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Sep 30, 2014

My New Project: MomsVote Canada

Well hey there strangers!

I mean, I knew that once school started and the kids got going with all of their activities that time would fly, but I'm still not used to just how much of a blur the weeks can be. It's meant that I haven't been able to write here as often as I'd like to. Please don't hold it against me.

In addition to whatever the kids have going on, I've been busy setting up my own little project (though I hope it doesn't stay little for long).

MomsVote Canada

You can read a detailed explanation of what MomsVote is on the website (designed so beautifully by Calgary-based Good Company), but suffice to say I thought it was about time we came together to help each other advocate for causes we believe in, run for office, or just share our views and opinions on some of the big-picture issues facing our country in a more respectful forum than you might find elsewhere on the internet.

A place to talk about politics without getting too Political, if you get my drift.

The official elevator pitch is, "A non-partisan initiative dedicated to helping Moms across Canada become more involved and engaged in their communities and the political process."

It's a newborn initiative right now, but I have a chart of developmental milestones I'd like it to reach. With elections coming up in BC, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta in the next month, the time is right to come together to discuss what's going on and get people a least a little bit interested in casting their vote.

Please take the time to Like our Facebook page or Follow @momsvotecanada on Twitter. I don't want to keep talking to myself over there.

And now I must go complete my packing for BlissDom 2014. I am so excited to go and make new friends from across Canada. It promises to be an even better time than the conference I went to in 2012, but nudity isn't an option so pack, I must.

I promise to tell you all about it.

Sep 9, 2014

Take Mayor Nenshi's Walk Challenge

Growing up, I lived about 400 metres away from the school. Maybe less. We'd walk down the block past 4-5 houses, then turn left past Marty & Rose's house (my cousin), and we were there. Most days I would stop at the cross walk just across the street from Marty & Rose's and wait for my friend Dione so we could walk the rest of the way together. We wouldn't call each other to arrange a time or anything. I mean, we both knew when school started so whoever got there first would just wait until the other showed up.

There was no texting back in those olden days.

Because I grew up walking to school, it's natural for us to walk to school with our kids. Not to mention that there are few things more stressful to me than driving when there are so many small children around and trying to find a parking spot that isn't blocking someone's driveway. Walking is just easier in so many ways. Gavin also loves to ride his bike. My own work schedule doesn't allow us to walk every day, but the kids know that if Mom is home in the morning, they're walking to school.

We are fortunate to live in a neighbourhood with a community school (three of them actually; soon to be four) and restricted enrollment (first priority is given to kids who live within a certain distance, called the "walk zone", from the school), so lots of families walk. We will often meet up with other friends on the way to school. Maybe one day my kids will meet up with their friends the same way Dione and I did back in the day.

Sadly, I think we are the exception to the norm in Calgary. For whatever reason, most of us are conditioned to drive anywhere that's further than a few blocks, or even closer than that on days like today when the weather isn't so favourable. Because our kids are used to strollers or wagons they complain about walking pretty much everywhere and on mornings when we're just trying to get everyone out of the house on time we just don't want to deal with it. We tell ourselves it's easier to quickly drive over to school and drop off or pick up the kids - and sometimes that's actually true. Depending on where you live and what school you've chosen for your child, a one-way bus ride can take close to an hour. The enrollment restrictions at our school mean that busing is only available if you live outside of a certain radius, and Kindergarten students can only take the bus one way; either to school in the morning or home at the end of the day.

But no matter where you live or whether you take the bus or have to drive to school - there is always the opportunity to make active transportation part of your child's trip. And to try to encourage people to think about ways they can do that, today at work we are launching Mayor Nenshi's Walk Challenge (#yycwalk on Twitter). The challenge is super-simple: walk or bike to school this year.

There are several ways you can take the Walk Challenge:

1. Walk to school (obviously). If you live close enough to walk but aren't ready to fully commit, maybe try walking at least one leg of the journey to school to start. You'll figure out how much time you need and which route works the best. Some communities have what's called a Walking School Bus. Families take turns being the meeting point. Every morning, the children gather at the meeting point and everyone walks to school together.

2. If your child is old enough, why not encourage them to bike to school? My son would bike to school every day if he could. In Elboya, there is a group of students called the "Elboya Bike Gang" that meet up to bike to school together. This could easily be replicated in your community. I know that in our community, kids LOVE to bike to school.

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This is the bike rack at Gavin's school this past Friday. Yes, that's my shadow. 
3. If your child takes the bus, walk to the bus stop together. It's a great way to meet other parents and kids in your neighbourhood who go to your child's school, especially if that school is outside of your community.

4. If you have to drive to school, maybe park a bit farther away and walk the rest of the way. This helps minimize congestion around the school AND incorporates active transportation.

I'm sure there are many other ideas. If we want to make sure that all students have the opportunity to walk to school, we have to share these ideas and identify opportunities to make routes more friendly for all pedestrians.  If you currently walk to school and have a story you want to share, please visit the Walk Challenge Facebook page.

Because I'm in the sharing mood today, here's our walk to school:

First, we cross the street to the side with a sidewalk. Minor inconvenience. 

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We soon arrive at the main road. There's a crosswalk with signs in both directions. We've taught the kids that they have to stop and wait for one of us before they cross the road. Most of the time they even listen.

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That crosswalk leads directly to this pathway, that goes directly to the school. Okay, so there's a bit of a roundabout where the pathway goes in four different directions, but if you go to the right you will end up at our school.

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Mia is yelling at her brother to slow down. 
I know we have it pretty easy, but I'm sure that if you'd look you'd find similar stories across the city, maybe even among parents at your own school. If you don't want to go alone, go together. I asked some of my friends what they enjoy about walking to school with their kids and this is what they had to say:

Jo-Anna (suburbs): We walk everyday as we live in the walk zone and it's nice. It forces us to get out everyday and we get to know people in our neighbourhood a little better because of it!

This! I know so many more of my neighbours because we met on the walk to school.

Merry (Ramsay, inner city):  I walk Evan to school every day. It is an awesome way to start the day for me and it gives me a lot of time to talk to Evan about how school is going and life in general. I also really enjoy seeing all the other kids and parents along the way. It builds a great sense of community. The only negative to walking for us is cars speeding through the school zones.

Slow down in school zones!

Leslie (Acadia, an established neighbourhood): We walk everyday no matter the weather. And bike whenever we can. We also stay to play unless it's raining or snowing too much. It would actually take me longer to drive than to walk. 

Really consider whether you are saving time driving, or if the time you spent being "active" at other points of the day couldn't be shifted to incorporate a walk to school.   

Dana (North Haven, an established neighbourhood): My son just started kindergarten but we only live a few blocks away from the school so we'll be walking. Part of why I really wanted him to go to this school is so we could walk to school. I like having that little bit of exercise built into our day.

Don't forget that walking is exercise for you too! (I should also mention that Dana is 5 months pregnant and takes her son to school with his 3-year-old sister also in tow. Yesterday, they walked both ways in the snow. She is basically a super hero.)

Speaking of which, I know that when it gets really cold a bunch of you will be scared inside. I remember one morning last year when it was pretty cold out but you couldn't tell just by looking. You know, when the sun is shining and the sky is blue and for all you know it could be 20 degrees but then you open the front door and it's like stepping into a freezer? Yeah, one of those days.

Gavin insisted on walking. He had a warm hat and mitts and jacket, but there was just enough wind to make it really uncomfortable. About halfway there he says, "I'm sorry Mom. I'm so sorry. This was not a good idea. I'm so sorry." Maybe he was sorry because he knew he didn't have to turn around and walk back home like I did. But we did it and everything turned out fine. As long as everyone is dressed properly, there's no reason that the weather has to be perfect for you to get outside, at least for a few minutes. I know it doesn't rain often here, but umbrellas are pretty easy to find.

This is along our other route to school. Instead of the pathway we walk on the sidewalk along the main road. It's a few minutes faster. 
I look forward to hearing your stories, but most of all I look forward to raising a generation of kids who aren't afraid to get outside and get to really know their neighbourhood. See you on the sidewalk! 

Aug 26, 2014

Things My Children Will Have To Do Without This School Year

Ah yes, late August. Those weeks when you start to really notice that the days are getting shorter. The mornings are cooler. Christmas and Halloween are sharing space at Costco. You are faced with the realization that your summer bucket list will go largely unfulfilled - again - and vow to lower your expectations next year. There was really never enough time to do all that stuff anyway, or so you tell yourself.

I think that for a lot of parents the last week before school starts is mostly bittersweet. I mean, on one hand someone else will have to entertain your kids all day, but on the other the start of a new school year means that winter is really just around the corner. It's back into routine and rushing around from work to school to activities and back again. You've been enjoying the sunshine and now it's back into the tunnel. Someday you hope to see light.

I remember absolutely LOVING back to school when I was younger. I liked summer enough, but I spent most of my days reading anyway (I know - lame). I am still enamored with clean notebooks. Back-to-school shopping always meant a trip to the city to get supplies and new clothes. We came home for lunch so there were no pretty lunch boxes to buy. If my Mom was stressed about it at all, it was more because she was a teacher and had her own stuff to get ready. On the first day of school we got ready, someone took a picture and we were on our way.  

Now, though. I struggle with expectations, both my own and others'. I don't think anyone really knows what's going on anymore. All of a sudden getting ready for school to start has become this huge event. Is it a milestone, sure. But the level of intensity to which some people are taking their preparations for back-to-school is ridiculous, and the degree to which the media feeds into it is getting out of hand. So despite whatever disapproving, pitiful looks I might get from other Moms or how hard-done-by my kid might feel when "everybody else" has something that he doesn't, here are a few things that my kids will have to do without this school year:

1. Bento Box Lunches

Now I am sure that 85% of the Moms who use Bento boxes do so because it's an easy way to ensure that their kids bring the "litterless lunch" that we are implored to pack for our children. If your child's lunch box contains one of those pre-packaged Goldfish snack packs instead of a perfect portion in a reusable pouch then not only are you giving the finger to the environment, you are also disobedient. You rebel you!

So while I have bought the reusable sandwich bags (I go through too many Ziplocs), there is no way on God's green earth that I will ever do something like this:

 Or this:
I took a bit of a risk and showed these pictures to my kids. Thankfully, not all children are eager to eat Bambi or blue bread. I sincerely admire this woman's talent, but learning how to make Disney characters out of food is not on my immediate To Do list. And if my kids don't like to eat olives, making them look like Bambi's eyes isn't going to help.

2. A Personalized Pencil Case 

Or personalized anything really. Personalizing something just prevents it from being passed down or passed along. It can be expensive and you're better off buying a sheet of labels that you can use for all the things. 

Even if I wanted this pencil case, it does not meet the requirements on the school supply list, so....

3. All of their school supplies

This one kind of punches me in the gut because I tried. I really tried. Okay, that's not exactly true. Sometime in April or May we got a notice from the school that said that we could place an order with a company they've contracted with to have all the school supplies our kids need ready and waiting in their classroom on the first day of school. I knew the deadline to order was sometime in mid-June but then I mostly forgot about it. Until, of course, two days after the deadline to order arrived. I didn't think too much of it though, because really - how difficult could it be to find school supplies for a Grade 1 and Kindergarten student on my own? 

The answer is: somewhat hard and very time consuming. 

Thankfully, after hours of searching I am mostly done. This is good, because I only have one day left to find the last two things on my list. If anyone knows where I could find a "Winnable 5 poly slant binder pocket (insertable tabs)" or what I believe is probably the last package of Crayola 8 pack of crayons (Large) in the city, please let me know.

4. A new backpack. 

Half of my kids got a new backpack because their old one was literally falling apart. The other half will have to make do with last year's. I will admit to sitting down at the computer and perusing all the many types of backpacks available for kids these days. I was all ready to blindly order new backpacks for everyone (like Oprah!) before my husband reminded me that the one our son used last year was still in really good condition. We washed it and it looks as good as new, but cheaper. 

5. Organized mornings with no yelling

I mean I'll try, but I can't do it alone. 

We'll all be okay.