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How to Create a Terrarium to Green Up Your Inside Space

grow, LIVE, play By January 27, 2016 Tags: , , , , 1 Comment

Now that winter is in full swing, it’s hard to imagine spring bursting from the cold, barren ground in a few months. But until then, why not create a terrarium to bring a little life and greenery inside? A homemade terrarium is an easy and inexpensive project you can do by yourself or with your kids in an afternoon. The bowl of year-around greenery, will instantly brighten a room and make the browns and whites outside seem a little less daunting.


How to Sprout Amaryllis Bulbs for Your Winter Garden

grow, LIVE By January 23, 2016 Tags: , , , , 3 Comments

I don’t know about you, but my 6-year-old can ask about a million questions a minute. True story. It usually starts innocent enough, but trust me when I tell you, the little guy keeps me on my toes and calls me on any inconsistencies that may creep in because I’m at my question answering limit.

Tips to Get your kids to love reading

6 Tricks to Get your Child to Love Reading

grow, LIVE By May 20, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , 2 Comments

Convincing your kids to start enjoying reading books is an extremely important thing to do as a parent. Sometime in the future, it will be worth the investment of time and energy. Reading is learned in school however most kids associate this endeavor with something that it work-related, and not with something done for pleasure. Consequently, their desire to read is lost; and that’s exactly what should entice them – the interest and curiosity to see what books have to offer.

Tricks to get your kids to love reading

1.      Read books to your kids out loud

One of the most productive and efficient ways of encouraging kids to start loving books is to read them stories out loud. The sooner you start the better. Make reading a special time spent together on a daily or weekly basis, and share the pleasures of unfolding the mysteries of a good story. A well-written book for kids can be an incredible delight, and with a bit of luck you might even have a bookworm child.

2.      Allow kids to choose

Convince your kids to start reading by offering them books they can understand. This way, if they enjoy it they will ask for another one. It’s important to allow toddlers to choose; this creates excitement and motivation. Comics, vampires sagas, sports books are all excellent choices. And since technology prevails, allow them to use an e-book or tablet to read. Colorful images help boost the experience and thus make them enjoy the story a whole lot more.

love reading3.      Set up a book nook

Have you ever thought of setting up a book nook for your child? Organize it properly to entice the senses of your little one. Colorful cushions placed on a comfortable sofa with underneath open shelves for book storage is an excellent idea. Use your imagination with these storage spaces and fill it with new books weekly. Don’t forget to include proper lighting; it would be great if you could arrange the book nook by a window.

4.      Be a role model

When they’re little, kids like to imitate their parents in their daily chores. If your child sees that you prefer to read a good book before bedtime rather than watch TV, they will become curious. Have the patience to answer all their questions and you might convince them that reading is fun and interesting. Encourage them to choose a book and start reading, too. Make this activity a 1-hour reading session before bedtime, and in a few months the results will be amazing.

5.      Make reading fun

Don’t force your kids to read whole books, and start slow. Begin with short stories, use book charts to explain ideas or paragraphs they haven’t understood in the first place, and have enough patience to explain words and phrases that seem challenging to grasp. Use post-its for challenging words and stick them to the fridge; this way your child will also learn new words daily.

kids reading6.      Use technology to draw attention

Today’s kids are part of the new generation. They’re not used to actual books; their school notebooks are either a tablet or a laptop, and as soon as they get home, they see parents using some sort of smart device too. Rather than ban technology, you should embrace it. Kindles, nooks and other ebooks are great devices. Allow children to use them to read stories and they might develop a passion for reading as an activity. As they grow older, they might even end up appreciating real books too.

There are numerous other tricks parents can use to convince their kids to read. It’s all about making this activity seem fun and engaging. Don’t force a child to read a book because he will grow up thinking you’re punishing him for something. Make this whole endeavor seem fun; the safest way to do this is to select great books and stories. Start reading out loud and really dive into the subject. A cool trick to preserve the engagement is to stop reading right when things get interesting. This way, your toddler will want to know more. He will be curious and he will impatiently wait another day for you to finish the story, and start a new one.



Interac Flash

grow, LIVE By April 22, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

Interac Flash

Money seems to go fly away these days faster than the speed of light. Remember when the ‘dollar store’ actually sold things for a dollar? And you could legitimately include limes in a $29 grocery purchase? (Sorry Gwyneth). It’s tough to make a living, to raise a family and to teach your kids about money. But it is even harder to explain the mysterious disappearance of hard-earned money. Many Canadians have fallen victim to electronic pickpocketing, skimming or huge retail data breaches that have seen bank accounts dwindle and necessitated thousands of hours of time invested in cleaning up the mess left by criminals.

I was always a traditional money girl, starting with a piggy bank and bank book followed by my first debit card. It’s PIN (cough) may still be the same. Afterwards came the ‘student’ credit card at university with the bonus of a bunch of free tupperware. Like all people, I have forgotten my wallet on top of phone booths (remember those?) and let my credit cards disappear into restaurant kitchens for a shade too long. As life got busier, I admit that I was not always the best (double cough) at checking statements or bank balances. Times may have changed with the inventions of the internet, chip and PIN technology and e-billing, but wouldn’t it be great if there were a superhero protecting us from fraud? There is. Now Interac has made our earnings even more safe.

Interac Fraud PreventionBank-issued Interac debit cards with chip technology (the ones that give you access to your millions stashed in your bank accounts) are now more secure than ever thanks to comprehensive fraud prevention tactics and the new introduction of Interac Flash. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about the Avengers, though I do think Interac should be given a place in the superhero hall of fame.  

“Interac Flash, the contactless payment functionality of Interac Debit, has all the benefits of Interac Debit but it allows you to pay for smaller purchases faster and easier.  When making a purchase for less than $100, you can choose to use the functionality by simply holding your card in front of a supporting reader at check out.” – Mark Sullivan, Head of Fraud Risk Programs, Interac Association and Acxsys Corporation

Knocking Out Skimming

Interac debit card fraud losses, as a result of skimming, are at a record low – decreasing 45 per cent to $16.2 million in 2014 from a previous low of $29.5 million in 2013. All ABMs and Interac debit cards have been converted to chip technology – and by the end of 2015, all point-of-sale (POS) terminals will be converted. To date, virtually all cards and ABMs have been converted and 96 per cent of POS terminals.

Not only that, but cardholders are protected from losses through Interac’s Zero Liability Policy.

Fighting Electronic Pickpocketing

And what about pickpockets? I remember playing the ‘Artful Dodger’ in the musical Oliver once. I was much more skilled as a dancer than I was at being a pickpocket, but that was years ago – before the era of electronic pickpocketing. Two out five Canadians (40 per cent) are concerned about electronic pickpocketing. But… when Canadians use Interac Flash, they are safeguarded against counterfeiting and transaction replay types of fraud, including electronic pickpocketing. As a contactless enhancement of Interac Debit, Flash protects cardholders with layers of security, including chip technology and spending limits. No single transaction can be more than $100 and total spend without a PIN can not exceed $200. Once a limit is reached, a cardholder must insert their Interac debit card and enter their PIN for verification, i.e., conduct a regular Interac Debit transaction.  The limits are then re-set.

Combatting Retail Data Breaches

Now that we’re talking about nailing criminals and spy stuff, I should discuss retail data breaches. Interac has that covered too.  With an Interac debit card, the number on the front is useless to criminals if they don’t have your PIN. Unlike credit cards and other debit card products, Interac rules do not allow the number on the front of the payment card to be used as an account number; it is only an identifier for Interac transactions. This means that any data captured or stolen through skimming or a breach is entirely useless to a criminal because it cannot be used to conduct transactions, online or in person. No personal financial information is ever shared or stored with retailers.

Just don’t forget your pin. And make sure it isn’t the same as the one you were given at age 8.

So what are the bad guys doing now? “Criminals are looking for large amounts of cash and highly fenceable goods, not a few coffees,” reinforced Sullivan. “Interac Flash is about speed and convenience for small value purchases but we know cardholders want security and that’s why it offers strong protections, including protection from criminals attempting electronic pickpocketing to a lost card where someone tries to fraudulently spend $100.”

No more digging in your purse or diaper bag to scrounge for enough change for a coffee. Scotiabank, RBC Royal Bank, and TD Canada Trust are the first financial institutions to offer the enhancement, along with Sunova, Conexus, Cambrian and Affinity Credit Unions.   Other Canadian financial institutions are also working to provide their customers with Interac Flash soon.

So maybe it’s time to worry a little less about fraud so you can focus on catching up with your other favourite superheroes.

Disclosure: This post was proudly sponsored by Interac. As always, the opinions shared here are mine, all mine.


Non-Newtonian Fluid Experiment

grow, LIVE By April 1, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , 3 Comments

Non-Newtonian Fluid ExperimentWhat will happen when you mix a liquid with a solid? Hmmmm. Not only will this little non-Newtonian fluid experiment to teach a bunch of scientific principles, but it will keep the kids busy for hours and clean up is easy if you can throw them and your utensils in the shower!

You Need:

12 oz Corn starch
Cake Pan
Food Colouring (optional)

1. Place cornstarch in cakepan.
2. Add a few drops of water and food colouring to cornstarch until the mixture is very goopy.
3. Pick up the liquid and let it run through your fingers, and then bang it so that it feels solid.

Like quicksand, you have created a ‘non-Newtonian fluid’ that is both a liquid and a solid at the same time!



Coasting on the Science Stream

grow, LIVE, rest By April 1, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

Science StreamIt’s that time of year when cherry blossoms pop out and science fair projects are top-of-mind. You might be travelling for March Break and getting questions about volcanic sand or downloading the latest star-gazing app to search for Orion’s belt. (My husband insists that Orion’s jock strap is also part of the constellation, so I’ve taken to handling the kids’ science education myself).

I’ve always believed that education should happen through entertainment. Setting aside time to ‘study’ science isn’t nearly as fun as incorporating a few lessons into daily activities like baking monkey bread or using vinegar and lemons to scrub the bathtub.

Coasting on the Science StreamHere is our recipe for non-Newtonian fluid (otherwise know as Magic Mud) and a fun oozing Volcano. But life is busy, and not everyone can go outside with their kids dressed in PJ’s to do messy science experiments.

This month we’ve been coasting on the science stream with a bit of help from Netflix. (See what I did there? Steam..Ha!) Education is not only about entertainment, but balance, and once you’ve done the hands-on activities, handing your kids a tablet with an equally entertaining educational show can solidify concepts and give you a bit of a break.

In our household we are Netflix fanatics, and I’m not even sure why we have cable. This month I was able to tear myself away from Covert Affairs and House of Cards to stream a few science shows with my boys. In school one is learning about states of matter and the other has been studying astronomy. So I pretty much feel like a rockstar mom for letting them stream Cosmos and Deadliest Volcanoes: Nova from the sofa.

Big Kids Science Shows Netflix

Streaming Science for Little Kids:

1. The Magic School Bus Gains Weight
2. Fetch! with Ruff
3. Animal Mechanicals, Balloon Volcano Island
4. Sid the Science Kid

Streaming Science for Big Kids:
Little Kids Science Shows Netflix

1. Nova: Hunting the Elements
2. Cosmos
3. Deadliest Volcanoes: Nova
4. Let Your Mind Wonder

So whenever you need a wee break from teaching your kids about science, Netflix is a great supplement while you clean up the volcano lava and magic mud. Enjoy!

Disclosure: I am part of the Netflix #StreamTeam and as always all opinions and anecdotes are my own.


10 Handmade Teacher Christmas Gifts With A Personal Touch

FAM, Featured, grow, kids, LIVE By November 27, 2014 Tags: , , , , , , 1 Comment

10 Teacher Christmas Gifts With A Handmade Personal Touch from Urban Mommies

Teachers do so much for our kids, each and every day. We spend so much time talking to our kids about how great their teachers are, but when was the last time you told your child’s teacher that you appreciate all that they do for your kiddo?

Here are 10 handmade teacher Christmas gifts that have a personal touch to help you express your appreciation.

1. Thank you for coloring our lives and making us Sharpies teacher gift from Design Wash Rinse Repeat

2. DIY fabric covered book (this would be so cute to do with a journal or notebook) from Two Twenty One

3. Homemade Tea Wreath from Kojo Designs

4. Thanks a Latte for all you do teacher gift from Longing For Home

5. Succulents planter from Shabby 2 Chic

6. DIY Tub Teas from Martha Stewart

7. Dum-Dum lollipop tree from Meet the Dubiens

8. DIY Oh Sew Easy 10 Minute Fabric Flower Brooch from Sew Creative

9. Teacher Scrabble tile coloured clothespins from Pen and Paint

10. DIY Chalkboard Coasters from Living Well Spending Less

10 Handmade Teacher Christmas Gifts With a Personal Touch from Urban Mommies


My Personal Thoughts on Victimization

FAM, grow, LIVE, self By October 27, 2014 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , 62 Comments

Social media is pulsating at the news of Q host Jian Ghomeshi being fired from the CBC. I will withhold judgement on private sexual acts without having hard facts from either side. Where I do deserve to have an opinion is on the criticism of three women who chose not to report these crimes to the police.

Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star writes in his October 26th article that “None of the women has contacted police. When asked why by the Star, the women cited several reasons including fears that a police report would expose their names and worries that their consent or acceptance of fantasy role-play discussions in text or other messages with Ghomeshi would be used against them as evidence of consent to actual violence.”

Back off internet. It’s complicated and women who are ‘good girls’ by ‘doing the right thing’ in calling 911 after a sexual assault often become victimized over and over again. Like I was.

I was the victim of a break-and-enter and violent sexual assault in Toronto on February 1, 1997. I didn’t know him, but strangely he had lived in all of the same cities and had attended the same universities as I had. Freaky. That night he finished doing what he intended, and told me to not move until I heard him leave through my front door. I complied and then lay there, not quite knowing what I should do. The first call I made was to my boyfriend at the time and he told me to dial 911. So I did. I had no idea the chain of events that would ensue and last until 2008.

The national Canadian DNA Databank came into effect in June of 2000 and there was quite a backlog of samples to cross reference into the system. I was departing on a romantic trip to Europe in 2002 when I got the call from Toronto Police Services. Did I know a man by the name of X? No. I began to shake just like I am trembling now as I write this article. The police had matched his DNA to samples taken from the crime scene of my assault. I was to go to the station to look at photos. He was in custody and I remember calling the officer in charge from phone booths all over Paris and Rome each time he had a court appearance. What if he was released? How did he know me? Was I stalked? Why did he do this? I wanted to ask him all of these questions but nobody would let me.

The trial began in 2003, and the actual sexual assault was nowhere near as bad as what I endured in court. What I realized is that you call 911 and go to trial for the good of society – not for yourself. Years later it was hard to recall the aftermath of the morning of Feb.1, 1997. This made everything more difficult. Thankfully, I didn’t have alcohol in my bloodstream when they tested me after the assault. Thankfully, my outfit from the night before was conservative (yes I was asked). Thankfully, I couldn’t even identify him in photos and refused to perjur myself in the courtroom by assuming the man who stared at me was the actual guy who did this. I could only trust the DNA.

Questions like what I wore to the police station the next morning and why I didn’t return to the hospital a week later to have my bruises photographed (they didn’t appear right away) stumped me 6 years later. And then there was the jury. I’d said I took a streetcar up Bathurst Street to get back to my apartment in the Annex on the night of the crime. One juror, a life-long Torontonian, decided that I must be lying about everything because Bathurst St. has busses and not streetcars at that time of night. She wrote to the judge and we narrowly avoided a mistrial. I was on the stand for two straight days, and was proud of my strength and wit. They tried to spin it that I had picked up this man in a bar in order to make my boyfriend jealous. The police questioned the boyfriend days after the assault and he left the station with doubts about my innocence. Between my PTSD and the seeds planted in his head, we drifted apart soon after.

The trial was surreal. On one side of the courtroom sat my friends and family – even Jane Doe came to support me. Like a twisted wedding, his family sat on the other side and they scowled at me for making them pay a defence lawyer. I avoided his eye contact as much as I could. Christie Blatchford wrote a beautiful article in the Globe and Mail about our two families watching and the piercing level of emotion and sadness in the room.

I had been an actor training at the University of Toronto in 1997, and found that I couldn’t be in the public eye after the assualt, so I graduated early and left school. Later as an employee at Hart House I was in charge of producing theatre and music, which allowed me to be close to my passions without fear that I might be stalked. I did agree to go on stage once during my tenure for the opening of the Isabel Bader Theatre. Unfortunately while being cross-examined I explained that I left my future career in the theatre after being assaulted and ‘hadn’t been on stage since’. While the sentiment was correct in terms of no longer making a living as an actor, the defence found a photo of me ‘on stage’ and called perjury. I had already flown to Toronto twice for the trial and now the judge wanted to meet with me again. I hired a lawyer, met with the judge virtually and was cleared of any lies or misunderstandings. But I’m sure I got a few premature grey hairs during the process.

The jury convicted him and the judge sentenced him to six years in prison, which is one of the harshest sentences handed down for a crime like this in Canada. He was placed in the Don Valley jail for some of it and 3 days for every 1 spent there were taken off his sentence – because the jail was in disrepair. So he got out after a couple of years, and I would get calls and letters from the parole board every time he travelled to Vancouver. I wasn’t allowed to know what he did for a living or where he resided (to protect his privacy). I didn’t leave my house much when I knew he was in town, and still when I travel to Toronto I look around skittishly just in case.

If you’re ever going to get assaulted, my case was pretty perfect: DNA evidence, no alcohol, no slutty clothes, a guy I didn’t know, and no history of kinky sex. Yes, they asked that too.

So in the Jian Ghomeshi case? A celebrity? BDSM? CBC, our national pride and joy? Frankly I’m with the women who didn’t call the police.

If it all happened to me again I would only call 911 knowing that I’m sacrificing myself for the the potential of a safer society.


The Harry Potter Birthday Party

EAT, entertain, grow, LIVE By May 29, 2014 Tags: , , , , , , , , , 3 Comments

Whish Harry Potter Table

My son is now eight. He stumbled over words while reading and as a parent it was so hard to keep him from getting discouraged – until I dusted off an old Harry Potter book. Overnight he went from not being ‘allowed’ to read chapter books at school to finishing his first novel – The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. That’s what interest will do for education! A celebration was in order!

Potion class? Wand instruction? Floating candles? Of course.

For his eighth birthday we invited parents, all of the kids in the class and siblings for a huge Harry Potter birthday party. 26 kids for a sit-down dinner. Gulp. I love to entertain, create and spend oodles of time on the food for parties, but the logistics are always a pain. Whish Party approached me for a colaboration and I explained my idea. Patricia, the owner got just as excited as I was and gave me tons of planning tips. She then shipped me all I would need as basics for the party so that I could focus on the bits that I enjoy the most.

The box from Whish arrived and I squealed. It contained:

Whish Harry Potter Party

– Silver plastic plates, cutlery and glasses. I learned later that all are fine in the dishwasher and will certainly be used again!
– A cake base
– Silver plastic serving utensils
– Corked jars in which to store take-home favours (potion)
– Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans
– Harry Potter napkins (One house on each quarter)
– A stuffed owl puppet with eyes that move
– Black plastic tablecloths

Harry Potter Birthday Party

Harry Potter Party Decor

1. The Great Hall. Four long tables (including deck furniture and card tables) were stretched across the living room and covered with the black cloths.
2. Floating Candles. We tied twine to the ‘wicks’ of flameless candles (Whish told me not to use fishing wire as the light would reflect and you would see the wire). I made a loop at the ends of the twine and cut each at a different length. I then wrapped a piece of printer paper around the tea lights, taping it at the beginning and end. Voila! A candle. We used thumbtacks to affix the twine on each each ‘candle’ to our ceiling, alternating them between long and short.
3. Harry Potter References. Pinterest is amazing. I found numerous ideas and whipped up a few signs like ‘The Stairs Change’ at the bottom of the staircase and a photo of Moaning Myrtle underneath the toilet seat.

Harry Potter Party Food

Harry Potter Party Food

1. I went easy and British! Store-bought meat pies, mashed potatoes, gravy and peas. Healthy and there wasn’t a drop left! (And we’d assumed that because it wasn’t chicken fingers, pizza or mac and cheese they would complain…)
2. We did two drinks: Pumpkin Juice (aka whatever fruit punch was on sale) and Butterbeer.
Golden Snitch Cake3. Golden Snitch Cake. With white ostrich feathers from the craft store and golden sparkles.

Harry Potter Party Activities

A Harry Potter Birthday

1. As guests arrived we presented them with a Platform 9 3/4 train ticket. I snagged the idea from The World’s Worst Moms.
2. Using various jars and bottles and Over the Big Moon’s potion labels glued on, we did a Potion Class. For one potion I did the old standby: vinegar and water in one bottle and cornstarch and water in another. I put food colouring in each and the little wizards had to figure out what would happen when we poured the solution into the cauldron.

Whish also supplied me a recipe for slime that’s perfect for a goody bag.

Salazar Slytherin’s Serpent Slime:
1 Tbsp of Elmer’s Clear Glue
2 Tbsp of warm water
Few drops of your choice of food colouring
1/4 tsp. of Borax powder

a.  Combine Borax powder with 1 tbsp. of warm water
b.  In a separate bowl, mix glue and 1 tbsp. of warm water, then add your desired colour.
c.  Slowly add the Borax and water mixture to your glue mixture; thickening the slime.
d.  Knead until smooth.
e.  Store slime in an airtight container to keep it from escaping!

3. Wand Instruction. You may have a better method, but as the ‘Professor’ I stood on my king-sized bed and made the wizards stand in a line at the foot of the bed. They each had been given a ‘wand’ which was a dark brown chopstick bought in Chinatown. They were instructed to say ‘ridiculis’ and ‘expelliamous’. (Yes, I did several years at acting school but I bet you can find a theatrical friend to run this part of the party!) Each child’s spell made me flail, fall, quack, etc. This could also be done on a trampoline, bed of pillows….
4. Photo Booth. Because we invited adults and siblings there were many older girls who have a penchant for fashion design and photography. We assembled props, including the precious owl that I ordered from Whish, and the three year old in the group was charged with escorting one wizard at a time to the photo area. We did a digital as well as a polaroid snap of each model, and the polaroid was included in the thank you notes.

Harry Potter Party Goody Bags

Whish Party Harry Potter

I don’t believe in elaborate goody bags where most is dollar-store plastic to be thrown away or candy to ruin the rest of a parent’s night after kids have eaten cake and gotten excited with their friends. My true preferences are charity and philanthropy-related, so we donated money to Right to Play on behalf of my son. I did want to send the kids home with something, though. We cut burlap squares and filled them with the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and a Soccer Ball (signifying Right to Play). They were each tied with twine and a tiny key. They also went home with their slime in each special jar.

So the parents could deal with a mess on their sofa instead of a sugar high. Ha!

A ton of work, kids that were in awe, and a total turn-key setup that allowed me to focus on what was really important: making memories and paying attention to detail.


Advice to New Parents from Barbara Coloroso

FAM, grow, health, kids, LIVE By September 17, 2013 Tags: , , , , No Comments

UrbanMommies was given an opportunity to interview and hear advice to new parents from Barbara Coloroso.  An internationally-known author of five parenting books, acclaimed speaker and consultant, we discuss her three tenets of parenting, navigating criticism and following your instincts as a parent.  More of Barbara Coloroso’s wisdom can be found at Kids Are Worth It.