Discover an undersea world

My friend looking at a shark

I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade

-The Beatles, Octopus’s Garden

In January, on a very snowy winter afternoon, my girlfriends and I spent the afternoon at Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. I’d never been to the aquarium before, but Dave and the kids had raved about it so I was looking forward to exploring it, especially the shark tank and tunnel where the sharks swim right over your head.

It was an amazing mid-winter afternoon escape. We watched one of their divers feed the stingrays just feet away from us. Stingrays are incredibly graceful, floating and gliding effortlessly, but at feeding time, they’ll flock around the diver like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, opening their mouths to gobble up the fish being offered.

Stingrays

At one point, since we had been hoofing it around the city in blustery snow all day, we just sat and watched one of the huge tanks for a half an hour. The longer we sat and watched, the more species we saw. Bright playful clown fish, luminescent mandarinfish, and fish with wonderful names like Love Bird Parrot and Moorish Idol formed a moving kaleidoscope before our eyes. It was very peaceful and beautiful, and dare I say, zen.

Fish tank

The main attraction was the Dangerous Lagoon which is North America’s longest underwater viewing tunnel and which Ripley’s describes as a breathtaking underwater gallery. We hopped on the moving sidewalk three times to watch and wonder at the magnificent sharks, sea turtles and sawfish swimming just inches above and beside us.

Shark in tank

This week’s #HappyAct is to escape the cold and snow, and dive into an undersea world.

Looking for something ultra cool? Every second Friday, they host a jazz night with live music and cash bars throughout the aquarium. Or have a slumber party and sleepover with the sharks. You can drop off the kids or stay for a family experience.  You can sign up for their Scales and Tales e-newsletter with exclusive offers, news and behind-the-scenes info. They even have PD Day camps if you’re looking for something for the kids on the next PD day.

If you don’t have any plans to go to Toronto and live in Eastern Ontario, try the Aquatarium in Brockville. Here is an old blog post I wrote about it a few years ago.

Ed. Note: Have you ever wondered how The Beatles came up with the lyrics to Octopus’ Garden? As the tale goes, Ringo Starr wrote the lyrics after spending a day at sea in Sardinia with comedian Peter Sellers. A waiter mistakenly brought him squid instead of fish and chips and he said, “It was okay. A bit rubbery. Tasted like chicken.” The captain went on to tell Starr about how octopuses travel along the seabed picking up stones and other shiny objects and create gardens with them.

Stingray

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Pass down a holiday tradition

Girl walking in snow

We have a holiday tradition that makes people gasp in horror. We open our presents on Christmas night. Not Christmas Eve, Christmas night.

It’s a tradition that stems back to the days when my grandparents owned a greenhouse in the 1930s in Cooksville (now Mississauga) at the corner of Highways 5 and 10, Dundas and Hurontario Streets. Christmas was one of their busiest times of the year, and they would often still be preparing floral orders and making deliveries right up until lunch time on Christmas Day. The only time they could sit down to relax and open gifts was after dinner.

It was a tradition my parents continued when we were young, and a tradition Dave and I have passed on to our children.

I love opening gifts at nighttime, with the fire crackling, the Christmas tree lights shining and a glass of Bailey’s in your hand. You don’t have to worry about jumping up and getting the turkey in the oven or baking pies and it prolongs the anticipation beyond Christmas morning. It also lets us get outside and enjoy the beauty and peace of the day.

I knew the circle was complete when on one of our nightly walks this week, Clare asked, “Mom, can we open presents Christmas night again this year? I really love it.”

My work as a parent is done.

Whatever your traditions or faith, I hope you have a joyous holiday. What’s your favourite holiday tradition? Leave a comment.

Ever happy in Toyland

Girl and mother in funny hats in toy store

“Toyland, toyland
Little girl and boy land
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy there”

Lyrics from the holiday classic “Toyland”

The best way to discover your inner child is to spend an afternoon in a toy store.

Years ago, I worked for a company called Discovery Toys. I was their writer, so my job was to play with the toys and write all the catalogue and promotional copy.

Their slogan was “Play is a child’s work”.

Play is how children learn, but as adults, play serves a different purpose. Toys have the power to transport us back in time to when we didn’t have a care in the world. Our imagination immediately gets reawakened and once again life is full of possibilities.

Play allows us to forget our current cares and troubles. We can reinvent ourselves for a moment in time and be whoever we want to be: an astronaut, a ballerina, or a warrior.

Perhaps the greatest gift of all, play allows us to see the world through a child’s eyes again.

This week’s #HappyAct is to pay a visit to Santa’s toy shop, or MasterMind Toys if you can’t make it to the North Pole. Here are some pictures Clare and I took on a recent excursion to MasterMind. And if you happen to be in Quebec City, be sure to check out toy store Benjo—a magical place.

Girl and hockey game
Clare beating me at table top hockey

Girl and elephant

Girl and giraffe

 

The crappy act revisited

Dog with sunglasses
Our one dog now, the Bellediot–beautiful but stupid as a bag of hammers

My life is starting to resemble a country song. We had to put my old dog down, two of my appliances died, our car was in the shop and we got a ticket for parking in front of a hydrant, bills are piling up and to make matters worse, I’ve had a throat infection that’s only getting worse which means I’ll have to go back to the doctor for another appointment.

As Dave says, there are weeks when the happy act should really be The Crappy Act. It’s made me reflect on how to keep chipper when life gets you down. Here are a few things that work for me.

  • Taking care of myself. Easier said than done, but I’ve always been a huge advocate of listening to your body, and when I’m feeling poorly I try to slow down and take care of myself. Note to self: make another doctor’s appointment tomorrow.
  • Being grateful for what I have instead of what I’ve lost. I loved Murphy our old dog, but we still have our Great Pyrenees, Bella, the stupidest dog on the face of the planet. Even though her various nicknames range from Bella the Fart Smeller, to Bella the Drywall Eating Dog, to the Bellidiot, we still love her and I’m grateful my big fluffy polar bear of a dog is still here to greet me every night when I come home.
  • Remembering that no matter what challenges we are facing, there is someone sitting next to me dealing with far more serious issues. I was reminded of this twice this weekend.
  • Knowing this too shall pass.
  • Oh, and chocolate and ice cream don’t hurt either (and are cool on the throat).

Hope everyone else had a happy week….and thanks for the kind words about Murphy. Our gentle giant is in a happier place.

Feel your heart fill with pride

Girls with silver medals

Any parent knows there is no greater joy than watching their child excel at something.

This past weekend, Clare competed in the Ontario provincial kayaking championships in Welland, Ontario. She qualified for two races: the K1 1000 metre individual developmental race, and the K2 500 metre competitive final with her kayaking partner, Parker Friendship.

This is only her second year competing with the Sydenham Lake Canoe Club so the fact she made it to the provincials is pretty amazing.

I’m not one of those crazy parents that loses it at sporting events, even though I do yell and cheer loudly at hockey games, much to my kids’ chagrin.  But when that horn blasted and Clare and Parker plunged their paddles into the water and powered their boat in perfect synchrony to the front of the pack, my heart started racing too.

It was the first time I experienced an actual physiological reaction watching my child compete, and my heart didn’t stop racing until they crossed the finish line in second place. Tears filled my eyes and my heart filled with pride. It was a moment to remember.

Congratulations to Clare and Parker on a phenomenal race and their silver medals making them #2 in all of Ontario. We couldn’t be more proud of you! Special thanks to Helen Parfitt and Roger Labbe who pour their heart and soul into making the Sydenham Lake Canoe Club the welcoming, supportive and successful club it is, and Rhiannon Murphy for being such a wonderful coach and mentor to all our kids this summer.

Kayakers on podium

Have a mother daughter paint nite

Painting of me

Last week, Clare’s school organized a paint nite, hosted by Salmon River studios in Tamworth.

Our project was to paint a portrait of each other. Our instructor Gabriel had us sit across from our partner, then showed us the technique of drawing the person first, then using a pastel outline, finished by light watercolours to complete our portrait.

Since most people who aren’t artists feel inhibited by portraits, Gabriel had us do a short three-minute warm-up activity. We had to stare at our partner and do a pencil drawing of the person without looking at our paper. The results were pretty funny, but I actually liked my blind pencil sketch of Clare better than my portrait of her.

It was inspiring to see the creativity in the room and the final portraits after the hour was over. Some of the kids used bold colours, painting their parents like cartoon characters or caricatures. One Dad painted his daughter as an amazing fairy-like Jedi. There were some incredible likenesses, and all were very special.

One tip Gabriel shared: when drawing portraits, there’s a tendency to make people’s eyes too close together. The distance between the eyes should be the same as the width of the eye itself.

I spoke to Gabriel afterwards, and he said while some instructors follow a very prescribed approach, he prefers to provide just a few simple instructions, then give people’s creativity full reign.

I especially loved that Clare painted me more beautiful than I actually am.

This week’s #HappyAct is to have a paint nite. I should add that while this is a perfect parent/child activity (perfect for Mother’s Day!), this would be a great activity for any teambuilding event, birthday party, or girls fun night.

More about Salmon River Studios: Located in Tamworth, the studio runs summer arts camps for kids, Sunday afternoon pottery workshops for all ages, school programs and more. Check out their website and sign up for a course today.

Drawing of girl
My pencil sketch of Clare

Group paint nite photo

 

Conversations with an 11-year old

reflection of girl in window

My 11-year old is one of the funniest, coolest people I know. She’s more comfortable in her own skin than most 40-year olds.

Here’s a compilation of conversations with Clare over the past week.

—————–

This kid Austin in her class tells her he’s planning a big summer blowout. It’s in 2019. Austin brought in a list for all his classmates to bring to the party. The list went something like this: bow and arrow, swan and pink flamingo floaties, Sunny D, chicken nuggets, and beer. Did I mention they are 11? Now that’s a party.

—————–

We’re driving in the car one morning, and there’s a news story about a NHL player who’s back playing after being injured. Now when injured players return, the NHL allows them to wear “red shirts” which means no contact.

I say to Clare, “Wow, isn’t that fantastic—I think that’s new, I don’t remember the NHL doing that before.”

Clare says, “What’s new for you Mom is 10 years old. What’s new for me is a few months old.”

Then a jingle comes on the radio for an adult fun store in Kingston. She starts singing along, then stops and says, “It’s really sad I’m singing to this right now.”

—————–

I ask her what time we need to be at her volleyball tournament. I say, “Okay, let’s leave at 7:45.”

She says, “No, let’s make it a quarter to eight.”

—————–

Clare asks if we can watch a movie. I say, “Can I choose the movie for a change?” Clare says, “As long as it’s not a chick flick or some old person’s movie.” Her favourite movie right now is Deadpool.

Her favourite line is “That’s why Regina rhymes with fun.”

—————–

She recites the full lyrics to Salt n Pepa’s Shoop at least three times a day.

Bright as the sun, I wanna have some fun
Come and give me some of that yum-yum
Chocolate chip, honey dip, can I get a scoop?
Baby, take a ride in my coupe, you make me wanna
Shoop shoop ba-doop (Baby, hey)

—————–

Then she lays a Yo Mamma’s joke on me.

“Yo Mama’s sooooo fat, I took a picture of her last Christmas and it’s still printing.”

—————–

I’m trying to convince her we should visit the Diefenbunker museum when we’re in Ottawa.

She says, “Mom, I don’t learn about history. I make history.”

—————–

It’s 9 o’clock and we’re playing HQ Trivia. Clare is sitting beside me. I bug everyone in the house to join in so we have a shot at winning. Third question, and I know the answer, but Clare is yelling in my ear the wrong answer and I tell her to be quiet.

She leaves in a huff and says, “You know Mom, sometimes with you, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

She knows me so well.

At least it’s nice having a kid in the house that will actually talk to me.

This week’s #HappyAct is to have a conversation with a cool 11-year old. Mine’s free if you want a kid for a week.

Clare shooting a bow and arrow
Clare practicing her archery for Austin’s big summer blowout