July 27, 2014

Super Simple Summer Fun

outdoor fun for kids

As Canadians we spend a lot of time indoors. This past winter was especially brutal. Spring arrived just in the nick of time because the Thornburys were getting dangerously close to a "The Shining" situation. Rum—good. Red rum—bad.

My kids have been itching to get outdoors and back to nature and that's exactly what we did last week. We spent seven glorious days with family at their cottage on a lake in New Brunswick— sans wifi or television. No iPhone grafted to my hand? I expected it to be difficult. It wasn't. It was heaven.

Here are a few of the activities we enjoyed:

rainy day fun for kids

On day one of our vacation, thanks to the last remnants of Hurricane Arthur, we had no choice but to make our own indoor fun. To be clear, the dads coordinated the fun. I sat on the covered porch and read for three solid hours. Bliss. So what fun did the guys come up with?

First they played a game"Super Moose" (Reg. $29.99). It's a wooden puzzle challenge where players take turns balancing antlers on a wobbly moose head. It's meant for ages 3+. The older more dextrous and patient kids enjoyed it, but the younger ones found it a bit frustrating.


Next up was cards. Crazy Eights, War, Go Fish = timeless classics. We introduced our 11 year old to Poker this summer. Note: His poker face would leave Lady Gaga speechless. My husband's? Pathetic. I can read that man like a book. (Hey Julian, how are tired are you of hearing your sister-in-law say, "Poker? I don't even know her!" heh heh)

kids poker

Next was Hex Bug Races! They set up a track using wooden train tracks and the cousins brought out their Hex Bugs. The object was to see whose bug would make its way out of the maze first. Wagering? What wagering? Just ignore the monopoly money in the video. Ahem. 

*Check out the toddler taking in the action via binoculars at 2:18 
and just listen to that rain pounding down on the tin roof!*

When it stopped raining and I told my kids to "get out" (in the nicest way possible) they were happy to oblige. With binoculars around her neck (outdoors and inside too) Avery checked out her surroundings. For young children, adult binoculars are difficult to manage. These light-weight, durable, kid friendly Kidnoculars (Mastermind Toys Reg. $16.99) have a silicone rim that guides little eyes into place. We give them a hearty Forever In Mom Genes thumbs up!

Hiking is one of our favourite summer activities. We climbed over fallen trees and made our way to a spectacular waterfall. Ironically this was the one spot where I could get wifi. I was both delighted and horrified. The beauty of the waterfall and my quest for wild raspberries forced me to stuff my phone to the bottom of my backpack.

summer hiking

We collected leaves and consulted our wilderness books. We looked under logs and in ponds and were lucky to find a newt and a frog. We carefully toted them back to the cottage in the specimen jar that came with our Walk in the Woods Into The Field Guide Kit Mastermind Toys Reg. $22.99. We created a temporary habitat and examined our guests and released them back into the wild that night.


Being on a lake there's also water to explore. Canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, swimming, jumping off rocks, exploring under the surface... There's endless fun to be had. Avery, my seven year old doesn't like to wear a mask so this Underwater Explorer Boat, Mastermind Reg. $16.99, was great for her! It's essentially a hand held "glass bottom boat" that lets you see under the water without going under. Perfect for little ones and their moms who'd rather not get their hair wet.


If you build it, they will play. Or at least give you a few minutes of peace to finish your book. A tent offers a shady spot for kids to read or do a puzzle. We spent an afternoon collecting fallen branches and ferns and constructed a rather impressive tee-pee. No, we didn't have a permit. Shhhh... ;)

Hours were spent playing "Water Gun Wars in the Woods" complete with walkie talkies and battle strategies. There's talk of adding camoflauge next year. Sigh. Boys will be boys. (FYI I'm talking about the dads, not the kids.)

 Some of the silliest and greatest moments were those we didn't even plan.

1. At the end of the week we had an awards ceremony. We made paper ribbons naming each person's biggest accomplishments and presented them with loads of pomp and circumstance.

2. Using regular water soluble Crayola makers we got inked! It washes right off in the lake. Even the dog got in on the fun. Also, I thought I was all that with my cool tribal tat.

3. You can use a sheet of plastic and a hose to create your own Slip and Slide! Spin, roll, and ham it up while you slide. My brother-in-law won with the "Reading on a bus pose."

Could summer be any Smore fun? Er, sorry. Hot dogs, marshmallows and grilled peppers roasted on the campfire.... sweet.  Yes, roasted peppers. We brought two Fire Fishing Poles with us to the cottage and used them every night. The Fire Buggz Fishing Poles are sturdy and easy to use. Best of all, you can do two wieners or 4 marshmallows at a time. When one side is done, you can easily flip them to roast the other side. They retail for $24.99 each. A little pricey, but they're fun and would make a great cottage host gift. *I just noticed they're currently on sale at Mastermind Toys for $17.49*


There's only one month of summer left so get out there! Dig your toes in the earth, catch a firefly, make a daisy chain, hold a Banana Slug, skip stones, throw a water balloon, climb a tree, watch the sunset....

Nothing beats a Canadian summer!

Disclosure: This post is not sponsored. In other words, I was not paid to say nice things about these products. The kids and I hand selected a few items from Mastermind Toys to bring with us to the cottage in exchange for our honest opinions.

July 23, 2014

Taking Back The Word Retarded


As the parent of a child with developmental challenges, delays, cognitive disabilities... however you want to label it, I often flip-flop between two perspectives.

1. Wanting to let my fists fly (which is pretty hysterical if you've ever seen me try to punch something) on anyone who uses the word retarded.

2. Simply allowing the word to bounce off me and ricochet back at them. People who use the word retard are outing themselves as people I'd rather not know. Their word choice says everything about them and nothing about my child or anyone with special needs.

I seem to be juxtaposed between violence and a "so be it" attitude so instead of choosing a perspective, I'm creating a new one. I'm going to take back the R-Word.

Others have done it—taken a word used to discriminate and have claimed it as their own. By doing so they've taken the wind out of many biggoty sails.

My daughter is retarded...

Okay wait, I need to ease my way into this because just typing that made me squirm. Those seven letters pack a punch.

Retard means delayed or slow.
By definition, my daughter is slow.

She's slow to anger.
She's slow to hate.
She slows down to pay attention to the little things.  
She's slow to pass judgement on anyone.
She lives life in the slow lane and she's happy there.

I've written about the R-Word before so what inspired this latest post?

Some kid behind me in line for a roller coaster at a local amusement park, to his friend: "Oh my god, you're such a retard. Seriously dude, why you gotta be so retarded?"

Me turning around (after having theoretically "taken back" the word): "What a lovely thing to say to your friend. It's a gift to be retarded—being able to slow down the pace of life and soak it all in. What a special friend you must have there. Being retarded rules, right?"

Of course this conversation didn't actually take place. Well, the first part happened—the part where this child playfully tossed the R-Word around like a Frisbee at the beach. However, I made the choice not to engage. I didn't want to embarrass my son and his friend who were waiting happily for their roller coaster ride. Instead I stood in silence and fumed.

After writing this stream of consciousness post I've decided...

I don't actually want to take the R-Word back.
I can't stand the word no matter what positive spin I try to put on it. 
I don't want to own it.
I don't even want to know it.

And next time? I will turn around and say something. And it won't be positive and contemplative. But it will be respectful, direct and to the point and spoken in my "teacher" voice. 

July 13, 2014

The Pink Balloon—Helping Kids Cope With Grief

My husband's mum was a vital part of our lives. There hasn't been a day since she died suddenly that we don't miss her terribly. As adults who've had years to develop coping skills, it's still tough. So how can a child possibly cope when they can't begin to reconcile the devastation of loss and moreover, the finality of death?

Our eleven year old son experienced anxiety resulting from the loss of his grandmother, so we sought help. Grief counseling has helped him begin to accept the death and has given him skills to cope with the fear of losing his parents and sister.

Avery, our seven year old, seems to be the most profoundly affected. She and her 'Grandie' had a special bond (one that my husband and I are convinced has continued in some other worldly way. It sounds odd, but the evidence we've seen is impossible to ignore. More on that another time, maybe. We're not quite ready to share.).

At first Avery believed her Grandie had gone to the dentist and would be coming back, soon. We don't know where this idea came from. Regardless, the first dental appointment I took the kids to afterward was a difficult to say the least.

When it became evident that Avery was struggling to find the words to express her sorrow and confusion, we took her to see a counsellor through ErinOak Kids. This was best thing we could have done.

Not only was our daughter able to communicate her feelings in a safe and comforting environment, I also came away with some helpful strategies.

These are some of things that have helped my children deal with grief and loss. They are invaluable tools to use with a child with developmental delays, but they would be equally effective for any young child.

There are dozens of how-to style books for parents. This one, lent to me by a sweet friend, was great: Parenting Through Crisis: Helping Kids In Times OF Loss, Grief, And Change by Barbara Coloroso  

Great Answers to Difficult Questions about DEATH: What Children Need To Know by Linda Goldman is also EXCELLENT. It's the resource Avery's grief councellor uses.

There are also many stories written specifically for children. Some good ones include:
  • When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Krasny Brown
  • Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
  • Sad Isn't Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss by Michaelene Mundy
Please feel free to add your own suggestions to the comments. 

Write your own story: 
We're writing our own story called "Wasn't Grandie Grand?" My son is writing the words and Avery is helping with the illustrations. It's a good way to be able to talk about the person we miss so much while preserving the special memories and day-to-day details that will inevitably begin to fade.

Listen and Talk: 
Though it's a difficult and uncomfortable topic most parents would rather avoid, when kids ask, "Where did grandma go? and "Why did she die?" or "What is dead?" As sad as it is for us, let them talk. Answering their questions in a truthful but age appropriate way helps them heal.

Use proper language. She didn't pass away (this concept doesn't make sense to kids) and she isn't in a deep sleep. She died. She is dead. Use the words.

We told Avery that Grandie died and that she is in heaven. Though I don't personally believe in the concept, we felt that having a concrete "place" to imagine would be helpful for Avery.

What does dead mean?
That's a tough one. A good explanation come from Goldman's book, "Death means when the body stops working. Sometimes people die when they are very, very, very old or very, very, very sick, or they are so, so, so injured that the doctors and nurses can't make their bodies work anymore. Grandma died. It is sad. She will not move, not be warm, and not be alive again." 

It was hard to say those words, but children are smart and they know when they are being lied to. They need to understand and accept that death means forever. Otherwise how can they grieve?

Your child may not have the words or may prefer to express themselves with pictures. Avery drew many pictures of her Grandie (always smiling). She often wrote a few words with the pictures too.
"Grandie I love you from Avery." or "I miss you, miss you, miss you, miss you, miss you." 


Go through old albums or iPhotos and let your child select a few special photos. Put them in frames around the house and in a special spot in their bedroom. The photos are often a good place to start conversations about our lost loved ones.

Memory Box
Avery and I bought a pretty box and filled it with little things that remind us of Grandie. We went to my in-law's house and Granddad helped us choose a few things to put in the box—Grandie's tea cup, a scarf, a bracelet, a broach, the necklace Avery loved to fondle while her Grandie wore it. Whenever Avery is feeling sad and missing her grandma, she looks through her special Memory Box and finds comfort. 

Paper Lanterns and Candle Lighting Ceremonies
Avery's counsellor told us about a candle ceremony that takes place a few times a year in our community. Families have a chance to light candles or paper lanterns in honour of lost loved ones. We love this idea and hope to participate at some point. In the meantime, we bought paper lanterns for each of the grandkids to send up to Grandie this summer when we're all together at the cottage. If you like, you can write a simple message on the side of the lantern.

Message In A Balloon
I find it difficult to watch this video without getting emotional. However, we want to share it with you in hopes it will help families who are struggling. If your children are having trouble coping with the loss of a special person, you might consider doing this. It gave Avery, all of us in fact, some much needed closure and an emotional release.

Avery wrote her Grandie a note with her counsellor (we respected her privacy and didn't read it, though I really wanted to). We took her message to the party store and Avery chose a pink balloon. "My Grandie likes pink," she told the clerk as she inserted the note into the balloon and inflated it with helium.

We went to a special spot where we feel close to Grandie. After a few words from Avery (which still break my heart) we released the balloon carrying the goodbye message of a seven years old girl up to her Grandie, on what would have been her 77th birthday.

We miss you Grandie. xo

Imagine If We All Approched Life Like Tim?

Tim owns a restaurant called Tim's Place, in Albuquerque.
They serve breakfast, lunch, and hugs.
Tim loves his job.
What else makes Tim so special?



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