The Mother of Adventure

Just “kitten” around…

Just for CatsMy name is Sonia and sometimes, when I’m hanging out with my kids, I watch cat videos.

There; I’ve put it out there! After all, they say that acknowledging the problem is the first step to finding a solution, right??

Then again – cat videos can have a positive effect on the world. How on earth is that, you might ask? Well, the Just for Cats Video Festival is coming to Ottawa tomorrow – and it supports a national initiative to increase the welfare of cats across the country.

Yeah, a cat video festival! It’s a real thing – and it’s actually pretty big! It’s happening across the country – so if you don’t live in Ottawa, be sure to check their web site for a festival taking place near you.

Just for Cats 2The event showcases a reel of the best internet cat videos on the planet. Ottawa’s festival takes place at Dundonald Park on Saturday, June 25, in partnership with Centretown Movies – so the screening will be outdoors under the stars.

They’ll be kicking everything off with family-friendly activities – such as cat-inspired yoga, face-painting, dance and story time at 6:30 p.m. Don’t forget your lawn chairs or a picnic blanket – you’ll want them to get comfy for the screening of the Just for Cats reel at dusk (approximately 9 p.m.).

There will also be a silent auction with some great items – including a family photo session with Jerome – Photographer; nine holes of golf for four people from Thunderbird Sports Centre; four tickets to an Ottawa Fury FC home game; a Yogatown gift basket and introductory pass; a three-month subscription to Meow Box; a pet basket worth $150 from Dayna’s Pet Sitting Incorporated; and a gift basket from the Lil Bub Store with a tee, stickers, a plushie that purrs and meows just like Lil BUB and a Bub tote bag.

Lil BUBWhile the event is free, please consider giving a $5 to $10 donation per person. All funds go to the Ottawa Humane Society and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.

Hope to see you tomorrow for a celebration of all things feline!

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Nurturing our young Rembrandts

2016-04-30 11.54.18I love gaining new insight into how my kids see the world.

As parents, we’re constantly learning more about our children’s growing, changing personalities and looking for ways to help them express themselves. Drawing is a great way to do just that – and my two daughters have thoroughly enjoyed classes with the Young Rembrandts in Ottawa.

I’ll never forget when my youngest daughter, then six years old, came home with her own rendition of American Gothic. She was so keen to tell me the story behind the painting – interesting tidbits that she had gleaned from her instructor, who obviously knew the artist well. Her older sister, on the other hand, absolutely loved the cartooning classes – and came home with a series of clever sketches after each class. It’s a great way to get kids interested in the arts scene – and even generate interest in a trip to the National Art Gallery in Ottawa.

2016-04-09 12.01.33I noticed that while taking drawing lessons, my girls were frequently inspired to pick up pencil and paper at home – creating new versions of what they had learned at class that week, or simply following their instinct to create something new and off the wall. As a parent who battles the magnetism of kids to TV and computer games, I find it so refreshing to see them entertaining themselves with paper and pencils.

In fact, drawing has been well documented in its positive effect on child development. It aids in the development of fine motor skills, helps with concentration and boosts creativity. It’s even recommended for kids on the autism spectrum – as those children tend to be more receptive to information that is experienced visually, instead of relying on words to communicate feelings and thoughts. I wrote about the positive effects of artistic expression for kids with autism in a Parenting Times article, “Colouring outside the lines.” 

IMG_2521If you’re looking for a fun, new activity to keep your child busy this summer, check out the Young Rembrandts course offerings. There’s literally something suited for every child – from preschool (age 3) to Grade 6.

This year, there are a number of new workshops – including “Anime Cartoon” and “Kings and Queens of Castles” – as well as weekly sessions available. Classes are held at elementary schools around the city. The Young Rembrandts will even arrange for drop-in visits to other summer camps or daycare.

After all, some of the most famous artists in history most admired the creativity inherent in children.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

~ Pablo Picasso

 

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Under the Tyranny of Vegetables (Edible Ottawa)

TomatoesSpring came late to the party in Ottawa this year – which makes it all the sweeter. This past weekend, I started scratching around in my backyard for the first time. I pulled a few weeds and dragged out the patio furniture, but mostly stood with my face turned to the sun, reveling in the warmth I’ve been missing all winter. I have a modest little veggie patch, and I’m already dreaming about the fresh herbs and juicy tomatoes I’ll be enjoying in a few months. Mmmm…Caprese salad, anyone??

Ottawa’s spring thaw must surely have Madeleine Maltby breathing a sigh of relief. Maltby and her partner, Matthew Mason-Phillips, are the urban farmers behind a great little business called Britannia Backyard Edibles. The ambitious pair will be cultivating “borrowed” garden plots around the city, generating high yields in small areas.

I had the pleasure of meeting Maltby and Mason-Phillips last winter, when they told me all about their business model and vision for organic community gardening. Read the full article, ‘Under the Tyranny of Vegetables‘ in Edible Ottawa magazine. Their love for fresh produce is the perfect inspiration for breaking some new ground this season.

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Spread the curd: It’s poutine mania in Ottawa

It seems spring is synonymous with poutine in Ottawa, and I for one am not complaining.

Last Saturday, my family headed downtown to check out the ‘Great Canadian Fork Off’ on Sparks Street. Poutine affectionados were out in full force – and didn’t seem to mind waiting in long lines to taste traditional and exotic variations of one of Canada’s most iconic foods.

I decided to try ‘Beef Souvlaki’ poutine, which was your classic poutine topped with some slices of Greek-style beef. It was pretty yummy – though I found the beef portion to be a bit skimpy!

Our kids, ages 11 and eight, opted for the tried-and-true classic poutine. You really can’t go wrong with freshly-cut fries topped with cheese curds and gooey, gravy goodness…it definitely got the thumbs up.

If you’re moaning that you inadvertently missed the Sparks Street festivities, fear not – more gravy-drenched deliciousness will hit Ottawa this coming weekend with the second-annual Ottawa PoutineFest, taking place May 5 to 8 at Ottawa City Hall. Our family took this one in last year – with my husband, Ian, acting as a judge, and it was a ton of fun.

This year, the festival is advertising 30 Poutiners and food vendors. One of the festival highlights is sure to be a world record attempt for the biggest poutine. And if you pride yourself on being a big eater, here’s a challenge for you – Ottawa PoutineFest is accepting names via Facebook and Twitter for a poutine-eating contest!

So this may not be the weekend for healthy eating, but it does promise to be a whole lot of tasty fun. And remember – Ottawa Race Weekend is right around the corner, so just consider this a pre-race carb-loading session.

 

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Ticket giveaway – Ottawa Parent & Child Expo

Dora the Explorer“Maybe watch one Dora?”

Many moons ago, this was one of my daughter Elissa’s first phrases. Now that she’s 11 (going on 15!), it seems a lifetime away; but from time to time, my husband and I jokingly bring up that phrase; gently teasing her about her early obsession with Dora the Explorer. As a toddler, she actually bore a striking resemblance to Dora – she had the same bobbed hair and chubby cheeks. In retrospect, we totally should have dressed her up as Dora for Halloween while we had the chance!

These days, the mass appeal of Dora rages on, and if you have a little fan (or two) at your house, you won’t want to miss the chance to say “Hola!” next weekend at the Ottawa Parent and Child Expo. In fact, I have some free passes to give away for admission this Saturday, April 16.

RobotSponsored by Parenting Times – Ottawa’s most read parenting magazine – the expo promises to have something to appeal to kids (and parents!) of all ages. If your children have long outgrown the Dora stage, they might be enticed by hearing a performance from the Mini Pops, watching a magic show performed by Ottawa magician Ian Quick, or even test-driving a VEX IQ robot from ProBots (heck, even I would like to try that…out of the way, kids!).

For parents, the expo features about 100 different exhibitors, offering all sorts of parenting information from toddlers through to the teenage years. Talk with area experts about education, French immersion and tutoring options. Find out about summer camps and child care choices for the upcoming summer – or consider sport and music registration options. Find tips on family health and wellness, and shop new products and gifts.

Want to snag a free pass – valid for one parent and one child this Saturday, April 16? Just comment on this post – and let me know your favourite thing about Parenting Times magazine. You’ll be entered in a random draw (winners to be announced Tuesday, April 12). Good luck!

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Mermaid 101

Poolside

Lily gives her best mermaid smile.

It was a scene that would have made Ariel proud – a pool full of little girls, learning how to swim like a mermaid. Think of it as “Mermaid 101.”

My eight-year-old daughter, Lily, was over the moon (or would it be “over the corral” in this case??) when I told her about the introductory class with AquaMermaid, which took place at the University of Ottawa pool last weekend.

While mermaids have always captured the imagination of young kids, I’ve watched them climb in popularity over the past few years as “mermaid tails” have hit the market. These water toys allow you to learn how to swim like a fish – using both legs as a fish tail and your core muscles to propel forward.

Lily was very excited for her hour-long, introductory session – which included a tail rental. Right away, I could tell she was thrilled to pick out a mermaid tail in her (current) favourite colour – teal. The tails are made of a stretchy, Spandex-type material and go up to the swimmer’s waist.

Putting on the tail

The girls receive instructions for putting on their mermaid tails.

The first step was learning to put the tail on. A plastic compartment inside the tail – called a monfin – holds both of the swimmer’s feet in place with an adjustable strap. Lily’s feet are tiny, which meant that they slipped out a couple of times – but the instructors were very patient with helping her get them adjusted properly.

With tails on, the girls were ready to get into the water and try swimming (basic swimming skills are a prerequisite for the class). The kids started out gliding on their sides, with one arm extended, and then added the dolphin kick.

Although Lily is a solid swimmer, there was a lot to learn. The class put a unique spin on regular swimming – teaching the kids how to swim like a fish. The instructors demonstrated how, with multiples arms placement variations, you can perform a variety of swimming activities, including swimming through hoops underwater.

Instructor

An instructor gives Lily some tips on her technique.

A new Canadian mermaid school, AquaMermaid operates out of Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. Founder Marielle Chartier Hénault fused her own mermaid dream with a passion for swimming to create the school, which brings a high-energy alternative to traditional swimming clubs. And it’s not just for little girls – AquaMermaid draws a diverse group of members of all ages and swimming levels.

The atmosphere was fun and incorporated games for the kids; Lily loved diving for different-coloured pool toys from the bottom of the pool. Her one complaint was the the water was colder than she’s used to – as the University of Ottawa pool is a competitive facility. But once she got moving around in the water she was having too much fun to complain.

If you have a young mermaid fan at home, keep AquaMermaid in mind for lessons – or even a kid’s birthday party. Letting your little one spend the day as a mermaid is sure to make a splash – and some great memories.

 

 

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Keeping warm with Norm

Warm Norm

Ian gets cozy with northern New Brunswick’s “Warm Norm.”

It seems the people of northern New Brunswick really know how to have fun – and stay warm – on a cold winter’s night in Ottawa.

Actually, a lot of it involves thinking ahead to warmer weather – and dreaming of all the fun things it will bring with it. Throw in some tasty drinks and traditional New Brunswick cuisine, and you’ve got yourself a party…Warm Norm style!

“Warm Norm” is northern New Brunswick’s tourism ambassador. A friendly lumberjack who sports a Paul Bunyan-style beard, Warm Norm (otherwise known as Beresford-born actor Nathan Dimitroff), recreated a little bit of northern New Brunswick at Union Local 613 – an Ottawa restaurant and pub – last month.

Warm Norm 2

French Acadian flatbread, known as “ploye”, comes hot off the griddle.

My husband and I kicked off the evening by tasting some foods from the region, including beef tortiere and “ploye” – a French Acadian flatbread served warm, often with butter and sugar or maple syrup.

Warm Norm’s down-to-earth, friendly entourage gave us some great travel ideas for New Brunswick destinations like Edmundston, Bathurst, Campbellton and the Acadian Peninsula. I learned that the area is truly a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts – boasting 400 acres of some of the best fresh-air trails in Atlantic Canada. Tourists who are avid cyclists love exploring the 45 kilometers of International Mountain Bike Association approved trails.

The City of Bathurst grabbed my attention, too. It’s situated on Chaleur Bay, and looks absolutely breathtaking. The area is known for its natural saltwater beach, and the nearby Daly Point Nature Reserve.

Warm Norm

Ian and I dreaming of the saltwater beaches of northern New Brunswick.

I grew up in Alberta, and didn’t get the opportunity to go “out east” until 2010. That was when our young family took one of our best-ever road trips – to PEI. While we did drive through New Brunswick en route from Ottawa, we didn’t take the time to stop and explore.

The northern New Brunswick tourism evening left me feeling inspired to explore a new part of the country. And if everyone there is as laid back and warm as Norm and his friends, I’m sure it would be a trip to remember.

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Evolution of the school tutor

 

Tutor imageAs parents, we sometimes have a tendency to look back at how things were done when we were kids.

I admit that I’ve definitely pulled out the old, “you know, back in my day…” with my girls (who are always quick to remind me that the 80s are long past). And while there are many things worth preserving about my upbringing, other approaches have shifted.

As a parent of two school-aged kids, I’ve realized that the path to academic success has changed – along with the curriculum and teaching methods themselves. The notion of the school tutor – once reserved for those kids needing “remedial help” – has evolved into a resource that can help virtually all of our children maximize their full potential.

Recently, I had the chance to connect with Julie Diamond – the dynamic force behind Teachers to Go, a cross-Canada tutoring service that recently expanded into the Ottawa area. She shared some really interesting insights with me about the evolution of the tutor.

Q – In the past, tutoring services were associated with kids who had learning issues and were far behind their peers. How has that changed? 

A – Even just five years ago – when I founded Teachers to Go in 2011 – there was a huge stigma around tutors; it was looked upon as something that you had to hide. Today, tutoring has become less of a stigma and more of a need – to the point that now tutors are looked upon as almost cool. I think a lot of that has to do with the influx of international students in Canada’s big cities – Toronto, Vancouver and even Ottawa, which has introduced cultures that typically embrace tutoring as an integral part of their education. It’s become increasingly competitive to get into universities, so parents are placing more emphasis on education. We’re also seeing change in the way certain subjects are taught. Math concepts like multiplication, for example, are being taught with discovery learning – the approach is for kids to understand it and be able to explain it instead of just memorizing it.

Q: What was your inspiration to start Teachers to Go?

A: After I became a certified teacher – I graduated from the University of Toronto in 2009 – I was waiting to find a traditional teaching job. I was tutoring for other companies and independently, and I really fell in love with working one-on-one with kids. At the same time, I felt like my abilities weren’t being maximized – like when I was assigned to teach subjects that weren’t my passion. I was working alongside tutors who weren’t certified teachers and didn’t know the curriculum – and I knew there could be a better way, so I founded Teachers to Go in 2011.

Q – What makes Teachers to Go different than other tutoring services?

A – We only staff provincially-certified teachers, so parents know they’re getting professionals in education. But our approach is different, too – it’s more than just knowing the subject and the curriculum. Our teachers are skilled at honing in on a student’s needs, strengths and learning style. We collaborate with the in-school teachers – and can then tailor a program for that student’s unique educational needs. One other bonus is the convenience factor – Teachers to Go comes to you, offering tutoring services in your home.

Q – I know that one of the pillars to your teaching approach is the importance of setting learning goals. How does that contribute to academic success?

A – It’s really critical to have a set focus around the sessions. We use a process of backward mapping, where we take a look at where the student wants to be and then work back to set realistic goals. Having that sense of focus really sets the tone for each session, because the student can see themselves as being able to achieve their goal. It also puts the onus on the child to become an independent learner – they know where they’re going and can take the initiative to look ahead.

Teachers to Go offers full-service tutoring to students in Ottawa and surrounding regions, the GTA and surrounding regions, Calgary, Victoria and the greater Vancouver region. You can reach Julie Diamond at: info@teacherstogoinc.com or by calling toll-free: 1-800-428-8164.

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Coming this spring…the Ottawa Parent & Child Expo

mini-pop-jojoDo you remember the Mini-Pops?? OK, I’m dating myself here, but I totally remember listening to the Mini-Pops record with friends when I was a kid in the 80s! Flashback!

Guess what? They’re still around (the songs have been, um, slightly updated, of course!) and they’re coming to Ottawa. Now, if you’re like me, you already have your eyes on the horizon for fun things to do this spring. What if I told you that you could check out the Mini-Pops and MORE (I know, I know…hard to imagine more, right??) at the 2016 Ottawa Parent & Child Expo?

In all seriousness, the Ottawa Parent and Child Expo is a fun event for parents and the kids, and a nice way to kick off the spring. When the snow melts, everyone seems to come out of hibernation. With kids – especially very young kids – it gets exponentially easier to get outside, get active and take in fun events around Ottawa. The expo is taking place at the Nepean Sportsplex from April 16-17.

For parents, the expo features about 100 different exhibitors, offering all sorts of parenting information from toddlers through to the teenage years. Talk with area experts about education, French immersion and tutoring options. Find out about summer camps and child care choices for the upcoming summer – or consider sport and music registration options. Find tips on family health and wellness, and shop new products and gifts.

Expo_Banner_2x6inKids can explore the Gymnastics Try-It Playzone and other fun, interactive areas. Create something silly at the Play-Doh Play Centre – and they’ll want to get their faces painted, too (what kid doesn’t??). For little ones, there will be a meet-and-greet with Dora the Explorer and Diego*. If you’ve already survived the Dora stage and your kids are older, they might want to check out the Mini-Pop Kids LIVE on the mainstage.

For $12 for a family of four, it’s bound to provide some fun and entertainment for the day. Plus – visit www.ParentandChildExpo.ca – and you’ll find a coupon for $2 off. Hopefully, this year’s expo will put a little “pop” – or a Mini-Pop – into your family’s spring schedule.

* Note: A limited number of tickets to go on stage with Dora or Diego will be distributed daily, free with price of admission to the Expo, on a first come, first served basis!

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Ticket giveaway – Norm of the North

Norm of the NorthIf you’re looking to get the kids out of the Ottawa cold this weekend, then I’ve got just the ticket…literally!

I’m pleased to announce that I have a limited number of passes to an advanced screening of ‘Norm of the North.’

If you’re interested, please comment on this post and let me know your favourite pick-me-up for getting through the Ottawa winter! (Please email your contact info. to me at soniam@bell.net so I can contact you if you are randomly selected.)

 

Screening Date: Saturday, January 9 at 10 a.m.

Location: Cineplex Cinemas Ottawa (Formerly Coliseum Ottawa)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2xqR3Q-5m0

Cast: Rob Schneider, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Loretta Divine, Bill Nighy, Gabriel Iglesias, Colm Meany, Michael McElhatton

Synopsis: Displaced from their Arctic home, a polar bear named Norm and his three lemming friends wind up in New York City, where Norm becomes the mascot of a corporation he soon learns is tied to the fate of his homeland.

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