It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Cookies and tape and glue, oh my!

“We drew you pictures, Mary!” Tyler and Emily have been working diligently at the dining table for a good fifteen minutes. Diligently working on A Secret Thing. I knew it was Secret, because each time I walked past, Emily would THROW herself over her paper, and then paste an expression of studious casual-ness on her round face.

“Me? I’M not doing anything special. I’m just… resting… on my paper here. Yup, yup, yup.” She didn’t SAY any of that, of course. She’s FIVE now, and has mastered the art of subtlety.


Tyler, age three and one month, is less adroit with the subtlety. He does understand A Secret, though. Each time I walk past, while Emily lunges over her page with so-casual panic, Tyler starts to WHISPER.

“I’m just making you a…”

Happily, his whisper is so very muted that I honestly can’t hear a thing, so the Secret remains (amazingly) Secret.

When they are finished, they come find me in the kitchen, where I am helping Rory in his never-ending duplo-block-and-car play. Rory loves Duplo blocks, cars, playdough and shape-sorting above all things. That’s pretty much all he plays at Mary’s house, and he’s a master at… well, shape-sorting. He totally rocks the shape sorter. The other things? He mostly just strews playdough toys around, and though he’s pretty good at building towers, what he really loves to do with the blocks is scatter them around the kitchen floor.

So, out in the kitchen, I am helping Rory build garages for the cars when Emily and Tyler bring me their Secret pictures.

“It’s a cookie,” Emily points to one brown blot splotched with various smaller vari-coloured splotches. “It’s a cookie with sprinkles on it. And this,” she indicates what looks to be a star comprised of blueberries, “is a snowflake.”

“I mades a cookie.” Tyler explains the brown scribble topped with blue scribbles. (There are about forty markers in the bin they were using. I don’t know why they restricted themselves to brown and blue.) “And I hid the chocolate chips so they would be a surprise!” A closer inspection does reveal that there are indeed brown spots under the blue scribbles.

And now, having admired their artwork sufficiently, we need to find a place to display them. Emily races to the fridge, and then stands bemused before it. It’s Christmas, don’t you know. Christmas and the end of the year. Combine school notices, party invitations, shopping lists and to-do lists with the piles of things that need to go on next year’s calendar — next year’s calendar which can’t be hung until this year’s calendar is done — and you have one overcrowded fridge. There is not a spare square inch on there. There is not a single magnet which is not holding three times its weight limit, hanging on to the fridge through sheerest magnetic willpower.

Not the fridge, then. “We’ll use the wall by the calendar.” I send Emily to get the masking tape when little Grace arrives. When I return to the task, Emily is tearing off a piece of tape so as to hang her artwork, and Tyler’s is already stuck to the wall.

Stuck, with no visible means of support. Not a sign of tape anywhere. For all her many clevernesses, Emily does not know how to roll the tape so as to hide it. Nor are there any give-away bumps in the page.

“Did you stick this on the wall, Emily?”

“No, Tyler did.”

“You did? How did you stick it there, Tyler?”


Glue? I peel away a corner. Glue. Lots and lots and looooots of glue. Oh, my.

“Tyler, lovie. We don’t stick things to the wall with glue, only with masking tape, okay?”

He takes it well as I remove his drawing from the wall, probably because I’m laughing, and Tyler loves, loves, loves to make jokes. Even ones he’s the butt of. Even ones he doesn’t get. I’m laughing, that’s good enough for Tyler. Well, not quite: He can tell if the laughter is sarcastic or mocking, but he understands that mine isn’t.

He even helps me wash the glue off the wall.

And now, you’ll have to excuse us. We’re about to make Christmas cookies. REAL ones!!!

December 21, 2010 Posted by | Christmas, crafts, Emily, food, Tyler | , , , | 3 Comments

12 Days of Christmas… with a porcupine

I was strolling through the Glebe, a nice little residential area here in Ottawa which surrounds a short but lively stretch of street, home to all sorts of interesting shops. Small stores. Apart from the honkin’ big Shoppers Drug Mart at the north end, and the requisite coffee shops, not one of them is a cookie-cutter store. There are some small chain stores, but many are owner-operated. They’re all interesting, they’re all fun to poke around in.

And there, in the window of Miss Tiggywinkle’s, was this book. I don’t often shop at Tiggywinkle’s. It’s lovely, but a bit pricey. Correction: I often shop at Tiggywinkle’s. I don’t often purchase there. When it comes to toys, I am the Queen of Garage sales and outlets. 🙂

But! A book! And so cute!

A Canadian 12 Days of Christmas. I bought not one, but two, copies. One for my own entertainment/amusement, and one for Rory for Christmas. Rory is very musical, and his parents will appreciate the quirky humour of the book. It’ll be a hit all round, I’m quite sure.

As it should be. This book is adorable. The text is fun and pleasingly silly. The illustrations capture the sense of fun and silliness and magnify it ten times. There is no way not to read sing this book without laughing.

I’m not going to scoop copyrighted pictures, but what I can do is send you to the illustrator’s website. Because yes! He has a blog! I love the behind-the-scenes information about how the pictures were conceived and brought to life. Fascinating.

I enjoyed the sweetly bemused porcupine. (Though, really, it looks entirely too cuddly.) I love the calling moose and the stunned beavers. But about those three beaver tails? Beaver Tails? Living in Ottawa as I do, Beaver Tails does not mean the scaly tail of a real-life beaver. It means a pastry, sold in one of these:

(A pastry which, in the interests of the svelte-ness of my butt, I do not ingest too frequently. (But, if anyone’s interested? Killaloe (pronounced Kill-a-loo) Sunrise is THE BEST. Sugar and lemon on a hot, flat, deep-fried pastry the size of your two hands put together. Nommmmmmm…))

The Mounties munching are fun — though really, those should be Tim Hortons doughnuts. This being a Canadian 12 Days and all.

Updated to add: Oh, wait! Just sang it through again, and noted that on day nine, when the sled dogs are absconding with the Mounties’ box of doughnuts, the box is emblazoned with something that looks suspiciously like the Tim Horton stripes…

My first laugh of the book was day five. You know how in the original version, “five golden rings” is the dramatic pause in the song, those notes that you spread out and wallow in? “Five gooool-dennnn rinnnnngs”, a long, slow, dramatic yodel, before picking up the pace and skipping through the next four items. As long and dramatic as you care to make it — and around here, we err on the side of ham.

Well in this one, this Canadian version, it’s Five Stanley Cups.

What else could it possibly be?

Five Stannnnn-ley Cuuuuuuuuups. Declaimed with the full fervency of a true and passionate hockey fan. But of course. (Not that I am one, mind you, but good reading demands Drama at the right moments. And I can deliver the Drama!)

Five Stannnnnn-ley Cuuuuuuuups!!!!! (Complete with outflung orchestra-conductor arm.)

My second laugh was day seven: Seven sled dogs sledding, in which the sled dogs zip by from right to left, three of them with their paws held aloft, in the stereotypical daredevil roller-coaster-rider pose. In every page thereafter, they zip from left to right, then right to left, always in process of stealing the Mounties’ doughnuts, always with their paws up. Wheeeee! Love those dogs.

My all-time favourite page? Day Ten. The Leafs a-leaping. For you non-Canadians, The Toronto Maple Leafs is a hockey team. (My youngest, born and bred Ottawan that she is, snorted at that. “The Leafs? They’re a loser team.” Unlike our Ottawa Senators?? Um, yeah… (I think that’s an ironical-type joke, but I could be wrong.) Me, I know NOTHING about hockey. Well, as ‘nothing’ as it’s possible for a Canadian woman married to a hockey fan to know.)

So we have Stanley Cups — the ultimate hockey prize — FIVE of them. And we have TEN hockey players. And, through all the pages in which the Leafs appear, they try and try and trrrrrryyyy to get their hands on the Cup… and they can’ it.

Much like real life, where it has been (take a deep breath) FORTY-THREE YEARS since they’ve won one. 1967, our Centennial Year, was the last time the Stanley Cup ever graced the Leafs.

So it amuses me, every time I read sing this book to the tots, to see the Leafs straining to reach the prize that remains forever out of their grasp. Mwah-ha. And I simply don’t believe Mr. Zimmermann didn’t do that on purpose. Which makes me like him even more.

(Oh, and if you’re trying to sing it and having trouble fitting the lyrics to the tune? The new words fit with the old ones like this:

And a porcu pi-ine in a pine tree
And a par…. tri-idge in a pear tree)

This is a great book. Absolutely worth the fifteen or so dollars it cost me. We’ve been singing it two or three times a day for a week, and I’m nowhere near sick of it.

A very good sign!

December 16, 2010 Posted by | books, Canada, Christmas, holidays, Ottawa | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

When the traditions aren’t your values: Re-working traditions

(I first posted this in 2006. It seemed worth re-visiting.)

When my oldest was very little, I noticed something. It happened in the weeks coming up to Christmas. It happened All.The.Time. It seemed delightful the first time, innocuous the tenth time, even the twentieth time, but by the hundredth time, I was beginning to have serious concerns.

I am out in a mall, first week of December. A neighbour, a friend, a little old lady approaches, smile at my adorable tot with her nimbus of blond curls and the grey eyes big enough to swim in, and said…

“And what’s Santa bringing you this year?”

You know what? Even at less than two, I wanted my child to know that Christmas is about giving, not getting. And she was understanding this! We were making presents for family. We were baking treats to give to neighbours and unexpected friends dropping by. The whole while we did this, we chatted about how happy gramma would be, or Mrs. Goodman across the street would be, to receive our gift. How much fun it was going to be to see her smile and be excited.

This was what Christmas was about, for my child. And then every single time we went out in public, ten times an outing, people would loom into her space and ask, “What are you GETTING? What do you WANT?”

This was NOT on my agenda for my child. This was counter to my values, counter to what I wanted for her.

At that time in my life, I was also a more conventionally devout Christian than I am now. I didn’t like the way that Santa had totally upstaged the Baby Jesus. How could he not? Jesus was an unassuming presence, a baby wrapped in strips of worn cloth in a dingy cowshed. The angels offered a bit of glitz and glitter, but nothing like Santa, with his promise of unleashed, unrepentant acquisitiveness, greed and ME,ME,ME, GET,GET,GET.

My solution?

We would not “do” Santa.

Not in the North American sense, anyway. Instead, we talked about St. Nicholas, “a bishop from Myra in Asia Minor (the greater part of modern-day Turkey), who used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering”. We looked at different ways Santa (St.Nick, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas) was portrayed in other cultures.

When we saw him in the malls, they could, if they wished, go sit on his lap, even though they knew The Truth. They knew these men were just nice people being kind to little children. (Not such a bad thing to know, hmm?) I even paid for the odd picture.

Not believing gave us freedom to play with the norms. Haley decided, when she was seven or so, that it made much more sense in our snow-bound country were Santa’s sleigh to be pulled by fire-breathing dragons. Her Christmas artwork that year included a few renditions of this idea. Lyrical, creative, imaginative – and shockingly untraditional!

The kids were carefully coached in not spilling the beans to friends – nor even to those well-meaning adults. It would be unkind. We don’t want to make people sad at Christmas!

So, when those well-meaning people approached with their “And what is Santa bringing YOU?” questions, the conversation would go as follows.
Child: I don’t know what I’m getting. It’s a surprise!
Me: Why don’t you tell Mrs. Sweet about the present you’re making for gramma?
Child, face lighting up in a most gratifying way, launches into enthusiastic description.

Time and again, people would respond with a wave of warmth and admiration for these kids who really did enjoy the giving. (Ironic, when you consider it was these same people who had highlighted the problem of teaching greed so clearly to me, but of course, that was not their intention.)

Now, when I greet a child before Christmas, I ask if they’re excited about it. I ask what they’re looking forward to most. (Happily, it isn’t always the gifts they anticipate!) I ask if they are doing anything special with mommy and daddy, if they will see gramma and grampa, if they have their tree up. I ask about their school Holiday Concert and/or their church Christmas concert. In short, I ask about anything and everything but presents – because Christmas is about much more than presents!

Although I’m not intending to suggest that anyone else follow my example re: Santa, I do think it’s good practice to step outside cultural norms once in a while. Think them through. Determine whether they apply to you and your family, and act accordingly. Sometimes “It’s traditional!!” isn’t justification enough.

December 14, 2010 Posted by | Christmas | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Toddler Christmas Craft

Super simple, and I’m sure you’ve come across it before. We do it every year, in one form or another. Today I have only Rory and Lily, and right now, Lily is sleeping. So Rory and I got out the supplies — paint, cookie cutters, paper. (The paper is from an enormous roll of tracing paper I got in the Great Design Firm Cast-off Haul. The goodness, it just keeps on coming!)

If you want a product that will actually be attractive enough to use, keep the colour choice simple, and give the child only one colour at a time. If you’re only in this for the fun of creating, let the kid go wild. We did a little of both. (That’s Rory’s pudgy hand. Can you tell how much FUN he’s having? Because he totally was.)

Fun, fun, fun…

soooooo much fun!

And when Lily, who celebrated Hanukkah last week, but will not celebrate Christmas, when she wakes up, she, too, will make wrapping paper, only we’ll use the butterfly and heart shapes (her favourites), in yellow and red (which she seems to particularly like) and it can be all-purpose wrap.


December 13, 2010 Posted by | Christmas, crafts | , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Christmukah!


what we did


And we hardly ate any at all!

Really. 😀

December 9, 2010 Posted by | Christmas, crafts, food | , , , , | 1 Comment


Who needs it?

Tyler and I have just mixed a batch of double chocolate brandy balls, my traditional Christmas treat. As I transfer the bowls, spoons, measuring cup and food processor bits across the kitchen to the waiting sink of soapy water, Tyler surveys the counter, still littered with chocolate crumbs, melted chocolate chips blops, droplets of corn syrup, a small drift of icing sugar … the counter and, to a lesser degree, the floor. All this detritus, of course, a direct result of baking with a toddler.

Tyler surveys and counter and makes his judgment:

“You have a dirty, messy house, Mary.”

He looks surprised when I drop the damp washcloth on top of his head…

November 30, 2010 Posted by | Christmas | , , | 3 Comments

Cookie-Sheet Advent Calendars

You recall that a while ago, Emma and I stumbled across some very useful freebies being tossed by a local business. Freebies which have (so far) turned into an autumn wreath.

Well. CHRISTMAS is coming, and with it a gazillion and four Craft Opportunities. Craft Opportunities which require copious supplies. I could always pop down to Michael’s, but trips to Michael’s are never cheap. Too bad that business hadn’t put out any more freebies… And then the brainwave hit. Why I didn’t think of it years ago, I don’t know, but I have a friend, see, a Friend Who Owns a Design Firm. She doesn’t even just work there. She’s the Boss.

Really. I probably have direct access to samples galore, and prior to right this minute, it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask. What was I THINKING???

So I asked. And Marianne was thrilled. They were just in the process of CLEANING OUT THEIR LIBRARY! Really! And if I could wait till the end of the week, she was sure she’d have something for me.


“Something” turned out to be four boxes of stuff. Four good-sized boxes, each weighing about 25 kg. Urgh. But the stuff in there! I have wallpaper books, fabric books, upholstery samples, paint chips, and even samples of wood in various veneers. Bright, muted, bold, conservative, abstract, florals, geometrics, metallic, glittery, burnished, woven, glossy, matte, smooth, textured… you name it, I’ve got it.


Here is my first project: Advent Calendars, which will be early Christmas presents to the families. (Click on that first picture, and it will pop up much larger.)

Each square is a piece of wallpaper mounted on card. Some of the card came from the Giant Boxes of Stuff. When I ran out of that, I used a cereal box. Each square is backed with a piece of magnetic tape which I discovered at the hardware store. It comes on a reel, just like regular tape. Very cool. It doesn’t stick quite as well as one would like: I’ve had to re-glue several squares, and should probably go through and glue them all… but 24 times 4 is 96 squares, and you know what? That’s a lot of squares. A lot of squares, most of which have not yet come unstuck, not even once. I think I shall leave well enough alone.

I chose three sheets for each calendar, one green(ish), one red(ish), and one in a sparkly metallic.

The numbers are cut from a set of glittery metallic samples. (I don’t know what they’re intended for: wall covering? veneer? countertops? No idea. The book gives no indication.) After I cut them out, I stuck them onto the squares with hot-melt glue.

The lettering is done with a metallic silver Sharpie. Rather than put numbers on the trays, I opted for dots to indicate the general placement of each square. That way, families can decide whether they will start with all the number on, and remove one each day, or the reverse. They can have them out of order, or put them in order, whatever suits them.

There! Those will go home this evening.

Next up: the Hanukkah menorah for Lily.



November 26, 2010 Posted by | Christmas, crafts | , , , | 2 Comments

Thinking ahead

There! I’m done the boys’ Christmas presents, well almost. And for the girls?

This. Isn’t that a terrific idea?

In fact, maybe I’ll have everyone make fabric, boys and girls alike, and make skirts for the girls and for the boys… what? … vests? ties? It’ll be winter, so not shorts… pajamas? Oh, yes. Why not pajamas? Hee.

Course, I’ve already made car caddies for the boys, so then I’d have to make something extra for the girls to even things out…

Fun, fun!

August 12, 2010 Posted by | Christmas, crafts | , , , , , | 7 Comments

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2009 Posted by | Christmas | 5 Comments

Mis-steps and recoveries

I was a creating machine a couple of weeks ago, all methodical and assembly-line. Take three metres of red satin. Cut into 5 lengths of 60 cm. (No waste! Not a single cm! I am so proud!)

I have great instructions, capes are simple things, and I am a competant seamstress. I foresee no problems.

Fold in half (times 5)
Cut curve at lower end (times 5)
Hem all raw edges (three edges times 5)
Attach bias tape to neck (times 5)
Iron all (times 5)
(I am a model of efficiency, I tell you!)
Iron on initial and lightning bolts…

and discover…

I have SIX initials.


(ridiculous woman)

..I have SIX children.


And since I planned it sooooo well, there is NO red satin left over.

…double damn…

Happily, I have brilliant readers, extra interfacing and leftover lightning-bolt material, so I can make a wee superhero shirt for the littlest one.


And now I am making clothes-peg wreaths with the four-year olds. I prepared for two wreaths, because I have two four-year-olds. I counted.

Only, this week, because school’s out, I suddenly have FOUR four-year-olds. All of whom looooove to do crafts.


But that’s okay! I pulled rank and forced Emma off the couch and into the cold (-19C, feels like -28C) to the hardware store for two more packs of clothespegs, which, bless their hearts, they are still selling. In -19C weather.

And all day yesterday we painted and painted and painted dozens and dozens of clothes pegs. With a night to dry, we’d be all ready to assemble our wreaths today. All I needed was some duct tape, the ribbon to decorate the top, and a pair of wire-cutters. Got all those!! Oh, and a couple more wire coat-hangers. No problem. We have dozens of those things. I foresee no problems.

Only, when I’d dissassembled the first clothes-hanger, I discovered it was TOO FAT to go through the spring of the clothespeg. So I have 172 painted clothespegs, 200 metallic pony beads, a few metres of Christmas ribbon, four eager and expectant four-year-olds… and no craft.


My wonderful husband had a suggestion. “Don’t use those sturdy hangers. Find some of the flimsy ones from the drycleaner.” Brilliant!!

Except we have only ONE in the entire house. I have a vague memory of tossing a bunch into the recycle bin some months back. These things breed in the corners, I reasoned. Why don’t I just toss the flimsier ones???


But we did have one! If I cut it in half, we could make TWO smaller wreaths. There are, of course, four 4-year-olds. Time for the tough decision. Emily and Willliam, who come here daily, get to make a wreath.

And Timmy and Nigel, whose small faces are quivering… Nigel and Timmy get to… um… get to…

Nigel! And Timmy! You get to take the clothespegs home! 42 each! And 21 beads — you even get to pick which colours!! And a length of ribbon! And we’ll put them all in zipper bags, neatly labelled, and this is a KIT, you see. A KIT, so you can make your own wreath at home!!!

(Assuming your mothers haven’t tossed all the flimsy coathanger in your houses…)

This afternoon, while the middlers are napping, I plan to assemble the picture frames they’ve created. All I need are the painted and dried jigsaw puzzle pieces, the plastic frames, and the hot-melt glue gun.

I foresee no problems…

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Christmas, crafts, holidays | , , , , , | 4 Comments