Simple Christmas

Kids in the Capital is pleased to welcome back Antonia Cetin to the blog. Antonia is an educator and the author of You’ve Got This, Mom! A Mother’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Today’s Modern World.

Sometimes, I feel like my parents had an easier life than parents do today. There were less expectations on parents and less things to do and to purchase. At Christmas time, these expectations just get amplified as we seek to create the perfect Christmas experience for our kids. This idea of a perfect Christmas makes me look back and ask myself - what were the best Christmas memories for me growing up?


We didn’t have big plans to go on faraway trips; we didn’t have lots of presents; and we certainly didn’t have a schedule of events to attend and to follow. Yet, I have such fond memories of Christmas. For me, it’s not the presents and things that I remember about Christmas. It’s the people and feelings.

I remember trudging outside in the snow with my dad on Christmas Eve searching the sky in anticipation of spotting Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, invariably coming back disappointed to find out he had already been and gone and we’d missed him yet again. What are the chances, right? I remember the smell of coffee in the kitchen while making cake with my mom. We dunked arrow cookies in coffee to soften them and layered them on a plate with nutella spread between the layers. I know it’s hard to believe but some of those cookies didn’t make it into the pan. The memory is delicious and there wasn’t even any baking involved! I remember going to Christmas mass and singing my heart out with other happy and excited children, and admiring the decorations and nativity. And, I remember playing Aggravation with my parents and mostly losing to my dad, being aggravated sometimes to the point of crying when my little man got sent back to start again and again…but always wanting to play more because I loved that we played together.

All of the things I remember are simple things. And, sometimes I feel like today, we get so caught up in trying to make Christmas perfect for our kids: getting them the best presents, and organising the perfect activities. So, I invite you this Christmas holiday to accept a challenge. It’s simple but it’s not easy: resist scheduling every minute, and go easy on yourself with the presents. Instead, create simple memories with your kids and enjoy slowing down.

If you’re looking for me this Christmas, I may be playing mini-sticks in the basement. I currently hold the title of undefeated mini-sticks champion in our household. The first and only time I played with my spouse I won and I will not give him a rematch. Ever! Alas, I think my days as champ are numbered though because my 13 year old son is taking up more space in his net! The nerve! Serves me right for feeding him!

You may also find me on the playstation creating a city on Minecraft because that’s what my son likes to do. You may find me sipping hot chocolate by the fire with a lively and less stressful game of Aggravation or Crib or Uno or Risk. Or, you may find me coaching the snowman making from the warmth of my porch. But, one thing is for sure, I will be slowing down and making time for my people and enjoying the memories we are creating of our not so perfect Christmas. Wanna come over and play?

OPL Staff Picks - Favourite Children's Picture Books 2018

The Ottawa Public Library is back to share some of their new books for children with us. This month’s post is by Xiao Feng Xing, Librarian, Youth Collections at the Ottawa Public Library.

This selection is from her reading and reviews of new picture books published in 2018. We hope you will enjoy reading them!

They Say Blue, by Jillian Tamaki

They Say Blue was written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki who is best known for her graphic novel This One Summer. This is her first picture book, but she’s already received two important awards – the Boston Globe Horn Book Award and a Governor General’s Award, as well as numerous starred reviews. The two illustrations below are examples of her powerful and creative style. This book about a young girl who contemplates colours in the world is a true gem.

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Hello Lighthouse, by Sophie Blackall

Ms. Blackall is the winner of the 2016 Caldecott Medal for illustrating Finding Winnie. The illustrations in this book are outstanding. One of them shows a realistic cutaway interior of a lighthouse, letting us see what it would be like to live inside a lighthouse.

In just 32 pages, the book highlights important moments of the life of a lighthouse keeper in a remote location. “On the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse. It is built to last forever. Sending its light out to sea, guiding the ships on their way. From dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams.”

This is a saga to celebrate the lighthouse keeper’s selfless devotion to saving lives and protecting ships at sea. It’s a sad story too since we learn that his job is eventually replaced by a machine.

The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld

When the amazing blocks that Taylor had just built up were smashed down by a flock of birds, he was very sad. The animals came over to him one by one, each thinking that they knew how to help, but none of their suggestions impressed Taylor. And so they all left. Then a rabbit came by and sat quietly beside Taylor; he didn’t try to fix the problem or offer solutions – just listened. After sharing his feelings with the rabbit, Taylor was happy again. It’s such a simple and cute story but it teaches kids, and maybe even some adults, a big life lesson. 

Night Job, by Karen Hesse

This story about a father and son bonding is very touching. A boy helps his dad who has a job on the night shift as a school custodian. Even though life can be difficult, as long as he can be with his dad, the boy feels happy.

They eat dinner together while at work, and after they come home, “I climb up beside dad and soon we are drifting away together…” Life is hard but it is sweet to stay together with dad.

The powerful illustrations will help kids build up empathy and understanding for a life situation that shows that not every family has a worry-free life.

The Rough Patch, by Brian Lies

Evan, the farmer’s fox and his pet dog loved to do things together. What they loved the most was working in Evan’s magnificent garden. But one day Evan’s dog died. Evan was heartbroken and stopped caring about the garden because he no longer had any desire to look after anything.

In time his garden turned wild. One morning, Evan spotted a pumpkin vine sneaking under the fence. So he let it be. Eventually, he brought his giant pumpkin to the fair. It felt good to be out again, even if it wasn’t quite the same as before. He won third prize in the pumpkin competition and claimed his prize. From inside the box, he heard a scrabbling sound…. The last illustration in the book shows Evan driving home with a small dog.

The lovely illustrations and the touching story will show kids how to overcome a rough patch, that very sad feeling that comes when they lose a pet or a loved one, and that life continues.

The Day War Came, by Nicola Davies

This is one of the most powerful books that I have read dealing with children refugees.

A young girl’s peaceful, normal life is turned upside down when war comes to her town. She becomes a refugee and is forced to roam all by herself. She finds a school and attempts to enter the classroom but a teacher won’t let her in. “There’s no room for you, you see. There is no chair for you to sit on”. Then comes a happy and touching moment when a young boy and his classmates all bring their chairs for the young girl. The last illustration shows the kids hand-in-hand walking together on a road lined with chairs.

This book will open a window for kids learning about the plight of children refugees and teach them empathy and kindness.

THANK YOU, OMU! by Oge Mora

This is a heart-warming story about kindness and sharing. It’s a perfect match for the holiday season.

“Omu” is the lgbo term for “queen”. Omu has cooked a delicious stew. The smell brings all the people one-by-one to knock on her door. Omu offers each of them a portion of her meal and pretty soon the pot is empty. As she’s sitting at the table with her empty pot, she hears someone knock at the door. All the people who received food from her are now coming back, one by one, bringing food to her. Omu’s heart is full of happiness and love.

Africville, by Shauntay Grant

I’m so glad to see this wonderful book about Africville as there aren’t enough books about the Canadian black community.

This book uses a girl’s imagination to replay the happy life the black community enjoyed in their old home of Africville.

The author provides a note at the end of the book that details the sad and dark history of Africville and the tragic injustice and racial discrimination that took place.

That’s Not Hockey, by Andrée Poulin

It’s only common sense to wear a helmet and a face mask when playing hockey. But did you know that not that many years ago, hockey players and even goalies, didn’t wear any facial protection when they played?  This book is a true story about the goalie Jacques Plante and how he grew up as a kid from a poor family to become one of the greatest goalies of all time and play for the Montreal Canadians. He changed the history of hockey with his courage and determination to be the first to wear a mask while playing the game.

Henry and the Yeti, by Russell Ayto

A little boy makes up his mind to find Yeti. Everyone laughs at him and his school principal tells him to remember to bring evidence if he does find Yeti.

The little boy overcomes a lot of difficulties to find Yeti, and he takes pictures too. But when he comes back to school to let everyone know what he found, he can’t show them his evidence because he lost his camera. Everyone laughs at him again, and nobody except his own father believes him. You can imagine the surprise then when Yeti comes to visit the little boy’s school. This is a heartwarming and witty story about believing in yourself.

Grace for Gus, by Harry Bliss

This is a near wordless graphic novel-style picture book.

It’s a hero story about a little girl named Grace who sneaks from her bedroom to go to the subway station to play the violin, draw caricatures in the park, and finally to perform acrobatics in the subway car. She raises a lot of money and the next day secretly puts it all in the jar for the classroom pet hamster fund.

If you want to read more wonderful picture books, please click here.

Shine Bright: Christmas Lights Across Canada

We're very excited to welcome back our favourite holiday sponsors and the 34th edition of the Christmas Lights Across Canada program, presented by the Government of Canada in partnership with Manulife.


The official Illumination Ceremony will take place on Wednesday December 5th at 7 p.m. on Parliament Hill. I will be there with the whole family, and we'd love for you to join us. The festivities will include performances by talented artists Ariane Moffatt and Josée Bourgeois. The show will also feature the colourful Winter Landscapes multimedia show and a pyrotechnics display. The gentle "pop, pop" noises of the pyrotechnics against the (maybe?) snowy backdrop is a highlight for my two girls!

We know it's a busy time of year, so if you can't make it, you can join in LIVE on Facebook. The evening's festivities will broadcast from the Capital Experience Facebook Page


What IS a magical winter lightscapes multimedia show?

I had no idea what to when I first attended three years ago - I was thinking something along the lines of the summer multimedia show that plays on Centre block each year. But this show is a bit more engaging for the entire family, from young to old! The fairy tale story follows the exciting journey of Grizzli, Fox and Snowman through imaginary landscapes on their quest for light. The show is inspired by Canada’s nature, climate and culture, and there is so much to take in! And for extra effect this year, the show will use the entire building.

When can I see the show?

The official Illumination Ceremony takes place December 5th. There will be free Beaver Tails pastries and hot chocolate. And some live musical performances!

A warning: do NOT promise your kids a Beaver Tail. I made this mistake one year, and when we arrived at 7 p.m., the lineup was about 500 people long (and then they ran out.) If you're hoping for a sweet treat, you'd be best to arrive as early as possible. Or follow our lead, and pack hot chocolate in a thermos and stop off for some Timbits on the way!

If you miss the opening night, the magical winterscapes multimedia show runs every evening until January 7th (presented on loop from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.)

Tips for Going

We drove downtown last year, because it's a long bus ride and we knew the kids would be tired. We had to park about 2km away from the Hill, as there were A LOT of people. Things should quiet down a bit after the Illumination Ceremony, and street parking is free in the evenings.

Make sure kids are bundled up really well - it's surprising how fast you get chilly standing around. You may want to consider a stroller if you have a long trek from the car, although it may be a bit muddy (I'm not sure about this weather this year!!) Prepare your kids for the crowds, or consider attending another night if your child has sensitivities to a lot of people/noise/lights.


Anything else I should know?

In addition to the show, don't forget all the lights! Go for a walk in Confederation Park to see thousands of holiday lights on display. 

Did you see the Christmas Lights Across Canada last year? Will we see you there on Wednesday?

The "New" Adventureland in Ottawa

I’ve taken the kids to Midway before, both for fun and for a birthday party and they loved it. This past Friday we had the opportunity to visit the new Midway Adventureland (same location, added activities) and they loved it again! So, what’s new and what’s the same?


What’s new:

  • Batting cages

  • Balladium

  • Mini zone (for the little ones!)

What’s the same:

  • Arcade games

  • Jungle gym

  • Mini golf

  • Kids train

  • Bumper cars

  • Rock climbing


We had a great visit and were lucky that it wasn’t too busy for a PD day. Here are some highlights from our day!


You have to be buzzed in and out and have a stamp that matches your child to be able to leave with them. When it comes to our kids, parents love security!

Super friendly staff

Every single staff that we had interactions with were friendly, helpful and great with the kids!

Arcade games

Who doesn’t love arcade games? The kids love them, parents love them and they had a great variety. Any arcade game can quickly eat your tokens, but there were many packages to choose from that include game tokens. Midway Adventureland has a token/ticket system, which the kids love (especially the “ticket eater” at the end that counts your tickets). Parents may prefer the card type systems, but kids love having a little brown bag bursting full of tickets!


Mini golf

The kids loved the mini golf here. It was all glow in the dark and challenging without being too hard for my youngest.

Rock climbing

Both kids found it a bit challenging, but both enjoyed it. There are lots of activities for young kids (train, new mini zone, jungle gym) so my oldest was happy to try this activity.

Jungle Gym

Always a hit.


One of the disappointments of the trip was that not many of the ball guns worked in the balladium, so the kids were just throwing balls at each other and it became quite chaotic. That said, if the ball guns were working, I think this would be an awesome activity. The kids were excited to try it. And remember that the bouncy castle, batting cages and cafe are all closed on weekdays.


Overall we had a great visit and would happily come back - especially on a weekend when all activities are open.

5 Ways Get Your Kids in the Giving Groove on "Giving Tuesday”

By Wendy

Did you notice it, too? Some toy catalogues now come with tear-out wish lists with spaces to write down page numbers so you can easily find the object of your child’s desire.  … or should I say the 10-12 objects of your child’s desire, given the number of spaces on the list? 

Frankly, making it easier for my kids to draw up their “buy for me” lists makes it harder to drive home the message that “it’s better to give than to receive”. 

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Thankfully – even though we’re inundated with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales flyers at this time of year – there’s another type of catalogue that finds its way into our mailbox; one that includes lists of gifts to give, not to get. 


Last year my KITC “Giving Tuesday” blog post shared a fun way to use charity gift guides to kick off the giving season with your kids by getting their help to choose fun, meaningful gifts to give that also help meet the basic needs of people around the world for food, water and education.

Here are 6 more ways to get your kids’ attention off their wish lists and get into the giving groove this Giving Tuesday, November 27:

1. Give Where You Live

Remember the Sesame Street song, “The people in your neighbourhood”? The one where Bob introduced the baker, the barber, and the firefighter? 

Now you can introduce your children to the charities in your neighbourhood by exploring the interactive Giving Tuesday Partner Map.  Zoom in on your area to find out who your neighbours in charitable giving are. 

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Discover the local food cupboards and the causes your neighbours hold close to their heart. You might find a charity in need of your donation or volunteers – just around the corner! 

Start Giving Tuesday with a lesson in local geography and get to know “the people that you meet each day!” 

2. Have a Pyjama Day

Everyone loves the feel of snuggly PJs on a cold night. But many children in the Ottawa area don’t have that simple luxury. 

Sponsored by Family Radio CHRI and JD Swallow Heating and Cooling Contractors, Ottawa’s 5th Annual Pyjama Drive collects donations of new kids’ jammies for distribution to local and rural food cupboards and shelters; helping families struggling with poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues.  


Take your little ones on a shopping spree for a complete set of flannels or fleecies – with or without footies! Have them choose a pair a child their age might enjoy, and drop them off at one of the locations listed on the Pyjama Drive website.

To date, more than 10,800 children have been able to sleep well in warm cozy PJs – let’s see if we can help even more kids “cozy up” in warm pyjamas this Christmas!     

3. Make Giving a Snap! (Crackle! and Pop!)

Break out the butter, the ‘krispies and the marshmallows – and get your bake on!  Recreate your favourite toy as a Rice Krispies© treat, then “snap” a photo and upload it to or post it on your public Facebook page with the hashtag #TreatsforToys! 

Treats for Toys

For every original photo of a krispie creation you post, Rice Krispies © and the Salvation Army will donate a new toy to a child in need.  Visit the web site for recipes, how-to videos and a photo gallery of treats that have made children’s Christmas dreams come true.  

4. Go on a Rampage … with Random Acts of Kindness 

Ever wanted to be deviously … kind?

Start your own “kindness crusade” by brainstorming with your children how you can shower kindness on friends, neighbours – even strangers – on Giving Tuesday.

Take the kids to Timmies and buy coffee for the next person in line in the store or at the drive-through. Is Tuesday garbage day in your neighbourhood? Run out and surprise the garbage or recycling crew with a “thanks for what you do card” and some cookies. Smile at EVERYONE! 

For more great ideas – many that won’t cost you a dime or much time– visit The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation web site.    

5. Get Started on Next Year’s Giving

If your piggy bank is empty come Tuesday, it’s never too early to plan next year’s giving. 
Remember those charity catalogues? Flip through them with your kids on Giving Tuesday and clip pictures of the gifts they’d like to save up for. Post them on your fridge, bulletin board, or by the loose change jar to keep goals in sight and in mind.  

Then help your children make a plan to save throughout the year: by setting aside one third of their weekly allowance; asking for donations instead of birthday gifts; or having a lemonade stand or garage sale with proceeds going towards their gift goal. Little by little they’ll be able to watch their giving nest egg grow!   

Didn’t get the catalogues in the mail?  You can check out the 2018 gift guides on-line at Food for the Hungry CanadaPlan Canada or ME to WE (your donations on Giving Tuesday with WE will have 5x the impact!!)

How do you plan to get your kids into the giving groove this Giving Tuesday?  Let me know in the comments.

Wendy Ripmeester is a freelance copywriter who writes for green and socially conscious businesses and non-profits.  Wendy has a background in forestry and communications, 20 years experience in natural resources, and two awesome kids. To keep in touch or see her work, check out or follow Wendy on Twitter.