The Mother of Adventure

5 ways technology is impacting education (Parenting Times)

Technology & educationIf you were a child of the 80s, as I was, you probably remember those first trips to the computer lab at school. When I was an elementary student, computers were so new – these big, huge boxes that you’d get access to on rare occasion as a class – but otherwise didn’t factor into the school experience a whole lot.

Now my own girls are elementary students, and their technology reality is certainly very different. I had the chance to talk with Ottawa Catholic School Board educators recently – on behalf of Ottawa Parenting Times – and was intrigued to learn about the philosophy behind the integration of technology into today’s classroom.

In my article, 5 ways technology is impacting education, I spoke with a forward-thinking principal who showed me how the “event” of visiting the computer lab – kids queuing up to march down the hall for a designated hour – is quickly becoming a thing of the past as schools seek new ways to enrich the learning experience through technology tools.

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Funk up your February

Bruno-Mars-Uptown-Funk-Images-540x303I had to laugh when my 10-year-old daughter came home with a story about her teacher the other day.

Apparently one of her classmates was singing the uber-popular song, ‘Uptown Funk’ and the teacher said, “Please, please tell me that song says ‘funk you up.'” When the student confirmed that yes indeed, the lyrics were “funk you up” – as opposed to the wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap alternative – he breathed an audible sigh of relief. I laughed to hear that because I had pretty much the exact same reaction the first time I heard the song with the kids in the back seat of the car!

BeavertailNow that the song has passed the sniff test, I have to admit that I’ve been quite enjoying listening to it whenever it hits Sirius XM – which seems to be quite often. It’s one of those crazy-catchy tunes that just lifts your mood and gets you moving. The video is pretty cool, too – there’s something about seeing Bruno Mars in old lady curlers that makes me smile; he has such an uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson in my mind. Such a lithe, nimble, natural performer.

So I have to give Bruno Mars a bit of credit for perking up my February, which has been a snow-filled, deep freeze of a month in Ottawa so far. This has never been my favourite time of the year, so I look for the good in the little things – like a song I love – to get me through the days where it’s dark when I leave for work and (nearly) dark when I finish my commute home again.

Here are some other happy things that help me funk up my February:

  • treating myself to a cappuccino (the café in my office building just installed these state-of-the-art coffee machines and are trying to promote them, so cappuccino sells for less than the price of a regular coffee at Tim Hortons!)
  • snuggle time with my two little girls (I try to inhale the smell of their hair and skin without them noticing)
  • homemade oatmeal-and-M&M cookies (that’s right…M&Ms!)
  • weekend naps on the couch (enough said)
  • sugar-and-cinnamon Beavertails after skating on the Rideau canal (yummm!)
  • sweat-inducing runs on the treadmill (to work off the aforementioned cappuccinos, cookies and Beavertails)
  • watching ‘Breaking Bad’ with my husband and a glass of wine (please don’t tell us what happens…we’re almost done the series)

Do many of my pick-me-ups seem to involve food? Perhaps they do, but you’ve got to make it through winter somehow, right? It might as well be as tasty a month as it is cold.

So those are some of my February secrets. Now tell me, what’s making you smile at this time of year?


Diving into the new year

fishbowlHappy New Year, everyone!

We’re at the tail end of the holidays – here’s hoping all of you have experienced a wonderful Christmas and a festive New Year’s Eve. Our family sure did – we hosted my parents (from Edmonton) for a week, which was a lovely treat, especially considering our kids don’t get too many chances to spend time with their grandparents.

Yesterday – after getting home from a fantastic New Year’s Eve celebration (and family sleepover!) with some great friends, I suddenly felt flooded with this sense of well being and happiness. I feel so full…of good food, of family love and of excitement for what 2015 will bring!

Speaking of possibilities, I wanted to share a little life lesson that my kids inadvertently taught me the other day. I was cleaning up (a perpetual activity, it seems…), and putting some doodles and paper scraps into the recycling when I came across this list of ‘Fish Names.’

Fish namesI instantly remembered that, a few days before, my 10-year-old and seven-year-old daughters had spontaneously started generating names for their pet fish. Do we have fish, you ask? Negative. Will we be getting fish? Very doubtful. In fact, I think I overheard their conversation and grumpily said, “We used to have fish and you wanted a cat. I got you a cat – and we’re not going to get fish again.” (I may also have grumped out some complaints about being the one to clean out the fish bowls.)

Nevertheless, my storm-cloud comments failed to dampen their enthusiasm. In their fresh, young minds, the prospect of a fish remains a distinct possibility – so why not dream about it? Why not plan for it, and even name it?

That’s the bright approach I want to engage this year, as I look forward to what the future will bring. I want to tap into that inner child – the one who is not restricted by what’s been done before, by fears or by so-called ‘common sense’ – when dreaming about the possibilities ahead. Whether it’s a fitness goal, a new career prospect or a bold, new direction, why not approach it by thinking, “Yes, this could totally happen!”

I’m excited about the year ahead, and am looking forward to sharing some of my upcoming adventures – in parenting and life in general – through my blog. I’ve been rather sporadic at posting recently, particularly during the rush of Christmas preparations, but I want to send out my sincere thanks to my readers who have stopped by and taken a moment – here and there – to read and send their comments my way. Blogging isn’t always easy – it really does require “putting yourself out there” and it’s been pretty awesome to grow a network of readers and supporters.

I will be striving to post more frequently in 2015 – and always welcome your input on posts and themes, because really, this blog could go any which direction in the year ahead…just think of the possibilities!

What about you, dear reader? What are some of your aims for the year ahead? Any resolutions or inspirations you care to share? You know I always look forward to it.

Here’s to us…and a fabulous year ahead.


The winter issue is out! (Parenting Times)

opt_cover_winter15It’s official – the Winter 2014/2015 issue of Parenting Times magazine has hit the streets across Ottawa, and I have to credit my editor, Kelly Roesler, for putting together yet another lovely issue. If you haven’t had the chance to pick up your copy, you can always flip through it virtually here (which is nearly as good…but makes it a bit harder to snuggle up with on chilly, winter days like today).

One of my writing highlights for this issue was getting the chance to speak with author Kristine Barnett, who wrote The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius. If you’re looking for an inspiring read this Christmas season, it really is an incredible book – and in my Q&A article I had the chance to ask Barnett a bit more about her incredible journey with her son, Jacob, and her vast experience and insights in working with autistic children.

In this issue, I also contributed a lunchbox nutrition piece – chalk full of ideas from holistic nutritionist Stefania Moffatt about how to fuel your kids at school (page 58). In ‘Focus on Education’ I had the chance to explore the benefits of enrolling your child in theatre school, and in ‘Just for Kids’ I rounded up some of my fave toys to keep your little ones entertained indoors – on the coldest of snow days (page 54).

Last, but certainly not least, I was honoured to speak with some dedicated volunteers, current and former staff and alumni of CHEO for our ‘Community Profile.’ The highlight was talking to an incredible young man who survived cancer as a child – thanks to CHEO – and now lives an inspiring, athletic life with a prosthetic leg (he even teaches paraplegics to scuba dive!).

It’s hard to believe an entire year has already flown by since I first started contributing to Parenting Times magazine! It’s been a real honour to work with such a positive, encouraging editor and dedicated staff – and I’ve honestly enjoyed every piece I’ve had the opportunity to write. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I love being a small part of it.



A Ceramic Christmas


After they came out of the kiln, Sandra wrapped each of our ceramic pieces in pretty paper and ribbon – all ready for Christmas!

Every year, I seem to find myself scrambling to find Christmas gifts for my kids’ teachers. In my mind’s eye, I’d like my daughters to give them something small but thoughtful – a little token that has a personal stamp – to show our appreciation for all they do throughout the year.

Admittedly, it doesn’t always happen; when I run out of time or ideas, I often turn to my tired, old stand-bys like a Starbucks gift card or some semi-useless item from Indigo (insert yawn here).

Happily, my girls and I found a great alternative this year – crafting our own unique Christmas decorations at the Creative Ceramics Studio & Gifts.

Sandra and the girls

Sandra and my daughters, during our crafting session.

Sandra MacDonald is the crafty business owner behind Creative Ceramics – which she runs out of her home in Barrhaven. As warm and encouraging as she is knowledgeable, Sandra learned the skill of ceramic-making and painting from her mother – who owned the largest ceramics studio in Calgary, Alberta when Sandra was growing up (a fellow Alberta girl…no wonder I liked her as soon as I met her!).

My daughters, Elissa and Lily, took two different approaches to their time at Creative Ceramics. Ten-year-old Elissa chose a pre-made ceramic piece off the shelf – a little Christmas cat – and simply painted it before Sandra fired it in the kiln (giving it that lovely, glossy look).

Rolling clay

Seven-year-old Lily rolls out the clay to create her own Christmas ornaments.

Seven-year-old Lily, on the other hand, chose to take a large lump of clay and created a series of eight Christmas ornaments (the number varies based on the size of your cut-outs), which she then personalized with words and designs for her friends and teachers.

My girls love creative projects and they truly enjoyed their time at Sandra’s studio. A patient teacher, Sandra oversaw every stage of their project – giving detailed instructions, yet stepping back to let them do the work themselves. The resulting ceramic pieces are lovely – and I can tell the kids are proud that they made them all by themselves.

On Dec. 9, Sandra is offering a two-hour Christmas workshop that allows you to paint a project – either a Christmas wreath or a penguin dish – just in time for the holidays. For $10 she’ll provide the ceramic piece, paints and supplies – and she even serves up refreshments to keep you inspired while you work. It’s a great chance to get together with friends, take on a creative project and walk away with an original, handmade gift. Space is limited, so click here to reserve your spot.

If crafting just isn’t in the cards for you this season, keep Creative Ceramics in mind when planning for your next kid’s birthday party. Sandra offers a very well-priced solution to keeping the kids entertained – for just $15 per child, each party guest will get the chance to paint a small to medium-sized ceramic piece. Plus, Sandra gives a behind-the-scenes tour of her studio – explaining how the ceramic pieces are made and letting kids look at the two huge kilns that bake the ceramics to perfection. The birthday child even receives a personalized plate – which their guests help to decorate – as a memento of their special day.

Whether you’re looking to make a gift, find a place for a fun party or you simply want to test-drive a new hobby (working with ceramics is a great stress reliever!), Creative Ceramics is not to be missed. This season, grab some clay and put your own stamp on it – you’ll be glad you did.

*My daughters and I received a complimentary ceramics session prior to the writing of this post, but as always, thoughts and opinions are my own.





Christmas Handbell Concert – Free this Friday!

handbells (2)Handbells are somewhat unusual instruments – they have a bit of a rare, mysterious quality to them.

If you appreciate music and you’ve never heard a professional handbell choir, it really is a treat. But don’t take my word for it; this Friday, Ottawa residents have a chance to listen to a beautiful, Christmas handbell concert – taking place alongside the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale. Here are all the details:

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 21 from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Ottawa Mennonite Church, located at 1830 Kilborn Avenue (lots of free parking!)

WHY: This is a special, one-time performance by the handbell choir, La Bell Ensemble. Get into the spirit of the season with a performance of your favourite holiday carols.

COST: Free!

*PLUS! Get a jump-start on your Christmas shopping by browsing our global marketplace at the church – the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale is running alongside the fashion show! Handcrafted, fairly-traded Christmas decorations, dishes, cards, toys and home décor items will be available for purchase (*Note: Festival sale is open from 3 to 8 p.m.). Complimentary coffee, tea and cookies will be available.


Fair Trade Fashion Show – free this Friday!

homeThis Friday, fair trade retailers Ten Thousand Villages and Adorit Boutique will be joining forces for their second-annual Fair Trade Fashion Show in Ottawa!

If you’ve ever wondered about the ethics behind big-name clothing manufacturers and wanted to help make a difference, this is your chance. Celebrity emcee Melissa Lamb (from CTV Ottawa) will join us to show you how to “shop with a conscience” – and look great doing it.

WHEN: Friday, November 14, 2014 from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Ottawa Mennonite Church, located at 1830 Kilborn Avenue (free parking!)

WHY: Come see original, organic and fairly-traded clothing from Adorit Boutique, a funky clothing store based in the Byward Market. Adorit’s clothing will be paired with beautiful, handcrafted and fairly-traded accessories (scarves, necklaces, handbags) from Ten Thousand Villages, an organization which gives a livelihood to underprivileged artisans in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

*PLUS! Get a jump-start on your Christmas shopping by browsing our global marketplace at the church – the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale is running alongside the fashion show! Beautiful, handcrafted Christmas decorations, dishes, cards, toys and home décor items will be available for purchase (*Note: Festival sale is open from 3 to 8 p.m.).



Artists under construction

Elissa's spider cartoon

Every week in her ‘Cartooning’ session, 10-year-old Elissa creates several drawings like this one.

For the past year, my daughters – ages 10 and seven – have been taking drawing classes with the Young Rembrandts here in Ottawa, and they truly love every moment of it. Like most kids, Elissa and Lily have been involved in a dizzying plethora of activities over the years…we’ve tried dancing, skating, gymnastics, baseball, soccer, drama classes, piano and swimming – to name a few (I’m sure I’m missing others!). As a parent, I think it’s important to expose my children to a range of activities – though I am very careful not to hyper-schedule them with too many concurrent activities – they also need time just to be kids! Every class or course my kids try brings different results; some have been more successful than others. But I can honestly say that the Young Rembrandts ranks among their top favourite extra-curricular activities to date.

Lily's boat

Seven-year-old Lily’s recent creation from the Young Rembrandts’ Elementary Drawing class.

As a parent, there’s nothing more frustrating than signing your child up for a new activity – and shelling out your hard-earned money for registration – only to find their interest waning by the third session. It pains me to hear the woeful, “Do we have to go today, Mom?” Hearing your kids ask, “How many more sessions till it’s over?” is another tell-tale sign they are not fully engaged in the activity in question.

Happily, that just never happens with their drawing classes. Although my girls have been attending several back-to-back sessions of the Young Rembrandts – both the ‘Elementary Drawing’ sessions as well as the ‘Cartooning’ sessions – they are always hungry for more. I think that’s because of a few things. First, the instructors always keep it fresh – they are never repeating the same, tired lesson from the previous session – rather, they are always introducing a new concept or artistic style to keep the kids engaged. Secondly, they are never harsh or critical – they offer their guidance, but give the kids creative license to make their art their own – without any pressure to make it “perfect.”

Elissa's cute hamburger

The sky’s the limit when it comes to cartoons…this is Elissa’s “cute” hamburger.

Most of all, I’ve come to see that drawing – that fundamental skill of the visual arts – is something that is always growing and dynamic. You don’t take a single course and master it; rather, it continues to evolve as you dedicate time to it and increase your confidence. I see that happening every week – when Elissa and Lily run out of their class, so eager to show me what they’ve created in their latest session. The drawings are piling up…which means yours truly has some organizing to do. But finding wall space for their latest masterpieces seems a small price to pay to encourage my little “artists under construction” to keep at it.

The next five-week session of the Young Rembrandts starts soon – Barrhaven, Stittsville and Orleans-based classes start on Nov. 15 and Kanata starts on Nov. 22. For more information and to register, visit the Young Rembrandts web site.


Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale – CTV’s Morning Show

ctv-ottawa3Ottawa’s Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale had a great opportunity to appear on CTV’s Morning Show today, with host Melissa Lamb!

In today’s segment, we talked about this week’s ‘Foodie Festival Friday’ taking place alongside the sale at the Ottawa Mennonite Church. Professional pastry chef Catherine Beddall explains how she crafted her beautiful gingerbread house – which will be given away to a lucky winner this Friday, Nov. 7!

Adorit Boutique owner Emma Inns also joined us to talk about her role in the ‘Fair Trade Fashion Show,’ scheduled for Friday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. Click here to watch our CTV segment, and for full details on the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale click here. Hope to see you there!


Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale & Events

ruby-sequin-ball-ornamentIt’s hard to believe Halloween has come and gone already (although happily, the candy haul our girls got should last our whole family for months!). Now that we’ve turned the page on November – and enjoyed that blissful, extra hour of sleep with the weekend time change – it’s just seven weeks until the Christmas season is upon us.

If you’re anything like me, you have lofty dreams of being uber-organized for Christmas. I often flip through home décor magazines and think how lovely it would be to craft some of my own decorations and gift items. But fast-forward to mid-December and I’m inevitably scrambling with last-minute preparations, leaving my décor less “Martha Stewart” and my gifts store-bought as opposed to lovingly handcrafted. Between work, kids’ activities and life in general, it just seems out of reach to make my own gifts.

This, my bloggy friends, is exactly why I love shopping at the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale; you can give those gorgeous, one-of-a-kind presents without having to actually do the work yourself! And if that doesn’t make you feel good, consider this – by shopping the sale’s unique selection of hand-crafted Christmas decorations, cards, jewellery, dishes and food items you are helping provide a livlihood for artisans living in underprivileged countries.

Now over 40 years young, Ottawa’s Festival Sale runs every Friday (from 3 to 8 p.m.) and Saturday (from 10 to 5 p.m.) through the month of November at the Ottawa Mennonite Church (located at 1830 Kilborn Avenue). This year, in addition to the sale itself, there will be a series of special Friday-night events:

1412293_920657247962433_4701516224259619283_oFoodie Festival Friday – November 7, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

If you love food samples, free demos and giveaways (not to mention shopping!), you won’t want to miss this FREE event, taking place alongside the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Professionally-crafted gingerbread creations from Catherine Beddall, a pasty chef and owner of Catherine’s Cakery, decorating demos and yummy cookie samples
  • Fairly-traded coffee samples from Equator, the coffee line that sells at Ten Thousand Villages
  • A tasting station for Zatoun, a supplier of organic, fairly-traded olive oil and za’atar – an herb mix consisting of thyme, sumac and sesame seed – which is a common appetizer for lunch or dinner in Palestine and other countries

image01Fair Trade Fashion Show – November 14, from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

Check out the latest in fairly-traded clothing and jewellery at our FREE, second-annual fashion show! Ten Thousand Villages has teamed up with Adorit Boutique - a funky clothing store in the Byward Market – to show you how to shop with a conscience. Join celebrity emcee Melissa Lamb (from CTV Ottawa) for the fashion show from 7 to 7:30 p.m., then kick off your Christmas shopping at the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale – all at the same venue!

handbellsHandbell Choir Christmas Concert – November 21, from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

Get into the spirit of the season with a FREE Christmas handbell concert! Enjoy your favourite holiday carols at the musical performance from 7 to 7:30 p.m., then kick off your Christmas shopping at the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale – all at the same venue.





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