The fantastic people at Staples have kindly offered an Apple TV to one of my readers.

All you have to do to enter to win is leave a comment telling me what your favourite family movie is around the holidays.

And tweet this to receive an additional ballot.

A winner will be drawn on Monday, December 16, 2013.

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Disclaimer: I received an Apple TV on review from Staples. The opinions stated above are entirely my own. I was not compensated in any other way.

The contest is open to Canadian readers only. Good luck!

‘Tis the season for family learning!

I’m a book worm. I have always loved reading. I wish I had more time for reading in my life. But I have two young kids, so the reading I do involves them. I would read all the time if I could. I’m terrible at getting my kids to put their books away at the dinner table because I’d be just as happy to sit there and eat and read along with them. But someone has to teach them that it’s rude to read at the table. So I sacrifice.

With the Christmas holidays upon us, we’ll have more time to snuggle up and read. I can’t wait!

This article from ABC Life Literacy Canada pretty much outlines how I’d like to spend our holidays:

The winter holidays are here—kids off school plus adults off work adds up to family time for learning new things and practicing literacy skills together. ABC Life Literacy Canada offers these holly jolly holiday family literacy tips to make your season “bright!”

  • Family book snuggle: Gather the family together with a favourite holiday book. Get the fire going if you’ve got a fireplace. Then snuggle in and take turns reading aloud to one another. A little hot chocolate is always welcome!
  • Come a-carolling! Invite family and friends for an evening of singing carols—or singing other songs. Singing encourages learning patterns of words, rhymes and rhythms.
  • Bake-off: Get the whole family involved in baking—cookies are a perfect choice because everyone can participate. Following a recipe is a great way to practice reading and comprehension skills. Measuring ingredients and following baking times are practical (and delicious!) applications of math skills.
  • Out on the town: Take in a holiday musical or visit a museum. Family outings offer fun learning opportunities—and make sure to read the theatre program and the exhibit descriptions.
  • Make a list and check it twice: Grocery shopping is easily adaptable for family literacy activities. Your child can write the holiday food shopping list, read signs and labels as you make your way through the aisles, and count items as they go into the shopping cart.
  • Choose your own ABC: For each letter of the alphabet, take turns thinking of holiday things that begin with that letter. Things beginning with C could include candles, cookies and cousins. No need to keep score – just move on to the next letter when no one can think of anything else.
  • Looking for a gift idea? Encourage reading by giving books, magazine subscriptions and bookstore gift cards—gifts they’ll keep opening throughout the year!

When you include fun learning activities in your family’s holiday time, everyone stays sharp and ready for the New Year. For more family literacy tips and activities, visit www.FamilyLiteracyDay.ca.

Ho, Ho, No! Why iPads and iPhones Are Not Kids’ Toys

Wanted to share with you something that I feel strongly about. I’m not against all the devices that we can get our hands on nowadays, but I believe they have their place. And I think most people (parents, educators, etc.) are letting these devices into the lives of children without a thought to the harm they can cause. Sometimes, in certain settings, a tablet can be a useful learning tool. But I’ve seen too many kids so tuned into a device that they miss the world around them. Not good. And that’s just from the point of view of what these devices do to our attention span and ability to connect with the world. Never mind the actual, physical harm they might cause.

Call me old fashioned, but I find nothing engaging about reading on an iPad. I’d take a book over an e-reader any day. Especially when reading with my children. It’s like so many people have said about all the plastic toys we have: children don’t connect the same way to plastic toys as they do to wooden toys. And the only toys that have stood the test of time in our house are the wooden puzzles and the wooden blocks. My kids are devastated if I suggest that maybe it’s time to get rid of either. But the plastic stuff comes into the house on one occasion and is tossed by the next occasion, usually without a second thought.

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I’d much rather see my kids reading than playing on a device. And that’s why there are no devices for children at my house. I have, on occasion, allowed them to use my phone to play an educational game. But regular use of my phone is strictly forbidden and they know that. I’ve seen people hand their phones to their children the way that not too long ago we flipped the TV on for them…to babysit them. It’s doing more harm than good. I’d much rather talk to my children and teach them about human connection rather than make sure they have all the necessary high technology skills they need to survive in tomorrow’s world. See, the thing is, tomorrow’s world won’t exist unless people continue to connect with other people, and devices, despite being billed as “social media”, don’t do that. Read on for what the Environmental Health Trust has to say on the subject…

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Teton Village, WY — (SBWIRE) — 12/03/2013 — Good news for parents: the annual tradition involving a mad rush on one hot toy is over. In its place, parents are scurrying to find the coolest electronic devices. Those clamoring to stuff their kids’ holiday stockings with the latest electronic gadgets would do well to ponder experts’ warnings first, advises Environmental Health Trust (EHT), a group promoting safer phone use.

“We all need to “#PracticeSafeTech,” advises Dr. Devra Davis, President of EHT.”What may be appropriate for adults may not be at all suitable for toddlers with their more rapidly growing brains and bodies.” Would you give your child the keys to the car or a shot of whiskey just because she really wanted it?

Credit: Environmental Health Trust

Credit: Environmental Health Trust

Should you get your young child that chillin’ shiny tablet, or buy your teen her own mobile phone in her favorite color? After all, mobile phone prices have dropped, making them easier to gift. “What harm could it do to youngsters to have such a cool, hot gadget—especially if they can use it to learn to read, see movies, or just play Angry Birds? The answer is: plenty,” advises EHT founder Dr. Davis.

“Every parent needs to read the important messages offered by Raffi, the renowned children’s advocate, in his new book, LIGHTWEB DARKWEB: THREE REASONS TO REFORM SOCIAL MEDIA B4 IT RE-FORMS US,” Dr. Davis advises. “These devices can short circuit childhood and easily become tools for cyber bullying.”

Few people appreciate that all of these wireless electronic devices come with manufacturers’ fine print warnings to not hold them next to an adult body, or that controlled studies show that microwave radiation emitted by mobile phones weakens the brain’s protective barrier and male users produce fewer and more damaged offspring and sperm. The kicker is this: All safety warnings for mobile phones (e.g., “keep 0.98 inches from the body”) were never designed with children in mind, but in order to protect a large adult man with a big head who talks on his phone for less than 30 minutes per day. Even fewer realize that iPads contain 4 or more microwave radiating antennas that are never to be held directly on the body.

According to a published scientific report from EHT, children’s heads absorb twice as much microwave radiation from mobile phones as adults’ heads. Radiation emissions from mobile phones carried in shirts or pants pockets of adults are four to seven times higher than the guidelines set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. For the smaller bodies of children, of course, radiation exposure levels would be greater both because of relative size and keeping in mind that children are not simply small adults.

The reason for the discrepancy, EHT says, is that the process to determine radiation exposures from mobile phones is modeled on a 6-foot 2-inch tall, 220-pound man, with an 11-pound head. Because this large skull represents only about three percent of the population, the test cannot accurately predict the radiation exposure of the other 97 percent, including children, nor does it even try to estimate exposures from pocket use.

“The standard for mobile devices was developed based on old science, old models and old assumptions about how we use mobile phones, and that’s why standards must change to protect our children and grandchildren,” said Dr. Davis.

Read the Fine Print
EHT urges parents to make sure they read the phone/tablet/device safety manual to find the minimum distance that the device must be kept away whenever it is in use and also when it is in stand-by mode. Keeping it closer than the designated distance can result in a violation of the FCC Exposure Limit. “Whenever you must give your child a device to play with, keep it on airplane mode. It’s important to safeguard your children whenever they use these devices. Aside from radiation exposure, keep in mind that child experts recommend no more than two hours of daily screen time. The goal is to protect our children’s growing brains and bodies from harm,” advises Dr. Davis.

Dr. Davis also calls parents’ attention to another iPad fine print warning that states, “a small percentage of people may be susceptible to blackouts or seizures (even if they have never had one before) when exposed to flashing lights or light patterns such as when playing games or watching videos. Discontinue use of iPad and consult a physician if you experience headaches, blackouts, seizures, convulsion, eye or muscle twitching, loss of awareness, involuntary movement, or disorientation. To reduce risk of headaches, blackouts, seizures and eyestrain, avoid prolonged use, hold iPad some distance from your eyes, use iPad in a well-lit room, and take frequent breaks.”

Consumers can find this and more in the iPad safety pamphlet. “Whoever wrote this probably had in mind the adult who can fork over $400 to $500 for an iPad,” advises Dr. Davis. “Yet nowadays, even babies and toddlers are learning to read from wireless devices and falling asleep to white noise played from phones placed under their pillows. A child’s brain, healthy or otherwise, is cased in a thinner skull; that’s why they absorb more microwave radiation. The brains of children with learning problems, autism or other neurological disorders may be more vulnerable to damage than those of their healthy friends and family members.”

The iPad safety advice doesn’t consider these issues, but does include information about exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy. The pamphlet notes, “If you are…concerned about exposure to RF energy, you can further limit your exposure by limiting the amount of time using iPad Wi-Fi +3G in wireless mode…and by placing more distance between your body and iPad Wi-Fi +3G.” Children simply cannot keep “more distance” between themselves and these devices; their arms are too short.

Power Down in 2014 – Reduce WiFi Gadget Use in Children
If parents do decide to engage their children with electronic gadgets, the new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urge parents to ban electronic media during mealtimes and after bedtime as part of a comprehensive “family media use plan.” The influential new guidelines recognize the need to protect the young brain from round-the-clock use of digital devices and electronic media, which includes everything from television to texting and other social and anti-social activities.

Under the AAP power down policy: children should limit screen time for entertainment to less than two hours per day; children younger than 2 should have no TV and no Internet exposure. Also, televisions and Internet-accessible devices should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms. According to Dr. Davis, along with gifts, parents should also set family rules covering the use of mobile phones and texting. “Many parents do not realize that tablets, mobile phones, laptops and other wireless gear send and receive microwave radiation, unless they are set on airplane mode or disconnected from the Internet or wifi systems. We protect our children’s brains when they ride in cars or on bikes. We also need to protect their rapidly growing brains from wireless radiation.”

“The best present a parent can give their child is the gift of safety,” says Dr. Davis. “That’s why I’m urging each and every parent on our list to access and share the potentially life-saving tips we offer on cell phone safety.”

About Environmental Health Trust
Environmental Health Trust (EHT) educates individuals, health professionals and communities about controllable environmental health risks and policy changes needed to reduce those risks. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore and his team in 2007, EHT President and Founder, Dr. Devra Davis has authored a number of popular books, including WHEN SMOKE RAN LIKE WATER, a National Book Award Finalist, THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WAR ON CANCER, and DISCONNECT: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What The Industry Is Doing To Hide It, And How To Protect Your Family, which was awarded the Nautilus silver medal award for investigative reporting. The foundation’s website is the go-to place for clear, science-based information to prevent environmentally based disease and promote health, and will have portals for the general public, children, and health professionals. For more information or to get involved in the numerous special projects spearheaded by EHT, please visit http://www.ehtrust.org and find EHT on Facebook

Save on shopping this season with SaleWhale.ca

We’re all busy at this time of year. There are lists and lists of things to do, people to see, stuff to buy…and it goes on.

One of the biggest stresses of the season is money. Spending too much, finding the right deals, paying cash, putting it on credit, etc., etc.

I have to admit that I put off my shopping until pretty much the last day…not quite the 24th, but just hours shy of it.

And one of the reasons that I do that is to force myself to get whatever is at the store the one day that I go out and do my shopping. I kind of do that with holiday food, too.

And do you know why I do that?

It stresses me out to shop. I don’t like it. I never have. And I get particularly stressed out by bargain hunting. If I had all the money in the world, I would just walk into a store, buy what I wanted/needed and walk out without a second thought to the price. That day has not yet arrived. (I’m hopeful. You’ve got nothin’ if you don’t have hope.)

The logical thing to do when stressed about money and the spending of it is to shop around and find the best price. But see, that’s the catch for me. I HATE shopping. Not just a little bit, either.

So, if I go at the last minute, I have to pay whatever price they’re asking. Sometimes I get the best deals. Sometimes I don’t. But at least I avoided shopping in its more expanded form.

What I would love to have is a system that alerts me to deals. I don’t mean an e-flyer from every store that I might shop at. That’s way too much email to sift through.

I mean a system that gathers all the sale data in one place and when I’m ready to browse, I hop on the system and see what’s available at a price that I’m happy with.

This procrastination in shopping extends to grocery shopping, too. Especially around the holidays. I hate buying party food in advance. I have very little space to store it. I always end up running to the store at the last minute anyway because I inevitably forget something. And, if it’s junk food I’m stocking up on, I’ll eat if it’s in my house before the party.

So, does such a system exist? You bet. It’s called SaleWhale.ca. Even better than the basic requirements that I described above, SaleWhale.ca allows you to create an account, follow specific store flyers and create alerts for items you need. By doing this, you are alerted to the items you want when they turn up on sale. Perfection!

A little More About SaleWhale

It’s an online source that lets a consumer easily know when and where their favourite products are on sale, helping the individual save money and their precious time (← This is key. My time is very precious.) searching through flyers. This site is the first of its kind and proudly began in Montreal, Canada (← Canadian!).

Additionally, SaleWhale allows consumers to create grocery lists on their computer, tablet or smartphone. Users can then create alerts and be notified when specific items are on sale at stores within a specified geographical area. This platform combines grocery shopping and saving in a fast and easy way.

It’s a great way to shop as we get close to the holidays and the average consumer is looking to save where they can. (← Couldn’t agree more!)

So, if you’re like me, or even if you’re not like me and you love shopping (any kind of shopping), SaleWhale is easy, fast, and makes you way more efficient at finding great deals for all your party food (and regular food) this holiday season.

Check it out!

Leprechauns at our house

I’m not Irish. At least I don’t think I am. I’m Canadian with no particular cultural affiliation. My family is from the east coast of Canada, so I suppose there is a possibility that, far enough back, there might be a bit of Irish blood mixed with whatever other ancestry there is in my family.

Nevertheless, on St. Patrick’s Day we are all Irish.

And this year, I don’t know what got into me. Maybe a bit of leprechaun magic? But I wasn’t going to let this holiday pass me by. It’s not a commercialized holiday, so there’s very little pressure to achieve a certain standard of celebration. It’s just about magic and mischief. Continue reading