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Thursday Thirteen: 13 Things That Happened While My Kids Were Away at Camp Arowhon


My children are growing up!  My boys actually went away to sleepover camp for just under 2-weeks earlier this summer and that marked the first time my middle son was away from us for longer than one day.  My oldest son had been away for a weekend at camp but never anything this long.  I think we worried more than they did, to be honest.

We got them ready for camp at the end of last summer but talking about it a lot, and spending considerable amounts of time speak with different camps and upon deciding on Camp Arowhon we then spent 304 more months getting them ready and buying the stuff they needed for their stay.

We chose Camp Arowhon because of the owner, Joanna Kates’ views on bullying.  She has a zero-tolerance policy and she also carefully chooses councillors and who attends the camp.  It almost felt like we had to get the go ahead nod before we wrote that cheque and there were times when I was not sure we were going to be allowed to send our kids there.

In the end it was all worth while as the kids loved it there.  They rode horses, sailed, learned to canoe, paddle their own kayak and most importantly they grew up.

Another wonderful feature about Arowhon is the 100% ban on electronics.  If it’s found, it’s taken away for good.  Not just for the campers but also for the councillors too.  Kids are there for fun, sun and learning, not for video games, texting and other electronic things.  The camp also does not have a parents day, there are no pictures on the website and if kids and parents wish to communicate it’s through hand-written letters.  We actually received 7 letters from our kids and sent 3 of them  That was a lot of fun too.

And the food… The food was great according to my kids.  My middle son even went as far as to say that the soup was better as good as the soup Mummy makes.  Joanne, if you were not aware, is the food critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper – has been for 25-years – so if anyone knows anything about good food, it’s Joanne.

So with our boys away for 12 days, we were left with our daughter – her first time as an only child - we were experiencing new and different things, so here are 13 things that happened / we did / while our sons were having the time of their lives at camp.

So sit back, grab the bug spray, leave the iPod at home, slap on the sun-screen and get read for the list!

 

  1. For the first time in her little life, our daughter had us all to her self, and she did not leave us alone for a second.  It was amazing getting to spend so much time with her, not having to share that attention with her brothers and not having to compete with them for our time.  Plus she’s still at that age where by 7pm she’s exhausted and ready for bed! .

  2. We hopped in the car and made a run for the border – crossing at Niagara Falls (no line up whatsoever) and even after being questions over and over again as to why we were heading across on a Friday morning) we went, shopped, slept, shopped some more and slide back into Canada (only one car in front of us) without a hitch..

  3. We took apart the kids bedrooms and put them back together again… Cleaner, with much less junk, and in a manner which we expect them to keep it in for at least one day when they get back.

  4. The garden grew!  Raspberries (red ones, purple ones and golden ones), green beans, yellow beans, currents… They all made an appearance and we eaten.  Yum.

9. We slept in.  All of us.  By sleeping in, I mean past 6am.  7am is about the latest I’ve slept in the last 8-years.  But 7:30am was an absolute dream!

  1. My wife and I went out… together.. on a date.  I figures since we actually had to speak to each other for 12 days, it might be nice to take advantage of the relative calm and go out.  You know what happened, folks… By 9pm we were exhausted.  But we trooped, stayed out until 11pm, then went home to sleep.

  2. We got caught up on laundry.  We washed everything!  Comforters, duvets, everything because we knew once camp was over and the house was back to 5 people, we would never catch up.

  3. I got to bed early… Twice.  Early for me used to be 11pm, but I’ve been finding that since I started my own business I never stopped having enough to do around the house, so early quickly became 2am.  I actually got in to bed at 9pm one night and by 10:30 another night.  Amazing.

5. I was outnumbered… In more than one way.  Aside from being one male to two females, many long-time readers will recall that my wife kept her last name when we got hitched, and before we had kids we agreed that any boys we had would take my last name, and any girls would take her last name.   I was in the minority.

  1. My oldest son returned with the new-found ability to play the guitar.  As a matter of fact, the day after he arrived home, he asked me this; “Daddy, is that Sweet Home Alabama playing on the radio?”  Then he said; “I can play that on the guitar!”  Sweet!

3. My middle child learned to horseback ride and he loved it!!  Who knew?!?

2. My boys grew up.  They just seemed so different.  My oldest son did not want to come home – he wanted to stay for a couple more weeks (even wrote a letter to us which arrived the day after he came home saying “send more envelopes!  I’m staying for 2 more weeks, and tell my sister I love her and I miss her.”  My younger son, clearly no longer worried about spending time away from home seemed older, more relaxed, and cooler.  Camp did him well.

As someone who never went to camp – I started working full-time in the summers when I was 14-years-old so I could buy plastic goalie pads for our street hockey games, I kept it up and paid for University.  Camp would have been nice, but University was better.  Now that I see how the kids have changed after just 12 days away, I wonder what it will be like next summer after a month away, and if this is the beginning of the kids independence.

  1. We missed them!  Not at first and not always but in those moments when the chaos slows down and we get to breathe, live, relax and look around we realize what a huge part of our lives those children have become and we miss having them around to share with, listen to and teach.

Now they’re back and we get to talk about camp next year!  2 weeks or 1 month…

 

Thursday Thirteen: You’re turn! 

Did you go to camp as a kid?  What did you like the most and what did you hate?  If you did not, what did you do instead?

How The Eglinton Avenue Re-Development Message Got Lost: It’s NOT About You!


This was a very troubling week for The Urban Daddy and our community.  An apparent sudden decision by the municipal government here in Toronto had thrust our neighbourhood into chaos and as citizens moved into action our efforts to seek the truth were suddenly derailed by the actions of one man – whom I will not mention by name, nor show his picture – who feels his 15 minutes of fame are far more important than the residents and taxpayers in this area.

It all started with a news report on CP24 alerting residents in Toronto that Toronto City Council was going to vote on the narrowing of Eglinton Avenue from Allen Road to Bathurst Street from 5 lanes, to just 2 lanes, so that the sidewalks could be widened, trees and artwork placed on the strip and bike lanes added.

All of this seems very nice, and very practical, and as a resident in Toronto, specifically someone who lives in between those streets and who is already impacted by the Eglinton Crosstown LRT / subway, this information came as quite a shock to me, and apparently to many of my neighbours.

This strip as it currently stands is terrible – construction aside – as a result of many one-way streets, and the absolute lack of traffic on the strip.  At night-time, the street is aglow with “MASSAGE” signs and very few people walk in this area at night because, frankly, there is nothing to walk to.  If the goal was to make this strip feel more “European”, then maybe Toronto City Council might want to think about the 3 months a year in which weather would comply with this drastic transformation.

In addition with St. Clair Avenue already being down to one lane in parts as a result of the transit right-of-way, doing the same to Eglinton Avenue, the next major road north, makes even less sense.  Eglinton is the end of Allen Road, an “expressway” of sorts which helps traffic flow north and south from Wilson Avenue without traffic lights, but with a lot of traffic.  People use Allen Road to head north to the 401 highway, and the delays have always been long and frustrating with or without construction, one could imagine it would only get much worse.

Let me at this point identify that I am pro every method of transportation.  Cars, bikes, walking, public transit are all great.  If I could take public transit everyone in Toronto, I would, where it makes financial sense.  If I could bike safely, I would, and my kids would too.  But we are not there yet, and don’t appear to be for quite a long time, so in the meantime, doing anything to slow down traffic does not make sense at all.  But that is my opinion…

So where is traffic going to go, if it cannot move along Eglinton Avenue, or St. Clair?  Well the side streets, of course.  We are already seeing a huge increase in traffic as a result of the construction, and in front of my house, for example, there is a stop street which very few cars actually stop at, some do not even try, and they fly through without even braking.  The “30km” traffic limit is always ignored, and speed bumps only cause a momentary delay as cars race off after passing them.  Even one-way streets are ignored, and it’s going to get worse.

But what about the kids?

This community, Cedarvale, which lies just north of Forest Hill, has a ton of children, and these children cannot safely walk in this community as it already stands.  Is Toronto city Council’s shortsighted view of the war on cars overlooking or ignoring the impact this re-development will have on the children in the community who are already scared to cross streets because vehicles travel very fast and do not follow the street signs when using Cedarvale as a short-cut to avoid the delays on Eglinton?

It would appear so.

When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford came to speak to the community about this issue, a couple of says after his return from rehab, I met some community members who lived on the other side of Eglinton Avenue in the next phase of this narrowing of Eglinton were just as shocked as I was, and who had put together a traffic study, which can be found right here; (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjP4HWMeieo&feature=youtu.be)

Adding to this frustration is that we learned that the City Planner had approved high density building along this strip with the widening of the laneways behind these buildings (which would require residential houses to be removed) to accommodate the traffic from these buildings.

More construction.

More traffic chaos.

Has the city planner, or city council ever been to these neighbourhoods?  $700K bungalows, and $1.5 million houses are common place in Cedarvale, much higher south and east of here, and a lot of families reside here who are certainly not going to need the extra sidewalk to walk to a massage parlour, a Whole Foods maybe, but clearly no one asked the residents what they want or need.  To look at the map of the area and declare it ripe for additional density of short-sighted.  This is not the right community for that.

Mayor Ford came to speak to us, and his message was lost, because of the actions of man who ran across the street, through frustrated traffic, so he could take off his shirt, pull out signs from his garbage bag and stop the community from hearing the Mayor’s views on this proposal, or to allow us to ask questions of the Mayor about what he knows about this plan.

The media at the event helped even less, but asking questions of the Mayor with disdain, like “How is it that you don’t know about this vote?  Is it not your job to do so?” when members of the community also knew nothing about this proposal, and then by diverting the attention to the few who took off their shirts for their own 15-minutes of fame.

If you watched any of the footage on TV, you probably heard me, and several others yelling for these 3 protestors to “shut up” and “let the Mayor talk” and while we did get a very short moment of quiet from them, it was when the guy yelling “resign” over and over again elbowed the Mayor’s campaign leader in the head while trying to get right behind the Mayor with his sign.

To his credit, the Mayor’s staffers did not respond or get as annoyed as the members of the community did, although, the police stepped in which this protestor yelled “don’t assault me” to the Mayor’s staff after apparently being kicked (I did not see this – I was recording the events) but the police decided to not charge either person, and the protestor was allowed to return and annoy the mayor and the residents.

The result of his actions were that the message of this proposal got lost.  The community were livid, the Mayor frustrated and the only person who got any attention was the guy with the sign, who proceeded to tell his story to everyone and anyone about how the Mayor lied, and how he works in a flexible position where he can follow the Mayor around and yell at him.

I waited after almost everyone left, and listened to his story evolve and change.  It was not about Eglinton Avenue and the residents or about traffic, but about someone who wanted to talk about how his was kicked, and assaulted, and how much support he has.

“Me Me Me”.

But it’s not about him.

It never was about him.

I looked at my video and saw a different unfolding of events which threw some key details of his story into dispute, and I shared that with the media and with the other Mayoral candidates teams so that they can be aware of the true intent of this individual.  He’s taking a very serious situation of an unwell person struggling with an addiction problem, who took the time to enter rehab and is now back trying to do his job, and he made it about him.

At the end of the day, we all lose.

As for the proposal along Eglinton….  I have no idea.

My message to Toronto City Council, Councillor Joe Mihevc, and the guy with the signs who likes to take off his shirt and disrupt important discussions impacting people their families and their community, is this:  It’s not about you.  It’s not about your legacy or your vision.  Leave Eglinton alone.  Don’t force another St. Clair on us because you want to be on TV.

Toronto City Council, don’t waste your time looking to spend money you do not have.  Clean up the area instead.  Fix the sidewalks, make sure the lighting is working, that dogs are on leash near schools, that the intersections are clearly marked and are safe (Ava and Strathern, for example), step up safety in the area and PLEASE, get rid of the raccoons!

Make the area safe and people will use it.

But Leave Eglinton Avenue alone.

And if you have a problem with the Mayor, address it the way everyone else does… At the ballot box.

Is This What Brothers Do?


Parenting questions to follow:

Last year was all about Skylanders!  My children HAD to have as many game pieces as possible (and that I totally understand from my hockey card collecting days).  If their friends had 25 characters, my kids needed the same 25.  Keeping up with the Joneses, I believe.  But then came the search for the elusive Ninjini character they HAD to have.  Only one other kid had one, and he got it from the United States.  Ninjini was selling on eBay for $80.00 and my kids would have ordered them all if given the opportunity.

I finally found one by fluke, when I walked into an EB Games location in downtown Toronto, but by the time I let the kids open her (only a week as I contemplated selling her on eBay) their interest in Skylanders was waning because the new phase of Skylanders were coming – Swap Force - and no one wanted to play with the older once anymore.

Geez.

In fact, Linus would play the game and Stewie would watch… for hours. Sometimes. Boo would use the character names or expressions and we would laugh because it was funny coming from someone who never played the game.

In our house, that fad has fizzled.

Now it’s all about Pokémon.

First Linus, the oldest, became interested, then midway through the school year, Stewie expressed his interest in collecting the cards and learning to play the game with his classmates.

What I don’t understand – and it might just be because they are brothers – and I don’t have a brother, is that they trade cards, they give away cards and they steal each others cards.

What’s up with that?

Do they not understand that if one kid has a gold card in their room at 9am, and by noon that card is missing that it is painfully obvious that the other took it?

But they deny it.

They yell.

They scream.

They accuse.

They write notes to each other.

They send each other bills for the missing cards based on a value clearly decided upon while reading a Richie Rich comic ($1,000,000).

Then the card(s) turn up with an elaborate story involving wind currents, forgetfulness, and finger-pointing at anyone and everyone but themselves.

We know what’s going on.

They know what’s going on.

Why do they do it?

Is this what brothers do?

When a Parents Says: “You Can Go Play With Your Neighbour AFTER Lunch”, Here is What a Child Hears…


On the weekend our children get up nice and early.  6am, usually, but 5am is not out of the question.

I believe we have convinced them not to come wake us (or each other) at that time, but I could be very wrong about that since they may not come and wake us up, but they certainly wake us through playing, talking and laughing.

Aside: Parents – How many of you also have become light sleepers as a result of your kids walking, talking, crying, calling, etc., in the middle of the night?

So after a 5:30am wake-up and plenty of playing around the house, my daughter Boo decided that she HAD to go visit our neighbour 2-doors down for a playdate.  These girls have become best friends, they go to the same school, were in the same class and we would walk to school together in the mornings.

But at 8am, it’s not nice to knock on someone’s door and invite yourself in.

“After lunch.” We told her.

“You can have a playdate with the neighbour, but after lunch.”

What she and her brother Stewie heard is a completely different story…

10 minutes later, the front door opened and by the time I got to the door, I saw Stewie entering the neighbours house, with no sign of Boo.

“Stewie!” I called out.  “Where is Boo?”

“Inside” he yelled back.

“Absolutely not!” I replied.  “It’s 8 o’clock in the morning and I said you had to wait until after lunch!  Get Boo and come back home!”


Both kids came back home and were greeted at the door by myself and my wife.

“What are you doing?” I asked.  “We said you could not go until after lunch.  It is only 8 o’clock in the morning!”

“We just finished lunch” was Boo’s reply.  “We ate breakfast at 6am, and were hungry again, so we just ate lunch.  You said we could go after lunch.”

Yes.

Yes, we did.

 

Dimensions-178

Canada’s Wonderland: DIMENSIONS – a Cirque Experience Preview.


An Urban Daddy exclusive peek into Canada Wonderland’s new show, DIMENSIONS – A Cirque Experience by Senior Event Correspondent Ryan Starkman.

 

Here I am reporting from Canada’s Wonderland on June 20th, 2014. A beautiful sunny day has us readying for a bit of a cool down and we are awaiting entrance into the Wonderland Theatre for a sneak preview of DIMENSIONS – A Cirque Experience.

Having just met Jill Aitchison (Digital Community & Events Specialist at Canada’s Wonderland), we were warmly greeted and entered the cozy 800 seat Wonderland theatre excited and ready to be entertained.

First come first serve seating gave us, the early birds, a chance to catch the worm so to speak. Sightlines from the middle two sections are good. As you move to the left or right flanks of the theatre, the angles are noticeable but still appropriate enough to view.

The theatre only runs 19 rows deep so you’re never really too far back and the first 3 rows have your eye level just below the stage. We decided to sit in the 4th row right off the centre aisle. About 20 minutes prior to showtime, a pair of theatrical veterans entertained the audience in Cirque-like fashion. For those that don’t know what this means, it just means you want to be seated by the time the pre-show begins.

Without introducing any spoilers as to the various acts, this is a fantastic 25 minute performance and the perfect way to break away from the bustle of the outside theme park. Having seen just about every show Wonderland has to offer the past 20+ something years, this ranks right up as one of the best.

The show keeps you entertained from start to finish with not a weak act in the bunch. Some comedic interludes help lighten this high energy performance. The skilled acrobats and performers are world class with the majority coming from Canada.

About 25% of the cast come from outside Canadian borders hailing from countries around the world including the United States and Cambodia.

The production company behind DIMENSIONS is Les Productions Haut-vol which stems from the collaborative efforts of Quebec natives Joel Norton and Hugues Aubrey. This masterful pair have an extensive background in performance and have brought to Canada’s Wonderland an amazing program.

Prior to the show beginning, I asked my 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter if they were excited to see the show. The nod of approval was given. Upon its conclusion, my son wanted to see it immediately again, especially one act in particular he thought was really cool. My daughter was nervous for the performers as some of the acts were quite thrilling but said she wanted to come back another day.

And the best part about that comment is with us being season pass holders, we definitely would.

In terms of ways to spend your time at Canada’s Wonderland, this show should rank as one of the best in terms of time invested vs. entertainment value. Having been to the park since 1981 and waiting in lines for rides, some longer than I ever want to think about again, DIMENSIONS will not disappoint. You get a Cirque Experience for 30 minutes that costs nothing more than your time.

This is a no brainer if you like that type of thing and just another way that Canada’s Wonderland is bringing new DIMENSIONS to overall park entertainment.